I am Working #sol19

IMG_0556I Am Working…on Myself #sol19

August 6, 2019

As the calendar turns to August, I begin this dangerous mental T-chart entitled What I Have Accomplished in the last 6 weeks v.  What I Meant to Do.  Every year, that invisible yardstick of justification comes out and I judge myself lacking, resigning myself to the fact that I will always have way more To-DOs  than Ta-DONES!  I mean, really, what have I been doing???

This year I want to flip the narrative and not just for my own fragile ego.  This year, I want to be the mentor and coach that I should be.  Instead of looking at the half empty glass,  I want to remember that the glass is at least half-full and at most, absolutely refillable.  Whatever was accomplished between that elusive June 19th and that slippery date in August when I work way more than I don’t, is absolutely a win.  So how will I measure this summer term?

I’ll measure it in dog moments and dog walks.  At the beginning of the summer, our poor Lily lab-mix couldn’t walk at all without a very painful three-legged hop, now she can, albeit slowly, take a leisurely five minute walk down the street and back down our steep driveway.

I’ll measure it in book recommendations I can make in the fall and throughout the year.  Forty-five books read this summer and many, many will make it into the hands of teachers and students very, very soon.  Along with reading,  I’ve considered techniques, assessments, analysis, and author craft moves to tuck into a toolkit or a conversation just at the right moment.

I’ll measure it in trips to Starbucks… where I met with a teacher over three lovely sessions of collaboration.  We gave each other encouragement and good ideas.  Accomplished some shared reading plans and a template.  Read many short texts for students and thought hard about what it means to share materials, ideas, and differentiate.

I’ll measure it in quick shares through text, facebook, instagram, meet-ups and the occasional email when I saw an idea that would be a perfect fit for another educator I know or just had to talk it over with someone.  Those quick hits kept connections going and made a soft nest for new ideas to hatch come fall.

I’ll also measure it in lobster rolls, ice cream cones, leisurely chats on our  patio and others, Sunday morning movies, and weekends  that spread out for family because all the chores can be done on a weekday.

I do have a large stack of professional texts that I had hoped to get read.  Some of them I will read over the course of the next few weeks.  Some will be stretched out over stolen minutes, carried in bags for weeks, dog-eared and written in, sometime during the next year.

What have I done this summer?  I’ve grown…  I’ve grown a little more tan.  I’ve grown a little more relaxed.  I’ve grown a little more patient and a little more long-sighted.  I’ve grown slightly more organized and slightly smarter.

So I’ll put away my T-chart and my measuring stick and give myself a certificate for being my best self for the last six weeks.  That best self and the memory of these sunny days will carry me far into the year.  That’s quite an accomplishment.


100% Lily #sol19

100% Lily  #sol19

July 30, 2019

We’ve reached the midpoint of teacher summer here in New England and that’s just when I usually feel like it’s winding down.  I generally give myself the month of July to indulge in whatever projects I want and then when August rolls around I begin ramping up to the start of the school year.  Over the years, Bob and I have developed a summer routine around the flexibility in my schedule that only summer can afford.

This summer, I have had one driving project, my dog Lily.  Our dog, an eighty or so pound rescued lab mix had a rough late spring this year.  She developed a significant limp with research was found to be a torn ACL.  Yep,  a sport’s injury for my dog.  Thus started months of work for Lily and also me.  The first month I was still in school and Lily was on the DL.  Totally rest.  One floor living, limited starts, anti-inflammatories.  A short, short leash.  Very difficult for a dog who loves to run at the park and take long walks.  Honestly, it wasn’t that easy for me either.  We started to worry what was next.

When we had an X-ray in early June, it was determined that her ACL was in fact completely torn.  While under sedation for the X-ray, they cleaned Lily’s teeth.  For non-dog owners, it’s much the same as our teeth cleaning, scrubbing and polishing and noticing inside the dog’s mouth.  What they noticed was a broken molar.  So in the midst of our rehabilitation plan, we also had a tooth pulled.  Picture a teenager having his wisdom teeth out.  All the same…

So we, along with Lily’s doctor, developed a strategy for her rehabilitation.  There were choices, surgery or other holistic methods.  We chose to start with holistic methods, so Lily had a regiment of herbal supplements, laser treatments and VOM, a form of chiropractic medicine for animals.  The initial appointments were 2 a day for a week, then 3-4 days a week,  then one, and now we are at one appointment for laser and VOM every other week.

