Monthly Archives: August 2013

Developing a Practice

One of my favorite weekend morning activities is the opportunity to lounge in bed and read. It’s such a luxury since even on weekends I often have to be up and about and out of the house early.  This morning I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s latest book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life With Language.  I’ve read most of her books–and while this one doesn’t rank as my favorite–the chapter I read this morning on the importance of developing and committing to a practice struck me.  Here’s what Natalie says about practice:

…we established a different slant to practice other than “practice makes perfect”: It’s something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere.  You do it because you do it.  You show up whether you want to or not.  Of course, at the beginning it’s something that you have chosen, that you wanted, but a week, a month in, you often meet resistance.  Even if you love it, inertia, obstacles arise: I can make better use of my time, I’m tired, I’m hungry, this is stupid, I need to listen to the evening news.  Here’s where you have the opportunity to meet your own mind, to examine what it does, its ploys and shenanigans.  That’s ultimately what practice is:  arriving at the front–and back door–of yourself.  You set up to do something consistently over a long period of time–and simply watch what happens with no idea of good or bad, gain or loss. No applause–and no criticism.

To get myself blogging, I gave myself a challenge (maybe that is one variation on a practice) to write and post a blog daily for 30 days.  That short term challenge felt doable.  I didn’t create the challenge for myself because I hoped to become a professional blogger (or writer), but because I wanted to feel what it would be like to consistently blog.  But, I am on the verge of establishing a blogging practice.  I have continued to write and post daily on this blog, well past the 30 days of the challenge…but I am sure as the school year begins on Tuesday that this daily practice will need to morph to a regular practice that is more like a three times weekly practice.  But what I love about the practice is that I have written and posted every day–even when I was tired and couldn’t seem to think of anything interesting to write.  I have pushed past my comfort zone and figured out how to generate ideas and get something composed each and every day.

And I can authentically share my experience of developing a practice with my students.  I can help them develop a regular writing practice.  It doesn’t have to be my practice–writing and publishing a daily blog post–but the act of developing a practice and “showing up” on a regular basis help us each learn something about ourselves.  It also helps us to develop those valuable traits of persistence and grit–hanging in there even when things seem hard.  Because ultimately it’s our drive that determines success and learning.  Talent is great…but effort over time is everything.

This reminds me of my time working for McDonald’s Restaurants before I decided to go into teaching.  Ray Kroc, McDonad’s founder, was inspired by this quote by Calvin Coolidge…which I kept for years on the bulletin board in our home office.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Natalie recommends keeping a log of your practice–even if you skip–and rather than giving up when you miss a day, just make note of it and resume the next day.  I like this recommendation…and I like that my blog keeps track for me.  I can easily see which days I have “practiced.” What practice will you develop?

Nature’s Friday Gift

It’s been a busy week as we’ve been back at school preparing for the arrival of students on Tuesday.  My attention has been focused on planning, organizing, and thinking about ways to engage students in meaningful learning experiences.  And after a long day putting finishing touches on the classroom, getting the iPads synched and charged, and participating in a “fiesta” lunch with my co-workers, I was ready to go home and do a little nothing for a while.

I parked in my driveway and walked up the walkway to the front door of my house and the little bowl of succulents and cacti on my front porch caught my eye.  One of those pretty ordinary looking succulents…you know the ones that are mostly green, a bit furry, and you would never expect to look any different that it usually does…bloomed!

Here’s a view I took in early June.

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When I saw the bloom today, I forgot I was tired, hurried into the house to put the macro lens on my iphone and rushed back out to capture the unusual beauty of the blossom in a photo. (Or several–I’m like that!)  I love the pictures!  And then I decided to play with them a bit using the Vintique app and pic-stiched 4 together to display.  (The one on the lower left does not use any filters–all were shot with my macro lens).

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Arriving home today was like opening a gift!  I love nature’s little surprises.  How has nature surprised you lately?

Pattern Walk

Being back in my classroom preparing for my students’ arrival next week has taken much of my time, attention, and energy this week.  It’s already Thursday and I haven’t really given much effort to finding patterns for my photo-a-day challenge. (#sdawpphotovoices)  So today I was intentional about looking for patterns and taking some photos.

I started the morning by finding that Margit had put up a beautifully patterned backdrop on the classroom wall in anticipation of some student work that will be created next week.  I love the colors and textures of the paper…and this is just a snippet of the larger wall.

