Summer Self #SOL17

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Lingering

July 11, 2017

I have finally gotten into my summer frame of mind.  It took 1O days this year.  Never really sure what summer mindset is at the beginning of summer, I flounder around for days on end making lists and thinking about projects, never really getting out of my school year skin.  But today,  I remembered.  

 A long summer list made after I’ve carted home more books and things that can ever read in eight weeks.  Then set all these goals and things making endless lists that  won’t be finished in a day, but then finally  settle in.

I never know what settling in will look or feel like.  Sometimes I don’t realize at first that I’m settled in, but then it strikes me.  Today,  it struck me when I was patiently scrubbing the soot on the fireplace stones.  Spray,  scrub,  rinse,  examine.  Spray, scrub,  rinse,  examine.  This is it,  I thought.  The patience to consider a task,  be mindful in the task,  and most of the time, complete the task.  Though I have been known to abandon.  Even in that abandonment,  there is peace.  

Yesterday,  I spent a few hours rearranging every single drawer in my bedroom.  I sortedIMG_9232 through jewelry, repositioning it, touching all of it.  Lingering in memories.  I arranged my shirts in the art of tidying up, carefully rolled and sorted by color. Testing all of the pens in the bedside drawer.  Thinking about their lifespan, their origins, their journey. One day repotting  plants.  On and on it goes.  Sometimes studying an idea,  reading,  looking up something, lingering.  Lingering in my thoughts.  

There isn’t the time for this during the school year. Lists are made.  Tasks checked off.  Constant movement, all the time.  There should be time.  That’s what’s needed in our work with students and their teachers.  Thoughtfulness,  mindfulness,  consciousness, time.  Being a fan of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this should come to mind…  Begin with the end in mind. First Things First.  Sharpen the Saw.  

So when we have put our summer selves away this year, let’s keep this one bit going.  Be conscious in our acts.  Be patient with ourselves.  Be present in the moment.  It will take as long as it takes.  

Continue to linger.  

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Technique Thursday: A Change will Good You Good

get-better

A Guide to (Teacher) Self (Workshop) Improvement

July 6, 2017

Let’s say you (or I) want to improve upon our writing workshop,  what might we do?

Apply anything you want to change to this model. 

When we think about getting better at anything, there are so many metaphors for improvement.  Insert your best improvement metaphor here.  What made you want to improve?  What did you notice that you didn’t like?  What could you keep but improve?  Make a list right now…

It’s difficult to target what might be getting under our skin about the workshop.  The workshop has 3-4 components:  minilesson,  guided practice which includes strategy groups and conferring,  and independent practice.  I would include share and a quick tip time too.  

In his book,  The Construction Zone,  Terry Thompson writes about focus, flexibility, responsibility (by student), and feedback.  The focus is our road map.  I often talk to newish teachers about ‘trying to teach everything’ until they have a solid vision of their destinations.  I want to amend that in light of clearer, more concise thinking.  If I could envision what I wanted it to look like and sound like,  what would that be?   Maybe you are in a place where you can picture that.  If not,  here are a few ways to get there.  

Reread  The Guide to the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins.  

Think about each part of your workshop:  minilesson,  gradual release, conferring, conferring notes, goal setting, independent work,  interactive writing, and share.

Think about how to leverage your reading work with your writing work

What strong minilessons and gradual release/strategy work do you have in your reading workshop that gets to author’s craft/technique/mind work?  For example,  if you can teach structure in informational reading,  it’s not a long journey to informational writing.  

Watch

Watch videos (TCRWP VImeos are great),  other teachers,  your students.  Have someone teach your students, video your own workshop, or watch someone else teach.

Plan

For me, planning is about assessment and observation.  IF you’re planning now for an unknown future class,  what did your last class succeed/struggle with?  One thing I’ve noticed is looking at the grade before and ‘pre/reteaching’ is so helpful.   It’s also helpful to do a quick/flash draft to see what your students are starting from.  Use a checklist or rubric to see what techniques you want to focus on?  

Learn

What is the most difficult thing for you?  For me,  it’s narrative.  Read blogs,  read books, practice,  write… One blog is key, Two Writing Teachers

One last word about success,  change,  and getting it right.  Generally,  if it feels wrong,  we should think… is this fun?  My friends,  Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, reminded me last week to keep a playful stance about the WORK.  Good advice.  

