Category Archives: Reflections on coaching

March 23 The Books

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

In the first book I ever read, Ernie and Bert cleaned their room
I remember the pictures of the room getting tidier and tidier
a preschool Home Edit!
There was also Harold
and his purple crayon
and his imagination
all those pies
the way the moon was always in his window
Every time I go to the beach, I think about this book I had
about going to the ocean for the day
and the kids’ adventure of shells and a tidepool
Oh, and Sam!
He collected donuts and then used them to save a woman from a coffee flood
Who needs donuts? They asked
When you’ve got love?
Dooley battled that snortsnoot
once he was tall enough.
My shelf was full
I can picture the books, the stories
part of me
and I find myself hoping today
that as the pendulum swings and teachers hold on for dear life,
kids will still find themselves in the pages

March 22 Today Was A Day

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

Today was a learning day
a long day
a listening day

Today was a win-a-raffle day
a wonder-what-the-doctor-will-say day
a wait, what? day

Today was a travel day
a talk-to-college-daughter day
a tell-me-more-about-it day

Today was a a sit-all-day-long day
a surprise dinner with my boys day
a special-day-we-don’t-celebrate-any-more day

Today was a hump day Wednesday
a heavy day
a hello-glass-of-wine day

Today was
as they say,
a day

March 15 It’s Not That Easy

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

When I walked into a classroom today to meet with a teacher, her kids were finishing cleaning up, heading to lunch and the lyrics to “It’s not easy being Green” were projected. Years ago I shared a bunch of different Slice of Life prompts and lessons with teachers. The prompts float around now, and I always get a kick out of seeing kids writing from them.

This one transported me back to my sixth-grade classroom. Somehow that song had come up in conversation, not so unusual in sixth-grade, actually. I decided we needed to use it as a mentor text to slice. We closely read the lyrics, and then decided what we would need to keep if we wanted to have our slices sound like Kermit.

My sixth graders wrote and wrote. They wrote beautifully. There are a lot of things that aren’t easy about being in middle school.

One of the third graders was still in the room and I asked her, “Are you doing It’s not that easy being slice of life?”

She nodded her head and said “Yea. It’s…It’s…” and I wasn’t sure if she was upset about the writing or not.

She tried to say, “Nevermind,” but I said,

“Do you like it?”

“Yea,” she told me, “It really helps to get a lot of stuff out.

I guess third graders have a lot of things that aren’t easy too.

The teacher said I had to read some of her kids’ slices of life, and showed me a few.

I had to tell her that I remember making that prompt, and she smiled.

“One of the kids said to me today when we did this, ‘I know where you got this idea from! You must have gotten this from Ms. Gabriel!’”

March 13 A Few Reasons I love Teaching

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

A third grader was walking into school this morning, and she noticed a poster had fallen on the floor.

She picked it up, tried to hang it back up and then I heard her say, like a miniature thirty-year-old, “And…that’s done.” She walked the poster to her classroom, presumably to find it’s next resting place.

I heard her call out to a classmate, “You were in this group, weren’t you?” But when he didn’t respond she just said “No? That’s right, you weren’t.”

I asked fourth graders to think about what was exciting and unique about the natural wonders they were reading about this morning. When I walked over to one of the desk-sets, a boy shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t find any of this unique and exciting.”

I told him I understood, and was about to ask him what he thinks the author found exciting and unique. But, he interrupted me.

“But, I guess since they are called natural ‘wonders,’ they are unique because there’s only so many of them.” He decided.

After I was done modeling that lesson, I had to run across town to a meeting. I happened to go to the parking lot right as the fourth-graders were headed to recess.

One of them walked over to me and said “Hug?” As he leaned in for one of those side hugs fourth graders give.

He asked me, “Are we going to do that same lesson in Writing Society after school?”

I told him we were actually going to be doing something other than informational reading in our after school writing club and he looked kinda sad about it honestly.

“Why?” I asked. “Did you like that lesson?”

“Oh yes!” He said and he went off to play with his friends.

In Writing Society, I sat down next to a young third grader.

“Want to write a poem with me?” He asked and of course I agreed.

“Actually, I already wrote one.” He said as I opened up the google presentation he had sent me.

He asked me how I spell my name, and then how to spell Ms. I explained “M-S-period,” but noticed that he wrote “Ms Gabriel.” next to his name.

He said his poem, I typed it and we added a line or two.

Outside the sky is grey
But in (school) we see it as blue
Everybody is kind and nice and follows PAWS (expectations)
Well, everybody should…
At least try to.

March 1 A Teacher Like You

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers.

I’ve been spending time in third grade lately. We’ve been writing up a storm in our notebooks. They are filled with our thinking work: words and sentences, claims and reasons, taped in pieces of evidence, to-do lists… They are a beautiful mess!

