Trying Out Some Strategies

As I’m planning for a writing institute I’ll teach this summer, I’m making sure to “walk the walk” by trying out the writing strategies I’m going to be sharing with my teacher participants.  One of the strategies for generating narrative entries is to:

  1.  Think of a strong emotion.
  2. Think of times when you’ve felt that emotion.
  3. Jot down a few ideas.
  4. Write one as a story!

I decided to start with a feeling that I (unfortunately) experience rather often; fear.

My notebook looks like this:

1:  A Strong Emotion:


2 and 3:  Times I felt fearful and/or worried

-Driving in Ireland (right side, standard shift, narrow streets, cliffs)

-Climbing a ladder to paint the garage.

-Taking a subway from Grand Central to Brooklyn

-Going on a rollercoaster with Morgan at Hershey Park

-Going up the mountain in a chairlift by myself

4:  Pick one and write!

-The chairlift story

The chairlift operator looked at my dad and me and waved us over.  “Next!  Let’s go!  The chair waits for no one!”

I guess he thought he was being clever, but I was all business.  I had gone on the chairlift before, but I had been small enough for my dad to pick me up and put me on his lap.  This year, he said, I was ready to learn how to get on the chairlift with him at my side.

OK, I thought, just remember what dad said..step up, keep your skis parallel and pointed forward, move over to the far track, he’d step in next to me, the chair would nudge us from behind, and up we’d go!

“OK, Erika.  Here we go!” dad said.  “You’re ready. That’s it.  Step up, keep your skis pointing ahead, move over to the far track…move over a bit more….the FAR track…Move over more…..”

That’s when I felt the chair nudge me from behind.  But wait!  Dad’s not next to me! As I looked to the right, I saw the end of the chair, and I saw my dad on the other side. He couldn’t get on!  My heart was pounding.  I felt suddenly hot inside my bulky ski suit.  I looked down as I felt the chair slowly rising up into the air.  I was all alone!  “STOP!” I yelled.  “I can’t do this alone! I’ll fall out!  D…a….d…..!”

“It’s OK!” dad yelled.  “I’m getting on the chair right behind you. You’re going to be OK.  Now listen carefully.  Sit back.  Now hold on with your right hand and reach up for the bar with your left.  You can reach it if you go to the side where it’s closer to you.  Keep yourself sitting back and pull the bar down so it’s in front of you.  Take it slow.  You’re OK.  I’m right here.”

“I can’t reach!  I’m too small!”  My voice sounded so small and so weak.  What good was it that dad was in a chair behind me?  He can’t catch me if I fall, and how am I going to get off this thing at the top?

I looked down and saw the mountain getting farther and farther away from me.  The skiers looking smaller and smaller as I went higher and higher.

“Take a deep breath.  Say to yourself, “I can do this.” Dad had his coaching voice on.  He sounded so steady.  So sure.

I breathed in….and out.  “I…..can……..this…..I…..can….do…..this….”  I reached one arm out while holding tight to the chair with the other.  I tugged on the bar.  It didn’t move.  It was too heavy. I tried again and felt it coming down in front of me.  Clunk.  It locked into place.

“See!”  dad said, “You are not only ready to ride the chairlift without being carried.  You can run this whole thing all by yourself.”

I felt better then.  At least I wasn’t going to fall out and die on the mountain.

I started to panic again when I realized I had to lift the bar and get off the lift at the top, but for some reason I already knew I was going to be OK.  My dad coached me through it, one step at a time.  I skied off the lift, down the small hill and did a little turn to stop.  I waited for my dad.  He pulled up next to me, looked down, and gave me a huge smile. “Let’s do this!” he said, “The mountain waits for no one!” And off we went down the mountain.

I grew a few sizes that day.


I have some other strategies to try:  First times, last times, thinking about “trouble stories.” and thinking about important people, places, and objects.  I want to make sure that I experience what I’m going to ask my students (all teachers) to try.  After all, that’s what I want them to do in their own teaching.  I want to show my students that if they become writers themselves, their teaching will grow a few sizes!




Here’s to Colleagues!

Last week, the school year came to a close.  Kids said goodbye to their teachers for the summer, teachers packed up their final bags of gifts from kids and books to read, and families headed off to beaches and vacations. As coaches, we still had some work left to do to prepare for the first days of school in the fall. (This year we have five (yes, 5!) days of PD before our students arrive!). So, before our summer selves took over, we decided to get together and tackle the work. We read, we created, we talked, we planned, and we copied.  We are a pretty amazing team of coaches. Each of us has our own style, our unique strengths and needs, and our own, quite different, personality. It works.  We compliment each other.  We push each other.  Our work is definitely better together.

When I got home that evening, I thought about how lucky I am to be a member of this team of Literacy Coaches. I sent out a text to our group saying just that.  One of the coaches texted this back, “We learn, we laugh, and we lean.”  I couldn’t have captured it better.  We learn so much from each other, we laugh often, and we lean on each other when we need to.  I’m not sure I could ask for anything more.  I’m already loving my summer, but I really do miss this team!

