Bells & Whistles &/or Nuts & Bolts

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Bells and whistles.

Wow!  Look at that!  Whoa–get a load of the stereo in that car!  Blaupunkt–wow–turn it up!  That stereo rocks! I can’t wait to drive around campus listening to that. I can imagine those thoughts racing through my brother’s mind before he bought the stereo along with the car. Oftentimes, as consumers we are wooed by the bells and whistles, the extras that make something stand out. I learned the hard way that Hunter remote control ceiling fans will not last as long as the simpler ceiling fans with an old school string to pull, but I indulged in a ceiling fan with that “bell and whistle” that seemed so cool at the time. What I have found is that bells and whistles often overshadow the essentials of so much.

The bells and whistles  of a lesson may have the potential to transform a lesson from good to great; however, if the original lesson is not solidly formed with all its essentials, then there is not a solid foundation on which to build.  Of course, I am attracted by bells and whistles–the shiny stuff that glitters: the engagement factor, the perfect video clip, an engaging and timely text, the perfect real world connection, and the infusion of technology. Yes, these things have the potential to increase engagement and impact learning; however, bells and whistles are a cacophonous noise of distraction if the essential components of a lesson aren’t present.

At some point, you or someone you know well has been lured by the “bells and whistles” of something:

  • In the 80s, my brother bought a lemon, a Volkswagen Passat. While there were some warning signs, the bells and whistles wooed my brother; the car had a rocking Blaupunkt stereo. As a family, we joked that at least he had the stereo to listen to the many time he was broken down for hours on the interstate.
  • In the late 80s, I bought a bedroom suite of cheap black lacquer furniture that shined and shimmered, with trim of a grey marblesque design, a  geometric sort of design of mirrors, and shiny gold pull handles. My sister’s boyfriend criticized me for buying junky furniture, but I didn’t get it. All I saw were the bells and whistles of having furniture that looked good. I failed to notice the cheap construction of furniture that would begin falling apart after one move.
  • Last year, I decided I really wanted to improve my lesson closings, so I blogged about endings that would WOW my audience and wow me to the extent that I would never want to end a day without closing my lesson: Endings that Don’t Suck, Engage, It’s All the Rage, Thought Provoking Questions to End a LessonEndings that Don’t Suck, Part II, QR Closings, and From a Fizzle to a Finale. Even as I tried to frame my closings around the nuts and bolts, I found myself searching for the wow factor/the bells as my first priority.  In the end, I didn’t create lasting change in my practice. I created a some cool tools that I could plug in occasionally to end a lesson, and I fell short of impacting lasting change.

Fast forward to February of 2016, the students survey data indicates that there has been no improvement in the areas of closings on student surveys under the item, “My teacher takes time each day to summarize what we have learned.”

I could give you a litany of excuses to why that score is again lower than I would like:

  • One class surveyed was the lunch class–there isn’t time for closing.
  • I run out of time.
  • With all the differentiation going on, I’m not sure how to close a lesson.
  • We do different sorts of closings, so I’m not sure if the kids see it as a summary.
  • Summarizing a lesson seems like regurgitation, and that’s boring and falls short of the challenges I set forth in each lesson.
  • Did I mention that the lunch class was surveyed?

All that said, I believe my excuses need to be laid to rest along with my search for bells and whistles in everything I do. If I have too many bells and whistles, the kids miss the point as they are distracted by the noise that I’ve created. Furthermore, they won’t find what’s essential.

Admittedly, I have been distracted by the bells and whistles as I look for what shimmers and what shines. The bells and whistles are the add ons, and I can’t add on to something that’s junk.  In other words, I need to ground myself in the practice and habit of good closings before I try to add to them. If I fail to do that, then, I, too, will fail to find what’s essential. If I try to refine a practice I haven’t mastered with consistency, my bells and whistles are like the cacophony of a Blaupunkt stereo attached to a lemon of an automobile.

