MMM… Multitasking Moment

MMM… Multitasking Moment

October 12, 2021

I’m a reforming multitasker… I say reforming because I don’t really think I’m going to give it up. Perhaps I don’t even want to. I used to have a little card on my bulletin board above my desk that said, the people that get things done are the ones that do things one at a time… Did those people actually have only 20 or so waking hours a day and work with any other humans???

This is a story about a moment of multitasking that plays out nearly every morning on my way to work. Oh, you say, you’re one of those!?! Yes, I am in fact one of those people who cannot waste a single second of the drive to work. (or sometimes home). On any given day you can find me drinking a glass of water before I have to wear a mask for 7 hours, eating breakfast out of my handbag, listening to a podcast on a literacy, and at stop lights taking notes or reading emails.

Recently, I have been listening to lots of podcasts on the science of reading. So many thoughts on this, but today, I just want to share the track of one thought. Spelling-3 Cueing-3rd Grade-Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I was listening to a podcaster answer questions about why the theory of 3 cueing isn’t valid and why spelling is such a problem in third grade. Her point was that students become dependent on three cueing and when they cannot use those tools in books that are reliant on only words, reading breaks down. Hmmm, I thought. I’ll bite. Let’s consider this. All my hypothetical third graders only want to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid (sort of true). Perhaps this is because, they can use the pictures to gain meaning in the same way they could in Henry and Mudge. If we acknowledge that students have a propensity to read whole words and rely on context, we tell them that we know this is the case. We offer a solution, albeit a tedious one, decoding each word. Will this grow better readers?

These are the things I consider on my commute. I can’t wait to give this theory some legs. Do you think this is how Cinnamon Toast Crunch was invented? Some one putting random thoughts together on their commute? Maybe I should forget helping kiddos use different reading strategies and help them consider their free thought as a gold mine.

Searching for Joy #sol21

not my actual turkey sighting

Searching for Joy #sol21

September 21, 2021 (fullmoon)

I’m not going to lie. Yesterday was as the youth say, a ‘trashcan fire’. I woke up fairly optimistic. I love assessment days. Spending the whole day listening to students, talking to them about their shoes, and their tshirts, their talent… It’s usually my favorite time of year. Yesterday, the fates were not exactly with us. The intervention team was a little apprehensive. The assessments felt more new than familiar. The setting and the platform, the additional assessments were just enough of a change to put everyone a little on edge. We were spread a little thin. Then, the technology failed us. Really failed us. The first grade team was flexible. They were patient. They were problem-solvers. The morning was rough.

I built up that unleashed tension and when I arrived home yesterday afternoon, I felt like a porcupine. One touch and those quills would shoot out all over the place. I groused around in the kitchen, grumbling and complaining about ridiculous things and all the things I hadn’t been able to control at school. Maybe I’m just too old for this. I used to be able to shake this off. I said to no one in particular. The more I just said it all, the more I made a meatloaf and fed the dogs, the day began to not look great, but not also not look like a disaster.

This morning, I put on my back-to-school night clothes and rocked my sparkle shoes. Driving down the street something caught my eye. I stopped to watch six or so turkeys having a full-on dance party. Swirling and dipping, sashaying in a circle, these turkeys were dancing. I stopped the car to watch for a moment and I laughed. Right there at 6:20 am, in my car, alone, I laughed and laughed.

And then it struck me. We are all just searching for joy. Sometimes we have to look really close.

Earlier this summer, crabby from quarantine, Bob and I wandered into a shoes store with no intention of buying anything. It was hot outside and cool inside the store. We were bored with home and generally milling around. I spotted some sparkly platform sneakers on a top shelf and on a whim, took them down, put them on and began to dance around in the aisle making both of us laugh. A teacher I knew happened by as this occurred and said, I dare you to buy those shoes. Sure, why not? The shoes came home with me and Bob said, you are never going to wear those shoes.

I wear these shoes a lot. They still make me laugh when I look down and you know what, they make other people smile as well.

So what of today and tomorrow and all of those seemingly unsurmountable troubles that swirl around? They will still be there. So will dancing turkeys… and sparkle shoes… and joy.

Don’t miss it.

The “To-Do” List #sol21

The To-Do List

September 14, 2021

When 4:45 pm rolled around yesterday, I was sitting at my desk in the literacy center with quite a long to-do list. I was busily writing down all of, or most of, the issues that had come up after our assessment training just completed at 4:15. A small trail of teachers had stopped me after the meeting for suggestions or questions, and then some had dropped into the literacy center after as other things occurred to them.

