No Need for Perfect #sol20

UnknownNo Need for Perfect

January 20, 2020

No need for perfect, just a little bit better.  Oprah January 2020

Thursday in my notebook (#100DaysofNotebooking) I outlined the benefits of child study.  It isn’t coincidence that I decided that child study was a real benefit to our school community that day in particular.  That morning, the pieces of child study came together again. There it was, the sweet spot.

I’m a firm believer in the child study process. A group of educators get together and discuss a difficulty and work together to suggest solutions.  We use a strict(ish) protocol.  The classroom based teacher presents the difficulty,  the team asked clarifying questions,  the classroom based teacher listens as we generate possible solutions, the classroom based teacher shares what ideas he/she might try, we set goals and a check-in date for six weeks later.  The entire process takes about forty minutes.

We have these meetings two mornings a week.  The team consists of the school counselor, the assistant principal/EL coordinator, the literacy specialist, the principal, and others rotate in.  Sometimes we have another classroom teacher, sometimes the psychologist, a special education coordinator or teacher, and others.  The protocol works well, the participants balance each other out, and its helpful to the teacher…until it isn’t.

While the process is still right and generally we’ve been helpful, over the last few months, it’s been… uneven.  Why?  Connections.  The principal and the school counselor are in their first year.  They come to the table with their experiences, their knowledge, their hopes.  What they didn’t have was a shared history. What we didn’t have was a shared history.

To be honest, a shared history can be a burden.  Fresh ideas are good and often very, very helpful.  In that room, in that situation, with those time constraints, attention is key, discussion has to be tight, almost each word matters.  It is painfully easy to get off track.  When we get off track, we cannot, we do not generate a round of positive, easily implemented, fresh ideas to try.  Everyone leaves frustrated.

We’ve sat here for the past four months, never having a post-mortem on the meeting.  Never discussing our protocol together. Just hammering it out.  Most of the time, it worked ok.  Rarely was it amazing.  I remember amazing… I missed that.

On Thursday, a teacher came to the room.  She presented her student to us.  We understood her concerns.  We asked questions that gave us all clarity.  She carefully articulated what she thought might be a next step.

I felt the shared exhale in the room as we thought for what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds.  The talk started between us.  No tripping over each others words. No confusion shown on faces.  Gentle easy purposeful productive talk. Like the tumblers on a lock, I felt the team fall into place.  Just then in the moment, we were a team.  We felt the connection. We hit the sweet spot.

We are going to be a team moving forward.  We will smile.  We will wait.  We will laugh. We will reach out.  We made the connection.  We felt the pieces fall into place and we will be working for that every time we enter the room. Once you feel it, it comes more naturally.  That’s what they say about everything that takes practice. It wasn’t quite 10,000 hours, but it was 50… give or take.

Connection #sol20

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There are actually two types of fungi here: lichen, fungi and algae, and hen-in-the-woods.

Connection #sol20

January 14, 2020

When I chose connect as my one little word, I was thinking about the connections between individuals and grade levels, types of writing and units of study,  I wasn’t thinking about how a book or books can connect so many of those things.  I also wasn’t thinking about books and how they can connect across lessons and ideas either.  Since I started with this lovely photo of a hen-in-the-woods fungus, perhaps I should start closer to the beginning.

As part of another blog team I write with, I chose a year’s worth of books to review.  (My last review, Fungus is Among Us by Joy Keller)  Another writer had recommended this book as it was published in early fall and I preordered it.  I had chosen to review it in January as many grades as starting or leaving nonfiction reading and writing and also fitting in poetry during these winter months.  This book has a lot!  It’s a picture book and also contains loads of facts.  It has an easy story line and also a biography insert.  It has a bibliography and it RHYMES!  Just the perfect mentor text to showcase many ways of writing nonfiction.

