Make it Count!


What has been your ONE biggest struggle this year?

  • Anyone who is passionate about his/her job can relate to my biggest struggle – maintaining work/life balance. It is a constant struggle for me but one I committed to tackling head on last year after a tough year of being very out of balance. I love my job and want to be the best principal I can for the community which I serve and I have learned that I need to maintain balance in order to do that. Three things I put in place to do this: #1. 7:30-5:00 are my weekday hours unless I have a meeting or an emergency, #2. I joined a tennis club and play twice a week, and most importantly, #3. I reach out to my Work/Life Balance Voxer Group when I start to feel out of balance. By no means am I 100% in balance, but each day gets better!

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this year.

  • This year our school worked together as a community to create a Constitution for our school. The process involved staff and students and I am very proud of our final product. We also started monthly, student led assemblies that celebrate the core values in our Constitution. Click here to read a blog post that elaborates on our work.
  • I am really proud of my ever growing PLN. Each and every day they inspire me, motivate me and help me to become a better Lead Learner than I was the day before. Thank you to #PrincipalsinAction, #LeadUpNow, #MESPAChat, #PrincipalsinAction, #KidsAchieve, #Work.Life.Balance, #SatChat, #T4thFStudy. We truly are better together! Click here for an example of why!

What are THREE things you wish to accomplish by the end of the school year?

  • Currently at RLS, we have several community members working on five passion projects. My consummate goal always is to make the world a more better place because we have been it. These projects have this goal in mind and, when completed, will make this an even better school than it already is! Stay tuned for more details as we aren’t ready to unveil our work quite yet…
  • Thanks to Adam Welcome and my colleagues at #PrincipalsInAction, I have been getting into classrooms for read alouds more often this year. This year I have read Beautiful Hands and Miss Rumphius. My goal is to do at least two more read alouds before the year ends.
  • I am hopeful that at year’s end, each grade level will have led one Constitution Celebration!

Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough climate.

  • Bottom line – the kids. #KidsDeserveIt
  • I am passionate about providing a high quality education – academically, socially and emotionally – for all kids. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
  • Since I was a young child I have been a part of the Camp Arcadia family. One of our core values, based on the teachings of Edward Bok, is to “Make the world more beautiful because you have been in it.”
  • This job is the perfect match for my personality! I consider myself to be a very positive person. Truth be told, in a former school a colleague nicknamed me Peppermint Patty Positive Pants! Have you ever tried to walk through an elementary school without smiling? It is virtually impossible!!! I can’t imagine doing anything else that would make me happier.

Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

  • Mike Leander, Kathleen Valenti, Carolyn Boyce and anyone else in the #MESPAChat who has yet to write one!
  • Louise Fritts Johnson as Camp Arcadia is one of my strongest educational touchstones.
  • Anyone in the #PrincipalsInAction Voxer Group who has yet to take on the challenge. Blogger extraordinaire, Adam Welcome, I can’t find yours???

Will you join the ‘Make It Count’ challenge? I assure you it is a powerful reflection exercise. Click below to be inspired by others who work tirelessly to make each day count because #KidsDeserveIt! By reading these, it is clear that there is so much to celebrate in America’s schools.

Elaine Mead, MA Principal

 Tammy Imgarten, CA Teacher

Jennifer Kloczko, CA Principal

Liz Garden, MA Principal

Kelley McCall, Principal

Jessica Cabeen, MN Principal

Eric Ewald, Principal

Jeff Kubiak, Principal

Jay Posick, WI Principal

Chris Dodge, MA Principal

Kas Nelson, Principal – thanks for starting this challenge with our PIA!

Meghan Lloyd, Choir Teacher

Chante Jillison, MA Principal

Efrain Martinez, Principal

Hope Kloczko, 1st Grade Teacher

Crislyn Doran, 4th Grade Teacher

Claire Giardino, OH Principal

Anthony Purcell, Math Teacher and rumored originator of the challenge!


Championing the Needs of All Learners


Each year our school calendar provides several early release days for teacher professional development. In fact, we have one coming up this week! These days are critical for our staff to collaborate with one another and to learn from one another to support the day-to-day teaching and learning in our classrooms. A lot has changed in our curriculum over the last five years, and this time allows teachers to continue to refine their practice to meet the needs of our students.

In addition to these half days, teachers meet during the school day periodically to discuss student progress and to plan for how we can best meet the needs of our learners. Over the last two weeks, each grade level came together with our intervention team to do this important work. Student progress for those students not yet meeting benchmarks in reading, writing or math was discussed by their teachers – What were the goals we designed at our last meeting? What has he/she been working on during WINN? During class? How has the child progressed? What are the needs for the next 6-8 weeks? How can we work together to ensure she/he continues to make or to exceed this level of progress?

