Tuesday, September 19, 2017

DWP #7: BUBBLE {9.19.17}

I am new to meditation, but it is something I'm trying very hard to include in my day.

I've heard a lot about the benefits of meditation: improved focus and creativity, lower blood pressure, increased sense of well-being, stronger immunity.....I could go on and on.

Some days of my meditation practice are easier than others. Other days, I can't keep my mind from going on a scavenger hunt. Instead of focusing on the breath, I find myself thinking about what I'm going to make for dinner, what someone said to me yesterday, when the last time was that I checked social media, and a million other things all at once.

This was definitely NOT meditating.

But the longer I practice, the more I learn that this "monkey mind" behavior is normal. The important part of meditation is being able to notice that your mind has wandered and bring it back to focusing on the breath.

At first, I struggled with this. Then I learned to think of each thought as a bubble and to visualize that thought bubble floating away, out of my reach.

And it worked!

So now when I meditate and notice my mind has wandered, I place that thought into a shiny bubble and watch it float away.

Monday, September 18, 2017

DWP #6: DELIVER {9.18.17}

It's been a long time since I've written a letter to be mailed.

With the advent of email, voicemail, Voxer, Facebook and that oldie-but-goodie, the phone, writing letters as a way to communicate and catch-up is a lost art.

I remember when I was a kid, I would write a letter to my grandfather who lived in Michigan. Putting a stamp on an envelope was a lot cheaper than calling him on the phone (that charged by the minute). He never wrote back, but I didn't care. When I put that letter in the mail, I was a way of connecting with him across the miles and it made me miss him a little less.

Now, both of my kids are away at college and I have found myself writing letters again. I talk to them both on the phone regularly (sometimes many times a day), but nothing beats going to your mailbox and finding a letter has been delivered.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

DWP #5: UNITE {9.17.17}

When I started the Daily Writing Project (DWP) a mere five days ago, I had no idea the response I would get.

I started the DWP because I needed a way to be accountable for returning to the page every day. I had fallen away from my daily writing (due to the 'busyness' of life and other lame excuses...) and wanted to get back at it.

Sharing my daily writing online was a way to be held accountable, even if only to myself.

Inviting others to join me on the DWP journey was a way maybe help others write every day and even build a little community in the process.

Well..it's working.

Others have contacted me and told me that the DWP was the spark they needed to get back to their own writing.

And they are inviting others to join their accountability circle.

Writers UNITE!

Looking to join in? Here's the info:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

DWP #4: EXPLAIN {9.16.17}

I didn't think I could possibly explain it one more time.

Our insurance is new.
We're not in their system yet.
My daughter needs to visit the clinic at school.
Needs a medication refill.

No, I don't know my member ID.
No, I don't know my group number.

Our insurance is new.
We're not in their system yet.

No, she can't wait until Monday.

I need to talk to who?

Could you transfer me?

What?! Disconnected?!


You are the fourth person I've talked to today.

Our insurance is new.
We're not in their system yet.
My daughter needs....

I'm sorry?

No, I don't want to take a customer satisfaction survey at the end of this call.
Do I have to explain why....

Friday, September 15, 2017

DWP #3: FLUTTER {9.15.17}

I hear it before I see it.

Its telltale whir
As it zip, zip, zags through the air
Searching for a bright larkspur or honeysuckle vine
To drink its sweet wine.

It pauses,
Realizes I am neither,
Then flutters away.

My heart,
Always in awe of the ruby-throated hummingbird,
Flutters a bit too.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


"A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking
because her trust is not on the branch, but on her wings.
Always believe in yourself."

This is one of my favorite quotes. A few years ago, my One Litte Word was FLY. I thought this quote was the perfect accompaniment to my OLW. It inspired me to believe that I always had the potential to do more than I thought I could do. 

Staying on the branch is easy. I know because I've been spending quite a bit of time there lately. So much time that I wonder if my wings even work anymore.

Starting a new business is not easy. Becoming an empty nester is not easy. Going from working around other people to just yourself every day is not easy.

Lately, I've found myself grasping tighter and tighter to my branch -- my home base where I know how everything works. Maybe I'm doing this because there's been so much change in my life over the past six months that this is an involuntary reaction.

But it's time to let go of my branch.

Time to venture out.

Time to be brave and get out there.

