Collaboration: Opening not Closing Doors






Sometimes I love collaboration. When people with different ways of thinking come together, each with his/her own strengths, each willing to contribute, each willing to listen to the others. I love that. I can see the sum is greater than the parts, and I can feel the impact it has on my teaching.









I love how we can envision teaching and learning in new ways and make what we do better. I love hearing other people’s ideas for teaching strategies to work with a certain concept, skill, or text. I love sharing an idea and having someone help me break it down, and together we build it back up until we know that something amazing has been created that will engage students and impact learning.





138900c6ce0e90745e024b15be48f70aOther times I shake my head wondering how in the world a team of people so different can possibly come into one room and share ideas willingly, contribute equally, and follow through consistently? In these moments, I wonder how I can be inclusive instead of divisive, and what I can do to build on the good each person has to offer.

What collaboration boils down to is teamwork, shared responsibility, and listening. Most of all, teachers need to be able to see the other people’s strengths and view working together as a good thing and not see what is happening in the classroom next door as a competition. We are, in fact, all in this together.

This time of the year is always tough on collaboration: testing season, spring break, the final quarter, yet perhaps this is the time collaboration is most important. This is sometimes the time when doors are closing when they should be opening. When I’m in the final stretch, I would like to cheer on others and be cheered on, too. And I’d like to know that we are all on the same team, and this is not about personal best it’s about coming together to challenge, inspire, and share.

Part of why I love blogging with SOL is because here is a place where I feel challenged and inspired, and we are, this month especially, spending a lot of time together–collaboratively not competitively. Thank you.







Responsive Fortune Cookie

Check out other slices each Tuesday at

Check out other slices each Tuesday at

The other day this was my fortune:


Normally I don’t pay much attention to my fortune, not seriously anyway. However, this fortune made me think about who I am and who I’ve been. Immediately I knew that I had the fortune meant for me. I read the words over 3 times and began to analyze the meaning (LOL, I did a close read of the text, but I did not stay within the four corners). I thought about taking a snapshot of it to share with a few friends and coworkers. It made me think about what it means to be strong versus what it means to be responsive.

STRONG. To be strong is to have power. To be strong is to be able to withstand pressure. To be strong is to be powerful and forceful. I think being strong oftentimes means working to win, to outperform, to come out on top.  In strength, there may or may not be action; there may only be a a flexing of brawn or brains with little action.

RESPONSIVE. To be responsive, on the other hand, does not mean being more powerful physically or mentally in a domineering sort of way. Instead, to be responsive means to react, to respond, to answer. To be responsive means to act upon what you’ve experienced in a decisive and positive way. In responsiveness, there is clear action driven by need.

I suppose I could go all Darwinian with this and apply this to adaptation, change, and natural selection, but I do NOT want to be a science teacher, yet I suppose that adapting based on environment is what I do when I am being responsive.

I spent a good deal of my life meeting challenges head on, fighting to conquer, willing myself to be the best.  In retrospect, I think that was the wrong approach.I was working against what I wanted to accomplish, and sometimes this show of strength served only to isolate me.

I used to say, “That’s not a kid you should go head to head with because you’ll never win.” Perhaps the time to go head to head with anyone should happen rarely. Being responsive means, looking at both the details and the bigger picture to assess, react, respond, and answer.  This could take the form of differentiation in responding to what a kid needs. At the same time, this could be how we approach grown ups with whom we struggle, situations that are out of our control, curricula/standards that we may not like, and so much more.

Being responsive is about the response, but it also involves the process of considering how to best respond. To me that is a sort of moral strength–a deeply embedded fortitude. This is not the strength of winning–this is the strength of character that understands that it’s not about winning or losing; instead it’s about meeting each person where he or she is and responding to the person and situation.  And that is about much more than surviving. That is about thriving.

How might I reword the fortune:

Responsiveness moves you beyond survival.

Thought Provoking Questions to End a Lesson

Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge

I may be sick and tired, but my hamster doesn’t stop running on its wheel, oh no. On a paper grading break, blogging in bed and wondering of what would be great thought provoking questions that would work well in ELA.

These thoughts were sparked because yesterday when I had a lesson follow up with the Instructional Design Team, I told my TechEds county person that I’d like to make my own randomizer of questions. Guess what she did? She made me a video with directions where even I can cut and paste and put things in HTML and make my own random questions to use with a QR lesson closing. I am excited to use this as a way to bring some excitement and higher-level thinking to closings. Of course, now that she figured it out and made a user-friendly video, I feel compelled to take that step.

