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.


The Arc #sol18

The Arc  #sol18

March 13, 2018


IMG_0218I must have been alert when they taught the story arc back in teacher college.  The idea of the arc of a story is strong in me.  Thinking how to organize a narrative or investigate a composed narrative is as easy as riding a bike.  It seems it comes to students early as well.

Sarah Weeks spoke last week at the TCRWP Reunion of the arc and the arrow of the story.  When we think of the arrow of the story, we go straight through to the punch line.  When we think of an arc of a story, the majority of that story is in the mound, in the elaboration.  But in the end, it’s the payoff that makes the story work.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about that payoff lately.  In my writing, but mostly in the way that we plan and execute our instruction. Last week,  I reread The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. There is much to mine there, but today what stuck was the idea of backward design.  Considering our destination and then moving forward step by step.  This works for all of the students in front of us, but is especially powerful for our EL students. This idea is brilliantly described in A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick . One of Shanna Schwartz’ stickiness principles is:

 Children’s engagement and learning are dependent on a high level of understanding; they are distracted most when their understanding breaks down.  In order for teaching to stick, children need to be taught when they are ready to learn.

In their wonderful new book,  Kids First From Day One,  Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz quickly outline how to keep a child’s eye view of your day. They remind us to see things from a child’s perspective.  In that perspective, we carefully examine whether our implied goal should be all that implied.

Focusing  on the bigger picture often I would say,  students don’t know why we are talking about what we are talking about.  They don’t see the arc of the story, the straight shot of the arrow, or the dot on the map.  That’s on us.

Do we know where we are going?

In the Calkins Units of Study,  the TCRWP team make an important plan.  They outline every unit in detail at the beginning.  First a quick road map,  then a short overview, then we are ready to head out on the journey.

As teachers, we plan, but where are we going?  See this post for setting the focus lesson table with your GPS.   What are the goals of the unit for each student in front of us?  The goals for this student might be the same.  We aren’t teaching the standards, we are teaching the kids.  However,  the teaching needs a spine, a compass, a north star.  We should know it and we should communicate it to the kiddos, every day.

How we communicate that is the art form, but this is no time for subtlety.

Hey,  kiddos,  we are going to reading all these versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but we are still just thinking about characters, settings, problems/solutions.  What’s the big idea?  What is Red’s problem?  What gets in her way?  How would you describe her?  

Every day the same questions.  We stay true to the arc.  In the beginning,  explain where we are going.  Then we try some things to get there,  explain those too.  We try some more things.  Things get a little tricky,  we back track,  we move forward.  Then,  when we get to the end,  we check and see if we all got there together.  We don’t leave those things behind,  we carry them to our next destination.

I’m not sure the kids know the plan.  So let’s tell them.  Let’s explain how this goes.

Do they know where we are going?  


img_1716 Thanks to all my fellow slicers for their encouragement, their feedback, and their lessons.  I learn so much from you.   You can learn from them too,  here at Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 13 of the 31 Day Slice of Life Story Challenge.




Path Change #sol17

Path Change

November 21, 2017AlcoveSprngsWagonSwales DIles

They say there are nine places in the United States where you can still see the marks of the Conestoga wagons.  As you may predict,  most of them are in rural areas of the western edge of the midwest to western states of Kansas and Nebraska.  These ruts represent so many, many families and individuals that followed the exact same path out to what they hoped was fortune.

In education,  we rarely have the luxury of a known path.  We often have our path changed for us or realize because of situational phenomena,  it’s time to change ourselves.  The good news is that disequilibrium strengthens your core.  It’s true or so I hear.  The school building is full of yoga balls to strengthen our cores and heighten our engagement.  So a little change is good.

A little change is good, but often change isn’t little.  Several curriculums change at once,  your class changes,  your room changes,  your colleagues change. A lot changes.  So what do we do when change is hard?

They say that an unexamined life isn’t worth living and so perhaps is our attitude toward change.  We are all positive about teaching our students flexibility and positive mindset and ‘not yet’,  but when it comes to our own little patch in the sun,  we struggle sometimes.  I say, that’s ok.

Growth is a messy, imperfect process.  If we weren’t out there experimenting with change and new and a little scary,  what kind of example for our future innovators would we be setting?

So just for today, this week,  this month,  this school year, let’s take some teaching risks.  Let’s move away from the ruts of the paths of the past.  Let’s try some new things.

It’s a good time to think of that kindergarten book we used to love.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  

Robert Fulghum



Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicers for the forum and the  encouragement.  Read more slices here.


The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

IMG_9903The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

October 3, 2017

Over the course of the last week or so, as the first graders pass by the literacy center on their way to lunch,  I began to overhear one student after another mention “Pigeon”.  I didn’t think much about it, but then the first grade PLC leader dropped by the literacy center on her way back from specials one day.  Here’s her story.

The students noticed you have THE Pigeon in here, she said.  You have to start moving it every day.  

I was confused, but then I remembered that I had purchased Pigeon,  Piggie, and Gerard over the summer and they were gently tucked into the new book shelves surrounding my desk.  I thought they might be popular with the students at the time, but over weeks, they were just blending in for me.  She continued.

We told the first graders that Pigeon comes to check the libraries in our rooms at night and he leaves them all messages.  You have to move him around because now they think he lives in the Literacy Center. 

It makes sense.  The Literacy Center is one big library of teacher resources and leveled text.  I thought, why not?   That very afternoon,  I moved Pigeon to prominently display on the shelf right inside my door.  Do you know what happened next?

Pandemonium!   When the first graders came down the hall that day to go to lunch and the Pigeon- THE PIGEON -was right there looking at them,  the buzz went up and I’m not sure how anyone got to lunch that day.

So… here I am.  The Pigeon has become my own personal Elf on the Shelf.  I try to remember to move him each afternoon before I go home. There he is every morning waiting to be magical in the eyes of some very perceptive six year old.


I’m grateful today for six year old magic, for first grade teachers who wanted to include me in the fun, for Mo Willems for creating such a wonderful character for children to relate to, and for the opportunity this and so many other days to be part of the world of elementary school.




Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM I’m grateful to Two Writing Teachers for giving me a reason to think about the magic of my day and then write about it.  You can read more Slices here.



So Many Questions #sol17

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 7.57.05 PMSo Many Questions #sol17

August 29, 2017

Yesterday we had our district-wide kick off.  Today we had our ‘kick-off’ staff meeting.   In my thinking, they both centered around questions.  Questions we should ask ourselves to prepare for our year.

Yesterday, our def Poet speaker, Regie Gibson,  rallied us to distill our contribution to society (our students) into one word.  One word to convey all that our essence brings to the proverbial table of our classrooms.  My word came to me quickly.  Many, many individuals say this about me.  Sometimes I suspect it isn’t a compliment… to them.  To me,  it is my core strength.  This thing gets me to rise in the morning, work long through the day, and continue year after year.  The district sent us a wordle of the collective words.  It took me a few minutes to find my word.  It’s not the largest or the next largest.  I wondered if any one out of those other hundreds of educational professionals said the same word.  Then I thought it’s my word.  I know what it means to me.  I have a good idea what it will mean to the teachers,  students and parents that I will cross paths with this year.  I feel good about that.

Today, we watched a video of Dean James Ryan of Harvard University delivering a commencement in May 2016.  He says it much more eloquently that I do. My teacher and parent friends will enjoy especially the first question,  “Wait!  What?”.   Of course, this goes to understanding.  The second questions figures prominently in our current teaching, I wonder why.  This question prompts our curiosity.  The next question helps unstick the stuck,  Couldn’t we at least… Offering a gentle, gentle nudge, a place to begin. The fourth question, How could I help? is the basis of all good relationships.  This one thing is a strength of mine,  the ability to help.  The subtlety of the question is important.  How could I help?  Giving the recipient the opportunity to maintain the control of the situation and your assistance.  The last question is echoing in the blogs I follow,  the books I read,  my reaction to current times, and my own musings.  What truly matters (to me)?  When we understand this one thing, we can share so much.

So there you have it on a Tuesday.  Some questions to ponder as you celebrate a new year.  I hope that they will keep you up in a good way,  light your path,  and spark your conversations.


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This slice of life is inspired by many more found here and by Two Writing Teachers who may in fact have changed everything I think about myself as a learner, as a writer, and as a member of a vast community.

Library Crawl Lessons #sol17


Art Installation Goodnow Library, Sudbury, MA

Eight Lessons for August First   

August 1, 2017

I spent the day on a crazy library crawl with my friend, Patti.  Patti is that friend that always calls me to do the thing with her that is just a little off the grid.  I consider this a tremendous compliment.  So we set out to visit 12 local libraries and view their prize possessions in one day.  We didn’t have a plan except the list of libraries, our phones, and our company.  The day was full of little surprises, great conversation, and some adventure.  Here are eight lessons learned on August 1.

  1. Be willing to linger in the crazy/good/interesting folly.  It took a while.  We gave ourselves the day to enjoy.  We didn’t rush.  We chatted with the people we met.  We lingered over art.  We thought about the past.  We noticed those around us.  We relaxed in our pursuit.
  2. Have a plan, but keep it loose.  12 libraries in a day is sort

    Bacon Free Library

    of crazy sauce. There was road work. There was questionable GPS advice.  Be prepared, but not too quickly, to let go of something if it’s not working.

  3. Take a moment.  Those extra minutes to hear a story, make a connection, examine something more closely lead to the jewels that make the day.


    Kindness Rock Project, Morse Institute Library

  4. Be camera ready. Patti looked lovely and I did not have my best look on. We took dozens of pictures.   So… be camera ready. Not Pinterest.  Not Vogue. Know what the objective is,  what’s going on in your class, what your goals are, and what might happen next.  You never know who’s going to drop by.  More importantly,  you’ll feel ready for anything.
  5. Everyone will not have the same reaction to you, so what.  Each library was different and their welcome/interest in us was in kind.  Our interest in the experience did not change.  We had an agenda and goals and their reaction only could enhance that.
  6. Beautiful things can happen in benign neglect.  While stopped in traffic we noticed some lovely “ditch flowers” blooming away.  A little neglect is a good thing.
  7. On the way to your objective,  you may discover marvelous surprises.  We discovered a stuffed aardvark, a step and handle to reach books,  an art gallery,  a house in a library, a library that checks out crockpots, stained glass, a seismograph, a bench with solar charging station, tributes to heroes and beloved community objects, and so many places to linger over a book.
  8. Accomplishment is a good thing.  We were going to let that last library go and settle for 11/12, but we were so close.  We went for it.  Now we can say, 12/12 … to ourselves.
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Patti and me at Wayland Free Public Library

Thank you to my friend Patti,  Morse Institute Library, Bacon Free Library, Wayland Free Library,  Goodnow Library,  Weston Public Library, Sherborn Public Library, Wellesley Free Public Library, Wellesley Free Library Hills Branch,  Wellesley Free Library Fells Branch, Framingham Public Library, McAuliffe Branch Framingham Public Library, and Dover Town Library.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AMThank you to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Challenge community for keeping writing alive and real.  Read more slices here.


National All or Nothing Day #sol17

now or never motivational reminderNational All or Nothing Day #sol17

July 26, 2017

I spent a few early morning hours collaborating with a kindred spirit.  Perhaps I just wish she were my kindred spirit.  She possesses so many traits I like to think I have including a long range and global vision for change, a deep abiding quest to empower children in their learning, and drive.  What she has that is infinitely more honed that mine is patience and a view of the “long game”.

July 26 is apparently  All or Nothing Day. I have a plate on my desk in the literacy center,  that says,  “Now or Never”.  Several times over the years people have given me things with that slogan.  I imagine it reminds them of my brashness,  my overwhelming desire to get right to the point, get on with it, get to it.  Several years ago,  some teachers and I went to a workshop where they determined our ‘teaching’ personalities.  Mine was definitely all in.

Why my “all in” attitude might be beneficial to you.

  1.  Once I commit to something, I’m “all in”.  I will spend the time, resources, and energy to get the task completed.  If it’s a task you need help with, that’s a plus.
  2. I act immediately.  You ask me for a reference, a book, a lesson, a slide, some time, and I’m all over it.
  3.  When I show up, I’m fully present.
  4.  My word is my truth.  In a world full of half truth and spared feelings, the truth is my only setting.  Some do not appreciate this trait.
  5. Let’s get right to it is my motto.  No gentle chat, no review.  Let’s move.

So if you meet me or someone like me,  realize the spirit.  Enthusiasm.  The belief in the possible.  Embrace the “all in”.


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My slice is a few days late this week.  I am thankful for Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life community for supporting my writing and the writing of so many.  You can read more slices here.