I Got Very Excited About What I Learned Yesterday

Love, love, LOVE this! Must read!


My  husband is not just a talented comedy writer, but he is also a gifted musician. Because music is one of his great loves, our apartment is filled to the brim with records (Actual Vinyl), various musical instruments, and all sorts of technical looking equipment for listening to and making music. One of his most beloved pastimes is fiddling with said equipment to get the sound “just right” a tweak of one knob, a push on one slide, his head tilted to the side listening, listening for that perfect tone.

Now, a bit of transition, but we will get back to the music, I promise.

I have the immense pleasure of working with a staff developer named Kristen GoldMansour in my role as a special ed kindergarten teacher. She is a brilliant staff developer who works specifically with us around building the most inclusive classrooms for our children with special needs…

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Teacher Field Trips: The Power of Interschool Visitation

“I need to see what it is supposed to look like in action!”

In my work supporting K-2 Literacy teachers across eight schools, this is not an uncommon request.  This particular conversation happened about one month ago with a group of kindergarten and first grade teachers, many of whom are just taking on Writing Workshop for the first time.  (A big shoutout goes to my New Horizons Friends!)  We’d had opportunities to talk together, plan together, and try out a lesson or two.  But, a “real life example” was what they needed to help launch Writing Workshop in their own classrooms.  My job became providing an opportunity to see “how it all fit together” and, perhaps even more importantly, to give them a chance to see what was possible for our students.

Thanks to an administrator who is responsive to teacher learning needs and who looks at the big picture, as evidenced by her willingness to dig deep for sub funding to make it happen (Thanks, Betsy Cardozo!),  I reached out to my fellow Staff Developers and found a host school willing to share the results of their hard work and experiences.  All of the details and scheduling were worked out. (Thanks Lisa, Lori, and Mattie!)  Off we went.

And oh, what a day it was!  The opportunity to visit a school with very similar students and very similar challenges and strengths opened up the possibilities.  I provided an overview of the day and some “Look Fors” and then we were off to “see it in action.”  In groups, teachers observed a well thought out minilesson that was based upon the needs of the students, observed and interacted with the student writers, and saw both strong conferring and small group writing work.  We debriefed among ourselves and then had opportunities for conversation with both of the literacy coaches at the school as well as the teachers that we observed.  The teachers were so gracious and generous, they made themselves available to us in lieu of their own planning time in order to give us a window into their own journey of learning and how it has impacted their practice. They also had some sage advice for us on addressing and resolving common issues.  (Berkie Bulldogs Are the Best!)

The debriefing, reflections, and Q and A sessions were amazing.  The visiting teachers were interested in how scheduling can be adapted to create more time for writing.  They were curious about the teaching decisions and how and when the teachers plan together across their grade level.  Since they are also from a Dual Language school, the visiting teachers gathered some insight into how teacher partners support student learning in both languages while maintaining instructional momentum.   We thought about and discussed methods we can utilize to support greater student independence through thoughtful choices about classroom organization and selection of instructional strategies.

The excitement of the visiting teachers on that day was palpable.  And, it has carried them through these last couple of weeks.  The buzz is still in the air.  Teachers back at their own school site are collaborating more closely on planning writing instruction, examining student work, have already made changes to their classroom set up, and are trying out minilessons with increased confidence.  They are working as a community to decide and define, “What is important for our students to know and be able to do as writers?” They are working together to make it happen for our kids.

The teachers’ experience and continued learning is already paying off.  Students are showing more independence and joy in their writing.  A productive hum is more common than ever as the children work on their pieces with ownership, confidence, and purpose.  The writing community is coalescing and the excitement is contagious.

We have plans to continue the learning and implementation with planning, coaching, and good old trial and error.  As they look ahead to next year, the teachers are already collaborating on possible changes to scheduling that will support more learning time for student writers.  They are making a date with their administrator to ensure it will happen.  (I have even heard of a clever plot to bake up a storm in advance of this session to help make their rationale and proposals even more persuasive… These are very smart teachers, you see!)

But most of all, as their Staff Developer, I believe that the teachers have gained more clarity into workshop teaching, why it is important, and how their learning and efforts will pay off for our students.  They realize more than ever that, while making changes to their instruction is hard work and is sometimes uncomfortable, growing our pedagogy as teachers within a community is a shared accomplishment. As a result, they are providing a common set of learning experiences and content that both develop our students as writers and serve as the bedrock upon which next year’s instruction can be built.  I hope they know that they are changing the outcomes for students that will soon affect the entire school.  The ripples of their learning will extend far beyond even what we can immediately see. They have inspired me.

This is just one example of the power of interschool visitation.  As a powerful professional development opportunity, what have been your experiences?  What have you gained from them?  Share in the comments and help to keep the conversation going!

