Monday, September 25, 2017

Grateful for Haiku

It’s been an unseasonably warm last few days in Wisconsin. Last Friday I picked up my own children at the conclusion of the school day, both sweaty and their faces bright red from the humidity and the heat. Like me, they were crabby from a hot day of work. The three of us rejoiced at our home's air conditioning and cold treats. Later in the evening, I wrote this Haiku:

Sweaty, exhausted/
Kids find popsicle relief/
From a sticky day.

I love the simplicity of Haiku. There is just something about focusing on one topic or event from a day. I am also drawn to the rhythm and syllable counting of 5-7-5 in a Haiku poem.

If you search the phrase Haiku a day on Google, you will come up with over 26,000 hits. Inspired by so many people writing a daily Haiku and how three lines can be powerful and linger in my mind, I began writing a new Haiku each day last year. Often when I wrote a Haiku poem I tried to focus on something small that I was grateful for. Although I didn’t always write each Haiku in gratitude, it allowed me to focus and think deeply about what was going on in my life.

I asked two of my long distance writing friends, Sam and Deborah, if they would consider joining me in writing a Haiku a day for the month of December. To my delight and surprise, each of them agreed. Sam sent me a Haiku each day via text and Deborah emailed her Haiku to me. At the time, I was also going through a lot of personal mess. Writing and reading Haiku helped me start healing. Sharing my Haiku poems and reading their Haiku poems were among my favorite moments from last year.

Personally, I think that it is a tremendous gift to share writing with another person. In addition, I found that each time I read a new Haiku, I gained new insights about my friends. As I shared Haiku with these two friends, we often answered each other back and forth, communicating through Haiku verses. These were such magical conversations - something that I had never experienced before. Above all, their Haiku helped me keep my head above water on some rough days.

Sam and Deborah, I deeply thank you for writing with me.

Here are a few of the Haiku I wrote from last December (note that none of the Haiku are connected to each other):

Kintsugi: broken/
Pieces within creates strength:/
Seek beauty through pain.

A Sunday snowstorm/
Slow down. Simple play. Marvel/
In season’s beauty.

With fragile patience/
I vie for peace instead of/
Their sibling squabbles.

My daughter, eight years old at the time, wrote her own Haiku. Some of her Haiku is some of my favorite pieces of writing. Ever.  
My daughter's Haiku about dancing. 
As we waited for an appointment one morning, my daughter penned this lovely Haiku. 

I am not as disciplined as I was last December in writing a Haiku each day, but now I try to write one on the days that I remember. Often it is a reflection of what I want to remember about that day or a small moment.

The rhythm of writing Haiku continues to bring me comfort. I am grateful it has been a part of my writing life and something that I hope to continue.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

On Teaching Writers: A Shift in My Perspective

Several years ago I heard Katherine Bomer speak at our Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) Convention. I’m embarrassed to share that at that time I had no idea who Katherine Bomer was, except that she spoke at educational presentations and wrote professional books. When I first heard Katherine speak I was mid-way through my first year as a literacy coach. Along with my colleagues, I was trying to figure out the shifts in the Common Core State Standards and what that looked like in secondary English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms.

In her presentation, Katherine made the claim that everything was an argument. She pointed out that writers always write to convey some sort of message. She challenged us to look for the message writers shared in their poetry and memoirs. We found argument in all of the writing samples, even though it was often implied. I was amazed at the sophistication of writing that Katherine presented from young writers. I remember leaving Katherine's presentation with a headache, thinking about argument and about writing in a way I had never considered before.

Katherine's presentation, especially hearing her statement that everything was an argument, nagged at me for some time. It made me feel uncomfortable. Now I realize that this uncomfortable feeling was one of the best things that happened to me as a teacher and as a literacy coach.

Before I began my position as a literacy coach I taught eighth grade ELA, and I taught students that writing fit into one of three categories: argument/opinion, informational, and narrative. I thought all writing fit neatly into one of those three categories. When we looked at examples of writing from "real life" I was often frustrated that I could not find writing that perfectly fit into argument or narrative or information. I didn't realize then that writers usually blend genres of writing and writing wasn't supposed to neatly fit into one category. I didn't consider that writing (except for essays in school) rarely fit into one category.