This story isn’t actually a book review.  It’s what happened next.  As is my habit, a few weeks before my review date,  I send out an email asking who would like to hear a new book.  I don’t offer much additional information.  Usually I have a few takers and in this round two classrooms of third graders invited me to read.  As I was planning my lesson,  I was thinking about poetry writing and the aspects of good nonfiction writing.  I read through the book several times, enjoy more each time.  Then it occurred to me that I have photos of fungus in my phone…  How many photos of fungus do I have?  I wondered.  Quickly before I visited my first class,  I created a quick album of fungi in my phone, a half-a-dozen pictures or so.  I read the book to a third grade, telling them that I was reviewing it.  Asking them to think like nonfiction readers and writers. What did they learn from this nonfiction teacher?  What might they try in their own writing?  

The class was immediately taken with the fungi.  They had lots of ideas in their pre-reading moments thinking about where they had seen fungi and what they knew.  Surprisingly, many of them had some ideas.  Definitely plenty to think about as we read.  We read this brilliant book noting the author’s craft in the beginning, her incorporating of text features, the parallel structure, the author’s notes. At the end,  I gave the students an opportunity to respond to my initial questions.  Their responses were very enthusiastic.

Planning on reading the book to another third grade later in the week and bolstered by their response,  I went back through my phone and discovered I had nearly twenty five photos of different types of fungi. A little odd, I know.  Putting them into an album I noticed that you can make a slideshow in your phone, so I did.   I returned to my first read aloud class and during their snack showed them the slideshow.   They were thrilled.

In another class,  I was gifted the opportunity to teach a few lessons in the beginning of the third grade nonfiction writing unit.  In the first lesson, the teaching point is that we are all as nonfiction writers essentially teachers.  Instead of the unit’s example of cockroaches,  I used my old interest and new-found knowledge of fungi to organize my oral teaching example.

This fungi things got legs… . The next lesson I taught was about using your flash draft to organize several table of contents ideas to plan for your nonfiction chapter book.  Again,  I wrote quickly about fungi and used that writing to demonstrate several possible ‘table of contents’.

So this little book,  Fungus is Among Us, has been quite helpful.  One book, so many uses.  It’s interesting.

 

 

One Little Word #sol19

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The Search for that One Little (but very BIG) Word 2020

January 7, 2020

I hesitated to let go of my one little word for 2019.  It doesn’t seem used up.  It has served me so well.  I think I could still learn more from it… However the chosen way is to let our last little word go with the former year and embrace a new word for a new year.  I have embraced a word every year for the last 10 years.  My last word, reflect, was my most successful word to date.  I spent the last year reflecting on my practice, a habit I don’t think I’ll ever let go.  In 2018, my little word was notice.  Again,  it carried me through that year drawing attention to so many bright spots in education that I saw.  My little word for 2017 was linger, to slow down and proverbially smell the roses.  It taught me to be in the moment with students and their teachers.

This year seemed trickier.  A word was not waiting in the wings.  It seemed in the year 2020,  I should have a word related to vision.  Twenty twenty:  visually accurate acuity, easily done discernment or assessment like hindsight is 2020.  Always good to work on keeping the vision crystal clear. However, as a word,  Vision didn’t fill the void.  Noticing? I had just used that word two years ago.  My PLN encouraged me to keep searching, keep listening, keep trying words on for size. It will come.  

What did I want this year’s word to represent?  All the accumulation of what I had learned in the last few years and a step forward into the future.  I wanted to notice bright spots and keep them in my thinking instead of the challenges that often crowd in.  I wanted to remind my colleagues of what we have already accomplished and how our next steps will be seismic in impact but smaller in exertion that recent years. I made a list of others’ words that I’ve read this past week.  Pause, meander, humor, balance, here.  My word wasn’t among those. 

I made a list of some possible new thoughts for me.  Victories, simply, motivate, listen, connect, collaborate, curious.  Hmm… Curious?  I have a stickie on the front of my collaboration journal that says openly curious, vulnerable, full of questions.  I love that saying at the beginning of the Heinemann podcast,  we value teachers as decision makers and students as curious learners.  While curious is something I am, it doesn’t seem to be a direction forward for me right now.

All those c-words were drawing me in: connect, collaborate, curious.  Which one will be the set intention for 2020?   Connect.  Definition: to join or fasten together, usually by some intervening; to place or establish a relationship.

