A slice of my responsive teaching desk

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.




My desk before Reader’s Workshop yesterday
Responsive Teacher
Messy Teacher
Hardworking Teacher
Tired Teacher
Assessments, data, mini-lessons, conferences, strategy groups, read aloud,
lanning, teaching, demonstration pages, Anchor charts,
Engagement Inventories, grading…*
Tired Teacher
Hardworking Teacher
Messy Teacher
Responsive Teacher

*Wait. Is this a song?**

Mini Lessons, then confer, group your kids, hope goals Transfer
Anchor charts, assessment data, demonstration pages
Read to self, read aloud, ELA will make us proud
Essential questions, inquiry, hope your work engages

Understandings, knows and do’s, google docs – no time to snooze
Study data, write it down, buy some stock in post-its
Reader’s Notebooks, more directions, closely read the text collections
Follow kids and write them back, love those kids the mostest

We didn’t start — we’re trying!
Students, geared for learning
as the year starts turning
We didn’t start — we’re trying
Workshop’s just beginning
Soon we will be winning!

Find a book, check it out, ask a question if in doubt
Whole group meetings, someday lists, readers make plans
Talk to kids, give high fives, workshop norms and reading lives
Much to do to get a classroom full of reading fans!

We didn’t start — we’re trying!
Students, geared for learning
as the year starts turning
We didn’t start — we’re trying
Workshop’s just beginning
Soon we will be winning!

**My apologies to Billy Joel and my thanks to Mr. Thought who is somehow an expert on the meter and rhyme of We Didn’t Start the Fire, as in: “I used to sing this all the time in 1990. I had the whole thing memorized.”

A slice of Right now

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.


I know it's not a good idea to multi-task... 
but I would love to be able to write my slice as I'm going through my day.
This morning's play by play slice would be something like this: 

Right now I am. . . 

Wishing my computer would connect to the internet so I can print my sub plans
Talking to helpdesk on the phone while my students watch announcements
Restarting chrome
Restarting chrome
Restarting chrome
Trying firefox
Giving up
Realizing that now I can't project a "Right Now" slice 
as a model for my class
Taking out my phone to use instead
Copying part of a "Right Now" slice onto the board
Sending students off to try their own. 
Hoping my computer works for the next class
Teaching teaching teaching
Restarting Chrome
Failing at technology
Worrying about printing afternoon plans
Sharing my sloppily written whiteboard slice with my other class
Wishing  my doc cam worked
Challenging Students to write a bunch of "ing" verbs and then 
to finish the thoughts
Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 8.10.06 PM.png
Taking on the challenge myself on the whiteboard.
Wondering about the one table of boys who hasn't noticed 
that everyone else is writing or watching me write.
IMG_1363 2.JPG
Joking with students
Having fun
Making mistakes
Modelling slice-writing
Being flexible
Learning with kids
Teaching Writing






A slice of “There’s That.”

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.

I’m feeling overwhelmed, you know. My desk is piled.  I’m working so much…my to do list grows and grows, and priorities are hard to make. Reading Pernille today helped me. She says “yet,” and I agree. I’m just not there yet. However, within the beginning of the year stress, there were lovely things about today.  There’s that.

I wrote with my students today. There’s that. We sliced.

My notebook entry “Slice” written in school today.

I read with my students today. There’s that. The One and Only Ivan. Then Rain Reign with my second reading class. These are the books they voted on. I warned them we would need tissues.

I planned with my friend and colleague  today. There’s that. I’m ready for tomorrow. I am. And beyond! (I am!)

I even made dinner for my family, and took the dog on a walk – with my 13 year-old daughter too. There’s that. The chat with her, I’ll have that every day please.

After getting the kids to bed, I did more work. There’s that. I love my job, I love this work.

And look! I sliced! There’s that.


Slices of the second day of school.

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.

I’m glad Slice of Life is on Tuesdays. I’m glad my school year started yesterday, not on a Tuesday . . . I wouldn’t have wanted to write a slice of life yesterday. It would have gone something like this: 

Can’t sleep, wake up, tired. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Greet kids, help with lockers, answer a million questions with “I’m not sure. I’ll try to find out.” Over-planned, no time, focus on community. Talk at kids, bore myself. Comfort the overwhelmed, read aloud. Expectations, presentations, rules, rules, rules. Meeting, walk, walk, walk…” 

But today I have slices. Slices that remind me why I love teaching. 

