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



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.  

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM

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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.

Hard Stop.

the-end-is-nearHard Stop.

May 24, 2017


I not a big fan of summative assessments.  I tend to look at everything formatively.  This is partially due to the fact that I’m not really ever finished with students until the go to middle school.  

What I have been thinking a lot about lately is the Miracle Question.   If your students accomplished this,  what is the first thing you would notice?

When I begin to collect the end of year data,  I seem to approach it in a different way each year.  Maybe it’s the lens I have at the moment, perhaps it’s a reflection of my goals for the year.  This year I’m thinking about curriculum changes, staff changes,  focus of instruction changes.  How well does the data reflect that?

As a school and as a district,  we have benchmark summative goals for grade levels.  They are arbitrary, but based on sound developmental data.  Certain reading levels, fluency levels, your standard benchmarks.  That’s what worries me.  That we view all of this data in our rear view mirror.  A hard stop.  The end.

What a big huge waste of time!  So…  perhaps we should get from it what works for us.   What works for us as practitioners.  What works for us as facilitators.  What works for us as learners, both teachers and students.  So what works for us?

When looking at the developmental reading assessment or any other assessment that gives us a reading level, fluency, miscues, and some level of comprehension,  let’s look at the individuals and make instructional recommendations based on what we notice.  Also let’s look for classroom trends.  What do we notice that makes us consider our instruction, exposure, and opportunities?   What would it look like to master these measured skills in the “wild”?  What do each of these missed components tell us?
We could travel across all of the assessments in this manner, but let’s make the journey one of inquiry and not tedium.  Not a hard stop, but a comma.  A pause for reflection.  It’s so difficult to make time for that at the end of the year, but it’s precisely when we should.  Think about those next students and what we have learned that will benefit them.  Think about those current students and what we might send them on with to their new homes.  If you students accomplished (fill in the blank)  what IS the first thing you would notice?  

Hope is Not a Tactic

hope 1May 23, 2017

Hope is Not a Tactic


Against my will  I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon over the weekend.  While this isn’t a blog to review movies,  I deeply recommend this movie.  For so many reasons, it made me consider myself as a teacher/leader and the response to intervention we do day to day.

In the movie,  the protagonist stood up to the BP executives and clearly stated things that he knows need to be fixed on this oil rig.  The BP executive follows him back to his office and asks,  what didn’t you say?  The protagonist responds,  running out of fuel as the plane tires touch the ground isn’t smart,  then he goes on to give an analogy and say, hope is not a tactic.

I was so struck by this… hope is not a tactic.  As I finish year end assessments,  final coaching meetings,  last intervention sessions with students,  am beginning to examine data, and provide evidence for my evaluation, I consider,  is hope my tactic?   Do I hope that all of the coaching, collaborating, meeting, teaching, assessing will turn into success for each student and their teacher? Do I really have a tactic as I move through my year and just now in the rush of the end, it feels less like a plan and more like a hope?

So  as I listen to student read each day over the course of this week,  student after student,  when I ask them, are you a better reader than you were in September,  they say, yes,  without hesitation.  They confirm it with their words,  their beautiful prosody,  the evidence so clearly of strategy… and pride.  So those mornings, when I got up at five to read something before I came to work so I could share it with a few teachers, that was a tactic.  When I spent 15 minutes in a room listening to students read day in and day out, that was a tactic.  When I poured over data and professional resources,  that was a tactic.  When I blogged my heart out for 3o days,  that definitely was a tactic.  So here’s to our tactics… and our hope.  May they continue to grow strong.



Every Word, Every Person, Everyday #sol17

IMG_8880Every Word,  Every Person, Everyday  #sol17

May 9, 2017

I usually post some sunny anecdote that puts me in a positive light and wraps coaching up in a neat package.  The truth is that day after day there are a lot of tasks,  a lot of humans, and frankly,  a fair number of problems.  I feel like my desk and my mind are an unfinished pile of ASAP to-dos.   Assessment season is upon us and 35 days left of school make the urgency of the work take front and center on the burners. But I digress.

One morning last week,  our superintendent sent out a yearly teacher appreciation email. He said we should highlight the amazing work that we have collectively done as we are a people who tend to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished yet.  Yep,  it’s not my accomplishments that keep me up at night, it’s those nagging what-ifs and so-should-haves.  Which brings me to my not-my-best-moment slice.

Last week was full of tough moments in the way that most days can be, along with funny moments and honestly, some WOW that-was-awesome moments, but one moment is hanging on me this morning like my own personal dark cloud.  In this season of assessments, my second grade intervention groups have taken the hit.  In the past month I have seen them a handful of times. Last Monday was a rare day when everything lined up.

I was explaining to the group about why I hadn’t seen them and why I wouldn’t in the future.  My head was clouded with the frustration of those words and thoughts when one of the students said, that’s great,  I don’t want to see you.  It’s boring to come here.  I’m more sensitive than I seem.  I sent him back to class.  I told him if he didn’t want to be here, he could return to class.  He was stunned.  He back tracked.  He said he didn’t mean it.  I sent him anyway.  He returned in a half hour, sent by his teacher to apologize.  I was with another group and sent him away again.  The next morning he came down before group and asked me,  am I coming with you today?  Of course,  I said… if you want to.  He returned and that was that.  So why am I writing to you about it today?

Friday,  I got it between the eyes from a teacher.  She said you used to care about teachers, now you care about students.  I was stunned then, but in the light of Tuesday, she’s partially right.  I care about students.  I wasn’t particularly caring to that second grader last week, but I care about students.  Can I care without being caring?

Last week,  I thought momentarily that I was helping that student to be kinder by showing him that his words affected me.  I was wrong.  What I should have been is receptive to his criticism, asking him to tell me more about that.  So many things about that…  I like to think I learn from my mistakes.  I like to think I accept that I make mistakes.  I hope that I try to break that mold of teacher in charge, quiet students.

What about the disquieting thought that it’s either/or  caring about teachers or students?  I probably do care about the students success more in some ways.  I can be the bridge across teachers for some students.  As our building faculty grows,  it’s harder to be there for all of the teachers.  I reach out to some.  I let others come to me when they want.  I generally let the student needs drive my collaboration with teachers.  But that teachers words, you care about students more than teachers, will stick with me.  I’ll be thinking about what that means for a long time.