Thursday, March 31, 2016

#SOL16 Day 31 Here's To Us

Back on March 1, I wrote about the bridge we were stepping on as we crossed from March to April in this month of daily writing. Today, on the downhill, we now easily trot the last steps to the other side, the place we've been journeying to all this month, the bridge itself full of discoveries and adventures. 

I found myself saying, "I haven't been reading much because of the blogging challenge this month", thinking about all the novels, chapter books, and picture books still on my TBR list. But, I caught myself after saying this, realizing I've been reading so much: so many moving, funny, surprising, brave slices. The reading and the writing have changed me- perhaps invisible to most, but the stories, poems, and posts I've read and written have changed me for good. (Nod to "Wicked.")

So, Slicers, this is my poem, celebrating us. We did it. A badge of honor that always belongs to us!

Here's To Us

Here's to us.
Here's to the late night typers,
The early morning risers,
The mid-day sketchers.
Here's to writing,
no matter what
time of day.
Here's to making the commitment
and following through.

Here's to us.
The times the ideas flowed
like a rushing river
and the times the ideas
dried up, like a raisin in the sun.
Here's to showing up,
and writing, 
somehow finding ideas to fill 
the glaring white screen.

Here's to us.
The ones who walk
through life, eyes open
knowing the moment to capture
is a blink away,
Finding significance
in a blade of grass,
and the yellow fuzz of a dandelion.
Catching moments,
saving stories.

Here's to us.
The times we pressed "publish" 
when we knew it was revealing,
The times we were honest,
The times we were brave,
The times we took a risk.
The times we worried
 we said too much
or maybe not enough
but published anyway.

Here's to us. 
Who teach from a place
of authenticity,
Who don't require of students
what we won't try ourselves.
Who know writing isn't
really about rubrics and grades
but communicating and creating,
Who know writing is life-work.
Here's to us who've 
walked the walk 
each day
in March.

Here's to us.
A community of strangers
who now are like friends,
Across oceans, 
across continents,
Connected by words,
Woven together,
each voice a thread,
in a colorful tapestry.
What we created
one March
we can be proud of always.

It's been a privilege
reading your words.
Here's to you.
Here's to us. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

#SOL16 Day 30 To My Pregnant Friend

Dear Friend Having a Baby,

It filled my heart with happiness when you slid the sonogram picture across the diner table, your way of sharing the amazing news with me. I know this baby was a dream that wasn't easy to come by, as my first baby was  also "the dream that I'd been chasing" to quote Martina McBride. When you want a baby of your own, it is a wanting like no other. It is a deep yearning and a worried question mark about what the future will bring. For me, getting the news that I would be a mom came from a doctor's office voicemail on my cell phone, which I listened to, disbelieving, in the closet in my kindergarten classroom. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. 

Being pregnant is a unique season in your life. For me, I eagerly counted the weeks, noted how the baby changed from a poppyseed to a blueberry to an orange to eventually a melon. I read all the books. I kept the pregnancy journal. I eagerly anticipated doctor's appointments and sonograms. People love a pregnant person and the attention was fun. When I was pregnant, I wrote letters to the baby and washed all his clothes and read him stories, while rubbing my stomach. The waiting was so hard and I impatiently counted the days.

My first lesson as a new mom came moments after Alex was born. Expect the unexpected. The relief I felt that labor had stopped was quickly replaced by alarm that doctors and nurses were rushing into the room and my baby was surrounded by them on a table, across from my bed. My doctor continued attending to me, but what was the matter with my baby? The nurse came to me and explained he was "stunned." The cord tightened around his neck during the last push and he was initially unresponsive but was doing better each moment. After a few minutes, they finally let me hold him. He was so calm and beautiful and the second they placed him in my arms, I had the feeling of, "Yes, of course it's you" as if we'd known each other for a lifetime. Alex had to spend a few days in the NICU, and the first time I visited him in there and called his name, the nurses remarked at how he turned his head...he knew me, too.

Being a mom is full of moments of certainty and confusion, love and fear, and always the worry. You only want to do right by this little person you helped create, but there are times you will get it wrong. Times you say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and feel like you are screwing up. You will be tired and sometimes even a little resentful. Your greatest and weakest moments as a human will all come to you on your path as a mom.

But oh, the snuggles. The cozy baby smell, the feeling of warmth and all encompassing love, will carry you through the sleepless nights when you really don't want to get up yet again. The drooly smile, the chubby outstretched arms, reaching for you, the star in his universe, will fill a part of your soul you didn't know needed filling. A baby changes every single thing about your life, most especially you.

You will get a lot of advice. I won't give you any. This mom thing is hard and we all have to find our own way. We all do. Your little boy is growing inside you each day and before you know it, he will be here, your son but your sun, too- the center of your world. I can't wait to meet him.

Your Friend

Monday, March 28, 2016

#SOL16 Day 29 Elections

"I think you should run for President of the Student Government," he told me, his warm brown eyes holding mine. 

