From One Baker to Another #sol21

From One Baker to Another #sol21

January 12, 2021

I take my time in the proximity of young writers any way I can these days. This past week it came in the form of helping a struggling writer in a second grade class. As I write struggling, I should say that I was assuming prior to working with him that he was struggling, but… well, I’ll let the story illuminate what I discovered.

P. was working on some expert writing in this class. As I approached, I asked if he would like me to talk over his writing with him today. His face lit up. Yes, you can write with me. I asked him what he was writing about though I could see his title. Baking cookies! he said. Lovely, I replied. I enjoy baking cookies myself. What’s your plan?

I’m not sure what’s next, he said. His writing was meticulous. His pages each had a heading. He had a word wall list nearby and a ring of cards with some collected words on them as well. He was well into his first page. I paused for a moment. Where would I be helpful? What kind of help would you like? I asked. Miss G. usually writes down my sentences and I copy them. Oh, I said. Why don’t we begin with you reading what you have so far? And so it began, him reading to me, Do you want to know how to make chocolate chip cookies?

So there we were, discussing our crispiness preferences, what ingredients we put in our cookies and in what order. Soon we were planning the next page. I think we should tell them what they need to make them, he said. What do you put in yours? I asked. He answered butter and chocolate chips, but not too many. Hmm… what else? We settled on eggs, flour, butter, chocolate chips and vanilla. He wrote each word carefully on his page. He may not have spelled each word correctly, but all the sounds were there. When he got to the last ingredient vanilla, he said, I love that smell. I do too, I said. We paused and smiled together, the memory of vanilla between us.

As the teacher moved past us, she said, “I love when two bakers can chat with each other.” My young writing friend beamed. Here we were, sharing our baking secrets. I didn’t write any of his sentences for him to copy that day. I just talked to him about baking cookies. He used his word wall and his cards. He sounded out some words and use some that he had already written. In the end of our time together, about fifteen minutes, he had written four strong pages.

I wrote four pages! he said. What do you have left to say? I asked. Just how to cool them, then eat them. He smiled… and I smiled. He was proud of his work. Did he emulate a mentor text? Not really. Was his writing more of a “how to”? Possibly. But his writing was his and he share his process with me. Maybe he was more successful because of the adult proximity or maybe he was because he has made a lot of cookies and he knows how it works.

I wish I had that writing to treasure and reread. The memory of his success makes me smile. His generosity, the gift of the time with him, through plexiglass, but still together is a treasure.

This is a small, small slice. Such a small amount of time, but exactly what I needed at the moment. That little writing conference, so much more important to me than my young writing partner. You know if you keep the cookies in the oven for another minute, they will get crispier, but you can’t keep them in any longer or they will be TOO crispy. This is a tip from a real expert baker, age seven.

Pivot #sol21

Pivot #sol21

January 5, 2021

If you saw me today you might confuse me with Jennifer Aniston. I mean, really. I am using Aveeno body wash to counteract my dry skin. Is that too personal? I am using collagen creamer in my coffee to… sharpen my mind, elasticize my skin, build my immune system? Honestly, I am not sure why I am taking collagen. On the outside, I might not look much like Jennifer Aniston, but my insides are well on the way. So goes my superficial intentions for 2021. Day 5 report card, pretty good. The meditation and the daily intentions… not so much. The reading/writing every day only made it as far as my first day back at school. Then, per usual, I am reacting to situations around me. Time gets away from me and it’s back to square one. Or is it?

It’s not really back to square one. I know what my intentions are. I know how to work on it. Day 4 being actually day 5 is only clerically problematic. I can read today. I can write today. I can consider my one little word for 1 or 2 or 12 days longer. It really isn’t about that either.

It’s about what my really real role is in my learning community. Not my job description. Not my daily tasks. What can I contribute to the fabric of our success?

This word, pivot, was big in the spring of 2020. Truthfully, it’s all we did. Pivot from live school to remote school. Pivot from how we assess students, how we meet with each other, how we plan together, how we listen, how we nurture, how we cope.

At first, I felt like perhaps I was just distributing bandaids, really colorful bandaids, but still and again, just a bandaid. I have changed how I view these acts. When I find a book for someone, when I record a lesson, when I meet with a student in real life or on google meet, I am lessening someone’s overload giving them just a little more space to pivot themselves.

