Just now I feel like I can breathe freely here. I don’t mean because of the pandemic, just the steady and steadying rhythm of the school year has finally… finally began to seep into my bones.
I’ve settled into a rhythm of collaborative planning sprinkled with a few meetings that release me to the joy of my work, being present with young writers.
Young writers would mostly like to tell you the tale, the procedure, or the amazing depth of knowledge they have for a thing.
Young writers would just as soon I tell them how to spell pro-fes-sion-al that do the work of decoding all those endless parts. I mean, come on!
Young writers spill all the so-called tea about what they hear and see around them. They can’t decide whether to get a tent or not for my sister’s first birthday party…
Young writers reveal their perspective of things I’ve seen and experienced for years. Yet through their eyes and their pencils, they seem completely and thoroughly new again.
Young writers would be happy to add seventeen exclamation marks before one lonely period. I mean, that’s is so boring.
Young writers will happily pour over a mentor text with you and equally as happily ignore it entirely and end the piece saying… We had a good timeat Canobe Lake.
Young writers will 100% tell me what the heart of their story is, the deep inner feelings that only they feel. Then they will write. Everyone had fun.
But then, just like the flash of a ruby-throated hummingbird, those immature words will swim off the page and you will want to capture and keep every precious, delicious word of them. The tooth fairy, long anticipated will come, but alas our writer will be asleep dreaming of the elusive sprite.
You will notice the paper at the top of the page scrunched from the sheer effort of getting those drops of gold onto that page.
You’ll notice too when words are written over, flaps are added. Blue pen marks crawl across the page marking the intense effort of that young writer.
`Those moments, moments with young writers are like visiting a fine museum, full of wonder.
It looks like this only in the hopes and aspirations of all of the parties involved.
I want it to look like this.
I am a literacy specialist. I have no special training in traffic. I have slightly more training in trauma. But I have decades of experience in school car lines.
You see I’ve had car line duty since 2000. That’s right. Through two schools, six or seven principals, and how ever many days that might add up to, I have been assigned to help students get out of the car.
At my old school (AM, I owe you a dollar), I had this drop off and pick up duty with my friend, the PE teacher, every morning for nine years, we stood out on the sidewalk and help students start their day. When I moved to the east coast, I had several other duties in the afternoon, but most mornings, I have drop-off duty. It’s easy to assign a specialist to duty, he or she doesn’t usually take in students until after attendance, lunch count, etc.
Day in and day out, sun, rain, snow, cold, heat, catastrophe…. you can find me out on the sidewalk in the morning opening car door.
Car line might not be rocket science, but it is tone-setting.
There is a reason that parents drive their students to school. They need an extra minute. They want to see the child enter the building. They can’t get it together to get to the bus stop on time. They can’t get their child to get on the bus. and in these time… they want to lower the exposure to the virus. There are most likely one hundred different versions of why people make this decision, but anyway, a LOT of parents do.
Drop off evolves with any given administration, but basically ten minutes or so before the ‘tardy’ bell rings, we rush to get as many students out of the cars as possible. Even though there are a half dozen of us out there, there are too many cars and students to get into the building before the ‘tardy’ bell. It’s simple math and perhaps physics. We just can’t get them out fast enough.
Sometimes, it isn’t fast at all. We open the door to a microcosm of whatever is going on in the world of that student. All of their abilities to get going, self-regulate, organize, separate, and think positively are wedged into that twenty seconds of time between me opening the door and them moving toward the school.
In those moments, I try only to think about those two or three people in the car. I make eye contact, I say good morning. I pet the dog, undo the seat belt, grab the backpack.
I lean in and say hello, are you ready to go?
Sometimes, they aren’t…
I hold a backpack, grab a water bottle or a lunch bag, tie a shoe, and wait for just a second.
Ok, then, off we go… I say.
Most of the time we do. We get the backpack on both shoulders. Why is this so heavy???
We take the food drive food, comment on the tshirt, the sneakers, the umbrella, the haircut, ….and the pleasure of seeing you little scholar again today at school.