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As I headed to the other school for a morning of inservice, this odd assortment of chairs was sitting outside in front of a pattern of wall tiles.  I like the slightly shuffled look of the chairs.  And it’s funny, because when I came out three hours later the chairs were neatly ordered…a pattern I didn’t capture with my camera.

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Coming back to my school I noticed this bike rack in front of the office.  I was intrigued by the shadows on the right hand side, adding another dimension to the pattern.

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When I left school this afternoon I ended up with a short window of time to myself.  I stopped by Starbucks for an afternoon coffee and took a wonderful learning walk around the area.  I was surprised by all the patterns I found.  These four were all around a local restaurant.  Textures, shadows, colors, and peek-a-boos all caught my eye!

I haven’t really thought about the way that looking for photo opportunities and framing interesting shots both feeds and relaxes me.  My short five-minute walk and photography session was a boost to my feeling of well-being and energy level.  I need to remember to find these windows of time–even when I am busy.  Hours later I still feel refreshed by my afternoon pattern walk!

Rethinking Use

For the last couple of days, my teaching partner and I have been busy planning for the first week of school.  With a multiage class of first, second, and third graders, we have a wide span of age and school experience to take into account…and our older students have been in class with us for the last year or two.  That means we are always figuring out new ways to build community and academic skills, encouraging student engagement and building collaboration and problem solving.

We love using picture books to launch student thinking…and students love to be read to!  Today’s planning conversation involved many books, what role they might serve, and how we might use them as we start the school year.  Last year we read a book by Jerry Pallotta called How Will I Get to School This Year? which we used to get our students started with writing opinions.  We used this simple picture book to ask our students to come up with reasons and evidence to support their opinions about how they would want to travel to school.  Which would be better, a grizzly bear or a butterfly?

At the end of the school year when we came across another Pallotta book in the series, Who Will Be My Teacher This Year, we set it aside for potential use this fall.  And when we read it again this year to think about how we might use it, it initially fell a bit short of our expectations. And then we started thinking…

Something we want our students to begin when they come back next week is to help us reorganize our classroom library to better serve their needs.  We have lots and lots of books–but they don’t seem as accessible as we would like.  And we would love to have our students more actively recommending books to each other.  As we thought this reorganizational task through, we worried that some of our more accomplished readers might be dismissive of some of the easier to read choices in the library.

So…how might we use this Pallotta book to model how a seemingly simple book might actually be more than you see at first glance.  When we took a closer look at this book we noticed that in addition to the fairly simple text and some silly associations between teachers and animals, there are also a lot of idioms used.  Attention to these would change the way a reader looks at the book.  We also considered how our students might pick a page where the connection between the animal and the teacher action is tenuous (the alligator teaching students to be “green”–as in environmentally aware–is one example) and revise it.

We found ourselves reading and reconsidering picture books from a variety of perspectives in our planning today.  I know that our thinking today will inform the way we set our students up to revamp our classroom library.  I can’t wait to see all the ways they approach books when charged with this important task of making our classroom library work for them!

How have you rethought your use of and approach to a book you use with students?  What’s a favorite book you can’t wait to share?

Urban Art?

There are two of these nailed to the telephone poles on either side of this bridge-like structure near my school.  I passed them yesterday without stopping, but today I had to take the time to capture a photograph.  They have me wondering and asking questions.

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Are they urban art?  An advertisement for something?  They can definitely work as a writing prompt!  What do you think?  What story would you tell?

Building Stamina

Today marks my 45th blog post.  It also marks my shift from a focus on summer work back to my classroom.  Tomorrow is my official first day back–a day that will be filled with seeing familiar faces, catching up on summer activities, meetings and more meetings, and working to prepare the classroom and plan for an engaging start to the new school year.

The beginning of the school year always feels hard.  Even with 2/3 of our students returning (or maybe in spite of it), we want to set a tone and begin to build community that will set the stage for a year filled with learning.  Co-teaching makes it easier…and harder.  We have each other to work through our ideas with, and our ideas get examined and turned inside and out as we each consider how that idea might work…or where it might fall flat.  We have lofty goals for our first, second, and third graders–and we have to remember that they are still very young, so sometimes we have to temper our own enthusiasm and consider how to help our students build the stamina and resilience to reach (and exceed) the goals we set.

