March Warm Up #sol19

31-day-streak-with-borderMarch Warm Up #sol19

February 28, 2019

I sat down this morning to prewrite my blog for tomorrow, however traditionally our first blog of March is a kick off to introduce our blog to others or talk about our plan for our March writing.  I have a different plan for my Friday blogs during this month, so I thought I might write today about my plan.  It’s in the front of my mind and I can’t get my Friday blog out until I clear it out of the way.  (LOL)

This is my third year of the 31 day writing streak.  It seem extreme to say it is life-changing, but really it is.  Not only have a developed a real writing habit, but it’s change the way I see writing instruction and writing in general.  Perhaps predictably,  I never really saw myself as a writer.  Encouraged by a thoughtful mentor to write about my practice in a greater PLN,  I began blogging three years ago by jumping right into the month long challenge.  While the writing has been so helpful to my practice, allowing me to consider my OLW more carefully, examine practice, and definitely become more observant of my greater world,  the greatest gift I received was the companionship with my fellow slicers.  In a core group of 6-12 slicers who I feel I have a writing relationship with through our blogs,  I have discussed practice, next steps, tough times, and celebrated triumphs.  These core bloggers,  along with many other blogs I follow now,  have taught me about resources I wouldn’t have found, practices I might not have tried, perspectives I might not have consider, and endless lessons gently taught by caring writers with similar sensibilities.

I honestly am not sure about my methods from the last two years.  I know my first year I prewrote blogs and kept them in a folder in my google drive.  In both years, following a suggestion by many,  I keep a blog fodder journal, which is always filled with ideas I hope to write long about sometime in the near future.  This is a great way to try out a my blog journaltechnique I am often suggestion to students of keeping a place for writing ideas to forego the I don’t know what to write about.  That lesson alone has been so beneficial to me, both in giving me ideas to come back to and also to teach me to notice and consider many, many things that I might have noticed at the time and never given deep thought.  I show it to you now because it is an absolute mess filled with coffee stained notes I shoved into my handbag, notes quickly jotted in the car from something I read, stickies written during a chat or a show when a random thought occurred to me and… a few carefully constructed ideas.  Perhaps this is where I emphatically tell you that a) you can do a better job than me and b) if you don’t,  it doesn’t matter because this is a forgiving audience with a just go for it attitude.   My own darling chief welcome wagon encourager is still writing me a response each week even when my blogs are again a hot mess.  He is an amazing writer with tight well constructed thoughts whereas you can see I am a wordy rambler sometimes. most times

This year’s plan is to have a theme(like) for each day of the week, so that I know what type of writing I am going to do that day:  book reviews, follows, regular slices and a few other ideas.  If you new and reading this,  I suggest you read A LOT of blogs this week going back into archives of ones that resonate with you to see their style and subject matter.

To my long time writing friends,  I can’t wait to read what you write each day.  To myself,  you can do this!   See you in there.


I am writing every day for the next 31!  Here’s to day 1.  Thanks to all of the Slicers and especially Stacey, Jcareyreads, ebgriffin, dmsherriff, Brian Rosinsky, Clare Landrigan, and many others for nuturing my writing and being my PLN away from home.

It’s All About Approximation #sol18

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It’s All About Approximation #sol18

Our district is in the midst of an overhaul… in a good and also messy way.  We have an interim superintendent, an interim assistant superintendent for curriculum & innovation, a new reading curriculum, a new writing curriculum, a new reading assessment and at my school, we have a interim principal…  That’s a lot of new(ish) stuff.

The absolute truth is that new can be really, really messy.  It can be full of starts and stops, trial and error, and especially misunderstandings and enlightenment.  Messy can be beautiful and a marvelous learning experience if you fully embrace it with a clear vision of the why.  It can also be exhausting… sometimes not in a good way.

Like many in my PLN, I spent the day on Saturday at Teachers’ College.  I look forward to it for half a year,  drive through part of the night and the dawn to get there,  absorb like a sponge all day and then process all I have heard for months afterward.  For years, when I went to the Reunions,  I was catching up…  I didn’t quite understand the visions, the nomenclature, and the rhythm of the talk.  But somewhere along, I began to keep up.  The talk makes sense.   I see the connections between things.  I’m actually in stride.

