Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Do You See?

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for linking us up and creating a community in which to write.  I learn so much about writing (and teaching) by writing with this community. 

SAS runs on a rotating block schedule. We have A day and B day and C and D day. The mornings are soft starts with planning time (for teachers or PLC groups) and flex (free) time or Advisory for kids. Tuesday was our second first day of school.

While I want to write about the schedule and the school and the Welcome Back dinner. While I want to write about the army of folks--from security to landscaping to maintenance to food service-- care taking the day to day operations. I want to write about the futuristic Pathways -- learning spaces that are open flexible and mobile. While I want to write about PLCs or the grading policy, today, I’m a selfish writer. I want to hold this shiny moment at my new school and just let it sparkle.  In the challenge that is relocating to  new country and a new school, this moment made me feel ever so connected to the people I call home.

I was standing in the hallway during passing time with teacher and writer, Josh Curnett-- he teaches ninth grade and AP Language across the hall from me. Supportive and transparent, Josh has shared curriculum and tips and how tos with me since last April. I landed knowing I would learn a lot from him based on his chapter in  Global Perspectives. Here’s is just a moment from a day that sparkled with rain showers.

Josh: “You know Penny Kittles’ work?”

Me: grinning, “I do! I would consider her my friend. Well, you know, I know her from her work and from NCTE and ...”

Josh: “Your teaching reminds me of her.”

Me: “Wow! That is … I am friends with Penny Kittle. Well, not friends, friends, but I’ve skyped into her UNH class a few times to talk about my notebook and we’ve corresponded or emailed..”

I hear myself babbling, so I close my mouth and I fall into Penny memories from NCTE: introducing myself to her after reviewing, The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching, for California English . Emailing her pages from my notebook after sitting across from her at Middle Mosaic, skyping with her UNH summer students about my notebooks, resting in her Book Love words… she is one of the folks I walk with into my classroom each year.

Josh: “All those New Hamsphire folks, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, …  what you’re doing reminds me of…”

Me: “Really?” I shift from one foot to another then snake one foot up behind a calf. I tell him I once spent a spring break in Linda’s classroom.” An think how formative that event was in terms of my learning and practice.  

He’s standing stoically at his blue door, nodding to kids as the come down the hall. His feet are hip width apart, solid, an athletic stance.

Josh nods, “Yeah.”

Josh: “You know Donalyn Miller?”

Me: “I do.  Yesterday was her birthday!  I see Donalyn at NCTE and ALAN conferences each year… yes, The Book Whisperer? Reading in the Wild? You know her work? ”

Josh: “Yes. Yes. You remind me of her too.”

My mind goes to NCTE last year, a group dinner out. Then my imagination skips to the long banquet table set up of the ALAN conference. I see book stacks and sleep brown hair and a crisp blouse. I  I see Donalyn engaging my son, Collin, in conversation about books and high school. She leans in and he does too, nodding, listening, talking. When I walk up we talk about our children, her daughter in an IB program in Texas and my own difficulties as a teacher-mom. She tunes in to readers, to teachers, to kids -- her spirit opens and she shares.  I love catching those moments when her book spell weaves its way around Collin’s reading life (or mine).

Me:  “Really?

Josh: “Yeah. I see them in what you are doing.”


Josh’s compliment will resonate with me for a long time.  This is a pink stone moment for me because you know, we teachers. We work hard. Teaching is challenging work and there are times and places where people don't really see us. They may not know us or understand us or be members of our tribe. Josh's compliment felt like it came from a place of knowing, of paying attention, and of intention too. His kind words may even set the tone for my year--what powerful words!  What a label full of portent and positive possibilities he gave me and my teaching today.

He also made me think about how I am with educators. Do I spot peoples' strengths? Do I name their talents? Does what I say build others up? Am I that intentional in how I talk with teachers about their practice? Am I that affirming of others?

