When 4:45 pm rolled around yesterday, I was sitting at my desk in the literacy center with quite a long to-do list. I was busily writing down all of, or most of, the issues that had come up after our assessment training just completed at 4:15. A small trail of teachers had stopped me after the meeting for suggestions or questions, and then some had dropped into the literacy center after as other things occurred to them.
As the silence settled, I thought about the to-do list, so many important things to accomplish, concerns to settle, details to work out… I looked at my open notebook, my desk scattered with post-its and pencils, my laptop with fifteen tabs open and I sighed. Should I stay just fifteen minutes, a half-hour, another hour and wipe this to-do list or should I go home and do all of the at home things waiting for me there.
Yesterday, I left the to-do list for today, they seem to go together. In the breaking light of a new day, I began considering that to-do list anew. Puzzling over some details, shifting ideas in my mind, thinking over the coffee maker, the hair dryer, the dog walk. I nod to myself. This is a to-do list that can get done today. I put on that extra bright sweater, find my cloud mask, fill my coffee carafe, hug the dog.
I drive to work resisting the temptation to listen to a practice related podcast, shifting the channels on the radio to one peppy upbeat song after another, thinking still about the to-do list, but it’s shrinking in my mind just like that bad word in Elbert’s Bad Word. I glance down at the sparkle shoes, I really do feel like the good witch in Wizard of Oz in these. I let cars in as I pass in traffic. I think, do you think these small good deeds multiply or accumulate?
At school, I turn on all the lights in the literacy center, arrange the flowers in the vase… on top of that to-do list waiting. I plan my first consult as I touch each blossom.
The to-do list is still there. I haven’t done one single thing on it… yet. But the plan is forming.
There will be a new to-do list today to replace every single item I accomplish on this list.
But, so is the mindset we create about to-do lists.
A have a little motivation thought that pops on my laptop screen when I open my computer. Today it said, “the key to success is to start before you are ready.
Typically, I spend a lot of time getting ready… ready for the day, ready for meetings, ready for professional development, ready for assessments, for coaching meetings. So many reasons to be prepared.
I’m not going to throw out my coaching bag any time soon. I’m still going to have some books, some stickies, a few anchor charts prepared, but I’m not going to let myself delay the start of something past its launch time.
I’ve been desperately trying to be well-read on a few topics before the school year starts. Science of reading, phonemic awareness, new BIPOC books, culturally relevant teaching, our new assessment system, and a long, long list of topics.
I’ll be the … first to tell you, I don’t have it all figured out. I have a fairly solid base in most and the ability to keep reading and learning in all. You see, I don’t have to be the leader, just the lead learner. I’m practicing this sentence, let’s think through that together and this question, What might be important here?
Perhaps my administrator and many of the people I coach are hoping that I’ll show up and just have all the answers. There are times that I wish I did. I know what I do have… most of the right questions.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the way young people learn and the way adults learn. I love the new mantra that is floating around our learning community these days, Firm Goals/Flexible Means. Let’s ‘row’ in the same direction, but we don’t have to all be in the same boat. Perhaps my boat is a kayak with a dog as a navigator…
I want to embrace a few things I did learn (relearn) over my summer vacation.
When learners set goals they achieve more. These first few meetings within my learning community, I hope I will be helping the adults set goals for their teaching and their learning. What is it that we want to accomplish this year? I know we are going to set those SMART goals for our evaluation, but what actually do we want to do/learn this year? this month? this week? TODAY?
One of the things I’ve learned here and throughout my career is that if we don’t do what we ask the students to do, we aren’t going to coach them very well. This principle has led me to write more, read more, consider more. So I’m going to set some goals AND I’m going to insist some other older and younger learners do as well.
Secondly, we can change our thinking and our practice. I remember this funny little verse from girl scouts, make new friends, but keep the old… one is silver and the other’s gold. Yep, I’m not throwing (m)any babies out with the bathwater, but I’m going to lead with practices that were not my lead prior to now. Full warning… we are going to be working on words and sounds…. a lot.
