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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Ten Minutes

I started back to school yesterday. My lesson plans were pretty loose. I had some general things I wanted to accomplish and my expectations were pretty low as far as achieving "normal day" status. We started off slow, and by mid-morning kids had fresh books to read and were choosing reading spots for the month of January.

Since the beginning of the year, I've been giving students almost daily sacred writing time. I've done this in the past but this year I made a real commitment to doing it daily. Sacred writing allows students to write about whatever they'd like in any genre. They can work on collaborative projects, blog, or just write in their notebooks if that's what they prefer. It is separate from our writing workshop time. I dedicate about ten minutes a day give or take. I have a lot of kids working on books together and making publications for our Student Authors Reading Box in our classroom library. I have had more students writing at home than any other year before and had a parent scan and send me a 13-page book their child made AT HOME! It is fully illustrated about a character he has created.

I sat in my classroom yesterday during sacred writing time and watched students QUICKLY get their materials and get right back to their independent projects. I just sat and watched. One interaction that I found particularly interesting and exciting was a table of three boys, papers spread out all over the table and a heated debate on the direction they were taking the book next. They were quietly arguing, lots of "No, I think we should..." or "I don't think that should go there." They were completely civil, getting their point across and never needed my input, they had it figured out eventually.

We ended up accomplishing a whole lot more than I would have ever anticipated for the first day back after a break. It was a refreshing surprise and I was feeling pretty proud of my class.
Not everything I do every day has a tremendous impact on students. I do my best. Not every part of our day is perfect but I have to say, those ten minutes were pretty outstanding.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

OLW 2019

When this time of year comes around, I usually revisit all my past words.

2018-Note
2017-Step
2016-Possible
2015-Open
2014-Silence
2013-Pace

When I go back and think through my past words I also usually revisit those times in my life and think about what was going on in each of those years. It's like a walk down memory lane in some respects. 

This year, like every year, I struggled to come up with a word. I've been grappling with several waiting for the word to hit me like it usually does. In some strange moment or encounter, the word always becomes crystal clear.


I've tossed around many. Heart was a really strong contender for quite a while. I even started a playlist inspired by the word, but it didn't feel like the best choice. Start was a thought for a while. Then I thought about Finish. Both of these were inspired by long amounts of procrastination. I felt like I had a trial run with each and neither seemed to make an impact. Then I went back and read several of my OLW posts and I realized every year I seem to reflect in some way. I always want to be just a little bit better. I don't have any desire to be the best at all things, but I do hope to be better at all the things I want to do in life.

Things like:
  • be a good mom
  • supportive wife
  • helpful daughter and sister
  • empathetic citizen
  • inspiring teacher
  • encouraging colleague
  • empowering writer 
I just want to be a little bit better version of myself. Knowing that not every day will get me closer but some days will. 2019 is a good year to focus on what is better and what goals I'm setting for myself. I'm sure there will be some surprises along the way too.
Cheers!


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Three Stanza Celebration

Boxes were stacked
Paper was torn
Smiles were big
and muffins were warm

Games put in bags
Packed for the road
We hopped in the car
Through flurries and cold

A dinner, White Christmas,
and a round of Eye Know
Then we all said goodbye
and went back to our home. 


This was one of the most low-key Christmas celebrations I can remember. It was nice. It was quick. It was full. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Fruit Salad


Sunday morning was a day for cleaning in the crevices. A good opportunity to do an extra scrub here and there. My parents were coming into town for my son's band concert that afternoon and the fog in the air hung longer than usual. I worried about the glaze of ice it might leave behind. 
Though it was a slower trip for them than usual, they made it to the concert and we listened and bopped to all the bands' holiday sounds. 
Following the concert, we all drove back to our house to visit. 
Whenever my parents visit, my mom always has something for me, my kids, or my husband. It could be something she saw at the store, a book, or an item she's been holding onto that's been in the family.
When we settled in at the house, she pulled out a bag saying, "Now, I just have a couple things to give you," and began taking out items wrapped in brown tissue with red stars. 
  • Two snowflake tea light candle holders. 
    • One is now in the kitchen, and one is in the living room. 
  • A snowman decorative teapot with matching cup base. The base has a sweater-like texture.
    • My daughter has already unwrapped it from the safety of its box and used it!
  • A Christmas table runner.
    • It now rests happily on one end of my dining room table. 
  • One Christmas gift bag.
    • My daughter is using it to take gifts to school for her friends. 
  • Cherry-O-poly, the board game. 
    • Both of my kids have already taken this out and looked over all the pieces. 
  • And last, a green glass bowl. 

The green glass bowl was actually the first item I opened up but it is last in the list because it was most certainly the best. When I opened it my reaction told me mom I remembered it. 
I think my first audible response was a half gasp and half "OOOOooooh."
"You remember?" she said with a smile. 
"Yes! I love it." 
I love the green bowl. At that moment I could see it at every Thanksgiving and Christmas on the tables of my childhood. It may have held many things in its lifetime but I remember it holding the fruit salad. Now, I get to hold the bowl and fill it with new memories. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Sparked by a Photo


Each morning when I get to my classroom, I turn on my computer and settle my things into their parking spots for the day. On my desktop, which is on top of a lecturn, my monitor displays a slideshow of photos. I always look forward to what the first picture will be each day when I flip on the switch.

Some of the pictures are of my own children at museums, outside of storefronts, or eating ice cream. Several are snapshots of students, some from years ago. Photos of kindergarteners gathered around tubs of blocks or markers, students proudly displaying a creation, and play dough smiles.

The first picture today was a snapshot from writing workshop many years ago. Seven little bodies all around a short table, each of them making books and drawings. Little cups of markers spill over the table, and everyone looks content. Some are smiling, some look like they are talking, others are focused intently on their work. Those same students are now in sixth grade, middle schoolers and I  sometimes wonder what kinds of stories they are writing now. I wonder if they ever huddle around a table together with markers and paper.

As their teacher, when they are five, you rarely are thinking about what they will be like when they are eleven or twelve. It's mostly about the present moment with occasional predictions for the future. It's always nice to run into former students, catch a glimpse of them at a school event or in the district newsletter. It's also nice to catch a glimpse of their little selves too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Waiting for the Fizzle


Don't misread that title. It does not say, Frizzle, as in the ultimate bus residing teacher of young children, Miss Frizzle. Aaah...Magic School Bus. I absolutely loved watching that show with my own children when they were smaller. I used it as a teacher now and then too.
It was the perfect--
indoor recess
three classes
crammed into one room
short,
captivating,
informative,
almost movie,
television show.

But Frizzle will need to wait. Today I hopped on my blog because I'm hosting slice of life and I knew I had a couple of drafts in my queue. I wasn't sure I'd use any, but I had not looked at them in a while. As I began to scroll, I realized I have over a dozen drafts. A dozen entry points with no exit or aaahs (sighs) at the end for closure. As I began to read through some of them, I realized why. Many have slices or cuts of what could be considered a negative tone, or in some cases a dose of reality. They span from the end of July to the end of October.

One in particular, as I read it, restruck a cord. I remembered writing it and the feelings I was having at that moment. I remember deciding not to post it because it seemed like too much. Too harsh. Like I was waiting for the feeling to fizzle so I could come back and read it with fewer charged emotions.

I don't remember the trigger. Could have been a tweet, a comment, a moment. Regardless, I'm so glad I wrote it down because it was one of those bursts of emotion splattered out. One of those feelings that are not actually a singular feeling but a mixture of so many it had to go somewhere.

My concern with posting earlier was plagued with the thoughts of people feeling it was teacher shaming, or mean. When I read it now, I feel like I can say, with clarity, it is not meant to shame anyone. If anything, it is meant to make one think, or maybe throw their fist up in unity, or possibly ask a question. Below is the post which also happens to be a poem.

 (Title-less)

Our beliefs may not be shared beliefs, 
but we are all sharers of responsibility.
The shaping of individuals
deciding what to be. 

