Missed Opportunity #sol21

Missed Opportunity #sol21

December 14, 2021

My husband saw a shooting star last night. I’m jealous.

It should have been me… The dogs woke me up at 2:00 am, snuffing my face and circling the bed. I could have gotten up then and been the one walking up the drive when the shooting star passed by. I didn’t get up. I stayed in bed and turned on the tv.

It should have been me an hour later when the puppy jumped up in the bed. She was smarter this time and went straight for Bob. I woke up cranky and full of complaints so Bob volunteered to get up with them. He got out of bed and got dressed. I laid there doing nothing, my head full of grouchiness.

It should have been me that returned to bed fifteen minutes later and quietly whispered, I saw a shooting star. Honey noticed it too.

Oh, I said, sad for myself when I should have been happy for him. I wish I had seen it.

Where? I said. I was coming up the driveway and there it was. The driveway light was off, so it was dark. Honey noticed it too. I saw that in my mind, a brilliant streak surprising both him and the dog as they walked through the dark. That’s nice, I thought. I wonder if that’s why the dogs woke us up, to see the meteors.

But I still wish it was me.

I went out with the garbage and peered hopefully into the night sky. Is this the same direction it would be now? I wondered. But there were no meteors, just the same whispering trees and twinkling planets as every other night.

Ten minutes later I was still thinking about that shooting star, the meteor shower was on the news, so I put on my shoes and walked up the driveway hopefully. The driveway light was casting a warm glow on the drive and the street beyond. I looked up but there were no shooting stars for me.

Later I was packing my school bag and picking up my phone. I saw a message from my husband. I called. You saw another one! I said before he even said hello. Yes, he said, on my way to work, there it was in the north sky. Maybe you can see one on your way too.

I didn’t see a meteor on my way to work. The dawn was already breaking when I made my way to the car and on to school.

I’m glad Bob saw those shooting stars. Everyone should have some little miracles now and again. We just have to be careful not to miss our opportunities.

Shifting the Balance #sol21

Shifting the Balance #sol21

December 7, 2021

I fell in the car line.

I have had this morning duty of helping the students out of the cars before school on and off for the last twenty-five years. I generally enjoy this duty and have written about the joy of it in previous posts. It’s a relatively simple proposition. The cars pull up, you open the door, the student(s) gets out. Occasionally the young person will need some assistance with their seat belt, their backpack, or their attitude. Day in and day out, rain, snow, dark of morning, the same duty happens.

Friday, 8:20 am and the four of us pile out of the kindergarten door and onto the pavement walk circling the front of school. The weather is good for early winter. A crisp ice blue winter sky expands over head and we comment about the blue as we take our usual places ten or so feet apart. The principal and the assistant principal both are away this day and I make a joke that something will definitely happens because of this.

Five or ten minutes pass of opening doors and calling good morning. Then a small car pulls up in front of me and I open the door. I greet the familiar mother and child in the car. The mother is turned to the back seat and the two of them are discussing some difficulty that is occurring in the car. The mother presses her foot to the gas pedal and the car revs loudly. I think momentarily that the child and I might be caught by the back wheels if she accelerates and begin to hasten the child out of the car.

In the ensuing exit, I catch my foot on what I’m not sure, the child, her backpack, the raised surface of the walk and begin to feel myself falling backwards as if in slow motion. I realize that I cannot stop the momentum of the fall and try to relax to mitigate the damage. Still, the hard surface of the sidewalk hits my legs, my back, my shoulders, and my head. Stunned, I just lay there.

Around me, the ripple of this action begins to form. The staff member at the head of the line has heard the rev and seen me disappear from her view. She assumes I have been run over by the car. She stops the mother who has pulled away and the mother gets out of her car. I don’t know any of this has happened, I am still on my back on the pavement.

The leader radios for the school nurse and tells the office that I’ve been hurt. I don’t know any of this has happened, I am still on my back on the pavement beginning to wonder how I will get up.

My colleagues around me have noticed that I have fallen and beginning to come over and peer down at me. It’s only been a minute or so, but it feels like an eternity. I am still on my back on the pavement. Someone says don’t get up. I think, I’m not sure if I can.

I begin to sit up and then consider how I will move from this sit to the stand that I eventually will have to do. I feel a little wobbly and begin to realize that a dozen cars and more than a half dozen people on the sidewalk are staring at me.

