Monday, October 26, 2015

Recovering from a Gold Star Addiction #SOL15

"But it's alright now.
 I learned my lesson well.  
See you can't please everyone, 
so you got to please yourself."
-Ricky Nelson, "Garden Party"

My class has been reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  On Friday, we watched the video Lynda created where she read aloud Chapter 17 and then answered questions about the book and her process.  At one point, Lynda spoke about praise and how we all want it, but we have to be careful not to rely too much on it.  To stop looking for validation outside ourselves and find it within. 

Gretchen Rubin described her need for "gold stars" in The Happiness Project.  I'm a gold-star-loving-gal myself.  Nothing makes me happier than the warm, fuzzy, kind, encouraging words about something I've done right.  I've saved notes and letters from former teachers and now former administrators, parents, and students.  On the hard days, these words help fill up my deflated sails and allow me to journey on through the murky, troubled waters of mistakes, regrets, and complaints about things I've done or failed to do. 

But for the last year, I feel like I've been reawakening- transforming as a teacher. By admitting there are things I don't know and actively seeking communities of professionals to learn and grow, I've become more sure of what I DO know, more confident in my beliefs, more grounded in why I teach and the approach I take. I worry far less about test scores and my evaluation and I think more about the life lessons my students are learning along with their reading, writing, math, science and social studies.  I'm teaching from my heart.  And it feels so much more right than following a script or a pacing chart. 

I was observed today teaching a reading lesson.  For the last several years, I have struggled to show my best teaching self during an observation lesson.  At the end of the observation, I've always felt regretful of things I should have done differently. There were lessons that I knew, flat out, went horribly wrong. It always felt like I was trying to please someone, and the way I taught the lesson was how I imagined someone wanted me to do it. Like I was pretending. It never felt authentic. Today marked a change.  I felt really comfortable in my own skin, really believed in the lesson I was teaching.  I loved the conversation about books and genres and setting goals to grow as a reader.  I was able to do a small group lesson while the students read and then a one on one conference with a student before we came back to share as a group.  At the end of the observation, there was a sense of peace and satisfaction that frankly surprised me! 

I'm not sure where I will fall on the Danielson rubric.  I'm not sure if there will be gold stars for me. But what I know for sure is I'll be all right either way because in my heart, what I taught was grounded firmly in my beliefs.  Esme Raji Codell wrote so beautifully about this in Educating Esme: Diary of a First Year Teacher.  She wrote, "I am operating from a position where I am personally vested in my approach, which any teacher will tell you is a privileged place to be.  Does being personally vested make a teacher successful? Not necessarily. Does it make a teacher accountable? Absolutely. Education's best-kept secret." 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#WhyIWrite #SOL15

The night my beloved grandfather, Grandy, passed away, I slept on his couch in the den, alongside my mother.  My Grandma snored loudly next to his hospital bed in their bedroom, a bit of comic relief at such a tragic moment.  The hospice workers had told us he was "on his journey" and we knew he would not be with us much longer.  In the middle of the night, or early in the morning, Grandy breathed his last, my mother next to him, having had a sense he was going. When he was carried out by the undertakers, they advised us not to watch, and so my Grandy left what he proudly called his "little nest" for the very last time.

I was 20 years old, a college student.  As I drove back home that morning, my head and heart filled with the words I knew I needed to say about my grandfather.  I walked in the door, sat at the computer, and typed.  I wrote his eulogy, hours after he passed away, and somehow later found the courage to stand up in the church and speak, through the tears, about a man who shaped my life and whom I loved so dearly.

I've turned to writing many times in my life.  The wedding toast for my sister was drafted and revised months before her beautiful day.  The poem I wrote for my son as I waited for him to be born was framed and featured at my baby shower. The letter I wrote to my mother on her 65th birthday to let her know how much she has meant to me was featured in a scrapbook of pictures and letters from others, too, so she can see how much she is loved.  The book I made for my husband when we were dating, an A to Z of our memories together, still sits on our shelf, a reminder of people we were before we were parents.

Why do I write? Why do I care so much about writing and want my students to care too? 

