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.

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The New Norm(al) #sol17

The New Normal

LETS.jpgAugust 22, 2017

The weeks before school start are a blur of activities.  One of those activities this week was to join a new PLC group.  The members of the group are very familiar to me, but we haven’t worked together in this configuration or these roles before.  As in most PLCs, one of our first tasks was to set our group norms.

Usually group norms are “low hanging fruit” as my current principal would say.  Easy things that make sense when you are working in a group.  Be respectful,  give everyone a voice, come prepared.  But today, in this moment something nearly magical happened.  People started speaking about things they hoped they would do.  Things that are challenging sometimes for them.

Some of the ones I loved best were gently spoken from heart and tenderly received by the group.  One person hoped we would be flexible.  One said that we should embrace our changing school and the contributions that all of our many new teachers bring with them to our work.  I am particularly enthusiastic so I said that I hoped to give wait time in the way I do with the students so people had time to fully complete their thinking.  

There were a lot of suggestions involving being positive and assuming positive intent in others. And then for me, it all turned a corner.  Some one said stay focused on the work and then… seek to understand.  All of my Seven Habits thinking came back to me and I thought, yeah,  this is it.  Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Then I thought of the secret sauce of this group… synergy.  We are so much better together than the individual intentions of our separate selves.  This is what makes me look forward to meetings,  to chats,  to days,  to weeks,  and to years with these people.

Here are the rest of our norms to encourage our work and perhaps yours too.

 

-Be OK with messy (embrace mistakes)

-Stay in the present

-Embrace change

-Emphasize the process

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Slice of Life and the Slice of Life Writing Community is a product of the nurture of Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing blogs here.

 

 

Pushing the Season #sol17

IMG_9463Pushing the Season

August 7, 2017

Not sure when it happened but all of the stores have Halloween candy.  The end of July, fall leaves and a few pumpkins started showing up.  I imagine next week there will be full-on costumes.

I’m guilty as well.  While I never completely step away from school during the summer, I make it a fairly hard rule not to actually step foot inside the building from July 1- August 1.  This is a hollow promise as I read email, respond, and generally spend a few hours a day working on school related things.  I’m not alone in this…

Paula Borque (litcoachlady) wrote a wonderful blog recently, Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation.   Her point was that teachers need time to recharge, discover new things, and have separation from the students and their classroom.  Read it for a more eloquent telling.  Paula was standing near me at Heinemann last weekend when Vicki Boyd said that teachers need “a long cool drink” to refresh for the coming year.  We do need it, but when the calendar turns to August 1st, we start thinking about getting ready.

After 35 years, it should not take me a month to get ready.  In my defense,  I was preparing for new teacher bootcamp next week.

All this anticipation of pumpkins, candy, and bulletin boards, made me think of my “new school year” resolution,  let the students lead the learning.  Let the students lead the learning.  Anticipation is good.  I want to have enough paper, pencils, markers, dry erase boards, seats, and sunlight for everyone.  Let’s be aware and ready to get to know each of them as people and learners.  Let’s design activities for the first weeks that highlight getting to know them,  them knowing each other, and them knowing us.  Let’s linger in that time because it will pay off through the months.

So this year,  let’s keep our anticipation to a minimum.  Let’s think about a unit of study, but plan a week or maybe even a day at a time.  Let’s work in some time as Ralph Fletcher says in Joy Write for greenbelt writing, free range kids writing for the sake of enjoyment.  Let’s go to lunch in the teacher lounge and chat with our colleagues.  Let’s take our planning and visit each other’s rooms.  Let each day be the day I’m thinking of and my thoughts of tomorrow are saved unit at least after lunch.

I’m not good at this.  My grandmother would say I liked to borrow trouble.  I am pledging to give it a go.  Be warned the people in my radius,  I’m going to encourage you to do the same, probably on a daily basis.

So take this week to enjoy the sunshine, a novel, a new discovery, a long walk.  You’ll be better for it in December.  I’ll do the same.  However,  you might want to buy some Halloween candy to eat right now.  It’s a bargain.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.

Les Brown

Library Crawl Lessons #sol17

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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
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    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.

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    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.

