The Art of Assessment

In schools across the country and probably across the world, September means assessments.  We give all kinds of assessments to get to know our students, or should I say to get to know their academic strengths and weaknesses.  I don’t think assessments have anything to do with getting to know our students.  We determine who is high, medium, and low; who succumbed to “The Summer Slide,” and who excelled without our teaching.  We do this in the grand name of progress.  We pore over every score.  Who is proficient and fluent?  Who is struggling and not retaining the concepts and skills we’ve taught? But what do those numbers and labels that we diligently collect really tell us?  What do we truly understand about the information we gathered?  And how does that data affect our instruction?

As an elementary school learning specialist, I am keenly aware of these questions because I am not sure that copious amounts of data are changing or improving our teaching.  I think the majority of teachers – whether in public, charter, or private schools – revert to the mean.  By which I mean, they revert to what they know: they teach to the middle, often leaving behind the students with weaker skills and also boring to tears the students who have surpassed their grade-level standards.

I am sure teachers mean no harm.  They just lack the awareness and knowledge of how to reach all students no matter their skill level.  Many think you need specialized training and yes, that might be very beneficial, but what teachers really need to reach students is simple: the ability to be present and listen – the ability to tune out the educational jargon and tune into the little scholars in front of them.  All they have do is ask…

  • What does this child need?
  • What is she telling me?
  • What can I do to build her knowledge, her confidence, her motivation, and her curiosity?
  • How can I create a classroom experience that will connect my students to each other and to big ideas too?

This past week, I came across a common assessment dilemma.  A new teacher came to me with a problem.  One of her young students did poorly on a sight-word spelling assessment, scoring 2 out of 27.  I asked to see the assessment. 

            The teacher responded, “You want to see the hard copy?”  And I wondered about her hesitancy until she handed me the student’s paper.  Then my suspicions were confirmed.  The student had left almost all of the test blank.

             I asked the teacher, “What happened here?  Why did she leave all these answers blank?” 

            The teacher replied,  “I don’t know. It looked like she was writing?” 

            “Didn’t you walk around the room and check to see if everyone was following along?”  I thought to myself, knowing full-well the answer. 

            The teacher responded, “I don’t think it’s my job to constantly watch over them.  I can’t stand over all of them all the time!” 

            I took a deep breath and calmly said, “That’s not what I am suggesting.  When I had my own classroom, I would walk around the classroom, so I could assess in the moment what each student was doing and what they may need assistance with.”

            She was silent.  Then I quietly asked to reassess the student the following day. 

            The teacher asked me if that was fair. 

            I asked her, “What is the point of the assessment?” 

            She answered, “To find out if they know how to spell grade-level sight words.” 

            I nodded, “Right, so do we understand what this student knows?” 

            The teacher shook her head. 

            Then I smiled and said, “Then I will need to reassess her.”

            The next morning, I sat in our sun-filled school library in the presence of a little girl with dark braids and big brown eyes.  She was eager and happy to sit with me.  I explained that I would be giving her the spelling assessment again.  Her bright eyes grew even larger.  I told her that she should sound out the words even if she was unsure how to spell them.  I told her to think carefully, go slowly, and try her best to show me what she knows about all the words I was going to read.   She took up her pencil and began.  I started to see what she knew.  Not all the words were correct, but she spelled out each word carefully.  Then I asked her why she had left so many blanks on the original assessment.

            She said wisely, “I don’t like competitions.” I tried hard not to laugh.

“I don’t like to spell in front of people.” she added.

            I asked her, “Were you nervous about getting the words wrong?” 

            “Yes,” she nodded vigorously.

When she was done, I showed her all the words she knew, and we looked at the ones she did not yet know how to spell.  Many of the ones she missed, she was able to correct on her own. I gave her a lot of praise and commended her for trying and really thinking about how each word was spelled.  This first grader, who originally scored 2/27, had now scored 21/27, given a second chance.

