Catching Fire #sol19

Catching Fire #sol19

images-1Yesterday,  twelve educators from neighboring districts came to meet with us about adopting the Units of Study in Reading and Writing.  I knew they were coming for several weeks.  We arranged a short presentation, then longer classrooms tour, ending with a panel question and answer with grade level teachers.  I wasn’t sure what grade levels the teacher visitors would teach and I knew their administrators would be coming with them.

I sat down one afternoon and created a list of the important steps we had taken as we began our journey with the units.  Thinking about it made me consider missteps as well or perhaps just difficulties along the way that I hadn’t anticipated.  I contemplated what I have personally learned; that the units aren’t so much curriculum as a general road map.  Head off in that direction.  You might try this.  Keep an eye on your travel partners.  Take supplies!  How to articulate something like that? Also, the units are more story than prescription, a let-me tell-you-what-I’ve-learned sort of thing.

I talked to the teachers about what they would be teaching during the visit.  No, that’s not right.  I asked them what the class would be doing during our visits.  Then I went back on Friday to check in again.  All of the teachers said, the students will be in independent practice.  Is that ok?  Of course, let’s just show them the authentic work.  What I noticed about the authentic work is how it lined up across the grades.  How amazingly you can see in this one slice how each year’s work builds on the next.  I took a few minutes to sketch that out on a slide. Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 7.13.09 AM.png

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I made one more slide to show what here in this place we considered to be essential to the work:  accountable talk, collaborative work, small group work, growing independence, shortened teacher instruction time,  and integrating reading/writing workshop.  So many things went into each of those talking points, months of planning, considering how that would look at each grade,  guiding discussions with teachers and students, and reflecting on the work with all of the stakeholders.  A long journey, not complete.  But oh, to look back and reflect felt like a deep drink of cool water.

I glanced at the list of typed questions that one of the districts had compiled.  For a moment my breath caught.  I hadn’t considered any of them.  I wasn’t planning on speaking to any of these topics they were thinking.  I breathed in and out.  maybe a few times… Then I thought,  what they see will speak to the work and what doesn’t, they will ask.  The teachers will have answers and I know as well.  I thought I would be nervous, but there with the encouragement of our leadership, it felt natural to share.  I thought of all the things Lucy Calkins says in Leading Well.  It’s a challenging journey and people will want to turn back.  Creating a literacy team strengthens the work.  Celebrating wins of any size is important.  You have to have unflagging, positive, trusting commitment to the work.

The amazing moments began to unfold as we began to tour the building.  We stopped at our learning commons and I explained how our library assistant  helps add to the school based collection to reinforce the work that students are doing.  She displays books related to the work students are doing.  She helps students, teachers, and myself find the books that might be just right to show an author’s craft or teach a student about character or informational topics.  I explained how her partnership was so important to the work.

We stopped in the literacy center and I was anxious about its clearly lived in state and the changes I had made over the last year in response to the units.  Hours of work to organize the leveled library, the lending bins, the mentor texts,  I could see the flaws, the what-elses.  Would they?  They asked a lot of questions about leveling and organizing.  Inside, I could feel myself relaxing in the work and letting myself see it through their eyes.

Then we went to the classrooms!  Seeing through their eyes,  the children were engaged.  The students could explain what they were doing. There were tools for the students to use.  The teachers and students seemed relaxed and happy in the work. Kindergarten was reading and preparing for their super power celebration.  First grade was working in their book clubs on their semantic maps of animals.  IMG_4214-1.jpgIMG_4215.jpg

2nd grade was working on their research writing. Students were making posters, brochures, and  All About books.  Their teacher stopped a minute to talk about anchor charts with our visitors.

