Friday, August 28, 2015

Unexpected Blessing

Where will our unexpected blessing come from this year?

Isaac Gautschi stopped by, camera in hand, to photograph our home so we could list it for sale. As he moved from room to room, I asked him about his story. Isaac is young (only 23), so it wasn’t surprising that he’d been taking photographs for only two years and had had his photography business for only one. But it was surprising to hear about the journey that led him there.

Ready to begin college, with a passion for music and his guitar, Isaac had everything ripped away on April 18, 2013, when his body was thrown 30 feet in a horrific motorcycle accident. Multiple broken bones and injuries made him unable to walk or care for himself. Instead of entering college, he moved back in with his parents, who once again took on the mantle of feeding and caring for the son they loved.

Both arms and hands were in casts. Only the index finger of his right hand had mobility. Knowing his guitar days were probably behind him led to a deep depression. Isaac’s mom gave him a camera and encouraged him to try it. She reminded Isaac that he was an artist, and that maybe his artistic voice could be found in another medium. So he gave it a try. Balancing the camera on his cast, he used his index finger to shoot. He discovered that he had a gift, and he’s been taking photos ever since—amazing photos!

Isaac says that something beautiful and good can come from the most horrible of situations. His camera has become an extension of himself, and when he looks back now, all he sees is the unexpected blessing.

Where will our unexpected blessings come from this year? Perhaps you’ve taught only first grade and have never wanted to teach anything but first grade, but are being moved to fifth grade. Maybe you love your colleagues but are being transferred to a new school. Or perhaps you looked at your class list and saw a name you were hoping not to see. Hang in there. You may discover gifts and talents when you land there that you didn’t even know you had. You, too, may experience the joy that comes when hardship turns into unexpected blessing.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Flight Map

Does your mind ever make strange connections that make you think, Where did that come from? It happened to me recently when I was in my seat, ready for takeoff.

I was reminiscing about my limited skiing experience. After getting started, I slid on the bunny slope for a bit, but since I couldn't stop, I kept going until I fell down or ran into something. The strange thought was I am so glad this pilot can fly better than I can ski. Bizarre, I know. I am sharing it with all of you because pilot proficiently get us from point A to point B over and over, and we can learn a lesson from what happens along the way.

We place ourselves in the experienced hands of the pilot and trust him or her completely to get us to our destination. If you are like me, you are happier when there is a map on the seatback in front of you that shows where you are in relation to the goal.

And there is the connection to what we do every day and why ongoing, formative assessment is so important. It provides our students with a glimpse of “Here is where we are going, where we are now, and where we will move next to get you closer to the end point.”

On the first day of school, our students place themselves in our care. They trust that we will get them from point A to point B before the school year ends. We can make their journey even more pleasant by frequently and transparently showing them right where they are, and clearly taking them where they need to go with instruction that matters.

Friday, June 5, 2015

I See You

Our 15-month-old grandson is learning new words every day. He put his first sentence together when playing the I See You game with my husband at the dinner table. I couldn't help but smile (and record the event) when I witnessed the joy and delight they experienced each time their eyes met.

In a blog post titled "Sorry Confusion,Seth Godin writes, “I see you is what we crave.” He says that many of us have forgotten what it means to be human, and how much it means when we authentically care for each other.

This "authentic seeing" is deeply important to our students, and it comes when we build relationships. A wonderful article by the National Education Association suggests four ways we can build good relationships with our students.

I’d like to add two more. We need to train ourselves to be present. When in a one-on-one conference with a student, we don’t want to let thoughts about our next focus lesson creep in. It’s when we are truly present that the message “I see you and understand you” will be fully conveyed.

Lastly, we need to know students so well, and know children’s literature so well, that we can successfully match students with texts they will like/love. In Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers, Steven Layne (2009) writes about the power of handing a child a book we purchased or selected with them in mind.
It’s often said that the three most important words people need to hear are “I love you.” I would never argue with that. But I’ll tell you the four most important words that I think kids—our own and our students—need to hear. They are “I thought of you.” Those words, supported with tangible evidence, can work miracles in the life of a disengaged reader (p.15).
So as the school year draws to a close, and we are inundated with the end-of-year demands that have the potential to rob our joy, let’s infuse that joy and delight back into our lives with the message "I see you—I really see you."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Practiced Avoidance

You are going to judge me and you will be completely justified in doing so.
I have a shoulder impingement injury. I have been assigned stretches and exercises, which if practiced daily will lessen the pain and bring back my range of movement, yet I don’t do them. They aren’t very hard. They don’t even take very long. I don’t have a single good reason for avoiding them.

How is it better to live with stabs of pain so intense that I go from being a normal woman to one with circling cartoon stars of pain above my head? How is it better to live for months, careful not to make movements that cause mind-numbing, nearly faint-inducing pain? It isn’t. I get it. It isn’t.
All of you with healthy bodies are thinking, That doesn’t make sense. Just do the moves and get better. And you are right. See, I knew you'd judge me.
But until one of my loved ones steps in to hold me accountable, or until I decide that I am tired of the complete lack of improvement, the stretchy purple band and illustrated list of moves collects dust while I practice avoidance.

So now I know.

Now I know and can relate to that special brand of reluctant reader who wants to be proficient, but doesn’t read. They have what they need in their book boxes, but avoid engaging with text. They are given time to practice, but don’t use it. It doesn’t make any sense. And time after time, they shrug and say they don’t know why they don’t read, they just don’t.

But being a nonreader is a pain inducing experience we can’t allow. So until our reluctant readers become voracious and independent readers, we must assess accurately, instruct wisely, support and scaffold brilliantly, check in with daily, cheer on optimistically, and tenaciously impart the message that reading is a superpower they must have for themselves. No judgment, just understanding and the message that they are too important to let slip through the cracks.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Bit of Fun

Seeing an elderly looking student walk into the second-grade classroom perplexed me until I realized it was the 100th day of school. Most of the students came in one aged form or another, filling the room with hair buns, canes, and joyful chatter.

