Oct 26th - Oct 26th, 2020 - Board of Education meeting
6:30 p.m. - Mount Olive Middle School (tentative location)
Nov 2nd - Nov 4th, 2020 - SHORTENED DAYS – K-8 only
Nov 3rd - Nov 3rd, 2020 - SCHOOLS CLOSED
|Michael Wojcik with his "I am going to train my brain" poster|
When we care about each other and our classroom, we share what we have, listen carefully, help each other learn, work hard, and have fun.
We understand that everyone makes mistakes, that we stand up for ourselves and others, and when someone asks us to stop, we stop.
This is who we are, even when no one is watching!
A poster with the above proclamation hangs prominently in Kathy Diefes’ classroom. It’s a testament to the district’s Elementary School Rules for Success, CARES: caring, acceptance, responsibility, empathy, and sharing. The rules are part of Mount Olive’s continued emphasis on social emotional learning which includes helping students develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. (Those are the five core areas identified by the state department of education as essential for positive school climate and healthy social development.)
Diefes has actively embraced SEL and sees it as an essential part of making her hybrid classroom of virtual students and in-person students function as a unit. But more than helping transcend the digital walls and make those individuals alone in their living rooms feel and function as a single classroom unit, the focus is on inspiring students to appreciate their uniqueness and grow.
One of her main themes so far in the school year has been the cultivation of a growth mindset in students. This basic principle, that our brains can stretch to do more than we did yesterday and we’re all works in progress, helps keep students focused. They learn to accept that mistakes are a part of learning and that with effort comes reward.
“It’s important that children realize that I don’t expect them to be perfect,” Diefes said. “I find that students often put a lot of pressure on themselves to be where they think I, or their parents, expect them to be. I want them to know that the most important things are for them to be who they are, give me their best effort and persevere, and be kind.
Several storybooks helped teach about growth mindset and the ability to accept failure. “The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes,” for example, told the tale of Beatrice who suffers from the anxiety caused by being considered perfect by her parents and peers. When Beatrice makes a whopper of a mistake in front of the whole school, she’s relieved rather than embarrassed. With the pressure lifted, she’s free to be a kid again.
In “I Can’t Do That,Yet,” a girl without self-confidence falls asleep and dreams of meeting a dozen versions of her older self, each with different abilities. She learns not to be frustrated that she doesn’t have certain skills because time and effort are the only factors separating her from being who she wants to be.
With insight from these, books, the third-graders made posters of some of their own “yets” such as multiply fractions, cook, sew, and do a headstand.
“They get it, they understand the message,” Diefes said. “It’s okay if we don’t have it yet. We’ll work hard and we’ll all get there together. Along the way we’ll make mistakes, but it’s all part of learning.”
One teacher’s journey to make virtual learning as powerful as she can
Rebecca Hopler teaches her remote students while at her desk surrounded by several laptops. This mission control set-up allows the fourth grade teacher to quickly move in and out of small virtual workgroups engaged in different levels of coursework, while keeping her eye on everyone. It’s a ballet of engagement and personalized instruction similar to what she would do with a classroom full of real-life students learning in person.
Remote instruction poses unique instructional hurdles to approximate the in-school experience; student engagement is perhaps the tallest. For Hopler, engaging her remote students with active, meaningful, and thought-provoking lessons requires bringing all her 16-years of classroom experience and resourcefulness to bear.
“The planning for each day really starts a week in advance,” she said. “I look at the material we need to cover, then I start researching online, doing screenshots of informational websites, and getting digital ideas by looking at what other teachers have done in the virtual world. I’m always working a week out, gathering and planning since I am not working with curriculum that is geared towards virtual learning. So I always have to start from the ground up for every lesson, in every subject, for every day.”
Keeping students engaged
Hopler leverages technology to keep students continually interacting with subject content, usually on quick assignments throughout the school day. Remote instruction in which teachers are streaming live all day is new territory that requires a new way of thinking about engagement. During the course of the day you might see the fourth-graders creating interactive multimedia bulletin boards via Padlet.com, dragging and dropping movable icons to indicate their answers or choices, and typing in short answers on a digital worksheet. Anything that will keep kids doing, actively engaged in their own learning. And with a click of a button, the students can send their work to their teacher for review.
