Reading

Dear Nic Stone,

“We argue that the ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to be better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we want to become.”

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Disrupting Thinking

My 8th-grade son has just finished a book club experience as part of his ELA class. There were several books he could choose from – The Hate U Give, All American Boys, Ghost Boys, Tyler Johnson Was Here, Dear Martin, How It Went Down and Piecing Me Together. After we talked a little about each book he decided to read Dear Martin.

On a cold Sunday afternoon as we were driving home from Target, (I am learning that VERY important conversations often happen in the car with 14-year-old boys.) I asked if he finished reading and if he liked the book.

“I don’t know – I thought I would learn more about how to stand up when people do things they shouldn’t. He told us about a lot of things that should never have happened in the first place.”

I responded, “Yeah, but when I read I learned a lot. I’ve never thought about talking to you about how to talk to police and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I looked different than everyone around me. And Justyce felt like this every day when he went to school.”

“Yeah, but Mom people are people and I think as generations move on things change … our friends are better.” He then described some things that my 93-year-old Gramma has said over the years. “I get really mad when family says racists things – they know better. How can I respectfully tell them that it bothers me?”

Wow! I honestly am not 100% sure that I navigated this conversation correctly and by no means is this conversation over. But there is one thing I do know – without these books and these amazing authors I would be even less prepared to talk about this with him.

Rudine Sims Bishop writes about how books can serve as “…windows, offering views of the world that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange.”  I am forever grateful for authors who become some of my greatest teachers, through whose words I am able to peek into worlds beyond my experience. Elizabeth Acevado (The Poet X), Samira Ahmed (Love, Hate and Other Filters), Tahereh Mafi (A Very Large Expanse of Sea), Mitali Perkins (You Bring the Distant Near), Jason Reynolds (For Every One), Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ghost Boys), Benjamin Alire Saenz (The Inexplicable Logic of Life) and Angie Thomas (On the Come Up) .you have each recently been my teacher and I want to say THANK YOU!

THANK YOU to all of the teachers and librarians who make these books accessible to young readers. THANK YOU to my son’s 8th grade ELA teacher who used these books as the anchor for book club discussions and learning.

THANK YOU!

Leading · Literacy

2019 Dublin Literacy Conference: “30 Years of Celebrating Our Stories”

We count ourselves lucky to teach in a school district that values literacy as highly as Dublin City Schools does. The last Saturday in February every year is a chance for us to recharge and reconnect as literacy teachers and leaders.

The Passionately Educating bloggers have a variety of roles in this year’s conference and we thought we would share!

2019 Dublin Literacy Conference Chairman: Jennifer Wolf

2019 Dublin Literacy Conference Committee Members:  Rita Shaffer and Rachel Polacek

2019 Presenters:

  • Lindsey Brauzer: Creating Connections during Reading Conferences
  • Rachel Polacek: Exploring Identity: Informing Instruction with Sara K Ahmed’s Being the Change
  • Melissa Voss: Reading and Writing Workshop (Revised)
  • Kara Belden: IGNITE Student Voice in You Secondary Classroom
  • Rita Shaffer: IGNITE Student Voice in You Secondary Classroom
  • Beth Honeycutt: IGNITE Student Voice in You Secondary Classroom

We are excited about this day learning and especially looking forward to the keynotes from Pam Allyn and Jason Reynolds.

If you are visiting the Lit Conference this year, we’d love to meet you and say “hello”! And each of us will be sharing our learning on February 23rd using the hashtag #dublit19.

More information about the conference can be found here and registration is still open.

Leading · Reflection

Learning To Ski

I went skiing last weekend with my 72-year-old father.  He taught himself to ski when he was in his 40’s, and he still takes on the black diamond runs in northern Michigan.  I am at the other end of the spectrum. I had attempted the beginner hills at several flat runs but definitely wouldn’t call what I did skiing. So when dad invited me to hit the slopes, my first reaction was a mix of fear and excitement.  I had just finished watching the world-class athletes in the winter Olympics and although I am very afraid of falling, I knew I had an opportunity to learn a new form of exercise. So I accepted his invitation!