Sophomore year in college, E. was my crush. I looked for his car whenever I drove onto campus, and when I saw it parked in the familiar spot, my heart would beat faster knowing he was around and I might bump into him. Molloy was totally a commuter college at the time, but E. worked on campus in the fitness center and often parked near it. He was older than me, although I didn't exactly know how much older. He was a social work major and had that kind, caring heart that goes along with that job. My crush was totally unrequited.

But, here he sat across from me, imploring me to run for President of the MSG. I was sophomore class co-president and the current Vice President was slated to run, unopposed, for President, which was usually how elections worked at Molloy. No one ran against anyone else. People floated into positions of power and promptly did.. not much. If I were to run for President, it would be shocking. Well, at least among the 10 current members of the Student Government.

E. explained he thought I would make positive changes, and he would help me with my campaign. The guy I dreamed about was asking me to run for President, believed in ME as a person who would do a good job?! Could I really say no?

I recall going out to lunch with him, to a local Chinese restaurant, several times to discuss campaign ideas and strategies. I would waltz in late to one of my communications classes, so unlike me, but lunch with E. was too irresistible, and I found it hard to cut it short to get back in time. For my campaign, I color coordinated my posters and I made pins for people to wear. (Did anyone wear one? I don't remember now, but somehow doubt it.) On the day of the election, E. helped decorate my Saturn with signs and the color-coordinated balloons. I had lots of flyers and a table where I sat with my information. My campaign included many ideas on ways to get students more involved in campus life. I spelled out several specific ideas. My opponent didn't name any ideas and based her slogan on the popular commercial "Gotta Go To Mo's" (substitute "go" for "vote"). 

The day of the election, there was some funny business with ballots being handed out to the baseball team. I'll never know for sure, but I suspect there ws some cheating. When I got the phone call, after all the ballots were counted, I just knew I lost, and I had. These were the days before text messages, so I think I emailed E. to tell him the news. I felt so awful that I had let him down.

He reassured me I hadn't. I ran a good campaign and gave it my best try. It wasn't to be. I stepped away from Student Government after that. I probably never would have run without E.'s encouragement and that remains the best part of my memory of running for office. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

#SOL16 Day 28 Dinosaurs on Easter

On Easter morning,
Alex sits across the kitchen table
Dark lashes framing 
big blue eyes,
as he explains 
a meteor killed the dinosaurs,
even the babies
who just hatched.

I say, "No one knows for sure"
"Maybe it happened fast"
Don't want to think of eggs
hatching into a world
where they were doomed
from the very start.

It's Easter and we 
don't go to church.
The kids won't sit
they are too little,
but maybe we should,
because Easter is more 
than chocolate rabbits
and toys.
Maybe church can help me
Explain to Alex
The unexplainable.

In a world of meteors
and doomed baby dinosaurs
and bombs exploding 
in every corner of the world
and guns killing first graders
and their teachers,
We need to believe
that there is so much more
than what we see.
Easter reminds us
The saddest part 
Of the story 
Is never really
The end.

#SOL16 Day 27 #DigiLit Sunday TRUST

Thank you to Margaret Simon for another week of #DigiLit Sunday. Visit Margaret's site to link up your post this week on TRUST. 

When I taught kindergarten, some of my colleagues always told the students what topic to write about. The whole class would be writing about animals today, or the weather. They felt that students would not know how to pick an idea and it was better to have an idea ready for them. 

I never assigned topics. We would brainstorm how to think of your own idea for writing, with charts made mostly of pictures for them to reference if they got stuck. Because I trusted my 5 year old writers had ideas and believed they could pick a topic, they always did. We had struggles in writing workshop, for sure, but one of the struggles was never picking a topic. They could always do it. 

Trust goes hand-in-hand with risk-taking and security. You have to feel secure that if you fall, you will have a soft place to land. When you know that failing won't be the end of you, you are more willing to take risks, more able to learn. You trust that it will be okay, in the end, regardless of the outcome. 

Becoming a connected educator and looking for ways to incorporate technology and digital tools requires trust on the part of the teacher. You have to trust that you have something to say and are worthy to contribute to the global conversation around teaching and learning. You have to trust your voice. You have to believe that digital tools enhance thinking and learning and that they flatten classroom walls. You have to trust that students will be better for the opportunities to collaborate with others from all corners of the world. You have to have faith that learning takes time and you won't be a master of everything digital all in one day. You also need to recognize that once you've mastered something tech-related, something new will replace it. Technology is ever-changing and the goal can't be to master a particular tool, but rather to look for tools that can provide opportunities for creativity, communication, and collaboration. 

Just as students need to trust their teachers in order to be risk-takers, teachers need to trust their administrators and colleagues in order to have genuine conversations that move thinking and learning forward. A climate of fear and anxiety does not promote trust, and therefore holds everyone back. Trust can be built when teachers feel appreciated and recognized for their strengths. When all stakeholders have a real voice, trust grows and progress can happen.

