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.

Alchemy #sol19

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Alchemy #sol19

November 12, 2019

Last Friday afternoon I had one of those moments that usually is just out of reach, a moment when the enthusiasm and genius of a fellow educator only needs my smile as tender for it to take off into a roaring fire.  I do often see the flames of great ideas, the sparks of hopefulness, and even the glimmer of the newly hatched thinking.  But a full blown brush fire of an idea is such a beautiful thing to behold, particularly on a Friday afternoon.

It may be important to note that my contribution to this brush fire spark is so tertiary that it can’t be discerned.  I am a long time encourager of this educator, a big fan, an instigator, and a fellow edge stretcher, so it makes perfect sense that not only did she want to share her idea with me, she was too anxious to start it to wait to share first.  To her credit, it was pure genius, way beyond what I might have coached her to do.  Her excitement and eagerness to jump in was beaming from her.  I know that her enthusiasm will carry it to a very successful fruition.

When I read about alchemy in a cooking reference over the weekend, how one food, consumed with another food or drink, is completely transformed in taste and experience by the process, I thought that’s what I’m looking for every day, a sprinkle of something that transforms so much.

That transformation was once for me all about students. A moment or a collection of moments with struggling students that transformed how they saw themselves as learners. Hopefully forever changed by those realizations.  As coaching evolved, so did the moments.  Most moments I spend now are with a whole class or just with their teachers.  Sprinkling those somethings in, the transformation is nearly invisible to me.  I can be sad about that. What does that sadness make the alchemy?  Less about the magic and more about the person, a sharp contrast to the magic that we all want to hold.

So here’s to a new kind of transformation, one where I (and others) encourage learners of all ages to transform themselves, to transform others, to cause transformations.  The work should be able to go on, without me, without any one person.  As my friend often quotes,  you have always had the magic inside of you.  So I’ll be creating transformations when possible.  I’ll be encouraging transformations when I am able.  Most definitely,  I’ll be celebrating them wherever they happen.

 

img_0602I write alongside my amazing transformative writing colleagues on Tuesday encouraged by  the amazing alchemists at twowritingteachers.com.

Dropping In #sol19

IMG_9241Dropping In #sol19

November 5, 2019

The beauty of my position as a literacy coach is that every day changes.  Most days, I’m having big and little meanings discussing student progress, lesson planning, and literacy resources.  My desk can be covered with half read books, dozens of post-its, and 3-4 different journals along with student work.  My phone is filled with photos of text, student work, anchor charts, and a long, long reading list.  As we add more intervention staff, my job is shifting away from every day commitments to specific children.

On Monday, my flexible schedule gave me the opportunity to cover for our breakfast monitor.  Eight weeks into the semester, the students had it all worked out.  Each knew what they wanted from the amazing array of choices from many varieties of muffins, cereal bars, cereal, bagels, cheese, and milk. They gathered at tables happily chatting or sleepily adjusting to the day.  It was so fun to see the students in this casual atmosphere and interact, encouraging food choices or just asking about ones made.  Wishing them good morning and asking about their weekend.  Watching some from afar, noticing so much about their adjustment to the day.  That time is ripe with possibility and perfect just as it is.  I imagined bringing some books down for kids to explore or listen to.  In the end,  I was just so glad that this breakfast was available for students and wondered how many more would like the choice of Lucky Charms or a blueberry muffin to start their day.  The students were pleased with their choice and I was so happy that we offered them abundant choice.  One that didn’t emphasis that many may be receiving this meal free.  Perhaps it’s the most choice they have.  Today, that information wasn’t mine.  I was happy to celebrate their choice and discuss their thinking. My heart was filled.

After breakfast,  I had the opportunity to start the day with a third grade.  They start the day with learning tubs, games, coloring, finishing work, recording small videos of their ‘work in progress’.  It was delightful.  Filled with a buzz of happy productivity, the students chatted amiably, eager to share their news, work, and ideas with me in this short fifteen minute transition.  I remember the days that were filled with ‘morning work’.  This morning work seems fresher, more student driven.  The students asked after their missing teacher, but were content with my presence.  When it was time to clean up to go to physical education, they were quick to get ready, cleaning up and moving down the hallway like champs.