We arrived at the slopes early and gathered our gear before heading up the lift for my first try down the beginner hill. Dad patiently demonstrated while explaining how to get on the lift; he even alerted the lift operator that I was a beginner so that he could slow down the chair as I hopped on. I forced myself to trust dad’s directions, imitate him, and up the hill we went.

My first time getting off the lift and “skiing” down the hill was a disaster.  I fell hard twice and was grateful I had listened to my husband when renting my equipment, including a sturdy helmet.  At that moment, I really wanted to return my rentals, get into the car, and head back to the hotel. But, with dad’s encouragement, I got on the lift again and managed to get off the chair and down the hill without more than a stumble or two.  Dad continued to patiently give me immediate feedback about what I did correctly and tips to improve my technique. Each time up and down felt more comfortable until I was ready to leave the beginner hill.

From that moment, the process was repeated over and over during the weekend. Dad encouraged me to ski on hills that I was barely able to manage, demonstrated how to successfully navigate the new turns and slopes, and patiently coached me as I learned to get up by myself. By the end of the second day of skiing, I could comfortably ride the lift, get off the chair without falling, and use my edges to “snake” down what felt like a steep hill. I was a skier and I couldn’t wait until my next skiing opportunity!

On one of my final rides up the hill, I was relaxed enough to reflect on the fun.  It became clear that the weekend skiing experience was much like an effective school. Students and teachers come to new learning with anticipation but also with some angst. Unsure and anxious when they are tasked with learning a new skill, even if they are motivated. But with a support system in place and an opportunity to practice together, it isn’t long before fear can be replaced with confidence and confidence triggers success.  The success that looks like two learners sharing ideas to solve a complex task. When two colleagues reflect on formative assessment data to regroup their students. When a teacher reflects with her instructional coach and decides on a new plan. When an academic team creates a successful behavior plan for a struggling student. Model. Practice. Learn. Perform. Model. Practice. Learn. Perform.

Fast forward 10 months….It’s been a long time since I went skiing.  In fact, I haven’t gotten back to the slopes since the fun trip with my dad.  The good news is that I am scheduled to go skiing with our school’s ski club next week!  I am confident I will be rusty. I will undoubtedly have to relearn some things. I will fall and need persistence. I surely will not be able to immediately pick up with the fun I experienced last March.  It’s like that when we don’t practice….

Skiing isn’t the only skill that takes practice and a “stick to it” attitude.  Learning anything new is like that, including professional learning for teachers.  We’ve all attended a great teaching and learning conference. One that we leave super excited about! Even though we can’t wait to get back to school and try some of the ideas we heard, we get focused on our students’ needs and our daily responsibilities. And, before we know it, the end of the year is upon us and we haven’t implemented one idea from that conference.   Don’t get me wrong, out of district conferences can be career changing, but without embedding the ideas day-to-day, new learning can be squandered.

Our district’s most important weekend conference is just a few weeks away.  I am super excited to attend. I am confident I will learn many strategies that will support me as a reader and writer and as a leader of readers and writers.  Experts will be patient with me as I learn and ask questions. They will model their skills. They will encourage me. My challenge- and yours too- will be to take what we learned and use it in our daily work.   Play with the ideas. Fail. Try again. Have fun! But most importantly, practice. Talk to your colleagues about an intriguing idea. Share your biggest “AH-HA” with your administrator. Do a book talk about one of the keynote speakers’ works. Mark your calendar to discuss one idea a week with your PLC.  Write a blog post. Whatever you do, commit to it.

Get on your learning edges and ski down a mountain! Don’t let learning become a weekend trip!

