Posted in Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018 Reflection

Today marks the fourth year I’ve not only participated in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge through the Two Writing Teachers, but also the fourth year I have successfully completed the challenge.

The first three years I participated, I took the final day of the month to celebrate and reflect. After all, we all know the value of measuring our growth and marking accomplishments as educators. I wrote about what I learned, what I hoped, and what I planned to do with my experience.

And every year, I stopped writing shortly after the challenge.

Maybe life got in the way. Maybe I wasn’t into blogging that much after all. Maybe I was missing out on the audience that I had grown to depend on in the Slice of Life community.

Whatever the reason, in spite of my intentions, I stopped writing.

I can’t promise this year will be any different.

And yet.

This year I’m not stopping to celebrate, to acknowledge my month of writing.

I’m not listing all the things I did over the past month that I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

I’m not committing to writing on a certain day or on certain topics.

Instead, I’m closing this month as quietly as it began–as a writer who is always still a work in progress.

Until next time–may that be sooner, rather than later.

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Posted in Collaboration, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 31: My Learning Journey

What are you going to do with a doctorate?

Even when the question isn’t spoken aloud, I can see it written on other people’s faces. Colleagues, parents, even a few friends and family members. Sometimes the question is asked with curiosity; other times with judgment.

Almost three years ago, my babies only 1 and 3 at the time, I started feeling a certain restlessness that only means one thing in my life: the need to immerse myself in learning. At the time, I was out of the classroom serving as a mentor to new teachers and a PD leader in my district and building. I was learning a lot from others, but it was time for me to look outside and beyond my school and district.

When I found out that the university where I earned my Master’s degree and reading certification offered a doctoral path in Teacher Leadership (not administration!), I knew immediately where my path should lead. By January of 2016, I was part of Cohort 4 of the program–and I haven’t looked back since.

In four weeks, I will graduate from this program. Many still wonder just why I decided to pursue a doctorate in the first place. For a raise? A title? A different position? A promotion? To become an administrator?

After all: What will I get from having a doctorate in education?

The answer is so simple it sounds too good to be true: It’s not about what I will get, but about what I’ve already gotten.

Because I chose this path, I have met and worked with and become friends with 12 of the most incredibly passionate and intelligent educators I have ever met. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, and we’ve grown together. Some teach high school, some teach elementary, some are instructional coaches and curriculum leaders. Some have many years of teaching experience, while a few have only been teaching a handful of years. Some of us are quiet; others outgoing. In spite of our differences, we have become a family of educators, united by this journey we’ve taken together.

Because I chose this path, I have an understanding of education that is deeper and richer than I ever could have imagined. I approach teaching differently now than I ever did before, and I know what an intricate system education truly is.

Because I chose this path, I truly know myself. I know my strengths, I know my areas for growth, and I know I have become a better person and teacher for taking on this challenge.

Because I chose this path, I have learned to say Why not? Why not apply to present at NCTE? Why not apply for that grant? Why not try to have an article published? Why not share my knowledge and ideas with others? And why not have a deeper appreciation for their knowledge and ideas, too?

Because I chose this path, I truly know what it means to depend on other people and work together. I couldn’t have accomplished this without my amazing husband and parents and in laws helping out with our kids. I couldn’t have accomplished this without other educators in my district cheering me on. I couldn’t have completed a million group projects without collaborating with others.

Because I chose this path, I am content. Whatever challenges and adventures may come my way in the future, I now know I can grow and learn from each of them, too. And I will have some pretty amazing people cheering me on and lifting me up the whole way.

 

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Posted in Family, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 30: Day Off

When you have a Friday off, you stay up late the night before enjoying a girls’ night out with your Mom. You get dressed up and go see The Color Purple together, then stop on the way home for some late night appetizers in place of dinner.

You turn off all of the alarms and hope your husband can sneak out of the house quietly when he leaves for work.

You let the kids wake you up, most likely by jumping on top of you or crawling under the covers next to you and pressing their bony little feet against your back.

You stay in your pajamas as long as you want. When you finally decide to get dressed, you wear workout clothes and have no intention whatsoever of working out.

You take the kids to a late morning showing of Paddington 2 at the dollar theater, filling up on salty popcorn and sugary drinks in place of lunch. You talk about the movie and how much you all loved it and how much the kids hope for Paddington 3 . . . or 4 . . . or 67 all the way home.

You watch the kids play in the backyard on the trampoline, soaking in the sunshine after days and days and days of gloomy gray clouds and pouring rain. You notice last year’s pathetic-looking garden and decide it’s time to start fresh, so you make yourself do a bit of yard work. Not too much, though–it is, after all, a beautiful day off.

You catch up on laundry. Lots and lots and lots of laundry. How does so much accumulate in just a week? You throw in running the dishwasher and taking out the trash for good measure.

You make some time for reading and writing. Whenever you want.

You only look at the clock when you want to, never because you have to.

You squeeze in a trip to the library to return a stack of finished books and check out the stack waiting on the hold shelf.

Most of all, you relax and savor every moment of downtime before the hectic end of the school year. After all, isn’t that what days off are for?

