Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ice Cream for Homework

This week has been filled with ups and downs, but there is so much to celebrate! Monday would have been my Dad's 70th birthday. He passed away almost ten years ago. This year, I talked to my students about my dad and I told them about his birthday. We talked about remembering those we love and I decided to invite them to do some extra homework. The typical middle school moans and groans could be heard when I announced that, but they were immediately silenced when I told them their ice cream. 

Ice cream was Dad's favorite treat, Dairy Queen, to be I told them how every year on his birthday and important "Dad Days", I go to DQ and order my favorite blizzard.

The classroom exploded with excitement! Many students grabbed their agendas to record their homework and even more demanded I sign their agendas. "My parents won't believe me!" Here are a couple of agenda entries from my sixth, seventh, and eighth graders...

What happened next warms my heart! They ate ice cream. They talked to their parents. They told them about my dad and how he loved ice cream. Every story I heard ended with the parents saying, "Yes!" to ice cream. I received a couple of photos and one beautiful email from a parent.

I miss my dad every single day and to know that this week he was remembered because of his love of ice cream...he'd love that! I celebrate Dad! I celebrate ice cream! I celebrate carrying those we love with us forever! Oh, and if you're interested, it's never too late...go and get some ice cream or your favorite treat today. Indulge. Laugh...and remember my dad!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reflections, Hugs, & Tears

My time at NCTE in Atlanta changed me. Travel does that to me. Visiting a new place and meeting new people, seeing the world through a new's overwhelming and powerful. I've needed time to marinate about my experiences before I wrote about them.

Conversations. I spent lots of time in conversations that challenged me as a teacher, as a woman, as a person...they pushed me to ask questions, to do better, to be better! One night, I had dinner at a food court in a local mall with two teacher friends. We spoke at length about the world and as we left I felt uplifted and inspired. Our experiences are so different and to get time to sit over burgers and ice cream and listen to each's invaluable.  

Connections. Hugs and tears. Everywhere I went, there were hugs to be given and received. Smiles exchanged and tears shed. We connected and promised to work hard to make this a world where all of our students are safe. In every session I attended, tears came from inspiration or exhaustion or awe. I felt this conference more than any other and those intense feelings have stayed with me.

Quotes. Here are some things I heard that I carry with me each day...

"Put magic in the mundane." -Jason Reynolds

"Kids need you to show up & be present." -eE Charlton-Trujillo
"We need diverse books. Write one!" -Sharon Draper
"This is teacher church." -Smokey Daniels
"Welcome home!" -Chris Lehman
"We have an obligation to have kids tell their stories." -Sara Ahmed
"My biggest job is sometimes to stop listen." -Pernille Ripp
"Listen. Trust." -Jeff Anderson
"If you're different, own it." -Lynda Mullaly Hunt
"Err on the side of the heart." -Irene Latham's mother
"Amplify the light." -Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
"Look for small moments of kindness." -Amy Ludwig VanDerwater 
"Holding space for children to enter and feel safe." -Laura Shovan
"I was born as a hyphen." -Margarita Engle
"Teach children that their poem can not be taken away." -Margarita Engle
"Allow students to dig for truth through poetry." -Tara Smith
"Poetry is the truth." -Katherine Bomer

"Hate bounces." - ee cummings
"With writing, you start where you are, and you usually do it poorly. You just do it-you do it afraid. And something happens." -Anne Lamott
"A poet's job is to bear witness." -Lucille Clifton

There are more...these are words from only a couple of sessions. There is so much more percolating inside of me. I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend time with great thinkers and activists who are changing the world. I'm humbled in their presence. I'm changed because of my time spent at NCTE. 

To be continued...

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing platform to write and share writing! What a wonderful community you've created! I'm honored to be part of it. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Super Moon and the Parking Lot

I know there isn't any scientific data to support the lunar effect (The “Lunar Effect”, sometimes called the “Transylvania Effect” is the notion that the phases of the moon have a note-worthy effect on human behaviour and mental health, Neil, Colledge 2000.) but I am a teacher. Yesterday we had a Super Moon and while I understand that there's no research to support behavior changes from this, I challenge you show up in any classroom and you'll believe it's real.

Students were fidgety and sillier than normal. I noticed everyone had a hard time sitting in their seats and focusing. We had lots more movement breaks. My last class of the day felt the effect, or demonstrated it, the most. They are the class that loves to ask questions, you know the class, that could ask questions during the whole block...My favorite is when a student prefaces their question with, "I have two questions." You know that student don't you? Every year, there's one or two who ALWAYS have two questions! This year, I have students who start with, "I have four questions..."

There was that moment...that moment when I could choose my reaction. I felt the pressure of "we have to get things done" bearing down on me and that reaction would mean I'd shut down the questions and move on...except I looked at their faces. They were all engaged and their questions were relevant and interesting. I took a breath and decided to follow their questions and see where we landed.

Questions mean curiosity.
Questions were building community.
Questions are important.
Questions create thinkers.

