writing that comes from a nudge

slice of life updated

It not the first time I’ve wanted to write and needed a little inspiration.

How many of the writers in our classrooms feel that too?

My inspiration today came from  this piece. I was stuck.

How many of the writers in our classrooms are willing, yet feel stuck?

I thought about Ralph Fletcher. I thought about the invitation he gave the audience I sat in many years ago to use this poem to nudge us to write.

How many of the writers in our classrooms need just that little nudge?

How many of them would delight in a small and beautiful approximation of a piece that they and we can agree is… well… writing?

Here goes.

I’ve been thinking about those days when we headed home from the playground just as the air cooled and your energy faded-

those early evenings when all you needed were a few more Goldfish to coax you from your carseat up the stairs to that moment when you struggle to pull your shirt over your small head all-by-yourself and wiggle out of your diaper while I fill the tub with water I plunge my hand into every few seconds to make sure the temperature is neither too warm or cool. We chat about what you loved best about the afternoon and what you are hoping to eat for dinner.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about how our moments now comes in spurts and we talk about your last exams and next plans. We have so little of this end-of-the-day, chatting-about-what-matters-and-what-doesn’t time. 

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the nudge and Danusha Laméris for the much needed inspiration.

 

 

lisa

slice of life updated

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have someone in our lives with whom we share a whole host of connections. Sometimes we are lucky enough to know and spend time with someone who checks all sorts of boxes.

I have a friend like this, and our first and most obvious connection is our shared first name.

We are both Lisas.

She is a former colleague. When she retired, I was lucky enough to assume some parts of her work. I’d never claim to have stepped into her shoes though. That simply wouldn’t be possible. For many years she was Lisa, and I was Lisa K. She’s retired now, but I’ll never be just Lisa. I’m still Lisa K.

Lisa- all by itself- that name is reserved for her.

Sometimes she just calls me by my last name, Keeler. Sometimes others do too. Even now. And that is just fine.

She is a mentor.

She was my daughter’s teacher.

She is a confidante.

She is a listener.

She is a jokester.

She is a reader.

She is a traveler.

She is a carer. A carer extraordinaire.

She is a legend.

She is loved. Loved by former students, loved by former parents, loved by former colleagues, loved by her family and friends.

And now, she is sick. She doesn’t look sick, or act sick, or even feel particularly sick she says. But she is. And it is all about to get very, very real for her.

Today I can’t write a true Slice of Life, or a small moment story. I can only write about a serious situation and Lisa.

If there is a silver lining in here, it is the reminder that sometimes we teachers need to meet our young writers where they are and let them write about what is consuming their brains or pressing on their hearts, even if it has nothing, nothing at all to do with the unit of study we are currently moving through in our workshops. If Lisa were still teaching she’d be the first to remind me, and all of us who know and love her, about that.

 

Thank you Two Writing Teachers  for the weekly nudge to write, share, and connect with other teachers of writers.

 

 

yoga fixes it all

slice of life updated

The light is dim and the air is cool as I walk into the room, ready to release the tension of the day.

I find a spot in the shadows in the back and roll out my mat.

Soft music plays through small speakers tucked into corners of the ceiling.

My mind continues to replay the events of the day. Did I spend enough time with that student? How could I have taught that concept better? Was that teacher looking for a different answer from me? Were my notes from the afternoon meeting thorough enough? Had that call gone as hoped? Did I remember to write down my idea about the lesson I’d observed?

I lay back on the mat and extend my left leg, the tricky one, toward the ceiling, threading my foot through the loop of the strap, pulling the slack towards me. My thigh cramps immediately, as if to say no… no…. haven’t I done enough today?

My left hand moves instinctively to rub out the kink. All of my other parts are craving the stretch and peace that the coming hour promises. I breathe in and out slowly and close my eyes.

Others trickle in, find their spots and gather what they need.

It’s time. Class begins. I work to slow my breath and quiet my mind. Already my neck begins to loosen. My brain quiets. My heart rate slows. My muscles ready themselves for the hour that will fix everything. At least for a moment.

