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.


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."


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.


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. 


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? 

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! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#SOL17 Dear Self: Please Excuse This Blogger

Dear Self,

Please excuse me (us?) from our weekly blog post. I know we've committed to writing here at least once a week because it is important to stay in the writing habit. We (I?) believe in writing and know that teachers who teach writing make a difference for students. 

It's just, this has been a busy week. A hectic weekend, rolled into a rewarding yet exhausting professional day of learning. A long drive home in the rain. Two children to feed and get ready for bed. By the time 8:30 pm hit, Kathleen (She? Us? You?) could barely keep her eyes open. Every good intention was made to wake up early, exercise, then write this week's post.

Except the alarm was on silent and Kathleen woke up with a start, half an hour later than expected. She chose to exercise, because, well that's been a big priority. She was just about to get her post done when Megan (4 year old daughter) started crying and the clock said she was already late for her morning shower. 

Then a busy day at work, after school PD, dinner, homework.....a stuffed work bag. Too much to do, too little time.

This week, she didn't carve out enough time. Next week, you have my (our?) word that the blog post will be much, much better. 

My Best, 

Monday, May 15, 2017

#SOL17 Advice from Walt

On Saturday, I took part in a Writing Marathon at Walt Whitman's Birthplace as part of the Long Island Writing Project's Saturday Series of workshops. (That's Walt looking rather proudly over my shoulder.) I've been a Long Islander all my life and shopped numerous times at the Walt Whitman Mall but never visited his birthplace before. The weather was gray, chilly and rainy, but May meant there was still greenery everywhere as I explored the house where Walt Whitman lived until he was four years old. 

During one part of the Writing Marathon, I came upon the opening to Leaves of Grass, entitled "This Is What You Shall Do":

"Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, 
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people
Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
Or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with the powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young and with the mothers of families,
Read these leaves in the open air,
Every season of every year of your life,
Reexamine all you have been told,
At school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
And your very flesh shall be a great poem."

 How very timeless! Published in 1855, it's amazing how true every word is, still, in 2017. My favorite line- "Read these leaves in the open air, Every season of every year of your life." 

I'm grateful to be part of the Long Island Writing Project, which is so often nourishment for my professional teaching soul, taking me to places in my own backyard that I've yet to discover. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

#DigiLitSunday Summer Slide

As a teacher, what do I want most for my students? My fondest wish is that my students become caring, passionate, engaged, educated citizens who are curious, think critically and seek out knowledge. Is that really asking too much? Of course, this is what I aspire to be, too- the kind of person who continues learning, growing, and uses that knowledge to make the world at least a little bit better. 

The whole issue of "summer slide" is, for me, like an iceberg. There is so much below the surface that we need to think about. If students stop learning- stop reading, writing, and thinking- when not in school, what are we really teaching? Are we teaching for compliance? Are we teaching students to fill out reading logs but despise reading, to just wait for that period of time when reading can, in their opinion, blissfully stop? Isn't our mission- all year long- to inspire students to be learners, thinkers, and yes- readers and writers? 

Each year, I get a list of the reading levels my new students were in June when they were second graders. Each September, many students have dropped a level or two or three. Sometimes more. Some didn't read all summer long. They didn't write either. And this makes me so sad because chances are, these kids don't see themselves as readers and writers, as people who read and write because it enriches their lives. They don't see these activities as pleasurable or part of their identity. 

This doesn't sit well with me.

Last year, we tried something to hook our students into reading. I created summer digital newsletters, using Smore. We had a padlet where each week, students and staff members could share what they were reading and this was included in the newsletter. The newsletter featured videos of teachers and staff members reading a summer themed book as a way to give kids some more read aloud time and feel a connection to the school during the summer. The newsletters also included some summer slide infographics and events at the local library. 

Another thing we tried was 2 summer book exchanges- each hosted at the local library. We had a photo booth and bookmarks for kids to color and everyone who came got to choose new books to read. Kids even made video book reviews in front of a green screen. 

This was our first time trying something like this, so of course there are ways to improve upon what we began. One thing I'd like to try is asking parents to sign up for the digital newsletter ahead of time, to explain more about summer slide and have them receive it in their email box instead of just finding it on Facebook or Twitter. I'd also like to create a hashtag for our summer learning, so students and staff members could share what we are learning throughout the summer. As part of the Two Writing Teachers blog series, Keeping the Learning Going Throughout the Summer, I shared an idea to use a bingo board as incentive for summer writing. Writing could also be shared via padlet during the summer, just like reading. 

Digital tools make it easier than ever to keep a learning community connected. Summer can be an exciting way to see students try independent writing projects and have them share their learning across different media. Readers and writers can share and be part of a community of learners. Do we take advantage of these ways to keep our students connected? And, most importantly, are we creating communities of learners who are energized by what they read, write and share and are eager to do it through all seasons? If not, we have more to think about than just the summer slide. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Writing Strategies Book Study: Goal 6- Elaboration

My four year old daughter knows how to ELABORATE. She tells me detailed stories of her school day, her make believe doll stories, and even retells stories I've told her about when I was younger. She includes many details and even interesting language! But elaborating in writing isn't something that comes easily for many of my third grade students. 

I am taking part in a collaborative book study of Jennifer Serravallo's The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers, organized by Kelly Malloy.  The Writing Strategies Book is divided into goals and each week, another educator blogger is sharing about that goal. You can find previous ones here:

Goal 1 (Composing with Pictures)
Goal 2 (Engagement)
Goal 3 (Generating and Collecting Ideas)
Goal 4  (Focus/Meaning)
Goal 5 (Organization and Structure)

The goal I am sharing this week is Goal 6- Elaboration. Jen says, "Elaboration is the specific information a writer uses to develop her topic. Elaboration includes but is not limited to details, facts, anecdotes, dialogue, inner thinking, setting description, character description, statistics, reasons, information, and direct quotations from interview subjects (208)." 

Jen made a point I thought was so true- she said, "What's sometimes challenging for students is that they assume that their reader knows everything they know. Writers then neglect to include enough information so that the reader can also visualize what the writer is visualizing (209)." This makes so much sense when I think of many of my student writers who do not provide details to help the reader understand what is happening. 23 strategies are listed for this goal...wow! I will share 3 of my favorites. 

6.5 "Nudge" Paper 

This strategy says, "When you feel like a part of your draft needs work, but you're cautious about making changes right on the page, take a strip of scrap paper. Try out your idea on that page. Consider if you want to apply them to your entry or draft (216). 

I think this is a low-stress way to push students to try out another approach to a lead, and ending, or any part in the middle! I also like that the writer gets to decide if the change works for him or not. 

6.10- Prove It 

This strategy asks students to think of their idea or claim and make a list of reasons to support their point. This is perfect for my current unit of study, persuasive speeches! Students write their opinion and list the reasons why that opinion is true. Under each reason, facts or details are listed to support the reason. Once again, the charts and visuals are so helpful here!  Boxes and bullets are used to make the point very clear. 

6.25- Cracking Open Verbs

"Went" and "Go" are often the culprits- the crime? Dull verbs. Jen explains that writers try to "precisely describe"  how a person does something. Students can think about the emotions and feelings behind the actions of a character and replace dull and boring verbs with more "invigorating" ones!

Oops, she did it again! Jennifer Serravallo has once again created a user-friendly, amazingly helpful resource for teachers who want to help their students grow as writers....just like she did for our readers with The Reading Strategies Book. Thank you, Jen, for a book that will be useful for years to come and thank you, Kelly, for coordinating this book study! 

Adventures in Dog Sitting #SOL17

We are absolutely, positively, not getting a dog. So don't even think it.

