Celebrate: 140 Characters

celebrate link up Thank you Ruth Aryes for starting this weekly link up to celebrate our week. Read more celebrations here.

This week’s celebrations are all due to 140 characters. What it means to be “connected” through the virtual world of Twitter often connects in very tangible ways. This week I’m celebrating a lot of face-to-face work that was an outgrowth of Twitter. The richness of this work makes us better educators and better people.

One: My colleagues Dayna Wells @daywells and Cathy Skubik @cskubik became full fledged participants in the #TCRWP chat. They have been lurking around Twitter for a while, even tweeting on occasion, but neither had really participated in a chat. This week I tweeted alongside them; just offering a few explanations and a little encouragement. I’m sure I helped a little, but what really got both of them going was the welcoming conversation they joined. The #TCRWP tweeps took them in responding, favoriting, and retweeting. I was struck by this. It is not hyperbole when I say that I love that Wednesday chat.  I celebrate the wonderful educators who moderate the chats weekly and those that show up and offer up so much every week!  The after effects of the chats are quite stunning.


Two. This week, leaders from the Right Question Institute @RQI presented their work to teacher leaders in my district. The wonderful Dan Rothstein and Lavada Berger @LavadRQI had us work through the process of teaching students to question. This paradigm shift is powerful. Getting students to create questions around a focused topic puts power in the their hands and allows them to direct their own learning. While this is the beginning of this work in our district, it started because of a tweet. That tweet referenced this post,. Soon that book found its way around my school. The ideas filtered into our classrooms and then out into the district. That one tweet was the shirtless guy in the “one nut” video. I’m proud to say our school was the first follower.


Three: Speaking of followers, I have to celebrate my 1,000th follower. WHOO HOO!

Which really leads me to why Victoria followed me. See 4 a and 4 b.

Four (a)  Tuesday through Thursday I attended my first CUERockstar Conference. I signed up to learn more about digital literacy, but what I got was so much more. When you are surrounded by passion, respect and possibility, learning is  exhilarating. These fabulous teachers who led the sessions were committed to the participants; they met our needs, listened intently, and encouraged our work. Just being a learner with these folks was a gift. What follows are a few highlights.

I was introduced to  Storybird  in Moss Pike’s @MossPike session on day two of the conference. Storybird is a free web-based tool that presents a beautiful gallery of pictures for storytelling. As the websites states, “Storybird reverses visual storytelling by starting with the image and ‘unlocking’ the story inside.”

I love this idea of “unlocking” a story. As I created my book, I thought about story structure, the real struggle for the characters; which led to understanding the characters. The expressions on the character’s faces gave me clues to their emotions and where the story might go.  This experience was unlike any writing experience I have had before. I had an idea of where the story might go, but I wasn’t exactly sure. The characters took over the story. This experience makes me wonder about the power of visuals and the ability to visualize when we tell story. 

Four (b)  In another session we worked on Design Thinking for Educators.based on work from The Center for Deep Thinking in Mount Vernon. We chose a “sticky problem,” a problem that has many points where you could get “stuck,” and worked through the process that embraces problem solving through empathy and visual thinking. I worked with Filisa Iskason @fiskason and Karen Lagola @kklagola on the problem of not enough time for students and professional development. As we talked, jotted and then asked ourselves, “how might we” approach these issues. One idea that stayed with me was to focus on creating “rich time” avoiding experiences  that create an attitude of just “passing time” for our students and our colleagues.

2014-07-31 11.24.48


Five: In response to Carol Varsalona’s  @cvarsalona call for photos and poems that fit the more relaxed mood of summer. I tweeted her a picture I took at sunset as well as a found poem. Within minutes, Carol Direct Messaged me. As the summer is not over yet check out Carole’s Summertime Serenity link up here.




And all of this because of this:


Celebrate: Summer Learning

Time to celebrate this  week with Ruth Ayers.  Read more here and consider joining in the weekly celebration of the big and little things in your life.

celebrate link up


Today, I have five rather big things i’d like to celebrate

FIRST: Two Writing Teachers. If you don’t already, subscribe to this blog. There is always something worthwhile and inspiring. Their teaching sticks with me as a writer and a teacher of writing. A perfect example of this is Dana Murphy’s recent post on internet writing. Every time I blog I’ll be thinking of the tips I took away from this post.  I’m working on word count (under 500), offering hyper links and when possible, bullet or list key points.

