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 http://teacherlearningsessions.com/




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:

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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!


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!