Foster Parenting

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday...2013

Here it is the end of 2013, and what a year it's been.  Like all years, it's been a mixture of good things and not so good things.  It's certainly been a year of personal growth for me.  I've learned the importance of saying no and giving myself permission to not be perfect at everything I try (or don't try because I won't be any good at it).  I've learned to listen to myself and stand up for myself.  I've welcomed being still and quieting the negative inner dialogue that often rears its ugly head.  In retrospect, the challenges I faced this year helped me focus on what was working in my life and what wasn't.  I worked on strengthening those things that work and letting go of the things that don't work so well.  The changes I've made have all been good.

Linda Baie has the following quote in her blog:

Rainer Maria Rilke:  "And now, we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."

I find that I keep going back to it.  Many changes await my family...some that I can plan for and others that will be totally unexpected.  Our house is up for sale, which means that we will be living in a new place next year.  It's a little scary and at the same time very exciting.  All 3 kids will be in different places in their lives too, as they move to new jobs, first jobs, and new universities.  

I used to fear the unknown.  I don't anymore. I've come to realize just how resilient I am.  I'm looking forward to the "things that have never been."  There are so many possibilities that will bring opportunities for trying new things and learning more about myself.

I wish all of you a very happy and blessed New Year!

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please go to their blog to read other slices.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Celebrations...Time

I want to thank Ruth Ayres for providing this space for celebrations.  

This week, I celebrate time, because this week I've had time to slow down and savor the things that make me happy.  I've had...

time with family.  All 3 of our kids are home and when they are together, they make me laugh.  They are so different in personality and yet, they are the best of friends.  We were able to celebrate Christmas with grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  What more could you want?  My husband had the week off, so we've been able to do some spur of the moment things that aren't always possible.

time to  bake.   I have a small sickness when it comes to baking Christmas cookies.  I go into a manic mode (my sister's words) and I keep thinking of "one more recipe to try."  Usually, I run out of time or steam before I get everything made that I want to make. This year was different.  I planned ahead, utilized my freezer, and made ALOT of cookies.  All in all, counting the biscotti I made for gifts, I made 26 different kinds of cookies.  (See, I told's a little bit weird).  However, I had so much fun and I've given most of them away.  

time for solitude.  Someone asked me what I wanted to accomplish over break.  My reply was to be quiet and listen for myself.  I've felt disconnected from myself lately because I've let outside pressures take over.  After I read Heather Rader's blog post last week, I knew what I needed to do.    Every day, I spend some time quieting my mind and doing nothing.  It's very hard to do, but it's so worth it.  I feel calmer and happier and more centered than I've felt in a long time.  I'm also finding time to read daily devotions and spend time in prayer.  These practices are helping to fill a void that's needed attention.

time to read.  I discovered Kirby Lawson this week.  How did I miss her?  I read Hattie Big Sky, which has been on my Kindle for a long time and immediately read Hattie Ever After next.  I'm currently reading The Quirks:  Welcome to Normal by Erin Soderberg and Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild.  It feels so good to carve out that time for myself.
This is my favorite place to read.

time for discovery.  My family has explored some new restaurants in Columbus this week.  We had dessert today at Dane's Desserts, which is owned by the mother of one of my students.  Delicious! After that, my husband and I walked through a downtown park that we hadn't been to in at least 25 years and then ventured to the North Market.  We bought homemade pierogi and Polish sausage, which I'll be making for dinner tonight.  (Why isn't it as fun to find different ways to cook broccoli?  It'd be much better for my waistline.)

time to create.  My children surprised me with handmade gifts this year.  Nothing means more to me than something that is homemade with love.  Molly and Annie taught themselves how to quilt and Zach taught himself how to knit.  I received a beautiful quilt and a scarf for Christmas.  Before I got busy raising three children and working full time, I used to be quite the crafter.  I sewed, made baskets, crocheted, etc.  I decided it's time to get back in touch with that side of me.  I've got knitting needles and a skein of yarn ready to go.  Zach showed me the YouTube video he watched (what did we do before YouTube?) and my night is planned.  Who knows, maybe next week's celebration will be hand knitted socks!  Ha ha!!

Before I end, I want to say thank you to everyone for their kinds words in last week's post.  They meant so much to me.  I saw my cousin on Christmas and was able to give her that great big hug I wanted to give her.  

I hope you have lots to celebrate this week!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebration Saturday

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for hosting Celebrate Friday.  Please check out her blog to read others' celebrations.

