What I’ve Learned This Month #sol20

This month I have been writing in the Slice of Life Community 31 Day Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers.  While I always learn from my writing companions in this group, this month has been particularly poignant.  This is Day 29/31

img_1405What I’ve Learned this Month #sol20

March 29, 2020

Writing thirty one days and commenting on others writing always teaches me so much.  I learn different writing styles, different approaches to the same subject, other writer’s processes.  I also learn about their lives, their hopes, their frustrations, their fears and… they learn about mine.

I haven’t counted the total number of writers in our writing group, but I admire and cherish them all.   During the year, I write on Tuesday each week and follow many writers all the time and other writers much of the time.  I usually read and comment on over a dozen blogs each week. Each of them is inspiring to both my own writing and my coaching.  They are some of my greatest teachers.

During our March challenge, my blog is followed and read by many other writers. They offer me advice, suggestions, encouragement, and humor through their comments.  I personally follow 20 blogs every day, read and comment on between 15-20 each day.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a great deal of writing and learn so much about writing and so much more.

From one far flung slicer,  I gained so much advice about managing this new world of distance teaching.  She explained how to set it up, where the difficulties lie,  how to maintain self-care and how easy it is to overextend.  She even showed me how cleaning out my refrigerator could be an act of meditation.  Her practical advice,  her pragmatic nature, and her calm spirit displayed in her writing will stay with me for a long time. I hope we will stay in touch.

From other slicers,   I admire community,  all the things they are doing together and separately to maintain their school’s writing heart and community purpose.  They lovingly refer to each other in their blogs and graciously build each other up in their comments.  They comment on many, many other blogs as well as give practical advice for navigating the world of literacy in elementary school.  They are beacons to me in their practice, in their generosity, and in their connectivity.

Elisabeth always pushes me to think more, to consider other mentors, to consider my own practice, and to try new things.  Last year, she convinced me through her blog to write poetry for the month of April after our slice challenge was complete.  This year, she made me consider what books comfort me, how I decide what to read next, where I am creating my space at home, and what is keeping me moving forward.

I have the pleasure of being a welcomer to some new to the slice challenge.  From one of them, I learned to look to our past relationships and situations for lessons for the present.  Her powerful observation skills will be ones I continue to search for in my own writing.  From another new slicer,  I learned about her practice of confronting her advantages and working toward social justice in her learning, in her writing, and in her practice.  I strive to be brave like she is. One of my followed slicers was all about connections,  since this is my OLW for this year, her writing and her thinking drew me to consider the connections I am making and maintaining in this new frontier.  One of my new slicing buddies shared her day to day successes and struggles with heart and a fresh writing perspective.  Her comments were kind and supportive and I hope to read a lot more about her practice and thoughts in the future.  This year more than others, these blogs feel like new friendships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sustaining friendships this group affords me.  My friend, Clare, who first encouraged me to write about my work. Brian, my welcome wagon slicer those years ago continues to inspire me with his concise writing and quick witted comments.  My good friends in the group now who speak to me like old friends in their comments are so often encouragers-in-chief,  commiserators, teachers, mentors, and so much more.

Lanny, Stacey, Melanie, Kelsey, Beth,   I don’t think I have the words to express what your hard work in maintaining this community has meant to me and so many others.  As Clare said the other day,  in times of difficulty we turned to the folks who have sustained us all along.  You and Two Writing Teachers has certainly been that place now more than ever.

As we approach the twilight of this March Challenge,  I am grateful for this time, these writers, and this challenge.  This month, I believed it is what sustained me.

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

Today I write in isolation, but not alone.  I write in the March Slice of Life Challenge, writing each day in March with my fellow writers under the guidance of Two Writing Teachers.  You can still join us, writing is healing and communal.  If you’re reading this, check out this blog about what to do right now. Today I’m inspired by the meeting I should be having right now, but am not…

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.   I hope you’re still sleeping, but I’m thinking of you. If we were together, I would have probably brought some soda bread and green napkins.  We would have ‘coffee’.  Well, A. would have had a yeti of tea and M. would have had a iced coffee from Dunkin’.  A. would close the door and say good morning.  She might be empty handed.   Sometimes she waits for a good idea and then writes it on a stickie with a borrowed pen.  M. would open her fancy notebook, 1/2 sized. Her flair color matching her mood or hoped-for mood.  We’d huddle and we smile at each other.  How are you doing? 

I’d have a list in my notebook of things I wanted to talk over with you.  Hopefully, I’d hesitate to see if you had something in mind.  Most times you do.  I’d have my units on the table, my phone, my notebook, my coffee.  Sometimes I don’t write in my notebook until you go away.  Sometimes I draw something in there or on a stickie to illustrate a thought or an idea.  Today I have a few things I want to talk over in this virtual space. What I don’t want to talk over is the reality and uncertainty of our current situation.  So I’m going to ignore it… for now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 7.50.23 AMFirst, I’m excited by the work A. has been doing with the ‘narrative task’ and creative writing in her room.  She’s excited too.  I’m sure she’s told you about it, but can we just talk about how it works and how we might expand it and will it work again next year.  I do love these books we chose for the Book Madness… I want to get the other Boston Marathon title.  Wait, back to the idea.  She began with Girl Running, taking four scenes after she had read and loved it with her class and let them ‘blow up’ the scene.  I wish I had some samples of her students’ writing, but I kept the photo copies of the spaces where she stopped.  I would stop at those pages and talk about why they are good.  Yes, they do illustrate the story arc. What a strong reinforcement!  She chose the rising action where Bobbie was crouching behind the forsythia right before she joined the race.  Then she chose the place where she revealed she was a woman runner.  We probably look these over and talk about presenting them to the students.  Would we ask them where this was on the story arc?  Would we let everyone pick the place where they want to write?  What guidance might we add to the narrative task?  What if we paired this book again for the compare and contrast using Her Fearless Run or The Girl Who Ran.  I’ll bring out Drawn Together. I hear that this book is a student favorite.  This book requires some interpretation by the students.  I want to hear what your students were thinking.  A. used this book as well.  I wasn’t there for this lesson.  We might look through the book together and think about how to present it.

