Deceleration #sol18

Deceleration #sol18


Deceleration #sol18

November 13, 2018

True confession.  I had to look up how to spell deceleration.  While I knew slowing down in theory, this is not a word or a concept I use often.  That’s about to change.  I believe I first heard Tom Newkirk use this word in a Heinemann podcast a week or so ago and it’s been living on a scrap of paper in my writing journal since then.  I wrote some other words down after it.  November.  Slowing down to…  Building ?

So here’s where I am on November 13.  While I wish I had everything in my yearly schedule in place, even as I write that sentence I know it not to be true.  Once, perhaps,  I had a beautiful schedule, color coded and laminated outside my door.  I went down the hall and picked up some kids or perhaps because they were so used to the routine, they came down to my room.  We stayed together thirty minutes or so and I sent them back to their class.  …and the next year, those same kids were sitting in the cute chairs with the pockets in my cozy room again.

This isn’t a story about that.  This is a story about what I do, what I think, how I might help.  Last week,  I was somewhere in this building, with some student of unknown age and she turned to me and said, What do you do here?  Another time last week I was sitting in the principal’s office (don’t those words sound scary?? LOL) and I wondered, does he know what I do here?   This very morning,  I am sitting in the literacy center and I wonder, do I know what I do here?  

Well,  sometimes I am not sure what I do, meaning how my actions affect students and educators, parents and para professionals, but I am very certain about my intent. My intention this November 2018 is deceleration.  Deceleration.

Deceleration.  Slowing down.  Slowing down to notice.  Slowing down to wait.  Slowing down to listen.  Slowing down to consider.  Slowing down into the long game.  I (and the collective we) do not have to have all the ideas today.  I do not have to get it all right today.  We do not have to (fill in the blank… fix, teach, solve).

So as I come back to this for the third time today I think,  can I play the long game?  Can I exercise patience?  Can I remember that I am here to be a catalyst but also a safe harbor?  Can I slow down… decelerate, not to get it perfect only to notice, to listen, to collaborate?

What am I here to do?  I’m here to help everyone move forward in literacy and everything related to it.  That movement doesn’t have to happen today.  I hope it will happen tomorrow.


The Example We Set #sol18

downloadThe Example We Set #sol18

November 6, 2018

I had a different slice in my head on my drive to work this morning, scratching it out in the parking lot already filled with voters on this election day.  However, a collaboration meeting, a phone call, morning duty, and then this adorable mouse entered my world.  It wasn’t actually this mouse.  The mouse in question was just a baby, terrified in the first grade hallway filled with six year olds beginning their day.

The first sighting actually happened before I made my way down to the door.  This little mouse minding his own business in the quiet of the pre-day school when confronted by a six year old on the way to the rest room.  He made his way to the hallway where I imagine the noise and activity paralyze him with fear.  I found him there surrounded by screaming kiddos, all cute whiskers and long mousey tail.  Here’s when, in the moment, 50 pairs of six year old searing eyes look to one and say what will you do now?  So I found a drawer, I carefully scooped him up, and carried him to the woods near the side of the school.  They were still watching me, as I slipped him from the drawer to the grass and questioning me when I returned inside.

Of course,  I’m not sure what those six year olds were thinking this morning.  Perhaps they saw problem solving, compassion, and a lack of fear.  I wasn’t really thinking about being a particular way, just thinking about doing the right thing.  Afterward, I thought about it as metaphor.

When things are difficult, whatever they might be, in our adoption of the new curriculum, in scheduling, in collaborating, in planning,  I know eyes are watching me.  In simple things, a we-are-all-working-for-the-kiddos and it’s-tricky-business bring us closer to consensus.  Sometimes, the expanse seems wider and I have to wait for my actions, my calm, my consistency to show, not tell.  No one needs a big old lecture from me about what’s right or what will work,  they just need me to consistently chip away at things with them.  To be helpful. To be a partner.  To be trustworthy.

