Losing My Way #sol19

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Losing My Way #sol19

October 1, 2019

One day last week,  I decided late in the day to have my GPS help me find the way home.  I was at a bookstore in a nearby town and the traffic was heavy.  I’m not sure why I programmed home into my GPS. I had driven both to the store and home from there many times over the years, but I sat in the parking lot and asked my technology to virtually show me the way home.

As you may guess, it didn’t go so well.  I was tired from… a long day, dehydrated, hungry, tired, talked out.  I programmed the GPS to my address and then immediately took a wrong turn.  Not to worry, I thought.  The GPS will just reconfigure and get me back on track.  The GPS did loop me back around, but then either I misunderstood for the second time, the GPS noticed the traffic, or fate was messing with me.  I got more and more off track.  I would close to a turn or street that was familiar and then the GPS would have me turn off.  Was I tired and mishearing?  This continued to happen until I knew I was way off track in a further away town nearly an hour away from home.  The roads were unfamiliar and this made me more and more hesitant and slow moving.  Finally,  I called out in the car,  I need help.  I did need help.  I was beginning to be frightened.  It was getting later.  The roads were busy. I was lost.

Unable to get myself back under control,  I called my husband and said, I’m lost.  Understanding and caring, he honestly said back,  I can’t tell where you are.  Does anything look familiar?  As he continued to ask me question, my breath regulated.  I realized I could figure this out.  Eventually,  I saw something familiar and I began to navigate with certainty toward home.

During that half an hour drive,  I thought about why I was so tired.  I thought about why my resources had failed me.  I thought about why for those few minutes I had felt like I couldn’t solve my own problem.  Then… I overreacted.  When I arrived home, my husband and son were worried and glad to see me.  They were full of helpful suggestions about how this could be avoided in the future.  I’m not sure what they said.  I know it was something about using a different navigation, giving myself time,  not overbooking, and I believe, something about antioxidants.  All extremely well meaning.  The truth was,  I had been lost coming from somewhere that shouldn’t be difficult.  What did it mean?

Perhaps it meant that my head was too full, my body too empty.  I tend to think of it as a life lesson.  We can get lost in the partially familiar and instead of relying on what we know, look to others to create our reality.  These other explain things in their terms, with their understanding.  Sometimes it looks familiar, but not enough for us to see the path forward with clarity.  We wander around in the weeds for a little while.  Then, if we are fortunate, we talk it over, we gain clarity.  Then we find our way forward, slowly, a little shaky from the experience.

Ahh, September.  So full of overcommitments, dark roads, and unsure steps.  Here it is October.  Steady as it goes.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6While my September has been inconsistent,  I write in the community of other writers who graciously accept me when I am lost, every Tuesday.  Please read other remarkable writing at Two Writing Teachers.

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Turn & Talk #sol18

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Unlike many previous meetings as represented here, this gathering was technology free

Turn & Talk #sol18

Yesterday we had a curriculum meeting.  The staff gathers after school and chats together about some aspect of the curriculum.  In many years,  I made a presentation, teaching into this or that topic of interest or new learning.  I think those days are gone… in a good way.

As we consider who is doing the heavy lifting in our classrooms,  the gradual release of responsibility in our classrooms,  so to might we consider DIY PD.  DIY PD is not a new idea, but I don’t think I consider it in the same way I once did.  Let’s go back to yesterday.

Our new principal is getting to know everyone around here.  He’s had some (lots) of goal setting meetings and as he opened the meeting yesterday, he said, A goal is just another way to look at what you’re interested in.  Leaving that very provocative thinking aside, he went on to say that partner work, the essence of students talking, collaborating, and working together was at the heart of most of his discussions.  And then he said something that sounded like it was directly from his heart.  He said that in light of the dangers faced in the world today, the hate, the discord,  how we help students develop the ability to communicate, to cooperate, to listen and be heard is the vital work.  Then he said magic words, Let’s just get together in some small groups now and talk about what were doing, what questions we have,  where we would like to go next.  

Then we did.  We had no power point, no shared reading, no lecture.  Just groups of eight or ten educators across the grade levels having an unstructured discussion regarding student-student feedback or student-teacher feedback.  I heard just a little bit choosing to linger in a small group.  But what I heard…

I heard educators talking about the power of partnerships for students.  How each partnership can lift the level of student work by encouragement.  That encouragement seems so authentic to students.  You’re doing the same thing I am doing and you have an idea about what I might do next based on what you’ve tried.  In the book,  Thanks for the Feedback, the authors focus not on exactly how the feedback is delivered, but how we choose to receive it.