I can not begin to share how impressed I was with our staff during these meetings. The dedication they have to your children is impressive and deserves to be shouted from the rooftops! Their passion and enthusiasm for meeting the needs of our learners shone through during these meetings as did a deep level of knowledge regarding who each child is as an individual learner. Students who are not yet at benchmark are making progress due to the hard work, dedication and passion of our Intervention Team and our classroom teachers. I know you join me in thanking each of them for their hard work! We are lucky to have such a dedicated group of individuals championing the needs of our children!

When a learner struggles, it is critical for a caring adult to step in to provide guidance and support so that the child does not become discouraged. He/she needs to be skilled in developing targeted goals and designing meaningful intervention so that the child feels success. These small successes breed increased efforts which lead to further success. At RLS, we are lucky to have a staff who is committed to honing our skills in this area through Professional Development and regular collaboration with each other. At RLS we are committed to working together so that all students achieve!

If you are interested in learning more about our WINN block (What I Need Now), I encourage you to read this blog post. Included in the post, is a link to a presentation that outlines this program further.


Thank you Dr. King

One Principal's Musings

I sent this email to the families at the school where I am Principal this afternoon and thought I would share here as well:

Good afternoon,
As we pause today to celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I cannot help but be struck by how far we have come as a nation and as a people in the past 60 years. It is astonishing to me that it was only 58 years ago (1954) that the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Bd. of Education that the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place in the sphere of public education. Society takes time to catch up with legislation as is clear by the fact that nine years later, in 1963, Dr. King gave his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech. Visiting classrooms last week, I was able to participate in many lessons focused…

View original post 190 more words

Dear Mr. Trump,


Dear Mr. Trump,

Recently I started to put together my school’s budget for the FY17 school year. Ironically, while doing so I was listening to CNN and a report came on discussing how you had announced that, starting in the New Year, you would start spending $2 million dollars a week on political ads. I wonder, would you consider just spending $1.9 million instead and donating the other $100,000 to my school?

I’ve been thinking about writing this letter to you since I first saw that news story over vacation. I am struck by the disparity that exists between the haves and have nots in this country. I am also struck by how much money is spent needlessly in this country each and every day while so many children struggle to get their needs met. How is that possible? I’m wondering if your campaign would notice the difference between $2 million and $1.9 million? How would that impact your advertising campaign? Would it impact it at all? I assure you, $100,000 a week, for even just four weeks, would have a significant impact on the children and staff at my school as our struggles are real and felt each and every day.

What I could do with $100,000 a week…even just for a month! Here’s my spending plan in case you are even considering this question:

Week 1: This week I would like to hire two additional teachers to reduce class size in kindergarten and grade 5. Currently these class sizes average 28 due to budget cuts last year. Have you ever tried to teach 27 five-year-olds at a time? It’s not easy and it isn’t much easier with 11 year olds – trust me. You are welcome to come and visit if you’d like to give it a try! We usually budget $63,000 for a teacher but, since it’s January, I would need $37,800 for six months so I could hire two more teachers for $75,600 leaving $24,400 for this week. I would like to bank that for now.

Week 2: This week I would like to hire two more teachers; this time to reduce class sizes in grade 3 and grade 6. These grades have class sizes that range from 26 to 32 again due to a budget shortfall last year. The additional staffing will be greatly appreciated by the children (and the teachers)! Again, let’s bank the $24,400.

Week 3: This week I would like to hire a social worker. Currently, with a school of 402, we only have one guidance counselor. We are lucky to partner with a fabulous organization who comes in to provide counseling to children 4 days a week, but we need more people to be able to support the mental health needs of our children. Along the same lines, I would like to provide the Responsive Classroom I course to all of my teachers – I have been trying to figure out where that $30,000 would come from since I started this position last year! This leaves $32,200 for the bank this week.

Week 4: Wow, now that we have the staffing we need, there are some projects I would love to fund so we don’t have to do fundraisers. We are looking to provide more activities for kids to do at recess and would love to build a gaga pit and a lego wall. We were going to do a fundraiser to buy the materials and build our own pit, but we can buy one for $4000 which will reduce the burden to our already financially strapped community, not to mention it will get the kids playing quicker! The Lego Wall, I am sure we could do for $1000 if not less! We are starting a school garden and $1000 should also cover our expenses there. Recently I have heard a lot of people talking about getting Spheros and drones in the hands of their kids – we could get a fleet of both for $4000. That brings this week to $10,000 leaving $90,000 for the bank.

