Checking the Back Seat #sol18


    1. Checking the Backseat #sol18

March 18, 2018

One extremely busy day a few weeks ago, I had seriously overcommitted my time, my talent, and my resources. I was at the edge of my proverbial pier. 6:30 a.m., having gotten up to make some baked good for today’s meeting. Packing our lunches, planning for dinner, making coffee. Wait, do I have my phone?  I rush to the car,  pull out of the drive, head down the street.  When I get to nearly half way,  it occurs to me,  those cookies are not in the back seat.  I have to have those cookies.  That’s my thing.  Treats for meetings.  I pulled over the car.  During my commute.  There really wasn’t time to go back.  Whatever the outcome,  there or not,  I would still have to continue on.   And yet,  there they were.  Plain as Life.   Waiting there in the backseat.

When I first wrote down this story,  I thought it was a lesson in noticing, in being present.  Now, weeks later as I write it down,  the lesson has changed for me.  From the end, here it is plain as life.  The thing we need is often waiting there in the backseat,  in the brain spinning rush, we forget to look in the obvious place, our own reserve, the skills we carry.  Quick to dismiss them as inadequate,  we search for a bigger, mightier something.  In coaching,  we show up,  we have a plan or a halfway plan,  we start with How’s it going? and then… we have to repack the bags, stop halfway,  check the backseat.  In the quiet planning,  in the preparation,  we remember what our thing is,  but in the fray,  sometimes we forget.  Notice the forgetting.  Pull over the car.  Check in the backseat.  It’s there.  It’s always there.  If it’s not,  we continue on.


img_1716-1Writing as part of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Check out some amazing stories at Two Writing Teachers.



Deep. Moisturizing #sol18

Deep. Moisturizing. #sol18

March 16, 2018




deep moisturizing.

deep conditioning.

deep worries.


Lion’s share.


Shared worries.


Review moments.

Renew hope.

Release worries.


So much poetry in our slicing community inspiring us all. Today I’m considering Alice Nine’s pitchforks in a very lean way. I’m also considering Claire Landrigan’s post about worry.



This is Day 16 of 31 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Be inspired at Two Writing Teachers.



Hero #sol18

thumbnail_IMG_6575Hero #sol 18

March 4, 2018

Today’s writing challenge: write about a hero, someone who has changed your life. I watched  some of the PBS videos on We’ll Meet Again.  Inspiring… truly.  They aren’t my hero story.

My hero didn’t rescue me from Mt. St. Helens or an earthquake.  In fact,  my hero doesn’t know my name.  She couldn’t pick me out in a crowd.  In the last eight years, we have spoke to each other four or five times.  The longest exchange was yesterday.  We spoke for about ten minutes.  She gave me her full attention.  She asked me what was going on in my school. And then she moved on to the very important work she had to do.

I wanted to ask her for a photograph together.  I have thought that every time I’ve seen her for these six-seven years.  I am not sure why, but I can’t ask her for that.  If I had one,  it would be on my desk and perhaps on my phone because this one singular woman has changed my life.

If you read my blog or know me personally or were in the crowd at Riverside Church with me yesterday,  you already know who I mean.  Lucy Calkins.  I contemplated writing in all caps or a different color or some other way to type in a way that I say it.

Sixish years ago, my friend MaryLynne,  convinced me to get up at 3:00 am,  drive to New York (235 miles give or take) and spend the day with 3,000 other educators shuffling around at Columbia,  eating a bag lunch,  furiously taking notes, and trying to slip into our consciousness the utter brilliance that is the thinking, speaking, acting, existing that is the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project only to process the 200 miles home arriving after 8 pm.   MaryLynne was already aware,  she had attended.  She knew the project members and the buildings and New York.

Back to Lucy.  I know,  shouldn’t I call her Dr. Calkins or something?   All of us seem to call her Lucy.  Lucy’s words,  her colleagues,  the people she draws together,  the books she’s inspired,  the speakers I’ve met that have worked with her,  all have come together to inform my current practice as a literacy coach.  Her reach is amazing and all of it is grounded in a simple and profound place.

Yesterday I wrote down just three lines in her twenty minute speech.

Intimacy is when someone listens to your writing. 

Love is when the difference between giving and taking is as little as it can be (Siddhartha)

It’s the personal that matters. 

I am certain that Lucy Calkins and I will never have a thumbnail_IMG_0789.jpgpersonal relationship.  However,  her sharing of her beliefs,  the path she choice,  the words she speaks and writes,  will be a part of all of my coaching and my teaching.  I know she knew that in those moments we spoke yesterday.  I know that she doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

So Mrs. Calkins,  how is it going in my school community?  What I should have said is that it’s growing exponentially because you took an interest in growing my practice, in encouraging me to help others grow their practice, to care about the personal.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM  Today,  day 4 of the 31 day Slice of Life Writing Challenge,  thank you to all of the bloggers and readers and learners and writers that fuel my learning because it’s through writing that I explore my thinking.  It’s through writing that I think about teaching writing.  When I become a writer,  I join a community.  Here’s to the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  

Wonders of the Week #sol18

 Wonders of the Week

March 3, 2018



Curriculum time-  Using the Study Group Protocol,  the teachers dug in to accountable talk.  Team run study all the way.  First we watched some videos of accountable talk,  consider the scope of our study,  read some, then planned some.