Last week,  Lily started physical therapy.  Twice a day, Lily and I go up and down our steep driveway for 5 minutes.  Five minutes of up and down.  By the third trip, she’s panting pretty hard.  This is followed by ice.  After a week of that treatment, we, just today,  ventured beyond our drive for a five minute walk down the street and back.  She was beside herself with delight until the journey home proved to be challenging.

We have started to call Lily’s journey, 100% Lily, and compare her to New England Patriot’s wide receiver, Julian Edelman, who’s rehab is outlined in the documentary, 100% Julian.  I’ve worn a boot before for sprains and bone spurs.  I have had a cortizone shot in my arm.  Watching Lily fight back to be a four legged dog again is inspirational.  Helping her do that is making me a better person.

So today from our training camp,  I reflect on how Lily’s journey back from injury and our assistance of her rehab is like the partnership we make with students and perhaps teachers who are struggling in their own ways.  Sometimes, they don’t fully understand the struggle itself and the way to recovery so to speak, requires determination, planning, and not a small amount of patience.

Today,  she’s stepping mostly without a limp, though slowly.  She was excited to see and sniff the neighbors’ lawns for the first time in perhaps ten weeks.  Let me be reminded of that when the road at school feels frustrating and long, 100% Lily.  Eye on the prize.  Patience in all.

Collection #sol19

Collection #sol19

July 23, 2019

I was torn between my appointed slice writing this week and a looming library book deadline.  You see nothing is more frustrating to me that an unfinished, long-anticipated library loan squandered by poor reading planning on my part.  Truth be told, Susan Orleans’ rambling, loose, though not quite long, The Library Card, has sucked me in after 79 pages and six chapters and I don’t want to leave it behind until I see where she might be going with this.  Plus I have waited for this book since early June.  Having listened to Jennifer Serravallo’s podcast yesterday about comprehension and the differences between an actual book, a ebook, and audiobooks,  I am deeply unsatisfied by this ebook.  I gave the beautifully presented mysteriously red bound book to my son’s girlfriend for Christmas and of course, have wanted it for myself ever since, a problem we can discuss another time.

So here is my compromise, a story slightly like The Library Card, rooted in a moment in the past, carried through decades, and finally, the stuff of not only family lore but mission.

The Smashed Pennies

Sometime in the late summer of a year in the late 1990’s, my husband and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary, perhaps fifteen years, with a trip to San Francisco for a long weekend.  Not as much of a commitment distance-wise from the midwest as it would be from New England, leaving two young sons behind with their grandparents gave me enough worry to leave a typed note in my chest regarding their care should something happen.

After much hustle and quiet a bit of bustle, we arrived in downtown San Francisco with the long list of must-sees that only two over-educated, ever-learners could compile.  I could tell you about all of those amazing first sights and experiences, alleyway fortune cookie making, tea gardens, Ferlinghetti’s favorite book store, and fancy coffee shops before the rise of Starbucks, but that isn’t this story.

This little slice is about smashed pennies.  If you haven’t seen a smashed penny, it’s just that, a penny that has been rolled through a machine until elongated and flat and pressed with the imprint of its current locations.  They, of course, cost fifty cents along with that penny to roll them through the machine.  However, this story begins before we had ever seen one of these marvelous penny smashers.

San Francisco was full of amazing sights and people.  As we were taking in all end, we saw a young man with a tube contraption nearly as tall as he was.  Noticing us, he said this is the only portable penny press in the world, I designed it myself.  Using his arm and body strength,  he pressed the penny until it was stamped.  Having never seen a smashed penny before and taken by his ingenuity, we were sold.  Then he told us there were many, many machines around the city operated manual with a crank.  For the low price of half a dollar and a shiny penny, we could have a souvenir from each of our travels.   In the age prior to ready phone internet access, we were off on a hunt to locate these machines around the city.

Thus began our collections of smashed pennies.  These days, silly collections might not be in vogue. They seem so old-fashioned, the machines, the pennies, the impressions stamped upon them. Each son  collection remains on their childhood dressers in decorative boxes with the other ephemera of their childhoods.  They are a condensed travelogue of all the places we saw when they were young, dozens of zoos, aquariums, parks, and ships.  There are ones from New Salem and something called The Sixth Floor Museum.  There is a penny from Wall Drug and The Alamo,  The Grand Canyon, and The Sydney Opera House.  As I look through, I am reminded of all those halcyon days.

To this day as my husband and I travel around here and there, from habit or nostalgia, we stop when we see one of those old penny machines, and press one again for old times sake.