When I can be calm, when I can consider another’s point of view, when I can let my opinion stay inside, I give people space and precious time to figure it out. I can do that… if I exhale a little more. I can collect up little stories, precious moments and scatter them like stars when needed. As needed, I can pivot and help others do the same. We all need a point of view adjustment now and then.

So let’s go back to our solutions driven coaching or working or living. Let’s make lemonade out of these lemons. Let’s stick to our core, forgive our missteps, setting an example for our young learners that we can nurture a learning community with readers and writers and most importantly, thinkers and solvers.

So as usual, my one little word finds me and not the other way around. I am sure there are other words out there in the wings that might fit better, but for now, let’s pivot, if only our attitude about what we can do to contribute. I am stuck here primarily in the literacy center, but those books can travel widely. My world seems small, but it’s only as small as I allow it to be.

“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit, but

it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.”

David Goggins

Quarantine Lesson #sol20

Bob called me over to the window the day after Christmas to a surprising sight, a flock of robins in the front yard. To us, it seemed a miraculous surprise, dozens of robins covering the yard as far as we could see while it was warmer that day, the robins were fluffed up. Clearly with no bugs and worms available in the shallow soil of our yard, we wondered about their supposed confusion. What we learned about robins next was surprising

Robins selectively migrate and flock as they search for food in the winter. They search around migrating just as far as they have to, seeking either above freezing weather or their adapted food source fruit in the winter. What resourceful birds.

These clever things flock together to search for food even adding other members of the truth family to their flock including eastern bluebirds. Thanks our local Wild Birds Unlimited expert for this tidbit. Their stop in our front yard that day might be the result of the word that our bird feed includes cherries, a favorite of our nuthatches and woodpeckers

It might just be a accident if a sunny open space on a breezy day as was our glance at the right moment that allowed us to share this precious moment together. We were open to gazing, taking a moment to enjoy the view and explore the reason.

Those robins, they adapt to their changing situations. They seek warmth, companionship, and teamwork. It seemed to working for our little visitors and it sure touched our hearts. A momentary hopeful surprise on a seemly dreary winter day.

Our inspiration for this trying winter, the robins. Navigating just far enough, work together, survive the winter. Spring is coming.

Thanks for reminder, little robins. We will be setting out the cherries for your return. As Camus said,

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer

Here’s to summer on the way.

Holding the Moments Close #sol20

I have a collection of screen shots and short movies on my ‘desktop’. Tiny moments in time between me and students. Once I had an endless supply of live moments between myself and students. Random drop ins from them into the literacy center or from me to their classroom, hallway chats, quick lessons plan quickly over morning coffee and then taught in messy harmony that very day. Currently none of that is afforded to me or most likely to you. I live in a restricted, time-crunch, ten-minute-window bubble.

In that bubble, I see a very few students during their remote time. Each second of those appointments with students, I treasure. I believe I always treasured those moments, but now they feel precious. When I get to see a Christmas tree, or comment on a funny t-shirts. When a student is anxious to share their written story or write a new one together. This is what drives me forward. That and the promise of a future that resembles my past.

As we write, the young writers earnestly tilt their screens down to share their print on the page with me. We collaborate, we discuss, we celebrate, and we generally get the business done in a way that I would have never imagined last year or perhaps even last week. I’ve come to treat this time as I would a conference in real life. I plan for it, I inquire, I listen, I encourage, and also, I treasure.

Yesterday, this pictured writer taught me how to make hot cocoa. It occurred to me that there isn’t just one way. His way sounded just right. I wish we could have celebrated with a cup together. Today, he taught me how to draw a snowman. I carefully held my drawing up to the camera and he tilted his screen so I could see your words. We worked together to revise his directions. I listened as he sounded out each written letter, his mother prompting him to speak louder so I could hear him. The truth was, I could hear him just fine. Years of listening to subvocalization in spelling has made my hearing keener, perhaps.

