Foster Parenting

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Celebrating My One Little Word

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for hosting this space to celebrate the little things in life. It is those things that matter the most.  Please visit her site to read what others are celebrating.

I chose my OLW last year with a lens on my professional life.  My word, cultivate, was chosen because I wanted to concentrate on providing space and opportunities for teachers and students to take risks, have conversations, and grow.

One of the definitions of cultivate is "to promote the growth and development of; to foster."

When I chose this word last January, I was spending half my day with fifth graders and the other half as the literacy coach of my building.  I kept this word front and center in choosing the language I used, how I framed questions, and the support I offered.

Little did I know that my word would come to mean so much more.  When "our girls" came back to live with us in October, my idea of cultivating an environment for growth took on a whole new meaning.  Raising children who come from traumatic backgrounds has been very different from raising my own children.  The girls have seen and heard things that I cannot even fathom.  Their trust has been broken by those they love most.  My husband and I have learned that "time outs' don't work.  Sending them to their rooms brings on feelings of abandonment and anxiety.  Instead, we do "time ins."  We hold them close and tell them that we aren't going anywhere until they feel safe.  We've learned that what we perceive as disobedience is really the result of them having to make decisions on their own.  We are learning brand new parenting skills.

Our days go up and down.  There are days when things are easy and everything goes smoothly and then there are days of tears and despair and I wonder if I have the strength to keep doing this.  Our lives are in limbo because we don't know how long they will be with us.  We live by court dates, waiting to hear what the next steps are.

The last months have given me the opportunity for so much to celebrate...

  • I realized that my husband and I rarely have bad days at the same time.  When one of us is at the end of our ropes, the other is there to support and encourage.
  • Our three adult children are patient and flexible.
  • Both girls have incredible therapists.  They are true advocates for the girls.
  • My colleague told me recently that D was skipping down the hall and no one had the heart to tell her to walk because it was so nice to see her be so happy.
  • A is feeling stronger and is learning to trust.  She knows our love is not conditional upon her behavior.
  • Other moms who have gone through similar experiences are willing to reach out and share resources and knowledge.
  • My faith leads me and brings me peace.  We don't know the next steps.  That is hard for me.  I like to have a plan and I'm learning to trust God's plan for us.  So many things have happened that I know aren't coincidences.  Each new person or event brings something good to us.
  • Bedtime rocking and reading stories are a soothing routine for both D and me.
  • Respite care from my colleagues comes when I most need it.
Cultivate has been a good word for me this year.  Even though I began with the intention to help others grow, I think it is me who has benefitted the most.  I have grown in many ways that I didn't expect.  I've learned that I have strength that I didn't know I had.  Each new challenge has brought new opportunities to learn, and for that I am thankful.

Here's wishing you a Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Light #haikuforhealing

When I pulled into the driveway tonight, the lights from the Christmas tree brought a sense of peace.  (However, if you walked into my house, you'd notice that this serene scene is a bit misleading as the rest of the house looks like a tornado ran through.)

Thank you Mary Lee Hahn for the #haikuforhealing challenge.


I am linking  a day late to Margaret Simon's DigiLit Sunday and Mary Lee Hahn's #haikuforhealing. Michelle is curating the haikus.   Funny thing, I created the Haiku Deck last night with the intention of embedding it into my blog after we got our girl to bed.  Well, as often happens to best laid plans, she couldn't go to sleep, so I laid down with her and we listened to two rounds of my sleep meditation app.  Guess who fell asleep first?

As I mentioned in earlier posts, our family makeup changed in October.  The days have been stressful as we deal with issues we've not dealt with before, but they've also been full of joy.  When talking to a friend, I likened our new situation to Glennon Doyle's "brutiful," both brutal and beautiful.

There is so much to be grateful for during this time.  We have two girls who are thriving.  It's so rewarding to watch them settle in, relax, and feel safe.  Our grown children, extended family and friends are willing to help us out whenever we need them.  "It takes a village," has never been truer and I am so appreciative.  With the Christmas season upon us, it's very fun to have young children in the house again. Their presence invites us to slow down and relish the joy.

And yes, that sweet little girl pictured below is the same one who couldn't sleep last night.  :)

Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Healing our Hearts

Ruth Ayres invites us to celebrate even the littlest things.  I am joining the Celebration Link Up as well as Mary Lee Hahn's #haikuforhealing.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, my mother-in-law passed away earlier this week, and we celebrated her life at her memorial service yesterday.  I want to celebrate the love and support we've received this past week.  Phone calls, texts, cards, Voxers, friends driving four hours to attend the service all meant the world to us.  We're spent and emotionally exhausted, but so grateful for everyone who reached out to comfort us during this difficult time.

