Category Archives: Slice of Life

Change in View: #writeout

I walked out of school with the sun shining brightly on my shoulders.  I peeled my lightweight jacket off before getting into the car to head down the hill toward the beach for my after school walk.

In the less than two miles from school to the beach, the sun dimmed, shuttered by a thick veil of fog.  Palm trees became shadowy pillars as I steered toward the beach parking lot. As I walked down the long steep ramp to the sandy beach, it was like walking into another world. Colors were swallowed by the damp blanket, the view disappeared,  I could see only 20 or 30 yards in front of me.

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My mind filled with stories, the stuff of Halloween and horror movies.  What was around the corner? What evil might that shadowy figure in front of me bring? What about the sea itself, was the tide actually as low as I expected?

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Luckily, my feet know this beach.  They followed the path worn by my frequent walks, recognizing the curve of the beach, the squish of the sand under my soles.  Familiar birds whistled hello, giant kelp caressed my toes and a huge piece of bull kelp appeared from the shadows.

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As I neared the end of my walk, a crowd of children appeared from the mist.  And with them, the bubble man, the pied piper of the beach, casting a spell with his magic wand.  The thick mist didn’t dampen their spirits, instead the dampness of the air helped them catch bubbles–holding them in their hands and allowing them to slip into the bubble tunnels the bubble man created.

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Stories continue to swirl, wrapping me in their damp, shadowy chapters.  My imagination is already hard at work, making connections, creating movies in my mind.  I can only hope they don’t become the stuff of nightmares as I drift off to sleep.

 

 

 

At a Snail’s Pace

In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.

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And May is rich.  Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves.  They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy.  The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.

But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace.  State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning.  During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums.  The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade.  The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.

It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate.  They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test.  Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.

The minutes drag as I roam the room.  I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question.  I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble.  I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.

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After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift.  Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy.  The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge.  Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward.  I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty.  A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.

I’m proud of my students.  They did it.  All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them.  And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game.  Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom.  I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.

NPM 2019 Day 5

With clouds so low

you have to crouch

tunneling through

moisture as thick as mud

 

Afternoon rays

raise the ceiling

pelicans wing their way overhead

perfectly centered

between

blue skies

and

blue seas

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Spring whispers

in the sea breeze

dancing intricate patterns

with shore bird partners

 

All the while my heart

beats out rhythms of summer

a song of longing

and anticipation.

©Douillard

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Reflections on SOLC 2019: Day 31

Thirty out of thirty one days in March I wrote a blog post and made it public.  (I missed a day somewhere along the way because I was sick.)  Today is the day to think about just what writing a slice of life each day has meant.

I know that writing every day makes writing every day just a bit easier.  Early in the month it felt hard to come up with topics, each day felt like a stretch.  And then, just like I tell my students, I started to live more like a writer.  Each and every experience I have during the day becomes fodder for thinking and writing.  I like that writing makes me pay more attention.  I notice details, make word associations, connect seemingly disparate parts of my life as I write and reflect.

I know that photography helps me generate writing.  It is yet another tool for paying attention to the world around me.  With my camera around my neck, the world slows down allowing me to notice what I might otherwise overlook.  When I go back later to view the images I captured, new thinking floods my brain, filling in the stories between the shots.  I re-view the things I noticed that I wasn’t able to capture through my lens and I see my experiences anew.

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I know that the Slice of Life Challenge community is a gift to me as a writer.  As I posted my permalink each day, I knew someone would read and comment on my writing. This community is accepting and generous.  Encouraging words keep a writer moving forward. As I read slices from others, I shared my thinking with them and learned from their words too.  I posted because I said I would, and because I knew that a community was there to listen.  That encouraged me to write, to revise, to push myself to continue to grow as a writer and as a responder.

And I love that writing each day creates a record of my thinking and my experiences.  I can return to my thinking later, reconsider those thoughts in light of new insights and experiences.  And as someone who tends to be an introvert, it invites others into my life in ways I don’t often make space for verbally or in casual in-person interactions.

March and my daily slices end today, but tomorrow I am taking on a new challenge.  My students and I will be taking a 30 day poem-a-day challenge for National Poetry Month. So look for a poem from me…and if things go well, poems from some of my students as well, each day of April!

 

A Noticing Day: SOLC 2019 Day 30

With reports cards written and parent conferences ahead of me, today was low-key. Sandwiched between errands, lunch out, and a chiropractic appointment, we fit in a noticing walk on the beach.

Today is part of a warming trend in our parts, sunny and clear, breezy with temperatures in the low 70s.  Beach goers were out in full force, taking advantage of a beautiful spring weekend.  (This has definitely been an in like a lion, out like a lamb March!)

