Out of My Element

Artifacts of the past life at St Cyril and Methodius Church

I belonged but I didn’t belong.  This was my church but is wasn’t my church.

It was an old church.  Ornate.  The morning sun shone on the stain glassed windows.  The ceiling was painted and etched with details.  I could feel the magnificence of the altar.

The priest walked out from behind a door onto the altar.  There was no processional.  There was no music welcoming the congregation.

I belonged, I knew I did.  I am catholic, after all.  I was invited to this mass and the meeting that followed.  I was there to accept a scholarship from the First Catholic Slovak Union on behalf of my daughter, Hannah, a freshman at the University of Vermont.

The priest began the mass.  He spoke Latin.  Both the priest and the altar server faced the altar.  I scanned the parishioners in front of me.  Spotting someone who I could be my silent mentor as I made my way through the mass.  I found a woman in a green sweater whose mouth seemed to utter the Latin prayers.  I felt comfort with my new found mentor.

The mass continued on – in Latin.  The priest and the altar server seemed to speak a silent language.  The altar server knew when to help the priest remove a vestment he wore.  It was ceremonial.  The altar server knew when to ring a bell, when to kneel and stand and when to hold the priests hat.  He knew when to put the vestment back on.  He knew when to lift the center back of the vestment as the priest held up the communion and then the chalice. They spoke a silent language.

The mass continued on and not being able to understand, I began to observe the people around me.  I wondered if any them were here to accept a scholarship on behalf of a family member.  Lost in my thoughts, and the Latin, I noticed some women had their heads covered in a lace veil.  I counted seven of them.  Seven women and one young girl with a veiled head.

When it came time for communion, I eyed my mentor in the green sweater.  I watched as she, and all the parishioners, made their way towards the altar.  I had noticed the altar was surrounded by a low glass half wall.  I wondered how the priest would get off the altar to serve communion.  I watched as I rose from my pew.  One by one the parishioners in front of me made their way to that glass half wall and knelt.  The priest made his way across the altar serving communion one by one.  The altar server held the a gold plate under each chin. There were no hands receiving communion, there were no “Amen”s after communion.  This was my church but it wasn’t my church.

The mass ended with three Hail Mary’s and a prayer of St Michael the Archangel.  I knew the Hail Mary and was familiar with the prayer of St Michael.  I found comfort in the English.

The mass ended as the priest exited out the same door he had come from.  There was no processional.  There was no recessional hymn.

It was mass rich with history and tradition, in a church rich with history and tradition. I was thankful to have been invited and able to attend.

Following the mass, I went downstairs to the annual meeting of the First Catholic Slovak Union.  I felt Grandpa Hiza’s presence.  He was a proud member of the First Catholic Slovak Union.  He was the reason Hannah was receiving this scholarship.  I was proud to be there to accept her scholarship on behalf of both Hannah and Grandpa Hiza.

St Cyril and Methodius Church, Bridgeport, CT



A Journal Soft Start


Inspired by Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write and the work that happens with a rich curriculum in schools.

It’s all about balance.  Life is about balance.  Balancing our work life with our home life.  Balancing the foods we eat, the exercise we get.  Balancing the alone time with socializing.  We need to balance all the parts of who we are.

In that light, as teachers, we need to teach the writing and the writer.  We have a curriculum that guides us in teaching the writing.  We have to work to create opportunities to know the writers among us.  We owe each writer the space to play and discover.  Enter the journal or notebook. It is the place where, with choice in the form of invitations, each writer will feel free to play and discover – essential habits of a writer.

Kelsey Corter’s blog, Small Steps, first introduced me to the term Soft Starts.  The idea of Soft Starts was immediately connected in my mind to Mraz and Hertz, A Mindset for Learning.  Soft Starts allow space for children (and adults) to enter the day together with quiet and calm – ready to persevere through the day, ready to feel empathy, ready.