When we as coaches or administrators,  team leaders or teachers,  top-down every conversation,  choosing what we’re thinking about,  how we are thinking about it, and unfortunately, sometimes what we should think about it,  we are doing a disservice to growth, learning, and respect.  I’m imagining myself saying now I don’t do that.  I am allowing thinking, conversation, and certainly respect.  It what way would that not be the case?  Maybe you do.  But I didn’t always.

Yesterday… Perhaps some conversations went off course.  Perhaps some dwindled down to complaints.  Perhaps,  just perhaps, some were right on target.  It wasn’t my target. Hopefully, it was on target for the participants. When we allow for conversation, we allow for growth.  When we aren’t looking for one answer, many, many show up.

I can’t leave my fixer mentality completely behind.  I walked away from our meeting later thinking about resources that I want to make available to the educators in our building, discussions I hope to have, and visits between educators that I hope to facilitate.  The difference is that these queries weren’t generated by me.  They were generated by inquiry, conversation, and sharing.  Now when they show up in the teacher lounge,  in a mailbox, through an email, the receiver may say, that’s just what I was thinking about, looking for, wondering.  And the learning community takes another move forward together.

So I’m considering the gradual release of coaching,  the inquiry of community, and the DIY of learning for not just the classroom, but our whole community.  Here’s to learning!

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Slicing about the life of a literacy coach weekly on Tuesdays with my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community.  Read more amazing slices here.

Hallmark Movies #sol17

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December 19,2017

Often in the busy-ness of December  I have a Hallmark Channel movie on in the background of my home life.  At first,  my husband would tease me about them: how do you tell them apart, they are all the same actors,  you can tell what’s going to happen in the first 10-15 minutes, why are you still watching?   But then last night he said,  I’m starting to get what you see in them.

Hallmark has a standard formula.  They make all of these holiday movies in Canada during the summer like a bootcamp.  If you watch enough of them,  you can see standard rooms, houses, backdrops, and how they make it look like winter without too much snow.  There’s always a central couple not together in the beginning,  meet by some fate, have trouble, and end up together in the end.  There’s never too much anger or kissing or even a REALLY bad person.  They make around 15 new holiday movies for each season,  Christmas and Valentines.  The Christmas movies start playing in mid-November.

In December,  we have developed a standard formula at school as well. The teachers and students I work with know when I will meet with them,  when I’ll be in their room, and for the most part what I will do when I’m there.  They can count on me.  They know what to expect.  I have a formula.

Before you start thinking that my formula is boring or not challenging, I go home tired every single night. I plan after school to make those routines look effortless. What is that saying, the devil is in the details.

So this time of year is good.  It’s the time when we’ve worked out most of the details and can get into the elaboration of the story.  We can say,  hey,  little dudes,  I know you and now I’m going to put the gas petal down on this.  

Today in a classroom,  a writer told me an old story,  I’m not good at writing. I can’t do this.  Today I could say to him you told me that in the fall, but you’ve written some great stories since then, so dude,  we know that’s not true.  Get going,  don’t let yourself off the hook.  

I can say to a new teacher,  hey, let’s try this little harder move.  Take what you’re doing and up the ante to this.  Say to my colleagues, hey, what next gang? 

So maybe I have a Hallmark formula,  I meet with folks at 7:30 am with my coffee. I drop in to confer with fourth graders during reading.  I ‘hit and run’ phonics with third graders.  I talk reading and spelling with some 2nd graders.  I show up to get coats and mittens and reveal my ‘teacher school’ trick of folding snowpants to the 2nd graders in the room down the hall.

Along with that,  I slip in a new book or a small idea.  An encouragement or a challenge.

And it all turns out in the end.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thanks to the Slice of Life Community and the amazing individuals behind Two Writing Teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

December Cookies #sol17

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December Cookies

December 12, 2017

In late November,  people in our school start asking me about “THE COOKIES”.  Funny,  I never once consider that they would become “THE COOKIES”.

Eight years ago,  I dropped out of the sky (well Northern Illinois) into the Northeast having never having been here.  My husband and I left our (nearly grown) sons and family in the Midwest and moved to near Boston MA.  That first year,  we had our house on the market full of our things in northern Illinois and we rented a furnished 1750’s farmhouse, a far cry from our former home on the prairie and our familiar possessions.

Being a literacy specialist, that first year (and many since) were about making relationships as I could,  learning the ways of a new district and building, and searching for a way to call this new normal, home.  Everyone was polite.  I kept busy, but I longed for the rituals of my former life.

