Monday, January 6, 2020

Teachers Deserve It Too!

A few years ago, our staff read a book called Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney.  It talked a lot about why we do the things that we do, because kids deserve our very best day in and day out.  There were many good take away's from it and I think that the staff took something from it as well.

Over the Christmas break, I wanted to work on a little project for the teachers.  The entire time I have been here, the area designated as the "teachers lounge" was not very nice.  The walls were 2 different shades of cream/white, mismatched furniture dating back to the 1960's, a variety of random items that didn't appear to move from August to May.  It was a room I avoided most of the time.  There were a few brave souls that would eat lunch in the room and go grab an afternoon soda, but it just didn't have a good vibe.  So I asked our PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) and the superintendent if I could take this on as a surprise for the teachers when they came back from break.  With their blessing, I got to work devising a plan that was rather simple, but hopefully would make a dramatic difference.  Bless the heart of our maintenance man, Rodger because he worked like mad to help out.  He was even working away on the morning of Christmas Eve.  With his help, we were able to replace all the light bulbs and put in new tile flooring and carpet.  Between those changes and fresh paint on the wall, the room was already drastically different!

As break went on and more pieces fell into place, including the arrival of some new furniture, my stomach bounced with excitement.  I couldn't wait for the teachers to see the transformation.  I just hoped that it would be a place that all the Freeman staff would enjoy and feel like they wanted to spend some time in.  Teachers work hard and they too deserve a place to call their own and escape to from time to time.  Imagine the place where you work and if there wasn't a space you could just walk into for 5 minutes and breathe, or go grab a fresh cup of coffee? 

This room wouldn't have been possible without the help of the PTO, Rodger and Rex, the Havelka's, and my husband who helped me paint.  I think it turned out pretty great!

A freshly painted shelf with coffee and some paper products for food.  Around the room are some fun pieces of artwork as well!

New cozy space to relax, work on a puzzle, catch up with colleagues or breathe!  New carpet too!

Saturday, November 23, 2019


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year.  It comes at a time when I am needing a little more downtime and a few extra days at home to recharge and get organized.  I also LOVE pie.  The turkey is good as leftover sandwiches, but the pie is really my favorite.  There are so many, but I could just spend the day being thankful and eating pie!

What I don't like about Thanksgiving, is that it seems to be the most overlooked holiday.  Each year Christmas arrives sooner and sooner giving the feeling that we go from Halloween to Christmas, jack-o-lanterns to trees!  All of the holidays seem to be so commercialized that it has seems to have lost it's value.

As we get ready to celebrate a season of Thanksgiving, let's remember that every day we should offer thanks.  On the hardest days, there are still reasons to be thankful.  I truly feel like education is the best place to be and I am so thankful that every day I get to be immersed in it.  I love to learn, I love to see children's eyes light up when they finally "get it," I love to provide opportunities for others to grow, and I love the environment that schools provide every day.

In a world that is so busy to get on to the next thing or the next holiday, let's take some time this week to pause and give thanks.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Activities for Our Kids

Kids are so busy these days.  School can sometimes feel like an extra-curricular activity instead of a priority.  By the end of the week, kids are really dragging at school and you can tell that they haven't gotten enough sleep.  They may also be spending so much time after school and in the evenings on activities that they aren't practicing math facts and reading.  In order to excel, students need to practice outside of the school day to. 

Don't get me wrong, having activities is great for kids.  Exposing them to a variety of activities or crafts is good for development.  However, there can be a point when kids have too much going on.  This report came across my desk recently and I think it is worth the time to read.  In a world where everything is instant and we are go, go, go, it's important that we also take time for ourselves and rest.  It's ok for kids to be bored, or have a weekend with "nothing" to do!

This report is produced from the National Association of Elementary School Principals and is intended to be shared with parents.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Nebraska Reading Bill

Recently the state of Nebraska passed the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act (Section 79-2601-79-2607).  This bill along with the Nebraska READS initiative are designed to give students every opportunity to gain proficiency in early literacy skills that will enable later access to comprehension and analysis of complex text. You can check out this website for more information.

Nebraska is not alone in this endeavor.  Majority of the states have recognized the need to bring renewed focus to early intervention and struggling readers.  The Nebraska Reading Improvement Act and Nebraska READS initiative emphasize the need for pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade student to have access to high-quality instruction, and for struggling readers to receive targeted, individualized support.

What exactly does this reading bill mean?  

  • Three times a year (fall, winter, spring) schools will give an approved assessment from the state of Nebraska to determine where students fall in the category of reading.  
  • If students fall below the reading threshold for that term, they need to be placed on an Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP) until that student's score is above the threshold at the next testing time.
  • Schools must report these results to parents and include a written plan for what interventions will be used to help boost a student's reading.
  • This reading bill is for students in grades kindergarten through third grade.   
  • Communication with your child's teacher is key to success in their academics.  Make sure you are following up and understanding what your child's scores mean.  Ask questions!
What are reading interventions?

