Monday, December 2, 2013

You're Invited!

Our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners are excitedly preparing for their Enrichment Cluster Showcase, and they want you to come share in the celebration!  Please make plans to join us as we celebrate these young learners and all that they have accomplished!  See the invitation below for times and other details.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What's Your Why?

Implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary has been an incredible of relentless effort, tremendous hard work, passionate perseverance, and unfailing courage.  Like all journeys, this one has been filled with moments of accomplishment, celebration, and wonder.   But, like most journeys, it has also been characterized by times of struggle...moments of doubt...

We've all faced those moments of doubt in our home, at work, with family or friends.  That moment when you think, "Is this really worth it?"  It is during those moments that we face a choice...keep going or give up?  Move forward...or stop?  What makes the difference?  What is it that allows us to choose perseverance over failure?  More importantly, what is it that enables us to inspire others to do the same?  According to Simon Sinek, it is an understanding of "The Why." 

This video has held great meaning for us here at Austin Elementary.  It is something we refer to when we have tough decisions to make or hard roads to travel.  It has inspired us to action and united us around a cause.  It has served as a reminder of why a a community of what we do...and keep doing it...everyday...year after year...moment after moment.

So, what is "The Why" behind our pursuit of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model?  There is not a simple answer to that question.  There are so many reasons...strong, valid reasons...for embedding this model into the framework of our school.  Development of future ready skills, increased global awareness in our learners, improved self esteem, higher levels of engagement...the list could go on and on. 


All of us at Austin Elementary believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model listed above.  However, for each of us, our own personal "why" goes much deeper than that.   It is a story...a child...a triumph...a breakthrough.  It is the joy of seeing the wonder in the eyes of a learner...or the pain of remembering our own frustration when our own interests, passions, and strengths were ignored by those around us.  It is this...and so much more. 

Recently, I asked our assistant principal, Cooper Hilton, to share his "why" regarding his support of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model.  Click on the link below to hear what he had to say.

The relationships our learners are cultivating...with each other...with educators...with members of the community...are by far one of the most valuable pieces of the SEM puzzle.  Our learners have weekly opportunities to interact with real world professionals who not only share their interests and passions, but who have found ways to weave those passions into their adult lives in meaningful, productive ways.  What could be more validating to a child than to walk and talk with an adult who, like Simon Sinek says, "believes what he/she believes!"

Let's take a look at some of these everyday heroes our learners have had the chance to work with over the last several weeks...

Michael Milligan, one of our Mustang parents, shares his knowledge of Russian language / history with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Linking Through Language" Cluster

 Coppell Police Officer Freeman Shares her Expertise in Crime Scene Investigation with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Mystery, Mystery" Cluster

 Kevin Nevels Shares the Art of Taekwondo with Kindergarten Learners During E-Time

 Ann Frosch, One of our Dedicated Parents, Works with a Young Learner in "Linking Through Language" Cluster

 Sally Wietkoff, Mustang Parent, Shares Her Love of Science with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Germs and Other Gross Stuff" Cluster

 FBI Agent, Todd Hynson, Shares His Expertise with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Mystery, Mystery" Cluster

Jennifer Manning, Mustang Parent, Taught Herself to Crochet In Order to Work With These 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Chronicles of Yarnia" Cluster

 CHS STEM Academy Learner Shares Her Experience with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Rockin' Robos" Cluster

 Linka Behn, Mom of our Beloved Music Teacher, Mr. Barnette, Shares Her Knowledge and Expertise with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Animation Station" Cluster

 Mustang Moms Demonstrate Quilting Technique to 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in
"Young Austin Quilters Guild" Cluster

Community Volunteer, Debbie Dragone, Guides Young Learners in "Build It and They Will Come" Cluster as They Develop a Small Business

Coppell Police Officer, Peter Dirks, Discusses the Role of Drug Use as a Factor in the Life of a Criminal with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in the "C.O.P. Academy" Cluster
C.O.P. = Children On Patrol

Coppell Police Officer Discusses Factors That Lead to a Life of Crime with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "C.O.P. Academy" Cluster

Coppell Police Officers Discuss Safety with Young Austin Mustangs During E-Time

Even Ms. O'Neill Gets Into the Act, as She Shares Her Family's Connection to JFK with 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Learners in "Mystery, Mystery" Cluster

Why SEM?  