After physical education,  I administered the pre-assessment for their reading unit.  We worked together well despite the change in their schedule and their teacher’s absence.  They listen attentively and answered thoughtful, though this work was mostly newer to them as readers responding to writing.  As they prepared for snack, their teacher returned to set the schedule right and continue their day.

We’ve come a long way… in such a good way.  Choice and voice was present and available to students.  Each was comfortable in the moments, in the change, in their own transitions.  So much of this has nothing to do with literacy.  If you think about it, students who feel comfortable making choices, self-directing, transitioning in a speed and way that seems natural, will make choices and self-direct in their writing as well.  It’s just natural.

 

 

The Truth about Teaching #sol19

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The Truth about Teaching #sol19

October 29, 2019

This morning, I had a plan, a plan to join some third graders as they began to explore persuasive writing and speeches.  A wonderful new book on my desk, I began to reread to plan out my stop and talks.  It occurred to me after I had read about ten pages that this particular book wasn’t really going to work.  #hatewhenthathappens   All my other persuasive text for the most part were loaned out.  What to do? 

I dug out another book.  Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.52.47 PM

Truthfully,  I’ve been thinking about a way to use it.

I arrive at the class with a sharpie, my big notebook, some index cards, an anchor chart and this book.  Ok, kiddos, I say.  You were writing opinions yesterday right?  (mediocre answers) . So today,  let’s see how this author tells us his opinion.  

The book is amusing, full of side comments by the bears.  5 pages in I ask,  what kind of book does this seem like to you?  The kids look at me incredulously. Perhaps they think their thinking isn’t quite right.  Finally a brave students says, it seems like informationalYep, I said, the author is telling us a lot of facts about bearsWonder why?  Let’s see if we can figure it out.   We finish the story and I ask again, what was the author hoping we would do?  Again, hesitantly they say,  he wanted us to know about bears and teach other people.  Why? I asked.   Silence… then… he wanted us to help the bears.  Why?  So they would have food and some place to live.

Then I ask them, is there something you could teach me about that would make me care more about it?  Some students stayed on the bears.  But two stole my heart.

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So Grandpas don’t get embarrassed.  

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People should close their trash cans so plastic doesn’t go into the water and turtles can be safe. 

They may need finesse, but I’d say these people know how to have an opinion.

As I circle the room, one student is writing facts down about guinea pigs.  Hmm, I say, are you thinking people should own guinea pigs?  In my old school, I had a guinea pig.  You did?!?!  the table group erupts.  We should have a class pet!

We sat down as a group to have a chat about the opinion we should have a class pet.  First they want to discuss what kind of pet. Rattlesnake, monkey, dog, cat, guinea pig. They think about the pros. We can pet it when we are sad.  It will be something to talk to.  It will make kids want to come to school more.   And then,  one student says, there are reasons why we shouldn’t have a pet.  Sure, I say.  What?  We have to clean up after them.  People are allergic.  Counterargument.  Not taught, just caught. Messy, all over the place, student led learning.  Do you think we can really get a pet? they ask.

 

Total Effort #sol19

Total Effort #sol19

Just arrived. I’ll set up

I sent this text this morning, but it could have been sent most mornings over the last 20 years to be honest.  Wildly overcommitted… today.  But today, the overcommitment mentioned above created a sandwich with a very satisfying day of professional development for our staff.  Each grade level, an hour and a half of deep discussion, planning, and trying it out.  It’s a perfect combination.

It’s also messy.  Here’s a small story of today’s mess.  Our staff developer has worked with us for two years.  This is her first year with the primary grade teams, but she is well known to me.  We planned out the skeleton of this learning day last week.  As a team, we work well together and are willing to give most lessons with most students a try at the drop of a hat.

