Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Grace and Growth

What I Picture When I'm Dancing
The last couple of months I have attended a Zumba class at my gym. The first time I went, I couldn't believe how these people could shake their money-makers. Then it dawned on me that maybe I could too. I practiced. I practiced while cooking dinner at home. I practiced during my off period, just shaking from one side to another. Shaking that booty whenever I had the opportunity. I wanted to be one of the women I watched during class who made movement and grace look effortless.

While I have a deep belief in the growth mindset, that we humans can work hard at something to manifest it into reality, I have been frustrated with my progress. Am I getting better at dancing? Well, my husband says I no longer dance like Elaine Benece, Jerry Seinfeld's uncoordinated side kick in Seinfeld. But I still do not move the way I envision I want to.

In fact, when I'm in class, I create a vision of what I am doing with my body, my limbs, that when I look into the mirror does not match my mind's eye. During the salsa portions of class I picture my arms gracefully swaying from side to side to counter balance the movement of my hips in graceful swirls, while my feet move quickly from one point to the next, constantly switching back and forth in seemingly one movement.

Elaine Benece Dancing in Seinfeld Episode
I make the mistake of looking in the mirror
 though, and this is not what I witness. It is more like my body is moving, but it is neither graceful nor is it any kind of movement that looks like it goes together. In short, I struggle. I work at it, and I still continue to struggle. I am getting better, but nevertheless, I continue to struggle.

The way I feel about Zumba is the way I imagine my students who struggle with writing feel about their writing. They struggle with it. They work really hard at it. The seek help to become better. They have a belief that they will grow and become better at it. But they continue to struggle. It is a frustrating cycle for sure. Each year they look in the mirror of state and national testing. Each year they see that they are not meeting the moving standard. Each year they come back to the fight to become better than they were before.

It is for this reason, that although I find Zumba frustrating, I continue to work at it and grow. After all, growth does not always happen to the timeline of others. Sometimes we have to pay close attention and celebrate those small victories. Celebrate those places where we are growing and not lose sight of the tremendous learning that is taking place.

My students will continue to write. And...yes...I will continue to practice shaking my booty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Photobombing

I am in day three of my school year. Last year, I had the great opportunity to attend the NCTE conference. Jeff Anderson and his colleagues gave an amazing session about Transcending Your Teaching. One idea that has stuck with me is the idea the notion of not letting anyone photobomb our teaching. So far this year there has been a lot of photo bombing potentially happening in my classroom.

What sticks with me and how I transcend outside influences in my classroom is when I am sitting in front of my students conferring and teaching with them. It is their struggles with writing that help me be a better teacher. I teach students to improve their writing. This is my mission as a teacher.

Wherever their skills are, whether I meet them in my AP Lang class or my Writing Lab class, I will move them as writers. They will improve their writing, for this is what I do. This means that I transcend whatever comes at me. I talk to students to help them come to a place of comfort. I meet with students to push them beyond what they previously knew was possible.

Nothing will get in the way of this mission.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Salute to my Students This Year

I work to help my students become better writers. Where ever they stand in any given moment as writers, I will move them to become better, to be more persuasive, to add more power to their writing than they did before they came to me. That is my sole mission as a teacher, and I deliver.

When people do things to get in the way of this mission, not only do I feel frustration, I feel anger. I feel that there are enough things in the world getting in the way of children. I feel there are enough people in the world who put obstacles in front of kids, especially those who struggle. I will not be one of those people.

Here's a salute to my students this year, for despite what anyone has said or alluded to them in the past about their writing skills explicitly or implicitly, they will improve.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Sometimes to be a teacher can be a very lonely path. Sure, we're surrounded by people all day: little people, adult people, people we never meet but who have huge impacts on our profession. To have a room full of teachers come together for a week to play and explore technology integration and social justice/critical media pedagogy, is a gift. One of the most powerful pieces for me is to be given time: time to work on projects and curriculum for next year, time to talk with colleagues, time to learn from colleagues, time to utilize thinking partners.

One theme from the week that has resonated for me is the importance of building a community of people who share similar interests and values. This is true for students, and maybe even more so for educators in the current climate. The discussions from the last week about connecting people together in school communities, in neighborhoods, and across the world and nation have shown me the importance off feeling connected. When our students feel supported, they are able to do great thinking and make academic strides. When. Teachers feel supported, we are able to take the risks necessary to push our students. 

Thanks Denver Writing Project and Ll my #techmatters2014 peeps for helping me feel connected again! 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Teacher Summer Week 3

This week I am participating in the Denver Writing Project's Tech Matters institute. It is a week where we get time to see some technology, play with it, and we actually have time to play with our new skills. The purpose of today's post is to help me figure out what I'm actually going to try to pull off this week.

