#SOL18 Day 20 A Peek at the Horizon

It’s the first day of spring.

Here, in Connecticut, it’s hard to tell by looking outside. Piles of dingy snow still linger along curbs and in the shadier corners of yards. It was a brisk 20-something this morning, and although it’s staying light longer, there’s nothing inviting me outdoors, yet.

I do so look forward to the days when the sunshine on my shoulders will be warm and the temperature high enough to sit still without shivering.

But the flip of the calendar to spring is harbinger of another shift at school.

From here to the end of the year…even though that end keeps receding further into summer…there are no more pauses. It will be like Indiana Jones’ boulder racing inexorably to the last day. This year it may be more like a giant snowball gaining size and speed as it careens downhill toward late-June.

And so today I did something a little risky. It has a way of taking my breath away. I picked my head up and looked to the horizon.

Many days we just keep our chins down, eyes on the line to our fingertips, focused on one stroke, one race at a time. But when we’re swimming in open water, every so often we have to lift our eyes to the horizon to be sure we’re staying on course, tracking to our destination. We may miss a breath or lose the rhythm of our strokes, but it’s imperative to check our heading.

That’s what I did today. Tomorrow is likely to be (another) snow day. Yesterday I was out of the building to write curriculum. I needed to figure out where I am and where I’m going. Under water everything is calm and smooth. When I lifted my head I nearly choked on the chop of the waves. The sun, although still cold, blinded me for a moment.

We’ve all been craving a return to a “normal” schedule, but here’s the thing: from here to the end there is no such thing as normal.

Next week holds both a professional learning day and a day of curriculum writing in addition to the start of the new intervention cycle. Not to mention, I really should check in on the newest teachers. Oh-there’s an author visit! That’s good. Not to mention family in town for Passover. The week after that I’ll be hosting two full day labsites and attending two others in district. Friday might be normal. The following week holds three days of kindergarten registration and screening when we meet our soon-to-be-kindergarten friends. It will be both delightful and exhausting…those kindergarten teachers truly are amazing.

Phew. Then April vacation…unless it isn’t.

The schedule hasn’t been officially announced, but sources indicate that Monday when we return from break will be the first day of the high stakes SBAC assessments for our 5th graders. And from there assessment season is open. By the end of May every reader in the building will have been measured…Wait. Do you know when Field Day is? Oh, by the way, there are 6 more reading and writing units we need to write or revise…just for grades 4 and 5…

There’s more, but frankly, after that glimpse I ducked my head back under water and started pulling with all my might for the shore.

May you glimpse the horizon, spot the shoals and the glorious sunset views. Then may you catch your breath and focus on only what is next in front of you.


#SOL18 Day 18 The Mountains for the Trees

Green Mountains

Over and again this weekend as Q and I were driving through Vermont he’d exclaim about how beautiful it was. I’d glance beyond the boundaries of the highway and smile.

Even driving down Route 89 between two, let’s call them populated areas, the vistas of snow covered, wooded mountains rising one behind the other was breathtaking. Those peaks may be in the smaller Appalachian range, but against the sky with hardly a manmade detail to spoil them, they are majestic.

It got me thinking that as gorgeous as they are, if you were standing on one of the mountains it wouldn’t be the same. What made it stunning was the vastness, the sharp contrast of white and dark, the smooth peaks and feathered slopes. If you were on the mountain you’d be in the trees. The sunlight may be dappled instead of sparkling and clear. The world would feel closed in and safe, but not profound. And even if you were below the treeline of the tallest peak, the one that loomed above others, you’d hardly know how tall you stood. There would be beauty, still, but no perspective.

Only from the thin ribbon of road between the peaks could we behold their full majesty.

And that, I thought, is true in life as well as in mountains.

From where we stand on our own respective mountains, we can rarely see ourselves against the sky. We can’t see where we stand, shoulder to shoulder, with greatness. We may sense another, taller, someone standing over us from the shade they cast, but never notice how we are giants to some who are foothills.

