Tag Archives: Writing

Lollipop Moment Thank You

Tonight, I re-watched Drew Dudley’s TED Talk entitled “Everyday Leadership.” In it, he talks about a girl who thanked him four years later for a moment that forever changed her life. She was scared about going to university, but when he came up to her wearing a goofy hat and passing out lollipops, she knew everything would be okay. She could do this.

In his talk, Drew asks, “How many of you guys have a lollipop moment, a moment where someone said or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better?” He goes on to ask if we’ve told that person that they had an impact on our life. It got me thinking about people in my life who’ve been instrumental in a big way.

My lollipop moment was in 2006. I was beginning my third year as a teacher, in that shaky period where you feel like you sort of know what you’re doing, but you’re still second-guessing most of your decisions. I had spent my student teaching placement, as well as my first two years of full-time teaching, as a Grade 4 Math & Science teacher in a two-way split. Math was my jam. Always had been. I felt comfortable with numbers, with the one right answer aspect of it. Sure, there are many ways to get there, and I celebrated those, but at the end of the day, there’s only one right answer. Science was full of experiments, therefore it was equally exciting and engaging to teach (and for students to learn). I was comfortable in my niche, and I didn’t want it to to change.

Of course, as I’m sure you’ve predicted, it changed. With a reduction in students and staffing, my teaching partner was moved to a new campus. With no one to be my switch teacher, I was told I’d be a self-contained teacher. Gone were the days of teaching only Math and Science. I would now add Reading, Writing, and Social Studies to the mix. To say I was scared and upset would be an understatement. A major one. I was freaking out. I can’t teach reading and writing!!! I have never taught anyone to read! I have no idea how to even begin teaching someone to write! You’ve got the wrong person! I can’t do this! All those insecurities of not being good enough surfaced. To top it off, that year was the year that my district was embracing reading and writing workshop, a brand-new concept to all of us. No more basal. No more teaching stand-alone grammar lessons and form writing based on the 6 Traits. (Just to be clear, I despise basals and teaching writing and grammar inauthentically, but these new initiatives meant there was no one on my grade level to go to for help. It was new to them, too!)

During this freak-out moment, Debbie Johnson came to talk to me. Debbie had been teaching Grade 2, and while I knew her from seeing her around the building and in faculty meetings, we weren’t really acquainted and weren’t yet friends. But that year, Debbie had been appointed to the newly-created position of Literacy Coach on our campus. She approached me, trying to assuage my literacy fears. Her idea was simple. I didn’t know how to be a reading and writing teacher. She didn’t know how to be a Literacy Coach (she didn’t even have a job description!). But what she did know was how to teach reading and writing well. Really well, in fact. So she proposed a plan. She’d come in everyday and teach alongside me, mentoring me through this newness in which I suddenly found myself.

I’m not dumb, and I know a good thing when I see it. Through my tears, I took her up on her offer on the spot. Debbie and I began spending a lot of time together, planning, observing, teaching, assessing, reflecting, and crying (mostly me!). Using the gradual release of responsibility method, she held my hand as I launched reader’s and writer’s workshops in my classroom. She was in my room everyday for my entire afternoon (120 minutes) for at least a month. We used the First 20 Days by Fountas and Pinnell to guide us through reader’s workshop and Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study to establish writer’s workshop. She taught me how to teach guided reading, how to confer with my readers and writers, and how to take documentation on my students so that I knew them better as readers and writers. I learned to read and write alongside my students, using my writing and my struggles and triumphs as teaching tools.

Following that first month of hand-holding, Debbie and I met regularly to plan and reflect. She continued to observe and coach, and she remained that steady person I could rely on. I was in her office nearly everyday, sharing successes and failures, worrying over my abilities, talking about my kids, and problem-solving. We forged an unbreakable bond. What we had was why Literacy Coaches exist. They are there to help and guide, listen and offer advice, nudge, but not judge. Debbie was all of that– and more. Sometime during that year, Debbie became my friend, my confidant. She knew more about me (professionally and personally) than most people did. I could trust her completely. We shared secrets. We laughed. We gave each other books that the other just had to read.

That first year was hard work. I doubted myself. A lot. But you know what, I did it. Through the mini-lessons that flopped, the late nights spent planning, the tears shed, and the stress of planning and teaching 5 subjects everyday, I grew. I reflected often, refined my craft, and vowed to be better each and every day.

