Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chipper and Laughing at All Write

Last week I spoke at the All Write conference in Warsaw, IN. Twenty pages of illustrated notes, great sessions and new friends made it wonderful. I will reflect more on the sessions soon, but I wanted to capture meeting some Twitter and blogging folks first.

I made my way up the aisle in the dimmed auditorium to get settled in to listen to Lester Laminack, All Write's opening keynote. I sit in front rows.

In the front row there are less distractions. In the front row, I don't need to wear glasses to see the screen.  In the front row, there is less chit chat from others. I can hear the speaker pause to breathe. In the front row, I can read the expressions on speakers' faces. I am a front row sort of person.

So, I settle in near the middle in the empty front row. I open the last zipper of backpack and slide my black sketchbook out from it's spot next to my laptop. I unzip the second zipper and fish around the pocket for my Staedler colored pencils-- the ones in the stand up case. I pause and look up the long angle to the projection screen. This front row is neck-crick close to the screen.

A woman behind me leans forward and says, "Hey! You're the other Lee Ann!"

"Oh my gosh, Leigh Anne!" Leigh Anne Eck was sitting just behind me. Of course she was an up-front sort of participant too. We originally met online-- on twitter, on our blogs. What a delight to finally meet face to face. Leigh Anne has already started blogging her learning from All Write-- I love how she framed her learning from my session as things she would take-forward into next year. 
Chiper (@chipten) photobombing behind us.

We started sharing bits from school and life. Suddenly, in leans another smiling face. "And I'm Jennifer..."

From YESTERDAY? Jennifer Laffin participates in  Slice of Life blogging hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I'd read her blog about her first trip to All Write just the day before. She wrote about taking the plunge to attend All Write alone four years ago and how braving the conference by herself changed her professional life. I commented and hoped to connect and as if by magic, or God's unseen, happy hand, here she was right behind me.

Jennifer Laffin and I at the Boathouse after All Write day #1

"And this is  Chiper," Jennifer said motioned to the woman sitting to Leigh Anne's left.
"Chiper? There must be a story behind that great name!"

"I was a chip off the old block and I'm always happy," Chiper said. As one who has been accused of farting rainbows and unicorns, can I just say I how it tickled me to meet Chiper.

Just like that, I found more members of my tribe:  happy learners who sit up front, take notes, talk teaching, laugh and write.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilates, Practice and Incremental Shifts

I see blue skies and oak leaves waving in the wind. The sun is out this morning and a summer blanket of cirrus clouds approach.  I am parked in front of the Move Pilates Center waiting for my teacher. I'm early.

I am new to Pilates. I have not completed even a year of practice yet. My body is relearning how to properly align itself. My knees have to be reminded not to fall out and away from the line drawn from big toe to ankle. My sacrum is learning to stick and stay planted so that my center does the lifting. My head and neck often have minds of their own. I'm working at it. I have yet to strike the teaser pose Stacey Shubbitz wrote about here, but I am making incremental improvements in my practice each class, each week.

The small improvements in practice are noticeable just like they are in our classrooms. In Pilates class, I know when I am moving in a way that builds strength when my teachers,
respond to how I’m moving and helps me revise my position. I know how to self-correct too because Ligia and Tharai have taught me to listen to the feedback of the springs on the reformer or to the feedback of the rollers or spine stabilizers.

So often my teacher reminds me to minimize the movement. Incremental shifts. "No so big! You can't control the movement if you make it too big." The tremble of truth in my core muscles tell me she's right.Feedback leads to learning whether that feedback comes from my teacher, my body or the equipment. I need to pay attention to it if I am going to get stronger.

In my English classroom, I give and get feedback too. Students, peers, and administrators inform my practice. Even test scores talk to me about my teaching practice. Standardized test scores for our annual state test were recently returned to schools. I’ve finished crunching my numbers and I am satisfied with what they tell me. Our state test is just one measure. It is a snapshot in an album of a child’s learning and growth over time. Many people and many factors contribute to gains and losses in the context of an academic year. It matters when a child misses a lot of school. It matters that teachers that teach alongside me in this child’s academic year are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It matters when teachers work alongside kids: reading, writing, conferring and encouraging. So much matters in schools when it comes to kids’ futures.

