The New Norm(al) #sol17

The New Normal

LETS.jpgAugust 22, 2017

The weeks before school start are a blur of activities.  One of those activities this week was to join a new PLC group.  The members of the group are very familiar to me, but we haven’t worked together in this configuration or these roles before.  As in most PLCs, one of our first tasks was to set our group norms.

Usually group norms are “low hanging fruit” as my current principal would say.  Easy things that make sense when you are working in a group.  Be respectful,  give everyone a voice, come prepared.  But today, in this moment something nearly magical happened.  People started speaking about things they hoped they would do.  Things that are challenging sometimes for them.

Some of the ones I loved best were gently spoken from heart and tenderly received by the group.  One person hoped we would be flexible.  One said that we should embrace our changing school and the contributions that all of our many new teachers bring with them to our work.  I am particularly enthusiastic so I said that I hoped to give wait time in the way I do with the students so people had time to fully complete their thinking.  

There were a lot of suggestions involving being positive and assuming positive intent in others. And then for me, it all turned a corner.  Some one said stay focused on the work and then… seek to understand.  All of my Seven Habits thinking came back to me and I thought, yeah,  this is it.  Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Then I thought of the secret sauce of this group… synergy.  We are so much better together than the individual intentions of our separate selves.  This is what makes me look forward to meetings,  to chats,  to days,  to weeks,  and to years with these people.

Here are the rest of our norms to encourage our work and perhaps yours too.

 

-Be OK with messy (embrace mistakes)

-Stay in the present

-Embrace change

-Emphasize the process

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Slice of Life and the Slice of Life Writing Community is a product of the nurture of Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing blogs here.

 

 

Pushing the Season #sol17

IMG_9463Pushing the Season

August 7, 2017

Not sure when it happened but all of the stores have Halloween candy.  The end of July, fall leaves and a few pumpkins started showing up.  I imagine next week there will be full-on costumes.

I’m guilty as well.  While I never completely step away from school during the summer, I make it a fairly hard rule not to actually step foot inside the building from July 1- August 1.  This is a hollow promise as I read email, respond, and generally spend a few hours a day working on school related things.  I’m not alone in this…

Paula Borque (litcoachlady) wrote a wonderful blog recently, Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation.   Her point was that teachers need time to recharge, discover new things, and have separation from the students and their classroom.  Read it for a more eloquent telling.  Paula was standing near me at Heinemann last weekend when Vicki Boyd said that teachers need “a long cool drink” to refresh for the coming year.  We do need it, but when the calendar turns to August 1st, we start thinking about getting ready.

After 35 years, it should not take me a month to get ready.  In my defense,  I was preparing for new teacher bootcamp next week.

All this anticipation of pumpkins, candy, and bulletin boards, made me think of my “new school year” resolution,  let the students lead the learning.  Let the students lead the learning.  Anticipation is good.  I want to have enough paper, pencils, markers, dry erase boards, seats, and sunlight for everyone.  Let’s be aware and ready to get to know each of them as people and learners.  Let’s design activities for the first weeks that highlight getting to know them,  them knowing each other, and them knowing us.  Let’s linger in that time because it will pay off through the months.

So this year,  let’s keep our anticipation to a minimum.  Let’s think about a unit of study, but plan a week or maybe even a day at a time.  Let’s work in some time as Ralph Fletcher says in Joy Write for greenbelt writing, free range kids writing for the sake of enjoyment.  Let’s go to lunch in the teacher lounge and chat with our colleagues.  Let’s take our planning and visit each other’s rooms.  Let each day be the day I’m thinking of and my thoughts of tomorrow are saved unit at least after lunch.

I’m not good at this.  My grandmother would say I liked to borrow trouble.  I am pledging to give it a go.  Be warned the people in my radius,  I’m going to encourage you to do the same, probably on a daily basis.

So take this week to enjoy the sunshine, a novel, a new discovery, a long walk.  You’ll be better for it in December.  I’ll do the same.  However,  you might want to buy some Halloween candy to eat right now.  It’s a bargain.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.

Les Brown

Library Crawl Lessons #sol17

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Art Installation Goodnow Library, Sudbury, MA

Eight Lessons for August First   

August 1, 2017

I spent the day on a crazy library crawl with my friend, Patti.  Patti is that friend that always calls me to do the thing with her that is just a little off the grid.  I consider this a tremendous compliment.  So we set out to visit 12 local libraries and view their prize possessions in one day.  We didn’t have a plan except the list of libraries, our phones, and our company.  The day was full of little surprises, great conversation, and some adventure.  Here are eight lessons learned on August 1.

