Home Stretch

As the March daily Slice of Life Challenge goes, we’re in the home stretch. Running down that last set of white boards, pouring on the speed even though out of breath.  Hoofs flying, kicking up turf and riders one mind with the finish line.

Well, maybe not that dramatic.

The month came in like a lion (as they say) and I was on a writing roll.  If the proverbial “going out like a lamb” means tottering on wobbly legs, that’s how I’m taking the home stretch, as March exits and makes way for poetry month.

This is the first year since I began doing the March challenge that I didn’t stay with posting daily.  This either means that I cannot force myself to write when I am exhausted or that I have a lot of other things on my mind, and on my plate, so to speak.  Both are true.

I have enjoyed reading teacher blogs and giving them comments and kudus.  I have written a couple things this month I’m not totally embarrassed to put my name on.  But some of the writing has been just to “get to the desk.”  It is writing for the sake of writing, like doing exercises, and really doesn’t give blogging a very good name.

The school year is, in some ways, heading into the home stretch.  Third trimester in progress, testing upon us, and all the end of year special activities.  The kids can feel the weather change.  It’s the part of the year when I start trying to work out how to do it better next year.

Whatever happened to Be Here Now?  It’s hard to stay in the moment when there’s much to do and it all wants to be done right away.


The home stretch, when I used to watch race horses, was a glorious drama, with the fans going wild and the heart and stamina of the horses breath-taking beauty.  Now that I’m tangled up in a mixed metaphor, or two, lambs don’t run for the finish line.  They bounce and frolic, not doing any kind of lines.

I was thinking today of self-compassion. Here’s a good place to start.  I didn’t do the challenge up to my standard of daily, edited writing.  I didn’t handle it.  Breathe in.  Shrug shoulders.  Breathe out…it’s okay.

It’s really all right.

This is the next phase for me — not to be the goal attaining Type A person, but the one who can live with her faults and weakness as well as her talents and accomplishments.  Writing matters to me.  I have been writing.  That’s good.

calla lily bunch


Where’s L1?

Everyday, when I check for comment notifications on our blog, I hope that there will be an L1 story.  That’s Lorena, my pd partner in crime and writing partner.

Unlike me, Lorena waits for inspiration and lets stories cook in her mind, so they aren’t chatty daily posts.  She also writes them on squares of paper, in Spanish sometimes, and imagines her stories as pictures books.

Well, at least in April, over Easter break, we will get to collaborate and turn one story into an illustrated book for kids.  I think her little book ideas are hilarious and brilliant, and no, (in response to one of her blog posts) I don’t think the squares of notebook paper are anything short of artistic and writerly.

But maybe it is good L1 isn’t posting because some of her recent posts were survival writing.  That kind of therapeutic getting into words the slam effect of overwork in a madhouse situation in which all of your planning and purposes are thwarted.  This does happen in education,  not in Kansas, Dorothy.

But maybe L1 is writing in her own journals doing that kind of story telling out of her life that is just too private for a blog.  That kind of writing Hemmingway says to do, “long and hard about what hurts.” I don’t post too much of that on our blog, either.

But maybe L1 has great ideas to blog and hilarious stories that are ready to be written, however she is writing pd at night, after her trip to the gym.  She gives 100% to her work and I could post rants and rave about the lack of appreciation her team leaders show her.

Maybe L1 is busy writing her children’s picture books in Spanish and contacting publishers.

But maybe L1 figures that since I am writing, she can lie on the couch and immerse herself in good books.  Did I give her another you-have-to-read-this book when we met to write two weeks ago?  That would explain why she isn’t posting on our blog.

But maybe L1 is out of town, in a spa and doesn’t have to think about professional development for writing and EL students in her district.  Maybe her hotel has a great gym and a pool besides the spa, and she is just being lazy for a change.  What some people call rest and relaxation. a sort of recreation I don’t see L1 practice much.

Sigh.  I will have to be patient.  The wait will be worth it when L1 does write what she’s been wanting to.


Bird of Paradise


I fully intended to come home this windy, rainy Friday afternoon to be the backyard gardener, and at least heft the wheelbarrow-full of grass clods to the compost area.  It rained too much today and I feel married to my warmest long black pullover wool sweater as well as to the prospect of settling in for the new episode of Madame Secretary with leftover pulled pork this evening.  I am, like my cat, settling in.

It’s just too wet to get out there and lug clods around.  The grass clumps I piled high in the wheelbarrow a few days ago, when it was sunny and warm, are defiantly growing where they are.  “Watch us,” they leer, “we’ll just be weeds right here.”  And the pile on the ground by the wheelbarrow answers, “Us, too!”  Somehow their attitude comes through — in the spiky way the grass blades perked back up after pulling — radiating out of the root clumps, green and vigorous.