As the silence settled, I thought about the to-do list, so many important things to accomplish, concerns to settle, details to work out… I looked at my open notebook, my desk scattered with post-its and pencils, my laptop with fifteen tabs open and I sighed. Should I stay just fifteen minutes, a half-hour, another hour and wipe this to-do list or should I go home and do all of the at home things waiting for me there.

Yesterday, I left the to-do list for today, they seem to go together. In the breaking light of a new day, I began considering that to-do list anew. Puzzling over some details, shifting ideas in my mind, thinking over the coffee maker, the hair dryer, the dog walk. I nod to myself. This is a to-do list that can get done today. I put on that extra bright sweater, find my cloud mask, fill my coffee carafe, hug the dog.

I drive to work resisting the temptation to listen to a practice related podcast, shifting the channels on the radio to one peppy upbeat song after another, thinking still about the to-do list, but it’s shrinking in my mind just like that bad word in Elbert’s Bad Word. I glance down at the sparkle shoes, I really do feel like the good witch in Wizard of Oz in these. I let cars in as I pass in traffic. I think, do you think these small good deeds multiply or accumulate?

At school, I turn on all the lights in the literacy center, arrange the flowers in the vase… on top of that to-do list waiting. I plan my first consult as I touch each blossom.

The to-do list is still there. I haven’t done one single thing on it… yet. But the plan is forming.

There will be a new to-do list today to replace every single item I accomplish on this list.

It’s inevitable.

But, so is the mindset we create about to-do lists.

They can get done.

Hitting the Ground… #sol21

Hitting the Ground… #sol21

August 31, 2021

I wanted to title this Hitting the Ground Running, but I don’t think that’s the approach I’m taking this year.

I am approaching the school year cautiously and thoughtfully.

Yesterday was day one-ish. A day of preparing and professional development.

I resisted spending the last super hot week in the school building, opting to prepare schedules, plans and professional development outlines at home surrounded by a restroom I share with no one, many lunch options, and sans mask.

It was a good call.

I had given the literacy center a thorough straighten at the end of the year. All I needed to return were my summer study books.

Last week, I had decided to be proactive and invited the grade level teams and one intervention teams to a half hour review Monday morning of our district goals for this year and possible means to achieving the goal. I also invited the principal to come along to my coaching cycle. Our training goal this year, way overdue, is Firm Goals, Flexible Means.

The goals this year are deceptively simple.

Much in the way that I’m concern for how the students will return to us this fall, I am concerned for our teachers. Will they have recovered from the previous eighteen months? These new explorations will strike at the heart of balanced literacy and many of the core beliefs that are the bedrock of reading workshop. Will we have the flexibility to integrate new ideas?

So we sat and talked grade level after grade level, listening, talking, waiting, committing.

It was beautiful.

These educators after a year of struggle are prepared to do what is needed to help their student recover, emotionally and developmentally. Not one person talked about loss. No one complained about our past vulnerability to harm or even to the current threat.

They considered. They asked. They suggested.

Today, they asked for more. We talked more. We planned more.

Tomorrow we will have one more day of deep self directed learning before we greet our students for the year.

We have unspoken hopes. Hope of a safe, healthy, full year of learning. Hope that this in-person, full day learning will reap strong learning outcomes for our students.

A good start so far, I’m energized for the work. Not running into it this year, but moving forward, bringing everyone along.

The Pantry #sol21

The Pantry #sol21

August 10, 2021

I have a secret. Sometimes I bite off way more that I can chew. If you aren’t well-versed in midwestern idioms, I’ll translate. Every summer, I set out this long list of intentions as if I actually have three months to accomplish them. Seven weeks into the summer I realize that I have accomplished exactly four of these things and that here I am at the Sunday night of summer with little to show for it.

I am aware that I could just take a sabbatical for those weeks. I am not obligated (well, actually I am) to accomplish most of this list. But yet, the pressure is decades in the making.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed like this, I remind myself to do just one thing at a time and then… I abandon the to-do list and clean the pantry.

This may seem counterintuitive, the door will still close on the pantry. I can retrieve most of what I need. Perhaps there are only three cans of chickpeas.

Here’s the thing. Cleaning the pantry is manageable. I can be reasonable sure that I can get in there in the morning and be finished, actually finished by noontime with relatively no casualties. One full job completely done and visually confirmed. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s magical. Much like baking a batch of cookies. (see many other posts), this act can turn it all around for me. It’s a treasure hunt, a grab bag, a challenge, and a little bit of archeology.

So one day in the recent past, I cleared the counters and started in.

