Reflections on the End of a School Year #sol20

0Reflections on Another End to a School Year

June 16, 2020

I don’t have to tell you that this end is like no other end I’ve experience in the decades I’ve been an educator.  Different, yes…  Challenging,  yes…  But what we’ve learned… about ourselves, about our learning community, about our teaching… about our capacity… about our flexibility.

I write today not from the filtered sunlight of the messy literacy center in that aging elementary school that’s been my home for a decade, but from my lower level library sanctuary.  My husband built this sanctuary for me that decade ago when I desperately missed my former life in the midwest.  It lay here mostly a repository for books that couldn’t fit in my school corner or I was temporarily not using.  It remained dusty. Honestly I can’t remember ever working in this room. choosing instead my sunny screen porch, the patio, the sweet bench in the garden as my summer study place.

This year however, this little library became a shelter, a fortress, a capsule.  In this little room quietly tucked under the back porch, away from the bustle of our home life,  I could be ‘at work’.  At work during those hours that I needed to be.  At the end of the day,  I shut the door and ‘commuted’ back to my home.

This was a luxury for me.  I’ve seen kitchen tables, living room walls, baskets, bags, all organized as we began to create not the space we left, but a whole new space to learn and teach.

When I reflect on these last three months, that’s what I consider, those makeshift, make-do, dream up magical spaces you created for your students.  In my district, we had no warning.  The closure came along like a hurricane and we took the clothes on our backs, the stash in our cars, our bags, our homes, and began to make new learning with that.  I’m not going to lie,  it was devastating.  The first week or so,  I felt completely adrift. How could I coach or intervene from here… when they were there?

As with any other situation in education, we began to gain our sea legs.  We’ve had tough spaces to work in, difficult schedules, hard combinations, budget limits.  In other words, we’ve adapted before.  Perhaps not this way, but as teachers and learners, it’s in our nature to grow and change.  So grow and change, we did.

I spent an hour this morning, sifting through the pictures I took of you teaching during this time,  looking at the notes I filled my conferring notebook with,  smiling at the thought of each of you growing, adapting, trying, challenging, and generally teaching your hearts out for the last sixty school days or so.  Here’s what I noticed.

You never lost your sense. of humor or your heart for kids.

You taught yourself so many amazing things and create so much from whatever you found laying around (metaphorically and actually)

You didn’t let those kids off the hook; you emailed, you google-met (is that a verb?), you listened, you encouraged and they… came around.

You taught!… and you played.  You celebrated and you learned about every single thing kids were doing when they weren’t there on the screen with you.

You watched TV shows so you could talk about them.  You recommended movies and books and games.  Still you encouraged.

You noticed hair styles and hair color, stuffies and live animals.  You noticed hard days and celebrations, breakfast choices and pink cheeks.

And still. you taught: poetry, the American Revolution, fractions, pollinators, biographies, habitats,  geography, reading,  writing and persistence.  You taught A LOT!

You kept it going and now… let’s take a rest.  Let’s read and take walks,  smile and bake,  breathe deeply, paint, garden and wait…  The next thing will come soon.  But for now, let’s be okay.  Let’s be joyful.  Let’s celebrate.

We Could… #sol20

img_0876We Could… #sol20

April 28, 2020

In these crazy days, it’s so simple to look at what is so different about our practice, our daily lives, our students, our relationships with each other, and so many other aspects of our lives’ work, the work that seems we won’t return to for at least six months.  I haven’t really been without that schedule for any appreciable time for more than twenty years and most of twenty prior to that.  So the thought of thirteen weeks of sitting in this basement library clinging to scraps of contact with students and their teachers is soul-crushing.  So I’m just going to have to find another way to look at this situation.

I’ve been talking recently about how we can keep the heart of our work in the body of this new day to day.  What is it that our students responded most to and how can we make the closest proximity to that thing?  It’s difficult to consider the daily subtle moves we made as teachers when our audience is a thirteen inch MacAir laptop screen and the closest thing to a student I have is a seventy-five pound ten year old black lab mix who loves a good story as much as the next person, but doesn’t have much to say about author’s purpose or the story arc.  My new books mostly come from another electronic screen and my read-alouds are pre-recorded, so how do I make it feel like a glorious grand discussion and an intimate shoulder to shoulder conference?

