Coaching and the Next Generation

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Our district considers itself a “destination” district-a magnet for teachers and training and forward thinking.  Looking through that lens, the district prefers to hire experienced teachers when a job or position opens. Although I agree that experience is invaluable, I believe that investing in new teachers is important, too.

 

In my role as Literacy Coaching in an elementary building, I have had the privilege of working with several teachers who have filled open positions.  Given my druthers, I prefer to coach brand new teachers instead of veteran teachers. This might seem odd to you, but I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that they bring.  These right-out-of-college teachers who are wet behind the ears, so to speak, enhance our school in numerous ways.

 

First, these fresh-from-university teachers usually know and accept that they don’t know everything.  With this in mind, they actively seek help and support and have a desire to improve their practice. They are open to new ideas and to reflecting on their practices.  They don’t seem worried or angry or offended when the coach (me) let’s them know she will be in the room observing the “teaching and the learning.” These educators are glad! These educators fling open the doors!  These educators put out the welcome sign. In contrast to some veteran teachers, seeking answers or help with confusions is normal. Never have I heard one Initial educator say, “I’ve done that. The pendulum is going to swing back to…” or “I’ve done it this way for years so….”    New teachers bring an open mind and a willingness to to learn and grow.

 

In addition to this culture of reflection that new teachers bring, I respect these budding educators.  They come to the classroom with skills and expertise that far outweighs with what I entered the field. The classroom management skills are awesome.  They have a toolbox of ideas to support respectful discipline. They come to the classroom with excellent communication skills. They handle most meetings with parents, teachers, students, and other educators with poise and grace.  They come to the classroom with the “native language” of technology. They eat, drink, and speak it. What I struggled to learn seems natural to them. This expertise opens learning to students in fun and innovative ways. Yes, I respect these young teachers.

 

Finally, the last and most important reason is that working with new teachers is such a pleasure.   Their dreams are still shiny and sparkling. “What do you mean?” you may be wondering. Well, in my opinion, most people who enter the teaching profession are motivated by a genuine and intense desire to help children, to make a difference in their lives, and by working with a caring spirit to ensure it becomes a reality.  I have never met one teacher who said that he or she entered the profession because they wanted the summers off or because the benefits or pay lured them here. No, most enter because of a hope to change lives. Theses new educators still tuck these beliefs near and dear to their hearts. And, as I work alongside these young men and women, I hope, in some small way, to encourage that spark of a dream to burst into a flame that will continue to burn brighter year after year.  
Investing in these teachers, supporting their success, and helping them refine their craft during their first years is exciting and rewarding to me.  Far be it from me to withhold support when discouragements come; when unreasonable parents assail; or when a principal’s expectations are unrealistic, wanting them to be a 30 year veteran in a 22 year old body.  No, these young women and men are the future of education, the future, really, of America. They will inherit the profession. They will be the educators that continue to make a difference in the lives of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the next generation of children long after I lock my office door for the last time.  These teachers are the future. We would do well to help them.

Perched Upon a Split-Rail Fence

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Perched upon a split-rail fence,                                                    

American_Robin_2006

American Robin

The gray-brown bird with rusty breast

Glances left, glances right,

His beady eyes, inky night.

 

“Trill-ill-ill,” the song he sings,

A friendly sound to welcome Spring.

Tail feathers spread, a fragile fan

Work up and down like a dutiful flagman.

 

His act repeats with joyful glee.

“Trill-ill-ill,” the merry melody rings he,

The gray-brown bird with rusty breast

Perched upon a split-rail fence.

 

©B. Donaldson, 2018. All rights reserved

In the Center of the Room

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In the center of the room,

with armchairs, devan, and loveseat

quietly encircling,

lies the cat.

 

The tabby cat,

with soft white bib

and matching socks,

shyly hides his face.

 

Wiry, white whiskers

poke out here and there;

while sentinel ears stand erect,

in spite of hiding mittens.

 

Curled in a crescent moon,

the Tabby rests content,

with slow, slumbering breath,

in the center of he room.

