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)."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Barrows School Safety Communication

Hello Barrows Community;

At the end of this email please find an important notice from our Reading Police Department. 

Please know that our Reading Police Department strives to work collaboratively with our community with safety as their priority.  Although it is important that our families observe the marked laws and expectations, the officers are making notes of areas of concern, ongoing challenges that our families face, and will continue to evaluate practices and flow to revise as needed to keep all of the members of our school and neighborhood safe.  We may not have all the answers now, but we are working hard to ask the right questions as they pertain to safety.

In addition to the attached information, please review the following school and community safety reminders;
  • Families should not walk through the staff parking lot.  Although it is shorter to the blacktop, it is a safety concern as drivers have difficulty seeing the smaller learners walking through and there are not consistent sidewalks through the parking area.
  • Wintertime is here!  With snow and ice come safety considerations for all of our community. Students are asked to keep the snow on the ground (i.e. not throw or kick the snow) for safety reasons.  We all enjoy snow-play, but ask respectfully if you would have your children engage in that at home to avoid mixed messages about expectations while on school grounds.
  • Be careful walking on sidewalks and paved areas.  Our staff does their best to keep up with the weather, but when snow falls or freezing temperatures occur during the day, our grounds can get icy.  Go slow and take it easy on stairs, walkways, and the blacktop area.

A consideration for family planning as we enter cooler weather; we do our best to get all students outside as much as possible.  This includes during lightly snowing days and winter weather days.  Please send your children to school dressed appropriately for outside play.  Further information about our cold weather determinations can be found in my blog post here:

I’m always here for your questions, feedback, or connections.
With appreciation,


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Intentional Practice

Kim Marshall, an education author and expert, wrote a summary about this recently published work around intentional and purposeful practice.  I thought you might appreciate it!

Practice Makes Perfect – But Only the Right Kind of Practice

            In this Education Next review of Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Daniel Willingham (University of Virginia) highlights the distinction the authors draw between merely repeating a process and deliberate practice. The old adage says that practice makes perfect – “But if practice is all there is to it, why has my typing improved so little in the last 40 years?” asks Willingham. “Even though I type every day, my typing is not really practicing, because I’m not purposefully or systematically trying to improve it. Given that I have not formally studied typing, I may even be reinforcing bad technique.”
            According to Ericsson and Pool, several key components are involved in making mere practice deliberate:
-    Evaluating what needs improvement;
-    Selecting one small aspect of the skill to work on;
-    Developing a strategy;
-    Evaluating the results of the revised performance;
-    Practicing a lot (perhaps 10,000 hours).
In this construct, talent is much less important, except perhaps in athletics, where physical attributes give some people a big advantage. But Ericsson and Pool argue that in most domains, innate ability is important only before people start practicing. “The kid with a high IQ will play better chess than the kid with a low IQ,” summarizes Willingham, “but only because neither knows much about chess. If they both practice, the influence of IQ will disappear, and whoever practices more will be the better player.”
            What are the implications of this book for schools? Clearly it’s helpful to get past the innate ability/intelligence paradigm, and the concept of deliberate practice has wide implications. For example, teachers may think students will learn collaboration skills if they’re assigned to do group projects. “But working in a group is simply experience,” says Willingham. “If you want students to become better group members, they need to practice being a group member. They must be explicitly taught how to work in groups, and that’s something few schools do.”
It’s also important to work on one skill at a time – for example, breaking down the process of writing a research paper into smaller tasks, each of which needs practice, feedback, and refinement: using a database to locate research; evaluating the relevance of sources; creating an annotated bibliography; writing a rough outline; writing a detailed outline; and then the four or five steps of writing the actual paper.
Ericsson and Pool’s book got Willingham thinking about teachers’ professional learning curve, which tends to flatten out after the first few years. Could the reason be the lack of deliberate practice – and the time to engage in that kind of systematic analysis of areas for improvement, practice, feedback, and more practice? In addition, says Willingham, “Practice is only possible if practitioners agree on who the experts are, so the goals of practice can be articulated. In addition, educators will need to define the sequence of subskills to be acquired on the way to expertise. Practitioners need to know what ‘once you’re mastered X, you move on to Y.’”

“When Practice Makes Perfect: What Everyone Can Learn from Top Performers” by Daniel Willingham in his review of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin, 2016), in Education Next, Winter 2016 (Vol. 17, #1, p. 80-81),

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thankful Principal...

I am Thankful for...

…Barrows School staff that are second to none in their dedication and love of kids.

…the opportunity to have a job that allows us to impact the future every day.

...our hard-working custodial staff that makes Barrows Elementary shine

...the perseverance that our students show when faced with challenges – they believe in the Power of YET! 

...opportunities to read to our young students, because they always enjoy a good book, and I enjoy reading with them! 

...the fun and excitement a dance party creates. 

...our staff who welcome families in the office, care for sick kids, and do so much before the learning even begins  

...all of our supportive and engaged Barrows families.

...our cafeteria staff who serve hundreds of meals every day, all with smiles on their faces!

…our kind and hardworking Barrows students that make it a joy to come to work each day.

...the joy on kids faces while they play.  

...our paraprofessionals whose job title does not truly reflect the support they provide for our students each day.

...our students' creativity.

...FUN, because we work with kids and school should be FUN! 

...the 380+ students, staff, and parents that walk through our doors on a daily basis. 

...our commitment to Be Safe, Be Respectful, Persevere, and Collaborate

the honor to be the principal of this incredible school.

I am thankful for you Barrows!  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Love, Mrs. Leonard