Time to Reflect #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.31.14 PM.pngTime to ReGroup (& Reflect) #sol19

December 10, 2019

We’ve come to the time of the year when it’s time to take stock.  Prepare for our New Year’s resolutions so to speak.  Take some time to consider how far we’ve come from the aspirations of early fall to the reality of early winter.  A new season of school is upon us.

We can no longer attribute difficulties to ‘summer loss’ or ‘adjusting to the school year’, now it’s all on us (collectively).  What are the reflective questions to ask ourselves?

For me, so much about this tenth year in this same school is similar and yet it feels so different.  With a dramatic shift in the personnel around me and the allocation of my time, I find myself carefully considering many things about both my yearly trajectory and my day-to-day practice.  I believe this happens to those of us who work in education quite frequently.  Mostly, it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because the less stagnant we become, the fresher we are for those around us.  I have a lot of experience in literacy and elementary school, but I work best when I approach each new challenge with fresh ideas and a full toolkit.  Success is more often the outcome when I listen, I observe, I carefully consider, I remain true to my overall philosophies of learning, and then, only then, I offer suggestions.

We have a child study team at our school, similar to many other RtI practicing schools.  I am well known for taking copious notes and always offering up some out-of-the box ideas along with the standard fare.  Thinking about something we haven’t tried keeps us focusing on the uniqueness of each student, each classroom, and each situation that comes our way.

One challenge that remains stubbornly consistent over the last years is spelling.  Spelling?!?  Not word-solving in reading to any extent, but spelling.  If I am being honest, I used to think, spelling?  That’s what spell-check is for.  It will work itself out with technology and practice.  Through happenstance, I decided last week to take spelling head-on.  What can we consistently do to improve the spelling of individual students and our students overall?  Is this perception or reality?  How is this global issue related to others that seem to be perennials in the landscape of our school lives?

What do we do when we try to solve a problem?  We get right in there.  But for some reason (I think I know why),  I decided this time, this time it wasn’t going to be about me swooping in and solving a problem by offering a solution to a teacher and most especially, a student.  This time was going to be about me listening, reflecting, creating agency in the student herself.  So instead of asking, what’s up with this?  I asked,  what are you already doing well?  Hey, kiddo,  spelling (insert difficulty here) is a big elephant of a thing.  What do you think you are doing ok?  How do you know?  Then, and only then, did I ask, what do you think you might work on right now? 

Here’s what it looked like on paper.

IMG_5455It isn’t magical.  It isn’t an amazing piece of insight.  Honestly, it might not work.  The look on the student’s face as she created this alongside me was everything.  I hope it will be a game-changer, but I’m at peace if it isn’t.  There will be something else to try, to tweak, to discuss.  What all of this is about is moving forward, giving something a go, building agency and mindset and all those things that will stay with a learner long after she’s left me behind.

Here they are, her ideas in my handwriting.  As we move forward, I hope she will see it as her success as well.

 

img_0602 I write in the company of the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  I thank them and all my fellow writers for building agency in me and helping me feel my own success.

Unapologetic #sol19

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Unapologetic #sol19

November 19, 2019

While listening to a podcast one afternoon on my way home, I heard a women describe another woman as unapologetic as a complement.   I must admit I was taken aback.  I hadn’t consider unapologetic as a moniker to aspire to.  She went on to add courageous to the adjectives, while I continued to consider what it might mean to be unapologetic as a state and in what space might that be a positive.

Here are some things I might not offer an apology for:

As a woman, I am unapologetic about being an educator.  While it was not my childhood goal or my parents’ aspiration for me as it was for many of my peers, I cannot begin to describe the joy of reading kindergarten writing,  While it might not be amazing cocktail party talk, I have spent hours discussing the merits of Dogman or  whether Jack or Annie is the better problem solver.  I have read perhaps thousands of picture books.   I’ve been inspired by some amazing opinion writing by lots of humans under ten years old.  Not a single moment of regret.

I am unapologetic about my work habits.  I don’t arrive early and stay late for any other reason except I feel driven to listen, to try, to plan, to help, to improve.  These things take time and some of that time happens at school.  Some of it happens any number of other places.  No regrets.

I am unapologetic about my adoration for traditionally woman’s arts.  I adore baking.  I love cookies and bundt cakes, brownies and birthday cakes.  I knit.  I’ve been known to sew.  I cook dinner almost every single night.  These things make me joyful.  No regrets.

I am unapologetic for spending an afternoon, an evening, a summer day, a rainy day, or just about any free minute reading.  Reading children’s literature, reading magazines, reading newspapers, reading novels, reading professional books, reading, reading A LOT.  So many, many great books.  No regrets.

