Summer Learning, Had me a Blast, Summer Learning Happened so Fast

 

Disclosure: This post was written in September 2015, I never hit the “publish” button, but as I begin to think about and plan ongoing professional development during this school year and for next summer I feel this urgency to finally hit publish.

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It is has been a while since my last post and just as I am reflecting on my summer I scroll through the many blog posts I have drafted and not yet published.  I am beginning to feel overwhelmed by this, yet I know hitting the “publish” button just once will help me to get one step closer to completing my numerous drafts.

Last night finally I was out to dinner with my husband and friends, as we stepped out of the car for the valet parking the cold air hit me, it was then that I realized summer is over. I looked out at the marina, the boats and the water and then I felt the air again, it was cold. A sudden sadness came over me.  The summer ended, the warm sun, the beach, the sand the salt air, it was over. Later as I sat at my computer,  I realized not only did my personal summer go so fast, but so did my professional summer.  Starting a new position in July and several professional learning opportunities helped the summer months fly by for me.  This realization pressed against me and I felt the urgency to write this post about my summer learning.  Perhaps this will help me to embrace the beautiful fall, the pumpkins, the leaves changing and the most exciting part of fall- when children arrive back at school.

Long Island Connected Leadership Institute 

This was a great opportunity led by Dr. Bill Brennan, this day was about sharing the power of being a connected educator with teams from our schools on Long Island. For me this was a day with colleagues and friends from the district I was departing from and an opportunity to learn alongside so many other educational leaders taking part in this institute.  The big takeaway: there are endless possibilities when you become a connected educator and this knowledge and understanding needs to continue to spread so that it will have a positive impact on learning for ourselves and most of all our students.

EdCamplLdr The Hamptons

The Hamptons, who would not want to be in the Hampton on a mid-July day?  I can tell you the turn out for Edcamp Leadership New York in the Hamptons was impressive.  On this day I felt proud to be a part of the whole experience, but I really and truly felt proud to be an educator on Long Island.  I remember the excitement in Dennis Shrug‘s voice when he first explained to me his vision in bringing EdCampLdr to NY.  It is that energy and passion that drove so may Long Island educators to Dennis’ Hampton Bays Middle School.  Similar to a great night out at dinner, you often hear comments about the ambiance of the restaurant, the people you share your meal with, the restaurant staff and of course the food.  For us that day at EdCampLdr, it was the impressive school building that fostered intellectual curiosity in its design, the people who we talked with in different sessions, the people we sat and had lunch with, and finally those who shared at the end of the day smackdown.  The big takeaway: there is so much to learn from fellow Long Island educators any opportunity that brings together dedicated educators is well worth the time.

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Institute in American History and Content Literacy

This was my second summer attending this institute, in this case however I had the extreme honor of participating along with Jasmine Junsey as a peer leader.  The partnership between Colonial Williamsburg and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project was possible through a very generous donor from Long Island and I am forever thankful for her generosity and the impact it has had on so many educators and students.  Taking part in the planning along with Jasmine, I learned from Emily Butler Smith, Tab BroylesAndy Engels, Jodi Norman and Erin Sloan in deeper and more profound ways than I had the summer before as a participant.  To say that this experience changed me as an educator is an understatement.  Since the first day I put my feet down on the ground in Colonial Williamsburg that first summer, my mindset around the teaching of social studies has forever changed.  The big takeaway:  in learning social studies and content literacy it is all about the thinking.  The habits of mind that we instill in our students, those are the skills that carry over to any content in social studies, or any content in general.  When it comes to learning, it is all about the thinking.

Summer Learning Collaborative

In a new position as the Director of Elementary Education, I was fortunate to be handed this incredible idea.  The district ran a summer reading program the year before and this year in addition to the students learning, the new vision involved many learners; students, graduate students, district teachers and parents.  This idea was like a dream for me, it  connected with my passion around learning in the company of others — I could not wait to begin planning.  I felt as if I won the Golden Ticket!

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I planned along with Dr. Erica Pecorale the district’s literacy professional developer and Director of Teacher Education for Long Island University at the Riverhead Campus, she shared the vision of the summer learning plan.  This plan brought together a public school district, a university, professional texts, and most importantly the people behind them; the  students, the parents, the teachers and the authors.   As we planned with  Jennifer Hayhurst, Literacy Coach  our ideas came together and grew as I learned in greater depths about the true power of collaboration and what can happen when people who share passions come together to advance learning for all, children and adults alike.  We spent endless hours on Google Hangouts planning our 3 weeks to ensure that students, teachers and parents would be involved in a learning experience that would connect them through ideas around shared texts. We blended district teachers with graduate students working in their literacy practicuum and gave them opportunities for peer coaching in classrooms with students.  We blended collaboration and reflection time outside of the classroom.  We brought in Stacey Shubitz and Barb Golub to engage teachers and graduate students in thinking and learning around conferring and toolkits for reading and writing workshop.  We purchased books (Jen Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book and Tanny McGregor’s book Comprehension Connections ) for teachers and studied those books together and practiced these strategies in classrooms each day.  We shared these practices with parents over the course of three parent and child workshops.  We were learning in the company of others and all of us grew in our thinking around critical ideas in advancing literacy learning for all students.