  1. Be willing to linger in the crazy/good/interesting folly.  It took a while.  We gave ourselves the day to enjoy.  We didn’t rush.  We chatted with the people we met.  We lingered over art.  We thought about the past.  We noticed those around us.  We relaxed in our pursuit.
  2. Have a plan, but keep it loose.  12 libraries in a day is sort
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    Bacon Free Library

    of crazy sauce. There was road work. There was questionable GPS advice.  Be prepared, but not too quickly, to let go of something if it’s not working.

  3. Take a moment.  Those extra minutes to hear a story, make a connection, examine something more closely lead to the jewels that make the day.

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    Kindness Rock Project, Morse Institute Library

  4. Be camera ready. Patti looked lovely and I did not have my best look on. We took dozens of pictures.   So… be camera ready. Not Pinterest.  Not Vogue. Know what the objective is,  what’s going on in your class, what your goals are, and what might happen next.  You never know who’s going to drop by.  More importantly,  you’ll feel ready for anything.
  5. Everyone will not have the same reaction to you, so what.  Each library was different and their welcome/interest in us was in kind.  Our interest in the experience did not change.  We had an agenda and goals and their reaction only could enhance that.
  6. Beautiful things can happen in benign neglect.  While stopped in traffic we noticed some lovely “ditch flowers” blooming away.  A little neglect is a good thing.
  7. On the way to your objective,  you may discover marvelous surprises.  We discovered a stuffed aardvark, a step and handle to reach books,  an art gallery,  a house in a library, a library that checks out crockpots, stained glass, a seismograph, a bench with solar charging station, tributes to heroes and beloved community objects, and so many places to linger over a book.
  8. Accomplishment is a good thing.  We were going to let that last library go and settle for 11/12, but we were so close.  We went for it.  Now we can say, 12/12 … to ourselves.
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Patti and me at Wayland Free Public Library

Thank you to my friend Patti,  Morse Institute Library, Bacon Free Library, Wayland Free Library,  Goodnow Library,  Weston Public Library, Sherborn Public Library, Wellesley Free Public Library, Wellesley Free Library Hills Branch,  Wellesley Free Library Fells Branch, Framingham Public Library, McAuliffe Branch Framingham Public Library, and Dover Town Library.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AMThank you to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Challenge community for keeping writing alive and real.  Read more slices here.

 

National All or Nothing Day #sol17

now or never motivational reminderNational All or Nothing Day #sol17

July 26, 2017

I spent a few early morning hours collaborating with a kindred spirit.  Perhaps I just wish she were my kindred spirit.  She possesses so many traits I like to think I have including a long range and global vision for change, a deep abiding quest to empower children in their learning, and drive.  What she has that is infinitely more honed that mine is patience and a view of the “long game”.

July 26 is apparently  All or Nothing Day. I have a plate on my desk in the literacy center,  that says,  “Now or Never”.  Several times over the years people have given me things with that slogan.  I imagine it reminds them of my brashness,  my overwhelming desire to get right to the point, get on with it, get to it.  Several years ago,  some teachers and I went to a workshop where they determined our ‘teaching’ personalities.  Mine was definitely all in.

Why my “all in” attitude might be beneficial to you.

  1.  Once I commit to something, I’m “all in”.  I will spend the time, resources, and energy to get the task completed.  If it’s a task you need help with, that’s a plus.
  2. I act immediately.  You ask me for a reference, a book, a lesson, a slide, some time, and I’m all over it.
  3.  When I show up, I’m fully present.
  4.  My word is my truth.  In a world full of half truth and spared feelings, the truth is my only setting.  Some do not appreciate this trait.
  5. Let’s get right to it is my motto.  No gentle chat, no review.  Let’s move.

So if you meet me or someone like me,  realize the spirit.  Enthusiasm.  The belief in the possible.  Embrace the “all in”.

 

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My slice is a few days late this week.  I am thankful for Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life community for supporting my writing and the writing of so many.  You can read more slices here.

