Why Did You Join?

An hour and a half after my school day ended, I sat in another school with three educators. I was concluding our March Teacher Research Cohort monthly meeting in their empty school library. I had guided them through our meeting routine: 10-minutes of written journalling, 15-minutes each to share what you are finding out on your chosen research topic, and all offering ideas aloud and in writing to our shared feedback document about each researcher’s journey.

“Can I asked one more question? Since I am researching what happens when teachers conduct teacher research, can you each tell me why you joined this cohort?”

K -I saw the Flipgrid made by those who participated last year. I knew I was already going to do this (research IB and standards-based grading) and was happy to find out that our school district had this system in place. So I reached out to you to start a cohort here.

J – I joined because K asked me to. I also thought this would be a good time to join and spend time to understand this big topic – grading.

C – K sent an email and invited the whole school to join. I naturally am a curious person, wondering about how to make my teaching practice better. But I also know I needed a structure to persue my wonderings. It keeps my curiousities on the radar and holds me accountable.

Can I take your picture?

As I exited the library, the hallways were empty, except for one lone custodian mopping the floor at the far end of the corridor. Finally Monday, a long school day, was over for me. However, I felt enegized by having the opportunity to faciliate the discussion of these three, curious educators. And I had the chance to gather my own data for my own research. Perhaps the future of educator isn’t so dire after all.

To Do List

Today was a day off from teaching so our middle school teachers could hold parent-teacher conferences. To help families, we offered times Thursday evening and then more time slots Friday morning. I had a limited number of conferences because it was billed for struggling students and my current students are thriving. This allowed me to make a To Do List (which is making my friend, Erika, smile!). As Friday ends, I feel torn. Do I celbrate all I accomplished or do I feel defleted because one task hasn’t even been started? I ask myself, Why ???

Here’s what I did do:

I took pictures of all my notebook pages that might help our 8th graders as they begin a Dystopean Unit and made this slideshow. I did this because I like sharing possible mentor text which may help students. I did this because this was fun!

I made this anchor chart for a 7th grade teacher who is starting a unit on speech writing. I like making anchor charts and as a new coach, I was thrilled this teacher asked me. I did this because it was fun!

I shared this resource with 6th grade ELA teachers as a possible way to culminate their nonfiction research unit. I like this idea of creating a picture book that students could share with the elementary schools that feed our middle school. I love it when students write for an authenitic audience. I did this because it is a fun idea to share!

I created my February Literacy Log. This year, as a month ends, I started mapping all I read, viewed, wrote, listened to and spoke about (Inspired by @Tenille Shade) and I hung it on my classroom door for all to see. My hope is it will inspire others. I did this because it was fun!

I emailed the teachers who are a part of my Teacher Research Weekend Cohort about our Saturday breakfast meeting. I did this because I love facilitating this dedicated teachers who meet monthly and grapple with an aspect of their practice. Together we hold each other accountable and offer support. I did this because it is fun!

I did NOT look at the spreadsheet of 800+ students and their midyear Reading Inventory scores. By VA State law, I am to notifiy the parents of the students from the Fall, who at the midYear, now scored in the Basic or more range and let them know the good news that we are exiting them from an intervention. In addition, I am to notify the parents of students who, in the midyear assessment, scored below basic and therefore require an intervention. I did not do this because I do not find this task fun. I find the spreadsheet overwhelming. I find the county process for creating the parent letters unfriendly. However, I feel badly that it is STILL on my To Do List.

So now, it is the end of Friday. I just poured myself an adult beverage (Four Roses Bourbon w/ lemonade). I completed all my Parent/Teacher Conferences. I sent useful resources to teachers. My classroom door has the up-to-date log hanging. I’m looking forward to my Saturday morning breakfast meeting. And I am just going to be OK with the fact that a task is still on my TO DO LIst. Instead, I’ll do what Scarlett would do. (However, for me, I’m waiting until Monday!) Cheers!

Change for the Better

Recently, I read the beautifully illustrated picture book by Joyce Scott with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet, Unbound: The Life + Art of Judith Scott . It opened my eyes to what life was like for a person with Downs Syndrome born in 1943, 20 years before I was born. Told by her twin sister, this book let me feel what it was like for Judith to be placed in an institution. Without her twin, Judith would have stayed at the Columbus, Ohio instituion for the rest of her life. But that didn’t happen because Judith had an advocate – a twin who missed her and fought for her to become her legal guardian. Finally, at age 42 the sisters were reunited in Oakland, CA. Luckily, in 1974, the Creative Growth Art Center was founded as a nonprofit art studio for artists with developmental, intellectual and physical disabilities. Judith was able to attend art classes there once she moved to California and the remained of the story shows how she began to express her creativity using fiber materials and found objects.