For Mr. Hilton its relationships...real world connections...heroes...

What about you?  Why do you do what you do?  What gets you out of bed in the morning...and keeps you going when the going gets tough?

What's Your WHY?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Show Me...How Big Your Brave Is!

World of Woodworking (W.O.W.) Cluster Preparing to Build Benches

Enrichment clusters are in full swing here at Austin Elementary, and they are bigger and better than ever!  Now I know what you are thinking.  "Sure they are...whatever...same old stuff..."  But if that is what is going through your head, you couldn't be more wrong.  Our learners are doing great things!  They are exploring the world of forensic science, investigating the impact of human choice and climate change on ocean life, analyzing environmental factors that lead to criminal behavior, and looking at the economic and cultural realities that often motivate modern day piracy.
 They are growing their own bacteria, developing a small business, and utilizing technology to communicate with the world around them.  They are learning new languages, discovering new talents, and developing a passion for seeking out those in need of their help in order to find ways to make a difference.   I couldn't be more proud of them, or of the educators and community facilitators who are leading them.  Together they have been willing to take huge leaps of faith as they follow the call of their  passions into some brave new worlds.

Young Austin Quilters Guild at Work
I recently heard a song that spoke of the courage and faith it takes to speak truth to a world that so often would prefer not to hear it.  The song struck a chord in my own heart as I grappled with a situation that shook the very foundation upon which my own sense of value and worth as an educator are built. As I worked my way through what I considered to be a defining moment in my own life, I found the words of this song speaking to me in a way that was probably far different from the writer's intent, but nonetheless, personally powerful.  As I listened to the song over and over again, one line kept going around and around in my head.  "SHOW ME...HOW BIG YOUR BRAVE IS!" As I heard that line, I couldn't help but think about the current transformation taking place, not only in Coppell ISD, but in the world of education as a whole.  I couldn't help but think about the courage and strength of the educators and administrators here at Austin Elementary.  I couldn't help but think about our learners who are stepping out into new adventures everyday as they forge new paths to learning and excellence in today's digital world.  Robert Frost once said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I---I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."  Today's learners aren't just taking the road less traveled...they are building a whole new road!  What a privilege we have, as educators, to walk beside them on this share, at this moment in time, in the wonder and excitement that is "learning."  

Movin' and Groovin' Working on Choreography
So, you may be asking, "What does all this have to do with enrichment clusters?"  The answer is simple.  As educators, this privilege we have to help unlock the incredible potential of the future generation comes with an incredible responsibility.  And with this responsibility comes a need for strength, courage, and perseverance like never before.  Our world is changing at an astronomical rate. Today's learners will inherit a future that is faster, more dynamic, and possibly, more volatile than any other time in our history.  The issues our learners will face are far more complex...the decisions they will make, far more consequential...than ever before.  The young people sitting in our classrooms today will require a very unique skill set in order to take their place as leaders in this global community...a skill set that has not traditionally been valued in the world of education.  Innovation, creativity, collaboration, communication...these are the skills of the future...and these are the skills that are being developed in our learners through the enrichment cluster experience. Enrichment clusters provide opportunities for learners to pursue their passions, identify real world issues related to those passions, and find ways to use those passions to make an impact on the

