What Can We Hold On To?

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

In an earlier post, I started to ask myself these questions:

After this storm is over….

Who will I be?

How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned, all that I’ve experienced, into the next phase?

What will I hold on to?

What will I let go of?

What have I learned?

How will I be better?

This afternoon I had my spring parent-teacher conferences, and I found some answers to the “How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned?” and “What will I hold on to?”

Now granted, the parent-teacher relationships one develops as a distance learning teacher are quite different from those of teachers who work with children who are in school while their parents are at home or at work.  As a distance learning teacher you know the parents and families very well (sometimes too well).  You know their habits, how they interact with their children and other adults in the home; even how they treat the cats and dogs.  You know what they wear during the day and how they handle crises – always rather telling.  

But remember….they also know us pretty intimately!  They know our good days and our hard days, what we wear (and how often we wear the same shirt or sweater), and how we handle crises – always rather telling.

Today’s conferences were more like conversations around a dinner table.  I shared my observations, and the parents shared theirs.  After all, they are watching their children in the process of learning, just like I am.  They are true partners in this work.  I want to hold on to that.

Then came the part of the conference when I share the books children are reading and the writing and math work they are producing.  I quickly realized that my parents were the ones who took pictures and sent me the student work.  I realized that my parents are the ones who pick up our bi-weekly book bags.  They know exactly what their children are reading.  They have seen the work their children are producing, and they’ve seen how they are producing it.  So the conversations were different.  We were sharing our observations. They asked good questions.  I shared my thoughts.  They shared theirs.  We were partners.  I want to hold on to that.

So as I think about what we might want to do as we all return to in person school, I want to find ways to create true partnerships with parents and I want to make sure they are seeing more of what their children’s learning process looks like. I also want them to see more of their children’s work, especially the work in process.  Then we can have authentic conversations about student learning.  Then we can collaborate on setting goals and supporting all of our children.  That’s worth holding on to.

If You Want to Write, Get a Cat

It starts out quietly. A gentle mew in the hallway. Then silence. A few minutes later, another gentle mew. More silence. I check the clock. 5:05am. She’ll go away if I’m really quiet. Then, a bit later, there is the light sound of paws on the door. Just a gentle tap, tap, tap, followed by a slightly louder mew. 5:15 am. I hear her body plop down gently on the floor. Oh good, she’s resting there at the top of the stairs. Maybe she’ll go down and look around for a while. Tap, tap, tap. Louder now. More insistent. 5:30 am. And then the meow. No longer a mew. She’s up. She’s been patient. She’s hungry. She’s lonely. I roll out of bed, pull on my sweatshirt and socks, and head downstairs to feed the cat.

I’m up. I might as well get to my writing. And so I settle in to my seat in the kitchen, tap the keyboard to wake the computer, and start my own tap, tap, tapping, creating slices and stories.

Many of the writers I listen to or read about talk about their habit of getting up early to write. Kate DiCamillo talks about how she gets up early and starts writing before her doubting voice wakes up. That voice that tells you it’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. I remember hearing R.J. Palacio speak about how she used to get up in the middle of the night and work for a few hours (She was working a full time job and had young children.) to write what became the middle grade novel, Wonder.

And so, thanks to my daughter’s pandemic rescue kitty, I’m up early and writing.

When The Storm is Over

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

This past weekend, I attended the annual TCRWP Saturday Reunion (via Zoom, of course).  Someone (I’m pretty sure it was Lucy Calkins herself) shared this quote from Haruki Murakami:

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.

Who will I be?

How will I carry forward all that I’ve learned, all that I’ve experienced?

What will I hold onto?

What will I let go of?

What have I learned?

How will I be better?

With Spring Comes Hope


We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and boy was it a beauty.  The sun was shining, temperatures were reaching toward 60 degrees (F), daffodils were working themselves a bit further out of the cold ground, and birds were singing like they were part of the chorus in a musical. 

With spring comes hope, and this year I am searching for hope wherever I can find it.  Yesterday delivered.  Here is what my first day of spring, 2021 looked like:

7:30 AM:  

Wake to a warmer feeling sunshine.

Let the dog out.  

Make coffee.

Write a slice.

Chat with my husband and daughter.

Play with the cat.

Eat a quick breakfast.

8:45 AM:

Grab another cup of coffee.

Set up my computer in the sunroom.

Grab my notebook.

Sign in to Zoom.