I thought of even making my own QR die, Tony Vincent style:

vincent die

Here is what I used yesterday for my closing yesterday and last week:

QR reflection


While I like the above reflection questions,  I want to make at least some faces of the die more reading, writing, communication based; I want to make it my own and select my own questions. Still, though, I’m looking for great minds to help me. When I finish my die, I will share what I create in the comments section of this blog, so give me some good ideas and share your thoughts.

I might make one that is totally generic for any content, but that works well with summarizing and digging deeper into a lesson…like I said, the hamster is still running…just a little more slowly.

Thanks in advance.






Overplanning Madness

Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge


Being part of TechEds requires me to try new technology, and I love that. I love learning new things and finding new ways to engage and reach kids. I regularly use all sorts of tools for differentiation, assessment, and instruction.  However, when several people are coming to watch me teach using technology, I feel the need to do something that perhaps they won’t see others doing. This is where the overplanning madness began.


Overplanning is something I do when I have time and announced visitors observing me teach.   This time visitors are coming to see what the TechEds teachers are doing in their classrooms, so I got some crazy ideas and started running with them. This weekend I looked at my plans, and I was like, “Huh? How am I going to do all that? Why did I set it up this way? Does that even make sense? Will it make sense to the kids? Is the content getting lost in the wordiness? Am I trying to make a production?” Aaargh!


Sometimes I chase an idea, catch it, and then don’t know what to with it. Yesterday I began tweaking what I was going to do because I couldn’t figure out how to do what I had envisioned. Then, it just didn’t make sense when I tried to plan the logistics of the lesson.


Finally, I moved to streamlining and simplified what seemed like the “dog and pony show” or “the production” of it all. And now, it makes sense. Now I feel like my technology is infused in my lesson in a way that makes sense. I still might be a bit over the top, but I am trying to show them what kids can do with BYOD.

Tomorrow the students will be participating in “The Great Comma Race” in teams of four. They will take a QR comma quiz (you can make QR quizzes at in groups, they will edit sentences written by students differentiated by their level of comma expertise, and the will take  a group quiz on their edited sentences using Formative ( is a new favorite tool of mine). They will end with QR reflection questions (I wrote about this a few days ago). They will be charged to go home and revisit  their essays, and return tomorrow with examples of 3 of 4 types of commas we’ve discussed.


Now I’m just thinking through the lesson. I want to feature tools, I want teachers to see how you can use BYOD, and I want what I’m doing to be grounded in good instruction. As usual, blogging about my thoughts helps me harness my thoughts.  I’ve never really thought of the process I go through so often: overplanning, replanning, tweaking, streamlining, thinking, walking through…

Thank you for helping me make sense of my madness, teacher friends and blog readers. Thanks for commenting, too.

Wish me luck tomorrow. 🙂 I’m tired just thinking about it. I feel like I’ve run The Great Comma Race already many times, in circles.

Still Seeking Sacred



Looking at my one word for the year–sacred–I am trying to find how that will work for me tomorrow. You see tomorrow marks a new venture and a return to a sacred spot as I begin doing some work with KMWP, my local chapter of the National Writing Project.  I’m trying to figure out how I am going to work with teachers at the school level and where this is going to take my presentation. I’ve decided to change directions from focusing on content writing in working with social studies teachers to reclaiming the sacred in writing.

As I surround myself with other teachers who truly value the sacredness of certain practices in the teaching of writing, I will force myself to look long and hard and what I am doing right now and how I need to change. This is both scary and exhilarating to me, scary because I know I have taken the prepackaged units given to me and not done what I could and what I should to make them better and exhilarating because I am going to finally begin to put into action what has been tearing at my writing teacher soul this school year.  Questions I have to answer as I seek to find the wiggle room in the units provided to me.  

  • How can I add writing that isn’t text-based or is loosely text-based that will help each student find his/her own unique voice?
  • How can I loosen the shackles of the curriculum and seek the sacred in writing? I mean I have a provided unit, but I have some freedom.
  • In this age of collaboration and data and same page teaching, CC and district mandates, how can I find a way, in spite of it all, to do what is best for my student writers?
  • How can I do all I have to do but still create a space where writers will flourish?
  • How can I find the time and space for the sacredness of the writing groups?
  • Jim Gray, founder of NWP, writes of how writing project teachers find their niche in the teaching of writing. I want to find my niche, explore my niche, and yes, even (ugh!) scratch my niche. 
  • How can I help my students find a true audience when the summative tasks provided are essays written for me?
  • How can I help students still find that memoir that exists inside all of us and use writing not just for analysis, but also to  make meaning out of life?