As I read this book, I thought of my friend, E’s daughter, M, who was born in 1999 with Downs Syndrome. M’s life however, was very different from Judith’s. As I scroll through E’s facebook page, I see so many happy grins by M as she poses during public school events and dinners with her many friends and as she dresses up for Halloween, which seemed to be a favorite holiday! Thanks to E’s advocacy and laws passed to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, M lived a happy life.

I encourage you to look for this book at your local library or independent bookstore. I encourage you to be an advocate for all, especially those like Judith and M with Down Syndrome. Judith’s creatvitiy was described as having “made something as unique as she is”. So glad Judith came out from being hidden away in an instituion. So glad M was able to shine bright for her whole life.

Musical Chairs…7th graders?!

“What’s that noise?” J blurted out.

Just moments ago, I could have heard a pin drop. Finally, all my squirrelly 7th graders had settled into a comfortable chair and had logged into Lexia (the program our district is paying lots of money to use and I’m to assign for a certain number of minutes a class period). Then suddenly, a loud rumbling sound began from above.

“The math class must be moving around their desks again. Maybe they are getting ready to play Musical Chairs,” I jokingly commented.

“I used to love playing Musical Chairs,” T blurted.

“Me, too.” J added. “Can our movement break be Musical Chairs today?”

“Sure,” I stated with a bit of surprise in my voice. “But now let’s get back to Lexia. The timer shows 24 minutes to go. Get back into the Reading Lexia Zone.”

Fast forward 30 minutes. A new rumble sounded within our classroom from rearranging some desks to be off to the side. My seven students all helped to position six chairs facing outward in a circle. I opened Spotified on my computer and picked a song. Ed Sheeran began singing “Beautiful People” and seven beautiful seventh graders began to walk in a circle around a group of chairs. A great ending to my noisy class period.

Another Letter of Thanks

Dear Arlington Neighborhood,

Last June, I wrote you a thank you letter. It was a response to one of Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journal prompts. She suggested writing to the “person” who provided me with the most protection and support during my time of grief during the pandemic. And I picked YOU! If you care to read it again, you can HERE.

Today, I want to thank you again. After school, I took a stroll, like I often do, through your streets. First, I passed one of your many parks. I saw people of all ages playing basketball and soccer and the youngest sliding down your slides. Then I cut through one of your church’s parking lots and headed left to cross your overpass above your busy Rt66 highway, your expressway into your nearest neighbor, D.C. It was there that I notice it. The bright blue and yellow colors hung proudly next to the red, white and blue. As the line of rush hour cars and the metro train snaked through you, this small gesture hanging on your overpass fencing acted like a megaphone for those below to hear. I stopped and listened and was immediately proud of you, my Arlington neighborhood.

Thank you, Arlington, for showing support, as a new threat is causing a new grief.

Gratefully yours,

I Did It! Year 8!

Yesterday, I packed a cooler of food and a suitcase of clothes and a backpack of books and drove three hours to our beach house in Chincoteague, VA. (famous for the ponies and setting of the 1948 Newbery Honor book, Misty of Chincoteague). Once I arrived, I spent the afternoon rereading my last 30 Slice of Life postings. I noticed the topics I wrote about and the craft moves I tried. Here’s what I discovered:

I wrote 11 school-related small moments.
I worte 11 personal-related small moments.
Three slices shared about PD I gave or participated in this month.
Two slices related to an earlier family memory.
One slice was how I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.
One was about how the loss of a friend’s mother triggered other losses for me.
One was a reflection on commenting as a slicer and it got a SHOUT OUT today by TwoWritingTeacher’s in their Be Inspired section (WOW!!! What an honor!!!Thank you!!)

And I did ALL this during a pandemic, a time when I notice my focus is more challenged. It makes sense that I stuck with what I know. A moment from my teaching day. A moment from a personal walk. Looking back, so often I kept it small. In a couple of instances, I told a small part and returned to it the next day and told the rest of the story. This may have started as my struggle to attend but I came to see these small pieces as being more powerful writing. By zooming in and saying less, I think I said more. A good lesson for me to learn.

This year, I actively tried to embrace more of the blog features as I created my posts. I learned how to add a Featured Image from Jennifer Gonzales’ Jump Start course (which I recommend as well as her Cult of Pedagogy podcast) and had fun picking just the right image to match the topic of my slice each day. Whenever I mentioned something that could be linked, I took time and addded the hyperlink. I noticed I included links to: videos, padlets, books (always now using a link to an Indie Bookstore website), author websites, a sound video and links to other slicers’ blog posts. Blogs are designed to be interactive and finally after eight years, I notice I have started to embrace a few of the many available features.

This year, I also noticed I actively included photos to show more to my readers. I figured out how to use the slideshow feature on WordPress. I figured out how to crop tweets and texts from my phone, airdrop them to my MacBook Air and include them as an image in my slice. I included images of slides I used as a teacher and student work samples, too. I found myself taking walks during the day and snapping photos thinking maybe I could use this image in a future slice. It seems that my camera gallery has become another kind of writing notebook!

I can’t thank the TwoWritingTeachers enough for providing this safe-space for me to grow as a writer and a blogger. The daily practice is paying off for me! I look forward to more writing and reading and commenting on Tuesdays throughout the whole year and then again in March, 2022. We become what we do. WIth confidence and because of this community, I happily end this slice proclaiming, “I am a writer. I am a blogger.”

Now off to take a walk on the beach. Yes, I’ll have my notebook and camera in my pocket. This community has trained me well.

Slicers Celebrate

I look down at my white salad-size plate. I see:
– an orange slice
– a wedge of brie next to crackers and salami slices
– a slice of perfectly ripe cantaloupe
– a twizzler (not red in color but cream-sickle in color and flavor)
– a slice of homemade bundt cake
– a wrapped lindt orange chocolate truffle candy
– a slice of pepperoni pizza.
In my hand is a champaign glass filled with a bright orange mimosa.

The common thread of this unusual happy hour menu?
Orange in color or comes as a slice!

Sitting around me are the writers of the following blogs:

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Leah and Michelle were with us in spirit but couldn’t attend the Happy Hour Party.)

We all sit in my living room on a Thursday after school to celebrate! Why? Because during the month of March, we all wrote a daily slice of life on our blog. Then we posted it to the twowritingteachers’ blog as part of their March Writing Challenge. We also read at least 3 other daily posts and added a comment. And we especially enjoyed receiving comments from other slicers.

For the next hour or so, we munch on our unusual snacks, introduce ourselves to each other and share more about our lives. As host, I know everyone. Four people I work with at my middle school. Two people I meet with monthly as a writing club. Two people I met in 2003 when I started working at their school and have remained strong friends with them for now 15 years. Today, they all gathered in person at my house!

As I make introductions, they ask each other “What’s your blog title?” as that name is more familiar. “I really liked that story you wrote about….” is heard once we connect the person in front of us to their writing identity. Our group is 7 women and one male. Some are middle school classroom teachers. One is an elementary school science teacher. One is retired. Two are reading specialist. One is a librarian. A few are career switchers. Others have always been teachers. A few are mothers and a few are grandmothers.  Though we are so varied, the common thread is we are writers.

We write stories. We share them in a space where we trust our audience to accept our humble attempts. For a month, we craft personal narratives based on the happenings of the day or a flashback to our childhood. Sometimes, we use a poem structure. Sometimes, we include photos. Always, we get a boost when a comment is added. Having an audience for a month, keeps us motivated. Spending time writing daily strengthens our writing muscle.

Sometimes, it was fun. Sometimes, it weighed us down. Always we pondered, What to write?  Sometimes, an idea came quickly. Sometimes, it was a gem. Sometimes, it was more of a draft. Sometimes, we’d rather just throw it away. But no matter what, we posted and then started thinking about the next day’s writing.

I think this is what it must feels like for professional writers, too.

Thank you and CHEERS to Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March.                                                                                                     slice of life 2016

Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.


My Percentages

Today is my last day of participating in the 2018 March Writing Challenge. I’m heading off to visit my daughter in France for Spring Break. I promise to write daily in my journal but I personally want to be disconnected from the internet as we travel. So today, I want to take time to offer my thanks as if it were March 31st:

Thank you to the TwoWritingTeacher who are really Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey. This is my fifth year and I so appreciate the space you have created and maintain so I can write and receive comments. I so appreciate the community you have harnessed. I trust this community and humbly I share my writing because of the trustworthy space you have created.

Thank you to all the writers participating in the 2018 March Challenge. I love all the reading I did  this March.  I am always amazed by how the reading of other’s writing shapes me as a writer.

Reflecting on my writing today, I took time to notice what I wrote about across the 20 days. In the spirit of percentages that Fran wrote about days ago, I have written a percentage poem. Click HERE to see my inspiration from Fran.

My posts this March
ended up being
15% about my house
20% about school
and 15% about the conference I attended
from March 8-10th.
15% were opinion pieces
only 1 or 5%, a poem.
10% reflections on my life
15% reflections about using technology
and 5% or 1 entry, as Top Ten piece
(maybe something Dave Letterman could enjoy!)
Now,  I’m off to France to play with the slicer,
also know as Present Perfect
but who I call “my Anne!”
I look forward to sharing my Parisian adventures
through slices on Tuesdays
in April and beyond.


Our Fox

“What is that?” I asked.

It was just after dusk. The sky still has a thin stripe of yellow at the horizon but darkness now covered the foreground. Something drew my eyes out the window and I began to survey my backyard. I stepped closer to the dining room sliding door and looked out, first to the the far left and scanning to the right. Mostly all I saw was shades of gray and black. As my eyes started to adjust, I could make out the tall oak tree.  Next to it, a raised mound in the middle of the otherwise flat ground appeared. Then the mound moved.

“Wait, I think it’s our fox!”

I kept staring into the backyard darkness. Suddenly, the mound had two ears, four legs, and a bushy tail. Then the mound moved a bit to the left, circled, crouched and laid down. “Look Brian, it’s our fox,” I yelled to my husband in the living room. We both now stared out at our backyard critter. He looked so comfortable. Just chilling in our backyard.

We stood for minutes, just looking. Then we noticed the dark mound rise, strut toward the neighbor’s fence and hop over it, gracefully out of our view.

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In books, the fox is always the perpetrator or the trickster. Today, in my yard, he or she seemed calm and quiet. A backyard friend.

Now I Tag

I started my first blog back on July 13, 2011. At that time I began reading the blogs of  Staff Developers at TCRWP and thought if they could do it, so could I. I posted a total of 11 posts from July to December that year. I included writing related to my own reading and tips on teaching reading and writing. I included photos and hyperlinks. I added widgets to allow people to follow me, show blogs I follow and archive my posts. I used blogspot and was pretty proud of myself.

Now in 2018, I feel I have evolved as a blogger. I owe that in large part to the community I found here at TheTwoWriting Teachers. In March, 2014 I started a new blog to host my first ever Slice of Life posts. My first blog stayed as the blog where I post my learning at TCRWP and other PD related to Reading and Writing. This new blog’s purpose was to hold only the stories I can tell which became my blog’s title. It held my small moment slices and it served me well all of 2014. That first year, after writing for 31 days, I was done. I went back to occasionally adding to my other blog. I returned to my SOL blog in 2015 by adding my OLW thoughts and then March, 2015 another 31 days!

After year two, I felt comfortable enough as a writer to add a Tuesday Slice to my routine during the months not called March and I started adding 4ish slices during these months. And then daily in March. I followed this pattern through 2016.

Then I started noticing people “liking” my posts and I wanted to be able to “like” them back. By then, my daughter, Anne, was blogging (her insightful posts can be found HERE) and she helped me start a new blog using wordpress. WordPress allows me to easily like others. It allows me to easily reply to comments. I liked wordpress so much that since, then, I’ve started a blog to hold onto my thinking about teaching Middle School and another blog I use with a group of teachers doing Teacher Research. 

However, this weekend I wanted to be the kind of blogger who uses “tags”. I’ve seen this on other’s blog pages like this one on Fran McVeigh’s:

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One problem, my go-to tech support (AKA my daughter, Anne) is living and working in France until May. And I wanted to do this NOW. So I searched google “How to tag in a wordpress blog” and it indicated that there were only 8 million links to help me. When I clicked on VIDEO, now only 6 million links were available! So I picked one and watched. It indicated that this box can appear as I am drafting my post if I click on the wheel on the top right corner.

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Without clicking on the wheel, which was something I had never done before, my screen simply looked like this:

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Suddenly, I got it!! I went to my dashboard and clicked on BLOG POSTS and saw this total:

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 2.08.26 PMYikes…that meant I could revisit each of the 274 posts, click on the wheel and add a tag or two or three. I started with enthusiasm. Soon, my stomach was grumbling and I took a lunch break. Then I pushed on. I wanted to be a blogger who tagged and it only felt right if I tagged all that went before and then started tagging each in the making of a post going forward. After a dinner break, I finally finished! Now this can be seen on my blog:

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Before I publish, let me just add the tags for this post. What is it mostly about? I’m tagging it like this: tech, SOL, Blogs, friends, Anne.  

 I can’t wait for Fran to see this tomorrow when I post it as my SOL #5!

Are you a blogger who tags? Are you a blogger who uses another feature? Please share!

PS: I also discovered I can publish this right now to be scheduled to actually be published tomorrow…so sneaky!!

PSS: I still want to be the kind of slicer who includes the orange slice and how I’m blogging as part of the challenge. Maybe I’ll figure out how to add that next weekend!