Gone but still with us

Twenty years ago September, many lives ended on one day.
Twenty years ago, January, one life I knew well ended.
A horsebackriding accident took my colleague and dear friend.
As an art teacher, she’d first read-aloud Miss Rumphius
Then model how to use pinks and purples and greens
to paint lupines.
And as they painted, she encouraged her students
to be like Miss Rumphius who lived her dreams to
travel the world,
live in a house by the sea,
and do something to make the world more beautiful.

Yesterday, one life I knew, only through stories, ended
My friend, who first I met through other friends,
began a writing ritual with me.
Summer mornings at the table outside of Starbucks
Monthly after-school gatherings at rotating houses
Weekly online on Mondays during this past year
And during that time, I met her mother.
Never in person but through the stories she wrote.

Yesterday, her mother’s life ended
Not due to Covid as so many have recently
Not due to gun violence as so many have recently
A long life, well lived, peacefully ended yesterday
A brave lady who crossed a big sea
And raised her family by the sea in Norfolk
Who traveled many decades on this earth
And truly made the world more beautiful
through her daughter, my friend.

My Teacher – Mary!

“Students need WARM DEMANDERS – a person who is compassionate, caring but also holds that student accountable. Type in the chat that teacher who was a WARM DEMANDER of you.” These words Tyrone Howard spoke during the closing Keynote of the TCRWP Saturday Reunion.

I immediately typed Mary Ehrenworth. That first summer back in 2009, sitting in the front row of the Columbia Univerisity Auditoium with 500+ teachers behind me, I was a student learning how to write. Mary taught me in a caring manner while masterfully nudging me to do the work and be accountable.

This past Saturday, Mary taught me some more. I am so thankful to be a part of the TCRWP community, learning.

Here are imiages from the slideshow I made to highlight the ideas shared by Mary, along with a former staff developer, Pablo, and a NYC teacher, Marc. They have a book out now called The Civically Engaged Classroom.

Studnet Letter Link

Marc’s students’ work Link

My First Virtual Live Zoom Presentation

The alarm went off on Saturday and I jumped up, showered and dressed in the chosen outfit laid out the night before. After drying my hair and grabbing an ice tea and a muffin from the kitchen, I went to my 2nd floor virtual classroom/spare bedroom. I turned on my computer and the lamps and double checked the bookcase/background image.

I opened the google slideshow. I opened the padlet of resources. I opened the video I planned to share. I reviewed my an opening and closing words drafted yesterday. I practiced the presentation one more time and watched the timing. It clocked in at 45 minutes, allowing for question / answer time. I felt set.

After seeing my headshot and title of my presentation on the screen and hearing Laura introduce me, I thanked her and thanked all for coming. “Add your name to the chat and tell me where you are from.” I saw Megan from Ashland and Kim from Ashland and Emliy from VA Beach. People came, I thought to myself!

Then I shared my screen and immediately, I could not see the chat anymore. I froze. But wait. How will I have the bookclub-like conversation I planned for after sharing the video? I knew the conference participants wouldn’t be able to use their mics but they could and were using the chat. But now I couldn’t see it? My eyes scanned the zoom bar. I didn’t see an option. I clicked on the three bars. I didn’t see an option. Then I realized that I was on the zoom stage at this very moment and Megan, Kim and Emily and probably a few more were here, at 9am on a Saturday. I took a breath and started talking and sharing all that I rehearsed yesterday and again this morning.

When it was time to have the chat discussion, I simply stopped sharing my screen and easily read the chat responses and encouraged many on the other side of the zoom call to participate. I ended at 9:58am, stopped sharing my screen and again could read the chat. I saw many “Thank you” messages. I took another deep breathe and was relieved that my zoom presentation was over and it felt successful, despite that one beginning moment of panic.

NOTE: If interested in learning about Using a Reading Notebook as a Mirror, a Window and a Sliding Glass Door,
here’s my Padlet of Resources I shared with the participantes at the Virginia State Literary Conference

Photos show my zoom background and my zoom intro photo!

Signs of Spring

On a school day, I leave my house before the sun rises. This Friday, I took the day off to attend a virtual conference. Since the Keynote didn’t start until 9am, I treated myself to a morning walk. As I strolled, I noticed these three signs of spring.

So glad to see kids again riding their bikes to school. So glad to see buses back on the road. So glad it is time for daffodil blooms.
Happy Spring, 2021!

My Teacher Answer

My lesson was for my students to view a video, think about it, write about it and then talk about it. All whole group as practice for our upcoming book club unit.

A tip I have found helpful is to encourage my 6th graders to choose a structure for their blank page because a blank page can be intimidating. Today, because the video involved the relationship between two characters, I suggested choosing one of these structures: an emotional timeline, a character trait chart or identity webs. These were three structures my students had experience using already.

J: Do I write the right answer or what I think?

Me: Thank you for asking. Do I write the right answer or what I think. (I repeated it so those in the room and at home heard it) That is such a great question. I want you to read the text. Today it is a video we will view. Then I want you to think about the characters. If you chose the emotional timeline, really think about how you think the two characters feel at the beginning, middle and end of the video. Place your mark on the timeline and then write why you placed it there. Something in your reading had you think to place the mark there on the timeline. Then write down why you think that. When you do that – think and explain why you think, it is a right answer. It’s the right answer until you decide to change your thinking. Sometimes during the talking about text, other’s say their ideas and that might change your thinking so be open to letting that happen. But for now, read and think and write it down and think of this as the right answer. Does that make sense?

