The Gift of Time #sol17

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.

 

 

 

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Reasoned Understanding of Evidence #sol17

Reasoned Understanding of Evidence

Rainer-Weiss-1280x720

October 10, 2017

Last week,  Rainer Weiss, the chair of the physics department at MIT won the Nobel Prize for Physics.  This probably isn’t that much of a surprise, though Dr. Weiss said his chances were about 20%,  MIT has had 32 Nobel Prize winners.

What struck me in Ray Weiss’ interview on NPR was that he said what was important was the reasoned understanding of evidence.  A happenstance that Dr. Weiss fears is in jeopardy.

I was thinking that day (last Tuesday) and the days that followed about what a reasoned understanding of evidence might be.  I think of it in light of the fairly substantial amount of evidence we collectively collect regarding students in the fall of each year and in the shadow of examining that data together in our teams.  What does it mean to have a reasoned understanding of evidence?  As literacy professionals we looked at the words reasoned understanding and we take them to mean  comprehension of evidence based on well thought out logic and good sense.

We are fortunate at our school to take the time to carefully construct understandings of the assessment measures,  the results of those assessments, and importantly triangulate that information with what we have found out in other ways:  observation, practice, and other assessments.  We triage results and take the time to return to reflection, recording, and more conversation after our initial meetings.

In the best scenarios and honestly often,  we come to a new understanding of students and a new plan for moving forward, considering what might be the bedrock skill to begin with, miraculously considering all of the variables of planning, grouping, materials, motivation, and sometimes, sheer will.

I read last week that teachers have to make more decisions during the day than brain surgeons.  Some estimates are 1500 decisions.  But these decision,  how to group students, what to instruct whole class,  what to revisit, what goals to set, what questions to ask,  determine the instructional underpinnings of the students in our view.

So when I meet with teachers over the next few days, weeks, months, years,  as a coach and a collaborator,  I want to be a catalyst, a cheerleader, a co-conspirator, a sounding board.  Rai Weiss had a long struggle to that Nobel Prize.  He dropped out of MIT one time and his research on gravitational waves spans 30 years peppered with missteps and false starts.  We might have similar missteps and false starts, however we’ll start together. I want us to say together what Rai Weiss said when he was interviewed last Tuesday after he made that reasoned understanding of evidence,  ” It’s very, very exciting that it worked out in the end.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating, maintaining and inspiring this platform.  You can read some amazing slices of life here.

 

 

 

The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

IMG_9903The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

October 3, 2017

Over the course of the last week or so, as the first graders pass by the literacy center on their way to lunch,  I began to overhear one student after another mention “Pigeon”.  I didn’t think much about it, but then the first grade PLC leader dropped by the literacy center on her way back from specials one day.  Here’s her story.

The students noticed you have THE Pigeon in here, she said.  You have to start moving it every day.  

I was confused, but then I remembered that I had purchased Pigeon,  Piggie, and Gerard over the summer and they were gently tucked into the new book shelves surrounding my desk.  I thought they might be popular with the students at the time, but over weeks, they were just blending in for me.  She continued.

We told the first graders that Pigeon comes to check the libraries in our rooms at night and he leaves them all messages.  You have to move him around because now they think he lives in the Literacy Center. 

It makes sense.  The Literacy Center is one big library of teacher resources and leveled text.  I thought, why not?   That very afternoon,  I moved Pigeon to prominently display on the shelf right inside my door.  Do you know what happened next?

Pandemonium!   When the first graders came down the hall that day to go to lunch and the Pigeon- THE PIGEON -was right there looking at them,  the buzz went up and I’m not sure how anyone got to lunch that day.

So… here I am.  The Pigeon has become my own personal Elf on the Shelf.  I try to remember to move him each afternoon before I go home. There he is every morning waiting to be magical in the eyes of some very perceptive six year old.

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I’m grateful today for six year old magic, for first grade teachers who wanted to include me in the fun, for Mo Willems for creating such a wonderful character for children to relate to, and for the opportunity this and so many other days to be part of the world of elementary school.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM I’m grateful to Two Writing Teachers for giving me a reason to think about the magic of my day and then write about it.  You can read more Slices here.

