Thursday, March 31, 2016

It doesn't have to be so complicated

We hear it all the time in motivational speaking, spiritual circles, self-help talks.  At home, I have a little sign that was supposed to help motivate me to declutter my house.  You can see how well it's working.
What does “simplify” mean in schools, though?  I thought about this when I heard Revathi Balakrishnan use the phrase "no frills teaching", and read the article in the ATPE magazine where she states how few decorations she has in her classroom.
It got me thinking about my own shift in my classroom, after reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  Teaching reading--teaching anything, really--seemed so complicated in my resource room setting.  In many practical ways, it was complicated--special education is differentiation to the extreme.
The scheduling may be complicated, the juggling of student needs may be complicated...but our focus does not have to be.  We can simplify our goals as teachers, and as a result, take away some of the stress that is commonly associated with our profession.
After reading Miller's book, I realized my primary goals for my students remained simple: to get these students closer to reading at the level of their peers, and to instill in them a love for literacy as we worked.  In math, I focused on life skills--what did these students need to be able to do to manage money, time, and job requirements?  
The pressure we feel from administrative directives, state and district curriculum requirements, parent expectations, and our own expectations of how our classroom should look and feel and run can make our heads spin. Throw in the unpredictability of student behavior and the not-so-smooth path that learning often takes, and our job can seem very complicated.
It helps to look through the lens of simplification.  What are the goals we have for our students--not the goals set for us by admin or the state, but our own personal vision, the "what" and "why" we've posted on our walls.  Do my actions and activities support those goals?  Is there anything I can get rid of, stop doing, to help me focus on what I feel is important?
Did you hear that?  Is there anything I can stop doing, give up, to help me concentrate on what's important?  We don't always have to do one more thing to become a better teacher; sometimes we can let go of expectations and get back to basics.  When I feel overwhelmed by my librarian duties, I think back to my beliefs about a library program, and focus my attention on sharing my love of literacy, getting books into kids' hands and supporting my teachers.  All else is secondary.
The older I get, the more I recognize that I cannot do it all at the same time--and that is okay. I would much rather do a few things very well, instead of spreading myself too thin and emptying my well of energy and resolve in the process--which serves no one.
If you are someone who operates in rapid-fire mode, tackling many big projects successfully at once, lucky you.  Not everyone operates that way; I certainly don't.  With every request for participation or a leadership role, I consider my current commitments. If this new task is going to make my job more effective, fills a need for learning, or speaks to a passion of mine, then I’ll sign on.  
If it's going to interfere with what is running smoothly, if it doesn't pique my interest, or negatively impacts my family or my health (i.e. sleep!), then I am not going to feel guilty about turning it down.  I can say no to the request for now, because there are always opportunities to learn/grow/lead. Think about it; have you ever had a year in education without a chance to do more or be more?
It's natural to have ebbs and flows in energy and creativity. Wanting to lay low and tackle the matters at hand is not a sign of weakness or laziness; it's your time to focus on what's important and working right now.  Think of it as fine tuning your expertise to pass along to someone else.  You'll know when the timing is right to step up and share.
Maybe you'll find increased confidence in your abilities as an educator. You might take stock of your unique talents and decide that you don't want to be a teacher in the traditional sense anymore.  Other roles in education might bring you joy and maintain your positive impact on your learning community.
When you get ready to share, you have options there, too.  Talks like these, blogging, workshops, team meetings, social media, coffee klatches with educators outside your school, MOOCs, websites--there are so many ways to spread the wealth of experience and ideas these days.  
Just remember, you don't have to do it all at the same time.
While I was implementing concepts from The Book Whisperer in my resource room, I was also attending training on writing IEP goals and objectives for students.  The overall message of that training?  Keep the IEPs simple, reasonable, manageable.
Simple, reasonable, manageable.  Those sound like good guidelines for our own personal expectations, as well.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Librarian meetings--cross post

Ever wonder what we do at our monthly librarian meetings?  Check out my post on my personal blog, Horizon 51: Literate Ladies Who Lunch

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I have been a slooowwww reader this past week.  For some reason, the time change has hit me harder this year, and I am having a hard time keeping my eyes open once I sit down to read!  It certainly can't be the books, because I am a third of the way into Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and the first story of four in the book had me holding my breath! I didn't get a chance to slip into book coma over spring break, so I'm reading it a couple of chapters at a time.

My lunch bunch book club that likes to read mysteries chose The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart as their next book.   I've got about a month to read that one.

The realistic-fiction loving book club was split; some chose Hatchet by Gary Paulsen for their next read:

and the rest chose Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust:

The latter has been on my to-read pile for a long time; it's good to have a deadline to move it to the top!

I have a LOT of reading to do over the next month!  What are you reading with your students these days?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Big kids in the Book Nook!

I'm participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge this month, writing every day in my personal blog space, Horizon 51.  Occasionally I write about teaching and library moments; this is one of those days!

Check out the post here:

Monday, March 21, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I am halfway through reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, which means I've discovered it is a story in four parts.  I don't want to reveal spoilers, so I'll leave it at that!