This New England sectional tournament put our skaters on a road they rarely travel, outside their usual competition, but also without four key players. Playing without team stars made space for others to step forward and make critical contributions–measured not only in goals scored, but in penalties killed, shifts skated, shots blocked, plays broken up and plays created. It allowed them to see themselves not perhaps as the tallest, but as worthy numbers among a mountain range. This winter they are among the four best Tier III hockey teams of their age in all of New England. So when they feel like a practice was less focused and successful than they expected, they aren’t incapable. When a game is closer than expected or tilts the other way, they aren’t a rotten team. On any given day when they lace up their skates and bring their personal and collective best to the ice, they stand alongside giants.

What opportunities do the rest of us have to step out of the trees and see our mountains from afar?

Find your ribbon of road and gaze upon your own mountains.

#SOL18 Day 17

1 minute and 6 seconds.



The way these tournaments work is that everyone plays 3 games in the preliminary round. Then the top two teams from each bracket go to the semi finals. “Best” is determined by points: 2 for a win, 1 for a tie, 0 for a loss. Out of 8 teams, half make the playoff round. Half go home.

You should know that in spite of being seeded second in the tournament, we arrived without two of our players. It’s their break from school and they had other commitments…ones involving air travel. Friday night we played short one defenseman, so we rotated three players instead of four. That means long shifts and tired legs as the game goes on. And the defensive player we were missing may also be our top scorer. Having him out could, potentially, have been a mental weight on the team as well as adding to the heaviness of their tired legs. We lost a close game. We also lost two more players, a center and another defenseman, to their air travel plans.

It wasn’t looking good. Typically you have to win two games to make it to playoffs. If we couldn’t win when we were only short two players, how were we going to do it down four? We had only 2 defensive players…and you need 2 defenseman on every shift…they couldn’t very well play the entire game (45 minutes–3 x 15 minute periods). Families started quietly making plans to ski on Sunday.

Saturday our first game wasn’t until after 1:00, so the kids had some good team time and a slow start. When they headed out of the hotel for the game, they were upbeat. One shift, one period, one game. That’s how they’d play.

And oh, did they play their hearts out? With only two lines (meaning we had enough players for 1 sub at each position) we got off to a strong start. Within the first two minutes we had five strong shots on net. We killed off a penalty and finished the first period scoreless. Early in the second we held off the other team’s 5 skaters with 4 of our own because of a penalty. Then score! Watertown snuck a shot into the upper corner of the net. Followed very quickly by another goal. We were up 2-0. Back and forth, man up, man down, the opponents managed to score in the final second of their power play, moments before we’d be restored to full strength.

The second period ended Watertown 2, Oyster River 1. Still a chance. Suddenly, we were beginning to hope. Some of us were letting ourselves remember two years ago when we were also playing for a chance at the New England championship. Maybe…If only…

Watertown found themselves in the box again and again putting us at a disadvantage. But the team stayed strong and calm. Late in the 3rd we scored an insurance goal. With just over a minute left in the game, and nothing to lose, Oyster River pulled their goalie so they could have an extra skater on offense. The risk is, that if your opponent gains control of the puck they can score much more easily on an undefended goal. We did just that! The stands erupted as the puck slid into the net from across the blue line with 20 seconds remaining.

The team cheered the 4-2 victory, and now playoffs felt like a real possibility. The team we’d be facing tonight hadn’t won a game. As the afternoon wore on, the tournament math became clearer. All Watertown had to do to earn a spot in the playoffs was…not lose. A win would put us in, but so would a tie.

Coach called for a quiet, restful afternoon before the second game. Players and families returned to the ice refreshed, but also with a confidence that we were as good as in. Ski plans were adjusted accordingly to allow for a Sunday morning game.

And we took the ice. Heads high. Eyes sharp. Full speed.

One of our wingers has helped out on defense before when we were shorthanded. He stepped in again for both games today. So we ran 3 D. Long shifts, but a chance to grab a drink and a breath every couple of minutes. That is, unless a defenseman ends up in the penalty box…twice. That automatically means the other two D players have to cover the entire 2:00 short-handed shift, and a bit extra on either side of it until there’s a chance to change. So, of course, that’s what happened. One D landed in the box for nearly back to back penalties, leaving the two regular defensemen with achingly long shifts. And yet, we came out of the first period unscathed. 0-0 tie.

