Friday, August 24, 2012

Illustrator Love

I adore children's picture books.   No, I mean it, really.  I'm not your average picture book browser.  I research, study, read, analyze, buy and collect children's books like my husband collects his hunting and fishing gear.  I've always thought of him to be boarder-line hoarder, but then, I look at me!  I don't tell him this, of course. :-)

Well, my most recent purchases of children's picture books have not been because of the story, although, the story is just fabulous, it's because of the illustrations.  I am a visual person who loves to create through painting, art journaling, sewing, whatever. . . so, when I am drawn to a book, it is almost always, first, through the illustrations.

One of my new favorite illustrators is Julia Denos.  I discovered her when browsing online for illustrations of faces, for an e-course I was taking by Mindy Lacefield called Paint Your Story.  Julia's site hooked me, line and sinker.  You can visit it here.  Just look at some of these heart warming illustrations of children that Julia has done!

Seeing these sketches in the sketchbook section of Julia's site just made we want to grab my colored pencils and start drawing pictures of girls.  I have a random mind.  It just works like that.  Then, I had to order some children's books of which she illustrated.  This one, by far, is the book I love the most. . .  Just Being Audrey written by Margaret Cardillo.  I know already that it will be read over and over this year because I'm using it as a mentor text in both classrooms and teacher training groups.


Just Being Audrey is the biography of Audrey Hepburn's life.  Who doesn't love Audrey Hepburn?  Audrey had a unique personality and strong sense of who she was.  She followed her dreams by being true to herself, even through the diversity of her young life growing up in Nazi-occupied Europe.  Kindness was her strongest belief and she lived this until the day she died.  Her later years involved shining light on the poorest children of the world through her work with UNICEF.  Her fame helped to raise boatloads of money for this cause.  

Many themes run through this book:  following your dreams, kindess, overcoming diversity, being yourself, giving back and just loving children.  But, I'm also going to use it to teach some sketching of children when we get around to illustrating books.

A quote from Audrey will remain in my mind, just because I know it to be true. . .

"Like with flowers, it's the same with children:  With a little help, they can survice and they can stand up and live another day."

I don't know any educator that does not also live and breath that belief.

Shari :-)

(Oh!  You can follow Julie Denos on facebook, by like her page, here.  She has even more amazing illustrations there, too.  She just basically rocks, in my book.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Commitments to Myself as a New School Year Begins

My summer was glorious.

The 20 previous summers have been filled with taking care of my four children, running here and there to baseball, swimming lessons, hockey and basketball camps, volleyball leagues and summer sports tournaments.  When that stopped, I started my Masters and took classes in the summer.  Well, those kids are full grown now and the extra classes are finished.  This summer, I finally spent time on me.  Yes.  Me.  Myself.  Alone.

Never done that before.

Yes, there was guilt.  But, I was forced by my soul.  A hurricane of sweet delicious clarity swept through by being.   I am now at this powerful sense of peace and wellness.

But, here's the rub.  (There's always a rub.)

It's mid August.  If you are an educator, you know the hovering feelings that arise in mid August .  You are aware of "mid July feelings" as well (a summer half over).  But, it's this particular time of year when anxieties start to creep into a newly found sense of a peaceful being.  We know it well.

Teachers at our school are feeling additionally anxious this year as our school was being gutted this summer for an installment of a new heating/cooling system along with some remodeling.  So, teachers can not ENTER the building until August 27th.  Those little kiddos are will be bursting through those front doors on September 4th.  Many rooms had to be totally packed up and have all supplies and furniture hauled to the gym.  Entire rooms need to be put back together and ready for the first day in  one week.  Yes, one week superpowered week.  And, that's workshop week, mind you.  We all know what those bring. Although, our administrators have carved out tons of time for "work time" at our school. They know.

We will all be praying for miracles and calmness.

I, myself, am one to work in my room until dark getting everything ready and helping nervous new teachers arrange rooms and plan for those first few days, along with a multitude of daunting to-do lists.  Many committed and passionate teachers at our school work daunting hours.  We could just bring our sleeping bags, along with a new change of clothes and our make up and sleep there.