As a new administrator in this district, this was an opportunity to learn alongside so many amazing educators, to get to know teachers, parents and students as learners.  The big takeaway:  when you pull together partners in education and spread the idea of learning and collaboration and commit to this, everyone wins!

March 18, 2015 Day 18 Slice of Life Challenge

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Celebrations Big or Small, They are all Important

Today I attended a writing workshop celebration that brought three 5th grade classrooms together. I watched as the teachers collaborated and the students collaborated.  Student writing was everywhere, checklists were available and students were referring to the checklists as they left two stars and a wish for each piece of writing they read. I celebrate this today because this year we are trying out some new ideas in our building writing celebrations and being a witness to the beginning of new collaborations and the growing of ideas is amazing. It amazes me to witness growth in students and adults alike.  I can be a bit of a geek that way.

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Earlier in the day I attended a smaller celebration in a 6th grade social studies class.  The 6th graders were presenting their social studies research and students were engaged in “Power Note Taking” that they learned in their information writing unit in writing workshop. Although the size of this celebration may be less in numbers of students involved, this celebration was big for me!  This class had transferred skills from writing workshop into social studies.  This class was teaching others about the topics they researched.  This class was sharing projects that they created in collaboration with peers as a culmination of their research.  This teacher and this class is beginning to transform their social studies classroom. I also attended the writing celebration for this class the week before, and it was powerful to see the skills being practiced across the content areas.  I celebrate this today because I am a witness again to amazing growth in students and adults alike.

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Last week I attended another 6th grade social studies class as they celebrated their research and learning in the content area.  I listened to presentations in small groups, I listened to whole class presentations that utilized technology, I spoke with students who learned so much about their topics while applying skills that are transferring from their literacy lessons in reading and writing workshop.  These students taught me about Anubis, Egyptian pyramids, the mummification process, the Nile River and the so much more.  One student after he taught the class, checked for understanding in his presentation and offered pencils to all participants.  The energy and excitement of learning through inquiry amazes me.  I celebrate this today because I am once again a witness to an amazing teacher and amazing 6th graders who allow me to watch and learn alongside them as they grow in amazing ways.

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Tomorrow I will be attending a literacy celebration in 6th grade on Information Writing around the topic of teen activism. This will be shared among 4 classrooms, and I am especially looking forward to this celebration because this unit is close to my heart.  Last year I was part of an awesome celebration in one classroom in my school around this unit.  I am looking forward to this celebration because like the 5th grade writing celebration today, this is another one that involved collaboration by several teachers and their students.  I celebrate this today because I am so fortunate to be a part of all these celebrations where I take in all the wonder of learning that happens for us as human beings, not just students, not just teachers but as human beings.  Humans grow in amazing ways.

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March 15, 2015 Day 15 Slice of Life Challenge

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h Practice in Literacy, in Teaching and in Life 

Yesterday in my blog I wrote about my daughter and her puppy Ezra, and how we attempted to make him a shirt. Yesterday we ended up with a scarf. Today my daughter, independently with just a bit of lean coaching in from me completed a shirt for Ezra. In fact I only coached in at the beginning and at the end just nudging her along with a tip and answering a question or two. The bulk of her practice was independent while I was out shopping and taking my son out to practice driving.

Ezra with Shirt

Practice

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word practice means to do something again and again in order to become better at it.  As a literacy coach I often talk about how students need to practice repeatedly in order to improve.  For instance, in the mini lesson of reading or writing workshop we ensure students have guided practice in the gradual release of responsibility model that we follow.  Here students have an opportunity to practice with a partner, with the teacher close by, listening in to assess for the next steps.  Once students go back to independent workshop time students will need to practice the skills or strategies that they are working on.  This works well for habits, skills or content that most of the class will need to practice.

If we meet with students, set individual goals related to either habits, skills or content students will then need to practice that skill for sometime. They will need to repeat it many times until they become better at it.  I believe this is where the most important practice happens.  It is especially important to carry these goals for a long enough time that they do improve and maintain the habit, skill or content understanding.

This also made me think a bit deeper about practice in all learning experiences, as adult learners do we allow enough time for our own practice? It seems to me that teachers and other adults in the education community forget that teaching is a practice, and as such when we are learning something new would then need to engage in practice along with approximations along the way.  I usually refer to the process of learning as a messy process and we often say embrace the mess when you enter my office which is also our professional learning community room.  I wonder though, if teachers really are allowed enough time to practice new instructional practices and are they allowed approximations in that practice.  I wonder if we as teachers allow ourselves that time to learn.  So many times I see teachers who are hard on themselves, often not allowing for practice time or any sort of approximations.  Sometimes this turns into resistance to any sort of change, because it is really fear of failure.  If we believe that as research shows we have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than any other time period in our history it seems imperative that we embrace teaching as a practice and that we seek to continually improve our practice.  To do this we have to allow time for practice, space for mistakes, trials or approximations.  We need time to practice, to do something again and again in order to become better at it.

