Monday, February 27, 2017

Writers Workshop

It is amazing to see the growth of writers all around Barrows Elementary.  Over the last 2 years our staff has been embracing the Writers Workshop process.  I have to say, that I see more students engaged and enjoying writing with this shift.  This new process does create changes for families, as you may not be receiving as many 'polished' final drafts as previous years.  The Writers Workshop supports the authentic writing process of sticking with a piece for a longer period of time and continually adding, editing, and improving it to completion.  This is what "real" writers do, and it encourages that thinking that you're never done and can always enrich and enhance your written pieces.  I found the information below posted by a NJ school district that thoughtfully captures an overview of the Writers Workshop model; I thought it was worth sharing with you all.  If you want to learn more I encourage you to check it out here:  Teachers College Reading and Writing Project:

Love, Mrs. Leonard

Teachers College Writing Workshop “Lucy Calkins” Guide for Parents

...The Teachers College Writing Workshop model allows students to have the “last” word; it allows students to take something pedestrian and make it meaningful.  We believe that our lives are worth writing about, and that our students need to care about what they write. We believe that writing is a craft; it can be empowering for students to learn how to become better writers.  We believe that writing should happen every day. Students in each grade write in different genres throughout the year. Students are not assigned to specific topics, but rather choose their own topics within the genre being taught. 

What does Writing Workshop look like in the classroom?
Writing Workshop begins with a mini-lesson that teaches a new strategy: Teachers start with, “So far we’ve been……Today I want to teach you…” or with a small moment that connects to what the teaching point of the day is. Or the teacher can let students know that she has been thinking about them as writers and that he/she is going to teach them something that they are actually ready for: “Watch me as I…”

The teacher may begin with a sample of her own writing or a sample of someone else’s  writing, a mentor text specific to the unit or genre being studied or with a shared writing  piece that the class is working on together.

Various charts will be on display in the classroom. These charts are visual reminders that reinforce writing strategies; they may help with dialogue, structure, elaboration, or conventions.

Ideas are generated and students practice telling their story to a partner. Storytelling is a rehearsal for writing; students develop ideas (time is spent on teaching students how to generate, and choose, a seed idea. Students may choose a good seed idea by asking themselves the following: Do I remember it well? Is this a moment that taught me something? Am I comfortable sharing it?

Revision and development of stories may include;
  • ·    Nurturing and growing the seed idea comes next through rehearsal: students are encouraged to re-read their entry and think about the big, important events in this moment, what they were thinking/feeling at each point, how did they change as the story unfolds.  Students then learn to make a writing plan.
  • ·    Students revise, making sure that we show our emotions and thoughts at the time.  
  • ·    Students take small moments and break them into beginning, middle and end. Develop the tension and the problem. The problem is not the event.
  • ·    Use illustrations to tell the story - Draw pictures and label them with words. Adding words helps formulate the story. 
  • ·    Students tell their story to their writing partner. They show each other their sketches, and they may be prompted to add more pictures and words. Partners ask questions like, what would they be saying? What would they be thinking? Students can draw dialogue boxes to reflect inner thinking; it is often easier to hear voice before writing –
  • ·    The teacher may say, “How can you bring that feeling out with your words?”  

Paper choices vary according to grade level, and there is paper choice within each grade level. Students may draft with just picture boxes, or older students may draft on paper with lines skipped so that there is room to go back and add new ideas and revisions. Students in upper grades are encouraged to write “long and strong,” or “fast and  furious” using thought prompts to push our thinking (all in all, what I mean is, this is important because…)

They consider how to begin…with dialogue, setting, action, or inner thought. They usually spend a day writing out the entire story. Teachers are modeling throughout this process: For example, a teacher may share, “My story is really about how when you’re a teenager, your parents become embarrassing. For example…” 

A few days of revision then occur. Teachers do not mark-up students’ papers with edits, but rather facilitate a process where the students themselves are thinking about what to revise. The teacher may encourage the use of prompts to push our thinking include: for  example, another example, in addition, in other words, on the other hand, this is important  because, all in all, what I’m saying is….The goal is to stretch out the heart of the story, or  what the writer believes the story is really about.

