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.