No Need for Perfect #sol20

UnknownNo Need for Perfect

January 20, 2020

No need for perfect, just a little bit better.  Oprah January 2020

Thursday in my notebook (#100DaysofNotebooking) I outlined the benefits of child study.  It isn’t coincidence that I decided that child study was a real benefit to our school community that day in particular.  That morning, the pieces of child study came together again. There it was, the sweet spot.

I’m a firm believer in the child study process. A group of educators get together and discuss a difficulty and work together to suggest solutions.  We use a strict(ish) protocol.  The classroom based teacher presents the difficulty,  the team asked clarifying questions,  the classroom based teacher listens as we generate possible solutions, the classroom based teacher shares what ideas he/she might try, we set goals and a check-in date for six weeks later.  The entire process takes about forty minutes.

We have these meetings two mornings a week.  The team consists of the school counselor, the assistant principal/EL coordinator, the literacy specialist, the principal, and others rotate in.  Sometimes we have another classroom teacher, sometimes the psychologist, a special education coordinator or teacher, and others.  The protocol works well, the participants balance each other out, and its helpful to the teacher…until it isn’t.

While the process is still right and generally we’ve been helpful, over the last few months, it’s been… uneven.  Why?  Connections.  The principal and the school counselor are in their first year.  They come to the table with their experiences, their knowledge, their hopes.  What they didn’t have was a shared history. What we didn’t have was a shared history.

To be honest, a shared history can be a burden.  Fresh ideas are good and often very, very helpful.  In that room, in that situation, with those time constraints, attention is key, discussion has to be tight, almost each word matters.  It is painfully easy to get off track.  When we get off track, we cannot, we do not generate a round of positive, easily implemented, fresh ideas to try.  Everyone leaves frustrated.

We’ve sat here for the past four months, never having a post-mortem on the meeting.  Never discussing our protocol together. Just hammering it out.  Most of the time, it worked ok.  Rarely was it amazing.  I remember amazing… I missed that.

On Thursday, a teacher came to the room.  She presented her student to us.  We understood her concerns.  We asked questions that gave us all clarity.  She carefully articulated what she thought might be a next step.

I felt the shared exhale in the room as we thought for what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds.  The talk started between us.  No tripping over each others words. No confusion shown on faces.  Gentle easy purposeful productive talk. Like the tumblers on a lock, I felt the team fall into place.  Just then in the moment, we were a team.  We felt the connection. We hit the sweet spot.

We are going to be a team moving forward.  We will smile.  We will wait.  We will laugh. We will reach out.  We made the connection.  We felt the pieces fall into place and we will be working for that every time we enter the room. Once you feel it, it comes more naturally.  That’s what they say about everything that takes practice. It wasn’t quite 10,000 hours, but it was 50… give or take.

Connection #sol20

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There are actually two types of fungi here: lichen, fungi and algae, and hen-in-the-woods.

Connection #sol20

January 14, 2020

When I chose connect as my one little word, I was thinking about the connections between individuals and grade levels, types of writing and units of study,  I wasn’t thinking about how a book or books can connect so many of those things.  I also wasn’t thinking about books and how they can connect across lessons and ideas either.  Since I started with this lovely photo of a hen-in-the-woods fungus, perhaps I should start closer to the beginning.

As part of another blog team I write with, I chose a year’s worth of books to review.  (My last review, Fungus is Among Us by Joy Keller)  Another writer had recommended this book as it was published in early fall and I preordered it.  I had chosen to review it in January as many grades as starting or leaving nonfiction reading and writing and also fitting in poetry during these winter months.  This book has a lot!  It’s a picture book and also contains loads of facts.  It has an easy story line and also a biography insert.  It has a bibliography and it RHYMES!  Just the perfect mentor text to showcase many ways of writing nonfiction.

This story isn’t actually a book review.  It’s what happened next.  As is my habit, a few weeks before my review date,  I send out an email asking who would like to hear a new book.  I don’t offer much additional information.  Usually I have a few takers and in this round two classrooms of third graders invited me to read.  As I was planning my lesson,  I was thinking about poetry writing and the aspects of good nonfiction writing.  I read through the book several times, enjoy more each time.  Then it occurred to me that I have photos of fungus in my phone…  How many photos of fungus do I have?  I wondered.  Quickly before I visited my first class,  I created a quick album of fungi in my phone, a half-a-dozen pictures or so.  I read the book to a third grade, telling them that I was reviewing it.  Asking them to think like nonfiction readers and writers. What did they learn from this nonfiction teacher?  What might they try in their own writing?  