P.S. Next time I will share about an Intraschool visitation experience I facilitated  at another school with my 3-5 partner (Hey, Jill!) and how it has helped to ignite the learning and grow the culture of an entire school!


Reading Life: Making Friends in Books

Ramona,  Peter and Fudge, Laura Ingalls, Encyclopedia Brown

These were some of the friends of my elementary years found waiting on the shelves of my school library.

Jessica and Elizabeth, Heaven, the Dollanganger children

My middle school compatriots found in the books borrowed from my best friend Wendy who lived just down the  street.

Stephanie Plum, Becky Bloomwood, Bridget Jones, Alex Cross

Some of the fun reading I enjoy these days when I put aside my more “respectable” grown up reading.

As I reflect upon my own reading life  as a younger reader I am struck by how series books helped to shape me both as the person and the reader that I still am today.  I remember laughing and crying along with Ramona, being frustrated with Fudge, worried about Laura, and being in awe of Encyclopedia Brown’s smarts.  I got to know Elizabeth as a kind and loyal sister.  I realized that while Jessica may be fun and popular, she was not the kind of friend I could rely upon in own life.  Heaven’s life read like a soap opera and I mourned the loss of her family and the death of beloved brother right alongside her.  From the Dollanger children I understood that sometimes you were your own best resource when dealing with the unfairness and vagaries of life.  (And that you will be shocked and surprised by the things that some people say and do behind closed doors. Am I right?)

But, I guess that is the point, isn’t it?

            ” A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen.

            The man who  never reads lives only one.” ~ George R.R. Martin

While I did have a few close and cherished friends, as a young person I was a shy and introverted girl, not so very different from now, actually.  Books with familiar characters were exciting; my passport into new adventures, relationships, and dreams as well as lots (and lots) of drama.  These stories took me beyond my own little  house, in my little town, located within a great big metropolis that I didn’t even realize existed a mere twenty miles away.

I became a Reader in spite of being surrounded by the mostly apathetic readers who make up my immediate family.  Through the eyes of these characters I traveled to far off places like New York and the harsh, unforgiving frontier.  I lived lives of poverty and opulence.  I solved mysteries, had a big family, negotiated complicated relationships, and experienced what it might be like to have an identical twin sister.  I overcame great obstacles, learned perseverance, found humor in the absurd, and learned to appreciate the beauty and peace of quiet evenings spent reading.

Series book reading led me to favorite authors and genres.  I find that I am still much the same kind of reader today.  I tend to read within certain genres for pleasure and am thrilled when a favored author pops up as a brand new book suggestion on my Kindle list.  For professional reading, I find that I usually study the work of educators I have come to respect and know well through their writing or within certain topics as I grow my own knowledge and craft.

This leads me to wonder and reflect, how do and how can series books support our own youngsters as they grow into life-long readers?

Junie B. Jones, Henry and Mudge, Jack and Annie, Biscuit, Amber Brown, Clifford, Harry Potter, The Babysitter’s Club, Horrible Harry, Time Warp Trio, Frog and Toad, Corduroy, Peter, George and Harold, Poppleton, Cam Jansen, Arthur, Alexander, Franklin, the Berenstain Bears, Trixie and her beloved Knuffle Bunny

These are the newest companions scavenged for, bartered, bought, inherited, and shared with my own students in my years as a second, then third, then first grade teacher.  Stars of their own series of books, these were often the  most squabbled over by the children who were making a few new friends of their own between those pages.  Discovery of new series titles in our library often led to some of the most engaged and sustained reading that would happen all year long.

So, as we are helping readers to build their own reading lives,  I find this is a bit of wisdom still rings true…

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make

reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

–Maya Angelou

… and series books are one great way to help kids fall in love with reading!

What were some of your good (or bad) experiences that helped to shape your life as a reader?   What were some of your most favorite books, characters, and authors?   What lessons have you learned from those experiences and applied as you guide children along their own journeys as lifelong readers?  What grown up reading do you enjoy, whether for professional growth or for fun?

Please comment below to add your thinking and help to continue the conversation.



Twitter: Nerd Central for Teachers

Yep. That’s me, a proud nerd!  I love most things geeky, especially thinking and talk about teaching and learning.  And, as a Teacher Nerd, I am moved today to share with anyone who might not already be convinced some ways this resource can support all of us in our own learning and teaching.

ROCKSTARS inhabit Twitter!  No matter what your particular flavor of Teacher Nerd, you can find many of your favorite authors, speakers, bloggers, and educational thinkers hanging out around the Twittersphere.  It is amazing to see what they  have to say and to offer to the rest of us.  This happened just last week!

