Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quickwrite: Gratitude List

This time of year is always crazy and I loved the Two Writing Teachers post suggestion on Sunday that we teach students to express gratitude in writing. It is an antidote to the stress as shared in the post.  Currently we are moving at work out of a building and into a new/old office and furniture keeps popping and piling up.  It is a great time of year to see old friends and family as I was able to do this past weekend, but it can be hectic.  Part of seeking six is keeping that balance during times just like these and my one little word is to focus on well.  If we don't note our gratitude, we lose sight about what really matters.  Here is my quick top 20 in no particular order.

20. Living in a country where I have access to clean water, flushing toilets, and electricity daily.
19. Freedom of speech
18. Choosing how I spend my time
17. The ability to give and share and receive gracefully
16. The ability to recommend and give books---Booksgiving
15.  Spending time with people
14.  Slowing down to spark back up...
13.  Long-time friends
12.  Serving on the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Committee
11. The ability to move physically
12. My job and my contribution to the world are one and the same
11. Living in sunny Florida
10. My virtual writing community
9.   My ulty friends
8.   My health insurance
7.   My CG family
6.   My Knight job and the students there
5.   My day job and my colleagues there
4.   My good friends
3.   My extended family
2.   My healthy husband & daughter
1.   My charmed life

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lessons Learned

My college students have just finished their last blogs for the semester. You can find their reflection posts here. This semester is the second one that I have required all of my undergraduate and graduate students to create and write a blog for our Teaching Writing in Middle and High School class. I first participated in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge in March 2012. I then created a two week mini-challenge in May for my freshmen with my cohort, Lee Ann Spillane.  In the spring of 2013 I challenged my grad students with a range of digital writing choices.  Five of them elected to do the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March with me.  In the fall of 2013, I made digital writing via a blog a mandatory component of the graduate section of the class.  In the spring of 2014, I made it a mandatory component for both undergrads and grads and then have continued that requirement this fall.

Lessons Learned 
  • Even adult writers can struggle coming up with ideas for Open Posts.
  • Some sites such as Tumblr and Wikis are not as easy for others to post feedback. 
  • Be mindful of how/when/what you require for posts.
  • A discussion of audience & purpose are still invaluable.
  • The lessons learned about yourself as a writer and about digital writing matter most for your future students, not the quantity of the posts or comments.  
  • You will learn so much more about your students than what they can reveal to you in class.
  • A mini-lesson on commenting can be helpful.
  • A dedicated feedback partner for each student other than the teacher ensures some writing accountability and everyone gets at least two comments.
  • Students are scared to go public even the ones who seem confidant in class.
  • It takes time to comment on every single student.  Be sure to set aside that time each week.
This year is the fall is the first that I have been dedicated to writing weekly. I want to thank Stacey and her team for creating and continuing to host the weekly slice and the March challenge. It is truly your contribution to the world!  I want to thank Lee Ann Spillane who challenged me to do this with her in 2012.  I also want to thank all of my students and colleagues who have taken the writing plunge. I love every minute of this digital writing learning journey!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DC Photo-Op

One of the mistakes that I have made in my traveling life as an Ultimate Frisbee player, a conference goer, and a teacher consultant was to neglect the city of my destination.  In my forties when I began to pay my way to conferences and come to the realization that I have been to cities such as Savannah, Georgia over 20 times and never seen more than the building surrounding Forsyth Park, I began to deliberately plan my trips with at least one off day.  In Vegas, I enjoyed the NCTE & ALAN conference, but spent my Sunday in Red Rock Canyon and at the Hoover Dam.  In Boston, we toured the historical sites on Sunday including the Boston Public Library, gorgeous.  When I found out my conference was going to be in DC this year, I planned 4 extra days, two with my friend and two with my family. I thought I would share some of my top five sites from this visit since my eye is twitching from reading too many essays today.

5. Crossing the Potomac!  The power of GPS!

 4.  Eleanor...one of the few women represented on the Mall!

 3. The thought and creativity in the design of the 9-11 Memorial at the Pentagon. Visually stunning both day and night!

2. The important ideals of our leaders as invaluable reminders throughout the city.

1.  Seeing the Library of Congress and a real snowfall with my kid.

Now I have a year to figure out what to do in Minneapolis!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks!

