Just Thinking

When I woke up this morning, I honestly thought today was the thirtieth, not the thirty-first. So this is it. I made it. I knew the challenge would be demanding and it was. And just like last year, participating in the SOL experience changed who I am as a teacher, learner, and writer. I was stunned to see all the new slicers this year. Throughout this challenge, one thought kept flitting around my brain. I wish there was a way for slicers to meet up. I would love to be able to connect with other slicers in person. I had this crazy thought that there could be a slicer’s conference or retreat. Just thinking. 

Mini Rant or I'm Glad I Got That Off My Chest

Lots of people clawing at me right now. Every time I turn around, someone needs something or wants something.(Do I hear weeping violins?) Okay, it isn’t every time I turn around but I still want to crawl in a hole and hide. Do you ever get so tired that you worry that you aren’t safe to drive? I’ve been at that point several times this month. I keep thinking of a post tezzie828 from Thoughts from a Reader, Writer,Surfer wrote about being overwhelmed. Her post made me feel like I wasn’t alone and it was okay to admit it. I admit it. I’m overwhelmed. My spinning plates are wobbling. I’ve had to let some important ones fall and I’m frustrated. Actually, that last sentence isn’t really honest. The only reason they fell is because I put them up there to begin with. Do I really need to spin that many plates?  I don’t have to live my life like a hamster in a wheel. I don’t. Things need to change. Seven more days until spring break. 

Getting the Resume Done

My digital resume is coming along. As usual, I had to take a straightforward task and turn it into a full-scale production. Examining my professional journey has been good for me. Like any other piece of writing, I tend to create and write a lot then go back and whittle away based on my audience and purpose. I chose to create a resume blog. It is basically a home page with a single post and tabs across the top. When readers select the Experience tab, they are lead to a page that links them to an interactive timeline I created in timeglider. I’m pleased with the results even though I’m not quite finished with it. When I zoomed out and looked at my timeline as a whole, I could see how much I have changed and grown along the way. I also included a tab titled, Personal Learning Network. When readers select this tab that can view a mind map I created in bubbl us. It shows how reading professional blogs and creating my own blog has transformed my professional development. I feel like I’m about half-way finished. My deadline is Sunday. No more excuses.

This is a draft of my mind map created in bubbl us. Pretty cool that
  you save your maps as jpg's and also print them out on a single page. 

One Little Word: Thread

Whenever I examine my thread jar, I usually think of my Grandma Marion. Most of the thread in the jar came from her sewing box. As I look at her thread, I wonder what she made with it. Did she sew a teenager's taffeta prom dress or a wool suit or new chintz curtains for her kitchen window? My grandma always had an ongoing list of projects. And she knew how to finish what she started. Not much fiddling around when there were things to get done. Sometimes when I procrastinate, I can feel her gentle nudging, a hand on my shoulder reminding me that I tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. Grandma Marion had a talent for getting rid of what she no longer needed. She must of had a purpose for the spools that ended up in my jar or she would have gotten rid of them. It wasn’t that she was highly organized or rigid. Grandma just had a way of clearing the clutter so she could get her to do list done. If she could see my desk at school right now, she would do more that give me a gentle nudge. Knowing her, she’d pull up the waste basket and start filling it. Maybe I should take my thread jar to work with me for inspiration.

On Becoming A Blogger

I've been thinking about how much I have changed as an educator in the last 13 months. Terje's post from Just for a Month about her online writing fears really hit home for me. I remember being scared to death to start a Google account so I could comment on blogs. It seems so silly now but it didn’t feel silly then. I still wish I could motivate just one of my co-professionals at school to leap into the blogosphere with me. So far, no luck. I completely get that blogging is a personal choice, not something I would try to coerce or guilt someone into. Still, I would like to encourage teachers to take this powerful leap. I tried to think back about what specifically prompted me to start blogging. For me, it was random. I found Two Writing Teachers by chance, just a few weeks prior to the 2011 SOL Challenge. Ruth’s words about starting a blog resonated with me and that was all it took. What pulled you to start blogging? Do teachers you work with blog also?

