Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Remember This for Next Year

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 

Remember This for Next Year

"Remember this for next year," My colleague, Krista, wisely reminded me. I had just shared - for at least the twentieth time - how I have struggled with a group of high school students this year. 

Although this is not my first year teaching in an alternative education setting at my high school, two of my courses have been especially challenging to instruct this year, both through a behavioral and academic lens. 

This year I have used as many trust-building activities as possible, including circles and get-to-know-you activities. I have explicitly modeled my thinking through think-alouds and the document camera. I have worked hard to establish predictable routines. I have reached out to available instructional coaches in the district. I have read and reread professional books and articles about engagement and classroom management and literacy. 

Yet, as a seasoned teacher of nearly twenty years, I am still struggling in so many ways:
  • I have struggled to build positive teacher - student relationships. 
  • I have struggled to help my students build positive student - student relationships. 
  • I have struggled in keeping up with and adjusting instructional planning.
  • I have struggled to demonstrate student growth in literacy. 
  • I have struggled with matching books with students and encouraging them to read. 
  • I have struggled to know where to begin when my students have so many different significant needs.
At home, I consistently write and reflect on my teaching. I ask myself questions, notice patterns, record what I am wondering about. Through my writing, I only recently realized that my students seem to trust me a little bit more then they did at the beginning of the year. In fact, they seem to trust each other more. It makes me feel good that I am beginning to see them take risks as learners more often. 

It's November. Although I have seen growth in students taking risks as learners and displaying more positive behaviors as readers and learners and classmates, I continue to do a lot of kid-watching and listening. I continue to adjust my instruction and trying new things. I continue to work on building positive relationships. I continue to try new things. 

Krista is right. I need to remember this for next year for my planning and my overall expectations - it takes a while to build trust, especially with students who have not yet found success at school.  

Thank you, Krista. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: October Snow

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 

October Snow

October surprise.
White clings to leafy branches.
Apple peers through snow.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Without WiFi

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 

Without WiFi

I recently moved to a new place. If you haven't moved in a while, you may not remember how stressful moving can be. Furthermore, moving is also incredibly expensive and time-consuming. Needless to say, I don't want to move again any time soon, especially at the beginning of the school year.

In the last month, one of the things that has been the most eye-opening for me was life without WiFi/home access to the Internet. When I moved, I had to make so many decisions and set up essential services, like utilities, coordinating moving schedules, etc. I did not have a lot of time to sit on the phone with representatives trying to sell me all kinds of services I did not need. Truthfully, I was overwhelmed with what kind of Internet service I wanted and from which provider. Oh yeah, and scheduling a time to sit for a four hour window that wasn't during the school day? This proved challenging and frustrating. I couldn't take off of work just for an Internet installation. 

In the end, by the time I got everything scheduled, it took a little over a week to get my home Internet installed. Fortunately, in the meantime, I could use my cell phone's data and access the Internet at work, so I didn't completely "go dark". 

Going without WiFi for only one week provided me a glimpse of what it's probably like for my students and their families who have unreliable WiFi or no WiFi - including those families who move frequently or who just cannot afford it. Currently, one of my children is in middle school. Most of his homework is delivered via a digital platform. He has a Chromebook assigned to him for the school year through our local school district, but without WiFi at home, he couldn't use it when he was at home. This meant that anything he didn't finish in class he had to do before or after school, or I needed to take him to a location with WiFi. As a parent, I also couldn't easily check his grades. Checking the online learning platforms on cell phones can be accomplished, but it takes longer AND it is more challenging to navigate. Talk about frustrating. 

In the school district I teach in, we are 1:1 (one device per student) at the high school level. Before this year, I always assumed that the device itself was adequate enough for students to accomplish work assigned online. I thought, what else did they really need to get their work done? Since I have had Internet access at home for most of my teaching career, I haven't had to imagine life without Internet access. 