Part With Your Art Cluster Member Drawing...With Her Eyes Closed!
world around them. Throughout the process, learners are asked to think, act, and speak like real world professionals, thinking critically,  collaborating with peers, and communicating effectively with the world around them.  Exciting?  Absolutely!  But successful implementation of enrichment clusters requires educators to step out of their comfort zone and explore worlds they have never seen.  It forces them to shift their mindset from control and compliance to interest and innovation.  It encourages them to learn right alongside their students...maybe even from their students, as they step eagerly into the role of learner,  allowing their students to show them the way.  And the cool thing is...our educators are doing just that.  One of the most exciting trends I have seen during this round of enrichment clusters is the willingness in so many of our educators to take on clusters outside the realm of their expertise.  A third grade teacher exploring cartooning and stop motion animation...something she knows nothing about!  Another diving into the world of robotics...and relying on learners from the high school to show her the way.  A third taking on the art of quilting.  She doesn't know a thing about it, but she is excited about learning a new craft.  The list could go on and on...piracy, forensic science, photography, journalism.  Our learners are being exposed to opportunities we have never before imagined because, together with our educators, they have been willing to dream big and step courageously out into the world of the unknown.   In short, they have decided to choose courage over fear and show the world, "how big their brave is!"

Want to know more?   Sign up for an E-Time tour.  We would love for you to see first hand the exciting things our learners are exploring and accomplishing every week!

Feeling brave?  Why don't you consider joining us as a volunteer?  We need speakers, assistants, facilitators, mentors, and so much more.  No special skills required.  Just a heart for kids, a desire to make a difference, and the courage to say "Yes, I'll do it!"

Friday, September 20, 2013

Educators as Learners...It's SEMple to See!

 "The more the learner becomes the educator and the educator becomes the learner, then the more successful are the outcomes." 

John Hattie (Taken from The Learning Framework - CISD)

It has always been a joy for me to see the wonder and excitement on our learners' faces as they are given opportunities to explore their interests and develop their talents during E-Time.  Recently however, I have had the privilege of witnessing a whole new group of learners jump on the SEM bandwagon and begin to explore what this "Schoolwide Enrichment Model" thing is all about.  Now you may think I am talking about our kindergarten learners, and certainly, they are enthralled with the wonder of E-Time.  However, as cute as they are, those are not the learners to whom I am referring!
We have had the privilege this year of having eight amazing new educators join us here at Austin Elementary.  The path to Austin has been different for each of them.  Some are brand new teachers, fresh out of school and eager to make a difference in the lives of kids.  Others come to us from other school districts, excited about expanding their horizons and ready to share their experience with a whole new "family" of educators.   However, as different as their life experiences and career paths may be, they all share one very important trait.  They have all plunged head first into the world of schoolwide enrichment!

Now you may ask, if they are "educators" why did you refer them as "a whole new group of learners?"  Well, let's explore a little bit of their journey so far.  Few, if any of them, were familiar with SEM before arriving at Austin Elementary.  Some of them read about it on our SEM blog before coming to interview, and ALL of them heard about it in one way or another during that interview.  They left that first meeting, probably not fully understanding what SEM was, but definitely recognizing that it was an important part of who we are here at Austin!  As school began, they knew it was time for SEM to begin as well, so they did interest surveys with their kids, explored the SEM model during SEM  Training,  and courageously ventured forth into the world of student driven, strength based enrichment.  So, how are they doing?  Well, they have lots of questions.  Sometimes they doubt themselves.  Occasionally, they need a little reassurance.   They even wonder sometimes if they are doing it "right."  And in the midst of all their questions, doubts, wonderings, and confusion they are rockin' the house!  Their classrooms are alive with exploration and discovery.  Their learners are passionate about what they are doing and can't wait to share their newest discovery with me when I walk through the door.  And the coolest part of all is that these new educator learners not only seem to be enjoying SEM, but they seem to get it...really...they get it!  Let's take a look at what a few of them had to say:

 Mrs. Cabello's 4th Graders Explore Ocean Life!

"It's actually my dream come true.  SEM allows kids to dive deeply into what they enjoy.  It lines up with my teaching philosophy of allowing kids to dig into their interests and strengths.  Look at them!  They're learning right now, and they're loving it!  They're learning all these great things and being very creative in the process."

 Mrs. Holcombe's 4th Graders Learn How to Recycle Old Paper to Make New!

"As teachers, we want our kids to be engaged.  We try to plan the best, most engaging lessons.   SEM truly is engaging because the students are truly interested in things THEY want to work on.  It's not teacher driven.  It is totally student driven.  To not know where it's going to go or how things are going to work's's a big learning curve, but its very valuable, and its great for kids!"

