A Beginning? Part 2




Darius Rucker, formally of Hootie and the Blowfish, has a new song out title When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?  The song is all about taking risks and embracing new learning, new experiences.

“Megan and I went for a bike ride last night” my husband reported to me when I came home. “She rides a bike for real now!  She was actually pedaling and going fast!  We played I’m First, You’re Last!”  “I know!”  I said, something has clicked in her eleven year old self and she is just taking things on.”

Her confidence and positive self talk are have been in action all summer.  I’ve seen it in various situations.  I saw it at The Adventure Park when she tackled both blue courses where she faced some physically and mentally tough obstacles.  I saw her on the verge of panic mode as she stood on a skateboard suspended in mid air knowing she had to dismount onto a cargo net. I also saw and heard her literally talk herself out off the edge “I can do this.  Megan, you can do this.  OK, 1, 2, 3.”  I watched her sail through the air and with almost perfect timing launch herself onto the cargo net.  Most recently, I saw it as she tried and embraced riding horses.  Five days of learning about horses by riding taking care of and riding horses.

I’ve been admiring her willingness to take risks. work through tough situations and simply let her self learn and grow.

This week, we had our second meeting of Joy Writers. At this meeting, we spent two hours exploring our own writing through observation, art, books, and play.  Our meeting was set up for three experiences that would engage writers in what I call “idea finding”.

Experience 1





We read a book When I was Five by Arthur Howard.  So often, we use picture books as mentor text to model craft moves.   We also need to nurture the use of picture books to find ideas.  Mandy Robek wrote about that also this week on Choice Literacy.


After this experience, teachers reflected on the experience and shared their work:

  • Erika “I appreciated the freedom to explore my ideas and thoughts I don’t do enough of that”
  • Amy “book made me think of change – moving to a new house makes me feel like a plant moving to a bigger pot – I’ve been on the same street for 45 years.  roots are dangling in mid air – selling one house but not being in the new house yet”
  • Lauren was taken back to when she was five.  She captured that image in a sketch and wrote. (see below)


Experience 2

We found objects and observed and wrote what we were thinking, feeling, what memories came to mind.

After this experience, teachers reflected on the experience and shared their work:

  • Jess “sketching freed my mind”
  • Megan “I started with the umbrellas but it was terrible then I went to the simple lines of the chimney – I had to let go”  We’ve all watched a child try to write their idea, get frustrated, and give up.  By using observation and sketching, Megan experienced letting go on her own terms and was able to move on.  All writers should have that habit.
  • Erika trying to draw it accurately but it was hard which made her wonder “maybe we need more time for this because after my struggle, I feel ready to learn, I feel open”
  • Elena “I really struggled with this, I’m not an artist (changing fixed mindset through experience) I’m seeing an object but I fighting the drawing”  She is taking on new work, just like we ask children to do every day.  Elena’s empathy is alive.




Experience 3

Copying an Art Card – an opportunity to honor copying as a means of learning and discovery

After this experience, teachers shared:

  • Erika “forces you to look closely I didn’t notice the little baby duck until 2/3 of the way through my picture.  Made me wonder “is this how we read too?”  This was hard but I kept working.”
  • Elena “I had more success copying the art card than observing.” (growth mindset) “I used the colors and not pencil.”It came out pretty good.” (pride and confidence)”




Last week, Lanny Ball posted on Two Writing Teachers, Risk Taking in the Writer’s Notebook. In it, he invited teachers to “consider being a stand and a model for experimenting and risk-taking in the notebook.”  This meeting of Joy Writers was filled with experimenting and risk taking.  All eight of us took on something new as we delved into our each experience in search of hidden thoughts and ideas.

It is through this risk taking and sudden discovery of ideas that we, teachers as writers, will develop a deeper understanding of what it feels like to be a writer.  This in turn will impact the work we do with young writers.  I admire these teachers, my colleagues, for their willingness to take risks and explore new ways to harness ideas and develop habits of writers.  They are building a collection of work and experiences that will support their modeling their own writing and risk-taking for children in the upcoming school year.  I can only hope that we can continue to meet and stay together long enough to explore developing pieces of writing to bring to partner share, because I have ideas about how we can continue to grow and experience habits of writers.

To my Joy Writers – Thank You!



A Beginning?

I think I kinda-sorta participated in my first twitter chat last night.  I’m not sure I was hashtagging “the right way”.  I’m not sure who I was responding to when I used hit my @ button.  I know I kept reading and thinking and then tweeting here and there.  It was fun.  It got me thinking about change.

Ralph Fletcher was tweeting away.  The tweets were coming in fast and furious.  Kylene Beers was also on fire last night. Two colleagues, Jess and Erika were also joining in the tweetfest.  My evening brain tried to keep up with it all.  This morning, my refreshed brain went back to twitter to do some rereading.

