Accumulation #sol22

a mass or quantity of something that has gradually gathered or been acquired

I’ve been collecting without considering my collection and its worth. Not those cut class honey keepers and crystal syrup pictures nestled with the wine classes. Not those twist ties in that skinny drawer in the kitchen or the ball of rubber bands rolling around in that same drawer. Not fast food condiments though they do shift from place to place in the kitchen. Not those boxes of mismatched photographs in the coffee table.

I’ve accumulated pencils.

I didn’t even realize it until yesterday. There we were at the dinner table. Dropped next to my placemat was a single pencil. This is fairly unremarkable. I am constantly doing crosswords, writing notes, making lists, solving the wordle on paper before filling it in electronically, so one lone pencil there on the kitchen table seemed out but in place. My gaze shifted to it’s soft blue and the words that mimic of children’s print on the side and immediately I was taken back to when I grasped that pencil in my hand and dropped into my handbag.

Look, I said, Mildred Berry Center… this is from Sis’ memorial walk. I don’t remember, he said. But I did. I remember the sun shining at the end of the walk. I remember wanting to remember that day. Reaching out I lifted one, maybe two pencils off the table, was that twenty, twenty five years ago? Yet here it was, that pencil, to remind me of that moment, that woman, that honor, the honoring.

I began to consider the dozens of pencils filling many containers in my house, in the literacy center. What stories were those pencils there to remind me of?

Past jobs.. places we had visited

… our children’s childhood. Bright pencils with their names stamped on the side. Football teams from some back to school shopping, miraculously returned home at the end of the school year partially used, still willing to write down this week’s menu or a fleeting idea.

One pencil from the college I taught at thirty years ago, I can picture the late evening standing in a teacher’s room grading scantrons using the pencil to darken the circles or record the results.

Valentine’s and Halloween pencils, some of their markings rubbed away from my hand, my pencil box or my bag. Special state testing pencils with their distinctive jet black visage meant to give confidence to their users.

A pencil made from recycled material, Vera Bradley pencils, one with owls, one with a poem…. accumulation.

All that accumulation… I hadn’t really given them a thought. That’s not exactly true. Each time one slips itself into my grasp as I begin to write, I notice it in it’s steadfast number 2-ness. I think for a moment about where I’ve been, the lessons I’ve learned, the journey and I gain just a little strength.

Settling In #sol21

Settling In #sol21

November 2, 2021

November 2! How did that happen?

Just now I feel like I can breathe freely here. I don’t mean because of the pandemic, just the steady and steadying rhythm of the school year has finally… finally began to seep into my bones.

I’ve settled into a rhythm of collaborative planning sprinkled with a few meetings that release me to the joy of my work, being present with young writers.

Young writers would mostly like to tell you the tale, the procedure, or the amazing depth of knowledge they have for a thing.

Young writers would just as soon I tell them how to spell pro-fes-sion-al that do the work of decoding all those endless parts. I mean, come on!

Young writers spill all the so-called tea about what they hear and see around them. They can’t decide whether to get a tent or not for my sister’s first birthday party…

Young writers reveal their perspective of things I’ve seen and experienced for years. Yet through their eyes and their pencils, they seem completely and thoroughly new again.

Young writers would be happy to add seventeen exclamation marks before one lonely period. I mean, that’s is so boring.

Young writers will happily pour over a mentor text with you and equally as happily ignore it entirely and end the piece saying… We had a good time at Canobe Lake.

Young writers will 100% tell me what the heart of their story is, the deep inner feelings that only they feel. Then they will write. Everyone had fun.

But then, just like the flash of a ruby-throated hummingbird, those immature words will swim off the page and you will want to capture and keep every precious, delicious word of them. The tooth fairy, long anticipated will come, but alas our writer will be asleep dreaming of the elusive sprite.

You will notice the paper at the top of the page scrunched from the sheer effort of getting those drops of gold onto that page.

You’ll notice too when words are written over, flaps are added. Blue pen marks crawl across the page marking the intense effort of that young writer.

`Those moments, moments with young writers are like visiting a fine museum, full of wonder.

Day 1 on the Ground #sol20

Day 1 on the Ground #sol20

September 15, 2020

I didn’t really enter the building until last Thursday. It felt like Pompeii, covered with the dust of a volcano that spilled all over life at school as we knew it. In my home office, I could live in a completely parallel universe.

I spent two days trying to put the literacy center to rights while actually trying to put my own self right in the process. I was determined if I could put all of those books haphazardly left last spring when the world changed in their proper place, if I could release the time capsule in my today bin from March, then and only then could I get my mind going in the solutions for now.