It’s a minor miracle.
Some parents need one last wave or word or look. Savor that, when they come home this afternoon, they will have grown in ways that you notice right away and some that will sneak up on you.
I stand on that curb and smile until I mean it. I help those families start their day every single day, Monday-Friday.
Those seconds, that’s the start of their school day. If they are tardy and go to the office, that’s ten minutes of instruction lost, an anxious child, an anxious caregiver, a disrupted teacher. If they forgot their whats-it or their favorite something-or-other, we can talk them into solutions.
Yesterday it was raining. I have professional carline rain gear. A rainbow golf umbrella, leopard spotted rain boots, and a rain jacket for almost anything crafted by those Mainers, LL Bean. I know, right? On rainy days, everything is just a little intensified. The parents don’t want their precious cargo to melt. We don’t want to get soaked. The traffic is heavier. The bus stop more problematic… and frankly everyone wanted to sleep in because it’s well, dark and rainy. Those are the days when it really matters to slow down and exercise all your patience.
It’s true. I use nearly none of my skills as a literacy specialist in the carline. It’s not rocket science. It might be more important. It’s about setting the table for our relationships with families. Setting the table for the day ahead. Being a community that cares. Relationships matter.
Today it’s raining again… I’ll be the one out there with a smile and a rainbow umbrella.
It’s dark when I go to the car. I’m traveling light today, just my coffee carafe, water bottle, my handbag filled with my two ever-present coaching notebook and work journal along with a warm bagel slathered with some peanut butter wrapped in a cloth napkin. It’s dark in the yard, dark in the garage, dark on the driveway and dark on the street.
As I turn the car on, it begins where I left off in my audio book. I smile as Stanley Tucci’s voice fills my car and he continues his story recounting a conversation between his grandparents and his parents, while sharing a recipe and description of their home. It’s soothing, his voice and the recounted story. I don’t know if it’s because we are approximately the same age or because I can picture him speaking having just watched his CNN documentary on Italy, but his voice makes me smile and I find myself relaxing into being read to on this dark journey to a busy day.
I experiment wildly about how to assist myself with the entry (and subsequent exit to each day). I often leave the house very early, arriving at school at least an hour prior to my first appointment. Today, I’m writing, but other days I might straighten, plan, read, or research in the quiet hum of the literacy center surrounded by books and soft light. On the drive, I listen to a podcast either about books, literacy, teaching, or cooking most days. Rarely, I listen to music. Sometimes, NPR. And this week, I’ve been experimenting with audiobooks.
I had an insane amount of credits on my audible account and since I seem incapable of reading after I get everything settled at night, I thought I might listen to a book. I have some in my ‘library’, but downloaded a literacy book I have had on my shelf and on a whim, this book, Taste by Stanley Tucci. I tried the literacy book, artfully read by its author, however I found that on my drive home anyway, I was too distracted by stray thoughts the book invoked to stay abreast with the narrative. Stanley Tucci’s voice however, slides over me like a weighted blanket and I am able to relax and enjoy. No deep thoughts needed. It’s also a book that I can share snippets with my husband as I cook dinner and he leans against the counter asking questions and nodding as I cook and talk.
Ironically, the literacy book caused me to download these audiobooks as the author recounted how the students (our) cognitive load is reduced when we don’t have to do the reading. We can just think about the book.
Back to my journey. I pull into the parking lot at school, still dark. The only other car belonging to our custodian sits in its usual spot highlighted by the neighboring light. I finish this ‘paragraph’ in the audiobook, commenting aloud at how much I enjoy listening to this, sigh, gather my things and make my way into the building.
I pass the custodian’s office at the back of the school. The door is closed and I continue down the main hall. Several feet down the corridor, I hear good morning in his baritone, questioning who might be here at this hour. I turn and he smiles at me, repeating good morning. Were you wondering who was here this early? I ask. He smiles. It’s your school, he says. I smile back.