Now, why is that?  Did she suddenly remember the sight words?  Or is it more about confidence and performance?  Does this student need more sight word drills, or does she need more encouragement?  I guess it is obvious where I am going with this line of questioning.  I know that assessments are useful, but if teachers are not present to their students, then the assessments can become meaningless.  I humbly suggest five meaningful and mindful ways teachers can approach assessing their students:

  • Remain present and open to possibility.
  • Listen with intensity.
  • Give specific and positive feedback.
  • Find time throughout the day to encourage and motivate.
  • Keep yourself and your students curious.

A Fresh Look at Lists

We are entering the second half of September.  School has started.  My busy life has begun.  I reluctantly shift away from summer – the beach, the mountains, my independent reading time, the sun.  And slowly I enter September already weary from thoughts of all I have to do, all I must do, all the little things that await me.

School to Do

Get the Dresses
Out of the closet.
Buy the notebooks,
New pens, paperclips,
Transparent tape.
Get the class lists,
Start putting names
With eager faces,
Put dates on calendar:
Division Meetings,
Department Meetings,
Student Support Meetings,
Parent Meetings.
Set the kettle on the stove,
Brew a steaming
Cup of vanilla chai.
Breathe in the spice,
Exhale the stress.
In this moment
School can wait.

August to September

I leave…
Sleeping late,
Summer sun
Streaming through
The windows.

I leave…
Book adventures
Of my own choosing:
Romantic,
Mysterious,
Inspiring,
Hilarious.

I leave…
Big road trips,
New sights,
The sea and
The mountains.

I welcome…
Cooler days,
Morning commutes,
Little faces
Ready to learn.

I welcome…
Camaraderie,
Lessons learned,
Moments of
Laughter.

I welcome…
New books,
Crisp pages,
Fresh paint
On old walls,
A new school year.

This past week, I have been thinking of ways to energize myself for my school year. I have been going to school for sixty-two years.  I have been teaching school for forty-three years.  This year will be the twentieth anniversary of working at my present school.  All of these years could feel like a very heavy weight, if I let them.  School could finally become monotonous instead of fresh.  School could become just another long and tedious “TO DO” list.  Maybe instead of looking at all I have to do; I reframe my thoughts as all the wonderful thing I get to do.  One day I won’t be able to do these things; one day soon I will be retired; one day soon I will not be on this marvelous blue planet. So, in this moment, why not appreciate all the things I get to do at school, at home, in my daily life. 

Sunny-side

I Get to... 
Wake up this morning 
To green out my window 
And blue, blue sky.
Canada Geese on the field,
The verdant woods beyond.

I Get to... 
Crack open a brown 
egg for breakfast, sunny-side -
Multigrain toast, fig jam,
Strong Irish tea.

I Get to…
Set this day before me
With intention,
With a devotion to the real,
With a disposition, sunny-side.

I Get to…
Create space and opportunity:
Laughing with loved ones,
Painting the sunset
With words and brushes.

I Get to…
Choose the day I make,
The one that was
Gratefully given to me,
The one I am blessed with.


Some Websites on the Power of “I Get to…”

From “Have to” to “Get to”

How a Small Shift in Your Vocabulary Can Instantly Change Your Attitude

I Have To vs. I Get To: How to Change Your Mindset from Obligation to Opportunity

Improve Your Mood by Replacing “I Have to” with “I Get To”

Life is Good Founder: John Jacobs – Keynote

Mainely Summer

Every year except for the last COVID year, my husband and I spend a week each summer photographing Acadia National Park and the Down East Maine Coast.  It is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  The confluence of ocean and mountain is just breathtaking – climbing mountains with views of islands and sailboats dotting the water – bringing me such peace.

No matter what current state of tumult the world is in, Maine brings a clear sense of purpose and serenity.  It is a solid reminder of how important the natural world is for one’s sense of well-being.





Little Long Pond

Clear Mountain pond
Floating lily pad
White flowers
Opening to yellow centers
Water ripples
Blue, green, 
And sparkling sunlight
Mountains stand ont he horizon
Clouds drift
Perfect summer day



Sunset Fishing

The gulls hover 
Over Seal Harbor
Surveying the boats,
Looking down into the water.
A blue heron steps gracefully 
Among the seaweed covered rocks
His agile neck curves and darts
Piercing the water’s surface,
Ready for a fish dinner.
The seagulls circle and squawk
In the evening air
Salty and cool
Sweet sunset fishing.

