September 26, 2017-#sol17

Thanks to Jennifer Laffin (@laffinteach) for starting the hashtag #DWHabit I am back to writing daily, something I know I should do (and enjoy after having done it). She sends out a word each day and says you can use it or not. Today I had no idea what I was going to slice until I read today’s word “voice”.

“Ms. Victor, my box from Heather Lang is here,” L. stopped me in the hall this morning.

“Oh, I can’t wait to see it- come by and show me if you have time,” I answered.

“Maybe at lunch recess,” she said.

L. was a student in my class last year as a third grader. She started at our school at the start of second grade without knowing a word of English and the progress she has made is truly inspirational. She is a girl who always has believed what she had to say mattered and she is happy to speak to a group or write her thinking. I used to get notes from her left on my laptop and I remember that she and a few friends stayed in at recess one day to write “Merry Christmas” notes to each of their classmates and all of the teachers in the grade. She definitely saw the power of her words. Last year her opinion writing work focused on shark finning. She added research to her beliefs and sought out the address of people who she considered changemakers that she could send her letter to.

As luck would have it last spring Liv (@thelivbits) and Heather Lang (@hblang) announced a contest (#artforsharks). I shared it in my class and in the end, two students entered. Early in September, the winners were announced and L. was the runner-up.

At lunch recess she brought up her unopened package and I watched her tear into it. There she found the books If Sharks Disappeared, Smart about Sharks, and Swimming with Sharks. Heather had autographed her book for L. and of course, L. was thrilled. Heather congratulated L. on her art and the blog post she had shared where she published the letter she had written. It was great to see her see that other people valued her voice! I love when students have real opportunities to share their writing in a way that matters to them.


*** Speaking of voice, here is another former student, Zhi Hong, still slicing!


Lucky Traveler!


#sol17-September 19, 2017

Something I am trying to get used to is traveling alone. Nearly two years ago I sort of started. By sort of started, I mean that I joined a group traveling to Vietnam. I went back and forth with the company trying to choose my trip, as I did not want to be the only person not in a couple- not that I was looking for a match, but I do not want to always be the third wheel. I spent an absolutely fantastic 15 days traveling, using all sorts of transportation, met a great group of people, and gained courage.

Last year I spent a couple days In Luang Prabang, Laos sort of alone. I knew that a colleague and her husband would be there at the same time, so I figured I might run into them a bit, but we were in separate hotels, arrived on different dates, and so I knew that I would have plenty of alone time too. In the end, it was another successful trip!

Next month we have 5 days off and it was time for my next solo venture. I hemmed and hawed, trying to decide what my priorities should be. I decided that I am the kind of person who copes better in cities while alone because there is always something to do in a city and my aloneness might not be so visible. Just last week I finally booked my trip- a return trip to Hoi An, Vietnam. It was one of the stops on my trip two years ago, but definitely, a place I wanted to return to (small city, very scenic, delicious food, the chance to get clothes made for me, very walkable- all plusses for me). This time (as far as I know) I will not know anybody traveling there, nor will I have any “tour group” to travel with- really on my own, but I am fine with that.

My older son, currently living in Korea, has definitely inspired me in that he jumps at any chance to travel and is totally okay traveling on his own- if he can do it, then so can I! In fact just today I got word from him that I am meeting him in Nha Trang, Vietnam for three days over Christmas (as he only has 3 days off I let him choose where we would meet) and I am currently debating the rest of my break, which at this point looks like another solo adventure or two, as he only has that time off. I know I am so lucky to be able to travel like this and I am not going to let not having a travel companion keep me in place!

I would love to know if any readers have tips for solo travel. So far I feel like it is something I can do, but not yet something I love (although I do always love the freedom part of being on my own time).



*** Former third grade slicer, Zhi Hong (now a 4th grader still slicing).


How’s It Going?


#sol17- September 12, 2017

It has been a crazy busy start to the school year for me (I am sure most of you can relate)! As a self-confessed PD junkie I have had lots of opportunities already this year, including a four day Adaptive Schools Seminar  (near the end of September), 2 day Numicon training (last Friday and Saturday on a long weekend), and now, this week we have Carl Anderson visiting for 3 days. All of these were at our school and the first two were totally optional.

