Our Greatest Treasures

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dear Teachers, 

We are now at the end of the year.  The boxes are getting packed and the room is getting bare once again.  The anchor charts are coming down and some books are left unread.  Pretty soon, it will be empty of children and all the things that come along with them. The smiles, the tears, and everything in between, has come to an end as the 2014-15 school year comes to a close.

But, the memories are still there.  And your impact is there.

I was a classroom teacher for 14 years before I became a literacy coach.  The biggest obstacle for me continues to be that I don't have a group of students to call my own.  I don't have "my kids."  But, for all the years that I did have my own class, they were my school children.   And, like all scrapbooking moms out there, I wanted to document the memories.  Just like my own 2nd grade teacher did years and years ago with me, I always had them make a memory book.  It was always bound (sometimes with a book binder, sometimes in a report cover) but made every single year.  The pages changed, but I always told the kids that I expected them to save it, just like I saved mine. I wanted them to remember what they have accomplished, and by looking back on your work as a second grader when they were in high school or beyond, the progress would be great.  It was also filled with pictures to help them see themselves as children, too.

As the years progressed, so did technology.  So, we kept making the memory book, but I started making an iMovie around 6 years ago and gave the kids a copy.  It had our class projects, our photos of field trips, our best memories from the year.  I always hoped that they would go home and watch it with their families and be proud of themselves.

Well, this year I don't have a class.  And, this year, my son did.

My son just finished his first year of kindergarten.  Being a teacher is so different than being a mom of a school age student, at least for an emotional person like me.  It has been amazing seeing him grow up, but at the same time it has been hard for me to come to terms that he is growing up.  But, I (almost) held it together on the first day of school, and at his Christmas program, and during the events I was lucky enough to attend as a working mom.  I even got through his end of the year program and picnic with a smile on my face.

And then I saw the video...

It turns out, my son's teacher is someone who also believes that every student should have their memories preserved.  She has been his school mom this year, I'm sure wiping his tears and helping him grow independent.  She has invited the families in and made us a part of her classroom, because she knows that they are our treasures.  As the year came to a close, she documented it into a video for us to watch together.

Somehow, through the well chosen songs and photos of kindergarteners and families alike, I came full circle to my own wishes for my students of the past.  I had always wanted them to do this with their families, and now I got to do it with my own son because of the thoughtfulness of his teacher. I just never expected the tears.  I sat there and struggled to keep my composure as he grew up a year right in front of my eyes, with some of my favorite sappy songs as the soundtrack.  And, all I could think about was how lucky we were to have had her as a teacher this year.

And, stapled to the report card, was the letter.  And, it started:
"I give your child back; the same child you confidently entrusted to my care last fall.  I give you your child back pounds heavier, inches taller, months wiser, more responsible, and more mature than before.  Although your child would have attained this growth in spite of me, it has been my happy privilege to watch this personality unfold day by day."

I was all tears after that.

Mrs. Jarz, thanks for everything that you do.  Your impact is great, and we appreciate you very much in the O'Donnell household.

His own self-portrait, from his very own kindergarten memory book.
Teachers who treat their students like members of their school family, know that your efforts are very much appreciated by the families.  We trusted you with our greatest treasures, and they are leaving you shining even brighter.  Thank you.

Leah O'Donnell (Mom, not Literacy Coach)

Our Inner Dorothy

Sunday, May 24, 2015

     Have you ever felt like you couldn't do something, and then somehow, someway, you actually did it?  Was it almost like you magically clicked your heals, and it was within your power?

     Today, I told one of the teachers that I work with that she is raising readers.  Her response?  She said that it was only because I taught her how.  Time to be Glinda, and tell her the truth.

     People have the power to do great things.  They just don't always see it for themselves.

     All year, the teachers that I am blessed to work with came to me to collaborate and grow together.  Sometimes, we met in my office during their lunch.  Others used their plan times to plan lessons and units.  There were after school meetings, ELA plan periods, text messages, and ideas shared in the hall.  Phone calls, Twitter comments, and even Cold Day conversations.  The teachers in my building embraced a growth mindset, whether in their areas of strength or weakness, and we learned together.  

     The truth is, they always had the power.  They just needed someone to talk it through and collaborate with.  Education is a challenging profession, and it takes a village.

     I am a literacy coach, and I have the best job in the world.  I have come to see that coaching is (in my humble opinion) the single best PD available to us.  It is a powerful thing when a learner decides to learn something, on their own, and they take steps towards their goals.  I know this, because I have been coached along the way myself.  I have also witnessed the growth our students make when their learning is individualized for them.  Their growth can be astounding at times.  So, too, can be that of a teacher.

