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? 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 19 Making Writing #SOL17

"Don't go in there yet!" my six year old son, Alex, warns me as I walk into the office, where he is cutting paper. He scurries into the living room to finish his project, then beckons, "Okay, come in now!"

This is what I find. A banner of papers taped together, with emoji looking hearts and happy faces. Then, signs and books he has created (I'm partial to the "I love mom" one). He reads me a book he made, The Hat Book. The first page says, "A red hat" with a picture of a red hat. The next page says "Family" and Alex leaps up to get a pen to revise his work and add the word "hat." He is so proud of what he has created. 

This is why I'm a "Pantser" and cannot plan out Slices. I was thinking about writing something else entirely different tonight, until I walked down the stairs and had this experience with Alex. I am thinking about how my son loves to write for his own purposes. Imaginative and inventive, Alex often searches for paper to tell his stories or ideas. Often while playing, Alex uses writing in personally meaningful, motivating ways. The same boy will hide, moan and groan and procrastinate at homework time. I wonder how he would have fared in my kindergarten writing workshop, where I required students to write "personal narratives." I think Alex would have hated that and might have drawn an epic bad guy battle, like so many of my former students used to do, to my teacher-confusion. Now, as a mom, I see how my son uses story and writing to construct his play and how limiting it might have been to expect all students to approach writing the way I asked. 

Earlier today, I wrote a grant proposal for our PTA. They are offering up to $150 for individual teachers.  I've been wanting to develop a writing makerspace in my classroom after reading Angela Stockman's book Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer's Workshop Into a Maker Space. The TWT Voxer group I am part of has discussed writing makerspaces too, and it feels like an innovative way to make writing workshop feel just like it did for my son tonight- a place to use writing to create your vision. A place where you can get up, move, use different tools and materials and make something that means something to you. 

My grant proposal asks for a pegboard and a system to hang up pegs. In pictures from Angela Stockman's WNY Young Writer's Studio, you can see how a pegboard would be a perfect place to store all different kinds of materials used for creating. 
Picture from WNY Young Writer's Studio 

When I was a new-ish teacher, Multiple Intelligences was the buzzword. Writing makerspace would be a place that could tap into several different intelligences instead of just verbal/linguistic, which you would typically see in a regular writing workshop. With writing makerspace, you would make room for kids with visual/spatial intelligence, possibly musical/rhythmic, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Kids who might be reluctant writers could get to the writing through creating, which might be another doorway into the process. 

I am still learning and envisioning how this all might look in my classroom and I don't know if I will be awarded the grant. But seeing my son's pride and excitement at what he created, how his words and pictures sent a powerful message of love to me, reassured me that it is a worthwhile goal to create a place for students to be able to "make writing."

(Side note: I was so touched by the comments on my post yesterday. I feel very fortunate to be a teacher-writer in this  supportive and kind community of educators who write. It is a safe, welcoming place and the comments really meant a lot to me. So thank you! It was a better day.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 18 Limping to the Publish Button Slice #SOL17

This is a limping to the publish button Slice. 
This is a Friday-night-after-St-Patrick's Day-craziness-at-work Slice.
This is a report card weekend, stacks of papers to grade first Slice.
This is an exhausted, 'cause it was my daughter's fourth birthday this week Slice
This is a someone hurt my feelings and I don't want to talk about it Slice
This is a rough teaching day, feeling kind of down Slice.
This is a reason my blog is about having courage to try again tomorrow Slice.
This is a hoping tomorrow brings fresh energy and ideas for a Slice. 
This is a limping to the publish button Slice. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 17 The Luckier I Get #SOL17

"The harder I work, the luckier I get."
-Samuel Goldwyn

I shared this quote with my class the day before St. Patrick's Day. I should have waited until today, when "the luck of the Irish" is on their minds, but the quote came to my inbox that morning and it struck me as important to share. One of our class jobs is the Chief Inspiration Officer, and that person selects a quote to share with the class at our Morning Meeting. I need to add more quotes to our selection because we've been hearing the same ones again and again. This quote seemed like an important one to share.

