Sunday, April 20, 2014

Franki and Karen - The Beginning

I couldn't resist the opportunity to post one more time for Franki's birthday when I came across this pic today. The two of us posed for this picture when we were at the Columbia Writing Project Summer Institute that I mentioned in my previous post.

This was the beginning of many years of learning and friendship.

(Yes, Franki looks like she is 12!)

I need to share one more story.  There is a bit of an age difference between Franki and me.  She often takes the opportunity to remind me!  We discovered this when we happened to be talking about my first year of teaching.  She was quick to point out that she was in first grade when I started my first year of teaching in first grade!  Yes, it makes me field old.  Especially, now that she is 50!

Happy Birthday, Franki! 


It's time to celebrate because Frank's birthday is today.  Those of us who know her well, understand what an impact she has made on our lives.  Here's my story.

Thoughts on Franki’s BIG BODACIOUS BIRTHDAY on April 20, 2014

Franki’s BIG BODACIOUS Birthday is something to celebrate.  Each day she makes her mark on the world.  It might be something she says to a child or colleague.  It might the impact she makes on the learning and teaching community. It might be a special piece she has written.  It might be the kind words she has for a friend.  It most definitely is the friendship we have shared over the years. 

Her thought process is, by far, her most prized characteristic.  I cannot compare her thinking to another person on this earth.  She is always thinking.  I imagine her in the quietest moments of her day with her brain racing through the many thoughts she entertains.  I get exhausted just being part of those thoughts that she shares aloud with me.  She is driven by the notion of what is right in the world of education.  And of course, I am inspired.

Our friendship began so many years ago.  I was a teacher starting in a new school district searching for a kindred spirit who would share in my learning and teaching journey. Then I met Franki.  It wasn’t long before I knew that she was special.  She was a master teacher early in her career. Most importantly she was a collaborator.  She connected with people and built her network of colleagues based on what was right for kids.  I was fortunate to be a part of that network.  

We began our journey together in so many ways.  We joined district curriculum committees.  We looked for every opportunity to learn and collaborate.  We went to conferences together.  I can remember so well sitting near the front row of the Columbia Writing Project Summer Institute dazed by the project leaders and writing down every important word spoken by the likes of Lucy Calkins, Shelley Harwayne and so many more luminaries of the education world.  A spark began deep in our souls as we became committed to implementing writing workshop in our classrooms.  When we returned from the conference, we took our first tentative steps driven by our vision of what writing workshop could be.  Very few teachers were implementing writing workshop in our district (yes, it was many years ago).  So we were blazing a new trail in our teaching lives.  There were good days and bad days as we moved forward, but our phone calls to each other (nearly every night) kept us committed and on track.  I don’t think the two of us would have ever made it without those many phone calls, especially on days when my teaching hadn’t gone so well.  Franki was always there to share the strides her kids were making and it gave me hope that we could make writing workshop happen for the kids in our classrooms.  Her conversation was always inspiring and encouraging.  This was a true journey in learning and teaching.  I was the fortunate one because it was a journey I shared with Franki.

Many years have passed and I cannot adequately measure the impact she has made on my personal and professional life.  It has the expanse of the universe. We marked the passing years by the way our kids answered the phone and we watched them grow into the adults they are today.  We shared the joys and struggles of parenthood.  We talked about teaching, writing, learning and leading.  We walked a trail together, side by side, and she became part of the fabric of my own thoughts and visions. 

Most importantly, Franki and I have celebrated together.  Often it was simply a great day in the writing workshop.  It was a line written by a student that shook the very ground we stood on or a special conversation we had with a student.  Celebrations kept us going and confirmed that we were doing the right things for the children in our care.

I am sure it was Franki’s idea for us to write a book together.  She has a way of pushing herself and others – in good ways.  We grew together as we wrote and wrote and rewrote our thoughts.  We talked on the phone. We worked with our editor.  We blocked out weekends to bury ourselves in our writing.  It was a journey that marked a new venture in our professional lives.  In many ways, the task was both frustrating and joyous.  I am proud of the books we have written together.  They are the evidence of our teaching lives and a legacy of our friendship.

As we wrote our books together, I was able to spend some of my flexible work time to observe in Franki’s classroom.  Her enthusiasm for thoughtful instruction was so evident.  I learned so much from her about building relationships with children and talking with them as learners.  It was joyful to watch her teach.  When Stenhouse Publishers asked to videotape in Franki’s classroom, she was quick to take on this new project.  It was a pleasure (and an honor) to spend time in Franki’s classroom and observe her working with children every day.  She touched the lives of her children and my own understanding with her thoughtfulness and reflection.