 

 

yes to speaking to middle schoolers

I’d like to begin with a question.  Do you know/ have you been told/ or do you remember the  first word or one of the first words you said when you were a toddler just beginning to speak?

One of the most common words small children learn early and use often is the word no. No is  a small but powerful word. Maybe some of you have a younger brother or sister or cousin who says No! a lot? Or maybe you have memories of saying that word frequently when you were small, accompanied perhaps by a bit of thrashing about on the floor, or stomping your feet.  Or maybe it is a word you find yourselves saying or thinking often now too.

Two of the books I read this summer, Tell Me More and Year of Yes got me thinking about that word no, and another word we will think about in a minute. In Kelly Corrigan’s  Tell Me More, there is an entire chapter devoted to the things she knows she needs to say no to. And let me be clear, no is a word we need to be able to say. We should say no to things that don’t feel safe, or kind, or honest. Things that don’t bring out the best in us. Things that make others feel badly. Some are simple things- and it doesn’t take us any time at all to decide to say it. Others are more complicated… especially when you want to say no and others want you to say yes, or when you wonder what someone else might think of you  if you say no. 

Sometimes our reasons for saying no are not all that great. Sometimes it feels easier but maybe isn’t the answer we know we should give, or we just don’t want to deal with someone or something. 

When I was in fifth grade, my class took an overnight field trip. And the trip was to a wilderness area where everyone engaged in lots of outdoor activities. When I was in fifth grade I was not outdoorsy, I was not athletic, I was not coordinated, and I was not courageous. And at some point during that overnight trip, there was an activity I wanted to avoid. Whatever the activity, I do remember that it was made clear to us that we didn’t have to do it. We could opt out and be observers. But I didn’t want to admit that in front of other people. I was in fifth grade. I cared a lot about what other people might be thinking about me. I worried. And so I pretended I had a headache and I went to the nurse’s station. And she let me rest on a cot. I’m pretty sure she knew what was going on. I didn’t want to say no and stand out. Later, I found out that others did say no. Later I realized that nobody made a big deal about who said no. 

So back to that other word that my summer reading got me thinking about. That word is  Yes. Today I’d like for us to spend a little time thinking about the word yes.

The chapter in Tell Me More that follows the one on no is only  two pages long. And that chapter is a short list of all the things the author knows she will always say yes to. And I thought to myself when I read that list, wow- do I know, can I name the the things I want to make sure I always say yes to? 

Let me give you some examples of the kinds of things I will always try to say yes to… a student who needs my help, impromptu requests from my daughters to meet for coffee or a meal, creme brulee- which should probably be on my no list but will never make it there- a visit with my mom, a friend who asks for my ear, a request from your teacher Mrs. Reed for a conversation, time with my cousin Tim, cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. I’m still thinking about my list. any of my yeses are things that help me to be the person I want to be. But that hasn’t always been the case. Learning to say yes is a journey I am still on.

When I was a little bit older than you, I joined a school as the only new student. I was the only new girl in a class of 60 girls, many of whom had been together since Lower School. I was scared. It was rough. On the first day I remember one girl coming up to me and saying, “Your mom and my mom went to school together and my mom told me to say hi to you.” And that was all she said, and then she walked away, and I was back to square one. I knew nobody. Those first few weeks were so hard. But then another girl joined our class. By this point, I’d begun to find my  group. I had a few new, fragile friendships. And suddenly now I wasn’t the new girl. And there was a day not long after she came, and I am not proud of this, when she looked at me and asked me to hang out with her that weekend, and I said no. I made up some really flimsy excuse. And even when I was saying no part of me knew I could, maybe even should be saying yes. Later, she told me how I had made her feel when I said no. She told me that she thought I would be the one person she could count on. I said no, because it was easier than risking my newly found place in my friend group. And almost 40 years later this memory still makes me cringe. 