Cousins who don't get to see each other very often

kindness soothes sadness
soft words, tender hugs, warm smiles
help heal our hurting hearts

Friday, December 2, 2016

Legacy #haikuforhealing

I am joining Mary Lee Hahn's December haiku-a-day challenge.  I am also linking to Poetry Friday with Bridget at wee words for wee ones (for the very first time).

Today we said our final good-byes to my mother-in-law.  Family and friends gathered at the Ashtabula United Methodist Church for her memorial service.  It was a beautiful service, the highlight being the time that people from the congregation stood and shared stories.  While I didn't stand up and share a story, my heart was filled with gratitude for the beauty of her life and the legacy she left behind.  I couldn't help but smile when we went down to lunch prepared by the ladies of the church and saw "Shirley's Cake." Shirley always volunteered to help prepare food and serve for funeral lunches.  She always made the same thing and it lovingly became known as "Shirley's Cake." One of the ladies had gotten my mother-in-law's recipe.  It only felt right that I should take a piece today.


You touched so many
Loving, Graceful, Compassionate
Your legacy lives on

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hope #haikuforhealing

I don't usually participate in poetry posts. Today, though, I was reminded of Mary Lee Hahn's post when I read Margaret Simon's December Haiku post. The last two months have been a struggle and I've reacted by closing into my shell and silencing my writing. I know better. Writing is healing for me. I decided to take a leap and join the December Haiku Writing challenge. Credit for the photo goes to my 7 year old foster daughter who enjoys taking pictures with my phone. #haikuforhealing  

Searching for solace
                                                            Hope tentatively  blossoms 
                                                            Within my being 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding Comfort

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  You can read others' stories on their blog.  Please stop by and visit.

Comfort comes in many ways..warm hugs, tissues handed over to wipe away tears, offers to care for children, a kind word and smile as you pass by each other.

Sometimes life gives us hard things to handle.

We put up a strong front, but

silent tears betray our stoic words.

For the last eight weeks, I've watched two young sisters struggle as they adjust to living in our home again. Their stories are hard.  I feel helpless as I grasp for anything to ease the pain.  A huge sense of responsibility bears down on me to keep them safe and help them heal while they are in our care.

The story is a familiar one in our family.  It begins like this:

"Can we get a dog?"
"Not right now. Maybe in the spring."

And then on the day I sit across from her and watch her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, and listen to her words, "I don't need anyone,"

I know.

She needs.

She needs that dog she's been begging for.

And so continues the story...

My daughter was visiting that night.  Two conspirators, she and I began the hunt.  We searched, marking our favorites.    Polly was our number one choice.  She's a chocolate lab mix from the Powell Animal Welfare Society.

My husband walked in as we were searching and I asked him, "Hey, don't you have a friend who fosters dogs?"

After a few texts with his friend he looked up, "Yep.  He fosters for Powell Animal Welfare Society."

"Hey that's where Polly is from. Does he know her?"

Another text.  "You aren't going to believe this.  He is fostering her this weekend."

My daughter and I looked at each other and said at the same time, "It's a sign."

 My heart began to hope.  Might she be the answer we've been seeking?

We learned Polly's story.  She was found on the side of the road in rural Kentucky.  She was in need of her own humans to love her.  Our initial meeting was successful to say the least.  It seemed that she was just what our family needed and we were what she needed too.

Polly came to live with us last night.  In keeping with our To Kill a Mockingbird theme for our kids' dogs' names (Scout, Jem, Harper, and Caroline), Polly is now called Callie after Calpurnia, the Finch's housekeeper.

We are in love with her already.  She brings a sense of comfort that only a dog can bring.  The future feels promising.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hey, That Gives Me An Idea

I am cross posting with Ruth Ayres Celebration Link-up and Margaret Simon's DigiLit Sunday being hosted by Julianne Harmatz this week.  I invite you to check in with each of these blogs to read how others are celebrating and conferring with students.

There is nothing better than being invited to teach beside another teacher in writing workshop.  This last week, I've been privileged to work alongside three different third grade teachers.  In two of the classes, we are learning about blogging and preparing for their first blogs.  In another class we are working together to discover where writers get ideas and created heart maps.  In all three classes, I was able to confer with students.

In his latest podcast, Ralph Fletcher reminds us that as we get writing workshop up and running, teachers should act as hosts.  We want our students to feel welcome and successful.  This philosophy goes right along with that of the National Writing Project.  One of the greatest lessons I learned from my summer institute was the answer was always, "Yes!"  It didn't matter what teachers wanted to write about, the answer was, "yes." Teachers are given ownership of their writing and that's exactly what I want to do for the students I work with.

