Saturday, November 28, 2015

Do Report Card Narratives Lead to Positive Change?

It's that wonderful (aka exhausting) time of year!

Trimester report card narratives were due to my administrator on Tuesday. My very quiet disclaimer: Self Science, the class I teach for all students in 5th -8th grade, does not have its own space on the report card, so I don't actually have to/get to write them.  In fact, I am very fortunate that I don't deal with grades in my classes. I spend a lot of time inviting students in reflective conversations on shared google docs where we share thoughts and observations.  How could I even begin to "grade" social and emotional skills anyway?

Asking questions about why and how we do it: 

Before I begin, let me emphasize that I am questioning the "system", not criticizing the work of hard working teachers.
My awesome, and exhausted after writing way too many narratives colleagues ask for input, so I  have the opportunity to edit, and sometimes reframe comments that need a bit of clarity.  Despite the fact that I work in a school where teachers are strengths-oriented and skilled at observation, I still wonder if narratives could be more productive and useful. Does the incredible investment of time pay off? Do parents actually find the paragraphs and paragraphs written about their middle schoolers helpful? Do the narratives lead to positive change?

Here's another main concern:  So much of what we write seems so subjective, more about "who" we think a kid is, instead of "what" they have done during the trimester.

What would happen if we made a more concerted attempt to avoid judgment oriented phrases such as:  Nicole is a conscientious and generous student..  and tried something more "action" specific: Nicole works diligently in class and often goes out of her way to help peers when they are struggling to understand.

Perhaps the key is in student voice: 

What if we ask students for their reflections on their performance before writing their narratives, so we can compare their view of their effort and improvement with our own perception? What if a student's reflection actually landed on the report card? Wouldn't it be a rich discussion for parents to compare and contrast the student's impression with the teacher's report? What if report cards included goals and action items co-created by students and teachers?

I'd love to hear from you..
How do you ensure that your narratives lead to positive change?

Friday, November 27, 2015



As I was running today, it occurred to me how changing my focus of attention, while doing something challenging (like running!), altered the difficulty and pleasurablilty of my experience. As I pondered the following actions, I found the time and distance whoosh away.

I am definitely going to use the S.L.O.W. acronym to help me remember to:

S: Savor the interesting moments; learn how to stay and steep in the tiny moments of pleasure that are often interspersed with moments of pain and difficulty.   

L: Linger.. linger in beauty and curiosity.  Turn your attention to that beautiful tree with the fiery red leaves and let your eyes linger there.  Wonder how long those colors will remain before winter comes along.

O: Observe openly and often: not just with your eyes, but with all of your senses. Today I will breathe in the aroma of the amazing food cooking in the kitchen. I may even go outside and come back in to exaggerate the incredible smell of deliciousness.

W: Witness and notice more often the growth in your life or yourself. Maybe, like me, you aren’t the fastest runner out there, but you are making progress toward your health. Take the time to give yourself the props you would give a beloved friend.

What acronyms help you stay present and find more meaning in your life?

What if? 8 reflective questions to get me writing again.

It's been way too long since I have written! It's actually quite embarrassing to visit this blog and see that it's been over a year. No more excuses!

What if I wrote after these beautiful moments of inspiration?
 I wonder if these questions will motivate others as they now re-ignite my desire to put myself out there in the vulnerable act of blogging.

What if I didn't need a moment of brilliance in order to write?
What if one idea I wanted to share was simply enough?
What if one powerful student comment that I shared helped an educator to reconsider his/her practice?
What if I something I shared helped someone make it through the day?
What if I took a dedicated 20-30 minutes and wrote every. single. day?
What if I actually found a writer's group and shared my passion for writing while receiving critical feedback?
What if I actually dared to ask for an interview from experts I value?
What if I asked a friend to check in periodically to support my courageous creating?

What questions will you ask yourself today? What's something you've been longing to do but just haven't managed to accomplish, yet?

Please share your inspiration!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Miss Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish In A TreeFish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(This review is based on an "advance uncorrected galley" or advance reader copy.)

My Friday night was just spent reading Fish in a Tree, and I am sad that I finished this book so quickly.
I fell in love with Carley in Lynda Mullaly Hunt's first book, One for the Murphys, and did just the same with Ally, the main character in Fish in a Tree.
Ally is one of those brilliant kids we've met in our classes, in our communities, in our homes. She shines in some places, while struggling in others, and we gladly take her on as our friend, wanting to fight her battles with her every step of the way.
Lynda introduces us to characters who evoke our own memories of school and of building our identities. She brings our heart into the mix right away and we are pulled in, laughing, crying and cheering the whole way.

I was privileged to Skype- interview Lynda awhile back, and ask her some nitty gritty questions about her first book. Check it out!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Opportunity to Learn: Attacking gets us Nowhere

I've been struck recently by the lack of civility in blog post comment streams, tweets, fb comments and other virtual spaces. Although I realize that being online isn't the "cause" of this incivility, I just wonder to myself as I read teachers and others attacking each other, "Would you say this to the person face to face?"

I have been called, with certain derision, a "do-gooder" in the past, so I realize that I might have a propensity for the rose colored glasses at times, but even when I make a comment with some level of disagreement, I speak/write with a specific intention: to create a constructive conversation, one that simply gets others to wonder a bit, open their minds.

Before we react, perhaps we can just take a moment to wonder about what is going on within us. What is our motivation for speaking up? Has something got us "seeing red?" If so, will our comment work better when we have calmed down enough to write a thoughtful, effective, yet from the heart? Does someone disagreeing with us have to threaten us? Maybe it can just be an opportunity for learning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Believing in Students So They Believe In Themselves — Whole Child Education

Last week, I was so pleased to be part of this discussion with passionate educators and authors.  I don't think I can do justice by trying to summarize, so find a bit of time and take a listen!

Believing in Students So They Believe In Themselves — Whole Child Education

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our Way isn't the Best Way

Who are we, as teachers, (or anyone for that matter) to judge each other? I admit it.. I do it too, so before anyone thinks I am standing on a soapbox claiming to be beyond this, I am writing as much for my own reminding as anyone else.

I happened to see a tweet yesterday that got me thinking:  it was something about waiting for others to come around to “our way” of teaching.

As is often the case with tweets, this one got me thinking.

Teaching is an intensely personal transaction, so why do we arrogantly assume that if others don’t teach like us, they are further down the path to success?

Instead of trying to sell our egocentric ideal approach, what if we simply invited others to ponder two simple questions:

How well do you know your students and what they need?
How is your approach and agenda meeting those needs?

Maybe in this process, we should also step back and take the time to reflect on our own way. Perhaps we’ve been starstruck and blindsided by the edu-star syndrome, buying into what others with lots of Twitter followers think. Maybe when others offer us praise on social media, we fall for the idea that we have “arrived” at our perfect way of teaching. I get it..totally.

I am going to state the obvious: there is no perfect way. What works today, in this particular class, may not work for our class next week. Teaching is an art, a fluid dance…and it should be, because the complex little (or not so little) people that arrive in our rooms deserve an environment that responds to them, that helps shape them, that gives them messages that when we work hard, we can learn. 

What students end up believing they can or cannot do might just be the most important transaction of all.

So how do we inspire others, and ourselves, to continuously reflect on the interactions with the most important people in the room? How do we keep adjusting and accommodating in a system that seems to love its, "that's how it's always been," mentality?