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 2017, Collaboration, Literacy, Reflection

The Reading Strategies Book, Goal 13: Improving Writing About Reading

When I first moved from teaching primary to intermediate grades almost ten years ago, I quickly adopted the practice of having students regularly write about their reading in the form of reading response letters. Every other week, each of my fourth graders was responsible for crafting a letter that demonstrated a deep understanding of something they were reading independently. I spend a great deal of time setting up elaborate systems of when the letters were due, how they were handed in and graded, and the precise formula of three structured paragraphs I expected to see. I spent an even greater amount of time reading each of these (mostly) poorly written letters and writing back to each of my students. I asked many of them to try again, truly believing that making them write more (mostly) poorly written letters would somehow improve both their writing and their reading.

Thinking back now, I feel like I should probably sit down to write each of them a perfectly structured, mostly formulaic three paragraph letter of apology to express how sorry I am that we all suffered through that experience. While my students did become better readers each year, I believe now that it had very little to do with the effort (or lack thereof) that they put into writing required response letters to me. Instead, I’ve since realized, their improvements in reading had everything to do with opportunities during Reading Workshop that were tailored to meet their needs, individualized, motivating, incorporated choice, and provided time to think deeply and share their thoughts about their reading with others.

That is what good writing about reading looks like. Goal 13 of The Reading Strategies Book provides 23 amazing strategies to help teachers support students with a variety of options for writing about reading.

“Teaching children to wrImage result for the reading strategies bookite well about their reading is about teaching them that their thinking about books matters.” (p. 350)

Writing about reading is a balancing act. Although we want our students to develop the habits of recording their thinking and fully developing their ideas around texts, the reading itself is always most important. Serravallo, citing Nancy Atwell (2014), emphasizes that writing about reading should be filled with choices: when to write, what to write, and how to write. Serravallo advises teachers to use caution when writing about reading with students in the primary grades, where the heavy focus should be on developing emergent reading behaviors. (A majority of the strategies in this chapter are most appropriate for students in upper elementary grades and middle school.)

According to Serravallo, strategies for writing about reading fall into several distinct categories:

  • Reflection about reading habits, history, and identity
  • In the moment writing that occurs during reading, mostly through the use of sticky notes and annotations to capture thoughts while engaged with the text
  • Longer writing to expand on ideas and develop deeper understanding through and across texts
  • Revisions to writing by revisiting previously-written responses to evaluate and improve upon their writing.

There are several instances in which focusing on writing about reading as a prioritized goal is appropriate. Some students may need to document their understanding of a text while reading in order to recall their thinking at a later time. Others may demonstrate strength as a writer but lack the ability to think deeply about their reading. Still others may need to focus on this goal when they are able to discuss a text at much higher levels than they can articulate their thoughts in writing.

As I think about the types of writing about reading I want to see in my own classroom, here are some of my favorite strategies from this goal:

13.9  My Reading Timeline  Students have an opportunity to reflect on their history as a reader and develop a visual representation of their life as a reader. This is a strategy I’ve used with young students, older students, and even teachers, and it is highly engaging and provides a great deal of information about reading identity.

13.6 What Can I Do With a Sticky Note? and 13.7 What’s Worth Keeping? Although these are two separate strategies, I like to pair them together. We all know that students who are just handed a stack of sticky notes will make good use of them–by using all of them. 13.6 focuses specifically on guiding students toward using sticky notes in meaningful ways. 13.7 builds upon this strategy by pushing students to reflect on the notes they have taken to determine what is useful for developing their understanding as readers and how they might further organize and develop these ideas in their reading notebook. Both of these strategies work well with whole or small groups and I’ve found that students often need repeated exposure to these ideas to be successful with using sticky notes while they read.

13.22 Idea Connections and 13.23 Pile It On These strategies are also very similar. In 13.22, students look across several of their best sticky notes from a text to look for connections, similarities, and differences. 13.23 builds upon this idea by asking students to collect all of the sticky notes on a common idea and synthesize them to demonstrate their thinking and share a new idea. Both of these strategies are for more advanced readers and will support taking students to much deeper levels of understanding as they read.

As I reflect on this chapter, I think what is most important is that it provides so many different options for supporting students in their writing about reading. Sometimes we want students to simply record their thoughts quickly on sticky notes, while other times we want to encourage them to sit down and really think on a deeper level about their reading and the meaning behind the text. This chapter supports both.

