The Good, The Perfect, & the Right Now #sol20

The Good, The Perfect, & the Right Now #sol20

July 7, 2020

So I’m pretending that there’s not a crisis in the world, in our country, in my state, town, school system, house, by gardening…  That’s right.  I’m staying in the 1/2 acre or so of terraferma that is my ‘vast holdings’.  When you look up terreferma in the dictionary it says mainland.  Here I shelter in my main land. I did some research with a student in early June about Isaac Newton.  They say that when he had to shelter during the plague, he went home to his country house away from his studies and colleagues.  He didn’t want to go, but when he was out in the nature of his truly vast holdings, he devised how to explain gravity because of an apple falling off a tree.  All the explanations that he articulated, his best theories, crystalized in that quiet.  No, I’m not getting ready to explain to you how I have it all figured out. Just considering what’s possible.

My neighbor’s yard is well groomed.  The grass is even and green, watered every day by him and professionally edged and mowed by a service.  His mulch is smooth like a carefully laid out carpet.  His bushes hug his house.  His trees are carefully trimmed.  You get the picture.  There are no flowers there, errant or planned.  Our yard…. well,  that’s another story.  We inherited this yard from the previous owners and borrow it from the encroaching woods.  I probably shouldn’t say encroaching, more like the rightful owner always threatening to repossess.  It slopes down from the street, our house covered by tree line and a front-loaded garage.  I love it.

Bob and I were out cutting down some overgrown, deer-feeding yews a few days ago and my watering, mulch-raking neighbor’s wife said,  oh, I see your inspired by my husband.  Them’s fighting words! I thought as I plucked endless lily-of-the-valley from the slope.  I’m always out here ‘working on it’.  Isn’t that the truth?!?

But it’s not well-groomed…  not for lack of trying.  It might be a little lack of trying.  There are those few wild black-eyed Susans that I can’t pluck from their chosen locale or those native goldenrods and a few wild asters springing up.  I did want to see what that cup plant in the back would turn into, it’s growing so tall.  Did you know these little leaves are mayflowers? Yeah, that’s right mayflowers.  And those over there,  that’s wild lettuce.  Well, you’re beginning to get the picture.

I have a vision.  About that vision… it’s a work in progress and it’s constantly changing.  My yard is one big lab experiment and the lab changes and the climate changes and the sunlight changes and just about everything changes… Starting to sound familiar?

So this morning my friend, Gwen was thinking and posting on her twitter.  Two posts (@gwenblumberg if you want to investigate)

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I read that and I thought, Heck YEAH!  Teach the lesson about how to use the compass at the moment the explorer is lost in the woods.  Ok,  what does that have to do with my garden?  You’ve got to be watching.  You have to know the moment that the weeds start to win or look up just what is that fuzzy weeds so you wait for the blossom.

As for how this describes our teaching…  you’ve got this.

img_0602 These people I write with inspire me and they hopefully wait for me to be inspired.  They are priceless.  You’re welcomed to join anytime.

Reflections on the End of a School Year #sol20

0Reflections on Another End to a School Year

June 16, 2020

I don’t have to tell you that this end is like no other end I’ve experience in the decades I’ve been an educator.  Different, yes…  Challenging,  yes…  But what we’ve learned… about ourselves, about our learning community, about our teaching… about our capacity… about our flexibility.

I write today not from the filtered sunlight of the messy literacy center in that aging elementary school that’s been my home for a decade, but from my lower level library sanctuary.  My husband built this sanctuary for me that decade ago when I desperately missed my former life in the midwest.  It lay here mostly a repository for books that couldn’t fit in my school corner or I was temporarily not using.  It remained dusty. Honestly I can’t remember ever working in this room. choosing instead my sunny screen porch, the patio, the sweet bench in the garden as my summer study place.

This year however, this little library became a shelter, a fortress, a capsule.  In this little room quietly tucked under the back porch, away from the bustle of our home life,  I could be ‘at work’.  At work during those hours that I needed to be.  At the end of the day,  I shut the door and ‘commuted’ back to my home.

