4/31 11 Things About Me As a Blogger #sol19

my blog journalScreen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AMFor the month of March, I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.  

 

4/31 11 Things About Me As a Blogger #sol19

This blog is inspired by Trina’s post which inspired Elisabeth’s post.

 

 

Here’s Trina’s reason for 11.  I adore AKR, living in Chicago in my past life, I had the chance to meet her when she was still physically with us.  Her enthusiasm was infectious.  

From Trina:

 

One.  I tried blogging six or so years ago or so, but couldn’t really find my voice or perhaps didn’t see myself as a writer yet.  That first blog was about a summer reading challenge I did with my students.  I blogged 1-2 times a year after that until…

Two.  In 2016, while working with Clare Landrigan, she began to encourage me to write about my experiences with students and teachers as a literacy coach along with my observations.  Why I decided to go for it, I’m not sure.

Three.  In the beginning,  I wrote my blogs out in google docs and transferred them to Word Press.  Now I compose as I go, not over laboring the process. I keep a messy blog journal of ideas, March to March.

Four.  I think that one shift, to just write, has been the most transformative in my blogging and in my collaboration as a literacy coach and writing teacher.  Not spending so much time organizing and structuring knowing that I can go back to it has really transferred into my daily work with students and teachers.  I thank many for that but especially my Connecticut friends and their deep dive into joy writing.

Five.  (Can I make it to 11?) I would say my blog is slice(ish).  I write a great deal about my practice as an educator, my inquiry, resources, and other practitioners’ work I admire.

Six.  I’m streamy in my writing.  I admire tighter structures in other blogs, but mine feels very conversational most of the time.  It feels like the way I collaborate.  I’m thinking about the conversation we might have about this idea.

Seven.  I love metaphor… and simile.  Perhaps it’s my midwest roots, but I’m thinking about how things are like others.  I adore Lanny Ball’s post on snow as it relates to classes and students.

Eight.   My welcome wagon commenter, Brian Rozinsky, is my saving grace.  He’s funny.  He calls me on it when I don’t quite make the connection stick.  He has responded to every blog I’ve written since that March challenge in 2017.  I can’t express how knowing he’s there makes me feel.  He’s a close friend I’ve never met.  (in person)  Sidenote:  his blog is NOTHING like mine.  It’s witty and tight and amazing.  Follow him at Cast of Characters.

Nine.  I have a blogmance with a group of literacy coaches and teachers in Connecticut.  I feel like they are my coaches.  One or maybe two of them were in my welcome group with Brian two years ago and I’ve read all their blogs and tweets since.  They have taught me so much.  Shout out to Let’s Observe ,  Where There’s Joy, Writing to Learn, and their amazing gang for sharing ideas and encouragement these last two years.  I love that I was able to be Five Hundred a Day‘s welcome wagon last year and follow Standingtall47.  Your Blog PLC is one to be reckoned with.

Ten.  I read someone’s blog in the last two days that said they don’t question that they are a writer anymore.  They don’t question that they will come up with something to write about each day.  I agree about that and I add that it has transformed the way I discuss writing with kids,  the way I discuss writing with teachers, and the way I am willing to just write with both not worrying about perfection or judgement.

Eleven. I read a lot of blogs.  I read 6-10 blogs in our slice group each week, plus follow those bloggers and others when they blog outside of the slice.  I’ll write more about bloggers in next week’s Friday Follow, suffice it to say that reading their writing improves my practice in so many ways.  Just like we tell people that reading more makes you a better reader, writing more and reading writing mentors in the genre you are working in makes all the difference.  I’m so grateful to those generous writers who have encouraged me and taught me so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stuff They Carry #sol19

The Stuff They Carry  #sol19

February 26, 2019

I am definitely not the art teacher, but I appreciate the work she does with our students each day and admire the fruits of that labor as I walk down our main corridor each morning.  This morning I was thinking about a completely different blog when this display struck me.  0-2

All these smiling faces. Well maybe except that one very hipster looking young lady in the bottom row.  But then,  I noticed this…0-4

This young friend wasn’t thinking about one thing.  He was thinking about more than one thing at once.  Perhaps he couldn’t decide about the one thing or maybe that is how his brain works, lots of things in there at once, quite possibly very revealing.  I This first grader’s thinking is a mystery to me.  I like his wide smile and bright eyes. I can tell that on the right he’s considering a basketball and a football. I’m not sure about the left.  I am reasonably sure that our wonderful art teacher discussed each artist’s thinking as they worked away in her sunny art room.