Finally, I maneuver myself into a semi-kneel and get up from the pavement with a friendly hand. All of this has taken a couple of minutes.

In those few moments I felt like a beetle suddenly turned onto its back, surprised by the events, struggling to right itself in a uncertain situation.

Isn’t that just where so many of us are now? Suddenly in a situation that we hadn’t anticipated, trying to right ourselves and unsure of our own abilities or the tools around us.

Perhaps we just need to keep into the struggle and use our wits, it may turn out just fine.

Trying Something a Little Bit Scary #sol21

I’m one of those people who has little bits of inspiration tacked up above her desk…. judge if you must.

Trying Something a Little Bit Scary Every Day. #sol21

I’m a literacy coach. I’ve gone by many titles over the years, but this is the one I’ve settled into, the one I feel in my bones. I coach students and their teachers every day Monday through Friday. I attempt coaching my husband, my sons and my dogs on the weekends and evenings, but honestly, I’m much less successful at that…

Honestly, I’m having a little crisis of faith in my own coaching abilities recently. You see, I’m asking a lot of people big and small to move out of their comfort zone to ‘where the magic happens’. I believe they call them comfort zones for a reason… they are comfortable… and secure. But unfortunately, the times they are changing. As Irene Fountas said in a recent podcast, we still have to look at those students in front of us and figure out what to do next. (I paraphrase). We can blame it on the pandemic, on the changing times, on exposure, learning loss, regardless we desperately need to dig deep and shift.

I’m struck with the difficulty of this for so many as I cajole and prod my way through the day. Everyone is trying to make life easier for themselves and perhaps those around them. It seems like a great cause, but then there’s reality.

Schools and their communities thrive on routines and common commitments. In the past few years, those routines and the fabric of those commitments has honestly frayed. We are in the business of creating a new normal and it’s …. tricky.

The next ‘testing window’ is fast approaching. Usually in January, we give a round of assessments to the students which include a benchmark assessment in reading and math along with an oral reading and comprehension assessment. Here in Massachusetts, we have many new assessment requirements to identify dyslexia, many of which we as a learning community already had in place. Typically, we did an oral reading and comprehension assessment routinely and determined the instructional reading level of each student. That was our routine. It has been my routine for decades.

If you’re an elementary educator, you sensed my sigh after that last sentence. Unless you’ve been in complete media silence, you know the debate that is raging and getting louder and louder.

Here’s what I know… I went to a research university for my undergraduate and another one for my first graduate degree. The science of reading, so to speak, was mostly new then. I’ve read Proust and the Squid. I believe in brain research… and I also believe what Irene Fountas said, there are still students in front of us, that we need to do our own research on, and then plan accordingly. As a coach, I want to help educators in my learning community bridge that thinking.

It’s true, some of old ways don’t work. I don’t know if they always were faulty or a new generation of students has required us to rethink them. Most of these ‘new’ old ideas make sense to me …. and balance literacy still makes sense to me as well. The criticism is strong and it sounds compelling, but one thing I learned at that research university is that research is always a little biased… and people naturally want to be the one others are listening too.

So as I sit down with those teachers, I’m not going to ask them to veer off the road they’ve traveled so to speak. I am going to ask them to think about brain research, consider the students in front of them, and systematically try something scary, something new, something that might just make all the difference.

A Prayer for Pies #sol21

A Prayer for Pies #sol21

November 23, 2021

There are currently two Thanksgiving pies in my fairly new oven. They smell delicious. One is pumpkin pie and the other is pecan pie. Seems pretty straight-forward. I’ve been making pies for forty years, at least. Why am I a little apprehensive?

A few truths about me that weigh into this trepidation…. I rarely use the same recipe twice for… anything. I don’t worry if the recipe is hard or easy, if it takes Madagascar Cinnamon or dark corn syrup or is the one Martha Stewart herself made last Thanksgiving. I say to myself and anyone near the kitchen, let’s do this thing… and then I go for it.

I would love to lie right now and say this aways turns out for me… it definitely does not. However, in the comfort of this moment filled with hope and possibility, I would say that it turns out more often than not. The anticipation of a new triumph, a hoped-for success is incredibly gratifying. Worth every one of the times that the experiment ended up half-eaten or deleted from my data base of recipes.