Northeast Harbor

         I

Old yellow lobster pots 
line the edge of the harbor,
Topped with piles of ropes 
and brightly colored buoys.
No lobster is trapped inside 
Now - just dented soda cans,
Blue rubber work gloves,
And bricks crusted with barnacles.

	 II

The lobster boats float
Ready to glide along the ocean
As lobstermen to set 
and recover their traps
Pulling heavy ropes hand-over-hand
Seawater rushing and gushing out 
Bearing shining treasure:
Luscious lobsters.

I Hear America Weeping

This week, I cannot write about education, travel, or art.  This week I have to address world events.  The disaster that is Afghanistan has weighed heavily on my mind and heart.  When disturbed and rattled, I usually turn to poetry to make sense of my feelings.  I thought and thought about how I could express the immense sadness I feel about our great country, our amazing America.  Not our perfect America, but our promising, hopeful America. 

Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too!” reverberated in my head this week. Written in 1867, Whitman’s poem celebrated America’s work ethic.  Then in 1926, Hughes’ demanded that Blacks be recognized as an essential part of America.  With COVID, racial unrest, discrimination, limited rights and freedoms, rising inflation, the Afghan crisis – America is not singing now. Never, in my lifetime have I felt so frightened and so worried that our country is slipping away. But my strong belief is that America is worth saving, and we must find a way to heal and regain our strength and standing.

I  Hear America Weeping

I hear America weeping,
No longer brave,
No longer beautiful,
No longer united.
Land of industrious immigrants,
Once strong and diligent,
Now at odds with each other:
Masked, unmasked;
Vaccinated, not vaccinated;
Black brown, red, yellow, white.
Great cities burning,
Flooded by drugs and violence,
Open to looting, and shootings.
America, I hang my head
Sorrowful and ashamed,
Who will heal America?

I hear America weeping,
No longer noble,
No longer resolute,
No longer the shining city
Upon the hill,
Beacon of hope.
Once the world leader,
Once the honorable democracy,
Now disgraced and embarrassed,
Open to terror, disorder, and chaos,
We have lost the world’s trust,
Abandoned our citizens and our allies.
We no longer stand for freedom.
America, I’m weeping,
The eyes of all people
Are truly upon us.

Wildflower Power

We are coming upon the last days of summer.  For me, there is something bittersweet about that.  I find myself holding on to the warm golden promise of summer.  I don’t want it to end.  No matter, how much I enjoy the fall, summer is a time that signals renewal and hope.  There is so much I wanted to accomplish, so much joy I wanted to breathe in and make last. I don’t want that feeling to end.  I need to find a way to sustain summer’s promise.  I find it in the fields of wildflowers that I’ve encountered.  I remember a poem I wrote many years ago.   I keep reflecting on the power of that wild beauty.  Something colorful and unexpected, something to surprise and comfort the faithful.

Wildflowers

I come upon a field of wildflowers -
Poppies, cornflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace -
I walk across the field
Almost on tiptoe so as not to 
Disturb a single petal.
I capture with my camera
Oranges and yellows,
The surprise of blue, the blush of pink.
As I travel the meadow.
I find a bunch of wild daisies -
“He loves me, he loves me not,”
I say to myself and shrug.
I wonder where that game began.
Each daisy petal holds a fortune,
Which way will it end?
I take hold of its bright face,
Count each white petal,
Lucky 13 – I take a chance.
He loves me, he loves me not -
He loves me, he loves me not -
Until the last petal is plucked:
He loves me!
I look down at the sad yellow center,
The white petals, like torn paper
Fall from my hand.


I came across a wonderful graphic book for young readers by Ricardo Liniers Siri called Wildflowers.  It is an imaginative journey through island jungle by three heroic sisters.  Liniers based the story on his three daughters’ creative play.  It is a pure celebration of how creativity and sisterhood can save the day!  Liniers notes that Tom Petty’s song, “Wildflowers,” served as an inspiration.  I had not heard of Petty’s song before, so I took a listen and began to weep.  What simple beauty!

