Love Letters: 6 Essential Actions That Support Growth

These actions are very important in our work as educators.  Take a look and if you have essential actions that you believe in, I hope you’ll consider sharing your ideas with me.




Teacher Learning Sessions ~ Take a look & listen!

I have really enjoyed listening and learning from others via this site!  What a great opportunity to talk about Inquiry-based workshops & authentic learning objectives  ~ Re:Teaching podcast

For more information, I encourage you to check out and subscribe to



People: Works of Art

Until recently, I didn’t realize how much I missed college towns. There’s something about campuses ~ the nostalgia you feel as you watch students mingling between dorms, local cantinas, bookstores and pharmacies. And, of course, your local tattoo parlor, coffee shop and occasional diner give off an optimistic, freeing feeling.

Several years ago we lived in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, just 2 miles west of The Ohio State University. When the wind was blowing just right on a fall Saturday morning, we could open our back door and hear the OSU marching band warming up before a home football game (TBDBITL for those Buckeye fans out there!) It was exhilarating living in the midst of college campus happenings which is why when we dropped our kids off in Pennsylvania for summer camp, my husband and I decided to make a stop in State College on our trek back to New York. Although it was the quieter months of summer, we wanted to sense that college atmosphere again.

A fun night watching the “23 women who rocked the world” in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup at a local brewery coupled with a leisurely cup of coffee the next morning brought about some great relaxation and reading. As my eyes danced across the pages of both local and national news, I found myself stuck in Voices of Pennsylvania ~ Thoughtful. Fearless. Free. A local paper that’s mission is to be thoughtful, fearless and free? I loved the premise so I began reading.

This particular issue was packed with the top 10 reasons to visit an art museum, a first-hand account of the Baltimore protests, and an article that focused on summer reading and rethinking the beach book. While the paper was interesting and educational cover to cover, the specific article that I held on to was “People are a Work of Art.” Marilyn Jones’ article draws a parallel between art forms and people. She suggests that the following generalizations may hold true:

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 9.25.36 AM

This article spoke to me. It held a certain truth for me that I knew I wanted to explore further. The sounds of people as artists, people as works of art kept repeating in my mind. Why does all of this matter to the work we do in education each day? How, I wondered, does this apply to the work I’m currently tackling? It’s simple, I guess. It matters a lot.

These ideas make me think about adult learners ~ the many ways of being and approaches of working together.   As an instructional coach, I care about the adult learners I support, their background experiences, their goals, their beliefs, their passions, their personal and professional inquiries, and what ignites them to take on each new day with their students. I work to see them for who they are and what they bring to each experience. As I launch our work together, I have to remember that I have artists in my presence whose center may be based on a different art form than mine. For example:

The Pointillist – while fragmented at times, they give you just enough to go on that you can then draw your own conclusion. They are co-constructivists where the sum is so much greater than each part. These are my big idea people. I have to listen closely to the ideas along the way and seek to put it all together by the end. My job is to recognize when I can’t connect the dots, to ask for clarification or redirection.

The Minimalist – they come to the “party” with the explicit, bare-bone facts. They search for the proof they need to move forward. These are my researchers and I have to harness their skill set by tasking them with finding the information out in the world that will move us forward. On the flip side, I have to push them to stretch themselves, not always coming to the table with one way or idea.

The Realist – don’t ask a realist a question you don’t really want their answer to because tact is not their middle name.   These are my pragmatists. When we need a barometer check, these are my peeps. My job is to use the voice of the realist to help set goals around the work that flows naturally and is doable.

The Impressionist – when you need a pick me up, hang with the impressionist. The glass isn’t half full, but ninety percent full…almost all of the time. Although it can be too “sunny” some days for others to be around an impressionist, these are my cheerleaders. Work in schools is exhausting and can wear you out. It is my job to give time and space for celebration.

The Surrealist – keeping life interesting is what you get when a surrealist is in your presence. Since they are often happy and beat to their own drum, these are my out of the box thinkers. Although sometimes difficult to follow, the surrealist requires us to be divergent thinkers. My role is to harness the spirit of seeing our work from a different lens.

Districts, schools, and classrooms alike are canvases. They are waiting to be filled with color – or reimagined with different colors. They are blank until we connect and impact one another – until our ideas collide with color. Because we are different, the work is interesting and important. In my case, the school year is in full swing. I’ve learned about the amazing adult learners with whom I am working. I’ve worked to figure out their art forms so that I know what they can give and what they need to get from our work together.  To do this, I ask them to fill in a two column chart describing what it is that they could teach, model or show others (that’s the give part) and then list or describe what it is that they need to grow as a learner and facilitator of learning (that’s the get part.)

