The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

imagesThe (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

May 8, 2018

No one has ever asked me the secret to my success, but given my advanced teaching/coaching/intervening years,  I have a few tried and trues up my proverbial sleeves.  I can talk a good game.  I can make a joke at my own expense.  I can notice when someone needs a hand, an encouraging word, or a five minute pause. So here for what it’s worth are  six of the secrets to my so-called success.

The first secret to my success is that there isn’t always success but usually there is movement.  I’d like to say I’m always a success in intervention, in coaching, in picking out the right shoes, but sadly it’s not true.  However,  I do continue to keep swimming.  My philosophy is somewhere near:  Hey, we can learn a lot from mistakes, and failure is only an opportunity to give it another go.

The second secret to my success is to listen more than you talk.  This can be a real struggle for me.  Most of the time, folks need someone to hear them more than they need someone to tell them.

The third secret to my success as a literacy coach is to have an agenda, but go with theirs, meaning whomever it is that I’m working with.  They know what they need and especially what they want.  I’m prepared with some ideas, some resources, and most of the time that’s what they want and need, but sometimes it’s not.  In those times,  I have to be willing to take a detour or the long way, whichever path gets presented.

The fourth and perhaps the most important advice I have is to carry the water.  People need real things to be success:  found books, copies, a person to read the story, a person to tag off with a difficult friend, someone to sort books with.  The list is literary endless.  While providing most of these things, it can be a good time to a:  listen (see #2) and b:  go with their agenda (see #3)

The first secret to my success is one you’ve heard before,  bring gifts.  Bring ideas,  but also bring along a book,  the occasional batch of cookies, or Hershey’s kisses.  Nurturing folks feels good to you, but it also feels good to them as well.  I have been known to work years on this stage before moving on to another.

The final secret to my success is know other things about people that aren’t school related.  Maybe you know their favorite color, what’s in their Netflix queue,  birthdays, coffee addiction, their dog’s name, and even what their favorite cookie is.  You get the idea.

It’s not complicated, but it’s critical.  Several years ago,  the International Literacy Association published a research article on best practices in literacy coaching.  Level 1 of coaching is building relationships.  The article included the usual thinking:  establishing convimages.jpgersations, schedules, developing norms of communication, studying things together.  Those things are important, but in order for them to work,  real kindness opens the door.

My most successful conversations happen in three places:  at 7:30 am before our day starts,  at 4:30 pm when the building quiets down, and over the bent, working head of a student we both care for deeply.  Each of my 7:30 meetings, every day of the week, is different.  Some people have a list of things to talk about,  some wait for me to say something I’ve noticed,  some feel like the kind of conversations you might have any day over coffee.  What they have in common, I hope,  is trust.

The days are long.  The stakes are high.  A classroom of students can be isolating.  We can be the bridge,  the sounding board,  the boost.  All we have to do is take time and notice the small things. After all,  we have at least 180 days to get it close to right.

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Thanks to Two Writing Teachers and my faithful writing community for being all these things for me, so that I may be some of them for others.  I’m forever grateful for you.

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The Voices in My Head #sol18

main-qimg-7a46ec5dc79bcac79744edd8eaecf8f0-c  The Voices in My Head  #sol18

May 1, 2018

I have a lot of great mentors.  Some of them have never met me.   I walk among giants, but occasionally those giants are on a podcast, a tweet, or in a book.  Those giants have changed everything about the way I approach education, coach, interactive with students, conferring, and see myself as an educator.   Here are some of my favorite voices.

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The Heinemann Podcast accompanies me to work each morning and sometime home as well.   I listen to mine on a podcast app.  This podcast is a great way to try out professional texts and kick the tires before you buy.
static1.squarespace.jpgColby Sharp  is how I want to blog when I grow up.  Colby’s quick patter and teacher heart can direct you to your next read aloud.   Just looking around his room in the videos makes me smile.  An amazing advocate for kids and books,  follow him on twitter and youtube.

 

 

 

In addition,  The Nerdy Bookcast,  The Children’s Book Podcast, The Yarn.
Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 5.28.08 PM.pngTwo Writing Teachers have changed the way I teach, I coach, and write.  Ok,  maybe just my volume has improved. 🙂

So many blogs that I follow.  Tweets that I read.  Books that I read.  They all add up to wonderful mentors that encourage me, challenge me, and teach me.

Tom Newkirk says we only have to get 5% better each year.  By the end of our career, well, amazing things can happen.  Today,  I’m just going to try this one thing I read…

 

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What I Learn From Other Slicers #sol18

IMG_0944.jpgWhat I Learned From Other Slicers #sol18

March Year 2 Edition March 30, 2018

The intimacy of sharing a writing community and reading someone’s writing each day across time and place is profound.  Images and ideas stick with you long after you have left.