One of my favorite Billy Joel songs is "Matter of Trust." Billy sings, "You can't go the distance, with too much resistance." Today, on Easter Sunday, may we have more trust than resistance, more safe places to land, more faith, more understanding, and more hope that the world can indeed be a more loving place.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

#SOL16 Day 26 Weighty Matters

My first memory of shame about my weight was sitting on the white-tissue paper covered table in the pediatrician's office at a well exam. Could I have been 6? The nurse and my mother were having a conversation in the hallway and my older sister took it upon herself to let me know the nurse was telling Mom I weighed too much. I remember the feeling of shame and embarrassment. I think I cried. It wouldn't be the last time tears where shed over my weight. 

I was always chubby, from the start, aside from my very average, slightly small birth weight of 6 pounds. Family legend has it that I ate my pastina with two hands. My second birthday reveals me in a a bathing suit, extra flesh squeezing out the sides, wearing a crown and holding a fork. I was a kid who enjoyed, thoroughly, food and loved eating plain slice of American cheese and dishes of my Grandma's pasta. I was also a sedentary kid, who loved sitting with my toys, reading books, coloring and disliked sports and outdoor play. It was a recipe for disaster, I suppose. 

My first Weight Watchers meeting was at 8 years old. I hated going. I was the only kid there. I also hated that my mom had to cut the elastic on the sleeves of my dresses because they left horrible red welts on my upper arm. I hated that I had to wear "pretty plus" jeans from Sears, because I didn't see anything "pretty" about being a plus. I hated that my thin older sister needed to drink creamy Carnation instant breakfast to gain weight and I was stuck with diet Alba shakes. My cookies were rationed out, leaving me desperate for more, where she had as much as she liked. When I went to the diner as a kid, I was encouraged to get the diet plate, which was a bun-less burger with cottage cheese. (I feel rage just thinking about cottage cheese now.) 

No eating disorders, but eating out of the sight of others became something I definitely did. Sneaking a treat when no one was around to tell me not to. There would be comments or disappointment if I ate the "bad" food but I desired it so much. It's a habit I still can't shake. 

When you are overweight, you learn to make comparisons. I would wonder if I was the fattest girl in the class. I was the 3rd or 4th fattest most of the time. By the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I was sad enough about the way I looked to try dieting again. My mother and I attended a program called "New You" and I lost about 25 pounds, which made a big difference. My 8th grade year I was lighter and more confident, but as high school went on, weight crept back on. I started college 30 pounds heavier. After my sophomore year in college, I worked with a nutritionist who had dolls all over her office. Everywhere. She advised me to cut all carbohydrates and the weight dropped fast. 25 pounds or so, gone, but not for long because carbohydrates are my frenemy. 

I left college with the weight back on and my first years of teaching did nothing to improve the situation. I was stressed and exhausted and lonely and the weight came on. When one of my friends was getting married and I had to be measured for a bridesmaids dress, I was utterly humiliated when it was loudly announced I had to pay extra for a larger dress. I came home and cried hysterical, sad, shameful tears to my mother, deciding then and there that I would do whatever it takes to lose weight. I rejoined Weight Watchers and lost weight. When I went back to try on the dress, it was so big, they gave it to another bridesmaid who put on weight and gave me the smaller size. It was right around this time I met my husband, when I was at this lower weight, with new-found confidence.

But you know how it goes. The longer we dated, the more comfortable I was, the less I worried about my weight. By the time we got engaged, I had put on a good 20 pounds. Cue the wedding weight worry. I consulted a nutritionist again (this one didn't have dolls) and I paid a lot of money to show her my journal each week. I lost weight. The prettiest I ever felt, aside from my wedding day, was my wedding shower. I wore a white dress and black boots and my hair was blown out straight. I felt so good in my own skin.

It is 7 years later, 2 children later, and if I am honest with myself, I am 50 pounds more than I was in that picture. I've tried working with yet another nutritionist and lost weight, but then got pregnant with Megan. Since that time, my soul just absolutely revolts at the idea of dieting. Counting points makes me shudder. Writing down what I eat feels annoying. I gave Shakeology a try last June but within 2 hours of drinking it, became horribly sick to my stomach in my classroom, throwing up in the garbage can in front of 20 third graders, probably ensuring that their memory of me is the puking teacher. I was sick the entire day. Shakeology did not agree with me at all. I see friends looking absolutely transformed and swearing by it, but sadly, something in it was poison for me.

The thing is, I'm tired of worrying about my weight. I'm tired of feeling like less of a person based on the fact that I really enjoy treats and chocolate. I'm done with crazy diets and daily deprivation. Yet. I'm 36 and the weight makes me look older, makes me feel older. I can't keep up with my children when they run away from me, which is scary. I would like to feel good about myself, not just my heart and my mind, but my body, too. I'd like to make my family proud and be vibrant and healthy. The weight holds me back.