Today I celebrate...

I keep starting and restarting this post.  I'm struggling.  Someone I love dearly received devastating news.  I struggle because I'm far away, and there's nothing I can do for her.  I don't think there's anything anyone can do.

So as we prepare for Christmas here, tantalizing aromas dance through the kitchen, kids are home making me smile, we all feel a sense of happiness and contentment.  And yet, sadness tugs at my heart.  Where can I find the celebration?

For tonight, I find I am focusing on the love that overflows from those of us who hold her close.
Love that will soothe, giving her strength when she needs it most
Love that will fill the gaps that words cannot
Love that will heal when she is ready
Love that will return again and again
It is in endless supply
Always at the ready
To be given freely
As arms are opened to
Welcome her
Hold her
Support her
when she needs it most.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Google 20% in 6 Words

Last week Kevin Hodgson published 6 word thoughts from those who are participating in #nerdlution.  Unfortunately, I missed the call for people to share their thinking, but fortunately, I did check in the next day and found his Haiku Deck.  It is beautiful, to say the least.

I started to wonder what my students might say about their ability to choose their topics and ways to share their learning when we do Google 20%.  There is so much variety in what is happening in my room, which I talked about in an earlier post.  Not only is there a lot of variety, but there is also so much enthusiasm.  Every day I hear, "Can we do Google 20% today?"  They often choose to work on their projects during reading and writing workshop if time permits.

I showed the kids Kevin's Haiku Deck (combined with audio from the #nerdlution collaborative song) and talked about where the idea came from to use 6 words to tell a story.  They were intrigued and willing to give it a try.  It took a few attempts for some, while others got the hang of it right away.  I was impressed with their thinking.  I've not used Haiku Deck before, but decided to give it a try.  Thank you so much to Kevin for the inspiration and pushing my thinking with my students.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Celebration: Santa Workshop Fun!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

As I posted on Tuesday, I decided to give the kids choice in creating their parents' gifts for the holidays.  I dug out craft supplies from my basement and cupboards at school and made a quick stop to Michael's (so much for saving any money) and brought everything in on Friday morning.  They had been brimming with excitement since I told them my plan earlier in the week.  Every once in awhile, I would hear snippets of conversation about plans for Christmas gifts.  (For the first time in many, many years, every student in my room celebrates Christmas).

Friday morning was a blast!  They thought of things I never would have considered (which is always the case isn't it?).  Take a peek and see how much fun the kids had and all the wonderful things they created.

I hope all of you have a wonderful week of things to celebrate.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trying Something New

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please check their site for other slices.  

I've been wracking my brains for an idea of what to have my students make for their parents for Christmas.  From the time I started teaching in the mid 80s, I've always carved out time for my students to make something for their parents.  It's usually not Christmas themed, since I often have students who don't celebrate Christmas.  We've made ornaments, calendars, and for the last few years, I've had my students write I Am From poems.  I decided it was time to do something different this year, but I wasn't sure what it would be.  

I found these cute time capsule ornaments (made with fourth grade memories).

I thought about something with handprints or thumbprints.

Maybe coasters made from white tiles and Sharpies?

I even dreamed about it last night!  It was not a happy dream.  

Then, I started to think, "Maybe they don't want to make an ornament for their moms and dads."  Maybe they don't want to write.  Maybe some will want to make an ornament and others will want to make a book.  Even though I think a gift is thoughtful, doesn't mean my students share my thinking.  Knowing them, they probably have a better idea than I do.

Then I had another thought.  Was I crazy?  We've been doing so much with Google 20% and giving kids choice in their learning. What would happen if I gave kids choice in creating a gift for their parents?  What would happen if I brought in all of the unused craft items in my basement and put it all out and let the kids make whatever they want to?  What will they dream up?  What will they create?  Raising 3 creative children means that I have a lot of stuff still in my basement. 

There will be no rules, except that you have to clean  up your mess and share supplies.  If I have the supplies in the room, you can use them to make whatever you can imagine.  
So, Friday afternoon is going to be a mini Santa's Workshop in Room 114.  I'm excited about the possibilities.  Yes, it's going to be messy, but I've learned that messy is good.  That's when the best learning and creating happens.  