SECOND: A little reading and reflection. Blogged about my thinking here and here.

THIRD: My youngest as she learns to drive. I am so proud of her respect (read healthy fear) of driving. She is taking baby steps and I get to cheer her on. Don’t you love these keys. She sleeps with them.

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FOURTH: Twitter and TCRWP Summer Writing Institute. Every morning this week I woke up to look at the tweets coming from educators in New York CIty. I busily favorited and retweeted  the gems I saw. My fav’s from last week are storified here. They are all worth posting on your walls, your computer, your notebooks, wherever you find or need inspiration. This one is particularly appropriate:

FIFTH: TCRWP Reading Summer Institute all next week. .I am overwhelmed and grateful for the opportunity to walk on Columbia’s campus, enter Riverside Church, hear Lucy.  learn from TC staff with educators from all over the world, ride the A train, eat all over New York City, run in Central Park humidity, see my virtual colleagues for the first time, go to Bank Street Books, and even do some homework.  Boarding pass is on my phone. An extra bag is packed to carry back all the books I know I’ll HAVE to buy.

My heart  is bursting!




Celebrate: Breaks and Colleagues


celebrate link up

It’s Saturday! A day to find moments in our week worth celebrating. Join Ruth Ayers and others  here.

One. Spring Break!  I always think breaks are when I will catch up.
This never happens.
I may finish up and clean up a few things, but I tend to start things too:  projects and thinking that can leave me feeling like I actually got behind!
Strange as this may seem, I celebrate the opportunity breaks give me to find more.

Two. Teachers. One day this week I visited Tim Bedley’s 5th grade classroom.
I follow him on twitter and was intrigued with his work.
I knew he was geographically close, so I contacted him asking if I might observe his class.  He generously opened his room to me.
That act of trust shows so much.
I walked out of his classroom with ideas to process, but more importantly uplifted by his willingness to welcome me into his world.
I celebrate the spirit of educators who share, show, and teach by doing.

Three. Social Media. The other day one of my colleagues mentioned how I seemed more at peace with my teaching, and he wondered might have caused this.
I knew what he meant.
Twitter and blogs I told him. He just looked at me, completely blank.
He has no idea. How could he?
Not being a participant in this world he just can’t understand.
Before social media, the only voices I heard were in my school and mostly at my grade level. Now the voices are from many places and my thinking is pushed, yet at the same time supported. I don’t feel alone anymore.
I celebrate all of you out there who have opened my world of teaching, writing and reading.

Four. My colleague Amy. I am the one at my grade level who tends to push for something more or different. This could be a real pain. But my colleague Amy not only goes with it, she makes it better. Just yesterday (a day off), we met to talk about our next challenge.
I asked her:
Is this the best use of our time?
Is is the best thing for kids?
Should we change it?
Eliminate it?
Difficult to think this way when you only have seven weeks left in the school year.
But we sat down and for the next few hours we wrestled with possibilities. I love this about my colleague Amy.
I celebrate her energy and openness.

Five. #TeacherPoets. This is the first year I’ve really embraced poetry.
Today’s Teacher Poet Google hangout with Chris Lehman was inspirational.
Check out the link, view the videos, and join in on the next two sessions.
My hat’s off to Michelle Haseltine and Betsy Hubbard.
To hear them read and workshop their poems in this virtual writing world was brave and beautiful.
I am honored to be a part of this process and I secretly hope to have a poem workshopped–some day.
I celebrate all of us who work at poetry leaving our emotions on the page, looking closely, living in specifics, and describing things as best as we possibly can.



Slice of Life Day 20: Staying Calm

It all started with a fire alarm. I pull up, the alarm continues. Strange I think, a fire alarm and I’m unlocking the door and going in. It stops. Parent conference, need copies, bell rings, chaperone dropped out of field trip, PE data due, Future Leader nomination due, oh and don’t forget to get your book wish list in for Open House Friday, apps need to be down loaded, tech team.