    Thanks, my Hiawatha and D100 family, for a great year of learning. Thanks for welcoming me into your classrooms and into your students' lives.

    Thanks, +Virginia Burdett, for reminding me to share my purpose for coaching.  I loved being a classroom teacher.  I became a coach so that teachers could find the power within themselves to make decisions in their own classroom.  That was my intent 2 years ago, and remains the same today.  I want to empower people, with learning and growth mindset and reflection, to find their way.  It's just a click of the heals away.   We just need to put those ruby slippers on and believe in the power we all have inside of us.

     That picture is of my daughter (who just happens to have ruby slippers...).  Rather than just text Ginny back with the quote from Glinda, I had to get the camera out, head out into the backyard despite the drizzle, and take a picture of my own Dorothy.  We all have the ability to help others realize their power.  The teachers we work with, the students in our class, our own children...  They all have the power for greatness.  Let's help them become aware of it.   

Cinderella with a Multicultural Twist!

Fairy tales are one of my favorite genres, probably because of the classic storytelling, the good vs evil, and the abundance of adaptions to the original story.  To me, reading fairy tales has always gone hand in hand with writing them and acting them out.  This year, I got to see our 2nd grade add a new twist: world travel!

Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.
Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.

With the Common Core Standards in mind, they came up with their plan.  They read the original classic, and then read 4 other multicultural versions as well.

Then, they made suitcases and passports to prepare for their travel.

On the big day, they traveled to 4 different destinations (classrooms).  They started in each room learning information about each culture, and then celebrated with an activity.

In Mexico, they danced and had a feast of tacos, flautas, quesadillas, guacamole, and salsa.

In Africa, they played the African drums and then made their own and decorated them with traditional symbols.

In the Caribbean, they made bead bracelets.

In the Middle East, they painted Hamsa hands.

To see a short video of their travels, click here:

Fantastic job bringing the world to our students +Stacy Rammer+Erin Flynn+Claudia Scott+Margaret Daly and +Shianne Gillespie!

Crying While Close Reading


Unit Planning
Common Core Standards
Reading and Writing Workshop
Balanced Literacy
Book Clubs
Standards Based Grading
Technology Integration
Close Reading...

   Over the last few years, I have done a variety of district PDs on various topics, most of them literacy in some way or another.  Every topic offers its own challenges, and that is certainly true of close reading.  To be honest, there seems to be many definitions of close reading out there.  Not a new term, there has been much interpretation on the topic over the years and they all seem to be in the spotlight in the last year or so with the Common Core Standards.  What I have come to do in my PD sessions is to make a hybrid version, based on a bunch of them.  +Christopher Lehman, Kate Roberts, Douglas Fisher, Sunday Cummins, Lester Laminack, Timothy Shanahan and more have shared their vision. Basically, what I have chosen to communicate to others is that we should embrace the HABITS that create close reading situations, and focus on transferring those habits to our students.  Why?  

I believe that when students read independently and create their own meaning and emotion around a text, that in that moment they are actually close reading.  

     In my district, that is often heard expressed in this manner:

     For the majority of my career, I was in 2nd grade, and they did not read Charlotte's Web.  I tried it as a read aloud once, and I started crying during one of the chapters and I had to pass the book to my co-teacher.  It happened again, at a different part of the story, when I got to read a section of it to a third grade class as a literacy coach.  There is just something about that book that causes me to well up with tears every single time I read it.  I like to call that close reading.  Clearly, I read with habits that allow me to create my own meaning and emotional response to text.  

      The reason I share my thought about kids crying over Charlotte's Web is not because I want kids to cry.  That would be mean.  No, I just want them to apply to strategies of close reading to books independently, so that they love books as much as I do.  I still clearly remember the time I burst into tears while reading A Separate Peace.  I was in a bowling alley at the time, probably around the age of 10.  Devastation, on a few levels.  I remember feeling both happiness and great sadness when I read the final pages of Harry Potter.  I remember struggling through the closing quote of Snowflakes Fall while reading to my own children at bedtime on the anniversary of Sandy Hook.  I will never be able to read Thank You, Mr. Falker to a class of my own students again.  

     I love books, and somehow those books became a part of me.  I want the same for my students.

                                                                       Sniff sniff sniff.

