bumps in the road #sol22

bumps in the road #sol22

September 27, 2022

I opened my email this morning to a ‘goodbye’ note from a colleague. He is moving on to another position in another district. As I reread his goodbye, I was considering him in our learning community and our learning community without him. You see, he brings a calm to every situation and a reassurance that we collectively are going to work things out eventually. He has a calm voice and a patient exterior. He is generally just the type of co-worker you want beside you in a crisis and in celebration. And… he’s leaving.

Later in the morning, I was knee-deep in a non-life-threatening crisis that unfortunately has become rather happenstance in these parts. This Tuesday that feels like Monday, we have a full day of assessments scheduled (online) and yet, none of the chromebooks could access the server. None of them could access the server. So many faces expectantly looking at me to pull a proverbial rabbit out of my proverbial hat. Am I sweating?

I took a deep breath and I thought about my colleague who is leaving. I used my best quiet voice to say, We are going to get this worked out. Let’s see what we can try. The truth is, I know about as much about chromebooks to be dangerous, so to speak. What might work? We logged out of our secure network platform. We shut down the computers and rebooted them… to no avail.

Time to call for back up. There wasn’t a number for technology near this classrooms phone. I tried to think about what it was. I tried a number. I dialed the wrong number for technology support. I got the other technology support not the one assigned to our building. I took another deep breath.

I said, maybe you could do a read aloud. I’ll be right back. I went quickly down the corridors to find the phone number for our technology help. I couldn’t find it. I asked our overworked and short handed secretary. She gave me the number. I called, taking another deep breath. I explained our dilemma to this new person. Oh yes, he said, Jamie messaged us. Kevin is on his way.

I went back to the classroom. It felt like I waited a long time. I took several more deep breaths.

Kevin arrived. He was cheerful. He was kind. He was calm. We’ll get this fixed right up he said… and went to work. Each and every chromebook has to be reconnected to the platform with a ‘secret password’ that only the technology department knows. He opened each one and reconnected it.

The unruffled students and their calm teacher started again and the assessment began smoothly. We moved on to other rooms working in tandem to get them reconnected. Machine after machine. Pleasantry after pleasantry. Calm words throughout.

Finally, the problem was solved and I had remained calm. Crisis averted. Everything back to running relatively smoothly.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember my friend’s calm ways every time. I don’t know if I actually have it in me to adopt calm and cheerful, optimist in each setting. But for us, because of him, I’m going to give it a go.

Sifting #sol22

a silent stack and tools await a… brainstorm

Sifting #sol22

September 20, 2022

The campus is silent as my car pulls into the parking. Remnants of last night storm are apparent in puddles and green oak leaf clusters pooled along the road and paths. My footsteps echo against the building, but my head is full of thoughts, not of the numbers, but the faces of the readers and their teachers.

It is assessment season. We have settled in after a few weeks and now we are assessing the ground we stand on. Just where will we start from, with whom, and how? Those questions, on surface, so simple, but alas as deep as they come. For all of this is about choices and paths, relationships and compromise, hopes and the agreements of many.

So here I sit predawn, opening the data we’ve collected so far, but not seeing the numbers but the troubled faces of young people who know. They feel the struggle down to their bones. They are hoping that those adults around them have solutions, magical, quick-working solutions. Expectantly, yet cautiously, they peer into my face while I listen to them. Some speak. I’m really smart. This is easy, they say. I nod. You are so smart. You’ve learned to try, to convince others to help you on your way, I think.

In my heart, I make a promise to them. I’m not going to let you down. You trust me and I will be worthy of that trust.

But here surrounded by the books, the whoosh of the air purifier and gentle tinkle of my wind chimes, in the heavy silence, I admit to myself that I’m not quite sure how that will happen.

Then I remember that it isn’t a magical solution. It is a time-worn path. Look at the data. Analyze the difficulty. What is the first step? and then…. I so quietly say to myself, You took the first step, you noticed, you wondered.

Each student, each answer, each moment of close listening, these bring us closer to success.

Everyday Book Wizarding #sol22

Am I actually a magician?

I dug into our literacy center on a treasure hunt, the biography section, our decodables, the leveled bins, the guided reading sets.