Also, I’m going to think long and hard about book choice. I don’t need to see myself in the books I read with and to the students, I need to see them. I can release Pinky and Rex for Yasmin, my precious Stone Fox for The Year of the Dog. The students will barely know the difference. The antics of Those Darn Squirrels are hard to beat, but is there a larger lesson with the same heart in The Honest-to-Goodness Truth.
So today as I look through the first week of lessons in all of the units of study, I’ll be putting on some new glasses… metaphorically.
and lastly (for now). I don’t have to be the expert in the room. I can be the lead learner or just one of the learners… perhaps just the most enthusiastic one.
I wanted to title this Hitting the Ground Running, but I don’t think that’s the approach I’m taking this year.
I am approaching the school year cautiously and thoughtfully.
Yesterday was day one-ish. A day of preparing and professional development.
I resisted spending the last super hot week in the school building, opting to prepare schedules, plans and professional development outlines at home surrounded by a restroom I share with no one, many lunch options, and sans mask.
It was a good call.
I had given the literacy center a thorough straighten at the end of the year. All I needed to return were my summer study books.
Last week, I had decided to be proactive and invited the grade level teams and one intervention teams to a half hour review Monday morning of our district goals for this year and possible means to achieving the goal. I also invited the principal to come along to my coaching cycle. Our training goal this year, way overdue, is Firm Goals, Flexible Means.
The goals this year are deceptively simple.
Much in the way that I’m concern for how the students will return to us this fall, I am concerned for our teachers. Will they have recovered from the previous eighteen months? These new explorations will strike at the heart of balanced literacy and many of the core beliefs that are the bedrock of reading workshop. Will we have the flexibility to integrate new ideas?
So we sat and talked grade level after grade level, listening, talking, waiting, committing.
It was beautiful.
These educators after a year of struggle are prepared to do what is needed to help their student recover, emotionally and developmentally. Not one person talked about loss. No one complained about our past vulnerability to harm or even to the current threat.
They considered. They asked. They suggested.
Today, they asked for more. We talked more. We planned more.
Tomorrow we will have one more day of deep self directed learning before we greet our students for the year.
We have unspoken hopes. Hope of a safe, healthy, full year of learning. Hope that this in-person, full day learning will reap strong learning outcomes for our students.
A good start so far, I’m energized for the work. Not running into it this year, but moving forward, bringing everyone along.
I have summer rituals. I talk to my husband on the phone until he gets to work and on his way home even though I was just talking to him over coffee moments before and will talk to him over dinner in a short time. I think it makes his drive shorter. At least it distracts him from the distance.
I talk to my dogs, linger over coffee and every morning, I complete the crossword in the paper, the actual paper form of the paper that arrives at the end of the driveway each morning. No cipher, no jumble, no word search, no sudoku, just the headlines and the crossword.
I have a ritual to the crossword. Ninety percent of the time, I confidently complete it in ink, writing over changed letters if need be. If I get stuck on a word or words, that crossword will lay there on the table until I figure it out. I’m sure this says a lot about me as a problem solver. Give it a go and then fix if need be.
I don’t know if you know this, but the crossword gets progressively more difficult across the week beginning with Monday and ending with the Sunday crossword. That makes sense. Monday needs a gentle entry and my Friday, just bring it already. The Sunday crossword isn’t our local ‘easy’ crossword, but the notorious New York Times crossword. That’s ok, Sundays are for lingering over Mimosas and waffles, generously making the crossword a group effort.
I remember as a child, my parents got the morning and afternoon papers so they could each have their own separate crosswords. Their folded papers and their Cross pencils dropped on their respective end tables, the soft glow of their lamps shining on their progress. My father’s jagged, aggressive, all capital printing strokes identifiable from a distance and my mom’s soft almost cursive curves barely visible, they are so faint. My letters, as you can see, are the letters of a primary school teacher, mostly even block capitals filling the whole square. Years of teaching letter formation has made my printing even and true.
