#SOL15: Day 5, Reflecting Back

Magic moments happen in teaching, and they make our hearts soar.

But, there are moments that can break. Us and our hearts.

Z is struggling. He lies down on the picnic table outside the room. When we’re all inside, he enters saying, “I don’t want to sit there.” He paces. We look for a place. He settles beside N. Then moves. Again and again. Searching for a spot.

Sitting is painful. School doesn’t fit, and the discomfort emanates from his being.

Someone says something about dads. He blurts, “My dad doesn’t come home no more.”


Enter Reading Workshop. Z gets together with his book group they are planning. Z says, “I don’t read at home. I read here, not at home.”

Later, Z paces in the corner, reading his book, Reading and walking, in circles. This is his way.

Lunch happens. Z doesn’t eat. He doesn’t want to. Can’t. He just wants to run. Too soon, recess comes to an end. The class is lined up. Z is on the field.

Enter Writing Workshop. Z rustles through papers. “What paper? I don’t have it. I don’t.” We look and find. I coach. He tries. Off he goes.

In the corner something happens. I hear, “Stop it! Why does she have to do that! Why is she here.” I walk over.

We talk. Z calms.

This thing called school doesn’t make much sense to Z. He asks, “Why do we have to do this?” I try to give him a purpose, a reason. But he doesn’t see it.

Z can read and write, but his heart isn’t in it.  It’s elsewhere.

This breaks my heart. And Z isn’t just one student in my classroom. He is one of many students in many classrooms, who don’t fit. His life, his being is too big for the small classroom and industrial chairs. The expectations don’t make sense in his 10-year old brain.

He faces years of schooling. I worry. What am I doing to help him? What is he learning? What will engage him?

He breaks me from time to time. I get cowardly. I don’t want to feel that pain, that frustration. I don’t want to feel helpless.

I complain to my closest confidant who tells me to count my blessings. He tells me Z needs me. He’s right.  My selfish self is shamed, and my teacher self tries to reconstruct.

Part of that reconstruction has been an study of empathy. To understand it, to embrace it, and to teach it.

In her TED Talk on the power of empathy, Helen Riess discusses her research. She states that we are hard-wired for empathy, and we can learn it.  “We all need to see our specialness reflected back.”

Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.


#SOL15: Day 4, A Classroom Beast

I’m participating with many teacher writers in the Slice of Life March Challenge. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity. The slicing community of writers fills my head and heart every day. Read their musings here.



Classroom Contained 

I left the meeting, head throbbing.

Paperwork, kid work, planning work still there

in my empty classroom.

Tables askew and

Post-its litter the ground.

The stack of papers teetering, threatening.

Maybe even taunting,

saying, okay, you asked for it.

I grab and sort.

Table by table.




Piles form.

Strategized, categorized.

Sort, pile.




The chaos tamed,

put down for the night

to rest,

so it can rise again


2015-03-02 18.27.58-1





#SOL15: Day 3, A Weather Flash

The March Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers has started off with a bang. I’m among over 200 contributors who have taken up the challenge to write a daily slice. Enjoy the writing of my fellow “slicers” here.


Californians are weather wimps.  We deal with droughts, smog alerts and SPF levels. Give us anything related to precipitation, and we go all to pieces. Snow only happens in the mountains, right?

Last night, there was rain. I heard it.

By morning, the sky is clear and bright.

I walk out into my driveway and look inland. The whitest of clouds hug the mountains, almost hiding the dark remnants of the nighttime storm.  Just another day in the Golden State.

Once at school, the sun beats down. I open my classroom door, turn on the air conditioning and return to the bright sunlight.

In the unprotected lunch area, a light sprinkle of rain begins. Nothing dramatic.

Students pile in the classroom, and I close the door to the sun.

We settle with notebooks and iPads.

Then I hear it. Rain.

I crack the door open to darkness, a cold rush of air, and pouring rain.

Shrieks and laughter fill the room. Five boys announce the urgent need to go to the bathroom. Really. Bad.

I walk from the door and KABOOM!  Thunder explodes. It rolls through the classroom. It shakes us still.

Then screams.

Weather is thrilling. When weather happens, we all go a little nutty.  It’s nowhere near normal.





#SOL15: Day 2, Grocery Store Luxuries

It’s March and I’m “slicing” with over 100 bloggers on Two Writing Teachers blog. The challenge is to post “a slice of life” daily for 31 days. This is my second year taking this challenge. It is a journey. One full of mystery and a little bit of fear. Follow the adventure here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_hYesterday, the need for cat food sent me to the grocery store, but the cosmetics aisle called.

When my kids were little, going to the grocery store required lists that were strategically crafted by aisle location. Clear and decisive movements were key to getting through the store quickly with the least amount damage.

In those days, labels were not read. I avoided areas where candy, ice cream, toys or pacifiers were displayed. Some stores were off limits because checkout areas contained these items. Taking the time to read a shampoo bottle was out of the question.

The need to rush through the store has long since passed, but the memory lingers. For this reason, grocery store shopping offers a strange sort of allure. The opportunity to read labels and marvel at the multitude of products is a luxury.

After a bit of close reading in cosmetics, I chose the Cover Girl three-in-one pencil sharpener and walked toward the in-store Starbucks thinking, a latte and perhaps a little time in the school supply section.

Just then, my phone dings.  “Cat’s hungry,” my husband messages.

I reply and turn down cat food aisle.

Maybe I still need that list.