“Soft starts allow students to practice mindfulness and habits of well-being that will serve them for the rest of their lives” Kelsey Corter  

A Journal Soft Start allows children to not only practice habits of mindfulness and well being, it’s giving them space to play as writers.  Each week, the writers are given choice in the form of invitations.  The invitations are open ended and there is no right or wrong.  Writers are encouraged to harness ideas that are scattered in their minds and put them on a journal page.  This can come in the form of writing or pictures or sketches.

The past few weeks, James has chosen Word of the Day (#DWHabit).  His writing is a reminder that well chosen words are powerful.

Art Cards, postcard sized prints of art, are visual text that writers can use as mentors.

Last year, Annie read this art card and wrote about the push and pull of the Long Island Sound.


The Word of the Day (#DWHabit), ABOVE, inspired Abby’s imagination.  She wrote:


Everything I put in my Journal is not for public eye.  Sometimes, I write and sketch simply to remember. Sometimes I sketch to calm my mind and find the words I want to write.  Sometimes I sketch and write to pay attention to my world.  There is not always balance to what goes in my journal or when I even use it.  But I know it’s always there.  I want young writers to know that their journal can always be there for them.  I want them to experience the feeling of possibility that comes with keeping a journal.

In her blog post yesterday Whose Notebook is it Anyway, Betsy Hubbard wrote, “students need our quiet presence to lead them to their unique voices”  I think Journal Soft Start is a perfect place for our quiet presence.  It’s an ideal space for them to discover their unique voices.


I Believe…

In 2001, The Energy to Teach, by Donald Graves, was published.  It is one of my touchstone books. Whenever the topic of energy or beliefs arises, as it often does in our profession, I find myself seeking Grave’s words.

“We need to turn around the rhetoric of “not enough” in education.  Take energy from what our students bring, knowing every day that our students do learn.  Let us sharpen our perceptions in order to see what they have and what our colleagues have to offer.  No question, we need to expect more, but our expectations are based on what we see in them, rather than what is missing.”  The Energy to Teach, Donald Graves, 2001

What is that I believe as a teacher?

This question has been swirling around in my head.  It’s made it’s way into conversations with friends and colleagues. It continues to swirl as I sit here to write what I believe.

I believe the teacher next door knows something I do not.  I need to learn from him or her. 

I believe that hallway conversations are sometimes the most idea filled and energizing exchanges.

I believe in initiating conversations, joining in conversations, and sometimes, just listening.  No matter the role I take, I will learn.

I believe in learning by doing, reading, writing, talking.

I believe in discovery alongside colleagues and children.  Discovery gives life to learning.

 I believe in getting down on the floor to talk to children.

I believe that children, with all their innocence, are wiser than we are.

I believe children see and hear what we are blind and deaf to.

I believe in listening to what children have to say.  This means taking time to understand their perspective, their approximations.  This means taking time to say “Tell me more.”

I believe every day is a new day in the eyes of child.  

I believe it is our job to seek the best way to teach each child.

I believe in believing in children.

A Routine Interruption

Our mornings have a routine.  It’s pretty simple – waking, dressing, eating, chatting, dog walking, leaving. There actually isn’t time for much more!  Except, when you have to make time for more.

I walk in the door.  Maci’s not on the tiles, the top of the stairs, or in her bed.  Where is she?  A wee bit of panic hits me.

The house is quiet.  It’s 6:21 am.  Billy has just left and Megan and Grace are still sleeping.  The dog always greets me when I return from Burn.  But she’s not in any of her usual spots.  She hasn’t even come running at the sound of the closing door.  I glance down at the family room floor, the couch (she’s not allowed on it!)  but no Maci!  I find myself whisper calling “Maci!  Maci!” as I start searching through the downstairs.  “Where the heck is she?”  I know she’s in the house.  I know I’ll find her.  But what will that puppy be into!?!”  Panic level rises.

I turn on the stair light thinking I’ll see her in the middle of the stairs.  She hasn’t really mastered going up and down.  Nope, no Maci!  Jeez, where is she?  I get to the top of the stairs and see Megan’s light is on in her room.  This is not normal.  I’m usually waking her up at 6:25.  “Megan?”  I whisper as I open the door only to be greeted by Maci and her wagging tail.  Panic disappears.

