Category Archives: Uncategorized

Managing to Pause and Listen

Last Friday morning I had one little friend show up a bit later than usual and miss all the socializing he usually does during our breakfast time. And then he didn’t join us for our morning meeting. I sat near the class (a different student runs our morning meeting each day so I’m there but try to be on the fringe and allow them to go for it) and watched my friend, debating what to do. Should I tell him he needed to join us because that’s the expectation each morning? Should I tell him he needed to do what we’re doing so that he can be a part of field day in the afternoon?

I paused. Thank goodness. And sat there debating. Finally I decided I should go talk with him, determine what was going on. I stopped long enough to not allow his behavior to push my buttons and have me respond in frustration. I don’t always manage to do this. I’m not sure about the percentage of times but I’d guess 75% at best am I successful. But this morning I was.

Because my kids run our morning meeting I could confidently walk away, cross the room, and sit down next to this little darling. I asked, “What’s going on?” And got quite a saga about things that had gone wrong before he got to school today and the things about the coming day that were already seeming challenging to him.

I sat there thinking, “Well, yeah, it does seem like you’ve had a rough morning.” I said, “So you feel like you need a moment to yourself?” He said yes and I headed back to the rest of the class.

After our morning meeting we spent an hour and a half reading and/or writing (students got to decide how they wanted to spend their time). This little darling loves to read and jumped back in with us. He wrapped up his brochure, the published result of my students’ research projects, and I printed it. He was thrilled. And that may be an understatement. I feel pretty confident that wouldn’t have happened if I’d “held him accountable” for doing what was expected first thing that morning.

I know I have days when I need others (and myself) to show me grace, give me space, and be extra patient with me. And I’m nearly half a century old. I wish we could, as a society, do a better job of seeing kids the same way we see ourselves. It could make such a difference in how we interact and, therefore, in how they develop and grow.

Educon Again, Finally

For the first time since January 2020, which feels like eight lifetimes ago, we got to spend this past weekend in Philly for Educon. I first attended Educon in 2009, the second year the conference happened, and I haven’t missed a year since (although we all missed 2021 and 2022). In 2010 my husband joined me and he has returned ever since. This year we took our kids (ages 19 and 16) with us. It was exactly what I needed. Time with brilliant, thoughtful people. People who are kind and caring. People who are ready and willing to fight for what education could and should be for kids. People I hadn’t seen in person in three or five or eight years.

I got to sit down and talk, albeit briefly, with Matt Kay. The first time we’ve been in the same physical space since 2020, more than a year before we started discussing, planning, and writing our book. A book that is already available for preorder (although, if you wait, it’ll probably be cheaper from Stenhouse directly). And I realized after we were on the road heading home that we didn’t take a picture together. That feels like a missed opportunity. We did do a session together at Educon and that feels like we’ve come full circle. Educon is how we first met and the reason we know each other. So it feels right that it’s also where we first did a session together. I am grateful for every opportunity to continue learning from Matt.

There are so many things I don’t want to forget from this weekend. And so many things I still need to reflect on more, think about more deeply. To begin, Science Leadership Academy (SLA), the school that hosts Educon, is in a new building. They should have been in it in 2020, but weren’t (a much longer story than is needed here).

SLA is co-located with another high school, each of them having half of the school building. They share the auditorium and gym (maybe?) and cafeteria (maybe?) but otherwise the building has basically been cut in half from top to bottom and SLA gets the right-hand (in my view) side of the school. Previously, they shared an office building type of space, without a gym or auditorium. It was far from ideal, but it doesn’t seem like this is more ideal, in many ways.

One of the things that has impressed me from my first visit is how thoughtfully people at SLA use the space they have. From creating spaces where students can gather wherever they might be room for them, including wide hallways and little nooks, to the ways classrooms are organized, clearly for students to interact with one another and move around. The spaces they have at SLA are not, inherently, better than spaces in other school buildings. In fact, in some ways, they are quite possibly worse. It doesn’t matter. Adults and kids at SLA will make it work. And they’ll do it together.

Educon has a student co-chair for the conference. This year that student is a junior (and an absolute delight, of course) so she was not at SLA the last time Educon happened. It had to be a challenge to help plan and run a conference without having ever seen it. And without having a lot of institutional knowledge, as the only students who had been here for Educon before were the seniors. But students having a voice and a role in their school is a priority and it shows.

When I first began attending Educon, SLA seemed like a utopia. In many ways, it absolutely is. But it is a school. A public school. Within the Philadelphia School District. It has it’s challenges, many of them. The students don’t all arrive fresh-faced and eager to learn, even though they’ve chosen SLA. The students don’t all fly high and shine in their classes, even with thoughtful, caring, wise teachers. The students at SLA are high school students, with all that involves. It is amazing to get to see and spend time in a school that believes in the brilliance of the students and teachers there. Believes in them even when they fail. Gives them another chance to shine.