He was happy and I was so happy. This home “work” is tough. Even for our youngest learners, I think it must feel isolating as well. The kiddos are used to us coaching from the sides, checking in, redirecting. They remember noticing what their classmates are doing. They remember the companionship of a classroom. At home, every one is trying to do their thing and it’s hard to keep everyone moving forward sometimes. I am happy to help. I want to discuss the finer points of pencil erasers and why there is never enough room to get all you want to say on the page. I want to smile at them with my whole face and see them smile back with theirs.

So thank you to all of my young writer friends and their parents who share this time with me. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. You are what keep me going day after day. I think about your toothy grins, your drawings, your dialogue, your careful spelling in all of those quiet, too quiet moments when I am on my own.

Keep plugging along, you tenacious beings. I got your back.

Book Day Dates #sol20

Book Day (Dates) #sol20

I might have given away the punch line with this photo, but I really couldn’t resist. You see I had a book day date yesterday. Well, you might say, that doesn’t seem unusual or newsworthy. You are in fact, a reading specialist. Don’t you spend all day every day with books. You would think so, but lately, well, for a while now, I have really thought of myself more as a writing teacher. We have lots of reading teachers with strong talents around, but writing gives folks some trouble. That’s a story for another day. Back to book day.

I spend more of my day than I want surrounded by the literacy center of our medium size school. Now that all our pandemic safety protocols are in place, more and more of that time is alone. Also, because of the safety protocols, there is a bucket inside the door for me to collect and quarantine books. I usually put books away one day a week, puttering around in the late afternoon, thinking about the collection and putting the books back in their bucket homes.

I ran out of time last week with other commitments and as I opened the door yesterday, there was that blue bucket overflowing with books. You will have to wait until later today, I silently told them as I organized myself for the morning.

One table in the book room is filled with orders trickled in from last spring. Honestly, I have forgotten why we chose these or where they will eventually live. In the rush to close in the spring, whatever notes I have taken about them is lost both in my files and on my mind. My eyes light on a collection of big books and I know with certainty where they belong. I make five stacks of Three Billy Goats Gruff, I Went Walking, many other titles, and on top, like a secret present, I place a big book of The Gingerbread Man. The Gingerbread Man is a big deal for a kindergarten teacher. Sometimes, in the old days, peals of laughter would be heard in early December in most elementary schools as kinders followed clues to the runaway gingerbread man. There won’t be a scavenger hunt this year, but I hope there was cookies and that classic story, so off those stacks go to be places just inside the kindergarten doors.

Next to my tough customer. Tough customer? you say. Yes, you know him or of him. He’s the kiddo that is constantly returning the books, picture-read, but mostly untouched. The one who peers at the covers and says, don’t you have a book about castles? I’ve been filling up my amazon cart with him in mind. I peruse the stack for today, the first day of the week and mentally play out the challenges that will assault me in just an hour or so. Today I’m mostly ready for it, telling him in my firmest warm voice, Now today when you go back to independent reading, let’s try two things. First, one book reading the words from start to finish… not just the pictures. Then when you get to a word that’s tricky, use all your tools, does it look right, does it sound right, does it make sense. He looks at me sternly in only the way a primary student can and says, I think you are asking too much of me. I hesitate just for a moment, look him right in those sweet eyes and say, I don’t. Can’t wait to hear about it tomorrow!

I read virtually with my little background clicking friend at home- a how-to book about making bird feeders. She would rather talk about having friends over, but she grudgingly gives me her dazzling smile and most of her attention and effort for twenty minutes. She’s doing well and I think we’ll try a bump up this week to something a little more challenging.

There’s a request in my inbox for some reading books switches for the first grade book bags. As the afternoon wanes, I make my list and start filling the book bags like a proverbial santa, making little themes or collections, smiling about this title, and considering what these newly unleashed readers will think of their fresh collections. We have the luxury of putting those real books in the hands of our hybrid learners, and goodness, I am going to help make that happen as long as I possibly can. Who knew that getting books in the hands of elementary students could be such a challenge? Near the end of my sorting, considering and bagging, there it is… a little gift from the universe for me. A thank you for continuing keeping the books out there perhaps. Taped to the front of a book, I don’t even now which one, a little carefully constructed heart with the spelling carefully crafted was this message. Shayr hwith evere bute. So I share it now with you, the dessert for my book day. Book love from an early reader.

Home to read some more books. Make some more slide decks for read alouds. Find myself lost in a book.