Profile of a Reader #sol19

Profile of a Reader #sol19

What I’m reading

July 9, 2019

Several weeks ago I received a Facebook message from a long lost friend.  We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years.  She and her husband retired to Wisconsin quite a few years ago and from her page, it looks like she enjoys her garden, crafts, her book club, and her grandchildren.  It was surprising to get a direct message from her, but the message itself was  the big surprise.  She said, I read these books with my book club and I thought you might like them too.  Send me your address and I’ll send them to you.  

The next week,  I went to the MFA and the Kelleher Rose Garden with a retired friend from here.  She reached into her bag for a book.  I started to tease her about not going anywhere without a book when she offered it to me saying, You’re the person I knew I could give this book to, the girls (her daughters) wouldn’t understand a reference to George Peppard.  

It might not seem unusual for a literacy coach to be given books by friends.  It’s not even all that usual for friends to share books with each other, but the books themselves made me consider who I am as a reader, what I do like to read, how my reading has evolved, and what I always want to share with friends.

I love my Goodreads profile.  I keep track of books that friends are reading, books I’ve read about, and I try to keep myself on track with my own reading. I find it a good balance that the number of books I have currently read surpasses finally the number I want to read.  I know this is only temporary.  Perhaps you will fill my comments with other books I should add to my growing list.

Like many readers, I think, I have piles and bags and baskets of books in various stages of read, lend, currently reading, and will eventually read.  On the top of my summer to-do list is make a reading plan.  I can’t seem to get through all of my reading.  Something in a book will interest/distract me.  I’ll have to go and look that up and read more about it, then come back to the book.  This habit can really slow a person down, which brings me to my profile.

I believe myself to be a reader that respects research.  I recently read a book, The Editor. The Editor isn’t a particularly long book, a particularly deep book, or honestly a particularly memorable book.  It is a good book.  The most significant way it is a good book is that it’s clear that the writer, Steven Rowley, did his research.  He made his fictionalized story breathe of the almost.  As if he knew me,  he shared his research bibliography at the end of the book.  Points for that.

Back to my gifted books and my profile.  Beth sent me two books,  Save Me the Plums and Where the Crawdads Sing.  I know why she sent me Ruth Reichl’s memoir.  I loved Gourmet Magazine and read many of the copies she mentions in the story.  After Beth sent me the hardcover version, I abandoned my audio and Kindle versions and savored this book out in my garden.  I haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing yet, but I know why she thought I might like it.  The review says it is reminiscent of Barbara Kingslover.  Beth and I read many of her books together and she continues to be one of my favorite authors.

So here I am finally steeped in my vacation days, surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of reading materials.  This might be heaven.

The Charm Bracelets #sol19

The Charm Bracelets #sol19

Collections #1

Unexpectedly, I was drawn back to the charm bracelets this week.  I hadn’t thought about them in some time.  They used to be ever present, but now…  My husband was thinking of places he’d like to visit and said, I’d like to go to Lake Tahoe.  I think I’ve been there, I said.  You should check your bracelet, you’ve probably got a charm from there. 

As I was walking by the jewel box with the charm bracelets on my dresser yesterday morning, I stopped and opened the lid.  There they sat gleaming in the still morning silence. There are two bracelets,  one curated during my childhood and one began as a gift from my husband so many years after. Pulling them out, the soft jingle gave me that feeling, that soft, safe feeling of memories on memories on memories, and I began to gently touch each charm in turn.

I wish I knew how the first one began.  I look through the charms, but the origin doesn’t come to me.  Perhaps it was that set from my distant aunt.  Why did she begin to send those and then stop after just a few?  That broken charm with the Portugal seal is from that set.  Are these four Asian ones as well?  Each one is spaced out along the bracelet, so perhaps she sent it all, the bracelet and the charms.  The rest, they are adventures of my childhood.  Each one a story.  Some are silly.  Why did I pick that oneI think as I consider each one.  That Hopi one had hoops in each hand.  That chair lift from Banff?  From my father’s trips?  That worry bird, I know why that’s there.  

Charms were once ubiquitous, every gift shop and jewelry store was full of them. I recall moments of pouring over choices, carefully deciding which to pick.  My mother and grandmother each had broad thick gold charm bracelet nearly an inch across with  silhouettes dancing along the edge, girl heads and boy heads for my grandmother’s grandchildren.  I’m not sure what happened to them.  The three of us were scattered from each other after my father’s death so many years ago. And now, they are gone as well.  My charms remain from that time, stubbornly grasping those memories and make each one strong and clear.

