Slice of Life Challenge day 31 #sol17- FINAL DAY

Title: “Grateful”

When I began this year’s Slice of Life Story Challenge, many thoughts swirled through my mind.  What would I write about?  Would my writing be good enough?  Who would read it?  How could I possibly write for 31 days straight- what, with three children, a full-time job, a house, and all the responsibilities that come with such a full life- where would this fit?

And yet, here I am on day 31, along with so many who probably brought similar questions to the challenge.  As a first-time slicer, this experience has opened my eyes to what is possible when people in a community all commit to something and see it through together.  And what a wonderful ‘something’ to commit to seeing through!  A few things I learned:

  1.  Writing enriches – As many of us who engaged with this challenge discovered (or already knew), writing everyday enriches the world.  Perhaps on a small scale, yes.  But the act of writing, as Alan J. Wright wrote early on, allows us to live life twice- once physically, and once interpretively.  And this enriches not only us as writers, but us as readers.  For it is through reflective interpretation that we learn and evolve.
  2. Courage is contagious-  I was deeply moved by those in this community who chose to share and write about incredibly courageous topics.  And to be honest, reading all of you who took such great risk in your writing by writing about the hard topics, inspired me to do the same.  My deduction is that because of the nature of the supportive comments left by readers, we all felt safe, safe enough to write about what really matters.
  3. The ‘writer’s eye’ is real-  For many years, I’ve worked to teach both teachers and students to ‘live like a writer,’ to be on the lookout for ideas that inspire. But honestly, I had never developed that muscle to the degree I have developed it this month.  Living into a commitment of writing everyday has been a bit like an exercise program, a program that has successfully resulted in a strengthened ability to truly reside inside a place of writerly observation.
  4. This community is awesome-  The educators who wrote alongside each other across this month truly are inspiring people.  Your stories and your courage to faithfully be willing to write them down and share them with the world have lifted me as a writer.  And for that, I am truly grateful

Thanks to all of you who have been reading each day (or some days), as well.  Your emails, tweets, and personal comments have been both humbling and unbelievably encouraging.  I thank you for them!

For those of you wishing to continue writing within this community, remember that Slice of Life Tuesdays will continue on Two Writing Teachers blog!  I’ll be hosting the month of April.  Hope to see you there!

Until next year…thank you everyone 🙂



Slice of Life Challenge day 30 #sol17

Choice can inspire true engagement. I got to see that today…

On my way out of a classroom today, I stopped by Qaiden’s desk.  I don’t know him well, but I think of Qaiden as a rather quiet, perspicacious young man.  Kneeling down next to his desk, I whispered, “Hey Q, what are you working on today?”

“De-extinction,” he responded in his level, calm manner, not looking away from his computer screen.

De-extinction?  What did he just say?  Never has a sixth grader dropped a term that’s landed so directly in the no-man’s land of my mental lexicon.  I honestly don’t think I’d ever heard that word in my life.  What I did know is that some of our sixth graders are currently knee-deep in a research phase for an argumentative writing piece.  Over Qaiden’s shoulder, I saw some type of informational website up on his Chromebook screen.  I looked.  Yeah, I’m still not sure what he’s talking about, I thought to myself.  So I asked, “So, what is ‘de-extinction,’ Q?”

“Well, it’s sort of like cloning of animals…kind of like bringing back animals that were extinct.”

Fascinating.  My mind began whirring. “So, this is your argument topic?” I queried.

“Yeah, I think so,” Qaiden responded.

“So, will you be arguing in favor of this, or against it?” I pressed on.

“I’m not really sure yet.”  And then he looked at me.  “I’m still learning about it.”  Qaiden spoke politely, courteously.   But that was my cue.  It was clear to me that I had interrupted his process.  His eyes went right back to his screen.  I’m still learning about it.  Okay, time to tiptoe away.

Sometimes I worry about engagement with our middle school students.  I worry about kids falling into the category of what Phil Schlechty calls “strategic compliance.”  According to Schlechty, students in this category demonstrate “high attention with low commitment.”  They do not see inherent or direct value in the task, but they do associate the task with results that do have value- like grades, for example.

But as I quietly made my way to the door,  I wasn’t worried about Qaiden today.  Nope.  His teacher had allowed him choice in writing topic.  And his words, his actions, all spoke volumes.  He was engaged.  Truly engaged. As teachers, many of us believe wholeheartedly in choice when it comes to reading.  But choice matters in writing, too.  Qaiden is interested in de-extinction.  Why?  I have no idea. But he is.  And when writers are able to pursue a topic that fascinates them, they will write better.

Leaving Qaiden’s classroom that day left me inspired.  What if we could get every kid to be this engaged?