M Stewart

Wisdom in a flash!  Since tweets are 140 characters or less, our idols and colleagues often frequently post great snippets to get us all thinking.   Just today I spotted this little nugget that I will probably spend the next few days chewing over:


# Marks the Spot.  Tweets often include hashtags (#) which are hyperlinks that you can follow on topics of specific interest to you.  One I have been following lately is a space for people to share their ideas about Ron Clark’s latest book at #MoveYourBus .  Curious what Literacy Staff Developers in Palm Beach County are thinking and talking about?  Try using #PBCLiteracy and see where the tweets take you!

Articles, Blog Posts, and Videos… Oh My!  Embedded within many tweets are hyperlinks to resources that don’t fit within the 140 character limit. My best sharing example these days comes from an embedded link to an article entitled, “Marigolds and Oak Trees,” a MUST READ for both novice and veteran teachers. (http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigold/)

Fellow Teacher Nerds Unite… and Collaborate.  There are some great Twitter Chats that happen once a month or even once a week.  Some of my current favorites have been sponsored by @HeinemannPD and feature their authors discussing their new books and related hot topics in teaching.  Just a couple of weeks ago I took the opportunity to interact with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst about their new book, Notice and Note in Informational Texts.  I also love the monthly #G2Great chat facilitated by the great Mary Howard that happens on Thursday nights at 8:30.  (Would you be surprised to find out that I usually participate in this one from my bubble bath?)  Here is this week’s topic:


Positive People Populate!  Twitter is great exposure for ideas you want to grow and spread as well as for your burning questions.  Retweeting  helps to spread ideas and replies get Twitter-ers involved in ongoing conversations with others who also want to engage in professional dialogue.  Tweeting can be a great way to put a call out to others for their input on a question or a need that you have.  One of the schools I support recently used Twitter and other social media to put out a call for gently used bookcases to help create a classroom library space for a teacher new to first grade.  Voila!  Book cases appeared and a cozy little book nook is already being inhabited by the kids.

“Worth a thousand words!”  Twitter is an amazing way to bring the world directly into your classroom and school.  And, oh what a way to publicize! Tweets with photos or brief videos help everyone to get an inside peek into the everyday and special happenings around campus!

Polar Bears

Perhaps best of all… Twitter is free!  Where else can we learn from and interact with the luminaries of our profession, our colleagues near and far, and engage in no-cost Professional Development without spending one dime or even having to get dressed in the morning?

So, you see… Twitter is for me! (And maybe… for Thee?)

Please use the “Comment” tab to share your thoughts, experiences, and/or your favorite Twitter discoveries with the rest of us.  What other Teacher Tech have you found useful in your practice?  Let’s collaborate and keep the conversation going!



From the Heart: My Why

I should begin by saying right off that this is not the post I intended to write and share today. As I have been thinking about teaching and learning lately, Simon Sinek has haunted by conscience.  He has basically hijacked this post.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch Sinek’s TED Talk on “The Golden Circle,” I highly recommend it.  This presentation has nearly 25 million views so far and has profoundly impacted the way I think about people, relationships, teaching, and learning.  (Here’s the link if you are interested: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action )

From Sinek’s example, I realize that as a new blogger and your fellow learner and colleague, I should tell you a bit about my own “why.”  After all, writing a blog is both a personal conversation with myself as well as with anyone who might be reading it.  So, as we embark on this adventure together, you should probably know what to expect from me… why I hold certain beliefs close to my heart.  Maybe the best way to explain is by sharing a bit of my own journey as a teacher.  The story begins with something that has bothered me for more than fifteen years.

Way back as a first and second year teacher, when I was practically an infant, I would sometimes feel befuddled (clueless) about my instruction and occasionally confused (at my wit’s end) about how I could meet all of the new challenges I faced.  I was often overwhelmed and worried about whether I was doing a good enough job for my students.  I remember, vividly, however that my strongest feeling from this time was outrage.  Yes, outrage!

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the specifics, but the situation can ultimately be boiled down to one simple statement.  Kids from classroom to classroom at my school were not receiving equal opportunities for learning and growth… not even close!  People around campus seemed to know about all of the “good teachers,” whose students they wanted for their own the next year.  People also seemed to know about the teachers whose classes they dreaded as they  moved up to the next grade level.  Although people seemed to know these things, it didn’t seem like anyone was doing anything about “those teachers,” or, more importantly, their students.  I was often frustrated because one of “those classes” was right across the hall and I couldn’t help but see what was, and was not, happening on a daily basis.

As a young teacher,

  • I knew that I still had a LOT to learn myself.
  • I also knew in my heart that the situation was unjust, unfair, and plain old wrong.
  • I wanted to do something about it.
  • I had no power to influence my grade level, let alone the culture of my school.  (Or so I thought at the time…)

Given all of that, I still felt compelled to DO something.  I could not convince my conscience that it wasn’t my business, although I assure you that I did try!  “You’re new here.  Just ignore it and do your own thing,” was not an option for me, not if I wanted to sleep at night and not when I had to look “those kids” in the eye every day from the safety of my own classroom doorway.