Memories of car trips and museums, wonders and joy, wrapped into silver plate and jingle.  There’s a beautiful articulated pineapple, still shiny after all these years.  Who went to Hawaii, I wonder.  My mother didn’t fly, afraid, I suppose.  Perhaps again from my father, but now it shines here as a promise that I should go.  Ballet shoes, musical notes, a roller skate remind me of a younger Susan, each accomplishment growing the woman she would become.  Race cars, old cars, prospectors and broncos from a father who shared so many things he loved.  Nearly fifty charms to represent a childhood and the memories and love that can be contained there.

My adult bracelet has a subtle difference, but still carries memories of trips and passions.  A stand mixer and bundt pan.  A bright blue crystal heart and the clock from Marshall Field’s.  A pine cone, a pea pod, and a towering sequoia from my favorite place on earth. A flat charm that holds the barest trace of the young faces of those two cherished boys, so long grown.  They were so excited about that one.  I remember them in the photo booth and then waiting, waiting from the charm to come out.  Precious, precious memories.

I used to wear the charm bracelet when I was nervous, if I had to get in front of a crowd or have a tough meeting or interview.  I rubbed my opposite hand along the charms, touching this one and that, causing that gentle tinkle, to sooth myself.  It worked every time.  When my second one started to fill, it became nearly impossible to wear the two of them at once, so I’d choose which one based on which strength I wanted to draw from, my beginning or my now.

We still look for charms on our trip and talk about them in between.   You rarely see charms now, a tradition from another time. If I see one in an antique store, I look at each charm, thinking about the collector.  Some day someone will look at my charms.  I hope they will feel them as I do now. Those charm bracelets in that antique box on my dresser waiting to stir the memories of a well-lived life with each turn of my wrist.


To Do List #sol19

To Do List (Leading Well Reflections)  #sol19

June 24, 2019

I read an article yesterday about publishing your To-Do-List on Instagram.  It was by a social media expert #notme and a self-made entrepreneur #alsonotme, but as many things I read it started me thinking about public agendas.  Her points were as I interpret them were that many people ask her how she manages her time and what she does each day, publicly stating her agenda keeps her own track and accountable.  Her writing encouraged me to consider the idea of public agendas.

Last week in our wrap-up/planning meeting with our literacy leadership, the idea of what the role of the literacy specialist/reading specialist/literacy coach was explored.  We broke up into two groups of 6 or so each.  First we wrote what came to mind when we thought of the role.  Next we silently sorted our ideas, talked them through, prioritized, and then gallery walked each group’s considering.  At first look, the organization, areas, and even word choice between the groups seems disparate. One group lead with intervention and the other group lead with data.  As we talked through each, they began to seem like just different doors to the same route.

This reflecting, prioritizing and discussion drove so many deep thoughts to the surface, the idea of student-centered work, the role of data in driving our work agenda, and ultimately how different the shape of that work can be from environment to environment, dependent on so many things.  Ultimately, the large check boxes were similar; the use of data, the student at the center, the coordination of intervention, resources management, and professional development in all its possibilities.  Today as I read in Leading Well,  I was struck again about how the shift from a good learning community to a great learning community can seem easier on the surface, but can pose so many roadblocks to success as we consider changing things that  seem inherently successful.

Here I return to the idea of a public agenda:  a public agenda for the literacy coach in whatever name feels comfortable, the learning community of the school, and the learning community of the district.  The agenda’s may seem clearer than they actually are, often there are more than one, and motive and actions may be misinterpreted depending on the stakeholders.  My seemingly loose agenda ripples through my school, my work, and my colleagues to varying degrees.  In that statement, it seems to give my public agenda a crushing amount of wait.  However,  I want to continue to view my work, my learning in the same context I wish the students to view theirs.  We are moving forward.  We are trying things. Things are going to be messy.  Plans can change.

I’m an incessant list maker, note taker, crosser offer.  Sometimes my lists are just thought dumping- all those things that I hope to finish and empty from my consciousness.  Occasionally this is success, often it just leads to more lists, thinking, and to-dos.  In my summer half-life,  I am much more inefficient with these lists seeing at least more time stretching out before me.  Leading Well causes me to desire to increase my intentionality,  my collaboration, my movement toward a shared vision.  All the things I strove for before, but now perhaps with a tighter plan.

So today my list shifted into sharper focus.  My notes from last week, reflected upon today will develop into a potential plan.  This week I’ll consider how to create an agenda for my work that seems more like shared work.  In the next month, I read more, write more and think more about that public agenda and what goals it reveals.