While I might have been the fixer with that little mousekin this morning,  I really don’t want to be a fixer.  Fixing doesn’t really work.  Telling someone what they should do or making a problem go away won’t feed us for long so to speak.

So I’m coaching in the hard parts.  I’ll be here when there isn’t agreement.  I’ll stick with each of them, teachers and students, until we work it out.

I rode on a roller coaster many times in my own kids’ childhood so that they wouldn’t be afraid or see me be irrationally afraid of something.  I’ve picked up spiders and bugs.  I’ve stopped bleeding.  I’ve driven to the emergency room.  So I’m not leaving the side of these teachers and kids either.

The life of a coach.   Gentle steps forward.  Waiting.  Listening.  Waiting some more.  Suggesting.  Listening.  Trying something.  Suggesting again.

Baking some cookies.  Saving a mouse.  Finding a book.  Being there and being here.

Perhaps they will see problem solving, compassion, and a lack of fear.  I won’t really think about being a particular way, just think about doing the right thing for this moment.

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Thank you this week to Tammy Mulligan, my coach,  for being there and being here,  for teaching me to talk in menus, for gentle reassurance, and strength.  Read more amazing slices at

Turn & Talk #sol18


Unlike many previous meetings as represented here, this gathering was technology free

Turn & Talk #sol18

Yesterday we had a curriculum meeting.  The staff gathers after school and chats together about some aspect of the curriculum.  In many years,  I made a presentation, teaching into this or that topic of interest or new learning.  I think those days are gone… in a good way.

As we consider who is doing the heavy lifting in our classrooms,  the gradual release of responsibility in our classrooms,  so to might we consider DIY PD.  DIY PD is not a new idea, but I don’t think I consider it in the same way I once did.  Let’s go back to yesterday.

Our new principal is getting to know everyone around here.  He’s had some (lots) of goal setting meetings and as he opened the meeting yesterday, he said, A goal is just another way to look at what you’re interested in.  Leaving that very provocative thinking aside, he went on to say that partner work, the essence of students talking, collaborating, and working together was at the heart of most of his discussions.  And then he said something that sounded like it was directly from his heart.  He said that in light of the dangers faced in the world today, the hate, the discord,  how we help students develop the ability to communicate, to cooperate, to listen and be heard is the vital work.  Then he said magic words, Let’s just get together in some small groups now and talk about what were doing, what questions we have,  where we would like to go next.  

Then we did.  We had no power point, no shared reading, no lecture.  Just groups of eight or ten educators across the grade levels having an unstructured discussion regarding student-student feedback or student-teacher feedback.  I heard just a little bit choosing to linger in a small group.  But what I heard…

I heard educators talking about the power of partnerships for students.  How each partnership can lift the level of student work by encouragement.  That encouragement seems so authentic to students.  You’re doing the same thing I am doing and you have an idea about what I might do next based on what you’ve tried.  In the book,  Thanks for the Feedback, the authors focus not on exactly how the feedback is delivered, but how we choose to receive it.

When we as coaches or administrators,  team leaders or teachers,  top-down every conversation,  choosing what we’re thinking about,  how we are thinking about it, and unfortunately, sometimes what we should think about it,  we are doing a disservice to growth, learning, and respect.  I’m imagining myself saying now I don’t do that.  I am allowing thinking, conversation, and certainly respect.  It what way would that not be the case?  Maybe you do.  But I didn’t always.

Yesterday… Perhaps some conversations went off course.  Perhaps some dwindled down to complaints.  Perhaps,  just perhaps, some were right on target.  It wasn’t my target. Hopefully, it was on target for the participants. When we allow for conversation, we allow for growth.  When we aren’t looking for one answer, many, many show up.

I can’t leave my fixer mentality completely behind.  I walked away from our meeting later thinking about resources that I want to make available to the educators in our building, discussions I hope to have, and visits between educators that I hope to facilitate.  The difference is that these queries weren’t generated by me.  They were generated by inquiry, conversation, and sharing.  Now when they show up in the teacher lounge,  in a mailbox, through an email, the receiver may say, that’s just what I was thinking about, looking for, wondering.  And the learning community takes another move forward together.