Time to see how those wings work.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

DWP: Garter {9.13.17}


I wasn't expecting to see it there.

I stood at the edge of my flower garden, the same garden I am in (sometimes barefoot) almost every day, and saw something wiggling in the grass out of the corner of my eye.

A thin, brown garter snake wove its way through the blades, trying to get away from me as quickly as possible. (I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see me there either!)

I let out a very loud yelp and jumped back.

The snake made a turn and slithered toward the garden.

Oh no, you don't! There was NO way I was going to let that snake get into my garden. I ran to get a shovel from the garage, but by the time I got back, the snake was gone.

I grabbed the hose and shot cold water into the tall flowers and plants, hoping to freeze the little guy out of there. 

I told myself it worked.

Two days later, I was walking back from our vegetable garden, arms full of tomatoes and cucumbers,  and there was another garter snake weaving through the grass -- much smaller than the first one.

Being someone who is petrified of snakes, I considered pelting it with tomatoes but quickly thought better of that idea.

I got a grip, reminded myself that I am a grown woman, took a deep breath, and followed the little guy for a bit (from a safe distance, of course). 

He was quite tiny, probably no wider than a pencil. If he stretched out, he was maybe 12" long. No big deal, I told myself, right before he disappeared down a hole in a grassy ravine.

We have lived in this house for 15 years and it's probably been five years since I've seen a snake. Now...I see two in the same week. Weird.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New Beginnings Begin Today {SOL 9.05.17}

Last Sunday, my husband and I settled our two kids into their home-away-from-home lives at college.

With both kids away, we are truly empty-nesters. The house has been very quiet. That's really hard to get used to. I think I've talked to the dog more this past week than anyone else. Luckily, the dog seems to get it and lets me babble away.

These past few months have seen many endings and new beginnings for me. Times of great change. Thinking of it all as a collective whole can be overwhelming, so I'll just take them one by one:

* In June, I left the classroom to begin my educational consulting business, Teach Write. Ending ten years in the classroom was very sad, but I'm looking forward to beginning this new adventure. Today would have been our first day of school. It's a strange feeling not to be there, but I know good things are ahead too.

* A new business means working from home -- alone -- all day long. Luckily, I'm someone who doesn't mind quiet and solitude, but it will take a little getting used to.

* Two kids away at college with huge beginnings ahead of them, but for me as well as I adjust to life in my empty nest.

* I'm looking for some new social groups to join to get me out of the house and to connect with others. (The dog will appreciate this.) Tonight, I'm going to a writing meeting at the library. I've been to meetings like this before and they did NOT work out for me, but I'm going to give it another try. You never know...

* I am helping my parents move into a new home, just little farther away from me. I know this is a good move for them, but I will miss the luxury of knowing my mom is just 10 minutes away.

* I am working on beginning new writing habits. I need to set the wheels in motion and get going. Those books aren't going to write themselves.

Today is the day I mark as the first day of my new beginnings. With what would have been the first day of school behind me now, I feel like I am fully ready to step into my new reality. What lies ahead is uncertain, but I'm excited to meet whatever comes.
Have a "Beginnings" story to share? Link up with the #TeachWrite chat monthly Invite to Write here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The JOY of Cooking

I think I'm experiencing a sort of "nesting."

You may be familiar with the concept of nesting as it pertains to pregnant women. Right before labor, moms get this overwhelming urge to prepare their home for the arrival of their baby. They clean, organize and do other preparations to create a welcoming home for their new one.

The thing is though -- I'm not pregnant.

As a matter of fact, my two children are both leaving for college in a few weeks. My husband and I will be EMPTY nesters.

So why do I think I'm nesting?

As my kids are getting ready to leave, I'm feeling the overwhelming urge to send a bit of home with them. To create mementos of home that will remind them of our nest and all the love it holds for them.

Food is one way I find myself doing this.

As the number of home-cooked meals they have left to enjoy is counting down, I find myself wanting to make their favorites (fettuccini alfredo with chicken, terriyaki chicken, PMS Pie...).

Last week, I baked their favorite cookies (soft pumpkin).

This week, I've made four batches of jam (strawberry x 2, blackberry and mixed berry) so they would have some to take to school with them.
I have always found that cooking is one way I show my love for those I care about. It brings me great JOY to cook or bake something for someone else to enJOY.