There are techniques to crosswords as personal as fingerprints. Both my parents took the method of starting with the top of the clues, all the across words, crossing out easily identified words and circling trickier clues to return to later. Then the down clues, some already completed or nearly there, a check on their initial responses. These are not my ways. Though DNA is probably strong, much like I don’t resemble them at first glance, my methods are predictably my own. On further thought, these methods are most likely telling of my ways as a whole. I do start with the across words, but upon each solve word, I move to the crosswords that are formed by those completed letters. So if I completed vaguer across, I would move on to VCR, Ali, Gop, Aspouse, seen, and yurts intersecting the longer word. In the end, I go back to check my answers by looking up words in foreign languages or references to things I’ve never heard.
I know summer is drawing to a close when the puzzles feel easy and there isn’t ever one left on the table when Bob returns in the afternoon. It’s a good thing. I’m a little resistant to his help as he peers at the open squares. Remember that the clues are punny, he says. I pull my lips together and give a small nod. My solutions are my own.
I have been hesitating to mark the summer’s end this week as the school opens for set ups and post summer greetings. I’ve been lingering here at home with the chats, the dogs, and the crossword. Perhaps it’s the weather, so extreme this year, the bathroom project not quite finished, the books brought home happily nestled in my home library not eager to return to the literacy center. Perhaps it’s the continuing uncertainty of it all. My school year routines are not drawing me yet.
This morning, the steady school year routines gently pull on me. The crosswords are mastered, the dogs are settled, and it’s time to return to a different rhythm. My crossword solution strategy will be applied to the daily puzzles of our learning community literacy life. The new interventionist to settle, the students’ to relearn and resettle, the teachers to gently reveal, erasing missteps and confidently finding just the right letters moving forward in the puzzle as it reveals itself, knowing the completion will come eventually if I leave it sitting on that table for just a little while longer.
I have a secret. Sometimes I bite off way more that I can chew. If you aren’t well-versed in midwestern idioms, I’ll translate. Every summer, I set out this long list of intentions as if I actually have three months to accomplish them. Seven weeks into the summer I realize that I have accomplished exactly four of these things and that here I am at the Sunday night of summer with little to show for it.
I am aware that I could just take a sabbatical for those weeks. I am not obligated (well, actually I am) to accomplish most of this list. But yet, the pressure is decades in the making.
When I begin to feel overwhelmed like this, I remind myself to do just one thing at a time and then… I abandon the to-do list and clean the pantry.
This may seem counterintuitive, the door will still close on the pantry. I can retrieve most of what I need. Perhaps there are only three cans of chickpeas.
Here’s the thing. Cleaning the pantry is manageable. I can be reasonable sure that I can get in there in the morning and be finished, actually finished by noontime with relatively no casualties. One full job completely done and visually confirmed. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s magical. Much like baking a batch of cookies. (see many other posts), this act can turn it all around for me. It’s a treasure hunt, a grab bag, a challenge, and a little bit of archeology.
So one day in the recent past, I cleared the counters and started in.
The top shelf of the pantry is mostly crackers and chips, nuts and lunch box fillers. It is quick work. Nothing too surprising there, though I was looking for that lost box of straws and wondering why I have two opened packages of dried snap pea chips. I ate the little bit of nuts left in the container and moved on.
The second shelf is pasta, beans, various noodles, and rice. It’s always a grab bag of recipe left overs that I might not have actually made or remnants of good ideas left by the wayside.
I was so astounded by my own accumulation of pasta that I made a list to post on the pantry door. I have to definitely work through them. I will be scouring the internet for a tagliatelle recipe tonight.
That plus sign next to the thin spaghetti denotes five packages of thin spaghetti languishing on the shelf. I do like carbonara…
This exercise is soul cleaning. I already feel lighter and I’m just on shelf number two. It occurs to me that I might be a food hoarder… or I let Mr. K randomly put things in the basket at the grocery. Definitely an accumulator. With the pasta shelf complete, I move on to THE CANS.
I’m not sure why I ever by anything in a can. I am adverse to so many canned things. I divide the cans to categories. Tomatoes and all that define themselves in that way. Beans… so many beans. Jellies? Why do I have five, six, seven different jellies? I blame some on gifts and farmers’ markets, but what will I do with ALL OF THIS JELLY???