We spent the weekend dog sitting my brother-in-law's chow chow, Rylee. My children, Alex and Megan, were beyond excited to be dog sitters, since they beg me quite often to get a dog. My son even wrote a letter to the Easter Bunny, hidden in a plastic egg, asking for a dog. It's enough to break your heart and break down your resolve to NOT get a dog.....well almost enough. Not quite enough. Because we cannot get a dog. 

A dog is a big responsibility and a big expense. A dog needs time and attention- both of which I am short on. It's hard enough to give my children the attention they deserve- how will I have anything left over for a dog? So no, no dog.

But there have been moments where I felt myself soften ever the slightest. When Megan came out of the shower and we opened the bathroom door to find Rylee waiting outside, looking for us.....well that was kind of cute. The way she follows me when I walk from room to room....rather sweet. Her fur is so soft and she has the cutest triangle ears. But no. No dog. 

When I was younger, I begged my parents for a dog. I envisioned a little dog with a red bow on his head, under my Christmas tree. I yearned for a dog. But now, all these years later, I see why my parents never relented. A dog is a big responsibility, a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of work. 

We are absolutely, positively not getting a dog.....I think. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On the Bench #SOL17

The calendar still read "April", but Saturday was a sneak peek into summer. The air was warm as the sun beat down on the three of us as we arrived at the "sandy park"- the one with sand on the ground by the playground equipment. My son, Alex, inching closer to seven and my daughter, Megan, newly four, took off their sandals and ran to play. 

It occurred to me, for the first time ever, that I could watch them from the bench. They could easily navigate this playground and I didn't need to be right next to them. Alex has been independent for a while, but I've been trailing Megan up till now. I took a seat on the bench and watched them play.

Then it happened again, on Sunday. Megan was able to play in the basement, on her own, with me upstairs in the kitchen. Alex was on the computer- also fine without me right near him. I was able to cook and prepare some food for the week ahead while everyone was happily occupied. Astounding. 

For so long, I needed to sit on the floor right next to them, or hold hands as stairs were climbed on the playground. I was urgently needed. And like everything in life, that comes with pros and cons. Being urgently needed means you are at the center of your child's life but it leaves you out of your own life a bit. Now that my children can do more for themselves and by themselves, they need me less urgently and I've rediscovered at least part of the day that can be for me. 

This weekend, that extra time meant I reorganized a tupperware shelf that had become a sea of mismatched lids and old, unfitting bottoms. I made the shelf neater and organized, tossing what no longer was useful. When I need a container, I will save time and frustration. Win! 

I'm really okay with being on the bench. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reality Bites #SOL17

I think living means you need to purposefully ignore a lot of painful realities. As we go through our every days, doing such mundane tasks as grocery list-making and paying bills and brushing our teeth, we need to actively ignore the fact that we will one day die and all the people we love most will too. (Cheerful thought to start a Tuesday, no?) The whens and hows are a mystery and so we push these dreadful truths aside and live like we have forever, and all the ones we love have forever too.

At times, it's harder to deny these truths. A little girl I know, younger than my own little girl, is battling cancer. Why does a three year old get cancer and how does any of that fit into the bigger picture of life and what it all means? Surgeries, chemo, and dreadful side effects. An entire family's blue sky existence now muddled with stormy clouds and no break in sight. 

People say when this happens, be grateful for your children and their health. But this just doesn't sit right with me. Why do I get to have children who can skip in the sunshine and play baseball while another little girl lies motionless for weeks in a hospital bed? And if that can happen to her in an instant, who's to say that it can't happen to me or my family in an instant too? How can you be grateful for your happiness knowing another is in exquisite pain? 

More than ever, I see the yin and yang of life- the light and the dark. A friend's marriage over before it began. A colleague's treasured mother passing away. A little girl who posed with the Easter bunny at the beginning of March now fighting an aggressive cancer. A fire fighter father who lives on Long Island killed on the job. A little boy shot to death walking onto a school playground. Sadness everywhere.

