Time to Reflect #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.31.14 PM.pngTime to ReGroup (& Reflect) #sol19

December 10, 2019

We’ve come to the time of the year when it’s time to take stock.  Prepare for our New Year’s resolutions so to speak.  Take some time to consider how far we’ve come from the aspirations of early fall to the reality of early winter.  A new season of school is upon us.

We can no longer attribute difficulties to ‘summer loss’ or ‘adjusting to the school year’, now it’s all on us (collectively).  What are the reflective questions to ask ourselves?

For me, so much about this tenth year in this same school is similar and yet it feels so different.  With a dramatic shift in the personnel around me and the allocation of my time, I find myself carefully considering many things about both my yearly trajectory and my day-to-day practice.  I believe this happens to those of us who work in education quite frequently.  Mostly, it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because the less stagnant we become, the fresher we are for those around us.  I have a lot of experience in literacy and elementary school, but I work best when I approach each new challenge with fresh ideas and a full toolkit.  Success is more often the outcome when I listen, I observe, I carefully consider, I remain true to my overall philosophies of learning, and then, only then, I offer suggestions.

We have a child study team at our school, similar to many other RtI practicing schools.  I am well known for taking copious notes and always offering up some out-of-the box ideas along with the standard fare.  Thinking about something we haven’t tried keeps us focusing on the uniqueness of each student, each classroom, and each situation that comes our way.

One challenge that remains stubbornly consistent over the last years is spelling.  Spelling?!?  Not word-solving in reading to any extent, but spelling.  If I am being honest, I used to think, spelling?  That’s what spell-check is for.  It will work itself out with technology and practice.  Through happenstance, I decided last week to take spelling head-on.  What can we consistently do to improve the spelling of individual students and our students overall?  Is this perception or reality?  How is this global issue related to others that seem to be perennials in the landscape of our school lives?

What do we do when we try to solve a problem?  We get right in there.  But for some reason (I think I know why),  I decided this time, this time it wasn’t going to be about me swooping in and solving a problem by offering a solution to a teacher and most especially, a student.  This time was going to be about me listening, reflecting, creating agency in the student herself.  So instead of asking, what’s up with this?  I asked,  what are you already doing well?  Hey, kiddo,  spelling (insert difficulty here) is a big elephant of a thing.  What do you think you are doing ok?  How do you know?  Then, and only then, did I ask, what do you think you might work on right now? 

Here’s what it looked like on paper.

IMG_5455It isn’t magical.  It isn’t an amazing piece of insight.  Honestly, it might not work.  The look on the student’s face as she created this alongside me was everything.  I hope it will be a game-changer, but I’m at peace if it isn’t.  There will be something else to try, to tweak, to discuss.  What all of this is about is moving forward, giving something a go, building agency and mindset and all those things that will stay with a learner long after she’s left me behind.

Here they are, her ideas in my handwriting.  As we move forward, I hope she will see it as her success as well.

 

img_0602 I write in the company of the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  I thank them and all my fellow writers for building agency in me and helping me feel my own success.

Alchemy #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.23.32 PM

Alchemy #sol19

November 12, 2019

Last Friday afternoon I had one of those moments that usually is just out of reach, a moment when the enthusiasm and genius of a fellow educator only needs my smile as tender for it to take off into a roaring fire.  I do often see the flames of great ideas, the sparks of hopefulness, and even the glimmer of the newly hatched thinking.  But a full blown brush fire of an idea is such a beautiful thing to behold, particularly on a Friday afternoon.

It may be important to note that my contribution to this brush fire spark is so tertiary that it can’t be discerned.  I am a long time encourager of this educator, a big fan, an instigator, and a fellow edge stretcher, so it makes perfect sense that not only did she want to share her idea with me, she was too anxious to start it to wait to share first.  To her credit, it was pure genius, way beyond what I might have coached her to do.  Her excitement and eagerness to jump in was beaming from her.  I know that her enthusiasm will carry it to a very successful fruition.

When I read about alchemy in a cooking reference over the weekend, how one food, consumed with another food or drink, is completely transformed in taste and experience by the process, I thought that’s what I’m looking for every day, a sprinkle of something that transforms so much.

That transformation was once for me all about students. A moment or a collection of moments with struggling students that transformed how they saw themselves as learners. Hopefully forever changed by those realizations.  As coaching evolved, so did the moments.  Most moments I spend now are with a whole class or just with their teachers.  Sprinkling those somethings in, the transformation is nearly invisible to me.  I can be sad about that. What does that sadness make the alchemy?  Less about the magic and more about the person, a sharp contrast to the magic that we all want to hold.

