You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

When Leo was a puppy, he needed to be taught how to do everything from coming when called, to relieving himself outside, to learning that if food was left on a table or counter that it was not an invitation for him to help himself!  At some point, he learned, or used his instincts to help him retrieve objects when thrown – tennis balls, sticks, you name it, he would chase the soaring item and sure enough, bring it right back to whoever initiated the “game.”

At nine years old, Leo, a beautiful Golden Retriever who prances when walking (perhaps due to his father’s famous show dog lineage) has shifted his approach to retrieving.  Yes, he will still occasionally be enthused by the stick throwing routine, but these days, Leo has his sights set on a much more creative approach to play.

Instead of waiting for an object to be thrown and then capturing it, Leo initiates a whole new approach to fun.  Most mornings, he can be found racing through the Swift River trails en route to a quieter open space where there is a sandy spot that has easy access to a slower moving part of the river.  Upon closer view, one will notice that Leo is actually surveying the shallow waters and then hand, or paw-selecting a river rock.

Sometimes the transaction is seamless, and he is able to secure the rock in his mouth before bringing it up to higher ground, proudly dropping it near our feet and going back for more.  Other times, Leo may choose a rock that is too big for his mouth span and he will relentlessly try to capture it, nudging it with his nose – usually heading in the wrong direction away from the shore – whining at it and if really frustrated, barking profusely.  I am in awe of the whole fascinating process!  The fruits of his labor have been collecting over these summer weeks and he now has garnered quite a river rock garden!

As I wonder at how amazing Leo’s new development has been to observe, I am reminded that an old dog can learn new tricks!  Taking a page out of Leo’s book, and with the guidance of many writing legends – past and present – I am creating this blog to have a place to share my life moments – immense or miniscule – of any size.  It is here that I am committing to living a writerly life so that I can be a more authentic teacher of writing for my fourth grade students.  Cheers to all teachers as we get closer to the new school year ahead on the horizon.




Rethinking Classroom Jobs: The Essential Crew

Behind every successful company, there are hardworking employees.  Showing up to work every day with a smile.  Offering their hearts and souls to make things happen.  Ready to pitch in when the going gets tough.  Working together toward a common goal.

As a new school year is on the horizon, my thoughts have been focused on building community in my classroom.  Like a successful company, a classroom needs dedicated students who care about our space and work collaboratively to keep our days running as smoothly as possible while together.

What better way to encourage accountability and community than to implement a job structure within the classroom!  Not a new concept, I’m aware.  Over the years, I’ll admit that I’ve had several versions of this very thing, but always felt that I was missing the mark somehow.  Reflecting on what went well (and what didn’t) as well as researching how other elementary teachers approach classroom jobs, I think I’ve devised a system that will appeal to my new crop of students.  Consider this.

In the past, I created a job for every student so that no one felt left out.  No more. I took the number of students, divided them in half and used that number to help me decide which jobs were essential to keeping the classroom moving while giving students independence and me more time to teach (more on the selection later.)  This year, I have 18 registered students; therefore I have 9 jobs.  I know some of you are wondering what will happen if I gain or lose students.  Don’t worry, I factored extra jobs into the mix for this very reason.

By having half as many jobs as students, I will be rotating the jobs on a weekly basis.  In our classroom, students are assigned a class number. Using the number system, I have placed numbers 1 and 2 on either side of the first job, 3 and 4 on either side of the second job, and so on.  The first week of school will be an “odd” week, so the odd numbers will be responsible for the jobs.  Week 2 will be an “even” week, so the responsibility will shift to the even numbers.  After both odd and even numbers have completed the first rotation, I will keep the numbers in place and simply advance the jobs by one so that a new job awaits each student either during the odd or even number week that follows.  This plan sounds good in theory, so I’m hopeful that the unveiling and implementation will be seamless, too!

With half as many jobs as I’m accustomed to assigning, selecting the jobs that would become the essential “Crew” list required heavy thinking.  About non-negotiable ones and ones that I felt students would embrace.  Thinking about the classroom routines helps to narrow down the list.  One of the articles that I read online ( posited that some jobs are considered “indefinite” or “semi-permanent” like a librarian.  Not every student is cut out for this type of work; therefore, it’s not on the regular rotation and may last longer than the traditional one week duration. Other jobs can be considered in this way, too.  I like knowing that I can add jobs in this capacity along the way and not be tied down to a long list of jobs for the entire school year.

