Rainy Days

This weekend was one of the great weekends.  Our daughters were home.

Saturday was a busy day.  The weather was gorgeous, so we spent it doing all sorts of fun fall events.  In the morning, we walked the dog on the bike trail. Then we headed to the nearby farm and jumped on a hayride, tried out the pumpkin slingshot, and walked around to see the pigs, goats, and chickens.  After that, we headed to our favorite “Drive In” for lunch!  The late afternoon was spent carving the pumpkin and decorating the house.  Then we dressed up (the girls were witches and I was Igor from Young Frankenstein) and went to a local event at our historical society. We came home and watched Harry Potter.  I don’t know if a day gets any better than this one, but then came Sunday.

Sunday was a completely different kind of day.  The rain was coming down hard from the time we woke up until the time we went to bed. We decided to make it a quiet, at home kind of day. We made a big breakfast of pumpkin muffins, eggs, and bacon. Then we settled in to read the paper.  The girls worked on projects that have been sitting around the house for years.  It was quiet, and everything seemed to move slowly.  No one had to do anything or go anywhere.  I made a batch of pea soup and grilled up some cheese sandwiches.  We read some more. We talked.  We just spent time together.

There is nothing better than spending time with family.  It makes me feel whole again.

Framing the Work

On Sunday night, I found myself scurrying around. I took the air conditioner and fans out of the windows (I think summer is finally behind us), I folded one load of laundry and started a load of bed sheets.  I vacuumed the upstairs rooms, cleaned away some cobwebs, and dusted the bureaus. Then I started to put away summer clothes and go through my sweaters and corduroys. I was moving quickly (and a bit haphazardly) from one task to another, and as much as I felt busy, I didn’t really feel like I was accomplishing much.  Nothing was really finished. The rooms were now clean, but summer and fall clothes were scattered all over the place.  The air conditioner and fans were out of the windows, but still had to be carried to the attic, and the sheets were still rolling around in the washing machine, and the beds remained unmade.

In the middle of this hysteria, the phone rang.  It was a friend.  She asked me what I was doing, and I told her.  Her response was, “Oh, are you expecting guests?”  The fact is that yes, guests will be arriving soon and I am trying to get the house ready.  My friend’s simple question helped me to instantly frame everything that I was doing. I had a sudden sense of focus. Now, as I continued with my tasks, I started to feel like I was working toward something and everything I was doing had a purpose. It was like that ad for the antihistamine that instantly peels away the fogginess and presents a clear picture of the world around you.

I had a similar experience at work last week. I’m busy at work. Most teachers are.  We get up early, check emails, plan lessons, analyze reading and writing assessments, modify our lessons, check more emails (and maybe even send out a Tweet or check a post on Instagram), meet with colleagues, read professional books, blogs and articles, and the list goes on. We have a lot of ground to cover, but sometimes I feel like that is all I’m doing….covering ground.

This year I’ve been working with teachers on some strategies to make our Interactive Read Aloud more engaging and rigorous, studying student work, creating differentiated instruction from what students do well and can work on next, creating writing toolkits, and many other things. I’ve been busy, but not always feeling productive. Last week we had a meeting with one of our staff developers.  She started our session by presenting us with an Essential Question.  “How can we personalize student learning and improve student agency?”  I felt like everything I’ve been working on all year gained instant clarity.  I quickly saw how all of my work could fit under this idea. I can focus my work on developing personalizing learning and agency for both students and for teachers. This one simple question has helped me frame my coaching work.  The foggy lens has been stripped away and I can see my way forward.

#WhyIWrite

Friday (October 20, 2017) is NCTE’s National Day on Writing. I tend not to like these types of celebration days, weeks, or months.  I think these events can send the message that we can only have fun reading when we are in our PJs on Read Across America Day, or only celebrate black people or women for one month out of the year during Black History Month or Women’s History Month (while the white male gets the other 10 months!), or only enjoy writing  this Friday. But we have chosen to celebrate this day of writing at our elementary school.  While trying not to present this idea that writing will be fun on Friday (and so therefor pure drudgery the rest of the year), we are going to put a spotlight on our writing, celebrate our writers, and encourage teachers to find some different ways to write with kids.  As part of this celebration, I am sharing ideas with teachers across the week.  Yesterday, I shared this 3 minute video from NCTE called Why Write? http://blogs.ncte.org/index.php/2015/10/write/ One of our teachers then showed it to her second graders and encouraged them to make their own list.  It was remarkable.

They wrote things like this:

I write so that I can go on and on.

I write to live.

I write because it’s fun.

I write to keep my memories.

I write for joy!

I guess these holidays aren’t so bad after all!

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Engagement and Rigor in Coaching

We’ve been working with John Antonetti this year.  He is the co-author, along with James R. Garver,  of the professional text 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t be Wrong: Strategies that Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Student Achievement. He has been talking with us about moving our focus from teaching to student learning, and  pushing us to consider cognitive engagement and rigor in new ways.  Cognitive engagement, he says, includes personal response, clear/modeled expectations, emotional/intellectual safety, learning with others, a sense of audience, choice, novelty, variety, and authenticity.  Rigor, according to Antonetti, occurs when we have engagement (cognitive, intellectual, and academic) and when children make meaning in unique ways.  He encourages us to design tasks that lead to divergent thinking and push children to make unique meaning.  We have started to do some interesting work with students as we grapple with these ideas and work to design more rigorous and engaging tasks.

As I’ve been working with teachers and students to try out some of John’s ideas, I’ve also been thinking about how this might apply to my coaching work.  After all, in some ways the teachers are my students.  When I design coaching cycles, professional development or grade level planning sessions, I’m starting to think about how I might include these ideas of engagement and rigor.  Are the tasks I ask teachers to do cognitively engaging?  Am I pushing teachers to consider divergent ideas, find patterns, build meaning, and apply their learning in different settings?  Am I giving teachers enough choice, time for personal response, emotional and intellectual safety, and authenticity?

As I design my coaching cycles, professional development, and grade level planning sessions, I’m going to try to design tasks that infuse some of John’s ideas into my coaching work.  I’m hoping this will lead to higher engagement, active learning, achievement, reflection, and some powerful professional work for all of us!

 

 

 

 

What Can I Do?

I’m a teacher. I work with young children.  I should be able to help.

What can I do?

What can I do to stem the tide of hate?

What can I do to make the world a safer place?

What can I do to make people come together?

What can I do to encourage my students to add beauty to the world, not carnage?

What can I do to prevent disasters like the one that took place last night in Las Vegas?

I’m a teacher.  I work with young children.  I should be able to help.

Maybe I can feed them the right books.

Maybe I can help them listen to different perspectives.

Maybe I can help them navigate and regulate their feelings when they need to.

Maybe I can help them write about their ideas and their concerns.

Maybe I can make sure they know they have a voice and they know how to use it.

Maybe I can make sure that all students feel loved and cared for.

I’m a teacher.  I work with young children.  I should be able to help.