So… how do these things go together.  You just have to suck at something for a while.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s tiring. It is definitely not the easy path.  In the fray, it’s hard to see the route.  Our district was high functioning.  Students were making adequate progress for the most part.  The need for a new curriculum wasn’t mandated or even needs-based.  It was about innovation.  Thinking about a future we don’t quite see for a generation that’s on their way there.  Changing the narrative and the practice from teacher directed to student led.

Unfortunately,  the vision setting,  the dream-casting,  the history of change is frequently communicated in short hand and at the wrong frequency.  Someone compared our work once to rebuilding the car while driving down the road.  The image of that is truly terrifying, but yet we coach teachers into that in a room full of elementary students every single day of the week.  Unpredictably, uncontrollably, sometimes unmanageably every solitary day of the year.

It took me five solid years to have a vertical vision of the Calkins’ reading and writing curriculum.  Every day I learned additional components, interpretations, and resources.  I’ve breathed, discussed, and attempted these ideas most days over the course of those years and still… I’m back in the books, reading more, going to more reunions.  Learning, questioning, adapting more all the time.

Where does that leave us right now?  In a glorious place!  If we are growers, learners, and innovators every day, it leaves us open to encouraging growing, learning, and innovating in our students.  If we struggle, we are closer to their struggle.  If we have to work things out, try and try again, we exhibit growth mindset in the realest, most authentic way.

I never was that good as an educator, administrator, interventionist, or coach to make things really look easy or perfect, but I know many who can.  I always admire that perfect looking space, those creative bulletin boards, that neat writing in student portfolios, but now I admire a narrative that sound more like approximation.  We’re so close… My students are nearly there.  We tried this today and it bombed, but tomorrow we’re going to…  I noticed… I wonder… Man, today was HARD… 

So here’s to the disequilibrium that comes from change and attempts and deep, deep learning.  I have to go to bed earlier, but I’m very excited to get up in the morning.


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thank you to all of the writers who encourage me to say I don’t really suck at this anymore including all of the voices behind Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing thoughts here.

My Mission Statement #sol18

downloadMy Mission… Statement #sol18

October 9, 2018


Last week, my virtual friend, the amazing middle school teaching Iowan, Darin Johnston published this thought-provoking slice about his mission statement.  His real life- real time PLC was working on Covey-related thinking and charged their members to write a mission statement.  Darin, like many of us perhaps,  thought he didn’t really have a mission statement.  Like most of my virtual PLN, he decided to write about it and ask for feedback from his virtual PLN. His short list was poignant and contemplative and inspiring.

So at the first bend of a new school year, so many years down the road,  I think of my short list,  my mission.  Inspired by Stephen Covey.  Inspired by Darin.  Inspired by my own band of co-conspirators.  Inspired by all that has brought me here.

My Mission 

  • Perhaps instead of beginning with the end in mind we should begin with the now in mind. 
  • Do your best today
  • Notice the people and the environment around you
  • Appreciate now
  • Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt
  • Take ownership of your actions, thoughts, and words
  • Believe in potential.
  • Accept other’s truth

As Darin said,  it’s hokey and a bit fluffy.  But we all need a compass as Covey would say and perhaps we should follow that compass more often.  So this is going up on that messy white board above my desk.  The one with the loaned books list,  the inspiration from Colby Sharp, the instagram that I save about teaching tomorrow, the papers I don’t want to lose.  Because I don’t want to lose this.  I don’t want to lose the white board that says, You’re doing the best you can do… right now.  I want to live in the right, right now.  Affect change in the right now.  Appreciate, admire, encourage… right now.

Thanks Darin.  Your words weren’t hokey or fluffy.  They were inspirational… as always.

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Here’s to @iowaconflictedteacher, Pernille Ripp, who inspired three teachers I know to think globally this week, and my encouragers who read faithfully and encourage freely including all of the folks at TwoWritingTeachers, who inspired this community and nurture it freely.

The Promise of This Year #sol18o

The Promise of This Year #sol18

September 17, 2018

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Last week,  my very wise, mentor/cyber-colleague, posted this onto her twitter feed.

I responded with my gut, my instincts,  my heart…

“The Promise of This Year”

On August 30,  Colby Sharp retweet his own tweet from June 27, 2018

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I printed it out and hung it above my desk.