Books · Literacy · Reading · Reflection · Students · Teaching

Making the Wrong Choice

This past fall, my teaching partner, Jen, and I decided to do a round of historical fiction book clubs before we had our students dive in and write historical fiction narratives. I spent the better part of a week looking at titles and curating what I thought was an excellent list. My personal experience with historical fiction appropriate for 8th graders was fairly limited — a LOT of it was focused on WWII and Holocaust stories, a product of teaching Elie Wiesel’s Night for years. I wanted to find a wider range of options.

When a teacher assigns book choices to students, she wants to make sure she is giving them the best options — high interest, variety of subjects and ability levels, and her own excitement for the books. Students can be convinced to read something they feel a little “meh” about if their teacher gives it a good recommendation. Sometimes, this feels like a lot of pressure! I pulled books from ones I had read, but also took to GoodReads and other teachers’ recommendations before finalizing my list of 11 books they could choose from. However, I did what I probably shouldn’t have done — I put some books on the list that neither Jen nor I had read. I checked the website Common Sense Media for those books, and all seemed fine.

Until I started reading one of them.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina is an exciting, terrifying, and heartbreaking novel. It’s an excellent version of historical fiction that really grabs the reader, and focuses on a time period that isn’t usually the subject of young adult novels: the summer of 1977 in New York City, when the Son of Sam murders were taking place.

Our 8th graders were drawn to the description of this book and quite a few book club groups chose it as their selection. As I started to have my doubts on whether this book was “appropriate” as a recommended choice, I justified that some of the more mature content was okay for 8th graders. I even told myself that most of the kids who had chosen this book were already reading more mature books in their independent reading lives.

But then I kept reading. And more red flags kept popping up. I could envision parent emails and calls questioning my school-sanctioned book club choice. Then I realized I had forgotten to check if this title was approved by our district for 8th graders. It wasn’t.

I jumped into action, emailing Jen and letting her know that we had to pull this book. I posted on our class page that groups would have to choose a new title. I came up with a plan to offer a couple of other books instead, and give them two more days to get their books. The next day in class, I talked to my groups and explained the situation, apologized if they had already gotten the book. I told them they were welcome to read it on their own — but the school couldn’t sponsor it as a class read. Some kids were initially annoyed, but they didn’t mention it again after the day I talked to them. They had moved on, and it didn’t become an issue. Crisis averted.

If you have the chance to read Burn Baby Burn, do it. It’s a fantastic story. I’m hoping some of my students will still read it (and maybe be even more intrigued now!). But I’m definitely going to read any new books before I offer them as class reads for kids.

Uncategorized

Getting Back on the Seesaw without Taking a Tail Dive

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When I was little, there used to be seesaws–like, legit seesaws. The kind where if your friend jumped off, you were about to take a tail dive into the dirt. Obviously, it was more fun when your friend stayed ON the seesaw, as you could balance each other out. Good old 1980s fun.

So aside from reliving my Golden Girls’ past, there is actually a point.

As teachers, balance can often be hard to manage. We are torn between wanting to give one million percent to our students (they are our kids once they enter our class, after all). And we are torn between our own self-care, something that is often, frankly, brushed aside. We are natural caregivers with everyone but not necessarily ourselves.

We need to get our “full” selves back on the see-saw and stop having our “work” selves cause us take a tail dive into the dirt. But how? How do we do this when there is so much to be done?

Below is a list of activities that you can do. Some cost some green. Some are as free as a hippie at Woodstock.  Some take one minute. Some take an hour. The point is, you must carve out at least a few minutes for yourself on the daily–and maybe at least one hour on the weekly…I try to hit an hour daily if I can, but with teenagers and teenage social schedules, that can sometimes be tough…so I adjust. On those days, I shoot for 15 minutes. (For your ease of use, and so you don’t have to read all of them, I’ve put them in bold…so choose your adventure).

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Available on Amazon

*Morning coffee with your tribe. Either rotate buyers or everyone BYOCoffee. Use this to talk about anything but work. Use it to catch up on what your kids are doing, what craft you are making even if it’s something like crafting with cat hair (apparently, it’s a thing, and there is a book about it). Anything. But. Work. Because honestly, if you don’t take a brain break from work, your brain is Going.To. Burn. Out.

