Slice of Life: Making Music (again)

Sold Out band practice(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

It’s about two weeks until the first gig for my newest band — Sold Out! — and our practices are mostly running the set list front to back with few, if any, stops. (Our first gig is on April 13 as part of a Band Jam fundraiser for a local animal shelter. We go on at 7 p.m., if you are around. More details here)

Last night, everything was really coming together in practice. We’ve played together long enough — and worked on the set list thoroughly — to understand the flow, and spaces, and the way each of us has our part in each song. Our parts make the sound of our band.

I’m getting excited to play out live again after quite a hiatus with forming the band.

Sold Out! band icon

Peace (in rock and roll),
Kevin

PS — we’re trying to drum up a base of support via our FB page so that bars and local festivals see we are legit (it can be tricky for new bands to get started playing out), so if you feel so inclined, give us a like at our new FB page for Sold Out. And if you live in Western Massachusetts, see you on the dance floor!

 

Slice of Life: One Test Too Many

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

There are days when there is nothing worse than the knowledge of an upcoming meeting. It sometimes means making sub plans, traveling, disrupting the flow of the day, harboring doubt about the reality of something tangible happening.

Yesterday, I am pleased to report, was not one of those days, as a group of elementary reading specialists and a few sixth grade classroom teachers (like myself) gathered with colleagues from our regional middle school to find some common ground on reading data that will help them to better understand incoming students (the ones we have in our classrooms right now).

The idea of the meeting began with our middle school colleagues asking that we administer a new reading assessment two times before the end of the year with our sixth graders, so they could collate data as they think about classes and programs and interventions. The challenge is that each of our elementary schools already does reading assessments, but not all the same ones. For example, we do both Benchmark Reading and have started using Fastbridge aReading. Others do others, although Benchmark is a common thread among some of us.

The school principal expertly running the meeting pushed back a bit on the idea of adding yet another reading assessment, urging the middle school colleagues to consider using what we already have. As the cordial discussion ensued, I found myself thinking: we need more meeting like this in our sprawling school district (five Prek-6 sending schools across a large geographic area, and one massive 7-12 regional middle/high school).

More meetings? What am I? Crazy?

But the conversations were insightful and the solutions were collaborative. We began to map out an action plan forward that will give our colleagues what they need for better understanding incoming students without burdening us, and more important, without adding yet another reading assessment to our students’ lives. An email update from the principal in my bin this morning pulled all of the ideas together into a thoughtful analysis.

When a gathering like yesterday’s is productive, and the focus remains on what is best for our students — all of our students — it’s hard not to walk away without thinking: this is how we make progress — together, in collaboration.

Peace (meet, the act),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Head in the Door

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

He stuck his head in the door. A colleague from another grade. We don’t see each other all that often because his classroom is in another wing of the building, up a set of stairs.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “that for a paper for my class (for administrator licensing), we had to write about digital learning in our building where we teach. I focused on the EPencil.”

The Electronic Pencil is our sixth grade home base for digital literacy learning and sharing.

“You’re doing some great things with the kids,” he said, “and I wish more of us were, too. Sometimes, we do things that we think no one ever sees. We still do them, anyway. I appreciate what you are doing with our students. Thank you. Great work.”

And then he was gone, but I sat there for a few minutes at my desk, pausing in my pile of papers that were helping me with the approaching report card deadline, and glowed a bit in appreciation for his gesture as one colleague to another.

The noticing is a powerful thing. It only took a few seconds but those few seconds set the tone for the rest of my day. I need to remember to do more of that, too.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: My Other March Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

Yes, I did my NCAA bracket (actually, I did two this year — one where I went with my gut on a few possible upsets and the other, I used a computer model to set the grids, just to see what happens). But yesterday, I was deep into another kind of charting system for another event that takes place this time of year, at least for us at my school.

Quidditch.

I won’t go into all our rules of our game (which differ quite a bit from the college game, as we play inside the gym — here is a video, if you are curious) but my role as coach is both to cheer and encourage team play AND determine who plays what position for each squad in a balanced and fair way. We don’t let our athletes get all the playing time and we don’t let our wallflowers watch from the sidelines. Everyone plays, equal amounts of time.

Coordinating positions and playing time is tricky business, and this is what my dining room table looked like last night as I worked on three different tournament games, each with seven squads, and each squad with six main positions and four supporting positions.