Stay calm and ….copies in hand, my students meet me and we walk to the classroom.
Deep breath, let’s go.

We do what we do first, same as usual: breakfast in the classroom, I ignore that — vocabulary, I’m all over it.

The difference in my classroom today is the team of my colleagues watching. Today we started instructional rounds. They watched with their own lenses of discovery and then moved on to four other classrooms to observe. This was the first time these teachers, who had been teaching together for over ten years, had EVER seen each other teach.

Nine o’clock. I go with two of my students to do a podcast with Robert Bravo and Rudy Rizzo on twitter and blogging (yesterday’s slice). It was fun. What could be better, talking about something I’m passionate about and want to share with the world. The fact that I got to tell someone that can move the message further, all the better. My students rocked it.

Back to class by 9:30.

Fast forward to the end of the day, the two groups of teachers who did instructional rounds today meet in the library.

We talk, clarify, listen.

My big question for my colleagues was – did you like the experience?

I loved it I got at least three gems from each room.

Now I know what book clubs look like in the next grade. Now I know what I’m getting them ready for.

I just want all of the charts.

Everyone works so hard. There are no wasted minutes.

I’m just a sponge

Bottom line today was a really good day. Thanks to twitter,  edcampLA, and @MrZiebarth’s great resources for instructional rounds. Thanks to my terrific colleagues and great leadership.

What started with a fire alarm ended just about as good as I could have expected.

A happy ending for today.


Slice of Life Day 19: The Power of Social Media

For the month of March, I am blogging daily with Two Writing Teachers. Find more posts from other SOL writers here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI fell into the rabbit hole of twitter last summer. I was starving for new perspectives and innovation in my teaching.  I was primed for social media and all it has to offer.

The unending supply of teaching knowledge has me constantly pursuing things I find on twitter and on blogs. I buy books, share blogs, go to conferences, start to do crazy things like schedule my life around twitter chats and respond to crazy challenges like blogging daily for 31 days. Crazy.

The knowledge and depth of the PLN I’ve found makes my head spin. Processing all there is available and then passing on the knowledge I get as a teacher to my students is invigorating and at times confusing and exhausting. I am a learner, so bottom line I thrive in the world of twitter and blogging. Honestly that is all I ever want to do. Call me an expert and I get nervous. I’m much more comfortable being one who is learning and sharing that knowledge.

Word of my passion for social media has travelled far enough to attract the attention of Dr. Robert Bravo, (@robertbravo) Instructional Area Superintendent for my area in the exceedingly large school district I work in. Tomorrow, Dr. Bravo is coming to my school to tape a podcast with me and a few of my students who are avid writers and bloggers. My students are excited. It is exciting. But I’m nervous. Not really for what I might say but for something might I leave out. I hope I can communicate the incredible value of all that exists in the world of social media for educators and their students. I’m a learner and a teacher so for the sake of those like me, I’m more than willing to give it a shot.

Not all love social media, and that is ok. You can’t force it. My hope is, if we open up the door and let people take a look inside, the peak might be enticing enough for some folks to venture in, read a few tweets or posts and who knows, return for more.

Interestingly, word of my social media pursuits has reached beyond my professional life and has creeped into my personal life. Most people worry about the reverse happening.

Conversation with my daughter a few weeks ago-

Mom, my friend told me you have more followers than he does. 

What, is he following me?

No, he just looked you up.

Guess I’m just more popular. What can I say?

Conversation last night.

Change your twitter picture Mom I hate it.

Seriously are you are looking at my twitter?

No, I just don’t like your picture. Let me change it. 

Leave it alone.

I’m changing it.  

Grab. Click. Click. Click.

It’s done, don’t change it back.

Funny. I checked my computer. It didn’t take. Ha! Next she’ll be reading my blog.

Celebrating the Dialogue and the Possibilities

celebrate link upI love Saturday mornings. It gives me the opportunity to look back on the week and celebrate all the good. Thank you Ruth Ayers for creating a weekly celebration opportunity. Find out more here how you can start this practice.