I have learned so much from so many bloggers this March. Last year I was so focused on just getting the writing done I didn’t allow myself enough space to just enjoy other writing and other perspectives.  This year I let go other reading to really read blogs consistently, reading between 20-25 blogs every day and sometime more than that.  Reading deeply in one genre gives you a stronger understanding of craft.  Here are 10 highlights from a month full of so many, tucked into my blog journal, my electronic folder, and my reading list. They will remain there for some time. 

From Alice Nine I learned about many different types of poetry, my favorite of which was golden shovels, My Daddy’s Golden Shovel.  In addition,  Alice has a wonderful way of weaving teaching techniques into her blog and respond to comments in a way that continues to teach.   To everyone else that wrote, explained, and taught me poetry techniques I am truly grateful.  Special recognition to Fran McVeigh, Lynne Dorfman and others.

From Lanny Ball and Stacey Shubitz, and others,   I learned true slicing,  those truthful everyday moments that hold so much meaning and sentiment.  Stacey let us into her little family and allowed me to peek at moments in young parenting that are long past for me. Last year, Stacey taught me how to make those watercolor illustration for my blog.

From humbleswede and Fran Haley, and others,  I learned that my dog could have a say which leaves the possibilities open for so many other things.  Lily still hasn’t gotten her say, but she has received honorable mention.

From Darin Johnston &  JCareyreads,  I learned that we can be PLN friends,  share ideas, and strengths, and hopes with each other.  Their honesty and thoughtful responses are the hallmark of what makes this challenge so meaningful.

From mbhmainepersistence and pedagogy,  and others,  I remembered about the variety of the slice techniques. So many of these techniques are squirreled away for a Tuesday.

From comments  like those from ureadiread and others, I was affirmed, supported, and taught.   5 star commenting from Brian Rozinsky for this whole solid year.  ( I have still yet to learn brevity from him)

From ebgriffin, saavyteacher and others,  I learned that we can talk over virtually what we are thinking, rehash what we wished, and have a virtual redo.

From mrspalmerponders and others,  I thought about the true depth of mentor texts.  Her How-To about blueberry picking will stick with me.

From my friend,  Clare Landrigan,  I continue to learn that you can accomplish what you set your mind to, that encouragement means everything, and you can know a person, but learn a lot more from their writing.

From my little welcome wagon tribe,  I learned that affirming someone else feels pretty great.

Bonus:  There were so many blogs that I truly enjoyed like this one from Anita,  Frog, Toad, and Vygotsky  I hope I told each of you when you wrote them.

This year blogging after school and posting in the AM worked for me as did reading  blogs throughout the day.  This technique was encourage by my welcome wagon crew being spread across the country posting at all different times. 

I learned a few things about myself too,  but I’ll save those for day 31.  

img_1405Day 30 of a 31 day challenge.  Writing with my writerly friends as part of the Slice of Life Challenge.  Read even more of their amazing blogs at Two Writing Teachers.  Thanks to Melanie, Stacey, and Lanny for coordinating so much for so many and encouraging me personally.

Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

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Here am I trying to nudge students into their ideas rather than summaries in literary essays by sharing some peer craft moves.  Alongside,  my assistance conduct their own writing conferences.

Writers’ Workshop Live

March 28, 2018

As part of my role as literacy specialist in an elementary building,  I co-teach in several classrooms in either reading or writing workshop. My primary role is to support fragile learners, but as all teachers,  I support whomever comes along.  This bunch of third grade learners have known me since their kindergarten days and their teacher and I have worked together often, though not in this consistent role until this year.  The teacher and I meet weekly to discuss assessments, student progress, planning, resources, and all things related to third grade literacy.  I join the student during their writing block in the afternoons for 40-45 minutes a day.  As all classes,  it is a mixed bag.  

Chapter 1

One day a few weeks ago,  I was away at a meeting in the afternoon and wasn’t able to go to third grade writers’ workshop.  This conversation ensued in my absence.

Protester #1:  This is the worst 15 minutes of my life. 

Patient Teacher:  The worst?  Really? 

Protester #1:  Ok, Top Three.   Stitches,  Waiting for Stitches and This. 15. Minutes. Right. Now.  (dramatic sigh, head on desk)

Protester #2:  Who invented writing anyway?

Protester #3:  I don’t know.  Mrs. Kennedy?