Katherine didn't just nudge me to think about the place of argument in writing. She helped me think about myself as a teacher of writers and inspired me to think about how I could teach writers in a more effective way.

Soon after I heard Katherine, I began my own inquiry of how I could be a more effective teacher of writers:
  • I began reading more professional books, especially by teachers who worked more at the elementary and early literacy levels. I read books by Katie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher and of course, Katherine Bomer.
  • I immersed myself in books written by professional writers like Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg.
  • I started investigating the possibility of using mentor texts and went through the process myself of emulating mentor text with students and teachers.
  • I participated in a writing institute through our local site of National Writing Project.
  • I began writing again, not just as an example for students or as a personal journal. Really writing and living as a writer. Noticing. Playing with ideas.

My perspective changed of what it meant to be a writer. My perspective changed of what it meant to be a teacher of writers.

Now I have students of my own again. Full time. I'm not teaching writers in the same way that I used to. In fact, last week I found myself sharing with my high school seniors the same message that Katherine Bomer shared with me: everything is an argument. I challenged my students to find the author’s argument in essays and poetry.

In an effort to get to know this year’s students better and to continue to establish writing routines, I invited each student to think and record their typical daily schedule. This was an activity that I tried at last summer’s Fox Valley Writing Project’s C3WP’s Advanced Writing Institute. Here is my schedule I shared with my seniors:

My typical day's schedule 

Next, I invited students to highlight or star areas that stood out to them or what they viewed as important.
My schedule with highlights 
And then, based on what students highlighted or starred, I invited them to generate a few claims about what their schedules revealed about them. Here are a few claims that I came up with based on my schedule:  

My claims 

Finally, I ended class that day with an invitation for students to select one claim to write about in a Quick Write. I wrote my Quick Write using the document camera in front of my students, emphasizing that Quick Writes are not about perfection or even really good writing. Quick Writes are a starting point for writers.

My Quick Write
As I look back to how I used to teach writing, I realize that I was not really teaching the writer. I was teaching writing to students that would only be helpful to them in a school setting. I used to require my students to write a narrative essay, an informational piece, and an argumentative essay, usually in the form of a mega research paper. I didn't model my own writing very much as a teacher. In fact, I did a lot more assigning than teaching. For the most part, my students didn't care about writing, and I didn't enjoy teaching this way either.

Now I'm working more to invite students to write about topics they are passionate about. I search for ideas to help my students write for real purposes and an authentic audience. I'm writing with my students and sharing my writing more than I ever have before.

I now see my students as teachers who I learn from.

I remain in awe of Katherine Bomer. I had the opportunity to hear her speak again this past February. This time I got to meet her and talk with her. I think she's a gifted writer, passionate speaker, and a genuinely kind and compassionate person. However, I am most grateful of how my initial discomfort from Katherine's words helped me grow as a teacher and as a writer. I cannot wait to learn more from her and other teachers who write. Above all, my approach to teaching writers has changed, as well as my journey as a writer.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

I Keep Trying: Building Classroom Culture

According to Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment (Jossey-Bass, 2014), “A classroom culture of trust, safety, challenge, and joy is the cornerstone of engaged and effective learning.”

I keep trying. 

After four days I realize that I haven’t spent enough time to build trust with my students. Unfortunately, I've already heard these comments:

  • “I don't read”
  • "I hate writing"
  • “I don't care”
  • “I hate school"

Although none of these comments have come as a huge surprise to me, I still cringe when I hear them.

I am working hard to learn more about who my students are and particularly about what they care about. After all, I know that spending time on building my classroom culture is worth it. Students won't be able to become engaged and effective learners without the sense of trust, feeling safe, challenged, and filed with joy. I desperately want to create an effective learning environment for all.

My students deserve this. All students deserve this.

