“Be Observant”

“What advice do you have to become a writer?”

I attend lots of author events…lots. Just this year alone, I hosted four authors at my school, attended the National Book Festival, visited bookstores 3 times to meet an author and now join Instagram Live events hosted by generous authors while we all shelter-in-place. At all of these events, this is the one question that is usually asked. And the answer is always the same.

“What helps is being observant.”
Watch.
Notice.
Spot.
Glimpse.
Spy.
Eavesdrop.

In this time of Covid19, I find myself taking at least one walk a day. As I walk, I listen to podcasts. So far, I have listened to Dolly Parton’s America and Boomtown. Both have allowed me to observe a different part of my country. (Both I recommend). As I walk and listen, I also have really noticed the colors around me.

I am not sure if great writing will occur because I am taking a daily walk and observing. But for now, I will keep at it. I will notice the new buds, see the daffodils standing tall, spy on my neighbor’s sidewalk art, eavesdrop via a podcast, and glimpse at the vibrant Spring colors.

What are you observing, writers?!

7th year!

This is my 400th blog post celebrating my Lucky 7th year as a slicer! 7 x 31 days = 217 so this shows that I also started slicing every Tuesday along the way. For me, this number – 400 – shows how proud I am to write and proud to read the writing of others.

Yesterday, I figured out how to schedule a zoom celebration meeting. I invited the 14 teachers in my area who sliced this year. I can’t wait for it to be 5pm and see the grid of faces! My writing friends. True friends who I know because I have read their stories and they know me because they have read my stories.

I asked each to come to the party ready to share a reflection on this year’s writing. And I offered sentence stems to help. Here’s my reflection:

I am proud I tried to always make my comments be about the writing craft. Even when I read post and had a strong connection to their story, I avoided a comment that would just sound like a conversation, “The same thing happened to me…” Instead, I tried to say, “Because of your precise details, I could really feel/see and easily make a connection to a similar situation in my life. I am proud of the comments I made.

I was surprised by the comfort I felt writing and reading as the blanket of the coronavirus spread across the world and overtook the slicers’ focus. It surprised me how much it helped me to share feelings and how it equally helped me to read others’ stories and realize I was not alone.

The slice that I wrote that sticks with me is Color. I wrote it on March 23rd, a Thursday. It is a reflection of the color I now associate with the coronavirus.

The slice that I read that sticks with me is Meg’s entitled Teacher Research is the Therapy Every Educator Needs. I read it and immediately wrote to Meg and suggested we co-author an article together, her from the point of view as the teacher researcher and me as the facilitator. I told her how I am terrified too to write a professional journal article but I still want to try. Together, it doesn’t seems as scary.

Together, during March 2020, I wrote every day within a supportive community. Looking across my writing topics, they include stories about my school, my routines, my friends, the current news, poetry, books and color. Looking at my dashboard, I received 285 comments. These comments kept me going every day. I was thrilled to win the Mentor Award!! I love including others in things I like but it does feel good when others notice and appreciate my actions.

My first post took place as our school play was ending and it was in the time “before coronavirus”. On the 13th of March the Governor of VA closed schools for the rest of the year. Then yesterday, March 30th, he ordered all to “shelter-in-place”. I’m grateful this challenge pushed me to write every day during an unprecedented month in the worlds’ history. I can’t thank Stacey and her crew for running this writing challenge all month long. Already I am looking forward to March, 2021.

15 minute school visit

The memo stated: Don’t forget, if you need to get into the building for a few minutes, please sign-up here (in the SignUp Genius) for a time. You need to be a “speedy shopper!”

I strategically signed up for the first slot – 7:30am as I get up early anyway and I really did want this to be quick and not see/interact too many. I’m trying to follow social distancing. But I also miss my books.

Wearing gloves and carrying a bag of recycled grocery bags, I pressed the buzzer to be let in. I signed the sign-in sheet. I headed straight to my classroom. My main goal was to retrieve my read-aloud novels, grab picture books to revisit in future distance learning lessons, grab a few of the Social Issue Book Club books (still not sure how I’ll handle this unit) and grab the stash of snacks I keep in the room for Staff CLT meetings (a prevention to the school’s mouse problem!).

I was back at the sign-in sheet 20 minutes later. Not bad. These 4 bags of mostly books will help me as I plan for 10 weeks of online learning. Now the real sprint to the finish line of the 2019-2020 school year begins.

I’m a Winner!

I was so surprised when I saw this as I opened Day 29 of the March SOLSC!

I am the Mentor Winner!!

