in sync

FullSizeRender (1)In Sync #why not Wednesday 

September 27, 2017

At the start of a school year,  it takes some time to get in sync… in sync with the routine,  with your new students, and with your teaching team.  These lovely ladies are getting in the groove on day 4!  While dressing alike is probably not that unusual,  showing up in nearly the same dress by accident might indicate that they are on the same wavelength about more than just their fashion sense.

So how do we get in sync in our building, our team, or in our classroom  at the beginning of the year?

Possible idea 1. Spend some time getting to know each other.  Laugh,  talk about TV,  have lunch together,  take a walk, drop by for a chat.  You get the idea.  Don’t make everything all the time about work with your co-workers and with the students.

Possible idea 2.  Give yourself a break.  We don’t need to launch in at break neck speed every single time.  Wait, is that just me?  Take time to get your bearings,  read the environment.  Even if it’s the same old environment, it always seems to change as the new year start.

Possible idea #3  Review. Give a thought and some good conversation to what went really well last year and … what you might do differently.  Reflecting is good for the soul and the craft. 

I might wear my black dress tomorrow. 




View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

I’ve been rushed lately or at least I feel rushed, like my to-do list is too long and I’m just racing through the days.  But today something slowed me down.  Today I was able to take in a view of our intermediate classrooms from the balcony so to speak.  I accompanied some consultants that were taking a quick view of our intermediate literacy block.  It was amazing to watch the reading workshops in action without having an agenda… or a role to play.   Clare referred me to an idea called ‘ watch from the balcony, lead from the floor’.   Think about how much we could learn, observe, think about when we just move through the classrooms and watch.

So today I moved through the intermediate classrooms in our building for just an hour or so during their reading workshop.  I moved quickly not staying too long in any one spot, but returning to see a little minilesson, small group, and a little independent work.  Most of these rooms, I’m in every single day.  During those days,  I have a purpose, a mission, goals.  Today,  I just watched.  Just looked.  The teachers were interested in what the consultants noticed.  No one asked me what I noticed, so the gems are my personal treasure.

I knew you all were amazing teachers but today I noticed…

Your students are listening.  They’ve learned the talk of reading workshop.  They can turn and talk, and really turn and talk.

You teach with ease.  You’re light on your feet.  You’re enjoying yourselves.  You know your stuff.

Everything in your rooms shows who you are as a teacher.  You treasure your anchor books you’ve shared.  You have a place for students to give feedback to you and each other.  You’re sharing yourselves with your students.

There’s trust.  The students trust you,  you trust them… and you all trust me.  No one hesitated for one second when I came and went from your room.  You smiled, the students smiled.  I smiled.

My smile was real.  I see the work that you’ve done.  The work that you’ve done with your students.  The work that we’ve done together.

I feel filled up.  I hope to take more of these side trips and I’m going to make sure you can take them too.

small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal about instructional coaching of late; having a coaching cycle in place in my role as a literacy specialist:  teachers I meet with weekly,  co-teaching in place with a few teachers to varying degrees of formality, PLCs I meet with regularly and semi-regularly.  Those are all great and working well, but this past week I was thinking about ‘small batch’ coaching.

So small batch can come in a few different forms, most successful  it has a connection to your underlying goals in your building, with your team, or in some cases, with your hidden agenda.  I admit it. Sometimes I have a not-so-hidden agenda.  I will say it outright when asked.  Here’s one example of a small batch/not hidden agenda.

I dropped by one day as a intervention teacher was lead teaching in a classroom.  My purpose was to ask her about intervention with a student for a conference later that day.  When I arrived in the classroom the class had just completed a read-aloud of The Mouse, The Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, a perennial classic for kindergarten.  IMG_8594That was wonderful, but then…  I saw this.

IMG_8592 I think it’s safe to say and will not surprise anyone who has worked with me that I immediately started thinking how I could suggest a change-up in this activity or even shift the students’ thinking myself.

The probable goal of this sheet was sequencing and the students all sat at tables coloring the paper waiting for permission to cut and then glue .  I said to the teacher,  I love this book!   … Another thing  you might have done is let the students interact with the book, create props and do a retell on their own.  Perhaps that would have gotten to your objective too,  sequencing strength.  Well, maybe next time…or words to that effect. 

I went on about my day and then as the students were going to lunch, they stopped by the literacy center.FullSizeRender

There before me were dozens of little mice complete with mouse ears and a very large construction paper strawberry.   The teacher had thought about it and given it a go right away.  The students were thrilled and eager to share what they had done.

