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!