Goldfish and Nostalgia #sol22

Goldfish and Nostalgia #sol22

June 28, 2022

Way back in my old life in the midwest, I lived in a suburban colonial with a patio blistered by the midwestern prairie sun and on that patio, I had a pond. This pond was constructed by the then popular half whiskey barrel with a plastic pool insert. The local nursery had a wonderful display of exotic pond plants and beautify koa fish and I longed for this in my summer oasis.

So a pump was purchased and ‘fancy’ goldfish with their split tails were carefully selected at the pet store. Every morning I stepped out of the kitchen door, discussed my reading, the weather, and other important world news with the half dozen goldfish in the pond, fed them some flakes, and proceeded on with my day.

The fish ‘wintered-over’ in a fish bowl in my cozy intervention room. They listened to kids read and giggle while generally being totally zen. Life was nearly perfect.

Then we moved. The last remaining goldfish, Groucho, traveled out to the east coast in a Coleman cooler and lived in my kitchen as a reminder of my life in the midwest for the next year.

When we moved to our house, the whiskey barrel and the abandon pond tucked under the screen porch. Once a year, we would discuss what we might do with it. Make a planter? Get rid of it? Alas, it remained there for twelve years. No pond. No goldfish. Just empty.

Last month, a facebook or instagram ad lured me to a solar fountain for my bird feeder. I bought the little solar disc but the the bird bath was too small to support the fountain’s pump. The pump kept emptying the birth bath of its water and then there was nothing to pump. Into the garage went the pump.

Last week, my husband said, “Let’s set up the pond.” We scouted around for some flat earth. Unlike our midwestern lot, our homestead is filled with rolls and boulders. Finally we settled on a partially sunny spot near the back garden. He propped the pond up on one side and filled it with the house. I smiled. Encouraged by that, when we went to get a dog life vest later that day he said, ” How about some goldfish?” “Ok”, I said reluctantly.

All the what ifs went through my mind, raccoons, a fisher cat, not enough pump, but still we picked out seven little goldfish and took them home. I tried not to notice the pretty markings on this one or the spots on that one as they sloshed around in the plastic bag. I don’t want to get attached in case they don’t make it, I thought.

I dispatched the goldfish to the pond. The water was clear. The sun was shining and those little goldfish gleamed in the summer sun. No beautiful pond plants today.

Half way through the day, he came in to report that three of the fish had sloshed over the sides as the pond sunk in the garden soil and were no more. I went out to peek at the remaining four. I thought some encouraging words in their general direction and went in the house. The fountain cheerful squirted into the air.

The next morning I hesitantly peek into the pond. Four goldfish, still present. I thought, good for you and fed them a few flakes.

The next day, it rained all day. The goldfish hid under the fountain, not squirting from lack of sunlight.

The next day, still four fish, huddled under the fountain in the slightly murky water. We can do this, I thought.

And so it goes, day to day with the goldfish. We hope for the best.

Summer Learning #sol22

Summer Learning #sol22

My summer started early (for me) this year, today while my colleagues are sending up our fourth graders to middle school and having one last hug with first the students, then each other, I’ll be learning with the Reading and Writing Project.

For two summers now, I’ve started my summer with two intensive weeks of learning. Writing and Reading, curriculum building, getting myself primed for all of the learning I will try and fit in during the summer.

Yesterday, I did my usual first day of summer ritual. Top to bottom house cleaning and opening my ‘offices’ for the summer. Office #2 pictured here is for reading and note taking, enjoying bird talk and gentle breezes. A quiet oasis for deep thinking.

My second office is in the lower level of the house, a small library filled with books. This is where I’ll spend the majority of these two weeks, listening and learning.

Yesterday, I made my plans. Last minute wrap ups from the school and a plan for summer reading.

I call it my learning plan and I make one every summer. I think it is what keeps me on the front of my craft. This morning I’ll be considering July and August’s themes. These two weeks are about the workshop in K-2. Then making a plan ( a continued plan) to marry phonics and the workshop. This has been my ongoing plan for two years.

July will be given over to consider managing book clubs. How to run them, books to read, small groups, skills. I can’t wait to dig in. August will be about writing, mentor texts, sparking joy, quick drop ins.

I love learning in summer. 10 short weeks to recharge the battery to start strong in the fall.

I have my book stack ready. Today I’ll make a plan for reading goals and then on to the institute.

I can’t wait to hear what you’re learning about this summer.

a notice from the universe #sol22

while this says Samuel Butler, this is actually a paraphrase of a verse from Matthew in the New Testament

a notice from the universe #sol22

June 14, 2022

All last evening and through the night my to-do list tumbled around in my brain like clothes misaligned in a dryer. I kept hoping the cycle would finish, but here I was this morning still tumbling with metaphorical scraps of paper tossing around in my thoughts- things to say, things to do, tasks to complete, and a few worries tossed in there at the last minute.

