Saturday, February 11, 2017

Time for Reflection: A Gift to Ourselves

Leaving the classroom, the coach and I walked side by side.  She had just finished teaching a lesson with young writers about growing stories.  "I wish we had time to talk," she lamented.  Unfortunately, she needed to be in another classroom and I needed to be in a meeting.  I paused taking in what she had said.  As teachers, we hurry about our day-to-day work without the time to step back to reflect.  It was at this moment I realized that our conversations with colleagues around the work we do are a gift we rarely seem to find time for in our daily busyness.

The Need for Reflection
The need for reflection struck me again the other day as I was waiting on a friend for lunch.  The restaurant was quiet, and for the first time in days, I felt like I had a few minutes of unscheduled time.  I paused and just started thinking about the week.  It wasn't long until I found myself taking a few notes, reflecting on a few interactions across the week, and planning a few next steps.  Honestly, I was amazed at what had been accomplished in less than ten minutes as my friend entered the restaurant and joined me.

It seems in our world, especially in our teaching worlds, it's hard to find time to pause and reflect.  As teachers, our lists remain long so we move from one task to another.  As teachers, it can be a challenge to pause when we are busy working alongside young students with little break in our day.  I'm going to be so bold as to say I think we even feel guilty when we take the time to pause and reflect.  We are always on a path of doing.

That day at the restaurant I don't think I would have paused had I not been given a few unexpected minutes.  We talk all the time about reflection; we understand its power, yet we rarely carve time to pause.

Collaborative Conversations 
As I work alongside instructional coaches and teachers, I'm continually struck by the power of pausing to reflect.  Often in our side-by-side work with colleagues, we do the work inside the classroom; because of time constraints, we settle for moments of demonstration teaching, observation, or quick touches of learning, but it is the deep dive into focused conversation that helps us to grow in our practice.  It is the small reflective conversations before and after our time together we struggle to make the time to have, yet it is these very conversations that lift our work.

While I am trying to be more disciplined about taking the time for personal reflection, it is when I am reflecting with a colleague that I learn the most.  It is in these conversations where new thinking pushes against what I understand.  It is in these conversations that my words are sent back to me in a way that brings fresh understanding.  It is in these conversations I find new perspectives.  It is in these conversations that I find strength for next steps.

As I sit beside coaches and teachers, I've come to realize that the short pre and post conversations we often skip, are truly a gift.  As I observe collaborative conversations I'm always struck by what both people take away after a few minutes in reflective conversation.   Our work is too complex to do it alone.

Whether it is sitting quietly for ten minutes or finding a colleague to bounce around a few ideas, I'm trying to find ten minutes each day for a bit of reflection.  Instead of thinking about it as a something I have to do, I know it is a gift I give to myself.

A Bit More About Reflection
Watch It:  



Live It:  
  • Take time to reflect (find the white space in your day to think, time to journal, talk with a friend)
  • Grab your favorite notebook (or app)
  • Apps for written reflection:  Google, Google KeepEvernote (organize notebooks, tag, type, audio, insert images, and you can write --- but that feature is still very limited), Noteshelf App (set up notebooks with paper-like turns, write, type, insert images), Notability (for fans of handwriting.)  
  • Daily Habits  (set reminders for your reflection time...)



Friday, February 10, 2017

10 Nonfiction Picture Books of Promise for Our World #nf10for10

Today's the day for our nonfiction picture book event:  #nf10for10.  This is our 5th annual nonfiction event.  In the past Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, Julie Balen of Write at the Edge, and I have cohosted this event.  Again this year all activity will be collected on our Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  Stop by to read, share your favorites, and/or link up.

Ways to participate:

10 Nonfiction Picture Books 
In previous nonfiction events, I've shared:

My 2017 List:  10 Nonfiction Picture Books of Promise for Our World
In school, we often talk about our 20 square feet.  If we each take care of our own 20 square feet, we can help the world be a better place.  However, the world is much bigger than our 20 square feet.  Here are books that remind us of our obligation to make the world a better place.

We can make a difference.
The Water Princess, written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds.











We can share our gifts with others.
Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe.