Giving ourselves accountability and visibility, we set goals for ourselves and the work we do with students.  Our EL coordinator created this wonderful and powerful display. 









Midweek,  treated to some first grade expert writing.  You can wear dresses everywhere,  even to the horse stables, but especially to a picnic.

Thursday,  talking book clubs and new unit of study during scheduled 7:30 am chat with a third grade teacher.  Planning together and then teaching in tandem strengthens our work.

Late week,  observed a lesson.  Side benefit enjoyed some kindergarteners retelling the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff using homemade props.

Today,  teared up at the tenacity of this third grade newcomer’s genius project presentation.  She taught me all about Pandas with a moments hesitation.  The third grade class also presented to their first grade buddies and their next door neighbors.  Learned about helicopters, tsunamis,  Spartan spears, parrots, allergies, and more.

Their poise, creativity, language skills, and enthusiasm are what learning can be at its best.



To round out the week,  was able to see teacher ideas at work.  Accountable talk in full swing.  Why did that bear and hare in Tops and Bottoms decide they wouldn’t work together anymore?

How did that work out for them?  Partners listen, ask questions, and form theories.  Engagement and energy sky high.  This is memorable learning in grade 2.

And these are just the moments I photographed.


Hope to see some of you this morning in New York at the reunion!

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM  Day 3 of 31 Slice of Life March Challenge.  Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for facilitating, encouraging, and sponsoring this challenge.  Read so many more slices and join in here.

Stone Soup #sol18

stone soup 1Stone Soup #sol18

February 6, 2018

In Jon J. Muth’s beautifully written and illustrated rendition of Stone Soup, a group of traveling monks are discussing everything from cat whiskers to the color of sun when they light upon the topic of happiness.  The monks decide to do some action research and figure out what makes one happy?  They had a driving questions and a loose plan to figure out the answer.

The monks come to the place where they are going to do their research, a small village walled against the world.  From their place above the village,  the monks cannot tell that the people have been through a lot and as a result are untrusting of strangers and even suspicious of their neighbors.  Isn’t that so often the case?  We get a great coaching idea, especially if we are new to a situation, but we don’t really know all the carry-ons folks bring to the journey?   All of these villagers works very hard, but only for themselves.

Our teachers are working so hard behind their doors facing many obstacles that we know and some we don’t.

When those monk travelers reached the gates,  everyone disappeared into their houses. No one came to the gate.

In my early coaching,  I would have ‘cookies and conversation’ about topics I thought were fascinating.  Maybe they were,  maybe they weren’t.  But still few came to the party.

The monks knocked on one door,  no one answered.  They knocked on another door,  no one answered.  Again and again,  no answer.  These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.  No bull horn,  no memo,  no parade.  Just an idea about how to draw people in.

The monks make the fire,  they fill the small pot they have with water.  They put the pot on the fire…  One brave little girl comes out and asks the question… what are you doing?

The monks say…We have this plan to make stone soup, but we need some smooth stones.  The girl helps them find the stones and then she says,  hey,  this pot is small,  my mom has a bigger pot.

The monks didn’t ask the girl to help,  they didn’t say they needed a bigger pot.  They let the girl come to her own conclusions.  How is this like our teaching teams,  like our students?  The girl explains to her mother who asks,  hey,  what are they doing?  The mom says,  hey,  stones are easy to come by,  I want to see that.  Great idea, right?  Something simple.  Easy components.  Draw people and ideas in.

So that fire and that pot weren’t on a side street.  The monks made that fire right in the middle of the town where everyone could peek out of their windows and see what was going on.  Complete transparency and opportunities for inclusion.  It was a true curiosity and people as people will be,  got curious.

First the monks scaffolded.  They mentioned specific ingredients,  easily obtainable that many people might have in abundance.  Salt, pepper, carrots, onion.  The villagers begin to have and share these items as the smell becomes more agreeable.  One neighbor smells the success and wants to be part of it.  The next neighbor makes a small contribution.  Eventually, neighbors start having the ideas and the monks roll with it. As the contributions grow, something magical happens as each of the villagers opens their hearts,  the next one opens their heart a little more.  The soup grows richer and more delicious.

It all started with a idea and a few stones.

What a great plan!

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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community for nurturing my writing and my practice.  You can read more here.

December Cookies #sol17


December Cookies

December 12, 2017

In late November,  people in our school start asking me about “THE COOKIES”.  Funny,  I never once consider that they would become “THE COOKIES”.

Eight years ago,  I dropped out of the sky (well Northern Illinois) into the Northeast having never having been here.  My husband and I left our (nearly grown) sons and family in the Midwest and moved to near Boston MA.  That first year,  we had our house on the market full of our things in northern Illinois and we rented a furnished 1750’s farmhouse, a far cry from our former home on the prairie and our familiar possessions.

Being a literacy specialist, that first year (and many since) were about making relationships as I could,  learning the ways of a new district and building, and searching for a way to call this new normal, home.  Everyone was polite.  I kept busy, but I longed for the rituals of my former life.

