My Little Slice: Normal Nervous

sols_6This post is a tiny slice of life, served up in anticipation of the rest of the pie.

We went to Target. We got soft pjs and footy pjs and a big blue robe.

Last time I remember getting these was for a swim team trip. We stayed overnight and all her friends had matching footy pjs. That was fun.

“This is all I’m gonna wear for the next two weeks,” my daughter says.

“Is there anything else you want. Drinks or snacks?” I ask.

“No, I don’t know what I’m gonna want,” she says.

True, I think. I don’t know either.

She’s having knee surgery today, 11:15. The surgery itself is said to be routine. Not a difficult one to do.

It’s what comes next that’s unknown. We know in theory. A special icing and heating machine and a post operative brace is going to meet us at the hospital. Another passive movement machine will be delivered at home in the afternoon. Reminds me of when she was born. She was jaundiced and had to be in a special little lighted “suitcase”. Another machine to help you heal. Similar and different.

These machines mark the beginning of her rehabilitation that is said to take six months.

“I’ll be good for summer,” she tells me.

I tell her of all of the swimmers I know who have come back strong from surgery. “Being injured is a part of being an athlete,” I tell her. “You’ll come back stronger than before.”

She acts convinced and I’m grateful for that.

We’re lucky. The surgery happens over break, so she won’t miss school. She’s healthy and strong, and we have health insurance to help pay for it. We’re lucky.

We’re also quietly nervous. “That’s normal,” my husband says.

Yep, I’m normal nervous right now.

Her friends are busy texting her.

My friends are texting me. We’re all a little nervous. It’s normal.

“Wake me up at 7:45, I’m gonna take a long shower in the morning,” she says.

Ok. Good night honey.

Good night, love you Mom.

Love you too, baby.

It’s 5:30, and she’s sleeping beside me. Taking up the space where my husband was a half hour ago. This is not usual.

I move to the kitchen, and make coffee. I worry about tomorrow at this time. Will it be as will be peaceful?

I’m nervous. It’s normal.

The Game Changers

I started out doing a best of 2013 post, but that didn’t work. The whole year was a best of! This year the game changed..


Student Blogging – Blogging has changed the way students see writing. In fact they don’t think blogging is writing. Which in and of it itself is worth inquiry. Blogging is visible and social. The visible part is great for accountability, but the social part makes the difference. It allows for conversation.  One student, who loves to talk, said it made him feel like he was talking to someone else. I’m thinking that is a wonderful way to view writing.

Global Read Aloud –  The connections  made with other classrooms opened student  eyes beyond the small world of their school yard. Sharing one book was just the beginning. Reaching out to kids in different places led to unexpected understandings: timezones, weather, and the powers of technology that can bring us together. Thank you Erin Varley for being a wonderful partner in this work and Pernille Ripp for bringing it all together.

Genius Hour – Every Thursday, for one hour, students can research, learn, and create something that matters to them. This has provided a time for those who are not traditional learners to thrive in a place of their own making. It has pushed those who wait for the teacher to tell them what to do, to step up and push their own thinking. It is a reason for some to come to school. It is something they don’t need to be reminded of. It provides clues as to what their passions really are. Which leads to what book might interest them, what they might want to research or write about,  Read here for more about why this has been a game changer.

I love this  student’s perspective on blogging, Global Read Aloud and Genius Hour. It was my favorite present this year and shows how his game has changed.

No Reading Logs – This was my first and in the end simplest change to reading work. I always hated logs. I knew it worked only for a few, and those students were the ones who would read anyway. The majority either faked it or lost it. Now we record when books are finished. We keep track of our reading by logging finished books and making goals. So far this year my students have read on average 17 books. Some have more books read, some less, but all are reaching for their own personal goals. All are reading more, and without logs. Thank you Katherine Sokolowski for your post on Josh. That gave me permission and the courage to let go of daily logs and let reading not logging create readers.

Making Read Aloud Visible – This was a simple move that has changed the way read aloud goes. I simply purchased my read aloud as a kindle e-book and projected it on the Smart Board. Now students see the words as I read them. Now students see grammar, spelling, punctuation, even font changes and spacing that indicate meaning. Now they hear the text and see it. I love this. Thank you Paul Solarz for this tip and for making so much of your thinking and student work visible.

