I am trying to be quick- even though I am not usually a quick writer! I am on a lunch break from our first day back to school professional development. I am happy because I am with my “tribe.” Our district ESL staff is presenting this PD for all the ESL teachers in our district. Our theme this year is “Portraits.” This will range from self-portraits to portraits of our students, schools, and district. I was so thrilled that I got to lead our ice-breaker activity and do a writing activity from All-Write based on Ralph Fletcher’s poem “The Good Old Days.”
We spent most of the morning in an activity led by an art therapist. She talked briefly about art therapy, then led us in making masks. We drew a 2-D version after seeing several “mentor masks.” Then we crafted 3-D masks using cardboard, chalk and oil pastels. We had so much fun. I am so impressed with a director who would provide such an innovative approach to our PD. We talked about the many ways the activity could be used with our students. Having experienced it ourselves, we will be so much more likely to do it with our students. We understand the process and know some of the challenges students will face. (Does this sound familiar? Of course, I tied in some of the same ideas with the writing activity. The art therapist had even noticed and referenced the writing we had done!)
Anyway, here are some pictures of my mask:
The activity was based on art by Kimmy Cantrell.
I’ve been waiting, hoping, wondering when it would show up. As the days of summer break dwindled “like sand in the hourglass,” my thoughts began to turn to the new school year. But I was feeling the ending of summer more than anything. Now, at last, waking up this morning, I had that tingle of anticipation when I thought of the days of preparation this coming week leading up the to the August 1 return of our students.
I will “get my toes wet” Monday with a short training on a new computer program the district has adopted this year and a visit to school just to check out my classroom and see who else is hanging out at school getting ready. Tuesday, I’ll spend the day with my ESL “tribe” at our beginning of the year Professional Development. I am excited about this because I get to share what I learned at All Write this summer! I will lead all my teacher friends in “The Good Old Days” writing activity that Ralph Fletcher led all of us to do in the auditorium at Warsaw. I will urge them to become teachers who write and share how much that one choice has impacted me and my teaching.
On Wednesday through Friday, I will be with my colleagues at Ernie Pyle Elementary School as we meet and plan and become a team. We have many new staff members this year, so these days will be crucial. Friday morning we will attend our District Convocation at the State Fairgrounds. Every teacher, administrator, and staff member in the district will be coming together in this rally for the beginning of the year. And on Wednesday through Friday, we will be spending every minute possible making sure our rooms are set up for a great start to the new year. And sneaking in time to have lunch together and just talk with our friends, our co-workers.
The purpose of it all, of course, is to be ready and excited as students come to the first day of school. Don’t you love that day? Greeting the returning students and hearing the stories of summer…welcoming the new students and assuring them they have come to the best school ever…meeting parents. Kids dressed their best…sharp, new pencils and crayons, new folders and notebooks, and new books. Reading and writing, talking and learning…doing school together.
Happy Back to School, everyone!
We writers never know where ideas will pop up. It was just an ordinary day. I was driving home after my annual eye exam. A light turned red, and I stopped. I glanced into my rearview mirror. What a sight! The lady in the SUV behind me had quite a collection wobbling and waving all across her dashboard. Holidays and cartoon characters were well-represented, along with flowers and animals, all activated by the sunshine. There must have been 50 of those solar-powered figurines wiggling and jiggling around. I wondered how the driver kept from being distracted as she was driving around with all that motion right in front of her. I wondered how many other drivers got distracted. I wondered what drove her to collect them all. Did she collect them all herself? Did a child in her family get the first one, and then the whole family started giving her more and more? She looked happy- she had a big smile, and she was bobbing her head. And I thought, she could be a character in a story! I don’t know what the story is yet, but I wonder- Will she show up again?
So much is going on in the world. Terrorism and crime- another tragedy with every news report. Politics at a frenzied pace.
Sadness struck close personally, too. Four girlfriends together for an annual girls’ night at our local dinner theater. Then there are three as one gets word that her sister has died.
How do we still celebrate?
The sun shines, flowers bloom, babies smile, a friend hugs, a memory warms your heart, you learn something new, you read a good book, you taste the perfect strawberry, loved ones say “I love you,” you hear a funny joke, your pet nuzzles against you, a task is accomplished, beautiful music plays- each day still has small moments that bring joy.
I was driving home from an appointment when I noticed the sky turning gray. There was a huge cloud that seemed to cover nearly the whole sky. But in contrast, there was a lighter cloud in the shape of a seahorse in the middle. It looked as if the sea had risen up and the only living creature it held was this gigantic seahorse. Gradually, it drifted apart, and then as I turned a different direction, I saw blue sky with some gray and some white clouds. I thought I might make it home ahead of the downpour I sensed was coming.
As I gathered things from the trunk, a few drops began plopping on my head. I dashed toward the porch, dodging the rain drops. Something caught my eye.
Where this morning there were only buds, full of promise, but still tightly closed… now I could see pink, the first peek of a hibiscus bloom.
I set my packages down on the table and sat myself down on the glider. The rain fell softly and steadily with a calming rhythm, cleansing the air and leaving a fresh scent. Soon it stopped, but glimmering drops clung to the leaves. I closed my eyes and listened to the wind as it blew through the tall tree in the neighbor’s yard, a strong rustling echoed by a hint of rustling in the small tree at the corner of my porch. The cool breeze touched my face, and I felt a drop of rain it carried and released onto my cheek. I heard crickets chirping in the grass and birds chirping in the trees. I sat, breathing in the clean air, reveling in the cool bursts of the breeze, and listening to nature’s chorus for more than an hour…doing nothing else but thinking of this beauty.
My daughter is an animal lover. She has mounted many a campaign to bring another animal home. We were supposed to have just one cat (we have two). Our first cat, though, is completely my daughter’s. This cat tolerates the existence of other people, but she LOVES my daughter. The cat’s name is Chloe.
So this afternoon, my daughter and I are going to the movie theater to see Chloe onscreen. No, it’s not our cat that will be in the movie, but having seen the previews, we are pretty sure the movie Chloe is a kindred spirit to our Chloe.
We celebrate this crotchety cat that has entertained us and loved my daughter for more than 15 years now (and the “other” cat we have who is quite the character, who Chloe grudgingly seems to love, too). We celebrate animals that are such fun to have as pets and think of all that we have known.
I suppose most of us teachers at least think we know the answer, know what our students are reading. But consider what Matt de la Pena said in his Newbery speech.
He said he didn’t consider himself a reader, “but I read Basketball Digest cover to cover.” Why? “I wasn’t reading those magazines for stats or standings, I was reading to find out what certain players had to overcome to get where they were. I was in it for the narrative.” Do we notice and value the reading choices students make and do all we can to supply more of the same and to find other reading materials they might like?
He said he read ” my old man’s long silences…the way he pulled himself out of bed at 3:30 every morning to get ready for work…how he never took a sick day.” He read his “mom’s endless worry about the bills. About the empty fridge.” and “the way she looked at me and my two sisters. Like we were special. Like we could make something of our lives.” I wish all my students were reading this. I hope I am a little bit of that to them if they are not.
Here is what Matt says about students he meets as he visits schools: “so many of them are just like that old version of me. Self-defined nonreaders who spend all day reading the world.” If they are reading their world, they can write their world, too. Isn’t that an exciting thought?
We need to help them find the books that open their eyes to see that their stories are important. Matt de la Pena opened his speech with a quote: “I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” We cannot continue to let children go through grade after grade at school thinking that same thing. We need to believe and put our belief into practice that books can be mirrors, windows, and doors for our students. Matt de la Pena was able to discover that, and look what happened! He closed his speech with same quote, adding “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”