Tonight, I bought a Fitbit. I figure it's a start. I'm not eligible for blogging prizes this month since I'm part of the co-author team at Two Writing Teachers, but I wanted to get myself some reward for this effort of daily writing. I thought the Fitbit was a good choice because I will have more time each day, when March ends, to add activity and movement. It feels like a positive thing to do for health and fitness, not like punishment, not like cottage cheese next to a bun-less burger when all you want is the curly fries dipped in ketchup. 

Michelle Haseltine bravely talked about her soft spot yesterday, the thing that hurts the most, your most vulnerable area. For me, it is my weight. It is feeling never good enough, like a failure, like a big, fat loser without self-control. Feeling like I will never slay this chubby dragon who would really rather have chocolate chip cookies and sit with a good book then eat a salad and exercise. 

But, maybe, it is time to start a new story in my head and heart, one that doesn't end with me failing yet again. Here's to lots of steps, counted on my Fitbit, in a new direction. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

#SOL16 Day 25 The Gift of a Grandma

Dear Grandma, 

Happy 90th Birthday, your first in Heaven. If you were still here with us, we would surely be having a special celebration Friday and this weekend. Sometimes I still can't believe you are gone. I still think of you in your cozy house, sitting in your pink rocking chair facing the afternoon sun, listening to the radio. Or sitting on your front porch in  your white rocker, or talking on the phone to Mom or Judy, or cooking sauce in the kitchen. Sometimes I still want to pick up the phone and dial that familiar number that I dialed for years, hear your "Hiya Kath" at the other end of the line. 

It's your birthday, and this year there is no pocketbook to buy for you, or spring nightgown, or nails and toes gift certificate. There are no birthday cards to write out. Yet I still feel like I want to give you a gift. My gift will be to thank you for all the gifts you gave to me in the 36 years and change that we knew each other. 

Thank you for the gift of my mother. You and Grandy raised a kind, generous, fun, intelligent daughter. Your example helped her grow and she become the most supportive and loving mother, and now an exceedingly patient Naya to her three grandchildren. Watching the relationship between you two taught me about the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Even in the last days of your life, my mother was able to be with you with love and devotion, making those final days as peaceful and comforting as possible. 

Thank you for the gift of story. You used to tell Christine and I made up tales of "Good Gertie", "Bad Betsy" and "Sweet Sally." Those stories you shared inspired us to try to write our own versions! Well, Christine did that and I wanted to be just like her, too, so I started writing my own picture books about the adventures of Gertie, Betsy and Sally. As I got older, I loved hearing you tell stories from when you were growing up, a teenager, when you met Grandy, your early days as a young mom, and what life was like when you moved to Tennessee.  

Thank you for the "hotel" sleepovers, the dinners out and the dinners you made me every Wednesday when I was a new (exhausted) teacher. You always made my favorite salad, with feta cheese and little cranberries, and then the rest of the dinner would be completely delicious too. Pork chops, sauerkraut, and apples; orzos, feta and peas; shrimp and pasta....each week was better than the last. Cozy time on your couch with "The Match Game" reruns or "Seinfeld" reruns passed the time and was so relaxing and restorative. You always packed up leftovers for me, and in time, for Mike, too. 

Thank you for listening, always listening, and offering wisdom when I needed it. Thank you for always, resolutely, being on my side. Thank you for all the laughs. Thank you for being a loving and adoring "GG" to Will, Alex, and Megan, rocking them on your chair and singing, "Let's all sing like the birdies sing...tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet" when they were little babies.  Thank you for your positive outlook, for carrying on, for making holidays and Sunday dinners special with your fussing and your cooking and your love for all of us. 

Grandma, you were such a gift to me. Such a strong, loving presence my whole life through. Thinking of you now, is like thinking of a warm hug. You were cups of tea and cookies to me, chicken soup for my soul. You were adorable musical Christmas teddy bears, placed lovingly on my Christmas tree. You gave me so many gifts through the years that meant so much, but you, yourself, were the greatest gift. 

I miss you so. I hope you are surrounded by light and love.

Happy Birthday, my Grandma.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

#SOL16 Day 24 AMPLIFY!

Kristin signed my copy of Amplify! 

On Tuesday, March 22, I braved the Cross Island Parkway during the morning rush to get to Bayside to hear Kristin Ziemke speak about Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom. It was worth every second in traffic to be inspired by this remarkable, accessible, approachable, energizing teacher, author, and innovator!

I'm a girl who loves resources, and Kristin provided plenty. Here is the link to some amazing resources she shared and invited us to share:  Honestly, it is a treasure trove of materials to explore! 

