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.

 

 

 

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.

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?  

Hope is Not a Tactic

hope 1May 23, 2017

Hope is Not a Tactic

 

Against my will  I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon over the weekend.  While this isn’t a blog to review movies,  I deeply recommend this movie.  For so many reasons, it made me consider myself as a teacher/leader and the response to intervention we do day to day.

In the movie,  the protagonist stood up to the BP executives and clearly stated things that he knows need to be fixed on this oil rig.  The BP executive follows him back to his office and asks,  what didn’t you say?  The protagonist responds,  running out of fuel as the plane tires touch the ground isn’t smart,  then he goes on to give an analogy and say, hope is not a tactic.

I was so struck by this… hope is not a tactic.  As I finish year end assessments,  final coaching meetings,  last intervention sessions with students,  am beginning to examine data, and provide evidence for my evaluation, I consider,  is hope my tactic?   Do I hope that all of the coaching, collaborating, meeting, teaching, assessing will turn into success for each student and their teacher? Do I really have a tactic as I move through my year and just now in the rush of the end, it feels less like a plan and more like a hope?

So  as I listen to student read each day over the course of this week,  student after student,  when I ask them, are you a better reader than you were in September,  they say, yes,  without hesitation.  They confirm it with their words,  their beautiful prosody,  the evidence so clearly of strategy… and pride.  So those mornings, when I got up at five to read something before I came to work so I could share it with a few teachers, that was a tactic.  When I spent 15 minutes in a room listening to students read day in and day out, that was a tactic.  When I poured over data and professional resources,  that was a tactic.  When I blogged my heart out for 3o days,  that definitely was a tactic.  So here’s to our tactics… and our hope.  May they continue to grow strong.