Planning Day #SOL20 #10/31

It’s our 2nd trimester planning day with the kinder team. Right off the start, one teacher is pulled back into class for sub shortage. The spirits are low. We talk about how unfortunate this is. We are now down two members, so we think.

People come into our lives and make the world so much better. Ashley is one of these people. She is knowledgeable, kind, and her enthusiasm boosts everyone’s confidence and willingness to try. She’s away this week, and was my understanding won’t be at our meeting.

Ashley left for New York Sunday to attend the Teachers College Assessment Institute. However, the campus closed due to Coronavirus, and everyone was assigned to work off-site remotely. Stephanie suspected she would call. And when the phone rang, she said, “I knew she wouldn’t stay away from us.” I think we were all a little bit relieved that she called. Her input is valuable to the team.

With the phone propped against the computer, she face-times our meeting. Five brains are creating a learning progression scale for Kinder. The energy is high. Then off in the distance, you hear, “Michele fix me. I’m looking at the ceiling.” Laughter breaks free. The phone slid down, facing upward.

“Here, look at JoAn for a while. She won’t mind.” Again, laughter.

Our eyes are back on the document. The team identifies the skills: Pointer Power, Picture Power, Snap Word Power, Sound Power, and Recall Power. All hands are typing away. Throughout the meeting we all bounce back and forth in dialogue. “What do you think?” “How does this sound?” And on. The progression from one star to four stars completed. I love Google Docs. I say to the team, “There is no excuse for planning and teaching in isolation.” Everyone is in agreement even if you are in a hotel room 3,000 miles away in bed working alongside us.

Next, Ashley commands, “Michele put down the phone I’m getting up.” We all laugh and chime in “Ashley.”

She wants to go to lunch with us. We joke about buckling the phone in the seat as we drive off. It’s so refreshing working with this team.

#SOL20 #10/31

A Bench & a Yard #SOL20 #9/31

Just before I’m about to leave, I decided to have one more cup of coffee. I come out of the sun wrecked back door to sit in the old parched wooden chair facing north. Right away, I feel the warmth of the sun against my cheek. Just before it gets too hot, those big puffy rain clouds cover the sun and bring just a slight chill of a breeze that rubs against your face like a rose pedal gentle to the touch and sweet to the smell.

I look at the yard wondering why I haven’t moved it. It’s littered with dandelions. The little burst of yellow flowers are here and there and everywhere. The bees don’t seem to mind that I’ve put it off another day. They jump from one to the other pollinating as they go. Their tiny hide legs covered with pollen. Its reward, sweet honey in the making as they buzz off to their hives. Left behind are millions of wishes waiting to be scattered throughout the lawn.

I see Clay plopped on the grass under the sweet Lemon Verbena bush toward the back north end. Such a fresh scent. I wish Clay would stroll through it. He could use it. He’s always off in the distance, and you can be sure he’s watching. Cautious Clay. What does he think? A peculiar cat. He’s my feral cat. Close but we’re not too tight.

The Calla Lilies are in full bloom. A burst of orange scatters about the yard. I love this time of year. Everything is coming alive. The neighbor’s orange tree leans on the east side over just enough to offer quarts, maybe gallons, of the sweet orange juice. I dread the idea anymore of picking them. Oh, I enjoy the treat. It’s just getting out the ladder, grabbing them one by one, dropping them to the ground, the whole time hoping they don’t splatter upon contact. Dr. Oz says one orange a day is a wise idea for you. There’s enough here to test this theory out.

Off to the west, I look at those banana trees and giant birds of paradise. They came with me here during a sad time in my families’ life. Now they flourish. They’re big and doing what I’d hoped they do, provide privacy. That sadness buried away. Today, I barely remember the time. I’m pleased with their presence—the paradise flowers are amazing.

The milkweed is popping up here and there, blooming blossoms. I don’t see the butterflies. I imagine it’s not warm enough for them. I worry there won’t be enough leaves once the caterpillar hatches. I’ve had to purchase a few plants to save a caterpillar before. These leaves are scranny looking. They don’t ever seem to bounce back the way they are when you first purchase them. Maybe I need more fertilizer. The leaves aren’t a thick, long, and vibrant green. Sooner than later, I need to tend to the needs of these plants. Cause I enjoy watching butterflies flutter and bees bounce.