This was a luxury for me.  I’ve seen kitchen tables, living room walls, baskets, bags, all organized as we began to create not the space we left, but a whole new space to learn and teach.

When I reflect on these last three months, that’s what I consider, those makeshift, make-do, dream up magical spaces you created for your students.  In my district, we had no warning.  The closure came along like a hurricane and we took the clothes on our backs, the stash in our cars, our bags, our homes, and began to make new learning with that.  I’m not going to lie,  it was devastating.  The first week or so,  I felt completely adrift. How could I coach or intervene from here… when they were there?

As with any other situation in education, we began to gain our sea legs.  We’ve had tough spaces to work in, difficult schedules, hard combinations, budget limits.  In other words, we’ve adapted before.  Perhaps not this way, but as teachers and learners, it’s in our nature to grow and change.  So grow and change, we did.

I spent an hour this morning, sifting through the pictures I took of you teaching during this time,  looking at the notes I filled my conferring notebook with,  smiling at the thought of each of you growing, adapting, trying, challenging, and generally teaching your hearts out for the last sixty school days or so.  Here’s what I noticed.

You never lost your sense. of humor or your heart for kids.

You taught yourself so many amazing things and create so much from whatever you found laying around (metaphorically and actually)

You didn’t let those kids off the hook; you emailed, you google-met (is that a verb?), you listened, you encouraged and they… came around.

You taught!… and you played.  You celebrated and you learned about every single thing kids were doing when they weren’t there on the screen with you.

You watched TV shows so you could talk about them.  You recommended movies and books and games.  Still you encouraged.

You noticed hair styles and hair color, stuffies and live animals.  You noticed hard days and celebrations, breakfast choices and pink cheeks.

And still. you taught: poetry, the American Revolution, fractions, pollinators, biographies, habitats,  geography, reading,  writing and persistence.  You taught A LOT!

You kept it going and now… let’s take a rest.  Let’s read and take walks,  smile and bake,  breathe deeply, paint, garden and wait…  The next thing will come soon.  But for now, let’s be okay.  Let’s be joyful.  Let’s celebrate.

What We Carry With Us #sol20

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What We Carry With Us #sol20

My friends and mentor, Tammy Mulligan,  and I moderated a series of professional development sessions titled, What Will We Carry With Us… Sharing Our Success.  It wasn’t very well attended, but those groups of teachers that showed up were a little reluctant to shine.  Why was that?

I do think that educators in general hide their light under a bushel, quietly just doing the business that needs to be done without fanfare, but I suspect there is more to it than that.  I think celebrating what they accomplished during this quarantine is difficult because for them the light of learning is absent.  I’ve seen them do so many, many things to keep the connection going between the students and each of them, but each educator I know, mourns that gentle, and not so gentle, day to day, minute by minute interaction with students.  The interaction that only comes when you have time.  Time… and proximity.

This post isn’t about what we’ve lost.  This post is about what we’ve gained.  So here it is again… Silver Linings Playbook, Part 2.

We’ve gained the ability to strip what we want to teach and more importantly what we want students to learn and master right down to the bone.  We don’t have time or space for any, any fluff.  That doesn’t mean to dispense with engagement.  These educators have engagement in bushels.  I have never seen so many colorful anchor charts, so many fun videos,  changing tools after tools. Video, audio, visuals, these teachers combed all available resources to create their online learning and virtual classrooms.  They created backdrops and makeshift document cameras.  They were fearless in the face of making something from nearly nothing for sixty-five days, but whose counting?

Through three phases of online learning in my district, they taught on.  Through providing technology and finding students, learning platforms and surviving those platforms failing, they carried on.  They don’t even have a moment to stop and think what miracles they performed.  One of the amazing side notes is that they left old practices behind.  Those projects that took weeks gone.  The slogging through endless revision… gone.  They stared in the face of their past practices and brutally slashed everything without deep purpose and meaning.  Then the really amazing thing happened.