So that request for books on football and historical figures at level C, that’s the fourth or fifth one this week. I found a level D book on LeBron James, a level C book on Football, seven short leveled readers or decodables with football or sports, and a level E biography of Barack Obama… in the literacy center… in five minutes, before school started.

This is one of the joys. Finding a collection or a new favorite book for a reader. One hunt today was for books with cats. It brings me such joy that we have depth in our collection and that I am able to help in this way.

On the day goes. I craft a list of read alouds to go along with the discussion questions of our new Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Spending time looking through the Starting School bin, the I’m OK bin, the Challenges bin, along with scouring through narrative bins is such a pleasure. i imagine the rich discussion readers will have over many of these varied titles. Don’t we live in such a wonderful time when so many diverse books are available?

I meet with grade level teachers to talk about great narrative running record books that can move to small group reading books and then writing mentors. Hopefully Henry and Mudge, Biscuit, Gus and Gertie, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Frog and Toad will be inspiration for our small moment writers. Teachers smile as we collect books for their read alouds, small groups, table bins, and special books for those readers they are just getting to know.

I know dozens of people capable of the exact same acts on any given day of the week. We are so fortunate to be assistants in the reading lives of so many.

This is the work of day to day literacy coaching. This and analyzing data, planning assessments, planning with teachers, trouble-shooting with readers and writers and endless, endless meetings about all of the above. In between, I help with dismissal, occasional have lunch with kindergarteners and have random chats with same in the parking lot. It’s a storybook life.

A Very Little Mystery #sol22

A Very Little Mystery

September 6, 2022

It began midday on Saturday in the midst of the usual Saturday. Multi-tasking through laundry, baking, reading and supervising the painting going on outside, I was deep in thought when I heard…something.

What was that?

Returning to folding, a load in the downstairs washer and dryer, I heard it again. Was that a high pitched whine? It lasted much longer this time. Out in the hallway, I paused. Was that coming from outside? By he time I had processed those thoughts, the sound has ceased.

Still curious, I went downstairs and stared at the dryer. This must be the origin, I thought. It is the only appliance running. I stopped the dryer and opened the door. I peered inside. I shut the door carefully continuing to watch the machine in anticipation. No whine. Hmmmm.

Upstairs again with another load, the laundry complete, but there was that whine again. It’s so loud. Is it the air purifier, the television, the google assistant? I slowly circle the upstairs. It’s perplexing. My husband come in from outside. Did you hear that sound? Minutes later there it is again. My husband joins the search.

Moments later he calls from the kitchen, It’s the flowers! What? How can the flowers be making that noise. The said flowers had come earlier in the day from our farmer’s market. A bountiful display of colorful field flowers they stood proudly in a vase on the kitchen counter. I was skeptical but joined Bob in the kitchen peering at the vase. No sound. When I touched the vase, the sound stopped, he was saying.

I continued to stare for another minute. I leaned over and parted the crowded flowers with my hands. What would I see? Nothing. I plucked the flowers out of the vase and carried them out the back door, vase in hand. On the porch table, I laid out the flowers, picking up each stem, inspecting it and placing it back in the vase. No visible bug, we had now decided it must be some variety of cricket. I looked closely at a stem of dried seed pods, deciding to leave it there on the porch. Perhaps this mysterious possible bug was inside one of those pods.

Back in the house, I tentatively set the vase with the now silent flowers on the counter. Would this possible bug crawl out unto my counter? Hesitantly, I returned to my task. Sometime later there it was again, that high pitched whine. How can such a tiny thing make such a big noise. I imagine a tiny green katydid snuggled inside one of the flowers. He’s looking for a friend, my husband said.

Up until lights out, we heard the little bug’s plaintive song.

The next day, the flowers stood on the counter just as lovely, but silent. Our mysterious little visitor never discovered. a little mystery remains mysterious.

Sacred Space #sol22

We are a T-2 today. I’ve started to dream about school and wake up thinking about the things I need to prepare. I spent the morning making an outline for our new teacher day, a new coaching menu, and reviewing my notes from my two weeks at Teachers’ College. Those things might help me get ready for school, but the essence is so much deeper.

Usually at this time of the year, I’m disappointed by what I haven’t accomplished during the summer. The books remaining in my TBR stack, the drawers or boxes I haven’t cleaned out, the fitness I haven’t accomplished. This year I want to turn that thinking. What have I brought back with my from my summer this year?

