Taking Time to Create

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I have a little more than three weeks left of summer vacation before I go back to school.

Normally I would be spending most of my summer in a combination of paid and unpaid professional learning activities.

Although I had a few opportunities lined up that I was contemplating engaging in this summer, I quickly realized they weren’t going to happen.

I am too busy enjoying time with family and I’m not ready to dive into anything work-related.

I am realizing that nothing earth shattering will happen if I don’t attend the latest workshop or series of sessions that promise to make me a better _____________ (you can fill in the blank) teacher.

Instead, I’m learning that I’m better off using any down time I have this summer to read and write. To spend time creating rather than consuming. Not that consuming is a bad thing. I love to read what other people are creating, but it’s also important for me to create.

Yesterday I was inspired by a children’s author who recently published her first book. She is in her early ‘70’s. My hat’s off to her.

See here for Gloria Amescua’s heartwarming story. I mention this because I often feel like I’m too late to the party. Or too old. Or everybody has already said what I might want to say. And while I know that this is all related to a very well-heeled sense of imposter syndrome, it’s encouraging to see examples that can feed my soul.

So, this summer is just fine as it is.

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Snippet #10

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Long time grade 3 teacher Erika McKearney Victor recently gave me some tips with regards to grade 3 reading.

I will be teaching grade 3 in September and I’ve never taught grade 3.

I’m feeling a bit nervous about what books to read aloud that will get students thinking about social justice issues, such as identity, diversity, inclusion and anti racism. These are just a few of the topics I regularly explore with my grade 4’s and 5’s.

I plan to follow Erika’s advice and start with a funny book, like Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst. After that, it’s wide open except for the #GlobalReadAloud21 pick Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott.

Some other titles I am considering are: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park and The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson.

What are some books you would recommend for this grade level? Thank you in advance. I look forward to reading your comments below.

A Celebration

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This evening we celebrated my husband’s birthday.

We were all there.

My oldest daughter, her husband and their two children.

My youngest daughter and her husband.

My son.

And me.

In Chicago to celebrate another year around the sun for my husband.

Tapas.

Paella.

Sangria.

Yummy desserts.

It was lovely.

Now we’re back home.

For a nightcap on the porch.

But first I’m going to finish Book One of the Misewa Saga, The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson.

Perfect night.

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Snippet – #9

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Today would have been my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. A milestone!

This got me thinking about other kinds of celebrations, such as birthdays, particularly my students’ birthdays.

First, I have a confession to make: I am not the kind of teacher who makes a big deal about birthdays. Over the years, we usually sing happy birthday in class and no more. I have teacher friends who have birthday hats that the birthday child wears during the day and may even entertain or plan for celebratory parties.

That’s not my style.

But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time to change some of that.

Birthdays are a big deal in my family. So, why not make them a big deal in the classroom? It doesn’t have to disrupt the learning. In fact, it could be an opportunity for a different kind of learning.

And the wheels in my head are turning.

Some ideas I’m thinking about: a birthday hat; singing the birthday song; making time for the birthday child to research the origin of their name; allowing the child to design their schedule for part of the day with the option if inviting a friend to participate with them.

What are your thoughts? How can we honor children’s natural propensity to celebrate their birthday, and each other, in the classroom without the attending elaborate birthday parties of the past? Yes, I’ve been teaching long enough to remember the parties parents would plan for their children, and I want those to remain in the past. However, I do want to commemorate birthdays; it makes kids feel cared for and important.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Snippet #8

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This snippet is not about writing, but about how I will protect my time to do what truly matters to me.

This year I’m going to set firm boundaries between home and school.

I know I say that every year, but this time I’m actually going to do it.

I plan to leave twenty minutes after my contractual time, except for two days a week. That way I don’t take work home.

There will be exceptions, of course, like P-T conferences or report cards or BTS night when I will need to extend my work hours, but those times will be the exceptions rather than the norm.

The weekends will be mostly reserved for me and my family with one morning or afternoon dedicated to schoolwork, if necessary.

I will make sure that the have to’s of teaching mostly take place at school.

This means that I will say no to many things that I normally say yes to.

This means that I will be zealous about protecting my time. To write. To read. To spend time with my family. To focus on those things that matter to me and that I’ve neglected for most of my professional life.

Although this plan is still percolating in my head; it will become clearer once I’m in the school building.

How are you planing to create a work-life balance? How will you protect your precious time?

I hope you will leave a comment below. Maybe we can support each other throughout this year as we reclaim our personal time.

Snippet – #7

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I am a teacher-writer.