*Speaking of tribes–don’t have time to meet? First, wrong, make time. Second, create a friend group on text, Groupme, Facebook, the Snapchatter…whatever.  Send each other feel good quotes, funny memes, a selfie of that hairstyle that you worked on for twenty minutes and then forgot your umbrella during a torrential rainstorm…things that will make you smile even if it is just for a few minutes.

*Jam out to your music on the way to school, on the way home, in between classes. Or better yet, jam out to an audio book (I totally do this, and it may or may not weird some kids out when they are like–hey, Mrs. Z what are you jamming out to? Me: Oh, ya know, a little Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. (Seriously, his book is all kinds of amazing, and THAT VOICE!)

* Work out. There are a lot of places where you can take a class for free to try it out.

*Orange Theory (I totes recommend this–it can be as hard core as you want, and the trainers are motivating…there’s that whole thing where you’re heart rate is up for everyone to see–nothing like a little competition.) Plus, the orange lighting-super flattering.

*Cycle Bar (Oh. My. Gawd.) #1. The trainers are super positive and philosophical little ohm-makers. #2. And, it’s a great workout to loud music club lighting…Really, it’s like clubbing on bikes.

*Title Boxing (Get it Guuuurl). Grading papers got ya down? Take it out on the bag.  Want to feel strong, this is a class for you. I like to channel a little Ronda Rousey when I’m there. In my head–oh, 138 papers to grade? (punch the bag) I think it’s 125 now (punch the bag).

*Straight up, go to the gym. Take your tribe with you to hit some weights, the pool, the track, shoot some hoops (depending on gym.)

*Working out could be as easy as taking a walk to the bathroom on the other side of the building instead of across the hall. It’s legit a sprint because you have maybe 4 minutes to change classes. But sometimes those extra steps are just what you need to clear your head.

*Or simply put, go outside. Go for a run. Ride a bike. Roller skate on some hip and happenin’ old school four wheeled numbers.

*Write. Write your thoughts, fun quotes you enjoy that motivate you…paste pictures…do the bullet journal thing. Plan a trip that maybe you’ll take someday. Oh, Hawaii, someday I’ll see your lovely sands and palm trees.

*Look at photos: For clarification–photos on social media aren’t always the best (as studies are showing). But your own? The ones you take with family and friends and places you have gone. Food that you had two weeks ago that was so good and pretty that you just had to photograph it. (Don’t judge…I’m a foodie). This takes two seconds and can make a difference in your motivation for the day.

 

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And he’s relatively travel sized.

*”Deadpool on a Shelf”–hear me out…I have a Deadpool figurine. He’s posable. And, yes, we leave him around the house holding messages. So, why not have a family one. Or implement it into your classroom if that brings you joy. Deadpool not your thing (WHY? He’s, like, THE COOLEST. SUPERHERO. EVER. But I’m not judging.) Perhaps another figure is more your style…maybe Eeyore (you anti-Deadpool you, J/K)…or Wonder Woman…or even the random bobble head that Uncle Nick gave you three years ago that you are still scratching your head over.

*Scroll Pinterest: It’s like the Sears catalogue for the next generation. I have so many pins I could probably just scroll my own and be totally surprised.

*Speaking of Pinterest….Cook–I don’t always have time to cook; I’ll be honest. But on Sundays I do a lot of meal prep so I can reheat. I try to look up different recipes on pinterest, and I try new ones every couple of weeks.  Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are called Donatos.

*Make lists: Yep, I’m a lister. I list things I’ve already done just so I can cross them out and feel accomplished. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s satisfying. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own channel on Snapchat…is that what they are called channels? Or…..

*Draw/Doodle:  I have ZERO talent here. But, I can tell you that my students do this a lot…and not so secretly, I love it…and sometimes I  even draw back (although not quite as well as they draw). It takes away some of their stress while they do assignments, and frankly, I enjoy their amusement at my drawing communications.