In turn, my goal is to nudge educators to do the same for the learners in their care. I want them to see their students for who they are, for what they need, and for what they bring to the table. What can they give and what do they need to get from others? As I think alongside teachers, we often unpack students and their work as a piece of art, asking important questions:

  • What assets does each student bring to the table each day?
  • What is their center? Passions? Ways of being that make them get out of bed each day and hit the ground running toward our classroom?
  • What goals do we have for them and what goals have they set for themselves?
  • How do we develop/bring out the artist in each of them? What will they create so that they are not only consumers of content, but also producers?

It’s December. It’s winter break and I had the opportunity to stay over in State College, PA again. This time, the campus was quiet…taking a rest and re-charging. That’s what we, as educators, do over breaks, right? We rest, catch up, and refuel so that we can go back at it again at the turn of a new year.

I love my work and as a result, I will continue to spend my coaching days putting into action what Edgar Degas once said:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Waffles or Spaghetti?

My husband and I have redefined what is considered a “date”. Why? Well…

  • Five days a week
  • Four grandparents who still live in Ohio (who used to help us with our crazy lives at any given point)
  • Three growing children
  • Two careers with daily commutes into NYC
  • One pet Goldendoodle, turtle & bunny

Nowadays, a date is pretty simple. A quick coffee or glass of wine at one of our favorite Westchester establishments, a movie (on Netflix…let’s be real the last time we saw a non-Disney produced movie in a movie theatre was in 2009…maybe), or a trip to Home Depot to get new covers for old, beaten up light switches. This morning we went on a “date” to the grocery store. Our daughter was hanging out with our boys so we ventured out into the snow before any crowds or lines formed. As we were walking in to begin our weekly grocery run, my husband said to me, “You know, some people may not get you because your ideas are like spaghetti.” Spaghetti? Really?

I won’t bore you with how our conversation unfolded as we walked through the produce, cereal, and dairy isles. But, I will tell you that while picking out ham (I don’t even like ham!) in the meat department I realized something. My husband was trying to teach me something…something about myself and something about other people. He was trying to give me a nibble…something to ponder and put into action.

For those of you who know me, you know that I pondered our grocery store date conversation all morning. I even came home and did a little research on ideas that unfold like spaghetti. The idea was familiar to me, but I needed to put it into action in my own mind. You know…gathering a bunch of interconnected ideas just like a plate of spaghetti. I read a lot of ideas, but some written by Bill and Pam Farrel intrigued me. They say that:

Men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti.

Their ideas are interesting because they compare men to waffles. They say that men process life in boxes, often a collection of boxes that become “convenient holding places for information.” They claim that men only really focus on one box (or issue, topic, problem) at a time. They explain, “When men are at work, they are at work. When men are fixing something, they are fixing something.”

On the flip side, they say that “women process life like a plate of spaghetti.” There are noodles that flow all over the plate and most, if not all, touch, interact, or intersect with others. The Farell’s claim that if anyone can multitask by loading the dishes, talking on the phone and making a grocery list all at once, it is women. They believe women think of their thoughts, actions and life as “connected to other issues in some way and that life is much more of a process.”

This whole idea – waffles and spaghetti – gave me things to ponder. Is this notion just about men and women?   I don’t think so. For me…it is about our work in schools, the ways in which people learn, the ways we construct deep learning. Learning? Now, I know, I’ve lost some of you because I’m talking in ways that only other pieces of spaghetti can appreciate – taking one idea and thinking about its connectedness to other things. I move all over, twisting and turning, to get to some clarity about what matters…what makes sense to me.

In a very concrete way, this experience made me think about the learners in our schools. What do they need to make some gains? What stepping-stones do we need to create for them? I don’t think what I am referring to is gender specific, at least not exclusively. I think it is person specific. I think it is learning specific. Some things to consider:

Do the kiddos in your care think like waffles or in boxes?

  • Do they need to compartmentalize nuggets of information before they can do something with it?
  • Do they need to think separately before thinking together?
  • Do they need to understand one piece before moving on?
  • Do they think, act, design, or talk in part to whole ways?

Do the kiddos in your care think like spaghetti or in interconnected ways?

  • Do they take a bunch of ideas, sifting and sorting through them and then make something new?
  • Do they need to think about ideas related to other ideas and then put them all together?
  • Do they need to understand all of the pieces and parts and how they fit together before moving on?
  • Do they think, act, design, or talk in whole to part ways?

I’m going to continue thinking about these ideas because keeping them in my front pocket will help me support those around me. I will be asking myself if my teachers need smaller bits of information (scaffolded over time) or if they need to simmer about a number of ideas connected to one another? Understanding how someone thinks, learns, or creates understanding will help me design experiences and coaching conversations that will support them. It will directly influence how I design my next coaching moves. I can’t wait!

I’ll keep you posted. Until then, think about yourself and your students – waffles or spaghetti? Both are really important!


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!