This made me think about a focus conversation I had midday yesterday.  A teacher and I were discussing a student’s current progress.  She had set an executive functioning goal along with his reading goal for the student to maintain independent work for ten minutes.  She sighed.  I don’t think he can stay focused at all.  But then we dug in,  could he restate the directions?  He could.  That takes focus.  Maybe the task was too big or too daunting for him right now.

I was thinking about that conversation and that student when I looked at the self portraits.  What would be his self portrait?  He seems sad and tired when I am with him in reading.  Does the work feel too difficult?  Is he silly to avoid the difficulty?  So today when I was with him in his class,  I looked with new eyes.  What might we do to help him?

0-5.jpgOur Art teacher had a plan when she did these self portraits with the first graders.  Still when I chatted with her about them today,  she said there were a few who struggled with creating that self view.  One was worried about failure before he began.  As she talked and drew with him,  he didn’t see himself as successful and anticipated criticism.  At his request,  she didn’t display his self portrait.

Other saw themselves like the happy girls I shared at the beginning.  Covered with hearts, I hope this is the life view they are carrying now and into the future.  What can we as educators do to keep that happy spirit afloat?

My young sad reader has had a lot of trauma in his young life.  I imagine risk taking and difficulty are something he would understandably like to avoid.  What tiny steps can we take that will germinate that seed of success?  I offered a token idea up to him today full of choices and encouragement, hoping to create in him a self portrait of a happy reader.   He was tentatively open to it.  We’ll try that first step tomorrow.  download.jpg

 

 

The Gardener and the Chef #sol19

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The Gardener and the Chef #sol19

February 19, 2019

Happiness is cultivating your garden- Voltaire

exact quote at the end of Candide,

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

In my year of reflection,  I keep my journal close, listening like a writer perhaps.  Today, I was watching the Netflix show, Chef’s Table-France,  and considering how the classroom is like a kitchen and the teachers are similar to great chefs.  Taking the amazing materials that show up in the world, with the students, from the synergy of thought and creating daily masterpieces.  Some the beautiful oops, some works in progress. So if the role of the teacher is the master chef, what is my role as a specialist?

One gardener said about his relationship to the chef, my job is to give the chef what (he) needs.  Give the chef what the chef needs.  The chef said that having your own garden, your own gardener, changes your way of seeing things.  

So here I am,  the gardener. What is the garden that needs tending?  The produce that will be presented to the chef each day?  What will grow in the plot of proverbial land that is that space between the literacy center, the library, and the classroom?

A gardener is a person who tends and cultivates a garden as a pastime or for a living say Merriam-Webster.  Gardens take time. Gardens take careful planning. Gardens necessitate thoughtful tending and attention to details… most of the time.  I have had a messy garden or two that produced the most glorious yields. Some completely and utterly serendipitously.

But this garden,  this garden of literacy curriculum and resources,  of advice and suggestion, of borrowed and tended, is cultivated mostly with care.  This year of reflection, I created the book bins with a teacher’s heart, their words whispering in my ears.  The students fingers imagined as they looked and read and shared each book. This year of reflection, I touched each book in the garden of the literacy center imagining who might use this book and how,  stopping to read and think. Organizing them to suit a literacy plan fresh from the pages not quite dry.