This morning our team had two hours with Carl Anderson and I thought I would use his tag line (“How’s it going?”) to synthesize some of my learning (any errors are mine):

  • It’s going – we are in year 2 of using the Teachers College Units of Study as a primary resource and our discussions and observations of Carl conferring with some of our students was a combination of affirmation and stretch. I loved how simple his routines for working with students were. An “aha” was that the student goal, to really be worthy and developed, has to remain in place for some time- otherwise, progress is unlikely.  Somehow we get caught up in new goal, new goal, new goal- he reminded us that if they achieved a goal after one conference it probably was not something they needed to work on.
  • The stretch for me was pushing my area of weakness. I told Carl at the outset that I default to telling/reminding not teaching in conferences. With his use of mentor texts, having the student start the work right then and there, and checking in with the student after the very next conference to make sure they are trying out the new learning right away makes the student more accountable, but also demands that I follow up right away. My problem in the past has been that I never really knew whether students were trying out this new learning- now I will know and can recalibrate within minutes if I see it is not working out. No more “butterfly” conferences, just checking in- real work to be done!
  • We got to see a range- Carl conferred with 4 third graders and we got to see a range- both in terms of content and in the level of the writers’ work. Observing his work with one of my more reluctant writers was powerful because I could see ways to frame conferences better so that they are more productive.
  • My next step- no excuses– the majority of writing conferences is for teaching, so I have to be ready for that. I already have a small stack of mentor texts we have used in class (and I have student examples and my own writing I can pull from as well), so I have the basic tools. I am going to follow Carl’s advice in terms of schedule: conference 1, then scrawl notes, conference 2, scrawl notes, check in with child 1, conference 3, scrawl notes, check in with child 2, etc. I have a chart I am happy recording notes on (used it last year too), so that part is already easy too.

After a few weeks of lots of PD it is time for me to pause for a bit (although that is never really true- case in point I am involved in the Voxer book club for Feedback That Moves Writers Forward). I need time to more fully absorb all this recent learning and try it out to make it mine (which is, I guess, what my students feel with all the input they are getting every day). So, what it comes down to, is, it is going well. I am happy to be continuing to learn and grow!



*** Zhi Hong keeps slicing!

I Was Going to Write About…


#sol17- September 5, 2017

Yesterday I did the unheard of (for me)- I drafted my slice a day ahead, knowing that today was the first day of my After School Activity and from there I would be dashing to Pilates and then home inspired me to draft a day early (it was all about my double pink eye this weekend).

Then today happened and I loved my ASA (Josh Funk, you would LOVE to know how some of my students from last year came rushing in to ask “Did that stinky stench book that the guy we Skyped with last year read to us come in yet?” They then proceeded to huddle on the floor and read it aloud to each other- and that was just in the first five minutes).

But then I continued my frustration from yesterday trying to book a few days away in October. I have finally decided where I want to go, found the flights, and the hotel, but I am stuck with the payment. Yesterday when I tried to pay I kept getting an error message saying the bank’s certificate was invalid. It was a holiday, so after a few attempts, I gave up. Today I called the bank to report the problem but turns out they can only check out problems from that day, so I had to hang up and try again. After trying again, no luck Called again and was told everything was okay on that end- everything should work,  No luck- called again and was told to disable the pop-up blocker- no luck. Restarted the computer, because that often needs to solve problems, no luck. Tried another credit card (through the same bank) – ugh, no luck! Tried another browser- no luck. Restarted the computer again, no luck. Sprinkled in here intermittently I made phone calls to the customer service office of the bank again. They keep maintaining that it is not their system that has the problem. Finally, I call again and by now my voice may have given away the frustration I was feeling. “Ben” listened patiently to me, checked “two different systems” and said it must be the vendor’s website problem. When I reminded him that by now I had tried two different websites using two different browsers with two different credit cards (and a debit card by now) and all came up showing that it was an invalid certificate on the bank’s part he paused. Then he said he was going to check one more thing and call me back within 10 minutes.

Less than 5 minutes later Ben was back on the line. He said IT from their side had said nothing was wrong, but he wanted me to try one more time. He patiently waited while my super slow internet connected and as I slowly went through the process of bringing up my flight booking I was feeling defeated. Screen by screen I advanced and we got to the payment screen and it accepted my payment after sending me a code!!! “What happened? Why did it work this time?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he responded honestly. “I deactivated your phone number from the account and reactivated it, that must have triggered something.”

