Monday, November 13, 2017

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 did? What if we thought about everything we encountered as having feelings and a story? 

Last night I read Megan the brilliant book A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young. It's such a clever book and Megan really gets it, laughing belly laughs at some of the scenes. But, also, we could empathize with how the goat (I mean unicorn) felt at certain parts. Reading the book and feeling sorry for "Sparkle" reminded me of the pancakes and the pinecones and thinking everything has feelings. 

I got that from being a reader. Reading has made me a person who can feel the pain of a goat trying to be a unicorn. Reading was responsible for making me imagine pinecones wanted to stay with each other on a park path. Reading helps you see the story in everything you encounter. And knowing a person's story is the first step in showing compassion and kindness. 

What I'm passing onto my children isn't great culinary skills (I microwaved the frozen pancakes) or a myriad of other talents I don't possess. But I am passing on a love of reading, of belly laughing when a goat trying to be a unicorn lets out a little toot, and understanding that all things and people have stories. We can let those stories touch our heart and change the way we live. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

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.

Love is 
listening when you would rather talk.

Love is
making the phone call instead of texting.

Love is
knowing your heart
could be smashed
into million pieces
by life's unpredictability
and cruelty,
but loving anyway
truly
madly
deeply
because what would
life be
without love? 

Love is
courage
hope
kindness.

Love is
needed.

Monday, October 30, 2017

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 the Author" page, which made my teacher heart fill with gladness. He saw himself as an author. 

You just never know. That is one of the things I love about teaching, something that keeps me going when the papers and planning seem bottomless and it all feels like a steep mountain to climb. You just never know the students who will remember you, will look to see your smile at the start of their school day. And you can never give up on those kids that seem hard to connect with because they are probably really hoping you don't stop trying.

Tomorrow, I will look for my friend and hope he stops by to visit me. His smiling face reassures me that teaching, while so very hard, is still where I need to be. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

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 my eyes can barely stay open and the bag remains where it is. 

I cannot keep up.

But I couldn't keep up when I worked round the clock, either. Which leads me to wonder if teachers ever feel all caught up. (Anyone?) As a third grade teacher with 24 students, I teach every subject. And every subject now has sub-subjects. Math isn't just Math- it's daily math, concept development, problem solving and fluency. Reading isn't just Reading- it's read aloud, word study, minilessons, small groups, and conferences. There is writing. There is social studies. When there isn't social studies, there's science. There's character education. And then there's the extras I throw in because I believe in them- poetry notebook, family dialogue journal, blogging, etc. Besides all the content to plan, there is the very human component that these are children in front of me with wiggly teeth and stories of baseball games- kids with real hopes and fears and ideas about themselves as learners. Getting to know them is a very big part of my job. 

There are the forms to fill out so a translator can contact a parent who is not English speaking. There are the forms to fill out to let our team know I have academic or behavioral concerns about a student. There are the forms to fill out for friendship club, and the character award, and for appointments for parent conferences which are....right around the corner. (AAGH). 

I don't know any other life- if other people feel this constant sense of being behind at work. Is this just a teacher thing or is this just what it's like as an adult? I try to work smarter and not harder but can't find the time to listen to the podcasts which are supposed to teach me to manage my time better. 

Please don't get me wrong- I LOVE teaching and would want no other job. I just somehow wish I could feel less buried under all the things that need to get done to do the job well. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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 second day there, I was utterly miserable. I needed money to help pay for expenses as a college student (living at home and commuting), but nothing was worth this misery! I told the managers I would finish my shift but wouldn't be coming back. 

At my college, I noticed a job posting on a bulletin board. It was for a project assistant at and office in the National Center for Disability Services, which also houses the Henry Viscardi School. My uncle had been working there for years and used to take me there in the summers to volunteer in classrooms. It was a school I adored. The project assistant position would be helping put together a manual on Early Intervention Services. 

I applied for the position and got it! The job was a fabulous learning experience. Instead of standing on my feet staring at a bin of socks, I would sit in an office and help type articles, make phone calls, send letters- all while learning more about how Early Intervention works. I'm a fast typist today because of all the articles I had to type then. The job paid far better, was more interesting and I got to see my uncle sometimes too!