There it is.  My intention for 2020.  Connect.  Connection.  Connections.  Through intervening, join together people and ideas, and people and ideas.  Taking the time to make personal connections but also helping people to envision connections. (see what I did there?!?) . My seeing was there all along.  When we linger, we notice.  When we notice, we reflect.  When we reflect, we see the connections between the units of study, reading and writing, literacy and content area studies, one grade and another, one student and their teacher, one student and another student, one culture and another culture.

So here’s to connections:  the ones we notice and the ones we create.
Welcome twenty-twenty.  You’re coming into focus now.

One More Reflection

One More Reflection

December 31, 2019

September always seems more like New Year’s, putting a plan in place for the the new school year. January gives an opportunity to reflect on that set path and our progress. Why is it that we often forget to seek the bright spots and focus on our failings instead?

We begin September full of hope and renewed tools sharpened from a summer of renewal and learning. The bright late summer sun shines bright on fresh ideas as we move ahead with confidence.

In October we solidify our plans. Our work together, our work with students, we begin together using the information we have gathered. Hope is still our mainstay. Fall feels like learning and progress.

As the fall sun dims in November, worries creep in fueled by doubt as enthusiasm fades to daily work. We gather wood for the fire as we bolster our hope making adjustments for the coming winter.

December’s cold blast dampens spirits. Subtle changes put layers between us and our work. We look forward to a short renewal before we trudge on.

Then here we are at the cusp of the new year, the new decade. What have we learned about ourselves? What have we learned about learning? What have we learned about students? In the decade view, so much progress has been made, curriculum building and adjusting, facilities improving and adapting, staff planning and purposefully growing.

So let’s look back on the bright spots, the places where we learned, we grew, we succeeded. Those challenges were an opportunity to stretch, to reflect, to grow. What new challenges will we give ourselves in this new year, this new decade and what challenges will be given to us? Let’s look forward with anticipation.

Traditions From the Heart #sol19

img_5474Traditions from the Heart #sol19

December 17, 2019

Every school day in December for the last ten years sans four last year when I honored my husband’s father, I’ve baked a batch of Christmas cookies and left them in our teacher workroom. With little ceremony, often just a stickie with the name of the cookie, I’ve dropped them without a backward glance. Sometimes I’ll pass the plate or the plastic container later in the morning and peek curiously to see how quickly they’ve been carried off by anxious hands.

I already know which ones will be gone before the first bell rings. I know the favorites of many of my colleagues and have searched for recipes of others tentatively whispered to me laced with memories of someone else’s treasured holiday memory.

I begin to hear the hopeful whispers in early November. Did you know she makes cookies every day in December? Just wait! I smile.

It’s what this act does for me that is the miracle. I stand in my kitchen glowing with the warmth of the oven and the shine of the overhead light my husband searched for and feel the love. The love of those present teachers who say, oh, that’s my favorite! The love of friends who ask if I will share my recipe, afraid I might not. I make the cookies as a gift to them for all the days we’ve shared and will share, for our shared purpose, for the home this school has become for me.

Perhaps they know that, but it’s so much more. Standing in that kitchen with my stand mixer that’s created so many batches of cookies, I’m surrounded by memories of other kitchens and other baked goods. I feel Saturday after Saturday with my family stealing cookie dough and sniffing deeply with the oven door opened waiting for a first bite. I feel shared young mother days with my husband’s sister and all the cousins making peanut butter cookies with kisses, sugar cookies, and spritz with the counters overflowing with sprinkles and hot chocolate. The air filled with great smells and laughter.

In that warmth, I feel my long gone mother baking Christmas stollen to be delivered to welcoming homes on Christmas Eve. In my heart, her generosity takes root and I feel what I know with certainty what she hoped to teach me, the immeasurable joy of giving, of creating joy for others.

I wish you could stop by my kitchen one of these nights. We would share a few recipes, bake together, share stories, and fill our hearts to overflowing. I feel you here right now.

Time to Reflect #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.31.14 PM.pngTime to ReGroup (& Reflect) #sol19

December 10, 2019

We’ve come to the time of the year when it’s time to take stock.  Prepare for our New Year’s resolutions so to speak.  Take some time to consider how far we’ve come from the aspirations of early fall to the reality of early winter.  A new season of school is upon us.

