I am Rocky Balboa O'Donnell

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 31 of #BTBC14
Reflect on your month of blogging and make goals for August and the new year.

     Somehow, I suddenly feel like Rocky Balboa.  

     I created this blog with the simple intention of sharing information with the teachers at my school in an archived location (hence the name "Hiawatha Literacy for Teachers").  I felt like emails with information were ineffective, because not everyone has time to read email.  So, if I blogged about literacy topics, then they would be able to find them with the appropriate tags when they needed them.  Most of the time, I found myself blogging to simply reflect on things, or clarify things for myself.  It really became a way for me to grow professionally, even if no one else read it.

     Then, Michelle at Big Time Literacy challenged us to blog everyday in July.  I figured, "Why not?"  She was trying to help new bloggers blog, and since I already had mine in place I figured I would support the cause and a fellow literacy coach and blog away.  One of the other bloggers created a hashtag for us to use on Twitter, so I started tweeting my blogs with #BTBC14.  Prior to that, I had never really written with an audience beyond my own district. 


      I had people commenting on my blog that I didn't even know.  Suddenly, I was intimidated.  I mean, people are reading this?  And commenting?  What if they don't agree with my reflections?  What if I sound ridiculous?  Oh my, did I even spell that correctly?  :)  I really did want to quit the challenge when I realized that people "out there" were reading what was going on in my brain.

     A funny thing happened then.  My PLN grew.  By a LOT.  Just the simple act of going on Twitter and posting my blog opened the doors to many other new people to follow.  Plus, every time I posted it on Twitter, I spent 5-10 minutes reading other articles or blogs and learned so much.  By sharing my own thoughts, I learned so much from others.

     I really do feel a bit like Rocky.  If you are familiar with that clip, he starts off running alone (much like me blogging for myself).  People start to cheer for him along the way (much like the bloggers who also did the Big Time Blog Challenge with me).  More people start to cheer (like the favorites and retweets on Twitter).  Then, people actually started running with him (like the bloggers who joined the challenge along the way).  By the end of the clip, there is a whole army of people running with him (much like the PLN I have strengthened on Twitter).  Hands in the air, proud of himself, Rocky accomplished his goal.  Perhaps I am standing at the top of my own stairs, pumping my fists and singing "Gonna fly now!  Flying high now! I blogged all month, yeah!" Or not.  :)  But I could be!

     I am proud of the fact that I did it, because it was a challenge for me to use the prompts and connect them all to literacy.  For the most part, I did that.  There were days when I posted late, and days when I had nothing really to say. I definitely will not be posting every day in August.  But, I will be blogging again, and I will continue to tweet my posts.  

     For now, just call me Rocky!  

A Beautiful Today

Day 30 of #BTBC14
Create a "someday" list: What do you want to get to professional or personal?

     The path that we take in life is full of choices.  Some streets are paved, others are dirt paths not traveled often.   Others, it seems, are rope ladders that bring pure joy (like the one at the Arboretum). My son was climbing through the rope path, with my daughter chasing after him, and I realized that, while I was supposed to be thinking about "someday," I was busy enjoying my "today."

     I love my career.  I am really enjoying my time as a literacy coach and working with my fantastic coworkers, both at Hiawatha and throughout my district.  I am so thankful for the opportunities I have been given.  

    I love my family.  My kids are the joy in my life, and even though having two little kids can be exhausting, it is the good kind of exhaustion and is easily remedied with a cup of DD coffee.  

    Someday, I suppose I would like to get regular sleep, and I would like to be able to watch my TV shows live (rather than on the DVR a year after they aired).  I would like to read books for pleasure again, and I would love to go to Disney with my family.  I would love to re-certify with the National Board.  I would love to be debt free.  

     Until "someday" happens, I will enjoy today.  There was a lot of beauty all around me today at the Arboretum, so I thought I would share part of my "today" with you. 

(Thanks, +James Kloss, for the "rocking my photos" tips during Summer PD!)

Perfect Moments

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 29 of #BTBC14
Share a memory of a perfect day you once had.

     I would say that most of my perfect days are days where I have remembered the sentiment that we find happiness when we recognize and appreciate what we have.  I have had a lot of good days, so one doesn't stick out to me.  The world is a busy, busy place.  When we take the time to be in the moment and enjoy what we have, and worry less about things out of our control, then we have more "perfect moments."  It's the moments that seem to come in a rush when I read Michelle's prompt today.

(Sidenote: I am the biggest worrier around.  Perhaps this post is more a "Note to Self" kind of post.)

Perfect moments like:

Listening to my kids play together with their Playmobils and Legos, and giggle uncontrollably.

Watching the clouds on our front lawn.

Seeing kids' expression (mine or my students) when I take them to a new place.

Listening to my son and daughter tell their own stories before bedtime.

Finding a former student waiting to talk to me.

Having someone come up to me after a PD with something kind to say.

Hearing a students come up with an idea or thought that I had never thought about.  

Finding chocolate on my desk.

Seeing that the drive thru line at Dunkin Donuts is really short.

Getting hot fries at McDonalds.  

Hearing one of those classic songs from my past come on the radio, especially when it happens right before a school day starts.  Then it's in my head all day!

Finding a great new book and reading it aloud to a class of kids.

When my kids reach up to hold my hand.

     So, rather than pick my perfect day (at the risk of my other perfect days feeling left out) I will just leave you with those "perfect moments."  I hope, as the school year starts up again, that you find yourself having many "perfect moments" of your own.

Dimensions of Wellness

Day 28 of #BTBC14
Health, fitness, and general wellness: What are your routines in summer and during the school year?

     Wellness is not really one of my areas of strength, I suppose.  I am the most un-athletic person on the planet (or at least that is how I feel).  During the summer, I do walk all over the place, most of the time pushing a double stroller or carrying a kid, so I will call that my workout routine.  I did switch to coffee with cream only (except for my iced coffee I guess...) a year or so ago.  I can't say that the summer has been good on my self control when it comes to ice cream, though.  

     I looked up wellness graphics after reading Sue Butler's post about wellness being more than just physical fitness.  Thank goodness.  It turns out, I do indeed have things to say about wellness.

     Working with teachers this past year, I really saw the toll that stress takes on people.  Everyone reacts to change in different ways, including myself.  In order to deal with the stress that comes along with new learning standards and changing curriculum, we need to balance that with different dimensions of wellness.  Some of my colleagues are really good about going to the gym or running miles to reduce stress.  Some made an effort to get together with friends after work in a more social setting.  Some took to Twitter or professional development opportunities and developed their intellectual wellness.  Some changed roles at school.  Some tried to put their family first or do things they enjoy to find that emotional balance.  Many went to church or other spiritual gatherings.  Some teachers, in fact, did more than one of those things.  

     As we start next year, perhaps we should all make sure that we are doing things that will help us deal with the stress of the school year better.  Do whatever enhances your wellness!

Literacy Coach, Year 2!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 27 of #BTBC14
What are you most excited about for the upcoming school year?

     I am most excited about starting my 2nd year as a literacy coach.  My position wasn't created until the end of July last year, so August was a whirlwind of packing up my old classroom in a hurry and cleaning my garage out to store it all.  The year started, and I jumped in.  

The Literacy Coaching Continuum (Moran, 2007)
     That being said, I never really set goals at the beginning of the year.  I did talk through the role change at my cognitive coaching training last year, and I told my partner that I really wanted to help teachers believe in themselves and make decisions in their own rooms.  How I was going to achieve that I was flexible about.  I feel like throughout the year, I learned a lot about the staff and the multiple ways that I could support them.  I would call it a work in progress, though.  I am still finding my way.

     This year, I have the same intention.  Now more than ever, our teachers need to feel empowered and in control.  The key to that, in my opinion, is having strong knowledge base and knowledge of students.  I would really like to help our staff think more deeply about the common core standards, and help them use formative assessments and student work to really see what the kids are doing in their classrooms.  I feel that the combination of those two things (as well as a supportive colleague who is happy to help in any way possible) will help them feel empowered.  Materials, resources, and pacing guides do not need to drive our classrooms.  Our kids need to drive the classroom, with the teacher behind the wheel.    
D100 Literacy Coaches
     I am also really looking forward to working with our district literacy coaches again this year.  I feel like last year, we spent a lot of time talking about the new curriculum that we were putting in place.  That conversation will continue, but I really hope to hear more about the wonderful things they are doing at their buildings specifically.  I am looking forward to developing the coaching part of my role, and they will be the key to that.  One is moving to a new district, but I have a feeling I will continue learning from her as well.  :)

     Here comes 2014-15!

Close Reading with Tim McGraw

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 26 of #BTBC14
What kinds of music do you enjoy most?

     I have previously blogged about Justin Timberlake here.  I definitely enjoy his music.  He should make this post, too.  :)

***Disclaimer:  Many of you know that I am a literacy nerd, and post pictures with or tweets from literacy gurus.  Well, my passions in life do not limit themselves to literacy.  I am also a huge Tim McGraw fan.
Here comes Tim McGraw!  (He is blurry because I was jumping up and down.) 

     Since I have had children, I have learned that it is not really about my favorites anymore.  The kids always seems to have songs they want to hear in the car, and my husband is always playing his music around the house.  Basically, that's ok with me, because I really do like most types of music.  The one that is definitely mine, though, is Tim McGraw.  My friend, Jaime, and I go to see him in concert every time he comes to Chicago.  We have gone to Indiana and Wisconsin along the way, too. It has been our "thing" that I really embrace now that we both have little kids.  We have seen him 14 times now (15 if you count the book signing we went to).  Last year he walked into the concert through the audience, and I actually got to touch his hand!  It was glorious.


     So, how does this tie to literacy?  Two ways!  First, we went to his book signing a few years back at the Borders in Chicago.  I guess officially he is an author, an actor and a musician!  He started with co-authoring a book about his music career, and then went on to co-write children's books about being a dad.  I like his autobiography, especially since mine is autographed, but I also really enjoy reading his picture books to my kids.  They are filled with themes of adventure, and family, and love.

Pages from My Little Girl (McGraw and Douglas, 2008)

     My daughter was given My Little Girl as a gift.  I was giddy that it was written by Tim McGraw,  of course.  But, I have written a few posts this year about close reading life, and this book definitely is a metaphor for that!  It starts out with the promise of having a spectacular day with dad.  "A better than chocolate ice cream with sprinkles" kind of day!  The main character, Katie, dresses up in everything that she own to prepare for that spectacular day.  (Everyone with a preschool girl relates to that).  The book then shows a dad and daughter, doing everyday things together.  They go to the store, look at clouds, swing on the tire swim, etc.  Just a regular day, that turned out to be a "spectacular, nothing-in-particular day" because they were together.  Now isn't that close reading life at it's best?

     The second way that he can tie to literacy is through his song lyrics.  Many of his songs are just meant to be fun, or are about love, so those wouldn't necessarily apply to the classroom.  A few have some deeper meaning and would be great to use with older students.  But, since I work with teachers, I think that some would be great to close read as a staff PD.  Take, for example, Blank Sheet of Paper.

"Blank Sheet of Paper"

I'm just a blank sheet of paper
This fool's about to write you a letter
To tell you that he's sorry
For the way he did you wrong
To ask for your forgiveness
For leavin you alone

He's been lookin down at me
It seems like forever
He takes the top on and off his pen
It's like he can't decide
What he wants to say
If he'd just tell the truth
I'd be on my way

But he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he doesn't want it to end
Now its one hour later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

The sunlight is comin through the curtains
He's almost asleep pen in hand
There's a tear in his eye
That refuses to fall
If it would land on me
That would say it all

But he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he doesn't want it to end
Now it's four hours later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

Oh but he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he wants you back again
One broken heart later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

     Let's walk up the Common Core standards with this one.  At first read, it's about a guy who won't write a letter to his ex-girlfriend.  It is about asking forgiveness.  The guy would be described as sad, perhaps, or stubborn because he refuses to write the letter.  Hours pass, but the paper remains blank.  It then says "there's a tear in his eye that refuses to fall."  Is that because he is stubborn?  Or because he won't take ownership of his mistakes?  Or, perhaps, because he wants her back but he know she is better off without him?  It says the tear would say it all, and yet he refuses to let them fall.  Is this about him asking her to forgive him, or him trying to forgive himself and failing?  "One broken heart later" is how the song ends, but who is the broken hearted one?  It seems that he is pretty heart broken, as evidenced by his staring at the paper, his inability (or perhaps reluctance) to share his emotions, and the fact that he remained at the table for hours unable to change the blank sheet of paper.  But shouldn't there be two broken hearts here?  "One broken heart later" could imply she is really better off without him.  Is this song really about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love?  Or is it about pride, and how our pride gets in the way of our happiness at times?  The song being written from the point of view of the blank sheet of paper, instead of the guy, gives us some perspectives that we would not have had otherwise.  It is really taking a step outside of the character's shoes, but is still leaving the perspective of the woman missing.  

     I just used Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 to interpret the lyrics of the song.  I just wish there was someone else sitting here to have a discussion about it! 

     Who would have thought that Tim McGraw could help me close read?  Actually, it isn't a far stretch to make.  Close reading, according to Christopher Lehman in Falling in Love with Close Reading, is when: 

"a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made.  He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understanding that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about."

     Perhaps the secret to close reading is just that...  Giving our students the tools to stop and reflect and find new understandings on the texts (written, media, or life) that matter most to them.  We need to give them the tools they need to do that, but we have to allow them to apply them independently.  Close reading doesn't have to be something that we force our students to do.  It can be something that helps them stay on the path of being life long readers, because readers who create their own meaning continue to read.  (Even if they don't want to close read Tim McGraw lyrics.  That's ok.  I'll just continue to do that in the car when his songs come on the radio!)

My Biggest Accomplishments are Actually Rather Small

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 25 of #BTBC14
Go ahead and brag... biggest accomplishments!

     My biggest accomplishments are my kids.  But, I don't really talk about my family on this blog.  (This is my literacy blog, after all.)  I will say that my kids are very excited about school, which I am very proud about as well.  So, I will just post a picture of my kids from their back to school photos last year, and call it a day.  My son is starting kindergarten in a few weeks.  It is amazing how quickly they grow up, even when they are as little as my minis are. 
     Go out and enjoy the day with your most important people, whomever they are!

Mentors are a Light!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 24 of #BTBC14
Who are/were your mentors?  Who helped you grow as a teacher?


     I really believe strongly in mentoring. I feel like, somewhere along the way, we all need support and guidance for the things that we do.  Having a mentor relationship with someone allows them to know that when they need help, you will be there (and vice versa).  I firmly believe that our best teachers will only be better if they took the time to mentor another teacher.  

     I loved this graphic because it doesn't really matter who is holding the light, as long as someone is.  We all stumble in the dark at times, and a light is all we need to make it through.  In the image, the second person could easily take the lantern.  It could be passed back and forth between them.  There just needs to be a light.  Sometimes the light is content knowledge, sometimes it is friendship, sometimes it is a coaching conversation.  The possibilities are endless.  Mentoring makes it possible for the light to shine.  

     I would love to mention all the people who have mentored me, both official and unofficial, but this post would go on forever.  The truth is, I have grown as a teacher because of many, many people.  I have 3 people who officially mentored me in some capacity. I have officially mentored 8 people as new staff, after being mentored by Kathy Ross when I was a first year teacher.  I mentored 6 national board candidates, after being mentored by Sue Butler as a candidate myself.  I have also worked with groups of 1st and 2nd year teachers, with the guidance of Marilyn McManus and the New Teacher Mentor Program.  I learned so much from all those relationship, regardless if I was the mentor or the mentee.  If the benefits of mentorship stop with us, then we are not paying it forward. Use what others have given you, and spread it like a gift to others.  

     The truth is, mentors are everywhere.  We just have to have our eyes open and see them for what they are.  A light!  


Be The Change, and Promise to Learn

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 23 of #BTBC14
What is your favorite thing about your career?

     Perhaps my favorite thing about teaching is that we have the ability to inspire others and change their lives for the better.  I guess I have always had the grand dream of reading about one of my former students in the newspaper some day, seeing the great things that they have done not only for themselves but for the world.  Knowing that I knew them, if even for a brief piece of their education, is something I am proud to be a part of.  
     My good friend, +Bismah Sabri, had a sign outside of her door all year that says it all.  
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  (Gandhi) Teaching in an elementary school, I don't always get to witness the world changing actions, but I just know that they will happen... Someday.  

     Another thing that I have come to love about my career is that I am always learning.  Yep.  The teacher is always learning.  I suppose I didn't realize that going into my career, but here I am, 15 years later, and I feel like I am learning something new every day.  It might be from a coworker, a PD session, my Twitter feed, a student, or my own kids.  Whatever the source might be, this "old dog" is learning new tricks.  And thank goodness for that!  It can be exhausting at times, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  After all, how can we expect our students to learn something new everyday if we won't make the same promise to ourselves?

My College Job is Obsolete

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 22 of #BTBC14
Share a story from your college years.

     I went to the University of Illinois in Urbana- Champaign.  I worked at the Undergraduate Library for my freshman, sophomore, and junior year.  I worked at the Reserve Desk, where professors would put articles "on reserve."  Students would come to my desk, give me their driver's license or student ID, and I would give them the article, which was stored in a three pronged file folder cover.  They could read the article for an hour I think before they had to return it.  While I sat at the desk, sometimes I prepared new files for classes or re-shelved ones that had been returned.  Most of the time, I just sat there and read a book myself.  

     I recently was back on campus for a football game with my niece, who is going to be a senior in high school this year.  We turned it into a college visit of sorts, where I gave her a tour of my old alma mater.  I showed her some of the buildings, the quad, some nostalgic things (like Lincoln's nose and the eternal flame) and then we got to the Undergrad.  I bragged about how it was built underground, and showed them the view from above.  We then went in for the grand tour.  I showed them the computer lab (which wasn't there before) and the coffee shop (which wasn't there before).  We went to the lower level and turned the corner and as I showed her where I sat for three years, I looked at a wall.  Turns out, the Reserve Desk isn't there anymore.  

     How could part of my past not be there?!?!?!

     Could it be part of the past?

     Back when I graduated (in 1999) we had email, but professors certainly did not email us, let alone their class files.  We did not go to websites or wikis to get files, either.  We used floppy disks to store our data, not flash drives or airdrop, so we couldn't just transfer files like that either.  We did research with books and microfiche.  Google had been founded, but it wasn't a public company yet.  Student life was clearly very different back then.

     In that moment, standing there with my niece and admitting that the world did not need my college job anymore, I felt OLD.  

     It was also at that moment, my bruised, old ego aside, that I realized that we are indeed preparing our students for a world that is different than ours.  We have to really think about that.  

     My job might be obsolete, but I am not.  What qualities can I transfer from that job to jobs that might be in the future?  Or what qualities made it obsolete?  My students deserve an education that prepares them for their future, whatever that might hold.  I need to keep an open mind to be ready for that future. 

     In the meantime, I will embrace the tech we have now while reliving my past.  I kept snapping pictures on campus like a tourist.   I turned to my niece and said, "It will be nice to have pictures of all these places."  When she asked why I don't already have some, I explained that my cell phone was only a cell phone back then.  In fact, it was only turned on while I was driving from Chicago to Champaign.  She didn't really know how to react to that.  Wow, times sure have changed.  :)

Books? Kindle? iPad?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 21 of #BTBC14
How do you prefer to read?  Books?  Kindle?  iPad?

Simple Answer: 
      I do not own a kindle, and I just recently purchased my own iPad, so that may change.  But, for now, books.  

More Complex Answer:
All of the above

     I am a firm believer in technology and how it enhances education and literacy.  I don't think we should put tech first, so I am not advocating buying an iPad because, among a million other things, you can read a book on it.  However, if people prefer to read on the iPad, then by all means go ahead and do it.  We have so many children who are struggling to read, or who don't have access to books that interest them, and e books could solve that.  

     This question leaves me a bit conflicted.  So, in order to help clarify my own thoughts, I did a little searching.  I did a google search for images, and a few thought provoking ones came up.   

     E-readers do seem to be more earth friendly, considering they greatly reduce the amount of paper that we need.  That saves trees.  Yeah, trees!  However, I went to Nancy Steineke's session at IRC about visual literacy, and she used some images of children in lesser developed countries sorting through e-waste to make money.  It was pretty eye opening.  She had us write "a passionate letter to Apple, outlining your position on e-waste" but had us consider multiple perspectives:  child laborer, parent of a child laborer, e-waste recycling CEO, investigative reporter, environmentalist, etc.  In the age of Common Core, I have to say her activity forcing an issue to be seen from different points of view is exactly what our kids need, and using the tech as a topic adds relevance.  It was a great session.

     This one just made me chuckle.  I always wanted a huge library with walls and walls of books.  Perhaps this is the more economical way to go in the long run.  Think about how much I will save on wall to wall shelves!  :)

     This one is great for our college students.   It was a graphic that is supposed to show how much easier it would be to have all the books for their college courses available digitally.  As long as this generation annotates text well on the e-reader, this is great news for their wallet and their back.  My book bag was so HEAVY.

     This is, I guess, the biggest reason I said "all of the above" as the more complex answer.  If people like to read on the kindle, and it gives them access to classic books like the ones above, then I am all for it!  There are many classics that I have not yet read myself, and perhaps if the thought crossed my mind to read one and all I had to do was search for it online, then I might be more likely to read some of the titles I have had on my "to read" list for a very long time.  

     My simple answer was that I like to read books, and I do hope that the children of today can be posed the same question 20 years from now.  I hope that they, too, have a choice whether they want to read paper books or e-books.  I was walking out of my son's school a few years ago, and I saw the quote above on their sign.  "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."  When I picture a kid, snuggled with their mom or dad reading a book, I see a paper book.  I see the child turning the pages for mom or dad, and being so proud of themselves.  I see a love of literacy, built around the comfort of family.  Perhaps that could be around a kindle, too.  My kids read their interactive books on the iPad, as well.  Together, we read children's books.  That is my choice.  I just hope they have a choice, too.
     Long story short, I remember the day that the final Harry Potter book was released.  I went to Barnes and Noble at midnight to get my copy.  I was surrounded by others who were just as excited as I was to see how it ended.  At the same time, though, I think we all were a little sad, too.  It was a shared experience for us, as readers, with funny Harry Potter glasses to remember it all.  I would not have had that experience if I didn't have the choose between paper book and e-reader.  I would have just downloaded it, and I wouldn't have gotten my special glasses.  (OK, my dog and I would not have gotten our special glasses.)