EPILOGUE:  I looked up ‘de-extinction’.  According to Wikipedia (2017):

Deextinction, or resurrection biology, or species revivalism is the process of creating an organism, which is either a member of, or resembles an extinct species, or breeding population of such organisms. Cloning is the most widely proposed method, although selective breeding has also been proposed.


Slice of Life Challenge day 29 #sol17

As soundlessly as possibly, I lowered myself into a chair in the back of the room.  Desks in a circle, some of the eighth graders in the room stared awkwardly at each other, while others bent heads down toward notebooks, silently moving lips to rehearse.  The teacher initiated the discussion. “Okay, fictional violence…what do you think?” she said.

A slight pause.  Then hands raised, a few. A bulky, athletic-looking boy began.  “Well, I think violent video games are fine because they’re labeled ’17 and over.’  The people at the store will not sell them to kids younger than that. So what’s the problem?”

Murmurs ensued around the classroom.

Other hands shot up.  Another boy spoke, “I think video games that are violent are not good because they have no moral value.  I mean, what do they really contribute to society?  All you do in these games is cause violence.  Where’s the value in that?”

More murmurs.

Right next to the teacher, a third boy sat up in his chair.  “Well, one thing that’s good about video games is it provides employment for programmers.”  Fascinating, I thought to myself. I never would have thought of that.

“But these games can be confusing to young minds,” came a girl’s voice from across the room.  “They play the game and think that it’s okay to act like that.”

As a literacy coach, I immediately began to mentally lists strengths, as well as next steps for these writers.  But honestly, I was struck by the intricacy of some of their opinions.  As educators of this age, I was reminded of how imperative it is that we recognize the potential of these students to think deeply and critically about a topic.  The key becomes how to adeptly guide and facilitate students discussion, thinking, reading, and writing in order to foster analytical skills.

Today, the kids scratched the surface.  But that’s an exciting surface to scratch.  I look forward to where they go from here.



Slice of Life Challenge day 28 #sol17

On Sunday, we laid down the vocal tracks in the recording studio…

Entering a recording studio is a magical moment.  This is especially true for those of us who are musicians, but do not have the frequent opportunity to record.  As our lead guitarist and writer pulled open the door on Sunday, I felt a bit like I was walking on air.  Our singer Samantha had arrived already, and our engineer Mark stood ready to go.  Making our way past the gleaming Yamaha grand piano and microphones set up in the main studio, we all proceeded to the sound booth to craft a plan for the day; we would lay down all vocal tracks to the four songs we recorded two weeks ago, as well as an organ solo. Agreed.

Many months of rehearsal led us to this moment.  Samantha, Frank, and I knew our parts, and we all felt excited to overlay our vocal harmonies on the instrumental tracks.  But what is possible in a studio recording is truly amazing- it does not have to only be three voices, it can be five, six, seven, nine, or more.  The possibilities are limitless.  And one by one with Mark’s engineering prowess,  we created not just harmonies, but vocal tapestries.

As we worked, I was reminded of a quote by Lucy Calkins, who said, “It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, and design of those ideas.”  I think of this quote often as a writer.  And Sunday, I thought about this within a musical context. Of course we all could have recorded dozens of tracks. But the spirit of the session was not about the number of tracks we recorded.  This was our chance to work as artists- artists selecting, balancing, and designing ideas together in a musical co-creation.

Everyone left Sunday with a smile.  Personally, I plan to add this experience to the short list of cherished musical experiences.  Because how often is it that we have an opportunity to play a part in turning ideas into art?




Slice of Life Challenge day 27 #sol17

“‘Robots?!’ Papa, can we check this out? Please?” Four sparkling eyes stared up at me with the hope and innocence that only children can muster.  My eldest daughter held out a DVD copy of the 2005 full-length film to me.  Now, the librarian had just handed my library card back to me, and it still hung in midair between my right index finger and thumb.  I looked down at the two of them.

“Are you sure you want to check this out?” I asked.  You see, my daughters have been terrified of full-length films for years.  It has only been recently that the unusual fear of movies has subsided (somewhat), and they have begun to take an interest in them as entertainment.

Briefly, my mind flashed back to four years ago when my wife and I had purchased “Finding Nemo” for a plane ride.  “Finding Nemo”- perfectly harmless, engrossing and innocent children’s movie, right?  Livi took one look at the iPad, saw the blackened screen, heard the ominous tones of an orchestral bass, and that was it. “No!” she shrieked in terror.  Confounded, my wife pushed ‘stop’ and I took a quick glance around the plane- nope, nobody filling out an incident report, yet.  “But honey, this movie is so cute…” we attempted to explain.

“No!” came my child’s voice again.  Okay, that was that.  No full-length movies for years to come.  You see, once our next child arrived, Livi successfully corralled her little sister into this bizarre fear club, too.  So for us, it has been PBS Kids episodes and Scooby Doo circa 1969.  Until now.