I write to share stories and connections.  I write to honor the people in my life whom I've loved and admired. Writing is a small gift I can give back for all they've given me.  I write to make sense of the incomprehensible, to find meaning at times when things feel hopeless. I write to be seen and heard, to share my ideas with a greater community.  I write at times of joy, sorrow, confusion.  I write to remember and maybe be remembered. 

Writing is an act of courage.  No one can give you the words- they must come from inside of yourself.  Writing reveals your thoughts, your heart, your passions, your fears.  It breaks down the walls between people.  When you write, you invited others to step inside your shoes for a while and see the world from your perspective.  You show them your heart.  You can't hide when you write.

And so I write, to be free, to be honest, to connect, to dream, to imagine, to create, to suppose, to remember, to honor, to give, to make sense.  

Happy National Day of Writing to all the brave writers I know.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Thing About Corn Mazes #SOL15

I found myself in a corn maze on Sunday.  We went pumpkin picking to a farm out east on Long Island and after the pumpkins were picked, my kids and their cousins wanted to do the corn maze. Never a big fan, but not wanting to be the party pooper, I agreed and we ventured inside.

As the autumn sun warmed the morning chill in the air, my 2 1/2 year old daughter decided I needed to hold her as I navigated the ropey vines and stones in my path.  The path twisted and turned and corn was all I could see as I trudged with Megan through the maze. My son, nieces, and sister-in-law were up ahead, and my niece would wait until I got closer before moving on so we didn't get separated. Holding Megan, it was hard to keep up with the group. When my niece joyfully announced she could see the light at the end of the maze, I was filled with relief. 

Life, of late, has been a lot like a corn maze.  I've found myself in the middle of a confusing and upsetting situation with no clear path out.  It feels scary and I feel lost.  Worried. Anxious. Uncertain what direction will be the right one. Stuck.

But here's the thing about corn mazes: There is always a way out. There is light at the end if you keep walking through.  Wrong turns will happen but you just get back on the path and try another direction.  There are people walking ahead of you.  People who've made it through the corn maze and their stories of surviving it will strengthen you as you figure your own way out.  I am so grateful to the people who have helped me see that the maze can be navigated, the ones supporting me as I struggle to find the way. 

Sometimes, even when you really don't want to go through the corn maze, life plucks you inside one.  I'm in one now but I won't be forever. There's light and I will keep walking until I find the way out.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Fish in a Tree Moment #sol15

Today, my third graders and I began the Global Read Aloud.  This year, we are reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  We talked about the saying from Einstein that inspired the title and then I asked the students to think about a time where they felt like a fish in a tree- a fish in a tree moment.  

To me, a fish in a tree moment would be when you felt incapable of doing something that others around you easily could do.  I've had many of these moments throughout my life.  My mind flashed back to being about 8 years old myself and taking gymnastics.  It was torture.  In my memory, the balance beam was very high and very narrow.  Not only did I have difficulty mastering how to walk on that, but I was expected to do a tumble on it.  I was petrified.  To make matters worse, I remember that the kids in my class were mean to me, teasing me about being so inept. I remember quitting gymnastics and the wave of relief I felt.  

Kids who feel like a fish in a tree academically do not have the same luxury- they can't quit school (at least not in the 3rd grade).  How awful to feel the way I felt at gymnastics day in and day out.  Thinking about this memory made me feel more empathy towards Ally and all the Ally's we teach each day.

Some of my students were reluctant to identify their own fish in a tree moments. Interestingly, my students who have academic difficulties could not come up with a fish in a tree moment.  A few students were brave to share their thinking. I started a Padlet to share the fish in a tree moments and tweeted it, inviting others to share too.  My New York students were amazed and excited to see students from Louisiana sharing their fish in a tree moments on the Padlet.  

Do you have a fish in a tree moment to share? Feel free to add it to our Padlet and invite your students to make a connection with Ally.  All of us struggle with something at some time.  I find such comfort in knowing that others have walked the path before me and made it through their challenges.  We can shine a light for those following behind us, letting them know that fish in a tree moments really do pass and don't need to define you.