I need to go back to Choice Words and revisit Peter Johnston. I am going to learn a lot from Mr. Curnett this year. How lucky am I to have him right across the hall?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Share Your Why in PLCs

It's hard to say what I've appreciated the most about my new school's on boarding process: the settling in week at a beautiful hotel, the new teacher introduction to Singapore American School week or the vulnerable and honest communication from administrators and PLC team members as we get started planning the work of the first weeks of school this week. It's the start of  week three, pre-planning for the whole faculty. We've had two days of speeches and meetings and today we have a break for Singapore's National Day. It's a national holiday here, so schools and many businesses are closed. I am grateful for the time to take in and process what I've learned so far. Topping that list is working in teams and  PLCs.

Singapore American School is tight on PLCs. Teachers meet weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, in two different PLC groups. Yesterday we talked about PLC culture and expections. We played PLC Chutes and Ladders and discussed several toxic PLC scenarios that were achingly familiar.

(Chutes image, rogue slide)

I am in the ninth grade English PLC and in the Catalyst PLC. More on Catalyst later. In essence it is kid-driven inquiry that is literalky out of this world in some cases. Last year kids designed an experiment, sent it to THE space station, astronauts ran it and beamed the data back. I will co-teach one section of Catalyst the first semester.
My PLCs are high functioning and healthy. And one reason that must be is because administrators have modeled and modeled so much of what teachers are expected to do.

For example, start with story. Build relationships. That began at the aurport upon arrival and continues. Here's a snapshot of stories shared around the table of incoming high school teachers. You know who shared his why and how first? The principal. You know who shared second and third? The deputy principals. Then each new teacher shared.

(Story notes image)

 That relationship building continued in PLCs this week. Each began with members telling stories about theirnexperiences. We thought about questions such as: How did you get here? Why do you teach? We told our stories. With each telling we learned something new about each other. That bond building took much of our first ninety minute meeting. Men and women around the table spoke from vulnerable places and we affirmed and listened and connected, some cried.

Affect, emotional weight matters to memory and meaning making. That resonates with me this week.

Monday is coming. Kids will arrive. I know my room will be ready. But it isn't yet. I know I will have syllabi for my three courses posted and a stable log in and name games and a plan. But those things are not firmly in place yet.  The PLCs here have course materials that have been developed across years. Courses have institional memory and longevity here.

The principal said recently that the PLC process can be tough for teachers who come here at the top if their game. It can be tough because this is absolutely not a "do whatever you want" sort of school.  PLCs work togetjer to plan, create, assess, analyze and decide on next teaching mives. The intervene and extend when it comes to learning too. When teachers are told their grading categories must match in the digital grade book- they must. Instructional decisions are made by PLCs as a group that is a hard (tight) expectation and administrators are clear about that even before you are hired. If you go rogue, you go home.

There is tremendous innovation here in PLCs and across the campus in a myriad of ways. I am honored to be a part of it. I know I will learn a lot from the established curricula, and I love that this school and these people speak my language around topics like independent reading, assessment and grading. #This is Singapore day sixteen.

[I am working in my cell phone without WiFi and will have to upload pictures later. Post in orogress.]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Day 10

It’s near dawn, day ten in Singapore. Tonight will be our last night in the hotel.this afternoon we will do a final walk thru of the condo we chose last week. Workers have been busy painting. Instead of dark red walls and an orange ceiling, it is now a fresh white.

Elvis will have left the building. By this tomorrow my husband will have left the country. He is headed back to Florida and Walt Disney World. He will enjoy a Singapore vacation home in October when we will next see him.

Tomorrow we will transition out of the hotel and into new home. We will have more clothes than closets and more books than shelves. We will have two beds and two dressers and mismatched service for twelve.

Today we have new teacher orientation. I will learn power school and admire the cabinetry of my classroom.i will anticipate the magic and envision unpacking the classroom library.

I will finish reading the student handbook and meet with the guidance counselor to support Collin as he chooses classes. Today I will pick up the laundry and get coffee from the cafeteria, complete my medical screening and have a chest x-ray. I will meet my agent and sign a lease and pay a comission and take two cans. I will listen and sketch and take notes and imagine the new school year today too.

Tomorrow we will walk home from school to our happy gate and begin again this new life in Singapore.