I was reminded of this story this weekend when I chatted with a dear friend who finds herself miserable doing work that she hates. I think when you walk away from what is not for you, doors will open for what IS for you. I believe better opportunities await and life is too short to spend each day feeling awful. Taking a leap is hard but I think you have to have faith in yourself that you will find what is meant for you. I'm hoping my friend chooses happiness over the security of a job that makes her stressed, anxious and sad. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

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 chest full of plastic prizes. 

Now I look to tell kids what I honestly appreciate about them and their actions.

I used to think of the classroom as "mine" and filled it with pictures of my life- my family, my wedding, all on my big teacher desk.

Now I think of the classroom as "ours" and mostly "theirs" and I have no teacher desk and I keep my family pictures at my house. 

I used to have all my book bins labeled by letter and told students which bin they could shop from.

Now I have most of my bins as genres and authors and just a few bins with levels. I encourage my students to make thoughtful book selections and I help them when they don't. 

I used to think I would "arrive" one day as the perfect teacher, with everything laminated and prepared, perfectly ready to carry out my lessons.

Now I know I will never be the perfect teacher and will always be working to learn more and when I know better, do better. 


Monday, September 4, 2017

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 I am to be in a community of educators who give of themselves, share generously, and make a difference each day.

How lucky I am to make a living doing my dream job.

How lucky I am to be a teacher.



Monday, August 28, 2017

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 all day will give way to bustling fall mornings, rushing out the door, teaching all day, then driving to after school activities. Less time to just be. Less time to enjoy each other without all the interruptions and distractions. 

So while I was, to put it mildly- petrified- on the Skyview ride, it was a memory I will cherish, because I was with my buddy, laughing together about how scared we were, imagining the crocodiles in the lake below us, cheering when the ride came to an end. 

For so long, I never imagined my children wouldn't be little, wouldn't need me all the time. Now, as my son nears seven, I see how quickly it goes, how I'll blink and he'll be 14, open my eyes again and he'll be 21. (I feel like weeping typing that line). Suddenly, I know these vacations are precious moments and memories. Even the scary ride ones. Especially the scary ride ones. 

All too soon, the ride will be over. But this summer, he let me hold his hand and we laughed our fears away, legs dangling over the park-goers below. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

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 education student who has a story to tell but needs support with conventions? The student excited about her story, that it all came rushing out? Where is the conversation about first drafts and how writers go back, reread and make corrections? At what point in the process are these components of writing "non-negotiable"? And says who? 

The older I get, the more I realize that semantics are everything. It's all in how we say it, how we invite others in, how we frame what we mean. I want my students to know that they capitalize because it makes their writing easier to read. I want them to understand that punctuation helps a reader follow along. It helps the writer give voice to the piece of writing. I want students to care about how their writing looks and sounds because it matters to them and someone is going to be reading it....not because their teacher said it's a "non-negotiable". 

I am the furthest thing from a rebel, but I feel a rebellion stir in me when I'm given a similar type list of non-negotiables when it comes to instruction. Such a document fills me with a similar sense of dread like I got when reading the PTA "Must" list. Who has decided that these are the non-negotiables when it comes to teaching? Have teachers been part of this conversation? If not, why not? We are the ones living and breathing the instruction we do with real live little people in front of us. Surely our thoughts and ideas on the teaching and learning process should count for something? Why not ask us what instructional practices we value most and how we've come to feel that way? 

I am a teacher who cares deeply about my craft. I read blog posts and professional books and children's books and I take workshops and watch webinars and listen to podcasts about teaching. Why is it assumed I need a list of "must do's" when it comes to teaching my students? Where is the respect for my professional expertise and knowledge? 

Maybe its an overreaction, but I think it's worth noting that such a document  can cause feelings of anxiety and resentment in the very people you are hoping to inspire and empower. Perhaps skip the list of "must-do's" and "non-negotiables"- whether you are a teacher, an administrator, or a PTA leader! Talk with your people about what matters and ask them what they think. Then you can be sure to mention the ideas you think are critical too, and together, a shared vision might start to piece together. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

#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! 


Monday, July 31, 2017

#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, "What I want you to know is that there are things in this world that you will choose, and there are things in this world that will choose you. That little girl was meant to be a teacher. Although it would take her years to recognize it, that meant you would, by default, know the life of a teacher."

I'm like Sarah Brown Wessling, except it didn't take me years to know I was meant to be a teacher. From the earliest age, it was all I wanted to be. I think of being a teacher as who I am: not a job I have, but a vocation. I can't turn it off, even in the summer. My mind is always spinning with ideas about teaching. Before I was a mom, I was a teacher. 

