The Most Beautiful Day of the Year?

Yesterday, after a night of fairly warm temperatures mixed with snow, the world was covered in white and as I drove to the University of Massachusetts for a meeting, I thought: this has to be the most beautiful day of the year. The sun was just starting to come up, and the snow was sticky on the trees, and it was just a breathtaking view of New England.

This picture is at the university — the library is in the distance. When I came out of the meeting hours later, the trees were trees again and the moment had passed.

Peace (in the world),

The workings of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

I spent a good part of the day yesterday at a leadership retreat for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. We worked in collaborative groups to explore the varied programs we are offering for teachers and students, and then began to lay the foundation for a vision for the future of our site. The writing project is always looking ahead (not withstanding concerns about funding at the federal level, of course) and the visioning process is often done as a group, and not by an individual. It’ s so heartening to be in a room of such smart people, particularly as we discussed strategies for creating leadership opportunities for even more people in our network.

On the chalkboard, our site director had etched out all of the work of our site from last year and it covered the entire chalkboard. I jotted down what she had written because I am working on a redesign of our website and it seemed like very useful information.

See for yourself:

Invitational Summer Institute

Co-directors: Joanne and Dawn

(A four-week intensive summer program that includes writing, research and inquiry, sharing of ideas and connecting with other teachers in many content areas.)


Post-Invitational Summer Institute Inquiry Groups/Projects

Invitational Summer Institute Inquiry Task Force

Co-director: Sherill

(Programs and offerings that allow teachers to remain connected to the work of the writing project site.)

Digital Is technology resources developed by WMWP Technology Team

Massachusetts Writing Project

New England Writing Project

Executive Board

Teachers as Writers

Writing Response groups

Writing Contest (annual)

iAnthology online network

Writing Mini-Marathons

Summer program: Teachers as Writers

Retirees network

Newsletter (twice a year)

Co-director: Tracy

(Programs that support teachers through professional development sessions to learn more about literacy and writing instruction.)

English Language Learners Network

Technology Spring Conferences

Content-area Literacy Inquiry

School/district-based in-service/Professional Development

Department of Youth Services Initiative

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Summer Institutes

Literacy/ Non-fiction Seminar

Expository/Persuasive Writing Seminar

MTEL Test Support Group

Best Practices Fall Conference (annual Fall event)

Certificate in Writing Program at UMass

Living Holyoke Institute

Youth and Family Outreach

Co-director: Joanne

(Programs that reach young writers and connect with families through writing, technology and literacy).

SummerWRITE for Youths

Smith Voke (Claymation/Comics)

UMass SummerWRITE

Springfield YMCA digital storytelling

Springfield Housing Authority digital storytelling

Peace (in the reach),

When the Status Quo Isn’t Good Enough

I sat in on a bit of a firestorm meeting the 0ther night at my neighborhood school (where my children go, but where I do not teach). We have had an interim principal now for about 18 months and the school superintendent finally has decided to find a permanent principal. (The interim status is a complicated issue, stemming from a budget situation that may lead to the closing of one of our city’s elementary school, the unexpected departure of our last principal, and apparently, squabbles among the teaching staff at the school that required a calming, uniting presence).

We’ve had our own share of difficulties with the interim principal around the issue of discipline, but my wife and I know both know her, and she is a wonderful person. She has a huge heart, coming as she does as the head of the English Language Learners program. I just don’t think she has the right personality for a principal, although it was noted that she has been held back in many ways because of her interim status.

But I think the superintendent was taken aback by the level of concern that parents have about the interim principal and I was both relieved and concerned that many of the complaints echoed our own. (Relieved, because now I know it was not just me. Concerned, because the lack of real discipline is affecting the school climate). I sort of felt strange because the principal was not there to defend herself, and the superintendent had to keep deflecting issues for fear of stepping over the line of privacy and personnel issues.

The superintendent proposed three options for moving ahead:

  • an in-district posting, which means that our interim would surely get the job — something even the superintendent suggested;
  • a regional search in area newspapers;
  • or a national search, which would require hiring a consultant.

It seemed to me, and to others, that the superintendent was leaning towards an in-district search, which alarmed us, so I hope our superintendent heard us, loud and clear, that we need to at least do a local search, but even better, do a regional seach in New England. Sure, it costs money. But you want as wide a net as possible, we argued. I reminded the superintendent of all the online spaces where you can also advertise for free or for limited cost.

I used an opportunity to speak about what I want in a principal, I told the superintendent that I believe we need:

  • someone with a five-year vision for our school;
  • someone who can collaborate with staff and the community but can make decisions when that time comes;
  • someone who can create an identity for our school that we can be proud of;
  • someone who can prepare our children for the future that is still unknown, by harnessing technology to collaborate and connect with others around the world.

The school still has a computer lab, where teachers drop off the kids and have their prep period. I hate this model because the projects and activities that my fourth grader are doing are the same exact projects that students were doing at this school when I was a student teacher there nine years ago. It’s all “create a powerpoint about an animal with clip art” and “play games.” That is NOT technology integration!