I’m not sure why, but I naturally share. If I enjoy something – a book, a place, an experience – I tell others all about it. I recall the first year I decided to do the March Challenge. I was teaching 4th grade. I was nervous about being able to write for 31 days straight. But I told my students about it. Together we added stickers to the calendar every time we wrote to keep us going. Together, we celebrated our accomplishment at the end. Together we felt so great!

The next year, with more confidence, I suggested to some colleagues to join with me. I remember sitting at the Tenleytown Starbucks and helping them after school set up a blog. Then I wrote down the steps. There really are lots of steps to write a blog post – copy the link, open the other blog, scroll down (way down if it is later in the day), add the copied link and post. I remember fielding a few phone calls as that month went on asking for help to get the steps just right. I still have such fond memories of our celebration at the end. Fran brought me a dozen ORANGE roses!!! The perfect thank you for my support in the perfect color!

The next five years, I kept encouraging others to join in. Writing teachers and English teachers and English Language teachers and Reading teachers and even a Librarian. “We all have stories to tell.” “Setting up a blog is easy. I can show you.” “Do it! I’m hosting a party at the end.” “Here’s a calendar and some stickers to help you keep track.” Why did I help, show, nudge? For me, if something makes me feel good, I want others to have the chance to experience it, too. Writing my stories and reading at least three stories a day for 31 days feels magical to me. Of course, I have to share that with others.

Now I am days away from completing my 7th year as a Slicer. Today I am so appreciative of my writing friends – those I work with, those that live nearby, many who I only know by meeting here in this virtual space and a few I have been lucky enough to meet in person at conferences. All I feel I know so well because I know you through your stories.

Winning today feels very lucky!! I am glad I naurally help, show, and nudge. Thanks to all who nominated me. You made my day!!

Best Friend Books

Thursday morning I set the alarm and got to my computer a few minutes before 7am. I was ready to spend an hour with the author, Lester Laminack, as the first ever Virtual Virginia State Reading Association Annual Conference began.

Here are a few take-aways:
The amazing Lester Laminack suggested reading aloud around 5 fiction and 5 nonfiction books many times over during a school year so the students come to know this small collection of books so well. By doing this, they would become Best Friend Books.

He modeled how to do this with Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. I’ve read Peter’s Chair many times. Yet, I will admit, reading it again with Lester, I saw new things!! He pushed me to think about:
Peter is the kind of boy who….I know this because…
Peter ran away with things. Why these things? What’s their significance?

At the end, Lester kindly thanked the teachers connecting virtually with him. “I know this entire nation will appreciate you more after this pandemic is over.”

I’ve been thinking since Thursday how to use technology to share reading with my students since schools in VA are closed for the rest of the year. After next week, we are on Spring Break. Then I get 9 weeks of distance learning with my 6th grade reading classes. I found out Friday, I can enter my school building for 15 minutes on Monday. Now my plan is to gather LOTS of picture book from my classroom shelves – My Best Friend Books. I know I will grab Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.

What would YOU grab?

Architects

My husband is teaching his first achitecture class to seniors at Catholic University this semester. Back in January, he met his 12 students and from 1-6pm each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he guides them in pairs to design a building. With his phone acting as a timer, he starts and offers “desk crits”: Tell me your thinking about placing that there? You might look at so-and-so architect’s work. It’s a similar concept. Take a look at so-and-so building. The way they use that material might give you an idea. He pulls out tracing paper, lays it on their building plan and draws another idea for the pair to consider. After 30 minutes, on to the next pair so all get feedback by 6pm. By May they are to have their final “pin-up” and then graduate.

Now he sits in what we call the office in our home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With headphones on and his laptop in front of him, he chats with student pairs. Each student sits alone in their home, miles aways from each other. Now they are all together in this virtual meeting. Using computer tools, he marks up their drawings as he suggests different possiblities. Together they debate various options. By May they are to have their final “pin up” and then graduate. Yet, their college campus is closed due to the pandemic.

Last Monday, the architecture school had a virtual Town Hall. Students shared how hard all this is. One articulated how before, they were physically together and could easily vent. Now she feels isolated and is finding it hard to stay motivated to complete assignments.

As my husband shared her comment with me, I started thinking about the importance of teaching architecture. As humans, we thrive through interactions with others. We need places to have these interactions. Architects design those spaces. Now we are all at home and thanks to technology, we are connecting. We see faces on a screen. We take turns talking. It is fine in the short term. But I’m coming to realize the importance of having places to go, to interact, to be social, to play, to enjoy the company of others. Today, (on my architect husband’s birthday), I appreciate architects!

Can you name a PLACE/SPACE designed by an architect, that you especially like visiting? Here’s a link to a proir post where I name my Top 10!