So I’m considering the gradual release of coaching,  the inquiry of community, and the DIY of learning for not just the classroom, but our whole community.  Here’s to learning!

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Slicing about the life of a literacy coach weekly on Tuesdays with my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community.  Read more amazing slices here.

It’s All About Approximation #sol18

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It’s All About Approximation #sol18

Our district is in the midst of an overhaul… in a good and also messy way.  We have an interim superintendent, an interim assistant superintendent for curriculum & innovation, a new reading curriculum, a new writing curriculum, a new reading assessment and at my school, we have a interim principal…  That’s a lot of new(ish) stuff.

The absolute truth is that new can be really, really messy.  It can be full of starts and stops, trial and error, and especially misunderstandings and enlightenment.  Messy can be beautiful and a marvelous learning experience if you fully embrace it with a clear vision of the why.  It can also be exhausting… sometimes not in a good way.

Like many in my PLN, I spent the day on Saturday at Teachers’ College.  I look forward to it for half a year,  drive through part of the night and the dawn to get there,  absorb like a sponge all day and then process all I have heard for months afterward.  For years, when I went to the Reunions,  I was catching up…  I didn’t quite understand the visions, the nomenclature, and the rhythm of the talk.  But somewhere along, I began to keep up.  The talk makes sense.   I see the connections between things.  I’m actually in stride.

So… how do these things go together.  You just have to suck at something for a while.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s tiring. It is definitely not the easy path.  In the fray, it’s hard to see the route.  Our district was high functioning.  Students were making adequate progress for the most part.  The need for a new curriculum wasn’t mandated or even needs-based.  It was about innovation.  Thinking about a future we don’t quite see for a generation that’s on their way there.  Changing the narrative and the practice from teacher directed to student led.

Unfortunately,  the vision setting,  the dream-casting,  the history of change is frequently communicated in short hand and at the wrong frequency.  Someone compared our work once to rebuilding the car while driving down the road.  The image of that is truly terrifying, but yet we coach teachers into that in a room full of elementary students every single day of the week.  Unpredictably, uncontrollably, sometimes unmanageably every solitary day of the year.

It took me five solid years to have a vertical vision of the Calkins’ reading and writing curriculum.  Every day I learned additional components, interpretations, and resources.  I’ve breathed, discussed, and attempted these ideas most days over the course of those years and still… I’m back in the books, reading more, going to more reunions.  Learning, questioning, adapting more all the time.

Where does that leave us right now?  In a glorious place!  If we are growers, learners, and innovators every day, it leaves us open to encouraging growing, learning, and innovating in our students.  If we struggle, we are closer to their struggle.  If we have to work things out, try and try again, we exhibit growth mindset in the realest, most authentic way.

I never was that good as an educator, administrator, interventionist, or coach to make things really look easy or perfect, but I know many who can.  I always admire that perfect looking space, those creative bulletin boards, that neat writing in student portfolios, but now I admire a narrative that sound more like approximation.  We’re so close… My students are nearly there.  We tried this today and it bombed, but tomorrow we’re going to…  I noticed… I wonder… Man, today was HARD… 

So here’s to the disequilibrium that comes from change and attempts and deep, deep learning.  I have to go to bed earlier, but I’m very excited to get up in the morning.


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thank you to all of the writers who encourage me to say I don’t really suck at this anymore including all of the voices behind Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing thoughts here.

Teachable Moments #sol18

(Teachable) Moments #sol18

October 15, 2018

Most mornings I have the opportunity to greet the first graders as they arrive at school and wait with them in the hallway until it is time for class to begin.  These moments with them-fifteen at the most- are ripe with opportunity for observation, idea generation, relationship building, and teaching in the moment.