Here’s the list of essential jobs that I selected:

  • Lunch Count (responsible for tallying lunch choices daily for kitchen)
  • Office Runner (I debated calling this Errand Runner, but felt that most often trips are made to the office vs. elsewhere)
  • Teacher’s Helper (really a catch-all for unexpected things that surface – whatever you need!)
  • Paper Passer (could be named Materials Manager, but in reality we pass out mostly paper, so I kept it authentic)
  • Line Leader (responsible for setting the example of model hallway behavior leading class outside of classroom)
  • Lunch Patrol (responsible for picking a classmate to bring lunch bucket to cafe before recess and back to classroom after lunch)
  • Tech Assistant (responsible for making sure all Chromebooks are back in cart AND charging and can also assist classmates with troubleshooting if desired)
  • Floor Monitor (mostly an end-of-day job, but can be throughout day, to be sure floor is clean and chairs get stacked)
  • Substitute

The extra jobs that I have so far either to replace, add into the rotation, or consider as indefinites depending on effectiveness and status of the class are:

  • Librarian
  • Phone Assistant (we just got new phones and instead of being wall-mounted, they sit on teacher’s desk which made me re-think this as a job)
  • Pencil Manager

During the first week of school, I plan to use interactive modeling to “teach” the jobs so that students can be successful right from the start.  As with many rising companies, there are bound to be growing pains.  If you have thoughts or tips on my plan, my ears are open!  I’m optimistic and excited to share this new system with my rising fourth graders next week!


The Dance

Tiny droplets fell from the sky, kissing my nose as I gathered the paddles and life preservers.

We were the second car heading to the lake.  Two of us meeting the other three to make our family complete.

The dirt road was dampened, but not soaked, leading the way to the others.

The sun was intense when it came out from behind the sea of clouds.

Hot enough to warrant a family swim.

That’s when we heard the first clap of thunder – a warning to remain vigilant.

I held out hope that fifteen minutes would pass without another sound.


It was like a dance with Mother Nature – we would make a move, then she would respond.

In the water, wading, floating, contemplating a swim to the island.

Then the sky darkened.

That one moment unknowingly changed the trajectory of our day.

We got out of the lake, one by one.

A .gentle shower commenced, shrouding the lake in a mystical veil.

The kids asked to leave.

We told them they could go home together.

We were staying put.


A retired ER doctor informed us, “Something’s going to happen, we’re just not sure when.”

Then the droplets became heavier.


With more impact.

Trees swayed angrily.

The wind had started a race.

We barely had enough time to gather our things before they were soaked.

Thankfully the trunk was open as we shoved chairs, clothing, and books in no particular order.

We were safe inside the cars, watching in disbelief as the lake transformed into an extreme weather scene.

This is our happy place.

We would do it all again in a heartbeat.




Picture Book 10 for 10 2019 – How Does Change Define Us? #PB10FOR10

Today we celebrate the myriad ways picture books enhance learning in the classroom with Picture Book 10 for 10!  After participating in #classroombookaday, hosting a #MockCaldecott in fourth grade, and opening our classroom up to be a “lab” for the workshop model, I decided to take the plunge.  Thanks to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for co-hosting #PB10FOR10!  This is my first time officially curating my own list!

Preparing for the upcoming academic year by revisiting the first units of both reading and writing units of study,  and aware that our world is experiencing unprecedented change, a common thread boldly stood out:  readers notice how writers create stories where characters experience change and pay close attention to how the change defines a character.

How do characters stay true to themselves?

How do characters change the world?

How do characters grow?

How do characters handle loss?

How do characters persevere?

It is with this spirit of observing characters to be more than one way that I present to you 10 picture books (in no particular order) to consider for studying how characters respond to change:

The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton

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Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney

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Julius, Baby of the World, Kevin Henkes

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Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones

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A Piglet Named Mercy, Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen

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Lubna and Pebble, Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egneus

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Dreamers, Yuyi Morales

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Titan and the Wild Boars:  The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team, Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran and Dow Phumiruk

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Enemy Pie, Derek Munson and Tara Callahan King

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The Remember Balloons, Jessie Oliveros and Dana Wulfekotte

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Start by Stopping




The invitation is immediate

Attention to the breath pulls the focus inward

“Take a deep breath in through the skin

Envisioning creates a clean slate

“Watching breath as it flows in and watching breath as it spills out

Engagement is high

“Notice what happens when the sound of the breath becomes louder and more dominant than the chatter of the thinking mind”

Recovery is non-negotiable

“Can you feel the cells vibrating, humming, celebrating?”

On this hot, summer morning, I am chill

“Sinking deeper and deeper into our self, relaxing back into our soul, back into that subtle ocean of diamonds shining inside the middle of our life.”


The inspiration for today’s slice came from a recent, free Alo Yoga flow posted on YouTube.  I am not affiliated in any way with Alo Yoga, YouTube, or any of the clothing or music used in the video.  Check it out – 30 minutes of deeply satisfying bliss!

Best in Show

“I was admiring your dog,” a friendly woman said in greeting.  “He looks like he could be in Westminster,” she added as we got closer to the center of the village.

Our family pet who digs with determination for rocks in the river.

A canine who rubs vigorously against walls and railings like a graceful feline.

The very same furry friend who drops down to a spread-eagle squat when a descending elevator comes to an abrupt stop at its destination.

A four-legged lunatic who wiggles in the grass like a slithering snake.

The love bug who nestles himself right alongside one of us when it’s time for bed.

An anxious golden who shakes when a thunderstorm is near…or fireworks are released into the sky.

Your prance is a dead-giveaway.

A gift from your father, “Sir,” a show dog himself once upon a time.

Leo, you will always be “Best in Show.”