I am unapologetic for pushing for innovation in literacy,  keeping literacy in the forefront of our district’s conversations, and believing that every moment of learning in our school’s is deeply connected to literacy.  I actually wish I had done more… there’s still time.  No regrets.

I am unapologetic for saying yes I will oftenYes I will come and work with some students along side you.  Yes I will help you find that book that will spark your students.   Yes to let’s give this a go… time and time again.  Not one single regret.

So you can describe me as unapologetic and I’m not apologizing for that.

Alchemy #sol19

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Alchemy #sol19

November 12, 2019

Last Friday afternoon I had one of those moments that usually is just out of reach, a moment when the enthusiasm and genius of a fellow educator only needs my smile as tender for it to take off into a roaring fire.  I do often see the flames of great ideas, the sparks of hopefulness, and even the glimmer of the newly hatched thinking.  But a full blown brush fire of an idea is such a beautiful thing to behold, particularly on a Friday afternoon.

It may be important to note that my contribution to this brush fire spark is so tertiary that it can’t be discerned.  I am a long time encourager of this educator, a big fan, an instigator, and a fellow edge stretcher, so it makes perfect sense that not only did she want to share her idea with me, she was too anxious to start it to wait to share first.  To her credit, it was pure genius, way beyond what I might have coached her to do.  Her excitement and eagerness to jump in was beaming from her.  I know that her enthusiasm will carry it to a very successful fruition.

When I read about alchemy in a cooking reference over the weekend, how one food, consumed with another food or drink, is completely transformed in taste and experience by the process, I thought that’s what I’m looking for every day, a sprinkle of something that transforms so much.

That transformation was once for me all about students. A moment or a collection of moments with struggling students that transformed how they saw themselves as learners. Hopefully forever changed by those realizations.  As coaching evolved, so did the moments.  Most moments I spend now are with a whole class or just with their teachers.  Sprinkling those somethings in, the transformation is nearly invisible to me.  I can be sad about that. What does that sadness make the alchemy?  Less about the magic and more about the person, a sharp contrast to the magic that we all want to hold.

So here’s to a new kind of transformation, one where I (and others) encourage learners of all ages to transform themselves, to transform others, to cause transformations.  The work should be able to go on, without me, without any one person.  As my friend often quotes,  you have always had the magic inside of you.  So I’ll be creating transformations when possible.  I’ll be encouraging transformations when I am able.  Most definitely,  I’ll be celebrating them wherever they happen.

 

img_0602I write alongside my amazing transformative writing colleagues on Tuesday encouraged by  the amazing alchemists at twowritingteachers.com.

Dropping In #sol19

IMG_9241Dropping In #sol19

November 5, 2019

The beauty of my position as a literacy coach is that every day changes.  Most days, I’m having big and little meanings discussing student progress, lesson planning, and literacy resources.  My desk can be covered with half read books, dozens of post-its, and 3-4 different journals along with student work.  My phone is filled with photos of text, student work, anchor charts, and a long, long reading list.  As we add more intervention staff, my job is shifting away from every day commitments to specific children.

On Monday, my flexible schedule gave me the opportunity to cover for our breakfast monitor.  Eight weeks into the semester, the students had it all worked out.  Each knew what they wanted from the amazing array of choices from many varieties of muffins, cereal bars, cereal, bagels, cheese, and milk. They gathered at tables happily chatting or sleepily adjusting to the day.  It was so fun to see the students in this casual atmosphere and interact, encouraging food choices or just asking about ones made.  Wishing them good morning and asking about their weekend.  Watching some from afar, noticing so much about their adjustment to the day.  That time is ripe with possibility and perfect just as it is.  I imagined bringing some books down for kids to explore or listen to.  In the end,  I was just so glad that this breakfast was available for students and wondered how many more would like the choice of Lucky Charms or a blueberry muffin to start their day.  The students were pleased with their choice and I was so happy that we offered them abundant choice.  One that didn’t emphasis that many may be receiving this meal free.  Perhaps it’s the most choice they have.  Today, that information wasn’t mine.  I was happy to celebrate their choice and discuss their thinking. My heart was filled.

After breakfast,  I had the opportunity to start the day with a third grade.  They start the day with learning tubs, games, coloring, finishing work, recording small videos of their ‘work in progress’.  It was delightful.  Filled with a buzz of happy productivity, the students chatted amiably, eager to share their news, work, and ideas with me in this short fifteen minute transition.  I remember the days that were filled with ‘morning work’.  This morning work seems fresher, more student driven.  The students asked after their missing teacher, but were content with my presence.  When it was time to clean up to go to physical education, they were quick to get ready, cleaning up and moving down the hallway like champs.