One day last week, it was terribly humid inside and out.  The floor began to collect condensation.  We cautioned the students to wipe their feet and exercise caution as they walked around the large corridor.  As six year olds will be just that,  some began to skate around on their shoes as if we had created a large rink just for them.  Peels of first grade laughter accompanied slips, cheers, and slides around the hall and the minutes flew by until it was time to enter class.  Another day, an ambulance came before school and there was much discussion about the fire truck escort,  how the person (adult) was bundled for the ride,  who would go with her, what was wrong, and so many other inquiries.  I am able to listen in on conversations, note who is talking to others and who is observing.  Who has a comfort item in their backpack.  Who is seeking out friends.  Who is seeking out me.  So much to learn and see in such a little time.

Idea Generation

While we are in narrative writing in first grade, we focus on small moment.  Sometime moments are upon us, like Friday.  Friday a small spider was navigating along the wall near where the students were waiting in their class lines.  Mrs. Kennedy!  There’s a spider.   What should we do about it?   Save it or smush it.  SAVE IT!   Can you carry it outside?  What should we use?  Let’s try your paper.  (Close watching.  Several attempts.  Spiders desperate tries to escape me, the paper, and them. Spider curls up.) This seems like a good story.  I pick up the spider in my two fingers and gently carrying it outside.  His status among the living unknown to me.

Sometimes it’s merely oral rehearsal of their own stories relayed from that morning or the afternoon before of soccer games and playdates,  television watching or cookie baking.  All of these are ripe for partner talk with mediation, rehearsal,  oral story telling, and of course, encouragement.  I’m not sure how many show up on a page, but we have the opportunity to talk over stories practicing the cadence and organization of problem/solution, beginning, middle, end, and character development.

Relationship Building

That’s seems obvious.  The gentle greeting at the door, good morning. The noticing of a interesting shirt.  The use of a student’s name.  Triangulating between students until their conversation takes off like wood from kindling.  Every day a few more initiate talk with me.  Conversation that is practice for working together.  Conversation that is the beginning of stories.  Conversation that cements that we are here in the same place, with similar interests, to do this school thing together.

Teachable Moments

Finally considering the teachable moment of conversation, observation,  and interest, we come to consider who is actually being taught here.  I’m  going to the open classroom of the first grade, learning how one puts together a sentence, considers a possibility, and tries out a new idea.  I’m schooled on Pokemon, cartoons, and the best place to buy t-shirts.  I’m afforded the gentle confidence that come just at a magical moment in the hush of the beginning,  the hilarity of idea intersected with action,  and the noticing of those aware of so much.  While I do work our daily work into the conversations with those first graders, it is they,  they themselves, who are teaching me so much about being six and seven.  How fortunate I am to receive these lessons.



Data Meetings: Planning for Growth

IMG_2586Data Meetings:  Planning for Growth

October 8, 2018

What comes to mind when I say data meeting?

Not looking for the benefit of data or meeting together.  Just thinking about when we sit at that table in that room together.  What are we trying to accomplish? Backward glance? Problem Solving? Correcting course?

Do you have a plan in mind?

Many meetings have identity problems.  Data Meetings are constructed with the principal, our grade level team, a specialist or two.  Data meetings have limited time. Educators arrive with varying amounts of data having spent varying amounts of time examining it.  Individuals think in divisions: students that are ‘on track’ and students that are ‘behind’. Cheers for how well they got it. Cheers for our teaching.

Data meetings are available three times a year.  In the fall, educators are getting to know new students and assessing summer loss.  In the winter, educators may review students acclimation to grade and their mid-year progress.  In the spring, educators may reflect on progress toward goals.

The developments from the meetings can varying.  When educators have clear indicators they are looking for in the data, they come to the meeting prepared to future plan, both for the immediate and the long term.  When indicators are less clear, either from the team or the leadership, meetings feel like show and tell. These meeting have potential. Potential to drive not just particular teachers, not just particular grade levels, but whole learning communities forward.  If we only ask,

What did we want to learn?  Did we learn it? How will we use this information to reflect, to move forward, to improve?  