The biggest lesson Debbie taught me was that to be a good reading and writing teacher, I just had to be a reader and a writer. I already possessed those skills. In my free time, I was a reader and occasionally a writer. I thought like a reader and a writer. I was passionate about it. All I had to do was show it to my budding readers and writers. All I had to do was be myself, letting my love of literacy and my passion shine through. Most of the battle is getting your students to love reading and writing. Once you’ve done that, anything is possible. My beliefs around literacy are rooted in that authentic work of readers and writers. Reading and writing should be life work, not school work. And this is how I approached it with my students.

In 2006, Debbie Johnson was my lollipop moment. She met me where I was and coached me forward. In the years after, I went on to become a stellar literacy teacher, one whom teachers and administrators around the district came to observe. I was the teacher who ignited the writing flame in even the most stubborn of kids. The writing club I created for struggling writers was something every kid wanted to be a part of. In China, I created a Literacy Coach position and was a coach for 2 years, eventually becoming principal. I shared my passion of literacy with others, and I made a difference. Looking back, I’m not sure my life would have turned out this way had it not been for Debbie Johnson. So Debbie, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9 Things on Day 9

As I was reading through some slices for some inspiration, I came across All Things Purple’s blog, where her slice was full of lists of her favorite things, 9 per list, in honor of the ninth day of slicing. I love lists, as anyone who follows my blog or knows me in real life knows, so this was right up my alley! 🙂

9 Everyday things I wouldn’t want to live without:

  1. Books! (actual books or ebooks)
  2. A device (laptop, iPad, or iPhone)
  3. Wifi connection
  4. Tea kettle
  5. Toothbrush/toothpaste
  6. Live plants
  7. Backpack
  8. Reusable water bottle (loving my Camelbak Eddy at the moment)
  9.  My writer’s notebook

9 Adventures I want to have before I die:

  1. Step on all 7 continents (before age 40!)…just 2 more (Antartica and South America)
  2. Take a year off and slow travel around the world
  3. Write a book…and publish it!
  4. Meet someone I want to share my life with
  5. See the Northern Lights and sleep in a glass igloo
  6. Spend at least one month living in Inle Lake, Myanmar, volunteering at a school or an orphanage, riding my bike every day
  7. Go on an African safari
  8. Take my parents to all my favorite places around the world
  9. Show up at the airport, buy a ticket, and fly some place I’ve never been, with absolutely no plans whatsoever

9 Pastimes I never tire of:

  1. Listening to music
  2. Writing
  3. Reading
  4. Talking about reading and writing
  5. Cooking
  6. Throwing parties
  7. Visiting new restaurants
  8. Planning for a new trip
  9. Talking to my friends and family

9 Treats I could eat everyday (if they weren’t unhealthy):

  1. Chai tea lattes, preferably iced and from Starbucks
  2. Goat cheese
  3. Mangos
  4. Homemade ravioli
  5. Brownies
  6. Chips & Queso
  7. Hot Shipley’s glazed donuts
  8. Mercato’s homemade ricotta and jam with buttery, toasted bread
  9. Pavlova

9 People I’d be lost without (Only 9?!?):

  1. My mom & dad (I know, this is more than one…)
  2. My brother, sister-in-law, niece, & nephew (this one, too…)
  3. Shaggers
  4. Michelle
  5. Linner
  6. Kathy
  7. Sarah
  8. Sally
  9. Callie

9 Places I want to visit:

  1. New Zealand
  2. South Africa
  3. India
  4. Russia
  5. The Maldives
  6. Iceland
  7. Spain
  8. Bhutan
  9. Chile

9 Words I believe hold magic:

  1. Savor
  2. Love
  3. Vulnerable
  4. Change
  5. Play
  6. Serendipity
  7. Authenticity
  8. Gratitude
  9. Delicious

9 Gestures that make me smile:

  1. Receiving a gift from someone who knows me well
  2. Hand-written notes
  3. People who go out of their way when you’re sick/injured
  4. Quality time
  5. Playing a board game with me
  6. Hilarious texts, particularly ones accompanied by poignant GIFs 🙂
  7. A good book recommendation
  8. An engaging conversation where no one looks at their phone
  9. Little kid hugs

9 Favorite songs (as of this blog post) (How can I pick just 9?!?):

Click here to listen to my favorite songs

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

What are your favorite things?