More penalties plagued us in the second and they stacked up so that we were playing 3 players to Rhode Island’s 5. It was too much. They scored only a minute into the penalty. The frustration was mounting. Our passing was crisp. Our skating was lightning fast. We set up plays. We worked as a team. We were outplaying them in every regard…except none of our 40 shots had gotten past their goalie.

Remember, all we needed was a tie. The time was ticking away. With just over 5 minutes left in the game Providence managed a breakaway and flew down the ice, edging out our final defenseman. His shot eked past our goalie and killed any hope of recovery. 2-0 late in the 3rd.

But the kids never stopped battling. Every puck in the corners was sharply contested. Every skater put on the extra burst of speed to beat out their opponent on the plays. But the clock was ticking down. Less than 2:00 to go.

We pulled our own goalie. Nothing to lose…

With 1:06 on the clock we scored! The team piled on the one who scored, but it wasn’t enough. A loss would knock us out.

But wait…it’s in! 13 seconds later, off the faceoff, Watertown knocked down a second goal to tie the game.

You just never know. Maybe you’re missing 1/4 of your team. Maybe two of your remaining players are actually sick. Maybe you’re down by 2 in a must-win game and the time has nearly run out.

But it’s not over until the final buzzer or until you give up.

We’ll see you in the semi-finals tomorrow morning. I hope you weren’t planning on skiing, or swimming before the long ride home. There’s a little more hockey to play this season! This time it’s win or go home.

Game on.

#SOL18 Day 16 Milestones

As we drove northward today I marked the milestones. Welcome to Massachusetts. Now entering Vermont.

The landscape shifted subtly with each invisible boundary line we crossed.

And just as I noted the state lines that marked our trip, I recalled the other invisible milestones that have marked our hockey journey.

At 4 we laced up his skates and sent him out bundled in gear. He’d fall, get up, fall again. He’d shuffle, step, scoot around. Then done with the whole scene he’d resolutely stretch himself out full length on the ice, nonplussed by the others shuffling around him.

At 5 he earned his stick.

At 6 he took the ice for the final skate of the year-pond hockey we called it-30 kids rattling around the rink with minimal supervision. No plan. No game, just skates and ice and each other. Q sized up the other players, found the tallest one out there (probably an 8 year old), and knocked him flat.  One of the coaches came up to me in the locker room later as I was untying his skates. “Is Q playing mites next year?” “Yes, we hope so,” I responded. He nodded, knowingly. A few weeks later, after evaluations (try outs), Q was named to his team.

At 7 he suited up with the Mite A’s. They graduated from cross ice to full ice games, little legs pumping a thousand times to reach the far end of the ice.

At 8 USA hockey shifted to the new development model. All mites would play cross ice. He felt like he’d moved backwards. That was the year he had practice every Saturday at 7:00 AM. It was the year he thought he might not play anymore.

At 9 he decided to stick with it and aged up to squirts. His first year was B.

But 10 was magic. Back on the A team as part of the secondary cast, Q played winger and he was so fast. The year started strong and just kept getting better. We scheduled games against higher ranked teams. From a tier 4 program we jumped to tier 3 and played (and won) against tier 2 teams. We found ourselves deep in the state tournament. The season was charmed. Then disaster struck in the form of a penalty shot-rarely seen in youth hockey this changed the course of the game. At the final buzzer we’d lost by that single point. As their opponents blared “We Are the Champions” in the parking lot, our boys slunk out of the locker room, heads high as their coach had insisted, but eyes brimming with nearly fallen tears. It was a full week before we learned we would be representing Connecticut in the New England Sectional tournament in New Hampshire. Tears dried, replaced by game faces and one game at a time we climbed to the final round of the tournament. After their first three wins coach relented and allowed the team ten minutes of pool time. You’d have thought they’d won a championship. For ten minutes an entire team splashed, romped, and raised a ruckus in the pool. Then with a single quiet word from coach they climbed out without a single protest. Within fifteen minutes every head had found its pillow. They were there to play hockey. And oh, did they! They won the whole thing. The team raised the championship banner high sporting new hats and a round of chocolate milk. They rode home on top of the world.

At 11 it was back to the Bs to learn to be a leader. Where he relied heavily on more experienced teammates during that magic year, now the team looked to him. And coach moved him from wing to defense. He rocketed through that season on winged skates.