I put on my calmest shirt, my sparkliest shoes. Any attempt to make the outside mask the inside turmoil. I back out of the drive, a car is there on the cul-de-sac. At 6:15?? I brake and wait for it.

I start out. Each intersection is a red light. Cars ahead are hesitant and then out from a side street pulls a man on a motor scooter. He is swerving all around the lane and his top speed is around 20 miles per hour. He breaks at all these intersections fifty feet or more before he arrives. I take a deep breath… and then another. What’s this? My head is all full, but suddenly it empties because I have to watch him, watch out for this man on a motor scooter.

Each light, he continues on my path, slowing me down. I change the radio station to calm jazz. I take a deep breath. I know what this is, this is a message from the universe. Slow down. Take in your surroundings, put down the list. So, I do…

The next intersection inexplicably my motor scooter messenger turns at the red light. Oh, I think, peace for the rest of the journey. One half a block later, a vintage car pulls out in front of me also keeping a slow pace. When I get to a little rise, I see a significant row of traffic in front of him. Oh, I see, a strong message today, is it? So I slow down.

I read this book, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules, years ago, but the central message, for me, has stuck. The universe will keep giving you lessons… and they will get harder and harder until you learn from them. I’m not positive what today’s lesson is, but I’m going to listen more, rush less, concentrate on one problem at a time. This quote came strongly into my mind just as I was pulling into the school parking lot, ‘let the day’s own trouble suffice’. I didn’t remember where it came from until I googled it before starting to write. It made me smile because I remembered when I had been initially taught that lesson.

So for now, I’m just going to focus on today and be open to the messages.

It’s In the Numbers? #sol22

It’s in the Numbers… or is it? #sol22

The last two and half weeks of school for me has been taken over by our online benchmark assessments in literacy and math. From grade K through fourth grade, we logged students into a platform based test in these curriculum areas and also measured their progress with discreet tests in letter sounds, phoneme segmentation, oral reading, and nonsense word recognition. Some of these students had spent the week before taking our state based tests, also online. While the administration of the test and mostly likely the taking of it by our students is a grueling gauntlet filled with technology potholes and attention draining, language challenging obstacles, it’s looking at the numbers that gives me the most pause.

After the assessments, we dig into the numbers. The latest ‘magic’ number is SGP, student growth percentile, the latest ‘accountability’ measure. The short version is that can we say that a student has made a year’s growth in a year or even more. Additionally can we evaluate the program and the teacher with these measures. Those are big shoes to fill. This assumes that the assessment measures what we want the student to learn, the student understands what they are being asked, and the conditions in which they take the assessment give us the optimal picture of these results. Those are big asks.

All things considered, we arrive at these objective numbers: the student’s score, the grade level equivalent, the percentile rank, and this student growth percentile. Earlier this year we also began to look these numbers across populations of students as well. So, what do we think about all of these numbers?

After years of looking at various assessments and various data from them, I expect that many of the students who assessments indicate concern will, in fact, at the middle of the year, begin to look as though it’s coming together. Generally, we hope that the trajectory after winter break will be steep and most students at the end of the year will meet expectations of grade level, growth, or hopefully both.

In the last few years, our measurements have lacked consistency as we fluctuated from in-person to remote learning. Finding the numbers to determine the growth students are achieving has been a challenge. But we arrive here, today, after a full year of in-person school. As we look at the numbers, can we trust them? Are the students who are indicated by the measurement the ones that need the most attention? What about the outliers? The surprises? What about when measures conflict?

In the end, the numbers are indicators, not crystal balls. We talk together about what we notice day to day, what might be getting in the way, and what direction we might take next. The way things have changed in the recent consideration. We talk more often about progress. We talk more about what we might try next at school. Our toolkit of what to consider and try is getting deeper all the time.

The truth is that many students are struggling to catch up to those expectations we had just a few years ago. The truth also is that I have to help people see that if the students don’t meet that artificial goal from pre-pandemic, that’s to be expected. That doesn’t make the effort wrong or less or anything. When we look at this new-fangled student growth potential, we shouldn’t judge the student or the teacher. We should think ‘what next’.

So over the next few days, I’ll be talking about what’s next. What might we teach a little deeper? What techniques really were successful this year? What felt like success? What does it feel like student need right now?

I have a few ideas. Let’s consider joy and count success. Let’s look at surprises and hope that it will leads to know students better. Let’s dream and affirm.
Then… let’s rest.

Synchronicity #sol22

Synchronicity #sol22

I can’t sleep and I am overtired. I am watching the Celtics-Heat basketball game. At first, I wasn’t really watching, just the squeak of shoes, the distinctive sound of the ball hitting the floor or the rim, and the repetitive cadence of the coach. What are those words he is saying? I can feel the rhythm without watching and then I look up.

