Celebrate: Montana National Writing Project 2017

I just completed 2 weeks at Montana’s National Writing Project. It was an incredible 10 days of learning full of writing, sharing, and fantastic, focused learning around writing instruction. The 30+ teacher educators I learned alongside were amazing and represented a wide variety of teaching backgrounds, making the overall experience unforgettable.

Having never attended a NWP institute, I was not entirely sure what to expect. What I came to discover was the NWP experience is what you bring in, what you presently & concurrently engage in as you participate in the work, and what you purposefully take back to your classroom and implement with your students.

You will write! A lot. Makes sense, since it is the Montana Writing Project, right? After all, we are all teachers of writing in one capacity or another, and if we are going to expect our students to write, we should ourselves embrace & delve into the writing process.

And what better place to do that than here! Surrounded by supportive leaders who want only to see each participant grow and succeed in bettering their instructional practice. The MTWP is a safe, inviting, and engaging environment for any educator who wishes to improve both as a teacher and a writer.

The leadership team painstakingly ensures that everything participants do has been thoughtfully planned in advance and is meticulously supported with the appropriate balance of resources, activities, and solid model teaching. Despite the fact we are a group of 30+ educators who teach K-16, each one of us I am certain left class each day having been challenged, renewed, and feeling empowered as teachers.

The MTWP builds literacy leaders. The leadership team models this for us as classroom teachers themselves just like the rest of us. This is powerful to me personally. Often I think classroom teachers equate educational leaders to consultants, professors, and administrators exclusively. While these educators certainly do sit in positions of leadership from whom we can and do learn a great deal from, classroom teachers must also see themselves as powerful leaders who have valuable and insightful first-hand knowledge to share.

The daily in-the-trenches experiences we all have from our presence in classrooms each day, working side-by-side with students gives us a different platform to stand on. Not to imply that we know more or are the experts, but rather that we can share the here-and-now of both the challenges and victories that come right out of our classrooms. We understand the struggles that come with unmotivated learners, unreliable technology, and unrealistic demands on our time. We live it. Every.single.day.

Those who don’t let themselves get weighed down in the muck and mire of the struggles but instead persevere, believing that their unmotivated student will show up in class today, the day’s lesson will be engaging, and the students will meet the learning goals for the unit of study are the teachers who need to step into leadership roles.

It doesn’t have to be a 3-hour Powerpoint presentation to every teacher in the district. It doesn’t even have to be sharing at a staff meeting (but that is a great place to start). Instead, it could just simply be sharing with your grade level colleagues and a PLC. Inviting them to watch you teach a lesson, then offering to watch them and share feedback with each other.

My experience at the Montana National Writing Project taught me that leadership can start small. It just needs to start.

Thank you, Ruth Ayres, for creating a place for teachers to Celebrate. Share your story of celebration with others by clicking the image below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: This Is Just To Say

I am enjoying my final day at the Montana National Writing Project. It has been an incredible 2 weeks of learning on the campus of the University of Montana with a diverse group of K-16 educators.

Earlier this week we were introduced to a unique style of poetry known as This Is Just To Say. You can read the original here and/or discover a wonderful book full of them here. As a fledgling poet, I was immediately drawn to the unique approach to this style of poetry, and was excited for the opportunity to try one in our workshop.

I hope you enjoy my piece, and if you have not ever written one yourself, I encourage you to have a go with one – and share it with me!

This Is Just To Say

Thank you to Heidi @ My Juicy Little Universe for hosting Poetry Friday today. Please share your poetry with everyone by clicking the image below.

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SOL: Here & Now…Remembering Here & Then

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Today I arrived for my first day of the Montana Writing Project, a 2-week institute which is part of the National Writing Project. It is taking place on the campus I attended for the final 3 semesters of my undergraduate work. While I have visited the campus for various events since I was a student here, I found myself feeling quite different today, returning as a student.

As I arrived on campus this morning, I found myself doing the math in my head, realizing it was 20 years ago when I arrived in June to take 6 weeks of summer coursework. My now 23 year-old daughter was 3, and as a single mom, it made more sense for her to remain at home with my mom and dad, while I made the 2 hours commute back and forth on weekends.

Walking the campus this morning, I found myself flooded with vivid memories of a time so long ago, yet it felt like it was yesterday. The sights and sounds of familiar buildings I spent a great deal of time in brought the details of those days back to the forefront of my mind, and I found myself feeling a bit like I was back in time momentarily, reflecting on so many memories filled with both struggle and joy.