*Breathe: (this is not an optional adventure) Guys and Dolls, teaching is hard. It’s GREAT. And it’s INSPIRING. But it can be exhausting. And you need to take care of you because you have hundreds (some of us thousands) of kids who are looking to us to be ready to roll on any given Monday.

Other ideas? (Of course there are! Comment on what helps you balance your life seesaw!)

deadpoollisteningtopetercetera
Side note…Deadpool loves Peter Cetera

 

ASSESSMENT · Community

Feeling Safe Enough To Learn

For the past week, my students’ word study has been centered around observing word parts. As part of our work, I’ve been challenging my 7th graders to notice word patterns to help them make sense of the words’ spelling. Yesterday, I wanted to check to see if they could transfer the work we had done into spelling more accurately. As a warm up, I had them number their papers 1-19 and I explained that I would be pronouncing each of the words. Their job was to try to spell at least 10 of them correctly.  

Yep. I gave a spelling test.

They began numbering their papers and then a couple of hands shot up:

Student 1: Is this for a grade?

Me: I haven’t decided yet. Let’s just try it and see how you do.

Student 2: So, even though there are 19 words, all I have to do is spell 10 right?

Me: That’s right!

Student 2: Huh. Okaaaay.

Student 3: Wait, what if I spell one wrong?

Me: It’s ok. All I’m looking for is 10 words spelled correctly. It’s like “flex points”. Which 10 you get right might be different from the 10 someone else gets right. It’s all good. We’re just trying to get better at spelling.

Student 3: What if we spell more than 10 right? Can we have candy?

Me: No, but you WILL have the satisfaction of knowing you learned some new spelling patterns this week! That’s awesome, isn’t it?

Student: Yea, I guess.

Student 4: What if we spell all 19 right? Can we have candy then?

Me: No, I am not prepared with candy today. You’ll have to be happy with internal satisfaction.

Student 5: What if we can think of other words that use the bases we studied? Can we try to spell those too? Can we get extra credit for that?

Me: [stunned to silence]

Wait, What?! They were all over this. Who knew an old-fashioned spelling test would spark this much enthusiasm on a Tuesday morning? I think they sensed that they could do this–especially when there was room built into this assessment for mistakes. That cushion helped them relax and they were excited about showing me all the words they knew how to spell and even try to spell some new words that came to mind.

After all was said and done, I found moderate spelling growth; all but 4 students could spell at least 10 words from our list correctly. More importantly, though, was that I had found a motivational strategy, providing flexibility and ample room for mistakes in assessment.

A Shift In My Mindset

I realize what I did today wasn’t really that profound. For years, many teachers have been offering students the choice in what questions they will answer on assessments. I have done it myself-many times. But I had a mindshift about this practice today. Is offering more choice and flexibility, even in assessment situations, what it is going to take to make this generation of students feel safe enough to learn?

The world is full of dangers and kids today are being raised in a more protective environment than in generations past. Parents are very present in every aspect of their children’s lives: their extracurricular activities, their play time, their decision making, even in their social lives. Good or bad, this is reality. We have raised kids to know “safety first” and we have worked hard in making them feel safe. The problem is, learning is risky–and students know it.

It is clear that my students feel safe asking questions, they feel safe (and somewhat compelled) asking for clarification; they even feel safe asking for help. What they don’t feel safe enough to do is make mistakes. No matter how big or small the task, they crumble at the thought of making a mistake. They feel their safety is jeopardized if they cannot depend on the outcome. I think they feel this way because they don’t know if they can bounce back on their own.

Like with any generational gap, teachers have to figure out how to respond. We know our kids are afraid to fail, and as adults, we work hard to teach “growth mindset”. Still, my students are genuinely afraid. How can I help them feel safe enough to learn? I try to build their confidence. I tell them there is nothing they can’t do or can’t figure out or can’t work toward improving. This is my mantra, but it takes them a long time to really buy what I sell as the truth about learning.