When I read it to my class, they didn't quite get it. Didn't make the connection that when people say you are lucky to win the game, or get the prize, they sometimes miss the fact that you practiced for hours each day or worked really hard on that poster which won the contest and earned you the prize. 

It's been true for me. The harder I work, the more opportunities present themselves to me. I also think "courage" and "audacity" are somewhere in that mix too. Courage to tackle a new opportunity, work hard, and make it a successful venture and the audacity to believe you can and should have that opportunity. "Audacious" is my one little word for 2017 because that is the piece where I need some work- new opportunities often leave me feeling unworthy for them or with an imposter complex ("If they only knew how much I really suck, they would not want me to ________"). 

Much in life is out of our control, but we make our own choices. We can choose how much effort we will put into any project or work we have to do. I believe in giving it your all, in going the extra mile, in working hard. As Steve Martin said, "Be so good they can't ignore you." And then, when others say how luck you are to be getting A, B, or C, you'll know it really wasn't about luck at all. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 16 A Pantser Reflects on Student Blogging #SOL17

As a "Pantser" (yet to grab my badge),  I don't plan my Slices in advance. I wanted to be more of a Planner and even though I could create a theme for each day. Turns out, as much as I love the idea of knowing what I will write before I write it, that isn't really how I process life. I need to write after I live it, if that makes sense. 

The down-side is, some nights or mornings don't have a fabulous idea all ready to roll and the pressure of the clock ticking doesn't allow for time to come up with one. Yesterday was my daughter's 4th birthday and by the time the festivities were done, I was exhausted. A full work bag begged for my attention because report cards are due Monday and I still have endless hours of work to go to make that happen. Still, I was exhausted and sleep won, before I could do any more work or compose today's post.

As I sat down to write this post, I first checked my class' Kidblog page. We are deep in the challenge now. I'm awarding badges to students for different purposes- writing a poem, commenting on at least 3 people a day, writing for 5 days in a row. 7 students have yet to earn one badge at all. Part of the issue is students have to jot the name of their post in a booklet I created and jot names of classmates whom they've commented on. This does not take long, but saves me endless amounts of time for awarding badges. Some students have trouble remembering to write in their packet and others have said flat out, they aren't doing the challenge. Which I find puzzling and a little sad. I give them time in the morning to blog and I've also said they could blog on paper if technology is an issue at home. I just bought many prizes through Scholastic, which I will be giving away to kids who've earned 7 badges at the end of the challenge. Why wouldn't you give it a try? It's not hard to earn badges but some aren't making any attempt at all. I've accepted it, but it bothers me.

I am also struggling with seeing how many students forget punctuation and write their blog as one, very long sentence. Capital letters too. One students has taken to always using a lowercase letter to start her name. How much of this do I correct? I don't want to take away the joy and excitement of blogging, but how do I help them see that posts with proper punctuation are so much better to read (without hurting anyone's feelings)? Some bloggers are writing one sentence and then saying "Comment me if you agree" or something like that. This seems to be a big thing- they like comments and will use the word as a verb. But they are providing very little for a person to comment on! And there is not much thought going into a post that is one sentence long.

One of my student bloggers writes with correct conventions and she works to incorporate craft in her posts. They are a pleasure to read. But how much do I highlight that? Should I pick one post a day to celebrate and why I like it so much? Perhaps calling students attention to proper conventions along with a meaty message?

One thing I've done so far is highlight a student blogger of the day. I've put a QR code (that leads you to a portfolio of that student's posts) on a sheet of paper and the student writes down what he/she enjoys blogging about. Students enjoy being highlighted in this way, but I could do more to celebrate their best posts.

Time is just the enemy! Squeezing the challenge into a packed curriculum at report card time makes it hard to do all I want to do with the challenge.