I started by searching Ralph Fletcher’s tweets. As I scrolled through his page, I found this tweet from Barry Lane:

“Don’t implement a writing program. Don’t teach it with fidelity. Implement yourself. Be faithful to your own teaching heart.”

I think it’s hard for teachers to teach writing with heart if they don’t write themselves.  This summer, thanks to Joy Write, we have started a teacher research/teacher writer group.  We are Joy Writers.  At our July meeting, two teachers shared their honest thoughts on the writing and teaching it –

“This (writing) is hard to teach.  All I know is the units.  I don’t know any other way.  I want to meet kids where they are and not just get through the units.”

“Writing is my least favorite subject to teach.  Some units I love, but others are hard.”

At our July meeting, the first hour was planned to be professional reflection on Joy Write and the second hour was planned to be spent delving into your own writing. img_6361  The plan didn’t go as planned.  The majority of our two hour meeting was spent in conversation around our districts current expectations for writing and the ideas Ralph Fletcher puts forth in Joy Write.  So, as we brought our meeting to a close, I casually asked if people would be willing to take on the second half of the meeting on  their own.  To my surprise, many agreed.   I had created a shared google folder to hold their writing.  I was optimistic that they would actually take on observation and writing on their own time.  But, I was also “nervous” – writers need community and the community had just all gone their separate ways.  Would they really write?!

Within the week, Peter had his own blog https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/68592540.  This was fabulous!  I always knew Peter was a writer but for him to change it up and put it on a blog! I was energized and have been with every post of his I’ve read.

Many of the other folders remained empty until this week. This week, four teachers have added writing to their folders.   See below.





Back to Barry Lane’s tweet-

“Don’t implement a writing program. Don’t teach it with fidelity. Implement yourself. Be faithful to your own teaching heart.”

I hope and believe that these pieces of writing are the beginning of teachers implementing their teaching heart and not just the program.  These teachers are taking on the brave work of finding another way, an honest, authentic way to implement themselves –  by discovering themselves as writers.

“When we write we become visible, we are players in the game of life.” Donald Murrayimg_6362

Digging for Bark


I have a thing for trees.  I like to sketch them.  I like to examine their leaves and bark.  Mostly for the sake of observation, not knowledge.  I’m not sure where it started.  Maybe the seed for my thing with trees started at my childhood home.  Two white birch trees stood proudly in our front yard.  They were there to be noticed whether you left the front door, backed out of the driveway, pulled into the driveway or simply looked out a window.   I always noticed them.  Maybe that’s where it began.

Growing up in New England, I have always been able to mark the seasons by the changes in the trees.  The cold of winter means naked, leafless trees.   The warmer days of spring mean buds and flowers (and pollen!).  Summer bring trees full of leaves in a what seems like a million shades of green providing relief from the hot summer sun.  And fall, it brings the changing leaves coloring our world. Autumn’s rainbow appears before winter sets in and the cycle of seasons begins again.

As much as I loathe running in the bitter cold, winter mornings, I sometimes get a glimpse of a morning sky thanks to the leafless trees.  Those trees have been inspiration for pictures and small poems.

This time of year, I start to notice that shards of bark are piling up on the edges of some streets.  Each year, I pick up the bark and marvel at it’s colors and shape and think – “this is so pretty, what tree is it?”  Unfortunately, every time I get home from a run or a walk, I end up completely distracted from my question and never seek the answer!

Today that changed.  Today I ran on a few streets that were sprinkled with this familiar bark, I picked up the bark, marveled at it’s beauty and came home wondering, “what is tree is it?”  Today I returned to the closest tree, looked closely, took a few pictures, made some mental notes, sketched the bark and then hit the google machine.


I am no tree “ologist”, dendrologist, or arborist, but based on my observations and independent research, I think I have identified the Sycamore as the tree that sheds and sprinkles it’s bark in the streets.  The Sycamore bark “flakes off in irregular blotches, revealing a cream or whitish inner bark”.  The leaves are broad and flat and simple. Yes, I think I’ve met the Sycamore tree.  (also known as the platanus occidentalis.)

This discovery and writing today took me back to my early years of teaching.  Back then, in our district, we had resource teachers.  Judy Hall was our science resource teacher.  Her job was to support the science curriculum by working side-by-side with teachers both in and out of the classroom.  I clearly remember taking a field trip with Judy and my second graders to a nature preserve.  We took the kids on a walk through the preserve stopping to identify trees based on their bark and their leaves.  Looking back, I wish I had connected the experience in the nature preserve to the writers I was teaching.