I had no intention of writing this much tonight, at least not without getting into my reflections on the sessions and other conversations I had. I think there was something to seeing SLA through the eyes of my teenagers that got me looking at it anew. And I am grateful for that. Just as I am grateful for the time there this weekend.

Classroom Library Updates

Some years ago I started having my students set up our classroom library, thanks to much nudging and encouragement from a friend. It’s no small process every year with all the work we do beforehand and then the ridiculous number of books we have.

This year it has felt like my third graders have struggled some with using the library. I have lots of theories on why, but I’ve also been trying to figure how to help them. They sorted the books and labeled the baskets earlier in the year. Now they still seem unsure about how to find books or where to return them (and it takes all my self control not to holler, “Wherever you got it from!”). So I decided they needed signs like you’d find in a bookstore or library. These aren’t quite what I want them to be, but I’m hoping they’ll help. We’ll see…

One library sign in a corner section
Another library sign in a different corner
Library signs on table stands near our door
One more library sign with our bulletin board of book recommendations that I hope to introduce this week
Another shelf with another sign on a table stand

I Feel You

Dear Teacher Friends,

We hit 92 degrees today and it managed to do so just about when we had outdoor recess, of course. We had a fire drill this morning and we’ll have another on Friday (apparently we missed May’s so we had to do it today and then we’ll still have to do June’s – there’s a powerful metaphor here for education if I just had the energy to find it). We’re desperately trying to finish up DRAs, DSAs, writing samples, class placement cards, progress reports (both fourth quarter and final grades and comments), and who knows what else. IT’S A LOT. It is. No question.

So I get it. I am done too. I still have seven more days with students but I. Am. Done.

Getting up every morning is hard. Making sure I have clean clothes to wear that are comfortable and school appropriate is even harder. And not biting the heads off my third graders for acting like nine year olds is much harder than it should be.

from John Davey’s flickr

This year has been hard beyond words (although I’m trying to write about that too). Hard for us. Hard for the kids. Just hard in every way. Our regular end-of-the-year exhaustion is exponential right now. I feel it.

In spite of that I have a small old-lady-teacher lecture I have to get out of my system.

I hear us all saying (and I do mean us because I do it too), “Why are we still here? We should just be done already!” We know we’re done (see above) and we think the kids are done. So what’s the point?

The problem is, the kids are done because of us. We’ve hit a point that we just can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing so we don’t. We abandon our routines. We throw out our regular schedule. We start taking things down and packing things up.

And then we see the kids are done.

Yes. Because they see that we’re done.

We can relax things without completely giving up on what we’ve done all year. We worked so hard to establish our routines, we should use them to the end, let them work for us. Give kids more independent reading time. Find some blank comic pages for writing. Search out some fun Sudoku or similar puzzles for math. Keep kids doing some semblance of what they’ve done all year and they’ll do a better job of keeping things going as they’ve done all year.

Leave things up on your walls. Keep your classroom library and math manipulatives out. Start packing up what’s in your cabinets and drawers, things the kids can’t see. Fill out all your end of the year forms and checklists. You can do a lot towards being ready on the final day without it causing chaos in your classroom.

If we were done now, the kids would have been like this a week or two ago. They would have hit their chaos point as soon as we hit our exhaustion point. We control this. (Not all of it, I can admit that, but a lot of it.) We can get to the end without it being as painful as it might be. We have to keep doing school for as long as possible. The kids will be with us if we do. And it’ll be worth it.

Your Old-Lady-Teacher Friend

Need Strong Form

If you are a teacher or know any teachers then you already know this, but this has been a hard year. And that’s such an understatement. It’s been hard for so many different reasons, but on some recent mornings, as I ran, I could see more clearly part of why.

I am now going to make a running analogy. To anyone who knows me, this is hilarious. I run but I do not think of myself as a runner. I run because I can and it’s an exercise option that’s cheap and easily available. Also, I do sprint triathlons so I should do some kind of training. I’m okay with being slow but I do want to be able to complete each race. (Because that’s why I do sprint triathlons, to complete them, to have done them.)

In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to actually improve my running, not just get through my runs. I leave the house around 5:30 am and I’m not truly awake, much less functioning well. As a result, when I start running it’s pretty ugly. My form is not good, another understatement.

Many mornings, as I’ve been trying to do, I’m forcing my brain to find the space and energy to focus on my form. Instead of just trying to keep moving forward, I try to get my arms where they should be and to think about my stride. As soon as I do, I can feel the difference. Running is immediately less of a challenge. I can go faster without any extra effort. I am running more efficiently and effectively. Of course, a hill or having to stop for traffic before crossing a road, and my form slips again. I have to force my focus back.