Kristin opened by sharing two books she recently finished (Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem). She invited us to talk about what we've been reading with the people at our table. It was so nice to have a workshop grounded in literacy and conversation and that paved the way for our discussions about keeping literacy at the heart of what we do in the classroom.  The technology tools AMPLIFY (there's that word again) what is possible and deepen the literacy learning, but it's not about "doing tech" or even "integrating technology". It's about the technology being one tool at students' disposal to show their thinking and understanding, and it's about technology's ability to give students a broader learning community. The learning does not end when the bell rings when you have access to digital tools. 

At one point, Kristin invited us to make a video reflection of what we are learning so far, just as her students often do. (Think "Real Housewives"- but kid appropriate, academic-focused). I was involved in a great conversation with a colleague I met at my table, so I didn't get to do the video there, but I tried it at home using the SeeSaw app that my students also use. Disclaimer: I hate myself on video and posting this is brave for me, but all in the name of learning! Click the link to see my video reflection:

Kristin spoke about the shifts in literacy. Images and videos make up so much of what we see when we click on any link today. Students need to be able to navigate their way through images and also critically "read" images. Kristin lead us through this experience of thinking aloud as we "close read" images around a topic. We did this for images related to the Flint water crisis. She also shared how infographics are important for students to read and understand. 

One idea I am looking forward to implementing is the "It's Monday What Are You Reading" Padlet. Students can take a picture of themselves with the book they are reading and add that to a Padlet, created by the teacher for "It's Monday What Are You Reading?"  It can be shared on social media with #IMWAYR. Students can get instant book recommendations from other kids in this way. It's simple and an easy way to grow a reading community! 

One really moving story Kristin told was about a first grader who's dad left for a business trip. The first grader was sad and worried about his dad. Kristin's class had blogs, so she encouraged her student to write a blog post to his dad. Within ten minutes, the dad commented on the blog and reassured the student he was doing fine. It made the little boy so happy and he was able to have a productive rest of the school day. This one story illustrates how digital tools help connect our students in unique ways while they are at school and give families new insights and connections into learning as well.

I'm from Kristin's generation- we are about the same age- and our experiences with tech as kids was the chance to play "Oregon Trail" in the computer lab. While technology has evolved in amazing ways as I've grown as a teacher, it is still something I'm grappling to learn and figure out. At the same time, it has been so energizing to me as a teacher to try new digital tools because I see how it enhances and, well, AMPLIFIES, learning for all of us! Thank you, Kristin, for such a valuable and inspiring day. I can't wait to put my new learning into action! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

#SOL16 Day 23 Regrets

Anger-filled words
Float away from me
Like bubbles
But without beauty
Further and further away
From what I meant to say.
What I really feel in my heart.
They rose up and spewed out
Never to be forgotten.

Hate always begets hate.
I know this.
Tonight, the words escaped.
Today, regrets. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

#SOL16 Day 22 The Lessons to Keep Teaching

Two responsible and kind students approached me this morning as we were settling into our unpacking routine, starting a snowy Monday in March in third grade. A boy and a girl, these two are rule-followers, respectful, and kind. 

They wanted to tell me about something that happened on Friday, when I was out of the classroom for a math training. Something had troubled them, weighed on their minds, they thought I should know. They were letting me know of an injustice that befell two of their fellow students that day. 

I listened. I heard what they said. And I don't know all the ins and outs, the whats and the whys of the situation. What I do know is these students cared deeply about their classmates and trusted me to hear them and maybe do something to right the wrong. 

We spend so much time talking about empathy. We read books and talk about characters and kindness and courage. I never know how much they understand, really, or how much these conversations will change them. I always hope it will have an impact, sometime, somewhere down the road.

This morning, as they two spoke up for their classmates, I knew these are the lessons I must keep teaching. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

#SOL16 Day 21 Seasons Change

And so, another season comes to an end. As winter exits and spring enters this weekend, my little girl leaves babyhood behind. Specifically pull ups and her crib. 

These changes are long overdue as Megan just turned 3. Still, she is my last baby and this marks the end of the season of my life where I changed diapers and had a baby to place gently in a crib. Alex is nearing 5 1/2, so for over 5 years I have changed diapers and been around cribs. Truth be told, Megan has not spent much time in her crib, preferring to snuggle up next to me at night, in my bed, putting a chubby hand on my cheek, cuddling. It's high time for her to be in her own bed, and this weekend we transformed her crib into a toddler bed. Disney princesses are on her pillow, sheets, and comforter. Her stuffed animals are all in there, just waiting for Megan. 

Sometimes seasons have a hard time letting go. Snow is predicted on the first full day of spring, winter's last gasp. Megan climbed in her new bed, listened to a story, was silent as I turned out the lights, then pronounced it "Morning!" and time to leave her bed. A compromise: She could watch one episode of Dora in my room before returning to her bed. The verdict is still out whether she sleeps there tonight or not, but soon she will be in her own room all the time, soon big girl underpants will just be what she puts on in the morning, not a big event that inspires cheers and promises of lollipops for staying dry. Seasons ending, new ones beginning.