Timeline Web Tools

I’ve been working on my resume for a couple of weeks. Actually, I’ve been thinking about my resume for a couple of weeks and I finally forced myself to get started on it. Since my position as a literacy coach has been eliminated for the coming school year, I wanted to create a resume that was flexible enough to use for any variety of positions that may happen to become available. I’ve played around with numerous web tools that I could use in addition to a traditional paper resume format. I ended up deciding to create a resume blog in Blogger. Right now I am adding page tabs across the top with titles such as Education, Experience, Leadership, and Goals. I wanted to create and embed a timeline into the Experience page and experimented with several tools. I first tried out Tiki-Toki which is visually stunning and very easy to use. The only problem is that in order for me to embed a timeline I create, I have to pay a minimum fee of $6.00 per month. Scratch that. Then I tried Timeglider. It had the features I wanted and I could create up to 3 timelines for free and embed them into my resume blog. But, it wasn’t as intuitive as Tiki-Toki. Still not satisfied, I tried Dipity. I thought I had found exactly what I was looking for. It was super easy to use, I liked the look of the timelines, and I could embed what I created. I played with it a bit and found that when the timeline was displayed, it was covered with ads. Yuck. If I wanted to pay an extra $5.00 per month, my timeline would be ad free. No thanks. I’m too cheap. So I ended up back with Timeglider as my choice. It will take me more time to figure out how to use it but for now, it is the timeline web tool that best fits my purposes. 

Thinking in Color and Images

Over two thirds of the way through and I’m dragging and pulling myself to write and post. I’m not running out of ideas. It’s the discipline part that is the toughest for me. But in one of my avoidance tangents, I created a handy dandy writing idea notebook in Lino It which I love playing around in. In fact, I was feeling guilty about spending time personalizing it, organizing it, and adding to it. But isn’t that how a writer’s notebook is supposed to function? I’ve come to realize just how motivated my mind is with images and color. Images help conjure memories and ideas. I write in images. I organize in images. Does that sound weird? I have a habit of always wanting to see the whole so I can fit in all the bits of my thinking. My brain loves Lino It. I tend to be a stacker. I can visualize my stacks. My Lino canvases work the same way. I can visualize a canvas with my sticky notes on it. It has proven to be a very effective tool for keeping track of where I get ideas for posts. I like being able to easily give credit to other bloggers for writing ideas and provide a back link. When that, “Oh my, what will I write about for my next post” feeling washes over me, I go to my Lino ideas canvas or one of my other canvases and reread my stickies. Then the discipline thing kicks in. Since there isn’t much time to hem and haw over a topic, I pick one and get going. And as I am writing, if I get a new idea, I just post it on my ideas canvas and move on. Then I can go back and organize them later. I especially like my canvases that look like notebook pages. I took a photo of a blank page in a notebook, saved it as a jpg, and uploaded it as a background. Below are links to some of my canvases.

It Takes Guts

Tomorrow, all teachers across our district will attend a day long in-service at their own building focusing on school improvement. Planning and preparing for the day started with looking at all kinds of data. A core group of teachers gathered current state assessment data. And in Michigan, our state assessment is given in the fall so we just received recent, if you call October recent, scores to analyze.  Local assessment data was also collected. In addition to numbers, we used what I like to call, our teaching guts. Using our guts was actually quite formative. In my position as a coach, I am a listener, a watcher, but NEVER an evaluator, which is the job of an administrator. Because I am not an evaluator, I was able to watch how students responded to instruction in the classrooms I’m working in. Without judgment, I could attend to teachers as they talked about student progress and what they wondered about. I watched how administrators responded to teacher thinking. Then I rolled all those observations together with all the junk rattling around my brain. The other Title teachers and I were charged with the exciting task of narrowed bits of state data so teachers could quickly see trends and then translate those trends into instructional practice. And somehow make it relevant for teachers of all grade levels and special subject areas. Sounds pretty dull to me. Actually, I’m lying because I love digging into data but I know it is a yawner for lots of teachers. The test results of our student writers will be the focus of what I have to help present. Honestly, our student achievement in writing is nowhere near where it should. And our school is not alone. 

