Quarantine Lesson #sol20

Bob called me over to the window the day after Christmas to a surprising sight, a flock of robins in the front yard. To us, it seemed a miraculous surprise, dozens of robins covering the yard as far as we could see while it was warmer that day, the robins were fluffed up. Clearly with no bugs and worms available in the shallow soil of our yard, we wondered about their supposed confusion. What we learned about robins next was surprising

Robins selectively migrate and flock as they search for food in the winter. They search around migrating just as far as they have to, seeking either above freezing weather or their adapted food source fruit in the winter. What resourceful birds.

These clever things flock together to search for food even adding other members of the truth family to their flock including eastern bluebirds. Thanks our local Wild Birds Unlimited expert for this tidbit. Their stop in our front yard that day might be the result of the word that our bird feed includes cherries, a favorite of our nuthatches and woodpeckers

It might just be a accident if a sunny open space on a breezy day as was our glance at the right moment that allowed us to share this precious moment together. We were open to gazing, taking a moment to enjoy the view and explore the reason.

Those robins, they adapt to their changing situations. They seek warmth, companionship, and teamwork. It seemed to working for our little visitors and it sure touched our hearts. A momentary hopeful surprise on a seemly dreary winter day.

Our inspiration for this trying winter, the robins. Navigating just far enough, work together, survive the winter. Spring is coming.

Thanks for reminder, little robins. We will be setting out the cherries for your return. As Camus said,

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer

Here’s to summer on the way.

Persistence, Practice, Power #sol20

Persistence, Practice, Power

September 29, 2020

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how to just keep it going. My former way of dropping into a classroom with a perfect new book and a semi-hidden agenda isn’t going to work for me right now. I feel a little isolated and I notice the learning community members around me are looking, well, tired. What is a literacy specialist to do?

Two of my colleagues prepared a talk for our district pre-opening professional development on professional collaboration. It was amazing and I asked them to repeat it for our learning community professional development last week. There were many tips and treasures in this presentation, but two have driven me over the last two weeks. One- what’s your super power? What is the gift you uniquely bring to your learning community? Two- What is your non-negotiable? What is the thing that absolutely you won’t compromise on?

As you might imagine, I found it difficult to think about what ‘gift’ I uniquely bring to the learning community. Many people said when asked, you know where all the books are… you can always find the right book for the right person… That doesn’t seem like much of a gift to me, but I guess you just have to go with what you have. Interestingly, that gift seems to go in the place of my non-negotiable, my one do or die, actual books in the hands of actual kids.

So last week, I did all I could to get books in the hands of students. It seemed daunting. Now I have to think about books for in school and at home, 48 hours of quarantining, a remote school librarian, a closed literacy center, and no assessments in reading for any student since March. It is a lot, but I took a deep breath and used what I do know. Most students in first grade might break down into two text bands. (thanks Holly and Sarah for this practical idea). Using that knowledge and a able but limited amount of low leveled text, I created two sets of book bags for each first grade. The first set had a text band from A-D and the second had a text band from C-E. Some teachers had already completed running records and higher band book bags were made for their class. These bags rotated through the learning groups might last through late October. In second grade, the teachers completed running records and we created book bags for each individual students.

Kindergarten needed nonfiction non-leveled books to introduce the concept of learning from a book. Sets of 60 books were delivered to each kindergarten so every student could have 3 nonfiction books of their choosing.

Over the weekend I created slide decks for 10 emergent storybooks and have begun filming read aloud, so that kindergarten students in their remote week can work on their storytelling. Along with that, getting books in our remote outpost for educators’ children, finding running record books to simplify the process for teachers, and beginning our benchmark assessment filled my days.

So what is this story about? I filled my days doing what I had the resources and the capacity to do, freeing up some teacher time to leave the building after school and plan for their remote learning. I settled into my must haves, books in the hands of kids and assessment for learning. Keeping this focus tight may be the key to moving forward in this unprecedented time.

When I left the building on Friday and returned this morning, the tasks seem just as daunting. Let’s just take them chapter by chapter.

Thanks to my literacy partners, Holly McKean and Sarah Defelice for the ideas and encouragement.

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.

From Where I Stand #sol20

From Where I Stand #sol20

June 2, 2020

I’ve been mostly silent and struggling the last few days. I come from a place of privilege. Like all of us, I was born into certain circumstance, mostly advantageous. Unlike some, I was raised by parents who believed that giving back, paying forward, and deeply committing to civil rights of all was not a suggestion, but a obligation. Their’s was a life driven by faith and made flesh with action. I learned from them.

I have spent most of my career as an educator, trying to know students personally. Committing to causes that promoted the welfare of children and their families. Rising up my fellow humans. Some of that work has been with under resourced families. Some of that has been with student for which learning has been a struggle. I hope all of it has been from a place of deep personal connection.

But now my ‘color-blindness’ is not enough. So I turned to the only thing I know how to do: connect with students and families and share books.

Quite a few times in my career, I have sat across from parents and been told I don’t understand the experience of their family, their culture, their lives. They were right. In all of my days, with my best empathy, in my finest moments, I still am privileged. In that space I can’t change, I hope I’ve learned to listen and to change because I know I’m a learner, a studier, a thinker.

I’ve learned from an Ugandan father who may me feel and notice what he hoped for his son in this world, as a black man and as an immigrant. I’ve learned from a young African reader who desperately wanted to see himself and his people in the books he read. I’ve learned from my book review group, TeachersBooksReaders, to celebrate own voices and let books speak when I don’t have the authority to teach. I’ve learned from my friends, my writing group here, and the talks, books and individuals that I have followed, listen to and learned from. These experiences and people, I hope, have made me a better ally, a better advocate, a better human.

I won’t be protesting in the streets. That’s not my strength. I stand with those who do.

I will be making conscious choices: Choice about what authors to share, what conversations to boldly have, what deeply personal learning and soul-searching I’ll do as I interact with our most important resource, our future, our students.

My hope is that my actions will make a difference. Maybe the differences won’t be as quickly realized as many would hope. I pray that they will be long lasting.


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.