Miss Griffith's 2nd Grade Learners Use their Measuring Skills to Create Just the Right Combination of Ingredients for Homemade Play Doh!

"SEM has changed who I am as a teacher.  I'm much more in tune now with my kids interests, and I find myself constantly trying to embed them into the curriculum.  I feel like I am different.  SEM has changed ME!  It's just so much fun seeing the kids' eyes light up and the expressions on their faces when they are engaged in their interests during E-Time.  I am trying to recreate that more and more in the regular classroom so that I can see that in their faces all the time.  I love it!"

Mrs. Trueblood's 3rd Grade Learners Create Marine Ecosystems!

"I'm excited to see each child's passion as they discover things they are interested in.  I'm excited to see them working together, engaged in what they are doing, and excited about learning."

Mrs. Harris' Learners Exploring Origami, Set Design, Script Writing, Technology, and More as they Create a Stop Motion Animated Video!

SEM has given a lot of kids that wouldn't normally interact an opportunity to get to know each other a little better.  It's helped to create much more of a class unit.  It's very interesting to watch and see interactions between kids that you wouldn't normally see in a regular class."

 Mr. Harvey's Discusses Possible Career Options with His 5th Grade Learners Based on Their Interests.

"SEM is great because it gives kids a time to explore their own interests and what they are driven in.  Whether it's robotics, technology, or can explore those things during E-Time and Enrichment Clusters and really get an idea of what drives their own learning."

Mr. Pearson's 4th Graders Exploring Human Anatomy!

"SEM is giving the kids a chance to explore different things and see if they can find a new interest.  It's not just about playing with the toys, but its about identifying interests, sparking passions, and seeing where it goes from there."
So let's go back to the question.  Why am I referring to these amazing educators as learners?  The  CISD Learning Framework defines a learner this way:

"Learners are diverse individuals bringing with them prior experiences, skills and mental models that influence beliefs, emotions and prejudices as they continuously construct meaning. Desiring to grow in knowledge and skill, learners question, connect, process and reflect. With an innate sense of curiosity, learners wonder, dream, imagine and create. Learners advocate for their own understanding." 

Let's take another look at these educators...
  • They are questioning...
  • They are dreaming...
  • They are wondering...
  • They are creating...
  • They are constructing new meaning...
  • They are connecting ideas...
  • They are taking risks...
  • They are reflecting...
These educators are learning!  And they are doing it with joy, and wonder, and perseverance!  They are truly modeling for the children in their classrooms...and for those of us lucky enough to be a part of their world...what learning...and all about.   "Every educator.  Every educator...a learner."  I think they get it!

Monday, September 2, 2013

What are You Passionate About?

E-Time got off to a great start this past Friday as our learners were given the opportunity to reflect on their unique interests and identify some of the topics they are most passionate about as they begin their 2013-2014 learning journey. The approach looked
different in each classroom, but the basic premise was the same.  Educators
were asking their learners, "What are
you passionate about?
What are you interested in learning more about?”  Seems like a simple…even obvious…question, yes?  But unfortunately, it is a question that has not been asked nearly often enough in classrooms across America over the last several years.  In fact, if we are honest, it is a question that has rarely been asked of students…well…ever

All that changed at Austin Elementary several years ago when, under the leadership of our lead learner, @laurieprincipal, we began to implement The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) on our campus.  SEM has allowed us to focus on the
interests and passions of our learners.   Through SEM we are learning to design experiences that promote talent development and encourage our learners to make a difference in our world.  The children in our classrooms are being challenged to identify real world problems…and find solutions to those problems.  And when given the opportunity, our learners are stepping up and meeting those challenges head on!  

One of the most exciting things about working with young learners is that they rarely see the obstacles that so often prevent adults from taking action.  You tell kids to dream big…and they do!  SEM helps to create an environment in which kids can make those dreams become reality.  Last year, SEM grew by leaps and bounds at Austin Elementary.  Our educators demonstrated incredible courage and determination as they stepped out of their comfort zone and began to let the kiddos take the lead in their learning.  I can’t wait to see what this year will bring as we continue on this amazing journey of enrichment, talent development, and strength based, learner driven experiences for ALL of our students.