 

©B. Donaldson, 2018. All rights reserved

Finding Balance

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Today while walking, a retired teacher and I discussed the changes in education that have come to area schools in recent years.  Like all things, there are positives and negatives surrounding these changes. We took out and examined both, the upsides and the downsides.  

The school from which my walking buddy retired is an extremely high-performing school that embraced the workshop model and “best practice” instruction with rigorous and time-intensive language arts curriculum guides.  The principal embraced change and led by edict, “We are going to implement this new curriculum this year.  We will ensure fidelity by asking you to input your lesson plans, enduring understandings, essential questions, and learning targets every day on the shared drive.  The literacy coach and I will read and comment on these as well as stop by your rooms with checklists to give you feedback.” And so it went. A two-hour reading block and an hour long writing/word study block, complete with carpet time, minilessons, anchor charts, and share outs, ruled the day.  Students moved from one lesson to another like clockwork. Literacy performance increased. The school earned a 97% on the State School Report Card. The principal was selected as a Kohl’s fellow. The results are impressive and awe-inspiring. These were the pros, but as in all things, there were resulting cons.

As the new normal with its accompanying test scores and accolades came to stay, there were consequential changes, consequential losses, and consequential shifts.  “What are these?” you may be asking. As literacy instruction became king, its preeminent curriculum began to squeeze out other activities during the day. Things such as teacher planning time.  Meetings encroached on this sacred time so that teachers had only three 35 minute prep times per week. Not so bad, except that conscientious teachers began staying late and working after dinner until 10 or 11 o’clock.  Teacher teams met in summers to work on lesson plans with the required understandings, questions, and targets. Most of the staff sought help in the form of anti-anxiety medication, retirement, or job changes.  Science, so interesting to students, also was compacted into two 30 minute lessons a week, and Social Studies became a 20 minute lesson three times per week. Gone were the projects and plays and recesses. Choice, the hallmark of workshop models, became almost non-existent as “the curricular guides” asked students to read certain books that aligned with lessons.  Sadly, to me, one of the greatest losses were the projects. To me, projects made a difference. In all my years of education, one of the things I remember the most was a third-grade Native American (Indians, in the old days) project. I remember it still-the Iroquois. I remember the designed and painted forests; handmade longhouses; and the little Indian figures.  All were so impressive to my 8-year-old self. Sad to think what our 5- or 7- or 10-year- old children are missing, this joyous part of education! All these pressures were the “last straw” for my friend who decided to retire.

 
I want to be fair.  I’m a literacy coach with training from a prominent university.  I believe in the workshop model, constructivist and collaborative learning, rigor and high-standards. I believe students need choice and enjoyment in learning.  I believe in student growth.  (Our school received a 89.9%.) And, I believe in best practices!  All this being said, and while believing best practices should be considered for instructional decisions and to help all children reach their full potential, it also is important to find balance.  How can we find balance in the joys and curiosities of learning (with its routines and regiments and accurate planning) with the joy of being a child? How can needs of the child’s academic and social/emotional life find balance in a high-performing school that demands rigor and results?  These are questions educators need to answer. These are questions that need pondering. These are questions that demand actions. We need to remember the child-the whole child-in the curriculum. We need to find balance!

April Fool’s Easter

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This year Ash Wednesday occurred on Valentine’s Day and Easter on April Fool’s Day.  That seems unusual to me, but it also got me thinking…

 

On Easter, when usually sunshine and daffodils and baby chicks come to mind, Mother Nature seemed to chuckle as she slyly planned her own April Fool’s trickery.  Sitting on my porch, a large, low container of pansies welcomed one and all to our home. Their immense faces cheerfully flirted with the breeze, teased the frollicking clouds, and chatted with the neighborly sparrows. Mother Nature looked the other way, feeling a more and more out of sorts, feeling more and more grouchy at being left out of the Springtime cheer.  So out of sorts was she that she abandoned her naturally sunny disposition, feeling not in the least generous or gracious.