Making Writing Goals VisibleTCRWP writing checklists and Units of Study have been a big game changer. Students can can pinpoint areas to work on. Through self evaluation students know what they need to work on. The checklists have made this possible.

A Teacher Who Listens More Than Talks – I started the year wanting to let my students guide their learning. This required me to listen more and lean in with questions that spurred not shaped thinking. Keeping my mouth shut and my thinking undisclosed was goal solidified in the #WRRD(What Readers Really Do) chat.   These posts  Student Generated Questions, Read Aloud Inquiry , and  Celebrating the Process of Learning all point to listening more and learning alongside my students.


Twitter – It has been said so many times already, but twitter has been the source of so many tangible and intangible things. To list everything would be impossible. I’m just thankful for it.

Blogs and Blogging- Blogs show me ways of thinking, teaching and being. Blogs have connected me to people, like minded souls who revive my teaching heart and purpose, who introduce me to new ways of doing things, who support me when I feel lost, who accept and welcome me as part of a community of thinkers and writers. I feel honored and blessed.

Here’s to more growth in 2014 and thank you to all who have helped change the game for my students and me in 2013.

Unplanned Celebrations

celebrate link upEach Saturday  Ruth Ayres invites us to share and celebrate events from our week. It is an honor to be amongst of this group of bloggers. Reading their posts makes me aware of moments in my own life that I might have otherwise over looked. It helps me sit back and pay tribute to those people in my life that matter.

Negotiating the mall on December 24th would never be my first choice of holiday activities, but this trip had many unexpected moments worth celebrating.

I had to go to Macy’s for perfume my daughter wanted. Not wanting to do this alone, I asked my oldest if he wanted to come along, and being the good natured sort he is, he agreed.

We got there. Parked. It wasn’t stressful, yet.  Mini celebration. I braced myself for entering the store.

Not too bad. Got to the counter, feeling rather clever and…they were sold out.

Momentary panic. But no worries there’s another Macy’s (in the same mall–no joke) and they had five left. Joy!

We hurried over there. After successfully procuring the fragrance, we decide to get coffee to celebrate.

Then my son asks, “Do you think we could stop at the bookstore?”  This is a guilty pleasure for both of us.

“Sure,” I say. I set a time limit, otherwise hours could be lost.

Wandering the stacks is heaven. I restrict myself to the children’s section.

We meet at the appointed time, both of us with books in hand.

We walk to the cashier. I buy the books.

He says, “Thank you so much.”

Never a problem. It is a pleasure.

Being with my son, one-on-one, is a joy. This was true when he was little, and it is true now as an adult.

Time with one person, one child, I don’t get very often. But I realize this is so important. No matter how old they are, our children need us, and we need them, one-on-one. The dynamic changes when it is just the two of you. Things come up that otherwise wouldn’t have. You reconnect, and re fill that well that is your relationship.

Having a little extra time and space gives us the opportunity to discover things– unexpected moments worth celebrating, like an unplanned stop at the bookstore, or the comment on the drive home that you will remember.

Christmas Afterthoughts

I forgot I love honey. My dad loves honey. But I forgot that too.

I love honey on toasted bread. I forgot that as well.

Even when I opened it yesterday, I didn’t remember.

Even when I tasted it last night, I didn’t remember.

But this morning, I slowly remembered, because I got some honey for Christmas.2013-12-26 10.53.07

When I reached for another piece of bread, because I hadn’t had enough, it started to dawn on me.

When I thought, maybe I’ll just take a spoonful of it, or perhaps lick the knife.

Then I remembered.

I remembered I love honey.

And that reminded me of my dad’s love for honey. It is something we share.

Thanks to my son, who gave me honey, unknowing its power, Christmas isn’t over.

This memory was an unexpected gift, delivered the day after.

The best gifts reach beyond Christmas day. The presence of people we don’t see much of and time to savor simple things, gives reminders of what we love and what others love.

Now, I’m on the look out for other gifts I haven’t noticed.

And, I think I’ll go get my dad a jar of honey.

Just Thinking…

It is Christmas morning and I’m reading blogs, articles, books. This may seem crazy to you with younger kids and it would have been impossible in the recent past. This Christmas morn I can because of a family agreement of presents at 11 am. That allowed all teenage and twenty somethings to sleep in and us adults to indulge in what we wanted to do. Hence my reading and coffee consumption, two things I love to do. A pretty cool gift for myself.