My frequent guest, my little Chickadee, swoops down to grab some bugs and worms. I pride myself on believing I have the best bugs because I don’t use pesticides. He gets a clean meal and ever so often I get to meet his family.

This morning is one of my greatest joys, just being present in a brief moment before the busy day takes over. It’s just peaceful right now sitting out here with a cold cup of coffee and a cool breeze welcoming these big, fluffy, gray clouds.

#SOL20 #931

Support comes in Multiple Ways #SOL20 #8/31

Breathe in… hold your breathe… gently exhale.

A daily calming routine implemented to support the transition from recess to writers workshop. I found myself sprawled on the floor amidst the small bodies. I felt the relaxation come over my body as I tried not to think about what was happening. Tiny eyeballs glance my way. I could only imagine them wondering why I am here. Then the chant breaks out…”Writers, writers, writers are gathering…” Kinder Kiddos scramble to their feet or knees and crawl over to the squares on the rug. I watch from the back the delivery of an excellent mini-lesson with

  • a smooth delivery where the connection was relevant and reliable,
  • the teaching point clear and brief,
  • the dialogue and jesters for the active engagement strongly in place,
  • and, the final phrase, “Today, and everyday..” and off you go.

How am I going to support her? I think to myself as I squat to the floor behind her. Oh crap, why did I think I was cut out for this? What do I have to say that will impact her craft? I reeked of vulnerability. I now reflect back that I’ve should have ask

  • What is your teaching point?
  • How would you like me to support you: Freeze-Frame, Whisper In, or wait till you’re done?
  • I’ll be taking notes as you’re working.

I fumbled through this one. Soon after she started, the students began immediately seeing the connection between the ‘snap words’ and writing. I whispered in for her to share what Billy was doing. The writers pointed at the shining, bright yellow paper magnifying the words that mattered to their stories. They saw where to place each word. Their voices soared when asked to read back what they wrote. The wrap-up was near. They were doing everything you’d want them to. “Do you have an artifact you could give them?” I mumbled. She quickly wrote something for one student.

As she coached them through this work, the writers wondered why I was there. Should I tell them why I’m here? Our quizzical expressions matched. The unanswered questions floated around us. Next time we’ll share that we are here to support one another. Learners do that sort of thing.

Quickly after the 4 minute strategy lesson was done, I wrestled with my notes and rambled a few observations. I knew she tried this lesson out before today. Other writers were drawing lines for words below the pictures. Sunshine sprinkled everywhere the writers were scribing with yellow wooden pencils and snap words for stories. We scheduled a revisit in 3 days.

#SOL20 #8/31

Back in my office, I should have asked her, “What can I do to support you next?” Instead, I wrote a note of gratitude filled with observations. It was a learning experience in which I can grow from.

Breathe in… hold your breathe… gently exhale.

A Privilege Life #SOL20 #7/31

Yocelyn and I stood next to one another as the kiddos finally dashed away for recess. Only one little straggler not sure he wants to leave our newfound friendship. Swings full of children going back-n-forth off in the distance. The playground is alive once again with busy children running to the handball court, teether balls, and open grass area. The laughter is contagious.

As natural as a child’s inquisitive mind, Yocelyn begins to chatter about applying for Teachers College in NYC. “Which one should I apply for?” she asks, “the Coaching Institute on Reading or Writing?”

“What will be next year’s focus?”

“Math. However, we will be a Cotsen school, and this is my opportunity to get into the classroom beside the mentor.” She beams with joy. Her window of opportunity to do coaching cycles is here. I suggested reading since she is advanced in writing, but then the conversation took a turn.

Her school, as all schools supposedly give teachers a democratic voice in this decision, was taken away. The principal told them it will be a math focused school next year since there are many more K-3 grade teachers voting than 4-6. This created a deep division among staff. Yocelyn continued to share that the upper-grade teachers are white, middle-age to retirement age staff teaching in a diverse community. This division exist within the faculty as well. Name-calling and put-downs were brewing among them. The division among them was underway, which was caused by the principal. The message created an environment of uneasiness.

