Using the Weather to Create Mood

I’m in a coaching cycle with fourth grade teachers.  The kids are working on writing historical fiction.  The students have thought about struggles children might face; they have learned a bit about historical time periods; they have tried to place their characters in a historical setting, and they have created multiple story arcs and scenes in their notebooks to play around with story ideas.  Recently we showed students how they could sketch their scenes across pages as a way to plan their stories.

As I pulled up next to a student, I noticed him sketch a sun on the page he was working on.  Suddenly, he flipped back to an earlier page and sketched a cloud in the top left corner.  And then he went right back to the page he was working on. I was curious. It was time to do some research. “I noticed you just flipped to the first page and sketched a cloud.  Can you talk with me about that?”

“Oh, he said,” rather nonchalantly, “I thought that maybe the beginning should be kind of dark (He is setting his story in WW2.), so I put a cloud in the sky.  I figured if I make it dark and rainy, that will help create the mood. This scene here is happier, so I put some sunshine in.”  I must say, I was rather impressed (Completely blown away is more like it!).

Today, as spring continues to struggle to pull out of winter, I thought about that fourth grader and his writing.  This gray, raw, rainy weather has me trapped inside, unable to walk the dog, not wanting to venture out.  My mood is dark.  My energy, waning.  My optimism, nonexistent.  Weather sure can create mood!

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Lost in the Teaching

My job is to coach.  To stand to the side and facilitate great teaching. Just as the basketball coach stands to the side and facilitates the players on the court, or the piano teacher sits on the bench and encourages her student to play, my job is to build teacher capacity.  My job is to set the conditions and get out of the way.  In the one sentence job description I wrote recently, I said that my job was about building agency.  I know this is my goal, so I work hard to “voice over” my teaching, create lab guides for teachers to record what they see and hear, point out my teaching moves, encourage teachers to look at the student work that results from lessons or units, and ask questions to promote reflection and agency.  But every now and then, I slip through the wardrobe and into another land.  I can’t help it. I get lost in the teaching.

Sometimes, when I am supposed to be modeling a lesson or a small group, I find myself swept away into the joyful work of teaching children.  All of a sudden, a child will say something, or ask a question, and I’m gone. I get wrapped up in the incredible learning that is taking place right in front of my eyes, and I completely forget about the teachers who have come to watch the lesson.  The kids are thinking, there is some interesting discourse happening, and kids are learning.  Eventually  I look up and see the teachers watching, jotting notes in their lab guides, and I think, “Ooops…I was supposed to be teaching the teachers, but I got lost in teaching the kids!”

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Day 27…

When I’m on vacation, it takes me a few days to get adjusted, to settle in.  It takes a day or two to sleep past 5:30 am, to relax in the morning, to get out of the routine.  The next part of the vacation is the best.  I get into a new groove, and learn how to live with this new, more relaxed, more flexible, slower schedule.  But then the end of the vacation looms near, and I start to worry.  I’ll miss this way of being. Will I be able to get back to the work routine, but still hold onto some of what I’ve experienced over the vacation?  Today is Day 27 of the SOL Challenge.  I’ve written a post each and every day this month.  I’m proud of myself.  I’m in  a writing routine.  I’m coming up with ideas.  I’ve found other bloggers to follow and who follow me. My writing is getting better. I’m enjoying the whole experience. But what now?  When this challenge ends in just a few days, will I continue my writing habit?  Should I keep writing every day, or go down to once a week (with the expectation that I will craft and revise some posts to make them better)? Will the Slicers I follow keep writing?  Will this community continue on?  I certainly hope so. It’s part of me now.

 

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New Things

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved to write. I kept notebooks (journals, really) when I was in high school, travel journals when I went to new places, jotted interesting words, quotes and phrases on scraps of paper, wrote cards and letters, kept  a writers notebooks after going to the Summer Writing Institute at TC, and wrote about the books I was reading in my reading journal.  This doesn’t even include my writing of daily lists and emails, or the writing I do at work to prepare for coaching cycles or share information with teachers and students.

So why did it take me so long to start a blog?  I’ve always wanted to.  Friends and family encouraged me.  “You’ll love it!  It’s a perfect way for you to write and share your ideas with others!” they would say.  “It’s so easy to set up. You’re a good writer.  Just do it.” So why did it take me so many years to get started? I would see the annual SOL Challenge and think maybe this is the year I should try it, and the month of March would slip by..again.  No blog. My kids started blogs; one on fashion, one on food, one on music.  I can do that, I thought.  Still…no blog.  A friend and I talked and talked about creating a blog together.  It was all talk, and no blog.

There is something hard and a bit terrifying about trying something new.  It’s not part of you yet.  It is foreign. Even when everyone around you shows confidence in your ability, you doubt yourself.  Will the writing be any good?  Are you sure you have ideas? Will it resonate with others?  You’re not sure if you will be able to commit to this, in addition to everything else you’re doing?  Will it become part of who you are?  But then you do it.  You throw yourself in.  You start writing.  People start commenting.  You have new ideas.  New posts. New friends. It starts to become part of your routine.  You can’t imagine the morning without writing (and coffee).  It becomes part of you. It becomes natural.  Then it hits you: You are a writer.

