Showing posts from 2017

A Very Mogwai Christmas #SOL17

The packages were under the tree, in color-coordinated wrapping paper. Alex had green paper with Minions in red Santa hats. Megan had magenta paper, with Disney princesses and mistletoe and holly. Wrapping paper flew with exclamations of delight until Megan opened one gift that stopped her in her tracks. Gizmo, a Mogwai- a Gremlin was opened to shrieks of joy.
I was not in favor of my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter watching Gremlins, the classic 80’s movie. I remember it being so scary. On a night where I was out, my husband showed it to them. They loved it and no nightmares. In fact, they talked about Gizmo a lot, especially Megan. Which gave Santa the idea to buy her Gizmo for Christmas.
There were many other adorable stuffed animals she received, but it was Gizmo who she held all day long on Christmas. Her new alphabet beads were used to spell out MOGWAI in a necklace for Gizmo. Gizmo was lovingly carried to her grandparents’ house and didn’t leave her arms for pretty much t…

Teacher Happiness #SOL17

In December 2001, back before my curricular units were all planned out prior to the school year starting, created by others and not me; back before "I can" statements were anything I knew; back before teacher evaluations were based on the Danielson Rubric and being deemed "highly effective" was synonymous to the Holy Grail, I was a first year teacher, teaching sixth grade in an elementary school. Back then, one of the subjects I taught was "Language Arts" and aside from the New York State Standards at the time, there wasn't a whole lot of direction in what I should be teaching. While that was disconcerting for a first year teacher, it was also freeing. Here is what my sixth graders did in December 2001:

Each student was part of a group. The assignment was to make your own toy or game. It could be based on a real game, like Monopoly, but redone with your own categories and questions. Students had to create the game and write the directions for how you p…

An Honor #SOL17

The violins played "Pachelbel's Cannon" as the high school juniors, holding a small candle, filed into the auditorium. I sat in a special section, with other teachers from my district who'd been asked to attend by a new inductee of the National Honor Society. The student who invited me was a former kindergarten student! How honored I was that she chose me to see her receive this honor. 

After I had the chance to hug her and tell her how proud I was of her, I bumped into another former kindergarten student and her brother, who was from my first kindergarten class. He's a college student now! When I saw his face, I knew instantly who he was and could picture him as a little kindergarten student. I took a picture with my 3 former kindergarten students and it was such a special moment.

There are days and moments when teaching feels too hard, too heart-breaking. There are times I feel lost. But the moments that ground me, that anchor me, are moments like tonight. Connec…

Coco #SOL17

Monday evenings are not ideal for going to see a movie in the theater, but there we were- my son, daughter and I, heading to the movies to see Coco last night. Alex's school's SEPTA was sponsoring the night and we attended last year, the night after Election Day, to watch Trolls. I remember still feeling numb but Trolls ended up being a fun distraction and still a movie we watch and rewatch often. 
      I know there's been an outcry about the Frozen short (20 minutes- not so short) that runs before Coco, but Anna and Elsa are two of my daughter's favorites so it was enjoyable to see them again. I thought it was cute and not nearly as obnoxious as the tweets I read about it. 
       I didn't know much about Coco before attending the movie, but I must say I loved it. There were themes of following your heart, family first, and fame at what cost. As someone who likes to picture Heaven as a big dinner party where my loved ones who have passed are all sitting togeth…

Pancakes Don't Have Feelings #SOL17

"Pancakes don't have feelings," my four year old daughter, Megan, chides me as I wash off the dishes.

I had just tried to guilt her into eating more piece of the pancake cut on her plate. I probably said something to the effect of, "Oh, the pancakes all want a turn to be eaten! They feel sad you aren't eating them." 

Megan was onto me, but assigning feelings to inanimate objects is something I've been doing my whole life. My sister's toast at my wedding referenced how I used to cry when she would kick pinecones at the park because I thought she was separating them from their families. (Ahem. I really thought that.) Oh, how she would gleefully kick the pinecones while saying, "Oh, no, my baby!" and "Mama pinecone, where are you?" I would cry, and scurry to put the pinecones back to where they sat before they were disturbed.

Megan would have said, "Pinecones don't have feelings." 

And so, they don't. But what if they …

Love is #SOL17

Love is
sitting on the floor
inside a steamy 
indoor pool
because your 4 year old
taking swimming lessons
is afraid and
wants you there.