I started out slowly.  I read.  I bought my first non-college-required professional books so that I could work on building my understanding of the pedagogy of quality teaching and learning.  Like many freshly hatched teachers of that era, I knew that I was missing foundational understandings about both the “what” and the “how” of good teaching.  I listened.  I found a patient and experienced mentor who had both her heart and her head in the place that beckoned me.  I asked questions and benefitted from her experience.  I practiced.  I tried out  new strategies and ideas.  I gave myself permission to make mistakes and always did my best to fix them.  I grew.  I expanded my professional circle and found like-minded people for book studies and conversation.  We explored new ideas and new practices together.  We laughed, we cried.  We learned as much from our successes as we did from our stumbles.  We ignored those who said, “Why bother?”  I networked.  I joined a few school committees to gather a better understanding of the culture of the whole school and gain insight into how both important and day-to-day decisions were made.  I found my voice.  I was asked to join some key committees for professional growth and school advisory.  I studied the issues and the possibilities.  I used these opportunities to advocate for all the students in our school.  I listened, I learned, and I grew a LOT more.

Since then, I have been so fortunate to have many opportunities to learn and grow as an educator.  I am not the same teacher, or even the same person that I was seventeen years ago.  One thing does remain the same, however.  My core beliefs and most fundamental “why” impact every thing that I do to this day:

It isn’t enough anymore to think of them as “my kids” and “your kids” or “those kids.”

They are “our kids.”

They are our responsibility as a grade level, a school, a community, a nation.

This is actually what it is all about.

We must ensure that they get our very best every day.

As professionals, we understand that every tomorrow must bring our even-better best.

Like many, I wish that I could go back in time about seventeen years to the beginning of my teaching career.  I would love a chance to do better for my first few classes of students.  I would want to give them the benefit of everything I wish I had known then.  I would also like the chance to do more and better for “that teacher” and “those kids” across the hall.  Perhaps if I had reached out to my colleague as a fellow learner at the time, the outcome would have been different for us all.  In the present, my biggest wish and responsibility remains.  I want to continue to grow by learning alongside and supporting our students’ teachers.  This is how I can help to ensure an even-better best for all of our students every day.

This is my why.

So, thank you for joining me on this adventure.  I feel as though I am expanding my professional circle once again.  I look forward to learning from you and with you.  We can accomplish great things together, so let’s get started!

Want to share your own “why” with our community?  Click on the comment button under the title to share your ideas about this post and add to our conversation.



Beyond “That’s a Heading”: Text Features & Young Readers and Writers

Today I had a chance to visit in some classrooms and get my hands dirty with a bit of small and whole group instruction.  In one first grade room (hey there, Nicole Kaplan!) we thought together about another way to help students understand the purpose of some common text features.

Dust off those MONDO charts, friends!  After reviewing a few common text features in a great informational book (thank you Resource Room and our materials adoption) we pulled out one of the first grade MONDO charts that schools received several years ago.  You know, the ones that we are still using for teaching small group oral language reading… Or, the ones that we can still be using for teaching small group oral language reading…right?

Anyway, I flipped open to a page I spotted that would work great for this purpose.  I then asked students to think about the entire page.  I asked them, “What is this whole page about?”  Lots of excited voices wanted to share about the photo of firefighters working together to put out a fire, so after a Turn and Talk, I shared the most popular response.  This gave us some text to work with.

Then, I asked them to study the picture carefully to see what details they noticed.   They immediately picked out some of the equipment being worn by the firefighters.  We decided that maybe not everyone would know the names of each piece of equipment so we should label each one.  (How much do we love sticky notes?)

After that, I asked them how those labels went together to teach about that part of the picture.  After a bit more Turn and Talk, we summarized with a brief caption.  While we reread it, we realized that there was a very important word in the caption, and voila…. bold print!  One eager reader/writer wanted to start a glossary right away.  Thankfully, I was able to distract her with, “Oh, great idea!  Let’s see if we make any more bold words on this page that we could add to a glossary!”

To wrap up our improvements to the page, I asked children to consider, “What would you name this page?”  Responses varied, but we narrowed it down to a two word phrase since names of pages, or sections, are usually pretty short.  Our heading was added to the top.

This lesson was especially exciting for the kids because they put what they already understand about some common text features into practice.  They made an already great photo a great piece of mentor text by adding ideas and applying what they are learning as both readers and writers. (See below for a photo of their actual work-in-progress.)

first grade 2

What other strategies have you tried with your K-2 readers and writers to help them better understand the purpose of text features and use them effectively?  Please comment and add to the conversation.



Welcome to my brand new blog.  Though I am new to blogging, I am so excited to get started sharing and collaborating with my K-2 friends across Palm Beach County.  This is a space for us to gather, share ideas, and continue our professional learning about the teaching of reading and writing to young students.  Let’s get started!