I recognize the ways she makes her impact on the educational community.  I read her blog posts.  I listen carefully to what she has to say.  Teachers listen to her classroom stories and they carry her ideas and instructional practices into their own classrooms.  Her impact reaches the children in those classrooms and school life becomes richer and more thoughtful because of her.

Franki was the one who encouraged me to start a blog.  I admit that I have not shared Franki’s dedication and commitment to getting my writing out there.  Starting the blog was a learning process and I admire the persistence she has.  The blog she writes with Mary Lee Hahn reaches so many teachers and colleagues. Her network continues to grow and influence the lives of teachers and children. 

Franki continues to make her impact on those of us who know her.  As she writes for Choice Literacy, as she videotapes classroom episodes, as she works with the leadership of NCTE and other professional organizations, she makes her mark.  She enriches my life and the lives of so many people.

Franki is one of those people that push you to the edge of your thinking.  I am forever thankful.  She often confirmed my ideas but our friendship was marked by the times she didn’t agree with me.  There were times when I might have said something really ignorant, and she was there to hit me upside the head, so to speak, and to cause me to reconsider.  There were times when new ideas ignited in our conversation.  Thank goodness she was there.  Our relationship has been built on reflection.  Over the years, she was my sounding board, and I can only hope that I was the same for her.

My favorite routine that Franki and I shared was talking on the phone before arriving at work each day.  It happened like clockwork … and when one of us stayed home because of an illness or an appointment, the space and time seemed painfully silent.  For years, we would start our day with a story or a good chuckle.  Sometimes we complained to each other … and yes, sometimes we gossiped, but we connected each day.  It was a wonderful way to start my day with a kindred spirit who touched my life in so many ways.  My greatest sadness is that we aren’t able to continue our morning routine.  I am retired from my teaching and principalship. (So I am learning the art of sleeping in!)  But, oh, how I miss those conversations.  We will be re- inventing our connections in other ways because who can survive long without those heartfelt conversations.

Franki’s very nature encourages others to take new steps. I could write pages and pages about the impact Franki has made in my life.  She is a thinker, an initiator, an explorer, a collaborator, a stand-in sister, and a confidante. For me, most importantly, she is my friend.  I can’t imagine a life not touched by her presence.

Happy Birthday, Franki.  You are THE BEST!

Sunday, December 1, 2013


My Lost Writing Life

I have fallen away from writing.  That's very sad to me, because it used to be such a huge part of my life.  There were days when I wrote in a journal for pleasure ... recording memories, creating poetry and saving thoughtful meanderings.  Something shifted in my life, and I began to write on demand rather than for myself.  It was just life - my job as an elementary principal, coauthoring three books with Franki Sibberson, articles for Choice Literacy.  I loved the professional writing that I was doing, but I neglected my writing roots.  It is something I regret and hope to change.

While I still enjoy writing for a purpose, I find that it requires a more focused approach to writing.  Who is my audience?  What am I trying to say?  Will readers understand what I am thinking?  Is my writing worth reading?  Is my writing as crafted as it could be?  There is a sort of tension in the act of this kind of writing.  I will continue to write professionally, but I need to reach back into my writing life.

I miss the days when I captured thoughts in my journal - just because I loved doing it.  No one was going to read my writing unless I decided to share it.  The focus was on discovering my thoughts and letting them spill out on the page.  Sometimes, I crafted a memory I didn't want to lose.  Sometimes, I didn't discover my topic until I started scribing the words on the page - a journey of discovery.  Sometimes, I would play with words or write down a quote that captured my thinking.  Sometimes, I pasted items into my journal - a fortune from a fortune cookie, an article from the newspaper, a snapshot, or a sketch.  And there was something about writing with a pencil in my notebook rather than word processing on the computer.  It's difficult to explain but my pencil scratching the page cannot be replaced by a keyboard. Thinking about the beginnings of my writing journey brings me comfort.  I need that sense of writing back in my life.

So when I heard about #nerdlution and the public commitments folks were making on Twitter, I decided that writing in my notebook each day might be a great goal to bring me back to the joy of writing. (See the post from Franki Sibberson on Year of Reading to find out more about #nerdlution.)

Getting Healthy

I recently retired from my dream job as an elementary principal.  I used to say that I never had time to eat right and exercise.  Well, now I have no excuse.  Enough said.  

My Nerdlutions

So here are my goals for the 50-day Nerdlution:

Goal #1 - write in my notebook for pleasure each day
Goal #2 - eat right and exercise each day 

I will join others posting on Twitter (#nerdlution) to keep myself accountable.  Wish me luck.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Slice of Life - Kitting to Learn, Reflect and Celebrate

I have recently retired from being an elementary school principal, so I fill my days with others things besides being at school.  I miss the teachers and the kids but am continuing to learn, reflect and celebrate.  This is my first Slice of Life post.  It's part of my motto:  Never Stop Learning.