Yet light, too. On Sunday, I took my daughter Megan to our Mommy and Me yoga class. The sky was crayon blue and Megan wore lavender sunglasses in the shape of a heart, with pearls around the edges. She looked like a movie star and chattered on happily, as we held hands, walking to the studio. Her small hand, so cozy in mine. Sunshine. 

So, as much as I can, I push the fear and the painful realities aside, and focus on the here and now and all the mundane tasks that need to get done. I work to do good while I can and show my love for the people I care about. I try to be one of the helpers Mr. Roger's mother talked about when she told him to "look for the helpers" when bad things happen. I just wish bad things could stop happening. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

On a Roll.... #SOL17

Last week, I was hungry and grouchy and negative and did I already say hungry? It was "Day 1" of my new eating plan and I was resenting it, big time. Your comments were so uplifting and helpful...so thank you if you commented! And the next day was a little easier, and the next easier...and now it's been 8 days on this new program. I'm over 3 pounds thinner, which is a nice start, but the best part is I feel calmer- more level. I feel prepared. I've found recipes that don't make me feel like I'm suffering. Suddenly all the foods I was longing for don't seem as important as they did last week. 

Case in point- Easter Sunday. Before my Grandmother passed away, every year she would make a ricotta pie on Easter. It was my favorite. I would never turn it down, no matter what diet I was currently following. It was special- an indulgence I always allowed myself. This year, with my Grandma gone, there was nothing specific I felt I MUST HAVE, so before-hand I decided I would do my best to stick to my plan. I made a delicious and colorful fruit salad to bring to my in-laws for dessert and I decided that would be all I had in that department. Nary a chocolate bunny passed through these lips! I did partake in one glass of sangria punch at my sister's house- it was divine. 

Food, weight, dieting- these are "heavy" issues for me (haha) and while there are no simple solutions, at the moment, I'm feeling really proud that I am working on this and giving it my all. While there are still rolls to contend with, and though I may long for a roll (especially a warm one with a pat of butter), I'm on a roll and making positive changes. Drum roll please! :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hungry #SOL17

I'd like to write about something else, but I am hungry. Today was the first day of what I am not supposed to call a "diet" but, instead, a lifestyle change. The thing is, I don't want to change my lifestyle- I just want to be thinner while doing exactly what I've been doing. Apparently, that plan isn't going to work. I will have to put forth far greater effort, and eat much less of the food I love, to see pounds drop away. 

I am a hard worker. I am used to putting forth great effort...but with things that make me feel successful or tasks that seem important- like helping others. Why does my own health and fitness not seem important to me? Or is it that the "comforting" foods help me accomplish all the other work I take on? Is there some part of me that feels like being thin would be tempting fate too much and would result in some tragedy?

The day I finished our Slice of Life Story Challenge for March, I felt so proud of that accomplishment. A very good friend of mine, who has lost over 100 pounds and changed her life, questioned me when I asked how she stayed so dedicated. "You just blogged for 31 days. It's what you prioritize." That kind of stayed with me, annoyingly so. Why didn't I prioritize losing weight? If I put forth the same dedication that I do to other aspects of my life, would I be successful?

So here I am. Day 1 down. So many days more to go. A lot of weight to lose and a lot of work to do. When I took graduate credits towards my Masters +75, I knew it would take a long time and I took it class by class. Why am I so impatient with weight- want it all gone tomorrow! Why don't I embrace the journey as I do in nearly everything else I do? 

I hate being hungry and I hate being negative, and tonight, I'm feeling both. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 31 The Treasure Chest Closes #SOL17

On the first day of the March SOLSC, I wrote about this challenge being like a treasure chest. On March 1, the chest opened and each Slice became riches gingerly placed inside the box. Today, the last treasure is placed inside the box and another chapter closes. 