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  I already know what my Saturday celebration post will be.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Celebration Saturday: Celebrating Friends Old and New

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

Our lives forever changed when we answered an email from our high school principal several years back.  It was an invitation to host a Rotary foreign exchange student for the upcoming school year.  I've always loved opening my home to others, so when this opportunity presented itself, I knew it was something I wanted to do.  My family agreed and we quickly replied that we would be a host family. We had no idea who would be coming and never in my dreams did I imagine the impact Rotary Youth Exchange would have on our family.  Three months later, we welcomed Sana, a 16 year-old girl from Pune, India into our home.  We fell in love with her immediately.  Since then, we've hosted students from Spain, Germany, Turkey and South Korea.  Each girl has had a positive impact on our family.  Because of our experience hosting, our daughter Annie, lived in Spain for a month and then spent last school year in Turkey.  Our family has grown to include so many people we never would have met if we hadn't said yes to that simple request 4 years ago.

Today I celebrate this wonderful group of people including all of the volunteers who work with the kids here in the US.  Many of them are now our friends.  They give hours and hours of their time to ensure that the kids who come to the US and those who leave the US for their own exchange experience are successful.

I celebrate the kids.  The bond they form is like no other.  They become each other's forever brothers and sisters.  Moving to a foreign country, navigating a new culture, and learning a new language provides an experience that not many can relate to.  These kids get each other, no matter where they come from.

Sana, our daughter from India.
Annie and Sana are still best friends.  They are there for each other no matter what.  Skype is a lifesaver when either one of them needs the other.  There's been a lot of time on Skype this week and for that I am so thankful.  Sometimes there are words that only your best friend can say to make things better.

I celebrate friends - old friends and new.  Today, we had lunch with my best friend from high school, her husband, daughter, and their Rotary Youth Exchange student, Siengpin from Thailand.  Every December,  students from the Ohio-Erie region take a trip to Disney World in Florida.  This area includes exchange students who live within a several state radius and includes parts of Canada.  Marlene (who is a first time host mom) lives a few hours away. Since they needed to drive Seingpin to Columbus, I invited them to lunch.  Chanju, our student from South Korea, was going on the same trip.  We were going to have an international lunch before the girls headed out.

From the left going clockwise:  Chanju, Marlene, her husband Chris, my husband Keith, me, Seingpin, and Abigail, Marlene and Chris' daughter.
As I sat at the table, I couldn't help but reflect on how amazing it was that here we were, all of us from different places, sitting together sharing stories and laughter as we learned more about each other.  Marlene and I, friends for the last 35 years, now have another connection.  Seingpin and Chanju will get to know each other better this week as they travel to Florida.  As they meet other kids on the trip, they will form new friendships that will stay with them forever.

I celebrate the weaving of cultures and families that span the world.  I celebrate friends - new and old - who touch our lives and leave us better people.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wonder and Explore: Google 20% at Scioto Darby Elementary

Can you imagine being told that you can spend 20% of your time at work pursuing you own personal interests?  You can research, create, build, develop, experiment...anything that is of interest to you.  Your learning is self-driven and you will not be evaluated on the final product.  You will learn for the joy of learning and share your learning with an authentic audience.

Doesn't it sound inspiring?  I can tell you from experience that it is.  The students in my school are participating in the Google 20% experience.  Based on the practice at Google where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time at work pursuing a project that has nothing to do with their job.  Interestingly, Google Scholar, Google News, and GMail resulted from Google 20% time.  We spend a few hours every month working on our projects.

In September, I started out by asking my students to identify topics that were of interest to them.  I asked them what they were passionate about.  My colleague had done Wonder projects in the past, which were free choice projects.  I tweaked her form and sent this letter home with my students.  The students made Wonder and Explore journals to keep track of their learning.  In addition, they have Wonder and Explore folders where they can keep loose papers.  We had our first Google 20% time in October.  My kids LOVED their time.  Some students worked in small groups while others worked independently.  One of the boys made a solar oven.  Several girls worked on learning a new language.  Some students chatted with the art teacher and focused on  learning new drawing techniques.

In November, I asked them to reflect on their learning.  They had the option to continue with their original project or explore something different.  I also asked them to prepare something for December to share their learning.  I created this very simple form to guide their thinking.  We had our second Wonder and Explore time right before Thanksgiving.  Some students continued their work, others expanded their projects, while others decided to pursue a completely different interest.  Some of the projects this time around include:

  • The history of Batman 
  • How do optical illusions work?  
  • How do lava lamps work?  
  • Continuation of drawing still life objects 
  • Extension of severe weather 
  • Learning a new language 
  • How are rocks and minerals formed?  