Chapter 2

Last week in writers’ workshop, the third graders were working on persuasive pieces as the lead up to their baby literary essay unit.  They brainstormed some ideas together, but around six students decided to write their persuasive essay about how we shouldn’t have writing at 2 p.m.  Their basic arguments were that they were smarter in the morning, their brains were less full, and an “easy subject” like reading could be moved to the afternoon.  They became quite vocal about it and I think began to believe that we could change writing time.  Because of the specialist schedules in her room (not mine),  the teacher has to have writing at this time which she has explained.  Finally on Monday, she told the kiddos,  “I’m just not going to listen to this anymore.  Get to work.”

We read the book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and began the work of growing an idea  about a character and supporting in with three details from the text.

Chapter 3

Today in writers workshop, the teacher did the introduction and most of the kiddos stayed on the carpet to finish their second paragraph or move into their third.  I moved a stool onto the rug and began rehearsing sentences with protester #1.  Writers came up to have me read their work and approve it. Why do they do that?  Because I keep letting them.  I say,  what’s up?  Can you read this?  Sure.  I read it and hand it back. What do you think you might do now?  Is it good?  What do you think?  Have your writing partner confer with you.  or I’m done.  Sure, did you use some of our expert sentences?  Did you use some evidence?  Do you have a full paragraph?  Student slowly backs up. Hey kiddos,  remember, we are writing our fresh ideas, not the ideas of our character or summarizing.   But then,  I started reading some fresh thinking.  I send those kiddos off with the line that’s forming and they become the assistance.  misspell and pun intended.  

Toward the end of workshop I say to the teacher, I’m not sure I want to say this out loud, but it’s going pretty good.  Did you check out some work?   She says, yes,  good.   The assistants are into it.  But I have to tell you something.  I told them you were sad and you wouldn’t come back to workshop unless they worked hard.  

I guffawed.  How did that work? 

What really worked most likely is lean prompts, loose scaffolds, and mentors, both the book itself, and essays shaping up about book along with other students sharing ideas.  There were four adults in the room.  A para-educator working with student who have writing support plans.  A therapist working on ‘writing in the wild’,  the classroom teacher, and me.  We are currently teaching an If/Then Unit in Calkins’ Writing,  Baby Literary Essay.  We are on week 2, having taught a week of persuasion.  This unit is timely, as state testing is coming up. We keep it real knowing this is the type of writing these students will be doing the rest of their academic careers.  We find picture books great prompts.  The classroom teacher was using No David as an alternative text for a fragile learner.  She has a basket of great mentors for character change at the ready.  If you use the Calkins’ Units,  this unit has been reworked just this past fall and is available in the general information section of the third grade writing units online resources on Heinemann.com.  

My response to the classroom teacher’s tweet.

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Though now that I think about it,  I’d rather be Patricia Heaton.  She plays a convincing midwesterner in The Middle.

img_1405  Just your average writing teacher,  slicing every day for 31 days.  This is day 28 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some fascinating blogs here at Two Writing Teachers.

Simple Tool Hall of Fame #sol18

uc1923.jpgSimple Tool Hall of Fame #sol18

Elementary Literacy Edition  Part 1

March 22, 2018

In our age of media peddled teacher tools and instagram worthy sights,  I rely on a few simple tools to get me through the day.

 

Here is my Elementary Literacy Simple Tool Kit Part 1

(in no particular order)

  1. IMG_09041×1 sticky notes.  Simple right, but have you cut a square into the middle of them so a student (or you) can highlight a word in a text,  book, or writing sample.  These words could be snap words, high frequency words,  content or domain specific words, or repeated words.  Though I don’t usually teach math,  they also work to highlight numbers on a 100 chart.
  2. IMG_0905 (1)Thinking/Writing Organizer #1  Informational   Box and Bullets.  This tool is not usually taught in the lower primary grades but the idea is strong .  Box for thesis (main idea) or heading,  3  bullets for details or subheadings,  bottom box for conclusion.  Can be drawn on anything, anywhere,  anytime.  Sometimes I just use my palm and fingers.
  3. Thinking/Writing Organizer #2  Narrative  Any size paper past 5×8 folded into fourths.  Top Left- Trouble the story,  two boxes for story arc,  bottom right-resolution.  Great for retell and especially planning.  Simple but can even get an intermediate student going.  I suggest no initial labels, but students can draw and/or write in boxes if necessary.  IMG_0907
  4. Writing implements:  Frixon erasable highlighters and plain old number 2 pencils (heavily sharpened)  Truth be told I usually carry a eraser for those kiddos that just have to keep on erasing.
  5. Paper(ish):  index cards, aforementioned stickies, conferring notebook/composition book that I use to write example, draw a simple diagram, teach first graders to draw an elephant, or whatever comes along.