Here are some of the things that hit me in my wandering reading world.

In Counting by 7s, Willow has found a friend.. “going up and over some kind of barrier after spending too long hitting the thing straight on.” Love that line. It stopped me cold. I re read it and remembered it.  Went back to it. Wrote it, but had to carefully check that I wrote it correctly. My memory initially corrupted the beauty of the line. The actual writing of it made it clearer than the first or second reading.  Note to self about close reading — need to carefully write lines that matter. images-1

Next, courtesy of twitter I found Joy Kirr’s post. Thank you for sharing yourself Joy and for being my personal guru for Genius Hour. Because of you and Hugh McDonald and Gallit Zvi Thursday afternoons are Genius Hour time for the 5th graders at my school. The Genius Hour idea has been like magic. It didn’t take much on my part to launch it, not only in my classroom but in three other teachers’ classrooms. The acceptance of my administration was immediate. My hat is off to them, but it makes me wonder — why was it so easy to hook them in? Other great ideas, like twitter have not caught at my school.

Then I fell into this article from the New Yorker on how ideas grow. It is a long article, but well worth the read. My take aways from this are many. Things that I want to hold on to include:

Ideas don’t spread easily when

— there seems to be no apparent need or the need is invisible. Think germs.

— the effort it takes to try it out is difficult.  Early sterilization techniques were extremely difficult.

But ideas do spread when

— the benefits are obvious to the person who is instigating the idea. Think anesthesia. This idea spread quicker than sterilization techniques because of obviousness of the pain and the better working conditions it provided the surgeon — quiet, paralyzed patients. Could this also be the reason for Genius Hour’s success? The benefits were obvious.

— we trust the person giving us the idea.  There is the sales technique called “the rule of seven touches.” Touch the client seven times to build the relationship before you sell your message. Relationship and trust matter. Could this also be the reason for our school’s easy acceptance of Genius Hour?

The ending of the New Yorker article also struck me. It had to do with getting nurses in developing countries to implement lifesaving changes in their practice. Think could these reactions be from a teacher being visited by a staff developer or administrator?

 “The first day she came, I felt the workload on my head was increasing.” From the second time, however, the nurse began feeling better about the visits. She even began looking forward to them.

“Why?” I asked.

All the nurse could think to say was “She was nice.”

“She was nice?”

“She smiled a lot.”

“That was it?”

“It wasn’t like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes,” she said. “It was like talking to a friend.”

We are more likely to be open to change when we feel we have a friend helping us. One who isn’t there to find what we are doing wrong.

Strong messages to anyone who is trying to instigate change in students or change in teacher practice.

Just sharing some thoughts on December 25th.

Happy Holidays 2013.

Slice of Life: All I Want for Christmas…I Have

sols_6All I want for Christmas is my family home.  Actually, I want a picture of them all together too. It will just take a second. One choreographed second when all are smiling, looking at the camera with their eyes open and fairly clean.

That was hard when they were little. It was like herding cats. It took many takes and often several outfits. You’d think at this point, being nearly adults  this would be a piece of cake. Not so much.

All are living in different places now and they miss each other. I had this vision of harmony and love knowing that they’d all be home for Christmas.

As kids they got along. There was order, a hierarchy. Youngers looked up to the olders, and the olders watched over the youngers.

Now things are different. The relationship is realigning: the older and younger roles are not as distinct. Their differences start to surface and old order is confused.

The first son practically came into the world reading. The happiest place on earth for him — the library. Material items were generally seen as an annoyance, something to be put up with.

The second son has always been more a part of this world, a practical just do it sort.–a very goal oriented person. His current stated goal is to have enough money to do whatever he wants whenever he want. With that he will be happy. Enough said.

The third sits quietly listening. Probably not wanting to take sides.

With high hopes of peace and good will, we went out for a pre holiday family dinner.  It started out fine with references to favorite movies. We haven’t had a television since the summer, so some discussion centered around the purchase of a new one.

Then somehow we got to what is love and if you stop loving someone did you ever really love them in the beginning. I’m not really sure how we got there, but there were references to Milton and Christian guilt. This all tempered with if I have enough money it will all be alright.

My husband tried jousting with them at some points and then just said to stop the talk. I just sat by, watched and listened, trying not to appear to be on anyone’s side.