The Sycamore was my discovery today. Writing about the Sycamore led me to think about my teaching.   Thinking is what needs to  be cultivated in our youngest writers. We owe it to our children to give them time and structure to explore their thinking and make their own connections.  This is how we will grow writers.

Just Us


The impetus for our most recent road trip to North Carolina was The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  My oldest, Hannah, is a senior in high school and wanted to see UNC.  So last spring, as we were looking at our summer, we realized we had four days to squeeze this trip in.  So we began researching lodging.  I was on AirBnB, my husband was googling camping.

“Meet The North Country.”  My husband said enthusiastically as he held up a picture of a 26 foot camper.  “Um, OK.  Why not?”  I replied after a long pregnant pause. Any other reply may have crushed him and his spirit!  “Where will we camp?”  I asked trying to get a taste of his energy.  He ushered me over to his computer where he showed me Jordan Lake and it’s proximity to the camper rental and UNC Chapel Hill.  The more he talked, the more I knew we had to do the camping thing.  Not because we all felt the need to camp on this road trip but really because we knew Billy HAD to camp for this road trip.  We needed to do it for him.  And hey, why not?



The next four days were a gift.

We, as a family of five, had THE.BEST.TIME.

After the camper was unhitched, the gear unloaded, Grace and Megan began throwing the football around and Hannah was playing wiffle ball with herself.  All we could hear was the sound of their shouts and laughs and cackles.  Megan came up to me and said “That’s it Mom.  My hands are up.  I admit it. This is more fun than I thought it would be.”  We had only been there 2 hours!

We played on the beach, we swam in the lake.  It was so warm on top.  The further


you went out, the deeper the water got, suddenly, below your knees you felt cold water.

“Mom!  Can you feel it? It’s so much colder down there – that is so cool!”  Grace yelled.

We went paddle boarding and kayaking.  Grace, Hannah and I attempted headstands on the paddle board. Grace experienced success.  Hannah and I can say we tried!  We played.  We put three people on a paddle board and


IMG_6246 (1).JPG

discovered it is not meant for three people.  Megan got to paddle board and kayak solo for the first time.  Megan swam under a busy bridge.  We grilled outside, we ate outside.  We went out to the quintessential General Store and bought a IMG_6256.JPGred and white checkered table cloth just so we would look like “real” campers.




Over the years, we’ve taken many a trip with our family.  We vacationed at Cape Cod for ten years with another family.  We’ve been to Beaufort, North Carolina four or five times to visit Billy’s dad.  We’ve also been to Sanibel Island, Florida.  I’ve been thinking about what made this trip so different from others.  I wondered was it their ages? The camping? The location?  Maybe it was a little mix of all of that but I really do believe that what made it so great was because it was just the five of us. Just us.







Before you return your rental camper, you’ve got visit the dumping station!

Oh, and UNC was big hit!


Finding Energy, Ideas, and Voice

Last Wednesday ten teachers gathered in my family room. We came together in the spirit of inquiry. We came together around Joy Write. Our principal and I had read the book and were inspired to ask the question, “What happens when a group of teachers reads Joy Write?”

As everyone arrived, the air was light and relaxed. With the freedom that summer brings, we hung out and chatted and lived in the moment. As people made their way to the family room and got comfy on the couch or floor, I thought “This is amazing. These teachers are here voluntarily to talk, write, sketch, and discover.”

Our meeting began with each teacher sharing why they had come. They came for social reasons, they came because they were intrigued, they came because, well, it was a book by none other than Ralph Fletcher, and others came to explore.

“Writing is my least favorite subject to teach. Some units I love, the kids love, but some are just so hard.”

”Moving away from structured dictated way of teaching writing”

“Growing a network of teachers to talk to”

“In my “old” teaching, I was inspired by their writing. Looking to get inspired again.”

“It’s possible to have joy in our current curriculum”

“I do not like writing. It’s my weakest area. So whenever I teach it, I feel like I’m not good at it. Personally, I am not a strong writer.”

“All I know is the units of study. I don’t know any other way.”

“Not as much playing with words/language. I am intrigued yet concerned.”

The voices were filled with questions, concerns, passion, strengths, weaknesses. Their honest voices were heard. Then we stopped to write. We devoted time to writing to think. Each teacher took the time to explore his her own thoughts on writing, on writers.

I believe in writing to think. I believe that children need to spend lots of time in the writing greenbelt. It is where writers discover. I also believe that teachers need time in a greenbelt. Time where they can write to think and discover and problem solve in a safe space of their own. In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher writes about a tweet he made that “struck a chord.” in the twittosphere. He tweeted, “We don’t teach students to write so much s create a safe space where they can teach themselves by doing.”

I believe that teachers need safe space to create, too.