The grass I didn’t get to in the circular garden is smirking.  I can read the thought balloons, “She’ll never get to us.  We’re gonna go to seed…”

Really I shouldn’t care, but I bought two heirloom tomato plants that are eager to get in the ground:  They’re already blooming in their peat pots and don’t make good bonsai.

I will be able to enjoy the buds on the flowering cherry, the onions going to seed and flowers on the Meyer lemon when I can get the piles and pounds (tons?) of sod out of the way, properly composting and giving back the nitrogen and nutrients it took.

Meanwhile, some more blustery chill makes the evening feel wintry.  The weather app claims it will clear up tomorrow morning.

Get to the Desk

It’s late, so this is probably my Friday post on TwoWritingTeachers’ March SOL Challenge because it’s after midnight on the East coast.  It feels like after midnight here.

So, I made it to the desk after a full day of Instructional Coaching Training, a check in at my school and then hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine with my friend and former principal.  I just had an apple and checked in with Mom, and I got her SF Chronicle subscription back on her ChromeBook and we discussed upcoming plans.

The high point, or moment in my day may be too hard to write about.  I was in the IC Training and at the end of the day teachers paired up to role play coaching planning a lesson or unit.  I have been working in my head recently on a series of lessons to support students who are asked to construct a response to multiple texts on the CAASPP and produce a narrative.  Take informational texts and produce narrative nonfiction, essentially, which is a tough writing task.

My colleague today in the role play was such a good listener and prompted me so well — and took notes while we talked — that we actually got a good start on the unit. It was exciting to think and talk about something challenging, and I love trying to wrap my head around how students think and approach writing.

I realized the unit would be multimedia and that the students would enjoy it.  Now, to put it all together is another thing. But the point is, I was developing curriculum for writing and planning for writing, which I don’t do in the F & P Leveled Literacy Intervention program.

In this role play I saw again the power of good collaborative listening — guided listening was what I experienced.  It expanded my thinking.  Both the coach and I were exuberant when we finished.  Her resources and ideas were en point.

Even though I don’t have a class to teach it to, I think it might be a good entry point into some of my teacher’s planning, by offering it as a first draft and getting their opinion and what they would change about it.  Of course, then, if they decided they wanted to teach it, I’d be happy to let them do so.

teachers and teens


Small Touches

The most personable and actively engaged little people in one of my kindergarten Leveled Literacy Intervention groups really press me to pay attention, stay balanced and teach with empathy.  Today I gave them two take home books, explaining that I will be in a teacher meeting tomorrow and Friday.  One, the most challenging, active little guy came round the horse shoe table after class with him arms open.

I looked at him quizzically.

“Hug?” he said.  I swiveled my chair around and gave him a hug, saying, “Hey, I will miss you guys.”  And the two girls each came round to give and get hugs, too.

A girl I taught last year came in after school, with a big smile, and her girl friend in tow.  “Ms. B., can I have some books?” she asked.  I haven’t talked with A. for quite awhile, so it was a surprise.  “Please?” I prompted and she quickly added it to her request.

I riffled around in the take home books and pulled out a few, giving commercials.  In the midst of my wonder that A. was asking for books (not a confirmed reader), she blurted out, “My Mom is having a baby!”

“Oh!  My, my, you are going to get a baby brother or sister!” I turned to her.  “Then you will definitely like this book…”  I can turn anything into a book commercial.

She left with the books and I asked her to come back Monday and tell me what she thought of them, but I think she was getting access to talk about her news.  Her teacher is out on pregnancy leave — and I know A. much better than the substitute.

I got an email from a bff who totally understood the empath thing when I explained I was flattened yesterday afternoon by a child coming in to tell me the painful memories she couldn’t stop.  I was going to talk about a reading test, but she cried, “I miss my Daddy…” and it went from there.  I drove home, after checking in with the school counselor about the situation, feeling like someone else’s life and pain had been stuffed in my torso.  I felt so flattened that I went to bed at 7 pm to try to rest and read.

The same girl was smiling this morning telling me she camped last night.  It was cold and rainy so I was surprised, but she explained that she made a tent under a table with blankets and slept there.  “My back hurts though,” she said rubbing her hip. I decided I could wait to give her that assessment I’m hoping is going to equal her “graduation” from groups.

Little threads.  Small moments.  I like to turn these scenes over in my mind, like little shells or stones, rather than ponder the enormous, whole work day.


I haven’t given much attention to the study of personality types, although I remember being very interested in Carl Jung’s archetypes.  The following is an excerpt from the explanation that came with my Enneagram results.  I took the short, free test last week and came out a 9.  I didn’t think it was accurate, so I did the 144 question, “real” test giving it more attention this evening, and yep, I’m a 9.  The type name is Peacemaker. My second place type was a tie between Enthusiast and Achiever.  However, here’s the growth recommendation for 9’s, which I wish I’d understood about 40 years ago.

