Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Break!

Spring Break!

Spring Break at PES is the week of March 27 - 31.  School resumes on Monday, April 3.  I hope all families have a safe & peaceful break and get a chance to recharge.

Battery, Charge, Recharge ...

The word “recharge” has multiple meanings.  It could be a time to get away. It could be a time to rest and relax at home.  It could be a time to visit with extended family.  It could be a time where work gets super busy.  It could be a time when childcare is difficult.  Or, it could be a time where a combination of all the above are attempted.  Regardless of your situation, good luck and have fun.

Here are just a few things happening over spring break related to PES:

  • A staff member is getting married (well, one that I know about)
  • New LED lighting will be installed in all classrooms
  • A staff member is going on a delayed honeymoon
  • Many Pleasantdale families are traveling (Ireland, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin Dells, Moose Jaw)

File:Mac (86395457).jpg
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
Regardless of how people recharge and what families do over the break, I encourage all to keep student learning on the radar.  April, May and June speed by very quickly due to the myriad of events at school, park district, etc.and we attempt to focus on learning right up till the final school day.  

If you need some Spring Break ideas, do a quick Google search and you will find hundreds, maybe thousands, of possibilities.  Due to high school sport schedules and the life of a school administrator, the Vandercar family did many stay-cations over breaks.  Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Visit Lincoln Park Zoo - it is fun, free, and unique.  If you want to make it an extra great day, before heading to the zoo, stop by Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders on Clark St. for a reservation.  There is usually a wait and they do not take reservations, or even names.  The guy at the entrance remembers faces and keeps everyone in mental order.  It feels similar to the soup kitchen episode on Seinfeld.  Anyway, he will be able to tell you exactly how long you have to visit the zoo.  This is quite a unique experience and some great food.  Oh, one more thing I learned the hard way - cash only.
  • Have a family book club - I recommend Poppy by Avi or Redwall by Brian Jacques.  The Vandercars eventually read all 21 books in the Redwall series.
  • Hit the Tivoli - Old time atmosphere; good movies; all you can eat popcorn.
  • Visit the pet shop - especially the puppy area.
File:Mixed breed puppy.jpg
On a beach with a puppy - what a great spring break.
  • Family home video night - bring out those old home movies and have dinner around the tv.
  • Chicago Bulls - this may be the best year in quite some time to get some tickets.  Unfortunately, there have been plenty of extra seats lately.
  • Navy Pier - the atmosphere is so vacation-like.  It is fun to just walk around, eat outside, and people watch.  Fireworks start on Memorial Day.
  • Camp in the backyard - We liked to try the “cook out with no waste” method at times.  Hot dogs or burgers on buns, pre-cut veggies, bag of chips, etc. with no plates, napkins, or utensils.  It’s fun and the clean up is easy.
  • Get out Chicago Cubs clothing. This activity will be a little different this year.

Have a great Spring Break everyone!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Attitude! Attitude! Attitude!

The PES staff has spent extensive professional development energy studying brain research and learning about motivating young learners. Our widespread belief is partially due to reading, researching, embracing and nurturing the proper mindset in young learners.  Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” focuses on the power of human qualities that can be cultivated through effort even though they are not innate.  The book, author and topic have been subjects of school-wide book talks, agenda items during grade level and staff meetings, and even break-out sessions at recent institute days.

It is logical and likely elementary students who struggle in math have heard and accepted the fact that math “just isn’t their thing.”  In Dweck’s explanation, this is considered a Fixed Mindset.  Conversely, a Growth Mindset can be a powerful positive approach in all relationships including school, business and parenting. This visual is posted in many classrooms and was used during a teacher institute day to summarize differences in differing mindsets:

A simple summary of major differences in mindsets includes:

Fixed vs. Growth
Avoid challenges Embrace challenges
Gives up easily Persist in the face of setbacks
Views effort as fruitless or worse See effort as a path to mastery
Ignores useful negative feedback Learns from criticism
Feels threatened by success of others Finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others

Much of the PES staff has embraced the Growth Mindset philosophy.  The math remediation committee believes any extra math support will not be as productive if children do not believe in themselves and have the confidence can improve.  It was a consensus decision to aggressively use Growth Mindset approaches during math interventions.  The group determined logical steps including:
Begin conversations with students about their own mindset
Model a Growth Mindset
Focus on effort, struggle, and persistence despite setbacks
Focus on strategies and problem solving
Focus on learning and improving
Praise effort not product
Allow children to see the value of hard work and challenge (make it positive)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thanks Penny!

