Week of Gratitude: Day 5

This year I started a new job. One I have been dreaming of for many years. I had it manifested inside of my mind, inside of my heart for many years before it actually came to be. I never knew if this new job would ever be possible, but it is something I worked towards for many years.

I get to work as an Instructional Coach at the high school where I teach. A big part of my job is working with groups of teachers during their professional learning community time on Wednesday mornings. Each of our departments meets together to become better instructors. While sometimes the meetings get sidetracked with other business that must be accomplished, this is the goal of the PLC time: to become better instructors through collaboration.

When people ask me what I am most surprised by in my new job, I tell them that I am most inspired by the teachers I work with. I am so amazed at the number of teachers in my school who honestly want to work on the craft of teaching in order to do what is good for our students.

This fact inspires me: to see the number of people in our building who deeply believe not just in the power of education, but who study their craft so they can allow themselves to make the greatest impact on their students.

I feel grateful that I get to see this impact in action on a daily basis. Teachers who come in to my office to talk out a lesson. Teachers who come in to figure out how to work with a group of students. Teachers who need to talk about how to make improvements. Teachers who are frustrated by the emphasis on testing over learning. Teachers who simply need to hear someone question and push so they can go back to their classrooms to be the best they can be.

I get to see this in action and it inspires me to continue to work on my own craft, to be the best educator I can be. I am grateful for the people I get the privilege to work with every day.

Week of Gratitude: Day 4

I was cooking all day yesterday, so this post is a little late…

This is the year grace came and put her arms around me. She has snuggled up close. She has extended her had for me to dance, and she has comforted me when I felt unsure and ungrounded. Yes, this is the year grace showed me the way.

I was a freshman in college 28 years ago, just beginning life on my own, figuring out who I was, figuring out the world and how it worked. I was not willing to trust easily, so when I trusted the friends I made so early in my time in college, I knew they were all special people. Seven ladies I entrusted with friendship my freshman year, and I still call them my friends.

That October three of these friends died in a horrific car accident. The details are irrelevant here, but trust me when I say the results were not only catastrophic to everyone who knew Kate and Shannon and Moya, the experience was earth shattering to all who knew the three shining stars we lost that day.

When Amy, my friend from that time period, told me she met Kate’s sister last spring, I didn’t know what to say. The uncertainty of that time in my life came flooding back. When Amy told me that Hilary said that her family had been praying for us, and in particular for Amy, all this time, my throat bunched up inside.

Hilary invited us to dinner in June. In what I can describe as the most beautiful night of my life, her family and Amy, Shelly, and I were able to talk about our experience of the event that changed all of us so immensely. We shared the moment we knew about the accident, but the really amazing part? We shared when we knew everything would be okay. We shared when the world started to make sense again. We shared sweet memories of Kate.

At then end of the night, these people who had crossed my path so many years ago, reminded me of the power of love, reminded me of the power of reaching out, reminded me of the power of grace. That I can move through my life for this many years, and then have these special people come back into my life in such a caring and inspiring way reminds me in the most powerful of ways the power of grace.

To have the opportunity to love and grow with Patrick, Hilary, and Sam in my life after all this time, is a gift for Amy, Shelly, and me – a gift of the power of grace.

Week of Gratitude: Day 3

Today I am grateful that I have time to spend with my little nuclear family. I never imagined as a child what a functional family might be like. I knew mine was not one, but I had no idea how one might be created.

I read a ton about how to love, about how to be a functional happy person in the world. I have been lucky to have people teach me how to thrive and show me how to be a mama.

My family is not perfect, but it is something that I’ve created with my husband, Lon. It is a beautiful space where I really like to be. maya rmnp

Week of Gratitude: Day 2

A little over two years ago I had back surgery, an operation that scraped the arthritis from impinging my sciatic nerve and created more space so the same problem would not occur again. Since then, I have had problems with a bulging disc.

I move from being empowered and hopeful to discouraged and bummed out whenever I attempt to begin a workout regimen akin to the one I used to do.

The day Amy Baker offered her class doing inversions at the yoga studio where I first met her, I was nervous yet so excited to challenge myself. The moment I was able to turn myself upside down, I had a shift occur within me. A shift that I am still grappling with today.

The shift goes something like this: I grew up in Colorado where everyone is not just in shape, but must be the best at whatever physical endeavor they undertake. This played out my entire childhood. I became a really good female skier in high school and created a name for myself: I was the girl who would ski anything, would ski anything the boys skied.

It is the only sport I have ever felt graceful doing. I used to say that when I’m on my skis, I feel like a dancer must feel when she’s in the groove, feeling the music and in the flow.