If you want to be part of this amazing journey, contact Liz Malone at 214-496-7335 or by email at  We would love to give you an
opportunity to share your talents, skills, and passions with our learners.  No special skills are needed.  Just a desire to connect with the learners and educators of Austin Elementary.  A variety of opportunities are available, and we will teach you everything you need to know, so make the call today! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Confratute 2013: Going Back to Where the Dream Began

CONferenc...FRAternity…InstiTUTE  - Put it all together and you have CONFRATUTE, an amazing, weeklong adventure in learning on the beautiful University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, Connecticut.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that CONFRATUTE is where our SEM dream began four short years ago.  That summer, eight educators, accompanied by our principal, Laurie O’Neill, visited CONFRATUTE for the very first time.  When we arrived, we were immediately immersed in a culture of enrichment and talent development that would forever alter the way each of us thought about education.  It didn’t take long before we were absolutely convinced that the journey of SEM implementation was one our school needed to make.  Since that time, we have taken great strides towards full implementation of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary.  As a staff, we have spent countless hours on professional development, exploring the research behind The Schoolwide Enrichment Model, and designing what it would look like for our learners.   We have redesigned the way we form our classes, and have implemented “E-Time” on Friday mornings to provide a dedicated time each week for school wide, learner driven enrichment.  Last year, we moved forward with the implementation of Enrichment Clusters.  During these 5-8 week enrichment journeys, our learners were engaged in authentic, real world learning experiences through which they had the opportunity to pursue their interests, develop their talents, and make a difference in our world. 

We are excited about the learning and growth that took place last year, not only in our learners, but in our educators as well.  However, we are not content to stop there!  Mary Poppins once told her charges, “A job half done is well begun.”  Our vision for implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary has had an amazing beginning, but we are not done!  There is still work that needs to happen in order to ensure that every learner at Austin Elementary is consistently immersed in an environment that encourages them to identify and pursue their passions.  This year, we will continue to nurture the strengths and talents of our learners through E-Time activities, enrichment opportunities embedded into the regular curriculum, and Enrichment Cluster experiences.  Our focus for continued SEM implementation this year will be three fold:

1.     Continue to increase the depth and rigor of learning experiences through interactions with genuine tools, real world methods, authentic audiences, and disciplinary experts from the community.  Our goal is to create an environment in which real world creative problem solving opportunities are an integral part of the learning design in every classroom.

2.     Extend the use of Curriculum Compacting as a tool for meeting the educational needs of all our learners and providing time for Type III real world, independent and small group, interest based investigations.

3.     Further involve our families and community members in the SEM process through volunteer opportunities related to their unique talents and areas of expertise.

With this in mind, it was with tremendous excitement that I headed to Confratute in July to once again explore the tenets of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model under the guidance of some of the most renowned experts in the area of gifted education.  Confratute is a unique learning experience, in that it unites educators from around the world for one week each summer to share ideas, explore innovative learning designs, and develop a deeper understanding of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, all in a unique atmosphere of excitement and curiosity that can only be found on a college campus. This was not my first visit to this internationally acclaimed conference.  After attending Confratute for the past three years, one might wonder, was there truly a benefit in attending again?  The answer to that question is a definite, unequivocal YES!  This was my fourth visit, and I learned as much, if not more, than I have in the previous three.  The sessions I attended provided opportunities for me to reflect upon our own SEM journey, collaborate with other educators who were at varying stages of their own implementation process, and work alongside experts in the field as I strived to construct a deeper understanding of the various components of the SEM model.  While there is no way that I could possibly describe all the learning that took place during this week, I would like to share with you some of the highlights and “take aways” of my Confratute experience.