A small story about that attitude.  Often this drop-of-a-hat planning requires a quick trip to the literacy center for any number of books, office supplies, grand conversation notebooks, mentor texts, or notebooks.  Today, we got the idea (her, not me) that we should use an actual Big Book instead of a document camera or a picture book.

Aghast,  I said,  I didn’t purchase any of these books.  They’ve been here forever… I’m not sure.  But we were committed to Big Books, so she began to riffle through the collection.  Finally, she began to sort books out onto the literacy center floor and I noticed that they were books that we probably both used when we first started teaching.  Ones that we remembered fondly, but haven’t looked at in quite a while. See where this is going. 

So we brought the books back to the training room and lined them along the chair rail around the room.  I noticed then that they were all by a particularly famous author of guided reading texts, all decades old.

One by one the teachers encouraged by us, picked up a book to read and then fairly quickly returned them to the shelf. This book is weird, they said.  Hmmm. We read a few.  They were odd in that out of date sort of way.  The two of us undaunted, chose one to read ourselves and demonstrate to the class. (First Grade) . The book was filled with animals, when one laughed at the other, the other would threaten to eat them and then do just that.  Page after page of one cantankerous animal being eaten by a slightly larger one. That dog can’t eat the cat. said one very astute first grader.  As you might guess at the end of the story, the alligator gets the hiccups and much like that little old lady, all the animals rejoin.  In the end, all the animals go happily off with each other.  Crazy, inappropriate book.

The students were astounded that we offered up this crazy tale, but by page 2 were reading along noticing word endings and becoming more and more fluent.  All of us enjoyed the reading, not because the book was great, but because the company was.  A passel of first graders, some enthusiastic teachers, a moment of time, and a sketchy plan with a purpose.  A almost perfect combination.

How does this relate to my wild overcommitment or my last minute searching and planning?  Perhaps this is what they mean by not letting the good get in the way of the great.  We didn’t need a perfect book, a perfect plan, or even a perfect amount of time.  The readers showed what they knew,  we gave them a chance to try out their skills, and the two adults (and perhaps the observers) had a jolly good literacy experience.  Next time, a teacher will try these ideas out.  That teacher might have a better plan.  She might have the tools all perfectly set out.  He might have a better book. (I hope so… I’ll be buying some this week).  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will get the idea to try this on their way to school,  they will read through a book they have quickly, plan out a lesson in ten minutes, and artfully deliver some magic all before lunch.

I hope so.

I’ll be wildly overcommitted tomorrow as well, but if you have a wild idea to try, I’m all in.

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

August 13, 2019

Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon in our traditional pre-fall book club meeting.  Once a year, five of us get together having read a ridiculous romance novel, have lunch, and talk over our summers.  It’s always great fun.  Silly, sweet catch-up.  One question inevitably come up near the end of our time together.  What are you going to do before you go back?  

Usually,  I can say a quick answer, go to Martha’s Vineyard, go to a ball game, even one more home project.  Yesterday,  I realized that I’ve already shifted into my ‘school‘ head without even noticing.  I quickly said, some interviews, a meeting with the other literacy specialists, new teacher training… My retired friend called me on this answer.  No, she said, what are you going to do in the remains of your glorious summer? 

I stopped and instead of looking ahead at the two weeks before school starts,  I glanced in the rearview mirror.  What had I accomplished?  I thought of the books I have read.  Dinners, lunches, day trips, dog physical therapy.  What was that thing that I still want to do?  Perhaps in this quiet summer, I have done it all.  Maybe, this year I won’t think of it as the end.

What if this year, I continue to give myself space to enjoy life even during the school year?  What if I actually create that elusive work-life balance?  What if someone asks me if I relaxed this summer and then gives me that skeptical look like she knows me, I’ll answer, I always take time to relax.  Truth is,  I think I do.

Sometimes, I binge watch TV.  Yesterday, I watched a night full of The Food That Built America.  Full disclosure, I was thinking about Milton Hershey, Heinz, and Marjorie Post and how I could work them into a biography project, but I also enjoyed every minute of the fascinating series, googling details as I watched.

