Saturday, July 22, 2017

Obnoxious, But Loved

His annual summer visit always leaves me feeling a little dizzy and desperate for silence. The damaged little girl, who often felt abandoned and unwanted, secretly celebrates the fact her dad is making a small investment of time into his adult daughter's life. However, the grown-up, semi-healed version of myself dreads the onslaught of non-stop conversation, charged political rants, and an intense inability to listen. This trip stirred up a hurricane of emotions, leaving in its wake, more questions than answers. You see, my dad is straight up obnoxious. He openly acknowledged this glaring character flaw, and during a particularly insightful moment, he actually asked me to define the word. I said something like, "Well, I think obnoxious behavior is when you do provocative things intended to aggravate or exasperate others. Obnoxious people are loud, opinionated, and pushy." He replied, "That pretty much describes me." Shocked by his verbalized awareness, I realized for a brief moment, I too possess this undesirable, yet pervasive, Franks family trait.


When I discovered the quote above, I paused long enough to consider the significance of the second line. In a family tormented for generations by the devastating effects of alcoholism, we all have our own ways of crying out for help. Some of us turn to the bottle itself. Others choose workaholism or perfectionism. Our proclivity towards extreme thinking and excessive behaviors feels built-in, almost instinctual. Overzealous opinions and stubbornness run deep in the crevices of our neural pathways, and it would behoove us all to heed the wise words of Earnest Tucker, Harley's father in the kitsch movie Pure Country, "Yeah, people just talk too darn much."



Although exhausted from all the incessant rambling and relentless chatter, I am grateful my dad drove from Lefors to Fort Worth to see me. He spends a lot of time alone, and I worry about his increasingly hermit like behavior. We share a common love for education, and I know he was proud of me as we toured the Region 11 Service Center where I'm now employed. He visited a local Texas Civil War Museum, and we caught a matinee movie. An afternoon dip in the apartment pool and an enjoyable evening meal of grilled steaks, asparagus, and fresh corn-on-the cob rounded off the day. I celebrated his recent entry into the world of Twitter, and we had fun figuring out his new Android smartphone. More than once, I heard him express deep regret for past mistakes, and I sensed a lot of pain and frustration when he spoke about a recent rift with my older brother, who happens to be a cookie cutter of his father. In a strange, complicated way, I think we all hunger for the same thingacceptance, forgiveness, and a sense of belonging. This man is insufferable at times, but I sure do love him.

The best part about being a Franks is our love for one another transcends our disdain of the brokenness we all possess. In her recent TED Talk titled, 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing, Anne Lamott remarks, "Families are hard, hard, hard. no matter how cherished or astonishing they may be." I couldn't agree more. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pondering the Point of PD & A Professional Dream Come True!

Thirty years ago, I was grieving the end of 3rd grade because I would no longer have Mrs. Sheila Barnes as a classroom teacher. At 8 years old, I decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps, and I became stubbornly determined to have a classroom of my own someday. She'd come to Lefors, Texas in 1985 from Arkansas, and she spent over 20 years pouring life into the children of the community. Little did I know, our relationship would transcend time and help me become the educator I am today.

One of my fondest memories of Mrs. Barnes was when a Chrystal Springs catalog would arrive in the mail, and she would scour the pages looking for new professional books to buy. I remember her annotating classic texts like In the Middle by Nancy Atwell and Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook. Our rural elementary school had only one class per grade level, and although she would occasionally find a colleague who shared her passion for literacy, she set herself apart by constantly seeking ways to improve her classroom instruction.

      

Region 16, an Educational Service Center in Amarillo, offered a meager number of workshops throughout a school year, so her professional growth was really up to her. She was a quintessential learner, and she could hardly contain her fervor and excitement when she'd discover a new instructional strategy hidden in the pages of a book. I was lucky enough to be her teacher's aide from 7th to 12th grade, and I recall many memorable trips to A & D Bookstore in Amarillo where she would stock up on new titles and comment about how she hoped her husband, Bob, would understand the necessity of the purchases. He always did, and she would spend the next few months digging deep into professional books designed to help her improve her practice and make school an inviting place scholars were born and reading and writing flourished.


