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.

 

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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.

 

Deceleration #sol18

Deceleration #sol18

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Deceleration #sol18

November 13, 2018

True confession.  I had to look up how to spell deceleration.  While I knew slowing down in theory, this is not a word or a concept I use often.  That’s about to change.  I believe I first heard Tom Newkirk use this word in a Heinemann podcast a week or so ago and it’s been living on a scrap of paper in my writing journal since then.  I wrote some other words down after it.  November.  Slowing down to…  Building ?

So here’s where I am on November 13.  While I wish I had everything in my yearly schedule in place, even as I write that sentence I know it not to be true.  Once, perhaps,  I had a beautiful schedule, color coded and laminated outside my door.  I went down the hall and picked up some kids or perhaps because they were so used to the routine, they came down to my room.  We stayed together thirty minutes or so and I sent them back to their class.  …and the next year, those same kids were sitting in the cute chairs with the pockets in my cozy room again.

This isn’t a story about that.  This is a story about what I do, what I think, how I might help.  Last week,  I was somewhere in this building, with some student of unknown age and she turned to me and said, What do you do here?  Another time last week I was sitting in the principal’s office (don’t those words sound scary?? LOL) and I wondered, does he know what I do here?   This very morning,  I am sitting in the literacy center and I wonder, do I know what I do here?  

Well,  sometimes I am not sure what I do, meaning how my actions affect students and educators, parents and para professionals, but I am very certain about my intent. My intention this November 2018 is deceleration.  Deceleration.

Deceleration.  Slowing down.  Slowing down to notice.  Slowing down to wait.  Slowing down to listen.  Slowing down to consider.  Slowing down into the long game.  I (and the collective we) do not have to have all the ideas today.  I do not have to get it all right today.  We do not have to (fill in the blank… fix, teach, solve).

So as I come back to this for the third time today I think,  can I play the long game?  Can I exercise patience?  Can I remember that I am here to be a catalyst but also a safe harbor?  Can I slow down… decelerate, not to get it perfect only to notice, to listen, to collaborate?

What am I here to do?  I’m here to help everyone move forward in literacy and everything related to it.  That movement doesn’t have to happen today.  I hope it will happen tomorrow.

Teachable Moments #sol18

(Teachable) Moments #sol18

October 15, 2018

Most mornings I have the opportunity to greet the first graders as they arrive at school and wait with them in the hallway until it is time for class to begin.  These moments with them-fifteen at the most- are ripe with opportunity for observation, idea generation, relationship building, and teaching in the moment.

Observation.

One day last week, it was terribly humid inside and out.  The floor began to collect condensation.  We cautioned the students to wipe their feet and exercise caution as they walked around the large corridor.  As six year olds will be just that,  some began to skate around on their shoes as if we had created a large rink just for them.  Peels of first grade laughter accompanied slips, cheers, and slides around the hall and the minutes flew by until it was time to enter class.  Another day, an ambulance came before school and there was much discussion about the fire truck escort,  how the person (adult) was bundled for the ride,  who would go with her, what was wrong, and so many other inquiries.  I am able to listen in on conversations, note who is talking to others and who is observing.  Who has a comfort item in their backpack.  Who is seeking out friends.  Who is seeking out me.  So much to learn and see in such a little time.

Idea Generation

While we are in narrative writing in first grade, we focus on small moment.  Sometime moments are upon us, like Friday.  Friday a small spider was navigating along the wall near where the students were waiting in their class lines.  Mrs. Kennedy!  There’s a spider.   What should we do about it?   Save it or smush it.  SAVE IT!   Can you carry it outside?  What should we use?  Let’s try your paper.  (Close watching.  Several attempts.  Spiders desperate tries to escape me, the paper, and them. Spider curls up.) This seems like a good story.  I pick up the spider in my two fingers and gently carrying it outside.  His status among the living unknown to me.

Sometimes it’s merely oral rehearsal of their own stories relayed from that morning or the afternoon before of soccer games and playdates,  television watching or cookie baking.  All of these are ripe for partner talk with mediation, rehearsal,  oral story telling, and of course, encouragement.  I’m not sure how many show up on a page, but we have the opportunity to talk over stories practicing the cadence and organization of problem/solution, beginning, middle, end, and character development.

Relationship Building

That’s seems obvious.  The gentle greeting at the door, good morning. The noticing of a interesting shirt.  The use of a student’s name.  Triangulating between students until their conversation takes off like wood from kindling.  Every day a few more initiate talk with me.  Conversation that is practice for working together.  Conversation that is the beginning of stories.  Conversation that cements that we are here in the same place, with similar interests, to do this school thing together.