Last Day of 2019!

Today is the last day of the school year.  For me, it brings mixed emotions.  This has been a tough year for me personally and professionally, so in many ways I’m really glad it’s over.  I faced many disappointments and frustrations with so many things.  On the other hand, I’m sorry to see the year end.  The teachers and students and I have tried so many new things and grown so much over just one academic year.

On one hand, I look forward to spending more time with my family and getting in some traveling, some time to work on the lawn and paint the garage, some time to just relax and read on the beach or in the hammock. On the other hand, I miss my school family and the work we do together.  I even miss the routine and the flow of the day.

But here we are at the end of yet another school year.  I have a pile of books to read and long lists of projects to do.  I have big plans for next year and high hopes for what might come next.  I am celebrating what we have accomplished and planning to work on what still needs to be done.

I do think we are incredibly lucky to have these two months off to try new things and refresh ourselves before the next school year begins. Here’s to summer!

Control Your Phone

The guests were gathering.  Taking their seats.  Meeting up with friends and family.  There was a buzz in the air.  “Can you believe it?  Graduating from high school?  How can that be? I remember her kindergarten graduation like it was yesterday! Where is _____ going to college?”  We were buying time while we waited to hear the sound of the bagpipes, signaling that the students were about to come down the aisle and take their seats.

I pulled my phone out of my bag and got ready to take some pictures of this momentous event.  My niece would soon become a high school graduate!  This is a big deal. I will need pictures for Instagram, Facebook, and for my photo wall. Pictures to share with my family and friends. That’s when I saw it.  “Storage full.  Change your settings to allow for more storage.”  Now?  I have about two minutes, and I refuse to pay for more storage.  I frantically began to delete photos from my phone.  Still…not enough storage.  I offloaded some apps.  Nope.  Still not enough.  Finally I turned the phone off and on again.  There we go.  The camera is working.  Within seconds, the bagpipes blast their somewhat flat notes and the students march down the aisle.  I snap a picture of Mimi in her cap and gown.

As it turns out, most of the commencement address is about the horrors of cell phones.  The director of the upper school quotes research from Nichols Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  He talks about how cell phones and the internet are rewiring our brains so that we are increasingly unable to concentrate and think deeply for extended periods of time.  As he is talking, I feel myself wanting to reach into my purse and check to see if I have received any text messages.  It’s been at least twenty minutes since I checked the last time.  What if my daughter is trying to reach me? (She’s not.) And then there is the camera situation.  Maybe I should check to see if I have more photo space.  After all, Mimi will be receiving her diploma shortly.  But I resist.  It’s not easy.  He goes on to talk about how we are addicted to our devices and that this is isolating us and damaging our relationships and our learning processes.  When he gives the students four tips for how to manage in college, one of them is, “Control your phone.”  He encourages the students to leave their phones in the dorm when they go to the dining hall.  That way they will be forced to engage with other students.  I wonder if any student will be brave enough to try such a challenging experiment.

Today I decided to give it a try. I tried to “control my phone.”  I left my phone inside while I did yard work and had lunch.  I thought about my phone a few times.  What if someone is trying to reach me?  What if I have an email that I should be looking at and responding to?  (Really?  It’s Sunday.  No one is emailing me.) I felt good, sort of cleansed. I know it was only a half day, but it was a start.  I’m going to try to find ways this summer to stay off the computer and to leave my phone behind.  I am going to try to find more time to get lost in books or to sit and listen to the world around me.  I’m going to try to be more present.  More mindful.  I’m going to try to control my phone…and my life. Wish me luck!

A Love of Learning

“What are you up to this Sunday?”

“I’m spending the day in New York learning with colleagues.”

“On a Sunday? Ugh!  Poor you!”

“I can’t wait!  I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”

Sometimes I wonder about my sanity.  I should be starting to think about retirement and scaling back; relaxing more, and working less. But for some reason I’m constantly seeking a new challenge, new learning, something to push me to the next level.  It’s like a runner’s high for me, this idea of outgrowing myself.

This past Sunday I was in that happy place.  I’ll be teaching a Writing Institute in Texas for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.  This weekend found me sitting around a table with about ten colleagues learning the content and the practices we would need for this new coaching work. We listened, we read, and we practiced in partnerships.  We broke at noon for a pizza lunch and talked more about literacy. We received books and supplies (That’s another thing that gets me pretty jazzed; supplies! Felt tipped pens, and post its of all sizes!). We spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for our institutes and sharing ideas about how we might approach various topics. It was hard. I was tired. I left the day feeling a little prepared, but quite overwhelmed with the work that lies ahead.

I could have been home relaxing in the hammock on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but I was pretty happy sitting around a conference room table learning and outgrowing myself once again.