1.  Advanced Curriculum Development: The Kaplan Depth and Complexity Model

During this weeklong session, Dr. Sandra Kaplan facilitated an exploration of the process of infusing depth and complexity into the four basic elements of curriculum – content (access to subject matter), thinking skills, resources (input), and product (output).  A basic tenet of our conversation was the idea that differentiation exists on a continuum, and that it was never intended to be used exclusively with gifted learners or for learners with special needs, but rather, that the continuum of differentiation is an effective tool that should be used to individualize learning for all.  Dr. Kaplan shared tools and strategies that can be used to design and evaluate differentiated curriculum so that all learners are exposed to opportunities for developing depth and complexity in their thinking within the context of their unique learning experiences.

My Take Aways:

There is no reason why the strategies and pedagogy we use with gifted learners cannot be used with ALL learners.

It is part of my responsibility as an educator to develop independent learners.  I must provide opportunities for my students to “learn how to learn.”

2.  How to Organize and Coach Students for Outstanding Type III’s–Peg Beecher
      Tackling Type III’s – Janine Firmender

These two sessions were as inspirational as they were informative.  Through real life accounts of student led investigations, we had the opportunity to explore the organization, structure, and management of Type III activities in the general education classroom.  The excitement of these two educators as they described the learning experiences of their students was absolutely contagious.  

·      One young lady with an interest in drama and genealogy created a play that described the history of her family tree.  She wrote, directed, and starred in this play, which was aired on a cable T.V. channel after she won a children’s programming contest.

·      A group of four learners, after listening to a 92 year old man discuss the history of their town, became interested in learning more. They met with the older gentleman once a week, asking questions, exploring artifacts, and learning all they could.  They then designed a booklet about the town’s history, which was displayed in the town hall.

·      A group of fourth graders designed a campaign to save a town landmark.  They spoke at a town hall meeting, wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper, rallied the entire fourth grade as well as the community around their cause, and ultimately, with the help of a multi media specialist from the community, created a presentation that they shared with fourth graders throughout the district, two legislators, and several school board members.  Their efforts were also broadcast on the local news and led to the formation of the “Friends of Waterloo Foundation.”

My Take Aways:

Children are incredibly creative, capable human beings.  They do not need us to “teach” them.  They need us to design opportunities and environments in which they can learn!

Kids CAN change the world…will we let them?

3.  Talent Development in Gifted and Talented Girls and Women: Obstacles,      
      Challenges, and Choices – Dr. Sally Reis

Let’s look at the statistics:

  In the 100-year history of the Nobel Prize, only 11 prizes have been awarded to 10 women scientists. (Marie Curie won the prize twice.)
  Since 1809, only one out of approximately every 1,000 patents has been issued to a woman inventor.
  Less than 5% of the National Academy of Sciences members are women.
  In 1978, two women headed Fortune 1000 companies. In 1996, there were four women who headed Fortune 1000 companies. A 1996 review of the 1,000 largest firms in the United States showed that only 1% of the top five jobs in those corporations, 60 out of 5,000 positions, were filled by women.
  Women make up less than 12% of the world's parliaments, and less than 11% of political party leaders.
 Within the 21 highest budgeted orchestras in the United States, there are no female musical directors or conductors in permanent positions. (Of the total 1530 pieces programmed in concerts for these orchestras, only three pieces were composed by a woman.)
  Only 24 women have been elected heads of state or government in this century.
  Of the 185 highest-ranking diplomats to the United Nations, only 7 are women.
  Of the doctorates granted in mathematics in the mid -1990s, 78% were awarded to men while 22% went to women.
  Of the doctorates granted in physical sciences in the mid-1990s, the same percentages held as 78% were granted to men and 22% to women.
  Of the doctorates in engineering in the mid 1990’s, 88% went to men and 11% to females
  In the House of Representatives, women hold just 10.9% of the seats. In the U. S. Senate, women hold only 10% of the seats.

** Statistics taken from “External Barriers Experienced by Gifted and Talented Girls and Women” by Dr. Sally Reis

In this session we explored some of the internal and external barriers that continue to influence the way the world views talented women, and more importantly, the way talented women view themselves.  We looked at the impact these barriers have on the choices that are available to women and on the decisions these women make when they encounter these choices.  Finally, we discussed strategies that we, as educators, could use to help prepare young women to overcome these barriers in order to live accomplished, productive lives defined by a sense of worthiness and fulfillment.