The Art of Sweeping #SOL17

IMG_9139Zen, Meditation, Completion, and Closure

June 27,2017

Yesterday,  Dylan and I spent a couple of hours resanding the paver joints on our walk and patio.  This is a thoughtful, repetitive process that is largely quiet.  Turns out it is also meditative.  The gentle strokes of the corn brooms against the sand and bricks, the synchronous rhythm of the two of us sweeping the sand gently into each gap, all contributed to a peaceful afternoon.  It was quite a contrast to the day before when Bob and I were powerwashing the same patio and our driveway.  There was no peace in that at all.  

This makes me think about the end of year rituals for teachers and myself in particular.  Truthfully,  some years,  I just clear off my desk, cover everything with sheets, and ostensibly leave it all behind.  I never feel quite at peace with that.  I always carry home my summer reading and a few files to linger over, but the weight of books, closets, drawers, and unfinished things weighs on me.  

This year,  I started thinking about the end of year when I was sitting in silence while the students were taking their MCAS assessments.  I thought about the closet, and my desk drawers, the endless stacks of paper, and those three file cabinets.  

As the end approached,  I was busier that usual.  A project came up that sent me to the classes for the last few days.  Initially, it seemed like a tedious task, but again as I went to each class and interacted with the students, the teachers, our intervention staff,  it was rewarding.  It was fulfilling.  It was gratifying.  

But sadly,  because of those tasks,  on the last day of school, the literacy center and my work space still needed lots of work even to get to the usual quick close.  So I resigned to come back to school the next day after most of my colleagues had gone on to begin their summer.  Again,  I drove over to school dreading the process.  The further I got into the work,  the bigger the task seemed, and the larger the piles.  

On day two,  my spirit turned.  I decided to really examine the space,  my work in it, and the things that were taking up real estate there.  How could this space change?  It’s funny.  People would drop by with random comments and those comments would send me off deeper in the process.  They would notice things that I didn’t see anymore and I saw them with their eyes.  

Just like the moss in the cracks of our walk, I thought I liked what I saw until I removed it.  I thought this was just a cleaning task.  It took a while for me to see the meditation in the act.

 There is only one file cabinet now and a much smaller desk.  No plastic drawers, no room divider, no teetering collection of gerry-rigged shelves with a mishmash of books, and no stockpile of dry erase markers.  

It is unclear whether my work space will stay this way or how it will continue to evolve, but it’s true that the act of cleaning and clearing is freeing.  It gives us a chance to let go, to consider, and to open up.  Perhaps that is the best start to the summer one can have.  IMG_9136

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for encouraging my writing.  I have been slicing since March 2017.  Read more about it or join the community here.

 

 

 

wisdom from the truly fantastic four #sol17

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Wisdom from the Truly Fantastic Four

June 20, 2017

Today was “Step Up” Day at our school.  Students move up to their next class, meet their teacher, and we have a step up ceremony for the fourth graders who are moving on to middle school.

Our fourth grade team for the last several years has started the year with a fantastic four theme.  Each plays one of the members of the Fantastic Four, imparts their wisdom, and defeats “Dr. Doom” who represents all of our negative thoughts.  It’s a very positive mindset message and has been very effective for our fourth grade.

Today at their step up, the teachers reminded the students of those ‘fantastic four’ skills.  Somehow today as we let them go and say goodbye to a treasured teacher, these words hit home to me.

Ms. Fantastic, of course, has the ability to stretch herself.  The gift of flexibility.  Not everything goes the way we plan or the way we might want.  Flexibility gets us through many situations.

The Human Torch represents energy, but not the kind we get from too much caffeine.  Energy that comes from within.  A positive mindset.  The knowledge that when we put our mind to things we can accomplish much.

The Invisible Woman.  When things are transparent, there is clarity, but also truth.  Truth is an important quality.  Be true to yourself.  Be truthful with others.

The Thing… strength.  The strength to persevere when things are difficult.  To push our thinking, our work, ourselves to achieve.