So as my baby birds are getting ready to fly away from our nest, I will continue to stuff their bellies with the goodness of home. It is my hope that once they are out in the world and they think back to their time at home, they will feel JOY remembering the taste of home.


What does JOY mean to you? What brings you JOY? How do you sprinkle JOY in your day? Write about it and share your post with the #TeachWrite community by linking up to our blog here.
The #TeachWrite chat is dedicated to supporting teachers of writers and teachers who write. Join us for our next chat on Monday, September 4th at 7:30PM EST. You can sign up for the Remind here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Was Not Expecting This {SOL 8.08.17}

We all know writing can be a lonely act.

The writer sits alone at the computer or journal and pours her heart out onto the page. Those words will often stay silent, only seen by the writer's eye.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Thanks to communities such the Slice of Life community, and Twitter, we are able to connect with other writers -- to share our words, our hopes, our fears, our celebrations, our reflections, and more.

Last night was the debut of our #TeachWrite chat and let me just say -- I was overwhelmed with the response and the sheer number of teachers and teacher-writers who came out to be a part of the conversation about how we can grow our practice of being teachers who write. At the end of the hour long chat, there were over 1,000 tweets!

I came up with the idea for this chat a few months ago after trolling Twitter for tweets about teaching writing and not finding much. I found a lot about reading, Genius Hour, makerspaces, and innovative teaching practices, but not a lot about writing.

Twitter is an amazing connection tool, but it is also an excellent professional development tool. There needed to be more conversation about this topic.

So I went to my friends Michelle Haseltine and Leigh Anne Eck (who I met right here at SOL) with the idea of starting a Twitter chat and they jumped on board without hesitation. A little later, we talked Margaret Simon (another SOL friend) into joining us.

We want the #TeachWrite chat to serve the teachers who participate in the chat, whether actively tweeting, lurking, or reading the archives after. So we came up with a few guiding beliefs:

1.  The chat would focus on nurturing teachers as writers, not necessarily on teaching writing. We strongly believe that by being teachers who write, we are better writing teachers.

2. Every chat would end with an invitation to write. This is based on our experience with the National Writing Project Summer Institutes. (August's Invitation to Write can be found here.)

3.  Writers of ALL level are welcome to join in the conversation. You don't have to be published or a regular writer to participate and have a voice. You don't even need to have a blog. If you are even thinking of becoming a teacher-writer, we hope you will join us.

4. We would do all we could to support teachers who write.

I hope you were able to catch the #TeachWrite chat last night. I saw many familiar names and faces there.  If you missed it and would like to catch up, you can read the Storify here.

You can also answer the invitation to write on this month's topic - JOY! - and share your words by linking up on our #TeachWrite Chat blog.

Our #TeachWrite chat will be the first Monday of every month, rain or shine, holiday or not. That means our next chat will be Monday, September 4th (Labor Day) at 7:30 PM EDT. Need help remembering? Sign up for the Remind here.

What did last night's chat teach me?

1. My words matter.
2. Connections matter.
3. I don't have to do this alone.
4. Teachers are the most generous, caring, supportive people on earth. (Actually...I already knew this one. The chat just cemented it deeper in my heart.)
5. There was a desperate need for a regular conversation around writing.
6. Sometimes tiny ideas turn into huge wins!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

An Unexpected Surprise {SOL 7.25.17}

My husband is out of town which, of course, is prime time for everything in the house to misbehave.

On Monday of last week, our septic pump broke, bringing water into our finished basement. Luckily, we have good friends in town who were able to help me out. John came over on Monday night, pulled out the pump, diagnosed it as broken, went to the store and got me a new one and even installed it for me. (Isn't he AWESOME??!!)

As I wrote John a check for the cost of the pump, I was immensely thankful that he saved me a large expense from a plumber. However, the $246  was not in our budget we had planned for the month. I thought to myself: It is what it is. We will figure it out later.

On Thursday, I picked up the mail and noticed an envelope from my daughter's oral surgeon who recently removed her wisdom teeth. I opened the letter and almost fell over:
This unexpected check would almost completely cover the cost of the pump!


The Law of Attraction worked hard for me last week!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Let's Talk About Writing!: #TeachWrite Twitter Chat

If you are a teacher who writes, I'm pretty sure you know its benefits when it comes to your teaching of writers. 

Teachers who write....