The top shelf of the pantry is mostly crackers and chips, nuts and lunch box fillers. It is quick work. Nothing too surprising there, though I was looking for that lost box of straws and wondering why I have two opened packages of dried snap pea chips. I ate the little bit of nuts left in the container and moved on.

The second shelf is pasta, beans, various noodles, and rice. It’s always a grab bag of recipe left overs that I might not have actually made or remnants of good ideas left by the wayside.

I was so astounded by my own accumulation of pasta that I made a list to post on the pantry door. I have to definitely work through them. I will be scouring the internet for a tagliatelle recipe tonight.

That plus sign next to the thin spaghetti denotes five packages of thin spaghetti languishing on the shelf. I do like carbonara…

This exercise is soul cleaning. I already feel lighter and I’m just on shelf number two. It occurs to me that I might be a food hoarder… or I let Mr. K randomly put things in the basket at the grocery. Definitely an accumulator. With the pasta shelf complete, I move on to THE CANS.

I’m not sure why I ever by anything in a can. I am adverse to so many canned things. I divide the cans to categories. Tomatoes and all that define themselves in that way. Beans… so many beans. Jellies? Why do I have five, six, seven different jellies? I blame some on gifts and farmers’ markets, but what will I do with ALL OF THIS JELLY???

The bottom shelf is oil and vinegar, no literally, oil and vinegar. If you don’t know how someone can accumulate eight or nine different types of vinegar and the same number of oils, I have so much to explain. I should explain never making the same exact thing twice or planning on the weekend for the week of cooking or just …. why I should throw more out!?

By the time I completed the last shelf my mood is lifted as predicted. I move on to the baking cabinet, but that’s a story for another day.

judge away about the instant potatoes, they come in handy. Do you want a good recipe for a couscous salad?

Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Butter

Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Peas

Tagliatelle with Garlicky Tomato Sauce

I should also clean out the refrigerator….

Almost #sol21

I almost stopped writing. It’s been four weeks since I’ve written or posted to my blog. I could have let it go. Just stopped.

Goodness knows this last year has been a struggle. Felt tired all the time and there never seemed to be a good time to write or even much to write about.

Little sparks of ideas would come, but I let them slip away. I didn’t record them on a stickie or in my idea journal. I’m not sure I even know where my journal is right now.

I have a million excuses for not writing. The endless noisy construction filling the house every day. The dreary rain for the last twenty days. The momentum I have lost pulls stronger than the pull to write.

But then today or yesterday, I was watching a writing lesson video about helping student start a writing journal for the first time. Their seed ideas and half written stories accumulating and waiting to be connected together. And then… the teacher said the magic words, the secret combination that elbowed that tiny ember deep inside. She said, “and perhaps you will keep one too.”

I remembered. I remembered writing for kids. I remember writing about teaching. I remember writing about aha moments and challenges, small moments and random observations.

I still resisted. It isn’t really that easy. It’s like quiting exercising or good eating habits It is so much easier to just float away from that person you were. The writer, the thinker, the watcher.

I was blissfully having a Tuesday. Well it wasn’t blissful, it was a Tuesday slipping away. Suddenly I noticed the words beginning to compose in that space in that corner in that recess in my brain. And I wanted to write. I didn’t want to worry about audience or composition. I wanted to just start here and absolutely. Right. Now.

And so I did. I’ll be digging out a notebook in the morning. That was a close one.

The Heart of the Matter #sol21

The Heart of the Matter #sol21

June 15, 2021

I had my evaluation recently.

I had poured over my evidence rubric, my goals for this crazy year, my conferring notebook.
I added 28 pieces of evidence to my document. It took a long time and at the end, when I reflected on the pivoting, the reframing, the supporting, I felt really good about this year.

Really, really good.

I wasn’t sure about my evaluator’s view.

How will others know your worth?

Not that it’s everything, but I keep a little collection each year of the thank you’s I receive. Scrawled on stickies, hastily written on scraps, or carefully constructed in beautiful cards, for me, each one is encouragement to keep moving forward.

But how does someone else view you, a single person in a single position in a building full of others.

The truth is… probably not the way you view yourself.

The things my supervisor chose to highlight about my work were not the things I thought were milestones. They were not the things that kept me up or made me arrive early to puzzle out the details. They were not the small triumphs or the amazing breakthroughs with teachers and students that still make me smile when I think of them.

They were what he noticed. I’m proud of those things too, but they didn’t take much of my talent or my time.

I was disappointed… really disappointed.