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Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life, Writing

Slice of Life 2018, Day 29: What It’s REALLY About

Writer’s Workshop this morning looked the way it should look: 25 kids scattered around the room, some typing furiously while others wrote furiously across their pages.

Writer’s Workshop this morning sounded the way it should sound: typing, whispering, music playing softly (Harry Potter again) from the overhead speakers.

Writer’s Workshop this morning felt the way it should feel: energized, productive, positive.

But as I walked around to confer with students about their fantasy stories, I quickly realized that something was just slightly amiss. Something wasn’t the way I thought it should be. It took me a few conferences to figure it out: most of the fantasy stories my students were writing had fantastic characters, strong plot lines, great detail…and almost no fantasy to them whatsoever.

One girl was writing about a pair of friends who are split apart by the infringing friendship of a new girl. Another was writing about a pair of friends who have an argument that ends their friendship. A boy next to them wrote about a day with no wifi.

Where is all the creativity? I wondered. Where are all of the things I’ve taught them?

We’ve worked with two questions over and over in reading and writing across the school year: What is this about? What is this really about? I paused and asked myself these same questions.

What is this writing experience today about? I thought it was about writing fantasy…

What is this writing experience today really about? It was about developing a story arc. It was about including dialogue and developing characters through action and conflict. It was about focusing in on small moments and making them seem authentic to readers. It was about finding the joy in writing and expressing oneself through written words.

On that note, today’s Workshop wasn’t quite so “off” after all. My students were learning–just as they should in a workshop setting–in their own way and at their own pace. And they taught me something today as well: the value of remembering to look beyond the obvious to focus on what’s really at the heart of learning.

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Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 28: What I Read

They rushed into our classroom first thing this morning, backpacks heavy, smiling widely. Both girls instantly made a beeline for me, seeking me out ahead of their classmates.

“Mrs. Valter!” The first one announced, words tumbling out of her mouth as she paused to catch her breath. “You’ll never guess how many books I read over Spring Break!”

I know this reader. I know the time she puts into reading, and I know the types of books she usually tackles–thick fantasy stories, the kind you can get lost in for hours.

“Five?” I guessed.

“How’d you know?” Her face lit up even more as she showed me her stack of books while she hauled them out of her bag, incredibly proud that she’d finally read Twilight.

The other girl grinned. “You’ll never guess what I read!”

I paused for a few beats, knowing she would tell me before I could even begin to guess.

“I reread some of the Harry Potter books!” she exclaimed (not a surprise at all).

Then it was my turn to tell them what I read over break and how many books I had finished. While we chatted, I marked my books off on the #MustReadin2018 list that’s taped to the window behind my workspace, noting my progress and how far I still have to go to meet my own goal.

As they went about their day, I paused to wonder: How can I get all of my students this excited about reading? How can I build this kind of relationship with every single reader in my classroom?

While I know I may never reach 100%, I also know I won’t stop book talking, sharing my reading life, or listening when they share theirs. Just because I might not reach them all today or this week or this year doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying. After all, you never know which day they will wake up and realize they, too, are readers.

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Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life, Writing

Slice of Life 2018, Day 27: My Writing Identity

This morning, fresh off of Spring Break, I stood in my classroom as our Writing Workshop time began and I watched. The melodies of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone soundtrack competed with the rain beating against our classroom windows to set the tone for fantasy writing. Some students were already lost in their own worlds, furiously typing or scribbling across their pages. Others let their eyes roam around the room, taking a few minutes to think and plan. Some had worked on their stories over break. Others had forgotten we would even be writing fantasy stories when we returned. Each and every one of them, however, ended our “fast and furious flash draft day” having produced writing. Every single child, at their own pace and in their own way, wrote a piece of a fantasy story. And each one of them developed a bit of their writing identity today.

At the risk of sounding much older than my mid-thirties, I can’t help but think Why, back when I was in school… We didn’t have choice in our writing. We were taught the mechanics and the structure, but never the creativity or the passion. We sat in rows and outlined and drafted and made sure each paragraph met a specific set of requirements so that the teacher could easily assign a grade. We developed writing routines, but never reflected at all on why we wrote and who we were as writers–or who we could become.

As I think about myself as a writer today, I realize that my writing identity is still a work in progress (as I believe almost all writers must think). Yet over the past four years, since beginning the Slice of Life Challenge, I have realized many truths about myself as a writer and my writing identity:

  • I seldom write out my predraft ideas, but I rehearse them endlessly. I catch myself playing with words and ideas in my mind all day long. I plan out my writing in the shower, during my drive home, and while I put my kids to bed in the evening. By the time I sit down to write, I almost always have the words I want to begin with waiting on my fingertips.
  • Revision is not my strength. Though I always reread my work, I rarely make any drastic changes. Maybe this can be attributed to my rehearsal process, or maybe just my overall stubbornness. Whatever the reason, this is a part of the writing process that I know I have to focus on most heavily as a writer because it simply does not come naturally to me.
  • I am a late night writer. Late in the evening, once the kids have gone to bed and the house begins to quiet down, I am finally able to sit down and write. This is where I release the ideas that have been building all day and capture the stories I don’t want to forget.
  • I, like all writers, thrive on feedback. I’m incredibly shy about letting my family and friends read my writing, but Slice of Life has shown me the power of building a writing community and having critical friends review your work and provide support. This is a gift I really focus on passing on to my students, regularly setting aside opportunities for them to blog and share their writing with peers.
  • I have so much to learn from other writers. The more I write, the more I know I need to grow. I feed this need regularly by reading others’ blogs, reading published books and magazines, and thinking critically about where I am as a writer and where I want to grow.
  • Writing is an act that requires routine and dedication from me–and is worth every moment. Life has a way of becoming overwhelmingly demanding and busy, and writing is often the first thing to take a backseat for me (or to be pushed out of my life altogether). However, as I once again turn my focus toward writing and the joy and fulfillment it brings to me throughout the month of March, I realize that writing is more than just something I do; being a writer is something I am.

I have taught children to write for a long time now, and I myself have been learning to write for much longer than that. As I think about all of the things I have done–and all of the writing my students have created–writing identity is at the center of everything. It keeps us focused, helps us get through the difficult parts, and gives us a vision for where we want to be.

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Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 26: From Now Until the Last Day (Back to School Promises)

Tonight is the last night of Spring Break. I’m already missing the lazy mornings, the time to read and write, and especially the time with my kids and husband.

The weeks leading up to Spring Break were a challenge. Report cards were due, final papers had to be written, and drama between students seemed to be nonstop. I was worn out and my patience was worn thin.

As I step back into my classroom tomorrow, I realize I have a choice to make. Testing is coming. Spring is coming. The end of elementary school is coming for these kids. And I have a huge role to play in all of it. The question, then, is this: How do I want our classroom to be from now until the end of the year?

In thinking and reflecting for the past few days, I’ve made some promises to myself:

  1. Don’t forget that they are kids. This seems so easy, yet so many of them want to act older, feel older, look older than just ten or eleven. So often they are venturing into conflicts that are adult in nature, yet they are dealing with these issues like kids. I can’t forget that they are just children, even when they don’t seem to want to be anymore.
  2. Let them make mistakes. It’s difficult to step back and not intervene when you can see what is going to happen. Mistakes are messy and complicated, yet they are necessary. So, with that in mind, I need to allow more mistakes to happen in my classroom and trust that it will all work out better than OK in the end.
  3. Focus on the learning, not the test. No teacher will tell you that this is the best part of the school year. It seems that everyone gets a little anxious as mandated testing gets closer and closer. Yet I’m working every day with a group of learners, not a classroom full of test takers. In my heart, I know they will do well on the test if they have learned this year. I just have to keep learning as my why and the rest will fall into place.
  4. Focus on the “forgotten” kids. The school year is almost over and as I head back to school I realize that there are still a few kids in my classroom that I have not gotten to know as well as I should. These kids need to be my focus over the coming weeks–especially since these may be the kids who need to build a positive relationship with an adult more than anyone else.
  5. Have fun and play. Spring brings mixed-up schedules, special events, and lots of excitement and anxiety about the coming summer months. As I think about this time of the year, I want to make sure it is a celebration of the work we have done together since August and an acknowledgment of how much each child has grown, not a countdown of the days until we are “rid” of each other and the routines of school. I promise to keep my sense of humor, my desire for adventure, and my focus on these kids until the last day of school–after all, these kids deserve nothing less than my best.

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Posted in Family, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 25: Today

Today was a day for…

Dance, watching my little ballerina twirl and tap her way across the studio floor.

Travel, driving to and from my hometown.

Family, snuggling my new niece close and watching my kids admire the tiny fingers and toes of their brand new cousin.

Pride, watching my brother in his new role as Dad.

Reading, sneaking in a quick library break while Daniel and Sebestyen went to a hockey birthday party.

Awe, watching my children’s faces as we went to our very first circus, Szofia informing Daniel within the first two acts that he needed to admit that this was “even better than watching hockey.”

Tonight is a night for…

Exhaustion, letting the chaos of the day catch up with me.

Determination, sneaking in one more late night Spring Break reading.

Happiness, savoring all of our adventures today and already cherishing the memories we made together.

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Posted in Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 24: I Wonder

It’s the end of Spring Break, so I’m going to use this amazing format shared here on KTFCTO today.

I wonder how I might possibly slow down time a bit to get a few more days of Spring Break.

I wonder how my kids will transition back to school. Will they be sad or will they be excited to see their friends?

I wonder if they will miss each other after being constant playmates all week.

I wonder what my return to school will be like. Will some of the girl drama have died down during the break, or will it be as strong as ever with the kids in constant contact through social media?

I wonder how it’s already March 24th. Didn’t this challenge just begin?

I wonder how I only have 3 nights of class left to complete my doctorate. Didn’t my 2 1/2 year program just begin?

I wonder what this summer will be like.

I wonder if I have time to read one more novel this weekend before I go back to school.

I wonder about so many things… I wonder how I can be better at just focusing on the here and now?

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