Me, after a run, which definitely captures how I am internally at the end of this year.

For most of my years of teaching, that’s what it felt like. A rough start, pretty ugly, get the focus and find the groove. With occasional needs to find the focus again and get back on track. Establishing routines and building a learning community as a class is what we do at the start of every year to get us on a path that is efficient and effective. The pauses and the hills happen but when we’ve already established strong routines and built a tight learning community, we can readjust quickly after those bumps.

This year has been different. We began with COVID protocols that didn’t allow for much of the community building I’ve done for years. Kids had to have assigned seats (something I haven’t done in more than a decade). We couldn’t gather on the carpet together for more than a total of 15 minutes each day. We struggled to figure out what routines would work for us and how to make our community a meaningful thing.

And then protocols changed. And we adapted.

And then they changed again. And we adapted.

And again. And again. And again.

We’d figure out the form and stride we needed and then our terrain would change. Drastically. So we would force ourselves to find the brain space and energy to focus on our form yet again. To build new routines or reestablish old ones. To look at our community and determine what it needed.

No matter how good our form was, no matter how solid our stride was, we struggled. We had to, again and again, find our form and stride. Anytime things were rolling, anytime we were in a groove, we’d hit some kind of bump, often more like mountains than molehills.

So now, we’ve made it to the last handful of days. But it’s been ugly. We’ve been dragging ourselves to the finish line. There’s no final burst and sprint. It’s just a slog. Which is far from ideal for any of us.

Our Children

I was a first year teacher when the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado happened. I am currently in my 24th year of teaching. In nearly a quarter century, how many children have been murdered in their classrooms and hallways and cafeterias? How many families have sent their children off to school in the morning, never dreaming they wouldn’t see them again? How many children have watched their friends die? How many schools have closed for days or weeks or forever after a man with a gun stalked those inside?

I am unable to function tonight. After all these years, I don’t know why this school shooting is the one that has sent me to bed, curled up in the fetal position, without any clue how I’m going to go to school tomorrow and teach my third graders. There have been countless school shootings in my 24 years of teaching.

There have been countless school shootings.

And our response to this? Lockdown drills during which we huddle our young students in a corner in silence. While they crowd together, in the dark, adults travel the halls, rattling doorknobs. We suggest that teachers should be armed so that they can defend those in their care.

Those responses have done nothing to keep our children safe.

This map, from Everytown Research and Policy, shows 77 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2022. The red dots show incidents that resulted in deaths, the blue dots show incidents that resulted in injuries, and the gray dots show incidents that did not result in injuries or death.

How is it possible that so many people will fight so hard to ensure that pregnant women carry pregnancies to birth, regardless of the danger that might exist for the mother or the child, but have so little care for the children in our schools? How is it that guns are a more important ‘right’ than the right to life, liberty, and happiness for the students (and teachers) in our schools?

Just this morning, one of the slides from our school social worker was this:

It is not clear to me that we, as a country, are demonstrating any of these values in this moment.

What are we teaching our children?

Needing to Do Better

My relatively short daily commute unusually includes listening to my local NPR station. That 15-25 minutes or so in the morning and in the afternoon keeps me somewhat informed of what is happening around the world and I am grateful for that. I intentionally listen without any adaptations (rather than to specific NPR podcasts or the NPR One app that would let me have more control over my listening) because I know I live in an echo chamber in many ways and I need to get more than I deliberately choose to get, in the way of news, regularly.

This past week, my commute home has include hearing the Supreme Court nomination hearings. I have been deeply impressed by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ability to respond calmly and respectfully to questions that were neither calm nor respectful. I have been angry listening to Senators ask her questions clearly designed to gain political points and not to actually determine her fitness for this role.

Unfortunately, I have also seen myself as I’ve listened. Not in the Senators asking the infuriating questions, thank goodness. But in the ones being silent as their colleagues did so. I saw myself in all the times I have not spoken up when a colleague has been attacked. I have been spineless when people of color have been rudely questioned by other white folks.

An article in Slate made my own past actions crystal clear for me.

Take my word for this one thing: If you have been subject to abuse, bullying, and intimidation, what you really don’t need to hear from people in power is that they think you are “brave,” or that you’re modeling perseverance and grace. What you really want is for someone to stand beside you and take a punch—or throw one. 

I am ashamed of my fear and inaction. I am also hopeful that I am learning and will, in the future, be better able to “take a punch – or throw one” as needed. Because I am sure those moments will arise again.

Tired of It All

On my drive to work this morning I heard something on NPR that made me laugh (it was barely twenty minutes ago and I have no memory of what it was). The laugh almost immediately became tears. That’s where I am right now.