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong somewhere close to me

Far away from your trouble and worries

You belong somewhere you feel free

You belong somewhere you feel free

What a powerful message for young readers!  Historically, I have not been a huge fan of graphic books/novels, but that it not to say that I have not found pure genius in some of them.  Graphic books for young readers seem to be a perfect way to motivate and engage children.  The combination of picture and text support fluency and comprehension.  I know our young K-3 readers gravitate to graphic books, as do our older elementary readers.  The vivid descriptions that I enjoy as I read are encoded in a different way in graphic books.  Here, the pictures serve as description and the readers must use their growing inferring skills.  The rich visuals beckon children to question, wonder, and explore. Thank you, Liniers and Toon Books, for making me a fan!

More by Liniers

Macanudo

Good Night, Planet

The Big Wet Balloons

Written and Drawn by Henrietta

Classic Graphic Books for Young Readers

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

Baby Mouse by Jennifer L. Holm

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

My Weird School by Dan Gutman

Owly by Andy Runyon

Week on the Water

Something about water that is so pure and calming whether it’s in the form of river, pond, lake, waterfall, or ocean.  The flow of water fills me with possibility.  Water is smooth and easy.  It can carry itself anywhere.  It is versatile and resilient.  And water is strong.  It can sweep you away and wear great rocks smooth.  Water is a force to be reckoned with.  I try, in my daily life, to emulate the qualities of water. I want to adopt its beauty, tenacity and strength.  I want to achieve its clarity and purpose.

Being close to water always puts me at ease and allows me to center myself.  Whatever trouble I face or obstacles I encounter has always been set right with time spent by the water.  August calls me to come to the water, and so I obey.    Salt water and sand – just what I need to slow down, reflect, and write. I take my camera along to record the images that stand out to me.

Golden


Brave children stand 
At the edge of the sea,
While watchful waves
Tug at their tender feet.

Come in, come in
The wind whispers,
But the children run,
Scattering shells across the sand.

Their laughter lifts in to the air,
Bounces on the shimmering sea,
The roar of the waves
Always beckoning.

Closer the children creep,
Tan limbs in pools of white foam,
Ready, watching for
That next wave.

Scooping up sea glass,
Small shells, smooth stones,
The children splash,
Dancing with the sea.

As giant clouds climb
Over the slate-blue horizon
Like dangerous pirates
Waiting to snatch their treasure.

Come away, come away 
To a distant shore,
While the sun sinks in the western sky
Washing everything with gold.

Book Lists: Seven by the Sea

Picture Books:

  1. Come Away from the Water, Shirley by John Burningham
  2. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  3. Hello Ocean by Pamm Munoz
  4. Home for Hermit Crab by Eric Carl
  5. Mister Sea Horse by Eric Carl
  6. Stella, Star of the Sea by Mary-Louise Gay
  7. Wave by Suzy Lee

Middle Grade Novels:

  1. A Swirl of Ocean by Melissa Sarno
  2. Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
  3. Fish Girl by David Weisner and Donna Jo Napoli
  4. They Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt
  5. The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
  6. The Wanderer by Sharon Creech
  7. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Books for Adults:

  1. Gift of Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg
  2. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
  3. The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw
  4. The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw
  5. The Silent World:  A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure by Jacques-Yves Coustea
  6. The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
  7. Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

Learn Something

This summer, I have been concentrating on healing my body and spirit, which has entailed a lot of physical therapy and many walks in gardens and parks. Usually, I read a lot during the summer but this summer I have only read a couple of books so far.  I decided to jump-start my reading by turning to a classic,  The Once and Future King by T.H. White.  I knew of the legend of King Arthur mainly from the Disney animated film, The Sword in the Stone.  I loved that story because it was filled with hope, faith, and possibility.  It helped me to become braver and more courageous. It gave me hope that even a small person could grow into someone who could right wrongs and defeat evil.  As an anxious, insecure child, this legend especially appealed to me.

In early June, I was asked to find a quote about learning as part of a farewell gift for a retiring colleague.  I did what many people do these days, I Googled it. And that’s when I came across T.H. White’s insightful observation about learning via Merlin’s advice to young Arthur, who was upset that his foster brother, Kay, was becoming a knight and he would only be allowed to be Kay’s squire. Merlin offers this sage advice:

The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails.  You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then – to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.  Look what a lot of things where are to learn.”

