The Good, The Perfect, & the Right Now #sol20

The Good, The Perfect, & the Right Now #sol20

July 7, 2020

So I’m pretending that there’s not a crisis in the world, in our country, in my state, town, school system, house, by gardening…  That’s right.  I’m staying in the 1/2 acre or so of terraferma that is my ‘vast holdings’.  When you look up terreferma in the dictionary it says mainland.  Here I shelter in my main land. I did some research with a student in early June about Isaac Newton.  They say that when he had to shelter during the plague, he went home to his country house away from his studies and colleagues.  He didn’t want to go, but when he was out in the nature of his truly vast holdings, he devised how to explain gravity because of an apple falling off a tree.  All the explanations that he articulated, his best theories, crystalized in that quiet.  No, I’m not getting ready to explain to you how I have it all figured out. Just considering what’s possible.

My neighbor’s yard is well groomed.  The grass is even and green, watered every day by him and professionally edged and mowed by a service.  His mulch is smooth like a carefully laid out carpet.  His bushes hug his house.  His trees are carefully trimmed.  You get the picture.  There are no flowers there, errant or planned.  Our yard…. well,  that’s another story.  We inherited this yard from the previous owners and borrow it from the encroaching woods.  I probably shouldn’t say encroaching, more like the rightful owner always threatening to repossess.  It slopes down from the street, our house covered by tree line and a front-loaded garage.  I love it.

Bob and I were out cutting down some overgrown, deer-feeding yews a few days ago and my watering, mulch-raking neighbor’s wife said,  oh, I see your inspired by my husband.  Them’s fighting words! I thought as I plucked endless lily-of-the-valley from the slope.  I’m always out here ‘working on it’.  Isn’t that the truth?!?

But it’s not well-groomed…  not for lack of trying.  It might be a little lack of trying.  There are those few wild black-eyed Susans that I can’t pluck from their chosen locale or those native goldenrods and a few wild asters springing up.  I did want to see what that cup plant in the back would turn into, it’s growing so tall.  Did you know these little leaves are mayflowers? Yeah, that’s right mayflowers.  And those over there,  that’s wild lettuce.  Well, you’re beginning to get the picture.

I have a vision.  About that vision… it’s a work in progress and it’s constantly changing.  My yard is one big lab experiment and the lab changes and the climate changes and the sunlight changes and just about everything changes… Starting to sound familiar?

So this morning my friend, Gwen was thinking and posting on her twitter.  Two posts (@gwenblumberg if you want to investigate)

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I read that and I thought, Heck YEAH!  Teach the lesson about how to use the compass at the moment the explorer is lost in the woods.  Ok,  what does that have to do with my garden?  You’ve got to be watching.  You have to know the moment that the weeds start to win or look up just what is that fuzzy weeds so you wait for the blossom.

As for how this describes our teaching…  you’ve got this.

img_0602 These people I write with inspire me and they hopefully wait for me to be inspired.  They are priceless.  You’re welcomed to join anytime.

The First Days of Summer #sol20


The First Days of Summer #sol20

June 23, 2020

The first days of summer are usually a bit of a struggle for me.  I still have residual projects from the school year along with thoughts about students and teachers lingering in my mind.   Even though I have been here at home for the last ninety days,  I haven’t focused on this home space much yet, except for my yard.

The first official day of summer vacation, Dylan and I spread mulch all day in the hot sun.  I know it sounds like a chore, but it was wonderful to accomplish something, work and chat with Dylan, and stop and groom my garden like an actual gardener.  At the end of day 2,  I was so in love with all of the aspects of my outdoor space.  The lilies were blooming and full of blooms along the drive. The showy light butter yellow daylilies were ripe to bloom around the big rock.  The roses had bloomed once and were poised to bloom again any day.  … and my precious hostas had been groomed and mulched and shaped.  They were a thing of beauty.  I loved every nook and cranny,  blooms and pre-blooms, each and every bit a celebration.

Then we turned on the air conditioner after several days of on or near ninety degrees.  When I got up the next morning, TOTAL DEVASTATION!  Our woodland visitors, most likely deer, had a picnic feast  through the entirety of my garden.  The cheerful lilies along the drive, each and every bloom and bud bit off by a tender mouth.  The large lilies by the rock, also destroyed.  The rosebuds gone.  The hostas… well you can see for yourself.