Talkin’ Shop #sol16 30 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Tonight’s plan was to head to The Montrose for some Mexican food (I was totally craving it!), do a bit of work, blog, and come home early-ish. The atmosphere at The Montrose is laid back and very conducive to writing, which I was hoping would get the creative juices flowing. After scarfing down my quesadilla, I got to work on some paperwork for school. I was taking a break from work, trying to think about what I wanted to write, when a colleague and friend of mine walked in the door.

He walked over, and I invited him to join me. He and I started talking about blogging, and I shared my experiences with the SOL challenge over the years. This led to discussions about teaching, specifically reading and writing. He happens to teach middle school language and literature, so it was right up his alley. Being a primary-only experienced educator, I was unfamiliar with what reading and writing looks like in middle school. My only assumption was that it typically looked quite different from primary. Shortly into our conversation, however, he mentioned that he taught using reading and writing workshops. Say what?!? My ears perked up, and my literacy hat came on!

From there, he and I discussed the learning happening in his classroom, the energy for writing palpable. What followed was a back and forth exchange of ideas, comparing writing workshop in primary to how it’s done in secondary. His students just finished a memoir unit (swoon!), and have just begun a persuasive writing unit. I jumped in, telling him I have some teaching resources (that just so happen to be for grades 3-8) that I can lend him. “Bring it on!” he said. That discussion led to his last unit of the school year, which is poetry. We have a shared philosophy for teaching poetry, in that we both believe it’s not effective to teach form poetry, but rather provide students with ample mentor texts to learn from and tools to use in their own writing. At this point, I shared a few mentor poems as well as my own poetry from my blog, and we realized that we’d both had the privilege of attending PD from Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. Small world!

Anyway, our conversation continued for hours, meandering from swapping teaching ideas to ways in which we document our travels to other school stuff to travel plans in the future. Despite getting home 3 hours after I had planned, and just now getting to blogging, I am so grateful that he walked in the door. It’s been a long time since I’ve geeked out about literacy, and I was so energized by it! Spontaneous shop talks are always welcome. 🙂

The Importance of Talk #sol16 11 of 31

Natasha, the Early Years teacher at my school, and I have been reading Engaging Young Writers by Matt Glover in our curriculum planning meetings, as she is new to writing workshop, especially with 3 and 4 year olds. I absolutely love Matt, and have had the privilege of seeing him speak at the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong three times. He is so inspiring, and I always leave learning something I didn’t know, rethinking my stance on teaching writing, and feeling motivated to try out a new technique or strategy with my teachers and/or students. That being said, I knew this would be a great book study for us and would encourage much discussion.

Tuesday’s meeting began with a discussion of our reading that we completed at home. I shared that I was particularly moved by the section entitled “The Importance of Talk,” in which Matt says “Basically anything that a child can talk about is something she can write about. If they can talk about it, they can write it because for young children, talk is an important form of prewriting. The reverse is true as well: if a child can’t talk about a potential writing topic, then it’s likely that she’ll have much more difficulty writing about it. It’s also important to remember that in most cases children’s talk is going to be much more detailed than their writing. In fact for many authors, the challenge of writing is the attempt to narrow down talk and ideas into written text.” We both had a rich discussion about how this could play out in the classroom, and how it made sense, since young children are much more verbal than they are with writing or drawing.

During this discussion, I began reflecting on my own writing for the Slice of Life. I shared with Natasha that I have wanted to write the story of meeting Maurice in Rome, and my wonderful experience, but despite having orally told that story half a dozen times, I worried that my written version wouldn’t come close to capturing the essence of my day. “Oh, yeah, you’ve told me that story! It’s a great one!” Natasha said. I know it is, but again, I felt like writing it would take much more time, and the story might lose its charm. Thinking aloud, I wondered, “But what if I said my story aloud right before writing it? I could record myself telling the story, then write it, and then listen to my recording to see if I missed anything.” Suddenly I had a plan for how I would write my story.

Last night, I tried it out. I recorded myself telling the story of my 18 hours in Rome. My recording lasted 18:36. And I talk fast! Energized, I got to work, putting my thoughts into words. I revised as I wrote, taking out the parts that weren’t essential to the story (the fact that I was ripped off my the taxi driver on the way to my hotel and that my first Italian pizza experience was rubbish). My slice was just over 1,000 words. Over 18 minutes of talking turned into only 1,000 words. I reread my writing, made a few minor revisions, and hit publish. I was proud of my story. I had done it justice and captured its essence. I contemplated listening to my recording, as I had planned, but I didn’t need to. The act of orally telling my story before putting it into writing was the important bit. I didn’t need to find missing parts and add them in. I was happy with it just as it was.