Third grade was trying out summarizing practice in response to our professional development on Friday.  Their teacher had fresh  excerpts for the students to do thwork all tied to their science curriculum.  IMG_4223.jpg

Fourth grade was deep in revisions.  The students explained their work, a new one in revision for them.IMG_4219.jpg

We returned after a full trip around the grades to a panel discussion with some grade level teachers.  The teachers answered questions from the group about such a big range of topics until one teacher ask them how it was.  A teacher took a breath and said, it was difficult at first.  We didn’t think the students were going to be able to do the work.  There were a lot of weekends taking home the units and reading.  Also we noticed that students came in knowing how to independently read and fill out book logs.  We saw that they could do the skills.  They were enjoying it. 

In those moments in those hours,  I saw how the units have caught fire.  When someone asked me, how can we do this without a literacy coach,  I answered that you have the power to do this yourselves.  I tell people sometimes that I drank the koolaid, but perhaps what happened is that I helped start a fire.


Monday, Monday #sol19

imagesMonday, Monday #sol19

May 14, 2019

I know it’s Tuesday, however I want to talk about Monday or maybe just Mondays in general.  Yesterday was May 13.  Not a Friday.  The first day of benchmark assessments which I usually look forward too.  Here in New England, it seems we have had a endless rainy spring.  All these things converged.

I didn’t think much about it until I was talking over results with a teacher while strolling down the hall.  He said, this is because it’s Monday.  

Monday?  Monday… Can our teaching and their learning be so fragile that a weekend can change the outcome? What will the summer do?  Well we know what summer can do.

I went on yesterday to do a reading assessment on an intervention student.  She struggled to decode many words in a story that I presumed would be simple for her.  She was hesitant, nervous, and generally anxious throughout.  Monday?

Later in the day,  I had a district wide meeting.  We hosted in our conference room.  It has a broad table and a dozen comfortable chairs.  Airplay and a large screen.  We had a very productive meeting and at the end one of the principals said we should meet in this room every time.  It raised our productivity.  

It makes me pause.  Perhaps the message is that it really is not so much big picture, but all in the details.  Perhaps all the magic we put together for success is the true secret sauce.  Every single careful decision adds up to the mix that works.

As we finish up this year,  I consider how we create the alchemy that makes that magic in a bottle.  Do we avoid tests on Mondays?   Do we bring cookies?  Have comfortable chairs when we meet as adults?  What conscious decisions can we make that might in fact change everything?


Reflection #sol19

May 7, 2019


It’s that time again.  The sweeping rush to the end of the school year and yet as endless activities swirl around me,  I feel like one of those photos where I am still and everything else is moving.  I don’t think I realized when I took on that one little word, reflection, how deeply it was the word for the time.

At the end of the year, we naturally reflect.  We reflect on success and missed opportunities.  We reflect on goals and accomplishments along with missteps.  The balance is… delicate.

I have the opportunity to make a fair number of decisions,  offer even more advice, have endless planned and unplanned conversation, and a little time to reflect.  Our careers and daily work is based on change.  Change for student may equal growth.  That’s an equation that makes sense.  Change for us as educators sometimes doesn’t make that much sense as we stand in the fray.

I have written about change many times.  This isn’t a reflection of change, but I don’t think we can have a reflection without considering how change effects a system and the individuals that populate that system.  When things are difficult for the adults or the children, does that make them wrong?  Does struggle equal inappropriate?  I am trying to reduce struggle or move everyone forward?  What does moving forward mean?  Reflection, right?

As a people we are not so reflection driven.  We are more solutions driven.  We have problem A,  so let’s try solution B.  We notice deficit C,  so the solution must be decision F and so on and so on.  What if solution isn’t the next step after problem?  What if the next step after problem is inquiry?  Observation?  Discussion?  What if in our rush to solve, we have stepped all over our evidence?

So this year,  I am going to do what I usually do in May and June with an enhancement.  I’m going to go to the data and encourage others to go to the data.  I am going to reflection on difficulties and ponder them deeper wondering about their makeup.  I am not going to drive headlong into solutions as tempting as that always is. 