“MOM!  She came upstairs and woke me up.  She was sitting right by my bed.  Right there.”  She points to the floor.  Megan is laughing with sleep in her voice.  I can see the giddy in her eyes.  She is loving that Maci took it upon herself to sneak by the gate and meander her way upstairs, right in her room.

All this quiet commotion brings Grace out of bed.  “What is she doing up here?”  “She came up and woke me up!”  Megan chuckles! “Ohhh, Maci girl!”  Grace melts to the floor, captivated once again by her cuteness.

After scolds and cuddles we all make our way downstairs and resume our regularly scheduled morning.

More Than a W

Each week, I have the pleasure of pushing into two kindergarten classrooms for Readers Workshop to pull small groups as part of early intervention and differentiation.  Today, I was scheduled bright and early to be in Amy’s room.  It is the best way to start off my week.  Amy has created, and works to cultivate, a warm nurturing environment that makes everyone feel welcome.  Every week, without fail, I find myself wanting to stay.

Today, as Amy was teaching her mini-lesson on Storybook Readers.  I quietly flipped through my binder and reviewed my own plans for small groups.  Based on some recent universal screening information (aka “data”)  I knew I wanted to check in with Wyatt.  Having been in Amy’s room since week one, I knew that Will had more than a few teachers already “looking out” for him.  Lindsay, his case manager, also was pushing and sitting nearby on the rug.

Amy slowly called children to leave the rug.  One by one, the children made their way to organized bins of Old Favorite books and About the World books.  It was a seamless transition from mini-lesson to independent reading.  I took the opportunity to talk to Lindsay about my plan.  She was all for it.  She handed me his behavior chart of velcro fish and a shark.  “Once he follows your directions, put a fish in the shark belly.”  I chuckled and nodded my head.  “I’m also going to check in with his name writing – see what he’s getting from the unit.”  “Oh, that’s great!  That’s one of our goals.  Use the slant board when he goes to write.  Kelly just brought a one in for him. You might just want to work on the W.  Fine motor is developing.”  “Sounds great.”  I picked up my binder and bag and made my way towards Will.  Lindsay headed off to meet with other children.

“Hey Will!”  I whispered.  “Can I sit with you in your private reading spot?”

He juggled his books in his hands and said, “Sure.”

I followed him to his table spot.  We both settled in.

“So Will, I just want to check in on your letter names and I know you’ve been working with Mrs. Howland and Ms. Forth on your name, so I’d love to check in with you on that, too.  Would you like to write your name or do the letter names first.”

“I’ll do the letter names.”

We sat there and flipped through cards.  I high fived a few times, celebrating the way he looked at the letter, thought and then said the letter.  At the end, we counted up all the letters he knew!  He counted proudly to 15!  “Way to go, Will!”

“Now, let’s write name.”  I walked over to the counter, grabbed the slant board and placed in in front of Will.  I clipped a dry erase paddle to the board.  “It looks like the bus paddles.  Is it a bus paddle?”  he asked.  “Yes, it does look like a bus paddle but this is a dry erase paddle.  Perfect for name writing.”

“What’s the first letter in your name, Will?”  “W.” he answered.  “Well, then, let’s make a W.”  I pulled out a marked and modeled for Wyatt how to make the W starting at the top.  I turned the marker over to him and asked, “Can you trace my W starting at the top.”

I watched as he put his marker on the board and traced my W saying ‘down up, down, up’!  “Nice work starting at the top and making a w!  Can’ you trace it one more time?”  I watched again as he traced the W before.  “You are good, Will.”

I grabbed the eraser and cleared the board. “Now, Will, can you do it all by yourself?” “UH!  I’m not sure I can do that.”  “Start at the top.”  I watched as Will put his blue marker on the board and pulled down and then up and then down and up again creating the most beautiful W I’ve ever seen.  “I did it!  Wooo.  I didn’t think I could do it, but I DID!”

I left Amy’s room bursting with joy for not only Will, but for Amy, and Lindsay, too.  Amy welcomed me and my teaching into her room (as she always does) and Lindsay shared her insights and goals with me so I could share my teaching with Will.