Now, do I wish that the students had made the ears and the strawberry, and had props and such from the beginning?  Yes.   However, changing our practice, changing our stance, shifting our outlooks takes time.  Much like we scaffold and linger and try out with our students, we should be willing to move at that same pace with their teachers.

So here’s to small batches of coaching, gentle nudges.  May they be casual chat over coffee, a notice of something wonderful tried, an interesting website/article/video sent with a quick note, a drop in, and encouraging smile.  After all,  we are just giving it a go too.


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for coordinating the Slice of Life Community.  Join or read more here.

My Five… Coaching Resources #SOL17

stackbooksilaMy Five…. Coaching Resources #SOL17

March 13, 2017

Here are my go-to resources to glean resources,  loan out,  reread to deepen collaboration, growth, and work with teachers and students.  The order and use change situationally.

Fountas and Pinnell Continuum of Literacy Learning 3rd Edition

I’ve used this resource for years and could only love it more when the Fountas and Pinnell team produced the 3rd edition.  This book has grade level goals, reading level behaviors for work in all the areas of literacy, technology, listening/ speaking,  writing,  whole and small group work.  When thinking about conferring, goal setting, lesson planning, and formative assessment, this resource does not fail.  I especially recommend the expanded information on interactive read aloud.  There is a webinar to familiarize users with the tool that is very helpful

The Daily Five

The Daily Five helps teachers develop a structure for independence in the reading workshop by outlining the steps to scaffold learning in reading to self, reading with others, listening to reading, word work, and writing about reading.  There are detailed ideas for maintaining balance across all the areas of literacy. Especially for newer teachers and large or challenging classes.

A Guide to the Reading Workshop (2015)  Both K-2 and 3-5 editions

A comprehensive guide to systematically planning for reading workshop including timing, share reading, conferring, small group work, and general work in constructing the focus lesson.  Individual chapters and components are excellent for discussions on scaffolding learning and student agency.  Also recommended Reading Pathways.

Assessment in Perspective

Assessment in Perspective is wonderful in its entirety moving from why we collect data to how to use data effectively, to involving students with their own data.  Especially helpful to teachers are their helpful suggestions on mining data and organizing thinking around small group work with students.  Their blog,  Assessment in Perspective, is a fresh, up to date resource of theory meets practice  written in teacher friendly language.  

Teaching Reading in Small Groups

Teaching Reading in Small Groups goes beyond traditional guided reading to authentic, timely, practical instruction in flexible small groups.  This book contains ideas for forming small groups, conferring in small groups, and so much more.  Jennifer Serravallo has produced many video supports to this work.  Also recommended by Serravallo, Reading Strategies Book and Writing Strategies Book.  These books are particularly helpful when using the If/Then Units within the Calkins Units of Study.  

Other than the Writing Strategies Book,  these aren’t particularly new resources, however, each is so strong in recent thinking in pedagogy and theory in literacy.  All are easy to read and easy to use.  



I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.









Using Story Arc to Explore Author’s Craft and Characters #SOL17

Using Story Arc to Explore Author’s Craft and Characters  #SOL17

March 10, 2017

IMG_8263 (1).jpg

I have been taking a serendipitous journey with a fourth grade class.  After reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing together for a weeks and then realizing that no one in the class understood theme,  we regrouped… by taking a week off for February vacation.  When we returned from February vacation,  the magic began to happen.  We did a few days on finding theme in picture books.  See The Space Between  for more about this beginning.  

Then, we spent a few days writing a filler chapter for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  ( See Units of Study For Teaching Reading,  Fourth Grade Unit 1,  Interpreting Character: The Heart of the Story.)  The first day,  their teacher read a chapter from the next book in the series,  Super Fudge.  I think we both thought the students might write from between Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Super Fudge.  Not one did that.  After the first day we noticed that the students writing lacked the classic elements of narrative and the central elements of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,  so we decided to review narrative structure in light of Chapter 3, The Family Dog.  After reading chapter 3,  their teacher reviewed the story arc and conducted a discussion of the elements in this chapter. For your benefit,  the story arc in this chapter includes:  review as hook,  micro-story to set up solution,  problem,  several attempts, climax, falling action, and solution.  IMG_8264 (9).jpg

Since it wasn’t my idea,  I can say that it really was genius.  She continued the great ideas by using her iPads to let students view the arc representation while they completed a revision of their chapter with the same style.