Last week I introduced Cris Tovani's Conversation Calendars and invited my students to respond to this question: What would you like for me to know about you? Some of my students were pretty honest with me, leaving me in awe in their level of vulnerability with a teacher they have just met. Other students were more cautious in what they shared. Regardless, I already appreciate what I know about my students through using Conversation Calendars. It is a tool that I will continue to use this year for building and maintaining trust and to give and get feedback from my students.

As a part of building my classroom culture I'm trying to be more vulnerable with my students and show them more of who I am as a person and as a writer. Yesterday I introduced Georgia Heard’s brilliant idea of Heart Maps. I showed examples of past Heart Maps from my notebook and from this book. Next I created a Heart Map using a think aloud and projected it using the document camera.  

When it was time for them to create their own Heart Maps, I invited my students to write/draw what was close to their hearts. With the exception of one or two students (who simply needed a nudge to get started), they immediately got to work.

Ninth grade students creating Heart Maps
I wasn't sure how well high school students would respond to making Heart Maps. Yet, they seemed to welcome the time to think and write and sketch. Most of my students worked right up until the end of the class hour, and a few of them requested to work on their Heart Maps at home, even though it wasn’t an assignment.

I plan to use Heart Maps as an entry point for students to use in their writing. In addition, if and when students are ready, perhaps they will tell me more about what sketches and words on their Heart Maps signify.

I will keep trying.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself feeling overwhelmed in thinking about all I need to prepare for the upcoming week. As I wrote today's Morning Pages, I decided to create a Heart Map based on all that is lingering in my heart from my first week with my students.

Trina's Heart Map - September 9th
As soon as I was finished, I realized that Heart Mapping was exactly what I needed today. It soothed my busy mind. If you peeked into my notebooks, you would see Heart Maps scattered throughout my writing. I appreciate the time to reflect, and always provides me with insight about what I am really feeling. It is a simple tool that has helped me understand who I am and the kind of person I strive to be.

Thinking about Heart Maps inspired me to write this Haiku:

Creating Heart Maps/
Leads me to peace this morning/
Pen. Paper. Mind. Soul.

Monday, September 4, 2017



I started blogging about a month ago for mainly three reasons:
  1. To reflect and make better sense of my teaching and learning as I instruct high school learners
  2. To push myself more as a writer (especially in sharing my writing with a broader audience)
  3. As a tool to show my students that I am a teacher who writes (and as a place to perhaps showcase some of their writing and their ideas)
I am not going to lie. Each time I press that "publish" button on Blogger I find my chest tighten and my breath catch. It's still as scary as when I wrote my first post. Yet, I recognize that the act of writing posts not only strengthens my writing skills but also reminds me of the high level of empathy I need to have when I ask students to share their writing. After all, writing is personal, sometimes exposing vulnerability. And so, I am committed to continue to write posts this school year.

This morning I found myself reflecting about the last few months. I realized that this summer our family didn’t take any big trips or even leave the state. Instead, our family spent more time at home than we ever have before. We took daily walks around our neighborhood, played in the backyard with our puppy, or found new local places to explore. My kids convinced me to stop for ice cream more than I should admit. We also stopped at our public library at least once a week, sometimes twice. In addition, I made sure that I carved out some time for myself to write and read every day.

I simply slowed down, and my kids did as well.

Besides writing Morning Pages, I typically ended each day with writing a list of what I was grateful for. I almost always wrote about small moments from that day, but more often than not, I wrote about how I was grateful for the time that I spend reading with my kids. With the exception of maybe five nights this whole summer (when I was gone for an educational conference), I curled up with my children, either on our couch or in my bed and we read together, usually for an hour or more. This was my favorite routine with my children, one that we have the luxury to do more (and for longer chunks at a time) in the summer. Although I wrote this free verse poem over a year ago and was thinking about a time when my children were a bit younger, it still represents a daily routine that I find myself the most grateful for:


by Trina Haase

Sandwiched between two cherubs in footed pajamas-
Wisps of damp watermelon-scented locks
Brush against my right forearm while
A dim lamp light streams over our threadbare couch, and
I sit for the first time today.   