The bottom shelf is oil and vinegar, no literally, oil and vinegar. If you don’t know how someone can accumulate eight or nine different types of vinegar and the same number of oils, I have so much to explain. I should explain never making the same exact thing twice or planning on the weekend for the week of cooking or just …. why I should throw more out!?
By the time I completed the last shelf my mood is lifted as predicted. I move on to the baking cabinet, but that’s a story for another day.
I had a wave of nostalgia last week. I missed home, home in the some-one-else-is-baking, talking-in-the-kitchen way that I haven’t in quite some time. That home, my childhood home, those people, have been gone a long time now, but when I see a certain bird or hear its call, a special flower or catch a whiff of its particular fragrance, a summer, homegrown vegetable aching to be fried in batter, or a ripe, orange peach, I can be taken back to that feeling. Taken back to that deep, deep feeling that even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes for the longing.
My husband doesn’t seem to suffer from this longing. He moves forward, thinking about tomorrow. He remembers things from his childhood, from his father, recently passed, and the childhood of our kids, but those things don’t make him melancholy like they do me.
I miss things.
So many things.
But last week I started thinking about cobbler.
There were fresh peaches at the grocery and as soon as I saw them, I pictured that cobbler of my MaMa’s. Now truth be told, she preferred it to be berries. Juicy, plump blackberries, raspberries, or best, black raspberries found in a old field or along a fence line completely by accident. Sun-warmed berries, scooped up in your shirt or your dress tail, stuffed in an old sack in the trunk. Carried like gold home to be baked into that batter cobbler.
That batter cobbler didn’t need a recipe. It needed that old dented pan just for that purpose, perhaps an old breadpan, the quick fixings, and those berries. It baked up like magic, the batter dumped on the bottom and those berries crowded on top, only to emerge from the oven quite the opposite, that batter nestled around with those juicy berries peeking from below. It was always a little bubbly when it came out of the oven, that particular sent of sugar and warm berries wafting out of the oven like a cloudy hug.
So last week when I saw those peaches, I wanted to make a batter cobbler. Not a cobbler with a fancy streusel top, not a cobbler where the fruit was beautifully fanned out over the top, a simple, homespun batter cobbler.
I have my grandmother’s recipe for batter cobbler written in her own hand, but this week instead of searching for her words, I searched the internet for the cobbler. I knew that I wasn’t the only pseudo-southerner with a batter cobbler recipe in my family tree.
I finally found that simple recipe.
A stick of butter melted in the pan as the oven heats up. The dry ingredients mixed together, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, equal ingredients of flour and sugar, then baking powder and salt. Those foremothers could be bothered with quarter cups and the like. My grandmother often used the palm of her hand as a measurement or a teacup, a teaspoon, a serving spoon. I use asked her about it and she said she could just ‘eyeball’ it. She knew it by muscle memory. After all, I imagine she made quite a few cobblers in her day.
After the dry ingredients, a dab of milk and an egg. Those peaches macerated in some sugar spooned on top. My grandmother didn’t use the word macerated when she taught me to make cobbler. She likely said to leave it there for a bit of time until the berries (or fruit) started to break down. Those peaches already smelling like the definition of summer as I mixed in the bowl with the sugar, bright orange like a sunset and floral like peach blossoms.
The recipe isn’t complicated or particularly special. While my family likes warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, they do not have the reaction that I do to all of its charms. They don’t have a memory of those found gooseberries, those raspberries tasted in their sweet, bitter, warmth on the fence row of that old century farm. But I’ll still be baking those summer cobblers, remembering those long-past summer, celebrating those peaches and berries, even when they come from the Whole Foods.
In my mind they will be those same fruits found a farm stand, shared from a neighbor, or spied in a fence row, stolen in a roadside… and baked by those long-fingered, soft hands of my grandmother.