Do we and can we finding meaning in this work,  the work of data meetings?

I know what you’re thinking,  sometimes these meetings are just a waste of time.  As a person who goes to a LOT of meetings, I’d say meetings are exactly what you make them. I’m sure in some places, people trot out their “data”, test scores, assessment levels, attendance even,  and praise each other for how far students have come. Educators race to complete assessments and hair on fire arrive at a meeting with the ink proverbially still drying. We rarely have time to think about what the data might be telling us beyond the scores.

But, we can do better.

When we began data meetings, we were just thinking in the meeting about what new assessment data was telling us.  We were learning about the assessments, considering interventions. Considering the data together. Even then, we thought about and discussed how timing affected students,  which students might need another go, how else we might assess these skills, what skills we were assessing and their importance. Even then, we were searching for solutions to whole class and individual student difficulties, thinking always about how we could assist each other. The data was drawing us to empathy and  to collaboration.

So here we are, eight years later.  What are we going to do with our data meetings?

Are they OUR data meetings?  We extend the time. We reduce the data.  We extend the discussion. We think more about the pedagogy.  We shift our thinking regarding intervention. Still stuffed to the breaking point, squeezing all the assessments in a small window and peeking in.  

And we still wonder what it is we see.

It all really goes back to those simple questions:  what do we want students to learn and how are we going to ‘teachfacilitate it.  Working through our backward design long before we collect the data, deciding together what we are looking for and how we will know it when we see it.  Planning for planning. Planning for talking. Taking those assessments out of the drawers and into the light. Considering the purpose for each assessment and consequently each lessons.  How can we reteach? What will we reteach? Does this data tell me what I need to know to make these decisions?

This seems like a lot of work,  time spent giving the assessments, time spent examining the assessments,  time spend aligning the assessment to the curriculum. It may be that the more time we spend on these elements, the less we will need quarterly meetings to discuss them.  The more growth we will see in students as the instruction becomes focused on need.

Yes,  we could eliminate a meeting.  But sometimes, it is beneficial to talk about how we’ve grown and what we will do next.  


My Mission Statement #sol18

downloadMy Mission… Statement #sol18

October 9, 2018


Last week, my virtual friend, the amazing middle school teaching Iowan, Darin Johnston published this thought-provoking slice about his mission statement.  His real life- real time PLC was working on Covey-related thinking and charged their members to write a mission statement.  Darin, like many of us perhaps,  thought he didn’t really have a mission statement.  Like most of my virtual PLN, he decided to write about it and ask for feedback from his virtual PLN. His short list was poignant and contemplative and inspiring.

So at the first bend of a new school year, so many years down the road,  I think of my short list,  my mission.  Inspired by Stephen Covey.  Inspired by Darin.  Inspired by my own band of co-conspirators.  Inspired by all that has brought me here.

My Mission 

  • Perhaps instead of beginning with the end in mind we should begin with the now in mind. 
  • Do your best today
  • Notice the people and the environment around you
  • Appreciate now
  • Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt
  • Take ownership of your actions, thoughts, and words
  • Believe in potential.
  • Accept other’s truth

As Darin said,  it’s hokey and a bit fluffy.  But we all need a compass as Covey would say and perhaps we should follow that compass more often.  So this is going up on that messy white board above my desk.  The one with the loaned books list,  the inspiration from Colby Sharp, the instagram that I save about teaching tomorrow, the papers I don’t want to lose.  Because I don’t want to lose this.  I don’t want to lose the white board that says, You’re doing the best you can do… right now.  I want to live in the right, right now.  Affect change in the right now.  Appreciate, admire, encourage… right now.

Thanks Darin.  Your words weren’t hokey or fluffy.  They were inspirational… as always.

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Here’s to @iowaconflictedteacher, Pernille Ripp, who inspired three teachers I know to think globally this week, and my encouragers who read faithfully and encourage freely including all of the folks at TwoWritingTeachers, who inspired this community and nurture it freely.