Before I get distracted by the bells and whistles of engagement as I try to fulfill my vision, I need to focus on the substance of the work that needs to be done. I need to be deliberate about creating a routine of consistent closing practice that focuses on making sure my students get what they need to master the content/standards. Once I’ve established that with fidelity, only then should I add the bells and whistles. I could suffice it to say that I am continually realizing that the nuts and bolts of lesson construction must come before (or at least work alongside) the bells and whistles, and perhaps I’ve found the root cause of the lesson of dots that I cannot connect and the underlying cause of a lesson that my principal refers to as “too busy.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tired Teacher Needs to be Inspired

Join other teachers each Tuesday,  and share a slice of your life.
Join other teachers each Tuesday, and share a slice of your life.

TIRED TEACHER NEEDS TO BE INSPIRED

The blog title sounds like a want ad, doesn’t it? I am a tired teacher who needs to be inspired. Aren’t we all? Working with passionate people who love teaching and learning is one of the best ways to fill my tank with energy and ideas thus rejuvenating  me no matter the time of year. Yesterday I spent the day with energetic and enthusiastic educators as a part of Paulding County TechEds. I was so into what I was doing that I forgot to slice, but I did blog, though, as part of TechEds at http://kidblog.org/class/techeds/posts  (to view my blog as well as great ideas from TechEds teachers, check out our posts–type 123456 as the password).

Teaching K-12 teachers I have never met is a bit terrifying. Last week I was given that opportunity/challenge and invited to teach a group of teachers from a neighboring district  teaching for the Kennesaw Mountain Wrting Project. My lesson was about infographics as a teaching and learning tool in the classroom; however, the delivery of my lesson was infused with tech tools. I’ve learned from my involvement with Paulding TechEds. I used Blendspace to house and present my content. I created an Infographic Symbaloo Webmix (a visual bookmarking site) to share links with teaching resources, sites for creating infographics, sources for quality infographics, and links for web tools used during the presentation.

I opened my lesson with a question about student/teacher attitudes for reading/teaching non-fiction using AnswerGarden. You may view the answers and submit your own here. Teachers explored ideas for using infographics in the classroom using a Thinglink I created using Kathie Schrock’s infographic about teaching using infographics. Then, I polled teachers using two digital assessment tools:  Plickers and Formative.  Teachers worked independently or with partners based on their needs (differentiation in staff development–I think they appreciated it).
//www.thinglink.com/card/667131994668269570

At the end of my lesson, I closed by polling teachers using Today’s Meet about what they would use from the lesson/workshop. The teachers responded as much about the digital delivery and tools they would use as they did about using infographics as learning and teaching tools.

Following the presentation, one of the teachers came up to me and said, “From all the lessons over the past two weeks, I got the most out of this because I know I will use it right away. Thank you.”

Following that the facilitator for  KMWP Area 2 (also the site director) said, “Thank you for what you said at the end of the lesson. That was powerful, and something teachers need to hear.”

Here is the gist of what I said at the end of my lesson:

I have taught for 18 years, and what I have found is that I need to continue to seek out ways to rejuvenate myself. A few years ago, I was a fellow for a KMWP Summer Institute, and that rejuvenated me and inspired me–yes, you could say I drank the Kool-aid. This past year I worked with TechEds. I couldn’t have used all the tech tools I used today without it. TechEds also inspired me as I worked alongside techy teachers as we struggled, learned, and celebrated together.  

As teachers, we have to continue to seek out new ways to be inspired and engaged. I applaud you all for being here this summer, for taking time out of your summer to learn and grow. Right now I know you may be more tired than inspired, but as the summer continues think about all that you took away from this experience, and let it fuel you next fall. If we as teachers aren’t engaged and inspired, our students aren’t engaged and inspired. Continue to find what will rejuvenate you, so that you can give kids what they deserve and so that you can be passionate about what you do.

I’m not usually an inspirational speech giving teacher, but sometimes the words are needed. And I could tell on that day, some tired teachers needed to be inspired. Alas, perhaps I was one of them.  In fact, perhaps I am always that tired teacher seeking inspiration.

Yes, here I write and continue to blog–I suppose this is its own digital direction in differentiation.  And, I know that you, my fellow bloggers and my fellow educators, continue to inspire me and meet me right where I am.  As we slice with Two Writing Teachers, we definitely celebrate the NWP concept of teachers teaching teachers. Thank you for all your words and all your support and for remembering that we are all tired teachers seeking inspiration. 