Love is
sitting on a chair
on a rainy, gray soccer field
when you have 
stacks of work to do
because your son
loves when you come
to his games.

Love is 
resisting every little
Halloween candy
and all the donuts
and treats left
in the faculty room
because you deserve
to look and feel 
your best.

Love is
calling your representative
signing petitions
and voting
because you cannot
stand by
while people are gunned down
in schools
in churches
in movie theaters
in playgrounds
at concerts.
Love is wishing 
you could do more.

Love is 
saying no to your child
because another cookie
or another tv show
or another toy
will be bad for them
even though they 
don't understand that
and you seem mean. 

Love is 
making them say "thank you"
and making them
brush their teeth
and making them
put their own shoes away. 
Love is 
helping them be
the best people 
they can be. 

Love is
bringing the shopping cart back.


The Student Who Stops by My Door #SOL17

There is a student who stops by my door almost every morning. He smiles at me and I ask him about his day, his sports, how it's all going. My new students are usually walking in, or asking me a question, or need something, so this former student can't stay for long. But I'm so glad he comes by to see me. 

If you asked me last year to predict the students who would stop by and visit me, I would not have thought this young man would. I spent the first few months of school finding him very hard to reach. He seemed so disengaged, especially as a reader and writer. I felt like I couldn't make a connection with him. I even asked his second grade teacher if she had been concerned about him. She hadn't. 

Somewhere mid-year, the spark came. It was independent writing time, where he created his own illustrated books, that I first saw some excitement. Later he collaborated with a classmate to make a Google slide book about their baseball team. He even included an "About th…

Cannot Keep Up #SOL17

When I was a new teacher, I used to arrive at work by 6:45 or so in the morning. The day officially started at 8:15, but there was sooo much to do before the students came. The day ended by 3:15, but I often stayed until after 6, lugging a bag of work home with me. The amount of work seemed endless and I toiled round the clock. Those were the days when I lived at home with my parents, was single, and could work round the clock, though it certainly did my social life no favors. 

I remember a colleague once telling me, "There are no awards for who stays the latest." She was certainly right. I wasn't looking for an award- I was looking to keep my head above water. I just couldn't seem to ever be caught up. 

I'm not a new teacher anymore- this is year 16 for me. Nowadays I get in about 7:50 and sometimes I have to leave by 3:15 now that my children have after school activities. I still bring a big bag of work home with me, but by the time I get my kids to sleep, often …

Taking a Leap #SOL17

When I was a new college student, I got a job at a retail department store near my house. I quit the other retail store I was working at because I was starting to feel pressure from managers about not opening enough store credit card accounts each month. I was 18 years old and just not comfortable schmoozing people into opening up a store account when they didn't want one. So, I left one sales position for another.

I hated it almost instantly. At my other job, I worked in the costume jewelry department. I was allowed to go to the ladies room when I needed to without asking permission. I was trained to handle transactions with the register. At my new job, I was stationed in the sock and handbag department for hours on end. I was not on the register. I was not allowed to go to the ladies room if I needed to without a complicated permissions procedure. There are only so many socks one can fold for hours on end without going crazy. I knew right away that this job was a mistake.

My secon…

The Teacher I Used to Be #SOL17

I used to give homework packets to my five year old students and not let them play centers on Friday if it wasn't completed. 

Now I don't assign traditional homework to my 3rd graders and want my students to look for learning opportunities all around them. And read- always, I want them to read. (Write, too). But I'm not checking a log or counting sentences written in a notebook. 
I used to have elaborate clip charts that announced to the world who was "on green" for being a good listener and who fell, yet again, to red because he couldn't behave.  
I used to give points and Dojo dollars to students who could focus and attend and take points away from the kids who couldn't get it together.
Now I work to build relationships and community and try my hardest never to shame a child, never to publicly put a clothes pin on a sign that announces a difficult day or a poor choice. I speak of our classroom community and not behavior management. 
I used to have a treasure…

How Lucky I Am To Be A Teacher #SOL17

How lucky I am to be a teacher.

How lucky to have a job where each year, I get a clean slate and a fresh start.

How lucky to have a job where I can restore my energy each summer, enjoying precious moments of time with my own children.

How lucky to have a job where I walk into an empty classroom and then make it come alive with the special touches I bring.