Westminster would never be the same.



Worth the Wait?

“Be patient,” I tell him.  He looks at me, rolls his baby blues, and then focuses his attention ahead. 


 “It’s all about the timing,” I add.  We drift away from our starting position, but that’s OK.  Every so often I sneak a sideways glance, just to make sure he’s still with me.  He does the same. 


“Auntie Patty, I think this might be a good one,” he says.  His face beams with pride. Eyes wide open, head nodding excitedly.  


“Yes! Turn around, start kicking as fast as you can!”  


He follows my instructions immediately and I join him, furiously kicking my own feet.


Thirty seconds later, we are both gliding effortlessly on top of the water until the sand stops us in our tracks.


“You did it!” I shout as I curl my fingers to give him a wet fist pump.


Matthew has just caught his first full wave on a boogie board.


Closing the Door

Packing up a classroom at the end of a school year can be a time filled with many emotions.

Taking stock of materials is an arduous task.  Deciding which to keep and what items to toss or pass on to someone who may make better use of them.

Breaking down bulletin boards can be tedious, and even hazardous.  This year required a special tool to dislodge metal tacks as my thumb lost feeling from its naked use.

Filing papers is dreadful. Every year I wonder why I leave so many notes in stacks instead of sorting through them along the way.  It’s possible that I fear “out of sight, out of mind,” but I mean can I really “see” everything in a pile?

The classroom library is the toughest to leave behind.  After cleaning out desks and finding hidden titles stuffed in corners or under stacks of notebooks and folders, the library begins to be whole once again. Covering the shelves somehow feels rude.  Like deliberately not including all these character friends on our summer journey.

When everything that remains is labeled, covered, and stowed away, I close the door on this school year.  Come September, a whole new crew of fourth graders will bring this space back to life…one slice at a time.



First Love

Why do I feel like I just dropped her off on a double date?


“I don’t think they know about me,” he said to his mom.


“I wasn’t sure it was going to last,” she said.


A second encounter presents and introductions are made. An invitation into the home is offered.


“Every time her name is mentioned, he blushes,” his mom confessed.


We had our suspicions. On more than one occasion.


Navigating the teen dating scene as parents is uncharted territory.


Text messages are exchanged after meeting the family.

“Hope to see more of you this summer.”

“The kids will get us together again soon!”








Guessing Game

“I emptied the dishwasher and put the dirty dishes in today,” our sixteen year-old daughter proudly reported when checking in at the end of the school day.

Expressing thanks while trying to hide my shock, I continued my journey home, excited that I would not be greeted with a sink full of the day’s used kitchenware.  The past week really tested my patience!

Perhaps I should have been wary when I noticed the red display light still brightly shining on the outer control panel.  But I wasn’t.  Even the adults in the house forget to click this display off when unloading the dishwasher.

My curiosity was piqued; however, when I opened the dishwasher to find an almost full upper AND lower rack.  Did I mention that since returning home from school, Abigail is the only one here during the day?  By the looks of the items packed on each level, one might think that a grand-scale party had taken place.  Only I wasn’t invited.  And there was no party.

Calling up the stairs, I asked, “Did you unload ALL of the dishes before putting the dirty ones inside?”  It was unfathomable to me to even consider this possibility. And yet.

And yet, her response was, “I didn’t know where the big stuff went, so I didn’t put it away.” Sigh. “And I didn’t put the utensils away either.”

Reader, Abigail correctly stated that she put all of her dirty dishes in the dishwasher. What she neglected to include upfront was that she mixed her “dirties” with some of the clean dishes.

A true guessing game ensued.  It would have been easier to simply re-run the dishwasher in its entirety.

Moral of the story:  don’t assume that someone knows how to complete a task without explicit instruction for said task.  This applies to home life as well as classroom living.

Walkers Will Thank You

Have you ever stood in a crosswalk just waiting to get to the other side of a street?  There is one busy intersection on our daily trek that we struggle to cross almost every time.  Today, I counted over a dozen cars that blew by us, oblivious to their obligation to stop.  Drivers really should pay attention to crosswalks and make every effort to stop for people to cross the street.

First of all, in the state of Massachusetts, it’s the law to stop at crosswalks whether or not there is a special sign in the middle of the road.  Despite the glaring signs, usually attached to an orange cone, many drivers ignore the request to stop.  I’m not sure how many people are actually aware of the law based on my frustrated experiences!

Drivers should also stop at crosswalks because it’s a safe practice.  People traveling on foot are far more vulnerable than people traveling in the comfort of heavy metal boxes shaped as automobiles!  Unlike those operating cars, walkers aren’t protected when traveling on foot.

Most of all, automobile drivers should stop at crosswalks because it’s the kind, neighborly thing to do.  If you see an owner waiting with her sitting dog, shouldn’t you want to help them out?  How about a family with small children and a stroller?  Be kind.  Be neighborly.  Stop and let those on foot have the right of way.

Next time you see someone in a crosswalk, be a leader.  Stop or remind the driver of your car to stop.  The walkers in the world will thank you and you’ll be glad you did.