 

Liberate Your Classroom Library in 5 Steps

Liberate Your Classroom Library in (Almost) 5 Easy(ish) Steps

July 31, 2017

Here we are July 31. When we teachers turn our calendar over to August, we will be officially in count down mode.  You have your list in hand ready to tackle your back to school agenda.  Here’s a place to begin that will change your school year.  Your classroom library.  Oh, I know, you do go through it, discarding or repairing,  regrouping within (gasp) levels.  Let’s as they say- BURN IT DOWN!

.5 (Rationale)  Keeping your library the same as you ever have keeps it stale for the          students and for you.  How many times have you said to yourself or a student… oh, I’m pretty sure I have a copy of …. let me see where it might be? We change.  The students change.  The times they are a changing.  Even though I have a friend with a nostalgic basket of books of ’80’s TV characters,  the kids aren’t going there.  We’ll come back to that going there idea.

.75  This goes without saying perhaps, but you can go two ways, either dump all the books on the surfaces of your room quasi-sorting as you go or leave them as is and shift around.  The second suggestion only works in you DO NOT have them in leveled bins.  If they are leveled by a single reading level, it’s time for a big change.  NO ONE, not even a first grader wants to be defined by their reading level.  Doing this causes you to make many other rules like you have choose two books from another bin. 

1.    What do you need/want them to read? Think about your year curriculum in reading and writing, but don’t forget about science, social studies, and even math.  This is also a good time to think about the stretch of the year.  Are there some books that having them out in the beginning is just going to cause… issues.  What books will prepare students for later skills?  How might groups of books encourage certain skill development?

2. Slip zucchini in with the chocolate cake.  Humans don’t grow by Wimpy Kid alone. (or Elephant and Piggie or Captain Underpants)  You get the idea.  What ideas in those books could I slip in with them?  Could an information book about something they build or do make its way into the bin.  There is room here for lots of creativity.  Don’t forget about poems and short texts perhaps in page protectors.

3. Progressions  Mary Ehrenworth is the absolute queen of this concept, but there are others.  If everyone wants to read the most promoted, difficult, not age appropriate book in the known universe,  what are some stepping stones along the way.  When conferring, you can lay out the planning with your student. This week, this book.  Next week, perhaps this and so on.  Not every student is going to be ready to tackle that hot book that’s on everyone’s desk.  What books feels the same?  This also breaks up the notion that all the books we read must be HARD.  If your star readers notices the same theme in a much easier book,  more is the beauty.

4. Rearrange the furniture (metaphorically).   My husband’s mother is a genius at changing the look of her home by changing the arrangement of pieces.  Sometimes decorative,  sometimes small pieces,  some times where the sofa is.  Move the categories or bins or actual books around.  If I am working on small moments,  some books from other bins might make it into various ideas on small moments or leads or stretching.

5.  Watch and Learn  what are the students taking out?  How are they jumping from book to book?  What are they talking about and recommending to their classmates?  To spark buzz read excerpts of books or copy pages that will wet the readers appetites.

So get in there with your stickies,  your swiffer duster, your notecards, and your imagination.  As Levar Burton would say,  take a look, it’s in a book.  Do some research about classroom libraries and then… you know the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Why You Need a Teaching Bucket List

125116-my-bucket-list-quotesWhy You Need a Teaching Bucket List

July 19, 2017

Everyone has a bucket list:  places they want to go, experiences they want to have, etc.  Bucket lists are wonderful things.  They motivate, they challenge, and who doesn’t want to cross things off a list.

Let’s use that energy to become the educators we want to be.  Oh wait!  First we have to figure that out.  Maybe not…

When you virtually stand in your classroom, office, teaching space, what do you want to see, do, say, feel?

I have a teacher friend, who wanted to be a better writing teacher or perhaps she thought she wanted her writing block to be more successful.  That’s a big goal.  What made her think that?  Was she disappointed with the student output?  Were her mini-lessons not tight enough?  Conferring?   You get the idea.

Focus.   Pick 5 things for your 2017-18 (or summer) bucket list.  What are those things you are  going to accomplish?  Last year, one of the teams all went through their classroom libraries with the intent of getting more students involved with more diverse books.

Make your bucket list. Mark your progress.  Enlist colleagues.

Grow.