How lucky to have a job where I get to know children from all cultures and backgrounds and ability levels. How much there is to learn from all of them.

How lucky to have a job where I can dance and laugh, be silly and wacky.

How lucky I am to read aloud stories that captivate the hearts and minds of young people each day.

How lucky I am to share my passion for writing and help young students believe there is a writer in them, too. Their words are worth sharing.

How lucky I am to share my own struggles and mistakes and let students know that there is no learning without taking risks, falling down, and getting back up again.

How lucky…

The Ride #SOL17

Our legs dangled over the park-goers below, the flashing lights on the rides illuminating the summer night sky. We sat in a cable car, with just a bar securing us, nothing underneath our feet. Alex, my almost 7 year old son, said, "I'm just going to sit perfectly still." I could barely respond, willing myself to breathe deeply and avoid the panic I felt washing over me.

I used to be so adventurous.

My dad always tells the story of how I went on Lightning Loops with him at Great Adventure. I was my son's age- six- when I went on the rollercoaster that went upside down and backwards, super fast. I wore braids at the time and my mom remembers seeing my braids up in the air as we zoomed through the ride. My memory of the ride was it was very fast and frightening, but I was with my dad and so I was safe. 

Hershey Park was our last hurrah of the summer. Back to work for me this Friday and school starting for all of us. The lazy days of hanging out and being with each other al…

Non-Negotiables #SOL17

I recently volunteered to co-chair a committee for my son's elementary school's PTA. He's going into first grade, so I'm still a "new-ish" parent in the school and looking to get more involved where I can. One of the pieces of information I received was a list of "musts" for committee chairs. "Must" was typed in boldface and there was a page of them. It filled me with anxiety to see all those bold MUSTS on the page for a volunteer position. 

But it made me think of an anchor chart I saw for writing workshop. It was entitled "Non-Negotiables" and included things like spelling high-frequency words correctly, using punctuation, and capitalizing the first letter in a sentence. As if a child would ever not be capitalizing because he didn't realize it was a non-negotiable. Where is the understanding and respect for how students are entering into writing- perhaps as an ENL student bravely attempting to write in English? The special e…

#pb10for10 Books to Spark Written Conversation with Families

August 10th is one of my favorite days of the year- #pb10for10! These lists are always incredible and introduce me to new books for my third graders and my own two children (almost first grader, preschooler).
My theme this year is books that would spark conversations for our Family Dialogue Journal. I used Buncee to create a presentation, which you can access here

I am hoping that having 10 books selected, with a couple of questions generated, will help me use the Family Dialogue Journal with more regularity this year. I found it very valuable and some of the conversations between students and family members were powerful. A goal for this year is to build it into the routine earlier and even talk with parents about the journal at Back to School Night. 
I can't wait to see everyone else's lists! 

#SOL17 The Question

"You love your daughter more than your work, right, Mommy?" she asks me out of the blue, peering at me through the open bathroom door as I get ready one morning. 

Knife to the gut.

"Of course I do, honey," I say, reassuringly, but wonder where that came from and why she would even question my love.

Her question has been on my mind since she asked it.

There are a lot of articles about the struggle of being a teacher and a mom simultaneously. There's "I cannot be a good mother and a good teacher" by Marissa Cooper. Dominicca Washington writes, "As a teacher-mother, I often feel a sense of guilt and question my effectiveness in both roles. If I give too much to one, it often feels like the other will inevitably suffer" ("I'm a Teacher and a Mom and Sometimes I Can't Be Both"). One post that especially touched my heart was "A Letter to My Children: What It Means To Be a Teacher" by Sarah Brown Wessling. Wessling writes, &…

#cyberPD Chapters 7 and 8

This summer, I am reading Vicki Vinton's brilliant book, Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading with my #cyberPD friends. This is one of the best books I have ever read regarding the teaching of reading. 
Chapter 7: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Interpret
One thing I have really appreciated in this book is the examples of literature. In this chapter, Vicki mentions several books I know well: Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes, One Green Apple by Eve Buntings, and The Old Woman Who Names Things by Cynthia Rylant. I never thought about these books from the perspective of patterns that change but Vicki's explanation makes so much sense and I can see myself teaching students to think along those lines.  I love the idea of a "first draft understanding." 
Other thoughts that stood out in this chapter: -Readers must be tentative before they are certain. -Asking students to analyze before interpreting is like putting the cart before the horse.  -"So, if we believe,…

#SOL17 This is the Summer

This is the summer he lost a tooth.