My Take Aways:

What messages are we sending our young girls about success?

How many women look back on their lives and wonder, “What if ?” 

How can we, as educators, make a difference?

4.  SEM Outreach: Making Change Back Home – Dr. Joseph Renzulli

 The focus of this session was on helping participants begin thinking about a plan for SEM implementation at home.  Having already begun that journey several years ago, I was excited to experience a sense of affirmation and encouragement as I listened to Dr. Renzulli  discuss some of the obstacles that can hinder this process, as well as some tools and strategies that can be used to overcome those obstacles.  At Austin Elementary, we are well on our way, but as I said earlier, we are not there yet.  So much remains still to be done.  Change is hard!  It is scary, work intensive, and overwhelming.  But when done right…when the cause is just…when the motives are pure… it is so worth it!   So, what is our cause?  What are our motives?  For me, it’s the kids…pure and simple.  It’s the opportunity to create a learning environment that is so dynamic, so learner centered, so focused on the talent development of ALL kids, that engagement, authenticity, and profound learning become the norm, not just for some, but for every child in every classroom.  Wow!  I am excited about the dream we have for our learners, our educators, and our school.  I am invigorated by the opportunities we have had to share that dream with others, and I am looking forward to seeing the vision expand this coming year as we continue to make that dream come true!

My Take Aways:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  ~ Richard Fuller
“Enjoyment + Engagement + Enthusiasm for Learning = Achievement ~ Dr. Joe Renzulli
“High test scores are a by-product of joyful learning.” ~ Dr. Joe Renzulli

Friday, June 14, 2013

Moments That Take Your Breath Away

Recently, my principal asked me to reflect back on the year that has been and share one highlight that stood out in my mind.  I found the task daunting at best, not because I couldn't think of something to highlight, but because I couldn't choose among the many possibilities!  It has been an amazing year!  Challenging...yes!  Demanding...absolutely!  Perfect...not by a long shot!  But in the end, amazing!  They say that "life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take your breath away."  If that is true, my life has been infinitely extended this year by the many "moments" that have taken my breath away!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An Awesome Sauce Day at Austin Elementary

Awesome-Sauce!    My first exposure to this phrase came through my principal, Laurie O'Neill, who began using it earlier this year to express joy, wonder, or approval of the things happening around her.   It's an interesting must agree.  I thought of it as a synonym for words such as
wonderful, amazing, fabulous, terrific, delightful, and lovely.  However, since the first time I heard it, I've always wondered about this phrase.  Where did it come from?  What does it really mean?  The Urban Dictionary defines "Awesome-Sauce" as "something that is more awesome than awesome, the pure refined essence of awesome, the best something can be."  It goes on to say that the term "Awesome-Sauce" should be used "on any occasion where joy and elation are expressed."  Okay, that's great, but is this word any different from delightful, or fabulous, or wonderful, or my personal favorite, amazing?  The truth is, it isn't.  At least that's what I thought...until Friday.  On Friday, everything changed.  At Austin Elementary, Friday, May 31st  was a day that can only be described as "Awesome - Sauce."  

The day began early, as we welcomed a group of 23 educators from Montgomery ISD, north of Houston. They had come to see the Schoolwide Enrichment Model in action and to learn how we have  implemented SEM
on our campus.  Like the four groups who visited before them, these educators had the opportunity to visit classrooms, observe "E-Time" in progress, and participate in an SEM presentation that outlined the "Why, What, and How" of SEM implementation.  Additionally, this particular group was able to attend the dedication ceremony of a Reading Garden designed by a 2nd/3rd grade Enrichment Cluster, visit our K/1 Enrichment Cluster Showcase,  and view the staging / dress rehearsal of a fashion show being put on by a fourth grade E-Time group.  We so enjoyed sharing our day with these forward thinking educators, and we count it a blessing to be walking with them as they begin their own SEM journey.  

Soon after our visitors arrived, the K/1 Enrichment Cluster Showcase began.  Parents, community members, district personnel, and school board members flocked to our school to celebrate our youngest learners as they showcased their efforts and shared their accomplishments.  These young learners amazed their guests as they clearly and confidently articulated their learning, discussed their products, and shared their enrichment cluster experience.  The scope and depth of their discoveries and creations was simply amazing.  