After thanking him profusely I hurried to add the hotel to my trip!

So although I did not blog about my pink eye or my fun after school activity this story too had a happy ending- but who knows why!?!



*** Zhi Hong keeps slicing!




Shower Idea- Class Ambassador


#sol17- August 29, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I swear I get some of my best ideas while in the shower. Just before this school year started I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do about class jobs. I have gone back and forth over the years between assigning jobs and not. I made myself a list of jobs that would help me and the class- not just “everyone has a job” jobs. I decided to try out no jobs, but after a day or two of me having to do lots of tidying after the students left that idea seemed not to work for this year’s crew. I had 18 students, and in looking over my job list I just about had that number of jobs that might be needed. Then I thought about other things the students could do- I like to grow student empowerment, so want them to feel it is our class, not my class. In the shower that morning I was thinking about the tours that were already starting to come through- families being led around by someone from the admissions office. When I am not teaching I am always happy to talk to these groups, but, not surprisingly, I am often teaching and I feel bad that I do not even have a moment to chat, even though we are always told to continue on as usual. That’s when it came to me- the students could do that job.

The next day when I introduced jobs we quickly talked about the expectations for each job, many were self-explanatory. “Class ambassador” was a new job to them, but one of my students knew very well what an ambassador is, as his mom is an ambassador. We talked briefly about what it would mean in our context: someone to greet and welcome visitors and tell them a bit about the class and what we are doing, and then answer any questions.

As luck would have it one of my students newer to English chose the job that first week. During her time in office, she got to welcome two sets of visitors and the woman from admissions was amazed. She talked to me briefly about how impressive it was to have a student approach them and speak confidently. When I shared this with the girl’s parents at Open House that night they could not believe that this was their daughter. Last week it was a new ambassador’s turn. This young man is new to the school, but when the director of admissions came in with a family while I was teaching math I signaled him and he went off to chat. After that visit, the kind director of admissions wrote a sweet email to our school director and the ES principal and assistant principal sharing her experience with this ambassador (it turns out the family was considering moving their child from another school in town and this may have helped them make the move- she starts soon). The director and principal then wrote about it in their faculty newsletters. While I appreciated the kind words, as I told them (and later told the class) this was not down to me at all, rather these amazing students who took my “shower idea” and made it their own.

After I shared the positive feedback with the class we generated a list of ideas to consider when they are the ambassador. “Be brave” was the first idea shared. This week’s ambassador is feeling nervous in case he gets to welcome a visitor, but he is also grateful that his week is a short one (we have a Thursday/Friday holiday). On the way down to the canteen yesterday one of my shyer students confided, “I can’t wait until it is my turn to be the ambassador.”

In reflecting on this I am reminded again that students will rise to challenges and that they all need opportunities to be leaders. Last week’s ambassador said that just before he asked if they had any questions he told them a few things that he thought made our class special. I think the thing that makes our class the most special is the kids (and the fabulous community we are already developing). Have I mentioned that I love my new class?



***Zhi Hong, a student from last year is still slicing.


Only Monday?!?


#sol17- August 22, 2017

Monday is always a busy day- somehow the weekend is over and not everything that was planned for gets finished… yesterday was no different! Rushing around before school I made a list of things to do later in the day. It was individual picture day for third grade and in a school with a required uniform individual pictures means the students get to choose what they wear, so they came in excited. At 9:28 we were just about to line up for snack and recess when the principal walked in.

“Oh, the new schedule- it starts today,” she said, “the duty schedule is already out and everyone is ready for the change.”

“Ooh,” I thought, “everyone but the teachers and students in third grade.”

We had asked for the schedule change (a longer time in the classroom before snack and recess would eliminate the short time back in the classroom time before specials) and we knew it was coming but had no idea it would start that day.

“Okay, guys, have a seat,” I told my third graders as I proceeded to fill them in on the change. What it meant was that I had to be ready to teach writing right then, without the half hour break first (and they had to mentally adjust to not having a break and snack yet).

I explained all this to the students (on the 10th day of school) and got part way through writing when the power went off. The EAL teacher in the room let out a small squeal, but the students remarkably kept their focus. It felt like a win. The room did heat up and it was a bit dark, but we prevailed. 

