I almost stopped writing. It’s been four weeks since I’ve written or posted to my blog. I could have let it go. Just stopped.
Goodness knows this last year has been a struggle. Felt tired all the time and there never seemed to be a good time to write or even much to write about.
Little sparks of ideas would come, but I let them slip away. I didn’t record them on a stickie or in my idea journal. I’m not sure I even know where my journal is right now.
I have a million excuses for not writing. The endless noisy construction filling the house every day. The dreary rain for the last twenty days. The momentum I have lost pulls stronger than the pull to write.
But then today or yesterday, I was watching a writing lesson video about helping student start a writing journal for the first time. Their seed ideas and half written stories accumulating and waiting to be connected together. And then… the teacher said the magic words, the secret combination that elbowed that tiny ember deep inside. She said, “and perhaps you will keep one too.”
I remembered. I remembered writing for kids. I remember writing about teaching. I remember writing about aha moments and challenges, small moments and random observations.
I still resisted. It isn’t really that easy. It’s like quiting exercising or good eating habits It is so much easier to just float away from that person you were. The writer, the thinker, the watcher.
I was blissfully having a Tuesday. Well it wasn’t blissful, it was a Tuesday slipping away. Suddenly I noticed the words beginning to compose in that space in that corner in that recess in my brain. And I wanted to write. I didn’t want to worry about audience or composition. I wanted to just start here and absolutely. Right. Now.
And so I did. I’ll be digging out a notebook in the morning. That was a close one.
They were just a simple pot of marigolds from the nursery. Orange and yellow, emoting sunshine. Too old fashioned? Too simple.
I fussed over the pot, the bag, tissue or no tissue.
Why was this such an ordeal? Just a simple thank you.
The marigolds are memory for me. Memory of summers so hot and sunshine so bright. Their spicy scent mixed with the scent of roses filled the yard behind that little ranch house on Bountiful Drive. Tended by that old woman in the apron whose age at the time rivals my own, a sentinel wall of happy sunshine planted to ward off rabbits, they didn’t look like they could stop anything.
So every year, perhaps in memory, they live in my garden and on the patio, and in the pots by the garage. And now, they are in this bag waiting to thank her.
Would these simple flowers be enough, would she understand the message from my heart? Just an half an hour a day, sorting books and putting them away, but it meant everything. Fresh eyes, a cheery tone, she brought so much to those moments.
And then the moment. “They are my favorite”, I said in a voice quieter than my own. “I hope you like them.”
“You know,” she said. “I told my mother that you were so familiar right from the start.” “My aunt had these.” “You remind me of her.”
And just like that, the moment where the simple becomes the profound. Where the searchers find each other. Souls with little empty spaces get filled by serendipity.
Marigolds represent positive emotions and energy. They are said to symbolize happiness and are a part of rituals from ancient rituals from Mexico to India. They are said to symbolize warm and happiness, joy, optimism, and good luck. Marigolds are said to relieve hiccups and cure those struck by lightening.
That is what she was to me, a cure for being struck by lightening or something akin to that, a relief for hiccups, the constant interruptions and tugging of responsibilities. No fuss sunflower growing up like a volunteer in my garden, pushing away the weeds and bringing the energy to my dreary world.
I had poured over my evidence rubric, my goals for this crazy year, my conferring notebook. I added 28 pieces of evidence to my document. It took a long time and at the end, when I reflected on the pivoting, the reframing, the supporting, I felt really good about this year.
Really, really good.
I wasn’t sure about my evaluator’s view.
How will others know your worth?
Not that it’s everything, but I keep a little collection each year of the thank you’s I receive. Scrawled on stickies, hastily written on scraps, or carefully constructed in beautiful cards, for me, each one is encouragement to keep moving forward.
But how does someone else view you, a single person in a single position in a building full of others.
The truth is… probably not the way you view yourself.
The things my supervisor chose to highlight about my work were not the things I thought were milestones. They were not the things that kept me up or made me arrive early to puzzle out the details. They were not the small triumphs or the amazing breakthroughs with teachers and students that still make me smile when I think of them.
They were what he noticed. I’m proud of those things too, but they didn’t take much of my talent or my time.
I was disappointed… really disappointed.
But when I went to my meeting, I said aloud… and then I believed, (Because sometimes we have to believe before
we see. I compiled this for myself. I am showing myself what I accomplished this year. I gained perspective about my own actions.
and then I thought… I am not just evaluated by the person that signs the paper. Each one of those stickie notes, those smiles, those teachers who drop by to ask me if they can just talk to me for one minute, they are my true view of my worth.