And that’s the thing. I sometimes feel graceful doing yoga. I feel special, like I did as a teenager when I skied, doing yoga.

It is the only activity that has even gotten me close to feeling like I am physically good. That I can actually do things other people only dream of. Skiing gave me this same feeling.

But skiing gave me arthritis. Skiing has hurt me in my body. The sport I love has turned on me.

But the thing is that yoga has given me something else. It has given me hope that I will stay a physical person despite my spinal struggles.

My yoga teachers have helped me not only understand that physicality doesn’t have to hurt my body, to the contrary. That my physicality does not need to be painful and should push not only my body to grow but also my mind. I am so grateful for all they have given me.

To Amy Baker, I am thankful that you have not only turned me upside down thereby changing my view of the world and myself. But I am so grateful for the way she brings me into postures that I never thought I could access, and then afterwards I find myself asking, “How did she do that? How did she get me there?”

To Channing Grivas, I am grateful that I have you to show me what is possible if I stick with my yoga. She shows me that if I commit and grow in my practice I have certain poses and attitudes that will become more and more accessible to me. She reminds me that commitment is worth the effort.

To feel lost in my own physicality has been disconcerting. To have people in my life to guide me and help me see how to reground myself in my physical, mental, and spiritual space has changed my life for the best. For that I am more grateful than I can express.



A Week of Gratitude: Day 1

In the spring of 2005 my mother died on Mother’s Day. Five weeks after she died I was signed up to do a five-week course with the Denver Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project.

While I must admit the five weeks is a blur, I do vividly remember all the writing. Tons of writing. Tons of talking. Tons of learning. But even with all this, I had no idea how this organization with a 40-year history would change my life.

After my initial experience, I stopped being involved. I stepped away from a lot of things at this point in my life. But in 2011, I saw my friend Sarah Woodard at an event where she told there was this thing that I might want to do to become involved in the Writing Project again.

Since then, my learning I have done with the National Writing Project has profoundly shifted my thinking about my own teaching, and ultimately has helped me gain confidence in my new position as an instructional coach in the high school where I teach.

If I feel discouraged, all I have to do is reach out to my friends either locally in other school districts, or my friends I have made from all over the country. We can compare what is happening in our states. Or we can compare what is happening at our schools, and anything in between. There is power in having a network of academics to draw from. The Writing Project teachers I know are grounded. They are grounded because they know they have a nationwide network standing behind them with the same philosophy:

writing matters. That the best way to teach ultimately comes back to how we bring content to the forefront through writing.

I am thankful to Elyse Eidman-Aadahl for leading the first national initiative I was involved in with the Literacy Design Collaborative. Her conversations and belief in me have made me a better person and an even better teacher.

I am grateful to Tanya Baker for inviting me to be involved in the last initiative I was so lucky to be a part of the leadership team, Assignments Matter. Her belief in my abilities to lead a group of teachers has given me more confidence and has given me a tank of strategies to draw upon as I begin my new job. She has shown me how to facilitate and lead in ways that give teacher voice and empowerment.

I am thankful for Maggie Brewer, Amy Vujaklija, Sarah Woodard, Joe Bellacero, and Jack Zangerle for reminding me of the power that teachers have. Working with them has been a true treat. They have shown me the power of conversation and of asking questions to push one another.

I would not be the person I am today without these people or these experiences. I have a forty-year tradition of teacher leaders I draw from every day.

There is power in that: and for that I am grateful.

Memory keepers and mavericks. The writing project creates both, and we must have both to move forward. 

The writing project needs the traditions that make the writing project powerful- teachers always in the driver’s seat, writing always the road to accomplish great learning with our students. These traditions work: they empower, they entrust, and they highlight the great work accomplished in schools across the country. 

But the Mavericks push our thinking beyond pen and paper- they push us from the analog world to the digital spaces that create authentic bold voices for the community to tune in to hear. Because of the Mavericks our students’ voices move from the classroom to the communities where we I’ve and work.

Yes- the writing project needs both. We need the memories to keep us grounded and the Mavericks to move us forward into cool new spaces!

It’s Worth It: Working With Teachers

Last week I got to work with an amazing group of eight social studies teachers. They are collaborating to teach writing with efficacy in their classrooms so that students can more easily access their content. The big burning question that underlies the work with this group is: How do we have students write proficiently so they can better access the geography content?

What is incredible about this group is that as we move through the school year, they come to the table with honest difficult questions to figure out. At first we thought we would simply have students write, share the writing with one another, during our time together in PLCs,  and then decide what to teach based on the writing we see before us.