While I don’t have the answer for you,  I think I might be able to steer us toward the shore.  Let’s dream for a few minutes.  When you planned for your mini-lesson or your active engagement, your independent practice, or your gentle conferring,  what did you hope for deep in your heart?  Connections?  You still know those students in front of you.  You know what they like to read, how soon they want to talk to you after you send them off to work.  You know if they need to explain their thinking first or if they need you to draw them a little map to get started.  You know if you stop in a read aloud and ask them to write down something if they can come back to the story or text with you or if it’s better to read it twice and stop the second time.  You know… you really know.

So… how can you make it feel like home for each student?  Can you have a whole group that holds their whole hearts?  Can you put their emotions front and center and still hold on to literacy?  Can you talk to them individually or in the pairs or triads that feel most comfortable to them?  Can you give them space to grieve, and look you in the eyes (how can you make your eyes look right at them?)?  How can we laugh and have crazy FRI-YAY! traditions and lean in for the next bit of Sisters Grimm or Wild Robot or did you see the Willouby’s??  

You have it in you to reach inside and find those things that connect kids to you and each other,  to the learning, and their agency,  to the challenge, and the joy… and the struggle.  You were already amazing at that… and you are still.  Don’t let your sadness rob you and them of what we could make from this mess.  We are accustom to making lemonade, and beautiful mistakes, and restarts.  We are stars at redo’s and We got this!  

So put on the best music in the background and dream of those best days when everything worked like magic in your rooms, when the kids were engaged and happy, productive and challenged.  How can you make that happen in this world?  I know you can.

What are the promises you made in September to your students in your heart?  What are the promises you don’t want to break today?

This can be the most amazing time,  the memory that shows them and us just what we are made of.  I don’t know what your secret sauce is, but I’ll bet anything you have it.  Dig it out and spread it all over these experiences.  Make it magically simple in the way only you can.

 

Face to Face #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 8.01.10 AM

Face to Face #sol20

April 21, 2020

As a literacy specialist, I have been mostly working in the background of the virtual learning, providing content, practicing online lessons with teachers, creating videos.  Today I had my first opportunity to have some live small groups.  As I met with a teacher on Friday, we were thinking about making our workshop teaching more closely match our IRL experiences.  IRL, we would have split up some small groups and co-taught during the independent portion of the workshop.  So when the teacher said she was having difficulty seeing all the students during small group, I offered to have small groups as well.

I am a partner in her google classroom, so I knew the expectations she had for the students.  Teaching into the research reading unit and working on informational writing, the team has paired this unit with a science unit to continue with that content knowledge.  I have to give both the teacher and the team credit for using many different online platforms to deliver information to the students.  That variety would have been present in their classroom settings and they are exposing students to it here as well.  Brainpop Jr. ,  Readworks,  Epic book sets are some of the ways that she has been creating text sets for readers and writers in her class.

Trouble is,  not all the students are accessing the text set or completing the independent work… Establishing a routine seems tough in this virtual/home world.  Even I am constantly inventing new ways to keep myself on track and my reading has been pretty abysmal in terms of consistency and routine.

In my reading small group,  I started with their reading plan.  What were they reading?  That was a struggle.  One student doesn’t want to read anything online.  I got out my iPad and talked him through the features, he still wasn’t having it.  He’s rereading a series he’s read before.  I did talk him into making a plan for this week’s reading and writing it down.  In new learning,  I used the teacher’s google classroom assignment reading to work through taking notes and main idea/details.  Their reading was fluent, but their understanding of what they read wasn’t.  We talked about rereading for meaning and created some notes for teaching others.  Again,  it was interesting how they didn’t talk as much as IRL.