We can bravely speak against injustice.
Iqbal:  A Brave Boy from Pakistan, Malala:  A Brave Girl from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter.








We can stand for equality.
The Youngest Marcher, written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.  










We can raise our voice.
I Dissent:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley.










We can take care of our beautiful earth.
The Earth Book by Todd Parr.

We can reuse items in new ways.
Ada's Violin:  The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport.












We can protect our endangered species.
Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins.













We can help care for our oceans. 
Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey.  Kids will enjoy this book full of information about sharks.  The book ends with ways to help keep oceans healthy.











We can respect the delicate balance of life.  
No Monkeys, No Chocolate, written by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young, and illustrated by Nicole Wong.





















Saturday, January 14, 2017

It's Coming: Our 5th Annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 Event

Our February Nonfiction Event
It seems like just yesterday we were planning our August Picture Book 10 for 10 lists and preparing our classrooms for a new school year.  Now here we are turning the corner on another year.  That means it's time to get ready for February's Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 event (#nf10for10).  This year will be our 5th annual nonfiction event.  Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 allows the opportunity to bring our community together to share our favorite nonfiction picture books.  I don't know about you, but I feel like this is a genre that just keeps getting better and better.

What is #nf10for10
In 2010 Mandy Robek and I hosted our first picture book event.  In 2013, Julie Balen suggested we add a nonfiction picture book event that worked the same.  Participants choose 10 - well, usually 10 (they're a crafty bunch) - nonfiction picture books to share.  On the day of the event, we'll ask that you visit the Google Community site to add your nonfiction link to the 2017 #nf10for10 tab.
  • What:  10 nonfiction picture books you can't live without.
  • Hashtag:  #nf10for10
  • Who:  Anyone interested --- educators, media specialists, librarians, parents, and book lovers.  
  • When:  Friday, February 10th
  • Where:  All posts will be linked on the 2017 #nf10for10 page of our Picture Book 10 for 10 Google Community Site.  
  • How:  Stop by our community site, join the community, and share your favorites on February 10th.  
So....

Join us!

Start sorting through your collections to find your favorite titles and join us in one month as we each share 10 nonfiction picture books we just can't live without.  Feel free to grab the #nf10for10 button and spread the word.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Let's Read: It's All About a Plan #MustReadin2017

If you're like me, your "to be read" book stack is always growing.  When you have great book friends, this is just a good problem created from all they share....and I have a lot of great book friends.  I've started to realize that almost everything I read is amazing because I put it in my stack after hearing recommendations from multiple friends.  I can't keep up, but I'm not sure I can tell you the last time I wanted to abandon a book.

This means, of course, I'm continually overwhelmed by my book stack.  Continually!  Being overwhelmed means I honestly get less reading done than I could do.  I've been trying to figure out a way to be more intentional and take away that overwhelming feeling.  I think #readabration and Carrie Gelson's #MustReadin2017 have come together to help me create a plan to improve my reading life struggles.

Making a Plan:  #Readabration (A Little History) 
Right before winter break the literacy coaches began talking about starting their #readabration lists.  Readabration was an event started a few years ago in which teachers, principals, literacy coaches, and students took the time to plan their reading over break.  As a listened to them talk I knew this was just what I needed.  A plan to read over break would help me begin to tackle my ever growing, and increasingly overwhelming, "to be read" stack.

I opened my Goodreads and began to make an intentional plan.  Knowing I really need to grow my bookstack of middle grade books I've read, I put my concentration there.  There are so many professional books in my stack, that I knew I needed to choose one of those as well.  Of course, it was winter break so, I also wanted to read an adult book.  I wanted to keep my list manageable as the break was only two weeks and our house is quite busy for much of the time.  I came up with this list:



Of course, break came and some unexpected digital books became available to me from my library hold stack so I had to adjust.  This new availability required that I rethink my stack.  At the end of the two weeks, I had moved several books into the completed stack.  I had read several middle-grade books, a new adult book, and nearly completed the professional book.

How to keep this momentum going?

This #readabration experience reminded me, once again, of the power of a plan.  I decided that I would continue to plan monthly what I wanted to read in hopes of moving more books from my "to be read pile" to my "I read it pile."