In the 90's, Semisonic sang, "Closing Time" and I think now of the line: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." I pause to remember, to save this moment, to mark this ending and beginning. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

#SOL16 Day 20 DigiLit Sunday: Discoveries

Thank you to the amazing and inspiring Margaret Simon for the opportunity to post about Digital Literacy on Sundays! This week's topic is DISCOVERY.

Discoveries From My Students 

I've recently been discovering a whole word of things I've never known. My third graders are teaching me. We have a morning meeting each day and students can sign up to share something. This is how I've come to know about Plants vs. Zombies. 

I've never heard of this game before, but boy do my third graders love it. They even have the plushes of the plants who fight zombies. It's like a whole other language, a whole other world I'm not part of. It gives me some more insight into them to know about the things that entertain them.

I've also learned about YouTubers. Some people are famous for what they do solely on YouTube. My students told me about some of the people they follow  on YouTube. They call them YouTubers. This is now something my students are aspiring to be- a YouTuber. I had no idea. Another discovery.

My students are also showing me how big Star Wars and Minecraft are in their lives. Again, it is like a whole separate language that I do not speak. They bring in light sabers and little figures and I don't really understand any of it. I've never had any interest in Star Wars and never even see any of the movies, but some of my third graders live and breathe it. I've discovered this about them through our morning meeting and also our daily blogging as part of the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge. Oh, I can't forget Nyan Cat! Another new discovery. Many are blogging daily about Nyan Cat. Yet another discovery for me!

Professional Discoveries:
 I was at a professional development workshop for Math Problem Solving on Friday in my district. I discovered many amazing resources from Dr. Nicki Newton. One discovery was this amazing video that can be used to discuss perseverance with students: 

The video was a great discovery. I plan to add it to my growing resources on growth mindset. Dr. Nicki Newton has a fabulous Pinterest page that includes resources on growth mindset:

I also discovered a quote I haven't read yet from Kylene Beers, shared in a thoughtful and thought-provoking post by Clare Landrigan. It's really a must read!

Discoveries From My Children:

On the drive home, Alex, my 5 year old son, says girls and boys are different. Curious as to what he would say, I asked him how he knows girls and boys are different. Here's what he said:
"Girls wear make-up and boys don't. And girls don't like to get dirty." 

I wasn't really sure what Alex was going to say, but part of me was relieved he didn't give a biological answer. It called to mind my younger cousin telling me once that he could tell the difference between boys and girls because girls had long eyelashes.  

New discoveries await everyday! I can't wait to discover what others will share on this #DigiLit Sunday!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

#SOL16 Day 19 Is PD a 4 Letter Word?

Professional Development.... PD. Does it fill you with dread at the thought or send a shiver of joy? Something in between?

In March, Two Writing Teachers is focusing on PD in a mini blog series. In a couple of days, I will be posting about PD from the perspective of a classroom teacher. I'm focusing on the rights and responsibilities of teachers who are recipients of PD. 

I would love your ideas. If you post in the comments, please know I may quote you or share the idea in my upcoming post on March 21. You could even make this today's Slice if you are out of ideas! Please send me the link if you do that! 

-What was your best experience with PD and why?
-What was your worst PD experience and why?
- What are the ingredients or components to an effective PD session?
- What are some rights of classroom teachers when it comes to PD?
- What are some responsibilities when it comes to PD?
-Should all teachers experience the same PD or should it be differentiated based on where teachers are in their understanding and practice?

For me, my best PD experiences have hands-down always been what I self-selected. The Summer Institute with the Long Island Writing Project shines like a beacon of PD. I was there because I wanted to be, with other educators who wanted to be there, too. No negativity. It was in the summer, when a teacher could breathe. We read, wrote, shared, participated in discussions, taught lessons and were part of lessons. We published a piece of writing. There was so much DOING and all of it purposeful with buy in and ownership.

Within my school district, one of my favorite PD experiences was a Superintendent's Conference Day where you could sign up for the workshops you wanted to attend. Administrators, coaches, and certain teachers were invited to present. There were 3 workshop slots and you were able to go to what you found most relevant. Again, choice was a key reason why this was meaningful for me.

In my opinion, the ingredients of effective PD are:

-an enthusiastic, passionate, knowledgeable facilitator who has planned the session thoughtfully
-some element of choice
-time for me to share my current knowledge or understanding about a topic 
- resources shared
-movement and activity
-purpose or connection to my beliefs about teaching & learning
-respect given for my knowledge & experience
-next steps or support moving forward (not "one and done" where the topic is never brought up again!)

What about you? Please share your ideas on PD! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

#SOL16 Day 18 Lost

Exhaustion setting in, no ideas for Day 18's Slice, but reading the Classroom SOLSC slices provided inspiration. This post, from Vanissa, a student in the amazing Margaret Simon's class, made me think of my own "lost" story. 