When I pluck those books from the shelves, pages tabbed or copied, and carry them bundled in my arms down the hall to a classroom, I’m aware they won’t all be loved or used.  Some will be returned to their places to wait for another chance. But some… Some will be savored. Changed. Created into new ideas that I haven’t thought of by that master chef and her crew.  Some of those books may change thinking for the future of a reader or a listener. Some will be returned to again and again to show a thought, a technique, a character, a story arc.

Some will join with other books, some for children and others teacher resources to change the course of that classroom, that teacher and those students (student) not just for today, but later,  they will remember that book and that feeling and those words and say… that was the moment, everything changed.

So am I a specialist?  Perhaps, I do specialize in words.  Am I a coach? I do encourage. What am I most?  I am the gardener.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM  Looking forward to our month of writing.  Join with us.  More information at Two Writing Teachers.

One Little Thing #sol19

downloadOne Little Thing #sol19

January 22, 2019

January is a busy school month for me.  Benchmark assessments, curriculum shifts, data analysis, professional development, and district commitments all seem to converge.  You would think I would be rested after a three day weekend.  However, with our recent bitter cold temperatures came an accumulation of ice.  Ice that threatened my ability to navigate my very steep drive.  Navigations that was critical to my arriving at school.  Arrival that was crucial on the first benchmarking day.  A benchmarking day that could not be rescheduled to accommodate other schedules.

I tipped over my morning coffee across the end table.  All of my worries piling up, tripping over each other to rise to the surface.  The weight of them feels daunting.  I think of this sign that I have on my desk… People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.  This attitude definitely needs adjusting.

How do we adjust when the pile gets heavy?  I knew a secretary once that had a sign on her desk also.  The sign said, the people that get things done are the ones who do one thing at a time.  One thing at a time.  Be present in this moment and let the rest of the moments find their own way to the present.

So up the driveway I went.  The heat’s working at home after a visit from the furnace repairman yesterday.  I spent the morning listening to children read aloud.  Learn to rest, not quit.  Just one thing at a time.

Perhaps this is the reason I’m a list maker.  The ability to scratch off that first thing and then the second thing.  As in that Frog and Toad story where Toad makes himself a list that begins with wake up.  He’s happy because he can already cross that off the list.  I have a few more things.  I woke up.  I made lunches.  I drove to work.  I assessed 100 or so students with the team.  I saw my 10:20 student appointment.  Now I’m smiling.  That immense list is still mentally there, but it doesn’t feel like a pile up anymore.  Refueling courtesy of elementary students.  That always works for me.

Just one thing at a time.  Be present.  

I hope this a reflective mantra that I can continue when the next glitch comes along.  In my mind, I feel more tired lately.  That this year, month, week, day seems more difficult than ones before.  Today, I’m shaking that reflection off and changing it to my screensaver’s mantra for the day. Go forth and make awesomeness.  

I just might.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for creating this slicing community.  Read some positive uplifting reflections at twowritingteachers.org.

 

Reflect #sol19

0Reflect #sol19

January 1, 2019

My one little word from 2018 was notice.  I take this last look at what I noticed in 2018 and reflect on what I’ve taken away.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed in this last 365 days is the power of the struggle.  I read once that the broken places are where the light gets in and also that the person doing the work is the one doing the learning.  But honestly, when you get down to it, it’s always about giving power to individuals, allowing students, teachers, co-workers, and ourselves the room, the tools, and the time to figure it out.  It’s a fine line the struggle, but so often it results in break-through learning, self-reflection, and growth.  Letting others see their own strengths is where positive mindset really comes from. This idea is the strongest thing I took to my bones this past year.  I hope it’s the strongest coaching I did as well.

One of the reasons that this struggle resonated so fiercely with me is the commitment I made to read the Calkins Units of Study from cover to cover. The cover to cover approach strengthens the global view of the units and allows for flexibility to match student needs and experiences.   I haven’t made it through all of them yet, it’s my commitment for this school year.  Seeing the units vertically facilitates closing the gaps, strengthening outcomes, and envisioning the purpose.  Each one I read gives me a deeper understanding of the verticality of literacy skill development, the connections between the learning progressions, the reading and writing processes, and the logic of helping students see what is essential in reading and writing.