They made that s**** interesting!   They sent their students videos.  Those teachers created a fourth grade university.  They taught the entire American Revolution, pollinators, saving the bees along with persuasive writing, informational paragraphs, life lessons, science, and history.  Don’t forget all the while they were teaching grit, determination, agency, resiliency.  THESE PEOPLE ARE MY HEROES! 

Honest to goodness,  I am a very fortunate individual.  They shared their plans with me.  They took time to let me help them.  They taught me stuff… and the most precious gift, they shared their students with me.

I’ve seen drawings and bedrooms, discussed books and movies and bike riding.  I’ve had breakfast with kids and leaned in so they could see every single wrinkle on my face so they knew I was still here.  Still here for them.  I have left meetings with a lump in my throat and stinging tears in my eyes.  I have also laughed at feet in the screen and puffed up cheeks.  I’ve discussed dog friends and breakfast choices along with Paul Revere, Jim Henson, Dav Pilkey, Isaac Newton, and the Wright Brothers.

I’ve recorded books and lessons.  I’ve given pep talks and drive bys.  I’ve written and I’ve read and I’ve thought and I’ve planned… and we’ve almost survived… this phase.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t consider the next phase.  I would walk away next week from this phase and let the next phase come to me without worry.  I’m having a little trouble with that just now.

 

We Could… #sol20

img_0876We Could… #sol20

April 28, 2020

In these crazy days, it’s so simple to look at what is so different about our practice, our daily lives, our students, our relationships with each other, and so many other aspects of our lives’ work, the work that seems we won’t return to for at least six months.  I haven’t really been without that schedule for any appreciable time for more than twenty years and most of twenty prior to that.  So the thought of thirteen weeks of sitting in this basement library clinging to scraps of contact with students and their teachers is soul-crushing.  So I’m just going to have to find another way to look at this situation.

I’ve been talking recently about how we can keep the heart of our work in the body of this new day to day.  What is it that our students responded most to and how can we make the closest proximity to that thing?  It’s difficult to consider the daily subtle moves we made as teachers when our audience is a thirteen inch MacAir laptop screen and the closest thing to a student I have is a seventy-five pound ten year old black lab mix who loves a good story as much as the next person, but doesn’t have much to say about author’s purpose or the story arc.  My new books mostly come from another electronic screen and my read-alouds are pre-recorded, so how do I make it feel like a glorious grand discussion and an intimate shoulder to shoulder conference?

While I don’t have the answer for you,  I think I might be able to steer us toward the shore.  Let’s dream for a few minutes.  When you planned for your mini-lesson or your active engagement, your independent practice, or your gentle conferring,  what did you hope for deep in your heart?  Connections?  You still know those students in front of you.  You know what they like to read, how soon they want to talk to you after you send them off to work.  You know if they need to explain their thinking first or if they need you to draw them a little map to get started.  You know if you stop in a read aloud and ask them to write down something if they can come back to the story or text with you or if it’s better to read it twice and stop the second time.  You know… you really know.

So… how can you make it feel like home for each student?  Can you have a whole group that holds their whole hearts?  Can you put their emotions front and center and still hold on to literacy?  Can you talk to them individually or in the pairs or triads that feel most comfortable to them?  Can you give them space to grieve, and look you in the eyes (how can you make your eyes look right at them?)?  How can we laugh and have crazy FRI-YAY! traditions and lean in for the next bit of Sisters Grimm or Wild Robot or did you see the Willouby’s??  

You have it in you to reach inside and find those things that connect kids to you and each other,  to the learning, and their agency,  to the challenge, and the joy… and the struggle.  You were already amazing at that… and you are still.  Don’t let your sadness rob you and them of what we could make from this mess.  We are accustom to making lemonade, and beautiful mistakes, and restarts.  We are stars at redo’s and We got this!  