Those kiddos who say are you coming to my class today? Do you have that book you were telling me about? Let’s read one more chapter, they are my ‘bread and butter.’
This single data point does not define my whole career. It doesn’t even define the other 179 days of this school year. It defines what I let it define.
So my take away… my contribution is perhaps not as transparent as I hope it will be and….
I’m doing it for a bigger audience… and
a higher purpose.
So next year, I might make what I do more noticeable or… I might just keep on keeping on. Keep compiling my stickies and my conferring notes, my smiley faces on my calendar and my early morning coffee talks with teachers.
I mean, why not? I gave myself a good evaluation and plenty of ideas of things I can work on in the future. I may not be half bad at this self evaluation thing. After all, I feel really, really good about this year.
As I drove into campus on a recent early, early morning, this new sign greeted me. So true! I thought. We are headed straight on ’til morning.
In the past, we took a more relaxed approached to these weeks in June. We read aloud. We did independent writing projects. We wrote book reviews. We celebrated all that we had learned in our whole learning community. This year, we have moved from one frantic, fractured pace to another. Everyone is tired, even the students. It doesn’t help that we have had the largest earliest heatwave ever. As many things this year, the fates seemed stacked against us. It might be easy to look on this year, this situation, as a loss.
And yet…we can find the bright spots if we look closely.
The last few weeks I have been meeting with the grade levels to review data. Many, many years, that felt like a celebration. The students grew so much in a year, they were ready to strike out into the next. All in all, a love fest. This year the data is a little harder to interpret. The students have only been back for six short week every day. Any data collection I would routinely recommend would have six weeks at the closest collection point and we collected this data at week 4 full time. I did notice cracks in that rosy outlook. It would be easy to focus on the have-nots and the not-quites, the what-we-couldn’t, what-we-didn’t.
But I am self-proclaimed in charge of celebrations, so how to celebrate when I feel the nagging of those not-quites.
When I metaphorically pulled up alongside the first batch of teachers, I wanted just celebrate what I could. I gave them the high percentage of students on the benchmark assessment that we’re at or above grade level. I pointed out how many students were reading at the ‘targeted’ benchmark, a testament to how we got so many books in the hands of readers during their off weeks. I noticed accuracy in reading, a rise in fluency.
I talked to them about the ‘how‘ of this work. I spoke of what I noticed that they did so well, their grit and their commitment to the curriculum. I asked them what they enjoyed, what was a gift to them. We talked about the volume of writing, the time to meet with individual students, the small class sizes. The teachers took up the celebration, cheering our intervention teacher at their grade, talking about individual student’s growth, their own joys.
It felt good. It felt right. It felt like a celebration.
So as I said early this year, I’m in charge of celebrations. I do have a few worries for the future. Those will keep for another day. These weeks as we head off to rest, they are going to be about the bright spots. They will be a good starting place as we move forward.
I began shifting the contents of the literacy center in earnest over a month ago.
I began thinking about shifting the contents of the literacy center ten years ago.
An hour ago, the custodian said to me, Don’t you clear out this room every year?
Weeks ago, I started making sticky notes that say things like… Clear me out! Be Brutal!
I have made five or six lists and completed all the tasks.
I went through the teacher resource books and pitched almost everything not written in this decade.
I made a pile of six books that I thought everyone should read, put them in the teacher work room with some love notes.
I began weeding my personal “corner” of books. I took two boxes home where I thought perhaps they were going to ‘die’. Then I started giving the rest away.
I had to pause when I got to the picture books. My heart started to hurt.
I started with my first grade books, I have had them the longest. If they could brag, they would tell you how many young readers they pushed over the the brink into seeing themselves as readers. I mean, The Nosy Pup? Tiny? Bob said to me, what if they just pitch them?, after I gave them to a young teacher. I won’t know, I said. They won’t, I said. It’s ok, I said.
I gave a big pile of novels to a second-year teacher. Her class said, these were all Mrs. Kennedy’s books?! If they only knew, I thought. Just like Marie Kondo said, I considered did they give me joy? Would they bring more joy in someone else’s hands? Another big group became series offerings in the leveled readers. Roscoe Rules that I bought for that third grader who didn’t like anything. Ivy and Bean for that girl who didn’t think she could read. That funny mystery with the parrot that I saved for my boy groups in fourth grade…They will be close when I need them and others’ can use them, I thought.