29072332084_f4bcb2238f_oGrowing Nines must also remember that they will never have union with anyone else unless and until they have union with themselves. If they are accommodating to a fault, they will eventually lose the other person because they have never possessed themselves. When they learn that self-assertion is not an aggressive act but a positive thing, Nines are in a position to truly bring peace and harmony to everyone in their environment.

© 2016 The Enneagram Institute

Even though I haven’t studied much popular psychology, I am into personal growth this year and have been doing and journaling self reflection, Kriya yoga study, and life observation.  So, self-assertion is a good thing, huh?  I like it when I see my friends do it gracefully.  I cringe when people assert themselves rudely without thought.  But it is true that I am all too accommodating.  Have been, and tend to be.

Just the idea!  Union with myself, the peace of at-oneness within my own mind and person is fascinating.  And it is a “message” or a theme that has threaded through this year of seeking dharmic living, so far.  And, to be truthful, which writers are supposed to be, it comes as a surprise to me that such a thing is considered ordinary and possible by some, many or most?  I guess it has been off my belief radar.

To be fair to my slightly muffled ego, I have felt more aligned and in union with my self – and exhibited some self-assertiveness recently when I have declined things to do, meetings to go to, for example, requests that I ordinarily would have complied with.  “That’s won’t work for me,” is an under-used mantra, but lately I’ve been experiencing its value.  And I am thinking of some other opportunities in the near future to put it into practice again…like a muscle that needs to be developed.

Union with myself.  I am not even sure what that will really look like.  How will I know it?  This connection with being “self-assertive” in the Enneagram write-up is something to try out and see what I learn.  Experiment.

Being self-possessed.  At one.  Not compromised.  Hmm…while it sounds like a tall order, it also feels worth the while.


Title, Please.

What to write?  I was on a roll with that daily writing in the March Challenge, until having an extra presentation to prepare knotted up the end of my week last week. I got completely off track with personal writing….

And now the weekend was shortened by giving the writing workshop (which was fun), and then beginning to tackle the grass and weeds in my garden that the heavy rains have prospered.

As I began to stoop and pull, and stand on the three-prong spade to lift the grass clumps, it quickly became apparent that I was about three weeks late on this front.  Grass roots go straight down at first, when the blades are tender, but as soon as it matures and is ready to seed, the roots have grown horizontally, weaving into all the other grass roots. This makes it difficult to get out one plant, and laborious but effective to take out a square foot or more at a time — a big, heavy clump, carrying topsoil with it.

My plan is to compost this massive pile (more than two wheel barrows full) so that the soil gets back the nitrogen and topsoil.  Already, the two heirloom tomatoes are outgrowing their peat pots and need to be in the ground.

Instead of staying with the hard labor of weed digging on Sunday, I celebrated my birthday some more with my sister comrade friend.  I attended her contemplative church service, then we walked downtown Los Gatos and lunched a long time at The Wine Cellar.  It was great to sit outdoors and let our conversations ramble all over the map.

Then we walked the entire town, stopping in stores that appealed to The Birthday Girl, and commenting on merchandise both aesthetically and humorously.

I really had intended to garden some more, before the next rains, after our luncheon, but it was evening before I got home. It was time to sit in mom’s room and chat, and bring in left over shrimp lo mein to munch while we watched weather forecasts.

I want to get my daily writing back.  Should not be any reason I can’t manage that this coming week.  Just get to the desk in the early evening, and try to pay attention during the day to what I might write about.  It is interesting to me how like yoga stretches or exercise this writing habit thing is.  If I don’t do my yoga stretches one day, then the next day when I return to my routine it is more difficult than when I am stretching daily.  And , exercise is like that, too.

If I am writing daily I just seem to have more words at hand and have been thinking more.  It also helps to get to the desk before I am exhausted.

Looking forward to a productive work week, getting those tomatoes into the ground and finding my writing groove again.



Journey of Thought

The San Jose Area Writing Project

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March 18, 2017
Saturday Seminar
San Jose State University | Teachers K-12 | When: 9:00AM – 12:30PM

Writing Lively Reviews (Grades K-6)

In Living Between the Lines, author and teacher trainer Lucy M. Calkins writes, “I needed to listen to the life force I felt…when children had energy for writing….to find ways to help more writers have the intensity and urgency that would lead them to write not only more developed pieces, but also more alive pieces.”

Come write about reading you love. This writing genre incorporates a perfect combination of reading, opinion writing, and interpretative thinking. During this session, we will practice the ways skilled readers and reviewers think about familiar forms and craft in literature. Original thinking in thesis development will be highly encouraged, which will then be expressed within a cohesive, structured argument. If you haven’t written a literary essay before, this is the place to try it out. If you’re experienced with the genre, here you can fine-tune your skills for reviewing articles, blogs, books, film, etc.