Bonus:  weird things that were originally for something else:  rings, excellent for holding index cards together;  unifix cubes or discs for phoneme segmentation;  phone for recording kiddos to watch later, taking photos in classrooms for twitter or blog, note application, and google for everything else.

 

These are the staples of my simple toolkit.  Used over and over again, day in and day out.

 

 

img_1716-1Day 22 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Checking the Back Seat #sol18

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    1. Checking the Backseat #sol18

March 18, 2018

One extremely busy day a few weeks ago, I had seriously overcommitted my time, my talent, and my resources. I was at the edge of my proverbial pier. 6:30 a.m., having gotten up to make some baked good for today’s meeting. Packing our lunches, planning for dinner, making coffee. Wait, do I have my phone?  I rush to the car,  pull out of the drive, head down the street.  When I get to nearly half way,  it occurs to me,  those cookies are not in the back seat.  I have to have those cookies.  That’s my thing.  Treats for meetings.  I pulled over the car.  During my commute.  There really wasn’t time to go back.  Whatever the outcome,  there or not,  I would still have to continue on.   And yet,  there they were.  Plain as Life.   Waiting there in the backseat.

When I first wrote down this story,  I thought it was a lesson in noticing, in being present.  Now, weeks later as I write it down,  the lesson has changed for me.  From the end, here it is plain as life.  The thing we need is often waiting there in the backseat,  in the brain spinning rush, we forget to look in the obvious place, our own reserve, the skills we carry.  Quick to dismiss them as inadequate,  we search for a bigger, mightier something.  In coaching,  we show up,  we have a plan or a halfway plan,  we start with How’s it going? and then… we have to repack the bags, stop halfway,  check the backseat.  In the quiet planning,  in the preparation,  we remember what our thing is,  but in the fray,  sometimes we forget.  Notice the forgetting.  Pull over the car.  Check in the backseat.  It’s there.  It’s always there.  If it’s not,  we continue on.

 

img_1716-1Writing as part of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Check out some amazing stories at Two Writing Teachers.

 

Shared Worry. #sol18

download-4Shared Worry. #sol18

March 15, 2018

In the dim light of my desk lamp,  I scan over my notes from the last time we met.  I consider what’s happened so far this week and since we last met.  I think about the unit their on. I wonder about things that have gone wrong and glimpses of what has gone really well.  I think about the sandwich.*

The clock above my desk clicks onto 7:30.  I gather up my conferring notebook, my phone, my pencil, and my coffee and scurry down the hall toward her room.  She’s waiting.

I can see her notebook open on her desk, writers’ notebooks, books, the units of study.  I scan the empty desks on my way over, glancing up to smile at her and say good morning.   I put down my coffee,  my notebooks, my phone.  I get down a stool from her counter and sit down.

We look at each other and exhale simultaneously.  We want to start with the trouble. The Trouble.  I inhale and exhale again.  I scan my mind wondering if I can find some amazing words of wisdom that will make me seem like I know what I’m talking about, make her feel like she knows what she’s doing, and FIX. THE. PROBLEM.

I was thinking that I would go back to Fran McVeigh’s posts from last week and tell her about them,  how Fran was working toward a solutions.  I was thinking I noticed Monday and Tuesday that when she was explicit about her active engagement and link,  that the students were more productive in the release.  But then,  I started to think about what the small group said to me on Tuesday, that I had yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  I was definitely forceful,  definitely running thin on patience… 

Now it’s been nearly a minute and I haven’t said anything.   I look up at her.  I wait.  I’ve been working on that, waiting.  She says I’ve been thinking

And that’s the start.  We share our noticings and wonderings.  We share our feelings.  We share our ideas.  We share our worries.

Just like that, we have a new plan.  A new idea.  We fill the tank.  We move forward.  Together.

Every weekday morning,  I share a 1/2 hour with one teacher.  These times are scheduled and mostly standing appointments.  I always go to the teacher’s home turf  if I can.  That gives her power in our relationship. The teachers are in all different places in their teaching careers and have varying needs/wants.  I have had these standing appointments for years, shifting teachers as collaboration needs change.  I offer them up at the beginning of the school year and sometimes it takes a semester before the slots are full up.  Preparing for these varied meetings keeps me grounded in the curriculum,  the day to day struggles, our resources, and practice.  Most of these teachers and I will work together in their literacy block daily, but some just have this time to talk over big ideas, resources, worries, and whatnot.  It is the second most effective part of my practice, eclipsed only by the in class practice.  It keeps me grounded,  learning, and listening.  

*the sandwich- the idea that you share a compliment or a good thing, sandwich in the criticism or bad news, and then end with a positive comment. A sandwich.