The fun was woven into writing workshop, and students enjoyed recording what they would do with $100.00, as well as what they will do when they are 100 years old. Not only does Paige (pictured) plan to be the best knitter ever when she is 100, but she plans to fly a plane to New York City and go skydiving. Having met her, I’m guessing she just might.

It is fun things like this that students will remember long after they leave us. The lessons we teach might be preparing them for life, but let’s remember that it doesn’t have to cost a thing to weave an element of fun into our learning, and that it’s those things that make some students want to come back day after day.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Reluctant Reader Remedies

Charles Swindoll began a blog post on contradictory truths with the following:
Tom Landry, the late head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was once quoted as saying something like this:
"I have a job to do that is not very complicated, but it is often difficult: to get a group of men to do what they don't want to do so they can achieve the one thing they have wanted all their lives."
Coach Landry, in that seemingly contradictory statement, described what discipline is all about . . . doing what we don't want to do so we can accomplish what we've always wanted. ("Contradictory Truths, Part One." Insight for Living, July 31, 2009)
My mind immediately went to my reluctant readers and my role as coach/classroom teacher in helping them become what Donalyn Miller terms wild readers.
For a variety of reasons, attaining the discipline of reading can be painful for our most reluctant readers. They may tell us they don’t really care about reading, but if we could wave a magic wand and make them accurate, fluent, expressive, comprehending readers, not one of them would turn us down. But there isn’t such a wand, and we know that they will never become wild readers if they don’t read. So how can we get them to do what they don’t want to do in order to help them become what they must?

I love what Pat Scales says in Winning Back Your Reluctant Readers, “The answer is simple: Know the students, know the books, and seek creative ways to connect the two.”
Pat is absolutely right. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report, the most likely reason our reluctant readers avoid reading is that they have trouble finding books they want to read.
Whether we work with 5-year-olds or 15-year-olds, we can help our reluctant readers by,
  • making sure we have high-interest books at their reading level;
  • providing as much choice as possible;
  • buying, begging for, and borrowing books that match their personal interests;
  • reading as many books as we can that match our students’ reading levels;
  • staying up on the newest books, current trends, and must-have titles;
  • giving weekly book talks to pique interest and promote titles; and
  • reading the first chapter of a book we know they’ll love, and then handing it over.
Those of you who teach middle school and high school may want to read this excellent article by Monique Delatte and Deborah Anderson, "Ten Ways to Build a Reluctant Reader Library."
Our hardest job, and highest calling, may very well be that of matchmaker, helping our most reluctant readers fall in love . . . with books.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Relaxed Readiness

In the PBS series Pioneers of Television: Acting Funny, Tina Fey talks about her measured, highly prepared approach to comedy. I was especially intrigued when she talked about relaxed readiness. She went on to say her work requires a great deal of preparation. She prepares, prepares, and prepares some more. This allows her to be in a state of relaxed readiness so that if something spontaneous does happen, she is there and capable of seizing the moment.

The idea of relaxed readiness has been simmering in my mind ever since. I believe it’s as relevant in the classroom as it is in the entertainment industry, and I came face-to-face with it when I observed Matt Glover model one-on-one writing conferences in a kindergarten classroom. Matt is a brilliant mentor for anyone fortunate enough to observe him. He hunkered down, greeting each five-year-old student with sincere interest and delight. Each conference followed a predictable structure.
  1. Investigation—He observed and interviewed, coming to an understanding of what each child was trying to do as a writer.
  2. Decision—He made a decision about what to teach and how to teach it. When faced with a wide variety of ways he could go (which is especially common with our youngest writers), he thought about what one thing he could teach that would make the biggest difference, not only in the current piece of writing but in the pieces that would follow it.
  3. Teaching—He clearly articulated what he wanted to teach each child. Then he either demonstrated or showed an example in a mentor text using a published book, his own writing, or the writing of a classmate.
  4. Connecting­—He recapped what the child had done as a writer and how they needed to carry the skill on in their future work.
The decision and teaching portions of the structure are where Matt’s relaxed readiness really shone through. He has a vast depth of knowledge and understanding of stages of development, the grade-level expectations, and beneficial mentor texts. It is this professional expertise that allows him to relax, be present, and respond with laserlike readiness to teachable moments.

I want to be like that. Do you? If so, we must take responsibility for our own professional development, immersing ourselves in excellent professional resources and aligning ourselves with people who can make it happen, whether a teaching partner, conference speaker, or Twitter mentor. Then we too can experience the sweet and rewarding satisfaction of relaxed readiness.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Healthy Striving

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
~Maya Angelou

In my seventeen years of teaching, I have had partners and colleagues who have mentored me every step of the way. Many have become dear friends. One thing they all have in common is that they are constantly striving for professional excellence.

I recently finished an outstanding book that is making me consider the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, BrenĂ© Brown says that healthy striving is self-focused, whereas perfectionism is other-focused. Healthy striving asks, “How can I improve?” Perfectionism asks, “What will others think?” She goes so far as to say that perfectionism hampers success.

And I think that perfectionism not only hampers success, but robs us of pleasure, because we can never measure up to impossible standards. However, if we are striving in a healthy way, there will be something inherently joyful in the journey, and we’ll discover that we like ourselves, like what we do, and indeed, even like how we do it. I think that may be the intangible characteristic so many of my friends and colleagues possess. They reflect often, celebrate success, and adjust as necessary. As I strive to improve in my own practice, I will look to yet another trait they model so proficiently, and endeavor to focus my efforts on this kind of healthy striving.