Some simpler things resonated this year when I took the time to notice.  Tools can be simple and flexible.  I can travel with some stickies, a composition book, my phone, and a few go-to books.  Along with tools, visuals can explain a lot!  I used so many drawing this year to show connections, steps, big ideas broken down, and planning.  Traveling lighter seems to facilitate flexibility in thinking on my part.

In human interactions, I noticed that partnering strengthens us.  When we reach out, listen, give great wait time, and talk regularly,  our work is stronger and more consistent.  Nothing takes the place of scheduled talk time or taking unscheduled time to talk.  While visuals and tools can be electronic,  I have found more than ever that emails are limited and limiting.  I’m still prone to using picture books, drawings, read-alouds and cookies to smooth, explain, and develop ideas.

The final reflections that I have for 2018 right now are that giving yourself some quiet time to think over problems, situations, and plans is essential.  Nothing replaces time in working things out.  I’ve written many a blog when I first wake up in the morning or sitting in the quiet literacy center before or after school.

Here’s to the partners that helped me learn those lessons this year.  Some were in books like Debbie Miller, Jennifer Serravallo, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan,  Ralph Fletcher.  Their books published this year were eye-opening and practice changing.  Here’s to the blog writing practitioners that encouraged me through difficulties in writing and practicing, my instagram troop, twitter pals, and facebook groups that shared so much of what works for them. Here’s to my morning partners, each day of the week I learn from you and with you.  Here’s to my day partners mostly under 10 who make me a better learner, explainer, and experimenter.  In 2019,  I’ll be reflecting on what you teach me.

 

Turn & Talk #sol18

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Unlike many previous meetings as represented here, this gathering was technology free

Turn & Talk #sol18

Yesterday we had a curriculum meeting.  The staff gathers after school and chats together about some aspect of the curriculum.  In many years,  I made a presentation, teaching into this or that topic of interest or new learning.  I think those days are gone… in a good way.

As we consider who is doing the heavy lifting in our classrooms,  the gradual release of responsibility in our classrooms,  so to might we consider DIY PD.  DIY PD is not a new idea, but I don’t think I consider it in the same way I once did.  Let’s go back to yesterday.

Our new principal is getting to know everyone around here.  He’s had some (lots) of goal setting meetings and as he opened the meeting yesterday, he said, A goal is just another way to look at what you’re interested in.  Leaving that very provocative thinking aside, he went on to say that partner work, the essence of students talking, collaborating, and working together was at the heart of most of his discussions.  And then he said something that sounded like it was directly from his heart.  He said that in light of the dangers faced in the world today, the hate, the discord,  how we help students develop the ability to communicate, to cooperate, to listen and be heard is the vital work.  Then he said magic words, Let’s just get together in some small groups now and talk about what were doing, what questions we have,  where we would like to go next.  

Then we did.  We had no power point, no shared reading, no lecture.  Just groups of eight or ten educators across the grade levels having an unstructured discussion regarding student-student feedback or student-teacher feedback.  I heard just a little bit choosing to linger in a small group.  But what I heard…

I heard educators talking about the power of partnerships for students.  How each partnership can lift the level of student work by encouragement.  That encouragement seems so authentic to students.  You’re doing the same thing I am doing and you have an idea about what I might do next based on what you’ve tried.  In the book,  Thanks for the Feedback, the authors focus not on exactly how the feedback is delivered, but how we choose to receive it.

When we as coaches or administrators,  team leaders or teachers,  top-down every conversation,  choosing what we’re thinking about,  how we are thinking about it, and unfortunately, sometimes what we should think about it,  we are doing a disservice to growth, learning, and respect.  I’m imagining myself saying now I don’t do that.  I am allowing thinking, conversation, and certainly respect.  It what way would that not be the case?  Maybe you do.  But I didn’t always.