I asked this question: 


Got great answers: 


Let me zoom in on one my favorite questions. 

Version 2

Later. . .

We had student council elections where the following campaign occurred: 

Student A: Vote for me. I’m going to make this classroom great again! 

Student B: Hey! This classroom is already great!

During reading my classroom library lit up with students taking books, and it made my heart fill. A group of girls came over to me to ask, “Can we take out more than one book? We have books but we want to read this as a book club.” 


Then in writing we did some quick 6 word memoirs, and that’s when I truly remembered how much I love my job. 


I needed those 6 word memoirs…

Tomorrow’s To do list:

  • Finish learning everyone’s name
  • Read
  • Write

Start slow. Take breaths. Work hard.





Celebrating Mistakes

So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

I've taught 6th grade more than a dozen times before
I just did the fuzzy math, subtracting 
maternity leaves
coaching leave
and my year in second grade 
That's over 500 kids
And thousands of mistakes

Like when I forced kids (well, their parents)
to make a model of a boat for homework
A boat.
For homework.  

And all the times I took away recess when kids needed
you know, 
a break. 
When kids needed a break. 

I used to make all the kids
read the same books
and answer comprehension questions
to prove they read the assignment
and write vocabulary sentences
that let them pretend they were learning vocabulary. 
To prove
and pretend. 


I have to celebrate these mistakes, 
because I have learned so much
in this lucky lucky job
that starts over every August. 

I have to celebrate these mistakes, 
because when I made them 
I was doing the best I could
at the time. 

I have to celebrate these mistakes, 
because now I know better
which means now I'm doing the best I can
at the time. 

Which logically means
I'm making more mistakes
to learn from. 

A slice of Before that

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.


I’m sitting at my (messy) dining room table, with an empty writer’s notebook in front of me. I’ve decided that typing a slice might be more productive.

Before that, I got home from a short dog walk, shortened because something about seeing a police car hanging out around the block made me get uncomfortable in the dark. I’m easily scared of the dark. The police officer in the car looked friendly and happy. It’s not her, it’s me.

Before that, the dog was bite-y

Before that, the dog peed on the rug.

Before that, I was working on random to do list items but without the actual to do list. I was  entering students into my classroom library database, and replying to parent emails, and thinking about how I should make an actual to do list.


Before that, the whole family took a year and a half to decide that we should just order pizza for dinner.

Before that, I tried to get L to put ice on her head because she was hit in the head with a basketball.

Before that, I was briefly sitting on the porch with E, listening to the sounds of happy basketball playing.

Before that, I was dropping my bags, and taking off my shoes, drinking water, and hugging my kids.

Before that, I was finally leaving school, with information overload, and too much left to do.

Before that, I was creating class lists, locker lists, labels, maps and presentations for back to school night.

Before that, I was on a tipping ladder, realizing one of the legs was up on the edge of a carpet.

Before that, I was on the floor picking up a hundred magnetic words.

Before that, I was on a ladder, re-positioning a giant question mark, when it suddenly fell and knocked everything off of the top of my bookshelf.

Before that, I was gluing signs.

Before that, I was in a meeting.

Before that, I was in a lunch meeting.

Before that, I was in a meeting.

Before that, I was in a meeting.


Before that, I was picking up friends to drive to our opening day meeting.

Before that, I was hurriedly throwing bags in my car, giving giant hugs and watching sad children as I drove away.

Before that I was rushing around wishing I hadn’t turned my first alarm off.

Before that, it was still summer.

The Giant Question Mark, the glued signs….

A Slice of August


Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.

Yesterday someone referred to August as Summer’s Sunday. I’m not so good at Sundays. They are simultaneously the day I have finally relaxed into my weekend, and the day I remember all of the things I need to do for the week ahead. “There’s not enough time!” is my accidental mantra every August.

In the car, driving L to camp – over the mountain into the woods, she asked me if I had noticed the trees lining the road into the campus.

“They are such narrow trees, but such a thick forest.” She told me.

I hadn’t noticed. Yesterday picking her up from camp, I had noticed the tight one lane driveway, the way I had to pull over to let other cars through. I had noticed the forest, the way the light changed enough to make me take off my sunglasses.  I hadn’t noticed the interesting way the small thin trees stood close and thick and created the dappled light.

I guess I couldn’t see the trees for the forest. This must mean something.

So this morning, I noticed the trees in the forest, and decided I was so glad it was Tuesday… a day to notice slices.

