In Good Company

slice of life

We are excited to be slicing from the pews of Riverside Church in NYC today. Currently, thousands of teachers are pouring in the Nave, filling up every inch of space, waiting to hear from the lovely Patricia Polacco.

As Lucy Calkins settles the crowds, she invites us to join in this day of learning as colleagues.  And we are.

Then she describes today as a gift. And it is.

We are surrounded by teachers who love teaching and the promise of their profession.  It’s a testament to the We don’t know it all,  We want to learn more, We think we can do better attitude that teachers bring to work every day.

And this little slice of our life today will surely inspire many of the other unthought, unwritten slices that are still to come.

We’re in good company today.

For all of today’s Slice of Life stories head to Two Writing Teachers.

~ Jen and Darla

The Weariness Test

This is a test. A test of stamina. Determination. Fortitude.

* * *

Often times, when we are at the end of our road, we are faced with a weariness test. It doesn’t come when we are fresh, bright-eyed and enthusiastic. It comes when we are in the last few laps of the challenge. The test comes when exhaustion sets in. When we feel empty. Right about where we slicers are now—in that final stretch.

Five more days, to be exact.

But it’s at this point when we have the chance to grow in a unique way. To become more of who we are, who we want to be.

We can choose to keep pushing through, or, we can choose to give up and abandon ship.

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If you are considering throwing in the pencil, breaking it, or possibly unplugging your computer forever, below are some words that might help push you along.

Confession: These words are more for US than you.

Don’t give up!

You’re almost there!

Keep going!

Just a little bit more!

Your gold is at the end of this rainbow!

You can do it!

You are amazing!

No one can stop you!

You are a winner!

You will finish!

And then you’ll look back.

Smile.

And move on to the next test.

Because  …

that’s just who you are.

* * *

We’ll see you at the finish line.

For all of the day’s Slice of Life Stories head over to Two Writing Teachers.

Darla & Jen

Broaden Your Vision, Narrow Your Focus

slice of life

When I was preparing to be interviewed for my current position, I knew that the most important question I would have to answer was “What’s your vision for the library?”

My vision? Well, I knew one thing for sure. My library wasn’t going to be quiet. There would be books…of course! But instead of students silently reading in a chair somewhere, I pictured kids here and there, talking (out loud) about what they were reading, researching, learning. (Ok, there were a few things I knew for sure.) This library I had in my head was very very busy. 

I love lists and took to my notebook with frenzied fury, jotting down easily a list of twenty ideas I had. 

* Weed and update the collection.

* Write new units of study and exploration.

* Connect with authors and illustrators.

* Sponsor whole school literacy events.

* Foster an atmosphere for reading, writing, and talking about books.

The list went on and on. At some point, I had to stop making lists and start thinking about how all of these ideas would fit into a plan…a plan for the library I saw in my head, felt in in my heart.  I knew I would have to focus on one or two areas at a time if I was going to accomplish anything at all.

……….

 Teaching is so much about vision, isn’t it? We think about our vision for our students, the school year, even our own professional lives. We know that teachers have really broadened their vision of education to meet the needs of students growing up in the 21st century. Whereas the goals of a school year used to be mastery of multiplication tables and grammar rules, we’ve extended our vision to include creation, collaboration, and connection.  Our hopes for our students far exceed what teachers of twentieth century thought possible.

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Moving forward, with a picture in our mind about what our 21st century classroom should look like, it’s easy to become overwhelmed chasing one idea after another.  Where do we put our efforts? What do we invest in?

The vast scope of ideas can be even more daunting for connected educators, who have a constant stream of Try this or this, Do it this way, Read this now! in our Twitter feeds or Pinterest boards.

We know we can’t do it all, even though in our hearts we want to.  We try more and more only to accomplish less and less. And often, our vision begins to seem like a burden.

So, we have a rule. The Rule of One. Try one new thing at a time. Teach yourself one new tool, one new technology, set yourself one goal at a time, and put your heart and soul into reaching it.

We follow this rule whenever we read a new book, go to day of workshops, or even join a Twitter chat.  TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion is coming up this weekend, and we know that we will be leaving with a notebook full of ideas. But, what we’ll be thinking about on the ride home is that one idea that we’ll try on Monday. And Tuesday, and Wednesday, and as much as we need to try it before we’re ready to move on to another idea.

You know that picture you have in your head? You’ll get there. One step at a time.

Narrow your focus, so you can continue to broaden your vision.

For all of the day’s Slice of Life Stories head over to Two Writing Teachers.

~ Jen and Darla

Partnerships

slice of life

Student writers support one another.

We teach them how.

They peer edit.

Peer revise.

Give one another ‘glows and grows.’

Ask questions of one another.

Compliment.

Face frustrations together.

Grow together.

There’s power in partnerships.

Theirs.

And ours.

 * * *

Yesterday, we wrote about the ways we’ve grown by participating in the SOL writing community. Being inspired by the many passions–students, gardens, animals, to name a few. Learning how our own posts affected others through their comments and feedback. And mostly, enjoying the camaraderie and encouragement of other writers–being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Today we take a step back to reflect on how we’ve grown as a partnership.

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We’ve realized partners get to know one another’s work deeply. We learn about one another’s habits, routines, and writing territories. For example, Jen comes to the table with lots of ideas and tends to do more outlining before she writes. Darla gets inspired by daily events and builds on ideas that way. Jen writes late into the evening. Darla writes in early evening or in the wee hours of the morning.