...Know the messiness of the writing process from the inside out.

...Are better at conferring and talking one-on-one with their student writers. 

...Understand that writing is hard work, but so, so worth it.

...See the value in writing and the depth and clarification it adds to our thinking.

...Have a stronger connection with their students as they can empathize with the writer's journey.

...Are awesome!

Becoming a writing teacher who writes has truly changed my instruction....and my life. I have come to enjoy teaching writing (enough so that it is the focus of my new business, Teach Write LLC) and have met so many amazing teacher-writers from around the world that have brought so much friendship to my life.

It is with all of this in mind that three of these such friends and I have decided to start a new Twitter chat dedicated to teachers who write and to help others see the benefit of this rewarding habit.

Join us the first Monday of every month for #TeachWrite, a new Twitter chat dedicated to growing teachers as writers and teachers of writers.

Do you….
Believe that teaching writing is easier when teachers are writers themselves?
Believe that our own writing lives deserve to be nurtured?
Believe that all writers grow through dedicated writing time?
Believe that all writers need support and encouragement?
Believe that writing is a messy process and the best way to learn this is through our own practice?
Believe that when teachers write, they make writing a priority in their classrooms?

Our chat will support teachers not only in their quest to become better teachers of writers but to become better writers ourselves.

In addition, each chat will end with an invitation to write!

Please join us!

Our first chat is Monday, August 7th at 7:30 PM EST with the topic of  “Writing for the JOY of It!”

You can sign up to receive a monthly reminder of our #TeachWrite chat by signing up for a Remind: remind.com/join/teachwri 
Hope to see you August 7th at 7:30 pm EST! (Don't forget to sign up for the Remind: remind.com/join/teachwri)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Power of the Phone {SOL 7.11.17}

If you are like me, you carry your cell phone with you everywhere. To be without it is to feel like I've lost my right arm. I constantly check to make sure I have it: in my pocket, in my purse, on my coffee table. 

My cell phone is not just my phone, it is also my watch, my alarm, my camera, my to-do list, my notepad, my weatherman, my entertainment center, my map and probably a million other things.

So on Friday, when I went to Six Flags Great America with my family, I panicked a bit when I realized I had left my phone at home. (How that happened, I can't quite figure out.)

At first, I considered going home to get it. But then I thought...seriously?? 

Nope, I would make-do all day without it.

And you know what?  It felt weird, but it was actually kind of nice.

I didn't feel the draw to check it every hour (or sooner, given a state of inactivity).

I could enjoy moments with my family instead of trying to see them through the camera's viewfinder.

It even felt a bit devious to be disconnected from text messages...What would people think if they texted me and I didn't get back to them right away??? (Oh, the horror!! :)

I didn't have those up-to-the-minute updates of who was doing what and where from Facebook.

The only bad part about not having my phone was that I also didn't have a watch on so figuring out what time it was became a bit of a challenge.

What began as a day of panic, actually turned out to be very nice. It also made me realize how much my phone controls me. (Which is actually a pretty scary thought!)

I plan to have more phoneless days in the future. I think the more I do it, the easier it will become. I won't feel like I'm missing a body part.

And maybe I'll take back some of that power I've given away to this inanimate object.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

She's Baaaack! {SOL 6.27.17}

We waited at the end of aisle outside the doors in the international terminal at O'Hare Airport marked Exit A. There were lots of others waiting there with us, stretching tall up on their tippy toes every time the doors to Exit A opened to see if their loved one was on their way out.

Behind those doors, I imagined long lines of passengers waiting to claim their luggage and pass through the customs screening. I'm sure many were weary from hours of travel but also excited to walk through the doors to see their dear ones waiting on the other side.

People from all different worlds streamed past us. Many stopped to hug a friend or family member waiting in the crowd. Then there were also others who simply walked out, pulling their suitcase, trying to find the most unobstructed route to the exit doors because they did not have anyone waiting in the crowd.

We continued to watch the doors of Exit A flap open and shut.

Open and shut. Open and shut.

I kept glancing at the clock.

Waiting. Waiting......

Open and shut. Open and shut.

Then we saw her....our Hannah was back.
{Thing 1 is Hannah, our German daughter. She stayed with us for the 2015-2016 school year. Thing 2 is our American daughter, Kara. She stays with us all the time. Hannah is back to visit for the month of July unless we can talk her into moving here permanently. We just love her!}

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Making Connections {SOL 6.20.17}

It's almost here....!!!