Ferris Bueller wryly said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." March is my chance to stop and look around- to slow down and notice, to wonder, to reflect, to question, to celebrate, to mourn, to feel. Writing every single day is not easy- in a month where report cards were due, and my daughter turned 4, and I attended professional conferences, and so on and so on. All the more reason to pause this month- to breathe in life, and exhale here, with all of you. 

I have been touched by your stories, your treasures, too. Reading the many Slices that were shared this month expanded my world view, my compassion, my conviction that we all have a story to tell. Writing by myself would not be the same as writing alongside other educators who believe in the power of words to light the way. 

As part of the Two Writing Teachers co-author team, I'm privy to the work and planning it takes to make such a challenge happen. I'm grateful to all the generous Welcome Wagon volunteers who care about the challenge and believe that new Slicers deserve an audience. I'm grateful to my co-authors who put in so much time and energy organizing information, soliciting prizes, running challenges, and finding inspiration to share with the community.

I'm also grateful to Stacey Shubitz, one of the founders of the Two Writing Teachers and our Chief of Operations and Lead Writer. It was Stacey's vision of a community of educators, who believe in writing, that has led us to this place today. Hundreds of educators and students writing every single day in the month of March, supporting each other, and doing it all to live the writerly life in the hopes that our students will do that, too. Stacey puts in an incredible amount of time and energy behind the scenes to keep all the moving parts of the challenge working correctly! Her vision, dedication, and inspiration have changed lives- most certainly mine. 

Today, this treasure chest closes. It holds this moment in time- March 2017, when I was 37 years old, a wife, a 3rd grade teacher, mom to a 6 year old and a 3 year old turned 4. Like Ferris says, life moves fast. I will never again have this month back to live again, but I can read all about it for years to come, revisiting these Slices, remembering what 4 looked and felt like, breathing in the way my son was at 6, reliving, just a bit, the days of my life. Treasures. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 30 When Bad News Isn't Yours #SOL17

On this day before the last day of the challenge, I wish I could write something different. I wish this story wasn't weighing on my heart, but it is. It's not my story to tell, but there is nothing else for me to say today. 

When the news is bad,
and it's not your own,
how do you act?
The sun is shining warm sunny rays
and the sky is that beautiful blue
you've been missing
but a friend's world is collapsing
or torn apart 
Your world is not.
Your children, rosy and healthy
do their normal things:
ride bikes, and glide on scooters,
dig in the dirt,
have a full-blown sock war,
with socks strewn all over, 
laughing and then crying.
The same.
Alls well.
But the news you heard
is that all is not well
for someone you know.
And you are sad for them
and scared and worried
and guilty and anxious
and angry that life can turn
in a split second
robbing happiness 
from where it rightfully should perch.
When the news is bad
and it's not your own
the sky should not be blue
the sun should not be so sunny.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 29 Ripples of Kindness #SOL17

This story caught my attention as I watched in on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/HumansofJudaism/?pnref=story (Posted on March 11th, 2016- pinned post.) 

Earlier this month, I attended a Long Island Writing Project workshop at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. The Holocaust is such a painful topic: I'm embarrassed to say I rarely let my mind think about it because I find it so upsetting. As a parent, I find it even harder to think about what so many families endured and how so many lives were ripped apart. It's inconceivable to me that such evil exists, yet we know it does.

This story, though, makes me think of a mother's influence. The lady speaking in the video describes how her mother packed chocolate for her, knowing there would be awful times ahead and the chocolate might somehow make things less horrific. The mother very kindly asks her daughter if she can give her chocolate to the lady going into labor, knowing the lady might not make it. The lady giving birth does make it- and so does her baby- who is described as a "feeble little thing" who never once cries...until the concentration camp is liberated. At 6 months, the baby cries for the first time and is "born again." There is an amazing twist that comes near the end of the video.....watch it to see!

My takeaways from this video: Ripples of kindness can change the course of a life, or lives. Sometimes it is years before we see the result of a kind act and many times we will never know how what we did impacted someone. Teachers know this best of all. We are gardeners, planting seeds, toiling, believing but sometimes never getting to see the blooming. Sometimes the blooming comes years after the planting. 