After a few more minutes, I knew we needed to move on to finish our read aloud, so I introduced the "Parking Lot". It's a piece of construction paper hanging on the wall. While class is happening, students have permission to take a sticky note and write their question down and walk over to put it in the parking lot. I will answer the question during a transition time. This brings peace of mind to students...they know their question will be answered. It also gives students a moment to move around if they need it.

The parking lot was a big hit in last block. As class continued, I noticed four or five questions pop up. I went over and grabbed them and answered all of them as we finished the read aloud. Students loved it! Thank you for the fun day, Super Moon! It gave me an opportunity to introduce the parking lot and create a safe space for questions.

I am hoping to meet lots of slicer friends at NCTE. Safe travels to all!
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing platform to write and share writing! What a wonderful community you've created! I'm honored to be part of it. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day

It's election day. I haven't blogged about voting or elections before. I even hesitated to do it today, but I am here. I showed up and this is what's happening in our world today. I woke up early to get to the polls before they opened. Wrapped up in my warm sweatshirt and scarf, I held my coffee while I waited in line...smiling for the privilege.

At 5:45 in the morning, there were already more than two dozen people in line. The many behind me was wrapped in a polka-dotted blanket. People were friendly and chatting. I stopped and took it all in. This moment is not promised to everyone. I'm grateful for the responsibility to be able to vote.

When I got my ballot and walked to the booth, I looked at the names. I took a deep breath and voted...feeling grateful again. Every single person working at the election was smiling and kind. It felt like everyone appreciated this moment.

I got my fancy voting sticker and left. The whole process took no more than thirty minutes, but it's a process that means a lot. I'll leave for work shortly and go on with my day, knowing that I started by voting. I made my voice heard. 

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing platform to write and share writing! What a wonderful community you've created! I'm honored to be part of it. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


I'm grateful for...

1. my loving, crazy, amazing family
2. my brave, hard working, sometimes silly students
3. my loving, grace-filled, kind friends
4. books to read
5. notebooks to fill
6. just the right pens
7. my sweet Bella
8. peppermint coffee
9. soft, warm, cozy blankets
10. writing to soothe my soul
11. traveling to discover
12. mittens
13. sense of accomplishment
14. stickers
15. hugs
16. daily phone chats with mom
17. warm socks
18. bubble bath
19. memories of dad
20. autumn
21. faith
22. showing up

Being grateful...expressing's contagious and powerful. It can change my mood and change my day. What's on your list? 

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing platform to write and share writing! What a wonderful community you've created! I'm honored to be part of it. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Celebrating Quiet

It's 39 degrees outside. I throw on my neon orange sweatshirt that I bought at the beach this summer and I step outside. I see frost on the windows of the cars as I walk Bella. It's a brisk autumn morning. My favorite.

Back inside with my bowl of cheerios and cup of coffee, I contemplate the day ahead. It's free with no plans. I will grade and write. I'll do laundry and blog. Read some books. I may even nap.

This day sits before me filled with possibility. I want to sink into the quietness and the peace. I want to celebrate every single moment before me. Just BE-ing.

Wishing you a Saturday filled with possibility and peace.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space to share our celebrations. Please join us and share your own!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Writers in Writing Groups

Sixth grade writing groups are here. We have been writing since the first day of school. Sharing our writing too. And now, we have formed writing groups to become better writers. I remember my first writing group.

I became part of a writing group ten years ago as part of a graduate class from the Northern Virginia Writing Project. My instructor was reviewing the format of the class and when I heard writing group, my first instinct was to drop the class. I panicked! The idea of sharing my writing with other people terrified me. I didn't run. I stayed and shared. It changed me. My writing group was composed of high school teachers (at the time I taught elementary). Thinking they knew more than I did, I worried they would think I was not a good writer. Boy was I wrong! They were kind and supportive. Their feedback encouraged me and I slowly took more and more risk with my writing.

Since that group, I've been part of many writing groups over the years and each one has made me a better writer. I shared that with my sixth grade writers. We talked about the fears of being in a writing group. We rehearsed giving feedback. We talked about being respectful to each other. I felt the tension ease slightly as they changed seats to sit with their new group.

They sat with their new groups, introduced themselves, and shook hands. We took time to talk to each other and get to know each other. I've added this part and stressed it because the relationships in writing groups are vital to effective feedback.

"What do you do when someone suggests something and you don't like it?" Isn't that a great question? Many sixth graders struggle with being confident to say no to a suggestion. We talk about how to say no thank you and how to listen without defending the writing. My favorite response to that is this, "Thank you for your suggestion. I will consider it, but I am the boss of my own writing."

That gives my sixth grade writers ownership and permission to say no. It sounds funny too, so it diffuses any tense moments. Listening to the writers meet and begin revising their leads made me grateful to be surrounded with these brave and creative writers!

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing platform to write and share writing! What a wonderful community you've created! I'm honored to be part of it. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.