As of today, I have read sixty five books in the last seven weeks. Some of them were picture books, some were adult fiction, some were sloggy professional text. All of them will come with me into conversations over the next months. I’ll read some with children. I’ll loan some to teachers. I’ll remember the spirit of others and bring that to my daily practice. Those books will be the hull of my craft as I sail through the next year.

I spent a week with one of my sons and my husband, unplugged. We read. We cooked. We walked. We sat. We soaked in the sun. We didn’t worry about anything, not one thing. I collected shells. I walked my dogs. I existed in a 700 square foot house. I didn’t worry about what time it was or my to-do list. Some lessons from there. I can read more, if I screen less. I don’t need as much as I think I do. Everything will get done in its own time. Those ideas will be the rudder as I navigate the next months.

I spent time on housekeeping. Dusting. Clearing out things. Organizing my pantry, my drawers, my refrigerator, my office. Washing windows. Watering plants. Those little jobs are so satisfying. Accomplishments so highly visible. I’m going to help myself and others steer through small jobs while considering bigger ones over the next months.

I went to the farmer’s market and savored the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season. I didn’t worry that my garden was a victim of this year’s drought. I ate peaches when they were in season and strawberries ripened in the sun. I grilled corn, sliced tomatoes, and waited patiently for blueberry season. I shared my blueberry bush with those critters who live nearby and didn’t worry about it at all. Everything has a season and we should enjoy the seasons and moments as they come. I’ll carry that with me as my compass for the next months.

I spent a lot of time alone. Thinking and not thinking. Busy and not busy at all. Full of purpose and at loose ends. I’m good company. Over the next months, I’ll spend a lot of time with other people, talking, planning, working, but I’ll keep some time each day for me. Time for purpose and time for rest.

I observed. I watched out the windows. Local wildlife, wildflowers, the ocean, the sky, the clouds, the stars. I spent a lot of time marveling over how many wonderful things there are to see if you look. I’ll be looking at other things perhaps in the next months. I’ll be sure to appreciate the things I see and perhaps point those things out to others as well.

I’ll bring my summer self into my school year life. That’s what I want to keep sacred. That carefree summer self.

Drought Tolerant #sol22

August 16, 2022 #sol22

The drought has been terrible here in the northeast United States. Coupled with climate change related high heat, the lack of rain has turned everything into a dusty near-wasteland. I haven’t been able to water my plants as a whole for over month due to water restrictions. Their slow death weighs on me as I look out over the yard during the day.

In order to water a little bit, there are three rain barrels in the yard catching what little rain has fallen off the roof during our infrequent sprinkles. Each day I go out and sprinkle water on the potted plants to keep them as alive as I can. They are not producing flowers anymore, but most of them have survived thus far. The same is not true for our garden plants. The vegetable garden quit on us when we stopped being able to water from the hose. What little produce we had was harvested by our wild neighbors. This year I couldn’t be mad at them for taking what they need.

I have taken to leaving watermelon rinds and sunflower heads at the end of the woods for those neighbors. The ones I see look so lean, just barely getting by. Today, I think I received some thank you notes, messages. A young lean squirrel came back up the the kitchen deck where I had left the sunflower stalks on the table a few days ago. He peered into the window at me standing there. I don’t know if he was saying “Are there any more?” or “Thank You”, but it seemed like a gesture of partnership to me. All is forgiven if you are the one that ate the sunflowers out of my flower pots.

Later this morning, when I was sprinkling water on those pots from the rain barrel, I came upon the remains of one of those watermelon rinds, carefully placed on the walk not near where it had been dropped, but carefully placed in my morning path. Again, I accept that you had to eat all of the lily flowers. I mean, who wouldn’t, they are so yellow and full of moisture.

These drought moments made me think of watching those around us in human form. What kind of drought is affecting them? What could we share that would feel like a cool drink?

I am hopeful for rain later today and grateful for the cooler temperatures. I will be looking for opportunities to give balm to those native neighbors of the wild variety and contemplating what clues I will look for in the learning community to offer a different kind of noticing, a beneficial ‘drink of water’ in metaphoric drought conditions.

The To-Do List #sol22

The To-Do list is long and the days are getting shorter, but today (and many other summer days) I gave myself over to reading. Some days I read a book from my ‘grown-up’ stack, just enjoying the ebb and flow of a novel be it contemporary or historical.

Other days, like today, National Book Lovers’ Day, I give myself over to reading children’s book. Today, I read a sampling of the new books that we purchased for the literacy center last spring. They have been waiting in boxes since May to be organized, categorized, and generally brought out to the learning community.

Most of the books are series, new series to replace tired ones, to better represent the readers in our community and their lives, or to expose students to lives they don’t know about yet. Fresh volumes, many in a series, waiting for readers to fall in love. I organize them into book boxes, add them to the library list and squirrel them into a book bag to read in the coolness of my reading chair at home.

Today, I read.

Reading children’s books for me is enjoyment and an exercise. How will this book fit in with the curriculum? What lesson might bookend this book? Is it for independent reading, shared reading, guided reading, or a read aloud? Might a teacher use it as a mentor for writing? What time and place could this fit?

I read decodable books. I listened to an audiobook. I read 2-3 books in a series. I read just the first book in another series. I read two book sent to me by a publisher.

Some books I added to my social media. I tweeted. I instagrammed. I put them on my goodreads. Some books I flagged for a longer book review later. Some books have a sticky note on the front with an idea for a mentor lessons or a note about features to highlight in a read aloud. These books are easy to read and easy to consider.

I have two more stacks of books. One stack of books is about culturally proficient teaching. Getting to know our students and letting them get to know us and each other. Another stack of books is about learning to read, phonics, reading workshop, book clubs. There are still a lot of books in that stack. That stack that requires lots of brain power.

I heard a talk early in the summer that we (as a people) are losing our concentration, our ability to sustain that hard thinking over time. I’ve been trying to build that back up. An hour a day, two hours this day, gradually working my way through the books.

I’m disappointed in myself. I didn’t read all those books in the stack. I am not completely prepared to be a dazzling, knowledge driven coach in a mere three weeks. I’ll be closer when I get to that last week in August. But my list and my stack will be incomplete.

Hopefully, I’ll keep reading and learning into the fall. I’ll carve out some time each day to keep reading. To think about ideas. To grow.

For today, I’ll celebrate spending another day thinking about books. A Book Lover’s Day.

August #sol22

August #sol22

August 2, 2022

In June, I’m still in school, sometimes physically, sometimes in my head. I take PD, I clean, I finish the year. I pack up my ‘summer work’ and my next year. I close the door and go home.

In July, I’m at home, mentally, spiritually, mostly physically. I do a list of home projects. I ‘housewife’. I vacation. I read the books in my enormous TBR pile. I take on frivolous, time-consuming tasks. I read books without thought of judgement. I wear the same shorts for a week. I never dry my hair. I have long conversations with my dogs. I spend hours soaking up the sun, drinking sun tea, and breathing deep.

The first day of August, I wake up with the clock ticking. I make a long list of the things I MUST do in the next 20 days or so. I begin to plan. My frivolous reading pile turns into a graduate studies reading list. I have post-its. I write down things. I get nothing accomplished.

The second day of August, I look at the list of everything I was going to do yesterday and everything I planned to do today and somethings I was going to do tomorrow and the next day. I make myself some avocado toast with a slice of fresh sourdough and a luxurious avocado and a buttery fried egg. I eat it leisurely on my back deck feeling the breeze, listening to the rustle of trees and the call of birds. I enjoy each bite. Then I look at the list again. I read a few inspiring blogs. I think about the list. Then I start in.

I do a few chores. I water my plants. I walk in the sun. I plan. I read. I write. I open my email. I consider. I organize. I prepare. I ‘august’.

Surprised by Summer #sol22 #summersusan

Surprised by Summer #sol22

Driving back to our summer rental from Narragansett several weeks ago, we veered off the road to check the birthplace of a famous portrait artist from the turn of the century. We hadn’t planned on stopping at his homestead, just driving through the centuries-old town and perhaps taking a walk with the dogs.

We were casually chatting about our next steps, when my husband noticed cars parked alongside the road and people with cameras peering at …. something. “Do you want to stop?” “What do you think it might be?” and then, I realized what it was.

Deep in the place where I store my background knowledge, I remembered seeing these magical things before. This, however, was so out of place, so foreign to them that I thought I must be mistaken. I was drawn to confirm, to view closer. The gift of vacation summer gave us the leisure to turn around to look deeply as these other passerbys were looking.