This is the summer she (mostly) learned how to dress herself.

This is the summer he jumped off the diving board, treading water 11 feet deep.

This is the summer she stopped holding onto me in the pool and dipped her head under water, coming up spitting out water, blinking, but proud.

This is the summer he started holding doors open for people.

This is the summer she wanted to paint rocks.

This is the summer he flings his camp bag over his shoulder and walks in by himself.

This is the summer I still need to bring her stroller when she's tired.

This is the summer he is tall enough for the water slide at the pool.

This is the summer she wants me to braid all her dollies hair. 

This is the summer he pours his own bowl of Cheerios.

This is the summer she plays school and is the teacher. 

This is the summer I've caught a glimpse of how fast it all goes, 
how they need me less each day,
yet still need me after all.
This is the summer I'm making time to snuggl…

#cyberPD Week 2- Reflections

I am so happy to be participating in #cyberPD for my third summer! This community always pushes my thinking and encourages me to dream and plan for the new school year.

This year's selection, Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading by Vicki Vinton has led to so many thoughts and ideas about how to teach children to think deeply and be problem solvers when it comes to reading. 

Last week, I pulled together my thoughts on Chapters 1-4 in a padlet you can view here. 

This week, I created a Top Ten List of Quotes for both Chapters 5 and Chapters 6. There were so many important lines that spoke to me, so this was easy to do!

Chapter 5: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Figure Out the Basics

Top Ten Quotes

1. page 60: "In addition to reading books they had chosen themselves at their assessed level, all of these students had received instruction- sometimes over years- on comprehension strategies such as monitoring comprehension and envisioning. Yet none of them could consider the deeper l…

#SOL17 Purple Flower Moment

She turns over the painted rocks, little hands picking up one, putting it down, choosing another. 

"This one, with the bow and arrow," she decides. The stick-on design was a heart with an arrow through it. This is the rock she will give away.

Onto her tricycle she climbs, placing the rock in the white wicker basket that hangs between the streamer laden handles. 

Humming as she pedals, she rides her bike next door, up the driveway, up the walkway, stopping at the front steps. When our neighbor opens the door, she bubbles with excitement.

"Norma, we have this rock for you!" she bounces up and down, her smile like sunshine. 

Norma lives alone now that her husband Al has passed away. We used to see them sitting on their front lawn in chairs, Al with a beer, Norma with a glass of wine. They loved the warm breeze and the comings and goings that happen when you live across the street from an elementary school. 

We sat with Norma for a while, chatting and Megan asking her questi…

Stand on the Other Side of the Gallery #SOL17

Oh, the endless task of putting away laundry. One thing that makes laundry-putting-away more bearable is it offers the opportunity to listen to podcasts. During the school year, I could check in on podcasts during my commute to and from work. Now that it is summer, I am in the car far less and when I am, I usually have my children with me. Thus, when I am alone putting away laundry, I can check in on podcasts I enjoy.

Today I listened to the Heinemann Podcast from May 19th with Cornelius Minor. You can listen to it here:

The episode was about "the over-engaged student." It was fascinating to hear Cornelius talk about a student who was given the nickname "Prez" because he acted like the President of the class. There were many interesting points in the discussion, but one idea really captured my attention. Cornelius shared how he loves art and often goes to the art galleries in New York City. He sai…

38 Lessons #SOL17

On Thursday, I will turn 38 years old. Wait- wasn't I just regular 8 years old? It feels like not so long ago that I was 18 years old, graduating high school- but the truth is, that was 20 years ago! Oh, how the years have flown! I know better than to complain because every day is a gift, and 38 years of them is a blessing. 

I've been thinking about the lessons I've learned in these (almost) 38 years. Many apply to the classroom and all apply to life. So here are 38 lessons I've learned. (Thank you to the writers and philosophers I've borrowed from here...)

1. Don't look back. 


2. The unexamined life is not worth living- always reflect on where you've been as you plan to move forward.

3. Your character is your destiny.

4. Trust your instincts.

5. "To thine own self, be true" means, among other things, that I am just not built to wear high heels and I've made my peace with it.

6. Life isn't fair and the good guys don't always win, but y…