Today, however, was a step in the right direction. My true purpose was to build awareness and confidence with understanding how language works. Aren’t my students’ reactions to the spelling test the epitome of the growth mindset? FINALLY, they weren’t worried about making a mistake. They were feeling confident and wanted to try more.

Happy Birthday, Dear Flex Points!

I could feel a change in the energy when I allowed a cushion for them to make mistakes. Most didn’t need the cushion, but they thought they did. The revelation I had today was that this generation of students might actually NEED this flexibility in order to feel safe enough to learn.

I wish students were less afraid to learn, but until they get there, I need to act in their best interest and provide appropriate scaffolds. That’s what teachers do. I feel like Flex Points might catch on in my classroom. As I get better at differentiating and move closer and closer toward personalizing my students’ learning experiences, I am finding that I can offer quite a bit of choice and flexibility without compromising my assessment of growth or student learning. If I am willing to “flex” how they demonstrate what they’ve learned, they feel more empowered to make mistakes, and ultimately they will learn more.

ASSESSMENT · Goal Setting · Reflection · Students

Alternate Exams: Turning Assessments Into Opportunities

Last year, our English I team made the revelatory decision to get rid of our traditional multiple-choice exam, and I will never look back.

With the help of my teammates (English I teachers at Dublin Coffman High School), Dr. Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Mrs. Shayne Bauer, I crafted this post.

The decision to change our exam was a long time coming. For years, many of us questioned and debated the validity of our district-wide multiple-choice exam, so when our district, which includes three high schools, no longer required a completely common exam and gave each high school the option to assess as they deemed appropriate or best for students, our team at Coffman High School jumped at the opportunity to do something different.

We made this decision for many reasons. Very few  English I teachers in the district could agree upon common reading passages that were appropriate for all (~1,200) of our students. Similarly, we found “difficulty in writing robust but reasonable multiple choice questions” (Dr. Kucinski). This was especially apparent when analyzing the data collected from these multiple choice exams. We continually debated the validity of the multiple questions and, therefore, our exam as a whole. Moreover, students’ grades in class after eighteen weeks of learning rarely matched their exam scores. For all of these reasons and more, our team didn’t feel that the current multiple-choice exam reflected the true abilities of our students.

While re-writing our exam, we shared many hopes:

  • We hoped that the new exam would provide the opportunity for all students to be successful.
  • We hoped that the new exam would more accurately reflect and celebrate the strengths of our students. Likewise, we hoped that it would help highlight areas in which students had room to improve.
  • We hoped that students would feel more in control of their exam score.
  • We hoped that the data gathered from the new exam would be more meaningful and easier to formulate future lessons and units from.
  • “We know that for many students, standardized tests are just a point of ‘doing school.’ As such, they merely want to survive them. We sought to change that.” – Dr. Kucinski
  • We hoped to “discourage cramming and mere memorization” – Mrs. Bauer  

Our team worked together to create what I would describe as an extended-response(written), evidence-based, reflection-heavy exam. We included in it all of the 9th grade English standards assessed throughout the first semester of the school year in addition to other questions about academic behaviors. To be frank, I do not think that our current exam is without faults. We’ve administered it three years in a row now, and we have tweaked a few questions each time based on the last year’s results. I’m sure we’ll make edits and improvements between now and giving it again next year, too. With anything new, there is uncertainty.

For students, our new exam provides these exciting and unique opportunities:

  • To reflect and practice metacognition
  • To revisit old work
  • To set future learning goals
  • To be honest about learning patterns and learning preferences as well as good and bad habits
  • To identify areas of growth and mastery as well as areas that need more practice
  • To review why we do what we do in English class  
  • “Increased awareness of standards” – Mrs. Shayne Bauer
  • “Ownership” – Dr. Steve Kucinski

Students, for the most part, appreciate the non-traditional approach and especially appreciate the week’s worth of time given to complete the exam. Though, there are a few students who ask, “Can’t we just take a test?” Students also appreciate the efficacy of knowing I can do well on this. Likewise, there is no guesswork (I don’t know what they’re going to ask me) on the exam or any double jeopardy (Well, I didn’t do well all quarter, so I’m surely not going to do well on this exam either). (Dr. Kucinski)

One of my students even took the time to email me this feedback in her free time: “I thought this year’s midterm was well made and smartly scheduled. It was not as stressful as other exams. I liked that it made you reflect on what happened in the first half of the year. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading and writing… I would like more exams like this.”