These particular pies seem to be a larger challenge that usual. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is because I haven’t been challenging my culinary talents lately. Perhaps because I made two different pies simultaneously. Perhaps… it’s my current life climate…

You see this go-for-the-challenge, this-could-be-amazing stance doesn’t reserve itself to my baking. I like to go for the new challenge, let’s-give-this-a-go, why-not choice professionally as well. The obvious benefit, new experiences around every corner. The challenge, not everyone is up to jumping right off the cliff. For me, much like these pies that are starting to smell like success, so many of these challenges have been absolutely amazing.

A few have been near-hits, almost-misses, half-successes, and a few have even been, oh-well-nothing-ventured-nothing-gained. Still I don’t really regret any of the out-on-the-limb experiences I have in my kitchen or in my coaching. It all turns out in the end. We either succeed or… we learn.

The pies, from my Test-Kitchen cookbook, were a challenge, a cooked custard base for both, one requiring a candy thermometer. Double-boiling, constant stirring, seven eggs, it was a few hour commitment. Now I’m waiting. Waiting to see how it all works out. I can still smell the pecans and the spicy pumpkins, I’m hopeful…

The last weeks I’ve been pushing my collaborative teachers to teach with a different recipe. Dig deep into their possibilities and try something out of their regular practice because the students in front of us need all the strategies we can muster. As we move forward, trying more scientific, more challenging, more experimental ‘recipes’ for our work may very well give us results like we have never seen before.

That kind of experiment, that willingness to move past our headlights so to speak, has honestly been a hallmark of my coaching. Many teachers I collaborate with have grown to trust that experimenting. Maybe because they’ve tasted the sweet success of the ideas … and the baking. Definitely it’s because everyone wants the students to succeed.

So I’ve put myself out there with the pies. The timer just went off so we’ll know soon enough.

The pecan looks pretty good. I wish I would have put a few more pecans in the pie, more than it said in the recipe, but it’s a solid pie with a little bit of a wonky crust. Crust is definitely not my specialty. The pumpkin is taking a little longer than expected. It is a little wobbly in the center. That’s the problem with pumpkin pie, if you don’t get the custard just right, it won’t set up.

The good news is that even if it doesn’t work out, I bought enough pumpkin to give it another go. Still I just left it in the oven a little longer. I’ll give it just a little more time.

Again, it makes me think of the new strategies I’m encouraging in our learning community. They might turn out a little different than expected. They might need a little more time. We might tweak the recipe a little the next time.

So I’ll keep trying new recipes or improving the recipes I have. My legacy to my families, school and home, is to not be afraid to try something new. It might just be amazing.

Habit… and Hope #sol21

This is only a portion of the shower. The glass is fairly sizable. Lots of real estate to squeegee.

Habit… and Hope #sol21

November 16, 2021

My husband and I had two of our bathrooms renovated over the course of the last seven months, two of which were waiting for these custom glass shower doors. I’ve never lived in a home with a clear glass shower door.

The day the installers came, they carefully installed the brass fixtures and placed the glass into the shower openings. They taped a big note to the front of the shower door that said we had to wait 48… hours to open the doors. Along with the note was this special squeegee, what looked like an ancient car of special glass cleaner and … four pages of instructions on how to take care of these glass shower doors. The instructions stated to squeegee the shower doors with the special squeegee after EACH use.

I waited with anticipation the two full days that we were to wait for our shower. My husband took the first shower. When I went into the bathroom later, there were water droplets all over the inside of the doors. I looked around for the special squeegee. It was no where to be found. Where’s the squeegee? I called from the hallway. I’m not sure, he answered. Maybe it’s in the office with the paperwork.

Dutifully, I trudged into office and found the special squeegee discarded on top of his printer. I took the squeegee out of the larger plastic bag with the directions, unwrapped the shrink-wrapped plastic from the handle and returned to the shower. I haven’t used a squeegee often, so I surveyed the shower doors for a couple of seconds and then started in squeegee the water from the top to the bottom of the door. Does this look blue? How do I get around the handles? Getting most of the water off, I took a soft cloth as instructed and wiped the rest of the water off the edges of the door and off all of the hardware.

We’ve had access to the shower doors for four days now. Our lower level shower’s doors have been installed for six weeks or so. To my knowledge no one in my household except me has used the squeegee to remove the water from the shower doors. I was considering all of these things this morning as I squeegeed the shower door. I also considered how long it takes to squeegee the shower door, was I going to be the only person to squeegee this shower door, and… how long it takes to build a habit. You see, I was wondering if I was going to be able to sustain my shower door squeegeeing habit over time.