Tomorrow, I will pack up the car and head four hours east toward Warsaw, IN for the ALL WRITE conference.

This year is my 4th year attending and I couldn't be more excited!

When I went to my first All Write conference four years ago, I went completely alone. I did not know a single person. (And, I might add, I was pretty darn proud of myself for being so brave to go it alone!)

My bravery paid off. I was quickly swooped up by a group of amazing ladies -- Linda Baie, Mary Helen Gensch, Ruth Ayres, LeAnn Carpenter, Leigh Ann Eck, Christy Rush-Levine, Kim Barrett, and others that I'm sure I am unintentionally forgetting -- and welcomed into their group.

Looking back, I think my professional life really started to change when I went to my first All Write conference. I feel like I found my tribe. I connected with other educators who believe in the same things I do -- the power of writing and leading a literate life.

Tomorrow I will see many of these ladies again in real life (versus on blogs, Twitter chats, etc.). I am so looking forward to it.

But I wanted to tell you.....

If you are going to All Write, especially if you are going alone, let's connect! I'd love to meet you and welcome you into our tribe. Look for my "Teach Write" shirt. Send me a tweet (@laffinteach) or stop by my session on Friday and say "Hey!".  I'm presenting on "The Cartonera Project: Every Student an Author" during the final session on Friday.

Safe travels!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Door {SOL 6.06.17}

This is the door to the classroom where I have taught for the past nine years.

Beyond this door is the classroom where I learned along with 208 fourth- and fifth-grade students.

We wrote magical stories in this room.

We learned how to divide fractions in this room.

We pursued passion projects in this room.

We went on adventures with Pax, Edward, Ally, Ada, Bud, Melody and Auggie in the books we read together in this room.

We held family meetings in this room.

We learned about explorers, space, Native Americans, the Revolutionary War, the human body systems, the Ice Age, energy and good nutrition in this room.

We learned how to solve problems, how to help each other, and the power of the word 'yet' in this room.

We made cards for sick friends and celebrated birthdays in this room.

Last week Friday, I walked through this door into this room for the final time.

I had made the decision to leave the classroom and teaching to start and grow my new business, Teach Write, last November. I had plenty of time to prepare for this day -- the last time I would walk through this door into the room that held so many good memories of the past nine years.

The last nine years have been simply amazing. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

At the end of the day, I walked back through that door and headed out, never to return.

I'm not sure what the future holds, but nine years ago when I first walked through that door into my new classroom, I didn't know either.

And it all turned out okay.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Squawky Momma Bird {SOL 5.23.17}

I heard her before I saw her.

The telltale "yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip" I have heard many, many times.

Up the road from where I was walking last night, I saw her -- long twiggy legs carrying her swiftly away from the shoulder of the road across to the other side. Once there, she sat down on in the gravel, fanned her tail, stuck her right wing out at an awkward angle and began to shake. As I approached, she got up, ran about 20 feet up the road and repeated her broken wing act.

The "her," in this case, is a bird called a Kildeer. Kildeer are known for protecting their nests (which they build on the ground in grass or gravel) by distracting a predator with a high pitched yip and pretending to be injured. Their goal in this act is to draw a predator away from the nest, thinking the adult bird is an easy target instead.

I had no intention of harming the nest, yet the momma bird insisted in yipping at me until I moved way past them and up the hill.

When my daughter was younger, she rightfully called this bird the Squawky Momma Bird. The sound the Kildeer makes is rather obnoxious and persistent. The name has stuck after all these years.

She is one determined momma. Very protective. Very smart. Very clever.

But then again, most of the moms I know are.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Running Out of Books {SOL 5.02.17}

I have a problem....

I am running out of books for my some of my students to read.

Not all of my students, just a few of the higher level girls.

(The boys seem to be happy with a constant diet of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate or Goosebumps.)

These girls have read everything I've got. Pax. Hour of the Bees. Fish in a Tree. The Red Pencil. Wish. The Last Fifth Grade. Raymie Nightengale. Land of the Forgotten Girls. The Seventh Wish. The War That Saved My Life. Almost Home. Mr. Lemoncello. Echo.

And more.