I became a little sad and began to feel untethered. I kept going, dusting, and holding, looking and letting go. I went through all of my professional text and packed them up and took them home. I kept only four resource text at school. I move those school owned teacher books to the shelves where my books had been. I thought to myself, this might be the longest I’ve ever stayed at one school. Quickly, I didn’t even want to think that. Should I throw a little salt over my shoulder?
I emptied all our former benchmarking materials… Made a shelf of phonic readers. Moved the biographies and added all the newer fresher titles. I moved the fourth grade novels for historical fiction and their picture books down the hall to the fourth grade closet along with their friends, social issues book clubs, literary essays, and biographies.
Then the third grade mysteries went to the third grade closet along with their pollinator books. I made myself a spreadsheet of all the books. I ordered more book bins. Maybe I am making some progress.
I processed the huge grant book influx. I sent many of them to live in classrooms.
I decided to give myself 4 shelves for my personal books after the third teacher in an hour asked me for a particular book.
On and on I clean and clear, read and remember, and yet there is so much more to do.
When it’s finished, I’ll be lighter, the room will be brighter and all that joy will be spread around.
A good elevator pitch they say starts by introducing who you are.
Hello, my name is Susan and I have been a reading specialist, literacy specialist, and literacy coach in this district for the past twelve years. To clarify, this was all the same position. It just keeps evolving. I appreciate evolution as a being. Change for me is good. I want to keep learning, growing, and trying new ideas on for size. I went to college for actually forever. I have an undergraduate degree and three masters degrees. That seems a lot I know, but they are all related to children at risk. Children at risk for failing emotionally, physically, and academically. The children are my passion.
The Truth. In an actually elevator pitch, this part would be the summary of what you do.
Most elementary schools, if they are lucky have about 15-20% of students who fall into the at-risk category. In order to carefully locate those students who need ‘more than the core’, benchmark assessments are coordinated , then targeted assessments after that. After, during, and before assessments, there is teacher conferring, observations, and student conferring.
No student learns in a vacuum so to view the whole child, we have child study meetings where we get together and talk over specific student concerns in a learning community group representing our English Learning focus, our social emotional focus, and our academic focus. I believe in the consultancy protocol deeply. This is the core of my practice. We define the difficulty. We think of MANY possible solutions. We determine next steps.
Along the way, we also have to consider what is constructed in the core curriculum. In literacy that includes reading, writing, and phonics with further entail phonemic awareness and comprehension. That requires all of us to teach both the curriculum and importantly the students in front of us. Arguably most of the student in front of us are self-generating learners, if we point them in the right direction, provide the right tools and encouragement at the right spots, off they go.
The Ask. This is the time in the pitch where you explain what you want. In this case, don’t we all just want a little peace and understanding.
I know many of you have read about the rise in dyslexia and the equally increase in the ‘simple view of reading’ or the ‘science of reading’. In this world today, people tend to lean into absolutes. Here is the real absolute. Reading is about meaning. We read to make meaning. As I coach teachers and students, instruct and confer, it’s really about how can I help both teachers and students make meaning.
AND it is also true that we cannot make meaning if we cannot decode. Most student learn to decode in a combination of component practice (phonemic awareness, the alphabet principal, phonics, and practicing in decodable or right level text). This practice looks different for each individual in the same way that learning to cook, drive, or taking up running looks. The basic framework is the same, but based on our learning style, our learning gaps, our propensities, these things might have different elemental construction. What the science of reading shows us is that if we continue to keep a language base, a phonemic awareness lead, and a phonics description to word learning, most students will learn to read with relative ease. Carefully considering our practice assures this for most. Developing our toolkits for closer teaching increases this for all.
Call to Action. What I hope the listener will do.
So I ask you. Read carefully and in volume, information about the ‘simple view of reading’ and teaching for thinking skills. Remember that assessments are not diagnosis. They are merely indicators. Strengthening the tools available and the knowledge of how reading develops and what you might try if it doesn’t will bring us forward, always learning. Learning for each new students whose unique learning needs require careful, conscious, innovative thinking.
Usually this time of year, I have my feet in two boats proverbially. I am looking back over the last year and considering what might have been more helpful and what worked well. Shifting through papers and books shuffled around all year and putting them right. We are working on assessments and considering class placements for the next year. Planning for summer work both for us and the students. May is busy.
This year the mix seems more complicated that usual. I have had more than 35 years of closing down a year and looking toward a new one, but both views look blurry to me right now. I cannot tell when I look at data or talk to students and teachers what is the chicken and what is the egg. It’s easy to blame everything on the pandemic… disrupted school, hybrid learning, changes, changes, changes. When we look close is it all of this just revealing what was always there.