Today, the teacher started by reading Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and the kids were rapt with attention. So was I.

In this story, Abdul loves to write, but struggles too. (So do I.)

But then a published author comes to his classroom, sees how upset Abdul is about his messy work and says, “I want to show you my notebook.”

This is one of those picture books that cause watering eyes and a tingling nose.

Of course, the author’s notebook is messy. Writing is messy. Abdul is a writer!

The story is sad before it’s uplifting, and when Abdul was having a particularly hard time with his writing, the boy sitting in front of me couldn’t hold in his comment.

“That’s where he needs YOU as a teacher!” He shouted out to his teacher.

That might have been when my eyes started to water and my nose started to tingle. It was just so sweet, so perfect. I must have made a sound like, “Awe.”

He turned around, eyes big. I think for some reason he felt bad that he didn’t include me. It wasn’t necessary but it was nice when he added with a smile, “Or you!”

A Slice of Inspiration

Part of Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Join us!

A second grader took a break from working on his Top Ten Memories in writing the other day. He walked over to me to tell me about the time his dog ate chocolate with raisins. His eyes like saucers as he was telling me this important story. I shook my head with concern – scrunching my face with worry.

“She’s still alive though,” he reassured me.


I asked him how his writing was going – seeing he only had a handful of memories written so far.

He smiled wide.

“I have a few written down. Now, all I gotta do, is —finish!” He said, walking back to his notebook that was waiting for him on the rug.

I’ve decided that is my new writing slogan: Now, all I gotta do, is —finish!

The slice I hadn’t started? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
The sample writing I have almost ready to send out? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
My book, started in small pieces? Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Actually, this slogan can work for all of life, I think.

The present wrapping that I haven’t started? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
My laundry sitting in the washer for the past couple hours? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
In the beginning stages of healing from betrayal? Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Thanks for the inspiration, kid.

Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Snow Poem

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

Snow falls
outside of classroom windows
Kids yell,
Teachers say, “Yep. It’s snowing.”
“Does snow have anything to do with math?”

My classroom didn’t have windows
Can you believe it?
Somehow we always knew when there was snow
Somehow kids still yelled, “Snow!”
Did they sense it through the tiny window in our door?
Did they hear the snow silence outside?

Now it must be that soft blanketing (definitely not just the forecasted dusting)
Or the sound of boots squeaking down the hall
That transports me to
All my classroom winters
The snows of classrooms’ past. . .
The good old days

For a minute I wonder
If I wander the halls
Could I find a class to interrupt?
We could write snow poems on paper snowflakes
as the snow falls
outside of classroom windows

My Turn

Part of Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers!

When I walk into second-grade, I’m happy to see that the guest teacher is not only one I know and love, but one I used to request when I was a classroom teacher. I had hoped it would be her!

“My dream has come true! It’s you!” I tell her.

“Ms. Gabriel! You’re here!” A girl says with a big smile, and I feel loved. Then she adds, “I knew it would be close to recess when you got here!”

The students clean up from reading and join me on the carpet for some phonics routines.

I’m not lying when I remind the class that I am just learning phonics, and the routines too. I mean, you should see how many times I have to text one of the other Instructional Coaches about this stuff.

Is gi_ the same as gi without the line after it? Sounds like Jump?
How do I know what the spelling focus is for each word in the spelling focus routine?

I make sticky notes to myself at the bottom of pages to remind myself of the sounds for the sound spelling review, because my brain has just never worked this way.

When I started teaching, decades ago, I used to have to ask my lovely para to remind me about long vowels vs. short.

So basically the fact that I can now do any of this is a miracle.

Why does the spelling card for ring say that “ng” can be spelled with _n_? The substitute teacher and I quickly discuss. Isn’t it always a short vowel, n, then a g or k?

Stamp is an interesting word to blend. You really have to dig into vowel sounds with that one.

The second-graders are wonderful though. Great critics. I’ve asked them to rate me at the end of each routine: Thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down.

They give me way more thumbs up than I deserve. But, I’ll take it

Before we started I told them I found stickers while I cleaned out my basement this weekend. I wasn’t sure they’d care. But, wow. Second-graders really love stickers. I don’t know why I had forgotten that. . .

“What do you think you need to do to earn a sticker?” I asked them, knowing full well there was no way I wasn’t going to give them all a sticker.

“Be good?” One of them said.

“Well, you are all good!” I said

“Pay attention!” Someone offered

“Participate!” Another student said.

“Those are all great ideas,” I told them. “But really there’s one big thing. You are going to have to have to help me practice these phonics routines!”

They were all in for that, especially the one student sitting right in front. Last week when I came in to do these routines for the first time, he said to me, “I’m going to be a phonics teacher one day.”