Yesterday, I tried something different for our monthly building-based curriculum meeting. Instead of the party-atmosphere (In my mind) collaborative school-wide learning we have done for the decade or so that I’ve been their literacy coach, I prepared a self-directed learning experience for the educators in my building. I sat in the literacy center and each teacher conducted his/her own learning, perhaps in the company of others on their grade-level team. I eagerly anticipated that perhaps someone would choose the directions that offered a chat with me or a perusal of the text sets that I had prepared in the literacy center. For me, it was a long hour. Like the shower door people, I had prepared a long list of instructions and resources, left the ‘tools’ nearby. Unlike the shower door people who I am relatively certain aren’t concerned about whether I use the tools on my shower door or not, I am deeply committed to whether my colleagues try something new and perhaps develop a new habit.

In their exit ticket, my colleagues indicated that they liked this new and different way to learn. They self-reported that this learning was helpful to them. In these times, we are trying to give teachers more “voice and choice” so to speak, building their efficacy through trust and self-direction. After all, the people doing the work are doing the learning.

What about the learning? They reported that the content was beneficial as well.

I don’t know if what I hoped would shine through my resources, google slides, and categories will become habits. I don’t know if this way of studying will become our new norm or just a selection on a menu of possibilities. I don’t if my husband will try out the squeegee or even if it will become a habit for me. However, I remain hopeful.

Reflections #sol21

the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it.
“the reflection of light” ; serious thought or consideration.

Reflection #sol21

November 9, 2021

This is a week assembled for reflections of many kinds.

Veteran’s Day, this Thursday, is a day to reflect on sacrifices made. Some veteran’s are coming to read to the first graders on Friday. Our librarian and I combed through our collection to develop a text set for them to choose from, but how can we know what they want to read aloud. It seems so deeply personal. Do they want to tell a story about heroes close to home or a survival story of a veteran returning making those slow steps back? Do they want a book describing Veteran’s Day or Veteran’s memorials like The Wall or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? I’m not sure for my reflections of this day will be far different from the veteran’s who will sit in front of those first graders this Friday.

On Sunday, the day was crisp and sunny and as my husband and I drove by a nearby river, I said, Look at how beautiful that is! It was beautiful, the yellow and orange leaves reflected on the absolutely still water. Those views in those moments fill all of my senses and my heart to the brim. I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it is the moment of exquisite beauty that fills me.

Yesterday, I had a phone call with a classroom educator. Spur of the moment I asked her, why do you think teachers are anxious right now? What is it that is making everyone less resilient? While I have my suspicions, I was exactly expecting what she said. Everyone’s worried about catching their students up, meeting standards, getting them back on track… she said. It was a forest and trees moment for me. Of course, we know that the students have missed school and some learning, but could this throw all of us just a little off course? Where the experiences everyone was having in their classrooms enough to make every task feel harder? I suppose it is.

Recently, I was asked to complete a lengthy survey from the school district. I put it off for days. It seemed too long. I wasn’t feeling reflective. What was the point? But when I had that phone conversation with that educator, she had completed it. I decided why not. I wondered as I began, why were these questions chosen, why were there so many about a single subject reworded and reworded it seemed to … see if I might change my mind. The truth is, I might have had a completely different mind about things this morning v. yesterday v. any other day. I wondered what would become of this information. By the time my responses were aggregated with the 1,000 or so other responses, who would be reflecting on what they might mean? What insight might they draw from whether I felt like people respected me times all my colleagues or whether I felt like I had friends at work?

Yesterday, I spent an hour watching a student teacher in her writing workshop, her mini-lesson, her small groups, her transitions, her conferring. It’s quite a while since I spent an entire hour observing and reflecting. I listened to her words. I watched the students reactions. I looked for adjustments. I considered what I might say to her. In the end, I asked her for her reflection. How did she think it went? Her answer surprised me. It made me realize something about reflections.

All of these reflections are multi-faceted, the image I see or perceive based on my own experiences and expectations, the actual thing that happened, and the joint reflection of everyone else in the experience whether they voice those reflections or not.

It was a week for reflection. What will I learn from them?

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.

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.