Six Words +

Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March
March Slice of Life Challenge

Six word memoir and nothing more.

Innovation, a driving force that propels.

Passion is exhilarating, enlivening, and exhausting, .

Fill writer’s block with one liners.

Hamster running on wheel–stop now.

I fill my page and another.

Plate is full–pile up more.

Life is good but too busy.

Papers to grade–a fire made?

The biggest challenge yields greatest reward.

No break weekend: KMWP, soccer, schoolwork.

Slowing down,winding down,falling asleep.

Waking up, daughter in my face.

The weekend is here–time slows.

Time slows, never stops, constant motion.

Fine line between passion and obsession.

Noise never stops–long for silence.

Springing forward–lose an hour of sleep.

Springing forward, need to catch up.

Springing forward beckoning spring to come.

Endings that Don’t Suck

Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March
March Slice of Life Challenge

As a reader and writer, I realize the importance of grabbing my reader as well as of crafting a thought provoking ending that leaves my reader thinking; however, as a teacher I easily craft a lead and build engagement, but my endings are like poorly written stories with fizzling endings or like common stories ending abruptly with trite lines,

“Oh, look at the time. Y’all better hurry up and go to your lockers.”

or

“I’ll see y’all tomorrow-make sure to remember it’s a BYOD day”

or

“Don’t forget to finish what you didn’t get done.”

or

“Help me out, and get a piece of trash off the floor before you go out the door.”

I have always struggled with taking the time to end the class.  Today a visitor (the usual suspect) entered my class for one of those drive by walk-throughs with minutes left in the class. I looked at the clock and smiled in my principal’s direction knowing that I had to make a decision with those few minutes I had left. I would either finish supporting the small group of kids with whom I was working, or I would send them back and close the lesson. Not wanting to put on a show and not wanting to send away struggling students, I opted to finish offering the support. However, had I timed my lesson better and paid attention to the clock, I would not have had to make that choice.

I am thankful for the constructive feedback I received today because actually being a better closer has been on my mind lately.  When having a casual conversation about the walk through, my principal said several positive things then, mentioned the “one” thing (you know, the one I focus on the most). I started to fall back into my typical MO,  “Well, those kids came to me and needed help, and I was working with them, and time–okay, nevermind, the excuse…” Thankfully I caught myself, and the conversation resumed.

A few years ago, I wanted to get better at closings, so I did a bit of research and found this great document online that I modified and turned into a ppt full of the closings I liked from the document: https://edc448uri.wikispaces.com/file/view/40_ways_to_leave_a_lesson.pdf. I was excited about my closings and got better for awhile.

At the beginning of this school year, I set alarms: one on my Fitbit, the other on my iPhone–to shock me and call me into my closings. I shake my arm and tap the Fitbit and resume instruction. I tap the iPhone if I have the volume loud enough, and then, I promptly forget why the alarm sounded (I do this also when the alarm sounds for me to go home).

Reflecting on this, I think on those days I am stuck in a moment, so are my students, and the dots I’ve worked so hard to connect have a critical disconnect; in fact, I guess they fall just a bit short of putting the final picture together. The puzzle isn’t quite built, and perhaps by the next day a piece or two might be lost.

Last month I read an Edutopia article about opening and closings of lessons,  “The Eight Minutes that Matter Most.” This article made me rethink my closings (once again) and reminded me that I need to bookend my lesson more effectively. In this article, AP lit teacher Brian Sztabnik writes, That is the crux of lesson planning right there — endings and beginnings. If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don’t know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell.

The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”   

I read the article. I pedagogically pondered and thought about how I should really work on my closings, yet until outside eyes looked in on my room again, I didn’t stop and ask myself, “What can I do differently?”

Now I ask you, what works for you?   How do you prioritize your 8 minutes of beginnings and closings? How do you make sure you get to the crux of your lesson? How do you connect the dots at the end, the ones that create the big picture?  When kids are being productive, when time flies, when kids need to get more done, or when kids are getting help from you, how do you force yourself to STOP and make time for the closing?

