Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tired but grateful

A day of sharpened blue pencils, hundreds of post-it notes, and a collection of excellent adult texts: 

* an excerpt from Dr. King's powerful and famous missive, Letter from Birmingham Jail
* Emma Watson interviews Tavi Gevinson about life, work and being a woman
* Dan Coyle explains what makes teams work in The Culture Code (Dan Coyle)
* Ta-Nehisi Coates builds a strong narrative voice in the essay Acting French

A letter, an interview, a business book, a personal essay.
These 4 texts were the "choices" during our adult reading workshop that led to our adult book clubs in professional learning today. It was a thrill to see participants excited for choices that they could connect with, and it was lovely pay-off after planning, planning and more planning for a day with over 160 participants across many roles -- teachers, teaching assistants, interventionists, language arts specialists, principals, coaches, even a few district folks.

But most of all, I am grateful to my co-presenters. To Rachel ,who brought brownies for all of us. To Kristine & Kate, who gracefully picked up a complicated session to co-plan, then flexed in the afternoon as we responded to real-time feedback. To Clare, who definitely had "the hard group" for over two hours and navigated with a growth mindset for adults.

I am stronger because of this team. They bring humor to the work of a long day, and incredible smarts about workshop. They willingly share every resource. There is no competition -- just asking ourselves "What can we do better for teachers so they can do better for students?"

I'm tired -- my toes are tired! But grateful for great texts (thank you, Martin, Dan, Emma & Tavi and Ta-Nehisi) and to Rachel, Kristine, Kate & Clare, too. It absolutely took a village today!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Closing Tabs

Today, I closed about 50 open tabs on my computer (I'm presenting tomorrow, and I know I'll have to restart my computer to connect to tech). The feeling of relief that comes from having only 2 tabs open as I write is so calming. I am glowing with pride at my completed task. So how do I end up with 50 (okay, let's be real -- 70) open tabs?

Recipes I want to cook.
Blogs I want to follow.
Articles I want to read.
Books I want to buy.
Links I clicked on as I was reading blogs, articles, book reviews.
My email opened at least 3 times, because I keep "losing" the Gmail tab.

My open tabs are my aspirational life. The Lisa that cooks with kale and quinoa, reads long-form articles at the breakfast table instead of crazily packing kale-less and quinoa-free leftovers into tupperware for everyone's lunch. The non-impulsive Lisa who doesn't click on every hotlink, but instead, takes time to consider, and then selectively decides on single next step. (Likely, this same Lisa wears unstained, ironed clothing and has a car with a lemon verbena air freshener, as well.)

Tonight, I head to bed with just my presentation for tomorrow open. I have silenced Excel, Word, Powerpoint and iTunes. I am not sneaking by having Chrome and Safari open, toggling between both browsers, as if to trick my MacBook (a-ha, I am sharing my darkest secrets now!). Even my calendar is closed.

I am zen.
I am a single tab.
Breathing in.
And out.

Pass the kale.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Slice of poetry

The warm sun as we sat in the pew
Raising our voices in song
Raising our voices in prayer, for sanctuary.

The busy afternoon of homework and meetings and
Hustling to get everything done and
Hustling to earn down time, too, a needed reward.

The early signs of spring in crisp fresh vegetables
Gathering 'round the table with laughter
Gathering now, though it's our only meal together this week.

The quiet house as work is finished and lunches are packed
Whispering goodnights and I love you's
Whispering our prayers of gratitude for a house full of love.

I made up this structure, but I do love a good "ing" word :-)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The comfort of friends when work is hard

On this sunny Saturday afternoon, I hung out with eight other women, brainstorming ways to improve our community with a lens on racial equity. It's hard work, for sure, and deserves a longer post one of these Slices.

But after three hours of work time and quick kitchen clean-up (because whenever we convene, there is always good food!), one of women and I went for a walk. The sun was melting the slushy snow that's clogged the sidewalks, and after a mile, I shed my jacket, and also, started to shed some of my burdens as we walked and talked: it's hard to focus on social justice and our jobs & families. It's hard to be disappointed by others (especially by the moms in our school) who we thought cared about equity and the success of all kids in our school, and along this journey, find out that they don't want to have hard conversations. I carry so much anger, and I'm not always good about channeling it toward productive outrage. And as the sun warmed us up, it was good to talk with someone about the work and the emotions that charge through me -- what's hard about it, and what keeps us going.

I don't know this woman well, but when we landed back in her kitchen, I realized how comfortable I was. I process so much from talking, and talking and walking is especially productive for me. My very first slice was about bursting into tears as I search for my "just right" space in this work, and today, I'm grateful for the comfort of a new friend who gifted me with light and love in our swift steps and constant conversation on a bright, almost-spring Saturday walk.

*Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

Friday, March 16, 2018

Please -- no more great expectations -- my heart is breaking

Dear teachers,

Please bring books that kids love into your classroom, into your curriculum.

My son entered your room a reader... not voracious, but had a favorite author and liked to talk about what he was reading, share some ideas with us (and his sister had read many of the same books in her two year "Novel" loop in 7th and 8th grade). And now... now he's reading so very little, and it pains him (and me).

Great Expectations for 14 weeks. Four different essays. Endless graphic organizers. Thick packets.

Fourteen weeks of Dickens dragging on, and my son caring less and less, and starting to think that he's not a reader after all.

But I'm not pleading only for my son.
I'm pleading for students of color... 50% of our high school.
They moved from Dickens to Steinbeck to Shakespeare (I'm actually grateful it's Romeo and Juliet, because we found an amazing graphic version). Nary a poem or short story or speech in-between.

No women... yet.
No authors of color... yet.
No Hate You Give, no All American Boys. No David Levithan.
No American Street, no Turtles All the Way Down or up or sideways.
No 57 Bus.

I remember a quote one of my mentors attributed to Studs Terkel: that we need to see ourselves in the books we read. And I'm thinking, I'm wondering: do kids see themselves in Pip? Or do they need to see more kids of color? Do they see themselves in Romeo? In Juliet? I admit it, I haven't asked them. But I'm worried kids aren't become readers. They read, but their hearts aren't touched. They aren't excited to find 10 minutes to read, to share "can you believe it?" moments. I see my son plodding. Focused on tasks, not meaning. And my heart is breaking.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Big Audacious Question for the Day

Today, I had the chance to conference with a writer. I was a guest teacher in her classroom, teaching writing workshop (fiction writing) to her class while 15 teachers watched. Her classroom teacher listed her as the "low" student on the high-medium-low list. "G" had curly brown hair and a friendly smile. She was wiggly and in the front row during my minilesson, and I noticed her spark, so I was excited to get the chance to read her writing with her.

G read me her story, and it went something like: "There was a girl and it was her birthday. There was a cake with gummy worms and purple icing." Her work was filled with more invented spelling, but she showed a lot of sound-symbol knowledge (with the stand out being GUME WERMZ). 

"What's going to happen next? What's your action?"
(blank stare)
"What will your action be? Hmmm, who is at the party with the girl?"
"Her dad?" (in a tentative voice)
"Oooh, let's see... what will they do?" (spoken in my teacher voice) (You know that voice!)

G. is clearly not excited by my excited responses; she's looks at me pensively and I take her lead.

"Do you have a question?"
"Uhm, what's 'action'?"


WORDS MATTER. Gosh darn it, what IS action? 

Thank you, G, for asking a question and helping me to support your writing today. We kept talking for a few minutes, using Mo Willems as our mentor. So, now what, G? "The dad is going to put a REAL WORM on the cake." G tells me she might even describe him as "sneaky"! And the girl, she might have a speech bubble when she sees that live worm -- I wonder what she'll say?

Lights. Camera. ACTION!

(Here's the minilesson chart from G's room today -- we were learning from Mo Willems :-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


my text to my 11th and 9th grader at 9:55 am today

Dear E &D,
I am so proud of you, and grateful that you are raising your voice and understanding protest. It is important to always find issues that matter to you and be a part of change. Sometimes it will be easy to do and often times, it will be harder to embrace what it means to "raise your voice." We love you and support you and are grateful for a family that has hard conversations and moves forward with hearts full of love. Be safe and be understanding of people who have different ideas. And be champions for creating a better world.