And it must be good, for my children to see me love my job, to see me have a passion to help others, right? 

Writing is thinking and writing helps me think through swirling thoughts but this piece is still unformed, developing. I love teaching. I love my children. I am a teacher and I am a mom. All parts of me. All roles that make up my identity. 

But that little face peering in the door, looking for assurance that she is more important to me than the work I do- I just can't get it out of my head. 




Monday, July 24, 2017

#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, as these authors do, that reading is a transactional act, with a text's words only coming to life as they interact with a reader's mind and heart, and that the students who leave our schools will need to know how to interpret many things, not just analyze them, we need to bring interpretation- and feelings- back into our classrooms" (133).

Chapter 8: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Consider the Implications of Facts

This chapter was full of "aha's" for me. I realized I'm the type of reader who sometimes reads past things I don't understand in informational text. To deeply understand, I would need to do some problem solving as well! I was struck by the idea that nonfiction writers don't always explain everything and assume that the reader might already know information. The difference between knowing and understanding also made me wonder if I am doing enough work to help kids understand the informational text we read. I found the section on preteaching vocabulary (or not) to be refreshing and new from what I've been taught about giving students all the words ahead of time. 

I love the part where Vicki said to students, "I think we're confused because this is one of those places where the writer hasn't come out and directly told us something. Instead he expects us to figure it out and nonfiction readers often do that by thinking about how a word of fact connects to other parts of the text" (148)." 

The section about the lungless frog was fascinating (and challenging to understand). The idea of planning and preparation was also something that got my attention- the idea you need to plan but also be prepared for when the play goes awry. 

I'm eager to read the rest of the book and participate in the Twitter chat this week! This book has really pushed my thinking about what it means to teach readers to be problem solvers. 


#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 snuggle while watching movies,
to (mostly) put my work aside,
to notice their eyelashes resting on their cheeks as they sleep,
to hug whenever they will let me. 

  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

#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 layers of meaning in their chosen books because they hadn't figured out the basic who, what, when, and where of the story line. And none had any idea that they were, in fact, completely lost."

2. page 61: "Many writers, in effect, hit the ground running, tossing names and information at readers like balls in a batting cage, alluding to events that have already happened and relationships that may come with baggage, trusting their readers to field those balls and somehow make sense of it all."

3. page 62: "The thing, though, is this. Readers have to know they're confused or don't know something, and students who continue reading without actively connecting details or being aware of what they don't know often wind up lost in books that are supposedly just right for them."

4. page 65: "Sometimes writers don't come right out and tell us exactly what's happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don't know and then try to figure out what hasn't been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them."

5. page 76: "But once again, if we want students to take risks and become flexible thinkers, we must be flexible risk-takers too."

6. page 77: "But by asking students not only what they think but how they arrived there, you open the door wide enough for them to show you both what they're able to do and what they still may need to learn."

7. page 77: "Thus, the more opportunities students have to talk about their thinking, the more likely they are to transfer that thinking from one text to the next- and isn't that just what we are after?"

8. page 78: "A problem-based approach acknowledges that readers need to time to think creatively before they critically assert- especially if we want them to see reading as a complex act of understanding, rather than of staking out and defending claims like prospectors during the gold rush."

9. page 79: "I (mostly) am able to keep my mouth shut because I choose to trust that when we slow the process down, students can put the pieces of a text together in ways that allow them to see connections, relationships, and patterns of interaction."

10. page 80: "The important thing about a problem is not it solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution."

Chapter 6: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Experience Deeper Meaning 

Top Ten Quotes

1. page 88: "...this suggests that readers need to attend to and fit together the threads and patterns the writer has woven into the story."

2. page 100: "Why questions can help us dig deeper into characters' motivations and feelings..."

3. page 103: "And this is the contagion of thinking, where you can almost see synapses firing in students' brains, is precisely what can happen when give students the time and space to think without evaluating through collaborative talk and low-stakes writing."

4. page 104: "Making students more aware there's a writer behind the scenes calling all the shots- and that their job, as readers, is to consider why she made the choices she did- helps students understand and internalize the concept that writers choose details purposefully to convey whatever aspect of people and life they're exploring through the story."

5. page 104- "When students share their thinking with you, a small group, or a whole class, it's important to respond in a way that doesn't communicate judgment."