What to do with the $170,800 that now sits in the bank? I am sure I could find a way to spend it but the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to invest much of this money so that we can continue to hire the above staff members in future years. It will be great to have them for the next six months but to truly make a long-term impact, we need them in future years as well. I would also like to set up a fund so that families who are struggling can reach out to us for support in terms of gift cards for clothes and food. Our community could really use this support.

What do you think? Can we make it happen?


A Principal with Dreams for Her Kids

MESPA Presentation 11.06.15


Click the photo above to download the opening Power Point – I highly recommend you follow all of the Principals mentioned!

Learning By Doing: Twitter

Step 1: Create a Twitter Account: Visit Keep your user name short – with 140 characters, every character counts!


Step 2: Build Your PLN: Find your team members on Twitter and follow them!

tweetStep 3: Composing a Tweet: In the upper right hand corner of your screen, click on the ‘Compose Tweet’ button. Compose a tweet sharing one take away from Kim Marshall’s key note. Add the hashtag #MESPAChat to your tweet.

searchStep 4: Using the Search Function to Follow Job Alikes: In the upper right hand corner of your screen, there is a search field. Type your job title (e.g. Elementary Principal) into the search field. On the results page, click on ‘Accounts.’ All of these people mentioned being an elementary principal in their profile. Click on their bolded name or their Twitter handle to open their profile. Find one person who interests you and follow him/her! 
nameStep 5: Using the Search Function to Follow a Specific Person: Type my name, Julie Vincentsen, into the search field. Click the follow button if you want to follow me. This is how you would then search for people by name on Twitter.
hashtagStep 6: Hashtags: Use the search field to find #MESPAChat.
likeStep 7: Liking & Retweeting: On the #MESPAChat, find a post someone else wrote that you find interesting – favorite it and retweet it. You will see that you can add a comment that will appear above the retweeted quote – it is not required though!
DMStep 8: Direct Messaging: On the top left of your screen, click on the ‘Messages’ button. Follow the steps to send one of your followers a message. This is how you send a private message to someone through Twitter – there also is not a character limit. 
Step 9: Use Twitter to Get Ideas: Think of a question you have about Twitter (or anything related to education). Compose a tweet asking that question to the #MESPAChat community. Be sure to include the # in your tweet.
listsStep 10: Subscribe to Lists: Find my profile again. To the right of my picture, click on the word lists. This will bring you to a page of all of the lists I either subscribed to or created. Scroll down and find ‘Elementary Principals.’ This feed represents the tweets of the 426 elementary administrators who I added to this list. Creating a list like this allows you to filter your feed. If you hit the ‘subscribe’ button, this list will be added to your list of lists 🙂 Do you want to be added? Send me a tweet and I will be sure to add you!

We’re Better Together: The Power of the PLN


Whether it was fate or just perfect timing, I will never know, but I could not have asked for better motivation this morning than #LeadUpChat. On Friday I am presenting about the power of a PLN to a group of elementary principals at MESPA’s annual Fall Conference. My goal is to illustrate the importance of developing a strong PLN and support participants in this effort by showing them how to begin with Twitter and Voxer.

I have been reflecting a lot about my presentation and had set aside time today to put those thoughts in motion. Coffee in hand, I sat at the kitchen table, opened my computer and decided to get some motivation from my PLN by hopping on Twitter for a bit! Here was the Tweet that flew across my feed:


As we began the exhilarating, all-be-it intense hour, my introductory remarks began to take shape and then it hit me. Why am I starting my presentation speaking about my PLN? Why not let my PLN speak for me? I grabbed several of the Tweets that resonated with me and put together a slideshow of their words that screamed the importance of a PLN from the rooftops. Here are some of the highlights:

  • @lauriemeston writes: Yes! I’ve learned more in the last year supported by my PLN than I have in previous 30 yrs in eduction.
  • @brmohr writes: I also love that I can learn from my PLN anytime of the day or week – from all over the country
  • @PrincipalOgg writes: We help each other out when we can. We develop a growth mindset of learning and helping each other reach their goals.
  • @AmyHeavin writes: Through our conversation, we share insights & ideas. When we act on those ourselves, we grow. When we share others grow too!

In the presentation (click here to download it in its entirety – it’s only 3.5 minutes) which will be my opening remarks Friday, there are 50 quotes representing NINETEEN states and three COUNTRIES!!!! What more powerful message do I need than that? In the past, to learn from that diverse of an audience, I would have had to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to go to a national conference. The power of PD in 2015 is that your PLN is there for you when you need them 24/7. The PLN breaks down, no smashes down, the walls of isolation in what can be a very isolating career.