March 10, 2015 Day 10 Slice of Life Challenge

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One morning before school started I had plans to work on a bulletin board. I searched the building for the ladder, the one with the tall side bars and the wheels and side legs that often got  stuck.

ps rolling ladders_0 As I was pushing the ladder, there were times going down the hall that I had to push the ladder and other times I had to pull the ladder.  It was a bit frustrating to say the least.  I am also pretty sure there are people in my building with more expertise with this ladder, but no one was around to help, so I tried to figure it out myself. How I wished there was an expert around at that moment to give me advice.  I was moving pretty quickly down the hall, pulling the ladder behind me with one hand.  Feeling satisfied until the ladder stopped with a sudden halt.  At that moment I could not pull the ladder any more, the only way to move it now was to push the ladder.  And again, I found a rhythm this time pushing the ladder.  I could see the bulletin board ahead, I was almost there.  I was grateful for this sight ahead since I spent more time looking for the ladder and pushing or pulling it to the bulletin board than it might take me to decorate the bulletin board.  Lost in this thought as I am pushing the ladder, I smack into the ladder when it stopped once more.

At that moment I could have become frustrated with this situation, but it occurred to me that instead I could appreciate this moment as a moment of understanding and growth.  There was a metaphor here that I could learn from.  Sometimes in life we can be pulled along, while other times we have to be pushed ahead. bulletin board

As educators it is easy to put the brakes on and stop when we are being pushed or pulled in a certain direction.  Currently in education we are at a time that some find frustrating and trying, and others find to be exciting. There is so much information that is readily available to us and we can connect with experts from all over the world through the internet and various forms of social media. There are so many ways to think about a situation, just because it was always done this way, or it works for “me” does not mean this is right for students — the learners we proudly serve.  What we may need at that time is either a gentle pull or a gentle push to bring us along.

This is something I will try to remember as I continue to work with adult and student learners.  It seems that sometimes in order to grow we all need a gentle pull or push to bring us along.

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March 9, 2015 Day 9 Slice of Life Challenge

who you are makes a difference 217

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Today I had a perfect lunch.  It was perfect because of the people I shared it with.  As a literacy coach in my building I do not have my own classroom, so days like this are pretty special for me.  I often reflect that I am the luckiest teacher in the building simply because I get to spend time with all the students in my school.  But I also miss out on the relationships that form in a classroom. This year there is one class that is especially close to my heart, so I was looking for ways to continue to foster a relationship that started early on in the school year.

One night during a #G2Great chat on Twitter I was inspired by two of my colleagues who make lunch time their time with students.  So after our winter recess I decided to set aside days that I could have my lunch with students.  Their teacher is helpful in scheduling students to join me and it is nice to work as a team on behalf of our students. I think it is helpful to her too, as a new teacher she came in as a leave replacement and so we have been on this journey together for much of this year.  I have witnessed these students grow since she took over the class and this gives us an opportunity to share our thoughts and ideas as to best support her class.  Usually I have some project I need them to help me with and they are more than excited to take on some part of making our school a better place.  We listen to music, eat, talk and work a bit.  It usually ends with students choosing some books to borrow from my bookshelves. There is something amazing about that!

So today, while we shared our lunch time and chatted casually I enjoyed the laughing and stories they shared with me.  We talked about pets; puppies and kittens and shared our stories.  We talked about vacations and things we enjoy to do when we are not in school.

This time, time which we would not otherwise have, has really made a difference for me. I believe it has made a difference for them too.  We have broke up the monotony of indoor recess (due to our never ending inclement weather this winter), we have fostered relationships and we have used the time to create beautiful decorations to hang on the walls of our school.

Slice of Life March Challenge March 1, 2015

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“What’s your story?”  These were the words I heard as I was on the checkout line at Walgreens during my lunch break.  In my mind I was rushing in to grab a few bags of candy for an after school professional development, going over checklists in my head while I was watching the clock.

The line was long and slow, before I heard the older woman at the check out say this, I had been pre-occupied in my thoughts, finding myself annoyed with the wait.  When those words traveled through the air, they stopped me right in my thoughts.  She followed that question with, “Well you know, everybody got a story Miss.”  The line may have been moving slow, but this woman, this woman who worked at Walgreens was so much more insightful than I, she knew everyone had a story and she, she wanted to listen. Time could keep on going, she wanted to hear everyone’s story and I imagine this was the rhythm of her day, connecting narratives and people as the minutes and hours passed on her shift.

I have told this story to others, especially when I have coached or taught instruction in writing and I saved this story in my list of things to blog about, it is only now when (the night before the SOL challenge begins) I realize just how insightful and what an impact this woman, this woman who was checking out the customers at Walgreens had been.

So through the 31 days of March, I will write a blog post for each day and as I do, I will hold this woman close in my heart and my mind.  Her words and this challenge will push me to write each and everyday.  I will charge myself to listen for stories each day, and make time to really listen during those ordinary moments.