Fall Down Seven Times, Get up Eight #sol18

download-5.jpgFall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight #sol18

March 20, 2018

Passing by in the hallway, my colleague says,  How’s your day goingTerrible,  I say.  Relief crosses her face.  Really?  Me too!  I just didn’t want to admit it.  Four snow days in five school days has made a Friday feel like three days. But sometimes, it’s more than that.  Sometimes teachers feel like they have run off the road into the weeds.

There are times when great teachers,  good teachers,  teachers teaching out there on the very edge of the proverbial frontier  feel  deep in their bones,  their gut,  their core  that they are getting it wrong.  So what?   Wait, what???

If we are going to get it right with a capital R, we have to be willing to get it really terribly wrong.   It’s all a huge experiment… or a small experiment and we have to be willing to have it… well,  fizzle.  That is so rough.  So many things come into play. Who we think is watching?  Who we think is judging?  Everything we feel about failure ourselves.

Epic tries occasionally produce epic(ish) fails.  It can be difficult to go back to the mats, start over step by step.  But the payoff… it’s so rich.

One of the things that happens when we never fail is that the kiddos believe that failure is not an option.  When we struggle with the lesson,  with the timing,  with our own words,  the students know that everyone does.  When we flat out say,  wow,  we need a redo,  kids feel that giving something another go is a viable option.

10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, claims it takes to become a master of ONE PARTICULAR THING.   See more about it here.  That is approximately ten years.  The thing about the job of an educator is that we are constantly shifting what the target is.  We are changing curriculum at a break neck speed, adapting to all around us:  new students, new materials, new challenges.  One of my colleagues equates this to rebuilding the plane in flight.  Speaking of flight,  I have also heard the factoid that teachers make more decision per day than an air traffic controller, arguably one of the most stressful jobs.

Knowing all of this,  feeling this way (sometimes),  what do we do?  We do what we encourage our students to do when things don’t go well.  We keep going,  we try again, we persevere.  We rethink, review, retry.  Just like my heroes,  Lewis and Clark,  we proceed on.

I think about the teacher, the coach, the educator that I want to be.  After thirty seven year, I’m still a work in progress.  I hope I never stop being one.

Sometimes these feelings are a result of the season, the testing, lots of meetings, snow days.  Sometimes they happen when we are trying something new, challenging, daunting.  You know that saying,  more is caught that taught.  Catch me struggling.  Catch me striving.  Catch me when my reach is exceeding my grasp.


Reading Food for Thought:  A Mindset for Learning

Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8



Thank you to my writing community at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life.  This is day 20 of a 31 day writing streak in the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some incredible Slices here.


Checking the Back Seat #sol18


    1. Checking the Backseat #sol18

March 18, 2018

One extremely busy day a few weeks ago, I had seriously overcommitted my time, my talent, and my resources. I was at the edge of my proverbial pier. 6:30 a.m., having gotten up to make some baked good for today’s meeting. Packing our lunches, planning for dinner, making coffee. Wait, do I have my phone?  I rush to the car,  pull out of the drive, head down the street.  When I get to nearly half way,  it occurs to me,  those cookies are not in the back seat.  I have to have those cookies.  That’s my thing.  Treats for meetings.  I pulled over the car.  During my commute.  There really wasn’t time to go back.  Whatever the outcome,  there or not,  I would still have to continue on.   And yet,  there they were.  Plain as Life.   Waiting there in the backseat.

When I first wrote down this story,  I thought it was a lesson in noticing, in being present.  Now, weeks later as I write it down,  the lesson has changed for me.  From the end, here it is plain as life.  The thing we need is often waiting there in the backseat,  in the brain spinning rush, we forget to look in the obvious place, our own reserve, the skills we carry.  Quick to dismiss them as inadequate,  we search for a bigger, mightier something.  In coaching,  we show up,  we have a plan or a halfway plan,  we start with How’s it going? and then… we have to repack the bags, stop halfway,  check the backseat.  In the quiet planning,  in the preparation,  we remember what our thing is,  but in the fray,  sometimes we forget.  Notice the forgetting.  Pull over the car.  Check in the backseat.  It’s there.  It’s always there.  If it’s not,  we continue on.


img_1716-1Writing as part of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Check out some amazing stories at Two Writing Teachers.