PS: If anyone knows how to get a Power Point presentation to play as a movie WITH the music, please share your expertise in the comments below. I can save it as a Quicktime movie but the audio does not convert with it.


The Power of the #


Imagine having a very organized filing cabinet filled with resources, ideas and support from thousands of educators across the globe. In an instant, you could access these educators, learn from them, share with them and get support from them whenever you needed it!

If you are interested in this type of resource then Twitter is something you absolutely need to explore. At first, I was resistant to join #TwitterNation because I, like many of you, thought it was yet another way to connect with people online or to learn mindless details about celebrities lives. After joining Twitter thanks to @sguditus, in July 2010 I realized just how wrong I was.

In five short years, I have come to appreciate Twitter as the most powerful Professional Development tool available to educators in the 21st century. The reason behind that is simple. The people whom I follow are all educators who are equally passionate about their own learning as they are about the children whom they serve.

If you are interested in exploring this PD tool, I encourage you to join today. Start by following @jvincentsen. Look at my followers and see if they may interest you. If so, follow them and continue to repeat that step! You may also be interested in looking through the list I created of over 400 elementary principals on Twitter. In no time you will begin to build your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

From there, start following some of the most popular hashtags (#) for ed leadership. What’s a hashtag you ask? This often seen symbol is an easy way to organize, sort and categorize the millions of tweets that are written each day. Hashtags serve to:

  • Help you find tweets about topics in which you are interested. Check out #MESPAChat, #PrincipalPLN, #PrincipalsinAction, #WeLeadEd, #LeadUpChat, #cpchat and #EdChatMA for popular #s in Ed Leadership.
  • Instantly link your post to a group of others about the same topic. For example, if you do not use a #, your post is only accessible to those who follow you. Add #MESPAChat and all educators who follow that # will see your post.
  • Sponsor chats (live q and a sessions) around a topic. Check out the feed from #EdChatMA at 9:00 pm on the first and third Tuesday of every month for an example.
  • Showcase your school community. Anyone from the school community can spread positive messages using your school’s #. Check out #bukercommunity (Hamilton-Wenham, MA) and #HarringtonHawks (Lexington, MA) for examples.

If you are new to Twitter or interested in joining but want some assistance, feel free to tweet any questions you have to @jvincentsen or by email at Looking forward to sharing with and learning from you online!

Capturing Struggling Readers

In a recent IEP meeting, a parent shared that her son was frustrated because he could not read the same books as his peers and he felt ‘out of it’ because he couldn’t engage in their conversations about the latest and greatest books they were reading. This led to an engaging conversation about audio books and I immediately emailed my sister as she struggled with the same thing with her two boys until they discovered audio books. She put the below together for me to share with parents. Thanks, Lisa 🙂

Audio books allow us to foster a love for literature separately from the mechanics of reading.  This is essential in motivating struggling readers.  Audio books also allow children to read independently and enjoy the same titles as their peers.  With the availability and discrete size of iPods and mp3 players, a student can listen to a book in class without drawing the attention of peers.

Sources of audio books:

The public library is a great first place to check.  Many libraries provide audio books that can be downloaded to your computer or mobile devise for free.

  • Availability: is a commercial outlet and is available to all.  It is owned by Amazon and works seamlessly with the Kindle as well as other devises.
  • Price: Membership is $15/mo. and includes one download per month.  Additional books can be downloaded for a fee ($8-15 ea).  Audible often offers membership deals and other specials.  Call their customer service for the best current plan or to suspend membership.
  • Quality: Audio books are available for many titles and are read by professional actors.
  • Read-along: In order to read along with the audio, the book must be obtained separately.
  • Devices: Each book can be downloaded onto multiple devises including personal computer, mp3 player or iPods.
  • Textbooks: Textbooks are not available.
  • Other: Some schools are obtaining memberships from Audible at discounted prices.

BookShare (

  • Availability: Bookshare is available only to people with print-based disabilities. 
  • Price: It is free.
  • Quality: The audio is computer generated and can be sped up or slowed down.
  • Read-along: BookShare is unique because the download includes text and audio.  The text is highlighted to assist reading along.
  • Devices: It is easy to use on a computer or iPod app.  The app can download a book in less than a minute, even while on the go.
  • Textbooks: Textbooks are available, but only if the membership is obtained by the school and the child is on an IEP.
  • Other: This is a great tool for people with tracking issues and to assist in fluency rates by reading along with the highlights.  However, readers can be frustrated by the computer-generated voice, which, for example, pronounces “Hermione” incorrectly.