Family Reading Night

My book making table at my school's Family Reading Night was a hit! As you can probably tell, we had a tropical luau theme to the evening. I was amazed at how many students were so excited to make a book about whatever they wanted. Several of the kids wrote about their parents.  I could tell the adults were quite touched when they read their child's book. Almost every student took extra blank books home to write even more. I think this counts as a writing celebration. Thanks for all of your great ideas! I'm already thinking about next year.

Kids and parents writing books! You can't see it but
there is an author board at the end of the table. After
the writers finished their books, they signed the board.
Ahhh, nothing like a good beach read.
These friends know how to relax at the beach. By the end
of the night, I was ready to take a nap too. :)

Wondering About Sam

This list was inspired by a funny “I Wonder” list by Stacy at TheMotherShip.

Wondering About Sam

I wonder when she will cease killing every piece of technology that she touches.
I wonder if she will come to know her parents as people.
Me and Sam. :)
I wonder where she will end up living when she gets out on her own.
I wonder when her dreams will come true.
I wonder if she will ever quit fighting with her curls.
I wonder if she will get a little less messy as an adult.
I wonder when and if she will have children of her own (no hurry).
I wonder what her happiest memories are from when she was little.
I wonder what she thinks of me.
I wonder what she thinks of herself.

Come on Fog!

“Hey, Mom.”


“Look outside,” said my smiling son.

It was after 10:00 pm and we had just finished watching Ohio University make it into the sweet sixteen. He should have been in bed earlier and I should have been in bed too but Sunday evening seemed to bring a last minute to do list. When I looked outside, I saw it. Fog. I started smiling too. This could be our last chance for a school delay in a year without one missed day or delay due to our unusually mild winter season.

“Wear your pajama pants backwards and put a spoon under your pillow,” I told my 15-year-old jokingly.

“You don't think I'll do it, do you?"

With that, he bounded down the stairs. I could hear the silverware draw open. He fetched two spoons from the tray and back up the stairs he came, taking two at a time. He appeared in my office doorway, a spoon in each hand and his plaid pajama pants on backwards. He looked at me earnestly and handed me a spoon. And yes, I did put it under my pillow. 

Update 5:15 Monday morning: It worked!

They Could Make Books!

Our elementary school of 1200 students is one of the largest in the state of Michigan. So many kids. So many teachers. And so many parents. It is a significant challenge to foster a sense of community and neighborhood in a 2-building campus of this size. Every year during March, our school has several events to celebrate Reading Month. Family Reading Night is coming up this Tuesday. Since last year was my first year in the school, I wasn't quite sure how to contribute to this event so I hung back and sort of watched how things worked. I looked for an activity that I could set up as a station and could accommodate all the kids and their family members that typically attend. I decided to create a book making table. I’ve been busily making simple paper books of various sizes. This has proved to be an excellent activity to do while sitting on the deck during the day and watching basketball in the evening. Since there is a luau theme for the event, I am planning on heading to Hobby Lobby to search for a grass skirt to go around my table. And maybe I could decorate a science board in case anyone wants to display the books they create. Ideas anyone????

So This Is What Spring Is Like?