I have always been a knitter.  I use to knit much more when I was younger.  Of course, the crazy life of being a mother, wife, teacher, and principal often got in the way of settling down with the knitting in my hands.  But now I have time - precious time - to choose the things I want to do.

I usually knit some everyday.  I also try to read and write everyday.  My most reflective time is when I sit down to knit.  Somehow, life slows down while I am knitting.  My hands take on the routine of the knitting while my brain has time to wander. 

Yesterday, I went to the store to purchase yarn for a blanket for my grandson.  I was looking forward to working in shades of blue and grey.  It seemed to be a calming notion.  However, my grandson had a different idea in mind.  Even though he is only five, his favorite color is red and he wants Ohio State colors (grey, white and scarlet) in his blanket.  So I learned to be flexible

In conversation with my daughter, I discovered that JoAnn Fabrics accepts coupons from Michaels Craft Store and Hobby Lobby.  So I scoured the latest newspaper ads and got on line to gather my coupons.  I ended up with seven 40% off coupons and headed to the store.  So I learned to be frugal.

When I sat down last evening to begin knitting, I was tackling an unfamiliar pattern for the blanket.  I worked on a sample swatch, planned my color combinations and began.  But after a bit of knitting nearly a dozen rows, I discovered that I miscounted and made a mistake a few rows back.  New patterns can be tricky.  I had to learn two new stitches and had to keep careful count as I went along.  I had to take out several rows before I could continue.  So I learned, once again, that mistakes are all part of learning.

I will keep at it.  The blanket is a big project and will take me weeks, maybe months, to complete.  Being a knitter teaches you patience as your project unveils slowly over time.  So I learned that knitting takes patience and persistence.

While I knit, I have time to think.  As I work on this project, I will have many hours to reflect on life and its ups and downs.  I will have time to celebrate as the blanket grows in size.  I will have time to think about my precious grandson and the person he is growing up to be.  The life of a knitter is one that is filled with learning, reflection and celebration.  I am glad I am a knitter. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Vision for Learning, Teaching and Leading

A school community is not about one leader but many leaders including students, parents, and teachers.  I have strong beliefs about learning, teaching and leading.  Leading in a learning community is about standing up for what we believe in. Leading is helping others find their passions and reach their potential.  What brings everyone together with a common wisdom is VISION.

When we opened our school, it was important that we established a vision statement that represented our shared beliefs and guided us toward becoming the school we wanted to be.  We were filled with hope and passion about our new school.  We wanted to establish a vision that would bring us together and represent our commitment to the journey ahead.

Why should we establish a vision?

A vision gives us direction.  It points us toward our goal.  It's our true north.  It captures what we will stand for and reminds us of where we are going.  Everything we do aligns with our vision.  A vision is a lense we can use to make sure we are holding strong to what our beliefs.  A vision builds a common language, a common wisdom and a shared dedication to our school. 

Visions are crafted with serious thought and carefully chosen words.  To others our vision can simply be a collection of words.  But for those who created the vision and live by it each day, it is strong and full of passion and commitment.  The words have depth and the message is clear.  

Just as the picture of a beautiful lake brings us back to a favorite vacation spot, a vision can be our cue for thoughtful learning, teaching and leading.  It is an affirmation for the hallmarks of our life at school. 

In my next post, I will share how we built the vision that would guide all of us toward the school of our dreams.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Three Days of Inspiration - Life and School

This post is a continuation of a series of three days of reflection on Life and School. 


Day 2 was spent at home.  My daughter was having a yard sale the upcoming weekend.  I would be there to help with the kids during the yard sale hours.  So on this day, I decided to gather some things to put in the garage sale. I didn't intend to take much but I figured the opportunity was there for me to pass a few things onto new owners.

I started with books.  I recently brought home all the books I had at school because I retired from 37 years of teaching and leading as a principal.  Those of you who are teachers can imagine what one can collect in 37 years.   I had shelves of picture books that will be given book by book and visit by visit to my grandchildren.  I had shelves and shelves of professional books on learning and teaching.  I passed some of them onto other teachers and brought some home because they were hallmark books that I couldn't do without. I had shelves of professional books on leadership and education.  Some of those I left for the new principal and the rest I brought home.  Needless to say I needed some bookshelf space.  I purchased a new bookcase but that wouldn't be enough.  So I started to sort.