Wearing Lipstick Under My Mask #sol20

The future, any future is simply one step at a time out of the heart.
-Patricia McKillip

I’m Wearing Lipstick Under My Mask and other lesson from now #sol20

December 1, 2020

I was getting ready for work a few weeks ago thinking about how hard some days are when it occurred to me that I should dress like the ‘old days’. I should look in my closet and consider my mood and my day. I shouldn’t automatically throw on jeans and a sweater because I’ll be in the literacy center and/or on a screen all day. I should look like ‘myself’. Wearing a scarf or a fun dress even if I am the only one that sees it did seem like a waste of time. Then I began to consider what my ‘outsides’ have to do with my ‘insides’.

I began that day to dress like I have always dressed. Some days, jeans and a sweater, but most days my semi-professional ‘teacher’ garb. Could I affect my feeling of normalcy by making my outsides look ‘normal’? The next day, I put on some mascara and then impulsively, swiped some lipstick across my lips. I remember a few days prior telling my husband that I missed lipstick, that I didn’t need any clothes because I was all closed up for the most part.

But then I wrote about how meeting with kids online shared most of the things that I love about working with students: they smile, they joke, they tell me about things, they try hard, they celebrate their successes. I can do this, I thought. I just need a bright scarf and a little lipstick under my mask.

Last Wednesday, I finished a book that has taken me eighteen months to finish. I had to buy the audioversion to help me cross the finish line, but when I finished that book, I wanted to celebrate. The book was amazing and I learned so much from it. Having the author read to me on my way to school and my way home was comforting. That book, Reader Come Home by Maryanne Wolf is one I highly recommend, however the ending where she calls us to action was so timely to me in this moment. Here are a few highlights from this chapter that drew me to reconsider my present course.

Maryanne Wolf references Elon Musk. Elon Musk calls impossible, phase 1. I went back to read a little about Elon Musk. In a quick overview of Elon Musk’s philosophy, it states that first you identify the problem and its common assumptions, then break the problem down to its fundamental truths, and finally, use fundamental truths to plot a new course. Hmmm… I began thinking about viewing the fundamental truths of the situation critically and then using those truths to plot a way forward.

Let’s use a simple example. I want to have some coaching time with a teacher leader. No one has any planning time these days and our contact with each other is minimal. How can I find the time and motivate this teacher to meet? In other words, what are the fundamental truths and also, what exactly am I bringing to the table? It’s like the lipstick… I need to remember what the strongest thing I use to bring to the table was and then make that happen. What does every teacher want? More attention with the students. When she’s talking about self-direction and independent work worries concerning her students, I offer to come and confer with her during the independent work time. It’s not exactly coaching, but it does get us talking with each other every single day.

The teachers are weary from community meetings and time on their computers. What am I good at? Books! So I made some read aloud slide decks, and mentor text slide decks, and first chapter read-alouds, and shared reading books on slides. Having wrote this, I remember that in No More Random Acts of Literacy Coaching, Erin brown does caution against just ‘fixing’ things. I like to think of it as second hand coaching. I read this wonderful new book, I want to read and study it with kids. I can’t right now. I share it with their teachers who read and study it themselves… or that’s the hope.

Let’s consider MaryAnn Wolf’s charge, we must preserve what is valuable, what is important, what moves us forward. It probably isn’t wearing lipstick, but it is being a contributing member of the learning community. There is something in each of our communities that will lift the spirits, lighten the load, refresh the weary. When we step out of the heart, each step moves us toward a brighter future.

Caught Between Zoom and… #sol20

Caught Between Zoom and (NYC) well actually NMA… #sol20

November 24, 2020

The struggle is real… well actually it’s virtual and sometimes real. Not as frequently as I want, I see and talk to teachers, students, and other members of our learning community in real life. I help students out of the cars in the morning. I attend morning meeting which is in that half-land of some students virtual and some on hand. In any given classroom situation, I might hear my voice or even see myself as a teacher shares a read aloud I’ve recorded or a video that I’ve made for the students and staff.

I meet with students in their home weeks. Sometimes they would rather show me things than have a writing conference. Parents are lurking in the background. Even when they try to leave, the children grab them and beg them to stay. Sometimes the parents over-scaffold. Sometimes the students show the parents to me so I know they are there. Most times I carry on. I redirect. I give them all something to work on.

