Letter of Reflection/Encouragment

Day 31 of 31 of Year 5 Slicing & First Year I’ve Posted Daily before Midnight

The other morning I was listening to the Jeff and Jenn Show ( & ) on Star 94.1 and I got an idea for a my last blogpost of the month. You see the DJs both wrote letters to themselves (Jenn’s letter, Jeff’s letter). These were letters they wrote to themselves, letters of reflection and encouragement inspired from a producer who had done the same thing when first moving to Atlanta.

After a month of daily blogging, I feel like an inspirational letter of challenge would be a good way for me to think about how I can heed my words moving forward.

Dear Maya,

Congratulations! For the first time in 5 years of slicing with Two Writing Teachers, you have  met the midnight deadline in your daily blogs. Wow! Way to go! When you focus on  a goal and set your sights on it, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to achieving. That is something that you are finally seeing at the age of 47. 

Even though the blogging takes a lot of time, you become much more cognizant of the little things in life as you write daily. You have an outlet for your swirling thoughts, and you are able to process things and gain a more realistic perspective. With the encouragement from reader friends who discuss your posts with as well as teachers who you’ve never met who leave comments, you are able to make sense of the challenges you face.

Just this month you have written and reflected and come to a greater understanding of the nuances of your principal as you wrote of his “Button Pushing Hyperbolic Subtlety” as well as with “The Best.”  

You dealt with writer’s block with parodies, haiku, and bad poetry. Haikuing your way out of writer’s block and filling your blog space, baby, that made for fun moments.

You squared off with your #oneword2016, deliberate, asked some tough questions, and tried some new things. Of course, remember what your “nuts and bolts” principal tells you, “Maya, you’ve got to try something for longer than a few days to know if it works.” Maya, reflect on what you’ve written and tried this month but not for too long. Remember you’ve decided that you need to have a “Bias Towards Action.” Remember that you getting things done will give you more of what you need and more of what your family needs.

Spend your break rereading some of your posts, so you can take reflection into action. Maya, you’ve come a long way. Your words on your blog help you process, but you know, girl, that without action reflection is nothing. Reflection needs to turn into something. You need to set goals–stretch and smart goals, so you can begin to accomplish what you set out to do.  Your kids are growing up. Spend some time with Duhigg–read the rest of Smarter Better Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. You’ll find it refreshing to read a book from outside of the realm of education, and it might be just what you need, a new perspective to fix old problems–deliberateness, prioritization, balance. Remember, though, if you can post and comment for 31 days straight, you can build routines and habits in other areas of life as well. Don’t let the process culminate as words on a screen–make this process something that can be seen. 

Today as you walked with Sarah through the parking lot, you were holding hands as you walked.  A part of you wanted to freeze that moment in time as you began to fear the time that would come when she would no longer hold your hand in parking lots. 

Yes, you have a stack of papers. Yes, you want to engage your students. Yes, you get pulled up and down the hall to help people with technology. At the end of the day, though, you know who the most important people are in your life. Live that love for family. Prioritize. Be deliberate. Figure out how to be Smarter Better Faster

Your boss is right about that. You need to take down time. You need to calendar your down time. In fact, you need to figure out  over break because you know he’s going to ask you when you plan to shut down. Don’t even say you can’t shut down for a few weeks. You can. You will. You must. For your family. For your students. For your coworkers. For yourself. Your health and well-being depend on it. Remember that blog post about letting go

Remember, Maya,  what Jon Gordon wrote. Remember that post you wrote about it–when you feel like you haven’t done something to the best of your ability, when you feel less than successful. When you see a 2 on an evaluation based on a 10 minute window–the way you see each moment is a matter of your perspective. You are not failing; you are becoming. Continue the process of becoming each and every day.









Writing Chores


Some days writing is a chore.

Common Core Writing Chores:  The paired text essay based on a prompt–nobody’s idea of fun. This is a chore. This is not real-world writing. Informational essays that answer questions about texts do little to engage students. Sometimes the question asked is just not one that anyone cares to answer. Sure I can try to engage students in thinking, comparing, engaging, crafting, creating and revising. Sometimes, though, the prompt is just not engaging, and kids feel confined.

Spelling Word Writing Chores: My daughter’s homework tonight is to write a story using at least 5 spelling words. This is a chore. This is not real-world writing. After pushing her for quite awhile, she finally crafted an entertaining bit of prose, yet once again, she’s confined by the prompt/words to use in her story.