In consequence, this was the first year I discreetly polled my students and asked who had Internet access at home and who did not. I assumed most did, with maybe one or two students who did not. However, I was surprised at the number of students who didn't. Out of 90 of my seniors, approximately one fourth of them reported that they do not have Internet access at home (and are limited to using a cell phone only). Wow. 

In the past, I have asked my students to accomplish a lot of work online. I've always given them time in class, but I have not thought twice about students finishing work at home if they ran out of time. Yet, after living without home access to WiFi for a week, it makes me question some of my practices, including how much time I allot in class for my students to finish their work that requires Internet and how many of my students have access to reliable Internet at home.   

This was just one week without WiFi. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: I get to...

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 

I get to...

At one of our staff meetings last year one of our high school principals, Dr. Mineau, mentioned the power of this phrase, "I get to..." Dr. Mineau was referring to our mindset in how we approach situations. The idea is to replace the phrase "I have to..." with "I get to." For example, instead of "I have to be at Open House this week" you could say, "I get to meet some of my students and their parents." The second sentence sounds much more positive, doesn't it? 

For a while, I have been trying to focus on what is positive in my life instead of dwelling on the negative, especially on the factors I have little to no control over. According to author Kendra Cherry in "Benefits of Positive Thinking for Body and Mind," positive thinkers can cope better with stress, have improved immunity, can be more resilient, and can have positive impacts on overall health. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I could use all of those benefits! 

I have been trying to apply this approach to my personal life all summer, consistently applying the "I get to" phrase when I can. Honestly, I have dealt with some tough things lately, and while the "I get to" phrase has not taken away what's messy and painful, it has helped me shift some of my perspectives so I can manage in a healthier way. Ultimately, this has helped me show up as a more decent human being.

Today I get to begin a new school year. I get to work with amazing colleagues. I get to work with some fantastic students. I get to keep learning with and from my students. I get to be a part of making a positive difference for kids. I get to reflect about each day in my writers notebook. I get to see students make progress.  

What do you get to do in your life? In your profession? At home? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Slice of Life Tuesday: Ukulele Journey

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Tuesday Slice of Life: 
Ukulele Journey

I was recently paging through my writer's notebook and found this list poem I wrote some time last spring, reflecting on my journey of learning to play the ukulele. (If I remember correctly, I believe that I was reading through Poems Are Teachers at the time, and so this list poem was likely inspired by the smart work of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.) 

Ukulele Wishes 

I wish I could
     remember strumming patterns
     effortlessly switch from chord D to Em,
     play tablature in tune 
     feel the rhythm of quarter, half, and whole notes
     read notes instead of looking at my fingers
     sing and strum 
     not fret so much about mistakes and 
     enjoy my music journey. 


A little over a week ago my thirteen-year-old son and I attended an outdoor ukulele workshop through our city's Mile of Music Festival. Although I played quite a bit last spring and took a few group lessons, I had not played my ukulele since the beginning of June. I was rusty. My uke was out of tune. In fact, it was so out of tune that I needed to ask my son in order to get my ukulele back in playing shape. 

As soon as my ukulele was in tune and my fingers found some familiar chords, I was instantly reminded how much I enjoy making music. My fingers immediately gravitated to the C and G7 chords - I still had some muscle memory in my fingers. 

Since the short workshop, I have been playing each day and I am beginning to enjoy it again. Now I can play Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers. To my amazement, my son recently remarked that he actually recognizes these tunes when I play! Win!

It feels good. I need to keep spending the time to make music.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

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Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

"I didn't realize Lester Laminack was speaking at this luncheon. Is there any way I can still buy a ticket?" 

Last month I was a newbie at NCTE's WLU Summer Institute in Columbia, South Carolina. In trying to save money, initially I did not sign up for the luncheon. Apparently I did not close-read the information on the WLU website and did not realize that beloved author Lester Laminack was the keynote speaker. Every person I had newly met at the conference was attending. 