I’ll keep it to myself for a little while this morning. Gentle lights. Soft humms. Clicking keys. A calm start to a busy day.
I’m a reforming multitasker… I say reforming because I don’t really think I’m going to give it up. Perhaps I don’t even want to. I used to have a little card on my bulletin board above my desk that said, the people that get things done are the ones that do things one at a time… Did those people actually have only 20 or so waking hours a day and work with any other humans???
This is a story about a moment of multitasking that plays out nearly every morning on my way to work. Oh, you say, you’re one of those!?! Yes, I am in fact one of those people who cannot waste a single second of the drive to work. (or sometimes home). On any given day you can find me drinking a glass of water before I have to wear a mask for 7 hours, eating breakfast out of my handbag, listening to a podcast on a literacy, and at stop lights taking notes or reading emails.
Recently, I have been listening to lots of podcasts on the science of reading. So many thoughts on this, but today, I just want to share the track of one thought. Spelling-3 Cueing-3rd Grade-Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
I was listening to a podcaster answer questions about why the theory of 3 cueing isn’t valid and why spelling is such a problem in third grade. Her point was that students become dependent on three cueing and when they cannot use those tools in books that are reliant on only words, reading breaks down. Hmmm, I thought. I’ll bite. Let’s consider this. All my hypothetical third graders only want to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid (sort of true). Perhaps this is because, they can use the pictures to gain meaning in the same way they could in Henry and Mudge. If we acknowledge that students have a propensity to read whole words and rely on context, we tell them that we know this is the case. We offer a solution, albeit a tedious one, decoding each word. Will this grow better readers?
These are the things I consider on my commute. I can’t wait to give this theory some legs. Do you think this is how Cinnamon Toast Crunch was invented? Some one putting random thoughts together on their commute? Maybe I should forget helping kiddos use different reading strategies and help them consider their free thought as a gold mine.
It’s that time of year when teachers make appointments with their administrators to discuss their yearly ‘goals’. Goals, smart or not so smart, set annually with professional learning communities or alone, are often a struggle. No less so in this year when sometimes getting through a week, a day, an activity seems like a goal.
I set my goal meeting with our administrator for the very last day he had available. I don’t want to consider my goals. I don’t want to write my goals. I don’t want to discuss my goals. However… I have a lot of goals.
I set many goals and intentions for the year, year after year. Sometimes, those of you that read my blog are the only ones that know these goals. Your encouragement is what keeps many of these goals going. I wrote earlier this fall about setting a goal to increase knowledge about author’s craft in our young readers and writers.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about searching for small glimpses of joy.
Neither of these goals will probably make the cut for that smart goal this year, but I might work harder on them than the goal I set for my evaluation.
I love the idea of goals. Having a little self-evaluation and then setting an intention for the day, week, activity. In my coaching, we talk a lot about goals we have, goals we hope to encourage in our classes and in particular students.
Here are some of my not-so-secret goals. I will always say thank you for your time when a teacher meets with me, comes to a professional development, invites me to grade level meetings, drops in for a chat. I am truly thankful for that time. I was inspired. I was able to share passion with my colleagues. It’s invigorating.
It’s my goal to cherish every single thank you I receive. I’ll post on my gratitude board all the handwritten ones I receive and hold in my hearts the ones I receive in passing.
It’s my goal to be the lead learner… though I hesitate to use that term. What I really want to be is someone who is always considering how to improve my practice. Thankfully my world is full of amazing professionals that help me learn more and more every day. I want to fight my potential fear of the new and embrace all the possibilities of the not-yet.
None of these are going to be in that form that arrives in the principal’s inbox. I don’t know today what that goal is going to be. That goal is going to be informed by the data meetings we have next week in our grade level teams. The concern, worries, ideas, and brainstorms that come out of those meetings will be the driving force of what I officially work on this year. For the inspiration that I know will come I’d just like to say… thank you… in advance.
