On Friday, we were informed that our school was being honored as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. This recognition was being bestowed upon us because our students have performed at very high levels for the last several years (the data is based on scores from NYS ELA and Mathematics Tests).
Needless to say, we were thrilled about this incredible honor and we officially kicked off the Blue Ribbon celebrations just the other day with Blue Day, where all staff and children came into school wearing every shade of blue - it was an awesome sight to behold. Over the last few days I have received many congratulatory emails, texts, Facebook messages, tweets and phone calls, which mean so much to me. One colleague in particular asked me to share, in five words or less, the main reason I thought we won this prestigious award. Well, if you know me, you know that five words or less is a challenge in itself but to try and explain why we received the Blue Ribbon honor in five words or less seemed like an impossible task. That's when it hit me... I had the answer in two words (that's right, I had three words to spare)... our staff! We were honored as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon Award School because of our amazing staff at Cantiague Elementary School. I am blessed to be the Lead Learner of the 2012 Blue Ribbon Staff!
What makes our staff so special? What makes them a 2012 Blue Ribbon Staff? Well, it is hard to capture everything in writing but I am going to give it my best shot...
- Everyone is always smiling. It is the truth - whether staff members are talking to each other or greeting a child or engaging a parent, people are always smiling. I think this is critical because it sets such a positive tone in the building - everyone feels welcomed and our kids and families feel valued and safe in the environment - it is simply AWESOME to watch! (Ok - so sometimes we don't smile but those moments are few and far between and we are able to pull each other through those moments).
- The staff is united and connected. Classroom teachers and specialists; veterans and rookies; traditionalists and progressive folks; no matter what the different group a person might fall into, in our school, there is no distinction; no separation; no division! Instead, the classroom teachers and specialists collaborate to strengthen and deepen the learning experiences for our kids; the veterans and rookies enjoy each other's company and support each during the highs and the lows; and the traditionalists and progressive folks share ideas and try the things learned from each other in their own spaces. No one strives to be better than anyone else... instead, we all join together and strive to be the best school in the world for our kids!
- Everyone is proud to be an educator in our school and that sense of pride permeates the building! We don't necessarily take ourselves too seriously but we take our profession and responsibility to our kids and families quite seriously!
- Our staff is always willing to step out of their comfort zones and try something new and different that may enhance their craft or the learning experiences of our kids. For example, four years ago when we began shifting to a Balanced Literacy approach, rooted in both the reading and writing workshop models, although it took a lot of work, training and trial and error (and yes, some frustration along the way) there was never question of IF we were going to make Balanced Literacy work for us it was always a matter of HOW we were going to make it work for us and our kids! As if that wasn't enough, today at our Faculty Meeting we started talking about the possibilities of some Flipped Faculty Meetings - check out this post by my friend Peter DeWitt (follow Peter on Twitter) about Flipped Faculty Meetings. Although we haven't officially started the process and we are not exactly sure how it will play out, I know that we will all be dedicated to taking control of our professional development and making this a positive experience!
- Collaboration is the norm - not the exception! There is never a day that goes by while I am walking around the building that I don't see a group of staff members huddled together and working on something. People come in early, stay late, eat lunch together and meet during common preps to share, brainstorm and plan because there is this unspoken feeling that we can do things better by working together!
- Our staff believes in every kid no matter what the readiness level! Every child in our school will get exactly what they need because their teachers will work together to make it happen. For example, if a child seems to be struggling in the area of reading, and the classroom teacher has done extensive lessons and the child is still not getting it, no one ever throws their hands up and says, "Oh well - I taught it but he just doesn't get it!" No, our teachers will consult colleagues, specialists, parents, etc. to come up with different instructional techniques that might be worth a shot in helping that specific child learn. Last year, when we officially started implementing our Instructional Support Team (I.S.T.) as part of our RtI plan (Response To Intervention), the work accomplished was amazing. One teacher would bring up a child who was struggling and come to a meeting the following week to discuss that child. The team would be comprised of different specialists and at least one other classroom teacher. Well, the amount of suggestions, tips, resources and intervention strategies shared at that table blew me away - this team, working collaboratively and going above and beyond, solved EVERY problem it encountered! Furthermore, at this point in the school year (only about 10 days in) every teacher has made some form of positive contact with the families of their students - this is what sets the tone for an awesome year!
- Our staff works harder than any other group of people I have ever had the honor of working with in my professional career. Walking around our building each day is the gift that keeps giving. I learn so much because I see all the incredible things our kids are doing and learning as a result of our dedicated staff. I find myself thinking two things... WOW - I hope my son has teachers and teacher aides like this during his academic career and WOW - I wish I was this good of a teacher when I was in the classroom! Our staff works tirelessly to make everything great for our kids and the community as a whole. When were officially nominated for the Blue Ribbon, we had to complete an enormous application, which involved a lot of essay writing (maybe about 15 different essays). Initially I thought I was crazy for taking this on because I would never be able to get this thing done on my own. Well, I didn't need to get it done on my own because once I shared the application with the staff at a Faculty Meeting, they broke up into small groups, and on their own time, tackled most of the questions and in the end, our application was AWESOME because of their efforts.