Summer is Coming

This weekend was a preview of the summer to come – I hope! We spent almost the entire weekend outside! We ate all of our meals out of doors. We went to the coolest hot dog stand and ate our hot dogs on the beach. We sat at the beach, relaxed, and read. We took long walks with the dog. We had cocktails and snacks by our garden waterfall. We had a barbeque. I spent time weeding my gardens while my husband prepared to paint the Adirondack chairs. And I read for hours on a lounge chair in the yard. I even had time to pull out my ukulele and practice for our upcoming variety show!

This is what I need right now. I need a break from the day to dayness of work. I need to be out in the sun with my hands in the dirt. I need to exercise more and enjoy some down time. I need to read more stories.

I might get tired of it all after a while, but right now I can’t wait for summer vacation to begin.

Wrapping Up the Year

Well, here we are. It is almost June. We are heading into the end of another school year; and unfortunately it was another school year plagued by COVID-19. People are tired. Teachers tell me they are ready to wrap up and move on to summer. I’m left wondering how to wrap up this school year in a way that leaves teachers and students with a sense of celebration and closure, but also energy and joy and (maybe most important of all) a sense of hope for what is to come.

Do we schedule some visits between classes and grade levels in order for students to see where they are going and teachers to see where next year’s students are coming from?

Do we create some new activities for our summer reading and writing unit?

Do we schedule some celebratory walkthroughs?

Do we create some book tasting events for kids and teachers?

Is there time for one more (quick) coaching cycle?

Can we do a few things to start looking ahead to next year?

Or….do we just let the year come to a close and worry about all of this next year?

I have to ask teachers what they think. Is any of this realistic? What do you think? I’d love to hear what you are doing to wrap up this school year.

Celebration

This week, my daughter will graduate with a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance and dance education from New York University. I am beyond proud of this young woman. I want to share my joy and pride with the world, so I thought I’d write her a note and share it with this community.

Dearest Morgan,

At the end of The Summer Day, a poem by Mary Oliver, the reader is asked,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

You are answering this question with energy, guts, talent, and joy.

I know it was a huge and life- changing decision to leave your life and career in Italy to study dance and education at NYU. You weren’t sure, but now I think you know that this is the work you are meant to do. There is no question that you are meant to dance and to live the creative life. Watching you perform last week in your final school performance, knowing that you were responsible for every single piece of the show (down to the creation of your own theater curtain-lol) was certainly proof of that! Your movement is stunning, and your ability to dance in different styles and interact with the audience in a variety of ways was beyond impressive!

I congratulate you on finishing your course of study and earning a Master of Fine Arts degree. Wow! You are following your heart, and pursuing your dreams of being a dancer; a creator. I’m excited to see what you will do next, but for now I want to pause and bask in your incredible accomplishments. You are really making something out of that wild and precious life of yours!

I am so proud of you. I hope you are proud of you too!

I love and admire you,

Mom

Many Moms

Today I wish a happy Mothers’ Day to the many women who have acted as mother figures in my life.

First and foremost, of course, is my biological mother. She was pretty incredible. She was beautiful, smart, caring, athletic, artistic, and incredibly fashionable. She had an amazing career as a fashion designer in New York City and did a great job balancing that work with being a very attentive and supportive mom (I know, a hard act to follow!). Mom (along with my dad) provided us with a pretty incredible childhood. We had chores and were responsible for things around the house. She made sure we worked if we wanted something. But at the same time she gave us so much. As we both grew older, we became the best of friends. We could talk about almost anything. We were honest and supportive and caring. She was truly my model for what motherhood could look like.

Then there was Thelma. I was three years old, and my sister was just a baby when Thelma arrived. She would spend the next ten years co-parenting us so that my parents could work and feel confident that we were well cared for. Thelma was one of the most loving human beings imaginable. Don’t get me wrong, she could be firm. Thelma had high expectations for us and a no-nonsense approach when it came to right and wrong, but when you got that “Thelma hug,” you knew you were safe and well-loved. Thelma quickly became a member of the family. Eventually she went off to become an RN and then Director of Admitting at a local hospital. We grew up and went on our own journeys, but we stayed close. Thelma was present at many holidays and events, graduations and ceremonies, baby showers, weddings and funerals. We often met for lunch or talked on the phone. When my mom died, she stepped up as the best back-up mom you could imagine. Right up until her final days, she was looking after me. She always made sure things were OK, checked to make sure that I got home after a visit, and made sure all was well with the Tim and the girls.

And then there were/are my dad’s next two wives. First there was Annie. She was young, so initially I didn’t see her as a “mom,” but we quickly became close friends. Annie was a very talented painter and an incredible cook. She looked after me in a different way. She showed me how to cook gourmet meals. She fed me great books by strong female writers (Anais Nin, Isak Dinesen. and Anna Quindlen to name a few). She took me to plays and dance performances. She taught me how to think about art and ideas in ways I hadn’t before. We took long walks with her dog and talked for hours. She bought me beautiful things when she and my dad traveled to France and Italy. She always looked after me. She always cared for me.

