Time for Some Writing Fun

Having all of this extra time over the holidays has been good for my writing life.  During the first part of the week, I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Textbook. Her nonlinear writing style is so freeing and interesting.  She inspired me to be more playful with my own writing (which is hard for me, but I had time to give it a try).

Here is my Christmas Summary:

          Christmas, 2017
          Holiday traditions all around
          Reading our favorite holiday books, snuggled on the couch
 SwedIsh Christmas Eve dinner
          Santa’s yearly note with cookies and carrots for the reindeer
          Tons of time with family
         My girls, home for days on end
       GAmes, all sorts
         Snow on Christmas morning!
And to all of you,
Have a healthy
Peaceful, but also

Coaching by Invitation

For the last few years, I’ve organized my coaching around cycles, and most of those cycles have been by grade level.  In October of last year, for example, I might have been working with grades 4 and 5.  Then in November, 2 and 3, and so on, guaranteeing every grade level at least two coaching cycles per year.  This has its advantages.  Grade level meetings are established, all teachers receive similar coaching, the teachers on a particular grade level are working on the same units of study at the same time, etc.  But there are disadvantages too.  For one thing, just because you are on the same grade level does not mean you need, or are interested in, the same coaching work.  We have brand new teachers and veteran teachers on the same grade level teams.  This grade level coaching also feels a little bit top down at times.  This is November.  If you are a third grade teacher, you are entering a coaching cycle, like it or not (need it or not).  In this model, I began to feel like I was leading teachers, and sometimes dragging them through the work.

This year, I’m playing around with something new.  While I still have some grade level coaching cycles going, I’m trying to also run cycles by topic, and I’m making them invitational.  I ran a coaching cycle on building student engagement and rigor through read aloud, for example, sent out a calendar to all teachers, and asked them to sign up if they were interested, and for a time that worked for them. I can’t even begin to tell you how many teachers signed up and how the word spread through the building about this work.  Teachers got so interested, that I even scheduled some lunchtime sessions for teachers to come and plan more of these read alouds (and teachers came)! More recently I have been working on a differentiating instruction through small groups cycle.  I tried the same approach.  I sent out a schedule and invited teachers to join the work if they were interested.  I know the power of choice.  We all do.  When you give people some choice and control over their work, they are more interested, more invested and more engaged.  I think that is what is creating this amazing energy around the work we have been doing together.

I’ve received some pushback on this idea.  Some people are concerned that teachers won’t sign up and won’t get the coaching work that other teachers are getting (and the children in that classroom might not get the instruction that other children are getting).  I hear and understand that concern, but I’m confident that if I continue down this path, all of the teachers will sign up and the work they are doing in the coaching cycle will continue long after the cycle is completed.  There is energy growing around this work.  The teachers I am working with are talking with other teachers, and then those teachers are coming to me and asking to get on the schedule.  This work is growing from the ground up (instead of from the top down).  People are signing up because they want to.  Now I have the feeling that the teachers are leading out on the work, and I am there to facilitate their learning.  For me, that is the work of the coach.


The Gingerbread House Debacle

Today our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren came over for Sunday lunch.  After lunch was over (and we had convinced the kids to eat two or three bites of their macaroni and cheese) we prepared the table for our annual gingerbread house making!  Every year, for the past three years, we have worked to create a really cute (really homemade looking – cotton ball snow and all) house. As I was getting out the icing and putting paper on the table, my grandson decided to run around the house with the box filled with gingerbread pieces. Ignoring his parents warnings, he ran round and round the house, through the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room, laughing and screaming with delight.  Then his little sister joined in, chasing and laughing, and then ……splat…they both slipped around the corner (just as all the adults had told them they would) and fell, gingerbread walls shattering into pieces.

OK….so we are going to need to do a little bit of wall repair, but I’m sure it will be fine.  I got out the icing and started to repair the walls, the roof, and even the little gingerbread people. We waited a bit (although waiting with a two and five year old is never easy). Finally we started building.  The gingerbread house kit included a prefabricated tray, complete with troughs to put the icing in and hold the wall pieces.  I carefully ran the icing down the plastic trench and my grandson placed in the first wall.  It stood for a moment before slowly listed to the right and falling into its two pre-broken pieces.  Hmmm….We tried again with the back wall.  It stayed for a minute or so and then it too slipped and fell into the middle of the tray. We tried putting in all the walls and using them to hold each other up.  No luck.  More disaster. That’s when the laughing started. Like the sound of the voices in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, it started in low, and then it started to grow. We giggled at first, then laughed, and by the end of a few minutes, we were laughing so hard we couldn’t contain ourselves.

The gingerbread house was in a complete shambles, but we were as happy as happy could be.  And when the kids realized that if we weren’t going to use the candy and icing on the house and that we would all just have to eat it, we were the happiest family around.

Here’s to process (even a disastrous one) over product! And to family, of course.

Just Get Started!

We are fortunate in our district to have Staff Developers from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project working with us throughout the year.  It is a gift to have time with these “wise others” to study and improve our literacy teaching and student learning.  Today we had a session with our K-2 Staff Developer.  She is extremely experienced and ever so wise (about her teaching, about student learning, and about how to build capacity in teachers and coaches).

Our focus for the year is on small group, differentiated instruction.  We are starting in Reading Workshop.  Today Natalie showed us some different ways we might approach small group instruction.  As we were working together we had questions.  Here are some of the questions asked by teachers, administrators, and me, the Literacy Coach:

Should we make some Tool Kits for our small groups?

Do I need to do Running Records every time I take a small group?

How do I best use my Running Records to inform my small group instruction?

Should I use short texts for Guided Reading?

Do you have a good system for note-taking?

How many groups should I try to see in one Reading Workshop session?

How do you know that you have the right kids in the right groups?

What type of small group should I do (Guided Reading, Strategy Group, Share Reading in a small group)?

I found these to be such thoughtful and important questions, and so did Natalie.  I was surprised at her answer.  “Just get started! If you wait until you have the perfect plan with the perfect materials and the perfect small group, you will never do anything!” She went on to explain that we should dive in and start taking some kind of small groups every day. She admitted that the work would be messy at first, but that as we practiced and got better, we could layer in the more sophisticated work.

Yes, of course we want to take Running Records and use them to inform our small groups.

Yes, of course we will need some tools.

Yes, of course we should take notes on what our kids are doing and what they need.

That will all come in time, she promised us. But for now, just get started!