On Friday morning, I sat on the carpet with a handful of students who were having a difficult time thinking about what they wanted to write about in their blog post.  The rest of the room buzzed with focused talk about a variety of topics as students bent over their writing pieces.  As we sat on the floor together, I could see glints of anxiety in their eight year-old eyes.  Oh, I've been there...not knowing what to write about while everyone else was scribbling or typing away.  It's not a good feeling.

I began with about 8 kids sitting around me.  I prompted with  simple questions, "What are you interested in?  What do you like to do when you aren't at school?"  With each answer, I worked to expand some ideas...

Football? Could you write about an exciting game you played?  Could you write about a favorite football player?  Could you write about what you need to do to prepare to play football?

Artist?  Could you write a post about how to create something?  Could you write about one of  your favorite projects?  Could you write about how you learned to do a certain kind of art.

One by one, ideas were sparked and I heard, "Hey, that gives me an idea!" more than once.

Eventually, there were three students left. We decided that we would all help each other so that no one was left sitting on the carpet by herself.  It was here that I decided to step back and let the girls take over asking the questions.  They easily modeled the type of questions I had asked previously, and before we knew it, all three students were ready to write.

As the teachers and I circulated around the room, we bent down to check in with kids, encouraging them, and showing our excitement over their writing.  We were the hosts welcoming new writers into the workshop, making them feel appreciated and excited about the work they were doing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating New Learning

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for sharing our celebrations and the Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.

A funny thing has happened as my role has changed again...reading support teacher (no longer in the classroom), literacy coach in a building that is trying to figure out how to support vertical teams, and a new Ph.D. student.  I'm not sure what my message is anymore.  Which lens do I write through in this new phase of my life?  Coach?  Reading teacher?  Middle-aged graduate student?  Mother? Wife? Friend?

As I try to sort through all of it, I realize that the lens I can use and still stay true to each of these roles is that of a learner.  My head spins with all of the new learning that is going on in my life right now and that's what I'd like to celebrate.  And it's not just my new learning, but also what I gain from my different learning communities.

The foundation of that learning lies in the work I'm doing at OSU.  My instructor, Dr. Laurie Katz is a master teacher.  I learn so much from her just by watching her teaching moves.  She approaches her teaching from a strength based philosophy and we work together to construct knowledge in this class.  She acknowledges that the work we are doing is difficult, but assures us that it will get easier and that we will figure it out together.  She is respectful, validating and supportive.  She is one more model I hold up in my coaching work, because that is who I want to be as I work with teachers in my building.

I've found that working on the patio makes this new academic reading a little easier.  

We have a group of teachers in our building who are diving into blogging, which has me so excited.  For some, it's their first try, for others, they've blogged in the past with their students, but want to take the next steps.  I am looking forward to conversations around connecting with others outside our classroom walls and around digital literacy.  I know that some of them feel overwhelmed and in over their heads, but they are willing to be uncomfortable in order to extend their learning.  We will learn together and move at a pace that fits their needs.  I am especially grateful to this learning community because I miss  having my own classroom to dive into digital literacy and all the learning that comes with that.

Our reading support has been reconfigured this year, which is giving us the opportunities for new conversations. How do we best support our neediest learners when we have fewer resources?  What can look like a huge hurdle has actually opened us up to think creatively and outside the box.  The math coach and I are having some important discussions around kids in different communities where we've been invited.  We are scheduling visits to other kindergarten classrooms at our sister school to continue conversations around literacy.  Again, more learning together and being open to new ideas.  There's the understanding that what we try may not work and if it doesn't, we will try something new.

A trip to the zoo with A and D

And then there is the learning in my personal life.  I never know if this is the place for me to write about it, but it's such a big part of me and my thinking around others, that I can't not write about it.  I spent Saturday morning with a family that I hold very close and dear to my heart.  The parents of the girls we fostered last year have opened their hearts to us and for that I am eternally grateful.  But the lessons are difficult for me because I can't fix their hard lives for them.  So what I learn is that what I can offer is arms and a shoulder for a fearful and unsure mother who loves her children with all her might, but her own background of a hard life makes parenting difficult.  Jumping in and washing dishes and taking littles ones outside for walk can soothe a mother's jangled nerves and allow her to see a little hope in the day.  Frozen vanilla lattes with whipped cream can bring a smile to tear stained face.  I am learning new lessons every day about poverty, drug abuse, recovery, and healing from abusive childhoods.  My eyes have been opened to horrors that I had only read about, but are now real to me and yet I know, that I really don't know.  This learning is not the exciting learning described above, but it just as important.  It's easy to think about what they don't have and feeling bad that I can't snap my fingers and fix it.  So, I refocus on the strengths I see...a family who loves each other fiercely, a mom who wants her kids to have a better life than the one she's had, a mom who's willing to be vulnerable and admit she needs help and reaches out instead of pulling into herself and falling back into bad habits, children who are energetic, loving, a little ornery, and full of curiosity.