Last year's residents of the nest
in our pear tree out front. 
This post was inspired by a poem by Michelle at Literacy Zone. Her poem made me think about how our mild winter has felt strange and that I kept anticipating we would get more snow and ice, but we never did. Winter never returned and now I can hear the robins chattering to each other this morning as I write. I wonder if a pair will take up residence in the perfectly good nest in the crook of the pear tree out front. Of course, they would have to spruce it up a bit. I've been so busy with the demands of school that I haven’t really surveyed the yard for winter damage yet. At this time of year where I live, the snow shovels, ice scrapers and down coats are still in use. On Easter, it is usually freezing, even snowy and little girls wear sweaters with their spring dresses at church. We dare not plant perennials until after Mother’s Day or they would freeze and die but I’m not sure that would happen this year. This year, we are actually having spring, at least I’m guessing that’s what it is. This weekend is predicted to be glorious; seventy-five, sun, and a light breeze. My husband is planning on putting the screens back up today. Unbelievable for Michigan in March. 

A Different Kind of March Madness

A Weird Michigan March

Waves of
Pounding ice
Pebbles clacking
On windows and roof
Tornado sirens
They’ll be no sleep tonight

Wind and rain and thunder
Then a lull
More cracks and claps
A summer storm
In March

Quotes from Patricia Polacco

Link to Patricia's site

When Patricia Polacco visited our school last week, I took notes on what she did, what she said, and how the kids reacted. I also wrote down some of the cool things that she said. Then I misplaced the notebook that I wrote everything in. Just found it yesterday, thank goodness, and I wanted to share some of Patricia’s words:

“Art is like breathing.”

“Red heads are enchanted so if you don’t have a redhead for a friend, you better get one skippy quick.”

“The energy is in you.”

“Write what you know.”

“You were born with the power to change others. You change people by the way you treat them. That is what changes the human heart.”

“The truth is the journey you take through a story.”

“Everyone in this room is gifted. None of us open our gifts at the same time. And if someone has opened theirs before you, think nothing of it. You will open yours in time.”

Patricia certainly made an impression on all the students and staff
at our school. She created this drawing just for us! All the kids got
a copy of their own to keep.

An Offensive Brownie

I watched with dread as he squished two brownies together and sculpted the wad into a turd. Then he waited. When a trucker pulled up close behind us, he tilted his head back, dangled the nutty log above his mouth, and took a bite. The trucker, who could see what my brother was doing from the back of the station wagon, honked his horn. John, my brother, was delighted. He opened his mouth wide, shoved the rest in, chewed, and swallowed. When he grinned, his teeth were covered with chocolate brownie leftovers. John pressed his face close to the back window of the station wagon so the trucker could get a real good look at his cruddy teeth. The trucker honked again.

“What the h___ is he honking at? Johnnnnnnnn! What is going on back there?” yelled my dad from the front seat. My sisters, who were sitting in the middle, turned to look. I didn’t say a word. I’m not sure if I was more afraid of my dad pulling over or John knuckle-punching me in my arm for telling on him. 

My Latest Excuse for Not Exercising: Writing

I have been thinking a lot about a post written by Mary from The View From My World comparing the rigors of the SOL challenge with starting an exercise program. I couldn’t agree more. It feels the same. Carving out the time to write and post daily adds to my to do list. It either adds to it or it has to take the place of something else. For me, daily writing means less sleep and less watching my husband watch TV. And interestingly, the TV thing bothers him greatly. But the rewards of daily writing have been huge, amazing, and so very worth it. Although, as Mary said, there are days when it doesn’t feel fun. I have also found that daily writing has become an excellent excuse not to exercise as much as I should. So does that mean that exercise, even though it is good for you, is even less fun than writing? Okay, so I’ll get on the treadmill after I’m done with my post, that is if I’m not too tired or my husband doesn't want me to watch him watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.

One Little Word Sunday: Thread

Last week, Amanda from In Search of Balance left a comment on one of my posts that included a quote from Peter Johnston. Below is part of her comment.

 On another note, I am reading Opening Minds by Peter H. Johnston, and this section made me think of you because of your OLW, “This set of interactions might not mean much by itself, but the threads it contains, repeated over and over in different forms, moment to moment, day to day, week to week, month to month, start to amount to something. Their power is strengthened as they echo and reverberate in the children’s talk […],” (p. 4).