“Sure, girls, we can check it.”  I handed my card back to the librarian.

“Yay!” they both exploded, placing the DVD upon the countertop.

Strange how we mark time.  Sometime it’s birthday parties.  Sometimes it’s milestones.  Sometimes it’s teeth falling out.  Sometimes it’s the relinquishing of a fear of movies.

However we mark the passing of time, parents feel it.  And it’s in those moments when we realize our children are no longer who, or how, they once were… that is when we truly feel it.


Slice of Life Challenge day 26 #sol17


Yawning, I crept down to my basement.  Time to try to make a dent in the laundry, I thought.  With a busy family of five, the pile had grown uncharacteristically large.  Stepping off the last step of the staircase, my eyes rested upon the miscellaneous debris. Boxes of my daughters’ drawings, old files, plumbing parts, recycling, and seemingly millions of other items consumed the basement floor.  I sighed.  A new meaning for ‘unfinished basement.’

After switching a wet load of my family’s clothes to the dryer and starting a new load, I ascended the steps to the main floor. Rounding the bend through the dining room, I climbed the stairs to the upstairs.  Placing both feet on the landing, I looked up.  Still that hole in the ceiling.  I sighed again.  Spackling tools, a rubber mallet, and a stool rested guiltily upon the floor in the corner, refusing to make eye contact with me.  An unfinished job. We gotta get to that, I thought to myself.

Quickly dressing, I quick-stepped back down to the main floor, making my way toward the kitchen.  In the fireplace sat the pile of ashes I’d been meaning to sweep out.  Another one. Dismissing that thought, I made my way to the front door and out to the car. We needed milk to make pancakes.  Starting the car, I was immediately greeted by the check engine light, politely reminding me an oil change was due. Gotta schedule that today, I thought to myself.

Returning from the store, I turned to reenter the driveway.  That’s when I spied the large, panelled window adorning the front of the house, and remembered the sills were still rotten.  I gotta get those replaced this summer, I thought with another sigh.

Now back in the house, I could hear everyone was now awake and at the breakfast table.  The aroma of sizzling sausage greeted my nostrils, along with the playful chatter of my three daughters in the dining room.  Iris, the baby, sat laughing in her babyseat as Lexi teased and made jokes with her along with Livi.  Three beautiful daughters, all so young but so happy.  They too are unfinished.  But I think I’ll continue focusing on them. They’re what’s important.

I’ll get that other stuff later.




Slice of Life Challenge day 25 #sol17

  • “Story is the basic unit of human understanding.”  On Saturday, March 18th, Drew Dudley, the keynote speaker for the Teachers College Saturday Reunion, made this profound statement.  And for me, listening to that speech has been the type of experience that has become a lens through which I currently view the world.  Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hear a story of how one person can unknowingly make a profound difference for another.

One of my colleagues has shared with me that her husband now lives with a mental disability that affects his short-term memory.  However, despite this impediment, he still enjoys coaching middle school sports (alongside a head coach), particularly soccer and softball.  The problem is, sometimes he is unable to remember to come to practice each day.  Last fall, one of his athletes, who shall be known as “Andrea” here, took it upon herself to call him each day to remind him about soccer practice.  And each day, he would thank her, get in his car, and drive to practice.

But that’s not the story.

Many months later, my colleague, amidst another hectic day of middle school, was rushing down the hall to a meeting.  Suddenly, she heard a voice from the cafeteria.  It was a parent’s voice.  A quick exchange ensued.  “I’m sorry,” my colleague explained, “I can’t really talk right now.  I must get to a meeting.”  The parent in the cafeteria waved her on, understanding completely.

The meeting ended before scheduled, and upon her return to her classroom, my colleague decided to stop in at the cafeteria…just to see if maybe that parent might still be there.  She was.  Entering the cafe, my colleague engaged the parent, letting her know her meeting had ended and she had a few minutes.  “We wanted you to know something,” the parent began.  It was Andrea’s mother.  “Interacting with you and your husband last fall has changed Andrea’s life,” she explained.

Somewhat taken aback, my colleague felt a bit shocked by this news.  Andrea’s mom continued. “Allowing her to call him every day and work with him as a coach has sparked something inside her. She not only loves him dearly, but now wants to learn more about people with disabilities, how to work them and help them. It’s just amazing. It’s changed the trajectory of her life.” The parent looked my colleague in the eye.  “It really has changed her life. And we want to thank you and your husband for this.”

Drew Dudley, in his keynote address, discussed a second fundamental truth: You never know how your story, your actions, will affect others.  “Do people smile at the mere mention of your name?” he asked.  For Andrea, the mere mention of my colleague’s husband’s name certainly does.