Analyzing testing data is but one layer of performance. Kids’ attitudes matter. How my PLC team works together matters. What my administration believes and knows about effective teaching and learning, all matter. One year these pieces--kids, peers, administrators and scores-- will align. I dream of perfect triangulation: anecdotally, attitudinally, qualitatively and quantitatively.

The numbers are good this year. In my state these scores are a student’s bottom line. Without a passing score of 350 students do not get a high school diploma. I teach high-achieving students. Some think and say, "it doesn’t matter who teaches this kind of kid." Those critics have a mindset that these kids will do just fine no matter who is in the classroom.

Perhaps. Is that really what we want to say to teachers though? High achieving students may pass, but this data set doesn’t agree with that assumption one hundred percent. Most years, most pass, yes. But will students continue to grow?

Last year my principal stopped me in the hall and congratulated me on the growth he saw in my students’ scores. He said something like, people don’t realize that it is as hard to get a kid at the top of the scale to make progress as it is at the lower end.


I know that has been a rallying cry in gifted education in year’s past. Still. In  my teaching heart of hearts, all of the work we do in classrooms is hard work, especially in Title I schools like mine.


I didn’t figure out how to move six students over the line this year. Of the six students that didn’t quite reach the line, all but two grew.

Sometimes we fight for each single point on these tests, so while a move in the positive direction may not have statistical significance, it sure has practical significance. These six students will retest in October.

Overall, I can see that incremental shifts in my practice are working. I changed my feedback loop this year. I made it tighter and I personalized learning goals for each student. I checked in via conference weekly. Wow, did it work! Running a workshop classroom, works. Giving students choice and voice works. Practice--reading every day, writing every day, giving students timely feedback--counts.

I may be twenty-three years into teaching, but I am still learning.  Practice still matters. What I do with kids every class period of every day determines how strong we will be at year’s end.  My students grew by leaps and bounds this year!  While I may not agree with the testing law of the land, I delight in kids’ success.  I am so proud of their hard work. We did it!
fsa data summary2016-17.PNG

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Summer of

A talented teacher-author I know has named her summer the summer of silver. She tags her photos with the name. She's creating and curating memories. I love the sound and the slippery joy of a silver summer. I enjoy getting a peek into the memories she's making on social media. The summer of silver brings water glints and sunshine to mind in ways that I can smell. In a way that makes me smile and hum. 

Do It Yourself, Andy Warhol, 1962

I don't yet know the story behind my friend's naming of summer, but I like to imagine what it could be: an anniversary or an element. I'm in the copper year of my marriage, Copper Summer doesn't sound too bad- I like the patina and pastiche of it. What elemental name could I give summer? Surely not Sulfur and I'm certainly too lazy for Iron this year.  Naming the season or the summer reminds me of how we organize stories-- a name is like a narrative thread we can pull. I like the intentionality of naming.

Intention counts -- not with calories, unfortunately, but with mindsets and hearts. 

It is summer, sweet, sweet summer. I am going to swim and sleep and read and draw and create and love and skate and smile and hike.  I already got the bikes in working order and arts and crafts ideas lined up. I have time to make plans and meet friends, to cook or go out.

We are in our second glorious week of summer and I feel the slip and slide of time. This time last year families were stunned and grieving the lives lost at the Pulse night club. This time last year I was walking around Lake Eola and the Dr. Phillips' Center downtown, praying with the community and marveling at the musicians churches sent out to comfort mourners. So much can happen in a summer.

This time next year I will be half a world away finished with my first year at a new school. Next year, I will planning a trip to see family. 

This summer I want to be in the moment. In the right this minute of now. I want to feel the beauty of seconds and see love in details. 

I want to savor time with family and friends before our big move to Singapore in July. Savory Summer or the summer of savory, sounds too food-centric.  I did my fair share of stress eating to close out the school year, so I need a little less sweet and savory in this summer. So what could I name this summer?  I don't know what or even if I want to name it, but I sure know I plan to enjoy it.

I hope you do too.