But when I went to my meeting, I said aloud… and then I believed, (Because sometimes we have to believe before

we see. I compiled this for myself. I am showing myself what I accomplished this year. I gained perspective about my own actions.

and then I thought… I am not just evaluated by the person that signs the paper. Each one of those stickie notes, those smiles, those teachers who drop by to ask me if they can just talk to me for one minute, they are my true view of my worth.

Those kiddos who say are you coming to my class today? Do you have that book you were telling me about? Let’s read one more chapter, they are my ‘bread and butter.’

This single data point does not define my whole career. It doesn’t even define the other 179 days of this school year. It defines what I let it define.

So my take away… my contribution is perhaps not as transparent as I hope it will be and….

I’m doing it for a bigger audience… and

a higher purpose.

So next year, I might make what I do more noticeable or… I might just keep on keeping on. Keep compiling my stickies and my conferring notes, my smiley faces on my calendar and my early morning coffee talks with teachers.

I mean, why not? I gave myself a good evaluation and plenty of ideas of things I can work on in the future. I may not be half bad at this self evaluation thing. After all, I feel really, really good about this year.

No Idling #sol21

No Idling #sol21

June 8, 2021

As I drove into campus on a recent early, early morning, this new sign greeted me. So true! I thought. We are headed straight on ’til morning.

In the past, we took a more relaxed approached to these weeks in June. We read aloud. We did independent writing projects. We wrote book reviews. We celebrated all that we had learned in our whole learning community. This year, we have moved from one frantic, fractured pace to another. Everyone is tired, even the students. It doesn’t help that we have had the largest earliest heatwave ever. As many things this year, the fates seemed stacked against us. It might be easy to look on this year, this situation, as a loss.

And yet…we can find the bright spots if we look closely.

The last few weeks I have been meeting with the grade levels to review data. Many, many years, that felt like a celebration. The students grew so much in a year, they were ready to strike out into the next. All in all, a love fest. This year the data is a little harder to interpret. The students have only been back for six short week every day. Any data collection I would routinely recommend would have six weeks at the closest collection point and we collected this data at week 4 full time. I did notice cracks in that rosy outlook. It would be easy to focus on the have-nots and the not-quites, the what-we-couldn’t, what-we-didn’t.

But I am self-proclaimed in charge of celebrations, so how to celebrate when I feel the nagging of those not-quites.

When I metaphorically pulled up alongside the first batch of teachers, I wanted just celebrate what I could. I gave them the high percentage of students on the benchmark assessment that we’re at or above grade level. I pointed out how many students were reading at the ‘targeted’ benchmark, a testament to how we got so many books in the hands of readers during their off weeks. I noticed accuracy in reading, a rise in fluency.

I talked to them about the ‘how‘ of this work. I spoke of what I noticed that they did so well, their grit and their commitment to the curriculum. I asked them what they enjoyed, what was a gift to them. We talked about the volume of writing, the time to meet with individual students, the small class sizes. The teachers took up the celebration, cheering our intervention teacher at their grade, talking about individual student’s growth, their own joys.

It felt good. It felt right. It felt like a celebration.

So as I said early this year, I’m in charge of celebrations. I do have a few worries for the future. Those will keep for another day. These weeks as we head off to rest, they are going to be about the bright spots. They will be a good starting place as we move forward.

Marie-Kondo-ing the Literacy Center #sol21

This is not and will not be the literacy center at my school.

Marie-Kondo-ing the Literacy Center

May 25, 2021

I began shifting the contents of the literacy center in earnest over a month ago.

I began thinking about shifting the contents of the literacy center ten years ago.

An hour ago, the custodian said to me, Don’t you clear out this room every year?

Weeks ago, I started making sticky notes that say things like… Clear me out! Be Brutal!

I have made five or six lists and completed all the tasks.

I went through the teacher resource books and pitched almost everything not written in this decade.

I made a pile of six books that I thought everyone should read, put them in the teacher work room with some love notes.

I began weeding my personal “corner” of books. I took two boxes home where I thought perhaps they were going to ‘die’. Then I started giving the rest away.

I had to pause when I got to the picture books. My heart started to hurt.

I started with my first grade books, I have had them the longest. If they could brag, they would tell you how many young readers they pushed over the the brink into seeing themselves as readers. I mean, The Nosy Pup? Tiny? Bob said to me, what if they just pitch them?, after I gave them to a young teacher. I won’t know, I said. They won’t, I said. It’s ok, I said.

I gave a big pile of novels to a second-year teacher. Her class said, these were all Mrs. Kennedy’s books?! If they only knew, I thought. Just like Marie Kondo said, I considered did they give me joy? Would they bring more joy in someone else’s hands? Another big group became series offerings in the leveled readers. Roscoe Rules that I bought for that third grader who didn’t like anything. Ivy and Bean for that girl who didn’t think she could read. That funny mystery with the parrot that I saved for my boy groups in fourth grade… They will be close when I need them and others’ can use them, I thought.

I became a little sad and began to feel untethered. I kept going, dusting, and holding, looking and letting go. I went through all of my professional text and packed them up and took them home. I kept only four resource text at school. I move those school owned teacher books to the shelves where my books had been. I thought to myself, this might be the longest I’ve ever stayed at one school. Quickly, I didn’t even want to think that. Should I throw a little salt over my shoulder?

I emptied all our former benchmarking materials… Made a shelf of phonic readers. Moved the biographies and added all the newer fresher titles. I moved the fourth grade novels for historical fiction and their picture books down the hall to the fourth grade closet along with their friends, social issues book clubs, literary essays, and biographies.

Then the third grade mysteries went to the third grade closet along with their pollinator books. I made myself a spreadsheet of all the books. I ordered more book bins. Maybe I am making some progress.

I processed the huge grant book influx. I sent many of them to live in classrooms.

I decided to give myself 4 shelves for my personal books after the third teacher in an hour asked me for a particular book.

On and on I clean and clear, read and remember, and yet there is so much more to do.

When it’s finished, I’ll be lighter, the room will be brighter and all that joy will be spread around.

At least that’s what I hope.

I definitely need to set a deadline.

No takers yet.

enticements in reading #sol21

enticements in reading #sol21

I have always suspected that my role for some was a book finder for themselves as teachers and also for their students. It makes sense. I am a literacy specialist after all and I live in the literacy center at our school filled with books and formerly known as the book room. However, what enfolded last week caught me off guard.

The literacy center/book room is currently in upheaval. We received a chance infusion with a large grant for both diverse texts and to build the book back from the devastation of the past year of book movement. While in the midst of shifting things piece by piece, on any given day at any given time, it can be overwhelming ever for me.

So when I find a note in a pile from a teacher asking to drop by and see her that ‘we need help’, I didn’t know if she still needed the help and if this note was from this week or from some time in the distant past. Sigh…. I thought it might not hurt to check in so when I saw her in the teacher work room, i asked if she had dropped by earlier.

I had no idea what she might need or ask about. Really none. She turned with a smile and said Oh, my friend (student) and I dropped in today because I told him YOU were the person that could find him a book he would like to read. He says all books are boring.

This is definitely the kind of project I love. A challenge to find a book, to shop for books with a reader. I came right down to her classroom. It’s been so long.

I didn’t know this young reader. When I arrived at the room, I made the decision to take him to our school library, a room the students haven’t visited since March of 2020. None of the students have seen our librarian in real life in her natural habitat for so long and she hasn’t had a chance to do what she is really best at, help individual student find a perfect book.

This plan is starting to feel like a WIN-WIN… WIN, WIN, WIN!

So I scoot down the hall to this second grade and collect my book shopper. On the way to the library, I start asking questions about books… They went something like this…

Me: What kind of books do you like?

Shopper: I really don’t like any book.

Me: (in head) Oh jeez! Per usual, a tough customer. (aloud) Ok then… do you like books like Dogman?

Shopper: Haven’t read it…

Me: Graphic Novels?

Shopper: No

Me: (in my head) Oh… I see why the closer was brought in… (aloud) So short book? funny? animals? boys? sports?

Shopper: Funny I guess.

Me: (in my head) Pressure’s on. (aloud) Ok, here’s the plan. We’ll find a few books. Read a little in each and see if we can find something that’s just right. Ok?

Shopper looks at me skeptically.

I greet the librarian, explain our plan. She sized him up. I see her brain start working. We pick out a 6-8 books together quickly, sorting as we go. Our shopper doesn’t say much as we ask him questions as we go. In a few minutes we have our stack and I invite our shopper to have a seat on the couches with me and try out a few books for size.

I can feel his skepticism pouring off him as I say, why don’t you read a chapter of this one and see how you like it?

He tries most, rejecting a few without even trying based on cover or title or… self preservation.

Finally, we have a stack of four books. Mostly simpler reads. Captain Awesome. Turbo. Flying Beaver Brothers.

I’m feeling pretty good about it. He seems ok.

Hopefully, my reputation as a ‘book seller’ is still intact. We shall see.

I’ll be checking in with him to keep it going. Let’s see if I still have the touch.