Seeing What Comes Up #sol18

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Wild Rudebeckia in my garden

Seeing What Comes Up #sol18

July 31, 2018

I like to say that I’m organized, a planner… sometimes.  This morning I told my husband that I like a loose plan, some structure and some room for…what?  miracles? surprises? change?  In truth, I might crave more of the structure than I like to admit.

Call this the story of two … invasive species…  Our house is surrounded on two sides with woods, a small forest.  A small forest that would like to take that plot of land we stole back.  It’s a fairly constant struggle between us and the flora and fauna.

Often, little unidentified plants creep into my flower beds and start sprouting.

Most of the time,  I unceremoniously rip those sprouts right out of there.  I have a Plan.  I plant things I remember from my childhood,  things I planted in the Midwest, things I long to see as I pass by.  Many of those things don’t make it.  Those plants transplanted by me, watered, nurtured,  just don’t make it in this soil.  Those sprouts dropped by birds, carried in fur, washed by rain, do.

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Solomon Seal, a delightful surprise

Sometimes,  I notice something in them.  A familiar leaf.  An inkling.  In those moments,  I leave them in peace.  Sometimes,  this leads to a big reward.  Like last summer,  Solomon Seal decided to take up residence in my side garden.  Nearly annually some truly wild flowers make themselves at home in our front garden. Today, a black eyed Susan and a bright pink Phlox are blooming with abandon.  If I planted them in my flower bed in the backyard,  they would wither or become a deer snack, but there where they weren’t planted,  they thrive giving joy to those that stop to admire.

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Bright Pink Wild Phlox, a favorite of deer

This reminds me of my school life.  We plan, we “plant”, we nurture what we want to grow.  We rarely let the ‘weeds’ of what students want to do interrupt our plans.  Seeing what come up can be nerve wracking.  There are just weeds, invasive, troublesome weeds. It’s difficult to know what’s what. Maybe that’s the point.  Whose to say? I don’t let it all grow.  I still have a plan.  Some of what I do let go amounts to nothing spectacular. It reminds me of what Ralph Fletcher says about greenbelt writing.  Just like those greenbelts we are trying to nurture around our cities,  we have to nurture that writing in the wild,  those unexpected things that start to grow in pockets of time we give for just that wildness. We weed some, we nurture more.  We observe. We notice.

We don’t know what that sprout will grow into.

Let’s be surprised.

 

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too much of a good thing?  a story for another day

 

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The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s hair is on fire?

The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s Hair is on fire?

July 16, 2018

True Story:  Two o’clock writing workshop is the pits.  Even I think so. But I let that two o’clock writing get into the students’ heads and into mine.  They would write more about how they couldn’t write at 2 p.m. than about whatever they were intended to write about day after day.  Chaos broke out. How they couldn’t write filled their thoughts and they no longer focused on what and how to write. My co-teacher and I discussed all the things we might do to engage the students in writing.  Nothing really worked. Why?

What we Hear: The teacher is the key.

We as educators get a great deal of coaching these days about motivating students.  Teach like a ______.  Teach like your ________ is on fire.  It’s all about what we do, how we can change.

Recently,  I’ve been coaching more about letting students be in the struggle as they work, no longer jumping to rescue them.  A quick reference here for those who are wondering about this idea.  (Scaffold or Rescue)  Moving educators away from compliance tasks to inquiry stance.  Thinking and practicing carefully crafted mindset motivating language.

Is it Skill or Motivation?

The questions still lingered.  What is holding us back? The idea seems straightforward: skill or motivation.  With a deeper look, it appears. What are the criteria for success? How can I get there, and why would it be important to arrive?  So this year, as we prepare for fall, let’s think less about being entertaining and more about authenticity, focusing on these questions.

Why? Why might success be important to an individual or the group? What is the nugget of this exercise?

For example,  in writing an information article, the writer is teaching someone something. We routine show students examples of this writing in the wild; real world applications.  Still students routinely stare at the page and state I have noting to writing about.  Why?  Perhaps the students believe that their audience shares their same knowledge.  Perspective might be the motivator in this case. No one else is going to tell it your way,  from your perspective.

