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.

 

 

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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

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

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.

 

 

 

The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

IMG_9903The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

October 3, 2017

Over the course of the last week or so, as the first graders pass by the literacy center on their way to lunch,  I began to overhear one student after another mention “Pigeon”.  I didn’t think much about it, but then the first grade PLC leader dropped by the literacy center on her way back from specials one day.  Here’s her story.

The students noticed you have THE Pigeon in here, she said.  You have to start moving it every day.  

I was confused, but then I remembered that I had purchased Pigeon,  Piggie, and Gerard over the summer and they were gently tucked into the new book shelves surrounding my desk.  I thought they might be popular with the students at the time, but over weeks, they were just blending in for me.  She continued.

We told the first graders that Pigeon comes to check the libraries in our rooms at night and he leaves them all messages.  You have to move him around because now they think he lives in the Literacy Center. 

It makes sense.  The Literacy Center is one big library of teacher resources and leveled text.  I thought, why not?   That very afternoon,  I moved Pigeon to prominently display on the shelf right inside my door.  Do you know what happened next?

Pandemonium!   When the first graders came down the hall that day to go to lunch and the Pigeon- THE PIGEON -was right there looking at them,  the buzz went up and I’m not sure how anyone got to lunch that day.

So… here I am.  The Pigeon has become my own personal Elf on the Shelf.  I try to remember to move him each afternoon before I go home. There he is every morning waiting to be magical in the eyes of some very perceptive six year old.

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I’m grateful today for six year old magic, for first grade teachers who wanted to include me in the fun, for Mo Willems for creating such a wonderful character for children to relate to, and for the opportunity this and so many other days to be part of the world of elementary school.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM I’m grateful to Two Writing Teachers for giving me a reason to think about the magic of my day and then write about it.  You can read more Slices here.

 

 

Is That Your Chair? #sol17

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any resemblance to my actual desk chair is purely fictional

Is That Your Chair?  #sol17

September 26, 2017

We are in the midst of assessment season and my mornings have been filled with benchmark assessment with my team.  It’s a hectic time, but gives me that so-needed dipstick into the reading temperature of the whole school.

In the midst of a busy Monday,  a  confident bean pole of a third grade plopped down in the chair next to me to read a couple of one-minute reading passages.  He looked over to the desk chair I wheeled down from the book room and said, What are you doing with Mr. Jodice’s (our revered music teacher) chair?  I looked around, startled, not understanding what he said at first.  This is my chair from the literacy center,  I said.

The smarty pants gives me a strong stare…Does Mr. Jodice know you have his chair?  With rational words I calmly explain that all of the classrooms have these chairs and Mr. Jodice’s chair was still in his room for him to sail around in.  Given the look I got in return,  I don’t think this intelligent third grader believed me.

I told this story a few times yesterday, even to Mr. Jodice, to smiles and knowing nods about the literal thinking of this young third grader.  On my drive home,  I began to think about just that third grade thinking.

All of us, especially those under four feet tall with a limited (for the time being) world view, have certain expectations and KNOWLEDGE that we know for sure.  My young friend knew for sure that his beloved Mr. Jodice had a chair identical to mine, so it must be his.  Following this logic along,  this third grader (and his friends) have other things that they know for sure.  Things that would startle me or any teacher who might have a different way of thinking. Ideas about how stories go,  ideas about themselves as learners, ideas about … teachers.  Some of those ideas, we should help them change…over time.  We can’t help them change these ideas if we don’t listen to them first.

Thank goodness Mr. Jodice’s chair will be right there in the music room next time my new friend has music.  Some things are the rocks on which we build others.  Maybe that third grader will think Mr. Jodice graciously loaned me his chair.  Maybe he’ll visit the literacy center and spin in the chair himself.  Maybe he’ll notice the chair his teacher sits in at her desk.

Hopefully, what I learned is to perspective take a little better because of that little conversation on a Monday.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AMThank you to Two Writing Teachers for inspiring so many of us to write our slices of life weekly.  Thank you to my PLN of amazing writers for encouraging me on Tuesdays and every other day of the week. Enjoy so many more slices here.

So Many Questions #sol17

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August 29, 2017

Yesterday we had our district-wide kick off.  Today we had our ‘kick-off’ staff meeting.   In my thinking, they both centered around questions.  Questions we should ask ourselves to prepare for our year.

Yesterday, our def Poet speaker, Regie Gibson,  rallied us to distill our contribution to society (our students) into one word.  One word to convey all that our essence brings to the proverbial table of our classrooms.  My word came to me quickly.  Many, many individuals say this about me.  Sometimes I suspect it isn’t a compliment… to them.  To me,  it is my core strength.  This thing gets me to rise in the morning, work long through the day, and continue year after year.  The district sent us a wordle of the collective words.  It took me a few minutes to find my word.  It’s not the largest or the next largest.  I wondered if any one out of those other hundreds of educational professionals said the same word.  Then I thought it’s my word.  I know what it means to me.  I have a good idea what it will mean to the teachers,  students and parents that I will cross paths with this year.  I feel good about that.

Today, we watched a video of Dean James Ryan of Harvard University delivering a commencement in May 2016.  He says it much more eloquently that I do. My teacher and parent friends will enjoy especially the first question,  “Wait!  What?”.   Of course, this goes to understanding.  The second questions figures prominently in our current teaching, I wonder why.  This question prompts our curiosity.  The next question helps unstick the stuck,  Couldn’t we at least… Offering a gentle, gentle nudge, a place to begin. The fourth question, How could I help? is the basis of all good relationships.  This one thing is a strength of mine,  the ability to help.  The subtlety of the question is important.  How could I help?  Giving the recipient the opportunity to maintain the control of the situation and your assistance.  The last question is echoing in the blogs I follow,  the books I read,  my reaction to current times, and my own musings.  What truly matters (to me)?  When we understand this one thing, we can share so much.

So there you have it on a Tuesday.  Some questions to ponder as you celebrate a new year.  I hope that they will keep you up in a good way,  light your path,  and spark your conversations.

 

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This slice of life is inspired by many more found here and by Two Writing Teachers who may in fact have changed everything I think about myself as a learner, as a writer, and as a member of a vast community.