However, this year. . .

I am vowing not to live at school.  

I have felt like I have finally learned how to live "without working" this summer.  Once school starts, I tend to be consumed with work.  I arrive there early, I work late, I bring it home.  I am passionate about my job and doing a job well.  However, when you work in this manner, there is no room in a school day left for writing, creating, reading, exercise, and eat right, let alone spend time with family.

That is changing this year.

I took drastic measures.

This literacy coach now has her own coach.

She knows my weaknesses and my goals and she is helping me write a plan, because I know that I can't hold myself accountable on my own.  It's too much.  Even to sort out areas that are causing me the stress and dissatisfaction required an abundance of writing, talking and reflecting.

I, along with my coaches' help,  have narrowed down my new commitments to: 

The Three Commitments to Myself

1.  Physical exercise

Duh.  I know I need this.  I just wasn't doing it.

I am requiring myself to be out of the building by 4:30 each day to exercise.  I'm starting TurboFire from Beachbody, which is a 90 day workout program.  I'm going to complete it from start to finish and then, I will begin a new program called Bodypump.  She's helping me map out my year for physical activity so I can make goals and see where I'm going. We do this as teachers!  We make year long maps for our teaching year.  We need to do this for our physical beings as well.  This is huge for me.

2.  Eating right

I am almost finished with the  3-week Beachbody Ultimate Reset, which has transformed my eating habits and cleansed my internal self.  I am refraining from coffee and switching over to Teecceno, an all natural herbal caffiene free coffee.  It is delicious!  I have devoted my diet to clean eating with no preservatives, added Shakology to my day along with eating every 3-4 hours to keep my blood sugars level and energy consistant.  My coach is helping me to plan out meals for my week to help me be successful.  No excuses.

3.  Create every day.

Whether it's writing, painting, sketching, art journaling, collaging or sewing, I need to create every day. This feeds my soul and is being true to who I am.  I find that when I am depleted and then I spend time creating, I am renewed.  I am NOT a morning person, yet, I am going to train myself to be up at 5:00 and put an hour to 90 minutes in writing every day.  It will be hard and I think this be my most difficult challenge.  This summer, I completed Jeff Goin's writing challenge of conquering the 15 Habit of Great Writers.  Even though, I will never consider myself a great writer, through his course, I was able to break through some fears and get my blogs up and running and create the discipline to write every day so that it feels natural.  Like breathing.  I can't lose this.  I'm not sure where it will take me and that's the joy of it.

I also took some online art courses that got me painting and art journaling and I am going to keep that going in the evenings and weekends that allow me time (ok, I will schedule it). I even have worked up the courage to create a second blog to share some of my art and I created a facebook group called Islands of My Soul for creative souls to support and share their creations and ideas.

Big Changes.  Yes.  Commitment and Discipline it will take.

But. . . this is why I have a coach.

I am believing in myself.  My coach is, too. 

This is my time.

What new commitments are you making to yourself this year as a new school year begins?

Shari :-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Planning is Just Hard

I struggle with planning for facilitation of teacher workshops.

Especially ones that I have previously taught.  I don't know if it's just me and my random abstract personality or if planning is just an area of time consuming work.

I don't have nor do I use a Teacher Planning Book.  I wish sometimes there was a planning book But, every training, every workshop and every facilitated time together with teachers is unique.  I pull bits and pieces from every resource, learning from my own trainings in Ohio, and experiences and try to create a cohesive and engaging experience where others can learn.

This week, we are beginning our New Teacher Literacy Collaborative 3-day workshop.  I am on day 4 of planning.

Yes, you heard me, Day 4.

My husband says, "Hon, just do what you always do.  You've done this before so why is it so much work?"

How do you explain to someone who doesn't teach that it just doesn't work like that?

I start from scratch every year.

And, for many reasons:

First, and most importantly, these are all new people. . . different grade levels, different areas, varying levels of experience, and I need to teach to the needs of these new teacher souls.