First of all, I loved Choice Words and I am itching to get my hands on Opening Minds. Second, Amanda reminded me that I haven’t devoted much time lately to thinking and writing about my One Little Word, which is thread. I read her comment containing Johnston’s quote over and over. I kept thinking about how cool it was that she remembered my OLW and probably knew how much I would want to gobble up her comment and think about it. These connections, these threads that stitch the SOL community together may not be of the face-to-face kind, but they are no less authentic.  

Trying to Avoid the Unthinkable

Why does she have to go to Ann Arbor? My daughter, Sam, kept saying how exhausted she was and how she needed to sleep and study her lines and do laundry and a thousand other things before she returned to college on Sunday. I don’t want Sam to drive to Ann Arbor with her friends. It isn't that I don't think Sam is a responsible driver. In fact, she started driving to Toledo Ballet several times a week when she was still in high school. She also drove herself to voice lessons in Point Place. One summer, when she performed at the Croswell Opera House, she drove back and forth to Adrian. Sam has driven lots of miles in lots of different kinds of weather conditions. I worried before but now the thought of her driving to the University of Michigan to visit friends for her last weekend of spring break has me scared. Ever since the three Bowling Green State University students were killed last Friday, I don’t want her driving anywhere. On the first day of spring break, two carloads of female students were driving to Detroit Metro Airport to catch a plane for vacation and a wrong way driver slammed into one of the cars and killed three young women. Two other girls remain in critical condition. I keep thinking about the unimaginable pain the families must be experiencing. I keep thinking. Thinking and worrying.

Patricia Polacco and Passion

To watch a person do what they love is a wonderful thing. When Patricia Polacco visited our school on Monday, she expressed her passion for story-telling. Then she proceeded to hold her audience in the palm of her hand as she told the tales of Natasha and the doll that taught her a lesson (Babushka's Doll), her childhood quilt made of clothing scraps of her relatives (The Keeping Quilt), and the day the falling star landed in her front yard (Meteor). She was mesmerizing. Inspiring. Over the course of the day, I witnessed Patricia physically and emotionally touch every single child in our school, which is quite a feat given that we have 1200 students.

Liking My Lino It

I posted a few days ago about wanting a quick and easy way to track the posts I've read that give me ideas for my own posts. I decided to use Lino It and I am really liking it. I uploaded my own background because I thought that would be cool and then I color coded my stickies according to where I get my ideas. Green is for ideas from blog posts, purple is for school ideas, blue are ideas that come from my own writing, and pink are moments or memories from my own life. I could peel off and remove the stickies as I use them to write but for now, I'm just dragging the stickies from the sky into the grass of my background. I am totally a sucker for color. Check out my idea canvas below. And Linda from Teacher Dance and Jennifer from i hablo espanglish have both motivated me to try out Evernote.  How are you keeping track of your ideas during the SOL challenge?

SOL Ideas

Word Counts and Writing Challenges

Visit Inkygirl for details about
 more writing challenges.

I didn’t reach my February writing goal last month and it sort of bugs me. So far, I’m not doing too well this month either. I guess that means I need to modify my goal to 250 words per day rather than 500. When I get so focused on writing posts and comments, I tend not to take time to let go and just write. Writing to publish a post every day is a different feeling, a different sort of goal or deadline. I need to spend more time putting words on paper but then I start feeling guilty about delaying doing the dishes or laundry or whatever. It is often during a free write at home or in a moment when I’m writing along with my students that ideas come and sentences leak out and flow. For me, volume is important. I need to get a lot on the page so I can cross most of  it off and find the heart of what I want to say. My daily word count is more of a formative dipstick than anything else. I’ve noticed that the higher my daily word count, the more satisfied I am with my writing. 

A Piece of Her Wrapped Around My Wrist

This post was inspired by Tara’s post from A Teaching Life about a lost earring.