My mom, sister, and Great Aunt Sue had gone to the Sunrise Mall to shop and buy an apple pie for my Great Grandmother, Mama. I was about three years old, as the story goes. My sister and Aunt Sue were heading up the escalator to the bakery to find the pie and my mother was with me, in my stroller. Like most little sisters, I wanted to do exactly what my big sister was doing. My mom said to stay with her, and she turned to look in men's shoe store window, I guess looking for new shoes for my dad.

That's when I climbed out of my stroller (no seat belts? This was the early 1980's and I guess strollers didn't have belts then? OR maybe I was smart enough to unbuckle it? Hmmm....must remember to ask my mother). I figured I would catch up with my sister and Aunt Sue, but quickly became disoriented and lost. This must have been one of my first memories, but I do remember it. I recall walking in circles, and looking back, confused as to where the shoe store, my mother and stroller went. I remember crying. 

That's when a lady took my hand and started walking with me. My mother, who was in hysterics that I was missing and perhaps stolen, spotted this lady, who was very tall, and small me, holding her hand.  We were reunited! My Aunt Sue had been completely convinced that someone kidnapped me because of my cute curly hair and hadn't been much help to my poor mother. I don't know how long this whole ordeal lasted, but as a mother to a three year old now, it must have been the longest moments of my mother's life. 

When they brought home the apple pie, Mama took a bite and pronounced it "medicinal." That is always my favorite part of the story, after the reunited part, of course. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

#SOL16 Day 17 Sing / Canta

"I'm going to take this home to show it to my mom," L said with genuine excitement in her eyes. She was practically hugging the book. My plan to take this recently purchased book back home to my own children vanished. 

I discovered this book yesterday at the book fair at my children's preschool. It is that classic song, "Sing!" from Sesame Street, now beautifully illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. The lyrics were written by Joe Raposo, when he was asked to create a bilingual song for Sesame Street. The book contains a note from the songwriter's son, talking about his father felt isolated and stigmatized growing up in the United States in the 1940's. The song was an anthem for self-acceptance and courage and has been translated into 35 languages and sung by many different famous singers through the years. I remembered it well from my own childhood and from my Sesame Street watching years with Alex. 

But back to L. When I shared the book with my third graders earlier this morning, I had the song ready to play as I showed the pictures. We spoke about how the song was also written in Spanish and the lyrics were printed in English and Spanish at the back of the book. She couldn't stop looking at the page of Spanish words, proudly telling me she knew all the words and reading it quickly, her voice sounding different as she recited the lyrics. 

The song only played in English and she asked me if I could play the Spanish version later. As we got ready for home, I searched Youtube and found Sesame Street in the 70's with Luis playing the guitar and singing "Canta". I noticed several students mouthing the words in Spanish as it played. 

I had to admit, finding ways to weave in other students' cultures sometimes feels like an impossible and unrealistic expectation in the "highly effective" slot in the Danielson rubric. When I already need to cover all subject areas, differentiate for diverse abilities, purposefully integrate technology, communicate with parents, how can I add multicultural influences into my lessons too? 

Today, I got it. Why it's so important to find ways to weave in students' cultural backgrounds into the classroom. Seeing L. absolutely delight in reading and listening to a song in Spanish, knowing she had to hold that book and bring it home to show her parents, I finally, really, understood. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

#SOL16 Day 16 To Be Known

"Students want to know they are known."
-Barry Lane (via Twitter, 3/5/16)

I was standing outside my daughter Megan's classroom, waiting for her nursery school class to return from their downstairs dance class. It was Megan's third birthday, and I was there to read a story to her class and share a treat. My son, Alex, is in the same preschool, in the upstairs classroom with the "big kids" who are off to kindergarten next year. Later in the day, I would be coming back to the school to read to Alex's class and share a snack, using my day off from work to the fullest.

One of Alex's teachers came down the stairs and stopped to chat with me for a minute. She had the kindest things to say. She told me how Alex always makes her laugh, and says the most clever things, and has such a warm heart. She said she's seen a lot of children in 15 years and there is something very special about him. She spoke so genuinely, with a smile, about my little boy and how much she appreciates him, how he adds so much to the class. 

My heart just filled. 

Tomorrow, I go back to work, with my teacher hat back on. It's report card time and there is important information to impart to parents. For some, I will need to mention self-control and focus, others effort, others academic difficulties, struggles to keep up with the third grade curriculum. With a standards based report card, there are many components to evaluate. Letters or numbers written in a box to say exceeding expectations, on track, approaching, or needs improvement. 

The comments will be my chance to show parents that I know their child, know the good inside, know there are many things to celebrate even if some other aspects of school are a struggle. Barry Lane tweeted, "Students want to be known they are known" and I would add, "Parents want to know you know their children." It makes all the difference. 