Decorative doors created by the "Wood Working Wizards," recycled artwork and jewelry created by the "Trash or Treasure" cluster, a catapult and pulley system designed and constructed by "Tinkering with Toys."  The list goes on and on!  Our kindergarten and first grade learners clearly proved that they are not too young to engage meaningfully in the Enrichment Cluster experience and that they too, have something unique and special to offer our world.  

As exciting as it was, the day did not end there.  In fact, in the words of the famous composer, Paul Williams, "We'd only just begun!"  Immediately following the opening session of the Enrichment Cluster Showcase, our entire school population, along with our Montgomery visitors, school board members, and the PTO board, headed out to the basketball court to witness the dedication of the future site of the Austin Elementary Gardens and Book Blooms Outdoor Learning Center.   This dedication was the culmination of the work of one of our 2nd/3rd grade Enrichment Clusters.  A group of fourteen 2nd and 3rd grade learners spent approximately six weeks earlier in the year, designing a model for an outdoor learning area that would include a reading garden, a vegetable garden,
and a flower garden.  They worked with an architect and garden designer to create a three year plan for the construction of this garden, and were incredibly excited to take this next step toward the realization of their dream.  The simple ceremony was living proof of the amazing things kids can do when they are encouraged to dream big, and are given the opportunity to pursue their passions in a way that is personally meaningful and uniquely their own.  These young visionaries were bursting with pride and excitement on Friday morning as  they saw their dream become reality on the back field of Austin Elementary.

And still, the day continues!  Visitors and special guests...delightful, Enrichment Cluster Showcase...fabulous, Garden Dedication...wonderful...
but we're not done yet!  Our fourth grade learners were ready and willing to get into the act.  For you see, they too have dreams...they too have passions...and they too can accomplish great things when given the freedom to explore those passions and follow those dreams, wherever they might lead.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that we have a group of approximately sixteen young ladies who have been eagerly exploring the world of Fashion Design.  A few weeks ago they decided they wanted to channel their passion for fashion into the organization of a charity event designed to benefit the recent victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes as well as the Austin Elementary Food Pantry.  On Friday afternoon, their plans came into fruition as they
staged the first annual (their words...not mine) Austin Elementary Fashion Show.  The cost of admission?  One can of food.  Interested in owning one of the original designs modeled during the show?  Make a bid in the silent auction.  Looking for another way to help?  Buy a raffle ticket and possibly win a free dessert party hosted by none other than this same fashion design E-Time group.  Together, these young ladies collected over 100 cans of food for the Austin Elementary Food Pantry and raised over $70.00 to be donated to Red Cross of Oklahoma.  Amazing?  Absolutely!  But we're still not done!

Our fifth grade learners, the leaders of our school, were not about to be left out!  Like our fourth graders, these young philanthropists have a heart for
helping others and were deeply touched by the suffering and loss caused by the recent tragedies in Oklahoma.  They decided to organize a coin drive to raise money in support of the victims of these tragedies.  In a matter of just a few days they created signs, wrote announcements, designed flyers, collected containers, and eagerly spread the word about their cause.  They gave up recess, worked at night and over the weekend, and visited every classroom in the building in order to reach their goal.  On Friday afternoon, they gathered the coin containers from each classroom and tallied their results.  Their efforts had resulted in the collection of over $600.00 that will be used to purchase supplies and send encouragement to the victims of the Oklahoma tornados.  

Awesome-Sauce!  It's an interesting must agree.  "Something that is more awesome than awesome.  The pure refined essence of awesome.  The best something can be."  I understand now.  I get it.  As I watched our learners on Friday, I finally understood the real meaning of Awesome-Sauce.  Friday was delightful...yes.  Friday was fabulous...definitely.    Friday was doubt.  Friday was amazing...absolutely.  But Friday was so much more than that.  Friday was "the pure refined essence of awesome.  Friday was AWESOME-SAUCE!