As I sat I thought:

Where is the check?

Can we talk about the new movie with Amy Adams and Christian Bale?

Did I talk like this when I was their age?

Then I remembered when I talked with high moral principles and big dreams.

Yes, I did talk this way.

And then I worry, do they, can they have a relationship?

Will they have each other when it matters?

They have strong beliefs, and opposing points of view.  Both think the other is dead wrong.

 They are their own person. That I am proud of in a way. But I can help but think, were they not related, would they be friends?  They worry about each other and miss each other the minute they are a part. So odds are I tell myself, they will be there for each other when it matters.

Things settle down with the delivery of cheese cake and discussion about favorite movies and favorite scenes. Ah, common ground. Peace.

Then out of nowhere, I hear, “You never pay attention to me!” She stomps off to the bathroom. Peace is fleeting.

Our time together will be over in five days. In that time, I’m hoping that they have moments to laugh and share. I’m wishing for some light comedy at the movies or with a new TV. Could that be the real purpose of stupid comedy?

And if I really push my luck, perhaps I’ll get one choreographed second when all are smiling, looking at the camera with their eyes open and fairly clean.

Happy to have them home.

Happy Holidays, 2013.

Paying Attention to the Heart

I’m not paying attention. Things that are right in front of me, I just miss.

I can blame this on the hurry and hustle of life. Perhaps it’s my tendency to hyper-focus on certain things. Some would call this obsessive compulsive behavior. Whatever you name it, I tend to do it. And I miss things.

Poetry is one of those things I don’t see.  It has been there all the time, quietly waiting, but I tend to put it aside for other more “important” pressing things. Saying, I’ll get to it later. Right now I’m too busy.

Now is the time. Inspired by Vicki VInton’s recent posts on poetry, I start searching.  Poetry seems to get buried amongst everything else. Lost in between thick tomes, and many emails (thank you for the reminder Vicki, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac,) it’s easy to overlook. Poetry is unassuming.

Plowing through my book shelves I find quite a few books of poetry. Each one signaling memories, like listening to old songs.

One book stands out, Wind Song by Carl Sandburg. It was published in 1960 and cost 45 cents. Some of the poems were published in 1916. It was purchased by my dad at a used book store. This book, from the heart of my library., is evidence of dad and his loving ways of scouring old book stores for just the right book.

In the front of the book is my name and home address in cursive. No date, but I’m guessing by the script I was probably 11 or 12 years old. The pages are yellowed and fragile. It smells like an old book store. 2013-12-22 11.15.05

Flipping through the pages I find this:

I know this poem and this picture I’d sketched, but I’d forgotten it.

Once loved, this collection now has the opportunity to be loved again.

I’m wondering what my much older eyes will see in these pages.

The Best Kind of Gift

celebrate link up


Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing a place to celebrate. Today I celebrate the last few days of school and the gift I got.

Thursday, families brought in home-cooked traditional meals for a school pot luck. It was wonderful. Food was plentiful, and most of us ate too much! The holidays should be getting together, sharing, eating and celebrating our future.

Friday, students came carrying red and green bags with colorful ribbons and handed them to their teachers. It happened all over campus. It is our school culture. This is what you do.

When a student gives a gift, I am touched, but to be quite honest also uncomfortable. Did they spent too much? Do feel they have to do this? Do they feel bad if they can’t?

This year one gift stands out. It was a letter. One of those family letters you get in the mail about how your year was. This is an excerpt of his portion of the letter:

I am 10 years old now. I am in 5th grade and I like school. We get to blog on iPads and computers. Teachers from different states let their students blog to each other. It is fun because I have never talked to someone on the computer in a different state. I wrote one story about a kid named Christian and he was annoying. I think I got 5 comments. We do Genius Hour every Thursday afternoon. You create something that nobody else created before. I made a game called “box basketball” where you shoot a paper ball. I write stores about kids and their challenges. Another story is about a raccoon who is a spy. Another story is about a superhero named Wind Runner and he can control the wind. 

We have this thing called Breakfast in the Classroom. We eat at our desk. I like the coffee cake and waffles. I don’t like how they changed the school lunch. They’re trying to make kids skinner by giving them protein and nutrients. They don’t have burgers and pizza and chocolate milk anymore. I don’t like that because I don’t eat a lot of junky stuff. Now they have brown rice and beans or veggie burgers. I started making my own lunch.