And because our students loop up with us we can’t depend on our favorite activity from last year, or read that book that worked so well with last year’s class.  Each year we need a fresh approach to getting started–new books to read, new ideas to get writing started, new ideas for getting to know each other.  It’s what I love about teaching a multiage class–and what makes it hard!

So I’m reminding myself to breathe.  And to appreciate the little things.  When I got home today after a long day in the classroom (I know, my official first day back is tomorrow–but we worked all day today!), I realized I hadn’t taken the time to look for any patterns to photograph. But the plants above the kitchen sink caught my eye…so I took out my macro lens and started noticing.  I ended up capturing the centers of a number of plants.  Do you see any patterns?

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I also spent a little time in the back yard watching Geoff work with the sprinklers.  They have been dysfunctional for most of the summer.  He dug them up and replaced the parts yesterday and today was adjusting the spray to both cover the yard and not hit the house.  There’s something relaxing about spending a bit of time in the yard, feeling the cool evening breeze, and watching the water spray.  (We now have fancy rotating sprinkler heads!)

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I’m sure that sprinkler pictures are not what readers look for in a blog post–but the act of appreciating the spray of the sprinklers helped me to clear my mind and reframe my thinking.  I know we’ll figure out how to get this school year started and I know I will love my new students and I know that my returning students will rise to each new challenge as the school year progresses.  As teachers, we also have to remember that we have to build our own stamina and resilience as we reach for our own lofty goals!  It has taken stamina and resilience to get to this 45th blog post too.  Some days it’s hard to write and I feel like I have nothing of worth to say…and then I breathe, try to focus on and appreciate the little things and dive into the writing.  Some days are filled with false starts…but by sticking with it, I always learn something about myself and I hope something that will help my students.

What do you do to refocus when things feel hard and you feel anxious?  How do you build your stamina and resilience?

A Week of #Angles

My daily blog post is most often the result of a percolation of ideas throughout the day…written toward the end of the day.  Today I knew I would be writing about my week of focusing on angles –this week’s #sdawpphotovoices topic.  My morning began. as it often does on Sunday, with some time reading articles on Twitter.  Today’s @brainpicker post was about a book called On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz.

As I read the review of the book I found myself thinking about how photo-a-day has impacted the way I look and what I see as I go about my daily life.  And then I saw Janis’s post today on SDAWP Voices as she reflected on her week–and she was saying similar things about her experience (and she had also read the same post by @brainpicker this morning!).  This book focuses on the ways a different lens opens up an entirely different experience of the place.  When you walk with a toddler and pay attention to how that toddler pays attention, you see a different place than the familiar routine you are used to. What does your dog see?  How about an entomologist?

Back to angles…this week’s photo-a-day focus.  I took a lot of pictures this week, from a variety of angles, of a variety of angles…angles were everywhere!  Some of my favorite pictures of the week I never did post on Instagram.  But because I am writing every day to post to this blog, my pictures also become a stimulus for my writing and my thinking.

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I love this picture of the lone fisherman with his pole angled in the surf.  I don’t often take pictures of people–it feels awkward to photograph people I don’t know…and I didn’t want him to pose.  Instead I took the picture from a distance, knowing I would lose the details of his face. The bonus is the reflection!  I can see writing a story with this photo as the prompt…I think the story is already beginning to take shape for me.

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This angry bird kite was roosting in the tree above the beach.  Its angles had it caught pretty securely in the intertwining branches…in fact I saw it again several days later on a walk later in the week.  I love the play on words and images of the bird kite in the tree.

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Shell fragments are common on the beach, but coming across an entire shell–especially one still connected and angled like this is a rare occurrence.  If you look closely you can see the strand of sea grass lying in the background.  I wonder if a seagull got this tasty morsel!

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Coming down the ramp from the parking lot, I got to see these wonderful flat and yet angled rooftops of the new concession stand and bathrooms.  I love the way that architecture can take straight lines and create unexpected angles by the way they are placed in relation to each other.

Tomorrow I will shift my focus from angles to patterns.  Added to my photography focus and blogging focus, I will also be thinking about all the other ways I might see the world through the lens of a child, or an architect, a scientist, or an artist.  I’ll also try “seeing” the world through my other senses–how does what I hear impact what I see?  What about smell, taste, and touch?

What have you failed to notice?  How can you shift your attention to see more of your world?