The Sound of Silence #sol17

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The Sound of Silence #SOL17

July 18, 2017

This is the sweet spot of the summer.  The projects created now are done without urgency.  A book can call one to sit and linger for hours without regret.  Silence can feel like a blanket, soothing and comfortable.  Minds can wander.  This is restoration.  Relaxation.  The good kind of solitude.  Let’s linger here.

 

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

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Summer Self #SOL17

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Lingering

July 11, 2017

I have finally gotten into my summer frame of mind.  It took 1O days this year.  Never really sure what summer mindset is at the beginning of summer, I flounder around for days on end making lists and thinking about projects, never really getting out of my school year skin.  But today,  I remembered.  

 A long summer list made after I’ve carted home more books and things that can ever read in eight weeks.  Then set all these goals and things making endless lists that  won’t be finished in a day, but then finally  settle in.

I never know what settling in will look or feel like.  Sometimes I don’t realize at first that I’m settled in, but then it strikes me.  Today,  it struck me when I was patiently scrubbing the soot on the fireplace stones.  Spray,  scrub,  rinse,  examine.  Spray, scrub,  rinse,  examine.  This is it,  I thought.  The patience to consider a task,  be mindful in the task,  and most of the time, complete the task.  Though I have been known to abandon.  Even in that abandonment,  there is peace.  

Yesterday,  I spent a few hours rearranging every single drawer in my bedroom.  I sortedIMG_9232 through jewelry, repositioning it, touching all of it.  Lingering in memories.  I arranged my shirts in the art of tidying up, carefully rolled and sorted by color. Testing all of the pens in the bedside drawer.  Thinking about their lifespan, their origins, their journey. One day repotting  plants.  On and on it goes.  Sometimes studying an idea,  reading,  looking up something, lingering.  Lingering in my thoughts.  

There isn’t the time for this during the school year. Lists are made.  Tasks checked off.  Constant movement, all the time.  There should be time.  That’s what’s needed in our work with students and their teachers.  Thoughtfulness,  mindfulness,  consciousness, time.  Being a fan of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this should come to mind…  Begin with the end in mind. First Things First.  Sharpen the Saw.  

So when we have put our summer selves away this year, let’s keep this one bit going.  Be conscious in our acts.  Be patient with ourselves.  Be present in the moment.  It will take as long as it takes.  

Continue to linger.  

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Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

The Art of Sweeping #SOL17

IMG_9139Zen, Meditation, Completion, and Closure

June 27,2017

Yesterday,  Dylan and I spent a couple of hours resanding the paver joints on our walk and patio.  This is a thoughtful, repetitive process that is largely quiet.  Turns out it is also meditative.  The gentle strokes of the corn brooms against the sand and bricks, the synchronous rhythm of the two of us sweeping the sand gently into each gap, all contributed to a peaceful afternoon.  It was quite a contrast to the day before when Bob and I were powerwashing the same patio and our driveway.  There was no peace in that at all.  

This makes me think about the end of year rituals for teachers and myself in particular.  Truthfully,  some years,  I just clear off my desk, cover everything with sheets, and ostensibly leave it all behind.  I never feel quite at peace with that.  I always carry home my summer reading and a few files to linger over, but the weight of books, closets, drawers, and unfinished things weighs on me.  

This year,  I started thinking about the end of year when I was sitting in silence while the students were taking their MCAS assessments.  I thought about the closet, and my desk drawers, the endless stacks of paper, and those three file cabinets.  

As the end approached,  I was busier that usual.  A project came up that sent me to the classes for the last few days.  Initially, it seemed like a tedious task, but again as I went to each class and interacted with the students, the teachers, our intervention staff,  it was rewarding.  It was fulfilling.  It was gratifying.  

But sadly,  because of those tasks,  on the last day of school, the literacy center and my work space still needed lots of work even to get to the usual quick close.  So I resigned to come back to school the next day after most of my colleagues had gone on to begin their summer.  Again,  I drove over to school dreading the process.  The further I got into the work,  the bigger the task seemed, and the larger the piles.  

On day two,  my spirit turned.  I decided to really examine the space,  my work in it, and the things that were taking up real estate there.  How could this space change?  It’s funny.  People would drop by with random comments and those comments would send me off deeper in the process.  They would notice things that I didn’t see anymore and I saw them with their eyes.  

Just like the moss in the cracks of our walk, I thought I liked what I saw until I removed it.  I thought this was just a cleaning task.  It took a while for me to see the meditation in the act.