One other take-away: student blogging really does offer a teacher more insight into students' lives. You see what they enjoy and the interests they have. I might never known some of the stories and interests students share through their blogging. It helps to get to know them on a different level, and also shows me what I should work to connect to curriculum to make things more interesting for them.

If your students are blogging this month, how is it going for you?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day #15 This is Four #SOL17


This is four.
Four is all about asking the hard to answer questions: Heaven, and bad guys, and babies in tummies and how they got there. 
Four is starting to name letters of the alphabet and typing out the word "Biscuit" on the computer (with some coaching from Mom).
Four is wanting to do everything just like her big brother.
Four is using words like "supervised" as in "I can use Sharpies if I'm supervised."
Four means she can still cuddle into my lap and I can still lift her up.
Four is hair being uneven from when she cut it at three and 1/2 
Four means ballet classes, soccer, yoga, and soon swimming.
Four is coloring and painting and making art projects.
Four is listening to books read aloud: Biscuit, Madeline, Knuffle Bunny
Four means actually hiding during Hide and Go Seek and not screaming out 
"I'm in here!"
Four is not a baby anymore.
Four looks more like a little girl.

I look back at my baby, my one year old, two year old, and tonight for the last time, my three year old, and I marvel at how time passes. I am beyond grateful for the gift of Megan in our lives, for the baby she was, the toddler, and now the little lady who makes me laugh every day and fills my heart with joy and pride. Happy Birthday to our sunshine, our daughter, Megan. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 14 It's "Pi-ku" Day! #SOL17

Last year, I discovered "Pi-ku"- a type of haiku, but written for Pi Day (3.14) which is today. I wanted to share this with my students, but we are in the midsts of Stella, a nor'easter I suppose. It is a snow day here, but I didn't want to miss my chance to write some Pi-ku. 

To write a Pi-ku, you need to make the first line 3 syllables, the second line one syllable, and the last line 4 syllables.  Give it a try!

Snow falling
Inside all day

Hot coffee
first sip renews

Report cards
so much to do

get my steps in

So now I'm off to exercise (workout video in the living room) before everyone wakes up! Stay safe in the snow, all of you in Stella's path. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Day 13 Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds- Part 2 #SOL17

Yesterday I shared the first part of my experience at the Long Island Language Arts Council and Nassau Reading Council's 2017 Conference, entitled, "Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds." 

Today I will share the rest of my experiences!

Empowering Students' Writing Through The Conversation of Response

Karen Buechner (left) and Nicolete James (right) are exceptional educators and friends through the Long Island Writing Project. The description of their workshop said, "Responding to student writing is inarguably the most demanding job of the ELA teacher. Empowering all our students as writers and giving them authority over their writing happens when we provide them with context-based commentary and opportunities to participate in a dialogue with their teacher and peers." The workshop opened with a question for us to consider: "What is feedback?" We shared our ideas with the person near us and then shared out as a group. Karen and Nicolette then made connections to Pam Allyn's keynote and the idea of putting a lot of love in our teaching. They presented the idea that we would respond to students first as readers, not as teachers. The teachers in the room voiced what it would mean to respond to student writing as a reader. 

Karen and Nicolette shared some ways they connect with students to discuss their writing. Conferences in and out of class were discussed as well as using Google comments. Nicolette shared a digital tool called Kaizena which allows you to speak your comments. 

A final activity was to look at a piece of student writing with a partner through the lens of being a reader. What comments would you make to the student? The writing was a visual analysis, which was not something I see much of as a third grade teacher! (The writing was a high school student's work) It was interesting to note that I still thought of mentor texts as a go-to resource for ways to help the writer improve. 

It was a pleasure to be part of this workshop, especially because I know these two educators are passionate teachers who believe in the power of writing. 

(Side note: If you aren't part of your local site of the National Writing Project, you should look into it! Writing Project teachers have a special something and are among the finest people I know.)