You see, we are nearing the end of our second year together. We looped together from fourth grade to fifth grade so they lost out on having access to a new teacher's library. They were high readers in fourth grade and even higher in fifth.

Now I'm finding that not only do I not have new book recommendations for them, many of the books that are available for them at their reading level are not "appropriate" for fifth-grade girls. (LOVE and other things like that.)

I've tried to encourage them to reread a few of their favorites and they have. But it is killing me not being able to put new books into their hands.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Scents of Life {SOL 4.25.17}

I was walking through the health and beauty section when I saw it sitting on an end cap: A giant display of Coast Soap.

I picked up the package (16 bars!!) and deeply inhaled through the cellophane wrapping. That clean, crisp scent brought me instantly back to the days of my childhood when we showered off the remnants from spending the day playing outside or swimming in the lake with good ol' bright blue Coast Soap.  It was like I was 8 years old again. It made me happy so I bought the 16 pack.

A trip down memory also happens when I smell the smoke of blown out candles.

That scent transports me back to the days of my family birthday parties which my mom always held on the last Sunday of January. This day was always bittersweet because it marked the end of the monthlong feeling of celebration that ran from Christmas day until my birthday on January 27th. Once my birthday passed, it was back to boring old winter. The blowing out of those candles signified the end of this time. It made me feel a bit sad. Smelling the smoke of a blown out candle still makes me think of this, bringing along feelings of melancholy.

Things like the scent of certain shampoos I have used can transport me back in time. Just smelling the scent can trigger a memory of something that was going on when I last used the same shampoo.

Does this happen to anyone else?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Focus on the Good {SOL 4.18.17}

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about how I approach conferring with my student writers.

As a teacher, I think I am sometimes unconsciously hardwired to want to fix things, to make them better.

I see something that is "wrong" and instantly try to make it right by breaking out my red pen.

The result is often a piece of student writing that is full of red ink, circled words, and comments that are not as helpful as I would hope. The ownership of the writing has left the hands of the student writer.

       Does this ever happen to you too?

Sometimes, we get so focused on fixing that we overlook what is already going well.

Sometimes, our continued helpfulness even makes the student lose their enthusiasm for writing altogether. Because....who wants to be told what they are doing wrong all the time? (I don't!)

So as I sit with my student writers, I try to keep this in mind. I try to be more aware of the words I use to talk with them about what I see in their writing. I try to always, always, always lead our conferences out with what I see them doing well.

       "I noticed you used the Power of Three...."

       "This part is very easy to visualize..."

       "Your paragraphing makes your article easy to follow....."

       "The FANBOY you used gives you nice sentence variety...."

Sometimes, I will leave it at that -- a few minutes together, talking about all the goodness I see in their writing. I offer no unwarranted suggestions before I send them back to work. The result always leaves the student writer feeling good.

Some days, when I am feeling the desire to push them a little further or that "fixer mindset" washes over me,  I will I ask them..."How can I help you with this piece of writing today?"

I don't tell them what I want them to fix. I leave it up to them.

And the funny thing is, about eight times out of ten, they ask for help on the exact thing that I noticed needed help.

But then it was THEIR idea, not mine.

THEY remain in control.

THEY retain complete ownership of their writing.

     And best yet --

THEY still walk away from the conference feeling empowered to make their own writing choices.

So while we do spend time in class talking about the importance of correct spelling and conventions (those things that bring on the wrath of red ink), I try not to focus on it in our writing conferences.

I want my students to know that there is more to good writing than just proper comma placement and capital letters.

Compliment conferences focus on the good in writing and can help turn a disengaged writer into one that takes ownership and interest in writing again.

So as you go about your conferring with your student writers, I challenge you to spend a day just giving compliments (and only compliments!) on the goodness in their writing and see what happens. You might be surprised how this simple act changes the students -- and changes you!

Looking for more ideas for teaching writing? Visit my Teach Write site for lots of other ideas and to sign up for our newsletter.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Celebrating an Idea

If you are reading this, there's a pretty good chance that you are a teacher (of any capacity) who writes.

The internet has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to connect ourselves and our words with other teacher writers.  These connections inspire us, sustain us, and give us an audience (and sometimes a therapist) for our words and ideas.

Being a teacher who writes also helps us in the writing classroom. We can share our writing processes, writing struggles, and writing celebrations with our student writers. As fellow writers, we "get it."