The players are watching each other. They have that anticipatory stance. Each player is waiting to do his part. They watch each other. They sense how the game is going. They push momentum forward or try to create it out of thin air.

The air isn’t actually thin. It’s filled with a network of shared muscle memory. Days and weeks and years of practice. Practice together and practice apart. Some skills, the ‘fundamentals’ are drilled in, known since some of them were single digits. Others are the product of practice, desire, and automaticity. But they have it. As we watch sports we often talk about ‘the look’. Sometimes teams just look like they have the momentum, the drive, … the synchronicity. They are aren’t feeling tired now, they are in the zone.

The rhythm is obvious.

Maybe that’s why this year(s) feels so hard.

Perhaps we are out of synch.

Have we lost our synchronicity through a month at home, a spring of online learning, a summer of isolation, another year of hybrid learning, and then… we returned. An out-of-sync team is also obvious. They miss passes and lay ups. They foul. The overall plan with the intricacy of a well-practiced, well-oiled, in sync team is faltering.

To be fair, a lot has changed. Too much to list. The assumptions we make about skill sets and routine, the muscle memory of the learning community is not quite there. We need to be more transparent, more patient, more tentative. Those passes get dropped more than they get passed.

How do we get back? Like any time, we have to get back to fundamentals. We have to survey the ‘game film’. We have to honest about our weakness and build strengths. We can do it… if the desire is present.

Ready, huddle up. Eyes on the plan. Review. Take a deep breath.

The off season is long… and short. We should work on some fundamentals while we’re off. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots too.

Looking Forward… Collaboratively #sol22

Looking Forward… Collaboratively #sol22

Several years ago, our district gave the literacy leadership, principal, literacy specialists, vice-principals, our ELE director, the opportunity to take a day and consider all the ways we “coach’ our learning communities and plan for the next year.

It was a really beneficial block of time. We had an interim principal at that time, but the vice-principal and I made a great plan for moving forward month by month. We talk about professional learning community work, our consulting work with a professional development specialist, our building based curriculum meetings, our staff meetings, any half-day time. Really, really beneficial.

We used our experience with grade level staff, our assessment patterns, the units of study in literacy and their trajectory, and what we need about the overall student needs in our learning community. As we left that school year and prepared to enter the next, I felt like a plan was in place.

As you might guess, a new principal, a different year, and a pandemic disruption just as we were entering the third quarter, put those plans in jeopardy. While some were implemented, others were not. We didn’t stick to that plan.

Why don’t people stick to a plan? Perhaps when it is not their plan.

Here we are, several years later, but my optimism for planning ahead hasn’t faltered. This time, I’m determined to help my stakeholders have a voice and for us, as a learning community to have an outline for the work we will do together next year. Goodness knows that these teachers might benefit from voice and choice as we say. While I might have a reasonable idea of what would be helpful, their input goes a long way to creating a climate for collaboration.

So last week, I sprang my idea on the principal. He reminded me that in test week, teachers will have a lot on their mind and on their plates. I explained the idea to our new math coach. She was optimistic. So today, we spent an hour in our grade level teams and in a room together considering what we need.

It felt right. I haven’t read their notes… yet, but it felt right. They were talking to each other about what went well, what went not so well, and what might be a big help in the year to come.

Today it felt a little like that Desmond Tutu quote I have above my desk. Let’s not pull people out of the water, but go upstream and find out why they are falling in. Today, I listened. Today, they talked.

Tomorrow we will plan. Perhaps we will be able to spin all of their ideas into plans. Maybe we won’t. But what I will do is carry those ideas around with me using them to consider how and when I work with teachers, what I offer, what I say.

Gratitude #sol22

Gratitude #sol22

May 10, 2022

One morning this past week I paused in the early morning quiet to write some thank you notes. I pulled out my little box of thank you notes, a mixed up mash of many collections of thank you notes. I gave myself a little smile in anticipation.

I pulled out a silly misfit of a card. It had a crazy drawing of woman exercising on the front. While this doesn’t on surface seem to have anything to do with thanks, it was perfect for a friend I wanted to gift a laugh with my thank you. I wrote her a funny thank you to match the illustration full of the shared laughter we enjoy each of our coaching sessions. I felt my smile grow.

Next, I choose a paisley printed flowered card and began to write the next note. True to form, I had made a list of those I wanted to thank, not just for the tokens for my recent birthday, but as I wrote, my gratitude for the relationships we share, the comfort and support that each of those sweet gifts remind me of, and to some a wish for them to know their amazing gifts to me were far more than the physical gifts.

The longer I sat there and thoughtfully wrote out my gratitude, the more my spirit filled with joy. I lingered in that joy for quite a while.