When we arrived at Thanksgiving that first year and there were three of us instead of 12 or more, I began to have a terrible homesickness that I couldn’t seem to shake.  The kitchen of our rented farmhouse was the best room in the house. It was large, warm and inviting with a sunny window over the sink, the same oven I had had at home, and a baking station with a professional mixer.

My husband’s sister and I had always gotten together when the kids were small and baked cookies for one or two Saturdays before the holidays.  We created cookie trays for each of us, Bob’s mother and dad, and extras for family friends and co-workers.  We had our favorites, both new and from our own mothers:  peanut butter cookies with kisses, sugar cookie stars, and pecan snowballs.  We baked and ate and filled our kitchens with love and warmth. Along with many family holiday rituals, they fit like an old sweater.

Back to our new reality,  Bob and I were just two.  There was no way for us to eat through batches of cookies.  I’m not sure when it came to me, but I decided to bake a batch of cookies every day during that first December in Massachusetts.  I had never made 25  different types of cookies, though full disclosure,  I had make at least one batch of cookies a week for thirty years.  At first,  I didn’t really say anything at work,  I just started bringing the cookies in the morning and leaving them in the teachers’ lunchroom.  Familiar cookies at first.  One’s that my mom,  Bob’s mom, my old friends, or Mary and I had baked over the years.  Then it quite literary snowballed.

People started discussing their favorite cookies.  When it came out that it was me baking these cookies,  people would comment on their favorites,  ask if I could make something they had heard of or enjoyed in their families, and leave recipes in my mailbox, on my desk, and in my inbox.  They looked forward to the morning, when the cookies would arrive and either ate one right away or squirreled it away for later in the day.  In the magic of cookies,  it made us more than co-workers, more like co-conspirators.  The cookies were transformative for me.  Something besides work to talk about and so many people to talk to.

We trudged through that December with Peanut Butter Blossoms and Cherry White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats.  Eggnog Snickerdoodles and Hot Chocolate Cookies.  Spritz and Italian Christmas Cookies.  I learned a lot.  Not surprisingly,  I learned a lot more about baking.  I know about cookie sizing, best ingredients,  what kinds of butter, parchment, flour.  I research cookies and experimented on so many.  I don’t know I wasn’t afraid they wouldn’t like them.  Perhaps I thought everyone loves a little cookie.

As we approached the winter holiday,  our psychologist at that time asked me, “What are you going to do after the holiday?”  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  Christmas was over and hopefully so would be my need to bake cookies.  “What are you going to make after the holiday?”  I hadn’t given it one solitary thought.  I thought my public baking had an end point.  But no…   Marilyn told me about a book she had read,  All Cakes Considered.  Melissa Gray (NPR) had written a book about perfecting her mom’s cake baking prowess by baking a cake every Monday and bringing it into NPR.  Marilyn thought, as did others, that this was a terrific idea for me.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be a terrific idea.  While I had made a few cakes during my life,  I wasn’t an expert by any stretch.  A home cook with little training except food science courses in college,  I impulsively bought the book and began to search the internet for recipes of cakes for the newly christened Cake Monday.  So Monday cakes came to be. A story for another day.

IMG_0444When the next December rolled around,  Bob and I were fairly settled in our Massachusetts ‘permanent’ home with one son ‘temporarily’ ensconced in our lower level.  Our older son was due to come for Christmas and our familiar holiday decoration with Christmas village, copious ornaments, and favorite knickknacks in place.  While I still missed the warmth of family, having spent Thanksgiving in Chicago, we were ready to face the holidays much brighter that the year before.

IMG_0426Surprising to me, people began to ask about the “December Cookies”.  The hallways had snippets of conversation about cookies.  People casually reminded me about their favorites from the year before.  There was an expectation of cookies.  How could I say no to that?

From that day forward for the last eight years,  cookies show up in the teachers’ lounge every morning during the month of December.  The week before December 1st,  I make a calendar or list of the cookies.  Many, many of them now are favorites of someone.  Christy loves eggnog snickerdoodles.  Melissa has to have cherry white chocolate krispies treats and hot chocolate cookies.  A relative newcomer said,  “Do you remember my favorite?”  “It’s red velvet.”