The Numbers Speak #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 7.28.29 PMThe Numbers Speak #sol19

June 18, 2019

Today is the first actual day of my summer leave.  Friday was the last day of school and yesterday there was a wrap up meeting for our district literacy leadership.  I was planning on going to school today to finish up writing my year end report, but the silence of home opposed to the silence of school called to me.  I’m in the half-life right now.  I can still feel the echoes of the school year, missed opportunities, almost-made-its, minor successes.  The horizon of next year looms with expectation and hope.  Here I stand (well, sit) in between, using the numbers of this last year to inform what I hope for the next.

As usual, the numbers frustrate me.  They can be so one dimensional.  I complete the form that someone designed to compile the teacher-driven spreadsheets, but does it give a picture of what this last year was.  I can compile statistics of how many total readers in first grade hit the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark and above, but because of how we collect data currently,  I can’t say how many grew like weeds through those levels.  I can’t say how many were so close and in a different book on a different day, they could read that level book with confidence.  I can’t say how they feel about themselves as readers or how they feel about what they learned this year.

Don’t misunderstand.  I adore data.  Data is on the top of my hit parade.  When I think about how I inform my practice, how I coach others to inform their,  data is always the place I start.  It just might not be just this data.  I might not overemphasize this one very amazing assessment over all the data I might be able to see.  I might want to know more about this data, how many students could summarize the text with ease,  how many understood the character motivation and could empathize by imagining themselves in those situations, how many understood the role of the minor characters, how many saw the craft moves the authors was making.  I don’t know.  That data is not reported in my reporting form.  Don’t panic!  It was passed on to the next teacher.  I hope she savors that knowledge and searches for signs of emerging skills.  I’m confident about this.  But today’s report won’t tell the administration any of that information.

Poor writing.  So often the second thought in our literacy examination.  So difficult to collect data on.  How to turn those amazing ideas generated into numbers.  Perhaps so much is lost when we do.  Peering into shared writing that I have squirreled away in my unit books,  I find treasure.  Treasure developed over time, time conferring, time watching, time waiting.  For this year, I’ll have to let the collaborative time we spent talking over student work suffice.

The talk…  How to quantify those moments where ideas were shared, breakthroughs were found, struggle was revealed?  I can calculate how many times I worked with individual students,  how many early morning discussions pouring over student work, teacher plans, and coffee.  Would those calculations show the synergy of that work?  How those ripples changed work, changed hearts, changed practice?

One year, I made an infographic to show my year of coaching.  It was my favorite way I have ever reported that work.  It felt like a living and breathing thing, a thing that doesn’t end after 180 days.  This calculation about this year, maybe I should think of it more as a preset for the next.  Making a plan, while I examine the numbers, of what could happen next.

Ending with the Beginning in Mind #sol19

Ending with the Beginning in Mind #sol19

June 11, 2019

There’s so much at the end of the school year that it’s tempting to metaphorically throw things in the closet after the students leave and say All set!  Late spring can be a time when we are our most reflective.  The year’s experiences are fresh in our minds.  We see the capacity of learning at its peak.  If we can get past the  tired,  this is the greatest time to plan for the next year.

We have targeted shared reading as a goal in our learning community for next year, strengthening book choice, strategically planning for learning needs, and assisting teachers in considering shared reading (and interactive reading) texts.  Having that in mind, we made a plan for some of us to meet together to plan out at least the first unit of first grade’s framework for shared reading as school opens in the fall.

Coming from my perspective,  I was considering the framework, each day of the week’s focus and learning objectives.  I was thinking of a template, of thinking stems, of routines that would ensure shared reading become a expected routine in each class.  I was ready to talk about these structures.  I had the phonics units.  I had Understanding Texts and Readers,  I had the Guide to the Reading Workshop.  I had the first units of study in reading.  I had talked over the structure with a fellow literacy coach and thought I was prepared but flexible to teacher needs.

Yesterday afternoon, I met with the teacher.  She immediately started talking about what books would fit together and what level they would be.  Well versed in the units, she began logical with the suggested book in the unit.  Knowing the author, she began suggesting other titles.  As I shifted my thinking, I caught up to her and we spent the next couple of hours, creating a stack of possible book choices making it through to our upcoming February’s unit.  Now we have a stack and the next time we meet we will dive into the routine, the additional poems, and other plans to round out this thinking.

As I consider this work time,  I am excited about the potential for success.  The teacher clearly took the lead, with me listening to ideas and offering up suggestions.  With history of collaboration, we spoke quickly and generated ideas and abandoned some ideas with equal speed.  All of this made me think about how to spark initiatives in others.  Here’s what I’ll try

Be open to inquiry.  From creating mentor text lists, to toolkits, to ideas from articles, to needs that teachers feel that they or their students have based on the day to day work.

Be open to shifting.  I have a head full of ideas based on what I’ve read, tried, and seen.  All the professionals I work with have their own schema.  The synergy of those can be really strong.

Be open to messiness.  The truth is growth is full stops and starts, of missteps and progress, of surprises and triumphs.

So I learned a lot yesterday.  Here’s to continuing to grow.

The Trees in the Forest #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 1.22.53 PM

The Trees in the Forest #sol19

I have pursued many opportunities in the last few weeks to gather feedback from students, from administrators, from colleagues and from parents.  It doesn’t seem odd this time a year to put a point on the work that has been done.  Through data meetings, end of year assessments, planning meetings, and casual talk, I began to see a picture of the work that I have been a part of over the last year.  For the first time, I didn’t like all that I saw.

Truthfully,  it’s not the first time, I have courted brutal honesty.  It might be said of me that I like that type of feedback most of all.  Just give it to me with no sugar-coating, just raw, unaltered truth.  What’s that saying, You can’t handle the truth? I believe I can.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a few days to digest.  For example, when folks say it’s not personal, it most assuredly is profoundly and deeply personal on a cellular level.

But this really isn’t a story about that… or is it?  This is a story about having an opportunity in the midst of all this amazing crack-openly honest feedback to see the work vertically, agenda-free, through the eyes of complete strangers.

As you may have read a few weeks ago, our school was visited by some curious educators from another district.  These educators wanted a peek into our literary lens, the view and philosophical stance we have toward reading and writing in the workshop.  It’s a lot to explain in a couple of hours, but we made a plan to lay out the vision, tour the classrooms vertical in small groups, and then create a panel of local question-answering educators when we returned from our viewing.

Rarely is there an opportunity to distill the work we do day after day into 20 or so minutes of elevator talk.  Rarely do I talk a vertical swath through the school.  Never do I take such a swath without a clear agenda (of my own). Rarely do I give myself over to the vision in someone else’s eyes.  But here I was on a Friday, giving my elevator talk about the units of study, strolling along enjoying the sights, and having my eyes opened at the same time.

For you see, I am often thinking of improvements to make, not celebrations to have. (personally,  I love to celebrate what I notice in students and classrooms).  I am often set on purpose when visiting or talking.  As all of us,  I am busy in the day to day work of the hive.  But in this moment, which these educators at my side, my mode changed.  I slowed down.  Even before they came, I took some time to carefully think of what I had noticed in our literacy journey.  Not what pitfalls we had seen, but what we noticed was important to success.

As we walked the halls in my small group, I gave myself over to seeing our world through their eyes.  I noticed how long the kindergarteners were sticking with independent reading and how they were eager to share moments of that reading with their peers.  I noticed how our first graders could explain their semantic maps and how they were comparing information in two text.  I noticed their engagements and their ability to easily use all the tools their teacher had provided for them.  I noticed how teaches could have a few minutes to chat with the visitors as their children worked independently or together on authentic work.  I noticed how the writers were choosing independently how they would convey their learning, I noticed how the students were sticking in the work when it got tricky and how teachers were noticing that difficulty and letting the students work through it.  I noticed how even though students were talking, it wasn’t loud in the rooms.

I saw students and teachers trying new things.  In revision, holding on to the original as we craft ideas for how we might revise.  Reading the simple texts first to get a basis for the learning.  Conferring with each other before asking the teacher.  Generally behaving like people who understand and like the work that they are doing.

It’s late in the year, so perhaps independence, collaboration, and agency are not so surprising.  Perhaps in a different moment, things might have been going a lot less smooth.  You can fake agency though.  You cannot fabricate each and every student in every class in every grade being able to clearly articulate what they were doing and why they were doing it.

In that moment,  I truly knew that is all we really want, for student to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  For each of them to have a goal to work towards. For each student to have purpose in their work.

So on that May morning, I say with fresh eyes and I explained with a new voice. Hopefully, what I see and hear will be forever changed by those moments I took the time to just notice and wonder, distill and consider.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be difficulties and criticisms.  What it means is that the trees in that forest are pretty important and their growing strong.



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.