I think of all my teachers and mentors- the kindest, truest people who planted seeds of confidence, integrity, passion, purpose, service, hope, and love. I think of myself as a tapestry of their influences- the best of me comes from the best of them. And I plant seeds of confidence, integrity, passion, purpose, service, hope and love in the young lives I encounter, hoping one day I might be one piece of their story, one stitch in the tapestry of their life, the best of me now a part of them. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 28 Know Thy Self #SOL17

When I was younger, I loved taking quizzes in magazines like YM or Teen. I would circle the answers, then add up my score, or count how many A's and B's and C's I selected. Next, I would find the category that fit my score and read the description, nodding in agreement or taking the quiz again to get a better result!

I was reminded of this because I've taken two personality quizzes this week. One was shared on Facebook by Michelle Haseltine: What Is Your Teaching Spirit Animal? I got the Fennec Fox:"Well aren't you just a fluffy-eared angel! Students and staff alike are drawn to your sweet nature and willingness to listen (although some people may abuse these qualities). Also, you probably have the cutest classroom ever." (If "cutest" is defined by lots of piles of papers- mine's the cutest! Ha.)

The other quiz, The Color Code Personality Test, was shared by my friend Nicolette James. It was shown to her at one of the #CELI17 workshops she attended over the weekend. You can take the quiz here. This one asked a lot of questions about how you were as a child. My results indicated my color code is "blue." Blues are "motivated by intimacy. They seek to genuinely connect with others and need to be understood and appreciated. Everything they do is quality-based...They love to serve and give of themselves freely in order to nurture others' lives." That sounds about right! (Remember that song "I'm Blue...daba dee daba da"...guess I really am blue!)

I'm not so sure about the Fennec Fox, although I do try to be sweet and listen. I think blue was an accurate depiction of who I am. Do you every take personality quizzes? Try the Teaching Spirit Animal and Color Code tests too and let me know about your results! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 27 So You Want to Be My Next 3rd Grade Read Aloud? #SOL17

Okay, Books. The One and Only Ivan received the final rose, wore the crown, had the cape...it was our slam dunk, home run read aloud. It will leave a lasting impression on my students, as it has left on me. 

But now it's your turn. We are looking for our next, best chapter book read aloud. Are YOU the one who will cause my students to beg, "Just one more chapter!" Will YOU be the book that makes them think more than they ever have, feel more, be inspired more? 

Here are some of our contestants for the next read aloud:

The Wild Robot 

The Terrible Two 

Out of My Mind

Charlotte's Web

What books would YOU add to my list of contenders? We just finished a fantasy, so I was thinking another genre might be important to read, but I LOVED The Wild Robot and I worry if I don't read Charlotte's Web, my students might never experience it. 

I am looking for our next chapter book read aloud and would love your ideas! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 26 First-Rate Teachers #SOL17

Tonight, while surfing on Twitter, I stumbled upon this article from 2004, written by Donald Graves. Entitled, "What I've Learned From Teachers of Writing", it's a fascinating piece. I particularly was interested in the section where Graves details what he believes first-rate teachers do:

"They are highly literate. Good teachers are voracious readers who read for personal and professional enjoyment. They write for themselves, their students, and for broader audiences through publication." (Donald Graves)

So many of us here in the Two Writing Teachers community live this each day. We are also members of the Nerdy Book Club and read widely for ourselves and to be able to recommend books to students. We listen to podcasts about books and writing and send each other Voxer messages about these very ideas. All this month, here we are, living the writerly life, often reflecting on our teaching and publishing our work to a wider audience of educators. We read each other's posts, comment, and are often inspired to try a genre or craft move that another teacher blogger used. 

