Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Slice of Life Day 6: Devastating Defeat At the Polls

On March 6, 1836 the Alamo fell after a 13 day siege. On March 6, 2018 #blockvote faced a similar defeat.

As the results of the Texas primaries rolled in, all hope disappeared. The educators' valiant efforts failed to impact change at the polls.

Maybe we should just follow the lead of West Virginia and Oklahoma. Perhaps a teacher strike is what it's going to take. A revolution is stirring. I feel it. Teachers have had enough. In a bleeding red state, our voices are silenced.

We either mobilize or move. I'm fed up. Apparently so are a lot of fellow educators on Twitter. 

How do we create a critical mass? Who will be our Katniss Everdeen? We need a coalition of the willing. Are you in?

slice of life

This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Slice of Life Day 5: Conference Jitters

Image result for sxswedu.com

A few month ago right before Christmas break, Sheel Jagani, a program specialist from the Texas Education Agency, contacted me via email to see if I'd be interested in presenting with a small team of #TXLS facilitators at SXSW EDU. Of course I jumped at the chance, and now that I'm hours away from attending, I'm feeling a bit anxious. Several colleagues from ESC Region 11 mentioned how uniquely different this conference is, and as I thumb through the program guide, I am instantly overwhelmed. So many of the sessions seem geared towards policy wonks and ed-tech folks. I feel like a little fish in a big pond, and insecurity gnaws at the surface. 

The morning keynote is presented by The Moth. When I looked up their organization online, their tagline reads, "True Stories Told Live". I'm hoping this entry experience will alleviate all the anxiety I'm experiencing. FOMO threatens, and I worry I'll attend the wrong sessions. Perhaps my small town upbringing leaves me feeling a bit unsteady as I prepare to participate in this internationally known event. Last year, my favorite thought leader of all time, Dr. BrenĂ© Brown, presented a session titled Daring Classrooms. However, this year when I browse the schedule, I see no names I'm familiar with which makes me feel inadequate and uninformed. I don't like not knowing. 

My word for 2018 is Unwind, and as I type this neurotic blog, I am realizing I need to chill out! This day holds treasures untold, and if I just calm down and embrace a beginner's mindset, I'm sure everything will turn out just fine. When you vomit your scattered, maniacal thoughts on the screen, you quickly gain perspectives. Perhaps this blog is just what I needed to talk myself off the ledge, and settle my fidgety, restless spirit. For anyone still reading, I hope my bleeding apprehension hasn't caused your heart to race. I'm thankful for this safe space to process through my convoluted, human emotions.

slice of life

This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Slice of Life Day 4: Lovin' Our Life Together

I'm crafting my blog this evening from a hotel in north Austin, not far from where Chris lived when we first met. During the winter and spring of 2007, I would trek from Fort Worth down south, anxiously awaiting the surprises he'd have have planned. One weekend, he sprinkled colorful paper butterflies all over his dinning room table. Another weekend, we headed to the Oasis to watch a gorgeous Texas sunset. Each trip was full of anticipation, connection, and budding love. By May, we'd decided to get married, and since his kiddos were relocating to Grand Prairie, it was a logical move for him to join me in Burleson. He often talked about returning to Austina place that represented new beginnings, acceptance, and inclusivity.

Fast forward eleven years, and we're back where it all began. As a classroom teacher, I'd sporadically get the chance to travel with Chris to conferences he'd attend around the country. Now we both have jobs which require us to make frequent trips to Austin, and although we don't live here, it sometimes feels like our home away from home. Our road trips are always filled with rich conversations about all thing education, and often we either read or listen to audio-books. Today, as we drove from Houston to Austin, Chris read a few chapters from Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. To make me laugh, he'd periodically throw in his Hank the Cowdog voice, which you can enjoy by clicking on the video below.

Witnessing Chris read aloud to these 4th graders made me fall in love with him all over again. His humorous spirit and advocacy for teachers is unparalleled. He's a quirky, passionate guy, and I'm so incredibly grateful he is mine. Doing life with him is always an adventure, and I'm thankful he can tag along with me this week as I prepare to present about Texas Lesson Study at SXSW Edu. 

This guy makes me giggle, supports my independent streak, and loves me with abandon. I am eternally grateful for his authenticity, his servant's heart, and his brilliant mind. I know this week I'll return to the hotel each evening with my mind on fire from all I've absorbed and learned. He will patiently listen, reflectively question, and thoughtfully respond. I am truly blessed to be taking this journey through life with him by my side. 

slice of life

This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Slice of Life Day 3: The Gradual Release Model Grows Up

The idea of outgrowing a professional practice makes perfect sense to me. Just like children need training wheels when they first learn to ride a bike, teachers need similar scaffolds. The Gradual Release Model, often referred to as "I do, You do, We do", has been a staple in classrooms across this country for decades. Only recently, have I begun to question how this time-honored practice might benefit from a face-lift.

After reading an article titled, Must All Good Instruction Begin With Teacher Modeling?, I can't seem to get the chart posted below out of my mind.

*Created by Olivia Wahl
If I'm honest, words like re-envision, re-conceptualize, and re-imagine both invigorate and terrify me all at once. I love how the author of the chart linked the old architecture of a mini-lesson to the new one. The immersion phase of learning allows students to construct their own understanding and draw their own conclusions. The teacher is no longer the keeper of knowledge. Instead, children are positioned to dig deep and discover as they delve into mentor text. Learning how to weave immersion throughout a unit will require intentional instructional design, but clearly the benefits are limitless.