T.H. White,  The Once and Future King, Chapter 21.

Throughout my life, I have found this advice to ring true.  Whenever I faced challenges or needed to overcome obstacles, learning something, was the thing that pulled me through and made me feel confident.  I gained knowledge, and I felt like I had changed for the better somehow.  The Once and Future King is a very long story, six hundred thirty-nine pages, to be exact.  It is not exactly easy reading, so I decided to listen to an audio version.  Over and over again, I was amazed by White’s writing skill and keen insights.  I find myself asking, “ How did he do that?  How does he know all that in-depth information about falconry and trees; badgers and hedgehogs; snakes and giants? He makes writing seem so effortless, and he has so much to say that could guide adolescents and adults.  He, indeed, is Merlyn, and we can learn so much from his words.

In the Book of Merlyn, White explains, “Nobody can be saved from anything, unless they save themselves. It is hopeless doing things for people – it is often very dangerous to do things at all – and the only thing worth doing for the race is to increase its stock of ideas. Then, if you make available a larger stock, people are at liberty to help themselves from out of it. By this process the means of improvement is offered, to be accepted or rejected freely, and there is a faint hope of progress in the course of millennia. Such is the business of the philosopher, to open new ideas. It is not his business to impose them on people” I connect strongly with this view: ideas are what make us human and seeking new ideas make us stronger and make our journey in this world interesting and worthwhile.

Throughout my many years of teaching, I made sure that I found new things to learn so that I would never forget the feelings my novice students experienced.  Adopting the mindset of a beginner helped me truly understand the struggles my students encountered.  I believe that made me better able to connect with them and teach them effectively.  When I was teaching 2nd grade, I decided to take a drawing class at the Parson’s School of Design in New York City.  It was a big leap for me, but I wanted to learn how to draw realistically, and I wanted to face a challenge.  The classes were three hours long.  Three hours of sitting, observing, and drawing. It entailed a tremendous amount of concentration.  After my first forty-five minutes of sitting, I began to look around the room,  I stared out the window, I fidgeted in my seat, I got up to go to the ladies room.  I took my time.  I wandered.  I smiled to myself.  “This is what my students’ feel. What can I do to make them be able to concentrate longer and learn more deeply?”

When I taught 3rd grade, I learned Krav Maga,  an Israeli Martial Arts. I am not naturally athletic, and this class called for great physical exertion.  I did not back down.  I studied for three years and was preparing for my brown belt test before a back injury put me on the sidelines. Throughout my martial arts training, ,y students loved to see me demonstrate self-defense techniques and cheered me on. I think they felt more empowered my seeing their teacher take greater and greater risks. I hope I demonstrated to them that learning is hard and that is good – it makes you strong it helps to persevere.

As a learning specialist, who has supported students with multiple learning differences, I know that motivating them to keep learning is key. No matter how daunting the task of learning is, it is the only remedy for sadness, ignorance, and a multitude of what ails the world. And of course, books provide the source of much learning. Through books we can have a wide array of experiences. Through books, we can be exposed to all kinds of ideas. Through books, we can become who we want to be.

As a learning specialist, who has supported students with multiple learning differences, I know that motivating them to keep learning is key. No matter how daunting the task of learning is, it is the only remedy for sadness, ignorance, and a multitude of what ails the world. And of course, books provide the source of much learning. Through books we can have a wide array of experiences. Through books, we can be exposed to all kinds of ideas. Through books, we can become who we want to be.

As a learning specialist, who has supported students with multiple learning differences, I know that motivating them to keep learning is key. No matter how daunting the task of learning is, it is the only remedy for sadness, ignorance, and a multitude of what ails the world. And of course, books provide the source of much learning. Through books we can have a wide array of experiences. Through books, we can be exposed to all kinds of ideas. Through books, we can become who we want to be.

Poetry Found!