At this point, you probably just want to see the exam. Here it is:

COPY OF BLANK EXAM

And here are some student responses:

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Surprising Findings:

  • What students identify as their weaknesses (versus what we teachers identify)
  • What students are most proud of
  • Students fessing up to being lazy
  • Students not knowing where to find feedback and rubric scores on Schoology (LMS)
  • Students not understanding weighted grades and the distinction between the different grading categories we use
  • Students struggling to articulate what and how they’ve learned and where their deficits are (Dr. Kucinski)
  • Students not being okay with saying ‘I didn’t learn everything’ or ‘I don’t know how I know this’ (Dr. Kucinski)

Obviously, we know this exam is non-traditional. We’re curious to know what other educators think about it. Maybe you think this is a downright awful idea. This exam works for us, but could this ever be an assessment in your classroom?

Goal Setting · Leading · Teacher Leadership

Expert … or Specialist?

This fall Beth and I spent a Saturday learning with Kristin Ziemke. Our district is in the process of becoming one-to-one in grades six through twelve and I have been thinking a lot about what blended learning looks in the HS ELA reading and writing workshop. When we noticed that the Literacy Connection was bringing Kristin to the area we decided to join, even though the workshop was marketed for K-6 teachers (another post coming soon related to this).

While I learned so much about purposeful leveraging of technology from Kristin (hopefully yet another post will be coming), what I have been thinking most about is this idea of expert or specialist and her description of these two terms. Kristin described an expert as “someone who knows it all” and a specialist as “someone who believes the learning is never done but wants to know all they can.” What a difference in mindset!

I want others to think of me as a specialist, but do I present as an expert? And if I do present as expert how does that impact others’ abilities to learn? I am writing as a literary coach, so I am thinking about adult learners, but I also think this applies to the learning that happens in our classrooms. If a teacher sees herself as a specialist and not as an expert how does this impact student learning?

Some things I will commit to to ensure that I remain a specialist:

  • Read a wide variety of research about literacy, especially HS literacy
  • Question this reading and align it to my core beliefs about learning
  • Listen to others with a truly open-mind
  • Consistently share my new learning
  • Talk about failure
  • Be flexible
  • Look for the happiness and joy in literacy learning
  • Value the questions of others
Leading · Teacher Leadership

Finding a New Place

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 10.04.46 AM.png“Is it my turn?!?”

“I haven’t been the ‘lucky duck’ yet…can it be me?”

“Who is the ‘lucky duck’ today? Who gets to sit in the chair?” That’s what I heard as I entered a sixth-grade language arts classroom this week.

I wondered what all the excitement was about when I glanced over and saw this pea green rocking chair sitting next to the #classroombookaday reading area. I smiled. It was my green, creaky, repaired-many-times rocking chair that had been a fixture in my classroom for the past 19 years.

Apparently the ‘lucky duck’ each day got the privilege to sit in the rocking chair during the picture book read aloud. The students were so excited to have the special seat, and I was so excited to see my rocking chair in use and being loved by students as it had been for almost two decades. The chair had found a new space in a different classroom – just like me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I chose to leave the classroom this year to take on the role of a literacy coach for the four middle schools in my school district. It has been almost three months and I am still finding my groove and my place. But, I have been embraced – just like the rocking chair – by teachers in all four schools.

Taking on a new role was something that I challenged myself to do. I’m not a person who typically embraces change so there have been good days and not-so-good days. I’ve been reflecting on a daily basis about “finding my new place” so that’s a little of what I’m sharing.