     Ginny Burdett, somewhere over the course of the year, heard my thoughts about crying during Charlotte's Web.  Imagine my surprise when she sent this picture to me from during her Readers' Workshop time.  The room was silent, and all of a sudden she heard the quiet sobs.  When she went over, she found her student crying at this page of Love that Dog by Sharon Creech.

(Truth be told, I just teared up reading that page.  Wow.  I get it.)


     I can't tell you how much this moment meant to me, and I wasn't even there. Ginny is a first year teacher, who clearly has a strong relationship with her students and has established a reading community in her room.  Her student happens to be someone who has struggled as a reader, and has received intervention support for many years.  This is the year that she has learned to create her own meaning while reading.  The students in that room learned that is is natural to have emotions while reading, and that mindset can really help them become life long readers.

     Later in the day, I saw their class going down the hallway.  I saw the 4th grade, and pulled her out of the line and into an empty classroom.   I asked her if we could take a picture together, because I heard she had a great moment as a reader and that I wanted to remember that with her.  She said, "Of course!"  Once we took the picture, I asked her where they were going.  Her response?  

"We are going to library!  I can't wait to see if they have Hate that Cat!"

     Watch out, world.  We have a life long reader on our hands!

     Long story short, close reading should not be something that we do to a text that makes students feel like reading is work.  We want close reading to feel like a natural part of what readers do.  It's not to turn in, or to annotate a certain assigned number of ideas.  It's to open our hearts to books.

     If you share that vision, please check out Christopher Lehman and Kate Robert's Falling in Love with Close Reading to guide the creation of your own vision for your students.

     Thanks, +Virginia Burdett, for sharing your love of reading with your class, and for sharing this special moment with me to share.  

Finding Our Way

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

     Have you ever felt that you have lost your way?  That in the hustle and bustle of the world you forget your direction and lost sight of your purpose?  To be honest, that is how I have been feeling the last week or so when it comes to school.  For more than a few reasons, I have felt kind of lost.

    Today, I was reminded of my purpose.

     I had a conversation with a teacher that kind of brought me to tears a bit.  I was listening to her talk about why she does what she does.  She is a teacher who truly wants to help other teachers, but who ultimately will do whatever it takes for her students to succeed.  Everything that she does is with them in mind.  Not the recognition, or her own interests, or the easy path, but rather the path that leads to the success of her students.

     In that moment, I was able to see things from a refocused perspective.  I was able to get some inspiration and some clarity, and see the beautiful lesson that came next.  As it turns out, there was butterfly release about to happen!

     A class of kindergartners eagerly followed their teacher, and their beloved butterflies, to the doors and gathered outside.  They opened the butterfly container and set their little friends free.  I got to watch as our kinders wave goodbye to their new friends forever.

     The truth is, it did not go as I expected.  I thought that as soon as +Melissa Alper  and +Kirstin McGinnis opened the container, those butterflies would just start flying right out of that container and into the blue sky above.  It did not happen that way, though.  Watch the 2 short clips below.

Butterfly Freedom Video #1

Butterfly Freedom Video #2

     Those butterflies did not know their path, either.  They hadn't stretched their wings in their collapsable butterfly home, and they had no idea how to fly.  With some support by Mrs. McGinnis, and some supportive kindergartners, a stick, and a leaf, the butterflies all eventually flew away.  They practiced how to fly, even though they struggled at first or needed a rest, but all found their path to freedom.  While I was watching them,  I couldn't help but compare them to the young kindergartners in front of us.  Watching them grow and stretch this year has been a pleasure, and they too are ready to spread their wings and become 1st graders.  They, too, are finding their path.

     Today, I found my own path again by looking to what matters the most: Our students.   As the year starts to come to an end, don't lose sight of all that they have done this year.  As the list of things to do gets looooooooonger, and the time gets shorter, have faith in the fact that they have grown because of you.  Hopefully, that will help you enjoy the path to the finish line.

     Thanks, +Kirstin McGinnis, for helping me find my wings today.

iEngage Day #2

Sunday, May 10, 2015

     The 2nd day of iEngage, my district's first EdTech conference, was a day of learning and reflection for me.  As John Antonetti said in his opening Keynote, a whole lot of educators came here on a Saturday just to make their craft better.  Just amazing.

     There were so many things that I could write about here, but I decided to go with my top 10 Word Swag big ideas that I used for the @TheEdCollab gathering a few weeks ago.  This time, however, I made them all iEngage green.  If my nails are green, I might as well might make my Word Swags green, too.