Batter Cobbler (from the ages)
Four cups of fruit, if peaches about six peaches peeled and cored)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Add these to a saucepan and stir to combine. Cook on medium heat for just a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. This brings out the juice from the fruit. Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice 6 tablespoons of cold butter into pieces and add to a 9×13 (give or take) baking dish. Place the pan in the oven while it preheats to allow the butter to melt. Once melted, remove the pan from the oven.
For the Batter:
6 Tbs. Butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. milk
In a bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, and baking powder. Stir the milk in, just until combined. Pour the mixture in the baking dish over the melted butter and smooth into an even layer.
Spoon the peaches and the juice (or the berries) over the batter. Sprinkle cinnamon generously over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm, with a scoop of ice cream.
I almost stopped writing. It’s been four weeks since I’ve written or posted to my blog. I could have let it go. Just stopped.
Goodness knows this last year has been a struggle. Felt tired all the time and there never seemed to be a good time to write or even much to write about.
Little sparks of ideas would come, but I let them slip away. I didn’t record them on a stickie or in my idea journal. I’m not sure I even know where my journal is right now.
I have a million excuses for not writing. The endless noisy construction filling the house every day. The dreary rain for the last twenty days. The momentum I have lost pulls stronger than the pull to write.
But then today or yesterday, I was watching a writing lesson video about helping student start a writing journal for the first time. Their seed ideas and half written stories accumulating and waiting to be connected together. And then… the teacher said the magic words, the secret combination that elbowed that tiny ember deep inside. She said, “and perhaps you will keep one too.”
I remembered. I remembered writing for kids. I remember writing about teaching. I remember writing about aha moments and challenges, small moments and random observations.
I still resisted. It isn’t really that easy. It’s like quiting exercising or good eating habits It is so much easier to just float away from that person you were. The writer, the thinker, the watcher.
I was blissfully having a Tuesday. Well it wasn’t blissful, it was a Tuesday slipping away. Suddenly I noticed the words beginning to compose in that space in that corner in that recess in my brain. And I wanted to write. I didn’t want to worry about audience or composition. I wanted to just start here and absolutely. Right. Now.
And so I did. I’ll be digging out a notebook in the morning. That was a close one.
They were just a simple pot of marigolds from the nursery. Orange and yellow, emoting sunshine. Too old fashioned? Too simple.
I fussed over the pot, the bag, tissue or no tissue.
Why was this such an ordeal? Just a simple thank you.
The marigolds are memory for me. Memory of summers so hot and sunshine so bright. Their spicy scent mixed with the scent of roses filled the yard behind that little ranch house on Bountiful Drive. Tended by that old woman in the apron whose age at the time rivals my own, a sentinel wall of happy sunshine planted to ward off rabbits, they didn’t look like they could stop anything.
So every year, perhaps in memory, they live in my garden and on the patio, and in the pots by the garage. And now, they are in this bag waiting to thank her.
Would these simple flowers be enough, would she understand the message from my heart? Just an half an hour a day, sorting books and putting them away, but it meant everything. Fresh eyes, a cheery tone, she brought so much to those moments.
And then the moment. “They are my favorite”, I said in a voice quieter than my own. “I hope you like them.”
“You know,” she said. “I told my mother that you were so familiar right from the start.” “My aunt had these.” “You remind me of her.”
And just like that, the moment where the simple becomes the profound. Where the searchers find each other. Souls with little empty spaces get filled by serendipity.
Marigolds represent positive emotions and energy. They are said to symbolize happiness and are a part of rituals from ancient rituals from Mexico to India. They are said to symbolize warm and happiness, joy, optimism, and good luck. Marigolds are said to relieve hiccups and cure those struck by lightening.
That is what she was to me, a cure for being struck by lightening or something akin to that, a relief for hiccups, the constant interruptions and tugging of responsibilities. No fuss sunflower growing up like a volunteer in my garden, pushing away the weeds and bringing the energy to my dreary world.
I had poured over my evidence rubric, my goals for this crazy year, my conferring notebook. I added 28 pieces of evidence to my document. It took a long time and at the end, when I reflected on the pivoting, the reframing, the supporting, I felt really good about this year.