The editing process also includes a focus on grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. Students may use an editor’s checklist.  Students learn that good stories have dialogue, detail, inner thinking and setting. This is what we are looking for when we revise. The teacher may demonstrate, and then have the students try it: “Watch me, now you try it right now in your piece.” The teacher may demonstrate by showing the students a mentor text of a great writer. The teacher encourages students to try a similar style in their own writing.  

The publishing process (writing celebration) can take place in many different ways: a museum walk where students walk around and read others’ writing, student read‐alouds in front of the class, a publishing party with parents, leaving writing out on students’ desks and having others walk around the room, read the stories silently, and leave a comment. The students are taught that their writing is not solely for the teacher anymore; it is to be celebrated by all!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Super Lunch Hero!

The School Nutrition Association has named May 5, 2017 as Super Lunch Hero Day, to kick off Child Nutrition Employee Week, which is the week of May 1-5, 2017.

School nutrition employees are often the unsung heroes of the school community. There are so many individuals in our state who do wonderful and amazing things for the students and staff; we're sure that every district has at least one very special employee like this! 
SNA of Massachusetts would like to celebrate these "Super Heroes" by holding a contest describing your extraordinary food service employee. We would love to see letters from students, parents & administrators describing their favorite lunch employee. Nominations are due March 31, 2017

Nominations are for INDIVIDUALS only, not entire an entire kitchen staff. The flyer below has more information. Letters can be emailed to: Thanks, in advance, for your participation!

I invite the Barrows community to shout out our awesome Lunch Heroes!
Mrs. Leonard

Friday, February 10, 2017

Typical Day of a Principal?

Wow, today was quite an adventure!

this picture is from earlier in the week - but same idea (& same size coffee!)
As I sit here trying to catch up on some emails, I was reflecting on this day... which as unplanned as much of it was for me, was what I would consider a "typical" day for a Principal.  The benefit (and sometimes challenge) of my job, is that the typical day-to-day routine of the job is there, but often my time is filled with the unplanned or unexpected.  Today was a great example of this, starting with a 2 hour delay, a short bit of subbing for the secretary, leading to some work ensuring all classrooms and meetings had appropriate coverage and supervision.

Not long after that I received a call to let me know we had a few cars stuck on Edgemont Ave., creating a bit of a back-up.  Outside I went to try to help direct traffic and move cars was unplanned, but fun nonetheless!  As I noted in the Starburst, I loved the fact that every car that drove by was filled with smiling and waving parents and students. This is such a positive and supportive community that takes challenges in stride - it's awesome!

I also had the opportunity to fill in and help cover for supervision at all of our lunches - both to support the students and also jumping behind the line to serve when the line got too backed up!

With that I could still squeeze in a couple of meetings and phone conferences.

Although a short day - it was a full day - and although today I wasn't able to get into all of our classrooms, it was a good reminder that there are other pieces of our learner's days that are important (and it was wonderful to see all of our students' faces during drop-off and during lunch!!)

So, a typical day?  Yes... but for Principals (and for many of us in education each day) a 'typical' day means flexibility, unexpected changes, and going with the flow... but always putting our students first.

Enjoy the weekend!
Mrs. Leonard

Our Twitter account:  (you don't have to know how to tweet to check it out!)
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Check out our weekly Starburst:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's up with the BMI Screening?

Families in grades 1 and 4 will be receiving a letter from Nurse Rose about upcoming health screenings.

The BMI screenings that will be taking place with Nurse Rose soon come from a Massachusetts General Law that mandates schools provide health screenings for students (M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 57 and 105 CMR 200.000). Regulations requiring BMI screening for students in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10 (or of comparable age) were implemented by the state for all public school districts about 7 years ago. 