Coherence in Argumentation: Incidents and Accidents, Hints and Allegations (Grades 6-12)

Clear, coherent arguments are never as straightforward as our outlines and graphic organizers make them out to be. The truth is that when we write an argument, we create multiple needs and expectations for our reader, which we must address if we are to argue coherently. In this workshop, we will discuss how the messy struggle to achieve coherence is actually a good thing, and examine ways to encourage our students to embrace the challenge.

For more details: visit www.sjawp.org | Register online: visit our online registration form

Earn units for participating: visit http://sjawp.org/credit-information/

Show, Don’t Tell


In addition to Kate giving me a new book for my birthday, all my writing project leadership team friends had a small, rich, adult cake for me from Bijan Bakery.  Then we talked and jotted notes, trying to say what it is we are doing in this year’s Saturday Seminars that is a big switch from previous years.  Our website just doesn’t match the comments the participants give us or the feedback from students…

We were trying to say that we made the switch to having the student writers meet in the same sessions with the teachers so that everyone could experience a writing workshop.  The idea was driven by wanting to show, not tell teachers what the qualities of workshop are.  We wanted teachers to not just see a leader give a minilesson or give a conference, but also for the teachers to get to talk about what they saw and try it out themselves with small groups of the quite willing student writers.  The students got more attention and the teachers got so much feedback from interacting with the students.

But how do we say it?  Show it? How do we tell teachers that the reason they want to get up on Saturday a.m. and come over to SJSU is that they will get a brief in the lessons designed for the morning’s workshop, then they’ll see the lead teacher present the lesson, try out the writing along with the students, and then they will practice giving a mini lesson and/or confer with their small group of students.  After the students go home, the teachers meet again to debrief about what they saw, what they wondered, what they would take back with them.

I could go with pictures – several photos with captions, but we tried to write an introduction. I did get some nice shots of teachers and students. And I think that selecting from the generous comments participants made will help show the story.  Teachers not just learning from other teachers, but from students and students learning from multiple teachers and each other in a warm, workshop setting.  What’s not to love about a Saturday morning like that?



On Being the Author

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The derivation of the word author, a word used more frequently in the 1800’s than it is today, (replaced by the word “writer”?) still means a bit more than someone who writes books.

Middle English: from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’ The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic .

The word was even sometimes confused with actor:  Derivation of author

I like the original sense of author as one who invents, or causes something and the connotation of authentic.

I met with a colleague and friend the other evening whose job it was last week to develop writing coaching for instructional coaches.  However, after her hours of careful preparation, her first day of presenting was cut to an introduction, like 30 minutes instead of five hours.  Or something extreme like that.  And then, for the final part, where she was going to give the instructional coaches time to practice what they’d been learning (on writing workshop) one of my friend’s managers got into her slide presentations and cut most of the practice and added in a bunch of unrelated items that were the party line, or the message managers wanted to be sending down the pike, without any perspective on whether they forwarded the teaching of writing workshop. All about alignment.  With what??

As L1 told me about this debacle, not only did I feel for her, knowing how much thought and care she puts into a presentation and training, but also I felt shocked, then rankled.  I remember the same incredulity and aggravation  I felt when teachers tell students the topic, what to write, where to put it and how to end it.  (See definition of “author” above.)

What happened to my coach friend apparently happens to other IC’s because, when the edited version was presented on Friday, and made very little sense, and allowed no real connection with the original — no way to rehearse taking the “training” back to their teachers, their eyes rolled, knowlingly.  They knew it wasn’t L1’s work.  They’d all been messed with, for the sake of getting “aligned messages” about —what?  Latest curriculum initiatives?

And I am further amazed that someone can treat a presenter’s writing as if it is their own to revise however they feel like it — not in conference, but from the top down.  A mandate.  No, after days of work, just do this.  Copy. Arbitrary.  Arrogant.

Sometimes school writing conferences with students lack that respect for the author, too.  A teacher (as the authority) will take over and say fix this, do that, and don’t talk about that, without respect for who the author is.  I think that is why such terrible prescripted writing continues to happen in schools, simply because the control, the authority, is in the teacher’s hands.  When, oh when, are we going to believe in student’s creativity?  And let them be in charge of their work?

Now I’m not suggesting that after I create, or write something, it isn’t a good idea to get a trusted reader or two and get some feedback on how to make the piece better.  That is different than co-opting the writer and teacher leader.  How about those managers getting out in the crowds and hawking their own wares, instead of undermining the work L1 and her colleagues were doing?

I see part of the struggle for schools and districts to stick with the work of learning to implement writing workshop as a lack of commitment.  It shows up when they adopt workshop then continue taking on every other new good idea that comes along.  Like being in a relationship, but the guy wants to keep dating other women.  We know how well that works.

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write