Sunday, April 20, 2014
Franki's BIG BODACIOUS BIRTHDAY - # IF NOT FOR FRANKI
It's time to celebrate because Frank's birthday is today. Those of us who know her well, understand what an impact she has made on our lives. Here's my story.
Thoughts on Franki’s BIG BODACIOUS BIRTHDAY on April 20, 2014
Franki’s BIG BODACIOUS Birthday is something to celebrate. Each day she makes her mark on the world. It might be something she says to a child or colleague. It might the impact she makes on the learning and teaching community. It might be a special piece she has written. It might be the kind words she has for a friend. It most definitely is the friendship we have shared over the years.
Her thought process is, by far, her most prized characteristic. I cannot compare her thinking to another person on this earth. She is always thinking. I imagine her in the quietest moments of her day with her brain racing through the many thoughts she entertains. I get exhausted just being part of those thoughts that she shares aloud with me. She is driven by the notion of what is right in the world of education. And of course, I am inspired.
Our friendship began so many years ago. I was a teacher starting in a new school district searching for a kindred spirit who would share in my learning and teaching journey. Then I met Franki. It wasn’t long before I knew that she was special. She was a master teacher early in her career. Most importantly she was a collaborator. She connected with people and built her network of colleagues based on what was right for kids. I was fortunate to be a part of that network.
We began our journey together in so many ways. We joined district curriculum committees. We looked for every opportunity to learn and collaborate. We went to conferences together. I can remember so well sitting near the front row of the Columbia Writing Project Summer Institute dazed by the project leaders and writing down every important word spoken by the likes of Lucy Calkins, Shelley Harwayne and so many more luminaries of the education world. A spark began deep in our souls as we became committed to implementing writing workshop in our classrooms. When we returned from the conference, we took our first tentative steps driven by our vision of what writing workshop could be. Very few teachers were implementing writing workshop in our district (yes, it was many years ago). So we were blazing a new trail in our teaching lives. There were good days and bad days as we moved forward, but our phone calls to each other (nearly every night) kept us committed and on track. I don’t think the two of us would have ever made it without those many phone calls, especially on days when my teaching hadn’t gone so well. Franki was always there to share the strides her kids were making and it gave me hope that we could make writing workshop happen for the kids in our classrooms. Her conversation was always inspiring and encouraging. This was a true journey in learning and teaching. I was the fortunate one because it was a journey I shared with Franki.
Many years have passed and I cannot adequately measure the impact she has made on my personal and professional life. It has the expanse of the universe. We marked the passing years by the way our kids answered the phone and we watched them grow into the adults they are today. We shared the joys and struggles of parenthood. We talked about teaching, writing, learning and leading. We walked a trail together, side by side, and she became part of the fabric of my own thoughts and visions.
Most importantly, Franki and I have celebrated together. Often it was simply a great day in the writing workshop. It was a line written by a student that shook the very ground we stood on or a special conversation we had with a student. Celebrations kept us going and confirmed that we were doing the right things for the children in our care.
I am sure it was Franki’s idea for us to write a book together. She has a way of pushing herself and others – in good ways. We grew together as we wrote and wrote and rewrote our thoughts. We talked on the phone. We worked with our editor. We blocked out weekends to bury ourselves in our writing. It was a journey that marked a new venture in our professional lives. In many ways, the task was both frustrating and joyous. I am proud of the books we have written together. They are the evidence of our teaching lives and a legacy of our friendship.
As we wrote our books together, I was able to spend some of my flexible work time to observe in Franki’s classroom. Her enthusiasm for thoughtful instruction was so evident. I learned so much from her about building relationships with children and talking with them as learners. It was joyful to watch her teach. When Stenhouse Publishers asked to videotape in Franki’s classroom, she was quick to take on this new project. It was a pleasure (and an honor) to spend time in Franki’s classroom and observe her working with children every day. She touched the lives of her children and my own understanding with her thoughtfulness and reflection.
I recognize the ways she makes her impact on the educational community. I read her blog posts. I listen carefully to what she has to say. Teachers listen to her classroom stories and they carry her ideas and instructional practices into their own classrooms. Her impact reaches the children in those classrooms and school life becomes richer and more thoughtful because of her.
Franki was the one who encouraged me to start a blog. I admit that I have not shared Franki’s dedication and commitment to getting my writing out there. Starting the blog was a learning process and I admire the persistence she has. The blog she writes with Mary Lee Hahn reaches so many teachers and colleagues. Her network continues to grow and influence the lives of teachers and children.
Franki continues to make her impact on those of us who know her. As she writes for Choice Literacy, as she videotapes classroom episodes, as she works with the leadership of NCTE and other professional organizations, she makes her mark. She enriches my life and the lives of so many people.
Franki is one of those people that push you to the edge of your thinking. I am forever thankful. She often confirmed my ideas but our friendship was marked by the times she didn’t agree with me. There were times when I might have said something really ignorant, and she was there to hit me upside the head, so to speak, and to cause me to reconsider. There were times when new ideas ignited in our conversation. Thank goodness she was there. Our relationship has been built on reflection. Over the years, she was my sounding board, and I can only hope that I was the same for her.
My favorite routine that Franki and I shared was talking on the phone before arriving at work each day. It happened like clockwork … and when one of us stayed home because of an illness or an appointment, the space and time seemed painfully silent. For years, we would start our day with a story or a good chuckle. Sometimes we complained to each other … and yes, sometimes we gossiped, but we connected each day. It was a wonderful way to start my day with a kindred spirit who touched my life in so many ways. My greatest sadness is that we aren’t able to continue our morning routine. I am retired from my teaching and principalship. (So I am learning the art of sleeping in!) But, oh, how I miss those conversations. We will be re- inventing our connections in other ways because who can survive long without those heartfelt conversations.
Franki’s very nature encourages others to take new steps. I could write pages and pages about the impact Franki has made in my life. She is a thinker, an initiator, an explorer, a collaborator, a stand-in sister, and a confidante. For me, most importantly, she is my friend. I can’t imagine a life not touched by her presence.
Happy Birthday, Franki. You are THE BEST!
Posted by Karen Szymusiak at 8:04 AM