My life is rich and full of new learning, and that is something to celebrate!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Celebrating Real Writing

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for inviting us to share our celebrations.  Even in the most trying of weeks, it's refreshing to find the shining moments that sustain us to keep moving forward.

As the reading support teacher and literacy coach in my building, I get to talk to a lot of kids and teachers.  It's one of the things I love most about my job.  Some of those conversations pop up at the most unexpected times as well...

As I was opening ketchup packets and yogurt tubes during first grade lunch duty, a little girl looked up at me and smiled shyly.  "Thank you for commenting on our blog," she said to me.  I brightened immediately.

"I loved your blog," I told her and the others at her table.  "It's so fun to read about all the great learning you are doing in school."

Her friend sitting next to her jumped in next, bouncing on the long wooden bench as she said,. "We have some questions we need to ask.  We get to write the next blog post all by ourselves.  M's mom wrote in colors.  We are wondering how she did that, so we are going to put that in our blog.   Someone else wrote in big letters.  We don't know how they did that either. That's going to be another one of our questions."

There is nothing I love more than seeing kids be excited about reading and writing.  I marveled at the important lessons their teacher was imparting:

  • Writers write for a real audience.
  • That audience extends beyond our classroom walls.
  • Writers (and researchers) ask questions when they want to learn more.
  • Writers reach out to experts to get those answers.  Sometimes those experts are our parents or even other kids in our class.
  • These young writers have been empowered to make decisions about the message they want to share with their audience.  In addition, their teacher trusts them to create that message on their own.  She'll be there to support them as they learn the conventions of print, just as she would if they were composing on chart paper.
  • Writing is purposeful.
  • Writing is meaningful and fun!
Sure enough, the next day, I received a message from Mrs. Cochran that her students had published another blog.  

If you have a chance to visit their blog and leave a comment, I'm sure that they would love it.  Which means, we'll have lots more to talk about on Monday at lunch.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Raising Student Voices

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  This is a space to share our thinking about how we use digital reading and writing in our classrooms.  I invite you to visit her site to read what others are thinking and doing.

I believe with all I've got, that giving students the opportunity to express themselves digitally, gives them possibilities to raise their voices that they might not have using traditional means.  Students who tell themselves that they can't write discover that when the definition of writing expands to include a variety of digital composition, they can indeed write.  They begin to see themselves in a new light and their confidence grows.

I see it in their content.
I see it in the visuals they choose.
I see it in how they decide to publish their work.
I see it in their layout.
I see it in how their writing evolves and grows throughout the school year.
I see it in how they can talk about intentional decisions they make as writers and digital composers.

One thing I've learned is that the thinking behind some of their purposeful decisions isn't always evident to the casual observer.  I'v learned that it's important to have those conversations and ask them "why?"  I find that there is always some reason behind the final product.

What makes that difference?  Why does giving them digital opportunities allow them more freedom in how they express themselves?  How do digital tools help our students take risks and gain confidence?  How do digital tools allow our quieter students to get their voices "out there?"

These are questions I ponder and want to study.  I want to learn more about how digital tools help our students amplify their voices.  I will be putting on my "learner hat" and sharing what I learn as the year goes on.

Kiley shares her One Little Word.

Elisabeth created a survey for fellow students to complete.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Lucky Am I?

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories and leave some comment love.

Our superintendent is a visionary.  He has asked the elementary schools in our district to "re-vision" what elementary school might look like.  Who wouldn't love that challenge?  I don't know how many times I've said, "If only I could create my own school.  I would..."  We began the process by looking at what was working in our present educational system and what we wanted to change.  Ideas flowed back and forth.

Understanding the importance of community and wanting to strengthen relationships across grade levels, our principal proposed we restructure ourselves into vertical learning communities.  Together, our staff built a vision of what that might look like.  We have four learning communities: one community consists of K-1, and the other three consist of grades 2 through 5.   The principal also knew that in order to make this work, the schedule had to be tweaked.  Her next smart idea...a fourth special.  This year, our kids will have music, art, PE AND STEM.

This configuration allows our staff to work together to do an even better job of personalizing education for our students.  Learning communities are planning experiences where students will work across grade levels based on student interests and passions.   Teachers will collaborate as they look at kids across grade levels. Together we will build our knowledge and skill base on how to better meet the needs of each community as a whole, instead of looking at just a grade level, or even just a classroom of students.  Each teacher in the community has a stake in every single child.   Relationships between students of different ages will be strengthened as they get to know each other better.