I took a break from Echo to read Oliver Jeffer's The Heart and the Bottle.
I really like picture books that leave a lot of the interpretation up to the reader, and this book has that quality through and through.  The story follows a curious girl who learns at the knee of a caring adult--until he is no longer there.  She protects her broken heart by placing it in a bottle, and we see her grow up with it hanging from her neck.  One day, she decides to release it from the confines of the glass, but can't do it on her own.  Who will rescue her heart from the bottle?

I was already a fan of Jeffers; one of my favorites is his Stuck, which I loved reading to my students in resource because they felt oh-so-much-smarter than the character in the book!  
Of course, I cannot leave out our previous Texas Bluebonnet Award winner, The Day the Crayons Quit, which Jeffers illustrated for Drew Daywalt.  The two were absolutely hilarious accepting their award at our Texas Library Association's annual conference, and who doesn't love an Irish accent?

We have a three-day weekend coming up; more time to read!
It's Monday; what are you reading these days?

Monday, March 14, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Last week brought a lot of rain to Austin, TX--and only one full day with the library open, due to kindergarten registration and testing and spring photos.  I didn't want to use one of my planned picture books for read-aloud, so I pulled one off the shelves to suit the weather:  Rainy Day by Patricia Lakin, illustrated by Scott Nash.  
The text is simple and repetitive, with rhymes the students enjoyed.  Will, Jill, Pam, and Sam are crocodiles who are bored with indoor activities and decide to play outside in the rain.  It has a fun twist in the middle and an ending that arrives in my favorite place!  Rainy Day brought some joy to our Book Nook on a dreary, wet day.
We are now officially on Spring Break, and the weather cleared up this past weekend.  Out to the porch I went, pile of books in hand. Determined to read some fiction beyond elementary school level, I reached for Sioux Dog Dance: Shunk Ah Weh by Red Hawk.  It was recommended by one of my favorite English teachers, and did not disappoint.  Red Hawk's poetry is raw, vivid with detail and emotion, tackling issues relevant to Native American history as well as to the human heart.  It's been awhile since I read "adult" poetry, but now I'm itching for more.  Maybe Robert Frost will be next.
My son is a fan of Haruki Murakami (he's on his third reading of 1Q84), and has been after me to read Murakami's The Strange Library, translated by Ted Goossen.  Uniquely packaged and illustrated on every page with bold artwork, it reads like a weird, mildly horrific dream.  I'd recommend it for anyone over the age of ten who's in the mood for a quirky story without a pat ending.   
Last, but certainly not least, I've started reading Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  This Newbery Honor book is also one of our 2016-2017 Bluebonnet Award Nominees.  We already own a copy; I bought it last year at our Texas Library Association annual conference, signed by the author for my son, who is a huge fan of Ryan's Esperanza Rising.  He liked Echo as well, and forty pages in, I'm convinced that the 500+ pages are going to have me slipping into book coma this spring break to get it done before I return to the library.
It's Monday; what are you reading today?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Yes, your librarian has purple hair

This person is a librarian.

She is an educator who shares her love of literacy with her learning community every day.

Now she is sharing her love of life by sporting purple hair. 

Beyond her passion and job description, she is a woman who just turned fifty, inspired by Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning".

The poem begins with the line "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple".  It goes on to describe such wild shenanigans as spending money on luxuries, picking flowers from private gardens, and learning how to spit.

This librarian will not be ruining other's pretty flower patches or spending her retirement money any time soon.  And there will be no spitting in the library.

But there will be purple hair for a few weeks, because this librarian is grateful to be alive and well at this halfway-to-one-hundred-milestone.  Because her own mother was bedridden and dying from ALS at this same age.  Because the next year will be fraught with sad memories, and joy must be created and grabbed at and held tightly, whenever and wherever possible.  

And purple hair brings this librarian joy.  Let her share it with you, in the library and beyond.

Monday, March 7, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

In case you don't travel in elementary school circles--last Wednesday was Dr. Seuss' birthday.  We had just wrapped up our spring book fair (and I mean just; my volunteers and I took it down Tuesday afternoon, and the driver picked it up Wednesday morning). I am always slightly discombobulated after running the book fair for four-plus days.  Purchasing and recommending books is more my forte than selling them.  If I ever do get to own a bookstore, I'm hiring a manager for that part, tout de suite.

But I digress...back to Dr. Seuss' birthday.  We read his Happy Birthday to You! in the Book Nook the rest of the week.  I love twisting my tongue around Seuss' nonsense syllables, and to be honest, I had not read this particular book before this past week. It did not disappoint; by the end, it had me wishing I had a Birthday Bird from Katroo orchestrating my own birthday celebration--though I can do without the cake baked with Grade A "sausage-paste butter".

Wednesday was also an early release day, with staff development in the afternoon.  I had so much fun wearing my Cat in the Hat hat topper, that I kept it on straight through the training.  No one seemed to mind.  We all need a bit of silliness to get through the day.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Cross post from Horizon 51

Every once in awhile, I will post something on my personal blog that is work-related.  Today is one of those times:

Yesterday, a silly hat and some chocolate were just what I needed.