Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gift Giving

The holiday season is a time for gift giving so this year I want to seriously consider the reasons behind the act. Is gift giving a perfunctory act, a must do, or a genuine exchange of meaning? According to dictionary.com,  the word gift is described as "something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance. " As I reflect upon this, I feel that gift giving goes beyond a voluntary act. It is a gesture of joy, a willingness to provide an interactive moment between gift giver and receiver. With this in mind, I ponder the gift of learning.

Recently, I attended the NYS Network Team Institute (curriculum conference) where a gift of learning was offered to participants. (A recent post I wrote highlights some of my thinking.) During the session titled, Fieldwork and Experts, offered by Expeditionary Learning professional developers, educators were allowed to experience the act of learning in a unique way. Deviating from the traditional professional development model, we donned the role of researchers involved in fieldwork and viewed the new exhibit, The Shakers,  at the NYS Museum in the Cultural Education Center in Albany. With an observer's eye, we closely examined the various rooms of the new exhibit, appreciating the simplicity of the exhibit that illustrated the lifestyle of the Shakers. White space, signage, and a brilliant pop of blue allowed insight into Shaker Community life in 19th Century New York. 

Appreciating the intake of knowledge in a different way, I walked away with the following takeaways:

  • Engaging learners in simulated real world experiences piques curiosity; stimulates thinking; builds knowledge
  • Through active learning experiences, students notice, wonder, discover, and become stewards of their own learning
The gift of learning is a precious one, an interchange, a burst of ideas

Learning alongside colleagues across the state has been a collaborative, professional encounter that pushes my thinking to create new opportunities - 
a gift of professional learning. 

Reflecting on the whys of gift giving and the feeling of joy involved with the act is a thoughtful process. I can associate this act with the the daily interactions educators provide for learners. They open doors of knowledge as a gift from their passionate hearts and growth mindsets. They engage in interactive exchanges that gently push learning forward (a poem written on this subject can be found here).

In order to provide rich experience for learners, educators should be given the gift of ongoing professional learning to become "deep dive thinkers" themselves. Through these experiences, literacy tools can be added to their educator toolkit. In turn, educators will offer the gift of learning to their students by opening doors to knowledge.  By providing choice, and fostering collaborative conversations, teachers are no longer sages upon the stage. They are guides on the side gently pushing students' thinking forward 

Because technology is a tool for me to create messages and new learnings, I designed the following Animoto presentation as a visual gift to all. Bringing a message of joy in learning is easily accessible now through the power of technology.   

Lead, Facilitate, Guide Learners

This post is offered to both the Slice of Life and DigiLit communities. 
Join other slicers at Two Writing Teachers to read their Slice of Life posts.


Then, stroll over to the DigiLit Sunday site hosted by Margaret Simon 
to read about the bright holiday poppers that Margaret is showing. 

DigiLit Sunday

Sunday, December 14, 2014

CELEBRATE Learning, Service, and the End of the Season This Week: LXI

Each week Ruth Ayres asks interested writers to celebrate their stories. The stories tie the community of writers tightly together as they weave their tapestry with air of positivity. My week was filled with learning, contrasts, and connections. 

My story unfolds around a trip to a state conference that took me away from my family right in the middle of holiday preparation time. Below you will see images captured during the week.
Can you guess what these images have in common?

All of the photos center around the conference that led to increased learning, service, and the close of the fall season. I celebrate these major components of my week by introducing a lead character, Mother Nature, who played her tricks with us. Mother Nature introduced Weather as her companion this week. Weather decided to make a grand entrance at the start of the four day conference. He created quite a stir. News stories and conversations centered around the snow that was reported to fall. Once the temperature dropped, Weather allowed huge snowflakes to fall and kept up the routine for a full 72 hours. While lovely to watch the flakes sweep the sky and dance their way to the ground, their full descent caused havoc. Roads iced over; buses had difficulty transporting conference attendees to the Cultural Education Center in Albany; delays to the start of the conference occurred on two different days. Mother Nature decided that she wanted Fall to exit in shocking white in the Capital region and indeed it did. I captured the storm in a photo and blogged about that at the beginning of the week. You can read about that here.  My week ended with a drive home to Long Island that sharply contrasted Albany's weather patterns. Long Island's temperature and no snow landscapes allowed for my outdoor holiday decorating to begin with ease. Mother Nature used her magic wand to change up scenes in two different locales I was in making me realize how powerful her reach is. 