I adored my Grandma Marion. I think about her every day. She sewed all of her own clothes and every outfit in her closet had coordinating costume jewelry and shoes, mostly high heels.  I remember reveling in her jewelry drawer. Strings of beads with matching earrings and bracelets organized in baggies and sorted by color in tiny boxes and plastic trays. I don’t recall her wearing a lot of rings but she always seemed to have a bracelet on. When I was little, if I got too restless at church or in a public place, she would hand me her bracelet to wear as I looked at my books or paper dolls. 

I love wearing this bracelet. It feels
like a hug from my grandma. :)

Waiting Room

I spent a couple hours at the local Urgent Care on Saturday morning. I didn’t make it there until well after 9:00 and the small waiting room was packed: a young couple with a baby, a toddler, and a little boy no older than 5, an elderly couple, a woman in her twenties holding a small waste basket under her chin, a man in his thirties, and an older man who looked to be around 50 or 60. As I waited my turn, a woman wearing sweats, flip flops, and an over-sized man’s coat came in the door, signed the register and sat in one of the only remaining seats in the waiting room.  In my sinus infected stupor, I stared at a TV hung high on the wall. The lady on the weather channel was describing the devastating damage from the tornadoes that had screamed through Indiana the night before.

“Sheila,” the receptionist called. The woman in sweats went up to the front window.

“We can’t accept your insurance so if you want to see a doctor, it will cost sixty dollars.”

 The woman sighed in defeat and turned and left the doctor’s office. Just then, the young woman with the wastebasket began throwing up.

A nurse opened the door that led to the examining rooms.

“Diana,” she called.

My diagnosis was a double ear infection and a sinus infection. The Urgent Care had an in-house pharmacy which saved me a trip to CVS. I walked out of the Urgent Care with my antibiotics feeling both relieved and guilty. On the way home I kept thinking about the woman in sweats. I wondered how sick she was. I wondered if she would return with $60.00 or if she ended up not going to a doctor at all. 

Techie Dork

One of my goals this year was to dive into web 2.0 tools and begin to deal with my techie fears. The seeds of that goal were planted in March 2011. I am certain that starting my blog for the purpose of participating in the TWT challenge last year helped to grow my confidence and open my thinking to the instructional possibilities of all kinds of tech tools. But when I started my blog, I had so many questions. The vocabulary that surrounded blogging was a whole new world for me. I was forever googling stuff like, “What does RSS mean?” I still don’t completely get what a feed is. I would go to the Blogger help page and I felt like the answers to questions were written in a foreign language. I looked at the blogs of others and wondered where they got that thingy in their sidebar. I didn't even know what a sidebar was. I was very intimidated as a new blogger. But I quickly learned how patient and generous the folks out in the blogosphere were. People liked to share. My point is that if you are feeling like a techie or blogging dork, don’t worry. You are not alone.

On Demand Writing For Real

On demand writing is very stressful. The other day, another colleague and I were asked to respond to an email from a newspaper reporter about the mobile book libraries that we were organizing to help supplement classroom libraries at our school. We had no space for a book room in our two building campus of 1200 kindergarten through sixth grade students. Our solution was to utilize several carts of books at varying levels that teachers could wheel into their hallway or into their classroom to use for both small group instruction and matching readers with books for independent reading. Needless to say, this was and continues to be a huge and very expensive project. The local newspaper wanted to write a piece about the book carts and had requested a response to several questions by the end of the day. My colleague and I were asked to craft this response to the email at 3:00 pm, thirty minutes before dismissal. We knew our audience was the reporter and readers of the local paper, many of whom might be parents of our students. We surmised our purpose was to give the reporter enough specifics and quotes to add to her piece since she had already talked at length to the principal. We had no idea what the angle of her piece was going to be. We also wanted to promote our school. It was extremely hard, especially given the time limit. I plan to share this real life on-demand writing experience with the third graders I’m working with this year.

Thankful Thursday

Creating my weekly gratitude list feels like a great way to kick off the 2012 Slice of Life Challenge. I'm really glad I'm here, writing along with all of you. And to those new to the challenge or new to blogging, welcome to the TWT community.

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