I’m not going to lie. Yesterday was as the youth say, a ‘trashcan fire’. I woke up fairly optimistic. I love assessment days. Spending the whole day listening to students, talking to them about their shoes, and their tshirts, their talent… It’s usually my favorite time of year. Yesterday, the fates were not exactly with us. The intervention team was a little apprehensive. The assessments felt more new than familiar. The setting and the platform, the additional assessments were just enough of a change to put everyone a little on edge. We were spread a little thin. Then, the technology failed us. Really failed us. The first grade team was flexible. They were patient. They were problem-solvers. The morning was rough.
I built up that unleashed tension and when I arrived home yesterday afternoon, I felt like a porcupine. One touch and those quills would shoot out all over the place. I groused around in the kitchen, grumbling and complaining about ridiculous things and all the things I hadn’t been able to control at school. Maybe I’m just too old for this. I used to be able to shake this off. I said to no one in particular. The more I just said it all, the more I made a meatloaf and fed the dogs, the day began to not look great, but not also not look like a disaster.
This morning, I put on my back-to-school night clothes and rocked my sparkle shoes. Driving down the street something caught my eye. I stopped to watch six or so turkeys having a full-on dance party. Swirling and dipping, sashaying in a circle, these turkeys were dancing. I stopped the car to watch for a moment and I laughed. Right there at 6:20 am, in my car, alone, I laughed and laughed.
And then it struck me. We are all just searching for joy. Sometimes we have to look really close.
Earlier this summer, crabby from quarantine, Bob and I wandered into a shoes store with no intention of buying anything. It was hot outside and cool inside the store. We were bored with home and generally milling around. I spotted some sparkly platform sneakers on a top shelf and on a whim, took them down, put them on and began to dance around in the aisle making both of us laugh. A teacher I knew happened by as this occurred and said, I dare you to buy those shoes. Sure, why not? The shoes came home with me and Bob said, you are never going to wear those shoes.
I wear these shoes a lot. They still make me laugh when I look down and you know what, they make other people smile as well.
So what of today and tomorrow and all of those seemingly unsurmountable troubles that swirl around? They will still be there. So will dancing turkeys… and sparkle shoes… and joy.
When 4:45 pm rolled around yesterday, I was sitting at my desk in the literacy center with quite a long to-do list. I was busily writing down all of, or most of, the issues that had come up after our assessment training just completed at 4:15. A small trail of teachers had stopped me after the meeting for suggestions or questions, and then some had dropped into the literacy center after as other things occurred to them.
As the silence settled, I thought about the to-do list, so many important things to accomplish, concerns to settle, details to work out… I looked at my open notebook, my desk scattered with post-its and pencils, my laptop with fifteen tabs open and I sighed. Should I stay just fifteen minutes, a half-hour, another hour and wipe this to-do list or should I go home and do all of the at home things waiting for me there.
Yesterday, I left the to-do list for today, they seem to go together. In the breaking light of a new day, I began considering that to-do list anew. Puzzling over some details, shifting ideas in my mind, thinking over the coffee maker, the hair dryer, the dog walk. I nod to myself. This is a to-do list that can get done today. I put on that extra bright sweater, find my cloud mask, fill my coffee carafe, hug the dog.
I drive to work resisting the temptation to listen to a practice related podcast, shifting the channels on the radio to one peppy upbeat song after another, thinking still about the to-do list, but it’s shrinking in my mind just like that bad word in Elbert’s Bad Word. I glance down at the sparkle shoes, I really do feel like the good witch in Wizard of Oz in these. I let cars in as I pass in traffic. I think, do you think these small good deeds multiply or accumulate?
At school, I turn on all the lights in the literacy center, arrange the flowers in the vase… on top of that to-do list waiting. I plan my first consult as I touch each blossom.
The to-do list is still there. I haven’t done one single thing on it… yet. But the plan is forming.
There will be a new to-do list today to replace every single item I accomplish on this list.
But, so is the mindset we create about to-do lists.
A have a little motivation thought that pops on my laptop screen when I open my computer. Today it said, “the key to success is to start before you are ready.