I took the boys school shopping while L was at camp. I want to package up these little kids — resistant school shoppers who ended up really getting into picking their own clothes.  One day they’ll be borrowing my car, I guess… and running to the store to get their own stuff. I tear up just typing that. That is the day I want to pull out my package of slices. I want to laugh about H taking matters into his own hands to find a quarter for him and one for his brother, after I told them I didn’t think I had any. I want to remember their little selves, standing in fresh button down shirts off the clearance rack.

Slices were easy to see…

H standing in front of me, fresh from the fitting room where he wanted to go himself.  He’s wearing one pair of jeans and holding another. “If you’re wondering why that took so long to try these on? I took the other ones off – they were too small. I noticed they were inside out from taking them off, so I took all that time to inside in them. Then I tried on the other pair, and they felt exactly  like the too small pair. Then I realized I had just put the first pair on again! The ones I had just fixed! So I had to take that pair off, and start again! Phew. These feel so much better.” 

E searching searching searching for an orange shirt in his size, small. He couldn’t quite figure out how to tell which size something was. He kept bringing me shirts, and then realizing they were the wrong size. “Ugh. Mommy. I thought it was my lucky day for a minute! But this is an xs not an s!” Why did he want a bright orange shirt? To match the bright orange shorts he had picked out, of course.  “I just really like vibrant colors, mommy.” 

Even easier slices this evening at a local dam. I live in the same town I used to live in as a child. We moved away after fourth grade. Perhaps because I didn’t live here for a decade or so, I often feel like I’m time traveling when I watch my kids in the same places I went to when I was their age.

A slice: The drive up and down the mountain roads to the dam…turning off into a thickly wooded gravel road. The bumping of the car and the beauty of the woods just out of reach because your head starts to hurt from the sunlight popping in and out of the trees — just enough to make your eyes squint.

A slice: The view. I stood in the dam, tried to quiet my anxieties about water and kids, wished I had my camera, and just focused on the view. Dark rippled water, the swimming section roped off, with more water beyond. Trees everywhere, and a blue sky meeting a mountain on the horizon. I wanted to take a picture, but forced myself to stay in the water just being there instead of walking to my car to grab my phone. Instead I begged L to take a mental picture so she can paint me this scene one day soon.

A slice: L with her friend, chatting in the water, building a sand castle, running into the water, splashing.  H searching for fish underwater. E floating along with his floaties saying “I’m glad you brought us here today, Mama. It’s so fun. I like lake swimming better than pool swimming I think.” 

It’s too much, these slices of time travel. I know I’ve gone too far into nostalgia when I start to wonder if the sand I’m standing on is the same exact sand I stood on 30 years ago.

“This is the same place I went to when I was a kid!” I tell Lilian – excited to see nostalgic things come full circle.

“Great.” She says, eyebrows raised in only the way a 13 year old can do it.

Apparently she isn’t pre-nostalgic for her own childhood quite yet.

Thank goodness. I think that means that we are still in the forest of her childhood.



A slice of the Subway, and accidentally fancy

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.
The Teacher’s Write prompt today asked us to walk 100 feet away from where you usually are then stop, observe, take notes, make connections, then write.
100 feet.
I’m 200 miles away from where I usually am. Distance makes me notice more.
New York City is different from my town. Difference makes me notice more.
I don’t know the rules of the subway.  Not knowing the rules makes me notice more.

On the train, I can’t help but people watch
in the silence
It’s so quiet!
Nobody talks
Serious faces in suits and uniforms,
Slices of life all around me, I desperately want my notebook
which is deep in my backpack
on the floor
stuffed between my feet

Sometimes you can see another train as you pass
My vision zooms out to see a tube of serious faces
My empathy makes serious faces into sad ones

I notice.
A tired woman boards, looks like she’s been cleaning all night –
I hope she gets to sit down soon
A man in a white t-shirt and suit jacket, keychains dangle
A child softy complains
I can’t help but notice people

Today, Matt de la Peña signed my friend’s copy of Last stop on Market Street. He wrote “Be a witness!” IMG_1740.JPG

Be. A. Witness.
I don’t think that’s the same thing as noticing, but maybe I’m getting close

Tonight there was more to notice. Thinking back, we maybe should have paid more attention to what we noticed
Picking a restaurant on trip advisor, I think we noticed the 4 $$$$
Instead we were busy noticing the reviews: “Worth it for the bread!”  “Best pasta in NYC!”
Walking up to the restaurant, we noticed we couldn’t tell if we were in the right spot until we saw the little sign
We should have noticed the nice man greeting us, a slight nod of his head assuring us we were where we meant to be