Blog Writing Chore: I’ve been pushing people to write and work all day, and now I’ve got nothing left. I’ll attempt to wax poetic (or perhaps just vent) about my frustration of going from trying to get my students to write to trying to get my daughter to write. And now, it’s my turn to write–greeeaaaat! Today there has been no passion or authenticity in writing for me, and I’m tired.


Forced to write,
My pen, a hostage tied to a chair,
Bound and constrained,
Mouth gagged with a handkerchief
I’ve lost my words,
my voice a mumble,
unheard and slumped down.

My energy depleted
Out of fuel–
in need of sustenance.

Let me go–
Unbound me.
I need to be released,
free from constraint.

My words need

a place
a space

in order for my voice
to be found,
and for me
to know who I am.



I Filled this Blog Space Baby

Apologies to Taylor Swift–Blank Space Parody

Will defeat you
Writing when?
My blog is quite full of teacher things
Teaching, madness, differentiation
No thoughts to share and I thought oh my god
Look it’s late, I can’t fill my blogging place.
Writing’s lame, thoughts at bay
No thoughts, words will die
I can’t write you words unseen
Ain’t it funny here I sigh
And I know you linked onto me
So hey, teacher friends
I’m hoping to see tonight’s blog end.
Grab my coffee–magic wand
I can’t fake the words ’til the weekend.

Writer’s block forever
Or it’s gonna end up sounding lame
You can comment when it’s over
If the read was worth the pain
Got a short list of started posts
That’ll show you I’m mundane
Cause you know I ain’t a player
And my writing’s lame

Cause I’m old and I’m tarnished
I can’t take ideas very far.
I’ll  leave you varnished
Won’t get a writing star
Can’t be an ex-blogger
Cause I’m losing fame.
But I filled this blog space baby
And I’m in this game.

Look out, Weird Al….



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


Devoid of thoughts.

No pedagogical pondering.

Maya’s not meandeirng.

No topic.

No ideas.

Blank slate.

Nothing to beat myself up about.

Not into writing about the cough,

I’ve had enough of that.

Not wanting to copy a poem.

No  6 word memoir.

Not wanting to write.

Slicing to meet the goal.

Writing daily.

Not feeling it.

Just doing it.

Writing through the block.



Devoid of thoughts.



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.”


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


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


“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.

Best Light



Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers
Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers

I am continuing to explore Mom’s art and my connection to it. I love the insight that is coming from analyzing her art and what she means to me through it. With each piece I write I love my mom more.  I love KMWP, and how it gives me time to look at the deeper meaning of things in my life.  Part of the power in the NWP Summer Institutes is how teachers are invigorated by writing, sharing, and inquiring as related to teaching; however, I think there is also power in how these practices help us as writers to explore our lives in a new way.  Here is a link to find a site near you: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/doc/findasite/home.csp.


Here is another link to a video my brother made from my mom’s art exhibit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmfIXDTUF8E&hd=1. I am so proud of Mom’s art and her generativity.



Mom paints from photographs but not just any photographs. With each artwork she must have the perfect photo, so that she is able to capture an image in its best light; this is especially true when she paints her grandchildren.


Michael, a pensive toddler, inspects the water running across the sand. Suddenly he stops amazed as he watches his feet sink in the moist sand, disappearing underneath the water. The power of nature to transfix a toddler; he is at one with the water and sand. Michael continues to be transformed by the power of nature even today. When Michael is out of esteem because he is mad at his sister, a video game or some other external factor, nature transforms him to his best self. A born naturalist, the outdoors provides an instant elixir.


Sarah, a budding scientist with the cartoon character science teacher Mrs. Frizzle as her hero, recently proclaimed her intentions to be a scientist when she grows up. Maybe Mom saw the scientist in Sarah when she painted this portrait of Sarah, or maybe Mom just saw the beauty in stopping to appreciate the simplistic yet intricate dimensions of nature. Like her brother, this toddler stops to appreciate the natural world. I remember this moment; Sarah was frolicking down the trail, she picked up the flowering weed, jumped up on a rock and stared at the flower. For a moment, the scientist emerges as Sarah studies the design and form of the small flower, transfixed by a moment. When Sarah is angry at her brother or upset about something, she becomes her best self when she finds a sensory distraction—a song to hear, a picture to draw, or in this case a flower to examine. Sarah experiences the world with passion often moving quickly from one activity to another; however, Sarah becomes herself when she is able to use her senses to experience the world around her. Whether she is holding a flower or hugging someone she loves, Sarah is at her best self when her senses are engaged. To be held by her small arms is to know love. Mom captures Sarah’s ability to hold and love all that she holds dear.