Helping Students See  Purpose and More

Ok,  perspective, but then what?  Let’s press pause here and say to the kids: yes,  then what?  Why do you think this might be important/relevant/something you want to do? Then painstakingly wait.  Wait past the I don’t know, the silence, the distractions.  Just like Field of Dreams, if we build it,  they will come. All the while, subtly reading Pink is for  Blobfish.  Filling heads with ideas.  Noticing ideas for your objectives as you wait in line for music, listen to a podcast, read aloud another book.  Noting casual comments of kids and bringing them back to so what.

Here is the place for our energy.  The subtle, elusive steps to success.  Sometime we rush in this place. We’ve got four weeks to finish this writing unit.  We want students to write two information pieces a week.  WHY is the kid still on page one?!?!? Breathe in and breathe out.  Here we land at strategic planning.  This is the place our energy and their motivation lie.   Step by step we plan as an architect plans a building for we are architects of this learning.

Plan for Success= Success of the Plan

First, what are the skills needed to be successful in this task at any time.The skeleton of the activity.  In order to be there, it’s helpful to read A LOT of mentor texts, write a lot, experiment, rehearse, practice.  When we put ourselves in the time, the barriers, the thick of the activity and consider how will I explain success.  The students can be part of this: looking at resources, reading, developing exemplars, forming the statement: if successful, we will…

Knowing that struggle will happen,  how will we notice the first signs? What might we do when that struggle occurs?  Again, we go to the students. We know as educators, we might go back to the success point for most students.  Rewind talk. Remember when we… How did we…    Find this in your…     Explain it to your partner.   

Wait for lightbulbs.

Next, we want to…

Don’t fill in… Lead.  Let student think it and talk it through. Try it out together. (active engagement) Go of to try in a specific place. Explain or show a partner where.  Listen. Keep stragglers on the rug to rework. This method will work for whole groups, strategy groups, and conferring. Then share out. What did you try?  I noticed Sean tried this… Can we see?   Post idea or success as mentors.

Specific Plans

Time for specifics. These specifics will develop in the fray including conferring, strategy groups., mini-lessons, micro-progressions, reworking mini-lessons, reteaching in the whole group and in strategy groups, and very carefully chosen and strategic sharing.

What will we look for in independent work time?  Evidence of current lessons. When preparing for conferring have on hand a list of recent topics or strategies revealed, exemplars of these strategies, mentors, and specific tools to teach quickly in.  Leave with a plan remembering whose plan it is. You might offer choices. Will you try this or that?  Be specific.

From these you might plan a number of things for your current independent work time.  A strategy group or class reteach could go back a step or two to a place of success. A share could reinforce what most get scaffolding to the next step.

Coaching Tip:                                                                                                                                           If more than 50% of your students are in the weeds, reteach.                                                   If 25%, form strategy group(s)                                                                                                          If 10%, confer 1:1.

Develop your sweet spot. Feel your way to what percentages feel right for you.

Think of your developed criteria.  Notice three specific things to work on.

Perhaps this is a place for love in the real world.  To work on word solving and fluency with a student recently, I spent fifteen minutes a day listening to him reading Dogman to me.  A student who loves Dogman might write stories and sequels in that graphic format.  Our news feeds are filled with inquiries from other teachers, what are your read alouds.  In that place, read aloud, where we figuratively and sometimes literally stand on our heads as educators.  We struggle for the perfect mentor text, the just right beginning, the book kiddos will fall in love with instantly.  That will come once the students find their flow.  The key ingredients: time and clarity. So next time and all the times that struggle occurs, let’s ask ourselves, who’s hair is on fire? 

This idea was first revealed to me in Terry Thompson book, The Construction Zone.  For more on this idea, also see Who’s Doing the Work by Burkins and Yaris.