As you think through your own reading habits, your classroom work with writing about reading, and your work within this chapter, I’d love for you to reflect upon and share your thinking about some of these questions:

  • How do you record your ideas and write about reading as an adult reader?
  • What systems do you put in place to support your students in writing about reading regularly in your classroom? (In other words, what works for you?)
  • How do you make writing about reading authentic and meaningful for your students?
  • What strategies from Goal 13 have you tried? What has worked well with your students?

I can’t thank Croft’s Classroom enough for hosting this blogging book study of The Reading Strategies Book over the past few weeks. A fantastic collection of ideas, thoughts, lessons and resources for each of the goals have been shared by each of these amazing educators:

Goal #12 – A Teacher’s Ruminations
Conclusion – Crofts’ Classroom

If you haven’t read them already, make sure you check them all out!


Posted in 2017, Classroom, Collaboration, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 21: Five Things About Fifth Grade (Part 1)

As I’ve been thinking about my upcoming return to the classroom and placement in fifth grade next year, millions of thoughts have been running through my head. Here are five things that make me excited about this next adventure:

  1. Working to create lifelong readers. I can’t wait to put the right books in the right kids’ hands. I can’t wait to participate in the Global Read Aloud. I can’t wait to work with reluctant readers and (hopefully) reach as many of them as possible.
  2. Teaching writing every day. I’ve had many opportunities to model lessons over the past several years, but there’s something magical about taking a group of kids from the beginning to the end of a unit. (I also can’t wait to participate in the Classroom Slice of Life challenge next March for the first time!)
  3. Creating a classroom that is truly student-centered. I’m so excited to give kids a voice in their own learning and to get to know them as we build a community together.
  4. Implementing and applying all of the learning I have done over the past six years as a mentor. I’ve had so many incredible experiences, worked with some absolutely amazing people, and observed countless classrooms. I hope I can put all of my growth together to create a fantastic learning experience for my students!
  5. My new team! Each of them has fifth grade experience, and not only are all of them fantastic teachers, but all are also genuinely wonderful people. I can’t wait to see what we will accomplish together!

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

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Posted in 2017, Classroom, Collaboration, Innovation, Slice of Life, STEM

#SOL17 Day 19: “Breaking Out” Something New in Kindergarten

I first heard of Breakout Edu back in the fall when my building principal and one of our teachers developed and led a session at an early release PD. As a staff, we formed teams and solved clues and unlocked locks to achieve the ultimate goal of opening our Breakout Box. The best part: there was a surprise inside (jeans/dress down passes!). We collaborated, we problem-solved, and we used the strengths of each individual team member to try to beat the clock and the other teams. It was a fun afternoon in which we not only learned a new “tool” for our classrooms, but also developed some new strategies for working with each another.

However, I have been coaching in only kindergarten and first grade this year and, since I work with primarily first year teachers, I wrote it off as something that wouldn’t really fit into the work I’m doing right now.

But several weeks ago my assistant principal came to me full of excitement. She had seen kindergarten classrooms trying Breakout activities on Twitter and was anxious to implement it in our building–and wanted me to work with my mentee to make it happen.

We began collaborating–my kindergarten teacher, my assistant principal, our instructional technology coach, and myself–and determined that St. Patrick’s Day would be the perfect day. It was a half day of school, we had a fun theme, and if things didn’t go as planned, we were sending the kids off to Spring Break immediately after it ended and knew they would forgive and forget any disasters during the week off.

The day arrived and we were set–plans in place (you can see them here if you’re interested), boxes locked, clues hidden, kids dressed in team colors, and How to Catch a Leprechaun read aloud. An excited buzz filled the air as the kids entered the room and took their places on the carpet. The teacher introduced the lesson by explaining the locked boxes and the clues they would find, and asked, “Are you ready to try to catch a leprechaun?”

Immediately, a little boy at the front of the carpet jumped up and shouted, “I see him! He was just out the window, but he flew up to heaven to be with God!” Oh, boy. I love kindergartners.

The teacher calmed the kids down and we broke out into our teams. Just like the adults at our PD, the kids searched for clues, problem-solved, and worked together to open each lock. Every face had a grin that stretched from ear to ear, and the room erupted into cheers more times than I could count when each group successfully removed another lock. As each box was opened, the kids were thrilled to find a pile of gold coins–and were even more excited when my principal walked in the room dressed from head-to-toe as a leprechaun.