Teachable Moments

Finally considering the teachable moment of conversation, observation,  and interest, we come to consider who is actually being taught here.  I’m  going to the open classroom of the first grade, learning how one puts together a sentence, considers a possibility, and tries out a new idea.  I’m schooled on Pokemon, cartoons, and the best place to buy t-shirts.  I’m afforded the gentle confidence that come just at a magical moment in the hush of the beginning,  the hilarity of idea intersected with action,  and the noticing of those aware of so much.  While I do work our daily work into the conversations with those first graders, it is they,  they themselves, who are teaching me so much about being six and seven.  How fortunate I am to receive these lessons.

 

 

A New Way of Thinking #sol18

$_57.jpgA New Way of Thinking #sol18

October 2, 2018

It’s that time of year.  When basic addition results in this equation:  Student Learning Goals +  Data Collection = Teacher Stress and Low Self Esteem.   Now,  I’m a literacy specialist not a math teacher, but these are the types of conversations I heard during the last week.

” We can’t set a goal that 100% of our students meet this goal,  I know students who won’t be able to.”

” I think this student is low on fluency (insert comprehension or spelling)”

The actual truth is that any one or all of these statements might be true, but today I switched my own thinking about these statements.  When we think about the three legged stool of RtI, we might call to mind the tiers 1-3,  classroom instruction, differentiated instruction, or special education.  Those are all means to assisting students in exercising their potential or getting to grade level or even progressing, but what are the real legs of our success.

When we consider who might reach our lofty goals or our measured goals, which students are more likely to succeed?  Perhaps we are asking ourselves the wrong questions.  It is less about the deficits of the students and more about our scaffolds, instruction, and assessment.  When we create a partnership between the students, ourselves, and our resources, we elevate what each might do.

Let’s consider.  First there’s the data. We collect it statically, actively, anecdotally, scientifically, through standards based assessments given with fidelity, and given to us by others whom we may or may not know.  All data is taken at one moment in time by one human in a situation.  Data has power to reveal and occasionally just encourage us to seek more data.

Students bring their experiences, perceptions, and knowledge to the equation; their mindset for learning, their challenges behaviorally, emotionally, and experientially.  The students bring whatever situations they were in and experienced before we were their teachers.  All of those things are mostly beyond us.

We, however, bring to the equation our considerable experience, our research, our knowledge, our colleagues, our ingenuity, our compassion, and our considerable grit.

So we, as educators, have the largest margin for change.  Honestly, we are the only things we really can change.  So let’s do it.  How?

Updating our toolkit.  Toolkits will vary by teacher, grade level, student population, and content.  When you think about your primary presenting difficulties of your students, think what would be helpful?  If students are having difficulty writing leads, perhaps shorter lessons on just leads,  author mentors of leads in the genre you are writing, different ways of presenting lead including visual and auditory, short and more extensive.

Updating our mindset.  I don’t know what is in your heart or mind, but we can all use a little (lot) can-do spirit, not just for ourselves, but our students.  When I began thinking about writing this, I imagined that our general difficulty with goals for students is far less about what we think about the student capacity and far more about what we consider about our own abilities as educators.  That’s a very hard truth and I also imagine some will not agree.  However,  if I truly believe that everyone’s capacity for learning is fairly limitless, then I also should believe that my ability to learn to assist that capacity is limitless as well.

Digging in.  A very large part of success is actually failure.  While I could Malcolm Gladwell here,  perhaps it is true that we just have to keep attempting different approaches until one works and then again when we set a new goal with a student or that approach times out.  I’m not going to lie here.  Those attempts and the generation of those ideas are exhausting.  That’s when we should help ourselves to the following tools:

Data collection – it will tell us what is working and how it is workin

Our colleagues in real Life– Our colleagues have had difficulties and ideas.  They have attempted things, read things, and are fully prepared to provide us with new perspective, fresh legs, and encouragement.

Our virtual colleagues are invaluableDebbie Miller, Lucy Calkins, Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan,  Jennifer Serravallo, and I are in constant communication.  Sometimes that communication is one sided.  They tell me things from their writings, their blogs,  their tweets.  Occasionally,  I actually hear them speak or speak to them directly.  Along with them,  I have a cohort of practitioners who encourage me through social media.

So there you have it.  It’s not them,  it’s us… but in a good way.  We have power.  Power to adapt,  to grow,  to change, to attempt.  To speak truth.  To fail.  To notice and definitely to succeed.  I love a scene in the movie Eat Pray Love  where she’s encouraged to cross over, attraversiamo.  Just give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen?  My darlings,  what is the best?