The pandemic and all of the instructional moves we have made has given us an opportunity to freshen our teaching style, to let go of the way we have always done it and if not embrace, at least try a new way that is more successful for students. But what defines success?
We have recently shifted to a new benchmarking system completely driven by the students. In this assessment, the students log into a computer, answer questions the teacher never sees, and in the end, the teacher is left by a computer generated interpretation of what instruction should look like for a student. Time saving, perhaps. Less labor intensive that one-on-one assessment, maybe. But as a coach I’m left thinking what does this really tell the teachers that informs the instruction or evaluates the progress? In this time crunched, abbreviated year, what truths can we walk away with?
This is a lot for a Tuesday…
My job of course is to look at the bigger trends, how many students began the year at benchmark? How many students are still at benchmark now? How many students were well below, some below and now have approached benchmark? What is benchmark? Are we still looking at arbitrary numbers of what the non-existent average student might achieve in a completely controlled year? Are you beginning to wonder as I am, how do these numbers inform our coaching, our daily work, the work of the students?
Before we go to far. I am not prepared to throw everything out. I believe in whole school assessments. I believe in broad views and… I believe in granular views.
Yesterday a mother asked me to explain her child’s assessments that drive my instruction and what program I am using to remediate his difficulties. Remediate is my word for many inquiries on her part. In the end, she was thinking that writing was the mechanics of handwriting and I was thinking that writing was the composition of thought. Talk about your two boats! Her emails made me consider how do we decide who needs help and what kind of help they need?
For this kiddo, it was his parents’ concern along with our closer look at his writing. Initially, I just supported writing at home. As we transitioned back to school, I conferred in the workshop. How to measure success in writing? Is it spelling? Conventions? A rubric? A checklist? I know it’s all of that along with structure and elaboration, idea generation and mechanics.
After all these years, do I really use a program or is it like my cooking and I generally follow a recipe, but I slip in a few more ingredients based on what I have at hand? These are the questions that I wake up with this day. I’ll be searching for the answers for a while.
I have always suspected that my role for some was a book finder for themselves as teachers and also for their students. It makes sense. I am a literacy specialist after all and I live in the literacy center at our school filled with books and formerly known as the book room. However, what enfolded last week caught me off guard.
The literacy center/book room is currently in upheaval. We received a chance infusion with a large grant for both diverse texts and to build the book back from the devastation of the past year of book movement. While in the midst of shifting things piece by piece, on any given day at any given time, it can be overwhelming ever for me.
So when I find a note in a pile from a teacher asking to drop by and see her that ‘we need help’, I didn’t know if she still needed the help and if this note was from this week or from some time in the distant past. Sigh…. I thought it might not hurt to check in so when I saw her in the teacher work room, i asked if she had dropped by earlier.
I had no idea what she might need or ask about. Really none. She turned with a smile and said Oh, my friend (student) and I dropped in today because I told him YOU were the person that could find him a book he would like to read. He says all books are boring.
This is definitely the kind of project I love. A challenge to find a book, to shop for books with a reader. I came right down to her classroom. It’s been so long.
I didn’t know this young reader. When I arrived at the room, I made the decision to take him to our school library, a room the students haven’t visited since March of 2020. None of the students have seen our librarian in real life in her natural habitat for so long and she hasn’t had a chance to do what she is really best at, help individual student find a perfect book.
This plan is starting to feel like a WIN-WIN… WIN, WIN, WIN!
So I scoot down the hall to this second grade and collect my book shopper. On the way to the library, I start asking questions about books… They went something like this…
Me: What kind of books do you like?
Shopper: I really don’t like any book.
Me: (in head) Oh jeez! Per usual, a tough customer. (aloud) Ok then… do you like books like Dogman?
Shopper: Haven’t read it…
Me: Graphic Novels?
Me: (in my head) Oh… I see why the closer was brought in… (aloud) So short book? funny? animals? boys? sports?
Shopper: Funny I guess.
Me: (in my head) Pressure’s on. (aloud) Ok, here’s the plan. We’ll find a few books. Read a little in each and see if we can find something that’s just right. Ok?
Shopper looks at me skeptically.
I greet the librarian, explain our plan. She sized him up. I see her brain start working. We pick out a 6-8 books together quickly, sorting as we go. Our shopper doesn’t say much as we ask him questions as we go. In a few minutes we have our stack and I invite our shopper to have a seat on the couches with me and try out a few books for size.