Prepare for one of my favorite days of learning – The TCRWP Spring Saturday Reunion.

9:00 AM:

Lucy welcomes us and says things like, We hold the next generation in our hands.  We can teach them to be kinder, but only if we are kinder and live our lives in a way that is kinder. (paraphrased)

Marc Brackett reminds us about the importance of self-care and of helping each other.  He makes the statement that everyone needs to be granted equal permission to feel.

Natalie Louis talks about upper grade word work and makes the strong statement that teachers need to know phonics, how our language works, and how children learn. She encourages us to understand that there is no one right way. As always, Natalie makes sure she sees all of us (impressive when there are more than 600 on the call).

Lucy puts out a call to action asking that we pause, reflect, recommit, and make choices about what our new world will look like.  

10:00 AM:  I text my dad, “Do you think it’s warm enough to meet up outside today?” (We haven’t seen each other in person in over 3 months due to the pandemic and the cold weather.)

“Can you come for lunch?” he responds quickly. 

“We’ll be there at noon!” (My dad has to eat at noon or he gets cranky.)

Lucy unveils the new units of study in reading and writing and shares the rationale – more inclusive, more responsive to new research; better.  I’ve always been impressed by TCRWP’s bravery in constantly reflecting, relearning, and outgrowing themselves and the work.

Anna Sheehan gave tips and materials to help us implement the fantasy unit in grade 5 (virtually or in person).

Lucy and Marilyn Burns (who knew they were friends and spent time together in the Adirondacks.  What fun it would be to hang out on the dock, go for a swim, and do some thinking work with these two smart women!) shared their thinking on how writing workshop and mathematics instruction are similar.  The key takeaways for me:  It’s about process and finding meaning, not just about products and answers. (I think there is another slice here.)

11:30 AM:  We order up some sandwiches and head to the deli, then to dad’s for an outdoor lunch.  I’m beyond excited to see my dad and his wife.  To sit in the same space.  No hugs yet, but that’s coming soon!

11:40 AM:  Sonya Cherry-Paul (in the car on my phone) provides scenarios and a talk protocol to help us disrupt racism wherever and whenver we see it.

Noon:  Lunch at my dad’s basking in the warm sunshine and the warmth of family.  I’m so happy. So hopeful.

Afternoon: Walk the dog.  Shop for dinner.  Walk the dog again (Why not?).  Pay some bills (OK, it’s got to get done.). Write another slice.  Publish it.  Watch Jeapordy (a rerun with Alex).  Eat dinner (salmon).  Watch a movie (The Rider.  It was good.).

10:00 PM:  Go to bed.  

What a day!  I just needed to write about it so that I could experience it all one more time.

Dear Families

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

I couldn’t have done this work without the support of my families. Now that I’m transitioning back to my role as literacy coach, I have to thank them. Here is my letter.

Dear Families,

I would like to take a moment here to reflect on the unique experience we have had together over the past seven months, and to thank you for all you have done to make the distance learning experience successful for your children. We have all been pioneers in the truest sense of the word. We’ve explored new frontiers and discovered a great deal. This year has been one of the most challenging of my career, but thanks to you and your children, also one of the most rewarding. I’m amazed each and every day by what your young children can do in this virtual learning environment. They have grown academically, made lasting friendships, created a beautiful community, and shared kindness with everyone and anyone who came and went from this virtual space. They are truly some of the best little people I’ve ever spent time with. I will miss them.

Follow the Kids

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

I’ve been following Stephanie Harvey for most of my teaching career.  I had the honor of listening to her again last night on the TC Supper Club, my weekly meal of professional learning and inspiration.  The evening began with a discussion of the professional text Strategies That Work (a text that has been revised three times).  I could instantly picture the brick colored book (a later version was green, I think) on the shelves of my first classroom, rubbing up against texts like Mosaic of Thought (Keene and Zimmerman), Lasting Impressions ((Harwayne), Invitations (Routman), The Art of Teaching Writing (Calkins), and so many of my other guides for teaching and learning.  I can picture Strategies That Work open on my desk at school and on the dining room table at home on Sundays as I planned for the week ahead.  I can picture it in my first reading room, on my desk at the Central Office where I worked as a literacy curriculum coordinator, and today, on the shelf (next to many of her (and her co-authors’) other professional texts in my literacy coach office.  

