May 23, 2017

Today feels like a good news, bad news day.

Daniel passed state testing – good news.

Carlos did not – bad news.

I began a workout program again – good news.

I learned a friend has uterine cancer – bad news.

My principal agreed to buy more books – good news.

The federal budget proposal – bad news.

My peonies bloomed – good news.

Their fragrance makes me sneeze – bad news.

My baby is coming tonight with her baby – good news.

I’ll just leave it at that – good news.

 

May 9, 2017

“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?” Lao Tzu

It’s that time of year when life speeds up as tree pollen bursts to ignite the senses. Strange weather changes day by day; hot, then cold; dry, then wet. Heavy rains fill ditches and stream beds. The river is muddy, high and turbulent. Greens of every shade are exploding on tree limbs, vines, and grasses.

It’s the time when kindergarteners and first graders take giant steps in their learning. They are suddenly taller. It’s time for the fifth grade play, field trips, IEP eligibility meetings, and planning for next year, when this year isn’t quite through. It’s exciting and exhausting. It can get muddy as we try to do so many things at once.

In this space, I’m trying to “hold onto my hat,” listen more, and stress less. I’m letting go a bit, knowing that this is part of the rhythm of school. I want my students to be able to see their own growth this year, so I share my observations of their progress. I tell them to notice what is easy now, when it used to be hard. Their motivation swells like the water-filled soil. When their mud settles, I hope they see clearly all that has been learned and all that is yet to be learned.

 

April 18, 2017

My One Little Word for 2017 is walk. I have pretty much failed so far at the physical act of putting 10,000 steps on the FitBit each day and measuring miles per week. However, part of my choice of the word walk was for its other meanings. I’m thinking of the meaning of walk as a noun:

WALK (Noun: a discipline): the way to go, the course to follow, the line, the terrain, the path.

Leaders in the field of reading and in my district tell me that the way to go, the course to follow to build my school’s capacity to reach all learners is for me, as Reading Teacher, to become a coach of teachers and work side-by-side with them. Much has been written on the value of a coach in a teacher’s learning. Student achievement grows as teachers grow through the coaching process.

Truthfully, I am much more comfortable working with children than with adults.  I love Reading Recovery and the challenge of providing instruction that can help young students construct their own reading process. Supporting struggling readers is what I have done for many years. The idea of “coaching” has been a challenge for me to embrace. I just haven’t been able to see myself as a coach.

In a serendipitous set of circumstances earlier this year, I started co-teaching with teachers on our first grade team. This is a team of teachers I have known for six or seven years. I have met with their team weekly, and we have become friends. I have also provided intervention for many of their struggling first graders. But I have always seen myself more as an interventionist than a coach. Surprisingly for me, co-teaching is bringing about a shift in how I see myself as an educator.

I’m starting to walk the walk of a coach through the experience of co-teaching. The path to follow has taken me across plains (taught me curriculum), through forests (required my reflection), and beside running water (challenged me to solve problems). For each unit of study, I have planned weekly with one teacher and stayed in her class. Together, we shared the teaching, conferring, sharing, celebration, and assessment of first grade writers. It has been the most fun I’ve had in teaching in a long time.

Just as the old saying goes about a journey of a 1000 miles beginning with a single step, “coaching” began for me with my answer to a young teacher’s request, “Sure, I’d love to teach writing with you.” Just working alongside these teachers has taught me so much and allayed my fears about taking on the role of coach. Beginning the coaching walk was scary, but has turned out to be a very happy experience. I’m learning to be a better listener, a better asker of questions, and a better teammate. I might become a coach yet.

April 4, 2017

Who would think that a series of lessons on syllables and word parts would be a happy success story for 4th graders? I have a group of ESOL students who have been stuck for a while in their reading progress. They were referred to me as the Reading Specialist because our ESOL teachers were stretched too thin. I did some assessment and found that they all had weaknesses in decoding multiple syllable words. Further instruction revealed that they were not secure in knowing vowels or vowel sounds and were confused by the terms “consonants” and “continents.” That’s an important distinction.

It was a hard decision about whether to go full throttle on word study or continue to try to work word study into guided reading lessons.  Since I am their intervention teacher, I see them outside their Reading Workshop time. Knowing that they still have reading time in their classrooms, I decided to give intervening with word study a try. It has been a slow, sometimes painful process. But today it seemed like something clicked for all 5 students. They were able to identify syllables, name the syllable types in words, and try different strategies for breaking words. Knowing this discrete information may seem unnecessary to some teachers, but I think it might be giving them access to more options for word solving. At least that is my intention.

I’m so excited by this breakthrough and hope that in noticing words more closely, they will have more confidence in attacking words in continuous text. Next, I’m planning to reveal “The Mystery of the SCHWA!”

This process is challenging my notions of reading and writing and I do believe that you get better at reading and writing by reading and writing. However, I’m trying to trust that filling in some gaps in word knowledge will have a positive effect on their success as readers and writers. If today was any indication, I may have made a good decision!

March 31, 2017

It was a different day at school. Professionals from Morgan Franklin came to present “Junior Achievement Day.” The students had guest teachers all day, giving me some time to work and plan.

I spent about 3 hours reading and scoring at least 50 first grade “All About Books.” I had so much fun. Not only is it fun to see what topics first graders feel to be their areas of expertise, but it is also fun to see how they write and illustrate with voice and authority.

Here’s an example of why I adore first grade writers:

Cats

You just can’t make that up.

March 30, 2017

What have I learned this month? I’ve learned that writing my stories and thoughts and responding to other writers makes me happy. When I read your words, I am fed,

challenged,

affirmed,

stretched.

You show me new ways of seeing everyday experiences. You bring my attention to the details the way a bee values the pollen more than the petals. You teach me that there is power in small things.

While writing this I remembered a moment, the smallest of moments measured by time, a moment that is one of my most precious memories.

One day in October, 1995, my father walked me out to my car. I had been visiting my mom and dad with some of my children. I got them into the car. (I remember the air was soft as it sometimes is in Virginia.) I turned to say goodbye to my dad. I thanked him for the visit, and then I tried to put into words something more. I hoped he knew how much his love and presence in my life meant to me, and how deeply grateful I was that my children had a grandpa who loved them.

He loved them by attending their baseball and basketball games. He loved them by picking them up at school, when I couldn’t, and buying the special shampoo for head lice. He washed their hair before I got home. He loved them by taking them to Great Falls National Park and teaching them that they should “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.” He took their pictures over and over. He made the best egg salad sandwiches and grilled cheese sandwiches for our weekly lunch. He always had a clean handkerchief to dry tears. He often had a dollar or two to give them with the admonition, “Now, help your mother.”

On that October day in the parking lot of my parent’s apartment, he simply put his hand on my cheek. His large, thick hands were always warm and always gentle. We looked into each other’s eyes–his were blue rivers of wisdom.  No words were necessary. I felt peace; our hearts joined.

When he suddenly died a few weeks later, I knew peace, but my heart broke.