Here’s my summary for their classroom teacher of our work today. (Names redacted)

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 10.37.51 AM.png

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 8.48.39 AM.pngScreen Shot 2020-04-21 at 9.57.34 AM.pngScreen Shot 2020-04-21 at 9.55.20 AM.pngScreen Shot 2020-04-21 at 9.58.40 AM.png

Tools for reading small group, Epic book Life Cycle of a Honeybee.  Anchor chart based on Reading to Learn, TCRWP Third Grade UOS Reading,  Google Slide, Handwritten note displayed with Quicktime Movie.  ( I fixed mandibles after this screenshot)

I show all these tools because… ALL THESE TOOLS!  In order to keep everything going, sometimes you have to use a lot of tools or hold up things.  Also, giving kiddos some wait time and writing time… and redirection time.  (Those spinning office chairs are super distracting)

Then on to writing.  None of the kiddos was doing any independent writing,  that will definitely be a goal for a next session if I am afforded on.

For writing independent work,  the teacher had assigned a BrainPop Jr. on the life cycle of a plant and asked the students to draw a diagram of the plant life cycle.  My plan was to show the BrainPop video and then go through the planning with the students… However, BrainPop’s log in wasn’t working this morning.  Even though I had set up all the tabs last night, this morning there was a glitch.  (Sigh and Bummer). This is the one place were much like in IRL,  the students are very flexible.  They understand that sometimes things don’t work and we have to make do.  We brainstormed the life cycle of a plant starting at one student’s idea of an entry point, pollinators.  Smart girl,  knew we were studying pollinators and so she made them front and center.  

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 9.30.08 AM.png

Diagram of a Plant Life Cycle drawn and spatially planned badly by me.  

Several things I reminded students of during our ‘marker talk’.

  • we need a heading for our diagram
  • we should label as many things as we can to make our meaning clear… hence my deer (LOL)
  • explaining each step is also good
  • planning (better than I did) your spacing helps your audience.
  • Can you teach from this tool?

Too quickly, it was time to say goodbye to the students.  Was it this hard to leave them IRL?

 

I share these adventures in virtual learning through my Slice of Life community sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.  We write together each Tuesday here.

Dear Me #sol20

Day 22 I decided to write a letter to the first person that needs encouraging me.  Like Clare said,  I am giving myself the oxygen first.  Here I am writing in the company of all my dear slicers in the comfort of Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 23 of the 31 day writing challenge.

Dear Me #sol20

March 23, 2020

I know you feel adrift right now, like your best ideas as a coach have always been built on connections and moments.  These things are not present in their familiar forms right now.  So… now is the time to create some new forms of connections and moments.

Spend the day today creating a creative space, a warm space.  Consider what each grade level, each teacher might need, might enjoy, might treasure and start doing what you do… making lists.  While you’re making a list, make sure you make a list of all the things you brought home from the literacy center.  You’re going to go back there and you’ll want all these things to pack up and go too.

It’s Monday, so don’t forget your Monday flowers and your message teacup,  some music, work(ish) clothes (well from the top up at least).  Maybe this will magically transform this remote space to be a little more like the missed space.

Make some movies today.  You can always throw them away… or send them.  Create a padlet, a screencast, a flip grid.  Now’s the time to learn all the things.  You won’t have to use them forever.

Work actual work hours… no less and no more.  You can still walk the dog and have lunch in your kitchen and thank goodness take all the breaks for personal business that you want.

So I know you feel adrift, but drop anchor for now.  They know where you are and how to find you.  They will… they will.

Stay well,

Me

After That… A List #sol20

I’m writing along with my slice community at Two Writing Teachers every day during the month of March and Tuesdays year round.  I am inspired today, day 19, by Midwestern Heart in Dixie’s Before That: Wednesday Edition.  She can do a lot in a day. 

After That… #sol20

March 19, 2020

Up way predawn this morning.  Lily doesn’t seem to know that we are still on ‘snow day’ schedule today.  Took Lily for a walk.  The pavement was wet and it was drizzling.  No beautiful stars and moon this morning.  Yesterday’s was so spectacular.  Same sniffs, we picked up the paper on our way in.  So dark outside this morning.

After that, special dog food mix, downstairs to fill the dog bowl, just 1/2 cup.  She’s on a better diet than I am.  Then a little wet food from the refrigerator mixed in, her joint mineral powder and fish oil for her allergies. Clean water.

After that, I read through the text chain from last night’s chat with the other literacy specialist. We’re trying to figure out the changes that are coming in effect early next week for enrichment.  This is going to include intervention still, so it’s a lot to think about.