This time he sneaks it in again. In between a routine, after a thumbs up check, I tell them they are the ones that really deserved the double thumbs up for such amazing reading. I hear him, very quietly say, “Yea. I’m ready to be a phonics professor.”

At some point I ask the students how they got so good at this.

“We’ve been doing it for three years!” They say, like they are some sort of commercial for a vertical articulated curriculum.

We finish the routines, (something I always feel like I deserve a sticker for, to be honest!) so it’s sticker time!

They chose without argument, taking turns.

They sweetly ask if they can put their stickers on their hand, their backpack, their lunchbox, their chrome book, their water bottle.

I advise them that paper would be the best place, or on a notebook – because they might fall off otherwise.

The guest teacher says, “Ms. Gabriel’s been doing this a long time. I’d take her advice.”

One of the last kids to choose a sticker asks if he can take the little sticker on the side of sticker sheet – a tiny rectangle with, I don’t know, the item number printed on it.

“Sure…” I say.

“Does this count as a sticker?” He asks.

“If you want it to,” I say.

“Okay!” He says and walks away with that teeny tiny rectangle.

The class is outside, and if you walked by the classroom you would hear me and the guest teacher sounding out words, discussing why it’s so hard to sound out anything that has an an or am.

Caaaannnnn, Mannnnnn, Raaaaannn . . .
. . .

“Great to see you!” I tell her as I leave.

“You too,” she says “Thanks for coming to teach the phonics. I always learn more by watching it.”

“Thanks for not laughing at me while I was doing it!” I say

“Oh I was,” she smiles, “I was laughing WITH you though.”


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


I used to bring Gertrude to my sixth-grade classroom to help kick off our “Muppet” project. In between the yearly projects, she lived with my parents.

It’s been 5 years since I’ve taught sixth grade. (That’s crazy!) So the other day my parents asked me if I still wanted Gertrude. I guess they were tired of her freeloading.

Suddenly, I ached for my sixth-graders and our Muppet projects. I thought about it for a minute and realized it might be fun to ask kids in my schools what Gertrude’s story might be.

“I wonder if I can get a teacher or two to let me do this with them,” I thought.

It took me a few days, but I finally remembered that I co-run a Writers’ Club. What luck! Kids! Ready for a writing invitation!

Gertrude traveled with me to school today, and I took her down to meet some classes. The first class was working on PSSA practice, and as much as Gertrude wanted to interrupt that (she’s not a fan of standardized tests) I moved on to a second-grade classroom around the corner. Then onto first grade . . . By the end of the day, Gertrude had met every class.

It’s very hard to get a picture of a marionette while you are holding it. . .

I told the kids that Gertrude didn’t know her story. She needed a story!

“Gertrude was lonely at my parents’ house. She wanted to come to school for Writer’s Club. But, she wanted to meet kids before she went to Writers’ Club, so she wouldn’t be too nervous,” I explained.

“Why is she even here when we aren’t even allowed to go to Writers’ Club?” a kindergartner said. I told her what I told every class K-2: “Maybe when you get to be in third grade, you’ll join Writer’s Club!”

Wow,” I thought as kids crowded around us, trying to be quiet since they understood Gertrude was still pretty shy. “This is a pretty good advertisement for Writers’ Club!

Of course, kids of all ages wanted to know what Gertrude was.

“Is she a dog?”
“Is she a bird?”

“She’s a gertrude.”

You might have to meet Gertrude to understand her magic. The way she walks is peaceful, almost mesmerizing. You can’t help but stare at her. She’s quiet and shy but brings out the best smiles. As I walked down the hall with her, kids of all ages said, “Hi Gertrude!” and asked me more questions about her.

I have a feeling that if I don’t take her with me next time I’m walking down the hall, the kids won’t talk to me anymore…

I didn’t know what would happen at Writers’ Club, but the magic of Gertrude plus the magic of the young writers did not disappoint. I invited the kids to write about Gertrude, for Gertrude, and to make bird puppets that could be in a story with her.

“But what is a gertrude?” one boy asked, “I don’t find her when I google!”

I told him that someone would have to make her a google entry. “What would her wikipedia page say?”

And friends, when the two girls came up to read me their nonfiction article all about Gertrude, it was a dream come true. They had a description of gertrudes, and talked about how loud noises scare them. They described a gertrude habitat and diet, and ended with a story of a gertrude named Gertrude. They printed their story and put it on our Gertrude story wall.

The bird puppet makers wanted to make sure I brought Gertrude next week so they could write their stories down, and as they started to clean up, a writer came up to me and said, “I know what Gertrude’s favorite food is. Avacado.”

So, needless to say, we added a fast fact section just for Gertrude.