Partners begin to mirror one another’s work. One inspired by the other. We’ve noticed this with elements of our craft, and how our pieces often build on the work of the other. We see it in our composing. Our work begins to weave together. One writer picking up where the other has left off. Many of our pieces go this way. One of us will start with an anecdotal lead, and the other will fill in the details.

Partners can support one another with topics because we know one another’s strengths. We can suggest next steps because we know our shared territories. And when one of us is stuck, we often know how to push the other in exactly the right direction.

As always, we connect our learning and growth to what we do with our students. We wonder, how can we support stronger partnerships based on what we’ve learned.

Some quick things come to mind: Keep partners together longer. Help them get to know one another better as writers. Let them compose pieces together. Encourage them to push one another, support one another.

Show them how.

What writing partnerships are you supporting? How has a writing partnership sustained you as a writer?

We’d love to hear.

For all of the day’s Slice of Life stories, head over to Two Writing Teachers.

Darla & Jen

A Happy Little Thing

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Just a week remains in the Slice of Life Challenge. This was our first year participating in SOL, and we were very excited to jump in and get writing.  For a few days, the ideas were flowing, we were doing a bit of high-fiving, thinking We’ve got this, no problem. Then, somewhere toward the end of week two, we found ourselves staring at the blank screen a little longer each night, and posting a little later each day. But, despite a few days with writer’s block (enter some cheesy poetry), we have been really inspired by this event, and we know that we are growing as writers, educators, and people.

What we have loved the most about this challenge is the Slice of Life community. We have enjoyed reading about people’s families, and classrooms, pets, and gardens.  We have been overwhelmed by all of the kind comments that our new friends have left on our posts…really, truly thoughtful comments with feedback, encouragement, and words of wisdom.

So, we thought that we’d take a break today to just say

Thank You.

And for all of the inspiration you’ve given us so far, we’d love to share a video about those powerful words. It’s called A Happy Little Thing Called Thank You. There are a lot of versions of this experiment floating around, but this one, that we discovered about a year ago, is our favorite.

We hope that you’ll take a few minutes to watch (tissues in hand), as it is well worth it.  And know that we are very grateful to be spending this month with all of you.

For all of the day’s Slice of Life stories, head over to Two Writing Teachers.

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~ Jen and Darla

What If

slice of life

Recently I’ve been making plans for a Makerspace in our elementary library. About a month ago, Makerspaces weren’t even on my radar.  Shannon Miller had written a blog piece about Makerspaces on the go, after which one article led to another and another until I was up at one in the morning watching Ted Talks about the 21st century library.  After reading Laura Fleming’s (@NMHS_lms) book Worlds of Making, and making lots of notebook lists, I felt like I was ready to pitch the idea to my principal. Almost. 

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You see, I’m new to our library this year. After twelve years as a fourth grade teacher, I jumped at the chance to interview for the Teacher of Media position that opened in my building. Our school had been without a librarian for several years, and the space needed some work. With the support of my administration we’ve made a lot of changes. Some changes were easy: new shelving, weeding an outdated collection, ordering lots of new books.  Others made me nervous: recommending an ebook site for purchase, building a new curriculum from scratch, implementing a whole school read aloud, or an author Skype with 200 of our students. 

There are changes that I make with complete confidence. Books. I know books. I never doubt myself when I place an order. Other changes keep me up at night. I lie in bed thinking about the What Ifs. What if no one likes this idea? What if there are glitches and instruction time gets wasted?  What if people think I don’t know what I’m doing? What if, what if, what if?

…………

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………..

It’s the change that we’re not 100% sure about that scares us.  Maybe you’re implementing a new unit of study in your grade level, or embarking on a new project with your students. You might be trying Genius Hour for the first time or starting to blog in your classroom. It’s easy for our fear of trying something new to crowd out the obvious positives.

What If this is too hard for my students?

What if a parent doesn’t like this idea?

What if I get observed while my new lesson is failing miserably?

What If can be a powerful deterrent, especially for those of us who like to cross our Ts and dot our Is before proceeding.  Many times we feel like we need to be an expert before we implement a new idea.  However, we know that the road to expertise has a lot of trial and error along the way.  Until we try something with our students, we will always have a long list of what ifs.   It’s rare that the first time will be the best time, and we need to remember that success does not equal immediate perfection.  We think it’s time to start looking at What If in a whole new way.

What If this makes the difference in a student’s life?

What If this inspires the whole school community?

What If this was exactly what was missing?

What If this is the best thing we never tried?

………….

There are still a lot of What Ifs in my mind when it comes to adding a Makerspace to our library.  Libraries are supposed to be quiet, right? What will people think if it becomes one of the noisier spaces in our building? Libraries are about books, aren’t they? Why do we need Legos and duct tape and scraps of paper and cardboard?  What will the schedule look like? How much instruction will be needed?

But what if this helps a child discover his passion?

What if this inspires more reading and writing?

What if we work together and make discoveries and change our learning lives?

In the end, it was the What Ifs that gave me the confidence to go to my principal. And with a list of What Ifs like this, the answer was

Why Not?

………….

For all of the day’s Slice of Life stories head over to Two Writing Teachers.

~ Jen and Darla