I have a hard time parting with books.  I am a book junkie.  After I read a book, it sits on my shelf and reminds me of characters I loved.  However, I rarely reread them.  So on this day, I asked myself if I could part with a few of my fiction titles to create some shelf space.  I spent hours sorting and stacking.  I realized that some of the books I had read 15 years ago.  Why shouldn't I share these with others?

As I looked over each book and contemplated if I could part with it, I began to remember.  Why did I read this one?  Was it recommended by a friend?  Was it a book club selection?  I recalled the stories, the places, and the characters.  Who did I talk to about the book?  Why had I kept it for so long?

I finally had the books sorted into two stacks.  The first stack included the collection of books I was just not ready to part with  (Love in the Time of Cholera, Crossing to Safety and so many more).  In the other stack, I had those books that were difficult to part with but hoped someone else would enjoy a new reading adventure.  I packed those in a box ready to join the yard sale treasures.

Throughout the day, I walked about my home noticing other things -  not just books - that I could add to the yard sale.  As I considered each item I asked myself, "Could I part with it?  Did it still have a purpose?  Was it time to let it go?

These thoughts brought me back to school life.  Every school year, I would enter school in August to re-imagine my classroom, redesign the space, and reconsider routines.  The hardest part was letting go of some things to make way for the new.  It's good to let go of things.  It opens doors for new possibilities, new ways of thinking, and new adventures in learning, teaching and leading. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I Lead - A Life of Mentorship (#savmp)

I think leadership has always been a part of me.  It's difficult to explain.  My leadership came in the form of helping others.  My style is a quiet form of leadership backed by a strong sense of what I believe in.  It's not difficult for others to recognize what is important to me.  From there, I can lead by supporting others on their journeys of learning, teaching and leadership.


An Opportunuity for Mentorship

Now that I am retired, I want to focus on two things: staying involved in education and giving back to the profession.  When George Couros from Canada posed the idea of a principal mentorship, I jumped at the opportunity.  I saw it as a chance to give back and continue learning.  George had this great idea of pairing mentor principals with mentees to support them along on their leadership journey.  When he put the idea out there, he received an overwhelming response of 350 folks who showed an interest in the collaboration.  What a great opportunity to learn together.  Each mentor has been assigned three mentees.  I will be mentoring a high school vice-principal from Kenya, an assistant elementary principal from Texas, and a vice-principal from a secondary community school in British Columbia.


Why I Lead

George suggested we write about why we lead.  There was a time when leadership seemed a scary venture.  I was always interested in helping others recognize their potential.  Maybe that's what led me to leadership.  I strongly believe that leadership is not synonymous with position.  Long before I was a principal, I felt I was searching for ways to lead others - not to places I thought they should be but to where they wanted to go.  Part of being a leader was developing a strong sense of empathy in order to recognize what others wanted and finding ways to support them.  I watched for people who had a quest and asked:  How can I help you?  What do you need to be successful?

Early on in my career, leadership was mostly my work with children.  It came from the depths of caring, nurturing and helping them discover who they could be.  Gradually, it spread to my work with other teachers. I recognized the value of collaborating and learning from others.  I looked for ways to get conversations started and sustain the good work they were doing in classrooms.  It seems that in every position I held there were doors open for leadership experiences.  I had my own ideas to share but more so wanted to help others discover theirs.  I wanted to make an impact on the lives of others.  Maybe it is my own desire to leave a legacy - a legacy that doesn't showcase my accomplishments but the success of others.


Developing a Leadership Style 

For me, leadership is not taking a loud stance and demanding that people follow me.  It's about serving others and leading quietly from behind.  I have always loved this quote:

     A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good 
     when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise
     him ... But of a good leader who talks little when his work is 
     done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."  
     ~  Lao Tzu

For some, this might be considered a weak form of leadership.  But I think I lead from example and from a strong belief system that is embedded in everything I do.  People know what I will stand up for.  They know what is important to me.  They recognize my non-negotiables.  Once I have established who I am and what I stand for, I can lead quietly and by example.  So I lead with words and actions.

I want others to believe in their own potential.  I want them to know that they choose their own paths.  They make their own choices.  They take their own risks and reap the rewards.  For me, leading means unlocking potential, connecting people, and promoting their independence - working myself into the background so they can lead themselves and begin to lead others. 

Leading is about building a community in which others can succeed.  At school, that means creating a network of collaborations that support learning and leading.  It's important to me that students as well as teachers have a strong voice in what happens at school. 

At this point in my life, I am searching for new ways to lead.  I am looking forward to participating in the principal mentorship opportunity and I continue to grow and learn.  That's the best part!