And now at 12, here we are, driving northward again for a New England Sectional tournament. The deck seems stacked against us this time. Once again we’re the 2nd team to represent our state. But we’ll miss 2 players for our first game, and 4 for the rest. Half our defensemen are half a continent away, and the other 2 are coming down with bad colds. It’s hard to imagine an outcome like the one at 10, and yet we’ve come so far.

Where once Q relied on others, now coach puts him in on penalty kills, power plays and open nets.

Where once Q lost his temper and racked up the penalty minutes, now he plays with an inner fire but a cool head rarely visiting the box.

Where once a loss might send him into a mood for hours, now he comes out and reassures his goalie that it’s alright.

Where once he might have thought he wasn’t any good, now he reflects on specific ways for the team to play better together.

Not to mention he started at 2 foot not much and now he’s over 5 feet tall. He used to be the tiniest mite of a mite and now he’s practically a strutting bantam.

The milestones were invisible as we passed. The landscape shifted subtly along the route. Yet here we are.

#SOL18 Day 15 By the Numbers

Image result for by the numbers



Word went out that at tonight’s BOE budget workshop someone would be posing the question: What if we reduced one class section from each grade from each elementary school?

The seats were packed until past 9:00 PM as we listened and waited through more mundane answers and questions, through current class-by-class numbers at each of the schools. We heard about <ITLs, ECSx2, Spanish -0.4, and tubas (I’m actually pulling for the tubas! Currently 2 patched together tubas and 6 tuba players.). Then as they pulled up the spreadsheet on the screen, too far away and too small to read, they glossed over and said, “So these are the impacts you asked about for any of the down ladder adjustments.” And also, “It’s getting late and we still have to hear comments, maybe we should wrap this up.”

Neither of which sounded like, “This would be devastating to our children! Warning- STOP!” Neither of which painted a picture of what would become…

So here are the impacts, by the numbers:


6                The number of grades in each elementary

5                The highest grade we teach

4                The number of elementary schools

3                The number of teachers per grade

2                Hours to ask the question: What if…?

1                The number of classes to cut…from each grade…from each school

24              The number of classes lost

32              The number of children in each kindergarten

33              Percent fewer classroom teachers

50              The percent increase in class size

100            The percent of students harmed


Next week, same time, more numbers.


#SOL18 Day 13 Six Word Story


ILA Conference!

Anyone have a time-turner?!


Inspired by fellow slicers to try a six word story. Spent a snowy morning registering for the ILA Conference in Austin. Browsing the available sessions and events left me with the conclusion that I need four of me. Do any of you happen to know where I could find one?

Who else is going?