Writing Changes

As I read the first line “I had the opportunity to sit in probably the most empowering National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) session this year in Baltimore.” I was amazed. This Texas literacy newsletter writer was talking about the presentation I helped deliver in Baltimore just 4 months ago.

I read on. Toward the end, she added, “These teachers love learning. I mean it – they really love learning.” Wow! She’s so right. And she got that idea just by sitting in our session about being a teacher researcher.

John, Michelle and I wrote a proposal to make a presentations and it got accepted. Heinemann Fellow director, Ellin Keene agreed to join us as our Responder. Because of that writing, a woman from Texas joined in our presentation and writes, “I will be a far better teacher because I chose this session and more so because these teachers shared their work willingly.”

I immediately wrote a text to John and Michelle, “Read your email!!” and sent an email to Ellin to share the newsletter link.

This one email took me back four months to four days in Baltimore. Her writing lifted my spirits yesterday. Her writing had me dreaming about NCTE 2020 in Denver. And I went back and took a look again at the photos from that session. I wonder which person is Kelly, past president of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts??

The Newsletter article is on page 2

5:30am

I used to be a night owl. I used to make dinner, eat, and clean up the kitchen. Then I’d spend a few more hours sending emails, planning lessons and grading student work. Finally, I’d end my day with a treat to some laughs by watching John Stewart’s The Daily Show. (Who’s John Stewart? He was the host of The Daily Show years ago before Trevor Noah.) Then I’d head to bed at 11:30pm.

Now in my fifties, I find I have a different routine. I still set my alarm for 5:30am. But now I find I am so productive in the morning. While eating breakfast, I make my plan. Then I attack email and lesson planning. Now, as a middle school teacher, I am done teaching kids at 1pm and can spend the next few hours planning for the next day of teaching. Now I eat dinner a little earlier. Now I treat myself to Jeopardy and head to bed with a book as early as 8:30pm.

Today, seeing 5:30am flash red on my alarm clock, I climb out of bed. I remind myself it is Wednesday, Hump Day. I push myself to be productive this morning. I decide on 2 links to share with my students through a Morning Message shared as an email. (Thanks Cindy for the inspiring video shared in your Slice yesterday! and thanks mom for letting me know about author Grace Lin’s podcast). I make my To Do list. I log onto my blog and write my March 25th Slice.

A non-routine day

It’s 8:17pm….pm, not am.

I have a routine. I like my routine. I wrote about it here. I post in the morning. Then, at this time of evening, I come back to make some comments.

Today, the first day knowing I won’t return to the school building during this school year (the VA Governor made the announcement yesterday) has me in a bit of a fog. I guess that’s why I moved through this day slowly. I had one Microsoft Team virtual meeting at 8:30am. I had another Google Hangout CLT meeting at 1pm. I facetimed with a friend. I did 2 loads of laundry. I took a walk. I made a chicken caesar salad for dinner. Finally, I am pushing through the fog to write.

I tend to like to have an image to add as a Featured Image as I start to write. I felt like I had nothing today. Then I recalled the best part of my day. For a few moments this morning, my daughter and I exchanged texted messages. My daughter is in France and she’s an awesome high school English teacher!

So, as this day is getting away from me, I am happy that I was able to collaborate with a teacher in France, my daughter! She is trying to help them access online information using Google Classroom. She wasn’t sure what the students would see on their device from their home. I got to be her guinea pig and it felt good to be helpful in a small way. Hopefully, tomorrow, I can get back to a routine!

** Proof that my daughter is an engaging teacher: She shared these fun Kahoots with me!! While teaching her French HS students English, she also is teaching them about English speaking holidays and about the American government.

Take the Kahoot challenge!!

St. Patrick’s Day: https://kahoot.it/challenge/0255101?challenge-id=34820a9b-64b1-44a0-8d97-6b2538cc8a3d_1584440169038

The President: https://kahoot.it/challenge/0800883

Color

When 9/11 happened, the blue, blue sky is what I remember. I am not the only one. The artist Spencer Finch was commissioned to make an installation at the World Trade Center Memorial. He created one called “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning.” As I research more about it, I discovered “Every one of the 2,983 watercolor squares is its own shade of blue – one for each of the 2001 and 1993 attack victims – and the artwork as a whole revolves around the idea of memory. Our own perception of the color blue might not be the same as that of another person. But, just like our perception of color, our memories share a common point of reference.

As I think about this past week when a virus kept us home, pink magnolia is the color I will remember. One thing I did to help keep my sanity was take walks around my neighborhood. This week, the pink magnolia trees are in full bloom and my neighbors’ yards host many. The springtime wind caused many petals to cover the ground around these gorgeous trees. Yes, for me, pink magnolia is the color I’ll remember when I recall the Spring of 2020.

How about you?