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.




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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!