Stephanie (I feel like I know her well enough to call her Stephanie, but not Steph…yet) has guided me and shown me the power of comprehension.  She has taught me that we are not teaching reading strategies, but instead thinking strategies.  We are teaching children the strategies they need to make meaning from art, music, social situations, mathematics, and reading.  This idea has guided my thinking about how to teach, learn, and coach others.  

Last night Stephanie shared so much wisdom:

-Foster curiosity.  

-Address questions, don’t answer them.  When you answer a question, you shut down conversation.

-What striving readers need are more comprehension strategies.

-The more you know, the more you wonder.

-We spend most of our lives striving.  Only occasionally do we thrive.

-Give kids a wide range of entry points (books, videos, podcasts, images).

And then she said this:

-Follow your students. 

I have always believed this.  Maybe I started thinking about this because of Stephanie Harvey, who knows?  I’ve always believed in the idea (maybe from David Pearson?) of the teacher’s role as one of setting the conditions and getting out of the way.  I’ve tried to make my teaching responsive to the children in front of me. I’ve tried not to blindly follow units of study, but to use them as a suggested journey for my students.  I’ve tried to be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” 

This year, I’ve been able to put some of these ideas into practice with my first graders.  Even through a screen, I’ve worked hard to follow them.  They have led me to new places.  They have provided new ideas.  Stepping aside and following their interests, passions, and meeting their needs has given incredible energy to our classroom.  It hasn’t always worked.  I’ve followed them down some black holes, but I plan to keep following and hoping for high engagement and high academic and social/emotional success.

Proud Moment

I remember the time my daughter, without prompting, asked, “Mom, do we have any thank you notes?” For years, I had asked my children to sit down and write thank you notes when they received something, but this time it was her idea. It was one of those little proud moments moms love.

Last night I had this same kind of moment with two of my students. When a child leaves our classroom (which happens a lot in the ebb and flow of the distance learning classroom), we’ve developed a farewell routine where we make that child a Jamboard card. I start the virtual card with my own note to the child and a picture or two of something they love. Then I share the Jamboard with the students and they add beautiful notes and pictures. They’ve gone a bit wild lately adding pages and pages of images and notes, so now we limit it to three notes and three pictures. It makes a beautiful celebration as the child of honor watches the pages fill with kind notes and sweet images, all thoughtfully selected based on what they know and love about this child.

Recently I’ve learned that my position will be changing. Due to the fact that so many students are returning to school and my class size is now dipping below 5, the decision has been made to transition my students to another first grade distance learning classroom and return me to my literacy coach role. As thrilled as I am to be returning to the work I love and need to be doing, I’m heartsick about leaving these children and their families. We’ve been pioneers together through this uncharted land. We’ve grown close. I called my families and broke the news. I talked with my students. We’ve spent time this week talking, adjusting, and planning for the transition.

Last night when I opened my email, I noticed that there were emails from the twins. It’s rare for me to receive email from my first grade students, so I opened them right away. As I clicked on the links, Jamboards appeared. I’m going to miss you so, so, so, so much, said one sticky. There were pictures of giraffes and elephants and dogs (my favorite animals and pet), and ice cream, lots and lots of ice cream, and beautiful notes.

It was one of those little proud moments teachers (well maybe humans) love.

Virtual Learning is Not for Everyone

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

Most of my students are really doing OK in this remote setting.  Honestly, most of my students are thriving!  They are listening to the lessons, trying out the work, taking risks, practicing at home after class is over, posting Flipgrids and completing assignments on their Google Classroms, and growing academically, socially, and emotionally.  They even score well on the assessments that we give to our students who are in school (and the parents are no longer hanging around and helping). 

I will give a big shout out to my families here.  The families of these students are extremely supportive.  They have helped their children develop some fantastic habits.  These parents used to help their children take a look at my Daily Overview slide each day before school started to make sure they had all of the supplies needed for the day, and then again each afternoon to make sure they knew what schoolwork was to be completed in the afternoon. My kids now do this (for the most part) on their own.  These parents check in off and on (without interrupting or helping) to make sure their children are on task.  They send me work when I ask for it.  They drop off and pick up book bags every other week.  They call me if they need something.  They return my calls if I need something.  They attend conferences.  They read newsletters. We are a close knit team.