Afternoon Keynote Speaker: Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander lights up a room, fills it, stops you and catches your attention right away. He is a gifted story teller and understands kids. Kwame's poetry is lyrical and meaningful. He talked about words having the power to change lives. It's hard to describe a Kwame Alexander keynote- I've had the pleasure of hearing two of them and you just have to be in the room! So I'll say, next time you have the opportunity to hear Kwame, don't walk, there! 

I always try to purchase a book when I'm at a conference. Kwame Alexander's anthology of poems, Out of Wonder, was my beautiful buy this year. (Sorry, New York Ready test prep book- you didn't stand a chance!) In the Preface, Kwame writes that the title of the book comes from a quote by Lucille Clifton: "Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing." The book includes 20 of Kwame's favorite poets and is illustrated by Ekua Holms in the most gorgeous, bold colors. I cannot wait to read this whole book and share it with my students. 

Believe it or not, tomorrow I am off to another conference! I will be in the Poster session at the Suffolk Asset Conference, which has a focus on technology in education. I am so eager to share about my class hub and learn from the forward-thinking, innovative educators who will be presenting. I am grateful to my district, Farmingdale, for believing in the power of educators continuously learning and encouraging teachers to attend conferences. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 12 Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds #SOL17

My post on Day 10 was about a snowy morning possibly getting in my way to attend the Long Island Language Arts Council and Nassau Reading Council Conference, entitled, "Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds." The good news didn't! I was able to attend the conference and I'm so glad I did. 

Here are the highlights:

Pam Allyn

The conference's theme, "Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds" was just the message I wanted to hear. Pam Allyn was the morning keynote speaker. The thing that strikes me about Pam, and speakers like Penny Kittle, Lester Laminack and Kylene Beers- these literacy legends are so likable, so funny, and they know what it's like to be a teacher. Listening to Pam speak, you just know how smart she is but you also see how relatable and funny, too. 

Pam described how in changing times, our work as teachers stays steady. She said there is a how and what to teaching literacy, but the bigger part is the why and the why is what will be our legacy, what students will remember. She described how her Grandma was a professor at Teacher's College and told a story about her Aunt Rita's marble cake. Everyone in the family wanted to bake the cake so it tasted just like Aunt Rita's, but no matter how hard they tried, using all the ingredients exactly like Aunt Rita, it always tasted different. Pam compared that to the teaching of reading- there is a science to it, but there is also an art. Aunt Rita's recipe might be duplicated (the science) but the way she put love into it (awww) is the art.

And so it it must be with teaching reading and writing. There is, of course, a science to it and the technical aspects of what we do. But our focus can't only be on that- we need to think of the why of reading and writing and dedicate time to that as well. 

As a third grade teacher, I was moved by Pam talking about her third grade teacher and how she made all the difference in her life. Pam spoke about changing the language we use around students who are typically seen as "struggling." She suggested calling them "striving readers" because all of us are always striving to be better each day. 

Pam also discussed teaching kids to be close listeners. Some students are always eager to share their answer =- the "oooh!ooh! ooh!s" she called them. But we want to teach our students to be more thoughtful and listen more, and ask questions that encourage exploration and thinking, not just a right or wrong answer. She suggested using technology for meaningful purposes, such as asking students to respond in writing in a shared Google Doc after a read aloud. 

Pam spoke about helping students be confident and courageous readers. She said sometimes read something difficult for you and share that with the students- share that you are a courageous reader who will tackle challenging text and work through it too.

Pam Allyn and Ernest Morell have co-authored a book called Every Child A Super Reader, which I own! (I just need to find time to read it!) I highly encourage you to check it out, too.

STEAMify your Language Arts Program

This workshop was facilitated by Dr. Randee Bonagura, who is the principal of the Wantagh Elementary School, where my son is a kindergarten student. Dr. Bonagura recently published a book entitled Embrace Makerspace: A Pocket Guide for Elementary School Administrators. Last Fall, the Wantagh Elementary School hosted an amazing night for families all about Makerspace. I was so impressed by all the opportunities for children to be creative problem-solvers and was excited to learn more about the possibilities.