The three of us snuggle-  
Legs nestled beneath a thin,
Hand-stitched and patiently pieced
Quilt of browns, blues, and rust-colored flying geese.
Books rest on my lap-
tattered copies of
Dragons Beware,
Chi’s Sweet Home,
And volumes of Calvin and Hobbes-
Continually swapped between two siblings.

Alaina clutches MoMo- stuffing nearly formless and flat-
And nuzzles this limp pink monkey arm in a circular motion on her cheek.
I observe her study each page
And every so often her smooth lips form words
As if she’s sharing a delicious secret.

A squeal pierces the silence and I hear,
Isaac lunges over my lap,
Knocking The How of Happiness from my hands,
Pages smash to the floor-
Its spine stares at me.
Giggles erupt.  
Surprised, Hurley sharply barks in protest of an unexpected crash-
Then sharply circles twice before positioning himself
In a tight ball against gray stone.

Our lively house quiets again,   
With the occasional hum of an outside car whirring by, a few pages turning,
And rhythmic ticks from the wall clock.
Calm envelops me as
Warm bodies lean into mine: my two bookends.  

My two "bookends"

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Know Better, Do Better

Know Better, Do Better

My formal teaching career launched eighteen years ago as a language arts teacher in an urban middle school. Like most first year teachers, I struggled with almost everything - classroom management, developing units, teaching grammar and spelling, and how to assess writing. I quickly realized that having my own class was really not the same as my student teaching. I was a secondary English Education major, but I often found myself lost. I didn’t know how to help my students who refused to read. I didn’t know how to effectively teach young writers. I didn't know what to do when students wouldn't participate. I didn't now how to give fair grades to students. Yet, I pretended that I was just fine - that I knew everything I needed to be an effective teacher. There was no way that I would admit to Mrs. Wiegand, my principal, that I needed help and had a lot more to learn. I wasn’t vulnerable enough with my colleagues to ask for help either. And there was no way that I could reveal to my eighth grade students that I didn’t know something or had to search to find an answer.

I believed that I could never show weakness or appear that I did not know something. I was terrified that someone might think that I wasn’t a good teacher or didn’t belong in the classroom.

Fortunately, I don’t feel that way anymore.

A few years ago I attended a conference called Comprehension X3 in Madison, WI and I heard someone ask author and staff developer Cris Tovani about how she assessed student writing and reading using standards in her grading. Her response was something like, “I’m not there yet. I am still trying to figure that out.” I was blown away at how vulnerable she was in sharing this statement in front of a large group. I even wrote down the question and her response in my notes with an exclamation point. In a breakout session later on, Cris also shared who influenced her thinking and the titles she was reading to learn more about standards based grading. I'm sure it wasn't a big deal to Cris, but it showed me that it was okay to admit when you don't know an answer. By this time I was learning more and more about being an effective teacher (and changing my instructional practices), but I realized that I wasn't sharing this with my students or colleagues.

Recently, one of mantras has been this phrase: know better, do better. I am a completely different teacher than I was eighteen years ago. Now I read more professional resources, attend literacy conferences, and am involved in our Wisconsin State Reading Association. I take the time to reflect in my writing as a teacher and learner. Unlike my first few years of teaching, I am not afraid to ask questions, even if I know it exposes exactly what I do not know. Perhaps, and most importantly, I am a better listener to my students and understand how much they can teach me about their learning.

These are the areas that I am most interested in as a learner right now: 
  • How to teach reading more effectively to high school readers
  • How to give and get better feedback from my students
  • How to plan my instructional units better, including using learning targets better and what author and staff developer Samantha Bennett calls an effective "make"
  • How to empower student voice through writing
Last year a classmate in my daughter’s third grade class made this poster:
This poster was created by one of my daughter's classmates and proudly displayed in the classroom.
I couldn't love this more. I hope to show my students more of my mistakes this year so they can see that I am learning. I want them to see that sometimes I struggle in what I am doing (and don't know all the answers), but I seek out information when I don't know the answer.

I want to create this kind of culture in my high school classroom, one that values mistakes. One that shows that we are all seeking knowledge. A culture that honors that we are all learners, even the teacher.   

Know better, do better.

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