Some days at the beach I have no idea what I’ll take a photo of.  I have tons of beach photos from all seasons, so I’m always alert to something new or unusual in some way.  We walked a different beach today, one further north than my usual Moonlight Beach, just because it was on our way from one errand to another.  As I walked my eyes were drawn to the maze of stairways from multimillion dollar homes on the cliffs zigzagging their way down the steep bluffs.  I took several shots, trying to capture that effect in my photo. (There are more–I was wishing to get an even wider view through my lens!)

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As I pressed the shutter, my husband called out to me.  “Do you see that?  Right there on the ladder…see the osprey?”  I didn’t at first (even though I had just photographed that very ladder!), my husband had to direct my gaze to see the bird in the distance.  We carefully moved closer, picking our way across the stones in our bare feet.  We photographed and watched, mesmerized by this majestic bird of prey.  After a few minutes of close observation, we walked back closer to the water’s edge.  As we took a last look over our shoulder, we saw it flying away in the other direction.  I am so glad my husband saw what I hadn’t noticed!

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We continued our walk, and I found my eyes alternating between watching the brilliant cobalt blue sky where sea birds soared and searching the sand and rocks for sea glass. Looking up, I saw a variety of gulls and terns, ravens, and even an egret in flight.  And always a favorite, pelican squadrons made their runs up and down the coast.

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As we headed back the car I couldn’t resist a close look at the wildflowers growing along the beach path.  I noticed the bees busily buried in the centers of these native yellow beauties.

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While I ended up spending the majority of my day out and about, it was a day for relaxing and noticing rather than hurrying and worrying.  I watched and wondered, taking time to breathe deeply and enjoy time out with my love on this perfect spring day.  I can feel my energy levels charging–just what I’ll need for the week of parent conferences that are just around the corner!

Blue #19: SOLC 2019 Day 29

I often find myself taking the same photo over and over again.  Obviously my eye is drawn to the subject.  I do try different angles, shifting every so slightly to capture the best light, something different in the background, or looking from another direction.

Sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m taking the same photo until I’m reminded–by a scroll through my images or a reminder of a memory from Facebook or my photo album.

But today I knew.

My Friday schedule let me take advantage of a nice low tide at midday.  I could feel the sun’s warmth as my bare feet traveled over the wet sand and was glad for my light sweatshirt in the low 60s early spring sea breeze.  When the tide is low and I don’t feel rushed for time, my turnaround point is lifeguard tower #19.  #19 is also a favorite local surfing spot and a popular dining spot for sandpipers.

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If you look north from #19, you can see Swamis–another popular (and famous) surfing spot with its iconic palm tree topped hillside.  I often take a photo or two with that view…like I did today.

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And as I looked through my photos, also back in November and December!

Occasionally, I find myself taking another perspective, giving yet another view of #19. (The tide was too high on this day for my usual perspective, I was forced up the hillside to avoid getting wet!)

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I’m not sure what all this says about either the lifeguard tower or me as a photographer. But I did find myself thinking about William Carlos Williams and The Red Wheelbarrow. (April is National Poetry Month and I’m planning ways to motivate my students to write a poem a day for the 30 days of April!)  So, using The Red Wheelbarrow as my mentor text, I played around with thoughts of the blue lifeguard tower.  Here’s my attempt:

Blue #19

 

I keep photographing

a blue lifeguard tower

sprayed with sea mist

watching the sandpipers and surfers dance

©Douillard

 

 

Magnitude: SOLC 2019 Day 28

As I walked down the beach this afternoon my eye caught the juxtaposition of the massive cliff walls and a small stack of beach pebbles.  I found myself thinking about magnitude–the contrast of big and small.

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I chatted on the phone earlier today with someone from an organization not directly related to education.  She was describing the struggles they have in their organization with clear, concise communication of complicated ideas.  The same struggles we are always talking to teachers about…from kindergarten to college.  Add the equity piece, the fact that some people have tremendous access and opportunity–often based on financial status and skin color–and the dilemma goes from a stack of small stones to an enormous cliff that crumbles and slips at unexpected moments.

Those cliffs keep me up at night, my efforts dwarfed by their magnitude, overwhelming me with the impossibility of the lift.  I find myself drawn to the pebbles.  They fit perfectly in my hand as I rub my fingers over their surface, smoothing and soothing as I follow the path nature left before me.  I pick one up, adding it my carefully balanced stack, wondering how many I can carry before they topple.

Luckily, I’ve come to the place in my career where I don’t have to decide between the cliffs and the pebbles.  I try my best to exert influence where I have the agency to do things that matter…even if they only matter to a few.  But my eye remains on the issues of magnitude…maybe if I keep stacking those small stones near the small stones of my colleagues and allies our stacks will grow to solutions of magnitude.  Those nightmares that keep me up at night will transform into dreams come true.  Maybe this art I found on the beach today is a talisman for the future.

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