 There is only one file cabinet now and a much smaller desk.  No plastic drawers, no room divider, no teetering collection of gerry-rigged shelves with a mishmash of books, and no stockpile of dry erase markers.  

It is unclear whether my work space will stay this way or how it will continue to evolve, but it’s true that the act of cleaning and clearing is freeing.  It gives us a chance to let go, to consider, and to open up.  Perhaps that is the best start to the summer one can have.  IMG_9136

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for encouraging my writing.  I have been slicing since March 2017.  Read more about it or join the community here.

 

 

 

wisdom from the truly fantastic four #sol17

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Wisdom from the Truly Fantastic Four

June 20, 2017

Today was “Step Up” Day at our school.  Students move up to their next class, meet their teacher, and we have a step up ceremony for the fourth graders who are moving on to middle school.

Our fourth grade team for the last several years has started the year with a fantastic four theme.  Each plays one of the members of the Fantastic Four, imparts their wisdom, and defeats “Dr. Doom” who represents all of our negative thoughts.  It’s a very positive mindset message and has been very effective for our fourth grade.

Today at their step up, the teachers reminded the students of those ‘fantastic four’ skills.  Somehow today as we let them go and say goodbye to a treasured teacher, these words hit home to me.

Ms. Fantastic, of course, has the ability to stretch herself.  The gift of flexibility.  Not everything goes the way we plan or the way we might want.  Flexibility gets us through many situations.

The Human Torch represents energy, but not the kind we get from too much caffeine.  Energy that comes from within.  A positive mindset.  The knowledge that when we put our mind to things we can accomplish much.

The Invisible Woman.  When things are transparent, there is clarity, but also truth.  Truth is an important quality.  Be true to yourself.  Be truthful with others.

The Thing… strength.  The strength to persevere when things are difficult.  To push our thinking, our work, ourselves to achieve.

My friends, the fourth grade teachers spoke of these things with their students in fall and today, but more importantly, they represented them to all of us each day of this year.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do #SOL17

Hobie-Sailing-St.-Thomas-1200x800Breaking Up is Hard to Do

June 6, 2017

It’s that time of year again.  The number of school days is dwindling down to small double digits.  This is when the student begin to break up with us.

A veteran fourth grade teacher I know says each of them finds their own way to break up.

It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s necessary, inevitable, and kind of hard.

Each year that student’s homeroom teacher spends the better part of the year learning each of her student’s learning profiles,  making them feel comfortable, pushing them to their discoveries as  learners and then we tell them to get out of the car.  There really isn’t another choice in the matter, but breaking up is hard to do.

A little preschooler after visiting the kindergarten class wipes out for days on end.  I don’t want to go to kindergarten he says.  What he means is,  you made it warm and comfortable here.  I know how to try here.  I know where the edges are.  I’ll have to learn them all over in my new place.

The fourth graders ask questions of the middle school counselors.  Will my teacher know me? or a fourth grade version of that.  Who will help me if I need help?  We say, You’re ready!  Look at you!  You’ve got this!

Did we prepare them for life beyond us, whomever the us is?   Did we teach them that they are their teachers?  Did we show them that they know how to figure out what needs to be figured out when it needs to be figured out?  Did we teach them how to let go and how to grab on?  And my favorite question,  how will we know when they have learned it?

So as we let go,  let’s talk to them, all of them, about letting go and moving on… about strength and grit and how much they are ready.  But let’s ask them,  how will you know you’re ready?  Because they are the captains of their own boats and it is time to set sail.

Tear It Down (Coming Soon)

Tear it Down (Coming Soon)

May 30, 2017

The gas station on the corner that I pass every day is torn down. It had a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. The gas was always expensive. I think it used to have a car wash. I rarely got gas there. One morning there was a sign that a new station was coming. The next morning in its place was rubble. Today along with the two backhoes is a chain link fence and a sign that says coming soon. Coming soon…
We hold on to a lot of things. As teachers, we hold onto books we love, lessons we are familiar with, assessments that we have always done…we have always done. When things become actions we can do without thinking, sometime we do them without thinking. I like to think I’m not too bad with change. In my career, I have had a great deal of change come upon me not entirely expected. Perhaps we all think we are good with change. Granted we change those students in front of us each and every year. But deep change, I’m-going- reconsider-what-I’m actually-doing change might be more difficult.

This week I’m going to thinking about what I should tear down and what’s coming soon.