Two weeks ago, I wrote about Celebrations, Joy, and Delights; one week ago, I wrote about the Letdown. Today, I find myself reflecting on this past week with an equal mixture of both celebrations and letdowns. In other words, hills and valleys.
There continues to be much to celebrate in Fort Madison Community School District. We are in our fifth year of operating as Professional Learning Communities, under Solution Tree‘s PLC model. In attending PLC’s at all grade levels, I am noticing a trend in how meetings are run: there continues to be more and more teacher ownership of each meeting. Data coaches are there to guide (and do a phenomenal job!), administration is present, but more and more, our teachers are taking the lead… as it should be. In addition, the collaboration that occurs at these meetings continues to get stronger. Collaboration time always seems to fall short, especially for our two elementary buildings which exist on opposite sides of town, but we had scheduled collaboration time on Wednesday, and those elementary teams went to work. It can be extremely difficult to reach consensus on instructional decisions within a team that resides in the same building; our elementary teams have the added hurdle of working with teams at a distance, with a directive to keep things (lessons, materials, etc.) aligned. Not an easy task, but it is happening! Essentially, teams are engaged in “Plan B” as described by J. Stuart Ablon Changeable (a book I highly recommend!)
This past week has afforded me multiple opportunities to collaborate with several of our new teachers, who continue to astound me. They come with a great deal of talent, a desire to do well on behalf of their students, and a willingness to ask questions. It just doesn’t get any better than that when looking to grow as a professional, and when continuing to make our district something to sing about.
In addition to collaborating with our own educators, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with people from afar. An administrator from another school district in Iowa reached out for some input regarding the selection of a new reading curriculum for their 22-23 school year. It was easy to talk, at length, about the wonders of EL Education, so much so that I figured I had bored the guy to tears. Low and behold, he sent me a follow-up email with additional questions. The potential for collaboration here is pretty darn exciting. On Friday of this week, I participated in an interview with Daniel, from southwest suburbs of Chicago, who is pursuing a Masters Degree and had questions about the position of a literacy coach. Daniel and I exchanged lots of educational lingo, and found many similarities between our districts and our own educational experience. The discrepancies in our experiences left me feeling proud of where FMCSD is on our journey with the PLC process. It’s easy to take for granted how far we’ve come in the last five years.
During the interview with Daniel, in which I was driving to Keosauqua (more on that in a bit), he asked what my favorite part of being a literacy coach is. Hands down, my favorite part is engaging in coaching cycles because I get to work with both students and teachers; I get to learn from teachers, I get to refine my coaching craft, and I get to be with kids. I didn’t get to share this with Daniel, but another favorite part of the job is playing the role of the Queen of Books, with my sidekick, Bob the Bookworm. Bob and I launched our tour for the 21-22 school year on Friday, visiting all eight of our kindergarten classrooms. I have to admit, ventriloquism was much easier last year when masks were required! Side note: I stole the “Queen” idea from our amazing math coach, who has been known as the Queen of Ten for much longer than I have been the Queen of Books!
In the spirit of celebrations, I can’t help but mention Fort Madison football’s Varsity win over Washington on Friday night. Thank you, Chuck Vandenberg and the Pen City Current, for excellent coverage of the Hounds’ football season. If I heard our (amazing!) announcers on Bloodhound Sports correctly, that was the first Bloodhound win over Washington in over 13 years. Head coach Derek Doherty is one amazing dude. The guy is an expert at team-building, perseverance, and capitalizing on the talent of these young men. He never misses an opportunity to brag on his players. He has turned around a team that had been struggling for years… and won’t take an ounce of credit for it.
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, this week was a mix of celebrations and letdowns. Without getting into the nitty gritty of the letdowns (and there were many), I continue to be reminded of the importance of “armoring up” with positivity during those good moments/days, because the letdowns are inevitable.
Bill and I spent the weekend in Keosauqua for the 31st Annual State Line Rally. It was only our second or third State Line Rally, but certainly different from the others we attended in the past. Location of the rally changed, due to some political back-and-forth, and attendees (much smaller percentage than in past years) were understandably upset. Paula, an ABATE member, was one such attendee. Rather than getting caught up in the disappointment, however, Paula was enjoying herself to the max, and bent our ears to tell us all about it. At age 75 (we guessed her to be 60), this Kentucky-born gal has led a life full of struggle and strife, but looks and feels as good as she does because of her attitude. She did not mince words when she told Bill and me: live life to the fullest, enjoy every minute, take nothing for granted, and find the positive in everything. Paula, you’re singing my song!
Following Friday night’s interaction with Paula, I enjoyed an early Saturday-morning run through Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, where I encountered some significant hills. Upon the descent of the first hill, all I could think of was my aching knees (I have a runner’s chronic knee pain, which really flairs up when running down hill) and the thought of how much it was going to stink to make the return journey and ascend that hill. I couldn’t entirely enjoy the speed and ease that comes with running downhill because of my misguided focus. Upon recognizing what my mind was up to, I promptly adjusted that mindset and focused on enjoying the moment. Eckhart Tolle calls this The Power of Now.
On the return uphill journey, I did 3 things: 1) disassociated from the uphill climb as I started to write this blogpost in my mind, 2) struggled with the uphill climb, and 3) enjoyed the pain/struggle of the uphill climb, knowing how much better I would feel after reaching the “summit.” After reaching that “summit,” I was also able to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Des Moines River, as well as a deer or two, grazing along the roadway.
If hills are the struggle, valleys are the retreat. I’m not sharing anything earth-shattering here when I say that life is full of hills and valleys. Clint and Becky Kobelt drove this point home about valleys on Saturday. After my run, Bill and I visited the site of their new home. Wow! We couldn’t be more happy for these two. With a tight timeline nipping at their heals, they have procured an amazing property, where the race is on to get livable quarters built before the final sale of their current home. This property is the sight where they will build their dream home. Not only have they been kind enough to hire our boys to be part of the project (which also involves the construction of a mother-in-law efficiency home, that which will serve as their livable quarters), but they were kind enough to take time to give us the tour on Saturday morning… which is where this valley business comes in. They have many views to look forward to, one being that of the morning fog that settles into a valley near their prospective home. It is a sight to behold.
Just to drive home the point of hills and valleys… celebrations and letdowns, ascents and descents… I was listening to the extraordinary Linnea Ehri in an interview on the Reading League’s Teaching, Reading & Learning podcast. During the interview, Linnea describes the disappointments that came with her journey around reading research. Her message? “Be persistent and collaborative.” If she had given up after having many, many research proposals turned down, she wouldn’t be where she is today, and we wouldn’t have the wealth of knowledge that we do about the Phases of Reading development.
And to further drive the point home… George Couros sent out yet another inspirational email this week in which he described his struggle with a fitness test that was a requirement during his school years in Canada. The short story: he could never “hang” for more than two seconds during the flexed arm hang. The test plagued him year after year. Fast forward to now, after a year of an amazing lifestyle transformation, and George does at least 100 flexed arm hangs every day. His words of wisdom include the following: “When you try something hard, there is a chance of failure. But if you never try, failure is guaranteed. You might need that little “jump” to get started, but eventually, if you keep at it, things will happen. Keep going!”