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Time for Take Off #sol18

IMG_2366Time for Take Off #sol18

As I left our ‘kick-off’ day yesterday contemplating the presentation and all that the beginning of a new school year means to me and to the students and faculty I’ll encounter this year,  a white trail from a rising plane crossed the beautiful summer sky.  It moved so effortless across the expanse, nearly out of my sight before I reached the road.  This sight made me contemplate how that take off seems so effortless from a distance, but from my seat in an airplane, not so much.  That initial lift off, for me,  is fraught with that catch in my stomach,  the fleeting sense of what if’s.  The acceleration, each bump, jolts me into the reality that this huge machine filled with humans and jet fuel is being flung into the air.  Yet each time, in mere seconds, we are airborne.  The view is amazing and I take that next breath I didn’t know I was holding.  It’s exactly like every single school year beginning I’ve ever had.

So with all that in mind,  I contemplate the ‘take off’ of another school year.  I fill my heart with a summer full of learning, smiling, and refilling my own tank and then I plunge into that perfect collection of rooms and first day outfits and promise that is the beginning of a school year.  Here’s what I carry with me this year.

What if?   The beautiful questions that Debbie Miller so wonderful poses in her new book, What is the Best That Could Happen?, invite more questions.  What if we fail?  Oh, what if we succeed?

The moves don’t have to be big.  Tiny small trials and efforts can make a ripple of difference that we might not see at first.

Relational moves.  Our superintendent asked us to think about relationships that we had formed that changed everything.  Every relationship changes everything.  Again from Debbie Miller, Teaching is about relationships with children not rigid structures.

Thinking about those relationships, I consider my mantras from last year:  noticing and sharing.  The more I notice those around me, their feelings and their struggles,  their successes, and their desires,  the more I can help them move forward.  The more I share the stage, the pen, the work,  the more of us will rise.

So here we are at the take off.  It may feel a little bumpy. Let’s fill our hearts with ambitions and be brave… The journey is worth it.

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Thank to Two Writing Teachers and a host of Slicers that inspire me every day.  Read more slices here.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Left Feet #sol18

IMG_1910.JPGTwo Left Feet #sol18

August 21, 2018

One afternoon a few weeks ago,  we got into the car to take our dog to the dog park not far from home.  As I often do in the summer,  I picked up my shoes from inside the front door and carried them out to the car with the dog leash.  When we got to the park,  I bent down to put on my shoes, but I had brought one left shoe from my pair of sneakers, but the other shoe was my husband’s shoe.  If it had been his right shoe,  I could have put in on and clumsily managed to walk around at the park.  As fate would have it,  it was also his left shoe.  So there I sat looking down at the shoes in my hand, worthless to me, and my bare feet.   I could not get out of the car at the park so I had to go home without a visit, effecting all three of us.

This little scene struck me as rich with metaphor and honestly, life lesson.  I rushed out of the house, ill-prepared, paying little attention to my needed materials and was caught up short at my destination.  As I reflected on this,  it seemed like a bigger message from the universe.  I mean, two left feet, come on.

We rush out semi-prepared thinking we know what the needs of this task are.  We can rush on grabbing what we need as we go, starting before we are fully prepared.  Where do we end up?  In the car at the park on a sunny day in August, with two left shoes or in other words, disappointed.

Our district is embarking on a literacy curriculum journey. We’ve pushed the boats off the shore, provisions in hand.  In the early summer, the literacy specialists made a pact to read the units of study in narrative reading and writing for kindergarten through fourth grade as well as thoroughly explore the reading/writing pathways books, and the guides to the workshops.  Not a small plan or a small task.

Yesterday, we came back together with the literacy leadership in our district.  One of us did a break out in pathway assessments,  one of us did a breakout in the architecture of the mini-lessons, and one of us did conferring/small group in the workshop.  We talked to teachers in groups of 5-7.  We listened,  we highlighted resources in the unit kits.

Afterward, one of the teachers reflected that the energy in the specialists and in the room was high.  It felt productive and exciting.  It made me think of those two left shoes.  I didn’t go to that meeting yesterday with my two left shoes.  I went having watched videos and read books,  thinking, discussing, and planning ahead of time.  I looked down at my feet, placed those metaphoric shoes on and laced them before I stepped out of the door and so did everyone else in that room.

We elevated our talk.  We built on a firm foundation.  We pushed those boats off the shore with only a little trepidation, mostly excitement.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM I write alongside my Slice of Life community each Tuesday.  Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for having the vision to begin this community and the enthusiasm to sustain it.  That is the secret to success.   Read more amazing slices here.