I never viewed myself growing up as privileged amongst the white community. With little food on the table, my mother struggled financially and emotionally because my father had left our home. Furthermore, there were problems in the house with me and my 6 siblings. You could imagine all the issues from 6 to 23 years old, a 17-year age span. I viewed us as being far from the norm. However, I am in that box of the white, middle-class, retirement-age, privilege cisgender now. As I acknowledge the opportunities that came my way because of this, it is awkward feeling. I find myself struggling to make sense of my thoughts and actions. I am redefining who I thought I was. In this journey, it is more and more apparent its existence on my school campus. So I find myself looking for that balance. The conversation with Yocelyn was so liberating. With judgment cast aside, we spoke openly and freely. I ponder how to find my voice and take advantage in other situations of where I could push back and where to step up and make changes. I’m continually trying to expose myself to books like This Book is Antiracist by Tiffany Jewell and listening to podcasts like Are Your Diversity Strategies Missing the Mark? Nine Ways to Get it Right by Jennifer Gonzalez with Hedreich Nichols. 

These types of conversations don’t happen often enough. Still, they are organically occurring more and more in my circle as I continue to identify and fight my biases so I can grow and be part of the solution rather than the problem.

#SOL20 #7/31

Saturday Exploration #SOL20 #6/31

Image by annca from Pixabay

Off in the distance, an unwelcome, familiar sound draws me out of my tranquil moment. It’s the “Coast to Coast” song on KFI 640 at 5:20 am. Once I realize what is happening, I squeeze my eyes. “Why do I do this?” Six months ago it sounded like a great idea working at various school throughout the district on Saturday mornings. I’ll be making friends everywhere! This morning a tingling sensation of regret circle my mind.

Moments from the night dance before me when I created all the charts…for the wrong grade-level. I was challenged to think about an elephant’s toenails even though we can’t see his toes. Why is that? It was later than I prefer but I’ll be more relaxed knowing this work done. The 1st grade charts are ready. We will explore the Lowland Gorillas.

Realizing I should have set the clock for a later wake-up call didn’t help matters. The warmth and the weight of the blankets was hard to give up. It’s dangerous for me to think I can just sleep for 20 minutes more. A shower revives my spirits. With coffee and time I decided to call my husband. He’s on the east coast, so it’s three hours later. We talk about our plans for spring break.

I grab my raincoat and think, “The weather man hasn’t been to accurate lately.” Fluffy, dark big clouds rest above with a cool breeze. Refreshing. The time seems to fall off the clock. Harold asked a dozen times, “What time is it?” “What time is recess?” What..?” “What..?” What..?” He looks everywhere for the digital clock. Mine is analog and so is the schools. Let’s take advantage of this ‘teachable moment’. Not. He really wasn’t much into the why and how. He just wanted the what. This little guy saw the iPads and knew they were digital. He’d sneak over and push the button. Creative, intuitive, and an excellent problem solver.

Sliding into the home stretch, I scurry and pick up the leftovers of their engineering products scattered everywhere. As I pop up for air, I blurt out, “Let’s all help clean up!” The kiddos huddled together boasting, elaborating, and thrilled to share their design with one another. Coming up for air just about to say again, “Let’s all..” a welcome, familiar sound echoes from Elena “Today is one of my bestest days!”

“Me too,” Emily chimes in. I caught a tear. I held it. I tried to suck it back in. I wiped it away. This afternoon I felt a tingling sensation of regret that I might have missed my magical moment for the day.

P.S.: Last night after work and making the charts and taking care of errands, and dinner and an evening walk, I didn’t slice. So this is #6. I’ll do my best to also do #7 later today. Thanks!

#SOL20. #6/31

My Bracelet SOL20 #5/31

It was

on my left wrist

with my watch

and other bracelet,

And now it’s lost.

My bracelet

was with me for years.

I remember finding it

on the classroom floor after the meeting.

Relieved and worried

I picked it and the scattered charms up

and put it back on my wrist.

I should have know and put you away.

Between the next two meetings

and stopping at the store

I lost it.