Isn’t that just the way it is?   You plan,  you work, you’re nearly there… then something unexpected happens.  Well, we knew it could happen… But we really hoped it wouldn’t.

So, what next?  What next, indeed…

I went out that evening as I do every night after dinner.  I watered those plants and the remaining ones that must not be tasty to deer.  I noticed the vases of hosta leaves I had arranged from my trimming a few days ago.  I noticed that daisies are going to bloom any day now.. and coneflowers…and bee balm..  I thought about giving the roses and the repeating lilies some fertilizer along with the hostas.  I moved on…

This reminds me of all the disappointments and struggles,  the work arounds and fixes of the last three months and I’m sure the next eighteen.  We can be disappointed and even devastated, but we can’t allow situations to stop us in our tracks.  I made those beautiful flowers appealing to our hungry, thirsty neighbors.  They were drawn to those blooms.  I am fortunate to have deer neighbors and the fox and mother raccoon and babies I saw this morning.  Perhaps my flowers were the price of that solace.  It feels steep but I still have a peaceful view this morning.

Am I sad because the deer ate my garden?  or am I sad that the garden was keeping me from thinking about all the other things that are making me sad? The deer incident just brought all that other loss back into focus. So today,  I’ll tend my garden and my heart.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6 I write in the company of my fellow writers in our slice of life.  You can read more at


Reflections on the End of a School Year #sol20

0Reflections on Another End to a School Year

June 16, 2020

I don’t have to tell you that this end is like no other end I’ve experience in the decades I’ve been an educator.  Different, yes…  Challenging,  yes…  But what we’ve learned… about ourselves, about our learning community, about our teaching… about our capacity… about our flexibility.

I write today not from the filtered sunlight of the messy literacy center in that aging elementary school that’s been my home for a decade, but from my lower level library sanctuary.  My husband built this sanctuary for me that decade ago when I desperately missed my former life in the midwest.  It lay here mostly a repository for books that couldn’t fit in my school corner or I was temporarily not using.  It remained dusty. Honestly I can’t remember ever working in this room. choosing instead my sunny screen porch, the patio, the sweet bench in the garden as my summer study place.

This year however, this little library became a shelter, a fortress, a capsule.  In this little room quietly tucked under the back porch, away from the bustle of our home life,  I could be ‘at work’.  At work during those hours that I needed to be.  At the end of the day,  I shut the door and ‘commuted’ back to my home.

This was a luxury for me.  I’ve seen kitchen tables, living room walls, baskets, bags, all organized as we began to create not the space we left, but a whole new space to learn and teach.

When I reflect on these last three months, that’s what I consider, those makeshift, make-do, dream up magical spaces you created for your students.  In my district, we had no warning.  The closure came along like a hurricane and we took the clothes on our backs, the stash in our cars, our bags, our homes, and began to make new learning with that.  I’m not going to lie,  it was devastating.  The first week or so,  I felt completely adrift. How could I coach or intervene from here… when they were there?

As with any other situation in education, we began to gain our sea legs.  We’ve had tough spaces to work in, difficult schedules, hard combinations, budget limits.  In other words, we’ve adapted before.  Perhaps not this way, but as teachers and learners, it’s in our nature to grow and change.  So grow and change, we did.

I spent an hour this morning, sifting through the pictures I took of you teaching during this time,  looking at the notes I filled my conferring notebook with,  smiling at the thought of each of you growing, adapting, trying, challenging, and generally teaching your hearts out for the last sixty school days or so.  Here’s what I noticed.

You never lost your sense. of humor or your heart for kids.

You taught yourself so many amazing things and create so much from whatever you found laying around (metaphorically and actually)

You didn’t let those kids off the hook; you emailed, you google-met (is that a verb?), you listened, you encouraged and they… came around.

You taught!… and you played.  You celebrated and you learned about every single thing kids were doing when they weren’t there on the screen with you.

You watched TV shows so you could talk about them.  You recommended movies and books and games.  Still you encouraged.

You noticed hair styles and hair color, stuffies and live animals.  You noticed hard days and celebrations, breakfast choices and pink cheeks.