I am amazed at what I see happening in our school.  Almost everyone moved their classrooms so that communities are housed together in the same hall.  Moving your classroom is HARD work.  Everyone pitched in to help.  Teachers are working with new colleagues.  Some are teaching new grade levels and new subjects.  Every single person is taking a risk in one way or another.  The change has breathed new life into our school.  The excitement and energy are palpable.  I am so excited for the new possibilities and opportunities that await both our students and our entire staff.  This will be a year of trying new things and learning from our experiences as we work together.

The key word here is together.  We know we can't do it alone.  Together we will build something that is indeed, a "re-vision" of what elementary school can be.

I will continue to document our journey on this blog.  I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Learning the Craft

My husband and I are tiling our backsplash this weekend.  Neither one of us has done this kind of job before, which means that basically, neither one of us knows what we're doing.  How do we prepare the walls? What tools do we need?  What techniques will we need to master in order to be successful and have a beautiful finished product that we can be proud of?

These questions aren't that much different from the ones I ask myself as I start a new school year and I think about helping students begin to make purposeful decisions about crafting their own digital compositions.  What foundational tools are students going to need in order to create?  What skills do they need?  What mentors can we learn from?

My husband and I went right away to the experts.  We started by watching YouTube tutorials about tiling walls.  We rewound sections to study them more carefully and in some cases, even watched entire videos several times.  We took notes on the supplies we needed.  We talked to people who had tiling experience.  We wanted to learn more from the masters.

This intentional study of craft is what I want for students as well.  As we begin the school year, we will study mentors to learn more about digital composition.  Just as I do when immersing students in a new genre study, I will create a chart for us to complete as we dig into our digital mentors.  Our chart has these major headings along the top:

Title (Website/Video/Image)

What Do We Notice


Other Examples

I will gather mentors, both those published on the web, as well as those published by former students.  I think it's important that we hold our students' work up as examples too.  It is empowering for our students to see work done by someone just like them.  Together, we will learn from the experts and students will try new things in their own compositions.  It is this apprenticeship in crafting that I find most fascinating in digital composition.  It is here that I see students take risks, share their thinking, and learn from each other.  It is here that I see students grow.

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sundays.  Please visit her site to read how others are using technology in their reading and writing workshops.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Celebrating Learning Communities and DIY Literacy

I am cross posting this post with Ruth Ayres Celebrate posts and CyberPD hosted by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero.  I celebrate all the different learning communities I am in, both virtual and face to face.  This summer has been filled with different ways to learn and people to learn with.  I appreciate all of the opportunities I'm being given.  My thinking is always stretched when I can learn with and from others, giving me new insights to ponder.

As I read the first two chapters (and the bonus), I began to wonder what this might look like with adult learners.  My days include two related jobs:   I work with small reading intervention groups for part of the day and coach teachers the other half.  Some of my coaching work will be done with vertical teams of grades 2 - 5 and K - 1.  In the past, our monthly data team meetings have been done in grade level groups, so working with vertical teams will be different for me.

My principal has suggested we look at the literacy framework more closely and hone in on planning instruction and using formative assessment to gauge how our students are doing. We are going to plan lessons together on our teams, go in and watch each other teach, and give each other feedback.  Our district focus is on assessment this year and how those assessments can inform our instruction.

Just as it is in my classroom with students, it's important that I build knowledge together with adult learners too.  I've taken suggestions from Kate and Maggie and adapted it for my coaching.  I'd love feedback from others on what you think works and what needs tweaked.

Making it Stick

I've tried to keep in mind the three qualities that make learning "stick."
  • They are visual.
  • They make the abstract concrete (love the word salad).
  • They encourage repeated practice
I used Clare and Tammy's Assessment in Perspective (if you haven't read this book, you must) and Fountas and Pinnell's The Continuum of Literacy Learning (provided to all K - 5 teachers in our district) to help me articulate my thinking.

My Topic:  How do we use our assessments to plan for meaningful instruction within the reading workshop?

Teaching Chart  

I used Piktochart to create this very simple infographic to help guide teachers' thinking.  I'd like to be able to create a chart with them after going through the process together.

Demonstration Notebook:

I'm thinking I would supply teachers with demonstration notebooks (or have them bring something they'd like to use) and we would build these together.  I envision using these to support teachers in collecting ideas for teaching different strategies, so they are a little different from those described in the book.  I imagine a section for each of the three ways of thinking about text:  Within the Text, Beyond the Text and About the Text, which would then be divided into strategies that fall under each category.    I also see a section about different instructional decisions teachers need to make when looking at their assessments.  I can see these notebooks being very individual to meet teachers' needs, and I also know it is important for me to begin to build my own demonstration notebook before school begins.  