I, a seasoned cynic, tend to focus on images in their darker light capturing the mistakes I have made, what I have left undone, and what others have done that grates my nerves. Perhaps I could transform myself approaching life as an artist painting her world. My world would be a blank canvas that I fill with images captured in their best light finding potentiality in each person and situation as I paint my way out of the cynic’s corner. Perhaps then, the debilitating obstacles that cloud my way would be outshined by my canvas of light.



The Covered Bridge: Not for Sale

There is so much to love about being involved in KMWP, my local NWP  site.  I love how I am rejuvenated as a teacher. As a writer I am inspired, challenged, and validated.  Also, I find a place where I am among friends and community, a group of similarly minded  teachers willing to give up their time to inquire, research, learn and grow. Even as a person on this continuous journey of life, I find myself finding voice for my introspective self. Summer time at KMWP is about being rejuvenated without mentally relaxing. Mental relaxation–July will give me time for that.

Below is a work of art by my mom. I have decided to explore writing memoir using my mom’s art. I would love your thoughts and feedback on this piece.   Thanks.Image

“How could you do that?” How could you put a price on the bridge, a gift from me?” my mom asked looking over the price list I had made for her art exhibit at the Smyrna Library. She laughed, but I could tell she was chastising me, her 45-year-old daughter.


On the defensive, not acknowledging defeat, I respond, “I put a high price on it. It’s Cartersville, a place close by—someone might want to buy it. I can change the price list if you want.”


“No, that’s okay, but you’ll have to split it with me if it sells. Then, I can use the money to buy supplies,” she retorts showing me that I can’t really sell her work and keep the money for myself.


My mom’s paintings are like her children, so she doesn’t sell them, and she rarely gives them away. Some pieces were coded Not for Sale, NFS; however, the expectation was that she offer some of her work for sale. Mom didn’t really want to get rid of her children, so she charged prices she thought nobody would pay.


The chastisement continued through opening day of the exhibit as Mom shared with the rest of the family how I had the audacity to put a pricetag on the gift of her art.


Why I put a pricetag on my bridge I still don’t know? To get a laugh? To make a quick buck? To show my mom that her art is worthy? I really don’t know.


What I do know is that the special gift from Mom should have come with a tag that read “NFS” showing Mom that her gift of love to me is more precious than a pricetag and is not for sale—not now, not ever.




Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers
Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers

Fun with Images and Words

Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers
Slice on Tuesdays with TwoWritingTeachers

In the dawn of my teaching career (perhaps the summer of 1997), I experienced Poetry Alive with a very special group of teachers. A midwestern man from the midwest performed Dickinson, and I, too, heard the fly buzz.  A rebel from the Northeast showed me that a poet is not a jukebox.   Alan Wolf, the fearless leader, who showed me poetry could be fun. His teaching partner–her name may have been Carol–who had bouncy red hair and performed the common voice in “Book Lice.”  I still remember riding my bike on stage for “The Rider” by Naomi Shihab Nye and crawling through the birth canal for the poem  “Birthday” as my friend Lorrie Stephens chanted like a soldier. These were the days–high energy and excitement. I was finding my bliss and learning to love words in a new way. These were the days before NCLB and Race to the Top. Lorrie and I went back to school and created a group of Poet-Troopers, students who would take poetry from the page to the stage. She and I performed “Honey Bees” for a school literary celebration at Riverdale Middle School. I was the queen bee and Lorrie was the worker bee.   The days of dramatic poetry have faded away, but I still am constantly seeking new ways to have fun with words.

Yesterday at the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project  Summer Institute @thekmwp, we were doing some image writing as we explored the outdoors with our paper cameras and the task of finding a single image and ascribing a gender to that image. A few pictures captured my attention:

stones egg


While the stones and the egg shell appealed to me, the late afternoon and my tiredness took over. The image I settled on was this:


The idea of gender ascribed to a spooning shovel made me chuckle to myself as I began my two voice poem. Here is what I developed:

Big Orange Dream  <–Click hear to see how warped I am in the afternoon.


This poem provided levity and helped me have fun with words.  Last year when I tried to build vocabulary and increase rigor with two voice poems comparing and contrasting academic vocabulary, my results were unsuccessful. The riddle poems had better success. I have attached the document I used. If you try this and experience success, let me know.  Here is the document. Perhaps I should have let them play with fun images before launching into poetic academic vocabulary.  This year I am once again being rejuvenated by the teachers at KMWP. For me rejuvenation cannot be found in relaxation alone. I am invigorated by being around passionate teachers writing and learning and growing together.

vocabulary poems riddle_two voice


Follow @thekmwp on Twitter if you want some fun writing ideas.