6. page 105- "...studies have found they retain even more when they get to teach others, which is exactly what students  are doing when they share how they figured something out."

7. page 105- "...you want to create a culture of thinking where multiple ideas can exist side by side, without needing to find consensus."

8. page 106- "That's because curiosity needs to come from inside, which is why it's seen as an intrinsic motivation, unlike grades, fancy stickers or a threat to call parents, all of which come from us. But through your responses and the environment you create in your rooms, you can nurture the very conditions curiosity needs to thrive."

9. page 106- "And that steady decline in students questions is matched with a drop in their engagement and their ability to think creatively as they move through the grades."

10. page 107- "...so that students can experience what it means to read closely in more authentic and meaningful ways, using the exact same thinking processes they'll need for college, careers, and citizenship." 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#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 questions about all the things in her house and her backyard. She looked up at wind chimes and said, "That looks like what babies have over their cribs!" She was right- it did look like a mobile. I marvel at the connections her four year old brain already makes. 

We decide to go back outside, so Megan can ride her bike some more before evening sets in. Norma looks wistfully across the street, saying how she remembers letting her kids run across to greet their dad as he walked home from the train station.

"They get old so fast," she said as Megan climbs on her tricycle and pedals away. 


*****
The title of this piece refers to a "purple flower moment"- a moment you become mindful and remember. I read about it in Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Textbook, which is a book I cannot put out of my mind. Highly recommend it! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

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: http://www.heinemann.com/blog/the-heinemann-podcast-cornelius-minor-3/

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 said that sometimes he walks across the gallery to look at a famous piece of art because it looks different from a different vantage point or perspective. He employs this "stand on the other side of the gallery" idea with students as well. When your first instinct is to feel annoyed that a student is calling out and perhaps challenging you as a teacher, if you take a minute to "walk across the gallery" in your mind and look at the student in a new way, you might see that the student is eager to contribute and is showing signs of critical thinking. He said critical thinking is a tool that can be used as a weapon and we have to teach students how to use it correctly. 

Years ago, a staff developer who worked with teachers at my school, talked about "going up the ladder of inference." It reminds me of Cornelius' idea bout walking across the gallery. The ladder of inference was that your first thought led you to other ideas and you would race to a conclusion that could be faulty because your first thought might not have been true. You then made other snap judgments based on the first thought, leading to a faulty judgement. Walking across the gallery and not racing up the ladder of inference are both about pausing and considering that there could be another perspective. Holding space for the notion that another idea or way of handling a situation could be valid. 

In all situations, in the classroom and out, I want to follow this advice and take more walks to the other side of the gallery. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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. 

But....

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 you need to keep doing good, no matter what.

7. I can forgive a lot more than I ever thought I could.

8. There is no tired like a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school.

9. Reading often and widely makes you a better person.

10. Name-calling is mean.

11. Second helpings often lead to regrets.

12. Show up.

13. I will never have it all figured out.

14. My best times are when I'm encouraging someone on.

15. If I don't recognize the phone number, I'm not picking up (It's always a telemarketer.)

16.  I need to drink more water. 

17. Life will keep presenting you the lessons you need to learn. 

18. Words have power and words matter. 

19. It takes a village to raise a child. Ask for help. 

20. There is no "there"- always more to learn and achieve. 

21. Like Mr. Roger's mother said, "Look for the helpers." Try to be one of the helpers.

22. You get out what you put in. 

23. Being busy is not a badge of honor.

24. Learn from others who pursue excellence instead of feeling inferior or jealous.

25. You can learn something from everyone.

26. When faced with being right or being kind, be kind.

27. Relationships matter most.

28. Moment to moment choices over time lead to change.

29. Some days are Alexander days- "terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad" days but like Annie said, "The sun will come out tomorrow."

30. Songs can live in your memory far longer than facts.

31. Being part of a writing community makes me a better, more accountable writer and is good for my soul.

32. Self-directed learning leads to agency, reflection, and ultimately deeper understanding.

33. You can't fight curly hair.

34. Show gratitude often.

35. I still have so much to learn.

36. Each season in life has its beauty.

37. Hugs help.

38. "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes, it's a quiet voice that says, 'I will try again tomorrow.'" -Mary Anne Radmacher.