Not long ago, I took a position at Region 11, an Educational Service Center in Fort Worth, Texas. I've watched countless teachers sit through professional workshops this summer, and I've been privileged to share my expertise and experience with others. During a recent state reading academy, I littered the tables with a plethora of professional titles that are part of my educational cannon. Throughout the session, I would reference various authors and explain how these books had changed my teaching life. One participant raised her hand and incredulously asked, "Did you really read all of those?", and I admitted to devouring some, marking up the margins of most, and skimming a few. Another person commented they just didn't have the desire to read regularly and blatantly stated, "You're an anomaly. Teachers just don't have that kind of time." Instantly, I thought of Mrs. Barnes, and I realized how incredibly blessed I've been to have had a mentor like her who sat the bar high and continues to challenges me to keep growing and improving my practice. 


A troubling trend has surfaced among educators, and I often hear teachers talking about how PD feels like something that is done to them. In order to earn an exchange day in the fall, they compliantly sign up for workshops and begrudgingly attend, zoning out on their devices or half-heartedly participating. Some find a nugget or two to take back to their classrooms, others get geeked up and downright giddy about new strategies they can't wait to share with their students, and still others passively endure what they perceive as pure torture.

Now don't get me wrong. I've sat through some pretty miserable PD sessions, and I completely understand why some teachers might approach staff development with a skeptical outlook. I recently heard Cornelius Minor say, "Mandates are a soft form of tyranny", and our poor teachers are mandated to death. They lack autonomy. They are asked to do impossible things. And they are often expected to teach with their hands tied behind their backs because the pedagogy and assessment practices are misaligned.

I am a champion of teachers, and I understand their weariness. Initiative fatigue, unfunded mandates, and an ever-growing achievement gap threatens to suck the life right out of us. In a world where everything feels like one more thing, it can sometimes be tough to stay hopeful. However, the one thing I believe we will always have control of is how we feed ourselves professionally. Mrs. Barnes is still in the classroom after almost 35 years because she took charge of her own professional growth and made a concerted effort to pursue new learning even when it wasn't readily available.

Upon arriving at ESC Region 11, I read a published research paper called, The Mirage Study. It really made me wonder why institutions like the service center exist in the first place. According to the TNTP study, traditional sit-and-get, spray-and-pray professional development has limited or no impact on learning outcomes. This is frightening, and I've wondered how much of the research is because teachers have become almost as disengaged as the students they serve. This reality can be discouraging, however when I hop on Twitter and read about carloads of teachers who drive half-way across the country to attend #nErDCampMI, I am reminded about the importance of staying connected to my tribe. Weekly chats online and live events of Facebook put teachers back in control of our learning, and I am deeply grateful for connected educators who have helped reshape my teaching landscape in indescribable ways.

This weekend, I get to live out one of my professional dreams. Thanks to the support of colleagues, I am honored to attend the annual International Literacy Association conference held in Orlando. I've already downloaded the app and struggled to budget my time between all the literacy giants I've admired through the pages of their books. In a few days, I'll be able to mark ILA off my buck list, although I suspect I will want to return every summer. I'll go back home with a few new author signatures, a renewed spirit, and suitcase full of books. The words lucky and blessed seem inadequate, but one thing I know for sure, I am definitely grateful.


During my plane ride to Florida, I turned the final pages of Shawna Coppola's book, Renew. Although I usually mark up the margins in most of my professional reads, this book begged to be swallowed whole. Her final words resonated deeply and affirmed the message Mrs. Barnes lives out every day. 

"There's one thing, however, I have promised I will never do, and that is to become complacent in my work. Because the truth of the matter is, our students deserve better. Our profession deserves better. We deserve better."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Mash Up of Renew!, Disrupting Thinking, and Auto Draw

In the world of literacy there's lots of talk about providing students with text sets so they can compare and contrast ideas across multiple genres, media, and levels of text complexity. Today, I accidentally stumbled upon a couple of professional titles I now consider "book cousins". These two texts helped me understand the value of synthesis in a fresh way, and thanks to the Wired Educator Podcast, a third modality pushed my thinking even more.

If you haven't had a chance to pick up Shawna Coppola's book, Renew, run to the nearest store and purchase it. Her wit, humor, and insight are helping me outgrow tired teaching practices and rethink how to engage young writers in authentic ways. More importantly, it's a quick, digestible read, and you'll find yourself thinking about the ideas she presents long after you've finished the last chapter.