I’ll mention how the newer teachers are struggling with the MCAS unit I drafted.  I will admit that some of it is my fault.  It needs some revision between the calendar and the day-to-day.  I’ll talk about some coaching I’ve done there and what I hope to do in the future.

Our time’s getting short but I want to share this idea that I saw on twitter. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 8.10.55 AM Did you see that retweet I posted about using the Snack Attack video for character change in the essay?  Remember when we hoped that some videos might be used on the state tests?   Even that year we did the PARCC.?  We could show the video.  Love it and then think about character change.  What if we did that work in start-and-stops with table groups or two partnerships together?

Our time is past over as usual.  There’s so much to share and talk about.   I read City Spies yesterday, but don’t really want to promote a mystery in fourth.  It did have a strong story arc with lots of attempts.  It would be interesting to see how the students mapped it and what they thought the climax was.  That’s always so tricky.  I saw that M. read Coyote Sunrise.  I love that book, great character change, but it’s so sad.  What next?  I am thinking about reading the historical fiction book, They Bicycle Spy.  I know you have already read it, but I was wondering if I could create a mentor arc of another historical fiction for talking it over with the other teachers.

Have a great day!  Glad we had this time together…

(Un)Solicited Reviews #sol20

(Un)Solicited Reviews #sol20

March 9, 2019

What happens when a second grade class of book reviewers find out that I don’t have the latest book in Jory John and Pete Oswald’s series, The Cool Bean?  They set out to convince a literacy specialist in the best way they can… they write a stack of book reviews.  So here straight from the second grade is the reason that I (you) should run out and buy this book.

This was pretty convincing until I read this line.

Why are you still reading this go and buy this book!!!!

It’s difficult to say what I love most about this situation and why after nearly a month, these reviews are still traveling back and forth in my teacher bag.

Another thing that I like (in) this book is that after they were nice to Little Bean he starts to be kind to other(s). Another reason I think this book is good is that there (they’re) get(t)ing along again… it teaches you that everyone is cool and sometime people are nice and kind.

Straight from my teacher bag into my heart and into my mentor text files.  These second graders don’t know it yet, but they have the makings of some literary essayist.  Quick retell, character traits, lessons learned, they are putting it together.  So is their teacher.

These showed up on my desk silently one day without notice.  Just a sweet little stack of writing gems.  I know you wish you could read them all again and again as well.

Here’s one final picture to tide you over.

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol20) 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.  This is day 9.

No Need for Perfect #sol20

UnknownNo Need for Perfect

January 20, 2020

No need for perfect, just a little bit better.  Oprah January 2020

Thursday in my notebook (#100DaysofNotebooking) I outlined the benefits of child study.  It isn’t coincidence that I decided that child study was a real benefit to our school community that day in particular.  That morning, the pieces of child study came together again. There it was, the sweet spot.

I’m a firm believer in the child study process. A group of educators get together and discuss a difficulty and work together to suggest solutions.  We use a strict(ish) protocol.  The classroom based teacher presents the difficulty,  the team asked clarifying questions,  the classroom based teacher listens as we generate possible solutions, the classroom based teacher shares what ideas he/she might try, we set goals and a check-in date for six weeks later.  The entire process takes about forty minutes.

We have these meetings two mornings a week.  The team consists of the school counselor, the assistant principal/EL coordinator, the literacy specialist, the principal, and others rotate in.  Sometimes we have another classroom teacher, sometimes the psychologist, a special education coordinator or teacher, and others.  The protocol works well, the participants balance each other out, and its helpful to the teacher…until it isn’t.

While the process is still right and generally we’ve been helpful, over the last few months, it’s been… uneven.  Why?  Connections.  The principal and the school counselor are in their first year.  They come to the table with their experiences, their knowledge, their hopes.  What they didn’t have was a shared history. What we didn’t have was a shared history.

To be honest, a shared history can be a burden.  Fresh ideas are good and often very, very helpful.  In that room, in that situation, with those time constraints, attention is key, discussion has to be tight, almost each word matters.  It is painfully easy to get off track.  When we get off track, we cannot, we do not generate a round of positive, easily implemented, fresh ideas to try.  Everyone leaves frustrated.

We’ve sat here for the past four months, never having a post-mortem on the meeting.  Never discussing our protocol together. Just hammering it out.  Most of the time, it worked ok.  Rarely was it amazing.  I remember amazing… I missed that.

On Thursday, a teacher came to the room.  She presented her student to us.  We understood her concerns.  We asked questions that gave us all clarity.  She carefully articulated what she thought might be a next step.

I felt the shared exhale in the room as we thought for what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds.  The talk started between us.  No tripping over each others words. No confusion shown on faces.  Gentle easy purposeful productive talk. Like the tumblers on a lock, I felt the team fall into place.  Just then in the moment, we were a team.  We felt the connection. We hit the sweet spot.

We are going to be a team moving forward.  We will smile.  We will wait.  We will laugh. We will reach out.  We made the connection.  We felt the pieces fall into place and we will be working for that every time we enter the room. Once you feel it, it comes more naturally.  That’s what they say about everything that takes practice. It wasn’t quite 10,000 hours, but it was 50… give or take.

Alchemy #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.23.32 PM

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.

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.

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.