Second, my own level of experience and expertise (although I don't like that word and will never consider myself an expert at anything - I am CONSTANTLY learning) is constantly changing.  I cringe at the methods and level of understanding I had my first year literacy coaching.  I can't possibly use that old stuff!

Third, we have different resources, new standards and our curriculum is changing constantly.  I have to keep up with that and integrate it all in.

Fourth, technology.  Let's face it, the Power Points I used in 2007 are dinosaurs in 2012.  Those new teachers fresh out of college would be snickering in their seats if I drug those out!  Now I want to do my teaching using Prezi, adding You Tube videos and Animito.  But, all this takes time to do!

Last, I just am NOT a teacher who ENJOYS teaching the same thing year after year.  If I am bored with what I teach, that will radiate to my participants who came to learn!

I don't have a structure for for creating teacher workshops, although, now that I think about it, maybe I do and I don't even realize it.  However, the same structure would also get redundant.  I need the creativity and freedom of going with the flow.  But, a template of some sort might help me to organize my teaching a little more.

The meat and potatoes of these first few days needs to be a constant, such as teaching the framework for a balanced literacy classroom, the structure of reading and writing workshops, and how interactive read alouds are planned and used in the classroom.  But, I always spend some serious time researching, reading and just pondering on what new ideas I might bring to these new teachers that I have not done in past workshops.  This takes a considerable amount of time.  My husband will ask what I'm doing and I'll say "working", but really, it's fun doing this "collecting" part of my job, so he always looks confused when I say that.

Here are a few new inspiring resources/ideas I am going to use this week with new teachers that I am giddy about sharing.

*Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo is going to be my interactive read aloud model to start out with.  This book is a biography of Audrey Hepburn, of whom I adore.  So, I'm highly enthusiastic about this book.  But, also, the illustrations are so simple and sweet with a touch of Paris.  In Audrey's later life, she was an advocate for children and became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.  She traveled all over the world bringing aid to children and raised a boatload of funds for this organization.  She ends with this quote about children,
      "Like with flowers, it's the same with children:  With a little help they can survive and they can stand up and live another day."

Perfect words to plant the seed of hope for us as teachers at the beginning of a year.

We will then, create a a flower garden with our own hopes and dreams for this new school year.

*I'm incorporation more visual and kinesthetic activities into my teaching this year, as I know the days of one standing in front lecturing are gone AND so NOT best practice, they are disengaging and little is retained.

This is an activity that can be incorporated into anything that has a variety of points, steps or icons.

Upon introducing Managed Independent Learning/centers, from their reading in Guided Reading:  Good First Teaching For All Children by Fountas and Pinnell, I am giving each teacher a handful of icons that represents  particular learning centers.  These icons are used on the work board.  Their task will be to predict what learning center the icons represent and then to choose one that they can compose a step by step routine to teach their students for using this center.  We will copy these off and share them.

*I'm also reserving more time to talk about the purpose of a coach, how a coach is utilized in our school, especially with new teachers and what their responsibilities are as learners.  I've noticed over the years that sometimes teachers are not sure what their role is when working with me OR what mine is either!  This means that I really have not done a good job of embedding how is "ongoing professional development with a coach" works into my initial trainings very well.

I am starting off with some reflective writing for them to write about an area of their life where they could use a coach that is not related to school.  Writing about why they need a coach in this area and what kind of help they need.

For me, it's with fitness and wellness.  So, I committed to finally utilizing the expertise of a personal trainer (who is my daughter).  I will share my story and nudge others to share.

This will segue into how a coach is used in a school.

*Getting to know you activities are a must
Each teacher is to bring in one item that tells about who they are to the core of their being.  I am bringing in an art journal or maybe a painting  as I need to create every day and this is a huge part of who I am.  I do this with discipline as it honors my truth to my soul.

I know we have health enthusiasts, nature lovers, community advocates, travelers and chefs.  Knowing the truth about who these new colleagues are allows us to see each other as someone else other than "teachers".  It also creates connections and conversations that build friendships and trust, and strong relationships.