In the middle of the book, she asks educators to reconsider what it really means to write. She provides some powerful, important quotes by published authors who repeatedly demonstrate that drawing and design are as critical to their process as putting words on a page. She argues that rather than give kids a bunch of outdated graphic organizers, we should teach them how to read like writers and design their own tools for engaging in the writing process. 

Next up — the hottest professional book on Twitter this summer!


Although I preordered this book months in advance, I hadn't had a chance to really sink my teeth into it until I listened to Kylene Beers and Bob Probst during a live FB event. The first thing that caught my attention when I opened this professional title was all the beautiful student photos, colored headings,  and eye-catching tables and charts. All the white space on the pages made it seem less dense, and I loved the snippets of "kid talk" strategically tucked in at just the right time.

Since I've been reading these titles simultaneously, it's no surprise I'm finding connections everywhere. However, it wasn't until I heard Kylene say the words below that I really understood the ideas Shawna Coppola was trying to convey in Ch. 3.
"Writing a book requires that I think about how it looks on the page. The design of the book and the content of the book, for me, develop hand-in-hand." ~Kylene Beers



These books are both disrupting my thinking, and I am excited to share what I'm learning with other teachers. Although my identity as a writer is a bit fragile, I decided to return to this blog and write about the power of reading two seemingly different professional titles side-by-side.

Additionally, my husband recently shared this super cool website called Auto Draw in which you can sketch something with your mouse and it detects the image you are trying to create. 


These books are peeling back layers of my thinking, so I attempted to draw an onion. The first drawing you see is my sad sketch. The second is their interpretation. I can totally see how this tool will empower me to reconsider the intersection of drawing, design, and writing.
I hope fellow educators will pick up these books and allow them to challenge you like they've challenged me. I also hope you'll have a blast playing around on Auto Draw! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Saint Nora: A Mother's Day Tribute

On a day set aside to honor all mothers, I must take a moment to commemorate the matriarch of our family, Nora Franks.


In 3rd grade we made Mother's Day cards.
My folded piece of card stock read, "To the BEST Nora on The Planet!"
I didn't have a mom. Instead, I had a Nora.
She rocked us and read to us.
Pulling my hair into pigtails, she'd look at my reflection in the mirror while I sat on the edge of the sink.
And she'd remind me I was special and smart and worthy.
On Saturdays, we'd traipse across town, visiting garage sale after garage sale.
Two dollars felt like a million bucks, and she always encouraged me to buy books instead of toys.
Today, the bookshelves in my apartment overflow because of her influence.
My Nora has raised multiple generations of children.
Just the other day we had a one of our marathon phone conversations.
She expressed fear about the challenges my nephews will face in this uncertain world.
I told her as long as they have her, everything would be okay.
She builds a rock solid foundation in the lives of babies, children, and teenagers.
Her gift of nurturing is unparalleled.
Mental illness and addiction afflicted my biological mom, leaving behind emotional scars.
But Nora was always there to mend the wounds and stand in the gap.
She came to every ball game, every school play, and every award ceremony.
She cooked us lots of Hamburger Helper, did endless loads of laundry, and spoiled us rotten.
I am the woman I am today because of her, and I couldn't have asked for a better mom.
She taught us there was nothing we could ever do to make her love us less.
Our value was never dependent on performance.
She's lovely and beautiful and good.
Our Nora is a saint.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

One Month Milestone: Context Kicks Into High Gear

Exactly one month ago, I stepped out of a 4th grade classroom into the world of instructional leadership. Transitioning from a campus to an educational service center has been a seismic shift, and I recently told a friend I feel like I was dropped off on an unknown planet called ESC 11. Slowly, but surely, I'm starting to feel less like an alien, and although discomfort has been my daily companion, I keep putting one foot in front of another. 


Several colleagues have inquired as to why I chose to apply for this job, and if I am honest, I'm still trying to figure out the answer. For the last few years, I've felt restless and hungry for a new challenge. After multiple failed attempts at convincing leaders in my former district to launch some type of hybrid teaching role in which I could keep one foot firmly planted in the classroom and simultaneously hone my leadership skills, I temporarily let go of my long term career goals and decided to risk a new professional adventure. The timing of my departure has caused intense angst, and although I continue to wrestle with perception control, I get to practice one of my favorite mantras, "What other people think about me is none of my business." 