My first celebration is for all of the people in my personal learning network (world) that responded to a call I made on twitter. Within five minutes I couldn’t keep up with the tweets. Not only from the folks I called upon but others.

The pros and cons of student-led conferences were discussed, as well as the time it took, how to make it positive, and how to avoid potential pitfalls. Lovely posts, direct messages and emails continued. Amazing. I now have a great place to start my thinking about how my students will enter this work.

The second celebration is the #TCRWP chat on argument and debate hosted by Maggie B. Roberts. My fifth graders are just starting with a Monday debate series, so this was perfect. So many smart people out there doing the work: basically holding up a flashlight so I can go down that path without hitting too many walls.  I want to celebrate this outstanding chart that guides students through the physical and mental process of debate.

If this was all I got out of the chat, I would be thrilled. But there was much more. The resources shared in this chat were overwhelming. I celebrate this archive and all of the contributors to it. This is a place I will go to study and grow my beginning practice as at teacher of debate.

Ah, the beauty of twitter. It’s not just the ideas, but the dialogue that I cherish. IT’s the people who question, try, and then share their results as possibilities. I celebrate the dialogue and am honored to be a part of it. 

The third celebration is for poetry. My students and I are getting a little more comfortable in the world of metaphor. We read “How is Meadow an Ocean?” by Laura Purdie Salas and then found a connection in The One and Only Ivan: “…her eyes are like Stella’s, black and long-lashed, bottomless lakes fringed by tall grass.” Ah Ivan is a poet!  And then there was this response to the poem on a student’s blog

My fourth celebration is for two days to reflect and reconnect. This weekend, time seems abundant and pressures lessened. I have no commitments. There is extra time. Time to take a little longer shower. Time to drink a cup of coffee at a table, not in the car. Time to read a newspaper article, a post and think about the next thing. Time to consider possibilities.

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.

Three Reasons Why My Classroom is Joyful

celebrate link up

My class of fifth graders are a true joy. I celebrate them daily. I mentioned this to my former principal and friend and she asked me why this class is special.

I came up with three reasons.

Reason One: I think classrooms are a chemistry of personalities. When it’s right, it’s sort of a Goldilocks occurrence. The just right mix of leaders, followers, givers, takers, tolerance, forgiveness and caring that allow people to live together. To share space and understand everyone’s little differences; to pick up something without being asked;  to say thank you or I’m sorry all because that is just what we do. This isn’t a perfect group of kids, but they are kind in their core. There are learning disabilities that can lead to tension, but in the end, students ability to reflect on behavior and what matters has led to general peace.

Reason Two: Stress levels are currently at an all time low.  Historically, my students’ idea of school has been mixed in with the need to perform on a test, and it showed.  As a class, they were noticeably anxious. I made it a point to get them to relax, take a breath and just be aware of where they are as learners. I want them to learn it is ok, in fact necessary, to make mistakes.

Why so relaxed? It all started because the test isn’t happening till 2014-15 school year. That gave me the courage to simply teach towards the spirit of the common core. While we have discussed the new expectations as a class, nothing has been done because it will be on the test.  I have been able to simply teach; looking at where students are as learners now, and moving towards where they need to be. I have been able to allow for growth and set backs without worrying about the test. I just worry about instigating learning, figuring out how learning occurs and fostering a positive self-aware attitude toward learning.

The final reason: In a word twitter.  Because of twitter I have discovered things that have had immediate impact on my class: Genius Hour, the Global Read Aloud, Skype, and kidblog. These new projects have changed the fabric and flow of my classroom.  Aside from these very tangible things, there are countless strategies, ideas, charts, lessons that have originated from twitter, twitter chats, blogs and follow-up emails.

The most important impact of twitter has been relationships: the giving group of educators who make the difference in my psyche as I enter the classroom. The positive vibe emanating from the twitterverse is formidable. Bad days occur. I have moments of feeling like I am the worst teacher in the world. Before twitter, those dark pits took time and a lot of energy to get out of. The encouraging voices on twitter and relationships I have built because of twitter have pulled me out of those funks quickly. Twitter has changed me. It doesn’t allow me to wallow in that dark place. It reflects hope and possibility on me and in turn I reflect it on my students. It’s no surprise they are a joyful bunch.

