Together We Go Far!

Can you imagine walking two hours a day to retrieve fresh water to drink?  Can you imagine what that must feel like?  When I think about that type of hardship, it makes many (if not all) of the challenges I face each day seem so very simple.  So very doable.

It’s funny how sometimes ideas, themes and patterns surround us at just the right time.  If we pay attention, they can “feed” us in new ways.  Here was my path over the last six days.

I was observing a model lesson  where 7th graders were wrestling with a NYT article about Niger children missing school because they were searching for water.  It was interesting to listen to the students process how difficult that would be.  They were surprised to learn that the article was written in 2012, not many years ago. All of the students agreed that they sometimes think their life is hard until they think about other people who (like these children) have it even harder.  The next day, I saddled up to one of my 8th grade lovebugs to listen to her read out loud.  She was working hard to map her way through her independent reading book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.  This bright, thoughtful 8th grader said she had a hard time imagining not being able to go over to her kitchen sink and turn on all of the water she wanted and needed…whenever she wanted and needed it.  She also said she knew there was a boy in the story who also had struggles that she didn’t have in her life and she felt bad for him.  This weekend, my husband and I were flipping through movies and we came upon The Good Lie (2014).  This movie, coupled with the connected learning experiences from last week that I mentioned above,  provided for a reason to pause.  This, especially true, as I literally pushed pause at the end of the movie because it ended with the following quote:

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.19.43 AMIf you want to fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.  I read it several times.  Of course, if you’ve read about or done work with the Lost Boys of Sudan, you know that this African Proverb has deep meaning to the ways in which the thousands of orphaned boys (children) worked to escape the Sudanese Civil War.  They worked together in order to travel unimaginable miles to escape unimaginable pain that most cannot even begin to wrap their heads around.

I started thinking about how this proverb, while not comparable to the importance of the meaning to the Lost Boys of Sudan, can serve as an anchor in the work we do in education.  I asked myself some questions about my work and thought about the results related to going fast or going far.  Some questions I have looming in my mind (I am going to add to this inquiry over time) that I want to ponder include:

  • How does aligning our beliefs about what matters most help us match what we believe to our actions?
  • What practices/actions give us the biggest take-aways to support students who are struggling to read, write, talk, and create?  How do those practices/actions push students to deepen what they know and are able to do?
  • Are we living within content (simmering, developing, making meaning across time) OR pushing our way through it too fast?
  • How does looking at student work guide us to know what to do next with students?
  • How do we know…really know…when students are successful?  How do we create criteria for success that matches what we believe about assessment of and for learning?

I’m in an inquiry that has my mind continually thinking.  One of the ways I live within my inquiry is to use my notebook as a place to hold my thinking.  I started a chart in my notebook that looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 3.21.38 PMDo you have questions or ideas that you are wrestling with that you believe will push you and/ or others to go further as long as you work together?  If so, please consider sharing.  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

 

 

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Notebook Noticings

How do you collect your ideas? Your observations? Your wonderings? Where do you do your thinking that pushes you forward? For me, it is in my notebook. My favorite is simple ~ a composition notebook with graph paper. I love it, but I especially love my notebook cover. My Ohio friend and colleague, Erin, made me this wonderful notebook cover about 18 months ago. I adore owls and this notebook cover, and the ideas inside, gives me an anchor each day. It helps me get smarter…smarter about my ways of seeing, doing and being as an instructional coach. It would be interesting to take note of the number of times I grab my notebook. I use it all the time ~ to collect ideas during coaching conversations, observations and leadership team meetings. It holds my thinking about student work, coaching moves with teachers, and topics/plans for professional development opportunities. I also use my notebook to collect ideas that fuel my work.

owl 3To most, my notebook probably looks like a train wreck. It may seem unorganized and discombobbled (I LOVE that word!) But, if you know me you begin to understand it is highly organized. I have a system of colored pens I use that helps me stay focused. I have a post it note marking system that creates a hierarchy of importance and a labeling system (you know…stars, circles, and sometimes hearts as well as numbers) that helps me find my flow and keep my rhythm. I love my notebook and in so many ways, it is a lifeline to my daily work.

My favorite routine, however, is when I sit down and sift through the pages of my notebook. Sometimes with highlighter or felt tip pen in hand, I thumb the pages to look back and reflect…to think about the now…and to look forward as I plan my next moves.