Most days my endings are planned and purposeful on paper, yet often I fall just short of creating the complete picture. While I can check for understanding the next day, I often neglect one of the most important teachable moments.  I’d like to learn to PRIORITIZE my closings. My OLW (one little word to live by) for the year is prioritize, and I’d like to avoid endings that end like a bad story,

“And that’s my slice of life about bad closings. THE END.”

I cringe writing that. Maybe I should cringe teaching that, too.

After all, what I really want to master is creating

Endings that Don’t Suck.

Rules of the Game

Do you ever wish that teaching came with a rulebook that you could apply from moment to moment and year to year? Now I’m one who relishes in new challenges, and I often jump in the deep end and try new things. Lately, though, I feel like the playing field is changing drastically, and I feel like I’m trying to master new rules and new skills. I’ve always known I have areas for growth, but usually I feel like I’m a pretty good player in this game and that I’m on the first string.  Lately, though, I feel like my stats put me on the bench, and I’m trying to master a lot of new rules.

Today I thought of this comparison of the rules of the game to teaching as I played four-square with my children. The rules of that game seem to have changed a lot in the past 34 years, at least according to my children. I felt like the game had been altered, and no longer was I feeling like the “king” of the squares; perhaps I was a mere peasant. I had to ask for clarification of the rules, both children had different interpretations of the rules, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to play the game. Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s the way I feel as I try to forge forward on this ever changing playing field of education. Rule after rule is hurled at me, and I’m trying to hold my own and play at a proficient level, but I can’t master all the rules and skills at once.  At times, I feel more like an ill-prepared rookie trying to master this new level of play than like a seasoned veteran who knows what to expect and can roll with the punches.

This is a year with lots of new challenges. Never in my life have I seen teachers working so hard trying to master this new game and so unsure of how to apply the  new rules that accompany TKES (Teacher Keys Effectiveness System), a new system of evaluation with 10 performance standards and a bar that seems to get higher and higher, one that requires more documentation, organization, and planning than ever before.

While I’m not opposed to higher standards and new challenges, I am overwhelmed by so much at once, by these new levels of mastery,  the learning curve that goes with it, and the greater demands. I am working so hard and sleeping so little. This has been tough on me and my family, and I have a huge learning curve as I try to learn the new rules and document all that I do. I feel my growth this year more than any other, but I am sleep deprived because of it, and my life just isn’t balanced.

Last week, my words offered comfort to a great teacher who changed grade levels after several years in another, a teacher who felt like she wasn’t reaching that bar.  I told her she can’t expect to have differentiation and formative practice and all the other components of her evaluation where she wants it with it being her first year in that grade level. Going from being measured as either “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” to these new levels of performance  (4-3-2-1) is humbling and even deflating for so many teachers I know.

Never have I seen people working so hard to teach, differentiate, and document.  I see some good things coming out of the teaching practices that accompany this new evaluative system, but the learning curve is a struggle for so many, and streamlining the process is not easy.  More than ever I think teachers are having to develop a growth mindset and get gritty (as they say). Perhaps I need the words of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck to put me to sleep at night.

Along with this, we have a new assessment measure in GA that is being developed for this spring, a measure that is Common Core based, but neither PARCC nor Smarter Balanced; thus, I am unsure of what this means for our assessment. 47% language/writing and 53% reading/vocabulary–selected response, constructed response, extended response (one narrative, one informational or argument). Great, but what does that mean? Will this assessment mirror PARCC and Smarter Balanced or will it be its own beast? Will the language/grammar questions be in-context or out of context? With no sample assessment and most resources still in development, I feel ill-prepared to prepare kids and to help them grow. Begin with the end in mind, but what is the end? What are the rules? Make sure your students grow, but what is growth on this new measure that will be one measure instead of two for language arts? How will growth be measured from last year’s test to this year’s test? And how do I do everything to ensure student success given one 60 minute period?