The deeply held belief that nothing happens in this world by mistake keeps me on the prowl for purpose, and after four weeks on the job, I'm starting to understand the immeasurable value breadth and depth of experience bring. Yesterday, during a conversation with one of our digital learning team leaders, I discovered how everyone's path to education looks different, and these varied journeys have the power to reshape and revolutionize education. This particular individual had started his career as a marine, became a corporate trainer for engineers, and after failing to effect change as a school board member, decided to go back to college later in life to become a teacher. He spent a few years in an insanely innovative 4th grade classroom and eventually landed at the service center.  

In contrast, I've spent the last 16 years doing the same thing—teaching 4th grade. Sure, I've switched campuses multiple times, limped through a brief year as an instructional coach/interventionist, and served on a plethora of campus and district committees. But ultimately, my experiences are limited. I know how to be a 4th grade teacher, and although my administration nurtured my leadership abilities and I raced after research and professional development with abandon, I'm beginning to realize the narrowed lens I've viewed the world through. Similar to when I graduated from high school and left my tiny town of five hundred people for the big city, my perspective is broadening, and it's scary as hell. I'm trying to remind myself my path has been different, not less. 

Thanks to the
wisdom of Brené Brown, I know comparison steals joy, and my intent is not to draw unhelpful parallels. Instead, my top strength of context is kicking in, and I am trying to make sense of where of I've been so I can better understanding where I'm going. I'm grappling with enormous change, and part of my process always includes a deep desire to answer the elusive question, Why? I do not want to minimize the value of my time in the classroom, because there is nothing more important that serving students from the front lines. Now that I am no longer living in the trenches daily, I struggle with guilt and I feel like a sell-out. I wonder if army grunts who eventually move up in rank experience a similar emotional tug-of-war?



As I continue to walk this unsteady path, I feel certain more will be revealed. Amidst these fears, the future feels bright and promising, and I am enjoying the variety and unexpected surprises I discover in each new day. With a shaky voice and rattled confidence, I'll keep showing up for this new role. Experience is the best teacher, and as my professional world view broadens, I will hold on tight as the winds of change blow and perspective slowly emerges. 

This afternoon, with my husband as my wingman, I will join a group of new colleagues at a local brewery. We will laugh, connect, and expand our circles. Chris has been instrumental in helping me spread my wings and fly, and his risk taking nature makes me feel braver than I actually am. I appreciate his patience during these trying times of uncertainty, and without his support and influence, I might have stayed a safety girl my whole life. He's my rock, and I am grateful. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Missing the Boat: Confessions of a Slice of Life Flunky



I am a Slice of Life flunky. I had grand intentions of joining the party for the fifth year in a row, but I missed the boat. The last three weeks has been a whirlwind of change, and although I had grand aspirations to use my blog as a place to process all the ups and downs of switching jobs, I failed to carve out the necessary time required to write each day.

Writing requires headspace, and my mental computer is currently in defragging mode. I looked up the definition of defragment in the dictionary and this is what I found.


Basically, my brain is decluttering itself. When I owned a Windows laptop and I would start the defragging process, my PC would often creep, crawl, and limp along while the clean-up occurred in the background. In my impatience, I'd open multiple tabs at once, and sometimes this would crash the entire system, causing me to have to restart the process. In order to prevent this from happening in my life, I've had to close a few tabs in my brain and allow the defragging to unfold without interruption. I'm slowly learning to let go of my constant need for speed, and if this means embracing my inner dropout, so be it.

Obviously, if I am posting this blog, I haven't fully accepted my flunky status. Writing beckons, and I acquiesce. As this laborious defragging process continues, I may pop on my blog from time to time to let my complicated, meandering thoughts bleed onto the screen. I'm grateful for this community, and I'm hopeful you will continue to wrap your arms around this Slice of Life Flunky. 







Monday, February 13, 2017

Fabulous First Day: Trading a Classroom for a Cubicle

My first day at ESC Region 11 turned out well. One of my new colleagues placed heart shaped window clings outside my cubicle to make me feel welcomed, and my supervisor gave me a grand tour of the place, introducing me to tons of friendly faces. With each new alcove, I met educators full of spunk, brilliance, and passion. The former ELAR consultant left a treasure trove of professional resources for me to sort through, and a group invited me out to lunch for Mexican food. I spent the afternoon organizing office supplies, filling out paperwork for HR, and setting up online accounts. Overall, I consider day one a success.