     I thought about all the new learning I had been gifted, and I looked over my notes, my tweets, and some links to the slideshows that had been shared.  Picking my top 10 big new understandings and/or inspirations was actually pretty hard.  After some deep reflection, here they are in no particular order:

     I decided to make an 11th one that is actually my own words.  I was giving a session with my principal, +Karen Marino, about Standards Based Grading.  It was a Leadership Strand, so we had some stopping points in there with questions for our participants to think about as leaders.  

     Everyone in a building, from teachers to admins, have the power to be leaders.  Whenever we got to a point in the slideshow with this image, we stopped and had them consider how they were going to use their leadership in their role to move toward SBG.  After the day was over, I was going over the tweets and saw one from my own session by +Robin Sterrett.
     I mean, isn't that the point?  That we all have the power to be leaders and make changes for the betterment of our students?  That we come to learn new things, and really put those things into action when they make a difference for the children sitting in front of us?  Whether we are making decisions that affect 1 student, 28 students, 500 students, or 4,000, we all have the ability to be a leader.  Making tough decisions on a daily basis is at the core of teaching.  Choose your actions using professional judgement, but always with your core values in mind, and make a difference.  Lead the way, now that we are all ready and inspired after #iengagebwyn.

iEngage Day #1

A yellow school bus.

41 dedicated educators.

A district on the cutting edge in the world of educational technology.

A school just filled with fantastic teachers and students!

     I had the pure honor of being part of Day 1 of iEngage Berwyn, an EdTech Conference unlike anything else.  It was a two day conference, with the 1st day being spent touring classrooms while learning is actually occurring, rather that just hearing about it from a presenter.  I had the honor of being a site visit leader, as well as +Bill Davini+Karen Marino, and +Jodi Meyer.  What an honor to be part of their team!

     In the morning, we had a bus filled with 21 people who were given a brief overview of our school and got to see our trailer (above).   In the afternoon, we had 20 visitors.  Because we truly have a fantastic staff, we decided to have an open door policy and let the visitors roam the building.  We simply made signs that said the grade level, the names of the teacher(s), and the type of device they had.  We did make our staff names green if they were presenting at iEngage the next day.  

     We walked around the building, for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, and just helped answer questions and guide them in the direction they needed to go when they were looking for something specific.  Because we talked to 41 new educators, I learned new things from many of them along the way.  If I wasn't with someone, I would walk into the rooms and take pictures and talk to the kids about their learning. 

I saw teachers teaching other teachers.

I saw students working independently and collaboratively.

I saw students using tech to enhance their learning.

I saw students explain their thinking, to themselves and to adults.

I saw integration of social studies and literacy.

I saw engagement.

     I have to say, I have never been so proud of our teachers and our students.  Room to room, there was learning going on.  In the week of PARCC, a new PARCC specials schedule, F&P testing, Teacher Appreciation Week, a dental clinic, and the first temps in the 80s for the year, we were still engaged.  

     Here are the pictures I took while walking around, plus a few more from Day 2 of the conference. 

     I have never been so proud to be a Husky.

#hiawathapride for iEngage

Monday, May 4, 2015

     This week, our district is having our first 2-day EdTech Conference to celebrate the learning that goes on in our classrooms every day.  It is called iEngage, and more details can be found here:

     On the first day of the conference, teachers from other schools will have the opportunity to come into our classrooms and see learning in action.  To set up the day, we were told to make an iMovie trailer introducing our school to our guests.  I wanted to grab some ideas from the staff, but I was going to be out of the building for most of the day. I randomly sent the text message above to as many staff numbers as I had programmed into my phone.  Without any prompting the responses ranged from silly to serious.  They can be seen here, compiled into a Wordle.

     One of the text responses came from +Christina Betz.  She said "hot topics" because she thinks of Hiawatha as being pioneers in the new world of education and bettering our understanding of hot topics in education and technology.  Suddenly, the story board for the Hiawatha trailer was right in front of me! I took the words from our staff, and video clips of our staff and students in action, and created this trailer to represent us.

     OK, so I don't know about you, but I teared up just a bit when I watched that for the first time...

      I am so incredibly proud of the work our teachers and staff do every single day at Hiawatha.  For us to consider our job to be a place of opportunity and collaboration and family makes us so blessed, because education is filled with challenges right now.  Not everyone gets to feel like part of a team while doing what they love, and we get to do that while helping our students create the lives they deserve to have.

     To borrow a hashtag from +Christopher Lehman and The Ed Collab, pure #EduJoy for my #CelebrateMonday.  Thanks, Hiawatha, for letting me be a part of your family.