Sometimes I say, “Bring it on.”  Other times I feel like I just want someone to give me a clearcut rulebook that tells me that if I do x, y, and z., then my students will experience success. Then, I get the rulebook with the last 30 pages missing, and I find myself at this pedagogical crossroad where I have to let go of some things in order to play on the first string, and so I lose a little part of me as my identity shifts and as I adapt to survive and thrive and be a player in this game.

Of course, I’m still trying to learn the rules of the game, so I can play at my best.

you-have-to-learn-the-rules-of-the-game-and-then-you-have-to-play-better-than-anyone-else-22

I don’t need to play better than anyone else–I just need to play at my best for the sake of preparing my students to be successful, but wait, I still want to hang on the my pedagogy and make readers and writers out of my students. I still want to foster a love of reading and help students find their voices as writers.

I like the explanation for the above quote at http://www.virtuesforlife.com/10-great-life-lessons-from-albert-einstein/.  The author writes, “To become an expert at something, learn all you can about that subject, study other’s successes and then aim to do it better than them.  The stronger your commitment and passion is to your endeavor, the greater your resolve will be to succeed.”

While I’m confident that I know my subject and my pedagogy, I struggle with finding myself in new evaluative measures and new assessments. Some of the changes I embrace, yet others are a struggle.  Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who do my students need for me to become? Who do the assessments need me to become? Can I keep my pedagogy while shifting my practice a bit? Do I need to let go of parts of my pedagogy?

Is the midlife crisis of teaching? I still love teaching, and I will find myself in this. Perhaps I need to keep looking for the successes of others in this new game. I may not have the rulebook memorized, and I may not know all the rules. Still, though, I will keep seeking, growing, and adapting as I try to find how to keep what I know to be sacred while I navigate this new playing field.

What I have can’t be taught: commitment, passion, grit. I aim to do more than survive. I aim to thrive, and I will. Game on. Now somebody send me the last 30 pages of the rulebook–please!

PL Homework

Aargh, this cold has the best of me, and I’m trying to do my PL homework based on Rigor is not a Four Letter Word (leave it to an educator to have such a rhetorical title). I’m trying to apply CC RL type questions to a matrix, and it’s mentally exhausting to the point that I’m not even sure I make sense anymore.

At first, I had fun with the mental activity of it and was being creative. I was just writing general questions for short stories.

Literary Matrix

Then, I decided to stop that and apply all my questions to CC.

CC Matrix

Well, if that didn’t just take the fun out of it.  I was enjoying my “when mights” and “how wills” and such and then I tried to superimpose one person’s thinking (Wiederhold) with another person’s thinking (Blackburn) with another person’s thinking (mine)  with the CC.

Oh well…I tried.

Oh, and on trying…I tried to embed the matrixes, but they are way too small to read. If you’re interested in seeing them close up, let me know. I will email them to you. Only if you are not sick and are willing to share  if and how you make sense out of my mental madness…ohhhh, speaking of mental madness, I’d love to make a parody of the question matrix…hmmm….

The Stress of a HS English Teacher Test

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

Apostrophe is more than a mark–

It’s talking to a dead person

or an inanimate object

like a corpse in the park, even a piece of bark.

 

Caesura is a pause in poetry

Time to breathe.

Did the pause of a seizure

Come from caesura?

 

Sarcasm literally means–

tearing of flesh.

Interesting to know–

Distracting me from what I need to show.

 

Metonymy is when you speak

of something loosely related

or part of a whole

Though you mean only part,

How are the Oval Office actions metonymy?

Yet the Cabinet talking to the president is synecdoche?

Why does this matter to me?

Internet definitions do not agree.

 

Bildungsroman is a novel of formation

Die Bildung means a building, I remember.

David Copperfield is one,

so is Catcher in the Rye.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird might be one.

Unless you consider it regional,

By now maybe

it’s historical.

 

Terza rima is three lines of something.

Octava rima is 8 lines,

Petrarch grouped by 8

Or was that Spenser,

 

The Italian Sonnet

Also know as Petrarchen,

A Octava rima

than a quatrain.

 

The Italians like ABBA.

Spenser wrote of fairies,

As easy as ABC.

That will help me remember the first line of each quatrain.

 

I already know refrain.

My focus is beginning to wane.

My pencil had got to be number two.