I have regularly used found poetry to introduce children to the wonders of verse.  Using printed text from which to construct a poem gives the young poet a firm foundation on which to build.  It eliminates the fearful and daunting blank page.  Found poetry is created by selecting and arranging words in order from previously constructed text.  The texts can be taken from a variety of sources: ones’ own writing; favorite poems; literacy passages; non-fiction essays; environmental texts.  This variety allows for a wide-range of experimentation.

Found poem from Stuart Little by E.B. White, page 41

Sometimes, found poems can be created by taking words and phrases from two different poems.  Working in pairs, students read and critique two poems written about the same subject.  Then they play with the lines of the two poems to create a new poem.   I encourage the students to play with both poems.  Eventually, they  cut and paste lines from each poem to make their own poem.  They do not need to use all the lines of poetry in their new poems and they may add their own words to enhance meaning. Their new poems, if presented in any form, must acknowledge the fact that it is a creation made from the work of the original poets.

Poems arranged on a staircase is another adaptation of found poetry, which I believe to be very effective in having students play and experiment with words.  In this activity, students find a phrase of group of words that are personally important to them.  They can also write their own phrase to express their feelings.  These  phrases are then written on sentence strips  and gathered together.  The whole group decides how to construct the phrases to make a meaningful poem.  Then the found poem is either posted on the hall for all to see or each line is mounted to the back of each step on a hallway staircase.  I love this presentation because as students walk into school, they are greeted by their class found poem. What an inspiring way to start the day!

Poetry Assemblages, using found words and objects, are also an effective way to  stimulate creativity.  I ask students  to bring in ten small objects or pictures of objects and ten words that are personally important to them.  These objects need to be things that can be used in a collage or assemblage so they cannot be of great monetary value.  I introduce the students to the work of artist, Robert Rauschenberg, and then ask them to use their objects and words to create a work of art. 

Rauschenberg Poetry Assemblages, Grade 4

For older elementary and middle school students, blackout poems extend the experience of constructing found poems.  Blackout poems are created when the poet uses a black marker to ink out words of selected text, which then form a new message in verse.  Many blackout poems create actual images on the printed page of text blending the notion of art and poetry. The poems can be linked to literature or poetry that the student are currently studying, which give them a deeper understanding of how authors construct meaning.

This week, I came across a beautiful little book of found poems called This Poem is a Nest by Irene Latham.  These found poems, which Latham calls “nestlings,” all come from her original prose poems.  Latham introduces her method of found poetry sayings: “One day when I was watching robins build a nest, it occurred to me that poems are nests – and we poets spend much of our time nest-building.  We gather words, ideas, and dreams, and then we set about weaving, arranging, and structuring.” 

I have regularly used found poetry to introduce children to the wonders of verse.  Using printed text from which to construct a poem gives the young poet a firm foundation on which to build.  It eliminates the fearful and daunting blank page.

I love this description of her poetic process.  To me, it is the perfect definition of what poets do.  I too am partial to bird watching.  I love to linger by my window and watch as cardinals and blue jays gather seeds, and sparrows and chickadees bob up and down selecting reeds, stick, and grasses for their nests.  I am heartened by the metaphor of a poem as a nest – a soft, warm, safe place to rest my words.

Mountain Meditation

I believe there are places on this beautiful planet that are meant to heal, that are God-given.  They bring wonder and awe.  They summon peace and calm.  I am fortunate throughout my life to have experienced many of these places.  The natural world has always given me solace.

During COVID, it was near-impossible to travel far from home.  Last spring, I found myself driving out into the countryside near my home, taking in the rolling hills, passing herds of grazing cows, horses, goats, sheep, llamas, and the occasional donkey.  The animals had no idea of the death and stress that the human population was facing.  They just left the warm comfort of their barns and sauntered out onto the sunny fields to feast. How I longed to have their innocence. Watching them and being in the greening world helped me to focus on what is important in my life.

Finally, this summer we can travel again.  As we planned our first trip, my mood shifted, and I noticed my husband’s mood also became more hopeful.  It was evident that both of our spirits needed to roam.  Our first journey took us to Stowe, Vermont.  Something about the Green Mountains makes me all at once calm and joyful.  The rolling valleys dotted with farms and the graceful sloping mountains in the distance give me space for my soul to soar.