The purpose is to provide information that families may need to support their child’s health as well as provide the state ongoing data about health trends of children in the state to inform their work as well. The information reported by the schools helps MA Department of Public Health target necessary areas of education and resources.

Although we are required by state law to perform these screenings, families always have the option to opt-out (as it is written into the regulations as well!) 

If you are curious to learn more, please feel free to check out the guidelines here:
Image result for healthy student clipart

Friday, January 13, 2017

FY18 Budget Information from Elementary Principals

January 10, 2017
Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Impacts on Elementary Schools

As many of you know, Dr. Doherty presented the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18) to the School Committee on Monday, January 9th. The budget is complex and detailed. There are three more School Committee meetings to review the budget with a final vote scheduled for January 26th.

Over the next month, the elementary principals will share information about the FY 18 budget and its impact on elementary schools. We hope to provide you with accurate information that will answer some of your questions. We will be highlighting specific parts of the budget that affect elementary schools. We encourage parents to attend the School Committee meetings to hear a more in-depth presentation of the budget impacts across the district.

Several recommended reductions from last night’s presentation are of particular interest to elementary parents.

  • There is a recommended reduction of 2.0 full time equivalent elementary teachers.
  • Prior to 2013, full day kindergarten para-educators were scheduled for 19 hours per week in each kindergarten classroom. In 2013, their hours were increased to 28 hours per week. In the FY 18 recommended budget, full day kindergarten para-educator hours will be returned to the pre-2013 allotment of 19 hours per week. Half day kindergarten para-educators will work 12.5 hour per week.
  • The Instructional Mathematics Coach position has been removed from the recommended budget. This coach provides support with assessment planning, instructional planning, and professional development to teachers from kindergarten to 5th grade.

For complete budget information please review the Reading Public Schools website at We will continue to provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding the FY ’18 budget on the district and individual school websites. If you have questions you can contact your school principal.

Heather Leonard, Barrows Principal
Julia Hendrix, Birch Meadow Principal
Eric Sprung, Eaton Principal
Sarah Leveque, Killam Principal
Joanne King, Wood End Principal

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Weather Revisit & additional information

Good Morning Barrows Community!

I have had a few parents reach out to inquire about our indoor/outdoor determinations for drop-off (red flag days) and recess.  I am glad to continue this conversation, as the safety of our students is always a priority.  As principal, I am the one who determines the indoor/outdoor times.  I have completed research around health recommendations from many health and government agencies to form our indoor/outdoor routines.  Following the research, I identified the use of a reference chart which is recommended by the Health and Human Services website.  The temperature chart benchmarks were formed by a state agency through federal grant funds from the US Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources & Services Administration, Maternal & Child Health Bureau with Wind-Chill and Heat Index information from the National Weather Service.  

I took some time to follow up with my elementary principal colleagues to get clarification about their procedures and processes.  What I have learned is that, although each of the schools do have different routines and structures due to their facilities/parking patterns/etc., we seem to be similarly on par when it comes to making outside weather decisions. 

Image result for outdoor cold clipartWe do our best to support the healthy balance of outdoor play, fresh air, and physical movement along with limiting exposure to cold weather conditions.  Here at Barrows we do our best to get students outside as often as possible - this means unless it is actively raining, thunder & lightening, or dangerous temperatures, we send students outside.  Please send your child(ren) with appropriate outside clothing including hats, gloves, jackets, and warm socks/shoes, and assume they will be going out to recess.

My staff and I take time each morning to review the outdoor temperature as well as the wind speed to determine temperatures with the wind chill before making the call. (For example, this morning it was 26*, sunny with no precipitation, wind speed 6mph.)  As our campus time for drop-off starts at 8:05 to 8:15, it would be (at the most) 10 mins. that students or parents would be outside before our initial bell rings during drop-off hours.  Additionally, we allow for another 10 min. window (8:15-8:25) to provide ongoing time for drop offs to get to class on time and decreasing the window of time that students would have to wait outside. This meets all of the health recommendations that I have researched around maintaining student safety and well-being – valuing the importance outdoor time and fresh air, as well as limiting amount of exposure during cold weather days.