#SOL15: Day 1, Listening Love

Today starts the March Slice of Life Challeng11454297503_e27946e4ff_he hosted by Two Writing Teachers. A whole month of daily blogging has begun!

Being a Sunday, this post is also serving a dual purpose of linking to Margaret Simon’s Reflection on the Teche DigLit Sunday blog.


Yesterday, driving home, I tuned into the On Being podcast, with singer-songwriter Joe Henry. He spoke of his writing process as a “mystery and adventure.”  Of how life and writing are as much about the obstacles as about the joys of the road. So much of this interview connected with the business of slicing daily. When I got home, I pulled out my notebook and sat in the car listening till the end of the podcast.

That happens a lot. I’m on the road, listening to a podcast or the radio. I’ve been known to pull over to jot down a phrase, name or book title. Sometimes, like last Friday, I share it with my students..I love podcasts. All kinds.  I’ve been addicted to them for a couple of years. Ever since my friend told me about the Stitcher app that makes it extremely easy to access all my favorites.

I love listening to learn and listening to stories. No wonder my students love read aloud.

Podcasts provide on-demand learning and entertainment. I love them.  Ever since my friend told me about the Stitcher app, getting to podcasts that meet my interests has been extremely easy.

imgres-1The Moth, This American Life, Radio Lab and Snap Judgement are some of my favorites that offer master storytellers telling amusing, emotional, and often mature personal stories.

I’ve wanted to share this listening experience with my students, but I needed appropriate, consistent  and free content. Something that is downloadable on all devices.

Yesterday I found two worth sharing. Storynory and Brains On!  are available at no charge via Stitcher or iTunes apps.

logoStorynory features original stories written for and by kids. On the website, you can also read the printed text.

Brains On! is a monthly podcast about science produced by Public Radio contributors and features a kid reporter. The stories are short and engaging. Friendly, fun, and informative — just right for my kiddos.


Happy day one #SOL15.






Celebrate: Regenerative Practices

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayres.  I’m thankful for all of those who join in this practice. Read more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

This week was a roller coaster, up and down. Each day required reconstruction.  I’ve got a road I want to travel; sometimes our learning path requires significant detours and roadside stops. Sensing where students are relative to where I want to take them is most important.

This week I celebrate the regenerative practice of writing.

Writing allows my thoughts to be tangible. It lets me hold on to and maybe connect pieces. Writing can feed me. It allows my brain and body to connect with something solid. Be it ink and notebook or the keyboard and screen.

This week I celebrate the regenerative process of listening.

On Friday, I caught this conversation on my local NPR station between Noah McQueen and President Obama.   Noah, an 18-year high school senior from Maryland, spoke wise words. Words I wanted my students to hear. They listened hard to Noah and the President. Afterwards, I listened to my students.

I didn’t ask for them to share or to write. I just waited.

Mostly it was quiet.

Then, V said, “He seems a lot older than 18.”

R said, “That was beautiful.”

I agree.

Happy Saturday.




Slice of Life: Looking for Kindness

It’s Tuesday! Time for a Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey, and Tara. You can find more slices here.

Life is interesting. I have these ideas, theories, plans. I paint this picture in my head, and then reality gets involved. At first glance today was disappointing. But then I thought about it.

Students are writing letters on Bring Your Own Device to school. They have changed their positions pro and con, back and forth.  The more they know and the more they write, the more their ideas morph and grow beyond their initial response. It’s been hard to work through this thinking, this writing. They aren’t loving every minute of it. That’s the part that doesn’t fit the picture in my head.  But I’m proud of their process, their writing and their opinions. They are thinking beyond themselves and that’s hard.

In our social issues reading unit we’ve been talking about power; who has it and why. Students have said people have power over others because of strength, money, will, leadership, race, kindness, love, bullying, laws, judges, intelligence. I find it so interesting they include kindness and love right alongside bullying and money. Not what I expected.

Today we got to the part in The One and Only Ivan where the news media has become aware of Ivan and Ruby’s situation. Ivan, the powerless and caged, has become a bit of a celebrity and my students can see the power is shifting towards him. I’m wondering if they are making the connection as to why it’s shifting. Do they see him as a disenfranchised letter writer, causing change. Do they see the power of the written word?

Put this all together with a side project, sort of an adjunct to our social issues work, an investigation of kindness. Groups developed questions using the Question Focus Technique. Each group choose their top three questions on the topic of kindness. Then they voted on questions they most wanted to investigate. Each class came up with three questions.

  1. Why should we be kind if someone isn’t kind to us?
  2. How can you be kind in difficult situations?
  3. How can you find kindness in your heart?
  4. Why do people bully?
  5. Does choosing kind make you a better person?
  6. Why aren’t people brave?

These questions say so much about what students see around them and why they don’t always choose kind. They point directly at why kindness is such a challenge. Kindness is easily overwhelmed.

Literature is an obvious place to find kindness; choosing to show us kind. Perhaps writing gives us space to find the kindness. To think before we react to what seems to be an assault on our person. To give kind, to find justice.

This student’s writing was a surprise. I didn’t expect it. On Friday he was opposed to BYOD. Today he wrote this:

it isn’t fair that just 5th graders have iPads. All grades should be blogging. That’s why I believe we should be able to bring our own devices to school.

In the picture in my head I see students coming to understand the need for social justice. They’d speak out on the behalf of the weak, reach out and be kind even when others aren’t kind to them.

Students can be selfish. They get their feelings hurt and strike back.  But then they reflect and come up with some startling ideas that make me realize there’s a lot more underneath.