Oh, when will this test be through?

 

Saturday from 2 to 6

I’d rather be home watching flicks.

I feel like such a ditz!

I am thinking all this cramming is hit or miss.

What’s Not Best for Students, Teachers, and Education: A Vent about CC Implementation

See who else is slicing at Two Writing Teachers.

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

I have observed the good, the bad, and the middle ground of Common Core. I have tried to advocate for CC (in spite of my concerns) and lead teachers forward to develop rigor and support the instructional shifts. I have tried to work through shoddy units created as samples from the state that have been implemented full on in my district. I have even tried to work with other teachers across the county to make the units better. I have tried to teach myself and my students the language of the new standards. I have tried to support other teachers as they try to teach CC style. I have tried to find ways to teach close reading and still value reader response. I have tried to totally wrap my mind around CC.

Now I want to vent.

How to Do What’s Not Best for Students, Teachers, and Education:

1. Offer incentives and grants to states/districts that on the surface sound better than what’s happening with NCLB and in a time of financial need, so they’ll say yes before they fully understand what they are saying yes to.

2. Make your chief architects of CC people like Bill Gates and David Coleman (a man who maintains that nobody gives a sh** about what students think or feel). Do they have kids in public schools? Make your movement about big business and high stakes testing, not about students and growth.

3. Go full throttle with implementation and leave states, districts, and teachers flying and building a plane while it’s in mid-air.

4. Put a consortium like PARCC in charge of creating assessments, a group that creates one rubric that fits all genres in such a way to diminish what real writers do.

5. Let computers assess student writing and put Pearson-Prentice Hall in charge of it. Way to go! I know when my husband plugged in “Stairway to Heaven” to their Essay Graders program as an essay it passed.

6. Don’t ask teachers–move forward with implementation quickly. Then, wait for politicians to get incensed and fight the movement. Looks like CC might be a two year gig after the Georgia legislature meets. Maybe we won’t have to worry about PARCC assessments.

7. Throw new standards at teachers without first field testing and getting complete buy-in, so teachers can spend hours preparing how to teach and what to teach and how to make CC work for students. Then, politicians without regard to teachers or students and without any empathy for us as we move forward, talk about what a mistake CC is.

8. Give all the power and leverage to Pearson-and Prentice Hall, ETS, and all the big testing and assessment gurus.

9. Put all the attention of education on CC and neglect to consider the problems of poverty and other reasons for students being unsuccessful.

10. Make it all about text complexity and rigor and neglect finding ways to encourage creative and critical thinking.

11. Make teachers feel powerless, pressed, and stressed. Don’t worry: They won’t convey this to their students.

12. Increase the value of assessment–pretend like we’ve learned nothing from NCLB, and continue to make education about pervasive, high stakes assessment instead of about assessing for learning.

13. One Size Fits All Approach–Assume that all students at each grade are equipped to lift the same amount of weight.

14. Don’t think about the political ramifications that may cause states to back out of CC.  Will states then go back to the old, keep some of the new, or just start all over again?

15. Have so many key instructional shifts come all at once, so teachers and students will have no idea what’s going on. These “crosswalk” documents are walking all over me.

Look, I’m not saying I don’t see some good in CC. I do. I just feel like I am in a flippin’ cyclone, and I have no idea where I’ll be thrown and what rubble will be strewn all over the ground. While I can handle change and adapt and still try to seek a way to do what is best for kids in spite of limitations, I don’t know what the change means. Are we changing? Are we not changing? Will CC end before it really begins? I just want to know what my next test will be to which I’m held accountable. With the Republican leadership in Georgia unanimously pushing to get out of CC and with them not meeting until January, who knows where I’ll be tossed.

 

I Choose This

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

This is summer time–time for teachers to take breaks and hang out at the pool and refuel. An anomaly, I am spending my summer working with my local site of the National Writing Project and trying to plan ways to lead a schoolwide initiative.

Frustrated I can’t figure out how I am going to make this school-based initiative something that will work at my school. My head is swimming with ideas of all the good work that should be done at my school, but I just don’t know how I can make it all happen. This is my third draft–each one started from scratch. My writing group advised me to let go of my frustration and try to focus on what will work in my school setting and advised me that I’m trying to do too much.