Typically, I spend a lot of time getting ready… ready for the day, ready for meetings, ready for professional development, ready for assessments, for coaching meetings. So many reasons to be prepared.
I’m not going to throw out my coaching bag any time soon. I’m still going to have some books, some stickies, a few anchor charts prepared, but I’m not going to let myself delay the start of something past its launch time.
I’ve been desperately trying to be well-read on a few topics before the school year starts. Science of reading, phonemic awareness, new BIPOC books, culturally relevant teaching, our new assessment system, and a long, long list of topics.
I’ll be the … first to tell you, I don’t have it all figured out. I have a fairly solid base in most and the ability to keep reading and learning in all. You see, I don’t have to be the leader, just the lead learner. I’m practicing this sentence, let’s think through that together and this question, What might be important here?
Perhaps my administrator and many of the people I coach are hoping that I’ll show up and just have all the answers. There are times that I wish I did. I know what I do have… most of the right questions.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the way young people learn and the way adults learn. I love the new mantra that is floating around our learning community these days, Firm Goals/Flexible Means. Let’s ‘row’ in the same direction, but we don’t have to all be in the same boat. Perhaps my boat is a kayak with a dog as a navigator…
I want to embrace a few things I did learn (relearn) over my summer vacation.
When learners set goals they achieve more. These first few meetings within my learning community, I hope I will be helping the adults set goals for their teaching and their learning. What is it that we want to accomplish this year? I know we are going to set those SMART goals for our evaluation, but what actually do we want to do/learn this year? this month? this week? TODAY?
One of the things I’ve learned here and throughout my career is that if we don’t do what we ask the students to do, we aren’t going to coach them very well. This principle has led me to write more, read more, consider more. So I’m going to set some goals AND I’m going to insist some other older and younger learners do as well.
Secondly, we can change our thinking and our practice. I remember this funny little verse from girl scouts, make new friends, but keep the old… one is silver and the other’s gold. Yep, I’m not throwing (m)any babies out with the bathwater, but I’m going to lead with practices that were not my lead prior to now. Full warning… we are going to be working on words and sounds…. a lot.
Also, I’m going to think long and hard about book choice. I don’t need to see myself in the books I read with and to the students, I need to see them. I can release Pinky and Rex for Yasmin, my precious Stone Fox for The Year of the Dog. The students will barely know the difference. The antics of Those Darn Squirrels are hard to beat, but is there a larger lesson with the same heart in The Honest-to-Goodness Truth.
So today as I look through the first week of lessons in all of the units of study, I’ll be putting on some new glasses… metaphorically.
and lastly (for now). I don’t have to be the expert in the room. I can be the lead learner or just one of the learners… perhaps just the most enthusiastic one.
I wanted to title this Hitting the Ground Running, but I don’t think that’s the approach I’m taking this year.
I am approaching the school year cautiously and thoughtfully.
Yesterday was day one-ish. A day of preparing and professional development.
I resisted spending the last super hot week in the school building, opting to prepare schedules, plans and professional development outlines at home surrounded by a restroom I share with no one, many lunch options, and sans mask.
It was a good call.
I had given the literacy center a thorough straighten at the end of the year. All I needed to return were my summer study books.
Last week, I had decided to be proactive and invited the grade level teams and one intervention teams to a half hour review Monday morning of our district goals for this year and possible means to achieving the goal. I also invited the principal to come along to my coaching cycle. Our training goal this year, way overdue, is Firm Goals, Flexible Means.
The goals this year are deceptively simple.
Much in the way that I’m concern for how the students will return to us this fall, I am concerned for our teachers. Will they have recovered from the previous eighteen months? These new explorations will strike at the heart of balanced literacy and many of the core beliefs that are the bedrock of reading workshop. Will we have the flexibility to integrate new ideas?
So we sat and talked grade level after grade level, listening, talking, waiting, committing.
It was beautiful.