#MustReadin2017
Then, I head about Carrie Gelson's #MustReadin2017 post.  First I read Tara Smith's list as it came across my feed, then Margaret Simon's, then the many friends I found linked on Carrie's post.....and I knew this was just the push I needed to keep me on track.

Here's how it works (I think):
  • Have a TBR (to be read) list
  • Keep it growing 
  • Check back in 4/6, 9/7, 12/28 (optional)
  • Use #MustReadin2017 on Twitter

My Plan
I'm in!  I'm going to consider my "to read" list on Goodreads to be my #MustReadin2017 stack.  However, I want to keep this manageable and accomplish my reading goals for 2017.  Each month I will be creating a "plan to read" stack for the month.  I'm trying to keep the stack reasonable enough that I can accomplish it, flexible enough that I can adjust it (digital library holds can shake things up a bit), and open enough that I can throw new books in every now and then.  There also has to be room to pepper in picture books (I like a lot of pepper).  I hope to try to follow my #readabration plan:  a middle-grade book per week, an adult (or maybe YA) book for enjoyment, and an informational text (likely professional or "better life-ish).  

Here's January's Plan: 




Thanks, Carrie and #MustReadin2017 for the timely push.  



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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Connected Leaders: Tools to Grow Collaborative Conversations

Last week I attended NCTE, and couldn't escape the power of social media in growing my professionalism. As soon as I arrived I was happily catching up with colleagues from across the United States that continually push my thinking.  Gone are the days when we have to feel isolated in our classrooms.  While I still learn so much from my colleagues next door, my professional community has grown exponentially as a result of social media networks, blogs, and connected communities.

What do connected leaders need to consider?



As our district's elementary literacy instructional leader, I have come to also appreciate the power of social media and other digital tools to grow collaborative conversations across our fourteen elementary buildings.  While we are still finding our voice as a collaborative community, here are a few tools I find essential in communicating and growing a collaborative conversation.

Three tools I can't live without:

1.  To Share Our Story:  A Blog.  Every group needs a hub.  A digital hub helps us connect our community, curate resources, and build our narrative. Our literacy coaches are working to grow a literacy website.  On our site we share links, professional development opportunities, resources (still growing), as well as a weekly blog post.  (Need a space?  Try Weebly.)

2.  To Connect Our Community:  Twitter (or some social media outlet).  Our district has a growing number of classrooms on Twitter sharing their stories of learning and connecting with others.  We use Twitter to share professional learning opportunities, tweet blog updates, and pass along information helpful to teachers.  Additionally, we use Twitter to tell the story of literacy in our district by retweeting the celebrations of classrooms across the district.  Twitter allows us to learn from one another and step inside each other's classrooms.  (Our account:  @HCSDElemLit)

3. To Curate Links & Information:  S'more.  S'more works in a way that is similar to a newsletter, pamphlet or brochure.  I find S'more to be perfect for sharing resources around topics or for particular groups.  It is easily shared on social media or via email.  Often I create a S'more for a group conversation and then as others contribute ideas and resources we can easily add them to the original S'more.


More Possibilities:


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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Professional Books for New Teachers


I'll never forget my first year of teaching.  I had planned to teach elementary and was given the opportunity to work with six graders.  To say I was unprepared would be an understatement.  There were no supports in place for teachers, but thankfully my husband taught eighth grade and the teachers in our small school were always happy to help.  It's still quite easy to remember how hard that year was for me.  I can remember telling myself that certainly by year three I'd have this teaching thing down to a science.  Of course, that didn't prove to be true as even over twenty years later I find I'm always working to change.

The first years were hard.  Thankfully there were professional books.  It wasn't long after I started teaching that Nancie Atwell wrote, In the Middle:  Writing, Reading and Learning with Adolescents now in its third edition.   To this day, I consider this book to be one of the professional books that helped shape my work as an educator and honestly may have kept me teaching.

Authors of professional books about education continued to improve my work when I moved grade levels, noticed parts of my teaching that I needed to grow, or joined groups of educators hoping to study teaching in greater depth.  Authors like Gay Su Pinnell, Irene Fountas, Debbie Miller, Franki Sibberson, Katie Wood Ray, Ralph Fletcher, Shelley Harwayne, and Troy Hicks all played a part in important shifts in my teaching.

