SOL 2016 Day 24: Going Back to Teachers College

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

Yesterday I got the email I've been waiting for.  Along with two of my co-workers, I've been accepted for a second year of Writing Workshop training at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York. 

Last August, studying at Teachers College was one of the most inspirational experience of my educational career.  I loved participating in mini-lessons, listening to advice from expert writing teachers and writing, writing, writing. I was in heaven.

Then being able to work with my coachee teachers in bringing writing workshop to life in their classrooms has been incredibly rewarding. It's wonderful to see students engaged in writing that is personal and authentic. 

This has been an incredible journey, and I'm glad it's not over. See that smile on my face? I expect to look like that again this summer.  

SOL 2016 Day 14: What Writers Need

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

Today two of my coaching meetings got cancelled at the last minute, and I was the only one in the ELA Department office for much of the day.  So I spent time doing more research on writing workshop, finding information and advice for my coachee teachers. Some of that research included reading  What A Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher.  The introduction to one chapter leapt out from the page: 

“Too often in classrooms we give children little squirts of language,” Bill Martin says, “We squirt at them, and they squirt back.”

This is precisely the problem. For too long, we have not been willing to give children the time they need to develop their skills. We expect that squirting copious amounts of information in their general direction will give us the results we desire. Too often we think that equals teaching.  

Those squirts won't help our students become better readers, better communicators and better writers. Why are the powers that be in this country's educational system so afraid to slow down and give children time to grow and learn?

Reading this today made me think of all the times I was guilty of "teaching" like that. It made me more determined than ever to coach teachers to grow beyond that. It made me want to repeat over and over "mea culpa, mea culpa" as I watch students in the classrooms I visit scribble long and hard in their writer's notebooks.

SOL 2016 Day 8: Applause Please - Yesterday in Writing Workshop

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

 Sometimes while coaching, I feel like a proud mama bear. There is nothing like observing a teacher coachee, and see her progress as she strives to improve her craft. Yesterday, I got that burst of pride moment.

My coachee has been working on getting writing workshop mini lessons down, making sure to include all the important parts, using the language, making the teaching point clear. All while trying to keep the lesson to 10 minutes in length.In front of 30 seventh graders (twice in the day).

This time she nailed it. She taught with gusto, and her students were engaged and thrilled they understood the lesson. When I walked around asking questions later, I could see that many of the kids were already busy incorporating the new strategy into their writing

I can’t take credit for that teacher’s dedication to being the best she can be. Sure I’ve tried to advise her, but she’s done the hard part. 

Still, can’t help myself: proud mama bear.

SOL 2016 Day 4: The Magic of Writing Workshop

This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit

“Writers, off you go.” These are my favorite words of writing workshop, the signal for young writers to leave the meeting area and return to their own notebooks. When a class is going well, and students excited about what they are writing, it is just magic. Yesterday Mr. Hagen’s sixth grade class was just such a moment.

As soon as he said those words, every student – and I mean every one – rushed back to their desks and bent low over their notebooks, pencils flying. I walked around, asking“What are you going to work on today?” Some wanted to start a new piece, others to finish up what they had already started.  But everyone was writing, writing, writing.

As an instructional coach, I’m privileged to observe in many different classrooms. This year our district is rolling out writing workshop for all grades, kindergarten through eighth grade. Coaching teachers to help them improve their writing instruction is pure joy for me. What an exciting time in my job. 

Most teachers in our district have jumped at this opportunity to change their practice, but not all. In one of our district training sessions, a teacher, skeptical that writing workshop would be better than her usual writing instruction asked, “So, you’re saying the fact that kids get a choice in what to write makes workshop so motivating?”

I wanted to exclaim, “Well, good lord, yes!” Of course, I gave her a more professional response, but was emphatic. Choice is exactly what her students would love, what they need.  It seems so obvious: let kids write about what is important to them, not to us. How can something so human and simple be so revolutionary? 

I wish that doubting teacher had been in Mr. Hagen’s sixth grade class yesterday. I’m glad I was.

Can I do this? -- Taking up the Slice of Life Story Challenge

It's been over three months since I last posted to this blog, and even that post was just a "hey, look at me" short notice of publications. No real writing, no real effort. That's been the issue with this blog ever since I took my new job.

When I started blogging, I knew who I was, I knew what this blog would be about.  I was a poet and middle school language arts teacher who loved to travel.

Four years later, I'm still a poet and still love to travel. What has changed? My job. After 23 years teaching 7th and 8th graders, I left the classroom to become an instructional coach for language arts teachers. I'm still an educator and I'm in classrooms all the time. But teacher? I no longer grade papers or create lesson plans. I don't go to parent-teacher conferences or bus duty. I'm no longer responsible for 90 or more 12 and 13-year-olds on a daily basis. It's hard for me to say "teacher" when I realize that all the things that make teaching so complicated are no longer part of my working life. It almost seems like it would be an insult to all the teachers I know who are still in the trenches.

I never expected these feelings to stop my blog dead in its tracks, but they have.

Then in the course of doing some research on how to help teachers implement writing workshop in their classrooms, I stumbled across the Two Writing Teachers website. What a wealth of information!   For weeks I've been reading posts on tips about writing workshop and sharing it with teachers I work with.

Inevitably, all this led me to the Slice of Life Story Challenge. According to their website, "the individual challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008 and has grown each year. Adults, classroom teachers and their students across six continents participate in this weekly challenge as well as in the month-long challenge in March."

Basically, this challenge is designed to get teachers and students to write their own "slice of life" stories and share them with the world, to get them to embrace their own identities as writers. This is exactly what I'd like to inspire in the teachers I coach, hoping they will then bring this passion for writing to their students.

Since finding out about the challenge, I've been toying with the idea of contributing for months, but the idea of a daily challenge for an entire month sounded too daunting. Finally today I decided that I'd just go for it. After all, what better way to inspire others than by modeling it myself. Isn't that what teachers do? Maybe there is some teacher left in me after all.

So here is my first post. I have one more Slice of Life Tuesday to go before the March challenge begins, so I can see how it feels. All I know is, it's the first excitement I've felt about my blog in a long time.