Donald Graves thinks we are first-rate, and who am I to argue with the late, great Don Graves? Here's to all of us, who are highly literate in the hopes that our students will join us and be highly literate, too. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Day 25 #CELI17 #SOL17

Today I had the chance to participate in the Connected Educators Long Island Summit (#CELI17), sponsored in my district, Farmingdale. It was an honor to be asked to be part of the panel that was the opening conversation for the day. The panel included education leaders (Superintendent and Principal), teachers, and students! The students were middle schoolers who spoke articulately and with conviction about how schools should look and feel. Their driving message was "Let students follow their passions." 

At the end of the Summit, this video was shared:

The difference between the adult answers and the kid answers was startling and revealing. Why do we go to our flaws first? The kids in the video thought of ways to improve upon their already fabulous selves. The adults thought of all the ways their self needed to change. What if we saw ourselves through a lens of possibility and positivity? How might we be able to create a better life if that is the lens we use?

Thoughts are still percolating, but I am grateful to have been part of a day of learning, innovation and inspiration. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 24 An Anchor of Hope #SOL17

"Your spark can become a flame and change everything."
-E.D. Nixon

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

The other day, a colleague who works with some of my students, providing reading support, relayed a story. She said my students told her, "Mrs. Sokolowski has that book. She has so many books. She really, really loves to read." 

The story was a sunbeam piercing through the storm clouds of doubt, rolling through my mind about all the ways I am getting it wrong in the classroom.   

I could make an extensive list of all the things I need to change and fix. But, perhaps, the one thing I am getting right is my students believe me to be a person who loves reading. Of course, they are right- I am a person who loves reading. I hug the book when I finish reading it, and sigh the sigh of a person who has just experienced something exquisitely beautiful. My throat catches as I read the last pages of The One and Only Ivan. I fill our classroom with books and magazines and poems. I post the book I am reading outside the door. I've told them that I believe reading makes you a better person and all the reasons I know that to be true. I've filled our blogging prize basket (for the kids who have earned badges during the Classroom SOLSC) with different books and literacy items. When we visit the school library, I always browse the stacks and borrow books. They watch me. 

In teaching, there's the what, and the how, and the why. Sometimes, I think I need to get better at the what and the how- the technical aspects, the small group lessons, the specific strategies to teach a reader, the ways to utilize the reader's notebook effectively, the organization of conferring notes. But, the thing I've got down is the WHY- the reason to learn the strategies in the first place, what makes it all worthwhile- why we do this thing called "reading". 

 In a sea of doubt, with an ever-growing mental list of the the areas where I need to improve, my students know that I am a reader and I love to read- an anchor in that sea, grounding me with hope that I am doing more good than I know. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 23 How Do I Make Them Care? #SOL17

How do I make them care?
Pencils strewn on the floor
Cast off, ignored, then swept away.
No pencil to write with, they tell me.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Notebooks home once again
Unprepared for the day's work.
A shrug when asked why.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Failing grades on math quizzes
Week after week after week
Practice your math facts, I ask
13 out of 25 didn't.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Talking, laughing, ignoring
the teacher trying to teach
Funny chats, lectures, 
good choice tickets given
Still... teaching interrupted.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Name-calling, fighting,
squabbles to settle all day long.
So many lessons on being empathetic
Yet they can't see the other's perspective.
How do I make them care?

I have really tried to get away from giving student's rewards and consequences, points and prizes. I want my students to pick up a pencil on the floor because it's their classroom and they care about our supplies, not because they will get a Dojo dollar for it. But....I can't seem to get many of them to do the right thing for the right thing's sake- not because a reward is strapped to it. And I'm feeling frustrated. I don't want them to feel badly about their grades, but maybe I want them to have more pride in themselves and their work and try a little harder, or a lot harder. When you get 3 out of 20 right on a multiplication quiz one week, wouldn't you try to do better the following week and put in more effort? 