  • Reading interventions means a variety of things.  Teachers provide additional opportunities to learn or acquire reading skills beyond the regular reading instruction that is given each day.  This might come from small groups in class, one on one time, or through Title I services.

What happens if a student is below the threshold numbers at the end of 3rd grade?

  • All students at Freeman are monitored 3 times a year and their test scores are recorded.  That data is used to analyze how a student is doing and what additional interventions or things that need to be done to help that student continue to improve in reading.  Students in 3rd grade will not be retained if they perform below the reading threshold.  
What can parents do to help their child boost their reading skills?

  • The best thing that parents can do to help their child become a better reader is to READ!  Set aside 15-20 minutes every night to read to or with your child(ren).  
  • Immerse them in different forms of literature.  Make it a regular practice to go to the library or bookstore.  
  • After you have read a story or chapter in a book, ask them questions about the reading.  Make predictions about what might happen next.  
  • Make sure books are accessible.  Your child will be more likely to pick up a book and read if they are out in the open and easy to find.
  • Choose books of interest to your child to read.  Have them help pick them out, even if they are above their reading level.
  • Talk about letters and sounds.  Help your child learn the names of letters and sounds that they make.
  • Sing rhyming songs, read rhyming books.  this helps them learn new sounds in words.
  • Reading doesn't end when the school year ends or there is an extended vacation.  Continue to read when school is on break or over the summer.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Freeman Strong

My top 5:  arranger, learner, input, individualization, relator

About a month ago, we had planned on having a Freeman Strengths Day for all students and staff in grades PK-12.  However, Mother Nature had different plans and brought one her many winter snow storms this winter.  There was so much time and planning that went into planning this day that it all seemed disappointing.  Luckily, we were able to move it to February 19th with the same speakers that we originally booked.  As Mother Nature reared her head again, it looked like this week's event might not happen either.  The weather held off for 1 day so we could squeak it in!

If you are not familiar with what strengths are, I am hoping this post will fill you in and encourage you to look at little deeper into how it can impact your life.  I will admit that it has taken me a little while to get on board and see how it can be a benefit in my life and my work life.  But now that I am into it and learning, it has made a difference in how I see others and understand how they work.

A huge shout out goes to Mr. Tony Jensen.  He is our Ag teacher and FFA sponsor.  He has really embraced the strengths and put a lot of effort into growing it at Freeman.  Perhaps you have heard of Gallup, which is based in Omaha, by the way:

"We're a global analytics and advice firm that helps leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems."

One of the many services that they offer is giving the Clifton Strengths Finder.  If you go to their website, you can take the assessment right now and find out what your top 5 strengths are.  In fact, you can find out what your top 34 are.  The philosophy behind learning about your top 5 is to use your strengths to better understand how you naturally work and develop your greatest talents.  It also helps you recognize that in others and instead of focusing on what people are weak or not good at, you focus on what they are good at or their strengths.  Think of how much stronger the work force would be if that was the focus instead of the other way around?

Mr. Jensen has created a Strengths group that meets monthly to talk about using their strengths and spotting strengths around them in others.  This can help you better understand how to work with others.  This has been helpful in working with children in school.  The school has been working for 2 years to get everyone in the building to take the Strengths Finder assessment to identify their top 5.  All the teachers now have completed it in addition to all students grades 5-12.  For the younger students, we are talking about what strengths are and how you can use them productively.  As they get older, hopefully they will better understand them and then take the assessment themselves.

Out of this group, came the idea of creating a Strengths Day that included ALL the teachers and students doing similar activities embracing their strengths and working together on tasks.  There were some donations and grant money that helped provide t-shirts for everyone in the building with a logo that was designed by a student at school.

The team created a schedule of rotations broken up by grades K-4 and 5-12.  Students were placed in groups with students in multiple grade levels.  We began and ended the day with an assembly and had several speakers including DeMoine Adams, former Husker football player.  There were science STEM activities to launch marshmallows and hold metal washers, activities to design locker signs or capes with your top strengths, refreshments and games, and the reading of How Full Is Your Bucket? 

The day was powerful.  It was pretty amazing to see so many students and staff learning about their strengths and how they can be empowered by them.  I know that it made an impact because my two girls didn't stop talking about it at the dinner table last night.  They were all kinds of chatty about the strengths that they have and how they can use them and why they possess them.

In a world where we tend to focus on the negative and the "this isn't good enough" it was refreshing to feel uplifted and see 450+ people doing good in the world.  This was definitely a day to celebrate and be proud of.  I can't wait to see what we will do next!

If you are wanting to learn more about Strengths Day, go to Twitter and search #freemanfalcons or #freemanstrengths  

Sunday, January 27, 2019

One School One Book

February is right around the corner which means it is one of my FAVORITE times of the year.  One School One Book is kicking off February 1.  Each family at Freeman will be receiving a FREE copy of the chosen book this year along with a reading guide, bookmark, and maybe even a fun surprise! 