I am as emotionally fragile and raw as I can ever remember being. Every emotion, the easy ones and the hard ones, the ones that feel great and the ones that feel awful, are all right there on the surface. Or, at a minimum, just below the surface. It’s as if they’re all bubbling up, growing, gaining momentum, just waiting for something to release them. A joke, a hug, a frustration.

from Matthew’s Flickr

This happens to me every once in a while. I hit a point at which I can’t handle everything (whatever that might mean) and I have a bit of a breakdown. I just kind of emotionally and physically collapse. I can point to times this has happened in the past. I know the signs and I know I can, eventually, get through it and out the other side.

This time, though, feels different. Maybe it’s having multiple new teammates mid-year. Maybe it’s that my students’ needs seem so much greater than most years. Maybe it’s that I have absurdly overcommitted myself. Maybe it’s a combination of them all. I don’t know.

I just know that showing up for work every day, smiling and talking with my colleagues, is currently a challenge. Even more challenging is responding to my students with patience and grace. The normal things in life all feel much harder than they have in the past.

Last night I made dinner. I order Home Chef meals and I aim to only get the ones labeled Easy. I don’t like to cook and have never really developed the skills. These meals make it doable for me to be the one making sure we have dinner during the week. Last night I looked at the recipe, an easy one, and wanted to cry. It just felt like too much.

I do know this won’t last forever. I can’t see the way out right now, but I know there is one and that I’ll find that path eventually. I can accept that. What I hate is that I can not be the person others need in my life when I am in this place. I can not be the teacher these students need and deserve. I can not be the colleague my teammates deserve. I can not be the mother my children deserve. And so on. (For the record, other than my students, I know people will be just fine. I am not making or breaking any lives here.)

Finally, I’m tired of writing these posts. I think they do help me, to pour this out in black on white. I hope it helps others to know they aren’t alone. If some non-educator gets a glimpse of where educators are right now, that’s even better. But I’d like us not to be here. I’d like us all to be less broken right now.

So. Dang. Tired.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. My hope is that if I write about why I’m feeling this way I will either feel some control over it or I’ll wise up and change something! It remains to be seen.

This school year is hard. It’s hard for educators everywhere, I think. Our team is having an extra tough year. We have eight classroom teachers and three of them have left this year. The reasons are all different and I don’t judge any of them for the choices they’ve made. But we lost one teacher who had been in the classroom for more than a decade and two teachers who’d been teaching for more than five years. We’ve been exceptionally lucky and able to replace all three of them. So our team had two new teachers (one with more than five years of teaching experience and one a first year teacher) start in January. Another, who has taught one year previously, just started yesterday. It’s tough to start mid-year and the rest of us have tried to do all we can to support them.

Our reading teacher had a baby last week (super exciting!). As a result, I’m leading the literacy meetings for our team every week. Which includes planning for them and facilitating them.

This is all in addition to how challenging this year is. I am tired after all of the changes, stresses, and needs to continually adapt that have happened for the past two years. (And came on the heels of me being on admin leave for nearly two months.) The kids are dealing with a lot and they don’t even know it because they’re young. They need a lot of patience, support, and encouragement. All of which are in short supply from me because I’m so worn down. So every day I end up more exhausted and feeling like I failed the children in my care.

And that’s all for my day job. In addition, I am currently co-authoring a book, teaching one section of a children’s literature course at a local college, serving on the boards of two educational organizations and the board of one parent theater organization, and parenting two teenagers. All of which are choices I made and I recognize that. I will roll off one of those boards this summer (and possibly the parent one). The book should be finished by summer as well. Summer just feels like a very long way away.

It’s A Lot

Some years ago I looped from fourth grade to fifth grade with my students. Many friends, both teachers and non-teachers, were concerned that this move would be rough, as I was pregnant at the time. Again and again I heard, “Won’t it be a lot to learn a new curriculum?”

My response was always, “Probably, but I won’t have to learn new kids.”

Usually when I think about this, I’m thinking about how hard the start of the year is when I don’t know my students yet. I don’t know their interests or skill sets. I don’t know the challenges they’re facing (and I do recognize that I might never truly know that). I don’t know when and how to push them to try harder or try again. It takes a long time, maybe the first couple of months, to really know that about my kids.

It got me thinking about all of the things teachers need to know, just know, have in their heads all the time, about their students.

  • the student’s strengths academically, socially, and in any other way
  • the student’s needs academically, socially, and in any other way
  • the student’s interests and hobbies to connect their learning
  • any allergies or other health issues the student has
  • when the student gas been absent and missed an assignment or test
  • any current challenges the student is facing (ill family member, loved one moving away, etc.)
  • what their coat and backpack look like so I can take them to the clinic if the child is going home
  • if they’re going home a different way than normal
There’s a lot of similarities, aren’t there? Just one of many things to keep in my head.

And the list goes on.