Now, I look at my wrist

and see an empty spot for

a four-leaf clover charm,

and the paw print.

Now, etched only in my memories.

I’ve had close calls before,

but I always found you.

I wonder who’s wrist are you on now?

#5/31
SOL20

Kinder Kiddos SOL20 #4/31

Image by NeiFo from Pixabay

There is so much to love about being five years old. Today, I am going to share just one aspect I love about being five. During the writers’ workshop, I was working with a teacher. She was becoming worried that her writers weren’t transferring the mini-lessons to their independent writing time. Oh, they loved to draw. That’s writing. Oh, they loved to write random letters. That’s writing. However, she felt like she was trapped in a time warp—the mouse on the wheel. You are running but going nowhere fast. The same thing keeps happening again and again. We are four months into the year, and the majority of her students are not writing beginning sounds, snap words, no spacing between words, nothing. After some planning and observations, we came up with a plan.

Fast forward to today’s meeting. It’s so incredible to witness when the world all of a sudden makes sense to a five-year-old brain. The kinder kiddos look at you like you are finally speaking their language. And off they go. You can’t stop them now. They feel empowered with so much knowledge. They choose the topic, and their voices come beaming through their stories.

Here’s a couple of stories these writers wrote.

How to Catch a Snail
Get gloves. Go outside. Go in the grass. Go super close to the grass. Look carefully. I found one. That was so much fun.

Or

Do you know how to make a rainbow?
Get a cup of water. Go outside. Hold the water to the sun. Look, you made a rainbow.

It’s priceless! During one mini-lesson, the teacher taught them about warnings and tips. One kinder added a warning. “Don’t make the teacher mad by forgetting to bring your book bag to class.” It’s just amazing. Was all the writing like this? No. But all the writers had how-to stories to tell.

Always look at writing with an admiration lens. You’ll see things like 

  • The vast majority of the students understand the How-Tos has steps. (First, next, last)
  • The team worked hard on oral rehearsal, and it shows in the students’ work.
  • All students wrote something in the writing section and drew illustrations. 
  • Some students added warnings and tips.
  • The on-demand showed determination; all students focused on the task and demonstrated an understanding of independent writing time. 

I love working with this team and celebrating their dedication to our young writers. I just have to figure out how to keep this alive all their writerly lives. Any suggestions?

#SOL20
#4/31

“You’re it!” SOL20 #3/31

Image by emmaws4s from Pixabay

“1,2,3 Not it!” Rings out as the students prepare to play the game of tag. From research, the game has been around for 100s of years. One source mentions it has been around since 1738 and is connected to ‘Queen Mary’s reign’. Another suggests it as a variation of the Scottish tig ‘touch, tap’ in 1721. Either way, this game has maintained its popularity for centuries.

At our school, it is banned. The children every year are told they can not play this game. We warn them about how dangerous it is. Even though it doesn’t seem to stop them. Principals say to the teachers, your students are not allowed to play tag. Recess aides say to the teachers, your students are playing tag and will not stop. The teachers are telling their students to stop playing tag. With all this time and energy vested in stopping the game, they still continue to play it.

I wonder, can we rid the playgrounds of tag?

The game of tag is everywhere: during lunch time sitting on the benches, in line walking out to the playground, on the play equipment, even in the classrooms! We have a compelling desire to touch and be touched. Tag, for the most part, is a simplistic way of saying, “I see you”. It reminds me of the standard greeting in the Zulu tribe called “Sawubona.” It literally means “I see you, you are important to me, and I value you.” We are social creatures, and tag is one simple, elegant way to make another person feel visible and accepted to a collective group. Of course, we don’t want to allow someone to shove them down to the ground when we tag them. As I supervised the students today during recess, it was not different. From Tk-6th grade, every one wants to play tag.

So should we rid the playgrounds of the game tag?

We need to keep it safe. With that in mind, I tried to minimize the potential for injury. I had all the kids who were playing tag go out on the open field. There were no barriers to shield them from being tag, and they had to run, run, run. Towards the end of recess, they were flushed, sweaty, and exhausted. They tried to come back to the play equipment to hide behind, a moment of rest. I pushed them back out to the open field. By the end of the 20-minute recess, they were physically done.

