Making a Chart: When I’m Done with My Writing

This is a great way to help kids know what to do next – – next steps!

Making a Chart: When I’m Done with My Writing.


One Month To Learn

In one month, setting up my own classroom for the first time ever, and losing it in the end, I learned…

How to create a classroom space, finally, that works — and that not every space can work for every class.

I learned that no matter what I set up, one child and one parent will love it, and one will hate it. And if I change it to please one, another will be disappointed.

I learned how to run really good Responsive Classroom morning meetings with greetings and activities, afternoon meetings with sharing and music and appreciations, and occasional class councils to work out difficulties.

I learned how to organize a long-term project-based learning project  based around students interests.

I learned a bit about how to manage high-sensory need students and autistic students.

I learned how to run a good math group based on Cognitively Guided Instruction principles.

I learned and practiced accurately assessing reading levels and writing levels, and how to start and maintain a portfolio of work that keeps track of what students are learning.

I learned that I am a wonderful singer and guitar leader with my students, and that they can partake in my joy of music.

I learned to use music to signal transitions and to make transition requirements clear.

I learned how to collect and organize student work.

I learned how to create wall displays that are not distracting to ADD kids.

I learned how to set up a library based on the real reading levels of my students and not what I think they would be.

I learned that I can create some really good, engaging literature-based projects that grab students’ imaginations.

I learned to create a schedule that works through flexibility and consistency.

I learned to ask friends and colleagues for help, and to avoid, when possible, the influence of negative people. And when they can’t be avoided, I learned that negative people can’t destroy me.

I learned that sometimes things are not fair and there is nothing you can do about it except maintain your own integrity and wholeness and walk away.

I learned that I have a need for boundaries and that I respect my own need and the needs of others for healthy boundaries, and that I can’t thrive in a place where boundaries are unclear or unhealthily intrusive or loose.

I learned that no matter what someone says to me, I can learn from them, but I don’t have to believe that their opinions are always correct. I have learned to seek the second opinions of people I trust.

I have learned that there are people out there who want to help me learn. And those are the people I can choose to surround myself with.




Open House, Open Hearts

Open House at a new school is always scary. You don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. Parents, children, teachers, administrators, all checking you out — the new kid on the block. I did not sleep for several nights  before, worried that I would not have everything ready in time, or that somehow I would be found to be lacking.

Instead, I found helpful colleagues with kind words, open hearts and down-to-earth advice. They confirmed my instincts and allowed me to trust myself. They smiled at me and understood my worries, and shared their own experiences. I found children who walked in shy and were delighted by the activities I had set up. I heard the sound of raucous laughter as children dove into the building challenge I offered them, rediscovered old classmates and met new ones. I saw children who smiled, collaborated, and were sdelighted  to be together again. And I met parents who asked insightful questions, wanted to know how they could help, and smiled upon leaving.


National Writing Project

Last week I finished a fellowship with the amazing, intense, life-changing San Diego Area Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Twenty teachers gathered for 3 1/2 weeks to study what works across the curriculum and across age-groups to teach people to write effectively. Topics ranged from blogging to sentence construction to using mentor texts, to creating a supportive environment for Writers Response Groups, to using graphic novels to spur writing in the classroom. It was very exciting.

One of the most amazing aspects of the training was meeting colleagues who work with all ages and in all settings, and finding so much in common, and such open hearts and minds. In our own writing response groups, we shared things we wrote, and received thoughtful feedback. Here is a poem I wrote to introduce the demonstration lesson of my colleague, Graciela, an amazing dual immersion Spanish-English teacher.


When you tell my story,

Tell them I am Graciela,

Graceful, grateful, blessings embodied

In dancing light and sun,

The ocean breeze blowing

In the clear, pure window

Of my soul.


Say that I am fully immersed

In my dual-immersion life,

Bouncing between worlds

For as long as I have lived –

Ventura – Jalisco – Brentwood


My name changing with each move –

Graciela – Grace — Graciela —

Until the lovely lilt of two languages

Lives on my tongue

Like the sweet taste

Of citrus.


Write that I am Chela

Cholula-Girl, Cuevita,

Cheeky cha-cha dancer,

Watcher of chick-flicks,

Snappy snowboarder soaring – and falling –

And picking myself up again –

And again,

A runner on the move,

Never giving up and always

Ready to try

Something new.







Say that I adore my daughters

So much it makes me weep,

My kind, creative wonders.

Tell them that Piglet lives in my mind —

That small warrior of worries —

But Yogananda, Gandhi and

Martin Luther King push my soul

To stand up tall, to live

And let live, To love, and let go.


When you write my story,

Tell them I am a fierce mama

To hundreds of students

Whose lives and learning

I have held in my arms.

Tell them my hands

Are like scales balancing

The needs of every child

To make sure no one

Is left out and all

Are equal. Tell them

I know how it feels

To be in their shoes –

Whether shiny or rough,

Too tight or just right.


When you sing my story,

Make the melody the sound

Of my daughters’ voices,

When you dance my story,

Let them know my hands swirl like swallows,

swooping and looping

Calligraphy in the air,

When you whisper my story

Make it a prayer

For all the world.

When you write my story,

Tell them my heart is as open

As the windows of my home,

That I live in Thanksgiving,

My eyes smiling in beauty,

Wonder and grace.




Susan A. Olcott

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