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Monday, March 31, 2014

Snapshots of a Readerly Life: Spine Poems

I'm trying my hand at "spine poems."  I also need to work on my photography skills... but I have typed them in case they are hard to read.  :)  Enjoy--and think about this for April:  Poetry Month!

This I believe--
take joy:
the true secret of writing.

Poetry speaks to children
for the good of the earth and sun,
a place for wonder--
seeing the blue between,
pyrotechnics on the page.
Word weavings,
wondrous words!
Don't forget to share!

Old friend from far away
promise me
don't sweat the small stuff...
and it's all small stuff
you can create an exceptional life

When we were very young
last child in the woods
           tiny beautiful things
                                                  wonder struck

....And with a light touch
igniting a passion for reading     
     revisit, reflect, retell     
     talk about understanding     
     lasting impressions

What's after assessment?
Holding on to GOOD IDEAS
in a time of BAD ONES

The death and life of the
great American school system--
What the Dickens?
The tiger rising...

Puppet Power

Better Answers:

reconsidering read-aloud
the reading workshop
the writing workshop
science workshop

reading with meaning

Make Way for Literacy!

Reading magic
Shaping literate minds
Teaching with intention
Reading in the wild
Caring hearts and critical minds
Unmistakable impact

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Good Old Days of Teaching

In a career spanning more than 25 years and a lifetime (at least since the age of five) spent studying and/or working in colleges and schools, I find much on which to reflect when comparing school today to school in the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and even early 2000's (prior to No Child Left Behind).

Though not sentimental for "how school was" when I was growing up, recent "reforms" seem to have removed much of progress we had made through educational research.

So, to me, "the good old days" were not days of yore, when I was young.  They were the days somewhere between then and now, days prior to corporate America's attempted (and still progressing) takeover of our public schools because they see an opportunity for profit... and line the coffers of politicians' re-election campaigns.

The Good Old Days, to me, were when the welfare and learning of the whole child were valued over any test score.  Days when students could overcome a "bad test" or even a few "bad years" and still expect to go to college, earn scholarships, and become productive citizens. 

The Good Old Days of Teaching

Sometimes I remember
the good old days
of teaching

Days when educators
as specialists, 
best practices were 
promoted teaching excellence,
developmentally appropriate,
geared for students'
powerful learning success
more than test scores.

Days when students
as learners
constructivist workshops
promoted real reading, 
real writing, and real science
geared for children's
experiential learning, efficacy
more than test scores.

Days when teachers and students
as scholars
many forms of expression
promoted deep engagement
authentic, holistic opportunities
geared for young people's
interest, concerns, questions
more than test scores.

I still can't imagine
anything better than that. 

Based on Ralph Fletcher's poem:
The Good Old Days

Sometimes I remember
the good old days.

Riding bikes on summer vacation with Dad, 
wondering if my legs would ever be as strong as his. 

Pedaling fast to feel the fresh White Mountains breeze on my face
and slow to hear Dad's directions and careful warnings. 

Feeling my legs burn with fatigue, 
but pressing on to make Dad proud. 

Stopping to savor a thick chocolate milkshake, 
from our special father/daughter ice cream stand. 

I still can't imagine

anything better than that. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Magic (and Miracle) of School-Angels

Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic, comes highly recommended by everyone I know who has read it.  The main character, Felicity, sees words all around her:  on her shoes, swirling around her sister's head, in her teacher's glossy black hair,  on the fabric of Rosie Walker's dress, in the dust and dirt and feathers being swept around a door...  Lloyd's choice of name for her main character, "Felicity," is so fitting:

intense happiness.
the ability to find appropriate expression for one's thoughts.

Words can bring us both happiness and the ability to appropriately express our thoughts:  felicity.  Felicity Street even runs along the south side of one of our elementary schools--maybe this is no coincidence! 

Lorna Byrne, a real-life, modern-day mystic, writes about seeing and communicating with angels all around for as long as she can recall. One of her books is even titled  Angels in My Hair. Lorna sees angels everywhere, providing her with information and wonders about our lives and souls, much the way Felicity sees words.

Both Felicity and Lorna believe in the message of love and hope from words—from the light within us--and angels.  Felicity even feels that the mountains want her to stay in Stoneberry, a magical place that gives her hope.  She sends wishful words into the universe, 

"Keep us safe.  

Keep us here.  

Hold us tight."  

This message seems to flow through in our daily work with children. Lorna says that angels hear these wishes and want to guide and help; and all we need to do is ask. This is much like a teacher--only with us, you don't even have to ask!

A third connection I am making is to a couple of books that I recently read:  This I Believe and This I Believe II in which people from all walks of life profess life’s lessons in which they believe (hold true) in 500 words (or less).

Across all of these texts, the theme resonates, dancing through the air like heat lightning on a warm summer night: 


 verb \bə-ˈlēv\
: to accept or regard (something) as true
: to accept the truth of what is said by (someone)
: to have (a specified opinion)


Both Felicity and Lorna believe in the message of love and hope from words--and angels.  Near the beginning of  A Snicker of Magic, Felicity sees the word, “Believe,” while driving into her new town in an old van with her mother and sister.  She says,

       “At exactly that moment, I saw my first word of the day:


      The letters were made of melted sunshine.  They dripped down the window glass, warm and tingly against our faces.  Believe   is a powerful word to see and say.  But that morning, I felt it.  And feeling it was best of all.  I knew something wonderful was about to happen to me.  I didn’t know what, or why, or how.  But I believed.”