We are better writing teachers because of the writing we do ourselves.

But there are lots and lots of writing teachers out there who do not know this.

For them, their writing instruction often comes out of a manual with scripts and directions for teaching writing. Conferring with and assessing their student writers is often dreaded because these teachers don't know what to say. The manual doesn't usually come with an "If you see this, then say this" section. (And if it did, who could memorize all of that anyways?)

          But there is a better way.


Earlier this week, I put out a call on social media and to a few of my email friends to take a survey about being a teacher who writes. The results will help shape a book I am writing.

The response has been overwhelming. In the first three days, almost 100 teachers responded to the survey, sharing their thoughts about the importance of writing teachers being writers themselves.

But it wasn't just the vast number of responses that struck me, it was also the comments:

"I never realized how important it was to write myself in order to better my teaching of writing. You gotta live it to teach it."

"To me, it is the most important qualification of a writing teacher."

"You have to write to know how it feels. You have to be willIng to be vulnerable with the students so can offer the help/guidance you would want to have."

I can tell I'm on to something here.

This is a story that needs to be told. Ideas that need to be shared.

I am still in the way, way early stages of this book, but the words of the teachers who have taken this survey have inspired me in more ways than I can say.

So this week, I celebrate this idea, the educators who are sharing their thoughts, and the power of being a teacher who writes.
If you would like to share your thoughts about being a teacher who writes, you can find my survey here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

On Becoming a Writer

I am lucky.

My history as a writer is a pretty good one.

When I was in elementary school, I had the same teacher for three straight years. This teacher LOVED to write. She made sure "Creative Writing" (that's what they called it back then) was on our schedule every day.

I don't remember getting my writing back with red marks on it. Actually, I don't remember there being any marks on my writing papers at all because my teacher talked to us about our writing.

My writing life began pretty well.

          {I know not everyone is that lucky.}

As an adult, my writing identity continues to grow and I am excited when I think of how far I've come.  There are a few experiences I credit for making this so.

The NWP's Summer Institute at UW-Milwaukee: This is where I got serious as a writer and a writing teacher. I learned why it is so important for teachers to be writers, developed my adult writing habit, and learned how powerful feedback was when it was given in a thoughtful, supportive way.

Blogging: I have had a few blogs in recent years, most recently this one you are reading right now where I share personal stories and now a professional blog at Teach Write where I share ideas for the writing classroom. These blogs are the forum for me to make my writing public.

Community: As a result of blogging, I have connected with so many wonderful teachers and writers from around the country (YOU!). I am blessed that some of these connections have turned into friendships even. The support I receive from all of you helps me continue to grow as a writer and teacher every day.

Teach Write: Because of my passions for writing and teaching, I have begun a new consulting business that I will pursue full-time after this school year. Teach Write is where I will continue to develop as a writer and teacher and help other educators do the same.

What experiences have shaped your writing identity? Good or bad, we all have come from somewhere. 

{PS: This post was inspired by the Literacy Lenses blog who asked its readers to think and write about the experiences that have made us the writers we are today. You are welcome to add your own writing story to their post too.}

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Celebrating My First "No"

Some of you may know that I am leaving the classroom at the end of this school year to begin my own consulting business focused on helping teachers improve their writing instruction. (If you didn't know, you know now. :)
For the past six weeks or so, I have been working two jobs: my classroom teaching job during the day and getting Teach Write set up and ready to roll during the evenings.

I am at a point where I am ready to start looking for business. So over spring break, I sent out a few proposals to local school districts. 

The first response to come back didn't take long -- just two days:
At first, I was a little crushed. A little scared. A little worried. What if no one hires me?? Have I made a mistake?

I think it is human to have a reaction like this. It's normal to worry when you are taking a major leap and you want others to affirm your decision.

But I didn't wallow in it. I recognized it for what it was -- one rejection.

There will be lots of "no's" along the way. I know that. 

But I still need to celebrate...
     That I was brave enough to take this chance.
     That I am following my dream.
     That I am far enough along to actually begin looking for clients.
     That this "no" brings me one step closer to my first "YES!"

So this week I celebrate bravery, dreams, action and reaction. How about you?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Scardey Dog {SOL 4.04.17}

It's been awhile since we've had a good thunderstorm around here.

But the other night, we had just that.