All around our neighborhood, and at the YMCA, and other spaces, parents were still talking about the meeting and they were trying to decipher what the superintendent is going to do about a search. If she decides to do an internal search, then she better be ready for a  parent revolt because there were some pretty frustrated parents at the meeting who are not ready to settle for the status quo. I am one of them.

Peace (in our neck of the woods),

Ebb and Flow: the evolution of a song

I write a lot songs but most end up in the recycling bin (not the trash, because sometimes an idea from one song makes its way into another song .. you never know). Yesterday, I found a note that I had to myself while in Ohio last weekend and it sparked the start of a new song. I also found a neat riff that I liked and from there, the ideas unfolded. I scribble my ideas all over the place, but I thought it might be neat to show the evolution of this song, from those first lines put down in Ohio to recording a quick demo over at Youtube.

So, first, the song I am calling Ebb and Flow began with these lines:

From there, I thought I had some concept of a love song, which is tricky because it can easily get sappy with the words. But my notes evolved into these scribbled thoughts:

Now that I had an inkling of what I was doing, I shifted over to Google Docs (where I keep my lyrics) and printed out what I have (so I can read what I have written — yep, even I have trouble with my handwriting sometimes). You can see that I am still trying to shape the song, adding in a break and a new verse.

Finally, the words are mostly done.

And I went onto YouTube with my webcam to capture a rough version of the song, so that later, I can remember it.  And also, at this point, I knew that I wanted to share my writing process here.

Peace (in the song),

A message from the kids (from the teachers)

At the Dublin Literacy Conference, I met Ann Marie Corgill, who wrote Of Primary Importance about literacy in the young grades. Corgill seems like a very nice and very thoughtful person — and her book that shows how to guide young writers forward into literacy in meaningful ways seems like it should have an important place in most schools. I was reading through some online reflections of folks who attended the conference and came across this video called Give Us Hope for Education that I believe Anne Marie made with her students (ie, the Corgill kids) as a message to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in January 2009 as the new president began to take office.

The song is great, and the message is right on about formative assessment and moving beyond test scores to show knowledge of children. My only reservation is that we too often use kids to spread our message — to wrap up adult ideas about education in the cuteness of our kids. I love the posters that the kids have made here but the educational jargon that come out in the sound of young voices just sounds odd to me.

Still, again, I love the message.

Peace (in the hope of change),

The World is full of High Fliers

I tried an interesting experiment this week within my various Professional Learning Communities. Inspired by a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman on This American Life about superheroes, I asked folks a fairly simple question: If you could have the power of flight or invisibility, which would you choose and what would you do with that power?

If you look at the graph above, you’ll see that most of the 30 respondents chose flight over invisibility. Hodgeman also found that a lot of folks chose flight (he went into bars and other social places to ask his question).

Hodgeman observed that, unlike the superheroes of comic books, most of the people he surveyed would not necessarily always use their powers for the good of the world, but instead, they would use it for themselves and family. I found some of the same in my survey. A few folks would fly to warmer climates (or, as one person put it: “I would get the hell out of the cold!”); or avoid airports for traveling the world (“Flight would make transportation easier and help me with time management as it would not take as long to get places!”; or save on some carbon fuels (I guess that is saving the world, right?).

Another interesting thing that Hodgeman found was that invisibility seemed to be chosen by people who see themselves more as introverts, who want to slip away unseen and be part of the background, while those choosing flight seem to be extroverts, impressing the world with their powers. Pretty fascinating.

And one person, explaining their choice of flight, noted:  “As a youngster growing up and for the first few years teaching and as a new wife, I spend far too much time trying to be invisible, to get along and not make waves, to accommodate, and to please — so “invisibility” has a rather negative connotation.

Here are the comments from folks who chose invisibility:

  • I would fade away at certain moments and then hear what the world says when I am not listening.
  • I would like to invisibly be where I should not be, hear what is not meant for my ears, see what is not meant for my eyes.
  • I would slip silently through the darkness, and blend in with the night.  I would sit in stillness in the woods.  I would disappear when a chronic complainer was seeking me out.  I would be a fly on the wall and listen to interesting conversations without feeling the need to but in.  I would hide in plain sight.  I would stand behind someone who needed the comfort of just knowing I was there.
  • I would spy and steal things gather information and sell it.
  • Among other things, I would “hide” when I got into a little trouble.  Also I have to admit, I always thought it would be cool to be a spy and what better power to have for that job.
  • Escape and observe.