You can see we have a wide variety of interests.  Our next Wonder and Explore time is next week.  I'm excited to see what the kids create.  

I've gathered some resources that helped me get started.  

I'll be posting more as we go through the year.  Has anyone else tried doing Google 20%?  I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday: I Should Have Read Closer

Thanks to The Two Writing Teachers for hosting Tuesday's Slice of Life.  Please visit their website and read and comment on other Slices.

Today's post pokes a little humor at myself, and we all need a little humor, don't we?

I finally had a large chunk of time to do some professional reading last weekend and I finished Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts Falling In Love with Close Reading:  Lessons for Analyzing Texts and Life.  I LOVED it!  I especially loved the suggestion of beginning to teach close reading with lyrics from a popular song.  I couldn't wait to try the lesson with my fourth graders.  I asked my 18 year-old daughter for some suggestions.  I didn't want anything that would even suggest something inappropriate for fourth graders.  She said, "Katy can't go wrong."  She then told me to check out her song "Roar."  Well, I knew the song and thought that it would be perfect.  I found a video  from YouTube and I carefully scanned the lyrics to ensure there were no curse words.  Satisfied, I printed the lyrics and bookmarked the video.  I then made copies of the lyrics for each of my students so that they could mark up the text and write about their thinking.  I was looking forward to the lesson all day.  I knew that my kids were going to love it.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  I clicked on the link for the video and I got an error message.  For some reason, the site was down.  It was ok.  I found another link to the audio version of the song.  We were back in business.  I gave the mini-lesson and played a small blurb from the song.  Oh, my kids were happy. They were smiling and singing and bouncing along.  We talked about what we thought the message to the song was:

  • Stand up for yourself.
  • Never give up.
  • If you fall down, get back up.
  • Keep going, no matter what.

They were on the right track!  I was feeling really good about the lesson and I was looking forward to seeing how their thinking would deepen as they closely read the lyrics.

I handed out the song lyrics and gave the instructions.  "Read the text carefully.  Circle words or phrases that stand out to you. What do you think they mean?  What new ideas can you come up with when you think about the message of the song?"  The kids eagerly took their papers and got to work quickly.  I walked around the room, conferring with students about what they were noticing.  Everything was going really well!

Then one of my boys came up.  "Um, Mrs. Johnson, there's a cuss word on here."
"What? No there isn't.  I checked it." I said incredulously.  I had gone over those lyrics with a fine tooth comb.  I was sure nothing was inappropriate.
"Look," he said.  He then pointed to the fine print at the bottom of the lyrics.  And sure enough...

there it was...When I'm  Rich, You'll Be My B****.

I freaked out just a little and told the kids to scribble it out.  Of course, the room erupted into laughter and kids yelling out, "I need a Sharpie.  You can still see it."  Oh my...the lesson went downhill from there.  I decided to put it away for the day and told the kids we'd go back to it tomorrow.

 So, my great lesson kind of fizzled at the end (or maybe a better word is exploded).  The irony was not lost on me though.  Here I was, teaching a lesson on close reading, and I realized that it was me, who had not read closely enough.  Lesson learned!

Have you ever had a lesson go terribly awry when you thought everything was going well?  Please share you story in the comments.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I am an avid fan of Franki and Mary Lee's blog, A Year of Reading.  I learn so much from them and the opportunity to learn and build some good habits is being handed to me again.  As soon as I read Franki's post about the birth of Nerdlution, I knew I had to join.  Since spending a few days with writers at a Choice Literacy retreat this summer, I've been trying hard to write every day.  I started out well, but once school got started and the busyness set in, it's fallen by the wayside.  Same goes with exercising and trying to be more active on Twitter.  I'm thinking if I commit to 50 days and I have the support of a community, I have a better chance of solidifying these aspirations into real habits.  So here goes...

  • I am going to commit to writing every day for at least 30 minutes.  I am working on a book with Troy Hicks and some other teachers.  Yes, a real that I'm very excited about (and haven't really made public until this time).  I also have some ideas for Choice Literacy articles and my blog has suffered lately.  I want to post at least one more time a week about what is going on in my classroom.