I do love a good storm, as long as I'm inside and can listen to the rain pound on the skylights in my office. (It makes for an awesome writing soundtrack.)

My dog, Rosie, on the other hand, is not a fan.

Long before a storm starts, she is pacing and panting. She's better at predicting a bad storm than most weather forecasters I know.

Let's just say Winn-Dixie has nothing on her.

She paces. She races. She is unsettled and inconsolable.  She climbs all over me. All over the sofa. All over my other dog, Toby, who can't even hear the storm because he is deaf.
Rosie asking to get up on my lap - where she will stay for about 2 seconds before hopping back down.

I pet her, rub her ears, talk calmly to her.

Nothing works.

Even when she finally makes her way onto my lap, she won't settle down. Her claws grip into my thighs. Her body shakes.

And this is all before the first drop of rain even hits the ground.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


On Thursday, my mom had knee replacement surgery. Being her main caregiver, I was with her from check-in through discharge.

It first started in the pre-op room with the prep nurse. She was going over my mom's vitals and asking about contact information.

"Is your sister here your main emergency contact?" she asked.

My mom and I looked at each other. Sister?  My mom laughed.

"No, I'm her daughter," I told the nurse.

"Oh my gosh, you're kidding!" the nurse replied, blushing.

Later after the surgery, her doctor came out to talk to me in the waiting area.

"You must be Janet's sister," he began.

I literally grunted.

"No....she's my mom," I told him with a tiny bit of aggravation in my voice.

"Oh, jeez, you both look so much alike! I'm really sorry," the doctor went on.

When we got up to her room after surgery, there were three nurses busy getting her settled. I told my mom the story of her doctor asking me if I was her sister.

"You're not?" one of the nurses asked me.

Now, this was getting ridiculous....But my mom was loving it.

At discharge on Friday, the pharmacist walked in with my mom's medications.  "Whoa...." She paused in the doorway, looking back and forth between us. "Are you twins?"

I kid you not.

My response: "Yes. Yes we are."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Puppy Playtime {SOL 3.20.17}

As I sat down to write my slice about giving my dog a haircut yesterday, my daughter walked by.

"Are you writing a post about me starting my new job today?"

I looked up from my laptop.

"No...should I?" I asked.

My daughter has taken on a second part-time job to save money for college next year. She works at a local store as a cashier, but they weren't giving her many hours. Then she heard a nearby kennel was hiring people to play with the boarded dogs for Puppy Playtime.

It is the perfect job for her. She has this amazing way of working with animals -- she brings her whole heart and energy to them and they love her back for it.

"I don't care," my daughter responded. "You could just tell them you are proud of me."

That I am.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Summer Buzz {SOL 3.19.17}

What happens when you sit down to trim your dog's bangs (yes, my dog grows bangs over the winter that flop into his eyes) and you get a little carried away and look up and it's an hour later?
Turns out there was a puppy hidden underneath all that fur! He looks so much younger and now he's ready for summer. 
We will be all set, as long as Mother Nature doesn't bring us any more snow to freeze my poor boy out.

(This is Toby. He's a Springer Spaniel and will celebrate his 14th birthday in April. Don't you just love those freckles?)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Bubble on Your Lips {SOL

Parenting teenagers is hard. Mentally hard.

Parenting a teenage girl is especially challenging sometimes when the mother and daughter are so much alike.

My daughter has caused me a bit of frustration lately. It seems that every time I tell her to do something, she has to say something back to me. Usually, this comes in the form of an excuse as to why she can't do what I've asked.

      Let me just calmly say: I've reached my saturation point with the excuses.

So I asked her the other morning, as she was spewing excuses as to why she couldn't get her clothes out of the upstairs hallway, if there was a signal word I could say that would get her attention that she was on thin ice and save me from yelling.

She thought about this for a moment.

She thought hard.

Then with a sly smile, she said, "Yes, 'bubbles'."

"Bubbles?" I asked. "Are you sure you want it to be 'bubbles'?"

"Yes, I am" she answered then giggled.


Then I remembered something I heard our 4K teacher say to her students as they were walking down the hallway.

"Put a bubble on your lips, and your hands on your hips...and do what I told you to do." (I added this last part, of course.)

My daughter stared back at me, her mouth open but no sound coming out for once.

"Mom, you are the only person I know who can say the word 'bubbles' and make it not sound happy."

Yep, point for me.