Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Day with a Writer

Yesterday I got to spend a day with a writer, and not just any writer...Nora Raleigh Baskin. She is kind and generous. She is smart and funny. She made yesterday a day we will all remember for a long time.

I picked her up at her hotel in the morning. We chatted for the entire ride to school. She's so easy to talk to and we have so much to share. At school, things get set up. The technology magically works and kids begin arriving. I could feel the excitement. So many people stopped and listened to her talk, but the sixth graders were so excited. (I'll get reactions today in class.) 

She talked about how she got the idea for the book, what it was like writing about an event like 9/11, and how it was like writing four books in one. Throughout her talk, she engaged the students and asked them questions. She talked about how books are windows and mirrors to the reader. She talked about the hard work of writing and revising and research.

During lunch, she asked the teachers for feedback on her presentations. What do you think? How is it going? Nora is a great listener. When she listens you feel like the most important person in the world.

She signed book after book after book. She took her time and really talked to the students as she signed. One student told her his idea about a book. Another student shared the research she did about Nora. Nora listened intently and her face lit up when the kids shared these things with her.

She graciously posed for pictures. She talked about how she became a writer. In sixth grade, her teacher read her story to the class. He said it was the best one. In that moment, she decided to be a writer. One student asked for advice to young writers and her answer was, "Write your truth. Write from the heart."

I'm rereading this post and it's like a book report of the day, but I don't want to forget a moment. Here are some of the things she said, "Writing healed me."
"Writing is magical." 

"I use a new notebook and a new pen when I start a new book."
"Words are very important to me."

On a personal level, Nora is a new friend. A day like yesterday is a dream come true. I'm grateful to Nora for her precious time. I'm grateful for everyone who helped pull this together. I can't wait to hear what the students think!

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, September 17, 2016

Celebrating Small Moments

Sharing words from our notebooks
Writing in the butterfly garden
Finalizing details
Team coming together in big ways
Encouraging words
Daily photos from mom
Kind words
Dinner out with a friend
Finishing a great book
Good cup of coffee to begin a rainy Saturday...

I celebrate each of these moments. These are the moments that made this a great week. 

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


I've never felt like I 
fit in...anywhere. 
Not completely,

that's my thing. 
Outside the group, 
or on the periphery,
the outskirts, but close by.


There are moments
when I want to
fit in.
To be the same,
not different.

are outside-

they are...
we are...
I am... 

I wonder
does everyone 
feel like this?
I wonder
does everyone
yearn to belong?


I don't want to fit in.
I want to belong.
to belong.

I do belong. 
I belong to my family,
I belong to my friends,
I belong to my students,
I belong to my words.

Belonging is what I want.

I don't want to fit-in, 
like a cardboard puzzle piece.
I want to belong, 
and I do. 

These thoughts have been rolling around in my brain for a long time. The difference between belonging and fitting in. I'm single with no kids. It's hard to "fit-in". I've never felt like I ever really fit-in anywhere and it hit me recently that I don't want to fit-in, I want to belong. When I start feeling the need to fit-in, I realize it's my insecurity telling me something is wrong. That's brought me comfort. So has this quote, 

I'm grateful that I do belong to the people in my life. They love me for who I am and that's so much better than fitting in!

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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Story Matters

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I was standing in front of a classroom of fifth grade students, teaching. Today I’m still teaching, but now the students are middle schoolers and this date is now a history lesson to them.

How do I teach eleven and twelve year old students about what happened on that day when they weren’t even born yet? Books. One of my mantras is, Everyone has a story. When we read stories, we become part of their story, part of history. I want them to know the stories of that day.
We are using Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book, Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story. It provides a perfect avenue to share that day with them. The story is told from four different points of view. This provides an opportunity for all of my students to connect with one of them. As I’m reading it to my students, they are able to relate to a character and really feel what they are feeling. Knowing more than one story is vital. That's another reason I love this book. The readers learn about a boy in New York, and a boy in Pennsylvania, and about a Muslim girl in Ohio, and a Jewish girl in California. As we read, we are paying close attention to the similarities and differences between these four characters and how their world changes forever on 9/11.

Picture books are another helpful tool to learn more stories from that day. One of my favorites is The Man in the Red Bandana, (written by Honor Crowther Fagan and illustrated by John Crowther). Welles Crowther attended the same college as I did, so I feel a connection with this story. My students are astounded with his bravery and compassion. Books show the courage and the humanity encompassed in a day that was filled with loss and sadness.