Teaching is a creative act. 
It is one,
us
woven into them,
you.
We get to be part of it.

So I question, the person acting as a teacher? 
Is this your show? Director in chief?
Task manager in the wings?
Are you the best actor for an audience of laborers?

Is this your monologue:

"You should want to work for me. 
I am only here for you. 
Just swallow the bitter pill. 
Don't ask why with your dry mouth.
Take your drill and skill medicine. 
I haven't seen you smile with gratitude
for my selflessness yet."

I am not the best teacher. 
I do not claim to be the winner of all rubrics and the scorer of all points.
I am not.
I do not wish to be.
If I were, I wouldn't have anything left to learn.
If I were 
I'd be you.


Monday, August 6, 2018

End Game: When Superheroes, Football, and Reading Levels Collide

I was recently watching the movie Infinity War, one of the most recent releases within the Marvel series of action superhero movies. As a family, We like a lot of different movies. Some of my favorite movies don't necessarily always jive with the likes of my kids. That said, my cool mom status seems to tip forward a bit when I show great enthusiasm for a movie they are eagerly awaiting to see.

The movie spawned a desire to find and watch more Marvel movies. In our search, we stumbled onto an action television series featuring a superhero character named The Flash, who has incredible super speed. I appreciate that this show reaches for intensity while leaving a little to the imagination. 

In one of the episodes, a villainous character is routinely one step ahead while seemingly vulnerable. As the episode was nearing a close, The Flash became hip to the character's desire to indicate one end game while actually planning for another. After the episode was over, I was left wondering about the phrase, "end game." What's my end game? Not to be morbid, that's not where I'm going with this. I was actually thinking about readers. I know, major topic shift but I tend to take inspiration from strange and unlikely places once again confirming I don't always know the end result of a started endeavor.

So there I was, lying awake thinking about how often as teachers our end game is way different from our students. We think about accomplishments as end products. End game. We see passed reading level assessments as a means to an end. End game. We plan strategies and lessons for individuals so they can keep moving forward. End game? Really? Do we really think kids have, or for that matter, should have an end game in mind when looking at themselves as an eight-year-old reader? I mean really, does the letter P really mean you've reached the end as a third-grade reader and now you're one of the fourth-grade kinds? 

I'm not really here to debate the purpose of levels in a library, their existence or non-existence in your vocabulary with your students, or any of that. I have developed my own opinions on this subject, and I don't feel like yelling so I'll just tell you to go do the research if you still think kids need to know their reading level to achieve greatness as a reader. They don't. Period. (Redundancy with the end game of this statement was the best way I could taper my tendency to ramble).

What is the end game people? What's your end game? Let's pretend for just a moment that you're a football coach. (I'm channeling this from unknown places right now and have no business pretending to know how to coach football, but I can reach for a moment for the sake of intensity). When your team scores the winning touchdown in the final championship game, there is a lot of preparation sitting underneath that win. A lot. There were likely missteps along the way, fumbles, interceptions by the other team, buzzer echoes that muffled the sighs of a crowd. There was disappointment along the way at some point whether it was a practice or a game day. But you went back out there, and you and your team did it all again. And here you are, holding a trophy. The quarterback and offensive lineman are dumping the teams cooler over your head, and you're screaming hysterically. In that moment what are you thinking about? You are literally in a synchronized repetitive jump with your teammates circling you. I think you feel like you made it. I think you feel like the work was worth it. I also think it's not your end game. You're going to go back out there because that feeling is so awesome you want it again and again even though you know you can't always have it. It's worth the wait. 

Readers keep reading. It's not about an end game strategy. There might be an illusion of some end game accomplishment, but I dare say even in football when you are visualizing your end game win, it isn't the true end game. How can something be the end if it keeps going? Readers shouldn't have an end game either. There are touchdowns, and there are fumbles but if a reader is made they keep picking up books. They go season after season. We better start wrapping our head around the idea that our responsibility as leaders of readers is about getting them back out on that field of possibility.