What will work? Where should I start? What will be supported by administration and appreciated by teachers. Griping that night as I write, rewrite, and rewrite, I am unable to express my thoughts in a way that make sense.

Across the room, my educator husband reminds me, “You chose to do this. You signed up for it.”

I want to slap him, but instead I pound my fingers on my keyboard. Yes, he’s right.  I  accepted the invitation and signed up for the KMWP Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI), and at that moment I am wondering what I was thinking.

The next day as I am reading my draft to my ALI writing group, at  some point in my writing I call myself a “literary expert”. My writing group laughs. I mean face it, we all know I’m no Harold Bloom. While my group is discussing my piece,  the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project  Director of Institutes asks me how many years I’ve taught. When I tell him 16, he says we may laugh but that does qualify me as expert. I like the way that sounds, expert. Joining forces and working and writing closely with college professors and working together as teacher writers and collaborators  to better  teach children and college students–this is the real stuff of college and career readiness. Yes, I chose this!

After an arduous day of writing groups, research writing, and collaboration, I sit at a table at a local restaurant for beverages and appetizers among my like-minded KMWP middle school teaching peers. Our conversation moves quickly in many directions: YA authors, , DFTBA, TED Talks, pedagogy of grammar instruction (from grammar and diagramming to Jeff Anderson), close reading and Beers and Probst, applications to Gallagher’s book Write Like This, and school struggles. I am amazed to be sitting with three other women with whom this pedagogical dialogue is so natural and so invigorating. We talk of how these  conversations rarely happen at our schools and how few teachers follow research and pedagogy. We are all able to keep up with the conversation, and wow, it’s good stuff! Yes, I chose this!

I am in my niche among like-minded teachers who enjoy reading professional literature, who take instructional risks, who challenge the status quo. We might be nerdy. We might be curriculum geeks (that’s what my husband affectionately calls me). In other contexts, we might stand out as different, but at this table at this moment with my KMWP peers I am normalacy and not an anomaly. Yes, I chose this.

How could I choose anything else?

Writer with a Capital W

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

Stacey from Two Writing Teachers posed the question, “How has your instruction been impacted by being a Writer?”

First, I credit both the Slice of Life community and my local Writing Project for helping me become more of a writer. I still shrug off the capital “w” because I am not sure I deserve it except for perhaps in the month of March when I write daily.

In no particular order, I am going to list ways my instruction has been impacted by being a writer:

1. I realize students need time to share with each other, especially when they won’t all have time to share with the whole class. This way they all are heard by someone and feel they have a voice. I do this mostly with quick writes and journals. This one minute of sharing time is huge in building enthusiasm.
2. I know when I am compromising my beliefs. Mediocre Common Core units handed to me with extended texts are not going to help me engage students in writing. I am going to have to find a way to bring the sacred (my word for the year) into these units and into my instruction.
3. More writing isn’t necessarily better. Kids need a place to begin. CC and this only seeing what lies inside of the four corners of the page is NOT enough.
4. Kids need to see me as a writer–not just a piece I bring to class, but I need to write with them or as Penny Kittle says, “Write beside them”.
5. Writers need community. Like my blog needs a comment, my students need peers to share with.
6. We all have a voice; we just need to find it.
7. Writers need to be affirmed. The Bless-Press-Address model works well.
8. Sometimes a writer needs to step away to find his/her voice. A writer with a clipboard on a walk, a writer with something electronic at his/her fingertips, a writer under a desk–from these places sometimes emerge thoughts that before we’re lying dormant.
9. A writer who writes daily writes better and builds stamina but most importantly finds his/her voice.
10. Writing is a process that is unique to each individual. While scaffolds can be helpful, each person is his/her own person with his/her own needs that may vary from moment to moment.
11. With only one hour for language arts/reading/writing/language/speaking/listening, I have to be creative in helping find the writer that resides inside each person.

Stacey, thanks for the challenges you put before me in your inspiring words. Thanks for creating this place where I continually am challenged as both a writer and a teacher.