Professional Books for New Teachers
I've been doing a lot of our work with our newest teachers.  I've found their conversations engaging as they work to take what they know and solve new questions they're finding as they work alongside children each day.  In addition to working with new teachers, my son is doing his student teacher this year.  All of these conversations have me thinking about professional books I'd recommend to new teachers.  Here are a few titles I recommend as teachers begin:

Primary Teachers

Guided Reading:  Responsive Teaching Across the Grades
by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell


About the Authors:Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers
by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa Cleveland

Reading with Meaning:Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades
by Debbie Miller



For Intermediate
Still Learning to Read:Teaching Students in Grades 3-6
by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

The Reading Strategies Book:
Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers
by Jennifer Serravallo

Amplify:  Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-8 Classroom
by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke
Teaching with Intention:
Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action K-5

by Debbie Miller


There have been so many books written that it was hard to narrow to these titles.  These seem to be the books that help when thinking about the foundations of our work.  If you have favorite recommendations for new teachers, I hope you'll share them in the comments.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When They're Not Beside Us

As a classroom teacher, one of my favorite questions has been, "Who owns the learning?".  I first heard the question asked by Patrick Allen in Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop when he asked, "If someone walked into our classroom, who s/he say owned it?".  The question was put back in the forefront of my thinking several summers ago after reading:  Who Owns the Learning, Fires in the Mind, and Making Learning Whole.  It's a question that made me look at the walls of my classroom, listen more intently to the voices of our community, pause a little more often in a conference, and be more thoughtful about who was shaping the learning for students.

Lately, I've been thinking about a new question, "What are they doing when they aren't beside us?".

Early in my teaching career, I realized the power of being intentional when students were beside me. Whether in a guided reading lesson, conferring with a reader or writer, or leading some type of small group instruction, I have come to understand the power of sitting beside students to guide their next steps.  To have time to sit beside students, we create structures of learning to allow us more opportunities for targetted support and instruction.  Of course, at their best, these structures allow students to take ownership of their learning giving time to learn new strategies, make discoveries, and work toward new goals.  At their worst, they are elaborate structures that keep students busy so we can do the work we need to beside students.

So what are students doing when they aren't beside us?  I've come to learn that what they're doing when they're not beside us may be more important than what we do when we're sitting beside them.  How do we set students up for meaningful learning as we support learners in our classroom communities?   In my career, I've seen teachers move from sage on the stage to guide on the side to coach on approach (sorry, I just had to continue the rhyme, but you get my point).  As we move toward environments that value student ownership and agency, our role has changed.  This isn't always comfortable for us as we are used to managing and controlling.  It isn't easy to trust children to lead and to learn, to be flexible on our feet.  It's a different kind of planning where we know what we want students to learn, but we allow them to find their own path to get there.

It's messy...and it's powerful.  (Debbie Miller talks more about this here:  Letting Kids "Dig In")

For simplicity sake, let's consider for a moment that a teacher may spend forty-five minutes in small group reading lessons.  During that time a student might be beside the teacher for fifteen minutes.  That means the student spends thirty minutes on her own in the workshop.   Let's say that student is seen three times in a week; that equates to forty-five minutes with the teacher during that block for a week and three hours and forty-five minutes on her own.  Now think about that across the day.  The week.  The month.  The year.

So often we measure student success by the time a teacher is beside a student, but what if it is exactly the opposite.  What if students make the most progress when they drive their own learning?  What if the ways we help build agency in our classroom are more powerful than the time students spend in explicit instruction?

If we're going to send students off on their own, we want to set them up to use their time to learn.   These structures have to allow continued learning and move beyond creating opportunities for us to teach.

Here are a few considerations I've found help set students up for learning opportunities:

  • Allow students opportunities for real work.
  • Have a community learning focus.
  • Be intentional in focus lessons.
  • Create charts that make learning visible.  
  • Take time for a reflective share.
  • Allow students to set their own learning goals.   
  • Be willing to adjust when things get messy.
  • Trust them.