J: Yeah, thanks.

We viewed the video once.

L: I don’t have any notes for the boy. He didn’t say anything.

Me: Good point, L. We are going to reread the video in a moment. During the 2nd read, pay attention to the boy’s actions. Pay attention to his facial expressions. Pay attention to what you think about his actions and his facial expressions and write about it on your notebook page.

After the second viewing I asked: L, were you able to think and write about the boy?

L: Yeah, thanks.

This padlet shows a sampling of their notebook pages.

We viewed the 2 min. video When Time Stops.
We watched it a 2nd time to add more details to our notes.
Then we had a whole class conversation.
This idea was shared with me by Emily at the TCRWP Social Issue Book Club Workshop.
The class lesson when really well!

The Right Answer

Yesterday’s writing about reading lesson:

J asked: Do I write the right answer or what I think?

His words stopped me in my tracks.
Why does this 6th grader not trust his thinking to be the right answer?

We viewed the 2 min. video When Time Stops.
We watched it a 2nd time to add more details to our notes.
Then we had a whole class conversation.
This idea was shared with me by Emily at the TCRWP Social Issue Book Club Workshop.
The class lesson when really well!

Before that

My friend texted me: I enjoyed it! She’s so amazing

Before that, I sent this text to my friend: That was lovely!! Thanks for letting me know about this.

Before that, she shared how a picture books takes her weeks to six months, Brown Girl Dreaming took three years and Before the Ever After took three years and LOTS of research.

Before that, she answered her why of writing is so many things, including allowing readers to know “I Matter” because I can see myself in a book.

Before that, she explained that football is both a beautiful sport and a brutal sport and her advise to parents of children who want to play this sport is to first do some research and walk into it informed.

Before that, she shared how the topic of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas) was not a topic seen in literature before and how many black and brown athletes suffer from it.

Before that, she was introducted by the VA Festival of the Book moderator as an award winning author, having won the Newbery, the National Book Award, the Astrid Lindgren Award, a MacArthur Genius Award, the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, the Coretta Scott King Award and was named the National Young People’s Poet Laureate and the National Amabassodor for Young People’s Literature.

Before that, ten days to be exact, my friend sent me an email saying: Good Morning, I registered you for an event via the VA Festival of the Book. This year it is virtual. It is Jacqueline Woodson discussing Before the Ever After on 3/16 from 2-2:30pm.

Author Marc Boston interviewing Jacqueline Woodson
as an event at the VA Festival of the Book, March 16, 2021

One Time by Sharon Creech

As I started to read this book, I mentioned to my students:
I just started this because it is by an author I like – Sharon Creech. I can tell it is a school story and I wonder if I’ll like the teacher. So often, books and movies don’t always portray teachers in the best light and as a teacher, I find that annoying. Then the students shared lots of evil teacher stories they recalled with me.

As soon as I finished this book yesterday, I texted my friend (also a slicer know in this community as Pelicans and Prose ) this:

Then I posted this to twitter:

This morning when I awoke, I saw that the author “liked” my tweet!

This book is both real and imaginative.
It shows the inside workings of a handful of student writer.
And shows brilliant teacher-moves that guide those writers.
And shows how little parts of a day can occur and then turn up in a piece of writing.
This book is filled with characters I want to have as friends.

Personally, I think this book isn’t as much for kids as it is for writing teachers.
If you read it, let me know what you think.
I’m still wondering about it and can’t wait to talk to someone about it!!


“Can you share that contact information? My friend is looking to talk to someone.”
“Sure,” and the friend I’m with searches her contacts on her iPhone and then shows me the screen. I snapped a photo it.

Before emailing it later to my other friend, I googled and learned this named shared specializes in:
family law; divorce; domestic relations; equitable distribution; spousal support; child support; child custody; premarital agreements; post-divorce modifications.

My mind wanders back to years ago.
I am standing at an altar, dressed all in white, repeating these words:

I, Sally, take you, Brian,
to be my wedded husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
’til death do us part.

I shared the contact info from one friend to another because vows are said.
And sometimes vows are broken.

The Birds are Back!

We added a pond to our backyard last spring. It’s not the typical in the ground pond. Instead, concrete was poured to form an L-shape right next to the house and the pond hugs the outside far corner of our living room space. The pond’s pump circulates the water from the upper pond to the lower pond through a small waterfall. As I sit inside, I hear the soothing water sound and see the shimmering light reflected onto the living room ceiling.

My husband, the architect, designed this and explains it as a biophilic design, which google explains to me is “an approach to architecture that seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature creating a more productive and healthy built environment for people.” I know I just like sitting in my living room even more now thanks to the pond!

Yesterday, I noticed that the birds also like it! This week’s warmer weather caused my backyard to be more active. I especially enjoyed viewing these feathered creatures visit my pond. They fly to the ponds edge, lean over and dunk their beak into the water. As they busy themselves building their springtime nests, I’m glad they remembered where they can stop for a sip of water.

NOTE: As I looked through my photo gallery on my phone, I’m reminded of what I can look forward to come July as this will be the view from my pond: