Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Same philosophies extend to instructional coaching. It's about clarity of intention, reflection, and ownership. Working side by side. Building communities of learners (of all ages).



Saturday, March 31, 2018

#SOL18 Day 31: Reflections on the Slice of Life Challenge


What did you learn about yourself as a writer this month?


I’m excited to return back to work on Monday to engage in this conversation with student writers. As a bit of an impulse, I put the Slice of Life Challenge out to the teachers in my building near the end of February. I had decided to give it a go after meeting Stacey Shubitz at #CCIRA18, and since our building’s professional learning has been focused on authenticity in learning experiences, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to join an active online community of writers. Purpose, choice, audience. I offered to organize the student side of things, if any teachers had students who were game.


I was overwhelmed by the positive response to the invitation. One classroom asking to learn more turned into six--with more kids opting in than opting out. At last count, we had 97 students (and three teachers) signed up for the Slice of Life Challenge.


We created a shared Google site, where students could post their slices and read the writing of others. Throughout the day (and often in the evenings), you could see their little icons popping in and out of the site, as they found spare time to write. Students could also choose to work in their writer’s notebooks, either uploading photos to the site or sharing the old fashioned way--side by side.


So. . . what have I learned about myself as a writer this month?

  • I’ve noticed that I feel more myself when I am writing regularly. I need to specifically carve out time to write, and when I do, it’s always worth it. 

  • I’ve noticed that I did begin to “read the world” like a writer, on the lookout for moments that might make for great slices. Instead of searching for ideas (at the beginning of the month), I began to just get a flash, knowing in that instant there was a spark worth exploring. I could almost curate my day subconsciously as I lived it, and by the time I sat down to write, I was ready. 

  • I’ve noticed how rewarding it has been to have something outside the curriculum connecting me with students across grade levels. As an instructional coach, I do most of my work collaborating with teachers in (and out of) classrooms. My favorite work has always been coaching cycles, side by side with teachers and kids, in pursuit of shared goals. My stance is always writer to writer, reader to reader, learner to learner (with kids and with adults). As authentic as that usually feels, there was something incredibly freeing about just putting the Slice of Life Challenge out there and having so many fellow writers say, “Yes, please!” 

I can’t wait to hear what my fellow writers have to say on Monday about the experience!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

#SOL18 Day 29: A Writing Lesson for the Farm


“What do you notice about how this text is organized?”


A go-to question for any writing teacher.


I should have known it had the power to extend beyond writing. . .


This week I’ve been horse-sitting for my brother, as I’ve done several times before. To say that I’m not a natural at the cowboy life would be the understatement of the year. I maintain a fairly healthy fear/terror of horses, but I’m a team player and a big believer in doing things outside my comfort zone.


When I help feed at my parents’ house--where they have also become (sub)urban cowboys--they work from small bales of hay. This is hay grown in their pasture and then used throughout the year to feed their two horses. These small bales of hay are the size most people would picture from a lifetime of experience with pumpkin patches and corn mazes--14” x 18” x 35”, and about 50-60 pounds. These small bales are tied with two strings along the long side, and when you cut the string, you break off “flakes” or slices of hay that are 14” x 18” x 4”-ish. This makes it easy to pick up a couple of flakes at a time to toss into a feeding trough.


At my brother’s place (out in the actual country), where they’re feeding six horses, a donkey, and a goat, it’s a whole different operation. A tractor is required to place a monster bale of hay into this giant wooden box, where it is pitchforked into a huge cart at feeding time. (It probably goes without saying to specify that the tractor work is not in my current skill set. Maybe someday.) The cart transfers the hay out into the corral, where it is again pitchforked into a round, metal feeding trough.


My pitchforking skills have steadily improved over the past year, but this week I figured something out that I wish I would have noticed much earlier.


The wooden box that houses whichever giant hay bale is currently in progress measures easily 6’ x 10’ and is almost as tall as my shoulders. One giant bale basically completely fills this box, weighing in at almost 1500 pounds of densely packed hay.


To get enough hay out to fill the cart, I’ve been standing on tiptoes, reaching over the edge with the pitchfork, and either wrestling hay off the top of the bale or trying to chip away at the side of it. This is not easy to do, since the hay is so tightly packed. Picture me sliding the pitchfork into the hay then trying to use the handle of the tool as a lever against the rim of the box--hoping I don’t snap the pitchfork in two.


It takes me a long time to fill that wheelbarrow. . .


But I’m persistent and have no intention of being bested by a bale of hay, so I make it work.


Two days ago: total revelation. As I looked at the half finished bale, I noticed something. Across the top I saw what appeared to be relatively evenly spaced horizontal indentations. They were much further apart than the lines indicating flakes on a small bale of hay--probably eight to ten inches in width--but it was clearly flakes, about five feet square. And when I stuck my pitchfork in the oh-so-subtle depression between them, an entire “slice” of hay broke off from the bale into the box. So easy! I could then reach in and break up/scoop out pieces of this flake--no need for all the fighting and wrangling I had been doing!


Totally upped my pitchfork game. (I’m ready for my spurs now!)


This morning over coffee it occurred to me: all I needed to do was step back and notice how the big bale was organized. I had a mentor for this work in the small bale. Instead of using what I already knew about the small bale to help me, I had assumed the large bale would be an entirely different animal. But like the writer overwhelmed with a new project, I didn’t have a vision for what I was trying to do. I was mired in the parts without an appreciation for the whole. I needed to figure out how this hay “worked” before I could find an efficient and effective way to unpack it and make it my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

#SOL18 Day 22: My Permission To Do List for Spring Break

Image result for spring plants

My Permission To Do List for Spring Break


1. Plant something.


I know it’s too early and if I get the garden going before Mother’s Day I’ll be sorry. . . There will be more snow.

But digging deep in the spring-ready soil is like Earth-therapy. There’s something about hands in the dirt, turning over that battered top layer to reveal the dark, nutrient-rich underneath. The crackle of the thin, plastic container as you gently squeeze and wiggle the roots free, frozen in the cylindrical shape of their temporary home. As I find each plant a new space in my garden, I’m taking an active role in the renewal of spring--not just noticing or appreciating, but contributing to the growth.


2. Put my crazy attention span to purely selfish use.


I can focus for days. Not bragging, just stating a fact. When I’m in something, I stay in it. For a ridiculous number of hours at a time. As you might imagine, this comes in particularly useful in my work life.

My goal over Spring Break is to set aside huge swaths of time to fall into books, sprawled out in the grass or the middle of the living room floor like I did as a kid. (It might not be a beach vacation. . . but I’ll read like it is!) No feeling guilty allowed. My creative life needs feeding, and I’m giving myself permission to over indulge.

Laptop, writer’s notebook, caffeinated beverage. Half days (plural) to fall back in love with the novel I’m writing and to begin work on my new secret professional project. . .


3. Cook a meal worthy of a dinner party, even if it’s just for myself.


Why do we save (or why do I save--perhaps I should just speak for myself) unique and elaborate meals for occasions when we’re cooking for others? I never cook for fun; if I’m making a meal for just myself, it’s functional--there’s no joy in my day to day cooking.

I’d like to spend this coming week experimenting in the kitchen. I wonder if I might shift my culinary mindset if I treat myself as a guest at my own table. Perhaps I’ll find a new creative outlet I hadn’t considered before. Or perhaps I’ll notice the impact of paying more attention to a daily habit connected with self care (not my best thing).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#SOL18 Day 21: Celebrating a Wish Come True


On a rainy night

Years ago,

Winding our way

Up a mountain trail,

She shared her umbrella—

Welcoming me into a community

I hadn’t known I needed yet.



Writer to writer

A friendship took root.



Over years

We shared the same dream.

Crafting our own paths yet

Criss crossing

At just the right times.



Immersed,

Navigating each next best step

In the company of fellow writers.

Soaking in

          Light

                    Warmth

                              Generosity,

Breathing out

          Creative

                    Inspired

                              Magic-making words.



A box arrived today. . .

Cradling two copies of her first novel

Beaming up—

Bright and new

And real (!!).



The fruit of her persistence

Powers me on

As I hack away

At the weeds (currently)

Threatening

To impede my own progress.



So thrilled

(And thankful)

For this someone

Who has always

Cheered everyone on.

Someone whose first instinct

Is always

To extend her umbrella.



(It is true

What can grow

When we keep writing.)


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

#SOL18 Day 20: Not Writing. . .

Ack.

I have completely fallen off the slicing truck the past few days. . . and I miss it. I had just reached that magical point of enough days writing in a row where I was starting to find that spark of an idea in unexpected places. The flash of inspiration was coming faster each day--sometimes multiple times in a day, so I had generated a backup list of moments to dig into later.

And then one day of not carving out time to write somehow spiraled into four, and I’m afraid if I don’t stop the momentum of not writing now I will blink and March will be over.

I can feel myself not writing.
I can feel myself making excuses for why I don’t have time.

And it’s true. If I don’t put time to write in my calendar, I don’t have time for writing.

So today, writing time is during lunch. Even if this slice isn’t anything extraordinary, I will post it--because posting means I am writing.

I feel like myself when I am writing.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

#SOL18 Day 15: #Walkout


Side by side

Voices magnified

By silence



Opting in to democracy



Keenly aware

Sincerely affected

Collectively moved to action



Shared grief

And hope

For the future



So proud of these kids


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

#SOL18 Day 13: I Think I Broke my CNN App. . .


Related image

(I'm typically pretty intentional about not being political on social media, but this is authentically my slice for today. Setting aside time to write this piece helped me to process my thinking--and that is my purpose for sharing.) 


I think I broke my CNN app. . . 

Compulsively checking in

Throughout the day,

Hoping (but never finding)

The same collection of stories.



There’s always something

New

Shocking

Impossible

At the top of the screen.



What does it say when porch bombs

And civic activism,

The assassination attempt of a world leader

And the last Northern White Rhinoceros on the planet (!!)

Barely break into

The news cycle?



World events of import

That should lead the feed

Fall beneath

Salacious tales

Of porn stars

(Seriously--porn stars??!!)

And vicious tweets,

Policies seemingly

Designed to inflame,

The constant churning of

Conflict after

Insult after

Yet another non-example of leadership

And humanity to share/hide from our kids.



I don’t want a President who needs “leashing”

Or “unleashing.”



I don’t want to need a brain shower

After reading the news.



I click on CNN after the staff meeting,

Hoping for the peace of the status quo

(Such as it is)

Since checking at lunch.



My phone freezes

Locks up

Unable to refresh.



Uncle, it says.

We can’t keep up either.