Time Well Spent #sol18

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Time Well Spent #sol18

July 17, 2018

One day last week,  I spent the day in a classroom with a teacher reorganizing her classroom library.

 

LOTS of Books

There were lots of books there.  I estimate that this teacher had 800-1000 books in her collection acquired from inherited books left in her classroom by the previous teacher, her childhood or friend’s childhood books, recent acquisitions, and gifts.  Her books had been leveled into general themes and reading levels.

Game Plan

Make a gathering place for each reading level band:  A/B,  C/D, E,  F/G,  H/I,  J/K,  L,M, and above. Then possibly sort into narrative and information books.  Finally group in loose themes to create book bins of twenty or so books.

 

Begin at the Beginning?

This is my sixth or so library overhaul with a classroom teacher in the last two years.  My goal is to have some ideas but to give the teacher lots of room to think through her collection his or herself.  I initially try to start in the middle of the collection.  As a first grade teacher, that would have been around a F/G level  using Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading Level by Month Chart. She had many unleveled picture books in subject categories, so we began there.  That project was four hours in this classroom.  Two things contributed to its length.  She was evaluating texts as she went.  What to keep and what to purge. I might have kept all but the most glaringly obvious mismatches and then weeded at the book bin sort.  Eventually we developed a rhythm going along that she looked quickly through and made a brutal cut and then I leveled and reread some books suggesting uses for a few such as mentor text for certain aspects of reading or writing and book progressions.

Interestingly in this sort,  our ages became an obvious difference in selection.  There were many books in her collection that I had used as a teacher or parent.  Of course these books are twenty-some years old now.  For her, they all seemed ancient.  She cut nearly all of them.  While jarring at the time, it might not have been a bad move.  Many things have changed about our teaching,  our read aloud, and the way books draw students.  Unless I saw some emergent storybook potential in these books,  her decisions stood.

Picture Book Sort Tip

Think who will read?  Why read?  What is this books potential use?

End of Stage 1

At the end of stage one,  all the books were divided into reading levels.

Reading Level Tip

You might not sort all of the books into reading levels.  Some might be freeform in a very appealing sort of their own perhaps series or topic.

General Library Regroup Procedure

  1. Divide all the books into Reading Level.   Some you won’t be able to, in that case, approximate.  Use a strategy here, either pitch as you go or create a pile to look at later.  Don’t let that pile get too big, twenty books no more.
  2. Categorize those leveled books into subsets.  She used narrative and information.  In the bins I made for the book room,  I just used general feel of going together.  The teacher says I’m loose with those categories.  I might be.  It’s nice here to start thinking about categories that are going to go across levels for partner reading, leveling up, or whatnot.  Some categories that work might be: pets, dinosaurs, problems, favorite characters, or funny.  This is a good place to consider mentor texts at levels and emergent storybooks.
  3. Make a decision about how high your library should go.  As is common,  her library skewed high.  She had many books in the above level M category and very few at Level A/B.  Perhaps she won’t need those kinder levels in her class, but it’s something to consider.  She ultimately decided to offer to upper grade colleagues high level books that she didn’t think held an appeal to first grade.
  4. Notice what is amazing about your collection.  This about book progressions.  A student wants to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Would Diary of a Worm be a first step? What books are glaringly missing?  I definitely need more Fly Guy.  This may take some thinking.  This doesn’t have to happen today.  You can look at a level a week during the year as your kiddos use them and adjust or make a buying/finding plan.
  5. Create sort system.  This could be bins of certain colors, color dots, bin numbers, labels or names.  The point here is to make the subject the focal point, not the book level.  However at first grade,  book level will be important.
  6. This is the tricky level.  Live in the library.  Watch how the students select or don’t select books.  Notice what draws them, what books they request.  Find a way to let students create book bins of their own with their partner or as a group.
  7. Resist the urge to buy a lot now.  Borrow library books.  Try out new series or characters.  Scouring blogs and bookstores.  Ask colleagues.

 

So in the end,  these 1,000 books took about six hours to sort, categorize, and weed.  She had some glaring gaps in her library.  Information books, some series,  book pairs, book club offerings, some levels.  Knowing that she can borrow some from the book room, the library,  and begin her acquisition plan.  My assistance is available for the next teacher, but I believe hers is as well.  I did pocket the Icky Bug Alphabet book from the rubbish pile and saved Mossy from oblivion by comparing it to A House for Hermit Crab.

 

Special thanks to Clare and Tammy and their amazing book, It’s All about the Books for inspiring this teacher and myself to rethink libraries.

 

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Coaching for the Distance #sol18

Coaching for the Distance

May 22, 2018

 

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Christopher Lehmann,  Foreword to Reading Wellness

In the frayed, worn edges of the school year, with the clock ticking down, our district and many others continue to do the tough work.  We are in a trifecta of growth:  adapting the curriculums,  considering assessment, and now we arrived at the third leg, coaching into these changes.

I’ve been asked in a team to consider what is valuable in coaching, what are institutional features, and where we might go next.

Listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher read from their 180 Days book on the Heinemann Podcast today,  it struck me what I really think about coaching.  Kelly quotes Chris Lehmann from the forward to Reading Wellness.  I paraphrase here.  Our best work happens when we align our coaching to their instructional decisions, when their work becomes the curriculum (of coaching).

I fill my desk with inspirational quotes and hope they guide my words and actions.  I believe we are only limited my the limits we put on ourselves. I believe we can’t really teach anything, just help folks to discover it within themselves.  I believe that 25% of coaching is encouragement,  25% is listening,  25% is a flood of ideas, and 25% is rolling up your sleeves and getting into the thick of it.

Encouragement comes in many forms.  My favorite form is noticing.  Just taking a photo and tweeting it out to say,  wow,  that was something that happened right there.  Much like our work with the students,  noticing and naming is strong.  When a teacher or a student is in the weeds, it’s difficult to see where the flowers are blooming. Sometimes I just notice in the moment.  I find that this encourages teachers to tell me about moments I’ve missed that were great too.

Listening… can be a challenge.  My personal favorite time to listen is at 7:30 a.m. before the rush of the school day.  Just a little chat over coffee about a particular thing or perhaps many little things.  These I schedule.  They are an amazing way for me to launch the day.  These meetings spark ideas, generate excitement, and set the tone for the entire day.  4:30 in the afternoon is good too.  These meetings are relaxed, punctuated by the personal, and can often turn into a field trip or a scavenger hunt for a book or a lesson.

Flooding the room with ideas has to be entered carefully.  I usually start a meeting, a year, a relationship with a teacher by just saying I’m going to be putting a lot of ideas out there.  Most of them come from my head, my reading, my experience, what you’re saying.  Use what you will.  Leave what you want.  It’s all good.  Sometimes this flood of ideas will help someone try something they might not have.  The comfort of a fall back ideas is that if the original doesn’t work,  I could try this other idea.  This is the power of constructing something…together.  It’s just what we hope for with the students as well.

The last and most important part of coaching to me is rolling up your sleeves and getting in there.  I spend the majority of the school day in there.  Yesterday our principal and I were standing in our courtyard garden admiring the view.   I lamented that I hadn’t taken a picture of the space before we started the transformation so many years ago.  We were both new to the building then and it was a wonderful neutral project to work with the team.  The infamous cookies and cakes just a way to say I’m here for you.  Covering for a teacher when she is in a meeting,  finding a book,  conferring with a student,  doing some running records,  there are so many ways to be there in the work.

I think coaching is best when it is student centered.  More than that,  coaching is best in the fabric of a philosophy of education.  We are all constructing knowledge:  the coaches,  the teachers, and the students.  We help create an environment for experimentation,  for learning, and for growth.  We assist in getting the tools in place and helping people learn how to use those tool.  It’s true,  we can’t teach people anything.  We can only help them discover it within themselves.

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Thank you to some powerful coaches in my life including my slicing community and Two Writing Teachers.   Read more from powerful educators at twowritingteachers.org.

The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

imagesThe (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

May 8, 2018

No one has ever asked me the secret to my success, but given my advanced teaching/coaching/intervening years,  I have a few tried and trues up my proverbial sleeves.  I can talk a good game.  I can make a joke at my own expense.  I can notice when someone needs a hand, an encouraging word, or a five minute pause. So here for what it’s worth are  six of the secrets to my so-called success.

The first secret to my success is that there isn’t always success but usually there is movement.  I’d like to say I’m always a success in intervention, in coaching, in picking out the right shoes, but sadly it’s not true.  However,  I do continue to keep swimming.  My philosophy is somewhere near:  Hey, we can learn a lot from mistakes, and failure is only an opportunity to give it another go.

The second secret to my success is to listen more than you talk.  This can be a real struggle for me.  Most of the time, folks need someone to hear them more than they need someone to tell them.

The third secret to my success as a literacy coach is to have an agenda, but go with theirs, meaning whomever it is that I’m working with.  They know what they need and especially what they want.  I’m prepared with some ideas, some resources, and most of the time that’s what they want and need, but sometimes it’s not.  In those times,  I have to be willing to take a detour or the long way, whichever path gets presented.

The fourth and perhaps the most important advice I have is to carry the water.  People need real things to be success:  found books, copies, a person to read the story, a person to tag off with a difficult friend, someone to sort books with.  The list is literary endless.  While providing most of these things, it can be a good time to a:  listen (see #2) and b:  go with their agenda (see #3)

The first secret to my success is one you’ve heard before,  bring gifts.  Bring ideas,  but also bring along a book,  the occasional batch of cookies, or Hershey’s kisses.  Nurturing folks feels good to you, but it also feels good to them as well.  I have been known to work years on this stage before moving on to another.

The final secret to my success is know other things about people that aren’t school related.  Maybe you know their favorite color, what’s in their Netflix queue,  birthdays, coffee addiction, their dog’s name, and even what their favorite cookie is.  You get the idea.

It’s not complicated, but it’s critical.  Several years ago,  the International Literacy Association published a research article on best practices in literacy coaching.  Level 1 of coaching is building relationships.  The article included the usual thinking:  establishing convimages.jpgersations, schedules, developing norms of communication, studying things together.  Those things are important, but in order for them to work,  real kindness opens the door.

My most successful conversations happen in three places:  at 7:30 am before our day starts,  at 4:30 pm when the building quiets down, and over the bent, working head of a student we both care for deeply.  Each of my 7:30 meetings, every day of the week, is different.  Some people have a list of things to talk about,  some wait for me to say something I’ve noticed,  some feel like the kind of conversations you might have any day over coffee.  What they have in common, I hope,  is trust.

The days are long.  The stakes are high.  A classroom of students can be isolating.  We can be the bridge,  the sounding board,  the boost.  All we have to do is take time and notice the small things. After all,  we have at least 180 days to get it close to right.

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Thanks to Two Writing Teachers and my faithful writing community for being all these things for me, so that I may be some of them for others.  I’m forever grateful for you.

What I Learn From Other Slicers #sol18

IMG_0944.jpgWhat I Learned From Other Slicers #sol18

March Year 2 Edition March 30, 2018

The intimacy of sharing a writing community and reading someone’s writing each day across time and place is profound.  Images and ideas stick with you long after you have left.

I have learned so much from so many bloggers this March. Last year I was so focused on just getting the writing done I didn’t allow myself enough space to just enjoy other writing and other perspectives.  This year I let go other reading to really read blogs consistently, reading between 20-25 blogs every day and sometime more than that.  Reading deeply in one genre gives you a stronger understanding of craft.  Here are 10 highlights from a month full of so many, tucked into my blog journal, my electronic folder, and my reading list. They will remain there for some time. 

From Alice Nine I learned about many different types of poetry, my favorite of which was golden shovels, My Daddy’s Golden Shovel.  In addition,  Alice has a wonderful way of weaving teaching techniques into her blog and respond to comments in a way that continues to teach.   To everyone else that wrote, explained, and taught me poetry techniques I am truly grateful.  Special recognition to Fran McVeigh, Lynne Dorfman and others.

From Lanny Ball and Stacey Shubitz, and others,   I learned true slicing,  those truthful everyday moments that hold so much meaning and sentiment.  Stacey let us into her little family and allowed me to peek at moments in young parenting that are long past for me. Last year, Stacey taught me how to make those watercolor illustration for my blog.

From humbleswede and Fran Haley, and others,  I learned that my dog could have a say which leaves the possibilities open for so many other things.  Lily still hasn’t gotten her say, but she has received honorable mention.

From Darin Johnston &  JCareyreads,  I learned that we can be PLN friends,  share ideas, and strengths, and hopes with each other.  Their honesty and thoughtful responses are the hallmark of what makes this challenge so meaningful.

From mbhmainepersistence and pedagogy,  and others,  I remembered about the variety of the slice techniques. So many of these techniques are squirreled away for a Tuesday.

From comments  like those from ureadiread and others, I was affirmed, supported, and taught.   5 star commenting from Brian Rozinsky for this whole solid year.  ( I have still yet to learn brevity from him)

From ebgriffin, saavyteacher and others,  I learned that we can talk over virtually what we are thinking, rehash what we wished, and have a virtual redo.

From mrspalmerponders and others,  I thought about the true depth of mentor texts.  Her How-To about blueberry picking will stick with me.

From my friend,  Clare Landrigan,  I continue to learn that you can accomplish what you set your mind to, that encouragement means everything, and you can know a person, but learn a lot more from their writing.

From my little welcome wagon tribe,  I learned that affirming someone else feels pretty great.

Bonus:  There were so many blogs that I truly enjoyed like this one from Anita,  Frog, Toad, and Vygotsky  I hope I told each of you when you wrote them.

This year blogging after school and posting in the AM worked for me as did reading  blogs throughout the day.  This technique was encourage by my welcome wagon crew being spread across the country posting at all different times. 

I learned a few things about myself too,  but I’ll save those for day 31.  

img_1405Day 30 of a 31 day challenge.  Writing with my writerly friends as part of the Slice of Life Challenge.  Read even more of their amazing blogs at Two Writing Teachers.  Thanks to Melanie, Stacey, and Lanny for coordinating so much for so many and encouraging me personally.

Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

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Here am I trying to nudge students into their ideas rather than summaries in literary essays by sharing some peer craft moves.  Alongside,  my assistance conduct their own writing conferences.

Writers’ Workshop Live

March 28, 2018

As part of my role as literacy specialist in an elementary building,  I co-teach in several classrooms in either reading or writing workshop. My primary role is to support fragile learners, but as all teachers,  I support whomever comes along.  This bunch of third grade learners have known me since their kindergarten days and their teacher and I have worked together often, though not in this consistent role until this year.  The teacher and I meet weekly to discuss assessments, student progress, planning, resources, and all things related to third grade literacy.  I join the student during their writing block in the afternoons for 40-45 minutes a day.  As all classes,  it is a mixed bag.  

Chapter 1

One day a few weeks ago,  I was away at a meeting in the afternoon and wasn’t able to go to third grade writers’ workshop.  This conversation ensued in my absence.

Protester #1:  This is the worst 15 minutes of my life. 

Patient Teacher:  The worst?  Really? 

Protester #1:  Ok, Top Three.   Stitches,  Waiting for Stitches and This. 15. Minutes. Right. Now.  (dramatic sigh, head on desk)

Protester #2:  Who invented writing anyway?

Protester #3:  I don’t know.  Mrs. Kennedy?

Chapter 2

Last week in writers’ workshop, the third graders were working on persuasive pieces as the lead up to their baby literary essay unit.  They brainstormed some ideas together, but around six students decided to write their persuasive essay about how we shouldn’t have writing at 2 p.m.  Their basic arguments were that they were smarter in the morning, their brains were less full, and an “easy subject” like reading could be moved to the afternoon.  They became quite vocal about it and I think began to believe that we could change writing time.  Because of the specialist schedules in her room (not mine),  the teacher has to have writing at this time which she has explained.  Finally on Monday, she told the kiddos,  “I’m just not going to listen to this anymore.  Get to work.”

We read the book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and began the work of growing an idea  about a character and supporting in with three details from the text.

Chapter 3

Today in writers workshop, the teacher did the introduction and most of the kiddos stayed on the carpet to finish their second paragraph or move into their third.  I moved a stool onto the rug and began rehearsing sentences with protester #1.  Writers came up to have me read their work and approve it. Why do they do that?  Because I keep letting them.  I say,  what’s up?  Can you read this?  Sure.  I read it and hand it back. What do you think you might do now?  Is it good?  What do you think?  Have your writing partner confer with you.  or I’m done.  Sure, did you use some of our expert sentences?  Did you use some evidence?  Do you have a full paragraph?  Student slowly backs up. Hey kiddos,  remember, we are writing our fresh ideas, not the ideas of our character or summarizing.   But then,  I started reading some fresh thinking.  I send those kiddos off with the line that’s forming and they become the assistance.  misspell and pun intended.  

Toward the end of workshop I say to the teacher, I’m not sure I want to say this out loud, but it’s going pretty good.  Did you check out some work?   She says, yes,  good.   The assistants are into it.  But I have to tell you something.  I told them you were sad and you wouldn’t come back to workshop unless they worked hard.  

I guffawed.  How did that work? 

What really worked most likely is lean prompts, loose scaffolds, and mentors, both the book itself, and essays shaping up about book along with other students sharing ideas.  There were four adults in the room.  A para-educator working with student who have writing support plans.  A therapist working on ‘writing in the wild’,  the classroom teacher, and me.  We are currently teaching an If/Then Unit in Calkins’ Writing,  Baby Literary Essay.  We are on week 2, having taught a week of persuasion.  This unit is timely, as state testing is coming up. We keep it real knowing this is the type of writing these students will be doing the rest of their academic careers.  We find picture books great prompts.  The classroom teacher was using No David as an alternative text for a fragile learner.  She has a basket of great mentors for character change at the ready.  If you use the Calkins’ Units,  this unit has been reworked just this past fall and is available in the general information section of the third grade writing units online resources on Heinemann.com.  

My response to the classroom teacher’s tweet.

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Though now that I think about it,  I’d rather be Patricia Heaton.  She plays a convincing midwesterner in The Middle.

img_1405  Just your average writing teacher,  slicing every day for 31 days.  This is day 28 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some fascinating blogs here at Two Writing Teachers.

In Search of the Perfect Read-Aloud #sol18

IMG_9715.JPGIn Search of the Perfect Read Aloud #sol18

March 26, 2018

Since Wednesday,  I have been in search of the perfect read aloud, not for the students, but for their teachers.  This read aloud must have a twist or surprise, a character journey both internal and external, and most importantly,  the sixteen or so teachers I am reading it to shouldn’t have heard it before.  I know, right?  That’s the kicker.  So started the quest.

Having spent Wednesday and Thursday in professional development,  we have scheduled a short hour long follow up on Monday with the kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers.  All of us have been working on intentionally raising the accountable talk with our students and rich conversations are growing everywhere across the building.  The goal of our current professional development cycle was craft lessons, so our talk naturally took in helping students construct their own knowledge.

Our library supervisor is so lovely and agreed to recommend some books from the library’s collection.  Tammy Mulligan recommended some more and I had a few I was thinking of in my personal collection.  After several fretful days where I reread many texts,  I took my favorite candidates to the library to chat with Barb, our librarian.  She was drawn to some she knew but there were several that she was unfamiliar with, so we began to read books together late on Friday afternoon.

Our after school program students were in the room as we were looking through the shelves,  reading bits together, and one of the students unfamiliar to me came up and said,

I heard you and Mrs. M. reading together,  there was something about a policeman. 

Yes, I said, there was a policeman in that book.  He was helping the girl make a mural.  Do you know what that is?  Head Shake.  It’s a big painting on the side of a building. 

Why are you reading together?

We like to.  Head nod.

Barb and I did read together for quite a while that afternoon.  We laughed and talked and planned and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes from a shared love.  We share other things, two sons, midwestern roots, a similar age,  but this day,  it was all about the books.  Page by Page,  laughing and talking.  We enjoyed it so much that we think we might have a book tasting for the teachers, inviting them to the library to see some of our favorites and think about how they might incorporate them into their read aloud work.

Barb encouraged me to choose a funny book. I think because I made her laugh reading it.  The character does change through the course of the story.  So our first read aloud recommendation for you is The Bad Seed.  We wanted to use the books Extra Yarn or Not Norman, but they were familiar to some.  My back up book, that I will probably use with the teachers on Monday, is Weslandia, a story of a boy who learns to carve his own place in the world.  Others in the short stack include Little TreeThe Tree, an Environmental FableYard Sale,  and Windows.

There are more on the stack, but I’ll save them for another day.

Some background reading in constructivism and read aloud can be found in Comprehension Through Conversation and The Construction Zone.   Terry Thompson’s book is a very accessible text on the effective use of scaffolds with students.

Some Key ideas in collaborative talk in read aloud:

  • Choose rich text  that beg for rich conversation.  The students don’t have to understand the setting and the characters don’t have to be human, but the characters should have some depth.  I recommend anything by Eve Bunting, most by Kevin Henkes, and the simple but powerful texts of Marc Barnett.
  • Plan, but don’t plan too much.  Have an idea of the destination, but let the students get their with their own GPS.
  • Talk takes practice,  think alouds scaffold students toward a disposition for this talk.
  • Help them get to the heart of the story,  what was the character’s heart’s desire?
  • Think to yourself,  how might I structure my own talk if they can’t get there?

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Nearly There.  Day 26 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Thanks to all the slicers who encourage me and Two Writing Teachers.   Read some amazing slices here.

Shared Worry. #sol18

download-4Shared Worry. #sol18

March 15, 2018

In the dim light of my desk lamp,  I scan over my notes from the last time we met.  I consider what’s happened so far this week and since we last met.  I think about the unit their on. I wonder about things that have gone wrong and glimpses of what has gone really well.  I think about the sandwich.*

The clock above my desk clicks onto 7:30.  I gather up my conferring notebook, my phone, my pencil, and my coffee and scurry down the hall toward her room.  She’s waiting.

I can see her notebook open on her desk, writers’ notebooks, books, the units of study.  I scan the empty desks on my way over, glancing up to smile at her and say good morning.   I put down my coffee,  my notebooks, my phone.  I get down a stool from her counter and sit down.

We look at each other and exhale simultaneously.  We want to start with the trouble. The Trouble.  I inhale and exhale again.  I scan my mind wondering if I can find some amazing words of wisdom that will make me seem like I know what I’m talking about, make her feel like she knows what she’s doing, and FIX. THE. PROBLEM.

I was thinking that I would go back to Fran McVeigh’s posts from last week and tell her about them,  how Fran was working toward a solutions.  I was thinking I noticed Monday and Tuesday that when she was explicit about her active engagement and link,  that the students were more productive in the release.  But then,  I started to think about what the small group said to me on Tuesday, that I had yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  Yelled at him.  I was definitely forceful,  definitely running thin on patience… 

Now it’s been nearly a minute and I haven’t said anything.   I look up at her.  I wait.  I’ve been working on that, waiting.  She says I’ve been thinking

And that’s the start.  We share our noticings and wonderings.  We share our feelings.  We share our ideas.  We share our worries.

Just like that, we have a new plan.  A new idea.  We fill the tank.  We move forward.  Together.

Every weekday morning,  I share a 1/2 hour with one teacher.  These times are scheduled and mostly standing appointments.  I always go to the teacher’s home turf  if I can.  That gives her power in our relationship. The teachers are in all different places in their teaching careers and have varying needs/wants.  I have had these standing appointments for years, shifting teachers as collaboration needs change.  I offer them up at the beginning of the school year and sometimes it takes a semester before the slots are full up.  Preparing for these varied meetings keeps me grounded in the curriculum,  the day to day struggles, our resources, and practice.  Most of these teachers and I will work together in their literacy block daily, but some just have this time to talk over big ideas, resources, worries, and whatnot.  It is the second most effective part of my practice, eclipsed only by the in class practice.  It keeps me grounded,  learning, and listening.  

*the sandwich- the idea that you share a compliment or a good thing, sandwich in the criticism or bad news, and then end with a positive comment. A sandwich.