We walked down to snack at our new snack time and saw that the whole building was dark. My teammates gathered in our team common area for a break. We stayed on there to work as it was brighter and a bit cooler than our classrooms. A teacher/runner came to tell us that the whole area was out and could take up to two hours to fix. By this time teachers were remembering another such incident years ago where the school closed early as a result. All I could think of was Picture Day and Open House- ugh, lots to reschedule.

While the students were still at their first special, at 11:40, and announcement came over the intercom: “Due to the power outage and the projected time needed to restore power our campus will close at 12:30. Specials will end at 12:10.”

Confused third graders walked upstairs after their first special ended, but were quickly shuttled back downstairs to their second special. At 12:10 we teachers were unsure what to do- go downstairs to pick up our students, or wait for them to arrive back to us. We ended up going down and I found my class easily, although the team leader could not find her class and ended up going back upstairs to wait for them. A bit of extra confusion. 

After bringing my class together to explain how dismissal would work I also told them that pictures would be rescheduled. Surprise, surprise, at about that time the power started coming back on, but not yet in our team.

When the students were dismissed (too hard to rescind the dismissal plan) we teachers were told that it would be a regular work day, even though our server was still down. Funny how much of the work we wanted to do required the internet. Because the server was down a decision about Open House would be made at 3.

I actually got quite a lot done (hello pile of writing pre-assessments and more). Before 2 the server was back up, so everything was a go… All seemed back on track.

So, of course, one of KL’s famous afternoon thunderstorms started in with a fury. Our maintenance crew happened to be in our team putting out chairs for parents when my ceiling started leaking. Luckily the leak was not too bad and a trash can held the water.

I won’t even get in to the pizza delivery issue- suffice it to say that not everybody got what they ordered to fortify themselves before Open House. Nonetheless, the rain subsided, some parents arrived, and Open House went on as planned, but as we left for the night our team had a quick debrief of the day- phew, hard to believe that it was just/still Monday! Starting the week with a bit of chaos and a later than usual night. 





*** Zhi Hong, a former 3rd grader just keep slicing!

Early Days


#sol17- August 15, 2017

One of the things I like best about teaching is all the fresh starts. We have now completed 6 days of the new school year and I am reminded again and again how long it takes to get things done at the start of the year (general rustiness, end of year memories instead of the beginning of year memories, new routines, etc.).

This year one of the things I am trying to plant early is that everyone is a teacher and learner. We have to trust each other to do their best. The students are working in all different configurations as they choose their seat each day. Sometimes partners are assigned, sometimes they choose. In the early days when the EAL support teacher and LR teacher are doing the start of year testing, students learn flexibility early and often.

This afternoon in math, students were partnered to play a new game. We have 17 students, so I was a partner too. A few minutes later the counselor came to pull students one at a time for a “getting to know you” meeting. As she took one student, partnerships were sometimes reconfigured and I was “free” to observe. Then the EAL support teacher came in to work on reading assessments, so we were back to an odd number of students and I was a partner again. When the counselor was finished I was again an observer (and sometimes a reteacher, helping the students understand a variation of the first game). Afterward, I commented to the students, “You were all so easy about switching partners.”

Afterward, I commented to the students, “You were all so easy about switching partners.”

“We all got to play the game,” one answered sweetly.

These early days are so busy, but what I have to remind myself is that we are setting up things for the whole year ahead. I want them to know that they can count on each other and do not need to rely on just one partner. They are coming from five different classrooms and we have a few new students too. They did not really know each other until a few days ago. I want them to know that we all have a lot to offer our community. As we work on shared class agreements based on our hopes and dreams for the year (thank you Responsive Classroom), make posters about what we like and do not like in work partners in general, create identity webs, and so much more we are laying the groundwork for the year ahead. I love that one student said on the way to the bus, “I’m in the best class this year- we’re all loving reading.” I know that it won’t always be rainbows and sparkles this year- we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but if we can build this foundation of trust we will definitely have a better year.

I love that one student said on the way to the bus, “I’m in the best class this year- we’re all loving reading.” I know that it won’t always be rainbows and sparkles this year- we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but if we can build this foundation of trust we will definitely have a better year. I feel like we are off to a great start!



*** Zhi Hong shares (a former third grader who is still slicing).