Really, really good.
I wasn’t sure about my evaluator’s view.
How will others know your worth?
Not that it’s everything, but I keep a little collection each year of the thank you’s I receive. Scrawled on stickies, hastily written on scraps, or carefully constructed in beautiful cards, for me, each one is encouragement to keep moving forward.
But how does someone else view you, a single person in a single position in a building full of others.
The truth is… probably not the way you view yourself.
The things my supervisor chose to highlight about my work were not the things I thought were milestones. They were not the things that kept me up or made me arrive early to puzzle out the details. They were not the small triumphs or the amazing breakthroughs with teachers and students that still make me smile when I think of them.
They were what he noticed. I’m proud of those things too, but they didn’t take much of my talent or my time.
I was disappointed… really disappointed.
But when I went to my meeting, I said aloud… and then I believed, (Because sometimes we have to believe before
we see. I compiled this for myself. I am showing myself what I accomplished this year. I gained perspective about my own actions.
and then I thought… I am not just evaluated by the person that signs the paper. Each one of those stickie notes, those smiles, those teachers who drop by to ask me if they can just talk to me for one minute, they are my true view of my worth.
Those kiddos who say are you coming to my class today? Do you have that book you were telling me about? Let’s read one more chapter, they are my ‘bread and butter.’
This single data point does not define my whole career. It doesn’t even define the other 179 days of this school year. It defines what I let it define.
So my take away… my contribution is perhaps not as transparent as I hope it will be and….
I’m doing it for a bigger audience… and
a higher purpose.
So next year, I might make what I do more noticeable or… I might just keep on keeping on. Keep compiling my stickies and my conferring notes, my smiley faces on my calendar and my early morning coffee talks with teachers.
I mean, why not? I gave myself a good evaluation and plenty of ideas of things I can work on in the future. I may not be half bad at this self evaluation thing. After all, I feel really, really good about this year.
As I drove into campus on a recent early, early morning, this new sign greeted me. So true! I thought. We are headed straight on ’til morning.
In the past, we took a more relaxed approached to these weeks in June. We read aloud. We did independent writing projects. We wrote book reviews. We celebrated all that we had learned in our whole learning community. This year, we have moved from one frantic, fractured pace to another. Everyone is tired, even the students. It doesn’t help that we have had the largest earliest heatwave ever. As many things this year, the fates seemed stacked against us. It might be easy to look on this year, this situation, as a loss.
And yet…we can find the bright spots if we look closely.
The last few weeks I have been meeting with the grade levels to review data. Many, many years, that felt like a celebration. The students grew so much in a year, they were ready to strike out into the next. All in all, a love fest. This year the data is a little harder to interpret. The students have only been back for six short week every day. Any data collection I would routinely recommend would have six weeks at the closest collection point and we collected this data at week 4 full time. I did notice cracks in that rosy outlook. It would be easy to focus on the have-nots and the not-quites, the what-we-couldn’t, what-we-didn’t.
But I am self-proclaimed in charge of celebrations, so how to celebrate when I feel the nagging of those not-quites.
When I metaphorically pulled up alongside the first batch of teachers, I wanted just celebrate what I could. I gave them the high percentage of students on the benchmark assessment that we’re at or above grade level. I pointed out how many students were reading at the ‘targeted’ benchmark, a testament to how we got so many books in the hands of readers during their off weeks. I noticed accuracy in reading, a rise in fluency.
I talked to them about the ‘how‘ of this work. I spoke of what I noticed that they did so well, their grit and their commitment to the curriculum. I asked them what they enjoyed, what was a gift to them. We talked about the volume of writing, the time to meet with individual students, the small class sizes. The teachers took up the celebration, cheering our intervention teacher at their grade, talking about individual student’s growth, their own joys.
It felt good. It felt right. It felt like a celebration.
So as I said early this year, I’m in charge of celebrations. I do have a few worries for the future. Those will keep for another day. These weeks as we head off to rest, they are going to be about the bright spots. They will be a good starting place as we move forward.