In the end,  her class had a wonderful understanding of theme in novel, a terrific review of the story arc using a novel example, and two days of quick narrative writing.
These ideas could be adapted to any novel study at the intermediate grades.

Thanks to Melissa Quimby,  Grade 4 for this collaboration.



I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.



Book Snob #sol17


Book Snob

March 7, 2017

I like to think that I believe all books to be created equal.  I mean,  I’ve read quite a few romance novels in my day, although you won’t find them on my Goodreads profile.  So I guess I don’t want you to know I read them.  Cat’s out of the bag.  

I’m a snob about children’s books too.  I’ll admit it.  I saw Dav Pilkey speak at the Teachers’ College reunion last spring.  I thought he was fantastic.  I thought his message was on point.  I thought his reasons for writing what he does were perfect.  I still couldn’t get through a single Captain Underpants book.  

Then I had a student.  A third grader who needed to be listened to.  A third grader who needed to be encouraged.  A third grader who didn’t need my sanctimonious rant about “good books”.  A third grader who needed me to remember when the going gets tough, the reading teacher reads romance.

So when this student told me that what he really wanted me to partner read with him was Dogman and that he couldn’t wait to show me the part where they handshake with poop on their hands,  I cringed.  ( I hope that cringe was on the inside.)  He was testing me.  He was wondering if I would say, “Oh, no,  let’s read something else.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,  I did not.  I read all 240 graphic pages of dog jokes, poop,  people make stupid by spray,  the world’s books being destroyed,  conflict ridden pages with him.  Sorry,  Dav Pilkey,  I did not love it, but I’m not your audience.  My young third grade friend not only loved it, but loved getting me to read it too.

Like Nelson Mandela,  I hope that the reading of comics (or graphic novels) will lead to the reading of ‘good’ books.  But really what I hope is that the reading of this book and any other book will just lead to more reading of any sort.  All reading is good. This book made my young friend think.  This book  gave us a chance to talk about reading and books… and dog poop.  That’s not so bad for a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday afternoon.

So thank you Dav Pilkey for writing books that many students want to read over and over and over again.  Thank you for explaining to me why you write them so I could tell my third grader about hearing you in person and what inspires you.  Mostly,  thank you my third grade friend for reading with me.  It’s good to read with friends. 



I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Challenges of Coaching a New Literacy Specialist

Challenges of Mentoring a New Literacy Specialist-Susan Kennedy

“learning floats on a sea of talk”  James Britton

The coaching process is like the sea of talk.  The listening, the reflecting, the ripples of ideas are what drives the new staff member forward.  While coaching is not a new skill or task for me, each new person who enters this relationship has their own experiences, their own challenges, and their own needs.  One  must seek first to understand and then be understood, as Stephen Covey so eloquently said.  It is always a challenge to hear what a person does not say,  to understand their personal dynamic, and to gently coach while respecting the infinite amount of skills they bring to their new situation.

From years of being a reading specialist, it’s clear that staff members are suspicious of any staff member who is in a ‘nonteaching’ position.  The role of specialist is unique in the district and the school.  Literacy Specialists teach but are not the primary teacher.  They coach, but are not evaluators.  The role is as varied as the literacy needs of a building.  So coaching a new literacy specialist is to tread lightly and encourage the same in the protege.

Coaching is relational.  What I hope to communicate:  work hard,  be open to what is new, and be a good colleague.  What I know is that we might not always see those things the same.  Again,  it goes back to the listening.  I like to think about being like water:  reflective, fluid, calm.  She came from somewhere where she was respected and successful.  She had been there a long time.  I understand that.  I was at my last school a long time as well.  However, every place is new.  We bring our knowledge, but hopefully not the places where we are stuck.  The relational coach helps keep the protege from the stuck places.  That’s a challenge.

Coaching is fluid. The new literacy specialist is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work in the fall.  Benchmark assessments, record keeping, professional development, coaching, establishing an intervention schedule, maintaining the literacy center, and establishing a relationship with so many people.  To coach someone who has so many responsibilities is to listen and really hear the concerns, the triumphs, and the trials of the new literacy specialist.

The message to the protege is hopefully consistent, how to get off to a great start.  It’s everything you might not want to do in the beginning.  Get involved.  Respect different ways.  Don’t whine.  Make sure you clearly understand expectations.  Avoid the four most dangerous words: “in my old school..,”  I say to her, “You’re nearly there.  When December comes, you’ll have your sea legs.”  When she does not want to listen to that,  I just listen to her.  Just like the water:  reflective, fluid, calm.

Be like water:  reflective,  fluid,  calm.