The class was immediately taken with the fungi.  They had lots of ideas in their pre-reading moments thinking about where they had seen fungi and what they knew.  Surprisingly, many of them had some ideas.  Definitely plenty to think about as we read.  We read this brilliant book noting the author’s craft in the beginning, her incorporating of text features, the parallel structure, the author’s notes. At the end,  I gave the students an opportunity to respond to my initial questions.  Their responses were very enthusiastic.

Planning on reading the book to another third grade later in the week and bolstered by their response,  I went back through my phone and discovered I had nearly twenty five photos of different types of fungi. A little odd, I know.  Putting them into an album I noticed that you can make a slideshow in your phone, so I did.   I returned to my first read aloud class and during their snack showed them the slideshow.   They were thrilled.

In another class,  I was gifted the opportunity to teach a few lessons in the beginning of the third grade nonfiction writing unit.  In the first lesson, the teaching point is that we are all as nonfiction writers essentially teachers.  Instead of the unit’s example of cockroaches,  I used my old interest and new-found knowledge of fungi to organize my oral teaching example.

This fungi things got legs… . The next lesson I taught was about using your flash draft to organize several table of contents ideas to plan for your nonfiction chapter book.  Again,  I wrote quickly about fungi and used that writing to demonstrate several possible ‘table of contents’.

So this little book,  Fungus is Among Us, has been quite helpful.  One book, so many uses.  It’s interesting.

 

 

One Little Word #sol19

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The Search for that One Little (but very BIG) Word 2020

January 7, 2020

I hesitated to let go of my one little word for 2019.  It doesn’t seem used up.  It has served me so well.  I think I could still learn more from it… However the chosen way is to let our last little word go with the former year and embrace a new word for a new year.  I have embraced a word every year for the last 10 years.  My last word, reflect, was my most successful word to date.  I spent the last year reflecting on my practice, a habit I don’t think I’ll ever let go.  In 2018, my little word was notice.  Again,  it carried me through that year drawing attention to so many bright spots in education that I saw.  My little word for 2017 was linger, to slow down and proverbially smell the roses.  It taught me to be in the moment with students and their teachers.

This year seemed trickier.  A word was not waiting in the wings.  It seemed in the year 2020,  I should have a word related to vision.  Twenty twenty:  visually accurate acuity, easily done discernment or assessment like hindsight is 2020.  Always good to work on keeping the vision crystal clear. However, as a word,  Vision didn’t fill the void.  Noticing? I had just used that word two years ago.  My PLN encouraged me to keep searching, keep listening, keep trying words on for size. It will come.  

What did I want this year’s word to represent?  All the accumulation of what I had learned in the last few years and a step forward into the future.  I wanted to notice bright spots and keep them in my thinking instead of the challenges that often crowd in.  I wanted to remind my colleagues of what we have already accomplished and how our next steps will be seismic in impact but smaller in exertion that recent years. I made a list of others’ words that I’ve read this past week.  Pause, meander, humor, balance, here.  My word wasn’t among those. 

I made a list of some possible new thoughts for me.  Victories, simply, motivate, listen, connect, collaborate, curious.  Hmm… Curious?  I have a stickie on the front of my collaboration journal that says openly curious, vulnerable, full of questions.  I love that saying at the beginning of the Heinemann podcast,  we value teachers as decision makers and students as curious learners.  While curious is something I am, it doesn’t seem to be a direction forward for me right now.

All those c-words were drawing me in: connect, collaborate, curious.  Which one will be the set intention for 2020?   Connect.  Definition: to join or fasten together, usually by some intervening; to place or establish a relationship.

There it is.  My intention for 2020.  Connect.  Connection.  Connections.  Through intervening, join together people and ideas, and people and ideas.  Taking the time to make personal connections but also helping people to envision connections. (see what I did there?!?) . My seeing was there all along.  When we linger, we notice.  When we notice, we reflect.  When we reflect, we see the connections between the units of study, reading and writing, literacy and content area studies, one grade and another, one student and their teacher, one student and another student, one culture and another culture.

So here’s to connections:  the ones we notice and the ones we create.
Welcome twenty-twenty.  You’re coming into focus now.

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

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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.