While in Albany, I was present for NYS Education Commissioner John B. King's announcement to join the U.S. Department of Education as a senior adviser for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. With the TV cameras rolling, Dr. King delivered a humble speech that was met with a standing ovation. Learning continued throughout the conference. The focus  was on backward planning to provide supports for all learners to be successful stewards of their own learning. While at the conference, attendees had the opportunity to visit the new exhibit on the Shakers in the NYS Museum. The collection was extensive and informative, shedding light on the Shaker community in NYS. My background knowledge was limited in scope, only knowing about the simple line of furniture that the Shakers created. After the tour, I had a broader body of knowledge to think about. As a participant, I was to move my thinking from being a spectator on a field trip to a fieldworker engaging in research. This move will be modeled for teachers so they can provide students with authentic learning experiences revolving around active research.    

Lastly, the conference afforded me the opportunity to expose the conference attendees to the global outreach work I am involved in that brings light to service learning and leadership. H.E.L.P. Uganda is an organization founded to bring hope, education, and sustainable living to mothers and children in Masese, Uganda. Through the selling of beautifully crafted jewelry and bags, a school for 500 children was built and continues to thrive as a center for literacy in the refugee town. You can read more about the fundraiser efforts that I am involved in through a series of blog posts, the most recent one being Giving Tuesday Offers Hope to Others

Now back at home after a long week, I can begin preparations to celebrate the Christmas holiday with my family. Here's to all of your celebrations-may they be merry and bright as Ruth Ayres reminds us to be. 

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us each week to celebrate our lives. 
Click over to her site, Discover, Play, Build, to read more celebrations 
by the community of writers. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Waiting in Silence

Writing a poem about the end of a glorious, multi-colored season has afforded me the opportunity to see the world through a different lens. While desiring the return of glowing days of bright, painted scenes and thoughts flowing as gently as the leaves, I know that there comes a time when one season turns over to the next. The snowy landscape seen in Albany last week, pushed my thoughts not to sadness but hopefulness to what nature, the brilliant artist, has in store. 

The image below signals a time for recollection. 
I tried to establish a positive voice for fall as it bids us adieu.

While not ready to showcase the Finding Fall Gallery yet, my hope is to
offer an unveiling of the collection as my Christmas gift.

In addition to the above poem, I searched poetry galleries for an end to autumn poem that would contrast mine. I was delighted to find a lyrical poem, Chanson de l’Automne by Paul Verlaine in 1866. It is written in French with an English translation by Arthur Symons in Poems (First Collected Edition, 1902). Paired with this poem is a reading by Marlene Dietrich in French that you can access here.

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned.
In the slow sound
Languorous and long.

Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.

My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.

And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

I found an interesting interpretation of the poem with a fascinating piece of background knowledge. Go here to access it. 

Now please stroll over to Paul W. Hankins's blog,
for the Poetry Friday Round-Up

Paul is kind enough to leave a spot for my late post since I was at a state curriculum conference this past week.

Season of Transformation

We are quickly approaching the holidays. Messages surround us that quicken our pace: holiday lights, advertisements, nightly news, and signage letting us know about the countdown. How often do we stop and reflect on the whys of the season while we busily prepare? 

Lately, I have been caught up with the hustle and bustle of the season. I have been constantly moving from one even to the next, with no time to consider the whys. This frenetic pace has left me speechless, frayed, and a bit remorseful. Perhaps, you have felt this way also.