Congratulations to Penny Defenbaugh on her retirement!  Penny has been deeply dedicated to and involved in our school community for over 25 years.  Much of a school secretary’s daily duties and accomplishments go unnoticed.  That is certainly of of Penny’s characteristics and the sign of an excellent and dedicated assistant.  We are all very excited for her on this next adventure.  Penny and her husband have purchased a house in Seattle, Washington to live near their two sons and their growing families.  Penny and Dave are going to have quite the opportunity to be with kids and help raise their grandchildren.  We will certainly miss the Defenbaughs.  Godspeed!

Penny Defenbaugh is Pleasantdale.

Thank you all for coming out to our annual Experience Elementary!  It was great seeing all of you.  It was especially great seeing how excited the students are to show off their classrooms and all the work they have done so far. Our future principal, Ms. Kathleen Tomei was on hand and had a wonderful time meeting students and families.  Principal Tomei was especially seeking out current 3rd graders who will be her oldest students next year.  She realizes the importance of having students serve as strong role models and leaders.

Out with the old, in with the new.  Welcome Principal Kathleen Tomei.

Speaking of role models and leaders, I have to recognize our wonderful Student Council.  Over the weekend, these dedicated students and coordinators met at school and prepared treats and cards for our local fire and police departments.  Student Council leads several great activities during the school year.  Delivering these treats and well wishes to the groups who serve and protect us everyday was a great example of the service they provide here at school.  Thanks to Miss Macek, Mrs. Griffin and Mr. Braband for coordinating this wonderful activity.

Great job Student Council!

All parents are encouraged to be part of the inaugural Parent Technology Night on Thursday, March 16 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.  Two of my favorite people, Rikki Steinmetz and Steve Braband have created a very exciting and beneficial night for parents.  Parents and staff will hear about a variety of technology based activities and programs for their families.  And, just a reminder - parents should bring their own devices.  One of the areas of focus for the evening is balancing technology use for your family.  It can be easily overused and underused.  Parents will learn what the experts recommend as well as what works with other families.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Supporting Learning

Experience Elementary on Wednesday, March 8 is a super exciting event.  Students are staff are currently preparing their rooms for many visitors.  This "open house" is a time to see first hand what is being done in school and find out ways to best support learning at home.  It is a very fun night with plenty of surprises.  I hope you are able to attend for any amount of time.  Experience Elementary runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.  

Speaking of supporting your child at home, Spring Break is right around the corner and often a time when families look for options to keep children engaged in educational activities.  Our District is offering a special night that may help this break from school.  It is the first ever Technology Night for Parents.  Two of our technology specialists, Rikki Steinmetz and Steve Braband, have designed an action-packed, fun-filled, and super beneficial time for parents to learn about some fantastic educational technology-related resources and activities.  Pleasantdale Parent Technology Night is scheduled for Thursday, March 16 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. in the Pleasantdale Middle School library.  Oh by the way, this parents only night is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

Some, not all, of the topics include:
  • Destiny (parent library resource)
  • GALE (educational search engine)
  • Electronic Books and Magazines
  • PebbleGo (very popular at the elementary school)
  • Tumble Books (ditto)
  • BrainPOP!

We are now into the last trimester of the school year.  It is time to start gearing up for warm weather and a lengthy break from structured school.  The staff has been very busy designing a summer learning program in SD 107 to meet the needs of all learners. Some of the exciting offerings include:

  • Let's Get Cooking
  • Games Galore
  • Keyboarding
  • Get Ready for Kindergarten
  • Sports and Stats
  • Woodworking
  • Math Achievers
  • Scrapbooking
  • Sewing
  • Photography
  • Wake Up and Work Out
  • Book Challenge
  • Math
  • English/Language Arts Achievers

Information can be found on the SD 107 website at It should be an exciting summer. It is coming fast so please sign up as soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Classroom

Building Learning Environments

Mrs. Johnson was my 1st and 2nd grade teacher at John J. Pershing School in Decatur, IL. Although I loved her and for some reason was fortunate to have her for two consecutive years (I am pretty sure I was not retained), she was near the retiring end of the teacher spectrum and practiced the common understanding that children learn best in controlled and structured environments. Mrs. Johnson, as well as many or most educators at the time, believed children learned best when the classroom was calm, quiet, warm, bright, and individualized - students did most of their work alone. That was the 1960s and, thank goodness, beliefs are much different now.