 

 

Pushing the Season #sol17

IMG_9463Pushing the Season

August 7, 2017

Not sure when it happened but all of the stores have Halloween candy.  The end of July, fall leaves and a few pumpkins started showing up.  I imagine next week there will be full-on costumes.

I’m guilty as well.  While I never completely step away from school during the summer, I make it a fairly hard rule not to actually step foot inside the building from July 1- August 1.  This is a hollow promise as I read email, respond, and generally spend a few hours a day working on school related things.  I’m not alone in this…

Paula Borque (litcoachlady) wrote a wonderful blog recently, Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation.   Her point was that teachers need time to recharge, discover new things, and have separation from the students and their classroom.  Read it for a more eloquent telling.  Paula was standing near me at Heinemann last weekend when Vicki Boyd said that teachers need “a long cool drink” to refresh for the coming year.  We do need it, but when the calendar turns to August 1st, we start thinking about getting ready.

After 35 years, it should not take me a month to get ready.  In my defense,  I was preparing for new teacher bootcamp next week.

All this anticipation of pumpkins, candy, and bulletin boards, made me think of my “new school year” resolution,  let the students lead the learning.  Let the students lead the learning.  Anticipation is good.  I want to have enough paper, pencils, markers, dry erase boards, seats, and sunlight for everyone.  Let’s be aware and ready to get to know each of them as people and learners.  Let’s design activities for the first weeks that highlight getting to know them,  them knowing each other, and them knowing us.  Let’s linger in that time because it will pay off through the months.

So this year,  let’s keep our anticipation to a minimum.  Let’s think about a unit of study, but plan a week or maybe even a day at a time.  Let’s work in some time as Ralph Fletcher says in Joy Write for greenbelt writing, free range kids writing for the sake of enjoyment.  Let’s go to lunch in the teacher lounge and chat with our colleagues.  Let’s take our planning and visit each other’s rooms.  Let each day be the day I’m thinking of and my thoughts of tomorrow are saved unit at least after lunch.

I’m not good at this.  My grandmother would say I liked to borrow trouble.  I am pledging to give it a go.  Be warned the people in my radius,  I’m going to encourage you to do the same, probably on a daily basis.

So take this week to enjoy the sunshine, a novel, a new discovery, a long walk.  You’ll be better for it in December.  I’ll do the same.  However,  you might want to buy some Halloween candy to eat right now.  It’s a bargain.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.

Les Brown

Summer Self #SOL17

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Lingering

July 11, 2017

I have finally gotten into my summer frame of mind.  It took 1O days this year.  Never really sure what summer mindset is at the beginning of summer, I flounder around for days on end making lists and thinking about projects, never really getting out of my school year skin.  But today,  I remembered.  

 A long summer list made after I’ve carted home more books and things that can ever read in eight weeks.  Then set all these goals and things making endless lists that  won’t be finished in a day, but then finally  settle in.

I never know what settling in will look or feel like.  Sometimes I don’t realize at first that I’m settled in, but then it strikes me.  Today,  it struck me when I was patiently scrubbing the soot on the fireplace stones.  Spray,  scrub,  rinse,  examine.  Spray, scrub,  rinse,  examine.  This is it,  I thought.  The patience to consider a task,  be mindful in the task,  and most of the time, complete the task.  Though I have been known to abandon.  Even in that abandonment,  there is peace.  

Yesterday,  I spent a few hours rearranging every single drawer in my bedroom.  I sortedIMG_9232 through jewelry, repositioning it, touching all of it.  Lingering in memories.  I arranged my shirts in the art of tidying up, carefully rolled and sorted by color. Testing all of the pens in the bedside drawer.  Thinking about their lifespan, their origins, their journey. One day repotting  plants.  On and on it goes.  Sometimes studying an idea,  reading,  looking up something, lingering.  Lingering in my thoughts.  

There isn’t the time for this during the school year. Lists are made.  Tasks checked off.  Constant movement, all the time.  There should be time.  That’s what’s needed in our work with students and their teachers.  Thoughtfulness,  mindfulness,  consciousness, time.  Being a fan of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this should come to mind…  Begin with the end in mind. First Things First.  Sharpen the Saw.  

So when we have put our summer selves away this year, let’s keep this one bit going.  Be conscious in our acts.  Be patient with ourselves.  Be present in the moment.  It will take as long as it takes.  

Continue to linger.  

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The Art of Sweeping #SOL17

IMG_9139Zen, Meditation, Completion, and Closure

June 27,2017

Yesterday,  Dylan and I spent a couple of hours resanding the paver joints on our walk and patio.  This is a thoughtful, repetitive process that is largely quiet.  Turns out it is also meditative.  The gentle strokes of the corn brooms against the sand and bricks, the synchronous rhythm of the two of us sweeping the sand gently into each gap, all contributed to a peaceful afternoon.  It was quite a contrast to the day before when Bob and I were powerwashing the same patio and our driveway.  There was no peace in that at all.  

This makes me think about the end of year rituals for teachers and myself in particular.  Truthfully,  some years,  I just clear off my desk, cover everything with sheets, and ostensibly leave it all behind.  I never feel quite at peace with that.  I always carry home my summer reading and a few files to linger over, but the weight of books, closets, drawers, and unfinished things weighs on me.  

This year,  I started thinking about the end of year when I was sitting in silence while the students were taking their MCAS assessments.  I thought about the closet, and my desk drawers, the endless stacks of paper, and those three file cabinets.  

As the end approached,  I was busier that usual.  A project came up that sent me to the classes for the last few days.  Initially, it seemed like a tedious task, but again as I went to each class and interacted with the students, the teachers, our intervention staff,  it was rewarding.  It was fulfilling.  It was gratifying.  

But sadly,  because of those tasks,  on the last day of school, the literacy center and my work space still needed lots of work even to get to the usual quick close.  So I resigned to come back to school the next day after most of my colleagues had gone on to begin their summer.  Again,  I drove over to school dreading the process.  The further I got into the work,  the bigger the task seemed, and the larger the piles.  

On day two,  my spirit turned.  I decided to really examine the space,  my work in it, and the things that were taking up real estate there.  How could this space change?  It’s funny.  People would drop by with random comments and those comments would send me off deeper in the process.  They would notice things that I didn’t see anymore and I saw them with their eyes.  

Just like the moss in the cracks of our walk, I thought I liked what I saw until I removed it.  I thought this was just a cleaning task.  It took a while for me to see the meditation in the act.

 There is only one file cabinet now and a much smaller desk.  No plastic drawers, no room divider, no teetering collection of gerry-rigged shelves with a mishmash of books, and no stockpile of dry erase markers.  

It is unclear whether my work space will stay this way or how it will continue to evolve, but it’s true that the act of cleaning and clearing is freeing.  It gives us a chance to let go, to consider, and to open up.  Perhaps that is the best start to the summer one can have.  IMG_9136

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for encouraging my writing.  I have been slicing since March 2017.  Read more about it or join the community here.

 

 

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do #SOL17

Hobie-Sailing-St.-Thomas-1200x800Breaking Up is Hard to Do

June 6, 2017

It’s that time of year again.  The number of school days is dwindling down to small double digits.  This is when the student begin to break up with us.

A veteran fourth grade teacher I know says each of them finds their own way to break up.

It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s necessary, inevitable, and kind of hard.

Each year that student’s homeroom teacher spends the better part of the year learning each of her student’s learning profiles,  making them feel comfortable, pushing them to their discoveries as  learners and then we tell them to get out of the car.  There really isn’t another choice in the matter, but breaking up is hard to do.

A little preschooler after visiting the kindergarten class wipes out for days on end.  I don’t want to go to kindergarten he says.  What he means is,  you made it warm and comfortable here.  I know how to try here.  I know where the edges are.  I’ll have to learn them all over in my new place.

The fourth graders ask questions of the middle school counselors.  Will my teacher know me? or a fourth grade version of that.  Who will help me if I need help?  We say, You’re ready!  Look at you!  You’ve got this!

Did we prepare them for life beyond us, whomever the us is?   Did we teach them that they are their teachers?  Did we show them that they know how to figure out what needs to be figured out when it needs to be figured out?  Did we teach them how to let go and how to grab on?  And my favorite question,  how will we know when they have learned it?

So as we let go,  let’s talk to them, all of them, about letting go and moving on… about strength and grit and how much they are ready.  But let’s ask them,  how will you know you’re ready?  Because they are the captains of their own boats and it is time to set sail.