Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Slice of Life- Ringing in 2015

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers.

It is hard to believe that 15 years ago, I was ringing in the New Year  at Maggie McFly's in Middlebury, CT as a junior at the University of Connecticut. I remember driving to the Danbury Fair Mall, earlier in the day, with my friend Laura to find the perfect outfit to wear that night.  And if memory serves me correctly, I came home with a sparkly purple sweater from Express. It was a night filled with laughs, drinks, dancing and creating memories! 

Now 15 years later, I am at home with my family. We just spent the evening with our family friends and their two boys. We watched our boys fight with light-sabers, build train tracks, wrestle, and scarf down ice cream sundaes. It is a far cry from the crazy night 15 years ago where I may have been trying my hardest to flirt with the boy across the room in hopes of receiving a New Years kiss. Tonight I sit on the couch with my husband, two boys and our dog watching Despicable Me for the 100th time. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

I am looking forward to the year 2015. I have read several other  posts where authors are choosing one little word for the year 2015.  For me that one little word is acceptance. Throughout my life I have always strived for perfection in everything I do. Since becoming a working mom, I have tried harder than ever to keep a sense of control and perfection in my professional and personal life. And in turn, definitely  caused  unneeded stress and anxiety. Over the course of 2014, I took more risks and chances than I ever have.  As a result, I learned to accept the fact I can be messy, I can make mistakes, and not everyone is going to like me or agree with me. It is ok to have disagreements with friends and colleagues just like it is ok to leave the dishes in the sink and laundry piled up. By focusing on the one little word acceptance, I hope to find balance in my life. 

There is so much I want to do in 2015. I want teach my youngest how to swim. I want to continue to watch my oldest son improve his skating and karate skills. I want to plan date nights with my husband, as we sometimes forget to plan time for us. I also want to make time for friends and family that often get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Lastly, I want to continue to grow my PLN and learn from so many other educators in my school community as well as educators I have connected with on Twitter and conferences. Throughout all I want to do in 2015, I plan to stay grounded in the acceptance I cannot do everything all at once and accept the fact not everything can be done perfectly. I feel like if I focus too much on perfection, life will pass me by and it is already going at a lightening fast speed as I watch my boys grow up. 

Life brings about many twists, turns and changes when you least expect it. The end of 2014 certainly presented me with many forks in the road and depending on which way I chose to go, the bends in the road brought about positive and negatives into my life. I need to accept those changes and move forward into 2015 with a positive and open mind. I hope you will all do the same as well! 

Cheers to 2015- a year of growing, changing, and most importantly, acceptance. 

"Be nice to each other. It is really all the matters." - Dawn Hochsprung

Saturday, December 6, 2014

NCTE14 Reflection

Story as the Landscape of Knowing

"What will make you an outstanding teacher, is being kind." Seymour Simon#ncte14

Seymour Simon could not have said it better.  Acts of kindness surrounded me during my stay in Washington D.C. And for that, I am incredibly thankful. You see, I found out upon my arrival at NCTE that a dear friend and colleague of mine had unexpectedly passed away hours earlier. My friend was the epitome of kindness- not just because she ran the "Be Kind" program at our school as part of Ben's Bells, but because she truly lived by that mantra everyday of her life. I had never known anyone more passionate about students, teaching and books. She was an avid follower of the Nerdy Book Club and was a self proclaimed #1 fan of Donalyn Miller. I am a better person for having known her. 

Shaken and shocked by the news, I thought, "How can I get through my presentation and the weekend?" My husband, who was with me said, " Kara, pull it together. Do this for her. What would she want you to do?" And that is exactly what I did. I threw my heart and soul into my presentation and soaked up the energy of exceptional teaching and learning that surround me during the convention. And it seems, wherever I went, my friend was with me. I opened a fortune cookie and
lunch and read this:

I met @CherylTeaches  and she overheard me saying I missed getting a copy of Lynda Mullaly Hunt's new book and she said, I am going to pay it forward. Someone sent me an extra copy of a book I wanted last year and I am going to do the same for you. I will send you a copy of Fish in a Tree. And lastly, Seymour Simon's quote. She was with me. 

NCTE14 changed my life and my story as an educator. I owe a huge thank you to @justinstygles, ;@guerrette79@LynMullalyHunt,  and @LieslShurtliff. Our presentation, Revising the Story: Reluctant Readers Overcoming Shame, is a milestone in my career. Justin indicated, as the convention got closer, that we should expect a big turn out. However, I did not expect a standing room only crowd! I watched in awe as the members of the audience laughed, cried,  and nodded in agreement
 to what each of us had to say.

The topic of helping reluctant readers overcoming shame is rarely spoken about. As teachers we try our hardest to help our readers make strides and gains in reading every single day. But the crux of our presentation was that as teachers we may indirectly cause our most struggling readers feel ashamed of their reading abilities. We have to mindful of the language we use, the texts we choose, and the inventions we choose in order to help out students feel success and pride. It was absolutely fantastic to be able to share with the audience how I have been able to support the teachers in my district. I just told me story. And at the end, other
literacy coaches, and teachers came up to me and asked for my advice when working with teachers and struggling students. They wanted to know what texts I used, how I worked my schedule to meet with teachers, and finally, told me I inspired them! To say I was in awe of people's reactions to the presentation is an understatement. I kept repeating to my team and my husband, " This is INSANE!" And not only that, but there is talk of us repeating this presentation at #NCTE15, IRA and possibly . I am utterly thankful to @justinstygles for convincing me to join his team. It has opened up a world of opportunities that I am so excited to explore! 
Now after our presentation, I thought what could be better than that? How could this experience get any better? Well, it did! I was able to sit at roundtable discussions with current authors and their editors to hear about their writing process and how to bring the
writing process back into the classroom. I listened to @iChrisLehman and @teachkate , along with their editor,  explain how they researched and wrote their book Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Their teamwork and passion about reading is so incredibly inspiring! I was also fortunate enough to attend their session on close reading for the little ones. I copiously took notes and tweeted out practically everything they said. I wanted to capture as much as I could to bring back to th K-3 teachers I work with. Excitingly enough, a second grade teacher and I are already in the midst of coplanning a lesson using strategies Chris, Kate and Kristine outlined.

I attended a session with @EllinKeene@seymoursimon, and Linda Hoyt. They shared their expertise and knowledge on student engagement and motivation. Just before their presentation started I 
realized I was sitting a row over from @LRobbTeacher and @JSerravallo. Seeing authors and 
teachers support each others work created such a sense of collegiality and support throughout the 

My list of life changing moments from this conference could go on and on, from attending the Wonderopolis breakfast, taking part in Heinnemann Tweetups, planning collaborative writing with @Suz_Gibbs, talking with Donalynn at the Nerdy Book Club event and lastly, attending the Scholastic Brunch on my last day. When I left NCTE I left with a renewed sense of pride for the teaching profession. Everyone who attended this conference were there for one goal- to make learning excited, dynamic and fascinating for all of our students. In a society where the teaching profession is currently under attack, we have to remember why we became teachers. It is about our students and helping them be successful and proud of their learning- no matter their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. 

And above all it is about being kind and working together as one united front to do right by our kids each and everyday. 

Thank you NCTE! 💚