I am often chasing fixes.  Trying to solve all the problems within my purview.  That’s not what I coach folks to do.  I coach folks to think of one thing that they do sort of well and do it better and better.  I should take my own advice…

So I am declaring publicly that THIS YEAR,  I am going to think in that moment, with that teacher or that student, about what we are working on right then.  As Colby says, one read aloud at a time, one conference at a time.  One book talk at a time.  One mini-lesson at a time.  One small group at a time.  Every minute.

If it doesn’t work this minute, perhaps it will work in the next.  After all I am just planting seeds.  Planting seeds.  Casting them out and seeing what grows.

Last week,  I wrote down a meditation mantra from 10% Happier.  It was so simple, but it spoke volumes to me.  Right now,  it’s like this.  Right now it’s like this.  

Last week,  I met with the literacy team in my building. The internet didn’t work, the chromebooks wouldn’t all boot up.  One of them turned to me and told me a story about how she hadn’t planned a few weeks of her young sons’ summer days.  It seemed like everything was a little bit wonky.  She began to say, mostly to herself, I’m doing the best I can do.  I wrote than down on a white board and added… I’m doing the best I can do, right now.  

So perhaps tomorrow, a minilesson will flop or SOAR,  technology will glitch or work perfectly,  I’ll read a book that makes us laugh or smile or think.  And I’ll be thankful.  Thankful for Jessica Carey and Colby Sharp.  For the kids and their jokes.  For my colleagues that lift me up and the ones who keep me on my toes.

I’ll remember that it’s just this minilesson,  this strategy group,  this conference,  this read aloud.  I’ll notice a twinkle in someone’s eye,  a half smile, and an almost-there.  Because all I want is for everyone I work with,  kiddos and grown-ups to know,  I care about their success.  I’m still going to be here tomorrow and we can do it all again or something entirely different.

That’s where our strength lives.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM I’m grateful to my social media giants who hold me up even when they don’t know it.  Read their amazing slices here at Two Writing Teachers.

Summer Challenge Update #sol18

Summer Challenge Update #sol18

Reading the Units of Study Through

July 24, 2018

For this summer,  I set myself one main challenge,  to become more knowledgeable about writing instruction.  Was that really the challenge?  Let me not get ahead of the story.  On the last day of school I packed up the book stack I had amassed over this year to read more about writing instruction.  The stack included Joy Write, so beautifully explained at the Heinemann retreat last summer by Ralph Fletcher himself and brought beautifully to life by my Connecticut cyperfriends,  Dawn, jcareyreads, and Standingtall.  Other books in my stack included The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, Enticing Hard to Reach Writers,  and Renew .  I went back for The Writing Strategies Book.   I quickly read through Colleen Cruz’ The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. I was well on my way to a blissful summer reading about writing, but two things happened.

First, another member of my literacy team said reading all of the beginning units of study for the year seems like a good idea.  We had just each taken two units and read them for our summer kick off.  Since everything even literacy comes down to match, I estimated that if I read one unit of study a week,  I could read the remaining four grades of each reading and writing first units in the eight weeks remaining of summer.  We had hear that a unit could be read in approximately two hours cover to cover, but I knew that annotating, birdwalking, mentor text searching, and researching,  most of the units could be read in one day.

Begin at the beginning I say,  so I began with kindergarten reading.  Having spent most of my time in the last four years teaching lessons in third and fourth grade dipping down this year to help out in first,  I was struck immediately with how kindergarten lays the foundation for everything.  EVERYTHING.  So much of what a fourth grade teacher is trying to accomplish with his/her students is directly connected to the foundations that are formed in kindergarten.  I was reminded of the joy of beginnings, of emergent storybooks, and about endless possibilities.  I am hoping that a kindergarten teacher will look kindly upon me this next year and I’ll enjoy some joyful learning in kindergarten first hand.

This is time so well spent.  I listened to Lisa Corbett, podcast last week, but was struck by something she said about the math curriculum she has been using.  I paraphrase.  She said that she had been teaching the lessons but until recently had never read the fore matter.  It changed everything for her.  That’s how I feel about reading the units of study through,  it changed everything for me in many ways.  First,  I see the trajectory of the unit clearly from beginning to end,  the story of the unit as Lucy Calkins says.  Also, as I read up through the grades,  I see how the stories connect year to year.  This opens endless possibilities for cross-grade work,  coaching, and dipping back down when strategies haven’t stuck.  Much like book progressions and learning progressions are helpful to draw students forward,  so will the unit progressions pull students up.  One last thought is that reading straight through eliminates the difficulty of interpreting the Calkins talk.  The units are all designed similarly and as you continue to read you develop an ear for the units.  I highly recommend it for schools using the units of study.