Knowing that constant movement is not healthy, I decided to step back for alone time. It was during this quiet time that I found an answer hidden on a scrap of paper and in the pages of a small book, Advent in my Pocket, that I picked up at the retreat the first week of December. As I read the note scribbled during last Sunday's sermon, I heard the deacon's words. "We are surrounded by quick steps. We want quick results but don't want to work hard." The words life-changing experience popped out from the note. Then, I turned to a selection in Advent in my Pocket. The season of Advent is one of preparation-a transformative season. Indeed, I thought. As our deacon said, John the Baptist offered people of the time a life-changing experience. Discard old ways to prepare for the Lord. 

The message of the homily is not about quick ways to change. It is about the process-how to transform your life through ardent preparation. The deacon concluded his sermon with a thought about preparation time. The hard work (of reflective preparation) that we put in now will be worth it when we receive the Lord at Christmas time. 

My takeaway today is partly from the sermon:

In order to reap rewards this season, we must have a change of heart, a change of attitude. We must prepare in a new way that allows for a slower, thoughtful pace. It is important to remember that reflective, non-hurried preparation time will bring joy to Christmas Day. 

Let the season of Advent be a time for change, a time to receive grace, 
and a time to prepare for a new birth - a new year. 


The scripture reading for the Thursday of the second week of Advent which would be Spiritual Journey Thursday is:

I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand. 
It is I who say to you, fear not not, I will help you.
-Isaiah 41.13

Advent- Waiting in Silence

Although my post for Spiritual Journey Thursday hosted by Holly Mueller is late,
I am humbly offering my thoughts .

Please read other thoughts from the community of writers here
It is their words that inspired me before preparing my post. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Slice of Life on the Quiet Before the Storm

Yesterday, I arrived in to Albany to attend the NYS Network Team Institute (curriculum conference). There was a cool calmness in the air. It was the quiet before the storm, I supposed. Remarks were being passed around at the hotel's front desk. "There's a feeling of snow outside." "I can feel the snow coming." I sighed and went to my room to listen to the weather reports. Streams of accounts of different weather patterns came across the screen. It was up to Mother Nature to reveal her true plans. I couldn't stop thinking that no matter where I travel lately, Mother Nature follows me as a trickster on the watch for good gag. 

While waiting for the early morning reality of an end of fall downfall, I composed the poem below. It is a compilation of new thoughts mixed with data that is based on years of earlier than normal snow patterns in Central NYS. 

The end of fall is upon us
forcing all to adjust
to weather patterns quite robust.
Brisk air and imminent snow
define the season’s last days of flow
while setting temperatures below.
Weathermen track a storm.
Mother Nature asks us to conform
so we bundle up to keep warm.

When Fall leaves earth’s gentle hands
Mother Nature has special plans.
She listens to winter’s commands.

As you can see by the photo of Albany above, temperatures dropped. Rains came, icing over roads, followed by big, white flakes dropping from the sky in a horizontal pattern-a familiar pattern from end-of-fall childhood memories in Syracuse and a college years at Albany State. 

Tuesday is the day to share a "Slice of LIfe With the Two Writing teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana, and Betsy for the collegial community they have established. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Learning, Life, and Holiday Cheer: CELEBRATE This Week-LX

At the beginning of every week you cannot tell how the events will play out. You can only hope that there will be an air of positivity throughout. This week happened to be filled with many moments that brought a sense of joy to life.

My week started with a desperate attempt to try to get back into sync with life after being away at the NCTE Convention in Washington, D.C. for five days and then doing a quick turnaround time to travel to Syracuse, NY from Long Island before the storm hit Central NY. That trip was another five day one. Can you imagine what my house looks like now and will remain until I get home from a week-long curriculum conference starting on Monday?

Despite the messiness and clutter of trying to take down Thanksgiving decorations, having piles of books from NCTE in a corner of the house, and laundry, I stayed positive in my little corner of my office, sandwiched between papers and books. I decided to write instead of clean. Why? Because writing provides relief from "clutter chaos." 