So each evening after dinner or sometime early morning before work,  the delicious aroma of vanilla, butter, and sugar fills our home. My husband has resigned himself to imperfect cookies stuffed in his lunch or the occasional snuck cookie from the cooling rack.  My son rattles the Christmas cookie jar on the counter and gives me a half glare that there aren’t any cookies in our jar.  Eight years.  136 batches of cookies.  Close to 5,000 cookies later,  I’m making a list, checking who is out what day so I don’t make her favorite when she is away.  You can find my cookie recipe collection on my Pinterest page, readingteachsu under Christmas Cookies. Someday, maybe,  this adventure will be a book.  Tomorrow’s cookies are hot chocolate, but you better stop by early,  they don’t last long.

 

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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for all of your support and inspiration and this week,  a special thank you to Tammy Mulligan for encouraging me to tell this story.

 

 

Path Change #sol17

Path Change

November 21, 2017AlcoveSprngsWagonSwales DIles

They say there are nine places in the United States where you can still see the marks of the Conestoga wagons.  As you may predict,  most of them are in rural areas of the western edge of the midwest to western states of Kansas and Nebraska.  These ruts represent so many, many families and individuals that followed the exact same path out to what they hoped was fortune.

In education,  we rarely have the luxury of a known path.  We often have our path changed for us or realize because of situational phenomena,  it’s time to change ourselves.  The good news is that disequilibrium strengthens your core.  It’s true or so I hear.  The school building is full of yoga balls to strengthen our cores and heighten our engagement.  So a little change is good.

A little change is good, but often change isn’t little.  Several curriculums change at once,  your class changes,  your room changes,  your colleagues change. A lot changes.  So what do we do when change is hard?

They say that an unexamined life isn’t worth living and so perhaps is our attitude toward change.  We are all positive about teaching our students flexibility and positive mindset and ‘not yet’,  but when it comes to our own little patch in the sun,  we struggle sometimes.  I say, that’s ok.

Growth is a messy, imperfect process.  If we weren’t out there experimenting with change and new and a little scary,  what kind of example for our future innovators would we be setting?

So just for today, this week,  this month,  this school year, let’s take some teaching risks.  Let’s move away from the ruts of the paths of the past.  Let’s try some new things.

It’s a good time to think of that kindergarten book we used to love.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  

Robert Fulghum

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicers for the forum and the  encouragement.  Read more slices here.

 

The Gift of Time #sol17

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October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.

 

 

 

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Always inspired by Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Community.

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Reasoned Understanding of Evidence #sol17

Reasoned Understanding of Evidence

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October 10, 2017

Last week,  Rainer Weiss, the chair of the physics department at MIT won the Nobel Prize for Physics.  This probably isn’t that much of a surprise, though Dr. Weiss said his chances were about 20%,  MIT has had 32 Nobel Prize winners.

What struck me in Ray Weiss’ interview on NPR was that he said what was important was the reasoned understanding of evidence.  A happenstance that Dr. Weiss fears is in jeopardy.

I was thinking that day (last Tuesday) and the days that followed about what a reasoned understanding of evidence might be.  I think of it in light of the fairly substantial amount of evidence we collectively collect regarding students in the fall of each year and in the shadow of examining that data together in our teams.  What does it mean to have a reasoned understanding of evidence?  As literacy professionals we looked at the words reasoned understanding and we take them to mean  comprehension of evidence based on well thought out logic and good sense.

We are fortunate at our school to take the time to carefully construct understandings of the assessment measures,  the results of those assessments, and importantly triangulate that information with what we have found out in other ways:  observation, practice, and other assessments.  We triage results and take the time to return to reflection, recording, and more conversation after our initial meetings.

In the best scenarios and honestly often,  we come to a new understanding of students and a new plan for moving forward, considering what might be the bedrock skill to begin with, miraculously considering all of the variables of planning, grouping, materials, motivation, and sometimes, sheer will.

I read last week that teachers have to make more decisions during the day than brain surgeons.  Some estimates are 1500 decisions.  But these decision,  how to group students, what to instruct whole class,  what to revisit, what goals to set, what questions to ask,  determine the instructional underpinnings of the students in our view.

So when I meet with teachers over the next few days, weeks, months, years,  as a coach and a collaborator,  I want to be a catalyst, a cheerleader, a co-conspirator, a sounding board.  Rai Weiss had a long struggle to that Nobel Prize.  He dropped out of MIT one time and his research on gravitational waves spans 30 years peppered with missteps and false starts.  We might have similar missteps and false starts, however we’ll start together. I want us to say together what Rai Weiss said when he was interviewed last Tuesday after he made that reasoned understanding of evidence,  ” It’s very, very exciting that it worked out in the end.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating, maintaining and inspiring this platform.  You can read some amazing slices of life here.