Saturday, December 28, 2013

Resolute to Create Spaces to Grow As a Learner

With the New Year soon to approach, there is much talk about resolutions, make-overs, bucket lists, and a new term coined by Colby Sharp of the Nerdy Book Club, nerdlutions. While a little more than 40% of Americans decide to start anew each January with resolutions, only 8% actually achieve their goals according to a research study from the University of Scranton. I am actually one of those who falls in the latter data point. Each year, I make my resolutions but end up not totally following through, so this January I am taking a different angle. Instead of creating a list of resolutions, I will be resolute in my intent, to create spaces to grow as a learner.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary resolute means admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. This is a strong word that forms the basis of what I intend to do this year. I have a plan that is purposeful and I am determined to carve out the hypothetical niche to grow as a learner. Am I unwavering? For now yes, but then I think back on last year's resolution. I unwaveringly committed to knee replacement and all that was associated with the surgery. Through months of very intense workouts with my physical therapist I was able to build muscle to walk so much better than before. Now that I am on my own, I seem to find just the right excuse to not keep up the rigorous routine of exercising nine hours per week.  The right strategy will be to keep everything in perspective, rather than make an endless checklist of things to do. No more empty resolutions for me!  I am resolute to grow as a learner in both my personal and professional life. 

As psychologist, Dr. Lynn Bufka, noted in her post, Making your New Year's resolution stick"...It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time." Fredrich Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idols, Or, How to Philosophize With the Hammer, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." When I found these quotes, I knew that I was on the right path to having a purposeful plan that I will steadfastly adhere to, for goals are only as strong as by what they are measured. 

In the spirit of having and using learning targets, "I can ponder life and next steps of my life journey while taking steps and recording them with my new Fitbit." What an ingenious plan!  Step one will be part of the 50 days of nerdlutions' challenge. I can exercise daily and grow as a learner at the same time. Thought patterns can give rise to starters for blogs and educational trainings. I can measure my progress by taking more steps and writing more. Hopefully, 50 days can develop into 50 more and so on. 

Reading is another tool for me to learn and grow. Dr. Bufka's article has provided tips for me to ponder and act upon.
  • Start small - 50 days is doable.
  • Change one behavior at a time - Record my steps with the Fitbit and write daily for 50 days, even if is only one thought for that can idea develop into another.
  • Talk about it - Sharing my experiences with family and friends will be an easy task.
  • Don't beat yourself up - Recognize that perfection is not what I am trying to attain.
  • Ask for support - To strengthen my plan asking for support when it is needed will be an important step.
With resolve, I take the challenge to explore new paths to grow and learn. I hope you are resolute in your intentions this year. Happy New Year as you search for the best 2014 plan.

Friday, December 27, 2013

In Search of Holiday Magic: Notices and Wonders

When the first week of December arrived, marking the beginning of the holiday season, I noticed towns in my area being transformed into magical sights. They were adorned with sparking lights, seasonal decorations, and soft music. Retail stores decked their halls with an array of bright ornaments and holiday decor while homes began their own transformation, moving from autumn to seasonal Hanukkah and Christmas delights. Later in the month, just before the Christmas holiday, I continued to notice and wonder as I switched hats from consultant to busy holiday homemaker.

In those early days of December, I felt a unique magic in the air and often paused to notice just what it was or what it was not. I decided that it was not changing weather patterns, nor snowflakes dancing in the sky. I reflected on what was before me, noticing a welcoming newness to the landscape and feeling an anticipation that accompanies the holiday season. I watched the quick pace of shoppers actively pursuing the pleasures of gift giving; school children gleefully preparing for holiday concerts and last days before winter break; travelers readying for family get togethers; and Santa helpers greeting those who longed for holiday magic. While amidst all the the hustle and bustle, I felt the urge to suspend reality for a brief interlude, to freeze the setting, and to become totally immersed in a seasonal experience. My senses were awakened as I noticed the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmastide. While continuing to be lulled by all the noticings and wonders, a sudden sense of what was needed to be accomplished before the holidays jostled me. 

As the snow softly cascaded to the ground that December morning nine days ago, I realized it was time to transform my home. Living in Long Island suburbia, less than an hour away from the New York City experience, holiday expectations are high. I peered out my window to view the neighborhood sights: adorned houses, welcoming wreaths, Santas and snowmen dancing in the yards. Then, I looked back at what was before me, a chaotic mess inside my home. Clutter was everywhere. Strewn across my dining room table
and floor were individual autumn decorations and a variety of boxes ready to be tucked away for another year. As I started to clean the room, I wondered about the overwhelming amount of work it takes to make a house ready for the Christmas season. 

So what did I do? I slipped away to the computer to have a few moments of quiet time, knowing that an opportunity to reflect and write would give me the energy to move mountains or should I say boxes to the attic. Donning the crown of creativity, I slowly moved from my office to the huge task in front of me. I had to accomplish much in a very short span of time so that clutter would take on a new look, "organized chaos." I began the process by thinking about the steps I needed to take. The first step was to immerse myself in a bath of aromatic scents. Potpourri, cinnamon scented pine cones, fragrant candles, and sweet Christmas confections were laid out to perk my senses. Christmas music poured in from the living room to make me "get into" the spirit of the season. Next, brightly colored wrappings and wired bows were assembled to adorn gifts that were poised for a quick exit from the craft room to the tree. But wait, the living room had to be dusted and primed for a picture perfect entrance of the tree. That meant more work so where were the elves when I needed them?  As I moved forward to prepare for a major family event, the countdown began. I paused, thought, and deeply reflected on whether I would meet my deadline and then, without further ado I worked consistently in search of finding the right blend of holiday magic for my home. 