And still. you taught: poetry, the American Revolution, fractions, pollinators, biographies, habitats,  geography, reading,  writing and persistence.  You taught A LOT!

You kept it going and now… let’s take a rest.  Let’s read and take walks,  smile and bake,  breathe deeply, paint, garden and wait…  The next thing will come soon.  But for now, let’s be okay.  Let’s be joyful.  Let’s celebrate.

What We Carry With Us #sol20


What We Carry With Us #sol20

My friends and mentor, Tammy Mulligan,  and I moderated a series of professional development sessions titled, What Will We Carry With Us… Sharing Our Success.  It wasn’t very well attended, but those groups of teachers that showed up were a little reluctant to shine.  Why was that?

I do think that educators in general hide their light under a bushel, quietly just doing the business that needs to be done without fanfare, but I suspect there is more to it than that.  I think celebrating what they accomplished during this quarantine is difficult because for them the light of learning is absent.  I’ve seen them do so many, many things to keep the connection going between the students and each of them, but each educator I know, mourns that gentle, and not so gentle, day to day, minute by minute interaction with students.  The interaction that only comes when you have time.  Time… and proximity.

This post isn’t about what we’ve lost.  This post is about what we’ve gained.  So here it is again… Silver Linings Playbook, Part 2.

We’ve gained the ability to strip what we want to teach and more importantly what we want students to learn and master right down to the bone.  We don’t have time or space for any, any fluff.  That doesn’t mean to dispense with engagement.  These educators have engagement in bushels.  I have never seen so many colorful anchor charts, so many fun videos,  changing tools after tools. Video, audio, visuals, these teachers combed all available resources to create their online learning and virtual classrooms.  They created backdrops and makeshift document cameras.  They were fearless in the face of making something from nearly nothing for sixty-five days, but whose counting?

Through three phases of online learning in my district, they taught on.  Through providing technology and finding students, learning platforms and surviving those platforms failing, they carried on.  They don’t even have a moment to stop and think what miracles they performed.  One of the amazing side notes is that they left old practices behind.  Those projects that took weeks gone.  The slogging through endless revision… gone.  They stared in the face of their past practices and brutally slashed everything without deep purpose and meaning.  Then the really amazing thing happened.

They made that s**** interesting!   They sent their students videos.  Those teachers created a fourth grade university.  They taught the entire American Revolution, pollinators, saving the bees along with persuasive writing, informational paragraphs, life lessons, science, and history.  Don’t forget all the while they were teaching grit, determination, agency, resiliency.  THESE PEOPLE ARE MY HEROES! 

Honest to goodness,  I am a very fortunate individual.  They shared their plans with me.  They took time to let me help them.  They taught me stuff… and the most precious gift, they shared their students with me.

I’ve seen drawings and bedrooms, discussed books and movies and bike riding.  I’ve had breakfast with kids and leaned in so they could see every single wrinkle on my face so they knew I was still here.  Still here for them.  I have left meetings with a lump in my throat and stinging tears in my eyes.  I have also laughed at feet in the screen and puffed up cheeks.  I’ve discussed dog friends and breakfast choices along with Paul Revere, Jim Henson, Dav Pilkey, Isaac Newton, and the Wright Brothers.

I’ve recorded books and lessons.  I’ve given pep talks and drive bys.  I’ve written and I’ve read and I’ve thought and I’ve planned… and we’ve almost survived… this phase.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t consider the next phase.  I would walk away next week from this phase and let the next phase come to me without worry.  I’m having a little trouble with that just now.


From Where I Stand #sol20

From Where I Stand #sol20

June 2, 2020

I’ve been mostly silent and struggling the last few days. I come from a place of privilege. Like all of us, I was born into certain circumstance, mostly advantageous. Unlike some, I was raised by parents who believed that giving back, paying forward, and deeply committing to civil rights of all was not a suggestion, but a obligation. Their’s was a life driven by faith and made flesh with action. I learned from them.

I have spent most of my career as an educator, trying to know students personally. Committing to causes that promoted the welfare of children and their families. Rising up my fellow humans. Some of that work has been with under resourced families. Some of that has been with student for which learning has been a struggle. I hope all of it has been from a place of deep personal connection.

But now my ‘color-blindness’ is not enough. So I turned to the only thing I know how to do: connect with students and families and share books.