I struggled with my Writing Lab students last year, there is no other way to put it. I want to do an overhaul of the class to create more authentic voices in the room. I am thinking that I want to have students create blogs where they write to a specific audience of their choosing. I am thinking that they can use Google Docs and Schoology to play with their writing before they post.

One of the things that intrigues me is the idea of having them work through the semester in "Make Cycles" that I have learned from the #CLMOOC that I've participated in this summer. The idea being that in a set amount of time you make something that is web/technology based. My ideas so far:

  • create an avatar
  • create a how-to about something they know a lot about (medium is optional)
  • write/create a review about something they know about
  • find a blogger in the area of their interest and follow that person's writing (I need to set up specific things for them to look for) to use as a mentor writer
  • use our discussion board each day for writing warmup and then post their favorite each Friday that we meet (every other Friday)
  • use G+ as a place to post writing and collaborate, how this will look I'm still thinking about.
It is important to me that my students re-find a voice for themselves that is authentic to them. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teacher summer: day 1

I begin this blog a week late. Yes, a week late. My summer actually began a week ago today, but heree's the thing. I was too tired, too overwhelmed, to stuck in my own little world it I begin in that moment, so I begin my teacher summer today.

I am teaching at a camp: Young Writers Camp at the Unidersity of Colorado at Denver. I get to hang out a iht middle school and high school kids a nod teach them how to be writers. It caused some anxiety for or me because I was voluntold to teach poetry. Poetry is difficult for me, it feels foreign to me, it is not my strong suit, but I thought, "Hey! This will give me a chance to expand my knowledge, expose me to something new."

I had no idea what I was going to do, so I did what writers do when they feel lost: I asked my colleague for help. As I spoke to this person who is a poet herself, the process became so simple. Her help unleashed so I etching a ithin me that helped me formulate and figure out how to access poetry. That is part of the magic of teaching writing: the notion that there are people who can help us figure out how to help others think about something in the world.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Sometimes we need to be pushed. I talk in my class about struggle. There is a notion pervasive in high schools that once things get hard' the thing to do is whine, to stomp, and to give up. Not always in that order. 

We all have times  in life where we want to do this. Yet, there are times when we must remember the notion of graceful struggle. 

This is how I describe it to my students: you try hard. You are putting forth your best honest effort and so me times even that's not enough. Well, friends, this is the he point where we need top ya close attention becauset his means that we are about to learn something. But we will only learn this thing if we listen closely to what the world has to tell us. This means the at we must stop in our tracks...become silent...and simply listen. This means the at the whining about assignments, or the prompt being too hard will not allow you to hear it. You must stop.

Sometimes in our stoppage we discover the best thing to do is ask for help. Other times, the best action is to revisit where we were and move forward. There are other times when it makes sense to go to the in telnet to try to find someone else who has experience in our area of struggle. And yes, there are other times still when the best thing to do is to go for a run, a bike ride, go to. A yoga class, cook a meal, whatever helps you breathe in your space and let go.

The thing with  graceful  struggle is that we work, to quote my good friend, to become the solution to whatever we are struggling with rather than to become a bigger part of the problem. My students are figuring this out. They ask questions, they come in for help...this is a really beautiful time of year for that reason. 

Struggle can be graceful.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Orange and Gray

Let me be clear, I am not a football fan. I don't understand the game. I finally figured out what a down was two years ago when the high school team where I work went to the state championship. The game, quite frankly, scares me with all the hitting and concussing and blows to the body.

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But this year I hopped on the bandwagon and got behind our team, the Broncos. They had a great season and even made it to the SuperBowl. Shouts of Omaha! could be heard on a daily basis in our school hallways. The city was draped in orange. Declarations of "Time to Ride" were displayed on FaceBook, Twitter, and every other social media site.

I even bought my first Broncos orange shirt to display my devotion to my team. Upon purchasing my shirt, I even told the cashier, "I don't think I've seen this much orange in Denver since the Orange Crush days," but I'm sure it fell on deaf ears since she wasn't even out of high school yet. These declarations that, yes, I was here back in the day the last time our beloved Broncos were any good was my own way of saying "I am a part of this."

To say the city was hopeful about the game is an understatement. There was an excitement in the air that our team is great. Orange was worn throughout our school halls on a daily basis. People felt like their allegiances could be made public. Heck, even I came out of the woodwork to show my support.

The hard truth is that we lost the SuperBowl game; we lost miserably. It was a bummer, and school yesterday felt like the land of zombies: people moving from class to class, nobody really wanting to talk about the game, a few die hards wearing their jerseys despite ridicule from the newest Seahawks fans.