So put on the best music in the background and dream of those best days when everything worked like magic in your rooms, when the kids were engaged and happy, productive and challenged.  How can you make that happen in this world?  I know you can.

What are the promises you made in September to your students in your heart?  What are the promises you don’t want to break today?

This can be the most amazing time,  the memory that shows them and us just what we are made of.  I don’t know what your secret sauce is, but I’ll bet anything you have it.  Dig it out and spread it all over these experiences.  Make it magically simple in the way only you can.

 

Face to Face #sol20

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Face to Face #sol20

April 21, 2020

As a literacy specialist, I have been mostly working in the background of the virtual learning, providing content, practicing online lessons with teachers, creating videos.  Today I had my first opportunity to have some live small groups.  As I met with a teacher on Friday, we were thinking about making our workshop teaching more closely match our IRL experiences.  IRL, we would have split up some small groups and co-taught during the independent portion of the workshop.  So when the teacher said she was having difficulty seeing all the students during small group, I offered to have small groups as well.

I am a partner in her google classroom, so I knew the expectations she had for the students.  Teaching into the research reading unit and working on informational writing, the team has paired this unit with a science unit to continue with that content knowledge.  I have to give both the teacher and the team credit for using many different online platforms to deliver information to the students.  That variety would have been present in their classroom settings and they are exposing students to it here as well.  Brainpop Jr. ,  Readworks,  Epic book sets are some of the ways that she has been creating text sets for readers and writers in her class.

Trouble is,  not all the students are accessing the text set or completing the independent work… Establishing a routine seems tough in this virtual/home world.  Even I am constantly inventing new ways to keep myself on track and my reading has been pretty abysmal in terms of consistency and routine.

In my reading small group,  I started with their reading plan.  What were they reading?  That was a struggle.  One student doesn’t want to read anything online.  I got out my iPad and talked him through the features, he still wasn’t having it.  He’s rereading a series he’s read before.  I did talk him into making a plan for this week’s reading and writing it down.  In new learning,  I used the teacher’s google classroom assignment reading to work through taking notes and main idea/details.  Their reading was fluent, but their understanding of what they read wasn’t.  We talked about rereading for meaning and created some notes for teaching others.  Again,  it was interesting how they didn’t talk as much as IRL.

Here’s my summary for their classroom teacher of our work today. (Names redacted)

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Tools for reading small group, Epic book Life Cycle of a Honeybee.  Anchor chart based on Reading to Learn, TCRWP Third Grade UOS Reading,  Google Slide, Handwritten note displayed with Quicktime Movie.  ( I fixed mandibles after this screenshot)

I show all these tools because… ALL THESE TOOLS!  In order to keep everything going, sometimes you have to use a lot of tools or hold up things.  Also, giving kiddos some wait time and writing time… and redirection time.  (Those spinning office chairs are super distracting)

Then on to writing.  None of the kiddos was doing any independent writing,  that will definitely be a goal for a next session if I am afforded on.

For writing independent work,  the teacher had assigned a BrainPop Jr. on the life cycle of a plant and asked the students to draw a diagram of the plant life cycle.  My plan was to show the BrainPop video and then go through the planning with the students… However, BrainPop’s log in wasn’t working this morning.  Even though I had set up all the tabs last night, this morning there was a glitch.  (Sigh and Bummer). This is the one place were much like in IRL,  the students are very flexible.  They understand that sometimes things don’t work and we have to make do.  We brainstormed the life cycle of a plant starting at one student’s idea of an entry point, pollinators.  Smart girl,  knew we were studying pollinators and so she made them front and center.  

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Diagram of a Plant Life Cycle drawn and spatially planned badly by me.  

Several things I reminded students of during our ‘marker talk’.

  • we need a heading for our diagram
  • we should label as many things as we can to make our meaning clear… hence my deer (LOL)
  • explaining each step is also good
  • planning (better than I did) your spacing helps your audience.
  • Can you teach from this tool?