 Let’s take a closer look…

Here are some ideas I pulled out of my notebook in the last week:

  • Going after quality vs. quantity ~ living in a culture of revision
  • What does it really mean…in action…to co-construct?
  • What routines, practices, structures will give us the biggest bang for our buck?
  • How to imbed more small group instruction across the day for our struggling lovebugs?
  • Map out meaningful, work time opportunities that will help increase student independence
  • What are the payoffs of assessment in action?  What is worthy of being collected? Graded? Co-graded? Considered a knowledge check vs. practice?
  • Community ~ bringing the community in and taking the kiddos out
  • Unpacking my thinking (teacher) so that students know how to unpack their own thinking as they read, write, talk, create
  • When we teach reading we need to name what we are doing and why ~ pushes transfer
  • Read like you are burning calories
  • When you read, what questions do you have? What are you sure of? What are you unsure of?

So, how do you collect your thinking?  Your ponderings?  And…what do you do with your ideas once you’ve collected them?  Send me your ideas, wonderings, and/or action steps in making your notebook come to life! 

New Beginnings…

Happy 2015!

I love the idea of beginning a new year because it reminds me that we can take advantage of a fresh start. Whether personally or professionally, starting anew gives us a chance to reflect, revise, and gives us another go at getting it “right”.  It gives us a chance to celebrate what worked and outline what we want to do differently in the future. The ideas behind my thinking aren’t about getting it wrong the first time. Rather, it honors the idea that as time passes we grow…we are smarter and know more…and it gives us a chance to add to our knowledge and make something new. These ideas hold a place in the work we do in education. Each school year, each marking period, each unit of study, each month, week and day marks an opportunity to start again. We can reflect and take what we have learned, apply it to our belief system and outline why what we do matters so that we can figure out our next steps and take action. What a blessing it is that learning allows us to do all of that! This is exactly how we need to think each day as we work with the learners in our care.

What will 2015 hold for you and your students?

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 6.33.48 PMThanks to you ~ for thinking about what you have learned in order to harness what you will do in the future. Here’s to new beginnings and a great year ahead!

A Love Affair with Education

For the first eight years of my life, my grandmother was my next-door neighbor. I have such fond memories of the two of us planting carrots, radishes, lettuce, and potatoes in her garden, hiking through the Hocking Hills on hot summer days, tooling around Athens, OH in her old, yellow, two-door Maverick, and standing on a chair next to her as she taught me how to make homemade noodles from scratch. Mimi, as we called her, looked for natural opportunities to teach me about the world. She taught me how to crochet, why ladybugs are so important, how an old telephone switchboard works, and about the joy it brings to a family as they listen to the matriarch sing O’Tannenbaum in German. Mimi taught me to have more faith in my life than religion, to love God to the fullest, and she taught me to trust and show loyalty to those who showed me the same in return. She taught me that people matter most.

Mimi lived 98 years. She lived a full life. She wasn’t an educator by training…but she was one of my first teachers. I, like many of you, have had many teachers in my life…my wonderful parents, K-12 teachers, university professors, colleagues (both near and far), friends, and students – both young and old. People impact us…they teach us…they show us how. Sometimes we learn by watching, sometimes by listening, and sometimes by doing. It is pretty evident in this world we live in today, that learning takes many forms and can look different to different people.

My family and I moved to NYC just over a year ago.  I was on a quest to define what really matters in education…and work to figure out how to make it count.  What an adventure it has been ~ and it is just beginning!  I’ve launched my own inquiry about what matters and I’m working every day with dedicated educators to make that count…no matter what obstacles we face and no matter what comes our way next.

The work I am doing is an invitation to think with me ~ to think about what matters, what’s worth fighting for, and how we might sustain the integrity of the education profession. It is an invitation to document how, when, where, and why people – of all ages – learn.   And, eventually come to deeper understanding. It is an invitation to work together to get stronger and smarter over time.

Will you join me on this journey?  Will you help me look closely at beliefs?  Practices that make a difference?  Ways of thinking and ways of being that prove growth across time?  I’m sure it will be thought-provoking and filled with hard work.  It might even be tricky and a little exhausting at times.  But, I promise, it will be interesting and fun!  And, our journey together will help remind us of our love affair with education and all of the reasons we chose this as our calling to begin with.  Are you ready?  Let’s GO!