Through Pear Deck, an add-on to Google Slides, Hopler presents lessons that include quick knowledge checks to gauge student understanding on the fly. The students’ answers are immediately tabulated. The results can show many students correctly answered a math problem, for example, or have correctly identified the main idea of a paragraph from a list of multiple choices. Hopler can then use that data to identify the students who need more personalized instruction, perhaps in a small group, or she can re-teach the material to the entire class. Pear Deck can also be configured to allow students to draw their responses in illustration form.
Developing personal/interpersonal skills
This year, the district has continued its emphasis on social emotional learning to help students develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. (Those are the five core areas identified by the state department of education as essential for positive school climate and healthy social development.) For students working remotely, physically separated from their classmates and teachers, the cultivation of these personal/interpersonal abilities requires special attention. Building relationships and developing the necessary social skills to communicate effectively with peers and work collaboratively are more difficult when dealing with just faces on a screen. While technology can link everyone together, it’s the role of the teacher to transcend the digital walls and make those individuals alone in their living rooms feel and function as a single classroom unit.
All the teachers in the building begin each day with a morning meeting devoted to developing various character traits and social skills. For Hopler, this time and the end-of-the-day checkout she conducts are crucial blocks to help her fourth-graders become better acquainted with each other and better acquainted with her.
The SEL lessons are centered around weekly themes that she chooses such as respect, responsibility, and empathy. Activities allow students to share their thoughts and feelings; however, building a classroom spirit of community and providing time for her to meaningfully bond with each student are equally important goals.
“My whole philosophy is to create a classroom family, whether we are virtual or not,” said Hopler. “That’s who I am. Developing those bonds and level of trust is key, particularly early on in the school year. When my students feel secure and happy, learning goes more smoothy. If they have a problem, they’re not afraid to come to me. With virtual learning, it’s even more important. I can’t give my kids a high-five or a hug, so I connect however I can.”
To make remote learning feel even more like actually attending school in person, Hopler created a virtual classroom over the summer. This emoji view of the front of a classroom grounds students in the familiar – and even includes an emoji Hopler, too. The virtual classroom serves as a portal which provides easy access to a wealth of digital resources such as the daily health screening form, e-books, links to informational websites, class assignments, SEL books and websites, a monthly calendar and specials schedule, enrichment activities, and a supply list.
Nicole O’Connell recently joined the Tinc Road family as the school’s new instructional supervisor.
The veteran educator hit the job running. Taking on a new position in a new district is normally difficult on its own, but learning new faces and procedures while in the midst of planning for the post-pandemic reentry of students provided unique challenges.
“When I started in July, we were focused on preparing for situations and solutions that we as educators have never had to prepare for before,” O’Connell said. “It was intense. We wanted to make sure our plans were well-thought out and we were doing everything we could to ensure the safety of students and staff while also making sure instruction was as engaging as possible. Doing all that while at the same time trying to build relationships with teachers made for some very late nights.”
O’Connell brings a wealth of diverse experience to the role. She spent 11 years as a teacher with the Clifton Public Schools, 10 of those teaching kindergarten and first grade. While in Clifton she also served as a new teacher mentor, a grade-level team leader, and a coordinator of the district’s morning and aftercare program. In addition, she developed and delivered a variety of professional development literacy workshops, and collaborated with supervisors and staff to create district-wide curriculum pacing guides and assessments.
A familiar face at Tinc Road, O’Connell spent time here and in the district’s other elementary schools conducting professional development as an educational consultant for Achieve3000, a web-based learning platform which provides personalized instruction and remediation to students. She presented workshops to third grade teachers on navigating Achieve’s resources and using Achieve data to finetune instruction, and modeled student lessons.
O’Connell also previously served as a K-5 technology teacher in a charter school in Paterson.
Channeling her enthusiasm for health and wellness, O'Connell studied and became certified to teach children’s yoga and mindfulness. In 2018, she created a program to lead mindfulness and movement workshops for kids and educators.
“Early on I realized what I was bringing into the classroom, the energy and emotion, would affect my students,” she said. “I started to come into my classroom and slow down, turn the lights down, and give my kids the chance to settle in and do something calming. This time really gave me a chance to build connections with them. It became a passion project of mine.”
Tinc Road’s new instructional supervisor holds a bachelor’s in family and child studies from Montclair State University and a master’s in literacy education from New Jersey City University. In addition to yoga and meditation, she enjoys reading, baking, the great outdoors, and spending time with her two dogs.
Sandshore Elementary School
498 Sandshore Rd
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mountain View Elementary School
118 Cloverhill Drive
Flanders, NJ 07836
Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mt. Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road
Budd Lake, NJ 07828