This year I’m going to take a hard look at my practice, at the systems I promote and the ones I don’t, at the ideas I was so sure of and reflect on that certainty.  I hope to listen and contemplate, and reflect.  Not always looking backward, but not leaving those experiences in the rearview until I have truly thought about them.

My plan of action:

Collect data of all kinds.  Student driven data.  Teacher driven data.  My own numbers.

Ask myself and others some big questions:  How did we grow?  Where we didn’t, why didn’t we?

Ask other people for their reflections about our shared work.

Mull it over.  Mix it with a few more discussions and readings and distance.

Then begin again.

Test Day #sol19

Test Day #sol19

April 23, 2019

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Today is state test day for the third graders.  I would like to say that it’s just one piece of data.  I would like to say that it’s insignificant to my work, our work.  I would like to say that I haven’t been thinking about how the students will do.  I cannot.

I’ve been thinking about test day for over a month.  Every literary essay we craft with the students makes me consider if we’ve helped them own the narrative tasks.  Every time they misstep in character work or parts of speech or planning for writing makes me consider every way I’ve coached teachers and students in literacy.

If you asked me outright,  I would say that what I see in student writing, in independent thinking, in character analysis by NINE YEAR OLDS has been nothing short of amazing. Yet, on the practice test, they asked the students to write a story from the perspective of a rat instead of a snake and they were thrown.  I understand the test creators may ask point of view questions for students to show how they understand character development in relationship to stories.  Perhaps the students are thrown because the stories are not as complicated as the ones they read every day.

As I arrived at school, I realized that we worry about the state tests a few days coming up to them, on the day as student ( and their parents) react to them, and on the day that the scores arrive.  These tests are our currently reality.  We should think about how questions are asked of students and how students respond to them.  We also should continue to teach literacy in the context of life skills and citizenship, connections and inferences,  deep thought and collaborative talk.

I hope that all we as a staff have facilitated for our students will shine in these assessments.  However,  if it doesn’t, perhaps we should consider not just our presentation, but the test design. Allowing ourself time to teach students how they will be tested now and throughout life.  Contemplating how to respond to tests and how to succeed.

For now,  I wish all of us a peaceful, productive day.




Tuesday Again #sol19

Forty-Four Days

April 9, 2019

There are forty four days left in the school year.  14 or so half days will be benchmark assessments.  Six more days of state testing.  Five field days.  A fourth grade concert.  Another half day of conferences.  Three days of data meetings.  After all of that is said and done, down to about fourteen more days.

Fourteen more days of morning meetings and big ideas.  Fourteen more days of one more school year.

Do I say every year that it isn’t enough?  Do I say that I’ve just gotten started?  the students are just comfortable?  Now is the best time?

How many times have I started sprinting now?  Pushing towards the finish line as if it isn’t a finish at all, merely a stop along the way.  Perhaps it is.

It is for them.  For the students who in a year, maybe two or less won’t remember that reading teacher who had so many books.  Wait, didn’t she suggest that really awesome book.  Have you read it? 

It is for those retiring to greener pastures.  Those whose names will be brought up with soft smiles and reverent tones for many years to come.  You won’t miss us when we are gone. But we will.

It is a stop along the way for me as well.  I have belonged to many school along the road.  I hope this will be my final stop.  Not because I’m finished, I’ve just hit my stride.  This is my sweet spot, the penultimate, my dream job.

Why did I decide to wax poetic when there are in reality (how many did I say?) forty four more days of school and years to come after that?  What is that saying?  The days are long, but the years are short.

Before this year slips away,  I want to try a few more things I haven’t done and celebrate those I have. I want to have deep discussions with learners grown and growing.   Read a few more books and recommend twice that many.  I want to laugh and smile, encourage and spur on.  Write and write and write some more. Notice more and reflect on most of what I notice.

Right up to the very last day.

And in September,  I want to do it all again.