Rock in my Shoe #sol18

Rock in My Shoe #sol18

March 17, 2018

I click off the television via the remote between us. The house is silent then. I can hear the clock in the kitchen’s rhythmic ticking. It’s so dark. Potential blog post run across my consciousness like oranges on a conveyor belt. That might work, what would come next, too personal, possibly. A cold nose touches my face. It’s not time yet. I look at the clock. 5:00am. I put my feet on the cold floor. Every part of me protests. The two of us head out into the dark. In the predawn, we know the route. It’s a good thing because my mind is stuck in yesterday, replaying and replaying. I shake my head. Think of blog posts, think of recipes, think of grocery lists. No, that doesn’t work, it’s still there. My grandmother used to say you’ve got something stuck in your craw. I do. It’s lodged in there tight like a rock in my shoe. She senses the shift as if I am actually limping. I consider all the would, should, coulds. Why? They aren’t going to do anything now. Next time… I think. Next time. But next time, I’ll still lead with my heart and my enthusiasm. I will still think, you’re with me, right? I’ll be fully me. It would be easier if everyone else spoke fluent Susan. However, that is not the case. We turn around and head home. Gentle brown eyes look up at me as if to say. Just keep moving forward. That rock twinges, but we press on.

Deep. Moisturizing #sol18

Deep. Moisturizing. #sol18

March 16, 2018




deep moisturizing.

deep conditioning.

deep worries.


Lion’s share.


Shared worries.


Review moments.

Renew hope.

Release worries.


So much poetry in our slicing community inspiring us all. Today I’m considering Alice Nine’s pitchforks in a very lean way. I’m also considering Claire Landrigan’s post about worry.



This is Day 16 of 31 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Be inspired at Two Writing Teachers.



Shared Worry. #sol18

download-4Shared Worry. #sol18

March 15, 2018

In the dim light of my desk lamp,  I scan over my notes from the last time we met.  I consider what’s happened so far this week and since we last met.  I think about the unit their on. I wonder about things that have gone wrong and glimpses of what has gone really well.  I think about the sandwich.*

The clock above my desk clicks onto 7:30.  I gather up my conferring notebook, my phone, my pencil, and my coffee and scurry down the hall toward her room.  She’s waiting.

I can see her notebook open on her desk, writers’ notebooks, books, the units of study.  I scan the empty desks on my way over, glancing up to smile at her and say good morning.   I put down my coffee,  my notebooks, my phone.  I get down a stool from her counter and sit down.

We look at each other and exhale simultaneously.  We want to start with the trouble. The Trouble.  I inhale and exhale again.  I scan my mind wondering if I can find some amazing words of wisdom that will make me seem like I know what I’m talking about, make her feel like she knows what she’s doing, and FIX. THE. PROBLEM.

I was thinking that I would go back to Fran McVeigh’s posts from last week and tell her about them,  how Fran was working toward a solutions.  I was thinking I noticed Monday and Tuesday that when she was explicit about her active engagement and link,  that the students were more productive in the release.  But then,  I started to think about what the small group said to me on Tuesday, that I had yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  I was definitely forceful,  definitely running thin on patience… 

Now it’s been nearly a minute and I haven’t said anything.   I look up at her.  I wait.  I’ve been working on that, waiting.  She says I’ve been thinking

And that’s the start.  We share our noticings and wonderings.  We share our feelings.  We share our ideas.  We share our worries.

Just like that, we have a new plan.  A new idea.  We fill the tank.  We move forward.  Together.

Every weekday morning,  I share a 1/2 hour with one teacher.  These times are scheduled and mostly standing appointments.  I always go to the teacher’s home turf  if I can.  That gives her power in our relationship. The teachers are in all different places in their teaching careers and have varying needs/wants.  I have had these standing appointments for years, shifting teachers as collaboration needs change.  I offer them up at the beginning of the school year and sometimes it takes a semester before the slots are full up.  Preparing for these varied meetings keeps me grounded in the curriculum,  the day to day struggles, our resources, and practice.  Most of these teachers and I will work together in their literacy block daily, but some just have this time to talk over big ideas, resources, worries, and whatnot.  It is the second most effective part of my practice, eclipsed only by the in class practice.  It keeps me grounded,  learning, and listening.  

*the sandwich- the idea that you share a compliment or a good thing, sandwich in the criticism or bad news, and then end with a positive comment. A sandwich.

The Arc #sol18

The Arc  #sol18

March 13, 2018


IMG_0218I must have been alert when they taught the story arc back in teacher college.  The idea of the arc of a story is strong in me.  Thinking how to organize a narrative or investigate a composed narrative is as easy as riding a bike.  It seems it comes to students early as well.

Sarah Weeks spoke last week at the TCRWP Reunion of the arc and the arrow of the story.  When we think of the arrow of the story, we go straight through to the punch line.  When we think of an arc of a story, the majority of that story is in the mound, in the elaboration.  But in the end, it’s the payoff that makes the story work.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about that payoff lately.  In my writing, but mostly in the way that we plan and execute our instruction. Last week,  I reread The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. There is much to mine there, but today what stuck was the idea of backward design.  Considering our destination and then moving forward step by step.  This works for all of the students in front of us, but is especially powerful for our EL students. This idea is brilliantly described in A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick . One of Shanna Schwartz’ stickiness principles is:

 Children’s engagement and learning are dependent on a high level of understanding; they are distracted most when their understanding breaks down.  In order for teaching to stick, children need to be taught when they are ready to learn.