Dr. Bonagura was a second and third grade teacher before becoming the director of reading on her way to being a principal. She spoke about her heart being in literacy and this workshop was a way to marry literature with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and music) concepts. She shared many resources and ideas. When reading a book to students, such as The Three Little Pigs, you could ask students to think about a different type of structure that might withstand the wolf's huffing and puffing before the brick one. Students can then design and try to build their own creation. 

One idea I loved was to encourage speaking and listening using Legos. You would create two identical packs of legos and pair students up, back to back. Student A has to put the legos together and then describe it to Student B, who needs to recreate the same structure by listening. Although I've seen this activity done with drawing, the physical manipulation of legos adds more of a kinesthetic element and design as well. 

Dr. Bonagura also showed us theme backpacks which can be sent home with students. One "under the sea theme" included different possibilities for students to build, draw, and create while also sharing books on the topic, too. This is an amazing idea and something I would love to implement in my classroom. 

I never feel that confident with STEAM lessons and concepts and Dr. Bonagura said that is true for many elementary teachers who feel a passion for literature. Using some of these ideas with the books you read to students can be a bridge to becoming more comfortable with STEAM and incorporating more of it into your instruction. This was an inspiring presentation and I am really eager to try these ideas! 

(Part 2 tomorrow....)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Day 11 I Don't Believe #SOL17

(This post was inspired by an idea I read from a student while perusing the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. This student is in Margaret Simon's class and you can read his post here.)

I Don't Believe 
I don't believe that numbers tell the whole story.
I don't believe test scores should decide any person's worth.
I don't believe in giving a lot of homework.
I don't believe in reading logs that make you count pages or minutes. 
I don't believe schools should look and feel the same as they did 100 years ago.
I don't believe students should learn the way I learned in 1988.

I don't believe any research that says class size doesn't make a difference- it does.
I don't believe you should become a teacher to get summers off.
I don't believe  you should dangle a prize or a pizza coupon in front of a student to get him to read.
I don't believe you should ever go a day without reading aloud to students.
I don't believe that readers are letters of the alphabet. 
I don't believe that writing should only ever live in a folder or the teacher's pile to be graded.

I don't believe that teachers should stop learning and striving to improve.
I don't believe in clip charts anymore. 
I don't believe in compliance as a means of classroom management.
I don't believe the day should start without warmly greeting each other in a classroom meeting.

I don't believe in doing the bare minimum or cutting corners.
I don't believe in phoning it in.
I don't believe that I have enough time to be as good of a teacher as I could be.
I don't believe I'll ever stop feeling guilty about that.

I don't believe teachers are lazy or inept.
I don't believe teachers are the problem.
I don't believe our schools are failing.
I don't believe poverty doesn't play a role in a student's achievement.
I don't believe teachers can solve every problem.

I do believe teachers can make a difference.
I do believe students will remember how you made them feel.
I do believe every single thing we say and do counts.
I do believe teaching simultaneously breaks your heart and fills it.

I don't believe there is anything else I'd rather be than a teacher. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 10 Clouds Got In My Way #SOL17

Rows and flows of angel hair 
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done 
But clouds got in my way
-"Both Sides Now"
Joni Mitchell

Born in 1979 and a kid in the 80's, a record player was how I first knew about music. My dad had lots of records and many nights, he would play them. I got to know the Grease soundtrack, Dolly Parton, and more this way. The record that stands out in my mind was Judy Collins, "Colors of the Day."

My favorite song on the album was "Both Sides Now." Even as a kid,  the music and the words sounded magical. As I grew older and listened differently, I understood the song in new ways.

I thought of "Both Sides Now" as I prepared for today. A conference I have been looking forward to for weeks and a March snowstorm on the same day. I'm waiting to see what the predictions are. I don't want to be far from home if a lot of snow falls but I don't want to miss the opportunity to attend this literacy conference (LILAC) where I can see and here Pam Allyn, Kwame Alexander, and area educators who are presenting. 