In the ALAN workshop today in a session that was billed as a master class in YA lit, Cris Crowe talked about his professionalization or how he came to be a teacher-leader.  Don Gallo also shared his story too. They both didn't get their alone.  They had mentors, peers, and memberships in organizationsthat helped  them  grow.  I wanted to say thank you to the Stacey Shubitz and the slice community be ukase they go have helped me grow as writer and a teacher of writing! I had the exciting opportunity to meet some of the members and Stacey on Saturday. It was exciting to put faces to blogs and discover other people to add to my blogroll. I have been a member of this professional learning network for almost three years and never met anyone face-2-face before Saturday. When I think about my professionalization, being an activity writer in the Slice community is one of those keys! Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sacred Saturday

Teaching is hard work, no matter your experience.  There is always work to be done.  You could spend the next 72 hours working and still find more to do, that's the truth.  Therefore it is important to carve out sacred time for yourself.  I call mine Saturday.  This Saturday, however, I gave it up for a worthy cause. Our debate team needed judges.  My friend is the debate coach.  It was a simple equation.  It is important to give back to those who give to you, those who fill you up as a friend and colleague. Hence my Saturday spent at school.

If you have never spent a day contributing to the world by judging competitors in a high school debate tournament, you are missing something.  The perks, food and beverage galore, would be enough for some to give up their Saturday, but truly the best part of my day was garnering in inspiration from the students themselves. If you are ever worried about the youth of tomorrow, spend a half a day in Congress where students work to pass legislation that they have crafted and present arguments for and against each law.  It was the swiftest two and half hours of my teaching life. The twenty students debated about mandatory Ebola screenings for travelers and providing free internet for all Americans. There were many other laws that they considered passing.   Congress is a level playing field for all levels of debaters, novices and varsity members.  The students managed themselves. I just listened and evaluated..   I was in awe.

I suggest that if you are a secondary English language arts educator, you donate some time judging. You don't need much experience just time. You also will be able to study teens and learn about them as critical listeners, readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers. Powerful stuff!  They were powerful. Students are most always the fount of our teaching inspiration and I was glad to give up my Saturday to be reminded of that truth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Light Up the Night

Yellow lanterns were carried in memory.
Red lanterns were for supporters.
White for survivors.
Last Thursday was out of my ordinary. I headed up to Jacksonville for a Light Up the Night Walk with my friend and daughter to meet my family to walk in memory of my Aunt Joanie who lost her short, but fierce battle with ACL last January.  The purpose of the walk was to raise money to defeat blood cancers, Everywhere you turn, you might be asked to donate for a cause and the money is certainly a part of it.  Without events, there might not be a cure.  You might even question the necessity of putting on a walk, a run, or an event. Wouldn't money just be better spent giving directly to the cause? Ultimately the events are for the living too.  The events celebrate the surviving, celebrate the supporters, and memorialize those who didn't survive because there are always                                                               those who must carry on when they are no survivors

It was a beautiful night to celebrate a life lost.  Last week would have been around the time that my aunt confessed she didn't feel well and went to the hospital.  Once she was admitted in November, she spent only a few days from November to January out of hospital care.   This fall we created TEAM JEM.  Friends and family donated money.  A few of us, her husband, her sister, her niece, and friends, walked.  Our hearts weren't light that night, because the first year is always the hardest.  The first of everything without them always is.  Later the firsts become less, but the firsts without never end.  The two mile walk was a small way for us to collectively face the sadness.  My daughter summed it up wisely, especially for a ten year old.  As we crossed the last bridge, she said that she wished there were more white lanterns, because that would mean that there were more survivors. Which is always in the end why we walk.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Pie Slice

Frederick Buechner once wrote or said, "Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world's hunger."  I credit Jaana, a fellow slicer, for allowing me the steal from her slice last October. I copied it from her blog as well as her link and created a draft which I have come back to several times over course of this the year. Read her amazing post here!   

I've only meet Jaana through blogging as part of the Slice of Life writing community.  She probably doesn't know about the impact or inspiration that I derived from her write.  I kept coming back to that draft post all year.  I finally found the words today that went well with her quote.  I engage in a vocation that meets my students' hunger and feeds my gladness.   It only took one of Oprah's writing exercises last weekend, pie graphing our life to help me uncover the connection. Trust me, I have graphed my life before, but this time was different.  I discovered that I was pretty lucky; my pie pieces melded.  My hobbies are directly connected to my health and occupation and friends.  I don't feel torn.  My biggest aha was that my occupation and my contribution to the world were married.  I don't think many adults can say that, but in the teaching profession we can.  

We need to remember it is each child's story and our story that matters especially when we are asked to crunch kid's data like they are dollars on a spreadsheet or when teachers's VAM scores are being crunched to calculate our value. There is no doubt in my mind that each teacher's contribution to student life cannot be quantified and reduced to a number.  We might not see our contribution in the short-term or in the long-run, but in the end it the students matter most.