Operating Manual #sol19

Operating Manual

April 2, 2019

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To spread sunshine wherever I go…

wait…  to contribute to the success of the literacy development of all students … and their teachers

maybe… to encourage innovation in literacy and contribute to agency and advocacy in literacy initiatives

hmmm… to help all the little children learn to read and write just a little better than they did yesterday?



Encourage… all the people, students, teachers, support staff, parents, administrators,                                  passersby

Plan… lessons, meetings, professional development, space allotment, purchases, to read                 and write more

Search… for just the right paper, book, pencils, working space, words of encouragement(see above)

Find… just the right paper, book, pencils, working space, words of encouragement (see                   above) at the just the right moment

Reflect… on whether I planned, searched, and found just the right moments, resources,                     people, places, and words

Repeat… all of the above… every day of every year



Authority to read books, encourage, write alongside, confer, small group, read aloud, whisper, cheer, photograph, record, and occasionally cry. (wait… I don’t have the authority to do that, I just do)



Show up early.

Stay Late.

Bring some books.

Have some ideas.

Listen to more ideas.

Try a few things.

Try a few more things.

Reflect on that trying.

Try again.

Listen more.


Meet, Hug, High-Five, Sing, Read Some More, Think,




Today’s NaPoWriMo challenge was to write poems that provide the reader with instructions on how to do something.

Welcome back to Tuesday where we slice about our every day with our community sponsored by the amazing writers and encouragers at  Please enjoy some other slices here.  

From My Notebook: Planning #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

Notebook Saturdays

Through my work as a literacy coach,  I have teachers that I meet and collaborate with throughout the week.  Usually these meetings are at 7:30 a.m. on a scheduled day of the week. I  meet with each teacher or team for 1/2 hour keeping notes of what we are working on.  Our school is an UOS of Study school following the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues in this our first year of full implementation.  Most of our meetings are in their classrooms. Some teachers will come with questions, sometimes we plan out what we will work on the next week, sometimes I have a teaching technique or skill  I’ve noticed or a suggestion. I keep a journal entry of each meeting to keep me thinking. I am thankful to Tammy Mulligan, Teachers for Teachers, for assisting me in working on offering a menu of ideas during this coaching time.  This is still after years a work in progress.

From My Notebook:  Planning #sol19

IMG_3832I’m torn this week from my notebook to the work we’ve noticed in the classroom.  In the second bend of baby literary essay, we noticed that the students are adopting the language and structure of the essay.  Their evidence is grounded in text and they are growing a small theory.  The place we see them struggle a little is matching their evidence to their theory.  Letting them sail off on Thursday, choosing their own picture book, their own theory, making their own plans,  let us notice what’s up with their independent writing.

We meet to hash it out.  She has the writing notebooks piled on her table, but when she speaks first it’s about the state test.

I went through the last five years of questions for the test, she says.  We haven’t done character comparisons,  journal entries, and… there’s poetry.  They also have perspective, cross text synthesis, and predictions.  

I pause letting her words settle around us.  I’m working on that… the pause.  It is a lot and time is short.

Their work is better than we thought, she says.  As we sift through, we notice bright spots.  This one has strong evidence.  This one is getting the idea of connection story.  This one had a plan.  This one has the language down.  On we go.  I reflect that as a team, we’ve gotten so much better at the quick glance, read, determine teaching points.  Only a few were struggling that day.

She brings out a scrap of paper from her teacher notebook.  We have a box for students to put concerns she says.  This one was in it yesterday.  I don’t like how the teachers never call on me when I have a good idea,  it begins.  We pause and discuss.  Using the turn and talk gives students all a chance to say their ideas in the air, but clearly this friends still is craving the teacher’s attention or the spotlight.  We reflect on our own balance.  Who are we asking to share?  We think we are equitable.  We vow to keep an eye on it next week.

Back to the work we met to do.  We work through the next week, weaving in books and techniques.  His name remains on the top of the page.