Sometimes, I read picture books or kid novels or chick lits.  Full disclosure, when I read these, I’m thinking about coaching points, author’s craft, new text sets, post-it note reviews, and book talks.  The books are still fun to read and I enjoy every minute of them.

Sometimes, I swipe through social media.  Full disclosure,  I read literacy blogs, follow other coaches and teachers on Instagram, and read the TCRWP pages on Facebook.  I forward pictures and quick ideas to others I know will like them.  I share posts from my virtual PLN and new things I have discovered.  It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like growth.

Sometimes, I make lists or reminder stickies, or full length musings, full clearing of ideas about a topic.  Truthfully,  these lists and reminders don’t stress me, they help me sleep at night.  A little forethought and organizations reduces my often daily rush.

Sometimes I actually do legitimate work outside the normal work day.  I plan on my porch.  I take notes on my patio.  I arrange book bins at my kitchen table.  I take notes at stop lights.   I wear yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. I pet my dog absentmindedly. I get something to eat and drink when I want. When the ideas come to me, I have found that it’s best to give into it at the moment.  Again, I sleep better.

So as I move into the fall,  I can honestly say,  I did have a relaxing summer.  In my head I’ll add, and I’m going to have a relaxing fall as well.  

I write in community with an amazing group of writers led by Two Writing Teachers.

I am Working #sol19

IMG_0556I Am Working…on Myself #sol19

August 6, 2019

As the calendar turns to August, I begin this dangerous mental T-chart entitled What I Have Accomplished in the last 6 weeks v.  What I Meant to Do.  Every year, that invisible yardstick of justification comes out and I judge myself lacking, resigning myself to the fact that I will always have way more To-DOs  than Ta-DONES!  I mean, really, what have I been doing???

This year I want to flip the narrative and not just for my own fragile ego.  This year, I want to be the mentor and coach that I should be.  Instead of looking at the half empty glass,  I want to remember that the glass is at least half-full and at most, absolutely refillable.  Whatever was accomplished between that elusive June 19th and that slippery date in August when I work way more than I don’t, is absolutely a win.  So how will I measure this summer term?

I’ll measure it in dog moments and dog walks.  At the beginning of the summer, our poor Lily lab-mix couldn’t walk at all without a very painful three-legged hop, now she can, albeit slowly, take a leisurely five minute walk down the street and back down our steep driveway.

I’ll measure it in book recommendations I can make in the fall and throughout the year.  Forty-five books read this summer and many, many will make it into the hands of teachers and students very, very soon.  Along with reading,  I’ve considered techniques, assessments, analysis, and author craft moves to tuck into a toolkit or a conversation just at the right moment.

I’ll measure it in trips to Starbucks… where I met with a teacher over three lovely sessions of collaboration.  We gave each other encouragement and good ideas.  Accomplished some shared reading plans and a template.  Read many short texts for students and thought hard about what it means to share materials, ideas, and differentiate.

I’ll measure it in quick shares through text, facebook, instagram, meet-ups and the occasional email when I saw an idea that would be a perfect fit for another educator I know or just had to talk it over with someone.  Those quick hits kept connections going and made a soft nest for new ideas to hatch come fall.

I’ll also measure it in lobster rolls, ice cream cones, leisurely chats on our  patio and others, Sunday morning movies, and weekends  that spread out for family because all the chores can be done on a weekday.

I do have a large stack of professional texts that I had hoped to get read.  Some of them I will read over the course of the next few weeks.  Some will be stretched out over stolen minutes, carried in bags for weeks, dog-eared and written in, sometime during the next year.

What have I done this summer?  I’ve grown…  I’ve grown a little more tan.  I’ve grown a little more relaxed.  I’ve grown a little more patient and a little more long-sighted.  I’ve grown slightly more organized and slightly smarter.

So I’ll put away my T-chart and my measuring stick and give myself a certificate for being my best self for the last six weeks.  That best self and the memory of these sunny days will carry me far into the year.  That’s quite an accomplishment.

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