Making a Safe Place for Risky Thinking

I was a quiet and cautious kid.  I did not take risks. Share my ideas, not likely. i’d much rather play it safe.  I was the last kid in  swim class to jump off the high dive. To this day I remember the paralyzing fear. I was hanging in space alone, on a bouncy board, the pool so far away. Why did I jump? There was no other way out. I couldn’t turn back. I’d be lying if I told you I loved it. I didn’t. I still hate that hanging in space feeling. I was forced to do this. It was a requirement of the class.

tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com –

Over time, my risk-taking quotient increased. This year in teaching I’ve taken the biggest risks, made the biggest changes. So much of this change has been because of the network of teacher/learners on twitter, their blogs and their always supportive stance.  

It’s scary…

I regularly see the tweets: How to Get Teachers Over the Fear of Tweeting. I “get” that fear. At first I lurked, unseen no one would know. Then my big mouth got the better of my fear and I finally tweeted. Pushing the tweet button was a jump. For days I worried about tweet I’d made. I survived and unlike the high dive, no one made me. I did it on my own. Then I got support. I was retweeted. Oh my gosh, someone agrees! Maybe I’m worthy?

Once someone followed me, I was hooked. I belong! Now tweeting is as easy as breathing and as gratifying as eating ice cream.  I rush home to get to chats, and I’m extremely upset if I miss them. I was on a mission to get others at my school involved. A few adventurous souls do. They tell me they enjoy what I tweet, and I retweet them. I figure if I can get a few to put their toe in the water, maybe they will jump in.  As each one gets support, starts to belong,  they will spread the word to at least one other person. 

Responding to blogs was the next scary thing. Again I worried about what I said. But the responses I got back from the bloggers made it not only ok, but welcome. After all these are teachers, of course they were encouraging. 

With success, all of a sudden you crave it

So with all this encouragement, how about a blog? From the kid who wouldn’t raise her hand in class. Why? In large part because of the generous and supportive spirit of the twitter teacher community. While it was scary,  I felt safe, safe enough to try. 

My most recent jump, direct messaging. That may sound strange as another step, but it is personal. A reaching out to one person, no hiding. I worried: am I being presumptuous? Asking too much?  I was really concerned about something in my classroom and one person jumped into my mind. One person who would take the time and have the resources to help. So I direct messaged  Fran McVeigh. What followed was a long conversation about my writer’s workshop. Strategies were developed. My next steps clear, and a reminder to stay calm, take a breath. Thank you Fran, you’ve never met me but you know me!

Bringing my personal learning back to the classroom space

It’s week three and lots of parent questionnaires are rolling in. Another first this year, thank you Pernille Ripp for the generous sharing of your questionnaire. The responses are beautiful. I immediately felt that tremendous love and concern parents have for their kids. I felt honored to be let into their lives and obligated to foster these fragile beings. Amy Smith’s eloquent blog sends a message we all need to keep in our forethoughts when we invite our students in to class. All have their strengths and their fears.

They are me. Afraid to jump, share, speak, be. So what does it take to feel safe enough to  jump, to take risks with ideas, to put your thoughts in the air, on paper, on a blog? Here are some things I learned about risk taking and learning during my summer of lurking, tweeting, commenting and blogging. I think it applies very nicely to our classroom spaces.

Requirements for a Safe Place for Fragile Thoughts and Almost There Ideas

Where Risk Taking to Learn is Encouraged

1. There must be free will. It is not forced. There is a choice.

2. You are allowed to watch, to lurk.

3. There are baby steps that are supported: I agree!

4. There is a cheering section: Thank you, your thoughts matter.

5. There is a chance to lead other learners: You are the expert, show us.

6. There are experts to lean on, to help us through our tough moments:

Who can help me?

7. There are open spaces without judgement to express and discover

who you are,  and what you believe.

 As always, feel free to share your thoughts.