Too quickly, it was time to say goodbye to the students.  Was it this hard to leave them IRL?

 

I share these adventures in virtual learning through my Slice of Life community sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.  We write together each Tuesday here.

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

Yesterday, Lanny Ball shared, Margaret Simon’s, author of Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2018), blog where she offers a format that leans on creativity and word-play.  I couldn’t resist her invitation to play with poetry. This is Slice Challenge, Day 25. 

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

March 24, 2020

I am…

an early morning-rising

dog-walking

kitchen-experimenting

cookie-baking

bed-making

housework-avoiding

book-devouring

idea-connecting

note-taking

tradition-keeping

problem-solving

project-starting

forever-evolving

sort of human

Dear Me #sol20

Day 22 I decided to write a letter to the first person that needs encouraging me.  Like Clare said,  I am giving myself the oxygen first.  Here I am writing in the company of all my dear slicers in the comfort of Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 23 of the 31 day writing challenge.

Dear Me #sol20

March 23, 2020

I know you feel adrift right now, like your best ideas as a coach have always been built on connections and moments.  These things are not present in their familiar forms right now.  So… now is the time to create some new forms of connections and moments.

Spend the day today creating a creative space, a warm space.  Consider what each grade level, each teacher might need, might enjoy, might treasure and start doing what you do… making lists.  While you’re making a list, make sure you make a list of all the things you brought home from the literacy center.  You’re going to go back there and you’ll want all these things to pack up and go too.

It’s Monday, so don’t forget your Monday flowers and your message teacup,  some music, work(ish) clothes (well from the top up at least).  Maybe this will magically transform this remote space to be a little more like the missed space.

Make some movies today.  You can always throw them away… or send them.  Create a padlet, a screencast, a flip grid.  Now’s the time to learn all the things.  You won’t have to use them forever.

Work actual work hours… no less and no more.  You can still walk the dog and have lunch in your kitchen and thank goodness take all the breaks for personal business that you want.

So I know you feel adrift, but drop anchor for now.  They know where you are and how to find you.  They will… they will.

Stay well,

Me

Room 101 #sol20

I write in the beloved company of my slicing community at Two Writing Teachers.  This year our March Daily Slice Challenge has been precious to our connection.  Today I am inspired by Betsy Hubbard and narrative poem, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Room 101 #sol20

March 21, 2020

I make my way down to my ‘new’ workspace

not quite the same as

my former workspace

waiting there for me to return

return I did yesterday to gather…

what I might need for a future

I’m struggling to believe

The parking lot is empty when I arrive

That is not so strange

the early arrival a habit of mine

I walk down the hall

but today I seem to notice each landmark

your door is there, I pause.

the inexplicable box

of tangrams still a doorstop

your desk is there,

The red book shelf left over from an earlier memory

but you are not

I feel your absence heavy in the space

this week

we talked on the phone

for two hours,

the connection snapping between us

this morning

we would have been

making our pilgrimage to New York

Right now we would have been

in the dark, warm car

settling in to our long journey

planning our day

mapping what coffee place in CT

we will stop at

We would revel in our connection

in our togetherness

in our history

in our rituals

in our practice

The other day you reminded me

that we are still connected

so I send a wish

through your darkened doorway

to be connected

In this disconnection

Pace #sol20

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March 20, 2020

After a week of not talking to anyone outside my immediate family and only communicating via comments, texts, and tweets,  yesterday was a lot.

I had two meetings yesterday via the internet. One a district wide meeting where our superintendent was stellar.  She was calm, she was patient.  She answer questions for over an hour after her prepared statement.  While I only saw her, I felt the presence of our nearly 800 community members.  It was powerful.

That meeting was followed by a meeting with my literacy specialist team.  It’s great to see them and they all look well.  We are honest with each other and that’s so helpful.  We talked over our new directive, what it might mean and how we can support each other to provide support to our teaching teams and the intervention teams.  We were all tired at the end.  It’s a lot for one day.

