Heading to the Unknown

This quote lives on a pink post it attached to the bottom of my computer.  I often read it before I sit down to read or write.  Today it seems particularly relevant:

“When the big things seem out of control…focus on what you love right under your nose.”  It’s a quote from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, a beautiful book I discovered in the early days of the pandemic, by Charlie Mackesy.

I need these words right now.  Our world seems out of control; a pandemic, hatred, race riots, fires burning out of control, and now two tropical storms heading into the Gulf.  And in the middle of all of this, kids and teachers are trying to get back to school.  Our reopening plans have changed multiple times. I’ve been told I may have a completely different job than the Literacy Coach job I’ve had for years. I’m trying to plan for a PD session that is changing as we write it, and I don’t any idea what my first day looks like and we are only two days away from going back!  I’m stressed.  We are all stressed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, and I’ve sat in stunned silence.

But we are going back, and the thing is, our kids need us now more than ever.  So, whatever the re-opening plan looks like, whatever job I end up with, whatever the PD turns out to be, I’ll be there….for the kids.  We will work together to make this year the best year ever.  We can work together to make this a year where kids will learn and be highly engaged in that learning;  a year where teachers will find creative ways to teach literacy in a little more than one hour per day; a year where the community will come together and make everyone feel included and loved.

I need words.  I need words that ground me, that inspire me, that help me feel some sense of control, that focus me on what’s most important.  Thank you, Charlie Mackesy, for the words.

Working Through the Process

At the start of the summer, I set a goal to write a piece and at least attempt to get it published.  I’ve been thinking about and rehearsing this piece since we buried my stepfather two years ago. It was kind of a quirky experience, and one I thought other people might find interesting. One of those ‘kind of sad, a little bit awkward, and quite funny” kinds of experiences. I am a fan of the Modern Love section in the New York Times, and I thought this story might be just perfect for one of these columns.  I know…kind of a ridiculous goal, but it was the beginning of a long summer where we were going to stay home and in quarantine!

I wasn’t exactly sure how the story would go or what form it would take, but I decided to go for it! I started my writing process by thinking about what happened and how I might tell the story.  I worked in my notebook a bit.  I talked with a few people about some story ideas, and I kept adding “Work on story!” to my To Do list. It took me a while to just sit down and start writing, but when August arrived, I decided it was time. I’ve been working on the story for a few weeks now, and I am really struggling.

I’ve drafted. I’ve revised.  I’ve started entirely new drafts from a different place in the story. I’ve revised again.  I’ve sent the drafts to a few people. I’ve gathered some peer feedback. But right now, I’m feeling a bit lost.  The story is there, but to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say.  I think back to all the times I have sat next to student writers and asked, “What is your story REALLY about? or, What is the heart of your story?  Where do you feel your heart start to race?”  I’m starting to realize what an important, but really difficult, question this is to answer.  I’m not sure if I’m trying to entertain or dig for some deeper meaning.  I’m not sure if I’m telling a story or writing an essay.  I’m not sure if I’m writing for others or writing for myself (or maybe both). Some days I’m not sure why I’m writing this story at all!

Maybe it’s OK to be a bit lost, to be wandering around inside my story. Maybe it’s just part of the process.  I’m going to try to be OK with being lost for a few days.  Then I’ll go back and try to continue writing.  I’ll see where I go.

Love First

One of this summer’s learning experiences was reading and discussing the text Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad.  Once again, this text has inspired me to think and to write. As the text unfolds, Muhammad draws from the history of 19th century Black literary societies (something I had no knowledge of prior to reading this text) and builds her her four part Historically Responsive Literacy Framework: Identity, Skills, Intellect, and Criticality.

As Mohammad wraps up her text, she adds one more layer to her framework.  She adds love.  She calls on teachers to, “love the ways our children talk, learn, smile, look, sound, the ways they are loud, and the ways they are silent.”  She says that before we get to curriculum, our kids need to know we love them. She then pushes us to think about a “critical love,” one that works to disrupt oppression. Muhammad includes this quote from bell hooks:

“A generous heart is always open, always ready to receive our going and coming. In the midst of such love, we never fear abandonment. This is the most precious gift  true love offers – the experience of knowing we always belong.”

As we head back to a novel school year, one that will look radically different from (and, I fear, less loving than) the schools of the recent past where children gathered on the rug, pulled in close during Read Aloud, chatted in partnerships, met in small groups, ate lunch together and played at recess, I am calling on myself to provide as much love as possible to all of our students and all of my colleagues.  We all need to feel that we belong somehow in this new world. We all need some added security in this time where almost everything seems unknown. With love, identity, skills, intellect, and criticality, we can make this school year the best ever.


Ask, “Is It Possible?”

“Stay apart!”

“Boys!  You need to stay away from each other.”

“Come on.  If you can’t stay away from each other, you’ll have to practice with masks!  I don’t want to do that, but….”

This is what I overheard as I played tennis this morning.  The high school boys’ soccer team was practicing on the field next to us, and the coach was doing everything he could to keep these kids safe by maintaining social (really physical) distance.  He wasn’t having an easy time of it, and these were high school students.

I’m an elementary literacy coach, and I’m anxious about going back to school in the fall during this pandemic. I’m anxious for a lot of reasons, but one thing that worries me is the idea of having to keep kids apart and away from me.  I especially worry about this with our youngest children. It’s hard to imagine asking our incoming kindergarten students to stay away during a Read Aloud or a lesson or at recess.  Of course I know it’s critical for students’ safety, but I don’t want to be the one constantly saying, “Stay away!”

It’s going to be tough.

Later in the day, I listened to a podcast from The Cult of Pedagogy.  In this episode (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/historically-responsive-literacy/) , Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Gholdy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.  There is so much to learn from this interview and from reading this text, but at some point Muhammad shared that a participant in one of her recent session remarked, “Is it tough?”

Muhammad responded, “Don’t ask, ‘Is it tough?’ Ask, ‘Is it possible?'”

Yes, it is going to be tough.  Whether we are in school, out of school, or in some sort of hybrid situation, it is going to be tough.  Now I need to shift my thinking away from how tough it’s going to be, and toward what is possible. I do believe that we can create dynamic, engaging, effective, meaningful, and joyful teaching and learning, even in these unfriendly conditions.  We can (and will) make miracles happen!

Thank you, Gholdy!