In their wonderful new book,  Kids First From Day One,  Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz quickly outline how to keep a child’s eye view of your day. They remind us to see things from a child’s perspective.  In that perspective, we carefully examine whether our implied goal should be all that implied.

Focusing  on the bigger picture often I would say,  students don’t know why we are talking about what we are talking about.  They don’t see the arc of the story, the straight shot of the arrow, or the dot on the map.  That’s on us.

Do we know where we are going?

In the Calkins Units of Study,  the TCRWP team make an important plan.  They outline every unit in detail at the beginning.  First a quick road map,  then a short overview, then we are ready to head out on the journey.

As teachers, we plan, but where are we going?  See this post for setting the focus lesson table with your GPS.   What are the goals of the unit for each student in front of us?  The goals for this student might be the same.  We aren’t teaching the standards, we are teaching the kids.  However,  the teaching needs a spine, a compass, a north star.  We should know it and we should communicate it to the kiddos, every day.

How we communicate that is the art form, but this is no time for subtlety.

Hey,  kiddos,  we are going to reading all these versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but we are still just thinking about characters, settings, problems/solutions.  What’s the big idea?  What is Red’s problem?  What gets in her way?  How would you describe her?  

Every day the same questions.  We stay true to the arc.  In the beginning,  explain where we are going.  Then we try some things to get there,  explain those too.  We try some more things.  Things get a little tricky,  we back track,  we move forward.  Then,  when we get to the end,  we check and see if we all got there together.  We don’t leave those things behind,  we carry them to our next destination.

I’m not sure the kids know the plan.  So let’s tell them.  Let’s explain how this goes.

Do they know where we are going?  


img_1716 Thanks to all my fellow slicers for their encouragement, their feedback, and their lessons.  I learn so much from you.   You can learn from them too,  here at Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 13 of the 31 Day Slice of Life Story Challenge.




The Other Person in the Room #sol18o

Image-1 (4).jpgThe Other Person in the Room #sol18

March 6, 2018

Dear Teacher,

I’m always the other person in your room.  I wish I was a small unnoticeable sprite… but I’m not.  I wish you always felt comfortable with me hanging around… but you don’t.

I made this list of what I wanted you to think.  It went like this…

I girl scout promise I’m just here for the kiddos.

Don’t notice me!

I don’t notice you.

Just between us,  in total disclosure,  none of those things are true.  I’m a literacy coach.  Sometimes I am there for you.  Sometimes you probably should notice what I’m doing with your students, what I brought with me,  what I wrote down.

Sometimes I do notice you.  Occasionally,  you make me think of something I want to bring you next time.  Sometimes I think about what I might bring your students or a particular student.  Sometimes I think about what resources I might suggest for you or your grade.  Lots of the time I think about how I can be more helpful, more genuine, less intrusive.  Lots of time I think about how I can mirror your talk when I talk to your students.

All of this being the other person in the room is a little like a dance between me and you and the students.  The more you and I communicate,  the better we get at the dance, the more collaborative we are.  It is lots better if we do most of that talk when we aren’t doing the work.  I’m pretty good on the fly, but it’s not the best way to think or react.  Quite honestly,  if we try and communicate during our teaching time,  we are not getting accomplished what we really want which I think is,  two people working with students all the time.

Two super important things I want to say, but don’t always bring myself to say.  I really, really don’t want to tell you what to do.  Often you ask me,  what should I do differently or what do you think I should do or tell me what I should change.  I don’t want to do any of those things.  I especially don’t want you to think I’m all that or for you to think that I think that I’m all that.  I know that I’ve been doing this thing since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  I know that often I could be your mom or at least your aunt.  That does not in fact mean that I’m anything but a fellow traveler.  Most of the time when I have an insight, it’s just because I can have perspective based on my travels.

What I wished you believed about me is what I believe about myself to the very core.

I’m still learning too.

I want to experiment and fail and succeed and try with you.

I believe that messing up is good for us and the students

I thrive on collaboration. I want to know what you’re thinking.

So I know sometimes I feel like a houseguests that has stayed too long or worse a spy… but try and get past that with me.

I’ll see you tomorrow.  I’ll be the one that feels like their on a first date in someone else’s house and I’m not sure what to order…


your partner, your friend,  your coach

Thank you Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life community.