So, here it is two days after Christmas and all the noticings, wonderings, and getting ready tasks were accomplished at a steady pace to bring structure to organized chaos. I invite you to take a peek at how holiday magic came to my house just in time for Christmas. In those short nine days before Christmas, I joined the ranks of dedicated and committed homemakers who take on the loving task of bringing holiday magic for family and friends to enjoy.
From my house to yours, may the magic of the holidays bring you new noticings and wonderings as you transition to the new year. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

From the Outside of 2013 NCTE Looking Back In

As with every memorable experience, the end quickly comes upon us but the energy remains and the stories reside in our hearts and minds. It is so with the 2013 NCTE Convention in Boston this year. From my little corner of office space, I reflect upon the four days of NCTE varied experiences, chance encounters, and rekindled friendships. Although life's list of to do tasks stares me in the face, I spend quiet moments savoring the NCTE experience that gives breath to my thoughts. 

The journey began last year with the penning of the NCTE '13 proposal for Debbie Diller and I. Since Debbie Diller and I only see each other once a year (Texas to Long Island is a long distance), the NCTE Convention gives us the opportunity to continue the conversation where it left off, an art forged through a decade of friendship.  With purpose, we set our plan in motion a year ago with the submission of the proposal, "Redesigning the Literacy Landscape, Common Core Style." Once at the convention, Debbie and I collaborated, reflected, revised, and enthusiastically presented using the collegial circle model to an engaged audience. Our group, that spanned the United States and reached to Japan, were committed educators who joined our conversation even though it was the last one for the NCTE Convention. Needless to say, we left that session renewed and eager to read the haiku take aways soon to be posted to Twitter.

As for the conference days, they were busy. Hallways buzzed with learners from many walks of life. Often lost amidst the crowd of 7,000, I smiled as I encountered familiar faces, tweeted out memorable lines, and texted friends for meeting places. Although spaces were tight and frustrations mounted due to closed out sessions, the relationships that were renewed or forged were priceless.

Highlights of  the NCTE 2013 Convention included: a powerful opening ceremony with First Wave performers who pushed boundaries through spoken word;  lingering conversations about life and education with dear friend and co-presenter, Debbie Diller; a plethora of sessions that I attended, presented by national presenters, such as Laura Robb, Katherine Bomer, Donalyn Miller, Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Franki Siberson, Ann Marie Corgill, Georgia Heard, Tom Romano, and Linda Rief; the trifecta of annual Scholastic events-Authors' Reception, Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, and Literary Brunch, with literary luminaries-Laura Robb and Ruth Culham, Scholastic friends, David Smith and Ben Woodward, and the gracious and generous host and educational advocate, President Dick Robinson; educational conversations with friends from Long Island, JoEllen McCarthy, Erica Pecorale, and Larry Butti, on the drive up and back; numerous engaging chats with other Long Island educators; hallway conversations with the charming Katherine Bomer and the spirited Chris Lehman and a quick question from Lucy Calkins inquiring if she could look over my shoulder at my notes during a crowded round table discussion. Tech integration was everywhere present in the sessions but connectivity issues frustrated me. Lastly, there was an endearing sight in the Exhibit Hall, a large sign at the Heinemann booth remembering Donald Graves, a gentle man with a heart full of wisdom for us all. 

Although most of my notes floated away in Cyberspace due to those connectivity issues I previously mentioned, I was able to capture a few quotes that were either preserved through Twitter or in the old-fashioned manner via a pen and learning log.   Garnered thoughts from amazing literary luminaries, presenters, and authors follow: 
  •  Stories and books are the heart and soul of the culture. -Laura Robb
  • Censorship grows out of fear. -Judy Blume
  • Reinventing the teaching of English is about who we are-Holding possibilities of what should be taught. -Ernest Morrell
  • Build a world with all you know. -First Wave
  • Your reading life is essential to your teaching life. -Carol Jago
  • Kids are our curriculum. -Chris Lehman
  • Messy allows you to be creative. -Marissa Moss
  • Close reading is a practice we can apply to our lives when we can see the patterns. -Maggie Beattie Roberts
  • Without dreams the world is just dirt and dust. -Ann E. Burg
As with every conference, there is one new presentation that catches my interest. This convention, I was immediately fascinated by Bill Bass' presentation on technology to build community in classrooms so I searched Twitter to follow him. His blog, "Giving Students Ownership through Mashups," resonated with me. Provided below is a glimpse into his thoughts,
  • ...I often say that the media that we have students create is a reflection of their world and by providing them the opportunity to create, we are giving them a voice in which they can share their thinking and viewpoints as well as help them determine what they actually believe about a specific topic.
  • ...Many times, we just need to provide the opportunity for them (students) to make connections and create their world.
With eager anticipation to engage in continued conversations that enrich my learning life, I ponder the next presentation for the 2014 NCTE Convention in Washington, DC. Unfolding the Diller-Varsalona story of redesigning the literacy landscape for information age learners under the umbrella of the convention theme, "Story as the Landscape of Knowing," is my current project that sits between the Christmas holiday and the New Year. This will be a from the inside out to the NCTE Committee task that requires time, so I am writing to Santa to bring me the gift of time? But while I wait for Santa, you can explore available handouts and materials from the NCTE 2013 sessions in the NCTE Connected Community.