What is difficult is that each teacher has a very different group of students they are working with. They have students who are on IEPs and need things like sentence frames in order to write all the way to preIB students who are taking their first AP course. Each of these classes has very different needs to be sure. And this can be frustrating when trying to come to a consensus.

The latest task set before this group of eight is to come up with a common prompt where they will use a common rubric our school developed to grade it. Last week we met to plan for this. I brought in the C3 frameworks to help the group think about the standards for geography and look at possible prompts. I also brought in the Task Bank from the Literacy Design Collaborative to frame their thinking.

Once we decided on a good prompt using these tools to discuss the latest wave of migration from the middle east, the task was to figure out which texts to use. This is where things got really difficult. Remember, this particular group of eight teachers has all levels of students. This makes agreement on texts really difficult. Where all want more rigorous texts, the fact of the matter is that some students need different text types to create rigorous thinking: maps, tables, pictures, etc.

Because of time constraints, we had to stop before everyone really got to share their thinking. So here are my questions to all of you:

  • When developing common writing, how do you account for huge ranges in ability levels?
  • How do you decide on texts to use that will engage all levels of students?
  • How do you help teachers in these tough situations come to agreement?
  • Are there other tools you would use to assist this group of teachers?

While this work is difficult, it is worth investigating. It is worth figuring out how best to teach students content through how they are able to write about it.

Digging In

This year my school has embarked on a huge project that I’m really excited about. We have our school using the same rubric for writing argumentatively. We decided last year that we would use the science claim-evidence-reasoning framework to teach argumentative writing. I say argumentative writing loosely here because it fits with many other types of writing as well (analytic, explanatory, etc.), the general principle is the same.

This has done a couple of things with our students that I did not envision would happen at the beginning that are very exciting:

  1. When I go into a room, any room, and I ask the students who has written a CER this year, nearly all of the students raise their hands.
  2. When I ask them to explain it, there is no problem with the process.

Never before have our students had a common language to talk about writing. It was compartmentalized between disciplines. What I told my English students might be different than what the science teacher down the hall might say. While this may be true to a certain extent, having a common language for similar tasks helps students see the similarities across disciplines.

With our staff, this initiative has done some exciting things as well:

  1. In trying to develop a rubric that would work for ALL teachers in ALL disciplines, it has forced conversations about writing. It has created a space to be able to discuss the differences we hold in our content areas when we score a piece of writing.
  2. It has created common language for teachers who “don’t teach writing.” This offers teachers a space to begin the conversation about student writing.

Last week I was able to meet with our science and math coordinator about making changes to the rubric. What they offered me has been an education about how the technical subjects utilize and create writing assignments to access and demonstrate understanding of the content they teach. This meeting was invaluable and helped me understand why this initiative holds power both for our staff, but most importantly for our students.

I am thankful that I teach in a place where teachers are willing to dive in to hard work. They are willing to ask the hard questions and then dig in to answer those questions together.

Full of Grace

Never in my life have I desired to be a graceful person. Smart, yes. Strong, yes. Compassionate, definitely. But never in my life have I desired to be graceful.

I think it started when I was a child. I was never the skinny winny many of my friends were. I was never the girl anyone had crushes on, those were always my friends. Most of my friends were guys, so being strong and athletic was more to my advantage than graceful. So I gave up on gracefulness in my body because, to put it bluntly, I was chubby, awkward, and uncoordinated.

In high school I prided myself on the fact that I could ski with the best skiers at my school and at the ski area where I grew up. I could ski anything. In fact, skiing was the only time in my life I felt graceful. I tell people all the time that skiing is the only time I feel truly in control of my body; I feel graceful.

But who can look truly graceful wearing all those layers?

That’s how I know yoga is changing me.

A couple of days ago after class, some women I practice with and I sat and talked for a few minutes. One of them, a yogi I really admire, said that her intention at the beginning each practice is to be as graceful as she can. I have not stopped thinking about this. The notion that setting this as her intention has definitely made it so for her. She is always complimented on how graceful she is moving through her practice.

I used to think that setting an intention that felt like it had more to do with looks was shallow. I’m not so sure any more. Setting an intention around grace means not only graceful looking, but invokes more grace into our lives. Grace is the notion that despite being imperfect, God will still favor us. Good things will happen despite our foibles.

In this light, it seems that to be graceful is to be refined. To put gracefulness into the world creates a refinement towards what is possible. To be graceful despite feeling otherwise somehow invokes grace. To invoke gracefulness despite being tired or stressed or upset invokes a kind of kindness from the universe.

In making these connections, for the first time in my life, I am hoping to become more graceful. More full of grace. More refined in my movements on the planet. This is my intention.