In a little over two days, I got the books in approximately the right space. They are in their correct bins, but perhaps not with their book alike friends quite yet. This might be a metaphor for so much of today’s learning community world. The shelves are dusted. The paper files I couldn’t quite find the capacity to go through are under my desk. My personal PPE stockpiled by Mr. K over the summer is in the hassock next to that desk. My personal books are in the right bins. The Monday flowers are on my desk. It looks right.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

My battered copy of Leading Well was propped on the white board rail. I’m sure I was reading something in it that day when everything changed. Abandoned? No. Still full of the wisdom that will lead me and hopefully inspire others. Lucy says our main goal is to learn from data of all sorts. I’ve been collecting that data over the months, weeks, and now days we’ve been changing and moving forward. Talking to teachers, hearing their plans, their hopes, their concerns. Touching the books, considering how to share them with students, which ones to use for lessons, which ones to make into video read alouds, which ones to share freely and with whom.

As Lucy says in Leading Well, now is the time for vision casting. Building agency. Creating a mantra. Thinking big picture. Using stories. Working through priorities. Creating a vision for next steps. Plan. Build learning communities. Oh, yes, that book is still going to be the heart of the work.

This morning, thank goodness, I was assigned duty out front. Finally, students face to face! Many times in my long career, I’ve had the pleasure of greeting students first thing in the morning. We were blessed with a bright sunny day and as the cars pulled up, it almost seemed like what I remembered.

Then I opened the first door. The anxiety of parents and kids came rolling out of the car like a fog. Good Morning! I said, I hope brightly. We are so happy you’re here. Let me help you find where to go.

It was hard to recognize some of them when all I could only see their eyes. It made me quickly say, I’m Mrs. Kennedy. I’ve missed you. Most came willingly continuing to trust what we’ve built.

One of the fourth graders told me, I’m nervous.

Yes, I said, it’s been a long time. We are still here, glad to see you.

Will you walk with me? he asked.

Yes I said.

A Preview of March Madness Book Edition #sol20

A Preview of March Madness Book Edition #sol20

March 2, 2020 #sol20

Our new principal brought along with him an enthusiasm for a March Picture Book bracket. He showed me a video of his former school’s reading specialist introducing books in front of a exciting, balloon filled assembly. I was reluctant… mostly to trying to duplicate what he clearly thought was a special moment.

So I said…

I’ll figure out the books, but the assembly is all you.

“Figuring out the books” became the challenge so far. I reviewed some suggested list uninspired about flooding our classrooms with these titles. Having spent this year reading, reviewing, and reading other’s reviews of so many own voice, fresh books, I dreamed of giving our classrooms a mentor text set that would benefit our literacy work long past March.

So I sought out my local expert …

Our librarian

First we talked it out. We looked at the lists available, read many of those books. We agreed to try and make a balanced, fresh list that reflected our students and would be meaningful for most to read and discuss.

So for a week or so we read books…

Many, many books

I wish I had kept track of the number of books I read, reread, and considered. On the appointed afternoon, Barb and I wheeled our suggestions into the conference room with the goal of sixteen books balanced in genre, difficulty, windows, mirrors, and doors.

This was a bigger job than I thought.

We read… and discussed and read some more.

We narrowed it down to around twenty books. Laying them out on the table, we took another look, reading hem to each other, talking more about possible classroom response.

Ready to show our principal.

Am I a little nervous?

The book selection was our contribution. Our principal took up the fundraising. Sixteen hardcover picture books per class was not a small monetary outlay. Sure that these books would be used and loved, we urged him on. Spurred by a vision of a body of mentor text talk that could follow students through our five grades, I was hopeful.

Our principal remained enthusiastic and convincing.

For a while, the prospect was far less that certain.

I made a shopping list for a nearby bookstore… and hoped for the best. Then finally approval!

Flash forward a week, one of our book selection, Hair Love by Matthew Cherry won an Oscar for his screen adaptation. I widely circulated the video through the school with my personal copy of the book and the promise that the book would be in their hands soon.

The books began to trickle in. I posted photos of the covers outside my room. I read one here and there to groups of students. On the day that the books arrived, our students were celebrating Valentines, the afternoon prior to February vacation. Our principal set up the books in our conference room with neat stacks and one front facing display books. Parents in the building drifted in. They had questions.

What will happen to the books afterwards?

My heart fills with the possibilities of these books becoming cherished mentors read over and over.

We gathered up a student from each grade… and then gathered a couple more when the first friends did not want to be photographed. So there in our last moment before vacation, we snapped this photo of promise.

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol20) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.  This is day 2.

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…