When we visit Vermont, we go to Stowe for much needed rest and relaxation.  This trip, I vowed not to turn on my laptop and to only check my phone twice a day.  I wanted to be completely present to the river, mountains, trails, and blue sky above me.  Even better, I wanted to take in the afternoon mountain rain without distraction.  I wanted it all to soak in and restore my body and mind.

Stowe is the perfect place for photography and poetry,  so I indulged.  I noticed and wondered, and made myself available to the nature all around me.  These happy surroundings made it easy to create.  I placed no judgement on myself.  I just looked around me and recorded what I saw and how I felt.  These excursions helped me to regroup and refuel.  I am ever grateful.

Mountain Meditation

The golden meadow
Laced with wildflowers,
The stand of pine trees
Gently sloping along
The quiet ridge,
Just beyond
The mountains rise
One after the other
A play of light and shadow,
Silver clouds drift
Swiftly north
Dusting the mountaintops,
Beckoning
Evening rain.

Moon Meditation

Dark Daubs of clouds
Paint the early evening sky
Above the green mountains,
Which rise like enormous waves.
Silent and still in the distance,
A sliver of moon appears
Through the mist,
A sideways smile
Brightening the dark
July night.
Moving Meditation

Step into the garden,
A flute plays lilting
Through the air,
My feet find the gravel path,
I begin to wind around
The plants and flowers:
Day lilies, raspberry thickets, 
Lush lavender.
Slowly stepping,
Feeling the pebbles
Under my feet,
Breathing in the flowers’
Lavish Fragrance,
Listening as the chickadees
Compete with the flute music.
My shoulders relax,
I close my eyes.
 Feel my way round and 
round the circle to its center.
I do not fall,
I am held,
Small and quiet
In the calm.

Listening Summer

This summer, I am setting my intentions on listening: listening to my body, to my friends, and to the awesome nature around me.  I am being mindful of my surroundings.  I am paying close attention to what is important. All around me over this past year was noise: people talking, talking, talking and me worrying, worrying, worrying.  So I decided to turn everything off – no television, no radio, no endless chatter.  I am becoming more discerning of what I listen to.  I want beautiful noise: great books, beautiful music, uplifting messages.  To do this, first I had to get very, very quiet.

I had to pay attention to life with little sound.  I had to cue into my other senses and learn to become present to vibrant colors, fragrant smells, and soft textures on my skin.  I found myself being grateful for these simple wonders.  I began to slow down, listen to my body, become kinder to myself.  I paused and learned to nourish myself with, not only good food and exercise, but with positive media.  So much of the media is intended to distract and cause anxiety.  I turned away from the constant barrage of news and information.  I decided I should be the curator of what I wanted to listen to and take in.

In the last six weeks of using this approach, I have found calm and contentment.  I don’t need the noise to keep me company.  I can just look up or out or down and be present to my surroundings.  I can better tune into what my husband and friends are saying.  The more I listen with attentiveness, the more calm I have become.  It feels good be present to others.  I don’t need to talk. I don’t need to do anything.  I just need to listen.  Listening is enough.

As I think about returning to teaching in the fall, I think about how I will talk to children about the importance of listening.  I’ve been thinking about ways to teach them to center themselves, ignore distractions, and concentrate on the thing or person right in front of them. I continue to reflect on the best ways to do this, and so this will be my summer project for school this year: tuning out the unimportant and tuning in to what is essential, to what nourishes, to what gives us positive outcomes and peace. 

Recently, I went to a nearby organic market and found a colorful mural on their cafe wall.  It is a perfect example of placing importance of what’s necessary for meaningful communication. I am reflecting on how I will share this with my students as a way to help them develop more thoughtful speaking and deeper listening.

Books about Listening For Adults

Emotional Intelligence: Mindful Listening by The Harvard Business School

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen

Just Listen by Mark Goulston

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo

The Art of Listening in a Healing Way by James E. Miller

The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh

The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols and Martha B. Straus

The Zen of Listening by Rebecca Z. Shafir

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy

Picture Books about Listening for Children

Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator

“I Have a Problem,” said the Bear by Heinz Janisch and Silke Leffler

The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerfeld

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic