What’s Working and How Can We Do More of It? #sol19


















What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem focused: “What’s broken, and how do we fix it?” 
 Chip Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

What’s Working and How Can We Do More of It? #sol19

September 17, 2019

Two things happened simultaneously this last week,  a teacher educator came to interview me about the history of literacy in our district and a friend texted me a podcast out of the blue.  On surface, these two things don’t seem to be that related, but they both made me thing about my ‘public’ face and what motivates me. Those two things seem important as I seem to be in the business of motivation, the mere definition of coaching as it were.

When this lovely teacher educator showed up in the messy literacy center the other day,  I felt her eyes scan my endless piles of ideas and projects, my organized and reorganized personal library, and finally, my curious visage.  I asked her straight off, why me? Her answer was quick and definitive. I was told that you are a truth teller.  A truth teller? I thought.  Is that another word for troublemaker? 

As I began to answer her questions and fill in the history of literacy from definitively my school-based and literacy trained perspective, it occurred to me that much of the movement forward was disruptive behavior.  Perhaps I don’t mean disruptive behavior in the sense of protests or refusals, more of let’s just quietly give this a try and see what happens.  

With that behavior, most of the things that we tried were successful … and many people I was surrounded with were anxious to disrupt the status quo as well.  This leads me to the podcast.  My friend sent me a Hidden Brain podcast called Rebel with a Cause.  In the text message she wrote, to my rebellious friend.

Rebellious? I hadn’t particularly considered myself to be rebellious.  Willing to give things a go?  Definitely a let’s-go-for-it type of person.  But rebellious?  That sounds bad… In Shankar Vedantam from NPR’s Hidden Brain interviewed Francesca Gino, the author of Rebel Talent, discusses the idea of rebellion. Questions like why do we do this this way? How else could we complete this task? People who are successful rebels hang in that balance between expertise and experimentation. That’s where the magic is. Just like a few weeks ago when I was stepping outside my comfort zone. My new address.

Perhaps I am rebellious if rebellious means I have intellectual humility, the knowledge that there is still so much to learn. I am a rebel if to be a rebel means I believe that information is power and experimentation is important.

Today redefining myself as a rebellious truth teller. Stay tuned for tomorrow.

Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.

-Chip Heath

Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.


Check Engine Light #sol19

Check Engine Light #sol19

September 3, 2019

The beginning of the school can be full of many logistically tasked, scheduling, getting materials together, meetings, training, planning. As a literacy coach I may be pulled into lots of desk time without noticing at first.

The first symptom is bone-tired fatigue. In the evening, I just feel exhausted. I don’t have any wonderful stories to share, no smile comes to me as I think of a charming phrase from a student. I’m in need of a tune up.

Luckily, I’ve become quite a mechanic. No, I don’t know how to fix a car, an engine, or a windshield wiper. I do know how to draw myself back to the meaning of my work.

Today, I took two steps to draw me closer to being refurbished. First I spent an hour in kindergarten. One solid hour taking little groups of freshly arrived kindergarteners on a little environmental print walk around their wing of the building. How many times did we see the word welcome? Quite a lot! We saw color names and their names. Pete the Cat and the word bus. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and the word room along with lunch and name and hamburger. At the end of the hour, the students felt like beginning readers, I had some formative assessment data, and my tank was filling up.

Returning to the literacy center at lunch time, I sent a quick email asking who would like a drop in read aloud and a grand conversation. In an hour’s time, I had an appointment calendar full of read aloud dates and the promise of a good deal of face time with some thinkers.

So here I am at the end of a day that didn’t seem so long, balanced between tasks, meetings, and some great reminders of what it’s all about, the promise of all those days of learning, doing, and listening stretching out in front of me. Importantly remembering what it really takes to get recharged. #selfcare19 as my colleagues say.

I write in the company of my writing mentors, inspirations, and friends led by the amazing team at Two Writing Teachers. We offer our Slice of Life each Tuesday. All are welcomed.

Stepping Forward… #sol19

Stepping Forward…  #sol19

August 27, 2019

My shoes are a little too tight this morning.  I’m worried if I will make it through the day with them.  They are shiny white.  They look great with these pants.  They have orthopedic insoles.  These shoes should be wonderful.  I put them on and took them off 3 times before I left the house.  At the last minute, I packed my old beat up sneakers in my bag.

My new shoes are like the new year,or more likely, a new initiative.  These shoes are subtly different than my old pair.  Most would say an improvement.  These shoes are leather, stronger than my old canvas sneakers.  These shoes have supportive insoles. My old sneakers didn’t have much support.  These new sneakers are bright and shiny and honestly make a really strong first impression. My old sneakers bear a strong resemblance to my lawn mowing shoes.  Those old sneakers have the beginnings of a hole in the toe.  The heel is starting to fray and I can’t quite keep them white anymore.

In short,  I really, really want to keep those old familiar sneakers and put those new shiny sneakers back in the closet.  It would be so much easier.  I can slip them on without tying them!  Maybe if I wash them one more time or leave them out with the baking soda in the sun, they will brighten up and be shiny and (almost) new again.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 7.35.23 AM.png . This is the image one of our speakers at yesterday’s kick off showed us at the beginning of her talk. (@denasimmons) .  I am putting that front and center on my white board this morning.  I’m also wearing those new sneakers.  You can see right through my metaphor, and it is still true.  We cannot let the good keep us from the great.  I cannot let all the things that have been comfortably worked through the last nine years or even just the last one, keep me from helping us move forward to a shiny, new future.

So yes,  those sneakers, and those new initiatives feel super uncomfortable right now.  I believe that discomfort, that disequilibrium, is where the best work happens.  I have seen it time and time again in my career.  So I’m going to try them on,  I’m going to scuff them up a little, and maybe, tonight I’ll have to wear a bandage, metaphorically … and actually.  Those students in our changing population will be better for my rethink.  They will be better for my thoughtful consideration of their agency, their growth, their future over my own comfort.

You’ll recognize me in the crowd.  I’ll be rocking my new shoes.



I write bravely on Tuesday in the company of my Slice of Life community.  Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating this community.  Thank you to my fellow slicers that help me be a braver and better educator/writer all the time.

Start… What I Know For Sure

Start… What I Know For Sure

August 21, 2019

Today is really the last day of my summer vacation.  I’ve worked about a dozen days (for free) over the last couple of months.  Today, though, is really it.  I’m resisting the urge to get in the car and just start my fall routine… Today is the day for pre-game face.  The day for attitude adjustment.  The day for setting the table mentally.  The day to give my house and the denizens therein one more day of mostly me.  This post isn’t about summer’s end.  It’s about the start.

So many different starts in my life… and here we are at this start.  As Oprah may say, this is what I know for sure.

If I start and am not completely prepared, it might be rocky… and it will be fine.

If I start and can only see as far as my headlights metaphorically speaking… it will be fine.

If I start with doubts and worries,  it’s probably going to be hard to shake them. Sometimes that’s a good thing.  It keeps me focused.  It keeps me honest.

If I can keep the spirit of summer days and small miracles strong in my memory, it will give me strength.

If I open myself to change and different, change and different might equal improvement.

I have a good idea of what strategies work for me (and others)… one thing at a time if possible,  plan, then do,  listen, then speak.  I hope for an 80% success rate in remembering these.

When I don’t feel them, when I don’t use them,  when I don’t remember them,  I still  have strengths.  Thankfully, often others remind me when I stumble.

Everyone is fighting a good fight.  When I am vulnerable, it gives others permission to be vulnerable as well, adults and kids.

Beginnings are exciting.  A sunrise.  A journey.  A new book… a new school year.

So here’s to a new school year.  May we remember our strengths.  May we find joy in the journey.  May we learn much and travel far.  Read more and share more.  Laugh more.  Treasure more.

Off we go!

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

August 13, 2019

Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon in our traditional pre-fall book club meeting.  Once a year, five of us get together having read a ridiculous romance novel, have lunch, and talk over our summers.  It’s always great fun.  Silly, sweet catch-up.  One question inevitably come up near the end of our time together.  What are you going to do before you go back?  

Usually,  I can say a quick answer, go to Martha’s Vineyard, go to a ball game, even one more home project.  Yesterday,  I realized that I’ve already shifted into my ‘school‘ head without even noticing.  I quickly said, some interviews, a meeting with the other literacy specialists, new teacher training… My retired friend called me on this answer.  No, she said, what are you going to do in the remains of your glorious summer? 

I stopped and instead of looking ahead at the two weeks before school starts,  I glanced in the rearview mirror.  What had I accomplished?  I thought of the books I have read.  Dinners, lunches, day trips, dog physical therapy.  What was that thing that I still want to do?  Perhaps in this quiet summer, I have done it all.  Maybe, this year I won’t think of it as the end.

What if this year, I continue to give myself space to enjoy life even during the school year?  What if I actually create that elusive work-life balance?  What if someone asks me if I relaxed this summer and then gives me that skeptical look like she knows me, I’ll answer, I always take time to relax.  Truth is,  I think I do.

Sometimes, I binge watch TV.  Yesterday, I watched a night full of The Food That Built America.  Full disclosure, I was thinking about Milton Hershey, Heinz, and Marjorie Post and how I could work them into a biography project, but I also enjoyed every minute of the fascinating series, googling details as I watched.