#SOL18 Day 12 Til the Bitter End

Everyone in the stands was on their feet Someone had started a countdown, calling out the time in 10 second intervals. 30! 20!!! Watertown Peewee A’s were less than half a minute from the championship game. Up 3-2 all they had to do was hold on as the seconds ticked away.
There was a scrum in front of our net. Both defensemen had collapsed on the crease. Bodies pressed inward. Sticks and elbows flailed as five players battled for control of the puck. The black disc stuck behind a skate blade. It disappeared from view.
The Watertown crowd roared encouragement from the top of the stands. 15, 14, 13… Victory was mere heartbeats away.
The goalie lunged toward the place the puck had been. A wrist twisted. A stick twitched.
And the puck sailed over the goalie’s left shoulder. Into the net. 12.4 seconds frozen on the clock.
The breath was sucked from the Watertown crowd. Suddenly silent, they stood in shock as a chance at the state title…and worse, New England sectionals slipped away.
The Darien crowd in the opposing bleachers leapt to their feet and erupted in squeals of delight and chants of tribal pride. What had been subdued was now overpowering.
Already the players had shaken it off and skated back to center ice for the face off.
For better or worse there were still 12 seconds to play.
As if chastised by the players, the families once again called out encouragement toward the ice.
This time the seconds ticked down uneventfully leaving the score tied at 3-3.
Playoff games can’t end in a tie. The team that wins stays in and advances to the next round. We families knew something was coming, but we hadn’t read the rules for this particular tournament. We speculated about the length of the overtime period and whether it was sudden death.
It was.
Our hearts in our throats, and the adrenaline coursing through us, we repositioned ourselves to stand during what could only be five minutes. Then we expected a shootout. We’d send our top shooters against Darien’s goalie. Knowing our shooters, we felt a sense of hope. Then the clock reset and 10:00 appeared on the board. Ten minutes?! Already this was the team’s fifth game in just over 48 hours. We’d seen their skating slow.
With a deep breath, the overtime period began.
Don’t ask how. Their legs looked like noodles, sliding out from under our best skaters. The coaches shortened the bench and our strongest players toughed out double shifts and short rest to maximize our chance at scoring first. There would be no second chances in this period. Those boys battled back and forth, up and down the ice, for the full ten minutes. Finally the horn sounded and they slumped back to the team benches. Shoulders sagged under the exhaustion.
Then, with no announcement or signal that we could discern the Darien players and coaches began to leave the ice. We looked around at each other perplexed and a little panicky. Had they decided to protest the game over a non-call? What was happening?
Our team looked confused as a couple straggled toward the door before the coaches called them back to the bench. Then the zamboni lurched onto the far end of the ice. Our guys gathered their gear and trailed out the same door Darien had used.
Ten minutes gave us a chance to track down some answers about what came next. It also gave both teams a chance to sit, drink some water, and regroup. There would be ten minute overtime periods, one after another, until someone scored. After every two periods, the zamboni would clear the ice and the teams would retreat to their locker rooms.
We couldn’t imagine how they could hold out. A typical game is three periods long. They were about to start their 5th. That’s like adding a third half to football or four extra innings to a baseball game. This was going to be sloppy.
But when the ice was clear and the horn sounded to call them back to the ice, our team came out of the locker room with their shoulders squared and their faces set. Each banged his stick against the boards as they skated through.
They faced off. The puck dropped. Darien pressed into our defensive end. With some struggle we cleared the puck from the zone and one player carried it up the ice. The other four took the opportunity to skate for the bench where four more were waiting to tap in. Through the gates and over the boards went eight bodies. Meanwhile one body in red and white skated determinedly up ice, weaving through a sea of blue jerseys. Before the new line had even made it to the offensive zone, Greg wound up and shot.
The entire bench poured onto the ice as the puck found the back of the net. A wave of red and white cascaded over the boards and piled on their goalie.
Not only would they skate for the state championship, their season was guaranteed to continue the following week in Vermont. Connecticut sends its top two teams to represent the state in the New England sectionals and these kids had just punched their ticket.

#SOL18 Day 11 Sometimes the Important Gets Obscured by the Right Now

I just finished tucking my teenager in. So simple.

Up through 8th grade I’d tuck him in every night. I’d help untangle the covers, which were invariably twisted and hanging half off his bed. I’d smooth them out and tell him I loved him. After lingering for a few minutes and recapping bits from the day or previewing the day ahead, I’d get ready to leave. Often, those were the moments when he’d open up about something important. I’d hear about friends, or a girl, whatever was on his mind and we’d linger.

Last year we moved and he started high school. At the same time his hockey practices started and ended much later, meaning that by the time he was ready for bed, I was spent. Bedtimes became rushed. Quick in. Quick out–to finish the dishes or homework or just to unwind. This year has been much the same. No longer has that time been sacrosanct.

Tonight I had the sense that I should linger. Instead of a quick, “goodnight,” I stayed. He announced when I walked in that he didn’t need the covers. We talked…mostly I did. After a while I said, “I understand you may not need these covers. That’s OK, but I could use them for now.” I pulled them up, covering my toes and my shoulder.

We talked…mostly I did. Then he sat up and said, “Well, I guess I could just trade these covers. He pulled off the sheet that was twisted around him and pulled the blanket up to his chin. And as the covers started to peel away, untwist, and get smoothed out. So did his thoughts.

Eventually we stopped talking…mostly I did. He’d been mostly quiet.

What struck me is how much we can lose when we’re just tending to the right now. We used to be close, bonded by bedtime’s stories. Now he feels distant, like he’s forgotten how to tell those stories and maybe like I’ve forgotten how to listen.

The week ahead is outrageously busy. And yet, I don’t think we can afford to wait any more nights to slow down bedtimes and reinstate the storytelling about our lives…mostly his.