  • I am going to work through the book The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nessbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall with my principal.  That is going to help me become more active on Twitter.  I've started putting Twitter talks on my calendar on my phone so I remember them.  I'll be on #titletalk tonight at 8:00 EST.  :)
  • I am committing to walking or exercising every day.  Since it gets dark so early, I'll either exercise before I go to school (which means working out to a video in my basement since I live out in the country) or take my tennis shoes and go for a walk right after school.  Who knows, it may give me more energy to go back and get papers graded or finish the work that always seems to be looming ahead.  
  • Which leads me to my final goal...leave school by 5:00.  I am taking back my personal life and focusing on doing something every day that feeds my soul.  Walking and writing both do that for me.  I have other hobbies too, that I'd like to carve out time for...reading blogs and taking time to comment, baking (it is cookie season after all), reading for pleasure, visiting friends, etc.  It's all of those things that will make me a better person.
I'm excited about this journey.  I'll be checking in on my blog and will be tweeting my accomplishments using the hashtag #nerdlution.  Feel free to join the fun.  You can read Colby Sharp's blog to get even more information.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thankful Celebrations

I am composing my celebration post while my husband drives us home from visiting our parents. I guess I should celebrate my iPad because I can blog in the car.

So many things to celebrate...

All three kids came home for Thanksgiving. I smiled with memories as I read friends' posts on Facebook that showed how much fun they were having with little ones. Although I miss those days of having young children running around, I so enjoy my children as adults. They still make me laugh and I love watching the friendship that has blossomed between them. 

My students and I have been working through Lucy Calkins' unit on opinion writing. It's been the most challenging writing they've done this year. I am celebrating their attitude. We talk so much about growth mindset in my room. They know this is hard work, but they are willing to put in the needed effort. It's like we have our own cheerleading squad in room 114 as they all encourage each other. 

Having four hours of uninterrupted time in the car today gave me time to read Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. This book has been on my bedside table since it came out. I've been reading bits and pieces, but not making much progress. It's a must read for all ELA teachers. 

Today has been a lovely day of visiting with my parents and my husband's parents. My mother-in-law even made my favorite-pretzel salad for lunch. Mom and Dad had a yummy dinner and both sets of parents sent leftovers with us. Dinner is planned for tomorrow. 

Thanks to Ruth Ayres for hosting the Saturday Celebration. Please visit her website at  and read others' celebrations. 

You can tell I've got some work to do when composing on my iPad, but for now, it will be good enough. 

Have a wonderful week ahead. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving Slice of Life

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other slicers' posts.

This year will be a little different for us as we celebrate Thanksgiving.  In the past, we've always been surrounded by lots of family.  I grew up sitting at the kids' table in my grandmother's house with my  cousins and siblings.  It was never quiet...the day was always filled with laughter and raucous noise.  We joked about Grandma's jello salad (always red jello with cup up pears).  What WAS her secret recipe?   Pop was  in charge of mashing the potatoes.  There was something about his technique.  They were so delicious.  Grandma's stuffing was to die for.  She tore up bread 2 days before Thanksgiving and let it set out to get stale.  She added eggs, sage, butter, broth, celery, and onion.  A little taste, a few shakes of salt and pepper, another taste, until she deemed it perfect.  And perfect it was.  I still make her recipe and remember her as I toss the ingredients together.  Pop always got the gizzards and one of the drumsticks (he was first to be served, being the patriarch of the family). The cousins, John and Doug, were in charge of cleaning the roaster.  My sisters and I taunted them, glad to not have that nasty job.  Being girls, we were stationed upstairs helping the women clean up the huge mess.  The evening ended with the rest of the family piling into Grandma's house for dessert.

I love being surrounded by family on the holidays.  It was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, eating dinner with our landlord in Virginia that made me realize that I didn't want to live so far away from our family in Ohio.  As soon as the school year ended, we packed up and moved to Columbus, smack dab in the middle of Ohio between our two sets of parents.  Since then, my table has overflowed with friends and family.

A gift from one of my students...I'm sure it will be gone before we get to the big day.  
This year, though is different.  It will just be the my husband and me with the three kids .  Will I miss the confusion?  I'm not sure.  However, we decided that this is the year to take a break; take a breather, and focus on our little family.  I'm waiting anxiously for my two older ones to arrive home amidst the spitting snow outside.  They will take over my kitchen...Zach is the bread baker, the girls will be making cheesecakes.  (Yes, that was a plural...cheesecakes for 5 people).  I will be in heaven working in the kitchen alongside my kids.  The house will be filled with the divine smells of Thanksgiving, the joking and laughter of my kids who are best of friends, and lots of leftovers.  (I mean really, how much cheesecake can you eat in one day?).