After that, I read through the 8-10 emails that came through after I went to bed last night.  Have heard from many of the eleven intervention team members.  Still need to hear from four of them.  I’m wondering about that this morning, but it’s still predawn.

After that,  I send a few emails.  I hope these people don’t have their phone near them in bed or their alerts on…  Organize emails in a new folder called distance learning.  Notice that I have over eighty emails in my mailbox.  I like to keep it to less than ten…

After that, I make a spreadsheet of the students receiving intervention.  I wonder again if the coordinators know how many kiddos this really is.  The team sent me the names and the student goals overnight.  One of them already has plans ready.

After that,  Bob scoots next to me to get his shoes from under the dining room table.  I left my shoes in your office.  Don’t want to use my actual office because it’s in the basement and I can’t look out the window in there, it’s too high.

After that,  I make a cup of coffee in my This is Going Well cup.  Wishful thinking perhaps, I do think we’ll get this together.  I smile again at our secretary emailing me right away last night to offer a hand.

After that,  Bob checks in to ask if I’m going into school today.  He interjects some news from the world.  I notice that our neighbor is driving out of their driveway.  I wonder if they are taking advantage of the early grocery hours that start today.

It’s 6 a.m.  now.  Everything I tell you about after that now is just hopeful thinking, but the list includes:

  • making a temporary plan for intervention at each grade
  • watching a video about zoom
  • reading through the district documents I received late yesterday
  • planning on taking a shower and possibly using makeup since I’ll be on view online today
  • Attending two meetings virtually; probably more

What’s that saying?  The people who get things done are the ones that do things one thing at a time.

 

 

Reading in Isolation #sol20 (IMWAYR)

Writing in my slice group with Two Writing Teachers in our 30 day challenge.  Today is Day 16.  Today, I’m inspired  by Elisabeth Ellington’s Quarantine Reading

Reading in Isolation #sol20 #IMWAYR

March 16, 2020

Truth is I need inspiration these days.  I feel like a bear at the beginning of hibernation.  My brain feels sleepy and I have a strong tendency to just curl up in my chair and sleep.  It’s too quiet here.  For three days I’ve had the TV on and now I realize that it’s contributing to the numbness.  But also, I’m not used to this.  I am accustomed to talking over lessons with teachers from before 7 until school starts and then meeting, teaching, collaborating with students and teachers until school ends.  After that I prepare for the next day.  I want to go to my office.  I want to touch books and make plans.  However, that’s not possible so here based on Elisabeth’s plan is my isolation plan for books.

Books to read for the first time

I have several bags full of books to read for the first time but I’ll divide these between student books and professional books.

Student Books

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 9.00.10 AMThe stack is tall.  I brought home to TBR bag from school.  It’s a good mix: picture books, intermediate novels, biographies, some graphic novels.  I finished City Spies on Sunday.  I’m wondering if James Ponti would like me do a first chapter on my blog.  Next I think I might read The Vanderbeekers  by Glaser and mix in some picture books.  Dangerously, Amazon is just a couple of clicks away.  I hear I can still order and go pick up from our independent books store as well.

 

Books to Reread

I brought home all the current units of study that we were working on.  Now of course, knowing that we will have three weeks off and not one,  that might change things.  I was hedging my bets about content creation.  I can still create some mentors, small groups, shared reading and such with them.  I also brought home  A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences.  Amazing providential as Jennifer Serravallo is going to rerun her web series about this text in a watch party, but the videos are available on Heinemann at this link.

Series to get into 

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 9.01.06 AMI want to read the Vanderbeeker Triology.  I think I might be able to check it out on Libby.  I also stuck in my bag The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  Again I think I might be able to check out the rest of them.  Stella Diaz Never Gives Up is in the pile and Beveryly, Right Here.  Series books to catch up on during the hiatus.  I have a few ‘starters’ in series as well, Comic Squad Lunch, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Fenway & Hattie, Flubby is Not a Good PetThe Seventh Wish.