It feels like I don’t really live anywhere. Am I virtual? Am I operating in that space that I once roamed freely? It’s hard to know. Even the real world doesn’t feel so real. I have to consciously think about how long I’ve remained in one space. How many spaces did I enter today? Was I here yesterday? Have I seen or spoken to this teacher, this grade level today, this week?

Then I consider how I am communicating virtually. Everyone seems tired. They receive too many emails. They have so little open time during the day. They want to get home to eat and change and … feel safe. They don’t have time for emails. We don’t have time for casual chat either. I had never, ever used the phone on my desk… all these years, but now I want to make a quick call so people aren’t overwhelmed by writing or exposure.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I could make quick, semi-messy videos to communicate to people. I want to share an idea with you so I’m sending you this video message. I wanted to explain something in more depth so I made you this video. I wanted to share this book with your class so I made a quick video and a small slide show. For many, I just live in the virtual.

It was never more apparent than last week when I was assessing kindergarten remote students after school in the lobby and then assessing first grade remote students in the morning over google meet. Same basic assessments. Similar parents. Similar kiddos. But in that real environment our faces our covered and I’m recycling all the paper. I have a ‘quarantine bin’ for the papers which will be recycled and the blocks which I will quarantine for a few days with the pencils.

For the on screen students, I’ve made a slide show and I’m sharing my screen. I greet them and remind them who I am. The fully remote students feel disconnected, but I’m working the room, using their names, remind them of shared experiences. It was working!

The shock was… is that virtual world easier right now. Do I (we) function better when we can feel safe, take a sip of coffee, hear our voices unmuffled? If so, that’s startling. I’ll give us all a minute to think about it while I unmask and drink some coffee.

Facing it #sol20

Facing it… or not #sol20

November 17, 2020

I don’t think you know what made me turn off my camera and take … a long moment in our meeting. You were thinking about something else and probably had gone on with your train of thought as your words leveled me. I didn’t hear those words, only the ones that echoed through me and the empty space I sat in alone.

Those words you don’t really remember and perhaps the others didn’t really hear were these. You are probably going to do what you want to. You always do… It doesn’t seem like that should even take a slice out of someone like me. Someone like me…

Do I always do what I want to? Why did that seem so egregious? I mean I am a coach, right? I look at a situation, I evaluate the options, I make suggestions, I offer assistance, and I move on. But do I just ALWAYS do whatever it is that I want to do.

I truly hope not. I hope what I do is think about what will be helpful. Consider what will move us forward as educators, as a team, as a learning community. Think deeply about the teachers I know and what they need now.

Sometimes what I really want to do is nothing. I don’t really want to go to endless meetings where nothing gets accomplished. I don’t want to endlessly argue points of view we aren’t going to change. I don’t want to defend my position on what seems like every single thing we do or I do. Sometimes… I don’t want to do anything.

I want to stay all day in my yoga pants and netflix. I want to teach myself a new knitting pattern or watercolor painting. What I don’t want to do is aligned the standards in a document that NO ONE is going to read. However, aligning standards in a document that perhaps I can convince someone to reference is my job. Going to meetings and contributing regardless of the support I receive is my job. Knowing how to teach elementary literacy and convincing others to do the same… that most definitely is my job.

So when you tell me that I always, always do whatever I want, I know it means that you don’t really know me. I know it means that I’m out here on my own. I know it means that I’m not going to get to quit defending my thoughts, my knowledge, my opinion any time soon.

I want to say that that is ok with me. You can think and that and clearly say it and I’m going to just move on like it never happened. I will move on… but it happened. I will be like Frances in that story about the friendship… careful.

Pep Talk #…1 #sol20

Pep Talk #…1

November 10, 2020

I know I didn’t really answer when you asked how my professional development session went last week. The truth is… it felt too raw, too hard, too close to the bone.

It was dicey. The anxiety and uncertainty of our times is always close to the surface. Sometimes I want to put on my super dark sunglasses and pretend that the glorious sunshine of our former work is shining through every obstacle. That my sheer bravado will keep us moving forward and accomplishing everything we set out to do. That isn’t the me that comes home and falls asleep in a chair unable to read or write anything after school nearly every day, but it is the me I want to shine out in the world.