I invite you to reach out with any additional questions or concerns, as we all work to maintain a focus on safety for our students.  I am always willing to meet to discuss anything as it relates to our students and their safety, so if you feel a meeting would be helpful, please let me know!

Enjoy a safe and relaxing winter break!

Other Information:

National Weather Service (NOAA) recommendations and information about Wind Chill and health concerns (please note on 2nd page, Windchill information):

Our Health Chart which is recommended by the Health and Human Services website;

We use this chart as a general guideline to determine indoor/outdoor recess and drop-off. Unless it is "in the red" we will stay outside as our times outside are typically 15 mins or less. Only when you see the red flag out front is it an indoor drop-off day.

Reminder: On "Red Flag" days students may begin to enter the building at 8:05am. Prior to this time doors will be locked. At 8:05 students may enter the building. Students in grades K-3 may enter through Door #16 (front of school by Gym) or Door #13 (blacktop entrance by Gym.)   Students in grades 4 & 5 may also enter through Door #1 (Main office). You must buzz to enter on the indoor drop-off days.

Especially on those cold weather days please observe our traffic safety laws (no idling, no parking on the school-side of Edgemont Ave, active drop-off in the kiss & go lane only, etc.) to help ensure the safety of all of our students.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

All-School Winter Writing Prompt

I have visited many of our classes over the last couple of weeks, sharing macrophotographs of snowflakes.  We spent time making observations about the different types of snowflakes.  Inspired by this, I invite our Barrows Shining Stars to participate in our optional winter writing prompt.  If you could be a snowflake anyplace in the world, where would that be?  I invite students to take the point of view of the snowflake (Point of view means the perspective of the person [narrator] who is telling the story) and describe their shape (can you use mathematical terms?) and describe the geography by their location (what landforms are around?  How is the weather? What types of plants and animals are around?)   Students can draw, write, or both to share their story!

Try this challenge over winter vacation and turn in your story to the office when we get back.  Stories will be collected until January 13th, and then we will display them for everybody to see!

Happy writing! Love, Mrs. Leonard

Article summary - What staff spend each year... (did you know?)

What Teachers and Principals Spend Each Year

            In this Education Week article, Madeline Will summarizes a recent Scholastic survey on out-of-pocket spending by teachers and principals aimed at filling gaps in their classrooms and schools. Teachers spend an average of $530 a year; for those in high-poverty schools, it’s $672. Items include: Classroom decorations (76% of teachers); supplies like notebooks, binders, pens, and pencils (74%); food and snacks for students (70%); supplies like tissues, hand sanitizer, band-aids (69%); cleaning supplies (65%); arts and crafts supplies (63%); books for the classroom, especially those that are culturally relevant (56%); lesson plans (43%); lab and project supplies (40%); workbooks and worksheets (38%); technology apps and software (33%); clothing for students (26%); guided reading materials (25%); and classroom magazines (19%). Principals spent an average of $683 a year, and in high-poverty schools, $1,014.

“How Educators Fill Classroom Equity Gaps” by Madeline Will in Education Week, November 30, 2016 (Vol. 36, #14, p. 5),

Friday, December 16, 2016

Teacher and Staff Professional Learning

Image result for professional learning

Teacher and Staff Professional Learning

Why was my teacher out?
Throughout the school year, families may hear from their children that their teacher was out for part or all of the school day due to professional development, training, or attending workshops.  Although we try to limit the amount of time our teachers are out of the classroom, this time is important learning time that directly benefits students and student achievement.

What’s the deal with Professional Development?
Over the course of the school year, district staff members participate in a variety of academic trainings that complement the work they are doing in their classrooms with students.  Staff engage in professional development across various areas of their practice.  This year alone, elementary teachers have participated in professional development opportunities around Writers Workshop, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Restorative Practices, Just Words, Safety Care QBS training, Open Circle, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Lesley Trauma Sensitive Schools, Linda Mood Bell Training, and more. These efforts support our ongoing district and school improvement plan goals, which are tied directly to student performance.