One student worked to unlock the directional lock while two others listened carefully to see if they could hear a leprechaun moving around inside the box. They were 100% convinced they could hear him squirming around in there!
Not only was this a fun morning, it was a meaningful experience for both the kids and the adults in the room. Here are a few of the lessons I’m taking forward:

  1. Advance planning is everything, especially with kindergarten. Having every clue in place, every lock checked, and every coin counted was absolutely essential.
  2. It took a village. We had five different groups of kids and each group had an adult with them.
  3. This is a fantastic first step for getting kids to work with each other doing structured problem-solving. This group is used to having unstructured play workshop time, but this activity built upon that and required them to work through frustrations and conflicts in new ways.
  4. Students were incredibly engaged and each child had a chance to shine. Everyone got a turn to use their strengths to help open the box.
  5. Even when a new idea seems like it won’t “fit” what you’re doing or might be too difficult, it’s always worth it to step back and think about it differently. You never know what a great learning experience it might turn out to be–for you and the kids!

If you’re interested in learning more about Breakout Edu, you can visit their site here. For this activity, we used the purchased kits (boxes and locks) and created our own St. Patrick’s Day themed experience for the kids based on our kindergarten standards. (Note: I’m not trying to sell any products. Our school was lucky enough to have funds to purchase a set of their boxes and through their online resources I have learned a lot about how Breakout Edu works in classrooms.)

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Collaboration, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 17: A Shift in Perspective

As I sit here the night before placements for next year are released, my mind is spinning with possibilities. Where will I teach? What grade level will I teach? Who will be my teammates? How will my transition back to the classroom go? Will I be as good of a teacher now as I was when I moved into a mentoring position six years ago?

While I don’t have any answers right now–and some of my questions won’t be answered for quite awhile–it’s that last question that I think about the most. So tonight, as I wait for news that’s still many (slightly agonizing) hours away, I think about all of the ways in which my deepest beliefs about teaching have evolved during my time out of the classroom:

I used to think relationships were important. Now I know they are. Relationships with kids, parents, and colleagues are the very foundation of the work we do every day as teachers.

I used to think my classroom had to look perfect and cute on the first day of school. Now I know that my classroom should be a canvas for students to leave their own marks on when they arrive in the fall.

I used to think I did my best work by myself. Now I know that I can do even better work with a strong team.

I used to think I was a teacher who liked to read and write. Now I realize I’m a writer and reader who likes to teach.

I used to think my hallway displays had to be inspired by my own creative genius (of which I have very little when it comes to designing hallway displays). Now I know that the students need a voice and ownership in showcasing their learning.

I used to think my lessons were all about strong teaching. Now I know that my lessons need to be all about student learning. 

I used to think unstructured time in the classroom was wasted time. Now I realize that kids need some unstructured time to explore, discuss, and drive their own learning.

I used to think homework was essential for building responsibility and accountability. Now I believe that the work students should be expected to do outside of school should be an invitation to read, write and learn more, not a mandate that will lower their grade if they fail to turn in a worksheet or reading log.

I used to think technology was something to just “integrate.” Now I know that the tools technology puts into our hands are powerful, authentic, and essential–when used at the right times for the right purposes.

I used to think a classroom of compliant kids was a classroom full of kids learning. Now I know that compliance and engagement are two completely different things.

I used to think I had to solve problems by myself. Now I know how important it is to know and recognize the strengths of all of the professionals in a school so you know just the right person to call on when you’re in need.

I used to think looking at data meant figuring out each student’s deficits and trying to fix them, preferably before high stakes testing. Now I know that data is meant to show us the strengths we can build upon and the areas in which we will have the greatest impact when working with each learner.

I used to think parent-teacher conferences were difficult and stressful. Now I realize that they are one of the few opportunities for the two most important influences on a student’s life to sit down together and team up for the child’s benefit. And it’s even better when the child themselves can be a part of the conversation.

I used to think I had to drag home a bag or box or truckload of things to grade every evening. Now I know that there has to be a work/life balance and that the best thing I can do for students is to be present for them in the classroom, not spending hours drawing smiley faces on well-done work at home.

I used to think the most important feedback I could give kids was through grades and rubrics. Now I know that the interactions I have with kids in the classroom on a daily basis and the discussions we have around their work and growth are the most valuable forms of feedback.

I used to think my job was to teach the curriculum. Now I know my job is to teach students toward an understanding of the curriculum.

I used to think my voice needed to be the loudest and strongest one in the room. Now I know that I need to be the one who pushes the students to have louder and stronger voices of their own.

And, most importantly, I used to think I loved working with kids on a daily basis as a classroom teacher. Now I know I do.

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Collaboration, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 12: An Open Letter of Appreciation to Lucy Calkins

Dear Lucy,

(I hope it’s OK if I call you Lucy–your name is probably the most-frequently-used proper noun at my school.)