My friend, Paul Hankins, teaches high school and he’s sharing stories of 9/11 with his students too. Gae Polisner’s book The Memory of Things is perfect for an audience of high school readers. It helps to know there are students all over the world hearing about 9/11 through thoughtful, poignant, powerful narratives. Take a moment and stop by Paul's Blog, These Four Corners, and read about his experience using these books with his students. Find a story and read it. You will be changed.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Peaceful Floating

Today I'm celebrating floating! I floated yesterday. It was my first float. Ninety minutes of darkness. Ninety minutes of silence. Ninety minutes of peace. I loved it and I'm going back soon, but it wasn't easy. I'll get back to that.

Om Float in Ashburn is the scene of my float. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with friendly introductions and welcomes from the owners, Amy and Brooks. They immediately put me at ease. I was excited to try this and really nervous too. Ninety minutes in a dark, silent pod...I didn't know if I could do it. 

I had some time to chat and confess all of my fears about the float. Great advice was offered, "No expectations." Amy told me that every float is different and that's ok. (I repeated those words to myself during the float.) When it was time to float, the Brooks led me back to the room that held the shower and the pod where I'd be floating. More words of wisdom...about breathing and listening for my heartbeat...and I was off.

I stepped into the pod and closed the door. It was dark...completely dark. There was music playing for the first few minutes, so I was ok. I followed instructions and laid down. I was floating...almost. At first, I didn't allow myself to float. I was touching the bottom of the pod or the walls. Relaxing into the float was something I had to practice and remind myself of during the whole time. It's amazing once I was able to let go. I felt like a little kid floating. It felt like joy. 

For the first few minutes, I was getting used to this new experience. It was interesting and unlike anything I'd ever done before. The next few minutes, I started to worry about everything. I worried that the silence would be scary. I worried that the time would be too long. I worried. I worried. I worried. I opened the door and stood up. Breathing. In. Out. In. Out. I practiced the meditation technique of noticing thoughts and allowing them to go. I started to relax. I thought about getting out, but I felt if I'd left, I would be missing something. FEAR wasn't going to force me out of this experience that I wanted.

I got back in and this time, I felt more relaxed. I spent the time breathing and noticing how often worrisome thoughts popped up. I thanked those thoughts and allowed them to go. Every time I did that, it felt better and better. My mind wandered the whole float. There were moments when I felt like I'd completely let go. There were moments when I laughed too. I found words kept returning to my thoughts...Love. Open. Hearing my heartbeat was something that soothed me and brought me joy. "I'm alive", I thought! For me, this first float was about experiencing it.

At the end, the lights come on and chimes ring. I think I may have cheered for myself. I did it. After I showered and paid, I left. The experience doesn't stop there. The owners talked about paying attention to how I feel for the next few days, even the next week, and see if I notice any changes. I'm scheduling my next float soon. 

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Five Hundred

Today's post makes my five hundredth post. Five hundred. Five hundred times I've hit the publish button. It's been one thousand and fifty days since I started this blog. I'm no math genius, but that works out to about one blog post every other day for three years. Let's continue with numbers and statistics for a moment...there have been almost 5000 comments left. 

And people from all over the world have stopped by and read my blog...

That's cool...it's not why I write, but it makes me feel like I have a voice. When I started this blog, I'd blogged before and I quit. I failed. I didn't know what to write. I didn't commit to it. Writing this blog matters to me. I put my heart into my posts and I write to reflect, to wonder, to share, to puzzle through, and to express myself.

Writing and sharing my writing has changed me. The main focus of this blog is my teaching, my time in the classroom with students, my practice. When I write, I reflect on what happened and why I made those choices. I wonder how I could improve and if I'm making the best choices for my students. I share about successes and failures, about growth and learning for me and for my students. I celebrate the accomplishments of my students. I express my gratitude for the opportunity to work as an educator. 

This blog has introduced me to a community of writers, teachers...friends. People who have supported me and encouraged me from near and far. Writing has always been part of me. This blog has helped me find a community of writers around the world.

If you are reading these words, thank you. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your voice. I'm grateful for the opportunity to write and for the audience who reads. 

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.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Celebrating Writers

The first week of school has ended. It was a whirlwind...it always is. As the week ended, I am happy to say that we have already established an important part of our writing routine. As the students enter the classroom, they get their notebooks out and begin their, "Sacred Writing Time". This time happens in our notebooks and it's an essential part of our journey as writers.

We launched notebooks on Wednesday. I brought in spiral notebooks wrapped in bright and shiny wrapping paper. The students ripped open their gift and read the poem I wrote and taped into the front cover. (When I read the poem to the class, one class applauded and stood up!)

We named our notebooks. 

We celebrated our notebooks. 
And we began to write...

On Thursday and Friday, I reminded the students of the routine, "Come in. Get yourself settled. Write." We write for 7-10 minutes. Students are invited to share at the end of class. Our routine is already set...daily writing. We are writers! We've already shared some of our writing...

I am so proud to sit alongside these sixth grade writers. I can't wait to see what the year brings!

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