It’s not so much about the word yes as it is about the possibilities that word may create for each of us. Saying yes might take us out of our comfort zones- in a way that makes us feel uneasy at first- but can ultimately be a really beneficial thing. Saying yes also has the power to make someone else feel welcome, cared for, heard, respected. Saying yes sometimes just might make each of us a better person, make this school a better school, and make our community a stronger community..

So… Can you think of something you could try to  say yes to that might benefit both you and someone else?

-Can I talk to you?

-Is it ok if I sit there?

-Should I speak up right now?

-Would you like company?

-Could we hang out this weekend?

-Will you help me with something?

-And… I am thinking back to Ms. Harper’s chapel last week which I didn’t get to see but luckily I got to read her notes… Can I begin again?

I’m going to tell you one thing I have never ever said yes to and I am still trying to decide if I want to… and that is riding a roller coaster. Today I turn 54 and not once have I said yes to a roller coaster ride. Yet. Sometimes saying yes is about courage and just trying something new. As I said, I am still learning.

This year I hope we all pause when we are asked a question that can be answered with two of the shortest words in our language, two of earliest words we learn to say- yes, or no. I hope we know when to say no and can be brave about that. And I hope we learn when we can say yes- yes to learning and caring, growing and engaging.

 

 

 

late to the reading party

slice of life updated

It pains me to admit that my grown children are not the avid bookworms I’d hoped to raise. They read- for school, for their internships, online as interested/needed. Books- for pleasure- not so much. I thought I’d done everything right. Shared stories with them from birth. Check. Surrounded them with books. Check. Left books in the crib for early morning exploration. Check. Books on tape in the car during long trips. We did that. Bedtime stories. Yup. Every. Single. Night. Books for birthdays and from Santa. I read in front of them. And yet, they are not those kids (now adults) who default to a book on a rainy afternoon at the beach. They don’t have stacks by their bedsides. Sigh.

But I haven’t given up. And not long ago, my patience was rewarded. This summer I’ve been on a memoir kick. Well, my friend Melanie would say I’ve always been on a memoir kick. True. But this summer I read two that I could not stop talking about. Kelly Corrigan’s Tell Me More and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. As I read the final chapter in Tell Me More on an especially hot, sticky afternoon where the only place to be was on the sofa near the fan, I wept. My older daughter happened to walk by as this was happening… me turning pages and wiping away tears, sighing audibly.

“What are you reading?” she asked. I showed her the book. And then I couldn’t help myself… I started telling her all my favorite parts.

“I want to read it when you’re finished.”

Music to my ears. My heart skipped a beat. YES! I thought.

“Yes. I’d love to share it,” I replied, keeping the giddy enthusiasm out of my tone.

She devoured it in 24 hours. She cried while reading the last chapter. We talked. About the book. And when she was finished, she looked over and noticed the next book in my lap.

“Shonda Rhimes?! She wrote Grey’s Anatomy. I want to read that. Are you almost finished?”

“YES!” I answered, not hiding my delight that time.

all roads lead back to the learners we know…

I had every intention of rereading one and reading two new-to-me professional texts during July. And while the month isn’t yet over, I’m pretty sure I won’t get to any of them. In fact, I don’t want to read them. Yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about the opportunities of a job that includes over a month off each summer and I don’t want to squander them. The greatest is the chance to step away not just physically but mentally and recharge. Stepping away is challenging for anyone who finds their work satisfying, and I do not do it perfectly. But I realize this is precious time and I can spend it on things I find harder to fit in during the school year. Day trips, long walks, spontaneous visits with friends, naps, recipe testing, knitting, and more. Yes, I still check emails almost daily and read education-focused articles and blog posts linked on Twitter.  And I started a Google doc to record preliminary ideas for the first few weeks of fourth grade reading group. And my Amazon cart is slowly filling with titles I’ve discovered and want to add to my classroom. But I’m not reading those three professional books. Yet.

Instead, I’m reading lots and lots of fiction. Bestsellers, beach reads, page turners. Nothing too highbrow. This morning I started my fifth just because book. Some days I’ve plunked myself down on the glider on the porch or the chair on the front lawn and read for hours. In the afternoon. And I don’t/won’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about that.