So, I say let them play tag or any other name they change it to be. I don’t see it going away any time soon. Just provide an open, well-supervised space, and let them yell out, “You’re it!”

#3/31

Read Across America SOL20 #2/31

Eight Classrooms and countless of books later, the book bag rests sprawled on the ‘spider-room’ office floor. It all started reading to two classrooms combined, kindergarten and 4th-grader classroom buddies.

Sorting through piles of books, I tried to match a ‘just right’ storybook with the right classroom. Tk loves stories about mamas, and 2nd-grade boys want to hear about a character just like the adventurous, cunning little creatures they are.

Ready to go, a bundle of books nestled inside a canvas, coffee-stained bag is thrown over my shoulder. I stroll over to the 3/4 playground. Children are scattered everywhere. A soft hum echoes throughout the grounds. Children’s eyes glued to their books as kinder kiddos read to their 4th-grade buddies. I feel a slight pain; my heart-strings are pulled as teachers gather the kiddos around me on the tarps. They must leave behind their perfect cubby holes under the equipment for now.

Eli pleads, “Will you read my book, Mrs. Durrin?” This tiny squirt with the most prominent brown eyes and a crooked smile holds up his book, Creepy Carrots. A dark goth cover with only splashes of dingy orange grabs my attention. I’m just a sucker for another opportunity to a read aloud. The dilemma begins as I go back and forth, doubting my choices. Finally, I found my out. 

“I’ll be in your room at 11:30, and I’ll read it then,” I replied. And away we went on two glorious adventures. We danced with “Rhinocorns” and sailed through the pond with a tiny duckling as his siblings paddled ahead. We all bellowed like a pirate for the grand finale. We soaked up the touches of laughter and chatter in the moment of a timeless read aloud. Kiddos giggles hearing the silly voices of each character. A roar of claps erupted at the end.

It’s fantastic to watch the uncontrollable applaud where hands must clasp together. How do I capture the sheer joy I feel coming from them? The appreciation of a delightful story. A warm, soothing voice reading aloud with expression and passion. We were lost. We loved it. Then we came back to reality, and it was over. Teachers step in taking charge. Children scurrying away. The dusty dirt blows off the tarps as they’re folded up and tucked away. 365 more days till the Read Across America Day, but I will read aloud tomorrow.

The Jitters ~ SOL20 #1/31

This morning I knew the SOL20 challenge begins. My chest isn’t pounding. It’s more like a tight rope that doesn’t sway much in the wind or holding your breath before blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, wondering for a second or two is this a worthy wish. My audience doesn’t even know me. Who’s out there? Who’s reading my blog? Am I ready to share my stories?

Image by Alex Artamonova from Pixabay

The jitters are not entirely from writing the actual story. It’s the emotions that are attached to each account. Which one do I share? The new book I’m reading? The hike in the hills? My work challenges? Wondering where my longtime visitor, the feral cat, has ventured off to for the past week. My upcoming presentations? The loss of a friend for speaking my opinion? The sadness of 3 friends/colleagues who have lost their husbands and sibling to heart attaches. Or the challenges my husband faces being the sole caregiver to his mother? These are just a few things I could choose to jot. Life is hectic, and we carry more than just a single story with us. They are all dancing inside my thoughts. One at a time or all at once; they insist on my attention. Part of me is enjoying the idea of being vague. “Push the emotional ones back deep within to avoid those feelings, relish in the fun times, or simply ramble on,” my inner self whispers. I awoke with trepidation. 

Perhaps for a month, I will take on each narrative or embracing the idea that each day offers a new tale to tell. After all, it is Read Across America Day tomorrow. I must get busy selecting books to read. Oh, how I love walking into the book store. The smell of coffee in the distance, the thrill of anticipation as you open a book for the first time, the touch of a slippery book cover, and the multitude of choices surrounding me. Most of all, it’s the opportunity to get lost in simple, eloquent tales. I must get ready to go. I choose to redirect my jitters and settle on looking for books to read aloud. Any suggestions? As a writer, tomorrow, I will try to focus the capturing the children’s expressions, voices, and reactions and match the moment with words.

#1/31
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