Some ideas that I envision for these notebooks:
  • How to analyze running records
  • How to determine which part of the framework to use
  • How to differentiate learning in interactive read aloud/shared reading
  • How to talk about author's craft (about the text)
  • How to infer about a character

Micro-progressions of Skills

I would build this chart with teachers as we talked about different levels of using assessment to inform instruction.  I would give teachers a blank table and ask them to complete it together and we would share with the whole group.

Planning a Shared Reading Lesson at the Beginning of the Year


I can see building bookmarks with teachers around different skills and strategies.  Giving them (and me) the practice of deconstructing the strategy and then creating bookmarks, will enable all of us to create the necessary bookmarks with our students.  

I realize as I write this that I flip flop between making instructional decisions based on assessments and supporting teachers as they work to support their students.  Maybe it's too messy.  Once again, this is one of those things that I will need to figure out as I go.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sister Time

Growing up we didn't like each other very much.  Our mom said that someday we'd be friends.  We didn't believe her.

We had some horrendous pulling, scratching, screaming at the top of our lungs.  I remember the time we were grabbing at each other after school because one of us had something the other wanted and my glasses went flying off my face only to break as they hit the floor.  Mom had just started a new job to help make ends meet and I had just gotten those glasses.  We both knew there was going to be a price to pay when our parents got home and neither one of us was going to admit any guilt.  I'm pretty sure both of us had to empty out our scrawny bank accounts to put toward a new pair of glasses for me.

She taunted me.
I bossed her.
She complained about me.
I made up rules and made her follow them because that's what big sisters do.

I didn't think there was anyone I could like any less, unless it was my youngest sister who caused me as much angst as my middle sister did.

We grew up.
And we found that the other wasn't so bad after all.

Now that we live 1,000 miles apart, we don't get to see each other very often.  So when we do, it's time that cannot be wasted.  We laugh, we hang out, we read, we eat good food.   We talk about what it's like to have grown up kids.  We still feel like we're 30 ourselves.  We remember the times we had to stand up for each other or be there to hold on tight when the other one was falling apart.  We think about what the future holds for us as we are now considered middle aged by our younger, hipper children.   How did that happen?

She no longer taunts me,
And I try not to boss her, although sometimes I slip.
I like to think of it as good advice.  (If I didn't tell her to pinch off the basil so it would fill out again, who would?)

I'm pretty sure this basil can be saved if she only follows my directions.  :)

We no longer hate the sight of each other.  And is always the case, Mom was right.

We are sisters who are also friends.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  I invite you to go to their site to read other Slice of Life stories.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gifts from CAWP

Our two and half week writing time with the Columbus Area Writing Project ended yesterday.  I'm left with mixed feelings.  I welcome more unstructured time for my summer days, and yet, I will miss the people and the structured time to write.  This is the test for me.  Can I keep up the habit of daily writing?

It is my goal.

CAWP (and other affiliates of NWP) provides a powerful experience where you learn not only about the art of teaching writing, but also about yourself as a writer.  And the formula is so simple.  You write, you write some more, you get feedback from others, talk about writing, and then you go and write again.  The community that is formed is phenomenal and is one of the keys to CAWP's success.
This week again, I celebrate CAWP.

At the end of each day, we jotted down our thinking...questions, ahas, new thinking...whatever came to us.  Robin then collected them together and created an Inkshed for each of us to have the next day.  I took those Inksheds and created a found poem to share my celebration today.

The Writing Life

Time to write
Time to work in different ways
Inspired me to
Lots of possibilities

Look in the mirror
Capture a thought or memory
Write, critique, think
Learn from the conversations of others’ writing
So many ideas


I appreciate the writing
Feeling valued
Time and Space
Conversations with others

Powerful and uniting

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for our weekly celebrations.  I invite you to visit her site to read about other celebrations.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Gifts That Bring Me Back to Writing

Donald Graves tells us in All Children Can Write, "Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners."  

The same is true for adult writers.  This week I celebrate writing.

For the last week and a half, I've had the opportunity to participate in the summer institute of the Columbus Area Writing Project.  It's been exactly what I needed as a writer.  For the last year, my writing life has been quiet.  I allowed the joy I find in writing slip away from me.  And in its place I let busyness and completion of projects take over.

The summer institute invites me to slow down and get reacquainted with my writing life.    We meet in the Martha King Center at OSU.  Such great educators have filled this space, their legacy woos me back into  writing.  The back walls are lined with tall dark bookshelves.  Picture books with worn covers spill out of the shelves while chapter books lean haphazardly against each other, waiting to be picked up and lingered over.  Our tables meet up in a rectangle, allowing all of us to participate in conversation.  We each come with our preferred writing needs...spiral bound notebooks, computers, tablets, stacks of books, pens and pencils.  So much to savor.