How do you build an intrinsic desire to work hard and learn? How do I make my students care more about being their best and our classroom community? Tonight, I'm out of ideas. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 22 The One and Only Ivan #SOL17

This is my third year in third grade, and my third time reading aloud The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I read it once before by myself, which means I've read this gorgeous book four times in all. You would think my voice wouldn't catch anymore on the last line, but today, as I read the last page aloud, I felt the tears threatening and had to stop, breathe, and then push myself to say the words. I didn't want to ruin the very end of the book by blubbering, but it just gets me every time. 

Yesterday, I asked my students to write the formulaic "I am" poem as if they were one of the characters in Ivan. Their writing showed how they understood the characters deeply. One of my students, who absolutely struggles mightily with reading and writing, was captivated by the story. I had him dictate the poem to me and I was touched by how much he was able to express and how much he understood. It's the power of an exquisite book, being read aloud by someone deeply in love with the story. 

Ivan, Ruby, Stella, Julia, George, Mac...these characters feel like friends to me now. While a fantasy, themes of home, friendship, power, equity, and "becoming what you might have been" are universal struggles. 

There are some books that grab you and don't let go, and for me, The One and Only Ivan is that story. Till next year, Ivan. 

(Below are tweets exchanged today with the one and only Katherine Applegate- not only brilliant, but generous to respond to school children and their teacher.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 21 Back to the Pirate Ship #SOL17

Friday was not a great teaching day. It was one of those days where you shut your classroom door with a bag full of work and a heart full of worry. How do you shift the energy from negative to positive? How do you help students care more about each other, their learning, our classroom? 

On Sunday night, I turned back to a book that made a deep impact on me as a teacher. Paul Solarz's Learn Like a Pirate is about creating a student-centered, student-run classroom. I need to reread it, cover to cover, but only had time to flip through it. That was enough to help me come up with some new ideas for Monday.

On Monday, I added 3 new jobs to our list: Morning Meeting Leader, Afternoon Meeting Leader and Maintenance Director. We've been having a Morning Meeting all year, but I've facilitated it- called students to the carpet, started the greetings, called on the quote person to share, and facilitated calling on students who've signed up to share. It dawned on me that the students could really do all of that, and perhaps offering more leadership and ownership would help. I also thought it might be interesting for students to see how hard it is to get the others to listen! 

The next changes were to add an Afternoon Meeting. Dismissal has been feeling chaotic and stressful instead of a calm review of our day. At the Afternoon Meeting, we talked about celebrations from the day and then goals for tomorrow. I selected one goal for us to work on- saying hello and goodbye to each other (and me). I noticed this morning students walked right by me as I said hello and at the end of the day, when I say goodbye as they walk to their buses, sometimes they just ignore me. Tomorrow, the Afternoon Meeting Leader will facilitate the discussion and select a goal for us to work on as a class.

The Maintenance Director reminded everyone to pick up their garbage and books from the floor. So much better than my blood pressure rising as I ask students for the umpteenth time to throw our their scraps or pick up their books. 

The day felt better. All our problems weren't solved, but turning over some of the work to the students made me feel better. It's important for them to take on leadership roles and they are capable of doing so much more than I ever thought. When students are empowered to take on more responsibilities, the hope is that they will be more invested in the classroom and more engaged in the learning. 

How much ownership do you give students? How do you reset your classroom when things start to feel negative? 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 20 Five Favorites #SOL17

I have been in "Report Card Hell" (just kidding- I love report cards!) all weekend long, with 5 more comments to write. I am out of ideas for today's Slice, so cashing in my "Get out of writer's block free" card by using Leigh Anne Eck's brilliant idea to share 5 favorites. If you missed her post, click here to get your card too! 

Today I'm going to share my 5 favorite podcasts.

I never understood what podcasts were until last summer when I finally figured out how to download one and listen! I've been hooked. They are fun to listen to in the car or while I'm folding laundry. I love how listening to the stories told and the new ideas shared. The 5 listed here are among my favorites, but I listen to others, too. Missing Richard Simmons has become my favorite one lately because the story is so captivating!

Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones would you recommend?