It wasn’t until we were almost to our table that we noticed that everyone else was fancy

Then we noticed our t-shirts and yoga pants and sandals
Feeling out of my comfort zone makes me notice more

My t-shirt’s tiny thread hanging, my pony tail
The  kindness of the waitstaff as they didn’t bat an eye at our yoga pants
How it really was worth it for the bread
and the basil
A 1:1 ratio of staff to customer
The way they wiped the crumbs from our placemat
The sommelier taking a small sip of each bottle he opened
Only one woman, our waitress
We wondered if we would be someone else’s slice tonight
Maybe the nice waitress has a blog tonight:
Two teachers in t-shirts at Scarpetta, eating spaghetti
Be. A. Witness.
Even if you happen to be accidentally fancy



A slice of chipmunks

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.

Chipmunks are supposed to be boring. Squirrels and robins too. My oak trees and evergreens aren’t anything special. My backyard is basically cut out of a forest… with mossy dirt for grass.

But when I opened the basement door I had a brief glance into a woodland. A chipmunk scurried away, a squirrel ran, and a robin flew. I felt like I was briefly visiting Snow White’s forest.

I see a dozen chipmunks a day, I think. And each time they make me smile. I don’t know why they are always running. The kids and I like to imagine them in their little home under the bush, sitting at their little kitchen table. Maybe the mother chipmunk is saying to her children, “I keep seeing all these people! I don’t know why they are always running!”

Chipmunks are supposed to be boring.

A slice of a Coaching Memoir

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers.

On my last day as an Instructional Coach, I joked that now I can write a “tell-all memoir” entitled  Instructional Coaching: 6 Months on the Inside.

Although, after just 6 months on the job, there are so many things I still don’t know about being an instructional coach.

I don’t know how to open a teacher’s closed classroom door without an invitation – sometimes it’s even hard to knock. I don’t know how to tell for sure if someone is excited to try a new resource, or can’t believe I’ve mentioned one more idea. I’m not sure if now is a time to show my vulnerability too, or if I should show only my confidence. I don’t know if this is the best time for a mentor text suggestion, or if just one more moment of quiet wondering gives the opportunity for a self discovery. I’m not sure when to offer my help, and when to wait for an invitation. Is “help” the wrong word for some because it might make teachers think I think they need help?  Should I say “collaborate” or “work together?”  I don’t know.

My tell-all memoir would be full of insider information. Like did you know that everyone I worked with at the curriculum office really does put students first? That the work they do is authentically authentic? Did you know that when they ask teachers for information, it’s because they need it to help teachers and kids? The respect for the teachers is palpable and my time with my new lens on the district made me appreciate the work we all do even more than I already did.


I would also have a part of my book that tries to summarize the learning  I’ve been lucky to experience in this job. As I planned for reader’s workshop professional development sessions, I had the opportunity to read books, attend conferences, and reflect with colleagues. I would have a section of my tell-all called “Teaching Reading: What research says.” It could be way too long, but I might be able to boil it down to something like: Have your students choose books to read, give them time to read, talk to them about their reading, give them tools to become even better readers, all while helping your class become a community of life-long readers, and being one yourself. Wow. Even boiled down, that’s a tall order. Step away from classroom teaching for even 6 months and your widened lens will remind you how hard teaching is.

I’ve been wearing my”gratitude” bracelet every day, because I believe in the power of gratitude, and I sometimes need to be reminded.


On my last day as an instructional coach, my coaching team gave me a new bracelet. They say it wasn’t because my gratitude  bracelet was looking a little worse for wear


I’ve been thinking about this new word and wondering: How can we inspire each other?

When I first put my new bracelet on, I didn’t take my old one off. As I drove home I glanced down to an updated message:


My time as a coach has definitely inspired gratitude in me. I’m so grateful for the time I spent learning, the time I spent with teachers, and the coaching team. It has been a great slice of my professional and learning life. Experts say it takes 49 hours of professional development for you to outgrow your current practice, before you are trying new things that impact students.

I don’t know how many hours my 6 months of coaching has accrued, but I know it’s more than 49. Time will tell what impact it will have on my future students. We will find out after August when I welcome my new class of 6th graders. I’m sure my students will inspire me, as usual.