Time and choice open up new possibilities.  Two hours to write?  To write about anything I want? I've craved time to write about what I want to write.

Two. Whole. Hours.

Anything. I. Want.

Right away, I can feel myself unwind, and energy begins to seep into my being.    Writing brings me joy.  It brings me comfort.  It allows me to explore my thinking.  I  use it to sort through my feelings and confusions.  Writing fills a space for me like no other.

And then there are the people.  Each person answers the call to write and to be there for the other writers.  The people provide the gift of connection.    We are a community of teachers who write.  We give each other feedback.  We ask questions.  We cheer each other on and we think about our young writers back at school.  We learn not only from our own writing, but from the others as well.

Our 3 day retreat at Kenyon College begins to build community.

This week I celebrate the Columbus Area Writing Project and the people who come to learn and write every day.  Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing this space to share our celebrations.  Please visit Ruth's site to read about other celebrations. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Blink

Wasn't it just yesterday?  Our old station wagon was filled to the brink with not one bit of room to spare for our camping adventure to the east coast.

We were prepared for our long drive...
books checked out of the library
snacks to be doled out in increments
surprise bags to keep little hands busy
planned pit stops to let little legs run around and stretch
And the memories...
wild horses running on the island
s'mores around the campfire
riding bikes on the trails
sleeping bags crammed around the pack-n-play inside the tent
catching fireflies
keeping Annie from toddling into the campfire
keeping Zach from bulldozing into the campfire
keeping Molly from being the boss of the campfire

Peals of laughter and gasps of amazement filled our days.

Fast forward 20 years.

We are no longer needed for the planning or the packing.
Three siblings
Best of friends
Headed for the trip of a lifetime touring
The sights of Europe
New memories
Lasting memories
Of new and exciting adventures
All on their own.

Our hearts fill with pride and joy
To see our children, all grown up
Ready to face the world

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Head over to their site to read other slice of life stories.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What I Know To Be True

Today I join Ruth Ayres and other bloggers to celebrate the good things that are happening.  Please visit Ruth's site to join the celebration.

The stress has been palatable this week in Room 204.  State testing begins next week.  This will also be the first year that we take the test online instead of using paper and pencil.  As we prepared this week, I began by asking my students, "How is reading for the test different than the kind of reading we do for pleasure or when we are researching?"

Right away, the room was abuzz with conversation.  I quickly began to chart their thinking.

Reading for the Test

  • It can be nerve wracking.
  • The paragraphs are numbered.
  • We have to go back and reread to find answers.
  • We get timed.
  • We have to choose the best answer for multiple choice questions.
  • We don't get to pick what we read.
  • We have to answer the test questions, not our own questions.
These last two stood out for me, because they speak to choice.  There is no choice when taking the test.  This is the complete opposite of what goes on in our classroom.  All year long, our students have been given choice.  They choose what they research. They ask their own questions.  They choose what they want to read.  They choose their goals. They choose how to respond to their reading.  They choose if they are going to read and write digitally or traditionally.

In a brief moment of weakness, I began to question myself.  Have I done a disservice to our students by not doing more contrived activities that mimic test taking?  Are they going to be prepared for the test?   As soon as the questions surfaced, I cringed.  Everything about those questions goes against what I believe to be true about educating children.  My job is not to create test takers.  My job is to give students opportunities to learn and find joy through reading and writing.  My most important work is to support my students in being curious and finding their way as learners.

Today I celebrate choice because...

  • H excitedly shared with me that for the first time, she finished a book this year.  At this time, she's read several books and is finding who she is as a reader.
  • Book clubs spring up without any involvement from me or my co-teacher.  Readers with similar interests are finding each other.
  • Graphic novels have hooked several of our readers who thought they didn't like to read.  Even my co-teacher found out that she likes them.
  • R discovered that poetry isn't so bad.  :)
  • Writing groups are forming as students with similar interests research topics and create digital compositions.
  • Real conversations are occurring about important topics that students initiate.
  • Parents are asking what we're doing...their kids are reading without a fight at home.
I believe with all my heart that having choice as a foundation in our classroom is what will bring success to our students.  They will use what they've learned this year to do their best over the next several weeks of testing.  I'll be glad when it's done so we can put it behind us and get back to what we know is best for kids and let them get back to the business of learning.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poetry and Art

I am joining Two Writing Teachers in the March Slice of Life Challenge.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories.