This got me thinking how much like our struggling students my behavior has been. I teach kids who struggle with writing. They struggle for a lot of different reasons, but they all want to be better. They never come into this class thinking they want to struggle. My job is to help them move past their previous experiences with writing so they can grow.

Showing my support in my classroom.
Much like I hopped on board with the Broncos late in the season, many of my students hop on board with writing when they feel they might be successful. When they feel confident enough that they might actually be making progress, they begin to see how they are actually good writers, it's just a matter of tapping into their belief.

This means that I have to make explicit to them where they struggle so that they can see where they can make improvements. We celebrate even seemingly small accomplishments. And we write…we write a lot.

There are some students who end up in my class a second year. Most of these students are either on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or they simply don't test well. I have students from honors and AP English courses who can write well, but give them a test and they don't perform - for whatever reason. In this case, my job is to help them bring their test scores up in English so they can prove they are College and Career Ready.

Coming back to Writing Lab, the course I teach, must be a lot like me coming to school the day after the Broncos lose the SuperBowl. I got on that bandwagon. I cheered for my team. I believed they could actually win, and they didn't. My students write a ton. My students work a ton. And sometimes, it just isn't quite enough to bring them over the tipping point.

So we do what we do: we brush off. We reassess. We reevaluate what we're doing. We vow to work together and we do our best. After all, isn't that all we ask of anyone: do your best. We ask that of our teams, do your best and we'll be behind you. We ask that of one another in the classroom: do your best and I'll do my best, and hopefully it will all work out.

Monday, January 27, 2014

For the Love of Cleanliness

I first saw one of these nifty hand dryers at the Madrid airport. I thought it was the coolest thing ever because it doesn't use paper, and it ACTUALLY dries one's hands. There is something to be said for a dryer that actually fulfills its promise.

More institutions should use these dryers: people would get sick less often. The germs stay put.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lift Lines and the Common Core

Over winter break which ended this week, I had the awesome opportunity to ski in Europe: Switzerland to be more precise, Verbier to be exact. I had never skied in Europe before, but I ski a lot in the states.

Skiing in the US is very controlled. Every spot on the map is a spot that skiers know is safe, either by avalanche blasting or by grooming machines. While skiing the trees or on untamed runs, the mere illusion of danger is given to each skier schussing down the mountain.

In Europe, the only terrain that is placed on the map is terrain that has been groomed. It is not that one cannot ski the rest of the mountain, but rather one may ski it at their own risk. Most prefer to take a guide to read the terrain, but this is a costly investment for even one day.  In the lodge at lunch on Christmas day, a very snowy day indeed, I noticed that all the Swiss skiers had backpacks. These were not the regular backpacks, mind you, but they were ABS, Avalanche Airbag Systems. This is a contraption to help one have a higher rate of survival in an avalanche. They also all carried avalanche shovels with them.

But it was the lift lines in Switzerland that really threw me off. I wasn't surprised by the off-piste skiing because I had heard about it for years, this is what made me want to ski Europe after all. Uncontrolled skiing anywhere the mountain takes me, even to a far-away village, sounded like heaven.

No, the lines are the thing that really surprised me.

In the United States ski lift lines are seemingly chaotic, but actually very controlled. There is always a fastener to guide groups of people through the line. People neatly alternate at the ends of the fasteners as they approach the lift. There is a sense of order as we funnel through to eventually reach the chairlift.

Not so in Europe. There was only one day we skied when it was crowded, but boy did it leave an impression on me. It was a free-for-all. Approaching the lift line, one could not be passive in the experience. We were a group of three and were lucky if two of us could get up on the same lift. Utter chaos. Skies on skis, elbows, poles, and dirty looks were the name of the game.

In the US education system we are going through our own chaotic change at the moment, switching from state mandated standards and testing, to the Common Core State Standards, a national set of standards that the states will decide how to test (most using one of two national groups to make these tests).

Teachers who are first coming to the Common Core feel like the lift lines. They desperately want to do well. They desperately want to create an orderly way to take their students up the mountain. There is a clamoring of products on the market that claim to help teachers implement the common core. There is a sense of everyone elbowing one another to "get it right" to help their students test well.

While the Common Core is meant to help teachers move their students up the mountain in a controlled and efficient way, the truth of the matter is that very few are clear on what the standards are actually asking us to do so people are beginning to panic. Then there is the matter of teachers being evaluated on how their students test on the new standards. So now it is not only about using and understanding the Common Core, but that each teacher's worth will be placed on how their students perform on a completely new style of testing.

Chaotic, indeed.