Why do teachers need professional development?
The field of education is one that requires both seminal knowledge (influential foundational understanding that has been proven by research over time) as well as current and innovative practices (similar to the many other professional roles that require both core knowledge and ongoing trainings and certifications.) Over the course of the school year our district provides training opportunities for staff. The goal of the district is to ensure that our teachers are current and relevant and able to bring their learning right back to their classrooms. 

Image result for professional learning 
Why can’t they do that all during the summer?
There are many professional development opportunities that occur during the summers for our staff, however that is not enough.  What research shows about adult learning and development is that the best professional learning opportunities are ongoing, parallel the work of teacher Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), provide opportunities for collaboration, and are supported by coaches.  In Reading, ongoing professional learning efforts are supported at the building-level, district-level (through PLCs), as well as through the work from the district Literacy, Math, and Data Instructional Coaches. The partnership between the professional development trainings and the ongoing learning collaboration helps all of our adults learn and strengthen their skill sets. Strategies that teachers learn are best implemented during the school year when they can authentically work with students. When a teacher can attend a professional learning day and return immediately to the classroom to implement, it is more likely to create growth and learning for both our staff and our students. 

If your teachers are out for professional learning days - it's good news!  They're continuing to grow in their practice in order to provide the best support for our learners.

We invite you to reach out to your principal.

Happy Learning!
Heather Leonard, Barrows Principal
Julia Hendrix, Birch Meadow Principal
Eric Sprung, Eaton Principal
Sarah Leveque, Killam Principal
Joanne King, Wood End Principal

Image result for professional development
Want to learn more?
Below are key points pulled from summary research collected by the Center for Public Education about effective professional learning;

•  "Short, one-shot workshops often don’t change teacher practice and have no effect on student achievement (Yoon et al, 2007; Bush, 1984).

•    In order to truly change practices, professional development should occur over time and preferably be ongoing. Studies show that effective professional development programs require anywhere from 50 to 80 hours of instruction, practice, and coaching before teachers arrive at mastery (French, 1997; Banilower, 2002; Yoon et al., 2007).  

•    Coaches/mentors are found to be highly effective in helping teachers implement a new skill. In coaching, teachers work with a master educator before, during and after a lesson, getting feedback on their implementation of a newly learned teaching skill. Numerous studies have shown coaching to be successful at changing teacher practice and improving student learning (Showers, 1984; Slinger, 2004; Knight 2007; Batt, 2009; Stephens et al., 2007; Knight and Cornett, 2009). Before coaching, however, teachers need to get a solid foundation of knowledge about the teaching strategy. This presentation of knowledge should be active, not passive (Roy, 2005; Richardson, 1998).  Further, modeling by the coaches has been shown to be very effective at helping teachers grasp a new teaching approach before they attempt implementation (Roy, 2005; Goldberg, 2002; Rice, 2001; Black, 1998; Licklider, 1997). 

•    Professional development is best delivered in the context of the teacher’s subject area. Regardless of whether teachers are working with coaches or in professional learning communities, teachers need to be working with the content they teach. Teachers don’t find professional development on generic topics useful (Peery, 2002; Redding and Kamm, 1999; Dunn and Dunn, 1998).  However, professional development that focuses on teachers analyzing the specific skill and concept they’ll teach in their discipline is not only well-received by teachers, but has also been shown to improve both teacher practice and student learning (Bland de la Alas and Smith, 2007; Carpenter et al., 1989; Cohen and Hill, 2001; Lieberman and Wood, 2001; Merek and Methven, 1991; Saxe, Gearhart, and Nasir, 2001; Wenglinksky, 2000; McGill-Franzen et al., 1999; Darling-Hammond et al., 2009)."