Projects to Work On

Today, I’m going to organize some online distance learning resources to recommend to our district.  I’ve been keeping in contact with my mentor/coach and talking over content with her. Over the next weeks, I also want to work on some small group lessons, writing mentors, and do some curating of my at home collections, which have been sadly neglected.   I’m going to watch Lucy Calkin’s webinar on Wednesday, and pick up Kylene Beer’s professional development today.  I want to keep learning as well.  I

Feeling a little energized now that I’ve put some ideas out there in the universe.  Hope you are too.

 

Another Step Forward #20

Another Step Forward #20

March 11, 2020

I’ve been away from a school for a few days.  I haven’t seen him since last Wednesday.  A whole week.  Would he be able to do it?  Would he remember what we had worked on? 

The literacy center is full of people this morning.  I don’t usually see him in the morning.  His teacher and I decided that since I’m having success with our afternoon work, perhaps I should take over the morning work as well.  Ok, I said,  I’ll give it a try.

So this morning I go to find him as soon as I can.  It’s nearly nine and I drop by.  I’m going to give it a go, I say to his teacher.  Go for it, she says.  I call to him.  He seems surprises to see me.  I lean down.  Sorry,  I say,  I’ve been away.  Do you want to come work?

We make our way to the literacy center.  He takes my hand as we go and my heart squeezes.  When I enter the literacy center, you can tell he’s surprised that we aren’t alone.  These teacher work with me, I say.  He looks up at me skeptically.  It’s still just me and you, bud,  I say.

I can feel all of them look at us, but reluctantly stay back in their business.  He’s a cutie pie and they all want to talk to him.  I can feel it.  For now, they just watch casually.

We make our way through the book shelves to the table, white board, markers and erasers we usually use.  He loves the magnets and eraser.  I feel him exhale as he sees our set up seems the same as usual, including his name that he wrote with magnets last week.

Do you think you can write your name without spelling it with magnets first?  I ask.  He nods.  I’m not sure if he’s said any words aloud yet.  Ok,  go for it.  I nod.  He leans over the rail of the white board easel and peers into the ledge.   Are you going to write with orange or green today?  Oh, orange,  I narrate.

So slowly he goes.  I know he’s not going to quite have enough room without changing the size of his letters, but I decide to let it go.  He writes the first letter making it capital.  What sound does that make?  I haven’t asked him that before and he turns to look at me before answering.  He makes the sound of his initial letter and continues spelling slowly and deliberately.  He gets to the “e”.   That letter has been giving him trouble.  A lefty, it’s hard for him to see that loop, but today he makes it better than ever before.  A perfectly formed lower case e.  Yeah, you,  I say.  That’s great.  You’ve been practicing.  He hesitates and then writes another letter.  He has missed one letter and I remind him by saying,  Let’s go back and check to see if you have the letters you need.  He doesn’t remember so I prompt the letter by giving him the sound.  He forms the letter remembering to make it look distinctively different from the similarly formed r.  He’s nearly there.  Just two more letters in this long name.  As he finishes we say the sounds out loud of each letter, including the sound in his name and the common sound of each.

He writes it two more times naming the sounds as I prompt. and I ask, what would you like to spell now? He looks at the other teacher left in the room.  She’s eating a banana.  She says. I didn’t eat breakfast.  Do you like bananas too?   He nods.  Do you want to spell it?  She starts with the sounds.  I wonder if he will be able to form the letter as she says the sounds even though there are so few.  He forms the first a backwards and then in a new place the N seems like a new letter to him at first.  Finally we spell b-a-n-a-n-a.

Great!  Let’s go back to class now.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  We walk together back to the room.  I’m cheering inside.  I hope he is too.  The world just opened up.

In the Foreground #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 3.55.52 PMIn the Foreground #sol20

February 25, 2020

My husband and I went on vacation last week.  Recently, when we vacation, we discuss the location with the lens of retirement.  Could we live here?  What would we do?  Is it walkable?  All the questions that we think we might want to know.

I’m not sure when we started playing this game.  Perhaps when we moved to Massachusetts and knew without a doubt that it wouldn’t be our permanent home.  What would be?  So, we casually discuss our retirement lives.