I remembered the Sunday afternoon I had to say goodbye to my daughter, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia just that morning in the E.R. My parents were my heroes in moments like that. Their support and encouragement as I worked to earn my teaching degree was fierce, and their love for their granddaughter was exponentially fiercer. I knew she was in the best hands, and over the next weeks, my mom would email me every day detailing all of their daily activities so that I never felt far away from my little girl. I didn’t know why at the time,  but I printed those emails, and still have every one. I dug them out when my mom passed away in 2016, and the comfort they brought me is immeasurable.

I watched my little girl grow up, and just one year ago, watched as she graduated on this campus. Interestingly, when we were here for graduation, I didn’t find myself experiencing the same flood of emotions I did today. Perhaps that is because it was her day, and her celebration. Today it feels like my day, and my reflection. To be here, and remember then.

 

DigiLitSunday: Problem Solving

As teachers, much of what we do on a daily basis revolves around problem solving. Classroom management challenges, instructional pitfalls (both expected & unexpected), students who are not progressing in an intervention, collegial relationships under strain…the list can sometimes feel never-ending.

I am a go-to problem solver. It is how I am wired. When it comes to problems that arise within the walls of my classroom or my school, dialoguing in the company of my colleagues is one of the best places to be where problem solving can take root and impact students, teachers, and systems positively.

This morning I listened to a powerful podcast around this very topic. Cornelius Minor shared how teachers can build an effective teaching team using the analogy of superheros. Everyone has something to contribute to a cause, and taking the time to seek out & identify each person’s strengths/interests/passions can lead to the creation of what can be a powerful & effective team both for teachers and students, and he nudges listeners to consider what each team member can bring to the table to better the work they are doing. This “recruit from the group” mentality takes a team of people who are willing to be honest, transparent, and I would add brave, as everyone comes together to create a solutions-based approach to problem solving that needs to be done.

One idea Cornelius suggested around building an effective team is designing your time when you come together to meet. Because time is something teachers never seem to have enough of, it must be acknowledged that making time is a required sacrifice everyone makes together.

To that end, he specifically suggests that everyone ask each other for 7 minutes a week. Seven minutes? Yes, seven. If those seven minutes are deliberate, focused, and always directed at the heart of the work at hand, a LOT can be accomplished in those few minutes. The first one or two minutes should be a check-in with everyone – now this is important..it is not complain time, because we all know we teachers do the complain thing really well. Cornelius suggests that status check-in should be full of *nouns* and not *verbs.* “This *unit* is going well” or “This *student* is showing growth” offer opportunities for everyone to share what is working, or simply where each person is within the journey of the group’s collective work.

Effective teams will likely need more than 7 minutes a week to work through the problem solving process and eventually accomplish big work. Certainly there will be longer, highly intentional meetings around issues that need attention. However, it is the consistent, intentional team building practices (like weekly 7-minute check-ins to name just one) that create and maintain the integrity and collective problem solving power of an effective team.

Thank you to Margaret Simon for this DigiLitSunday topic and for creating the space for everyone to share their approach to problem solving in any area of their teaching life. Click here to add your story and link up with others who are doing the same.

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Poetry Friday: Summer is Coming

Blogging is a new adventure for me. With the help & encouragement of my friend Margaret Simon I am connecting with other bloggers through blog link-ups. She is also introducing me to poetry, mentoring me as I attempt to better understand the art of poetry and dip my toes into the world of writing poetry.

I find myself looking through the world with different eyes lately. I think more deeply about my surroundings, stretching myself to see beyond what is in front of me. I have been hiking for the last several weeks at a nearby state park, and as the weather is warming up, at long last we are preparing for the summer months that are just around the corner.

These journeys outside are the inspiration for my first Poetry Friday poem:

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Thank you to Buffy @ Buffy’s Blog for hosting today’s Poetry Friday link-up. If you would like to join us, click here.

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SOL: A special celebration of books!

As a child I was one of the lucky ones. Every night, my parents read to me. They both valued reading and children’s books a great deal. My dad was a principal, and my mom was a paraeducator in the library of my elementary school. She made sure I had a steady diet of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Roald Dahl. I grew up appreciating books, but it wasn’t until my children’s literature course in college that I felt transformed. The storybooks of my youth looked different and I felt I was reading them through new eyes. The eyes of a teacher.