So here’s to a new kind of transformation, one where I (and others) encourage learners of all ages to transform themselves, to transform others, to cause transformations.  The work should be able to go on, without me, without any one person.  As my friend often quotes,  you have always had the magic inside of you.  So I’ll be creating transformations when possible.  I’ll be encouraging transformations when I am able.  Most definitely,  I’ll be celebrating them wherever they happen.

 

img_0602I write alongside my amazing transformative writing colleagues on Tuesday encouraged by  the amazing alchemists at twowritingteachers.com.

Dropping In #sol19

IMG_9241Dropping In #sol19

November 5, 2019

The beauty of my position as a literacy coach is that every day changes.  Most days, I’m having big and little meanings discussing student progress, lesson planning, and literacy resources.  My desk can be covered with half read books, dozens of post-its, and 3-4 different journals along with student work.  My phone is filled with photos of text, student work, anchor charts, and a long, long reading list.  As we add more intervention staff, my job is shifting away from every day commitments to specific children.

On Monday, my flexible schedule gave me the opportunity to cover for our breakfast monitor.  Eight weeks into the semester, the students had it all worked out.  Each knew what they wanted from the amazing array of choices from many varieties of muffins, cereal bars, cereal, bagels, cheese, and milk. They gathered at tables happily chatting or sleepily adjusting to the day.  It was so fun to see the students in this casual atmosphere and interact, encouraging food choices or just asking about ones made.  Wishing them good morning and asking about their weekend.  Watching some from afar, noticing so much about their adjustment to the day.  That time is ripe with possibility and perfect just as it is.  I imagined bringing some books down for kids to explore or listen to.  In the end,  I was just so glad that this breakfast was available for students and wondered how many more would like the choice of Lucky Charms or a blueberry muffin to start their day.  The students were pleased with their choice and I was so happy that we offered them abundant choice.  One that didn’t emphasis that many may be receiving this meal free.  Perhaps it’s the most choice they have.  Today, that information wasn’t mine.  I was happy to celebrate their choice and discuss their thinking. My heart was filled.

After breakfast,  I had the opportunity to start the day with a third grade.  They start the day with learning tubs, games, coloring, finishing work, recording small videos of their ‘work in progress’.  It was delightful.  Filled with a buzz of happy productivity, the students chatted amiably, eager to share their news, work, and ideas with me in this short fifteen minute transition.  I remember the days that were filled with ‘morning work’.  This morning work seems fresher, more student driven.  The students asked after their missing teacher, but were content with my presence.  When it was time to clean up to go to physical education, they were quick to get ready, cleaning up and moving down the hallway like champs.

After physical education,  I administered the pre-assessment for their reading unit.  We worked together well despite the change in their schedule and their teacher’s absence.  They listen attentively and answered thoughtful, though this work was mostly newer to them as readers responding to writing.  As they prepared for snack, their teacher returned to set the schedule right and continue their day.

We’ve come a long way… in such a good way.  Choice and voice was present and available to students.  Each was comfortable in the moments, in the change, in their own transitions.  So much of this has nothing to do with literacy.  If you think about it, students who feel comfortable making choices, self-directing, transitioning in a speed and way that seems natural, will make choices and self-direct in their writing as well.  It’s just natural.

 

 

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

August 13, 2019

Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon in our traditional pre-fall book club meeting.  Once a year, five of us get together having read a ridiculous romance novel, have lunch, and talk over our summers.  It’s always great fun.  Silly, sweet catch-up.  One question inevitably come up near the end of our time together.  What are you going to do before you go back?  

Usually,  I can say a quick answer, go to Martha’s Vineyard, go to a ball game, even one more home project.  Yesterday,  I realized that I’ve already shifted into my ‘school‘ head without even noticing.  I quickly said, some interviews, a meeting with the other literacy specialists, new teacher training… My retired friend called me on this answer.  No, she said, what are you going to do in the remains of your glorious summer? 

I stopped and instead of looking ahead at the two weeks before school starts,  I glanced in the rearview mirror.  What had I accomplished?  I thought of the books I have read.  Dinners, lunches, day trips, dog physical therapy.  What was that thing that I still want to do?  Perhaps in this quiet summer, I have done it all.  Maybe, this year I won’t think of it as the end.

What if this year, I continue to give myself space to enjoy life even during the school year?  What if I actually create that elusive work-life balance?  What if someone asks me if I relaxed this summer and then gives me that skeptical look like she knows me, I’ll answer, I always take time to relax.  Truth is,  I think I do.

Sometimes, I binge watch TV.  Yesterday, I watched a night full of The Food That Built America.  Full disclosure, I was thinking about Milton Hershey, Heinz, and Marjorie Post and how I could work them into a biography project, but I also enjoyed every minute of the fascinating series, googling details as I watched.