Today, I am celebrating this gift of reflection..

This letter showed what mattered — to him.

He likes school. He had me there, but he went on to mention so many things that I hoped would matter to students: blogging, connecting, comments, his game and his stories. The food reflection I think is quite interesting. While he doesn’t like the meals, he has made changes on his own to make his life better.

I will treasure this letter not only for what it said, but for the inspiration it has given me for future gift giving. If a student chooses to give a gift, let it be only one that they can create. A card, a letter, a drawing, an origami yoda.  Give a gift from the heart, not your parent’s pocket book, and that will make a great celebration for all.

Happy Holidays!

School’s Out! Homework? Nope. Challenge? Yep.

If I were to define the start of the last day of school, 2013, I’d say it would be… exhausted.

Yesterday was filled with intermittent rain, wind, and holiday performances. Our daily business was squeezed in between each show: vocabulary, performance, book shopping, performance, reading, performance, blogging, performance, pot luck luncheon for students and families, and genius hour. Whew!

Today, Friday. The rain cleared for our traditional fifth grade mile and the whole school came out to cheer us on. It was fun, no one was hurt, and we were… exhausted but pleased.  Most ran their fasted mile ever. All finished.

But wait…before y’all collapse and head off to break….I want to talk about resolutions.


A resolution (student definition): when you decide you want to be better at something and you make a goal for yourself.

Sounds good.

I told them about  nerdlution and how I challenged myself to blog every day. I explained how I wanted to write more and how I thought the blog would be a way to make myself accountable.

Hmm. The word nerdlution didn’t appeal to them, so they came up with their own names for their 21-day, 3-week challenge.

One room liked createlution. They felt that would involve all their goals. Everything they wanted to do involved creation.

The other room couldn’t decide on a group name, so they all had their own -lution names  – geniuslution, musiclution, dolution, artlution, bloglution, readlution etc.

Each student then wrote personal challenges in their notebook and posted them on the wall.

“So what’s the homework for the break Mrs. Harmatz?”

“Look at what you just wrote,” I replied. “That and reading.”

Last day of school redefined: exhausted, pleased and maybe a bit hopeful about what might be accomplished.

Homework? Nope, Challenge yep.

Go #nerdlution, createlution, geniuslution, musiclution, dolution, artlution, bloglution, readlution etc.

Mixed Emotions — The Last Teaching Day of 2013

It’s the last night before a three week break, and I have mixed emotions.

I’m excited to have a change of pace and a refocus on home. I’m looking forward to lounging around reading a bit more.

I’m excited to have time to recharge and rethink. Sometimes I get so caught up in the moment I forget exactly where I was going when I started. The time to piece together ideas that are coming at me all at once in a slower, more methodical way is a luxury of time off.

I’m excited to be with my family, all together. Both sons should be home tomorrow night. That will make us five again. I value these times above all else. The time with just us five is limited.  As time goes by, their worlds get bigger and our role as parents gets smaller. So when they do direct their attention towards home, I sit up and pay attention.

But, at the same time…

I’m sad about the loss of routine; the disconnection to the day to day. While I love the less hectic pace, I can get lost without a looming deadline. Pressure makes me perform. The lack of it can lead to lots of disappearing time, and the feeling of, “what did I do today?”

I’m sad about loosing contact with my students. They are a part of my life and when they aren’t there, things are just a little off. I have purposely not started a new read aloud because I don’t want to leave something as important as a book up in the air for three weeks. It would feel like we deserted the characters.

I know that every year students come back from break a little more mature than when they left and are able to take on more difficult work. Time off from training the body or the mind allows for recovery and growth.

But (there is always a but), I worry that their reading and writing lives suffer. Thanks to the amazing teaching that precedes me and our school culture, my students know that reading is a must.

The writing part of their lives is a little less developed. For some, the opportunity to blog is there. They will do it because it’s fun and they love it. But many do not have access at home. I can send home books, notebooks, and pens, but I can’t send the internet or a device that allows them to connect to it. I can’t send them daily reminders to write.

What I can do is ask students to come up with their own personalized “game plan” for reading and writing. Perhaps a sort of nerdlution challenge will develop. Something that they define around reading and writing.

Here’s looking at the last teaching day of 2013, with hope for 2014.

Go #nerdlution.