Even so, as I read what I want, when I want, for as long as I want, how I want, I can’t help but think more about the power of choice for young readers and wonder how I can offer the children in my class more of what I’m experiencing right now. Can our time together each day be organized so that they can choose to read independently when it suits them? I’ve always determined the order of events during class. But maybe that should change. Is there a way for us to establish routines so that they can determine the time they spend reading on their own?  What would a reluctant reader do with that choice? Could they choose to make a shared text or the current read aloud their independent book as well?  Can we think about nightly reading requirements differently so that readers can choose not just what but when, where, and for how long they read?

And I’m noticing the things I do as a reader. When I skim. Why I skim. When and why I reread. I reread the first chapter of one book three times as I progressed through the story because there was something I kept wanting to check. What I like and don’t in the books I read. What confuses me. How can I use what I observe in my own reading habits to sharpen my insights and observations about the readers I teach? How can I use what I notice about my reading strengths and struggles to support young readers more effectively? How can I use my reading experience to connect in authentic ways with students?

Even though I’ve put those professional books aside this month, I’m thinking about my teaching practice, my future students, and how I can do better by, for, and with them in the coming school year. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Now back to that book.

slice of life updated

It’s just before 7:30 when I wander out to the porch, cup of coffee in one hand, book in the other. As I settle into the creaky, old glider, I look out to the water and notice an umbrella on the beach. Unusual this early I think as I put my mug down on the footstool I’ve pulled over and repurposed as a side table. I stand back up to take a closer look. Umbrella up and open, cooler and beach bag beneath it and a young woman in a bikini sitting on a towel, her back to me, applying sunscreen to her left arm. She has the beach to herself. Early riser I surmise. I smile, sit down, pick up my book, but put it back down, more interested in wondering about her story than reading the one in my lap. Why is she there so early? It is a beautiful beach day. Is it her day off? Does she have plans later? It looks as though she’s brought everything she needs to stay for the day. She is alone but maybe someone is joining her later. Is she a reader? I hadn’t spotted a book but maybe it is in her bag. Does she live here or is she just visiting? I begin to imagine and weave a narrative for her as I swallow the last sip from my mug and stand up to go refill it. I look out again, wanting to take in a few more details of the early-morning-out-of-the ordinary scene out front as I continue to invent the story in my head. Gone. The beach is empty. Umbrella, towel, cooler, beach bag, and bikini-clad woman no longer there. And it’s not even 8:00.

I survived Orangetheory

slice of life updated

As I walk from my car across the parking lot to the entrance, I spot the chalkboard sign to the side of the door. “Welcome Kayla, Lisa, and McLendon” it reads in colorful, decorative lettering. I cringe, wishing instead to slide in and out of this new experience with as little notice as possible. The young, fit woman behind the counter greets me with a cheerful, “Hello. Let’s get you set up and ready for your first class.” I begin filling out forms, signing wavers, and listening to her instructions about lockers, stations, heart monitors and class format. “Yikes,” I think, noticing from the corner of my eye the steady stream of more young, fit people gathering in front of the entrance to the workout studio. “Definitely raising the average age here,” my inner voice continues “What were you thinking?” There is no way out, only forward. The cheerful employee slips the heart monitor onto my left arm and leads me into the studio where there are screens and treadmills and rowing machines and weights and loud music. By now several of my colleagues, the ones who talked me into this whole thing, have arrived. They are calling over encouraging words. I am wishing for an invisibility cloak. “It’s only an hour,” I remind myself, adjusting the brace on my leg and telling the instructor, whoops- coach, that my left leg isn’t the most reliable so there may be moments when I will make adjustments. The other two who are new to the class are more than twenty years my junior. “But you have some friends older than you who come here regularly so it must be doable for the over-fifty crowd,” my self-talk continues. By now I’m full of doubt, instructions, and butterflies. Class begins. I’m on a rowing machine for the first time in my life. “Not so bad… sort of like this,” I think. I’m watching the screen in the far right corner of the darkened room, noticing the number I’ve been told is my heart rate begin to rise. My box on the screen turns from green to orange as I move from the rowing machine to floor work and back again, completing the increasingly challenging circuits our “coach” calls for. Thirty minutes in, I’m still alive, holding my own, concentrating mostly on rowing longer distances and completing more sets of exercises with dumbbells, but also watching the screen continue to turn from orange to red and back to orange again. And then our group is sent to the treadmills. There I follow instructions, alternating between my “base pace”and my “push pace”, adjusting the speed and incline on the machine when the coach says to do so. My leg is keeping up. I’m sweating. I’m not the fastest, not by a long shot. But I’m also not the slowest. My box on the screen continues to move from orange to red to orange. And then it’s over. Much to my amazement, I loved it. I survived. Regaining my strength and fitness isn’t going to happen overnight, but adding Orangetheory classes to the mix will help.