Sometimes, I read picture books or kid novels or chick lits.  Full disclosure, when I read these, I’m thinking about coaching points, author’s craft, new text sets, post-it note reviews, and book talks.  The books are still fun to read and I enjoy every minute of them.

Sometimes, I swipe through social media.  Full disclosure,  I read literacy blogs, follow other coaches and teachers on Instagram, and read the TCRWP pages on Facebook.  I forward pictures and quick ideas to others I know will like them.  I share posts from my virtual PLN and new things I have discovered.  It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like growth.

Sometimes, I make lists or reminder stickies, or full length musings, full clearing of ideas about a topic.  Truthfully,  these lists and reminders don’t stress me, they help me sleep at night.  A little forethought and organizations reduces my often daily rush.

Sometimes I actually do legitimate work outside the normal work day.  I plan on my porch.  I take notes on my patio.  I arrange book bins at my kitchen table.  I take notes at stop lights.   I wear yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. I pet my dog absentmindedly. I get something to eat and drink when I want. When the ideas come to me, I have found that it’s best to give into it at the moment.  Again, I sleep better.

So as I move into the fall,  I can honestly say,  I did have a relaxing summer.  In my head I’ll add, and I’m going to have a relaxing fall as well.  

I write in community with an amazing group of writers led by Two Writing Teachers.

100% Lily #sol19

100% Lily  #sol19

July 30, 2019

We’ve reached the midpoint of teacher summer here in New England and that’s just when I usually feel like it’s winding down.  I generally give myself the month of July to indulge in whatever projects I want and then when August rolls around I begin ramping up to the start of the school year.  Over the years, Bob and I have developed a summer routine around the flexibility in my schedule that only summer can afford.

This summer, I have had one driving project, my dog Lily.  Our dog, an eighty or so pound rescued lab mix had a rough late spring this year.  She developed a significant limp with research was found to be a torn ACL.  Yep,  a sport’s injury for my dog.  Thus started months of work for Lily and also me.  The first month I was still in school and Lily was on the DL.  Totally rest.  One floor living, limited starts, anti-inflammatories.  A short, short leash.  Very difficult for a dog who loves to run at the park and take long walks.  Honestly, it wasn’t that easy for me either.  We started to worry what was next.

When we had an X-ray in early June, it was determined that her ACL was in fact completely torn.  While under sedation for the X-ray, they cleaned Lily’s teeth.  For non-dog owners, it’s much the same as our teeth cleaning, scrubbing and polishing and noticing inside the dog’s mouth.  What they noticed was a broken molar.  So in the midst of our rehabilitation plan, we also had a tooth pulled.  Picture a teenager having his wisdom teeth out.  All the same…

So we, along with Lily’s doctor, developed a strategy for her rehabilitation.  There were choices, surgery or other holistic methods.  We chose to start with holistic methods, so Lily had a regiment of herbal supplements, laser treatments and VOM, a form of chiropractic medicine for animals.  The initial appointments were 2 a day for a week, then 3-4 days a week,  then one, and now we are at one appointment for laser and VOM every other week.

Last week,  Lily started physical therapy.  Twice a day, Lily and I go up and down our steep driveway for 5 minutes.  Five minutes of up and down.  By the third trip, she’s panting pretty hard.  This is followed by ice.  After a week of that treatment, we, just today,  ventured beyond our drive for a five minute walk down the street and back.  She was beside herself with delight until the journey home proved to be challenging.

We have started to call Lily’s journey, 100% Lily, and compare her to New England Patriot’s wide receiver, Julian Edelman, who’s rehab is outlined in the documentary, 100% Julian.  I’ve worn a boot before for sprains and bone spurs.  I have had a cortizone shot in my arm.  Watching Lily fight back to be a four legged dog again is inspirational.  Helping her do that is making me a better person.

So today from our training camp,  I reflect on how Lily’s journey back from injury and our assistance of her rehab is like the partnership we make with students and perhaps teachers who are struggling in their own ways.  Sometimes, they don’t fully understand the struggle itself and the way to recovery so to speak, requires determination, planning, and not a small amount of patience.

Today,  she’s stepping mostly without a limp, though slowly.  She was excited to see and sniff the neighbors’ lawns for the first time in perhaps ten weeks.  Let me be reminded of that when the road at school feels frustrating and long, 100% Lily.  Eye on the prize.  Patience in all.

To Do List #sol19

To Do List (Leading Well Reflections)  #sol19

June 24, 2019

I read an article yesterday about publishing your To-Do-List on Instagram.  It was by a social media expert #notme and a self-made entrepreneur #alsonotme, but as many things I read it started me thinking about public agendas.  Her points were as I interpret them were that many people ask her how she manages her time and what she does each day, publicly stating her agenda keeps her own track and accountable.  Her writing encouraged me to consider the idea of public agendas.