Simple Plan to Digest a Unit of Study Book 

Read the flyleaf overview and the Table of Contents.                                                                     Think about the story of the unit.  What goals will you have for students? What are the standards crosswalks. (In Calkins crosswalks are located at the end of the unit)

If Calkins unit, open online general information for unit and watch video (1st unit only) and look over mentor text list

Read orientation to the unit. (if reading with a group, this is a good place for a jigsaw)

Read first session in each bend.  These set the tone for the bend particularly the connections.

Read through unit.  Possible suggestions:  flag conferring and small group and index.  They can be used separate from session.  Use stickies to summarize multiple step lessons, flag anchor charts, or sessions requiring more set up.

Create a mentor text list inside cover of possible mentors either recommended or from your collection.




The Voices in My Head #sol18

main-qimg-7a46ec5dc79bcac79744edd8eaecf8f0-c  The Voices in My Head  #sol18

May 1, 2018

I have a lot of great mentors.  Some of them have never met me.   I walk among giants, but occasionally those giants are on a podcast, a tweet, or in a book.  Those giants have changed everything about the way I approach education, coach, interactive with students, conferring, and see myself as an educator.   Here are some of my favorite voices.



The Heinemann Podcast accompanies me to work each morning and sometime home as well.   I listen to mine on a podcast app.  This podcast is a great way to try out professional texts and kick the tires before you buy.
static1.squarespace.jpgColby Sharp  is how I want to blog when I grow up.  Colby’s quick patter and teacher heart can direct you to your next read aloud.   Just looking around his room in the videos makes me smile.  An amazing advocate for kids and books,  follow him on twitter and youtube.




In addition,  The Nerdy Bookcast,  The Children’s Book Podcast, The Yarn.
Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 5.28.08 PM.pngTwo Writing Teachers have changed the way I teach, I coach, and write.  Ok,  maybe just my volume has improved. 🙂

So many blogs that I follow.  Tweets that I read.  Books that I read.  They all add up to wonderful mentors that encourage me, challenge me, and teach me.

Tom Newkirk says we only have to get 5% better each year.  By the end of our career, well, amazing things can happen.  Today,  I’m just going to try this one thing I read…





Noticing #sol18

IMG_0967Noticing #sol18

March 31, 2018

Lily and I have the luxury of a walk this morning heading out to our woodsy trail.  We haven’t been this way in quite some time impeded by snow for so long. Today spring is breaking through.  Under foot wet soggy leaves make me hesitant, not Lily. She’s confident, leading the way. Twigs break under foot. My eyes  drawn to the the trees overhead, noticing their raw wounds from recent storms. Tiny islands of snow crop up here and there, spring will not be denied now. Lily’s keen nose and sharp eyes notice far more than mine stopping her to smell a branch or rock, look out into the woods that surrounds us. My eyes are drawn to the brilliant green and subtle difference of the moss on every rock. The moss senses the change. 

 I notice myself composing as I walk,  the silence opening up the words that flow across my consciousness. Small phrases worked over like smooth pebbles in a stream.  Not quite right yet. Composing, switching phrases, juggling imagery. Would I have done this before?  Would I have noticed like a wordsmith, like a chronicler, like a writer?

I am sharper, keener, more observant.  Noticing more around and thinking more deeply about how I express myself, not just in my print, but in my words everywhere.  Space for contemplation matters more and so I give it more generously. Thoughts have more space to grow, perhaps flourishing or lying in my notebook for other opportunities. Revising  more, thinking about sentences days later and returning to change word order, clarity, tense seems common place now. Changed as a writer. 

As I thinking more about writing, I consider more about teaching writing as well.  Talking first, rehearsing. We did this before but it feels differently now, more like a sharing, a collaboration, joyful.  Bringing what I’ve  noticed to the daily practice of writing. 

Last year,  I composed in documents, careful, hesitant, concerned.  Now my thoughts come and I begin to compose not caring if I discard them later.  More will come. Just then, clarity. What I’ve learned, just like spring,  more will come. 


And just like that it’s over,  day 31 of 31. I am forever grateful to my writing mentors, encouragers, and fellow journeyers in this the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the amazingly talented writers that curate that site not just during March but throughout the year.  See for yourself at Two Writing Teachers.