slice of life updated

We’ve reached the point in our school year where it becomes a lot about “lasts.” Today we had our last fire drill. I’m more than half way through reading the last read-aloud to my second grader readers. They’ve nearly finished their last assessments. Next week will be the last full week of school. We’ll have our last chapel and our last FABLab and our last reading and language arts class a week from Friday. It’s a bittersweet time punctuated with moments for celebration and reflection.

Family writing shares. Field day. Fourth graders presenting their kindergarten buddies with stories written just for them.

The pre school trike-a-thon. The junior kindergarten family tea time. Eighth grade exhibitions. Upper School graduation. Class parties and culminating activities galore. And time to celebrate and say farewell to longtime colleagues who are retiring.

It’s mid-May. As one of my favorite former administrators used to say, “Buckle up.”

Do the children I taught see themselves as readers? Did they discover books and authors they love? Will they start a summer TBR pile, visit a library, read over the summer? Have I given them everything I could? Will they leave with fond memories?

It’s a time of jumbled emotions around here. Excitement for summer. Mixed feelings about transitions and goodbyes. Fatigue and adrenaline take turns dominating my brain and bones. My seatbelt’s fastened, my eyes are wide open and I’m remembering to breathe and take it all in.

we did it

slice of life updated

Always there were more questions than answers. What do I have, I’d ask the doctor. Well, I’m not sure he’d replied. It doesn’t have a name he’d added. If this was happening ten years from now, he mused, the tests would be better, we’d know so much more. Okay was the only response I could think of.

Eighteen months ago, in the middle of the night, a big mystery began in my left thigh. I woke from a deep sleep in pain, my left leg spasming. By morning, I could barely put weight on that leg.

Fast forward to today. I’m on the other side of that mystery that took eight months to diagnose. I’m past the hours long treatments in an infusion center where the cocktail dripping into my veins was far less potent than what patients all around me were receiving. The constant burning is gone. I’m still numb, but I’m used to that now. My leg is still a little unreliable, but I’m used to that too.

All along I said to my doctors that there were things I’d willingly give up… downhill skiing, high heels, certain exercises in the strength training classes I love to attend. But… not tennis. Getting back onto the court has been a goal from the moment my leg became a problem.

I’m not an athlete. But I can play tennis well enough to have an enjoyable game with friends, to get a good workout, and to work up a good sweat. For me there has always been something deeply satisfying about getting out and whacking the ball at the end of a long work day. And yesterday, eighteen months later that is just what I did. Was I scared? Yup. I wondered if I would be able to move with any confidence. (I also wondered if I’d even remember how to hit the ball!)

It was a perfect afternoon. The sun was shining. The air was warm but not hot. The tennis pro who’s known me for years was not just patient, he was encouraging and even happily surprised at times by what I could do. I spent an hour on the court hitting balls over the net and sometimes into the net. I moved side to side on the base line practicing forehands and backhands. There was lots I didn’t attempt on this first time back on the court, but I was sweaty and tired and totally exhilarated at the end of that hour. My leg and I did it and this morning I’m still smiling.