Clouds, full of snow that should have fallen in January, are in my way. 
"So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day 9 Treasures Where and When You Least Expect Them #SOL17

"I made something for you!" my six year old son gleefully calls out. I am in the bathroom. 

"Can I see it when I come out?" I ask, trying to hide my annoyance. It's been a long day after a night with only five hours of sleep. My patience has already clocked out, calling it a day and heading wherever patience likes to go when it leaves me. 

Apparently, he cannot wait until I come out, as I see a little something start sliding under the bathroom door. A picture frame he made at school with the note he wrote here at home, afixed with the tape he asked me to cut before I went into the bathroom. 

And there it is: "I lvoe (love) Mom" complete with a heart. Words he's learned to write himself, to send a message, to communicate. This is one of the treasures I spoke about in my first day slice- the notion that all of these moments will live on in these slices. Years from now, I can look back at this- when Alex is a teenager or maybe even leaving for college or just about to get married- and remember the little boy who so earnestly slid a picture frame under the bathroom door, just for me. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Day 8 My History of Exercise #SOL17

"Call a cab!" my ten year old self simultaneously panted and whined, hanging on to a stop sign for dear life.  My poor mother, following doctor's orders, had strongly encouraged me to go on a walk with her. It was not going well. She sang "It's a Long Way To Tipperary" as I shot her murderous looks and all but demanded she call me a taxi to take me the whopping four blocks to our house. 

So begins my tale of how I feel about exercise.

Truth be told, I've always been the sedentary type. The sit on the floor, play with my Barbies kind of kid. The sit on the couch, watch a tv show kind of person. The sit in a cozy chair, read a good book sort of girl. See the pattern here? The key word: Sitting. I loved all my sedentary activities and (truth be told again) I still do. 

It's not in my nature to be like, "YES! Today I get to sweat and move and work out! Wooooohoooo!" I'm really not that happy and excited about it, but I have grown to enjoy some forms of exercise. 

My favorite type of exercise is walking. Especially now, with little kids who need me, walking is a nice break and some "me time." I love listening to podcasts (loving the new Missing Richard Simmons one) or music or Voxer conversations. I like to look around the neighborhood and see the seasons changing, notice the houses and their decorations, and breathe fresh air.

I also wear a Fitbit and aim to walk 11,000 steps each day. Most days I hit my goal, which leads to such a sense of satisfaction, watching the number explode with confetti on my Fitbit app. I take part in challenges like "The Workweek Hustle" and "The Weekend Warrior" and it is motivating to try to be at the top of the leaderboard. 

My next favorite type of exercise is Jazzercise. I feel kind of sheepish saying this, like you might be scoffing as you read that. ("Jazzercise?! What is this 1985? Is she wearing leg warmers and working out to Olivia Newton John?") The thing is, I've joined gyms and tried classes there. I have felt so out of place.  People were not that friendly and not that patient if you didn't know the steps. Jazzercise is a welcoming place, where people of all shapes, sizes, and ages are welcome. The music changes every few minutes and the routines allow you to dance, do kickboxing, and latin moves, too. There is strength training as well. Each instructor has a different personality, giving each class its own distinct feel. I always enjoy the routines and I never feel out of place. There are modifications so you can make the workout work for you. 

Given the choice of a good book and the couch, or exercising, I would always want the book and the couch. But I have come to realize that making movement part of my day is important to my health and well-being. I've come to enjoy it. If I could go back in time and talk to that out of breath, out of shape, pudgy ten year old, I would gently let her know that she will survive those next four blocks and someday be Jazzercising with the best of them. 