There are definite things that I hadn’t thought of before moving to a new place(s):

  • Parking – some people are particular about their parking spot
  • Lunch – do most teachers eat in the teachers’ lounge? Am I taking someone’s spot OR limiting the conversations because of the ‘new’ person in the room?
  • A tribe – I sort of lost my tribe because I’m not at my former school every day. I’m only there every six weeks.
  • Keys/office space – so many keys and such different spaces
  • My back – lugging bags of professional books from building to building is fun:)
  • Momentum – two weeks is just enough time to start building momentum with teachers and students but then my coaching cycle is over and the momentum is lost/deferred

I am certainly not complaining. I really enjoy working with teachers. It is different than working with teenagers – it’s a good different. The amazing work that the teachers in the middle schools are doing every day make me proud and make me push my own thinking. What and how can I support teachers who are knowledgeable about the learners sitting in their classrooms and are thinking about how to best keep those learners reading and writing every day?

I’m thinking in a different way this year and I’m finding my way in this new role.  I feel like I’m the ‘lucky duck’ who is getting to know colleagues that I didn’t know and spending time with students in all three grade levels that I normally wouldn’t get to. I’m excited to wake up and go to work each day, and I’m challenged by the thinking and reflecting that I do with teachers. My new place is working out really well – just like the new place for that 50-year-old, much-loved rocking chair.

 

Culture

All Work and No Play…?

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How on earth is the holiday break over already? HOW?!? We got two weeks off from school this year (and for that I am insanely grateful because not being an Ohio native is a STRUGGLE, let me tell you), but I literally did NOTHING. How is that even possible when I feel absolutely EXHAUSTED?! Please tell me there are others out there riding the same struggle bus as me this week!

I guess I should rephrase: I, in fact, DID do things over the break. My husband and I loaded our 4 year-old son into our Hyundai Santa Fe and took off for Wilmington, NC to visit his family for 5 days. From there, we drove to my home town of Meadville, PA to be with my family for 5 days, with a quick stop in Virginia in between because we just couldn’t do the trip in one day. Over those 11 days, we drove, we ate, we laughed, we wrapped, we hugged, we unwrapped, we played, and we slept–my, did we ever sleep.

But, you know what I didn’t do?

Anything for school.

Nothing.

Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I’m clearly off to a rough start to 2019. Is it too late for a do-over?!

And I feel TERRIBLY guilty.

WHY? Why do I feel that guilt? Is it because we get “all of this time off,” so we should be doing something to “earn our pay?” Or is it because we have extra time on our hands, and we are so conditioned to be thinking about our classrooms that our brains are constantly whirring to try to make our practices better? It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about school–I definitely said jokingly, multiple times, “I should be doing some school work,” or “I should be reading this book for school right now.” And then I would laugh and move on, continuing to do things with my family. But in the back of my mind, the guilt would still linger. I would say to myself, I should be taking some time out of every day to read, or work on grading, or look at lesson plans, or focus on planning future units, etc. etc. etc. Why can’t I get it together and focus on my life’s work!?

Regardless of the answer, my brain shut down. It took an actual break. It couldn’t handle thinking about best practices, narratives that needed grading, or short story previewing that I had on my plate to work on over the holidays. And you know what? That’s ok. The work will get done. It will be there tomorrow. It’s not a matter of life or death. Learners will not suffer immensely if they do not get their work back on the day we return. Why do we educators put so much pressure on ourselves to create a to do list for our time away from work? And why do we feel the need to put this pressure on our learners, as well? They need a respite as well. I watched my gifted students stress and obsess over midterm exams during the last week of classes in December, and talk about how they stayed up until all hours of the morning studying, reviewing problems, and reviewing notes, and just being anxious balls of energy. My learners are twelve and thirteen years old. They clearly need a rest. So, we teachers need to start giving ourselves some grace and allow ourselves to take a break from the classroom, too.

What would YOU do if you allowed yourself to actually rest over break?