Lorna describes why she believes (and why we should, too) in angels. 

          "The angels are here to help us to remember that we have a soul – that we are 
                    more than flesh and blood." 

In my daily life, I think about believing… and angels… and it is easy to see angels everywhere at home, at work/school, and even on the street or in the grocery store.  As a literacy coach, I am thinking about the daily “magic” and miracles worked by angels of all sorts in public schools. 

First, let’s agree on a fitting definition of “angel” when describing teachers—I have highlighted definition #2 as my choice for this essay:

 noun \ˈān-jəl\

: a spiritual being that serves especially as a messenger from God or as a guardian of human beings
: a person who is very good, kind, beautiful, etc., with exemplary conduct or virtue

Every single day, I work among teachers who are, indeed, earth angels who believe in their work.  In each walk down a hallway, each step into classrooms, or even in places like cafeterias or playgrounds, the virtuosity of these angels is readily observed, their light shining with generosity of spirit through loving actions, guiding little ones to all that is good and beautiful.  What words would you see swirling in the air, sweetly wafting?  Perhaps:


Despite inundating mandates from ignorant, pompous politicians, these angels show up to teach each day. They Believe…  not in the capricious, mind-numbing absurdities, ironically termed “reforms.”  No.  They Believe… in their abilities to truly educate the whole child, rising above these hurdles.  Even without the ludicrous demands imposed by politicians, teachers have hard jobs:  increasing class sizes, students who lack background experiences to support them as learners, children who feel hungry for food, love, and hope.  Students whose hearts, like Felicity's in Snicker of Magic, beg:

Help me
Hold me
Hear me

Teachers seek to fill them with love of learning but also truth and love for life—building optimism, resilience, and dreams.  Over the years, if we are lucky, the miracles of our hard work pay off in something that looks like magic:  at the age of 18 or so, we see young citizens, ready to thoughtfully join the world, solving problems, caring for humanity.  

Lingering in this space are the words:

Trust in hard work

Not only is teaching a hard job, it is complex.  Students come to us having different learning levels, but also differing learning styles.  A learner who is:

  • Visual (spatial): Prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): Prefers using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): Prefers using words, both in speech and writing.
  •  Physical (kinesthetic): Prefers using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): Prefers using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): Prefers to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Prefers to work alone and use self-study.
  • Naturalist (smart about nature):  Prefers nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings.
  • Existential (spiritual):  Prefers to relate now learning to one’s spiritual or religious beliefs/existence


Teachers are truly “professional decision-makers,” as it is estimated that teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions during each school DAY. And through it all, they teach magic:  how to transform black swiggles on a piece of paper and into letters and numbers, sounds, words, thoughts, ideas, and stories.  And long after their years in school are over, they will continue to read, write, calculate, and consider the world politically and scientifically.  By some miracle, our work is everlasting in our students, making us omnipresent; but, of course, we will have moved on, as well--magically abiding with each person, but invisible.

Ever-present words entwining teachers’ and students’ lives, like ribbon on the most lovely gift imaginable:


Not included in that 1,500 count are the decisions that go above and beyond the school day.  Outside of school time, additional educational decisions are made as teachers:
v  write copious lesson plans, unit plans, and study curriculum;
v  organize classroom and learning resources;
v  generate report cards and write comments for individual students;
v  assess/grade student work;
v  collaborate about student achievement;
v  study data;
v  participate in professional study groups, leadership teams, reading teams, and school resource teams for RtI;
v  independently research/read;
v  tutor students;
v  participate in parent meetings including P/T conferences and PTO meetings;
v  attend school board meetings;
v  facilitate open houses,
v  work the school carnivals and dinners,
v  help with book fairs, fundraisers, etc.

Circling, spiraling around the teacher’s heart and mind as they tirelessly work night after night, weekend after weekend...


Returning to the notion of working magic, even miracles, teachers might make it look easy.  But when you appreciate a teacher who is all of these things to your child (and more), know that s/he has been able to do so because of a personal investment, borne of love for humankind—and, if you look closely, you might see these words woven in the air as she prepares for class, dinner for her family, does the laundry, all the while thinking of her students:


intense happiness.
the ability to find appropriate expression for one's thoughts.

The magic and miracles created by real-life earth angels is happening in most classrooms in my school district and across America.  Look for the beauty in teachers’ intentions, understand who they are and why they show up for work every single day.  You, too, will...


Believe in magic found in the daily work and dedication of hardworking teachers, in your local public schools, and in the miracles brought about in a democracy of equally educated human beings--EVERYONE, of every race, religion, national origin, or socio-economic status.  Public schools can truly be a magical place that gives us hope for tomorrow and, indeed, the very future of our planet.   In the words of Felicity,

"Keep us safe.  

Keep us here.  

Hold us tight."