My friends, the fourth grade teachers spoke of these things with their students in fall and today, but more importantly, they represented them to all of us each day of this year.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do #SOL17

Hobie-Sailing-St.-Thomas-1200x800Breaking Up is Hard to Do

June 6, 2017

It’s that time of year again.  The number of school days is dwindling down to small double digits.  This is when the student begin to break up with us.

A veteran fourth grade teacher I know says each of them finds their own way to break up.

It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s necessary, inevitable, and kind of hard.

Each year that student’s homeroom teacher spends the better part of the year learning each of her student’s learning profiles,  making them feel comfortable, pushing them to their discoveries as  learners and then we tell them to get out of the car.  There really isn’t another choice in the matter, but breaking up is hard to do.

A little preschooler after visiting the kindergarten class wipes out for days on end.  I don’t want to go to kindergarten he says.  What he means is,  you made it warm and comfortable here.  I know how to try here.  I know where the edges are.  I’ll have to learn them all over in my new place.

The fourth graders ask questions of the middle school counselors.  Will my teacher know me? or a fourth grade version of that.  Who will help me if I need help?  We say, You’re ready!  Look at you!  You’ve got this!

Did we prepare them for life beyond us, whomever the us is?   Did we teach them that they are their teachers?  Did we show them that they know how to figure out what needs to be figured out when it needs to be figured out?  Did we teach them how to let go and how to grab on?  And my favorite question,  how will we know when they have learned it?

So as we let go,  let’s talk to them, all of them, about letting go and moving on… about strength and grit and how much they are ready.  But let’s ask them,  how will you know you’re ready?  Because they are the captains of their own boats and it is time to set sail.

Tear It Down (Coming Soon)

Tear it Down (Coming Soon)

May 30, 2017

The gas station on the corner that I pass every day is torn down. It had a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. The gas was always expensive. I think it used to have a car wash. I rarely got gas there. One morning there was a sign that a new station was coming. The next morning in its place was rubble. Today along with the two backhoes is a chain link fence and a sign that says coming soon. Coming soon…
We hold on to a lot of things. As teachers, we hold onto books we love, lessons we are familiar with, assessments that we have always done…we have always done. When things become actions we can do without thinking, sometime we do them without thinking. I like to think I’m not too bad with change. In my career, I have had a great deal of change come upon me not entirely expected. Perhaps we all think we are good with change. Granted we change those students in front of us each and every year. But deep change, I’m-going- reconsider-what-I’m actually-doing change might be more difficult.

This week I’m going to thinking about what I should tear down and what’s coming soon.

Hard Stop.

the-end-is-nearHard Stop.

May 24, 2017

 

I not a big fan of summative assessments.  I tend to look at everything formatively.  This is partially due to the fact that I’m not really ever finished with students until the go to middle school.  

What I have been thinking a lot about lately is the Miracle Question.   If your students accomplished this,  what is the first thing you would notice?

When I begin to collect the end of year data,  I seem to approach it in a different way each year.  Maybe it’s the lens I have at the moment, perhaps it’s a reflection of my goals for the year.  This year I’m thinking about curriculum changes, staff changes,  focus of instruction changes.  How well does the data reflect that?

As a school and as a district,  we have benchmark summative goals for grade levels.  They are arbitrary, but based on sound developmental data.  Certain reading levels, fluency levels, your standard benchmarks.  That’s what worries me.  That we view all of this data in our rear view mirror.  A hard stop.  The end.

What a big huge waste of time!  So…  perhaps we should get from it what works for us.   What works for us as practitioners.  What works for us as facilitators.  What works for us as learners, both teachers and students.  So what works for us?

When looking at the developmental reading assessment or any other assessment that gives us a reading level, fluency, miscues, and some level of comprehension,  let’s look at the individuals and make instructional recommendations based on what we notice.  Also let’s look for classroom trends.  What do we notice that makes us consider our instruction, exposure, and opportunities?   What would it look like to master these measured skills in the “wild”?  What do each of these missed components tell us?
We could travel across all of the assessments in this manner, but let’s make the journey one of inquiry and not tedium.  Not a hard stop, but a comma.  A pause for reflection.  It’s so difficult to make time for that at the end of the year, but it’s precisely when we should.  Think about those next students and what we have learned that will benefit them.  Think about those current students and what we might send them on with to their new homes.  If you students accomplished (fill in the blank)  what IS the first thing you would notice?