And now I have Beatrice, my dad’s current wife. She is wise, smart, an incredibly talented artist, and speaks four or five languages fluently! She has always opened her house and her arms and let me in. She is always there for me. She is honest and direct when I ask for advice. She is always thoughtful and kind. We have developed such a close friendship, but one that seems special because she is married to my dad. She is “mom-like” and “best friend-like.” We have the best of both worlds.

So on Mother’s Day, I share my gratitude to these women who have helped to raise me and pushed me to become the person I am today. I thank you all for being there for me, for being honest with me, for pushing me to be my true self. Everyone should be as lucky as I have been to have many moms!

These Kids are Writers!

Toward the end of March, one of my colleagues (and fellow slicer ) suggested to our principal (also a fellow slicer) and me that we see if some of our students might be interested in trying out the April SOLC. We decided to invite fourth and fifth grade students. I really wasn’t sure if many kids would sign up, and if they did, I wasn’t sure that they would stick with it and write on a regular basis. I’m happy to say, my doubts were completely unfounded! Lots of kids (about 60!) signed up and many came to the library in the mornings to write together. One student wrote every singe day (including weekends and during a week long vacation!). They came, they talked, they wrote, they laughed, and they shared.

We didn’t require children to write every day, but we set up the space and time for them to write in the library during the first 30 minutes of school. We created a place for them to write (a Padlet), and we invited them into the experience. As they say in Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.”

Today (the first Monday in May) we invited kids to join us if they wanted to talk about how to keep their writing habit going now that the April experience had come to a close. A few students came and talked about their plans. They talked about wanting to write 6 days a week, how writing helps them calm down when they are feeling stressed (either by writing about what’s causing the stress or writing to distract them from stress), how they are going to ask their teachers if they can carve out some time during the day to “slice,” and how they are already looking forward to next year’s April SOLC!

These kids are writers! They love to write. They write for a variety of reasons. They write because they see value in it, not because it’s something the teacher wants them to do. They are living writerly lives!

I Just Don’t Understand

Sometimes I just don’t understand. I try. I listen. I ask. I ponder. But sometimes I just don’t get it. Last night was one of those nights. A committee I served on earlier this year presented the findings of a district equity audit with the Board of Education and the public. The study brought some things to light, but I’m not sure there were any big surprises. We, like most districts (and organizations), have work to do in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The study suggested a few broad actions. Again, nothing surprising, and really nothing that was all that revolutionary.

But some of the responses rocked me. I know that there is unrest in our district around these issues, and I understand that the mention of DEI can strike fear into the hearts of some people. The world is changing, and change can be hard, especially for those who feel they hold power. But last night people came out swinging – and criticizing, and offending, and politicizing, and berating.

I just don’t understand why parents and community members would be against things like building a deep sense of belonging for all, or creating opportunities for more students, or giving students more voice, or providing professional development for teachers so that we can be more responsive to the children we serve. There seems to be this idea that if we do these things for some students, we are taking away from others. That’s just not how I see it. That’s just not how it is. If we take action, all students will benefit – a rising tide lifts all boats. There seems to be another belief that we should “just teach the 3 Rs” without thinking about the environment in which we teach them. Again, that’s not how I see it. That’s not how it works. People don’t learn well if they don’t feel a sense of belonging. We (teachers) don’t just dump knowledge into the heads of our students. It’s much more complicated than that. Most of these comments came from parents. How is it that they don’t see the need for this work? What is their vision for their children’s education; for their children’s future?

I’ll keep listening and and asking and pondering, but I will also take action to make this world a safer, more inclusive place that provides real opportunities for all.

Receiving Inspiration

This week I read Amy Ellerman’s post, Time for a Shift.  As she always does, Amy pushed me to think and reflect on my practice (both personal and professional).  In this post, Amy says (and asks) things like:

-Learning is energy giving, for kids and for us.

-What must we hold sacred every day to ensure that learners grow?

-What are some ways we might shift our own self-talk (and the teacher-to-teacher talk that happens in our buildings) to protect this sacred learning time?

I have also experienced the negative self- talk and teacher-to-teacher talk that pushes us to give up on some of our most important goals and dreams for kids.  The “I can’ts” or “not during a pandemic” or “not with all the other stuff that needs to get done” talk can be energy draining instead of energy giving. 

It’s easy to fall into this pit of despondence and despair, but I want to fight it and find ways to hold true to the work I have signed up for – to teach and to learn.