I write something every day.

I make my writing public even though hitting that publish button is always an act of courage for me.

Yet, if I am going to be a better teacher of writing, then I need to put pen to paper often. I need to take risks in the same way that I want my students to take risks.

So I can experience what my students might experience.

So I can offer suggestions or ideas for when they get stuck, which they will.

So, I can offer encouragement and let them know that whatever they are experiencing as writers is OK. That they have something to say. That they may not yet know what that is, but that they will know. As long as they write. Something. Anything.

I remember reading somewhere that if you write even one line a day, you will have 365 lines by the end of a year. That is better than nothing. That is something!

I am trying to follow my own advice even as I doubt myself. Just like my students must be feeling at times.

And, I remind myself: I have something to say.

What about you? How is being a teacher-writer helping you be a better teacher of writing for your students?

I hope you’ll leave a comment below.

Snippet – #5

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Yesterday I started to panic a little bit.

It feels like the summer is going by way too fast!

And, I haven’t read or done half of the things I had intended to do.

Today I’m less anxious. But only just a little bit less. 🙂

Last week I wrote about reading.

This week I’d like to focus on writing.

Not that I have nothing more to say about reading instruction or assessment, or that reading and writing aren’t related, but I have written what I wanted to write about reading for now.

(Full disclosure: I have been thinking about doing a literacy workshop rather than separate reading and writing workshops, but I need to do a lot more thinking and reading about that before I can blog about it. If you’ve done this in your classroom, I hope you will share in the comments.)

So…writing.

I am excited about returning to writing workshop this year. During the first couple of weeks I plan to get to know my grade 3’s as writers.

It will be an opportunity to expose them to the idea of workshop and what it means. I always find it’s easier for kids to adjust to a reading workshop format, but it’s more challenging to acclimate them to writing workshop.

I plan to establish routines, such as mini lessons, silent writing, quick writes, conferences and author’s chair.

What are you looking forward to doing in your writing workshop? What is something new that you will try? How will you combine reading and writing?

Leave a comment below.

Snippet – Day #4

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Thank you to Juliette Awua-Kierematen for getting me thinking about book clubs.

I am a big fan of adult book clubs, but I’ve only been in one that I loved. It lasted for two to three years. We’d meet once a month at the houses of the club members. We enjoyed delicious pot luck dinners. We read some really good books and we developed special friendships. The best part of this book club is that it had seven permanent members!

Since then I’ve tried to recreate this experience, but I haven’t been successful.

Part of me wants to think that this kind of book club is possible, even if it only happens once in a lifetime. And, I really want to get my students to experience what this could be like in the classroom.

I have read professional books on this topic. I’ve had book club conversations modeled in the classroom by coaches. I’ve done my own feeble attempts at getting book clubs started.

And, I’m still trying to find the perfect formula, even though the perfect book club isn’t necessarily the ideal we should be striving for.

So, here are some ideas I’m exploring at the moment: (1) Allow kids to self-select their first book. This first experience will be important because it will determine who becomes part of their permanent book club for the year. (2) Book clubs will happen every other month for a couple of weeks at a time. (3) Members of each book club will continue to choose what they will read after the first round of book clubs with the same members. (4) I’m still on the fence about whether or not there should be a product at the end of a book club cycle. (5) Book club meetings will include snacks, whether students bring to share (depending on COVID protocols) or bring their own.

What are your thoughts about book clubs? Have you ever been a member of an adult book club? Have you tried them in your class? What words of wisdom can you offer the rest of us?

I’ll look forward to reading your comments.

Snippet – Day #3

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In yesterday’s blog post, Jill Bless commented, and I am paraphrasing, that teachers might be needing some support to jump start their reading conferences after the school year we’ve all had to endure.

And that got me thinking…

My reading instruction certainly looked different teaching online. My in person classroom is organized around a workshop model, but that was seriously compromised this year.

I struggled with so many things, from read aloud to writing about reading to establishing a community of readers to engaging students in small and large group conversations.

And to remedy some of these problems, I tried a variety of platforms and online structures to address what would normally be second nature in person.

So, I’m curious to know what might help you get back on track with reading workshop in the fall?

Whether you were face-to-face, hybrid or fully online, there were disruptions to what we typically do in the classroom. And, while not everything I was doing pre-COVID should stay, there were routines and connections that weren’t as strong for me as they usually are. There were students I failed to reach because we were online.

So, what will you keep?

What will you dismantle?

What new structures and practices will you introduce into your workshop classroom this year?

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments. Questions and thoughts in progress are also welcome!