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Life Lessons from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Artwork by Heather Hatcher

It was so much fun sharing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of my all-time favorite children’s books, with our students, staff, and families in March. As with all great literature, the story is more than a poor boy finding a Golden Ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar that earns him a tour of Mr Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and ultimately the role of Mr. Wonka’s successor. Embedded in this fantastic tale are life lessons that apply today just as much as they did in 1964 when the book was first published.

Here are some things we can learn from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

  1. Learn to follow directions. Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee all disregard instructions to satisfy their own wants and suffer horrible consequences. Even Charlie and Grandpa Joe do not listen to Mr. Wonka’s directions about not drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drinks and almost end up cut to shreds by the fan spinning in the ceiling.FullSizeRender (1)
  1. If you dream it, you can make it happen. Nothing is impossible! All of the creative confections in the factory are the result of dreaming big and thinking outside of the box. As Willy Wonka says, ““I am the maker of music, the dreamer of dreams!”  
  1. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Greed is unattractive and often gets you in trouble. Greedy Augustus Gloop, like the other spoiled children, teaches us that drinking from the chocolate river just because you want to and cannot control yourself only means you have contaminated the chocolate for everyone else and you are going to end up in the toffee room being pulled and stretched. Think about how your actions affect others.
  1. Be grateful for the important and simple things in life. Although Charlie could be jealous of the spoiled children who also found Golden Tickets, we don’t see himFullSizeRender (2)comparing himself to those more fortunate. Charlie is a kind and loving boy.  Instead of yearning for materialistic things, Charlie focuses on his loving family and the simple joy of enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the factory with Grandpa Joe.
  1. The best things in life are worth waiting for. Trust the process. Unlike the other children touring the factory, Charlie shows patience and takes time to marvel at and enjoy every invention and room in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. He does not just focus on his own wants and whims. The expression “good things come to those who wait” certainly applies in this story.  

Please continue to read great books full of important lessons with your children at home. You might consider reading some of Roald Dahl’s other books such as Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and The BFG to enjoy marvelous characters involved in imaginative tales that offer real-world lessons about life.


Reflections of a First-Year Principal

Today is officially the last day of my first year as a principal. Every crazy, inspiring, funny moment from the past year is permanently etched in my memory and will inspire and inform my decisions next year and beyond. The lessons I’ve learned and skills I’ve developed are many, but there are some things that stand out as the most important points to identify as I sum up this year and move forward.

Leadership develops from the ground up. My staff and students dictate what I do, and being in tune to their needs helps me lead and support them. I need to constantly check in with them to assess what is working in our school and what is not.

Developing a thick skin as a leader is essential, but you must work just as hard to keep your heart intact on the inside. Principals are bombarded with a lot of negatives: difficult students, sad home situations, disgruntled parents. The job is emotionally draining, and it is important not to get too absorbed in every hardship experienced by students, staff, and families. At the same time, it is important to maintain compassion and empathy when dealing with unfortunate situations. Balancing an openness to distress with an emotional detachment to remain strong is a constant challenge.

Setting high expectations for all fosters a growth mindset and helps ensure that everyone is working toward their his or her greatest potentials. Both children and adults will perform at the level where you expect the least capable member of the group to function. Believe that everyone can achieve greatness, and most will reach that level of performance. It isn’t enough to just articulate what you expect. A good leader needs to be ready to provide assistance and resources, as well.

Relationships are everything. All members of the school community needs to feel that they are unique, valued, and have a voice. Through developing relationships with students, staff members, and parents, a school leader cultivates trust. That trust motivates individuals to work harder and take risks using their unique talents. In turn, a positive school culture emerges when people feel that their principal supports them and cares about their well-being.

With my first year of learning as a foundation, I look forward to using this insight to make the second year even better than the first!