Day 7 Instead of Homework... #SOL17

Picture it: (Not Sicily)- A suburban house where an exhausted teacher/mom sits at the kitchen table, dinner cooking, almost four year old daughter chattering on endlessly, and her kindergarten son doing everything but the homework he is supposed to be doing. Ten frames and addition first, then an editing sheet next, where my son is supposed to read sentences, reorder the words so they make sense, add capital letters and fix punctation. (Did I mention this is kindergarten?) Instead, he has fixated on a spoon he has named "Mr. Spoon." He's drawn a face on him. He disappears out of the room and comes back with Mr. Spoon, now taped with crayons, pencils, and a whistle. 

The editing sheet is SOOO not happening tonight, so I give in and Mr. Spoon gets new relatives as my daughter insists she needs a Mrs. Spoon. 

An entire spoon family is created. They laughed, were creative, problem-solved and told stories about the Spoon Family. 

As it should be. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 6 A Cup of Tea and Memories #SOL17

Tonight as I sipped a cup of tea
Something about the smell
Brought me back to my grandparent's kitchen.
I could see my Grandy
in his button-down blue sweater
and the green box of Social Teas
the cookies we always ate
alongside our cups of tea.
Safe, cozy, loved.
A cookie dunked.
Happy, loving memories
in my heart and mind
love remembered 
as I drink it in. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Day 5 Slicing Our Lives #SOL17 #DigiLitSunday

When I speak about Twitter to other educators, to try to convince them to see it as an amazing tool for professional development, I often say it has been transformational in my life. Am I being dramatic with these choice of words? 

No, not at all. 

Twitter has become the ways and means to discover other passionate educators, opportunities, and ideas. Twitter first introduced me to the Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Twitter pointed the way to Margaret Simon and #DigiLitSunday. Today, both #SOL17 and #DigitLitSunday come together for this post.

Digital literacy provides connection and community. We find this in the SOLSC, where so many of us educators are blogging this month. Could I write for 31 days in a notebook and be changed? I'm not sure- I've never done that. I've taken the SOLSC challenge twice before, successfully, to blog for 31 days and share my thoughts digitally, in a community of writers who can comment. This has changed me. The SOLSC pushes me to live like a writer, to slow down, notice, share, and be part of a community of educators who value writing. The comments have validated my writing and given me confidence in my voice. Beyond the personal benefits of writing, there are benefits to being part of an international digital community of educators who write. Walls come down when we share our lives with each other. (I'm a big fan of walls coming down.)

This is my third year taking part in the challenge. While I've previously reflected mostly about how the writing changes me, this year I'm thinking about how reading other people's Slices changes me too. The Slices I've read this year have been in turns, funny, creative, poignant, moving, a pleasure. With each blog post read, I know a slice more about the writer- likely things I would never have learned about these people. A brother lost. A passion for playing the piano. What it feels like to be a teacher of color. To be questioned if you are worthy for the job you were hired for, based on your race. A teacher celebrating her mother's influence on her professionally and personally. Literal window shopping. And more....

Today, on #DigiLitSunday, as I write my fifth SOLSC post, I celebrate the notion that blogging in a community grows you as a writer and a reader...and as a human being. Yesterday, I was a participant in a Long Island Writing Project workshop entitled "Voice and the Voiceless", facilitated by Vicki Alessi and held on site at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. Vicki has traveled to Europe with other educators to learn first-hand about concentration camps and the history of the Holocaust. She challenged us to think past the outrageous number of 6 million Jews killed and think of the individual stories. We read poems about the shoes taken from those killed and saw a video featuring a very young child's shoe, a child killed in the Holocaust. We had time to explore the museum and focus on the people and their stories.

I still don't really have the words for this experience, for the feelings I felt. But my connection between that workshop and this post is stories. Telling our stories and bearing witness to other's stories is something we can all do. As a third grade teacher, giving my students a platform to share their stories digitally, through the Classroom SOLSC, allows them to also hear stories from students around the world. We are more alike than different. Knowing someone's story makes it awfully hard to see them as "the other" or "evil"- makes it less okay to strip someone of rights and human decency. 