These educators after a year of struggle are prepared to do what is needed to help their student recover, emotionally and developmentally. Not one person talked about loss. No one complained about our past vulnerability to harm or even to the current threat.
They considered. They asked. They suggested.
Today, they asked for more. We talked more. We planned more.
Tomorrow we will have one more day of deep self directed learning before we greet our students for the year.
We have unspoken hopes. Hope of a safe, healthy, full year of learning. Hope that this in-person, full day learning will reap strong learning outcomes for our students.
A good start so far, I’m energized for the work. Not running into it this year, but moving forward, bringing everyone along.
I have summer rituals. I talk to my husband on the phone until he gets to work and on his way home even though I was just talking to him over coffee moments before and will talk to him over dinner in a short time. I think it makes his drive shorter. At least it distracts him from the distance.
I talk to my dogs, linger over coffee and every morning, I complete the crossword in the paper, the actual paper form of the paper that arrives at the end of the driveway each morning. No cipher, no jumble, no word search, no sudoku, just the headlines and the crossword.
I have a ritual to the crossword. Ninety percent of the time, I confidently complete it in ink, writing over changed letters if need be. If I get stuck on a word or words, that crossword will lay there on the table until I figure it out. I’m sure this says a lot about me as a problem solver. Give it a go and then fix if need be.
I don’t know if you know this, but the crossword gets progressively more difficult across the week beginning with Monday and ending with the Sunday crossword. That makes sense. Monday needs a gentle entry and my Friday, just bring it already. The Sunday crossword isn’t our local ‘easy’ crossword, but the notorious New York Times crossword. That’s ok, Sundays are for lingering over Mimosas and waffles, generously making the crossword a group effort.
I remember as a child, my parents got the morning and afternoon papers so they could each have their own separate crosswords. Their folded papers and their Cross pencils dropped on their respective end tables, the soft glow of their lamps shining on their progress. My father’s jagged, aggressive, all capital printing strokes identifiable from a distance and my mom’s soft almost cursive curves barely visible, they are so faint. My letters, as you can see, are the letters of a primary school teacher, mostly even block capitals filling the whole square. Years of teaching letter formation has made my printing even and true.
There are techniques to crosswords as personal as fingerprints. Both my parents took the method of starting with the top of the clues, all the across words, crossing out easily identified words and circling trickier clues to return to later. Then the down clues, some already completed or nearly there, a check on their initial responses. These are not my ways. Though DNA is probably strong, much like I don’t resemble them at first glance, my methods are predictably my own. On further thought, these methods are most likely telling of my ways as a whole. I do start with the across words, but upon each solve word, I move to the crosswords that are formed by those completed letters. So if I completed vaguer across, I would move on to VCR, Ali, Gop, Aspouse, seen, and yurts intersecting the longer word. In the end, I go back to check my answers by looking up words in foreign languages or references to things I’ve never heard.
I know summer is drawing to a close when the puzzles feel easy and there isn’t ever one left on the table when Bob returns in the afternoon. It’s a good thing. I’m a little resistant to his help as he peers at the open squares. Remember that the clues are punny, he says. I pull my lips together and give a small nod. My solutions are my own.
I have been hesitating to mark the summer’s end this week as the school opens for set ups and post summer greetings. I’ve been lingering here at home with the chats, the dogs, and the crossword. Perhaps it’s the weather, so extreme this year, the bathroom project not quite finished, the books brought home happily nestled in my home library not eager to return to the literacy center. Perhaps it’s the continuing uncertainty of it all. My school year routines are not drawing me yet.
This morning, the steady school year routines gently pull on me. The crosswords are mastered, the dogs are settled, and it’s time to return to a different rhythm. My crossword solution strategy will be applied to the daily puzzles of our learning community literacy life. The new interventionist to settle, the students’ to relearn and resettle, the teachers to gently reveal, erasing missteps and confidently finding just the right letters moving forward in the puzzle as it reveals itself, knowing the completion will come eventually if I leave it sitting on that table for just a little while longer.