As a teacher, we are always on a path towards contiguous improvement. Sometimes it feels like just when we've gotten comfortable with one way of running our workshop, a new and better way appears. This can be challenging for those of us who crave stability. However, putting the needs of our students over our own comfort is the hallmark of a teacher who truly seeks professional growth. Letting go of training wheels can feel scary, and so can adjusting a practice that makes us feel safe.

slice of life

This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Slice of Life Day 2: A Difficult Dance

A Difficult Dance

Collaborate or create? 
Discuss or do? 
Deliberate or design? 
Mull it over or make it happen? 
Process or produce?
Reflect or respond?
Ask or accomplish?
Converse or complete?

*This dichotomous poem represents my struggle to find balance between rich professional conversations and task execution. As educators, time is our currency, and we do NOT have enough. To be fully engaged and present during work sessions, I must let go of the myth of multitasking. Teachers must become skilled at bantering, babbling, and bouncing ideas off of each other while simultaneously finishing the work. Both are necessary. Both help us grow. And both take TIME.

Image result for this or that
slice of life

This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Slice of Life Day 1: Widening My Circles & Expanding Influence

This is my fourth or fifth time to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge, and every experience shapes my path in profound ways. Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a professional learning session primarily focused on conquering the challenges of our Texas standardized test.  This topic rarely gets me geeked-up, considering I've felt shackled by the debilitating effects of high-stakes testing for decades. However, with each teacher's head nod of solidarity and widened-eye curiosities, I felt connected to a larger purpose. As I shared about my honest struggles in the classroom, I once again realized how incredibly important the words, "me too" really are. 
About a year ago, I stepped out of a classroom and took a position as a Lesson Study Facilitator/Instructional Coach our our Regional Education Service Center. Every day I've questioned whether or not it was the right decision, but I've continued to put one foot in front of another, and slowly I have found my footing. Near the conclusion of the presentation, I affirmed and empathized with the audience, reminding them that teaching kids to write well is the hardest job in the world. I shared how during the hardest, darkest days in the classroom, this community saved me. Each March when I joined the Slice of Life Challenge, I wrote alongside my kiddos, remembering why the act of putting pen to paper is so dang difficult. As the STAAR stormed raged, I found refuge on my blog. As I widen my circles and expand my influence, my hope is that at least one teacher in the room will join us on the journey this year, reshaping their writing identity and finding hope. 

slice of lifeThis post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Uncertain Inference & An Act of Kindness

As teachers, we constantly beat the drawing conclusions drum. "Remember students, you must be able to support all inferences with evidence." So what happens when we think we've made a solid inference only to find out we're wrong? What if our interpretation of the implicit clues lead us to draw a inference that is unsubstantiated? What if our own doubts cause us to question the validity of our inferences?

After spending a restful and rejuvenating weekend in Philadelphia with my husband, I left the hotel bright and early around 7:45 a.m. to catch the first leg of my flight home. Since I'd decided to travel at the last minute, there were no direct flights from DFW to PHL, so I booked a flight that included a brief layover in Minneapolis, MN. Minutes before departing Philadelphia, I received a message from Delta Airlines indicating my connecting flight had been delayed approximately one hour. "No big deal," I thought, "Gives me more time to maneuver through the airport and maybe grab a bite to eat."  With this minor set back in motion, I chose to maintain a positive outlook until I sauntered up to the gate to discover it was now a four hour delay, and my flight would not be departing until almost 6:00 p.m. One again, I tried to reframe the situation. "I'll have more time to catch up on emails and complete a few last minute items for work. This is a blessing in disguise," I reasoned in my mind.

Fast forward a few hours. I head to the gate to get in line. Disgruntled passengers are about to cause a riot, and the airline staff are doing their best to deescalate a tense situation. The flight has been canceled, and according to the attendant's announcement no one will be getting out until 7:35 a.m. the following morning. I gently saunter up to the counter awaiting my turn to speak with an agent. She's busy juggling the phone line and angry travelers, so when I finally reach the front, I give her the most empathetic look I can muster and I say, "Mam, you are handling this incredibly stressful situation like a champ. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be to talk this many people off the ledge—especially when you can't wave your magic wand and solve the weather issues around the country." With a weary smile, she punched a few numbers into her computer, and gently slid a rerouted ticket across the counter. No words were exchanged. No comments were made. I took the ticket, thanked her for her kindness, and stepped away from the gate, completely confused about the transaction that had just occurred.

I studied the new ticket, which appeared to indicate I could, in fact, catch a red-eye flight departing at 11:00 p.m. Initially, this puzzled me because the announcement I'd heard clearly stated there were no outbound planes to Dallas until the morning. I hustled as fast as my feet would take me to another terminal on the opposite end of the airport. At this point, I was still uncertain whether or not this unsuspecting Delta worker had done me a me a huge favor or screwed me out of an overnight stay in a hotel. As I maneuvered my way across the airport, I kept thinking about the power of kindness and the importance of nonverbal communication. If this woman had worked the system in my favor, I couldn't help but think it had something to do with maintaining a positive presupposition. In my heart, I knew this lady was doing this best she could. The saying, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar", kept coursing through my mind. Had she discreetly secured me a seat simply because I hadn't acted like an angry jerk?

Upon arriving at the new gate, I discovered about five other passengers who'd also received a mysterious ticket. We were all a bit bumfuzzled and skeptical about the possibility of getting home, and as we dialogued about our experiences with the gate agent, we realized we'd been hand selected. The common thread which tied us all together was our quiet, non-confrontational nature. Sure we were perturbed about the delay, but we maintained composure and did our best to honor the humanity of the folks who were simply trying to do their jobs. As I compose this blog, I've been privileged to get to know a few strangers from various parts of the country. They are all gentle-spirited folks, just trying to make it to their next destination.

I haven't made it on a plane home yet, but I've certainly learned an important life lesson. Sometimes it can take hours to shore up enough evidence to support an inference. Regardless of whether I catch the next flight out of here or not, I can be sure of one thing—No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.