We can no longer attribute difficulties to ‘summer loss’ or ‘adjusting to the school year’, now it’s all on us (collectively).  What are the reflective questions to ask ourselves?

For me, so much about this tenth year in this same school is similar and yet it feels so different.  With a dramatic shift in the personnel around me and the allocation of my time, I find myself carefully considering many things about both my yearly trajectory and my day-to-day practice.  I believe this happens to those of us who work in education quite frequently.  Mostly, it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because the less stagnant we become, the fresher we are for those around us.  I have a lot of experience in literacy and elementary school, but I work best when I approach each new challenge with fresh ideas and a full toolkit.  Success is more often the outcome when I listen, I observe, I carefully consider, I remain true to my overall philosophies of learning, and then, only then, I offer suggestions.

We have a child study team at our school, similar to many other RtI practicing schools.  I am well known for taking copious notes and always offering up some out-of-the box ideas along with the standard fare.  Thinking about something we haven’t tried keeps us focusing on the uniqueness of each student, each classroom, and each situation that comes our way.

One challenge that remains stubbornly consistent over the last years is spelling.  Spelling?!?  Not word-solving in reading to any extent, but spelling.  If I am being honest, I used to think, spelling?  That’s what spell-check is for.  It will work itself out with technology and practice.  Through happenstance, I decided last week to take spelling head-on.  What can we consistently do to improve the spelling of individual students and our students overall?  Is this perception or reality?  How is this global issue related to others that seem to be perennials in the landscape of our school lives?

What do we do when we try to solve a problem?  We get right in there.  But for some reason (I think I know why),  I decided this time, this time it wasn’t going to be about me swooping in and solving a problem by offering a solution to a teacher and most especially, a student.  This time was going to be about me listening, reflecting, creating agency in the student herself.  So instead of asking, what’s up with this?  I asked,  what are you already doing well?  Hey, kiddo,  spelling (insert difficulty here) is a big elephant of a thing.  What do you think you are doing ok?  How do you know?  Then, and only then, did I ask, what do you think you might work on right now? 

Here’s what it looked like on paper.

IMG_5455It isn’t magical.  It isn’t an amazing piece of insight.  Honestly, it might not work.  The look on the student’s face as she created this alongside me was everything.  I hope it will be a game-changer, but I’m at peace if it isn’t.  There will be something else to try, to tweak, to discuss.  What all of this is about is moving forward, giving something a go, building agency and mindset and all those things that will stay with a learner long after she’s left me behind.

Here they are, her ideas in my handwriting.  As we move forward, I hope she will see it as her success as well.

 

img_0602 I write in the company of the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  I thank them and all my fellow writers for building agency in me and helping me feel my own success.

Vacation Vibe #sol19

Vacation #sol19

December 4, 2019

I remember hearing that it takes your body (and mind) a few days to actually be at rest when you go on vacation. Due to two unscheduled school cancellations, I’ve been off work for six days. I feel really relaxed.

I haven’t left the house in a couple of days. I had long talks with my dog. I looked out the window. I cooked. I baked. I deeply relaxed.

Wonder how this will transfer to my inevitable return to my day-to-day tomorrow? I hope it will give me fresh perspective and clear thoughts, more patience, and a more genuine smile.

Today, I gave myself a half day of home-made professional development. I read blogs I’ve been saving. I caught up with some reading. I mulled around some ideas. I felt refreshed.

How can we transfer that feeling to other days, days with meetings and timelines, difficulties and strain? How can we bottle that relaxation and pour it over our days?

I feel the strain in the students and educators. I feel the anxiety bubbling up. I want to counteract those feelings. One of my writing friends is always looking for ways to spread joy… and she does with lessons and simplicity and time and attention. I’m inspired by that.

So these next few weeks until we have another stretch of relaxing days, let’s keep that relaxation going for as long as we can. Let’s slow down. Let’s smile. Let’s listen and take time for conversation. Because it’s me, let’s enjoy some good books and write together. Think big thoughts and dream big dreams.

Let’s make each other a promise, a promise to coach into the importance. Being present for others, that’s a real gift.