Why do I love this project so much?  Reading is a passion of mine.  I am a bookaholic (if that is even a word) I am pretty sure.  I have been collecting boxes of books since I can remember.  Each time we move, I am reminded of the hundreds of titles and thousands of pounds that get shuffled in and out of boxes.  You would think in a digital age, most of these would be on an iPad or Kindle, but no.  There is something thrilling to me to hold a book in my hand and having a sense of accomplishment with every page that I turn.  I can quickly go back through to re-read if I missed a detail or make a note on the side if I want to remember something for later.

Every day, Monday through Friday, family's will be given a reading assignment from the book that we are all reading.  The next day in class, there will be a short discussion with the other students about what was read the day before.  There might even be little activities that go along with the story from time to time.  It's fun to have conversations with the kids at school about the characters from the book or what they think will happen next.  The weekends are meant for catch up time because we understand that life is busy!

The part that I love the MOST about this project is that it provides an opportunity for family's to come together at night, before school, in the car, wherever and read together.  It provides a chance for discussion about life, or what happened at school that day.  So many times we are rushed from one activity to the next that we don't take time to sit down and have intentional, uninterrupted time together.  This is such an important part of a students day!  Plus it promotes reading as a family. 

Parents often ask teachers, "How can I help my child be a better reader?"  The answer is simple.  READ.  If you are wondering why reading for 20 minutes each night makes a difference, look at this chart below.

When I see statistics like the chart above, I get pretty passionate about reading each night at home.  If you are struggling with what to read, just pick something.  Don't worry so much about the content or if it is too easy, or too difficult for them to understand.  When my daughters were one years old, my husband and I would put them in their cribs, sit down on the floor of their bedroom and read Harry Potter with a book light.  We knew they didn't understand the story line, but they got used to hearing how we read.  They heard the pauses and inflections, the excitement or worry.  They might even have picked up on our facial expressions.  The girls are 7 now and even on the nights that we get home late, past their bedtime, we cannot go to sleep without a story, even if it is a short one. 

Make reading a habit.  Just like your bedtime routine, add reading together the last thing you do before lights are off and you tuck them in.

We will be giving out clues as to what the title of our book will be this week so be sure to follow us on Twitter #freemanfalcons or @erinsieh and our Facebook Page, Freeman Elementary School.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Happy New Year

2019    Turning the calendar over to a new year, for a lot of people, means starting over, setting goals, creating resolutions. Many are really motivated for the first few weeks. It is a fact that gym memberships sky rocket in January and then by the end of the month, most people go back to their old habits and feel defeated that they fell off the wagon.  They are a loser and will never make their goals.  Eleven months go by and they find themselves gearing up for a motivating new year again.

I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions. I am more of a goal setter. It's true, that if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them. Even if you have set them aside for a while. Don't get me wrong, I love starting a new year and the energy it can bring with the newness. Just the same that I like starting each school year over in August.  It's refreshing and inviting.

Of course there is nothing special about starting in January.  You can start new goals any time of the year.  In fact, I like to re-evaluate in the summer and if need be, self correct a little bit or set some new goals.

I encourage you to set some goals for yourself. It can be for 2019, or for the month of January. Keep setting goals, make them realistic and attainable, but also think outside the box a little. Here are a few of mine for the year:

Complete a Marathon
Connect with a friend on a weekly basis
Read 2-3 books a month
Create more experiences/memories with my family instead of collecting more "things"
Cutting my social media browsing down by 1/3

The scariest goal on my list is a marathon.  This has been an ambition of mine for about 20 years.  For the half marathons that I have completed, after crossing the finish line, I can't imagine running that race all over again.  There is no way my body can will itself through another grueling 13 miles.  However, there is something exciting about putting a really lofty goal on your calendar.  Don't get me wrong, I am terrified to run 26.2 miles.  But I am also excited for a challenge that is probably as hard as anything I have ever done.  Thank goodness I have a great support system and some friends to encourage me along the way.

Today was an easy day.  I am at the start of my training for a half marathon in May.  The full will be in the fall.  It's the days 2 months from now, where I haven't gotten good sleep, my legs ache, the wind is blowing 25 mph and I am just not "feeling" like lacing up my shoes.  Those are going to be the hard days.

What about starting the new year at school.  One of the biggest mistakes that we make coming back is asking kids "how was your break?"  It's just a natural question.  However, there are some kiddos that had a rotten break and would much rather have been here, at school, than not.  Maybe there weren't any presents under the tree, or maybe not even a tree or decorations.  Perhaps the heat had been turned off or there were no family gatherings to go to.  I was once told that instead of saying "how was your break?"  You should just look at each child, smile, and tell them that you are glad they are here.

As you think about starting the second semester, or maybe just as you think about kids and life in general, I hope you take the time to watch this Ted Talk from Rita Pierson.  It is about 7 minutes, but it is worth your while.  Indeed every kid needs a champion, and I hope that you will be a champion for someone.

Every Kid Needs a Champion by Rita Pierson