The second item I ask teachers to bring in is a book or picture of a book that was their favorite book as a child.  Lucy Calkins starts the year out introducing Forever Books to her primary students, and each child is to bring in their favorite book from home or school.  Sharing these books that are close to our hearts begins that love of reading.  The enthusiasm radiates throughout the room and books are treated as gold.

My own Forever Book is a Little Golden Book called Raggedy Ann and the Cookie Snatcher.  I put on my detective cap this summer and scoured antique shops looking for a copy.  I was successful in a shop down in St. Cloud, MN.  It really was a toss up between this book and my other favorite Little Golden book called We Help Mommy.  I wonder if my mother read us that book a thousand times to get us kids to help her.  Hmmmmm.  .   . good memories. :-)

One last tidbit I'm doing that I learned from my dear fabulous trainer, Sherry Kinzel at Ohio State, is a chance at a door prize when you arrive to class on time after lunch and in the morning!  

Sherry had books, notebooks, stationary (a weakness for me) and all kinds of goodies displayed for a drawing at the end of our trainings.  Your name went into the drawing whenever you arrived on time, especially after lunch (maybe two name chances go in here).  This encourages everyone to be here!
Such a good trick!  Love you, Sherry!

I'm anxious and nervous, as always, for these new teacher groups as the dynamics of the group is always a mystery until that first day together (just like our classrooms!) and I always say extra prayers the night before to ask God to just allow me to inspire and be of service to these teachers. This is the beginning of their career.  They are full of ideas and motivation and I have to be careful not to squelch that idealism.  Nor, do I wish to overwhelm them into a greater sense of anxiety than what they already carry.


Deep Breaths.

And, as Sherry would say, "I just need to have a go. . ."

What new training ideas are you using in your new teacher groups?  Please share!!!!!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Linking Writing, Reading, Science and Art with Nature Journaling

Early this spring, I purchased two inspiring books by Clare Walker Leslie.

The subject?  Nature Journaling.

  Keeping a Nature Journal:  Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You and Drawn to Nature:  Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie, have inspired me as an artist, a writer, a reader, a scientist, an observer and in just learning to be present and curious soul.

I vowed to begin my own Nature Journal Journey this summer in order to experience first hand how the melding of science and literacy takes place. I am one who has to have the experience before I can teach or model it for someone else as walking the walk always gives you more credibility, especially as a teacher.

Keeping a nature journal did more than jump start my "scientist" self.  I did more than write and draw.    And. . . more happened than observing!

The greatest reward in keeping my own nature journal was how it taught me to S --- L --- O --- W ------------ D --- O --- W --- N.

In our fast paced, ridiculously busy lives, who takes time to stop and notice the frost hanging from the wild grasses? Who sees that some anthills are like small little tents and others are like condos?  Who can observe that yellow leaves are on the ground and it's only July?

If you are keeping a nature journal, you are one that is aware of these nature miracles. Because you have to stop, observe, be amazed, observe some more, be curious, ask questions,  then get it down.  Before it's gone.  And, it will be.  And, hopefully, the wonders that arise while getting it down nudge you to do some research to find answers.  And, the learning begins.

Another joy happened as I became more aware of the natural world and spent some time noticing, recording, drawing and thinking.  Probably even bigger than slowing down.

I became more present with this planet I live on.  A calmness and peace began to grow in me.  Anxieties and stresses were squelched because I slowed down my mind, body and soul enough to be present for a moment.

Wow.  I'm a forever nature journaler now.  For life.  Yup.  A lifer.

Here are a few of my journalings this summer.

Clare Walker has given me a new window to look out.  She gave me the motivation and inspiration and also helped me get started.  In her Keeping a Nature Journal book, she gave me specific steps to follow to help me create that very first page.  This is huge for anyone who has that daunting fear, "What do I put in here????" She gives formats to start you out. She tells you specifically what to go observe, like cloud patterns and ground observations. Beginners need specifics and guidelines sometimes to feel safe and build confidence.  

Then, she teaches you how to make it your own.

I love how she thinks.  

Shari :-)

Friday, August 3, 2012

I'm Just Not Good At This, Mom!