#SOL16 Day 15 The Drop-Off Mom

Today I get to be the drop-off mom, the mom who doesn't rush out the door with work bags and lunch bags a good hour and a half before her kids leave for their little red schoolhouse. Today I get to make them pancakes (ok, microwave the ones my mom made for them) and make sure their teeth are brushed and put them in their carseats and drop them off at school. Today I get to smile at their teachers and see their little friends and explain that the book fair money is in the backpack. 

Most days, I am already teaching a good forty minutes by the time this drop-off routine happens. It's been this way for years. I was sometimes the drop-off mom when my son Alex was in daycare, but many times my husband did the drop-off so I could get to work a little earlier.  Life changed, as it does, and now my mom comes with the sun every morning to our house, to help get Alex and Megan ready for their respective days. It's a gift to not have to get my son to daycare by 7:30am, to let him sleep more and wake up with a later school start time. I'm grateful for my mom and this new routine. She's the drop-off Naya (our name for Grandma) and I'm so glad she is, but sometimes I wish I could be the drop-off mom. 

Today is Megan's 3rd birthday and I've taken the day so I can bring treats to Megan's class and read them a story. I'm also going to read to Alex's class in the afternoon and bring treats to them, too. Today I am the story-reading, treat-toting mom. 

It's going to be a great day. 

#SOL16 Day 13 Meanness Always Surprises Me

Meanness always surprises me, like an ice cold rude wave slapping your face when least expected.

When I was in the 8th grade, I regularly read a comic strip called "For Better or Worse." It followed a family's life and I enjoyed reading each day, sometimes finding connections with the sister Lizzie. The cartoonist decided to write about a familiar character, Lawrence, telling his parents he was gay. He was the kindest character, but his dad responded by throwing him out of the house. (I think he was 14 at the time.) It bothered me so much as did the backlash the cartoonist got for writing about this topic in the comics. I wrote a letter to the editor of Newsday, supporting the comic. It was published, along with my name.

Later that night, the phone rang and I answered. 
"Is this Kathleen?" a voice politely inquired.
I said it was, and then a string of disgusting profanity started. I stood in shock, then hung up the phone and burst into tears. I told my parents. I was frightened that the caller would try to find me. So much hatred, simply because I supported the cartoonist for raising awareness and empathy around homosexuality. I could not believe a person would take the time to look up the number of a 13 year old girl and then be so cruel.

I expect fairness, kindness, goodness. Perhaps naively, but I do. I am always taken aback and caught off guard when unkindness finds me.

Meanness always surprises me.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

#SOL16 Day 14 Pi-ku for Pi Day

Today is 3.14 and Math Nerds, er Fans, are delighting in all things related to Pi! I read about a form of poetry called a pi-ku, created to celebrate Pi Day. The formula is: 
First line- 3 syllables
Second line- 1 syllable
Third line- 4 syllables

I decided to try this out, creating pi-kus for pictures taken at my daughter Megan's 3rd Birthday party.

Is she three?
Baby no more

Little short
Diaper in sight

Frozen theme
Thankfully weather not

Brother made
He does love her

Matching coats
Beautiful girls

Blonde cousins
Close in age friends

Glance behind
Always posing

Alex can run
Hard to catch him

Little blondes
Treasure inside

Candy falls out!

New stuffed fox
Happy new home

Party is work
Makes it worthwhile

Family pic
My heart is full

Saturday, March 12, 2016

#SOL16 Day 12 The Clarinet

When I was in the third grade, we were finally allowed to choose an instrument to learn to play. My choice: the drums! My mother's choice for me: the clarinet. She didn't think girls played the drums. So I took clarinet lessons. 

It was difficult. Hard to blow air, move my fingers, make the right type of sound. "Hot Cross Buns" came out slow and torturous, yet the only song I could play. Practicing was hard and joyless and my family likened my playing to a dying duck on its last quack.

At music report card time, I was delighted to see I got all As in clarinet playing! My mother was flabbergasted as to how I earned those grades. She actually went up to school to have my grades changed... to be made lower! She couldn't understand how my clarinet playing earned an A. I was quite unhappy to see my grades changed to the mediocre "C"s. Shortly afterwards, I quit the clarinet, and the hearing world rejoiced, as did worried ducks everywhere who were convinced my clarinet playing was one of their own being tortured. So ends my short chapter as a musician. A door closed, another thing I am not. Not a clarinet player. 

But then again, it was the drummer I wanted to be all along.

Disclaimer: While my mom really did go up to school to see how I possibly could have earned A's for my clarinet playing, and while my grades were lowered, you should know that this was highly uncharacteristic of my mom, who has always been my greatest supporter. In Catholic Schools, you had to pay for these lessons and I think she felt we were not really getting our money's worth or no one was paying attention to my clarinet playing skills. My mom has been and continues to be a person who is consistently in my corner and helpful to me in every way. I could write thousands of slices for all the ways she has helped me.