Coaching for the Distance #sol18

Coaching for the Distance

May 22, 2018

 

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Christopher Lehmann,  Foreword to Reading Wellness

In the frayed, worn edges of the school year, with the clock ticking down, our district and many others continue to do the tough work.  We are in a trifecta of growth:  adapting the curriculums,  considering assessment, and now we arrived at the third leg, coaching into these changes.

I’ve been asked in a team to consider what is valuable in coaching, what are institutional features, and where we might go next.

Listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher read from their 180 Days book on the Heinemann Podcast today,  it struck me what I really think about coaching.  Kelly quotes Chris Lehmann from the forward to Reading Wellness.  I paraphrase here.  Our best work happens when we align our coaching to their instructional decisions, when their work becomes the curriculum (of coaching).

I fill my desk with inspirational quotes and hope they guide my words and actions.  I believe we are only limited my the limits we put on ourselves. I believe we can’t really teach anything, just help folks to discover it within themselves.  I believe that 25% of coaching is encouragement,  25% is listening,  25% is a flood of ideas, and 25% is rolling up your sleeves and getting into the thick of it.

Encouragement comes in many forms.  My favorite form is noticing.  Just taking a photo and tweeting it out to say,  wow,  that was something that happened right there.  Much like our work with the students,  noticing and naming is strong.  When a teacher or a student is in the weeds, it’s difficult to see where the flowers are blooming. Sometimes I just notice in the moment.  I find that this encourages teachers to tell me about moments I’ve missed that were great too.

Listening… can be a challenge.  My personal favorite time to listen is at 7:30 a.m. before the rush of the school day.  Just a little chat over coffee about a particular thing or perhaps many little things.  These I schedule.  They are an amazing way for me to launch the day.  These meetings spark ideas, generate excitement, and set the tone for the entire day.  4:30 in the afternoon is good too.  These meetings are relaxed, punctuated by the personal, and can often turn into a field trip or a scavenger hunt for a book or a lesson.

Flooding the room with ideas has to be entered carefully.  I usually start a meeting, a year, a relationship with a teacher by just saying I’m going to be putting a lot of ideas out there.  Most of them come from my head, my reading, my experience, what you’re saying.  Use what you will.  Leave what you want.  It’s all good.  Sometimes this flood of ideas will help someone try something they might not have.  The comfort of a fall back ideas is that if the original doesn’t work,  I could try this other idea.  This is the power of constructing something…together.  It’s just what we hope for with the students as well.

The last and most important part of coaching to me is rolling up your sleeves and getting in there.  I spend the majority of the school day in there.  Yesterday our principal and I were standing in our courtyard garden admiring the view.   I lamented that I hadn’t taken a picture of the space before we started the transformation so many years ago.  We were both new to the building then and it was a wonderful neutral project to work with the team.  The infamous cookies and cakes just a way to say I’m here for you.  Covering for a teacher when she is in a meeting,  finding a book,  conferring with a student,  doing some running records,  there are so many ways to be there in the work.

I think coaching is best when it is student centered.  More than that,  coaching is best in the fabric of a philosophy of education.  We are all constructing knowledge:  the coaches,  the teachers, and the students.  We help create an environment for experimentation,  for learning, and for growth.  We assist in getting the tools in place and helping people learn how to use those tool.  It’s true,  we can’t teach people anything.  We can only help them discover it within themselves.

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Thank you to some powerful coaches in my life including my slicing community and Two Writing Teachers.   Read more from powerful educators at twowritingteachers.org.

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

May 15, 2018

I’ve been neglecting my responsibility.  The person who never comes to a meeting with out cookies, muffins, or slices of cake has forgotten to celebrate success.

As a coach, there’s always a subject or subjects dujour.  One of the elements of literacy I have been deeply coaching into this year is process over product.  What I know that to mean is we don’t have to over edit writing, make a fancy laminated cover, and make sure all the mistakes are corrected.  We can celebrate what happened live.  I say that,  but I haven’t lived it.

There’s a great deal of new content in my school and district much of which is literacy based.  That is the nature of elementary school.  New ideas are coming at us at a breakneck speed.  We are rushing along with them.  We have a map and we are moving along it.