After physical education,  I administered the pre-assessment for their reading unit.  We worked together well despite the change in their schedule and their teacher’s absence.  They listen attentively and answered thoughtful, though this work was mostly newer to them as readers responding to writing.  As they prepared for snack, their teacher returned to set the schedule right and continue their day.

We’ve come a long way… in such a good way.  Choice and voice was present and available to students.  Each was comfortable in the moments, in the change, in their own transitions.  So much of this has nothing to do with literacy.  If you think about it, students who feel comfortable making choices, self-directing, transitioning in a speed and way that seems natural, will make choices and self-direct in their writing as well.  It’s just natural.

 

 

The Truth about Teaching #sol19

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The Truth about Teaching #sol19

October 29, 2019

This morning, I had a plan, a plan to join some third graders as they began to explore persuasive writing and speeches.  A wonderful new book on my desk, I began to reread to plan out my stop and talks.  It occurred to me after I had read about ten pages that this particular book wasn’t really going to work.  #hatewhenthathappens   All my other persuasive text for the most part were loaned out.  What to do? 

I dug out another book.  Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.52.47 PM

Truthfully,  I’ve been thinking about a way to use it.

I arrive at the class with a sharpie, my big notebook, some index cards, an anchor chart and this book.  Ok, kiddos, I say.  You were writing opinions yesterday right?  (mediocre answers) . So today,  let’s see how this author tells us his opinion.  

The book is amusing, full of side comments by the bears.  5 pages in I ask,  what kind of book does this seem like to you?  The kids look at me incredulously. Perhaps they think their thinking isn’t quite right.  Finally a brave students says, it seems like informationalYep, I said, the author is telling us a lot of facts about bearsWonder why?  Let’s see if we can figure it out.   We finish the story and I ask again, what was the author hoping we would do?  Again, hesitantly they say,  he wanted us to know about bears and teach other people.  Why? I asked.   Silence… then… he wanted us to help the bears.  Why?  So they would have food and some place to live.

Then I ask them, is there something you could teach me about that would make me care more about it?  Some students stayed on the bears.  But two stole my heart.

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So Grandpas don’t get embarrassed.  

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People should close their trash cans so plastic doesn’t go into the water and turtles can be safe. 

They may need finesse, but I’d say these people know how to have an opinion.

As I circle the room, one student is writing facts down about guinea pigs.  Hmm, I say, are you thinking people should own guinea pigs?  In my old school, I had a guinea pig.  You did?!?!  the table group erupts.  We should have a class pet!

We sat down as a group to have a chat about the opinion we should have a class pet.  First they want to discuss what kind of pet. Rattlesnake, monkey, dog, cat, guinea pig. They think about the pros. We can pet it when we are sad.  It will be something to talk to.  It will make kids want to come to school more.   And then,  one student says, there are reasons why we shouldn’t have a pet.  Sure, I say.  What?  We have to clean up after them.  People are allergic.  Counterargument.  Not taught, just caught. Messy, all over the place, student led learning.  Do you think we can really get a pet? they ask.

 

#whyiwrite #sol19

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#whyiwrite  #sol19

October 22, 2019

Why I write? 

{shuffles papers; straightens desk; washes out coffee mug; stacks post-its… sighs deeply}

If I were going to write an essay (perhaps I am) on why I write,  I would say that I have to,  it’s a habit I’m building, and I 200% think it makes me a better educator and coach.  But how?   It seems completely magical in some ways, how I wake up at 3 a.m. and write a whole page in my blog fodder journal about what I am desperate to write.  Lately less that 80% of those ideas make into the confines of this blog.  These ideas wither and die in my notebook, not seeing fruition because I’ve lost the rhythm of writing.  Not to worry.  Even as I typed those words, I thought to myself… it will come back.  

It will come back because I’m tired now, but I’m also inspired.  I’m inspired by all I read, all the conversations I have, what I see,  what I try, and what I see others try.  I’m inspired by my partnerships and my trials,  my colossal fails and my almost wins.  I’m inspired by my friends, virtual and right here, who notice when I don’t write.  I’m inspired by… ideas.  There are so many!

When I began…

I formally saw myself as a reading teacher that taught writing.  I never considered writing. When I began blogging, I didn’t consider blogging actually writing.  Instead, I read and read and read.  I wrote in margins, on stickies, and in notes about things I had read, but I didn’t write about what I was thinking.  I held back.  Like many or perhaps all, my young writing was filled with criticism and endless, endless revision until the voice on the page sounded not at all like my voice to me.  I hardly hear those negative voices now in my head.  I write like I hope I inspire others to write… freely.

When I began writing in earnest a few years ago, believing that my blog was writing. Believing myself to be the type of writer who blogs because she wants to discover ideas, discuss ideas, and stretch out ideas until they shine like new pennies and reflect their effervescence far and wide.  It feels amazing to write my ideas down, to push the curser back as I reconsider, to mine my little notebook for a tiny crumb that comes to me as I’m driving or cooking, talking or reading.  