 

So, as Easter approached, Mother Nature decided the time was right for her little “joke”.  She spied the pansies with their joyful exuberance of the coming celebration. She noticed the golden forsythia wreath on the ruby red door.  “No, no, no,” she thought. “If I’m not happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy.” So with premeditated purpose, instead of whisking in fair winds and warm sunshine, she decided play her joke. On Easter Eve, she invited Old Man Winter for a little visit.  His blustery breath sent a freezing chill over the land. His late visit frosted the happy pansies. Their heads now drooped in frozen death, no longer having strength to greet the morn. Easter-goers who, in cheerful anticipation of a glorious day, stepped out upon the porch  They clutched their coats tighter, pulled on their woolen mittens, and stared at the sad, sad pansies. Snowflakes swirled as Mother Nature laughed.

Reflections: Keep On Keeping On

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This year the Slice of Life Challenge seemed harder than the past two years.  At the beginning of the month, slices seemed rusty and not really what I wanted to post, but the deadline loomed. Comments seemed fewer and farther-in-between than in the past.  Those comments really do make a difference, even when the slice isn’t the “best” ever.  

 

In one slice, my writing reflected my thinking about those differences and comments, or the lack thereof.  Interestingly, a few of the comments that I received on that slice reminded me that I should be writing for myself, not for another’s comments. So true!  Another person commented on my obvious commitment to myself to write everyday and to persevere. So true!  The comments I read that day gave me the shot in the arm I needed to keep on keeping on.  My perspective shifted. My focus did, too. I knew I would, but I committed yet again to keep writing.  

 

And so I did.  I kept writing.  I kept commenting.  In fact, I decided to be part of the solution.  I tried to comment faithfully and thoughtfully on posts that I read.  The suggested, “Comment on 3 other blogs,” became a starting point. Could I do more?  I’m busy, too.  What I found, as I’m sure many of you have, is that the more I commented, the more enjoyable the month became.  Ideas seemed to flow more easily off my fingers. I experimented with different forms of writing, some weren’t perfect, but I had fun trying them out.  I took those risks. I accepted that everything wasn’t going to be perfect or even the best. I just keep on keeping on.

 

Then, other blogs gave me inspiration. Ideas were inspiration.  Forms were inspiration. Reading really great slices was inspiration.  Suggested “read this blog to for ideas” by the Two Writing Teachers was inspiration.  By reading slices, I realized that everyone has challenges, everyone has a day or days when the ideas dry up.  What do we do then? Keep writing. My writing still needs to grow and be refined; I’m not there, yet, but I’m working on it.  I just keep on keeping on.

 

Most importantly, as I kept writing, writing, writing, some fellow slicers did stop by.  They did comment. They did encourage. I was happy, but now, not dependent. I thank them all, all the wonderful people whose lives are busy and stressed and full of life’s activities, for stopping by. I thank them for taking time to read and offer those heartwarming comments.  I thank them for reading my slices that were full of risks, and, probably in all honesty, not all that great. For the kindness and the caring, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to all the Two Writing Teachers staff who planned and organized and emailed and commented.  No one can know, unless they have done it, how hard it must be. It seems easy on my end. Not seeing the countless behind-the-scenes workings, I can only imagine, and, I thank you.  

 

Simple Pleasures

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A lazy start to the day,

Snuggling in flannel sheets, cozy and warm.

 

Steaming coffee, rich and smooth,

Its inviting aroma hovering in the air.

A hurry-free breakfast,

Its colors feeding the beauty-thirsting soul.

 

A to-do list, the schedule for the day,

Full of washing,

And cleaning,

And planning

for the anxiously-awaited guests.

 

A conversation, written in words, sent as a text.

The video of a granddaughter

Smiling,

Toddling,

And saying, “Hi!”

 

A porch with pansies on its step,

Petals-golds, purples, violets, ambers-

Politely calling, “Spring, spring, spring!”

Robins, hopping in the lawn,

Cheerily chirping in reply.

 

Sunshine dancing on the ground,

Clouds floating in the sky.

A restful day,

A peaceful day,

A day to remember.

 

A day to remember 

the One

Who made this

Friday Good.