So, first, I celebrate the art of writing. 

Second, I want to celebrate the season for listening, Advent, that started with a powerful retreat. You can read my thoughts here.  

Third, I would like to celebrate service to others. On Tuesday, I wrote about #GivingTuesday Offering Hope to Others. You can read about my fundraising activity here. Today, at a workshop luncheon sponsored by LILAC, the literacy organization on Long Island that I am on the Executive Board, I was able to say a few words about the H.E.L.P. Uganda project that I support. Much to my surprise, I raised $355 during the luncheon because educators were generous and truly interested in helping the children in Masese, Uganda become educated. At present, there are five hundred children attending the H.E.L.P. School and eating two meals a day. Prior to the start of the humanitarian effort, the children were illiterate and eating one meal every three days. They had no clean drinking water and many were dying of malnutrition and other medical issues. 

Fourth, I celebrate the learning that occurred this week as a result of two day-long workshops for teachers that I designed and delivered. There were collegial conversations and shared learning. 

Fifth, I celebrate the holiday season with its offering of holiday cheer that started with the sparkle and glitter of the NYC tree lighting ceremony.

I am delighted to have created an invitation to the NYEDChat holiday cheer event that will be held on December 15th on Twitter.com. All are invited to attend. 

Now it is time to stroll over to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayres who wrote a poem celebrating home, an appropriate topic at this time of year. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gently Pushing Students' Learning Forward

Because learning is messy
and perseverance key,

we keep moving forward,
as creative artisans  
inspiring our students
to be careful observers of life. 

As observers, they notice
and naturally wonder. 
As wonderers, they explore 
and discover new horizons.
As discoverers, they seek 
new boundaries to cross.

They learn; 
inquire; converse;
engage with diverse partners.
Under our guidance,
they pursue a path of inquiry
becoming “21st century pioneers.”
Adventurously, these young learners
meet tomorrow with open hearts,
boldly pushing on,
undaunted by missteps,
failing forward on the reflective pathway 
toward success

because learning is messy
and perseverance is key!

2014 Carol Varsalona © All Rights Reserved.

-Dream Big-
and now stroll over to Anastasia Suen's Booktalking #kidlit for the Poetry Friday offerings. You will be delighted with Anastasia's site.  

If you are interested in submitting a poem and photo for the Finding Fall Gallery of Artistic Expressions, I can still accept your offering since I have not started the design of the collection. December crept up on me what with NCTE and the quick turn around to travel to snowy Syracuse for Thanksgiving and now to spend an entire week at the NYS Curriculum Conference with State Ed. I will have the gallery ready as my Christmas gift to all.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Season for Listening

The holiday season is upon us. Stores prepare bright, visual displays for holiday shoppers who are eager to catch all the sales to purchase holiday treasures. Communities decorate their homes and storefronts to bring holiday cheer to neighborhoods. Florists, nurseries, and garden stores busily arrange florals, holiday accessories, and stack trees in neat rows. There is hustle, bustle, ceremonies, and events between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. 

There's magic in the air, music on the streets, holiday lists to prepare, Santas everywhere. In all the rush to bring the season to life, is there some quiet time left for listening? 

Revelation 3:20 states, 
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, 
I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 

Have you heard the call amidst the clatter and chatter? STOP to LISTEN! 

Can we make the time to reflect on what the season is really about? 
Can we UNPLUG long enough to recognize that Advent is the season for listening?

On Sunday, a visiting priest addressed the parish asking if we could find three hours in our week's schedule to join the Advent retreat. That request seemed reasonable so on Monday my son and I attended the first day of the retreat that was titled Love. I listened to the message. I heard the story of a child who responded that love is when somebody listens to you. With that statement being said, I stopped to think of all of the times I haven't found the time to listen. Being busy is not an adequate response. It is an excuse, an ego-driven phrase that needs to be removed and replaced with "I need to find the time to listen." 