My Word for 2016: Intention


imgres-7Rather than developing a New Year’s resolution, I decided to choose a vision for the year based on one word: intention. This year, I made a commitment to myself to live every day with intention. Every moment of each day is a choice, and I want to mindfully direct my actions with my goals, beliefs, and dreams serving as the compass for each decision I make. Every day, I want to intentionally choose how I spend my time, how I exert my energy, how I focus my thoughts, and the environment that I create to surround me. With my intentions driving my actions, I believe I can maximize my opportunities and have the greatest impact. The idea of living with intention will be the anchor that steadies my focus on being purposeful and mindful in all aspects of life, particularly in my role as an educational leader.

In order to fully develop my understanding of intention, I read books and blogs, listened to podcasts, and collected quotes. All of the thinkers I examined shared similar beliefs that intention is about knowing who we are, assessing the culture around us, and making choices. Being intentional is living the life you were born to live, finding your passion, setting goals, staying focused, and learning from other people. It is apparent that intention extends into all facets of life from personal to professional, which is how I intend (pun intended) to apply what I discovered about intention in the various roles of my life.

Intention is very spiritual. It helps you discover your true character and find ways to develop yourself to your greatest potential. Setting intention is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are being in the present moment. Your attention is on the here and now in the rapidly changing course of your life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

Intention is about being creative and abundant. Most people view intention as having determination or strong will or control, but it is more about having the power to create and tap into unlimited abundance. According to Dr. Wayne Dyer, author of The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-create Your World Your Way, intention is a source of energy that lives within each of us. He feels that intent is inspiration, “when an idea gets hold of you and you feel compelled to let that impulse or energy carry you along.” Great musicians, writers, athletes, and artists tap into that source. “When you’re connected to the power of intention, everywhere you go, and everyone you meet, is affected by you and the energy you radiate. As you become the power of imgres-2.jpgintention, you’ll see your dreams being fulfilled almost magically, and you’ll see yourself creating huge ripples in the energy fields of others by your presence and nothing more.”

Intention is about getting results. According to Dr. Mindy Hall, author of Leading with Intention, “Every interaction—whether presenting to an entire organization or talking one-on-one with a colleague—is an opportunity to influence and inspire others to achieve extraordinary results”. She feels that your ability to do that depends on how aware you are of your impact and the care and discipline with which you choose your actions.

As an elementary principal, I want to be more aware of myself in each moment and truly understand how my choices and actions are impacting my students, my staff, parents, and the greater school community. Throughout the day, I need to see myself from the perspective of those I serve. Am I coming across as being grounded, prepared, transparent, approachable, and competent? Am I contributing and making a difference through my deliberate choices? Are my beliefs and values about children, teaching, and learning reflected and executed through my actions? Am I consistent in my efforts? 

Four days into 2016, and I have awakened each day and asked myself, “How am I going to make this day great and engage in every moment?” Each day, the answer to that question has been grounded in intention.

Happy New Year!


Earth Day Makerspace

Since our exploration of the makerspace concept has been a huge success and the students were asking for more tinkering activities, Earth Day seemed like a great opportunity to link makerspace activities to conservation. Makerspaces in schools are stocked with various supplies and materials for students to use to invent. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to invite students to bring in recyclables and items destined for the garbage to use to create. Students would learn how to reuse materials to produce novel things, combining conservation with innovation.

I shared our plan with Laura McDonell, a middle school teacher whose class has been collaborating with my class on Genius Hour projects and makerspace activities. She sent me a list of makerspace ideas generated by her students to use for our Earth Day projects, and we were ready to celebrate Earth Day in a fun, creative way.

On Earth Day, I printed the makerspace ideas on slips of paper and readied a table for the students’ “trash”. After the children arrived, I partnered them and told the pairs to choose an item to create. Then, they could pick six materials from the garbage/recyclable table to use in some way in their inventions. In addition to the selected materials, the students could use any other available material or resource in their construction. They discussed their ideas, planned designs, created prototypes, redesigned and improved their ideas, and tested their inventions. The final projects were clever and forward-thinking in design, and throughout the entire process students were excited and engaged. The students are excited to share their creations in the video posted below! Happy Earth Day, every day!