Poetry and art on a field trip?  I can't think of anything better.  What a wonderful day we had.  Our fifth graders visited the Columbus Art Museum today to see beautiful art and explore poetry writing.  We each received a blank book and a pencil.  As the docent led us around, we stopped at different pieces of art to wonder and imagine and write.  The kids' words poured out onto the page.   Kids who usually don't share much in class became prolific poets and were eager to share their creations.  And our docent was the best.  As it got closer and closer to the time to leave, she said, "Oh, I have to show you just one more thing."  She said that THREE times.  Yes, we were one of the last ones to get back to the bus, but it was worth it.  Tomorrow, we will take our poems and create our own art to go with them.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Saying Good-bye to a Special Man

This month I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge.  Please visit Two Writing Teachers to read other Slice of Life stories and leave a comment or two.

For the last 5 years, I've had spaghetti dinner from the Italian Club in Akron with my Uncle Jack on the Tuesday of my spring break.  We began the tradition right after my Aunt Cathi died.  The two of them used to go to Carovalisse every Tuesday night when the club was open.  Two weeks after my aunt's death, I spent my spring break with him so he would't be alone in the house.  Being with him brought me the comfort I needed after losing my aunt and I hope that I did the same for him.

 This year, I was traveling for spring break and I made a promise to myself that I would get spaghetti with him this summer.  When I got a message from my mom to call her back, I could hear in her voice that something was wrong.  I called her from Charleston and got the news.  Uncle Jack had a heart attack the night before and passed away.

I have a hole in my heart.

So many wonderful memories...

He was my second dad whose arms opened for me without question when I needed a shoulder to cry on.  Growing up, he took my side whether I was right or wrong.  I knew that I could count on him no matter what.

  Uncle Jack was a dancer.  He and my aunt loved to dance and they knew how to cut a rug.   Dancing with him at my wedding holds a very special place in my heart.  As he guided me across the floor, he talked to me about having a happy marriage.  "You've got a good guy," he told me.  "You two are going to have a good life."   I took his words to heart because he and my aunt were my role models for a strong marriage.  I wanted what they had.

He lived life with gusto.  He loved with all his heart.  He argued with all his might.  And, oh, was he stubborn.  But, to me, he was the best.  I am going to miss him.

Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathi

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Today I am cross posting with Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge and DigiLit Sunday hosted by Margaret Simon.  I invite you to visit both of these sites to read other posts.

Margaret has invited us to write about trust.  There are some wonderful posts linked up at her site.  I hope you'll have a chance to stop by and read.

Trust is the foundation of all relationships.  We spend the first weeks of school building a safe community where students can take risks.   I am reminded again and again how our community needs to continually be nurtured.

The majority of my fifth graders have chosen to write their Slice of Life stories in their journals.  Since they weren't writing on their blogs, I knew it was important for them to have the experience of sharing their writing with each other in person.  One afternoon in early March,  I created an opportunity to share in small groups.  As I explained what we were going to do, I noticed a hesitancy with some of the students.

"Do we have to?"
"I don't want anyone to see what I wrote. It's not very good."

I encouraged those who were worried to choose a piece that they were comfortable sharing, while also giving them the choice to not share.  Once the room was abuzz with students sharing in small groups, I joined a group.  They were having some difficulty being respectful to each other.  I spotted some eye rolling and titters of laughter toward one child in particular.

What to do?  Although inside, I was angry, I knew that showing that anger wasn't going to help.   I've witnessed first hand the ups and downs of negotiating relationships among adolescents this school year.  They are trying to figure out where they fit in and how they fit in.  I took a deep breath and participated in the conversation like nothing was wrong.  I asked questions.  I invited the others to ask each other questions and comment on all of the writing, modeling what the conversation should look like and sound like.  My goal was to empower each student to feel valuable as a writer.

At the end of sharing, I asked the class as a whole who had been nervous about sharing their writing.  I was taken aback when most hands went up.  I had assumed that because we were in March and had been working together all year, that we had that trust issue down.

As I reflect, though, I realize that we always need to come back to nurturing those relationships.  Those first moans and groans that I heard from a few students were most likely signs of nervousness in sharing their writing.  The eye rolls and laughter that I observed in the small group was probably the same thing.  I imagine that by making themselves appear superior, these students were protecting themselves from being made fun of by the others.  It's easy to forget the vulnerability that is required in putting your work out there.

And so, we go back to building stronger relationships.  We go back to building trust with each other.  We have open, honest conversations and we (including me) allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  We don't throw our hands in the air and give up.

I hope that my students will look back on their fifth grade year and remember these very important lessons we've taught them.  If nothing else, I hope that they'll remember that each and every person has value and deserves to be respected.  If we can treat each other with kindness we'll earn others' trust and feel safe to let our guards down and trust in others.