Sometimes, I read picture books or kid novels or chick lits.  Full disclosure, when I read these, I’m thinking about coaching points, author’s craft, new text sets, post-it note reviews, and book talks.  The books are still fun to read and I enjoy every minute of them.

Sometimes, I swipe through social media.  Full disclosure,  I read literacy blogs, follow other coaches and teachers on Instagram, and read the TCRWP pages on Facebook.  I forward pictures and quick ideas to others I know will like them.  I share posts from my virtual PLN and new things I have discovered.  It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like growth.

Sometimes, I make lists or reminder stickies, or full length musings, full clearing of ideas about a topic.  Truthfully,  these lists and reminders don’t stress me, they help me sleep at night.  A little forethought and organizations reduces my often daily rush.

Sometimes I actually do legitimate work outside the normal work day.  I plan on my porch.  I take notes on my patio.  I arrange book bins at my kitchen table.  I take notes at stop lights.   I wear yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. I pet my dog absentmindedly. I get something to eat and drink when I want. When the ideas come to me, I have found that it’s best to give into it at the moment.  Again, I sleep better.

So as I move into the fall,  I can honestly say,  I did have a relaxing summer.  In my head I’ll add, and I’m going to have a relaxing fall as well.  

I write in community with an amazing group of writers led by Two Writing Teachers.

Summer Reading… #pb10for10

PB10for10  Books of Summer I CAN’T WAIT to share

August 10, 2019


In no particular order…

711k4kCmT5L._AC_UY218_QL90_ Truman is such a surprise! A start of school story with an absolutely unique point of view.  This book carries the reader through all the trials of being brave in the face of a new task.  A charming book for early in the school year.




81+CTu+rfQL._AC_UY218_QL90_The Pigeon HAS to Go to School and we want to come too. Who doesn’t love the Pigeon?   Here the Pigeon doesn’t want to do something new.  The Pigeon’s thinking and arguments will feel at home to all young (and perhaps mature) readers.  The craft moves apparent in the story both through the text and illustrations will be wonderful fodder for discussions on author’s craft.  Listen to the NPR story where Mo Willems describes his motivation for this story.  This is a must-have for all.


81L+WxrfwFL._AC_UY218_QL90_Beloved Kwame Alexander gives us a picture for the ages, How to Read a Book.   Beautiful visually, linguistically nearly perfect, this book is a treat for the eyes and the ears. Can not wait to read this book to EVERYONE and share it widely.





A1MHIvAhhLL._AC_UY218_QL90_Daisy Hirst hit it out of the park with I Do Not Like Books Anymore.  This book has it all.  A must have for all kindergarten kids and their teachers.  Love it for sharing the premise of emergent storybooks.  Love it for beginning to read struggles.  Love it for the process of new writers and their partners.  Love, Love, Love it!!



A1km+7oD9EL._AC_UY218_QL90_ A Back to School book for our youngest learners and all that wish them a great start to school. The King of Kindergarten is beautifully crafted by Derrick Barnes, the amazing author of The Crown.  A gift from the author as we set up students for success.  A must-read.



91Kp5I5fxML._AC_UY218_QL90_ The Book of Gold by Bob Staake is for book lovers and… book haters, mystery readers, and students of all ages.  The readers are taken through a quest for the Book of Gold.  Guess what we find?   Can’t wait to read this to everyone!





A1GX2T6ZnoL._AC_UY218_QL90_ The Panda Problem will strike home for teachers and students crafting narratives this fall.   The Panda Problem is a fun-loving book sure to illustrate the hilarious side of writing a narrative.  A laugh-out-loud book sure to assist in any author’s craft discussions.  Deborah Underwood illuminates the process with a narrator that sure to become a favorite.


51uut7LM5eL._AC_UY218_QL90_ I Am Small speaks to the heart of anyone that feels a little left out.  This book has many teaching possibilities.  First, this charming text is a wonderful book for social emotional thinking and conversations, always great for a younger grade read-aloud.  As you look closer, this book has wonderful mixed genre craft moves.  It begins as an all-about book including all the particular drawbacks and benefits of being small.  I Am Small carries aspects of small moment as the siblings share their thinking through changing point of view and dialogue.  This text will find many uses in classrooms.


81KX5PI8x5L._AC_UY218_QL90_  My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a lovely crafted small moment story with a unique own voice perspective.  The author lovingly remembers her own childhood moment and shares it beautifully with us.  Teachers of memoir and small moment will find many mentor text uses for this narrative gem.




81P9uKS+oSL._AC_UY218_QL90_ The Field was on my must read list for months.  Why did I wait so long??  The subject matter alone will draw so many student in.  The narrative will keep us there.  So  many craft moves to explore in this rich text.  This book will be a treasure in a coaching collection.

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.