The other day, I asked my 17 year old son to put together a bookshelf for me.  This was no fancy dancy bookshelf.  It was one of those 19.99 fiber board shelves with the wimpy backs you tack on - you all have one of these in your home or classroom somewhere, I know you do.  Anyways, not a difficult task. . . if you follow the directions that come in the box.

He worked on it for about an hour.  I came down to see the finished masterpiece, of which he was proud of.  It was put together. . . but, three of the boards were facing the wrong way exposing the fiberboard in the front instead of the back. He hadn't noticed this when putting it together (nor did he read any directions).

These situations always make me itchy.  I'm proud of the fact that he got it together, as is he.  I don't want to sound critical, yet, I need it to be put together the right way.  Word choice here is difficult.

I thanked him for working so hard to get together.

Then, I said, "I notice that some of these boards are exposed this way instead of with the finished side facing out."

He was befuddled.

"AWWWW. . . . MAN!  I can't believe I did that!" he complained.  "I'm just not GOOD at these kind of things!  Geez, does it really matter, Mom?  Can't we just leave it that way?  You are going to just fill it up with books anyway and no one will even see it."

We go on to have a conversation about how it's just as easy to do things "right" the first time, what "right" even is, maybe some people like the exposed side out (his idea), the importance of following directions, how in a real job situation - this would not be acceptable and it would need to be redone.

Well, I deflated him.  However, I don't think it was because of our conversation.  I think it runs deeper.  I believe he was frustrated because of his beliefs about performance.

After he started taking the shelf apart to redo it, he must have said "I am just no good at this kind of stuff. . . putting things together and reading those stupid directions, " at least a dozen times.

Fireworks were going off in my brain, because I was just reading about "dynamic-learning beliefs" and "fixed-learning beliefs" in Peter Johnston's Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change People's Lives, of which you can preview the ENTIRE book here at Stenhouse.

A dynamic-learning frame is one of which a person believes that learning takes time and effort, so trying hard is valued, problems/challenges/errors are to be expected and even valued if a person is taking on a challenge and also, challenging activities are engaging.  Most importantly, someone with this belief system believes that the more you learn, the smarter you get.  You can change your mind, your smartness, and who you are.

Compare that with the fixed-performance frame.  With this belief system, one believes that people have fixed traits, such as smartness and intelligence that they cannot change.  They believe learning happens quickly for smart people, so trying hard is not valued and if you even have to try hard, you probably aren't smart. Problems and errors are indicators of one's intellectual ability and challenging activities are in fact risky or stressful because one might fail.

My son has a fixed performance belief.  In his mind, he made errors in putting the shelf together, so he is bad at putting things together. . . he believes he is "not smart" at this.  I had to help him get it apart and redo it because he was so upset by the fact that he "failed".  The entire scenerio explains the fuss he put up about even having to put it together in the first place.  It was a risk.

I notice this in students at school, especially those who are highly intelligent, as my son is.  They are used to "school" being easy for them.  They "get" things right away and do them quickly.  Many avoid challenges because they could fail and that would get in the way of their goal of looking as smart as they can.

So, how do we help people with these beliefs?

Peter Johnston answers this question throughout his book, but the three main points of influence include:

What we choose to say when children are successful or unsuccessful at something - when we give them feedback or praise.

If we say, "Good job" to a job well done, we are giving the message that they are good at what they do.  If we say, "You worked hard on this.  How do you feel?" we build a different frame in their mind.

The way we frame activities.

Saying, "Let's see who is the best or the quickest at doing this activity," is very different than, "Let's see which of these problems is the most interesting."  The latter teaches different understandings about learning and what they are doing, as well as turning their energies toward a different goal.

What we explicitly teach children about how people's brains and minds work.

Children need to know that each time they learn something new, their brains literally grow new cells.  Teaching about brain growth and function to our students empowers them to engage in challenging tasks and activities.

This book is mind shifting and I wish Peter Johnston had written it back in 1987 when I started teaching.  I'm sure someone else wrote about it and perhaps I even read it and my mind wasn't ready for it.

I'm ready for it now.

I ponder.  .  . maybe I really am not that bad at running the DVD player. . .

Shari :-)