Slicing my life has helped me develop as a writer, which makes me a better teacher of writing. It has helped me live more reflectively, which makes me a better person. Slicing my life in a community of educators has given me another place to call home, an online family to care about and support. It has encouraged me to create this for my students- to help them be bloggers, to give them the chance to read and comment on posts from kids like them and unlike them. 

The goal of all of this is to be a literate person who cares about the world and others in it. To use writing as a means of expression and connection. Doing this digitally makes the world smaller and more personal, and I can't think of anything more important right now than caring for and about each other- no matter what race, creed, religion, gender, culture, socioeconomic status....

Writing our stories, reading other's stories, giving this gift to our's what we can do. it's what we must do. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Day 4 No Guarantees #SOL17

A favorite author can start to feel like a friend. Her name is comfortable and familiar. "Oh yes," you think to yourself, "I know just what to expect from books by her. She is lovely. Her books are lovely." 

I've been touched by Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books for years. When she was the Global Read Aloud picture book author last year, she inspired kindness. Amy hoped for others to do random acts of kindness as part of the GRA celebration. My class wrote quotes about kindness in hearts we decorated and we hung them all around the school.

So when I saw an article on Facebook, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, entitled, "You May Want to Marry My Husband," I had a sinking feeling. Read it with tissues handy. Amy has ovarian cancer. It seems she only has days left. 


Last year, I followed the story of Joey Feek, the country singer who was part of the duo Joey + Rory. A beautiful, talented couple, they happened to be the parents of a baby girl with Downs Syndrome. Joey had ovarian cancer and passed away a year ago today- March 4th. Rory blogged about Joey for months before she passed away and he recently published a book, This Life I Live (also the name of his blog), which is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. 

I am so sad that Amy Krouse Rosenthal will not be on this planet much longer. I am so sad that Joey Feek left too. I am scared of the uncertainty of life- that one day you are planning and dreaming and complaining about traffic and annoyed about the long line at the grocery store, and the next you are sick without hope of recovery. 

This week, I had a breast sonogram. My very first mammogram resulted in "inconclusive images" despite the fact that I paid extra for 3D imaging (won't do that again). I needed a sonogram and so I got one, fairly certain that I was totally fine.

But sitting there, watching the technician type on the screen and move the wand around for what felt like forever, I started to worry. What is she seeing? Does she look concerned? What if there is something there? 

It was fine. A nodule that was benign. The advice was to follow up in six months to make sure nothing had changed. But in that time between waiting and knowing, my mind raced with the life I so desperately want to live. The time to raise my my children. To have more adventures with my husband. To spend time with my family. To teach. To learn. To be part of all the seasons.

There is so much I take for granted each and every day. A long life is not guaranteed and I should stop acting like it is.

Thought and prayers to Amy- a beloved author who has touched many lives with her words. She will continue to influence the world long after she's left it. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Day 3 Unless... #SOL17

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better...
It's not."
-The Lorax, Dr. Seuss 

The Lorax is a dear old friend of mine. 16 years ago, it was The Lorax I read during a demonstration lesson at the school where I work, the lesson that got me my first teaching job. That first year of teaching, The Lorax inspired a project on sustainable development with my 6th grade Science students. 

In my third grade classroom, a large poster rests against a chalkboard with the quote, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get's not." This quote from The Lorax might sum up my personal philosophy of education better than anything else. 

It's easy to pass the buck, to blame someone else, to say "It's not my fault!" or "It's not my job!" It's harder to do the work, to care, to take on the extra projects. But if not us, who? If not not, when? 

In a world full of blamers and doubters, liars and cheats, it's easy to get discouraged and feel hopeless. 

How to counteract that? Do. Try. Be. Give. Care. Show up. Work. Go further. 

The Lorax is still my go-to guy and his words ring true more than ever. 

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, I will be the Lorax and keep on caring a whole awful lot. 

Updated: My fabulous student dressed as the Lorax today for our school's Dr. Seuss Day. He made me my own Truffala Tree. It is already a treasure!