I’m going to start by setting some goals for my upcoming vacation.  It would be easy to say I’m tired and I just need a break from everything, but I want to learn.  I want to read and write. I want to move forward. I want to be positive. I want to give and receive energy. So….I am going to commit to Amy’s 25 hours of reading and writing this week.  I do realize that Amy is doing this IN ADDITION to her full time job and life, but I thought it would be a good start!

Thank you, Amy, for pushing me in this direction!

Perspective Shifting

In this recent post from Reflections From a Coach, a fellow slicer shared that she had listened to a podcast by Glennon Doyle on aging. Doyle had interviewed Ashton Applewhite on her theories about aging and ageism. I quickly added this to my podcast list. I am a worrier. I worry about aging. I worry about being alone. I worry about not being able to do the things I enjoy. I worry about becoming a burden to my kids. Like I said, I am a worrier. This podcast has helped me to worry less. The underlying message from this podcast was that aging is basically all about the way we look at it. Applewhite shared some reassuring facts: Most people don’t end up in nursing homes. Most people don’t completely lose their memory as they age. People are happiest when they are very young and when they are older (called the “Happiness U-Curve”). She went on to say that it’s really our choice to look at aging as either a positive and powerful place to be, or as a place filled with decline and depression. She also discussed how hard this can be in a society that adores youth, but said that it can be done. We need to shift our perspective on what it means to grow older.

I listened to the Glennon Doyle podcast last week on my way to and from work. This morning I just happened to come across this article in the New York Times: The Best Advice You’ve Ever Received (And Are Willing to Pass On) by David Pogue. This article is FILLED with advice that I desperately need (and will now pass on). One piece of advice was this:

You’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree, have you?” When Alexandra Aulisi’s cat couldn’t get down from a tree, her grandmother reassured her with those words, predicting (correctly) that the cat would come down on his own. “This advice made me realize that, sometimes, you need to shift your perception of a problem to see a solution.”

As I mentioned, I’m a worrier. I call myself a Master Disaster Planner. This only makes my worrying worse. I desperately need Alexandra Aulisi’s grandmother by my side. I need to start thinking this way. I know it will change the way I live in the world. I know it will make me calmer, happier, more positive. I know the people around me will benefit. Maybe as I age I can even become the kind of grandmother who gives out this kind of advice.

I’m working to develop not only a new view of aging, but a new perspective on how I deal with the world. Maybe some day I can write an advice column and help the people around me to shift perspectives too. Wish me luck!

Thank you

Two Writing Teachers and Fellow Slicers:

Thank you for challenging me to write for 31 days straight.

Thank you for encouraging me each day with email reminders, inspiration, and mentor slices.

Thank you for always being there to support us.

Thank you for the Slicer Meet-up!

Thank you for your comments, positive words, and helpful feedback.

Thank you for creating the conditions for me to write.

Thank you for helping me develop a writing habit.

Thank you for helping me find my voice.

Thank you for providing me with a community where I can feel safe and take risks.

Thank you for helping me become a better writer, and a better teacher of writing.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you for making me feel seen.

Thank you for making me feel like I belong in this community of writers.

And a huge shout out to all my fellow slicers. We made it!

To Prompt, or Not to Prompt?

Here we are: Day #30 in a 31 Day Writing Challenge! It’s time to start reflecting.

I started this challenge with a plan to lean in and try out a type of writing I don’t really agree with; writing to a prompt. I chose Quick Writes by Donald Graves and Penny Kittle as my source of prompts. I wrote to quite a few over the month. Here’s what I’m thinking:

-I’m glad I took on the project. I think it’s important to try things myself in order to develop a broader understanding and to better explain my thinking about a topic.

-Some of the prompts led me to interesting places. I definitely discovered topics that I would not have if it hadn’t been for a prompt. I wrote about learning to drive with my dad and my parents’ divorce. I explored some powerful memories and experiences.

-Some of the prompts pushed me to be more creative than I would have been without them (drawing my hand, or writing from a shopping list, for example).

-I didn’t have to struggle for an idea when I wrote to a prompt. That’s kind of a plus and a minus for me. It was nice to know that there was going to be something to write about every day, but I think it took away an important part of the writing process – finding a topic that I care about and want to write about.

-I did build in some choice (One of the reasons I’m against prompts is because I find that they are often teacher-driven and don’t allow for choice – a key to engagement in my opinion.). I looked through the prompts and decided on the ones I wanted to try. Maybe this is cheating, but it was the only way I could do it.

Overall, I still think it’s better if writers choose topics of their own, but I’d be willing to offer children the choice of trying out writing to a prompt every now and then. Maybe it would lead them to some interesting topics. Maybe it’s a way in for some writers. Maybe prompts can provide a warm up if a writer is stuck. I’m a bit more open to the use of prompts after taking on this project. I see some value in the exercise.