Monday, January 25, 2016

Never Met a Kathleen I Didn't Like #SOL16

I've never met a Kathleen I didn't like. There is a special Kathleen I know who has a generous nature, a hearty laugh, the ability to find the greatest children's books I've never heard of. She's good at crafts, from all those Girls Scout days. She taught me how to use a glue gun. She knows her way around an iPad and pushed me to learn new types of technology. She is a gifted teacher, the one the kids will always remember, will think about when asked to name their favorite teacher. She was a treasured colleague who brought light and innovation. We are no longer Kathleens across the hall, but friendship has never really been about geography.

Last year, Kathleen gave me a box of quotes. Each one is a gift to me, as she has been a gift to me, too. Tonight, I pulled out the quotes and these are the ones that spoke to my heart:

"Every day of our lives we are on the verge of making those slight changes 
that would make all the difference."
-Mignon McLaughlin

"The place you are in needs you today."
-Katherine Logan

"Life has taught me one supreme lesson. This is that we must- if we are to really live- we must put our convictions into action."
-Margaret Sanger

"Every accomplishment begins with a decision to try."
-Edward T. Kelly

"Renew your passions daily."
-Terri Guillemets

"As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way."
-Mary Anne Radmacher

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder."
-E.B. White

"If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens."
-Fay Weldon

"Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons."
-Ruth Ann Schabacker

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
-William James

"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
-J.M. Barrie

Thanks for bringing the sunshine, Kathleen. :)

Monday, January 18, 2016

From This Seat On The Bus #SOL16

During summers at the Long Island Writing Project, each day began as predictably as a sunrise, with "shared reading." That meant one of the participants or facilitators would bring in a text to read aloud to the group.  The texts could be anything- a picture book, poem, article, excerpt from a novel...whatever the reader selected.  The group would listen and then as the last word was spoken, pens would be picked up and start dancing across notebook pages, the words lingering in the air as inspiration arrived.

There was one shared reading that always seemed to be chosen to open up the Summer Invitational Institute.  It was a chapter from a memoir, The Moon and I, by Betsy Byars.  The chapter was entitled, "Miss Harriet's Room." In this chapter, a young Betsy describes how she always wanted Miss Harriet to be her first teacher after witnessing her older sibling delight in being Miss Harriet's student. When the first day of school arrived for Betsy, the children were divided up into different classes and Betsy was given another teacher- not Miss Harriet. She ignored instructions and followed Miss Harriet instead, refusing to give up on the idea that Miss Harriet would be her teacher.  After being feared to be lost, she was discovered to be in Miss Harriet's room and the principal tried to make her leave. Miss Harriet intervened and said, "Let her stay" and so Besty was able to be one of Miss Harriet's students.  She wrote that many things in life disappointed and did not live up to expectations, but Miss Harriet did not disappoint! 

One of the things she loved about Miss Harriet was the way she read stories to the class in a way that made the book come alive.  Today I watched with interest a TED talk about the importance of reading aloud to students of all ages. I still had Donalyn Miller's recent Nerdy Book Club blog post, "Getting on the Bus" percolating in my mind as I watched Rebecca Billingham talk about the value of reading aloud. Donalyn wrote, "Teachers who read are more effective in engaging children with reading, more likely to use recommended literacy practices in the classroom, and more likely to provide students authentic opportunities to share book recommendations and responses with each other." Later in the post, she writes, "It's not enough to count our blessings when our own schools and the schools in our communities do more to engage teachers, children, and families with reading. Children's reading lives should not depend on their luck in getting a teacher who knows about books or a school with a librarian. All children deserve these opportunities. Every year."   

From Donalyn's post, I took away that it's not enough to be Miss Harriet, to be the teacher who reads and shares this love with students.  As teachers walking the walk, the ones in the choir she is preaching to, Donalyn is issuing a charge: "Lifting up children's literature and celebrating it doesn't lift up children if they never see these books and read them.  I am confident that we can do more together." 

Donalyn's post has stayed with me and like a riddle I cannot solve, it rattles around my brain as I try to think of solutions about the more we can do. If we as teachers do not read and write in our own "real" lives, how can we expect our students to value reading and writing as anything more than school work? How can time be carved out for teachers to have conversations with each other about books- children's books and professional books? How would those conversations change the culture of a school? How can a classroom teacher, often low man on the totem pole, be an agent of change and inspire colleagues to read more?

I have many questions and not many answers. But, I'll borrow from Oprah and end with "what I know for sure." What I know for sure is being a reader has made me a kinder, more empathetic, wiser person.  Being a reader has enriched my life in innumerable ways and made me a better person. Being a reader has brought me joy and solace in difficult times. Being a teacher gives me the unique opportunity to show students the power that reading can have in their lives if they only let it. As Kate DiCamillo said, “We have been given the sacred task of making hearts large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and much sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries and contradictions of ourselves and of each other. We are working to make hearts that know how to love this world.” And while presidential candidates scream about building walls, I can't help but think we desperately need more of that. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Curly Cut #SOL16

In my quest to add more "HAPPY" to my days, today I did something I've never done before: I got a curly cut! 

Those of you with curly hair know the struggle is real.  Having curly hair is very challenging and in the end, you need to decide if you will embrace the curl or fight it. Since I am not very skilled at styling hair and very short on time in the mornings, I cannot straighten my hair so have been doing my best to style my curly hair.  I noticed a curly haired colleague at work has been looking especially bouncy and her curls have been beautiful! She shared her secret- she goes to a salon that specializes in curly hair!

As a New Year's "HAPPY" present to myself, I made an appointment and today was my "curly cut " as they call it at Curl Revolution.  The stylist cut my hair when it was dry! (Shocking!) She hydrated my curls, dried my hair under a big dome dryer, applied styling products, dried my hair with the dome dryer and a diffuser, and then voila! Bouncy curls without frizz! I'm happy. :)

Not my best picture, but check out the curls! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Blessed to be a Teacher #SOL16

Today was my first day back in the classroom after missing some time at work when my grandmother passed away, and then, of course, the holiday break. What a treat to find the room so neat and organized, thanks to a wonderful substitute teacher who took the time to leave things just so. I found papers scrolled up with a red ribbon on the corner of the desk. Opening it, I saw that it was a letter from two of my colleagues, a second grade teacher and a fourth grade teacher. Their classes collaborated for a "Big Buddy/Little Buddy" Random Acts of Kindness project.  The students wrote letters of appreciation to former teachers.  Under their letter, I found two letter from former students of mine. One even included an acrostic poem with my rather long last name!

Reading their sweet messages was so heartwarming and was a beautiful way to start my 2016 at school. What a kind and lovely idea my colleagues had! December is a very hectic month in our school, as report cards go home and there are many holiday responsibilities to attend to, both personally and professionally. I was so touched that my colleagues made time for this project, which surely gave them extra work in a month where there is already no time.

I plan on writing back to the two students who sent me such heartfelt notes. One little student wrote, "And no matter what, I will remember you forever." What more can I ask for?  

Today I am thankful for colleagues who take the time to leave a classroom neater than they found it and colleagues who take on a meaningful project in the midst of an incredibly hectic time, just to spread kindness and appreciation.  I'm thankful for students who write from the heart and make acrostic poems out of "Sokolowski" and promise to remember me forever. How blessed I am to be a teacher in a place where kindness is all around.