Next year, I'm sure we'll be back to hosting the grand holiday again.  For now, though, I'm going to savor this time together and enjoy being with my little family.

How will you be spending the holidays?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Celebration Saturday

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

I'm missing my friends who are at NCTE, but still have lots to celebrate!  Since I couldn't go to Boston this year, I spent the day doing the next best thing...watching Food Network and planning my Thanksgiving dinner.  Plus, I can keep up with what's going on at NCTE through Twitter and Facebook.  As I planned our Thanksgiving dinner, I was texting back and forth with my older two kids. We all have our must-haves and we're adding a few new dishes.  I'm so glad that my mother handed down her love of cooking and that my own children now share the same passion.  We will all be busy in the kitchen Wednesday...everything is made from scratch.  Thanksgiving is my favorite season because it's time for us to just be with each other and enjoy good food.

Thanksgiving Menu saved in Evernote.  Notice the Johnsons need TWO cheesecakes.

Celebration #2:  I met with parents this week to discuss their children's progress in school so far.  I'm so thankful for supportive parents.  When parents and school work together, children make the most progress.

Celebration #3:  Reading through my students' reflections as learners, I've been able to focus on the wonderful things happening in my room that are not reflected on the state's Value Added report.  Comments like these made me smile: "Everything that was once my worst subject is now my best." "I used to not like math.  Now I know that I can do math and I like it better,"  "How did you get my son to like to read and write?"  That's why I do the job I do.

Celebration #4:  I am so thankful for a supportive principal.  She had my back two different times this week.  

Celebration #5:  I got to spend the day with my youngest daughter and our "daughter" from S. Korea yesterday.  After a doctor appointment, we headed to Easton (a beautiful outdoor mall in Columbus) where we introduced Chanju to Cheesecake Factory.  Christmas carols played in the background while the lights twinkled all around us.  It was a fun afternoon of shared stories and laughter.  

Here's wishing you many celebrations and a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Celebrations

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

Yesterday morning, I got the news that according to the state of Ohio, I am not adding much value to my students' education.  I'll admit, it wasn't a pleasant way to start my day.  I slogged through Friday's field trip and parent teacher conferences as the image of the graphic showing my "incompetence" randomly popped up in my mind.  I drove home feeling defeated.

And yet, in the bottom of my gut I felt a little nudge.

I tried really hard to conjure it up.

It was buried deep.

As the night wore on, that nudge grew.

And grew.

And then it exploded...

into my very being.

I am angry.  I refuse to let an assessment that was never meant to be evaluative of teachers define me as an educator.

I am angry that my colleagues who are excellent teachers feel beat down, disrespected, and hopeless.

My celebration amidst all of this? I am choosing to celebrate my convictions which are stronger than ever.

I believe in kids and I will never give up on my kids.  I promise  each and every one of them  to know them as learners, meet them where they are, and build from there.  If something isn't working in the classroom, we'll get it figured out.

I believe that kids need to do real reading and writing. While they're at it, they're going to think deeply too.  I will not give in and create a test prep environment in my classroom by replacing authentic reading and writing with fill in the blank worksheets.  My kids will leave my room with a love of reading, writing, and learning.

I believe my kids need to be problem solvers.  It's ok for them to struggle a little.  I want them to stretch their thinking, consider different possibilities, and learn from their mistakes.  We will not spend our day doing skill and drill activities.

I believe that there are so many lessons to be learned in my classroom that cannot be answered in a 4 point extended response:  be kind, stand up for yourself, take risks, be respectful, take responsibility for your mistakes, follow your passion, and never stop learning.

I promise myself that I will go to school on Monday with a better frame of mind, because not only do I believe in my students, I also believe in me and all the other great educators who are doing everything in their power to give kids what they need.  (And it's most likely not going to be found by filling in a bubble sheet).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Power of Carbohydrates

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read other slices.

I've been tossing back and forth what to write about today.  I started thinking about it yesterday.  I already wrote about my break from school work and visiting with family (the highlight of the week).  I wrote a poem that seemed too raw to share.  Every time I nixed an idea, my mind rolled back to this carbohydrate laden weekend.  It was heavenly!