What is one lesson that resonates with you? 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Welcome Summer! #SOL17


Welcome Summer! 
Cluttered classroom starts to clear out.
Report cards folded and envelopes stuffed.
A year of learning together reaches the finish
And we prepare to undo the ties that connected
from September to June. 
Goodbyes are in the air as the artwork comes down
Name tags ripped off desks and lockers.
An ending.

Summer is a beginning.
Alarm clock-less days and camp drop offs.
Reading and learning and dreaming 
Planning and envisioning 
Breaks at the beach, late sunsets
Twilight and fireflies.
Smores and sunscreen.

Exhale. 

Happy Summer, Teacher Friends! 

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Knowing #SOL17

(This post is inspired by the structure Mary Anne Reilly sometimes uses in her blog posts. Mary Anne's writing so often stays with me and her posts are among my favorite to read- powerful, honest, moving, lovely.) 


"As a general rule, teachers teach more by what they are then by what they say."
-Unknown

I.

A conversation with my son's kindergarten teacher reminded me of the most important lessons teachers need to learn, including me. To talk to your child's teacher and hear such care, compassion, and such knowing- (this person gets and appreciates how special my son is) is a lasting gift. Have I done that for my students? I've tried but think I need to try harder. Think I need to make it a tangible goal for myself next year to not let the amount of "stuff" I have to teach and deal with overshadow the young people in front of me, desperate to be seen and appreciated for how special they are. Humbled by this conversation and inspired to do better. Grateful that my son had this extraordinary teacher.

II.

Family yoga on Saturday, this time with Alex. Megan and I took these classes in the spring and she loved it, wanting to go back. A different instructor greeted us. My son was excited to share he'd tried yoga in preschool and knew some of the poses. Megan was less delighted- where was the songs? The puppets? The scarves? The family yoga we were used to was very child-centric, with music playing frequently and changes in activity. Imagination and pretending, key parts of the class. Not so much for this class- it was pretty much straight poses. Megan grew bored (almost instantly) climbing on me, making it impossible for me to do any of the poses too. Alex kept his focus. But it was amazing how two classes, both advertised as Family Yoga, could feel so totally different. How the instructor's interpretation and understanding of young children and what they need was so key to Megan's enjoyment of the class. Another takeaway- curriculum comes alive in the way it is presented, interpreted, and delivered to the audience and the audience needs to influence the presentation, interpretation, and delivery. 

III.

When I was younger, I watched a lot of movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is Working Girl, featuring Melanie Griffith. In one scene, she says, "I read a lot of things....you never know where the big ideas will come from." I believe that. Dr. Mary Howard has written about starting each day reading a professional post, article, text, etc. and the difference that makes. I believe it, too. I believe reading about teaching and learning fills me as a teacher and a learner. This weekend, two posts I read that I deeply appreciated were from The Nerdy Book Club. Jess Keating's post, The Weight of a Life and Donalyn Miller's post, The Key To Summer Reading? Invest in Children's Reading Lives All Year spoke to my heart. Reading and writing give weight to our lives. We need to build readers all year, and I mean kids who WANT to read, not kids who are completing assignments. Lack of access to books is a real problem, but I worry a little more about the kids who have access and don't want to read. Where are we going wrong if our students think reading is just for school and not for life? Writing too? And how do we help our kids become readers and writers in every season? 

IV.
Today was the "Senior Walk" at my school. The graduating seniors of 2017, the ones who started at my elementary school, came back to walk the halls in their caps and gowns. This group of students, mine 12 years ago, when they were kindergarten students and I still felt like a new teacher. I was Miss Neagle then. I stood in the hallway today, Mrs. Sokolowski, not new by any means,  clapping as these young men and women walked by, and then caught the eye of one of my former students. We exchanged big smiles of recognition. Then three other girls shouted out "Miss Neagle!" and we did a big group big hug before they had to move on. Later, two young men who I remember clearly as five year old buddies stopped to take a picture with me. I'm so glad they were still friends, together as I always remembered. I recalled one of them used to play the piano- remembering the little five year old sitting at the large piano at the Talent Show. He couldn't believe I remembered that about him. But how could I forget? Once upon a time, he was my student. And it was important to know he played the piano. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