Why do I write?  I would be a fraud if I taught writing instruction to teachers and facilitated writing to young writers if I hadn’t struggled through an idea myself, if I hadn’t looked up to think about the next words that might come after those words waiting on the page.  As I write,  I learn more about what it means to be a writer.  I learn more about the process of writing, the way words string together, the way writing about something can empty your heart and fill it at the same exact moment.

Why do I write?  I think I have come to view writing in the same way I do reading now.  I might be writing at my ‘just-right’ level, but there’s always room for a bigger amount.  There’s always room for a stretch. That’s how I became a better reader, more and more along with thinking and thinking.  Same concept with writing, more and more along with trying, experimenting, pushing, editing, fixing up, and letting go.

Why do I write?  Now I know that, no one is looking at my words and saying… you know, she’s not really a writer.  No one is thinking…what makes her think she can write?  They are thinking as I do when I read someone else’s writing, I never thought of it that way or that’s exactly what I was thinking!  

So I write.  I’m a writer.  Why not?

img_0602I wouldn’t be a blogger without the encouragement of my dear friends, Clare and Tammy, who saw me as a writer long before I could say those words myself.  I write in the shadow of an amazing community of writers that inspire me to ‘better’ every day.  Thank you to the amazing inspiration that is all of the writers at TwoWritingTeachers.

 

Total Effort #sol19

Total Effort #sol19

Just arrived. I’ll set up

I sent this text this morning, but it could have been sent most mornings over the last 20 years to be honest.  Wildly overcommitted… today.  But today, the overcommitment mentioned above created a sandwich with a very satisfying day of professional development for our staff.  Each grade level, an hour and a half of deep discussion, planning, and trying it out.  It’s a perfect combination.

It’s also messy.  Here’s a small story of today’s mess.  Our staff developer has worked with us for two years.  This is her first year with the primary grade teams, but she is well known to me.  We planned out the skeleton of this learning day last week.  As a team, we work well together and are willing to give most lessons with most students a try at the drop of a hat.

A small story about that attitude.  Often this drop-of-a-hat planning requires a quick trip to the literacy center for any number of books, office supplies, grand conversation notebooks, mentor texts, or notebooks.  Today, we got the idea (her, not me) that we should use an actual Big Book instead of a document camera or a picture book.

Aghast,  I said,  I didn’t purchase any of these books.  They’ve been here forever… I’m not sure.  But we were committed to Big Books, so she began to riffle through the collection.  Finally, she began to sort books out onto the literacy center floor and I noticed that they were books that we probably both used when we first started teaching.  Ones that we remembered fondly, but haven’t looked at in quite a while. See where this is going. 

So we brought the books back to the training room and lined them along the chair rail around the room.  I noticed then that they were all by a particularly famous author of guided reading texts, all decades old.

One by one the teachers encouraged by us, picked up a book to read and then fairly quickly returned them to the shelf. This book is weird, they said.  Hmmm. We read a few.  They were odd in that out of date sort of way.  The two of us undaunted, chose one to read ourselves and demonstrate to the class. (First Grade) . The book was filled with animals, when one laughed at the other, the other would threaten to eat them and then do just that.  Page after page of one cantankerous animal being eaten by a slightly larger one. That dog can’t eat the cat. said one very astute first grader.  As you might guess at the end of the story, the alligator gets the hiccups and much like that little old lady, all the animals rejoin.  In the end, all the animals go happily off with each other.  Crazy, inappropriate book.

The students were astounded that we offered up this crazy tale, but by page 2 were reading along noticing word endings and becoming more and more fluent.  All of us enjoyed the reading, not because the book was great, but because the company was.  A passel of first graders, some enthusiastic teachers, a moment of time, and a sketchy plan with a purpose.  A almost perfect combination.

How does this relate to my wild overcommitment or my last minute searching and planning?  Perhaps this is what they mean by not letting the good get in the way of the great.  We didn’t need a perfect book, a perfect plan, or even a perfect amount of time.  The readers showed what they knew,  we gave them a chance to try out their skills, and the two adults (and perhaps the observers) had a jolly good literacy experience.  Next time, a teacher will try these ideas out.  That teacher might have a better plan.  She might have the tools all perfectly set out.  He might have a better book. (I hope so… I’ll be buying some this week).  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will get the idea to try this on their way to school,  they will read through a book they have quickly, plan out a lesson in ten minutes, and artfully deliver some magic all before lunch.

I hope so.

I’ll be wildly overcommitted tomorrow as well, but if you have a wild idea to try, I’m all in.