I received the above message from my son.  I knew he had something good planned, I just didn't realize how good it would be.  He walked in Saturday night around 5:00 and began searching the cupboards for flour, sugar, and chocolate chips.  Did we have high gluten flour?  Did we have peanut butter?  He quickly made a list and then he was off to the store.

All three of my children are cooks, however, like their reading tastes, they differ in their strengths in the kitchen.  Annie is a baker.  Molly tries a lot of new things (she's lived for a year in CA and sees a lot of trendy food).  Zach...he's an experimenter.  It doesn't matter what he's making, he has to change it up a bit.  My house smelled heavenly from Saturday night through Sunday night.  Cookbooks were stacked all over the place as he thumbed through them to find just the right recipes (that he would then tweak).  Flour was scattered throughout the kitchen.  Dirty dishes piled high.  The results?  They couldn't have been better.  We had...remember, all homemade...

Strawberry muffins
Foccacia bread sprinkled with herbs and feta cheese
Ciabatta rolls
Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
Fettuccine Alfredo with sauteed broccoli and zucchini

Any stress I was feeling melted away.  I mean it literally melted away with each bite.  Every single thing tasted so darn good.  Probably because I don't eat things like that very often.

We've already started planning on our Thanksgiving cooking.  I can't wait to have all three kids home to share the kitchen with me.  Knowing my gang, there will be plenty more carbs in the making.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Celebrations

Thank you to Ruth Ayres of Discover. Play. Build. for hosting this weekly link up to life's celebrations.  Please check out her site and read other bloggers' celebrations.

When the school year began, I promised myself that I was not going to bury myself in my work (because we all know it's never done) and instead I would carve out time to take care of myself and be more balanced.  This week has been one for lots of great things amid the stress of trying to sell our house.

All the aunties and cousins, plus my cousin's daughter.  Brenda, in the blue sweatshirt, and I are on a mission for young Abby to get a cell phone for Christmas.  :)
My biggest celebration is that today I drove to Cleveland to have lunch with my mom, aunts, and cousins.  I had decided last night that I wouldn't go because I had to do progress reports. (I worked late, but didn't get as much done as I wanted).   Remembering my promise to myself (see above), I changed my mind this morning when I woke up and I'm so glad I did.  I drove to Cleveland and listened to Ann Patchett's new This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  I LOVE spending time with my cousins; we are great friends and have always been since we were children.  The day was filled with laughter and wonderful conversation.

I love these girls!

One of the best treats was that my cousin's second grader, Jack, is writing a play about the Green Bay Packers.  I was honored that he wanted to share it with me.  He was a little upset that he couldn't print it right there for me, but I assured him that writers often put their work aside for awhile and then go back to it and make any changes it might need.  He'll be emailing it to me after he's made the needed revisions.
Jack is working in the back room of his dad's store.

On the school front...we were very fortunate to have Kody, a high school senior, work with us three days a week for the last 6 weeks.  He is participating in a special program at our high school for kids who want to be teachers.  His last day was Thursday and we are going to miss him!
Kody is going to be a wonderful teacher!  

Finally...can I just say that I am celebrating the Hallmark channel tonight as I get ready to buckle down and finish those progress reports that didn't get done last night.  The lightheartedness of the Hallmark movies makes the mountain of work I have to do just a little more palatable.  :)

I hope everyone has a wonderful upcoming week that is full of things to celebrate!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Release Slice of Life Tuesday

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life.  Please visit their site for other slices.

I am in no way an athlete or poet.  My attempts at running are actually jog a little, walk a lot.  I'm discovering the importance of giving myself the time to exercise, eat good foods, and generally take a break from work and other stresses.  I don't often try to write poetry, but this came to me yesterday as I took an early morning walk/jog.


Don't you go thinkin' and thinkin' and thinkin.'
Steve Forbert's song resonates in my mind
As I lace up my shoes.

My mind races
To places I don't want to go.
Thoughts crash against each other
Scrambling,  screeching,  scraping.

I start out slowly
Yearning for release from the clamor
Ricocheting in my head.

Unexpected surprises welcome me
Reds, oranges, and yellows
Leap out
As my feet hit the pavement.

Shriveled jack-o-lanterns
Dot front porches;
Ghostly ghouls
Swing from trees.

Thinkin' and thinkin' and thinkin.'

Breathe in, breathe out
The rhythm soothes me
One foot in front of the other.
Breathe out, breathe in
Again and again and again.

Soon, the cadence of my breathing and
The pounding of my shoes
Drown out the cacophony in my head.