Quidditch March Madness (making squads)

I think I finally got something approaching successful. We’ll see. Tomorrow is our all-day Quidditch Tournament. This is the 20th year of our tournament for sixth graders, a unique (and loud) experience that they will long remember, no matter who wins the Quidditch Cup tomorrow.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Here Comes the Neighborhood

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

If you have been doing Slice of Life for long enough, you start to notice the cyclical nature of the season — of how some things recur in March. I’ve not written much about Quidditch this year, mainly because I used to write about it so much in other years (although, with our Quidditch Tournament coming on Thursday, more writing is surely to follow).

Leeds Block Party

Our neighborhood Winter Blues Block Party/Pizza Party is one of those recurring events, where our entire neighborhood community is invited to the local country club to gather together after a long winter, chat up our lives and have pizza and a yankee raffle full of unnecessary items.

What is necessary is the reminder that we are more than our own house, more than our own yard. That we are connected to the others in our streets and cul de sacs and driveways. This year, the longtime MC — our good friend, Jim — asked for people to show hands over how long they have lived here, and the amount of hands for “under ten years” was pretty startling, a reminder that our part of the city is undergoing another cycle of turn-over.

We — my wife and I, and then our children — were part of a similar turn-over more than 20 years ago, coming into the established neighborhood block, surrounded by the old-timers. For a stretch of time, my wife and I were the only ones with a small child, and then suddenly, there were kids everywhere. And we are not the longest here, either, as a few of the elders were born and raised and stayed here. They had their hands up, too.

This turn-over now happens again, and it is a process of renewal, and an event like this allows us time and space to connect a bit with some of the people we meet during the cold winter walks, where everyone is so bundled up we can barely recognize the other. When a neighborhood comes together, it’s a reminder of how we are bound together by land and by identity.

Peace (around the block and back again),
Kevin

PS — I was navigating through our civic association website and found this video that my youngest son had created six years ago, when he was eight years old, about our community.

Slice of Life: A Poem of Mourning and Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

 

My personal way to deal with the world is often to write. All I have to offer in the wake of the tragedy of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a poem. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.

What madness writes
seventy-four pages of
nonsense, a diatribe
to destroy others,
in a bid to be recognized
by the world, splintered
as it is, already, by hate?

And what madness watches
the world splinter
even further on the
small screen, as if the knowing is not
enough, that the
seeing is required for truth?

What I know in this mourning
only is sadness, and grief,
and compassion, and no one ever seems
to stream the kindness of
the world, only the madness

Peace (to us all),
Kevin

The Shared Humanity in Our Digital Lives

Dangers of the PhoneThe other day — Sunday, in fact — my wife came home from service at our church, raving about the sermon from our passionate, activist, youth-orientated co-pastor. The theme was technology in our lives, and Pastor Sarah, who often uses hip and modern allusions in our sermons, talked about how our devices are removing us from our interactions.

My wife later sent me the link to her post/words/sermon later, which includes Sarah’s sermon (if you are interested in listening, you can, but I am by no means proselytizing here). She had a very catchy and provocative title: Is the iPhone the Devil? Reading through what she said connected me nicely with some of the inquiry that has been underway with Networked Narratives, on how technology’s dark side seems to have overtaken its potential and possibilities.

Think of what we miss because our hands and our heads are always so full of other things.

Most of all, our focus on our devices — on our hands, which are no longer free to be of use to us because they gravitate to our devices, Sarah notes — seems have to removed us from many human interactions, and the impact of that shift is seen in political diatribes, family arguments on Facebook, and the way we fail to ‘read’ the impact of our words on people.

There’s a moment where this important idea surfaces from Sarah:

Which is not to say that technology is evil. It’s not. But it’s not neutral either. It’s never going to stop trying to help us overcome our limits. Which means it’s up to us to remember that it is our limits that give life meaning.

Keeping on eye on our lives, and the people in our lives — our shared humanity — and the role that technology can play to make it better or worse — if we let it, and this is the most important part of this whole discussion, the way we use or take back our agency as users of our phones and computers and technology — is lesson we can learn from, whatever your spiritual centering.

This phone creates the illusion that you are infinite, but you are a finite resource. Your love, your time, your attention, you yourself are precious precisely because you are limited.

Peace (to you and you and you),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Stage and Into the Woods

Into the Woods at HRHS

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One of the joys of being an elementary teacher is when, years later, you see your former students. You catch glimpses of the child that had once been in your classroom.

Yesterday, we took our current class of sixth graders to see a preview of a staged production of Into the Woods at the regional high school. I made it a game from my seat of recognizing those on the stage. The years gone past for many of them — in some cases, nearly six whole years — made this a rather tricky endeavor.

Still, I could hear echoes in voices and I could see past days in faces. I was also wonderfully mesmerized by the talent on display for this production — which is a complicated retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with weaving story and music lines.