#SOL17 June From A to Z



As I turn the calendar to June, my heart mixes with different emotions. Bittersweet to say goodbye to the year where my son started kindergarten and my daughter grew so much in her 3 year old program. Conflicted feelings about what I accomplished as a teacher and what I failed to do as well. Deadlines loom for all the paperwork that must get done to close out the year. Everything seems to stop for others who can cancel their classes or close their room to box things up while classroom teachers keep on going with students to the very end. Fair? Give up thinking about that, I tell myself- it does not good to get angry about how much is asked of a classroom teacher. Help other teachers who are changing grade levels and have a huge task of moving all their belongings and learning so many new things. I want to make the last month of school memorable and happy for my students. "Just keep swimming" Dory says, and that's good advice for a month like June where you can start to feel like you are drowning. Keep in mind that the warm weather and promise of carefree days makes teaching quite a challenge when students feel ready for summer. Lose them, you will, if you don't shake it up and change the routine a little. Make sure you get them excited about all the ways they can keep learning over the summer. Never make reading seem like a chore or a punishment, or something you do just to win a raffle. Offer your own experiences and plans to read and learn as examples of what life-long learners do in the summer. Parents need to be educated on the summer slide and how damaging it is when students totally give up the reading habit in the summer. Quickly find some information to send home to them regarding this. Remind them that the library is a fabulous resource in the summer and should be utilized often. Send kids home with new books to read, which they can get at a school book swap. Take down old bulletin boards that you've kept up for a few years- time to give the classroom a fresh look in September. Understand that the last few weeks of school require more time spent there and less time at home. Very soon, there will be longer days at home with your family. Wishing away all the work won't make it happen. X-rays won't show how much your heart has grown, and broken, and pieced itself back together after a year of teaching and learning with children. You have done the very best you can, but you know it still wasn't enough. Zip your bag, lock your classroom door and say goodbye to another year, knowing you will open the door once again with excitement and hope come late August. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

#SOL17 Homework and Used Cars

Words matter. This, we know. Words paint a picture in our mind, giving us positive or negative feelings. The words "hot chocolate"? Instantly makes me feel cozy, warm, and happy. The word "dentist"? Dread and pain come to mind. 

When I was younger, cars that were not new were "used." Somewhere along the line, that became "pre-owned." How much lovelier does "pre-owned" sound than "used"? Would you want a "pre-owned" car or a "used" one? 

I've been thinking about "homework" quite a bit and the connotation it has. Who wants to do it? No one. It conjures drudgery and something to just get through to be able to enjoy the rest of the day. As a parent of a kindergarten student who has to do homework, it is our worst time of day. Tears flow. Frustrations bubble. 

I know the research says homework is not effective in elementary school but I also know many parents have not read that research and expect homework. When I think about the arguments FOR homework, I know some will argue it teaches responsibility, helps connect families to what is being taught, and allows the student to practice. 

Here are my counter arguments:

-I don't think homework teaches responsibility. I have some students who have had to take on far more responsibility than I ever had at their age- cooking meals for the family and taking care of younger siblings. Assigning homework does not make someone more responsible. My students who struggle with organization still forget to pack their materials, do the work, and bring it back. Merely assigning the work and checking it does not foster responsibility. I also think it offers an advantage to the students who have parents who can sit with them and make sure they are doing the homework/bringing it back. Some students do not have this support at home for various reasons. Is it far to blame them because they do not have a parent that is able to help them?

-I do think sending homework home shows parents some of what is happening in the classroom. But are there better ways? A class website, newsletter, videos of instruction...aren't these ways we can show parents what we are learning? Also, utilizing family dialogue journals where students and parents can write to each other about what the student is learning would be a way to connect parents to the curriculum.

-As far as allowing students to practice the material, here's my issue. (I'm specifically talking about math homework.) The students who don't understand the math will either get the homework wrong, have someone at home do it for them, or they won't do it. How does any of this help them? The students who understand the work- do they need to do it again at home? Could students practice math facts or engage in some kind of motivating problem solving that wouldn't feel tedious or difficult? 

I think about the time it takes to check that homework is done, to send notices home for students not doing it, to follow-up that notices are sent back the next day. The time to give out homework and write it down....this all becomes a big chunk of the school day. And to what end? Does it make students more excited to learn, more creative, more engaged? If not, why are we doing it?

I'm really trying to get my thoughts together on homework to come up with a plan for next year. I know there are many others who've been thinking about this idea and writing about it. I'm really curious what this community thinks about homework and it's role in education. 

No matter what I decide to do, I know I'm changing the name to "Home Opportunity" which sounds so much more like pre-owned than used!