And a few of the comments from those who chose flight:

  • I choose flight: fly, float, sail, soar. With that power I’d have the bird’s eye perspective, the really big picture, the true world view. Swoosh.
  • I would like the freedom that flight would give me. I could go wherever I wanted and get a bigger picture of my world. I could even fly back to the Caribbean to watch the sunset. Being invisible would bring me in closer to people, add stress to my life, and show me things I’d rather not see or know.
  • This would be my Star Trek Transporter. I could officially add the words “Beam me up” to my vocabulary and head anywhere I wish…and do so quickly. No more gas-guzzling vehicles, no more airport security or delayed flights. I would use my flight superpower for personal endeavors…and to save the random child falling from a tree or get down the cat stuck in it.
  • I am going to go with flying since my life would be markedly better if I could get places faster. But my true secret desire is to be invisible–that superpower just fits my personality better. I am very loud and easily excitable and would like the ability to slip in and out of places unnoticed.
  • I would fly. I know that sounds simple, but just imagine being able to do in real life what we occasionally get to do in our dream. In flight, I would be free. Invisible, I think I would be bound more than ever before.
  • I’m sure I’d be able to have more power over others with invisibility, but in the end I think flying would be more personally fun, which is more my thing.  What would I do with my flight power?  Why, I’d fly, silly!
  • Go on grand adventures, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my pet chickens (tucked under my arms and on my shoulder) as the poor darlings can hardly get airborne on their own.
    Life would be easier and more exciting!


Thanks to everyone who participated. I guess I will leave the survey open for anyone else who wants to join in. You can find it by going here.

Peace (in invisibility, my choice),

Making the WikiStix Dance with Stopmotion

This is my last reflective post from the Dublin Literacy Conference, which took place in Ohio last weekend. Along with working with teachers, I was asked to lead a family session, too, which I readily agreed to. I love that kids and their parents are invited to attend portions of a conference for teachers, and so I suggested a session around stopmotion movie making.

Well, there was a big response, to put it mildly (about 125-150 people in the session), and the music room was packed with kids and parents. Luckily, I had some idea of the numbers beforehand and while I knew I wanted to make a movie before their eyes in the hour that we had together, I mulled over some possibilities.

How do you get a lot of kids involved in making a movie in a short time? My answer was to use bendable WikiStix, which we handed out to kids as they entered the room and gave instructions to create some strange character. Some of the kids looked at me strange, others didn’t say a word, and others asked for further instructions. Just like my own classroom (including the strange looks)!

And so, using my webcam, a freeware program and Moviemaker, we made a Wikistix Conga line stopmotion movie in a short amount of time.

I used a black music stand that was in the room for the background, which worked well for the bright colored creatures but not so well for the dark ones. I tried to talk my way through the process, which everyone watched on the screen. I had kids line up with their creations (and put a student at my computer to take the frame shots), and we moved the creatures across our “set” one frame at a time. I think they were pretty excited to be involved in a movie, but they also got a sense of the time and patience it takes to make a movie, too (a valuable lesson).

I had two kids come up and voice the title and the credits and now the movie is part of my Making Stopmotion Movie website resource, with a link for the kids who were there to download a version of the video.

They asked some great questions, too, such as how long does it take to make a short movie? What materials do you need? What advice would I give?

What was great was when I asked who might go home and try to make a movie, almost every hand in the room shot up. And many parents came up to me afterwards, asking follow-up questions. (A lot of the kids wanted to know where they could buy Wikistix, which are perfect for stopmotion, I have found. Luckily, one smart vendor had them for sale out in the conference hall).

Wouldn’t it be cool if even half of the kids there made a movie?

Peace (in the frames),


Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

My friends, Stacey and Ruth, run a blog that you just have to follow, particularly if you are a writing teacher. Their work at Two Writing Teachers is inspirational (and they are working on a book right now, so that’s even better) and you are sure to come away with great ideas for the classroom.

Two years ago, and then again last year, I joined them for a month-long project called Slice of Life Challenge, in which they ask followers of their blog and others to write a bit about a moment in their day, post to a blog and then link off Two Writing Teachers (although I suppose you probably could also write in their comment slot for that day, too, if you are blog-less … but don’t be blog-less! Create one for this project, if you need). My Slices are still archived here on my blog, which is pretty neat (see for yourself).

They call it a challenge because they are hoping that participants will write a Slice of Life post every day in the month of March. And here it is, almost March already. There are gifts for folks who complete a post every day and kudos to those who try to do every day but don’t quite succeed. And even if you pop around to read the other Slices, and add a comment here and there, the value is that your online writing community expands pretty significantly during Slice of Life.

Plus, Stacey and Ruth are cool. So, there’s that.

You can read more information here by Stacey and Ruth about the Slice of Life idea.

Peace (in the moments),

Which would you choose? Invisibility or Flight?

I know this is a strange post, but I was recently listening to a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman for This American Life (the entire show was about superheroes). Hodgeman went around, asking people to choose between two superpowers: Invisibility or Flight. And then, he asked, what would you do with that power? It was so interesting what he discovered.
So, I figured, why not ask my friends the same question. Please take this two-question poll and pass it along your networks, too. I’ll share the results on another day.

Peace (in the powers),