Our retirement lives… Mr. K leans toward warmth and proximity to the ocean.  It sounds appealing, endless sunshine and heat.  Long walks.  A nearby library.  Our ‘retirement’ jobs?  Mr. K- mixing paint at Home Depot .   Mine- reading tutor

We mostly consider all these things fleetingly, in random conversation, in vacation planning.  We think about it after bad snows and hard commutes, tough weeks.  We think about it because it’s nice to have something to look forward to together.

People ask me occasionally about retirement now.  I never feel like they mean, when are you going to retire already? I usually say, not soon… and mean it.

I’m not sure how I will know when it’s time to retire.  Will I just walk out one June day and say, I think that’s all for now.  Many of my former colleagues are retired.  They fill their days with grandchildren, part-time jobs, books, and hikes.

For today, I’ll continue to think about it in the abstract.  Consciously not turning my hair to its now natural white.  Continuing to show up early and stay late.   Read professional books and listen to professional podcast.  Learn and do and try and strive on… for now.

Last night I told a friend, I’m trying to buy less children’s books. I mean, what will I do with them when I retire?

She said, retire? when will that be?  I never see myself retiring.  

When she said that I thought,  I don’t really see myself retiring either.

I suppose that’s when I’ll know it’s the right time, when I can see myself retiring.  I’ll let you know.

img_0602  Thank you to my writing community of fellow slicers through Two Writing Teachers.  Join us next Sunday, March 1st for the Slice of Life March Challenge  to slice for a month solid.  What a wonderful adventure!

What You Do Matters #sol20

What You Do Matters #sol20

After a couple of weeks of meetings and professional development days, I had spent many, many days in a conference room.  I was out of sorts.   It occurred to me that I need balance.  Late last week I sought to fill my tank up with time with students.

On Wednesday morning, I joined a fourth grade for their weekly Creativity Project time.  Writing away in the presence of their energy and the sound of their pencils flying across the page, I thought this is the way to start the day.  

The rest of that half-day morning,  I read Hungry Jim aloud to a second grade studying folktales.  Great for prediction, this story got this class talking, gasping, and laughing.  Can’t wait to go back and read Where the Wild Things Are, so we can compare. I rounded out that day with Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, and character analysis in two third grade rooms.  How do we know someone is confident? 

Then this morning,  excited by Hair Love‘s amazing OSCAR win,  I shared out the video to the classroom teachers.  In third grade, we had planned to start our Baby Literary Essay boot camp.  However we put off  Those Shoes for one day to celebrate a picture book’s life in the world.  After watching the video with our ‘love lens’, we watched to consider what we could write about this wonderful story.  Used to discussing books with this teacher and myself, most students chatted during the second showing and were ready with thoughts as soon as we finished.  Some however were hesitant.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what I noticed, quiet voices around the room asserted.

Letting those voices echo, their teacher jumped in.  Mrs. Kennedy, will you write down our thinking. 

Their original thinking is in blue ink.  So many traces of evidence backing up their theory that Zuri’s dad is the kind of person who doesn’t give up.

Even those soft I-don’t know voices filled the room with thinking as we continued.

We went back to do some gentle editing together, adding names to replace pronouns, thinking about how we might shift sentences, and then crafting a simple conclusion together. It was the end of this exercise that stopped me in my tracks.  The teacher turned to the students and said, look what you did,  we wrote a literary essay together just that quick.  The room buzzed with student talk. That went so fast.  Our whole writing time is finished? That’s a lot!  

But then, their teacher said something.  She said she put me on the spot by asking me to do the writing.  She said,  that Mrs. Kennedy,  she’s the kind of person who say, Wait, what?  and then says,  Sure, ok!  

Wait… I am?  I guess so.  Just like that, every tank in the room filled in one hour… including mine.

 

Congratulations to Matthew Cherry for his Oscar will for the animated short film based on his book, Hair Love.  I showed the class the video available on YouTube from the television show, Sunday Morning.  Thanks to my writing group, #100daysofnotebooking for filling my tank with writing for the last forty-some days.  As always, I am indebted to the amazing leaders of Two Writing teachers and all my encouragers in that group who have given me the air beneath my wings so many times.  

No Need for Perfect #sol20

UnknownNo Need for Perfect

January 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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