My newly discovered love for children’s books coupled with what I brought with me from my childhood remained steadfast in my heart when I became a parent to four daughters. One by one as they joined our family, I didn’t waste any time introducing each of them to their first books before they could speak a word, turn a page, or take steps to the bookshelf to choose a bedtime story. Goodnight Moon, Where’s Spot?, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? were constant companions and beloved favorites of every daughter.

When my daughters spent time at my parent’s house, reading with their grandma, whom they lovingly called “Meme,” was always something they counted on when at her house. Her lap was always ready for a granddaughter to sit in, and her book bin was always well stocked with favorite titles. If you got to spend the night at Meme’s house, it always involved comfort food & snacks, craft projects, and always reading together.

My mom’s love for children’s books extended to the children at Hedges School, where, as the librarian’s paraeducator, she was a passionate advocate for children’s literature for two decades. Teachers and students loved Mrs. Graham and could always count on her patience and kindness in assisting them with anything they needed. Her appreciation for literacy and her belief in its positive impact for children brought her great joy and satisfaction.

Last year after a brief but courageous battle with dementia, we very sadly said goodbye to my mom. Shortly after her passing, I found myself reflecting on the things that were important to her, and books, specifically children’s books came immediately to my mind. We set up a memorial fund with which we would purchase books for the library where she faithfully worked, joyfully sharing her love of literature with the students at Hedges School.

I have found and chosen the books, and all 45 of them are ready to be shared at last! How I wish she were here to pick up each book and unearth the treasure that waits inside every single one. I know she would have loved them all, and would have carefully matched each book to a student who, in turn, would treasure the story inside. Each book has a special memory label inside with my mom’s picture, so every reader knows of her love for children, and the importance of great literature in their lives.

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I am incredibly blessed to be teaching at Hedges. Every once in awhile, I find myself perusing the bookshelves of our library, occasionally opening a book and seeing her handwriting on an old library card pocket on the inside cover; a joyful reminder that her presence somehow is still here with me, as it is with each student who searches the bookshelves to discover the amazing stories waiting for them.

This is my first of what I hope will be many more Tuesday Slice of Life posts. Thank you to all of the teacher/writers at Two Writing Teachers who make this platform available to educators of all backgrounds where we can unearth the writers inside of each of us!

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Packing Up, Moving Out

The countdown has begun..only 14 days of school are left. As I walk the halls in my school, the atmosphere has definitely changed. Here in northwest Montana, winter was long, and spring came oh so s-l-o-w-l-y this year. We’ve had a tease of sun and warmer temps intermixed with more rain and cooler temps than we would like, but with every day that passes, more blossoms are beginning to appear, the grass is getting greener, and the promise that summer will arrive next month is beginning to settle in.

Most of the teachers in my building will soon begin covering book baskets in their classroom libraries, tucking away materials in their cupboards, and closing their doors until they return in August. Two beloved teachers who have an impressive 77+ years of teaching between them will instead be cleaning & tidying for the new teacher who will occupy their room in August. When they walk out and close their doors behind them, it will certainly be with countless memories from careers that spanned decades, and powerfully impacted hundreds of children.

I am approaching my end-of-the-year routines quite differently this year. After 3 years as our school’s math & literacy instructional coach, I will be returning to the classroom to teach kindergarten in the fall. Fortunately I am not leaving my building, but only relocating down the hall. My mind is filled with great anticipation for this transition, and my list of summer reading is daunting to say the least!

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Obviously it is unrealistic to think I will be able to read all 20 (yes, 20!) of these titles (not to mention the countless children’s books I am accumulating!). Fortunately, several of the 20 are books I have already read, but will take time to review again, Post-It notes in hand, annotating and marking specific parts I will be referring to during the year. Others will be new reads of course, full of effective and engaging strategies and approaches to teaching our youngest learners.

Leaving my coaching role has caused me to reflect a lot on my last 3 years and the opportunities I had to work more closely with teachers than I had while in the classroom. I have learned a great deal about listening, asking the right questions, and discovering the opportunities to learn myself as an educator through every coaching conversation, PLC, and professional development session I attended.

While I may be packing up and moving out, I am looking back at much growth and a renewed passion for all that lies ahead. How are you approaching your end-of-the-year routine in your classroom? You can click here to join our DigiLit link-up to share your story. Thank you to Margaret for opening up the discussion!

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