Over the past few weeks, the blog focus has been our future planning goal areas.  The third and final goal area is Building Learning Environments.  This is an area where teachers have been proactive over the past few years.  Most classrooms, for example, have a variety of options for student work areas.  The photos included on this blog post are just a few options students can take advantage of in the building.

These 2nd graders have an adjustable standing desk in the room.

Some teachers prefer to not have a typical desk.
This 3rd grader learns better on the floor.

It is  common for students at different grade levels to work together.
Here a 4th grader is working with two 1st graders.
The future of learning environments is exciting. We know students need experiences that reflect the real world. This learning environment goal will allow teachers and students to collaborate more often, learn from each other, and meet unique teaching and learning preferences.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Future 2

Another goal in the Future Planning initiative is Building Learning Capacity.  This is very exciting to me since it deals directly with our children.  We want our students to be lifelong, passionate, and inspired learners.  We want our students to be confident, collaborative, creative, fun to be around, and fully prepared to handle the next step in the education process.  I genuinely believe this goal in the planning process will bring additional focus and resources on the things we currently do and can do for our staff and students.  

The actual Building Learning Capacity goal states:

Pleasantdale leaders and learners will cultivate advancement of global competency and cultural awareness through innovative learning experiences.  

This goal will allow our students to be open to new opportunities and to be able to compete in a flattening world. This is critical to creating adaptive, innovative, empathetic, articulate, and respectful citizens.

We were fortunate to have a variety of students on the planning committee.  There were several from the middle school and a current senior at LTHS.  These amazing students did a fantastic job working with parents, teachers, and administration.  Having these unique student perspectives made a big difference formulating the action steps to accomplish this goal area.  

George and Joe had numerous thoughtful insights
for the Future Planning Committee.
At Pleasantdale Elementary School (PES), we continue offering students a variety of extracurricular options intended to spark curiosities, interact with fellow students, and have fun. In the future, we will continue to find opportunities to problem solve, communicate with others, and be global citizens. This year, for example, we piloted a Coding Club. Coding is an introduction to computer programming - and it is something many students are interested in. Other extra programs we have for kids include: Lego Club, Intramurals, After School Math Club, Chess Club, Yoga, Homework Club, Cheerleading, as well as several others. I appreciate all the passionate staff members who choose to implement these types of activities for the students. We have a lot more to look forward to in this key goal area.

Growth Mindset - I encourage all blog readers, parents and staff members to learn a little about this important area. You will hear more about Growth Mindset very soon. The staff members and administrators have already read books and attended seminars on this topic. And, it is part of the future planning action steps. The graphic below will give you an idea of Growth Mindset.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

100 Days of School

100 Day Photo.jpg
The shirt says "My teacher survived 100 days of me."

Happy 100th Day of School!

Thursday, February 9 was our 100th day in attendance. At PES, this is a big day. Nearly every class is involved in math-related activities using and celebrating the number 100. Many students and staff even wear special 100th Day clothing to celebrate.

Last week’s blog theme was math-related as well. The Future Planning group focused on the approximate number of days students spend in school while at Pleasantdale - 1584 days. Framing our work around this finite amount of time allows us to look at things slightly differently. When generating action plan drafts, we will prioritize making every day, hour, and minute count.

I am super excited about the first focus area:

Goal Area: Building Human Capital
This area has to do with our current dedicated staff and future staff members.  We are fortunate to be an attractive location for teachers and administrators to apply, work, and stay.  However, it is important to keep this area a priority and strive to improve conditions to attract and keep the best teachers for our children.  In addition, we want to make sure our staff keeps current on instructional methods and has the ability to work as a team to provide optimal experiences for our children.

The official goal in this area states:

Ensure that PSD 107 is recruiting, hiring and retaining high level professionals that engage in collaborative professional development and are committed to learning and implementing innovative strategies focused on improved student learning.

Why is this goal important for District 107?
With staff and students eager to learn and share, the time is right to put systems in place to provide the best professional development to our staff and hire only the best teachers for our classrooms. Accomplishing this goal will help transform teaching and learning in our schools and provide an improved culture and school climate.

Some of the actions in this area will focus on:
  • professional development for staff,
  • improving our mentoring program for new staff, and
  • improving our staff hiring practices.

The shirts say "I've bugged Mr. Brade for 100 days."

The outlook for our entire school community is super positive.  I am looking forward to all the great things planned for our children, families and staff.