Last week in our wrap-up/planning meeting with our literacy leadership, the idea of what the role of the literacy specialist/reading specialist/literacy coach was explored.  We broke up into two groups of 6 or so each.  First we wrote what came to mind when we thought of the role.  Next we silently sorted our ideas, talked them through, prioritized, and then gallery walked each group’s considering.  At first look, the organization, areas, and even word choice between the groups seems disparate. One group lead with intervention and the other group lead with data.  As we talked through each, they began to seem like just different doors to the same route.

This reflecting, prioritizing and discussion drove so many deep thoughts to the surface, the idea of student-centered work, the role of data in driving our work agenda, and ultimately how different the shape of that work can be from environment to environment, dependent on so many things.  Ultimately, the large check boxes were similar; the use of data, the student at the center, the coordination of intervention, resources management, and professional development in all its possibilities.  Today as I read in Leading Well,  I was struck again about how the shift from a good learning community to a great learning community can seem easier on the surface, but can pose so many roadblocks to success as we consider changing things that  seem inherently successful.

Here I return to the idea of a public agenda:  a public agenda for the literacy coach in whatever name feels comfortable, the learning community of the school, and the learning community of the district.  The agenda’s may seem clearer than they actually are, often there are more than one, and motive and actions may be misinterpreted depending on the stakeholders.  My seemingly loose agenda ripples through my school, my work, and my colleagues to varying degrees.  In that statement, it seems to give my public agenda a crushing amount of wait.  However,  I want to continue to view my work, my learning in the same context I wish the students to view theirs.  We are moving forward.  We are trying things. Things are going to be messy.  Plans can change.

I’m an incessant list maker, note taker, crosser offer.  Sometimes my lists are just thought dumping- all those things that I hope to finish and empty from my consciousness.  Occasionally this is success, often it just leads to more lists, thinking, and to-dos.  In my summer half-life,  I am much more inefficient with these lists seeing at least more time stretching out before me.  Leading Well causes me to desire to increase my intentionality,  my collaboration, my movement toward a shared vision.  All the things I strove for before, but now perhaps with a tighter plan.

So today my list shifted into sharper focus.  My notes from last week, reflected upon today will develop into a potential plan.  This week I’ll consider how to create an agenda for my work that seems more like shared work.  In the next month, I read more, write more and think more about that public agenda and what goals it reveals.

Reflection #sol19

May 7, 2019

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It’s that time again.  The sweeping rush to the end of the school year and yet as endless activities swirl around me,  I feel like one of those photos where I am still and everything else is moving.  I don’t think I realized when I took on that one little word, reflection, how deeply it was the word for the time.

At the end of the year, we naturally reflect.  We reflect on success and missed opportunities.  We reflect on goals and accomplishments along with missteps.  The balance is… delicate.

I have the opportunity to make a fair number of decisions,  offer even more advice, have endless planned and unplanned conversation, and a little time to reflect.  Our careers and daily work is based on change.  Change for student may equal growth.  That’s an equation that makes sense.  Change for us as educators sometimes doesn’t make that much sense as we stand in the fray.

I have written about change many times.  This isn’t a reflection of change, but I don’t think we can have a reflection without considering how change effects a system and the individuals that populate that system.  When things are difficult for the adults or the children, does that make them wrong?  Does struggle equal inappropriate?  I am trying to reduce struggle or move everyone forward?  What does moving forward mean?  Reflection, right?

As a people we are not so reflection driven.  We are more solutions driven.  We have problem A,  so let’s try solution B.  We notice deficit C,  so the solution must be decision F and so on and so on.  What if solution isn’t the next step after problem?  What if the next step after problem is inquiry?  Observation?  Discussion?  What if in our rush to solve, we have stepped all over our evidence?

So this year,  I am going to do what I usually do in May and June with an enhancement.  I’m going to go to the data and encourage others to go to the data.  I am going to reflection on difficulties and ponder them deeper wondering about their makeup.  I am not going to drive headlong into solutions as tempting as that always is. 

This year I’m going to take a hard look at my practice, at the systems I promote and the ones I don’t, at the ideas I was so sure of and reflect on that certainty.  I hope to listen and contemplate, and reflect.  Not always looking backward, but not leaving those experiences in the rearview until I have truly thought about them.

My plan of action:

Collect data of all kinds.  Student driven data.  Teacher driven data.  My own numbers.

Ask myself and others some big questions:  How did we grow?  Where we didn’t, why didn’t we?

Ask other people for their reflections about our shared work.

Mull it over.  Mix it with a few more discussions and readings and distance.

Then begin again.