When we arrived at Thanksgiving that first year and there were three of us instead of 12 or more, I began to have a terrible homesickness that I couldn’t seem to shake.  The kitchen of our rented farmhouse was the best room in the house. It was large, warm and inviting with a sunny window over the sink, the same oven I had had at home, and a baking station with a professional mixer.

My husband’s sister and I had always gotten together when the kids were small and baked cookies for one or two Saturdays before the holidays.  We created cookie trays for each of us, Bob’s mother and dad, and extras for family friends and co-workers.  We had our favorites, both new and from our own mothers:  peanut butter cookies with kisses, sugar cookie stars, and pecan snowballs.  We baked and ate and filled our kitchens with love and warmth. Along with many family holiday rituals, they fit like an old sweater.

Back to our new reality,  Bob and I were just two.  There was no way for us to eat through batches of cookies.  I’m not sure when it came to me, but I decided to bake a batch of cookies every day during that first December in Massachusetts.  I had never made 25  different types of cookies, though full disclosure,  I had make at least one batch of cookies a week for thirty years.  At first,  I didn’t really say anything at work,  I just started bringing the cookies in the morning and leaving them in the teachers’ lunchroom.  Familiar cookies at first.  One’s that my mom,  Bob’s mom, my old friends, or Mary and I had baked over the years.  Then it quite literary snowballed.

People started discussing their favorite cookies.  When it came out that it was me baking these cookies,  people would comment on their favorites,  ask if I could make something they had heard of or enjoyed in their families, and leave recipes in my mailbox, on my desk, and in my inbox.  They looked forward to the morning, when the cookies would arrive and either ate one right away or squirreled it away for later in the day.  In the magic of cookies,  it made us more than co-workers, more like co-conspirators.  The cookies were transformative for me.  Something besides work to talk about and so many people to talk to.

We trudged through that December with Peanut Butter Blossoms and Cherry White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats.  Eggnog Snickerdoodles and Hot Chocolate Cookies.  Spritz and Italian Christmas Cookies.  I learned a lot.  Not surprisingly,  I learned a lot more about baking.  I know about cookie sizing, best ingredients,  what kinds of butter, parchment, flour.  I research cookies and experimented on so many.  I don’t know I wasn’t afraid they wouldn’t like them.  Perhaps I thought everyone loves a little cookie.

As we approached the winter holiday,  our psychologist at that time asked me, “What are you going to do after the holiday?”  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  Christmas was over and hopefully so would be my need to bake cookies.  “What are you going to make after the holiday?”  I hadn’t given it one solitary thought.  I thought my public baking had an end point.  But no…   Marilyn told me about a book she had read,  All Cakes Considered.  Melissa Gray (NPR) had written a book about perfecting her mom’s cake baking prowess by baking a cake every Monday and bringing it into NPR.  Marilyn thought, as did others, that this was a terrific idea for me.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be a terrific idea.  While I had made a few cakes during my life,  I wasn’t an expert by any stretch.  A home cook with little training except food science courses in college,  I impulsively bought the book and began to search the internet for recipes of cakes for the newly christened Cake Monday.  So Monday cakes came to be. A story for another day.

IMG_0444When the next December rolled around,  Bob and I were fairly settled in our Massachusetts ‘permanent’ home with one son ‘temporarily’ ensconced in our lower level.  Our older son was due to come for Christmas and our familiar holiday decoration with Christmas village, copious ornaments, and favorite knickknacks in place.  While I still missed the warmth of family, having spent Thanksgiving in Chicago, we were ready to face the holidays much brighter that the year before.

IMG_0426Surprising to me, people began to ask about the “December Cookies”.  The hallways had snippets of conversation about cookies.  People casually reminded me about their favorites from the year before.  There was an expectation of cookies.  How could I say no to that?

From that day forward for the last eight years,  cookies show up in the teachers’ lounge every morning during the month of December.  The week before December 1st,  I make a calendar or list of the cookies.  Many, many of them now are favorites of someone.  Christy loves eggnog snickerdoodles.  Melissa has to have cherry white chocolate krispies treats and hot chocolate cookies.  A relative newcomer said,  “Do you remember my favorite?”  “It’s red velvet.”

So each evening after dinner or sometime early morning before work,  the delicious aroma of vanilla, butter, and sugar fills our home. My husband has resigned himself to imperfect cookies stuffed in his lunch or the occasional snuck cookie from the cooling rack.  My son rattles the Christmas cookie jar on the counter and gives me a half glare that there aren’t any cookies in our jar.  Eight years.  136 batches of cookies.  Close to 5,000 cookies later,  I’m making a list, checking who is out what day so I don’t make her favorite when she is away.  You can find my cookie recipe collection on my Pinterest page, readingteachsu under Christmas Cookies. Someday, maybe,  this adventure will be a book.  Tomorrow’s cookies are hot chocolate, but you better stop by early,  they don’t last long.


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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for all of your support and inspiration and this week,  a special thank you to Tammy Mulligan for encouraging me to tell this story.



The Gift of Time #sol17

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.




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Always inspired by Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Community.

Read more here.