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. 


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.


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.