I started thinking about losing celebrations as I collaborated with a teacher in a third grade class some weeks ago.  She was bemoaning the fact that the students she worked with never finished their writing pieces.  The words were floating out of my mouth that it’s the process,  they are just learning the techniques when I examined those words as they floated into the room.   Something in the back of my mind replied, it does kind of matter if they never finish.  How will they celebrate their accomplishments? 

Those thoughts continued to rattle around across some other grades. In first grade, we were quickly finishing fairy tales and moving on to nonfiction chapter books.  In second grade we were moving from nonfiction chapter books to poetry.  In third grade, we were finishing our literary essays and moving on to persuasive speeches.   We needed a stop along the way.

I was just getting ready to say something to someone.  I copied some first grade nonfiction chapter books.  I had the kiddos read me their books as they finished.  Then a second grade teacher had her class read their nonfiction books to their reading buddies.  The third grade teacher wanted to spark her students and helped them go back and type their literacy essays for a gallery walk.

So now,  still process over product.  Not perfect products, but writing to celebrate.  Finishing still might not be all that important, but certainly celebrating is.  So in the face of a avalanche of content,  take time to savor the writing.

 

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my Slice community for always giving me an opportunity to celebrate writing.

The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

imagesThe (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

May 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Write #sol18

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Why I Write #sol18

April 10, 2018

“I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to. But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thing I’ll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Ever.”
― Patricia MacLachlan, Word After Word After Word

I, myself, write to change my perception.  I never considered myself a writer. I taught writing,  I had students write. I wrote. In my mind, I wasn’t a writer.  When I published my 100th blog, I added writer to my twitter bio.  Perhaps one hundred blogs doesn’t make me a writer, but now I’m a person who writes.  
I,  myself, write to share an idea.  Sometimes I write to share a passed-on idea.  Sometimes I write to share a synthesis of several ideas.  Sometimes I write to share a memory that sparked another idea.  I share ideas. 

 

I,  myself, write to live in community with other writers.  We know each other through our writing. We know the joy of words strung together.  We know the frustration of words that will not string together. We learn together how to write,  how to improve our writing, how to support each other as writers.

 

I, myself, write to rethink an experience. Occasionally they are wonderful experiences and I want to think about them again.  Other times, they are trying experiences and I want to think through them again. I experience  them more fully when I write them down.

 

I, myself, write to improve my teaching and coaching.  When I write about what I teach, I examine it more carefully.  When I write about my coaching, I examine that as well. In that examination, that noticing, I change.  I grow.

I , myself, write, to experience what the students experience. I think about structure, syntax, and grammar.  I think about word choice and voice.  My thoughts fill with mentor texts.  Sometimes, I even think about spelling. I am a student of writing. 
I, myself, write to solve a problem,  to answer a question, to make things turn out the way I want them to.

I, myself, write.  I am a writer.

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Thank you to my fellow bloggers for inspiration and encouragement and to TWO WRITING TEACHERS for creating this opportunity.  Read more amazing blogs and join the writing here.

 

The Teaching Point #NPM2018

IMG_0729The Teaching Point

April 4, 2018

A Found Poem

Today I want to teach you

Writers look closely

  Teach people even more

Then they put into words what they’ve learned

 

Writers,  I want to show you

  The first thing I notice

Do you notice anything else?

 

Writers, do you see?

 If we look closely

   Pictures can spark us.

 

Writers,  I want to share some things

 I thought that was so great

  He wrote

 

I also overheard

She told

She also used a few words

 Nice work!

 

Writers, I know you

 Have so much you want to do today,

So I’m going to send you off now.

 

I will add this strategy

 Remember to use all you know

Get started!   

 

This found poem is from the Nonfiction Chapter Book First Grade Unit of Study from IMG_0729.JPGCalkins.  Distilling the words in this way, gave me a stronger perspective of what we are trying to accomplish in first grade or any writing instruction.