The next time I am having difficulty putting my thoughts into writing, I’m going to try out this strategy. Maybe you can, too.

Today I… #sol16 8 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Today I…

Today I had treats waiting on my desk when I arrived in the morning. (Thank you Treat Fairy!)

Today I was invited to a classroom where students shared their ideas for saving the planet by taking small actions in our school community. Action is the heart of the PYP! 🙂

Today I had a better day than yesterday.

Today I held four curriculum meetings and one team meeting.

Today I got to talk a lot about writing, and it felt good! I realize how much I miss being a literacy coach.

Today I gazed at my flowers I received yesterday for Albanian Teacher’s Day. I love fresh flowers!

Today I realized it’s my bestie’s 1 month countdown to her baby’s arrival!!!

Today I wished loads of women Happy International Women’s Day!

Today I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure. Now I’m pretty in pink! 🙂

Today I am slicing from a bar, where I’m munching on chips and guac and drinking a Malibu and Coke. I sorta love it.

Today I made children laugh.

Today I read. And not just emails!

Today I scared two people…and then proceeded to laugh my head off!

Today I wished a fabulous friend a happy birthday…so sad I’m not there to celebrate with her this year.

Today I booked a car for my road trip to Greece this weekend.

Today I had such a great conversation about writing and teaching with a colleague and friend.

Today I was productive.

Today I was happy.

Hello There… SOL #20

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Hello there…

I am silly yet serious, friendly and finicky, loving and loquacious.
I keep my word, memories, and a writer’s notebook.
I wish I could live in Sydney, Australia or Inle Lake, Myanmar or Edinburgh, Scotland.
I love goat cheese, a good book, lazy days, traveling the world, challenges, and the anticipation of something new.
I dance more when I’m around my friends, but never very well.
I sing loudly and generally off-key.
I think about where to visit next, about what’s best for kids, and about my family often.
I really love my family and friends and the richness they bring to my life.
I need a massage right now. Good thing I’m planning on one later today.
I should work less and relax more.
I can talk about literacy all day long.
I like familiar routines as well as change, trying new restaurants, swapping funny stories, and writing.
I make friends easily.
I always like to sleep in. Mornings are meant to be eased into… 

My Writing Journey- SOL

I love TWT’s motto, “Write. It’s good for you.” These words keep rolling around in my head lately. I’ve always known this to be true, but finding time to write each day has been difficult for me. I go through writing cycles. Sometimes I have so much to say that the words are pouring out of me, and other times I have so little to say that you can hear crickets in my head and my words are as hard to come by as an oasis in the desert.

I felt The Universe nudging me to commit to writing everyday, and while I answered that calling occasionally, scribbling an entry or two in my writer’s notebook, it wasn’t until I joined the TWT’s Slice of Life Challenge that I really put forth the effort to committing to writing everyday, even when I had nothing to say. I chose to write because it was good for me. And you know what? It’s working!

When I look back on my slices that I’ve written so far, I have a mix of emotions from “Wow, now that was boring!” to “Did I write that? That needs some work!” to “I’m really proud of that piece!” Writing isn’t about getting it right the first time, it’s about the journey. When I started the challenge, I was ready. I had a clear topic and I knew what to write about! That lasted for a couple of days. But then, I ran out of topics. I was stuck. I wrote about something because I had to. I’d made the commitment to write everyday, and by gosh, I was going to do it! After a few bumps in the road, I found my groove. I began thinking throughout the day, “Hmmm…I could write about this!” I jotted down SOL ideas in my writer’s notebooks. I talked to other people about my writing. I began making writing plans– without someone telling me to! Hey, this is what “real” writers do! Maybe I’m beginning to become a “real” writer.

I can’t help but wonder if my journey is similar to the journeys students have in writer’s workshop. “You want me to write every day?!? For how long?!?” “What if I have nothing to say? What?!? You still want me to write?” We push our students along this writer’s path at a consistent pace, expecting them to write everyday and have something to say, but have we really thought about how some of our writers must feel? Have we taken a step back and really pondered it? I think we have to experience it ourselves. Only then can you truly offer our students advice and empathize with how they feel when the ideas aren’t coming and they’re left staring at a blank page (or screen).

I am hopeful that my journey is just beginning. I like it when I write. I look forward to writing. Writing makes me a happier person. What about you? Where is your journey taking you?