Yesterday… Perhaps some conversations went off course.  Perhaps some dwindled down to complaints.  Perhaps,  just perhaps, some were right on target.  It wasn’t my target. Hopefully, it was on target for the participants. When we allow for conversation, we allow for growth.  When we aren’t looking for one answer, many, many show up.

I can’t leave my fixer mentality completely behind.  I walked away from our meeting later thinking about resources that I want to make available to the educators in our building, discussions I hope to have, and visits between educators that I hope to facilitate.  The difference is that these queries weren’t generated by me.  They were generated by inquiry, conversation, and sharing.  Now when they show up in the teacher lounge,  in a mailbox, through an email, the receiver may say, that’s just what I was thinking about, looking for, wondering.  And the learning community takes another move forward together.

So I’m considering the gradual release of coaching,  the inquiry of community, and the DIY of learning for not just the classroom, but our whole community.  Here’s to learning!

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Slicing about the life of a literacy coach weekly on Tuesdays with my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community.  Read more amazing slices here.

It’s All About Approximation #sol18

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It’s All About Approximation #sol18

Our district is in the midst of an overhaul… in a good and also messy way.  We have an interim superintendent, an interim assistant superintendent for curriculum & innovation, a new reading curriculum, a new writing curriculum, a new reading assessment and at my school, we have a interim principal…  That’s a lot of new(ish) stuff.

The absolute truth is that new can be really, really messy.  It can be full of starts and stops, trial and error, and especially misunderstandings and enlightenment.  Messy can be beautiful and a marvelous learning experience if you fully embrace it with a clear vision of the why.  It can also be exhausting… sometimes not in a good way.

Like many in my PLN, I spent the day on Saturday at Teachers’ College.  I look forward to it for half a year,  drive through part of the night and the dawn to get there,  absorb like a sponge all day and then process all I have heard for months afterward.  For years, when I went to the Reunions,  I was catching up…  I didn’t quite understand the visions, the nomenclature, and the rhythm of the talk.  But somewhere along, I began to keep up.  The talk makes sense.   I see the connections between things.  I’m actually in stride.

So… how do these things go together.  You just have to suck at something for a while.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s tiring. It is definitely not the easy path.  In the fray, it’s hard to see the route.  Our district was high functioning.  Students were making adequate progress for the most part.  The need for a new curriculum wasn’t mandated or even needs-based.  It was about innovation.  Thinking about a future we don’t quite see for a generation that’s on their way there.  Changing the narrative and the practice from teacher directed to student led.

Unfortunately,  the vision setting,  the dream-casting,  the history of change is frequently communicated in short hand and at the wrong frequency.  Someone compared our work once to rebuilding the car while driving down the road.  The image of that is truly terrifying, but yet we coach teachers into that in a room full of elementary students every single day of the week.  Unpredictably, uncontrollably, sometimes unmanageably every solitary day of the year.

It took me five solid years to have a vertical vision of the Calkins’ reading and writing curriculum.  Every day I learned additional components, interpretations, and resources.  I’ve breathed, discussed, and attempted these ideas most days over the course of those years and still… I’m back in the books, reading more, going to more reunions.  Learning, questioning, adapting more all the time.

Where does that leave us right now?  In a glorious place!  If we are growers, learners, and innovators every day, it leaves us open to encouraging growing, learning, and innovating in our students.  If we struggle, we are closer to their struggle.  If we have to work things out, try and try again, we exhibit growth mindset in the realest, most authentic way.

I never was that good as an educator, administrator, interventionist, or coach to make things really look easy or perfect, but I know many who can.  I always admire that perfect looking space, those creative bulletin boards, that neat writing in student portfolios, but now I admire a narrative that sound more like approximation.  We’re so close… My students are nearly there.  We tried this today and it bombed, but tomorrow we’re going to…  I noticed… I wonder… Man, today was HARD… 

So here’s to the disequilibrium that comes from change and attempts and deep, deep learning.  I have to go to bed earlier, but I’m very excited to get up in the morning.

 

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thank you to all of the writers who encourage me to say I don’t really suck at this anymore including all of the voices behind Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing thoughts here.