The best part was after the preview, when the cast sat on the stage, answering questions from the audience of elementary students. They were so poised, funny, enthusiastic and … themselves, just as I remembered them (at least, those who had once been my students). They made me proud.

Peace (from the seats),
Kevin

Writing Back to Sherri: Race and Gender and Writing

Cover of book by Julius Lester

 

My connected friend, Sherri, wrote about race and gender and the overwhelming whiteness and female-ness of the Slice of Life community. She was asking for feedback and response.

She wrote:

…. while I appreciate the work of several educators in this community and elsewhere incorporating anti-racism and anti-bias work into their curricula and book selections, I cannot ignore that feeling I get of being one of so very few.

She goes further:

What I want folks to understand is that this state of affairs has very real and concrete consequences for how we understand and interpret events and experiences. Talking about race is uncomfortable for a lot of folks. It hatches all kinds of difficult feelings including guilt, shame, anger, defensiveness, helplessness.

Here is what I crafted as a response to Sherri. I don’t have answers for her. Just observations.

Sherri

I’ve been part of Slice of Life on and off for more than ten years, and sometimes I note in reflections at the end of March the same observation you write about here — the gender, race dynamic is predominantly white, female.

I’ve sometimes, as a participant writer, tried to connect Slice of Life with other communities, to invite more people in. I was never all that successful. As white male elementary teacher/writer, this demographic make-up has not hindered me personally as a writer. SOL at TWT is still an amazing thing — hundreds of teachers, writing! It was more, this could be a positive opening for so many more teachers with diverse backgrounds to write with others, to share and make connections, to expand the notion of storytelling.

Speaking only from my standpoint as a male teacher, and remembering an interaction I once had from another male teacher who did a bit of Slice one year and then stopped when he noticed he was not getting comments on his writing, I think Slice of Life can be seen by a newcomer as a female-infused writing space. I’m not sure if is is perceived as having a white face to it, too, but maybe it does. When we don’t see ourselves in a space, we are less likely to dip our toes in.

I know Stacey and others at TWT are cognizant this point, too, and they strive to make sure everyone is invited, and appreciated, and I know that they would love a more diverse group.

How to achieve that? It would likely involve more time spent actively inviting diverse folks from other communities. It might involve adding even more diversity to the main administrators of the site. It might even require thinking of the design of the TWT website to showcase the ways in which a diverse writing community looks.

All of this can seem forced, particularly at first, until the momentum catches on, and then it can become a natural way of being. Just think of the potential, building on what is already an amazing experience for many teachers to write publicly, a huge barrier for many made easier by the Slice of Life community.

Kevin

How do we bring more diversity to online spaces? Not just Slice of Life. But also other Affinity Networks — like CLMOOC, which is near and dear to me but is also overwhelmingly white.

At my local Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, we’ve been grappling with this for years. A long research inquiry called Project Outreach that delved deep into our site demographics and our region demographics led us to make some fundamental shifts, including a new Mission Statement at the time that makes it clear and public our organizational views on diversity and race.

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools – urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

But of course, it is not enough to have the words. You need to do the actions. So every program we now run and administer, and every grant we apply for, is viewed through the lens of our Mission Statement. Does the program reach a diverse audience? Does it address equity and social justice? Does the program align with our core values? We actually ask these questions out loud to each other. We also actively recruit teachers of color in urban school districts, and make sure they have paths into leadership. We have a leadership team working on Language, Culture and Diversity.

I’ll admit, too, that we lost the interest of some of our WMWP folks over the years, with such hard push into social justice. Many who left thought we stepped away from writing and the teaching of writing as our core value, but this is not the case. Those are still core values, sitting next to others as signals of importance to the outside audience, in hopes that our writing project site signals a clear welcoming to all.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Flipping Over The Miles

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

“Look at the odometer,” I tell my teenage son, as we drive home from seeing the Captain Marvel movie. He leans over.

“Nine nine … nine nine nine,” he reads.

“We’re going to hit 100,000 before we get home,” I tell him.

“O …. K,” he says, as if humoring me. He queues up another Kendrick Lamar song. I drive to the thumping bass.

“It happened! Just now!” I shout, startling him. “100,000!”

“I don’t get it,” he says. “Is that good or bad?”

“Neither,” I admit. “It’s just miles on the car. But it’s not often you’ll see it flip like that. It’s not like we won a prize or anything.”

I’m satisfied, but he’s just shaking his head again, wondering about the things that sometimes get me jumping.

Peace (flip it forward),
Kevin