I should write out my gratitude more often. I had a principal a few years back who routinely wrote notes to his staff expressing his gratitude and sharing something he had noticed. While I’m not sure of the content of these messages other than my own, I am sure that he wasn’t noticing some grand gesture, but a small act that many might be unaware of. He noticed, he took a moment to write it down. I imagine that some of those cards were tucked away to bolster the spirit of that member of our learning community later on their journey.

I have wrote here before about my gratitude board. Inside the literacy center door is a small bulletin board with thank you’s I have received. Some of them say no more than simply thank you. Others are sweet notes about what I have meant to others. A glance at them accompanies each of my journeys during the day.

I hope I will remember how it felt to express gratitude and take a lesson from that former principal. Add to my calendar a half an hour a week to express some gratitude. As my dear Connecticut friends so beautifully do, spread some marigolds.

For more on that, enjoy this.



There you were

a small gift from the universe

none to happy about the disturbance

but cold and sleepy enough to

let us admire you

You reminded us of other springs

with little boys

that would have been ecstatic

to make your acquaintance

Sadly those boys are grown

and we are left here to admire your slippery spots

on our own

with only our memories and the miracle

You’re Doing Amazing, Sweetie #sol22

You’re Doing Amazing, Sweetie

April 12, 2022

Last Saturday afternoon I took myself to the local pharmacy to receive my 2nd Covid booster shot. There was a little break in the torrential rain we had been experiencing all day and I was feeling uplifted by the moments of sun peaking through the sky.

I checked in online and sat in my car for a few minutes before I went in for my 3:00 pm appointment. I was wondering if the pharmacy would be busy with others receiving their booster as it was in October when I received my first one. At that time, the pharmacist was rushed and I was surprised by the lack of discussion about the booster and the side effects. This time, I didn’t expect any of that as the pharmacy had sent me all of those precautions and warnings via text and video early in the week.

The pharmacy itself was crowded with many people in line. As I stood to the side waiting for my vaccine, I noticed the urgency of most people as they interacted with the technicians at the counter. Many wanted some service or medication that was difficult if not impossible for the pharmacy to provide. What really caught my eye was behind the counter.

Behind the counter amongst the rows of medications, counters, prescriptions divided by last name, drive up window was this tiny woman darting about like a little hummingbird. She was opening mail bins and dividing the contents sometime tossing them across the room into a container that was out of my view. Simultaneously she was checking things on a computer terminal near her and directing the several others working ‘behind the scenes’. I was fascinated by the potential disaster that I anticipated from her pace. It was a jarring discord from the picture of the quiet orderly pharmacy I had in my mind.

When I sat down in the small curtained area designated for vaccines, there appeared this little hummingbird. She was the pharmacist! She came in the room talking as rapidly as she had moved through the pharmacy. Much like you would imagine that little hummingbird she was agitated by an encounter she had just had. She launched into her possibly internal monologue to me with no preamble. Why do people wait to the last minute to take care of their own health and then blame me when I cannot provide the medication? Your liver health is at risk. Did they just realize that today? She continued, clearly processing this difficult situation and the negative talk from the customer. She looked at me expectantly.

That when I thought… I’m a coach even when I’m not a coach… Why is it that when I am sitting in a waiting room, standing online, picking yogurt in the grocery, people are constantly having advisory conversations with me? Is it aura? Regardless, I turned my empathic eyes toward this beleaguered pharmacist and said, Some people have difficulty organizing their needs. You’re doing the best you can.

We make that line an amusing joke during our daily work at school. That phrase from Kris Jenner, you’re doing amazing, sweetie. But as I sat in that pharmacy, I considered how many people just need to hear that… over and over.

What the H? #sol22

What the H? #sol22

April 5, 2022

I had recently started working with Mrs. K kindergarten class. We had arrived at fundations (phonics) time and I was standing behind V. His voice is so soft and I’m leaning over to hear his echo- H-Hat-/h/. I was watching the teacher and listening to the kindergartener. I vocalized with the students barely paying attention, having said these phrases often.

From the next table I hear voice. Mrs. Kennedy, can I give you a tip?

The teachers eye brows raise. My shoulders follow.

Sure, I say.

We finish the alphabet and my adviser approaches me, his upturned face so very earnest.

He leans in.

Mrs. Kennedy, I am not sure you know this. The H says /h/. He perfectly executes the pop of air that is the vocalization of H.

He waits.

I smile back at him. Oh, G. Thanks so much for the tip. I did know that, but I wasn’t being careful with my sounds. Next time, I’ll know just what to do.

He nods. His teacher contains her smile. Many expectant eyes look toward me.

Many days later, I move around their world with relative ease. I remember to clip my sounds. I know where the crayons, white boards, and spare pencils are kept. I can drop down next to a student and talk about letter formation, decoding, and the next step in making a cake. I wonder if I had responded differently if all this would have worked out in a different way. Perhaps not. These kindergarten friends are pretty forgiving.