The NCTE representative gently responded to my question, "It's a plated dinner, so it is not as simple as just charging you. Tell you what, if you just hang out until the luncheon officially begins, I will sneak you in if there is an open seat."

I nodded and thanked her. From the hotel hallway, I watched as conference participants streamed in, eager to secure spots by friends. A local elementary school from Irmo, South Carolina (The Oak Pointe Bucket Band) warmed the crowd with a lively bucket band performance. 

Just when I thought that I would be dining alone at the hotel restaurant, I heard, "You're in luck. We have some no-shows, so you can attend the luncheon. Just quietly find an empty seat and enjoy." 

"Thank you SO much!" Giddy, I scanned the room to find an empty seat and ventured towards a back table with one open chair. It happened to be next to Dr. Lenny Sanchez, a professor at U of SC and a colleague of my friend Cathy. 

"Is this seat taken?" I inquired.

"Nope, please sit!" Lenny grinned and I sat beside him.

To the right of me sat a thin woman with tight, curly hair. "I'm Trina," I quickly introduced myself. 

The woman held out her hand to shake mine, "Katie." Bucket band still playing, I glanced at her name tag to be certain I heard her name correctly. In a quick glance I peered at her name tag: Katie Wood Ray.

I froze. Katie Wood Ray? I sat next to the Katie Wood Ray, author and editor extraordinaire?  

"Oh. My. God. You're Katie Wood Ray?"

"Yes." She smiled.

Like a teenager upon seeing Justin Bieber, I gushed to Katie about how I loved all her books, how they changed me as a writer and a teacher of writers. And it would have been fine if I ended the conversation here. 

Mouth moving at warp speed, tangled in my Wisconsin accent, I went on to tell her that I loved writing so much, even pulling out and showing my latest journal, as somehow proving to her that I was writing. Yup, I was that girl. 

There are so many other ways that this conversation could have gone, but I was socially awkward. I offered stupid comments. I asked silly questions. I fumbled up my words. I did not really show up as myself.

Thank goodness Lester Laminack began his keynote SO I could keep my mouth shut and listen.

The WLU Summer Institute is a small, intimate conference. After the luncheon, of course I kept running into Katie: in the bathroom, in the hallway between sessions, in the hotel lobby. Each time I found myself inarticulate.

Through it all, Katie Wood Ray was gracious.

Until I wrote about it later in my notebook, I didn't realize how nervous I was to meet her. Then, in horror, I realized how desperate I was to sound intelligent and interesting - the kind of person Katie would want to know. It's not usually the person I show up as. 


It has now been a few weeks since the WLU Summer Institute. I can now think about this conversation and laugh at myself a bit. After all, I was a bit starstruck at meeting the great Katie Wood Ray. 

In retrospect, I am reminded that we all say and do stupid, awkward things sometimes. In our personal lives. As teachers. As humans. We all do this. For me, this was a great reminder that awkward conversations (or in my case, a SERIES of awkward conversations) happen, and it's just a slice in our lives - not a reflection of who we are as whole people. 


To read past posts about how I have been influenced by Katie Wood Ray's work, you can read here and here. Even if you are a teacher of high school or middle school students, Katie Wood Ray's work is brilliant, still applicable to older learners. Her work will inspire you to serve your students better. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Coloring

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Coloring 

"I brought coloring books. Does anyone want to color?"

"Oh my God! Yes!" Two sixteen-year-old students, sitting in the bus seat across from me, eagerly grab my small stash of coloring books, markers, and colored pencils. They page through the two books I brought, exclaiming at the spread of designs.

"I love to color," One of them shares, "I cannot even remember the last time I colored anything."

"Me too. We should have more times to color." 

Indeed, I think and smile. For now, their iPhones are put away and they are coloring and chattering. 

We are en route to a school-sponsored trip to Chicago. As a chaperone, I will be in close quarters with these high school students for the next three days. Beginning our trip with something light, like coloring on the bus, is a great way to begin our adventure. 

Tuesday Slice of Life: Remember This for Next Year

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