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of attending your workshop on Reading Workshop in grades 3-5. This was an opportunity I have been waiting on for years and an experience that I have been doing a daily countdown toward ever since my district gave me permission to attend. After being lucky enough to spend close to seven hours listening to you share but a fraction of your wealth of knowledge yesterday, I must take a few moments to share my gratitude and appreciation for the influence you have had on me as an educator.

Thank you for your vision of classrooms and schools where literacy, particularly reading, is a top priority. Your emphasis on the impact of time spent reading in classrooms has absolutely been taken to heart, and I simply can’t imagine a classroom in which I don’t dedicate as much time as possible to reading. Every. Single. Day.

Thank you for reminding us that holding kids to high standards also means that we have to hold ourselves as teachers to high standards, too. We can’t just expect students to achieve without putting energy and effort into giving them the best instruction possible.

Thank you for encouraging us to not just teach, but to own what we are teaching. We need to live as readers ourselves and see the world through the lens of what we want kids to do with their own books.

Thank you for speaking to the power of collaboration. I can’t effectively teach reading if I allow my classroom to become an island. Effective teachers work together in a culture of collaboration to problem-solve, analyze student work, and plan lessons that will reach all readers. As I return to a classroom next year, I know I won’t be able to provide the best reading experiences for kids without the support of a strong team.

Thank you for enlightening us on partnerships in reading, writing about reading, utilizing learning progressions, and incorporating nonfiction in powerful ways. I can’t wait to begin the work I will do with the knowledge and ideas I gained yesterday.

Thank you for focusing on the readers, not the books. We all know there are incredible books out there that we can’t wait to share with excited young readers. But we’re not teaching books. We’re teaching children.

Thank you for impacting me as a reader. Those mini-lessons you modeled? They stuck with me. I caught myself last night, as I was reading a bedtime story to my kids, genuinely reading with my “eyes wide open.” I talked to my children differently about the story. And I couldn’t wait to think more deeply about the novel I’m reading myself.

Thank you for adding “ditto sh**s” to my vocabulary. My relationship with the copy machine at school will never be the same. (Don’t worry, I’m going to let the copier down easy with the old “it’s not you, it’s me” line–because it’s true.)

Thank you for showing us how the things we think are difficult are achievable. Even though we struggle with the length of our mini-lessons (OK, sometimes they’re “maxi-lessons”) and getting students to truly converse with one another about their reading, your practical advice and modeling will absolutely help me make some significant and practical shifts in my practices.

Thank you for your honesty and authenticity. To hear you share real stories, real opinions, and multiple perspectives was incredibly powerful. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your acknowledgement of other experts in the field of literacy and your willingness to defer to their work. It was incredibly empowering as a teacher to hear you say your goal for the day was to share new ideas and perspectives with us so we have the knowledge to make up our own minds in our own schools and try new things with our own students.

Thank you for your passion for literacy. Just as you advised all of us to own the skills we want to teach our readers, you were a true inspiration as you stood in front of us and owned your work as a teacher leader and literacy educator. Your knowledge and wisdom surpass all units and programs and materials; you truly are a model of someone who loves what they do and strives to make a difference in the lives of kids.

Thank you for inspiring me to continue growing, to continue putting kids first, and to continue loving literacy.

Until next time (may that be sooner rather than later),

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I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

Posted in Collaboration, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 5: Teamwork

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Batman works alone. As the gravelly voice filled the movie theater tonight while I watched the new Lego Batman Movie with my husband and kids, I couldn’t help but appreciate the obvious moral of the story: Life is simply better when you work as a team.

This theme has become central in my life over the past few years. Since our first child was born five years ago, my husband has become the #1 player on my team. He gives the kids their baths, helps to get them in bed each night, picks them up from school on the days when I have class, and is quick to jump in and play with them. For the past few days he’s been down with the flu, and I have realized just how much we share the parenting role.

At school, I have felt nothing but the absence of a team for the past five years. I’ve been lucky to work with mentor teachers in other buildings, but as I look around and see the teachers in my  building who always have someone to plan with, share ideas, eat lunch, and socialize, I have learned just how much having a team really matters. Teaching is lonely when you don’t have a team.

Next fall I will return to a classroom position. I’m so excited to have a class of my own again. I can’t wait to implement all of the ideas I’ve learned during my time in a coaching role. But most of all, I can’t wait to belong to a teaching team again.

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I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday and daily during the month of March in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.