I spent the rest of the day, talking to teachers, looking at resources,  going to a webinar, planning what I’ll pick up in the small window I have today to go to school and it was five before I realized it.   I kept going.  At 6:30,  I stopped at made dinner.  I kept reading texts and tweets until I got to a twitter discussion at 8:30 p.m.

That’s when I realized that I was doing that thing that others had warned me about, working and working and working.  I didn’t go outside yesterday.  I didn’t do a house project.  I just worked.

Today is shaping up to be more of the same.  I have a webinar at 8, going to school to pick up at 9, dropping some things off for teachers.  Then I have a training at 12 and a meeting with the principals and literacy specialists at 2:30…  Ok,  I am seriously going to have to make myself a self care schedule.

So in my spare time today,  I’m going to create a creative space because I also hear I have to think about what’s behind me in online connections.  Stay tuned for photos of that because my office is where I drop things I can’t part with.

I leave you with advice from my laptop keypad deck … Try easier and Be the one that decides to go for it.  Seem incongruous, but maybe not.

 

I’m writing alongside my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community every day for this month of March.  Today is day 20.  My writing PLN is my inspiration, my motivation, and my comfort.  

After That… A List #sol20

I’m writing along with my slice community at Two Writing Teachers every day during the month of March and Tuesdays year round.  I am inspired today, day 19, by Midwestern Heart in Dixie’s Before That: Wednesday Edition.  She can do a lot in a day. 

After That… #sol20

March 19, 2020

Up way predawn this morning.  Lily doesn’t seem to know that we are still on ‘snow day’ schedule today.  Took Lily for a walk.  The pavement was wet and it was drizzling.  No beautiful stars and moon this morning.  Yesterday’s was so spectacular.  Same sniffs, we picked up the paper on our way in.  So dark outside this morning.

After that, special dog food mix, downstairs to fill the dog bowl, just 1/2 cup.  She’s on a better diet than I am.  Then a little wet food from the refrigerator mixed in, her joint mineral powder and fish oil for her allergies. Clean water.

After that, I read through the text chain from last night’s chat with the other literacy specialist. We’re trying to figure out the changes that are coming in effect early next week for enrichment.  This is going to include intervention still, so it’s a lot to think about.

After that, I read through the 8-10 emails that came through after I went to bed last night.  Have heard from many of the eleven intervention team members.  Still need to hear from four of them.  I’m wondering about that this morning, but it’s still predawn.

After that,  I send a few emails.  I hope these people don’t have their phone near them in bed or their alerts on…  Organize emails in a new folder called distance learning.  Notice that I have over eighty emails in my mailbox.  I like to keep it to less than ten…

After that, I make a spreadsheet of the students receiving intervention.  I wonder again if the coordinators know how many kiddos this really is.  The team sent me the names and the student goals overnight.  One of them already has plans ready.

After that,  Bob scoots next to me to get his shoes from under the dining room table.  I left my shoes in your office.  Don’t want to use my actual office because it’s in the basement and I can’t look out the window in there, it’s too high.

After that,  I make a cup of coffee in my This is Going Well cup.  Wishful thinking perhaps, I do think we’ll get this together.  I smile again at our secretary emailing me right away last night to offer a hand.

After that,  Bob checks in to ask if I’m going into school today.  He interjects some news from the world.  I notice that our neighbor is driving out of their driveway.  I wonder if they are taking advantage of the early grocery hours that start today.

It’s 6 a.m.  now.  Everything I tell you about after that now is just hopeful thinking, but the list includes:

  • making a temporary plan for intervention at each grade
  • watching a video about zoom
  • reading through the district documents I received late yesterday
  • planning on taking a shower and possibly using makeup since I’ll be on view online today
  • Attending two meetings virtually; probably more

What’s that saying?  The people who get things done are the ones that do things one thing at a time.