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The Slow Dad Movement

My dad is 86.  You wouldn’t know it.  He is tall and slender with slightly too long gray hair and a trim beard.  He is a painter, and spends 4 hours every day working in his studio – still working to resolve problems in his work.  The piece that currently sits on his easel is an older work of his; a nude figure reclining on a couch.  He has decided to keep the figure as is, and completely rework the background.  He is constantly outgrowing himself.

We have lunch or dinner with dad and his wife, Beatrice (a highly talented artist in her own right), at least once a week.  This week, as we moved to the living room to talk and relax after consuming a delicious lamb stew and mashed potato dinner, dad said, “We need to find a way to slow down. Everyone is racing here and there, and going nowhere at all.” To which my husband responded, “Robert, you are the best example I know of someone who is living a slow, thoughtful, and purposeful life.”  Tim is right.  Here is a typical day for dad:

-Wake at 5:30 am.

-Go downstairs and make coffee (slowly – Dad grinds the coffee, puts it in the base of the cafe filtre glass beaker, adds just a small bit of water, swirls it just so, waits….then adds the rest of the water, waits again, and then s..l..o..w..l..y presses the filter through the coffee. The coffee addicts among us are shaking by the time the coffee gets poured, but it’s the best coffee there is.).

-7:00: Call Erika (me) on her way to work.

-Turn on some music.

-Start making breakfast (A typical menu might include poached eggs, sausage, biscuits, and berries.).

-Dance to the music while making breakfast.

-Light the candles (for breakfast!), set the table.

-Call Beatrice down.

-Eat breakfast (slowly….with lots of conversation about the news, the arts, ideas, and maybe some chores that need doing).

-Clean the dishes.

-Make a list.

-Answer and send a few emails.

-Go into the studio. Paint for the morning while listening to music.

-At exactly noon, stop working and eat a wonderful lunch prepared by Bea.

-Do a few chores around the house or yard (Last year dad worked on cutting down a bamboo forest that had taken over the backyard!  Did I mention that dad is 86?).

-Put bike on car and drive to beach.

-Ride bike around beach and golf course.

-Come home. Take a nap.

-Wake around 4:30.

-Consider working more on painting.

-Get ready for the evening.

-Have a glass of wine with some cheese and peanuts.

-Help prepare dinner with Bea.

-Enjoy another amazing meal prepared by Bea.

-Talk about all sorts of interesting things.

-Read in bed.

-Fall asleep.

This is the Slow Dad Movement.  

I need to find a way to start working toward a lifestyle that looks more like this and less like the frenetic lifestyle I am now living.

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Rewriting My Job Description

In a recent post from Slicer Readingteachsu  (that had been inspired by a post from another Slicer, Cast of Characters),  I was encouraged to rewrite my job description. It wasn’t easy.  I do a variety of different things as a coach – professional development, demonstration lessons, grade level meetings, ordering, curriculum writing, and lots more.  This exercise forced me to think hard about what I’m really after in my work.  What is all this for? Here’s what I came up with:

The person in this position is required to develop agency in teachers and students through the use of thoughtful, specific, and purposeful feedback in order to maximize learning for all.

I loved the exercise of rewriting my job description in one sentence!  Let’s just cut to the chase and focus on THE most important thing I am after in my coaching work.  I think this is it! I’m thinking about doing this with teachers.  They have so many demands.  I wonder what they would come up with if they rewrote their job descriptions.  I wonder if it would help them weed through all of the stuff and really get to the heart of what they are trying to accomplish.

I also loved that I was inspired by a post that was inspired by a post.  This is the magic of the Two Writing Teachers SOL Challenge.

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Finding My People

“Teaching is a lonely business.” I’m sure we’ve all heard (and felt) this line. In many ways, it’s true.  I sometimes felt alone when I was a classroom teacher.  I often longed for more adult interaction, but I always had my grade level team.  We planned together, ate lunch together, had conferences during the same week, and had many meetings together.

As a literacy coach, it’s different. I am the only person in the building who does the work I do.  I don’t have a grade level team. I don’t have a scheduled lunch time (I usually just end up eating (far too quickly) at my desk while I check emails), and my schedule is different from everyone else in the building.  My little office is tucked into the fifth grade hallway, and the two literacy support teachers (my teammates) have a space that is on the opposite side of the building!   So I do feel lonely at times.  

But today I was reminded of the incredible power of having like-minded colleagues.  Today we had a district meeting of the five elementary literacy coaches and our fearless leader.  We talked “hard” about literacy, about balancing test preparation (It’s that time of year!) with great literacy instruction, we planned ways to support teachers, we looked at books to support students, and we laughed, ate lunch (We still ate while we worked, but at least we are in the same room!), and celebrated some great work we are seeing in our buildings.  It was a reminder of my need to find and spend time with my team.  When I get lonely next time, I’m going to push myself to remember what today felt like.  That should keep me going until our next meeting.

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