Learning Ally ( (formerly Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic)

  • Availability: LearningAlly is available only to people with print-based disabilities. 
  • Price: An individual, unlimited, annual membership fee is $99.
  • Quality: Books are read by humans – volunteers, authors and professionals.  Some readers make mistakes.  Some books are read by multiple readers.
  • Read-along: In order to read along with the audio, the book must be obtained separately.
  • Devices: Audio books can be downloaded onto a computer or iPod app.
  • Textbooks:  LearningAlly is unique because textbooks are available to all members and illustrations and graphs are also read and described.  Textbooks are frequently read by experts in the field.
  • Other:  If a book is not available, it can be requested and will be recorded, often within two weeks.

Thanks also to @KarenJan who shared via Twitter: “& don’t forget the Speak Selection and Reader features built into iOs devices.”

Thank you Dr. King

I sent this email to the families at the school where I am Principal this afternoon and thought I would share here as well:

Good afternoon,
As we pause today to celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I cannot help but be struck by how far we have come as a nation and as a people in the past 60 years. It is astonishing to me that it was only 58 years ago (1954) that the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Bd. of Education that the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place in the sphere of public education. Society takes time to catch up with legislation as is clear by the fact that nine years later, in 1963, Dr. King gave his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech. Visiting classrooms last week, I was able to participate in many lessons focused on Dr. King and his legacy. We are fortunate to be educators, parents and guardians in 2012 where we have the responsibility to teach our children the values of peace, equality and inclusion.
If you are interested in exploring Dr. King’s legacy further with your child(ren) I encourage you to visit Wonderopolis – a website sponsored by the National Center for Family Literacy. Today’s “Wonder of the Day” is “What is a civil right?” There is a powerful, short video and some extension activities in which you may be interested.
Michael Jackson’s lyrics in the background of the video are so fitting: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror…if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change.” I think Dr. King would agree that this is a powerful message for us to share with our children who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Have a safe and enjoyable week,
Julie A. Vincentsen
Helen Keller Elementary School
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.” John Dewey

‘Tis the Season of Report Cards: Praising Effort & Setting Goals

As we move into the season of ending trimesters, distributing report cards and conferencing with parents, I wanted to share my weekly communication with families on this topic. 
Good evening,

Can you believe that it is already December and the first term of our school year is over? The teachers and I look forward to welcoming you to Parent Conferences this Thursday and Friday.

The distribution of report cards can be a big day in the life of our students. For many students, this brings a great deal of anxiety as children are concerned about how parents/guardians will react when they open the envelope. Growing up, I remember this same feeling. My parents’ mantra was “It is not the grade that counts as long as you try your best!” No matter how many times they said that though, I was still nervous handing that report card to my mom when I did not receive straight As or get top marks on effort and conduct.

I want to share with you a portion of an email sent home regarding report cards from a colleague of mine who is a 4th grade teacher in another school. She writes,

“There has been much anxiety over the report cards coming up in our morning meeting discussion sharing comments such as “If I don’t get top marks, my mom is taking away my ipod” or “My dad said I would be grounded for a month.”  Now, some of this is “talk”, but this fear of “bad” grades is real for your nine and ten-year-olds. Your children want to please you.  They want to impress you. They want you to be proud.

When I was a child, my dad was a teacher (and he still is—39 years later!). On report card day, he would look through the report card and only point out the things that really made him proud.  Then, we went out to eat or for ice cream to celebrate “Cara’s math grade, Jenna’s conduct marks, and Erik’s grades in PE and Art.”  He didn’t burst our bubble by pointing out things to improve at that moment of anxiety.  He made us feel good for our talents.  Then, a few days later, we would have a serious discussion about areas of excellence and areas to improve.  But at that moment of truth, as we stood in front of our parents holding our breath and hoping they were happy, he made us feel important, valued, and special.  When my own children’s report cards come home, I still remember the way our dad treated us and try to do the same.

When your kids come home this week with their progress reports, hug them, kiss them, tell them you are proud.  Hang up the report card.  Call the grandparents to share the great news.  Head out to celebrate hard work and effort. You’ll gain bonus points as a parent and as you head into the adolescent years, you’ll have the respect and trust of your children.”

Her story is a powerful one and it is clear that her father’s approach had a profound impact on her as a child, as a mother and as a teacher. I encourage you to take time this week to celebrate your child’s strengths and their effort over the last several months. Find a time in the next week, perhaps after conferences, to discuss his/her challenges and areas for needed growth. Ask questions like, what are your goals to improve in this area? How can I help you reach that goal? These are conversations we have in school with your children on a regular basis. I am confident that working together, we can help your child reach his/her goals!

Have a safe and enjoyable week,

Julie A. Vincentsen

Helen Keller Elementary School

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.” John Dewey

Previous Older Entries