Quite a few times in my career, I have sat across from parents and been told I don’t understand the experience of their family, their culture, their lives. They were right. In all of my days, with my best empathy, in my finest moments, I still am privileged. In that space I can’t change, I hope I’ve learned to listen and to change because I know I’m a learner, a studier, a thinker.

I’ve learned from an Ugandan father who may me feel and notice what he hoped for his son in this world, as a black man and as an immigrant. I’ve learned from a young African reader who desperately wanted to see himself and his people in the books he read. I’ve learned from my book review group, TeachersBooksReaders, to celebrate own voices and let books speak when I don’t have the authority to teach. I’ve learned from my friends, my writing group here, and the talks, books and individuals that I have followed, listen to and learned from. These experiences and people, I hope, have made me a better ally, a better advocate, a better human.

I won’t be protesting in the streets. That’s not my strength. I stand with those who do.

I will be making conscious choices: Choice about what authors to share, what conversations to boldly have, what deeply personal learning and soul-searching I’ll do as I interact with our most important resource, our future, our students.

My hope is that my actions will make a difference. Maybe the differences won’t be as quickly realized as many would hope. I pray that they will be long lasting.


Thirty Minutes… in the Life… #sol20

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Thirty Minutes in the Life of… Connected Learning Literacy Coaching

May 19, 2020

My downstairs office desk is cluttered with anchor charts, colored post-its, pencils, markers, and three electronic devices.  A post sits on the corner of my laptop with a red heart scribbled in marker as a reminder.  I have a makeshift document camera made from my phone perched on a ancient clock radio and cantilevered my something I ordered on Amazon.  Next to me is a rolling cart with books I haven’t read yet, pads of paper, units, notes, and folders from classes I am currently working with.  I check my notes to see what meetings I have with which students and colleagues today and off we go.

Today’s sessions include lots of face time with students working through the American Revolutions antecedents while working on research and information paragraph writing in third grade,  finding the life lesson in biographies and writing a literary essay in fourth grade, and making a plan with many for how to continue this work on their own.  It’s not yet 12 and I’ve met with more than half a dozen students around many different topics and writing plans.  The students are all in.  Their own teachers are working with others throughout the day today, our office/small group day.  Our offices are open and the students are streaming in.  They are still eager to learn, eager to challenge themselves, and struggling to make it work… at home.

The work…  in so many ways the same as IRL, but in others so different.  We’ve adapted to teaching into the time crunch.  Adapting our anchor charts, our explanations, our conversations to the give and take of screens.  In some ways,  I can show students things and switch things quickly now.  Find resources in moments, draw a quick sketch in jamboard or on a pad and display on camera, and continue with one student many times as long as they need to.  Our students in our district have teachers and technology at their fingertips.  Everyday, teachers are teaching synchronous lessons and posting asynchronous lessons to their google classrooms, meeting with students online, sharing feedback, answering questions.  It isn’t the full experience we had, but it is school… It is school.

Our district’s plan is humming along.  Students got technology in their hands early when needed,  hotspots were created, teachers were trained in new technologies, and we trained each other.  A robust plan was made for each closure and closure extension.  We will be teaching and learning until June 17.  This is phase three of our plan and we are still hitting the gas.

Someone teased me yesterday when I told her I couldn’t meet with her until 4 pm because I was booked solid.  Remember when you were worried you wouldn’t have anything to do? It occurs to me now that it’s like when I began being a literacy specialist, when I began at my current school, at the beginning of a school year, when I wonder, how will I know what to do?  What work will there be?  In this environment as the brick and mortar environment,  I observe,  I inquire, I offer, I create.   Then they share… they share so much.  They  are amazing, each teacher and each student.  We talk and talk… more than we did at school.  We work together and we share.  The celebrations are quite as bright as before, but we’re working on them.

It a crazy, crazy way,  this is working and I’m contributing.  As it should be.

Standing in the Present #sol20

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Standing in the Present #sol20

May 12, 2020

My former principal and I used to have a running joke about the present being a gift and tomorrow being a mystery.  You know it, Today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.  I’m a person that lingers in the present.  I don’t look back very often, if at all.  Heck,  I rarely even make a recipe again.  … and perhaps…. I don’t look forward either.  It’s difficult to say that aloud.

I’m a problem solver, a rally-er, a ‘we’ve got this’ sort of person.  Seems apt for a coach, doesn’t it?  Or does it?

We’ve got to have our feet in two boats as my gram used to say.  We have to be keeping things moving and working in today, but we have to be problem solving for the next situations as well.   I have a confession to make… let me tell you first how I got here. 

Yesterday we were asked to come back to school.  Classroom teachers were asked to pack up student materials to be returned and do whatever close down they could do within a two hour window.  I didn’t want to go.  I’ve been to campus twice since the quarantine, each time as we started a new phase in learning.  I’m adjusting to my supplies at home and if I’m honest, being at school makes me sad… really, really sad.  It’s quiet and lonely.  We don’t talk to each other.  Instead of being a lively stop along someone’s route, the literacy center feels overfull and empty at the same time.  However,  after a mostly sleepless night and with a new district-wide literacy project on the horizon,  I packed up my empty book bags and headed off to school.  The secretary and assistant principal were there to great me, masks and gloves on the table mandatory.  That seemed fine and expected.  When I entered the literacy center, I could see that our custodians had already cleaned this room.  I imagine they weren’t expecting me to return.  The moveable furniture was jumbled all over the place as were all the things that had been stuffed under tables and in spare corners.  As I think back on it in the clear light of today,  it was as if they had moved themselves around.  I stood there honestly not knowing what to do.  I was uncomfortable in my mask and gloves, my sweater felt too hot and for long minutes I just stood in place taking in everything that seemed both frozen in time and completely foreign.  Finally,  I began organizing some books I knew I wanted to take home for phase 3 and beyond,  emptying projects from the bins on my desk, long forgotten in our new reality.  In hindsight, maybe if I had played some music or a podcast, called someone to chat on the phone,  I wouldn’t have be overcome by the mounting sadness and helplessness I felt. When someone brought books back to the literacy center, instead of being welcoming and flexible,  I was startled and overwhelmed.  The thought of sharing that small space with my grief, exposure to others, and more and more books that were not in their right places completely and utterly overwhelmed me.  That is so hard to admit.  Thankfully,  calmer colleagues helped me problem solve.  Something else stuck with me… When the principal outlined his solution, I must have looked… doubtful, still uncomfortable?  He asked, Do you want me to give you a different answer?

Yes, I said.

Yes!  I want a different solution that involves happy chat without worry.  A plateful of cookies and a pot of coffee for the work.  Cheerful plans for the future.  Yes was all I said.  

I left school yesterday near tears and completely churned up.  Grieving again for what isn’t and what might never be.  Lucy Calkins’ words from Thursday played in my head. The future of workshop and partnerships, learning and collaboration is uncertain.  All we know is that it may not look like what we had a mere nine weeks ago for a long time, if ever.  I came home, ate a slice of cold pizza, read a book for an hour, and took a nap.

Now I know something I didn’t know about myself.  I am not as up for change or bumps in the road as I hoped.  The future scares me a little.  Much like the very white 1.5 inches of growth on my hair, my vulnerability is showing and I don’t like that very much.

Writing it down helps.

A fresh start, a new day, a realization, all promote stepping forward.  Here we go!

National Teacher Day #sol20

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National Teachers’ Day #sol20

Where We Are Right Now

May 5, 2020

Before I saw this quote this morning,  I was thinking about the truly astonishing feats I have seen educators create in the last seven weeks.  I was considering the things they have taught me,  encouraged me to create, inspired me to do in the last fifty-five days.

If we just consider technology… I have learned to google meet and show something on my laptop camera by holding it up that folks can actually read.  I have been schooled in google classroom and can create, populate, broadcast, edit, and share from that platform.  I can create various types of youtube videos including how-to’s, demonstrations, read alouds, assignments,  and lessons.  I can share my screen and unfortunately use three devices to watch three lessons at the same time.  I have even learned how to not see myself in all these meetings, small groups, lessons, and videos.

If we consider collaboration…  My collaboration meetings are actually stronger in some ways during isolation.  There are few distractions or interruptions.  We have fallen into a rhythm meeting weekly to plan, discuss, problem solve and challenge each other.  I also meet with my professional learning communities each week.  I have added a few key meetings, my “Covid-19” group on Tuesday and Thursdays and  baking with my mentor on Tuesdays.  We share documents and movies,  successes and worries.  These meet ups feel productive and necessary and hopeful.

If we consider professional learning… I may have spent more time in professional learning in the last seven weeks than in the last year.  Thanks to TCRWP,  I went to over thirty zoom trainings during our isolation along with a three day institute and several office hours.  Those meet ups have showed me, taught me, encouraged me to challenge myself in parsing my instructional practice down to its bones and build it back up again in this new frontier.  Along with that learning, our district provided platform learning and coaching, a template for the new model for school, and endless encouragement from our leadership.

More than any of that, and it’s a great deal,  I have been encouraged by the bravery, stamina, risk-taking, endless flexibility of the educators I call my learning community.  From Gwen teaching me and half the teachers in the world to make a document camera from some cans, magnets, and our mobile phones to phone calls where we work out how to make this feel like ‘school’ for our students, I have been shown time and again about how educators are strongest when they are learners themselves.

Some of the amazing things I have seen are endless ways teachers reach out to students and families through emails and google meets, videos and platforms, they are constantly making it warmer, more inviting, more accessible, closer to the core every single day… even on day twenty seven and counting.  The educators I admire are making anchor charts, puppets, read alouds, book lists, phonics, writing, spelling, morning meetings, conferring come to life for students every single day.  They are checking in with students, checking out new techniques, experimenting with video and live, questioning themselves, asking students and parents about their experiences, and generally giving it 110% seven days a week for as long as it takes.

These educators are not counting the days until summer vacation because they want to quit.  They are counting these days because they want to fill each and every one with opportunities for students to build agency and feel connected, to experience success and be encouraged, to learn and learn and learn.

So on National Teachers’ Day,  I wish you knew my heroes, those educators, who are amazing and inspire me every day, but never more than this day.

We Could… #sol20

img_0876We Could… #sol20

April 28, 2020

In these crazy days, it’s so simple to look at what is so different about our practice, our daily lives, our students, our relationships with each other, and so many other aspects of our lives’ work, the work that seems we won’t return to for at least six months.  I haven’t really been without that schedule for any appreciable time for more than twenty years and most of twenty prior to that.  So the thought of thirteen weeks of sitting in this basement library clinging to scraps of contact with students and their teachers is soul-crushing.  So I’m just going to have to find another way to look at this situation.

I’ve been talking recently about how we can keep the heart of our work in the body of this new day to day.  What is it that our students responded most to and how can we make the closest proximity to that thing?  It’s difficult to consider the daily subtle moves we made as teachers when our audience is a thirteen inch MacAir laptop screen and the closest thing to a student I have is a seventy-five pound ten year old black lab mix who loves a good story as much as the next person, but doesn’t have much to say about author’s purpose or the story arc.  My new books mostly come from another electronic screen and my read-alouds are pre-recorded, so how do I make it feel like a glorious grand discussion and an intimate shoulder to shoulder conference?

While I don’t have the answer for you,  I think I might be able to steer us toward the shore.  Let’s dream for a few minutes.  When you planned for your mini-lesson or your active engagement, your independent practice, or your gentle conferring,  what did you hope for deep in your heart?  Connections?  You still know those students in front of you.  You know what they like to read, how soon they want to talk to you after you send them off to work.  You know if they need to explain their thinking first or if they need you to draw them a little map to get started.  You know if you stop in a read aloud and ask them to write down something if they can come back to the story or text with you or if it’s better to read it twice and stop the second time.  You know… you really know.

So… how can you make it feel like home for each student?  Can you have a whole group that holds their whole hearts?  Can you put their emotions front and center and still hold on to literacy?  Can you talk to them individually or in the pairs or triads that feel most comfortable to them?  Can you give them space to grieve, and look you in the eyes (how can you make your eyes look right at them?)?  How can we laugh and have crazy FRI-YAY! traditions and lean in for the next bit of Sisters Grimm or Wild Robot or did you see the Willouby’s??  

You have it in you to reach inside and find those things that connect kids to you and each other,  to the learning, and their agency,  to the challenge, and the joy… and the struggle.  You were already amazing at that… and you are still.  Don’t let your sadness rob you and them of what we could make from this mess.  We are accustom to making lemonade, and beautiful mistakes, and restarts.  We are stars at redo’s and We got this!  

So put on the best music in the background and dream of those best days when everything worked like magic in your rooms, when the kids were engaged and happy, productive and challenged.  How can you make that happen in this world?  I know you can.

What are the promises you made in September to your students in your heart?  What are the promises you don’t want to break today?

This can be the most amazing time,  the memory that shows them and us just what we are made of.  I don’t know what your secret sauce is, but I’ll bet anything you have it.  Dig it out and spread it all over these experiences.  Make it magically simple in the way only you can.


Face to Face #sol20

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Face to Face #sol20

April 21, 2020

As a literacy specialist, I have been mostly working in the background of the virtual learning, providing content, practicing online lessons with teachers, creating videos.  Today I had my first opportunity to have some live small groups.  As I met with a teacher on Friday, we were thinking about making our workshop teaching more closely match our IRL experiences.  IRL, we would have split up some small groups and co-taught during the independent portion of the workshop.  So when the teacher said she was having difficulty seeing all the students during small group, I offered to have small groups as well.

I am a partner in her google classroom, so I knew the expectations she had for the students.  Teaching into the research reading unit and working on informational writing, the team has paired this unit with a science unit to continue with that content knowledge.  I have to give both the teacher and the team credit for using many different online platforms to deliver information to the students.  That variety would have been present in their classroom settings and they are exposing students to it here as well.  Brainpop Jr. ,  Readworks,  Epic book sets are some of the ways that she has been creating text sets for readers and writers in her class.

Trouble is,  not all the students are accessing the text set or completing the independent work… Establishing a routine seems tough in this virtual/home world.  Even I am constantly inventing new ways to keep myself on track and my reading has been pretty abysmal in terms of consistency and routine.

In my reading small group,  I started with their reading plan.  What were they reading?  That was a struggle.  One student doesn’t want to read anything online.  I got out my iPad and talked him through the features, he still wasn’t having it.  He’s rereading a series he’s read before.  I did talk him into making a plan for this week’s reading and writing it down.  In new learning,  I used the teacher’s google classroom assignment reading to work through taking notes and main idea/details.  Their reading was fluent, but their understanding of what they read wasn’t.  We talked about rereading for meaning and created some notes for teaching others.  Again,  it was interesting how they didn’t talk as much as IRL.

Here’s my summary for their classroom teacher of our work today. (Names redacted)

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Tools for reading small group, Epic book Life Cycle of a Honeybee.  Anchor chart based on Reading to Learn, TCRWP Third Grade UOS Reading,  Google Slide, Handwritten note displayed with Quicktime Movie.  ( I fixed mandibles after this screenshot)

I show all these tools because… ALL THESE TOOLS!  In order to keep everything going, sometimes you have to use a lot of tools or hold up things.  Also, giving kiddos some wait time and writing time… and redirection time.  (Those spinning office chairs are super distracting)

Then on to writing.  None of the kiddos was doing any independent writing,  that will definitely be a goal for a next session if I am afforded on.

For writing independent work,  the teacher had assigned a BrainPop Jr. on the life cycle of a plant and asked the students to draw a diagram of the plant life cycle.  My plan was to show the BrainPop video and then go through the planning with the students… However, BrainPop’s log in wasn’t working this morning.  Even though I had set up all the tabs last night, this morning there was a glitch.  (Sigh and Bummer). This is the one place were much like in IRL,  the students are very flexible.  They understand that sometimes things don’t work and we have to make do.  We brainstormed the life cycle of a plant starting at one student’s idea of an entry point, pollinators.  Smart girl,  knew we were studying pollinators and so she made them front and center.  

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Diagram of a Plant Life Cycle drawn and spatially planned badly by me.  

Several things I reminded students of during our ‘marker talk’.

  • we need a heading for our diagram
  • we should label as many things as we can to make our meaning clear… hence my deer (LOL)
  • explaining each step is also good
  • planning (better than I did) your spacing helps your audience.
  • Can you teach from this tool?

Too quickly, it was time to say goodbye to the students.  Was it this hard to leave them IRL?


I share these adventures in virtual learning through my Slice of Life community sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.  We write together each Tuesday here.