There is what I saw… a profusion of pale pink lotus flowers in various stages of bloom springing up in what could only be barely described as a pond, more a small ditch. No other landscaping to speak of, no special buildings, barely off the road, dozens and dozens of lotus with dozens of people admiring them.

How? and especially Why? So many times, we have pulled off the road or stopped on a walk to admire or even marvel at something that surprised us. So many times, we have been delighted by a surprise of summer. This was no exception.

So… ever curious. How did this come about? Two men, perhaps brothers, decided to build a condominium complex in North Kingston, RI, sometime in the early 1980’s. They hired a landscaper that got in his mind that this roadside ditch would be perfect place for lotus. The soil, the continued mud, whatever he saw, he was correct. These lotus flower has thrived and bloomed annually since 1982 or so, this amazing summer spectacle putting forth it’s dazzling display for the fortieth time! And we just happened to be driving by one sunny day during the two weeks or so that this is present.

I watched the biography of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward last week, they had a sign on their bedroom door for decades with a quote from the movie, The Color of Money, Luck is an art. I think about that as I remember those lotus flowers on that sunny summer afternoon. We were lucky to come across those flowers. We were open to what we might find with no expectations of what that might be. So when we found lotus flowers, it was a delight.

I hope I can keep some of that unhurried, unanticipated, openness as I move into another season. Being open to luck and all the possibilities.

Goldfish and Nostalgia #sol22

Goldfish and Nostalgia #sol22

June 28, 2022

Way back in my old life in the midwest, I lived in a suburban colonial with a patio blistered by the midwestern prairie sun and on that patio, I had a pond. This pond was constructed by the then popular half whiskey barrel with a plastic pool insert. The local nursery had a wonderful display of exotic pond plants and beautify koa fish and I longed for this in my summer oasis.

So a pump was purchased and ‘fancy’ goldfish with their split tails were carefully selected at the pet store. Every morning I stepped out of the kitchen door, discussed my reading, the weather, and other important world news with the half dozen goldfish in the pond, fed them some flakes, and proceeded on with my day.

The fish ‘wintered-over’ in a fish bowl in my cozy intervention room. They listened to kids read and giggle while generally being totally zen. Life was nearly perfect.

Then we moved. The last remaining goldfish, Groucho, traveled out to the east coast in a Coleman cooler and lived in my kitchen as a reminder of my life in the midwest for the next year.

When we moved to our house, the whiskey barrel and the abandon pond tucked under the screen porch. Once a year, we would discuss what we might do with it. Make a planter? Get rid of it? Alas, it remained there for twelve years. No pond. No goldfish. Just empty.

Last month, a facebook or instagram ad lured me to a solar fountain for my bird feeder. I bought the little solar disc but the the bird bath was too small to support the fountain’s pump. The pump kept emptying the birth bath of its water and then there was nothing to pump. Into the garage went the pump.

Last week, my husband said, “Let’s set up the pond.” We scouted around for some flat earth. Unlike our midwestern lot, our homestead is filled with rolls and boulders. Finally we settled on a partially sunny spot near the back garden. He propped the pond up on one side and filled it with the house. I smiled. Encouraged by that, when we went to get a dog life vest later that day he said, ” How about some goldfish?” “Ok”, I said reluctantly.

All the what ifs went through my mind, raccoons, a fisher cat, not enough pump, but still we picked out seven little goldfish and took them home. I tried not to notice the pretty markings on this one or the spots on that one as they sloshed around in the plastic bag. I don’t want to get attached in case they don’t make it, I thought.

I dispatched the goldfish to the pond. The water was clear. The sun was shining and those little goldfish gleamed in the summer sun. No beautiful pond plants today.

Half way through the day, he came in to report that three of the fish had sloshed over the sides as the pond sunk in the garden soil and were no more. I went out to peek at the remaining four. I thought some encouraging words in their general direction and went in the house. The fountain cheerful squirted into the air.

The next morning I hesitantly peek into the pond. Four goldfish, still present. I thought, good for you and fed them a few flakes.

The next day, it rained all day. The goldfish hid under the fountain, not squirting from lack of sunlight.

The next day, still four fish, huddled under the fountain in the slightly murky water. We can do this, I thought.

And so it goes, day to day with the goldfish. We hope for the best.