But when those teachers looked me in the eye (over google meet) and wondered aloud how to tell parents that the students aren’t the same and the curriculum isn’t the same, I pushed back. I did. I really did. I know the students are at home half the time. I know that we have mask breaks and a mile and 1/2 of plexiglass and we are straight on ’til morning every day of the week. I also know that we’ve got the tools we need to keep us going and help them thrive. I believe that in my true heart… and I want you to as well. So I didn’t tell you what I told them. I didn’t want you to roll your eyes or tell me that’s not true or try to make me see that I’m unrealistic. Because darn it, our will can make it happen.

So I told those teachers to really think about what they know about the kids in front of them and what they know about fourth graders (read any grade) in their past. Could these students read the same as those other kids? Are there the same number of students in the weeds? Is their writing always messy in the beginning of the year? Weren’t they, the teachers, able to get through the first unit by our soft goal date without much difficulty? Weren’t the kids getting better at… (fill in the worry blank)?

So what are we worried about? It doesn’t feel the same. I agree. We don’t much leisure for read alouds and really good chats. What we do have is a small class size and time to confer with every single students every day. What we also have is a long expanse of time at home. I think I know the worries: the work doesn’t look the same or doesn’t come back at all, the parents are confused, and the teachers don’t have time and space to check in with the kids at home.

What did I tell them, those teachers with those valid worries? I told them that we can think about how to set up students for success. When we confer in the classroom, we drop knowledge, we drop mentors, we nudge, and we give students tools and reminders. We can do that for them at home. What do they really need to succeed? Not engaged parents so much as agency. The students need to feel that they are capable of doing the work without us. I think that is a little scary…for us.

And when we talk about the standards we will teach this year, the curriculum, the timing, we’ve got it. It is balanced. It does cover the standards. We are delivering.

So I told those teachers that we’ve got this. We are in this together with the students and each other. However long it takes, we have to have faith in ourselves and in them. I hope they got the message.

Shifting Perspective #sol20

While this is not me, my intern, Nicole, and our principal, Aidan enjoyed the experience as well.

Shifting Perspective #sol20

October 20, 2020

He looks up at me with those big eyes rimmed with lashes only a kinder can have. Do you like my mask? Is this the gym? Where is the cafeteria? Am I coming again tomorrow? Where is my classroom? It all comes out in a rush. I wonder if he took a breathe in between and how long he was holding in those questions about school… what is school like?

We made appointments for the remote kinders to come into school safely after hours and complete the kindergarten screening put off from last fall and our benchmark assessments. It seemed important to us to meet them in person, to watch them hold a pencil and count the blocks one by one, to hop on one foot and draw a picture of themselves or someone else.

What I didn’t know is that it was important to them as well. They wanted to tell us about their online teacher, Mrs. Murphy. Can’t wait to meet her. They wanted to talk to us. They wanted to ask us questions about the school. Truth is, we all hope it will be their school one day and to us, it already is.

Their parents were curious too. Not as overtly curious as the five year olds, but they asked their share of questions too. Can we see the class he would be in? Are there any openings for us to join the hybrid model? I want to be welcoming, open. I want them to feel comfortable and a part of our community. I want to spend twenty minutes enjoying the company of their children.

It’s a crazy world right now. Full of new challenges along with the old ones. The parents still want to know. Did he do ok? Is there anything you want to tell me about the assessment? What did you ask him to do?

He was a joy, I want to say. He’s doing so well. I can tell how hard you’re working in between your work calls and your other responsibilities. Look at how confident he is, I want to say to the dad who was hesitant to let him out of his sight. That little friend did ask for his dad, but was fine when I told him dad was waiting just out of sight in the lobby. Could we play just a few more games?

Mrs. Murphy played that counting game with us this morning, he said confidently. Wonderful, let’s play it again, I said.

Let’s find our joy and our purpose in the moments we can. Support each other in the choices that feel comfortable. Revel in what feels normal and not dwell on what we’re missing. The days are long and the struggles are real, but a few moments in the glorious shiny beams of a kindergarten are a tremendous balm I recommend.