 

©B. Donaldson, 2018. All rights reserved

Satisfaction

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Today, I presented a professional development session to the K-2 teachers in my building.  I tried a new deliver technique where each grade level team was given, after a brief overview, a specific task to research, discuss, and into which to dig in.  Being unsure of how the new format would be received, I was a little nervous, but yet, I felt confident that I want to model with teachers what I want them to do in the classroom.  Constructivist, collaborative learning is so much more powerful than sit-and-get lectures.

When the session was over, satisfaction settled down on my shoulder and gave me the inspiration for this slice.  I decided to play with comparisons for “satisfaction.”

 

Satisfaction

settles soothingly

like a blanket

swathes me

on a frosty morn.

 

Satisfaction

tarries tenderly

like the rosy glow

lingers

in the darkening sky.

 

Satisfaction

pads peacefully

like the brook

bubbles

beside the shore.

 

Satisfaction

chats contentedly

like the wind

whispers

to the trees.

 

Satisfaction

rests refreshingly

like the whiff of boxwoods

on the wings

of the wind.

 

Satisfaction

pauses patiently

like the reluctance

to close the cover

when the story ends.

 

©B. Donaldson, 2018. All rights reserved

 

Weary Eyes

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My eyes are bleary,

Yes, weary.

Long hours I’ve spent

Staring at text,

Editing,

Suggesting,

Commenting.

 

My head is achy,

Yes, shakey.

Long hours I’ve spent

Thinking,

Writing,

Typing,

Encouraging.

 

My thoughts are jumbly,

Yes, tumbly.

Long hours I’ve spent

Considering,

Contemplating,

Postulating,

Populating.

 

My eyelids are droopy,,

Yes, loopy.

Long hours ahead

I”ll spend in my bed.

So off I’ll go,

Not a bit too slow.

 

©B. Donaldson, 2018. All rights reserved

 

 

For This Today

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Today, like many other days, after getting ready for school, I walk down the wool-carpeted flight of stairs from the upstairs to the main floor.  Feeling a little creeky and not fully awake so early in the morning, my hand loosely holds onto the rail for an added bit of reassurance. A muffled footfall echoes in the foyer as my slippered foot steps onto the hardwood floor.  (I’m fully dressed for breakfast except for my feet which luxuriate a few more minutes in my comfy slippers.  Just for a few more minutes before the on-my-feet-all-day shoes are put on.) So begins my day.

Later, when a scheduled meeting ends a full 45 minutes early, hee-hee, I head happily for home. As my red Sonata approaches the familiar two-story, gray house, the signs of various School Board candidates remind me that I need to vote before I leave on break. So, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, my foot pushes down gently on the accelerator instead of the brake, and I drive right on down the street toward City Hall where I know I’ll be in time to vote by absentee ballot.

I enter the glass doors of the stately, three story stone building. Its marble staircases and brass handrails beckon me onward to the second story. After providing the usual information, I enter the voting booth, carefully filling in the bubbles before the names of the candidates I support.  Placing the ballot in the provided envelope, my tongue wets the glue, and I seal and return it to the receptionist. She stamps it with today’s date. I smile to myself. I know it’s silly, but a voting pride swells my chest as I think how I’ve done my duty as a citizen yet again.  I think of the men and women who have fought over the years to give me the privilege. A warm feeling spreads inside me like maple syrup over pancakes on a winter morning.
I turn and trip lightly down the stairs. I think how wonderful it is, if just for today, that I can almost dance down the steps.  Not needing to grab the handrail, I feel like a teenager zipping down these marble treads. Tippity, tippity, tap.  Even the sounds sing out to me, calling me back to a time when injured knees painfully cried out with every step, up or down.  Then, the rail was my friend who supported me, helped me. I clung to her, then. Those were the times when I never thought I would be able to do this simple task again, pain free.  Tippity, tippity, tap. But now I can! And everytime I do, I thank God for this time, just this one time. Maybe tomorrow, the gift will be gone.  Who knows? But for this day, this today, I am thankful, and I skip merrily down the rest of the stairs, easily and carefree and joyful.