But distance learning is not for everyone.  And distance learning is especially hard if you don’t have a supportive family behind you and your student.  I can think of one of the students I had this year.  She had actually started in a distance learning class in the fall, then returned to in person learning after a few weeks, and then the family decided to try distance learning again, but wanted a different classroom.  (She has since returned to in person learning.) And so this student arrived on my grid.  She struggled.  She didn’t want to come to the computer screen, so often wandered around her bedroom playing with dolls while I was teaching.  When she would come to the computer, she would often be singing, but would refuse to mute when I would ask her.  She was easily frustrated when she felt the work was hard.  In the early days, she would scream and cry if she didn’t want to do the work.  And a parent was nowhere in sight.  She completed almost none of the work after our Zoom time ended. The only work we could get done was when we were one-on-one.  Then she was willing to try.  Willing to take some (small) risks.  I emailed and called the mother on a regular basis.  She said she would try to help. I’m sure she did her best, but the struggle continued.  

Things improved slightly over time.  She came to the screen more often.  She would engage more actively with the class.  She would answer some questions. When asked to please mute, she began to say, “OK!” and mute herself (at least for a short time).  We made time after the Zoom meeting ended to do some one-on-one work.  She grew a little.  Eventually the family decided she would be better off in school again.  So she returned.  

Distance learning can work, and work well, but it’s not for everyone.

Pause to Celebrate

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

One of my colleagues and fellow slicers posted a celebration slice today.  She reminded us that we are halfway through this writing challenge, and that we should take a moment, pause, and celebrate what we’ve accomplished.  You can read her post here: Hump Day.

I’ve decided to take her advice. 

I celebrate the fact that kids are making good progress in this virtual environment.

I celebrate that I’m making progress in this virtual environment.

I celebrate that kids and families are finding joy during this challenging time.

I celebrate that people I love and care for are getting vaccinated.

I celebrate that kids are returning to school, and that school is starting to look more like school.

I celebrate the fact that spring is on its way (even though it’s freezing at the moment).

I celebrate the longer days, making after work walks a possibility.

I celebrate the fact that I’ve written for 17 days straight.

Thank you, Tracey, for pushing me to celebrate.

Our First Goodbye

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

“Mrs.  Griffin. I’m going back to school!”

“Alex (not his real name)?  Was that you?”

I had been sharing my screen and couldn’t see the kids (That was before we got fancy and learned the power of headsets and second monitors. Now I can actually see the kids while I teach, and hear them clearly too!).

“Yes.  It’s me!  My mom said I’m going back to school.”

“That’s great, Alex!”  I felt my throat catch a bit on the word great.  I’m not sure if the kids noticed, but it was suddenly very quiet.  “You wil love being back in school.”  

I was trying to convince myself that this was so.  Of course it was.  Alex needed a teacher to step in, encourage him to stay with it, give him the feedback he needed to grow, provide him daily with the books and materials he so desperately needed. He would benefit from the additional support that he would have better access to in the school building.  He would love being back in a classroom with other children instead of working alone in his bedroom.  Of course it was best. Of course it was.

The day came.  Our first student to leave our virtual classroom and return to school.  Since this time, our classroom has had a lot of traffic, students coming and going often.  We’ve learned how to greet our new students and welcome them into our community, and we’ve learned how to say goodbye with read alouds and special Jamboard cards.  But this was our first time.  

It was nearing the end of our day.  The end of our time with Alex.  I stopped the day a bit early. I asked the other students if there was something they wanted to say to wish Alex well.  They each shared something beautiful and kind and hopeful.  Then it was my turn.  I started. “Alex, I know you are going to love being back in school.  We all want to get back there.  It’s where we all want to be.  You are first.  You are lucky.  I just want you to know how much you’ve added to our classroom…..I felt it then.  My throat tightened.  My eyes grew wet.  My voice started to shake.  The kids just stared.  I tried to get back on track.  “Alex, you have worked so hard.  You have shared your joy with all of us.  You will always…. Again, my voice cracked….be part….of this….community.”  I felt a tear slide down my cheek.  I wasn’t expecting this.  I stood up and moved off screen quickly.  Maybe they wouldn’t really notice.  Of course they did.  

I heard Lianna ask her twin sister, “Is Mrs. Griffin crying?”

I took a deep breath and came back on screen.  “I am crying a bit.  It’s OK.  It’s hard to say goodbye.  But knowing that Alex will be happy back at school makes me happy.  Maybe my tears are a bit sad and a bit happy. Everyone, let’s make a heart and give Alex a sparkle as we wish him well.”

We did.  I quickly pressed the red End Meeting button. I put my head on the table and sobbed.