I can feel his skepticism pouring off him as I say, why don’t you read a chapter of this one and see how you like it?
He tries most, rejecting a few without even trying based on cover or title or… self preservation.
Finally, we have a stack of four books. Mostly simpler reads. Captain Awesome. Turbo. Flying Beaver Brothers.
I’m feeling pretty good about it. He seems ok.
Hopefully, my reputation as a ‘book seller’ is still intact. We shall see.
I’ll be checking in with him to keep it going. Let’s see if I still have the touch.
I have to admit I’ve always loved robins. What’s not to like? Harbingers of spring. That adorable red-orange breast. The way they hop along the lawn stopping to listen for worms and grubs under the service. All in all, they are in my top ten birds.
So yesterday when I began my encounter with this guy, I was a little taken aback, but let’s start the story from the beginning (ish).
I haven’t been spending much time in the literacy center of late, but yesterday afternoon I was determined to shelve returned books and generally tidy up.
As I neared the K/L section near the window, I hear a thud as if something hit the window. When I turned, this guy, our robin was casually sitting on this branch of the crabapple tree right outside the window in our learning courtyard.
Hi, robin! I thought, leaning close to the window to admire him. Yesterday was chilly and he puffed himself out. He looked right in the window. I smiled to myself considering him to be good company and continued about my way, sorting and shelving books.
I continued to hear this thud every few minutes, but when I turned, I just say the robin dropping to the ground. At first I didn’t connect the robin to the thud. Then I saw him strike the window with his claws. Again, I thought perhaps he was trying to light on the top of the window or the gutter above and missed. Maybe he was trying to sit on the white plastic surrounding the window.
But then… it continued happening. Over and over again, the robin struck the window. Is it making a nest?
What is going on?
Does he look angry? Do birds actually have anger?
Busy with my tasks, I continued and when I turned off the lights and went home, I didn’t give it another thought.
But this morning,
I dropped my coat and handbag on the table, turned on the lights. I caught a glimpse of the robin through the window and then,
The robin attacked. Over and over throwing itself against the window. I was on a zoom call when I finally said, do you mind holding a moment, this robin is attacking my window. I have to see what’s going on.
I went around the hallway and unlocked the courtyard door. On the way, I said to the occupational therapist, did you hear that robin throwing himself at my window?
I went outside. The robins was casually sitting in the tree.
What’s up? I said.
No response from the robin.
No sign of a nest in the gutter or on the ledge of bricks above my window. The sun shone and all seemed right with the world.
I returned to my call. But I could hear it. The sound of bird claws striking the window.
What is this???
An internet search suggested that he sees his reflection and thinks he is attacking a rival. Ok, well that’s the one window I do not have a shade for, so plan B.
The next advice says to put up gel clings or stickers on the window to break up the window view. So…
I sent an email.
The lovely butterfly was dispatched to the window. Mr. Robin did not appreciate this. He then began to throw himself at the window in earnest… (sigh) I took down the butterfly.
The window/bird incident was the community talk. I received more advice, some visitors to view the angry bird, but not much success.
This afternoon as I write, he is not to be seen, but there’s always tomorrow.
Superstitious Beliefs about Birds Flying into Closed Window from the internet.
In some cultures, it is a sign of impending doom when a bird hits a window.
… Other traditions believe that the bird hitting your window is just a messenger.
Some believe the bird carries a goodwill message, while others believe it’s a message of death.
So generally, according to all traditions, a bird hitting your window signifies change.
Initially, except for the balloons and more people out front, it seems like any other Monday. But as more and more students exit the cars, the feeling begins to grow. The parents are smiling. The children exiting the cars shimmer with anticipation. I hear someone call my name and as a car pulls up, a caregiver calls with relief, here you are for —– first day of school! Oh, I am definitely here for —- first day of school!
Here I am for the first day of school in April.
Could there be a better time for renewal that this spring day?
As I continue to open car doors and call Good Morning, I get choked up. A lump forms in my throat.
What is it?
Is it relief?
I’ve been so hopeful for this day, this reality, but now, I’m overcome with emotion for just a moment.
Bubbling up from deep within… joy.
When the halls fill and the classrooms do as well, I exhale.
As I move around the room with a kindergarten teacher, checking supplies, greeting eye smiles with eye smiles.
I am so happy for them… for us.
We have a week full of special days planned. Ask me About… Monday. Book Recommendation Tuesday. Spirit Wednesday. Rainbow Friday.
But today… today is actually,
The More we are together, the happier we’ll be.. Monday.