Advent provides us with the time to listen to the heart. Did you ever stop to make the connection that if we take away the 't" in heart, we are left with "hear?" If we remove the "h" it becomes ear. So we need to hear the message in a way that is not being obstructed by the "bus-y-ness of life. When hearts connect, communication occurs. 

Below are the lines I lifted from the sermon that are meaningful and will frame my Advent season:
  • Listen with your heart this Advent season. 
  • Begin the listening process by listening to your self. 
  • Respect what you feel.
  • Love your neighbor, as yourself.
Is there a magic formula for success? Not really, but I did hear the priest say:

 the # of people you love=the # of people you listen to

We need to listen intently to each other this season. 
Advent calendars adorn households at Christmas time. As you open a door each day, give the gift of listening to a least one person. Imagine how many hearts you will be able to connect in the time leading up to Christmas Day when God gives us his ultimate gift of love.

Now, it is time to move over to Spiritual Journey Thursday 
where Holly Mueller has provided our topic, Advent, for us to discuss this entire month. Have a blessed start to the season for listening.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Slice of Life: Giving Tuesday Offers Hope to Others

I was planning on slicing today about learning but an email came across AOL and it touched my heart. It spoke about the stories we create and reminded me of the topic of NCTE 14. Just two weeks ago I was at the convention with educators from the Two Writing Teachers, Poetry Friday, Nerdy Book Club, and other groups. We shared stories of our learning, of students grappling with their learning, and ones of connected communities. We laughed, ate and learned together, and also perused and purchased books. Our stacks became larger each day. As we left the convention center, we took back priceless gifts: friendship, literacy learning, and our treasured friends-books.

This is not the way it is all around the world. There is a refugee village in Uganda by the Nile River that is populated by the Masese mothers and children who are struggling for food, education, and learning. It is through the gracious gift of time, support, and learning that the village has celebrated their good fortune of meeting the helping hands of H.E.L.P. Uganda. 
I have blogged about this organization and the gift of giving before (here and here). A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working at a fundraiser for this group at our church. There were so many wonderful parishioners who listened intently to the story of creating hope from paper and wished to support the cause. 

On that day, children and adults listened to the story of the Masese mothers and children and supported the hope of sharing joy with others who are struggling. All twenty paper bricks on display were sold in the hopes of raising funds to construct three new classrooms. Beautifully handcrafted bags and jewelry were displayed, exhibiting the art of rolling paper into designed creations. A story unfolded about the generosity of St. Agnes Cathedral parishioners who crowded around the tables to share a gift of giving at the holiday. 

In the passage below you will read a joyful story of a Ugandan child reading aloud. It is a story to be told again and again. It touched my heart as an educator and it will touch yours because this is the gift of reading and learning that we bring to life each day in the classroom. 

Today is Giving Tuesday, 
the single most charitable day of the year. 

On this day, we ask that you help us continue to create more stories. Every time we have a team go to Uganda, we return with stories. Stories of lives that have been changed. Stories of success. Sometimes it's a story about a mother who carried her unconscious child from her home to our school, just in time for him to be rushed to the hospital, moments before he would have likely died. Sometimes it's not a story of an exact life changing moment, but a more gradual one, one that might be easy to go unnoticed. These are the ones that show the change that is happening in our village, the long term change, the change that gives us the encouragement to keep doing what we're doing. 

In October, at the end of a visit from a medical team, the children at HELP School put on a program for their visitors. At the end of this program a young girl, around 13 years old, stood up to read from a book. Before she read, she told her story about how before our school, she had never attended school, she just ran around the streets all day. And there she stood, reading perfectly.

What we are building there is more than just a classroom building or a fence. We are building a community up, and building a future full of promise.  When you purchase a brick to help build a new classroom at our HELP School in Masese, Uganda - you also get a Brick Gift Card to give to someone special in honor of them!

H.E.L.P. Uganda

Now stroll over to Slice of Life where you can write a slice of life story, read slices from other writers in the community, and provide comments to at least 3 of the SOL 14 bloggers.