Peace gently nestles in,
Calming the storm in my soul.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writing Partnerships

My teaching partner and I knew we wanted to set up writing partnerships after we heard Ruth Ayres speak at the Literacy Connection in October.  It seems that whenever I draw from my own experiences as a reader, writer, and learner, I am able to make stronger connections with my students and my expectations for them.  I know that I learn so much and am so grateful to my own writing group and I wanted my students to have the same experiences.  Franki posted this blog just as Sarah and I were beginning to think through how we would set up our own partnerships.  I'm always thankful to teachers who are willing to share what they are doing in their classrooms.  We were able to use some of the resources Franki suggested as we created lessons for our own young writers.

As we prepared to set up response partners, we asked the kids to write about who they thought they would work well with and give their reasons.  We reminded them that we weren't making any promises that they would get to work with the person on their paper, but we would take it into consideration.  Then Sarah and I set to establishing some partnerships.  (It was a great meeting over coffee and tea at Panera one Saturday morning). We took many things into consideration when we grouped kids.  We thought about personalities, writing strengths and challenges, and writing attitudes.  We wanted the partners to support as well as challenge each other to take risks and stretch themselves.

Using the fishbowl method, Sarah and I showed what a partner meeting might look like as I shared a piece of writing with her.  The kids watched and then talked with their partner about what they noticed.  Their thinking can be seen on the chart above.  (Disregard the awkward phrasing as I apparently didn't read over my work before taking the picture ~ that will get fixed when I return to school).  One of the most important things they noticed was that we didn't talk about the whole piece.  I asked for specific feedback on a certain section of my piece.  Our conversation went back and forth as we focused on that one paragraph.  They were able to observe that our talk was respectful and helpful to me as the writer.

I am excited for the kids be able to delve more into our writing partnerships.  We're just beginning a unit on opinion writing and the partnerships right now are doing a lot of talking about their writing.  I'm hopeful that as the year goes on, these newly formed partnerships will blossom into strong relationships that parallel those I have with my own writing group.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Celebrating The Good Things

As I read Ruth's post on Tuesday, I pictured many days that I could write those same words.  Actually, I could have written them one day this week.  There seems to be a underlying presence of negativity and even hopelessness lurking in the lives of educators right now as we grapple with high stakes testing, SLOs, data gathering, and new teacher evaluations tied to our student test scores.  This community of celebrators is very important to me as it helps me focus on the positive and see past  the adversity.  I'm thinking we need this community in our building.  I'm envisioning a bulletin board dedicated to Celebration Graffiti for teachers to share their celebrations both in and out of the classroom.  I'll let you know what comes of it.

This week's celebrations happened in school and out of school.

First ~ My kids are having REAL whole group conversations that don't involve me leading the discussion.  Our best talks are happening during our read aloud of Out of My Mind. We've been working all year on how to have an engaging conversation that does not involve the teacher asking the questions and a student answering while others drift off aimlessly.  My heart was singing this week as I sat back and watched the magic. In addition,  our blogging and commenting skills are getting better and better.  The kids love the opportunity to connect with others in and outside of our classroom.

Second ~ My fourth grade team is collaborating with our literacy coach on an opinion writing unit.  With all of us at different stages in our lives (empty nesters, little ones or teenagers at home, no kids) it's hard to find a common planning time.  It was a little tricky, but we did it this week.  I'm excited about the time to work through the new Lucy Calkins book with my colleagues who are also my friends.

Third ~ My teaching partner and I got writing partners set up today.  We spent the morning at Panera talking about writing workshop and our young writers.  For the first time, the kids who go to resource room for Language Arts are staying in my classroom for Writing Workshop this year.  Sarah, their intervention teacher, is co-teaching the writing block with me.  I love the collaboration and keeping and building a community of writers that includes all the kids.

Fourth ~ This might be the best part of the week.  It's Saturday afternoon and my lesson plans are done for the week.  I made two batches of cookies (oatmeal raisin and peanut butter chocolate chip) because for the first time in two months I get to be with all 3 of my kids and they NEED homemade cookies.  Zach has a percussion ensemble concert tonight at the Conservatory of Music.  Molly drove in from Pittsburgh and we are on our way to Cincinnati for the concert.

There is something so satisfying in seeing your grown children being happy and successful.

Thanks to Ruth for this wonderful opportunity to share our celebrations.  Visit her site for the link up and read other celebrations.