How Many Readers Have I Hurt?

image from etsy

Every year I share the story of my husband and how he hated reading for most of his life with my students.  I used to share it because it was unfathomable to me; how can anyone hate reading?  But in the past few years, I share it so the students know that hating reading and feeling like a bad reader is not a box that should define them.

Yesterday, as I told the story to my 7th graders, head nods all around as I explained how my husband would rather ride his bike than read a book.  He knew he was a slow and bad reader, so why even bother when the world has so much else to offer?   I asked the students; why is reading hard?  Why do we think we are bad readers?  One boy raised his hand and said, “I was told I couldn’t read a book because it wasn’t at my level…”  More head nods, and I cringed a little, pretty sure I have told students something similar at some point.  But still I asked them, “What else has happened to you?”

One shared the story of being told to read other genres to break out of their preference, another of the five finger rule and how it was enforced.  A girl told us of how easy books were not allowed, only the ones deemed “Just right.”  Stories of forced books, worksheet packets, and reading logs arose and my mortification grew because I know I have said and done all of those things.  But these kids were telling me how harmful it had been, not helpful as I had thought every time I said it.

I wonder how often our sage reading advice hurts rather than helps?  I wonder how often our great intentions damage what we are trying to build?  I know that students need guidance when it comes to growing as readers, but are levels, forced books, and “just right” the way to do it?  In our helpfulness are we instead creating reading boxes that our students cannot break free from?   I told my students that I would never define them by their level and that the books they choose to read need to be just right for them.  Just right at this time in their life.  Just right for what they want to do.  That can mean many things and it can change through time.

I end with the story of how my husband realized at the age of 35 that he was not a bad reader.  He was a slow reader, yes, but that did not make him bad.  He realized that had he had more choice, more books, something else in his younger age who knows what would have happened.  The past is out of his hands but the future he controls.  So as he slowly makes his way through books, he is becoming a reader.  I tell my students that they have control of the label they give themselves and to not let that label hinder them.  We have all been “bad” readers at some point, we chose what to do with that label.  It is my job to help them with that, not give them more boxes to hold them back.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

 

 

We All Have Worth

image from etsy

We do not think our words have value.  We do not share our new ideas as loudly as we should, instead whispering them in the hopes that someone hears us.  We do not want others to think we know better. We tread lightly so that others can see we know our place.  We beat ourselves up before others can, that way we are ready for the disappointment.

Yet we tell our children that their words matter.  That their voice should be heard around the world.  That they should speak up, stand proud and stand tall behind the ideas they share.  That their worth starts within them, not based on the opinions of others.  We tell our children that they can make a difference if only they speak up.  If only they dream.  If only they try.

Yet our own actions do not fly so boldly.  Instead we cower within the box we have placed ourselves in, even though the world needs our voices as well.

We forget that we have worth.  That our words are worthy of an audience.  That the ideas we carry within may help others as they have helped us.  That although we may be unsure, we will not find greatness if we do not try.  Our words have power.  Our words have strength.  Our words may take on a life of their own if only we release them.  We all belong in the conversation, join in.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Why the Time to Empower is Now

This post originally appeared on Corwin’s Connected Educator site.

I remember the first time I was called to the principal’s office as an adult. The sweaty palms, my mind racing with questions, my heart in my throat. Questions about what I had done to spark a one-on-one meeting taunted me the whole way there, and it wasn’t until I sat down in the chair and my principal smiled at me that I actually took a breath. I don’t remember now what the conversation was about, probably something about my students, but the experience of being called into an unannounced meeting, of entering into someone else’s territory left a deep impression. It left me feeling powerless as I walked into a situation I knew nothing about. It also prompted me to think of what I did to my students whenever I held them back from recess silently admonishing them to stay behind, or asked to speak with them outside of my classroom. How they must have felt their adrenaline spike; how they must have wondered what they had done wrong.

The empowered school is one where all voices are heard, dissenting opinions are valued, and staff is trusted. The principal is not simply the leader, but a voice in the discussion—just not THE voice. Empowered teachers feel they have control over their work environment, that their voice is heard, and that their experience matters. Empowered students know that their opinion matters, that they have control over their learning journey, and that school is worth their time. All of this leads to an environment based on community and trust, where everyone knows they matter. Sound utopian? Perhaps, but it is not. The steps toward a better functioning school are easily started and integrated.That feeling of powerlessness and fear of what’s to come is a feeling I don’t want to give to children or school staff unless it is warranted. Yet, most of our schools are set up with a very clear hierarchy of power. The principal or lead administrator holds most of the control and delegates morsels of it to chosen people, much like in our classrooms where the teacher holds the rein of power and only briefly lets students take control. This type of structure works by feeding itself—all important decisions are made by those in power and one must be given power to have any importance. It is a structure that has not been questioned for a long time, but I feel it is time to spread the control. It is time to give schools back to the staff, to give classrooms back to the students, and to empower others.

The first step is to reflect on who has the power within your environment? Who makes decisions? How is the power given? Acknowledging our weaknesses is always our first step in the road to change. We cannot change what we refuse to face.

The next step is to actually spread the power. How can staff meetings or meetings with students signal a power change? How can decisions be made where more voices are heard? How can all of the stakeholders be more involved in the decisions that are made that affect everyone?

The third step on your way to change is to actually change. We spend an awful lot of time discussing new initiatives, planning for them, and even figuring out the best way to implement them, but then we never actually change. This is where our time should be spent, where our focus should be.

I wrote my new book, Empowered School, Empowered Students hoping to inspire others to shift the power held within their schools and classrooms; to start a discussion on who has the power within our school and what does that power structure mean for the entire community of learners. The book is intended to be a practical how-to guide to empower staff and students, to create a community where everyone has a voice, and to use that voice for the betterment of all. It can be done, and it should be done. Empowering staff and students to change the way we teach and learn is an urgent need in our educational society, and those changes don’t have to be big to make an impact.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

I Need to Forgive Myself

image from etsy

I have been rather contemplative as of late, not quite sure of myself, not quite sure of my worth as a teacher.  I think many of us experience this every year as we start fresh, as we perhaps move grades, or move schools.  Or even if we stay put, these new kids present us with a whole new world, and we forget that our old kids were once new to us as well.

So we beat ourselves up, think we are no longer great teachers, that we are not doing as well as the year before or that somehow we have already messed this year up.  We lament our own limitations, highlight the things that are going wrong, and punish ourselves for not doing enough, teaching enough, being enough.  We spend hours at night searching for solutions, new ideas, and new possibilities that will help us become that teacher again.  That teacher that feels on top of the world.  That teacher that feels like they did their part to help a child.  Yet we forget that we already know a lot of what we need, that this too shall pass.  That with each day and each moment with these kids, we get better, we grow together.  The newness wears off and these kids became our new old kids and we settle into our groove.

So instead of continuing to beat myself up on this path of new, I am going to give myself a break.  I am going to remember that I have never taught this grade level nor this curriculum before.  That every day I AM trying something new even if it doesn’t feel that way.  That it may not feel like I am becoming better or that we are growing together, but that we are, and I would know that if I only paid attention rather than beat myself up.  I am forgiving myself for not being amazing.  I am forgiving myself for not continually trying to be creative, push the boundaries.  I am forgiving myself for the mistakes I am making every day.  I am letting go of the need to try to be perfect, to even be great, and instead focusing on getting better, greatness will hopefully come some day.

I don’t know why i beat myself up.  I don’t know why I pull myself down.  But I do know that it doesn’t help.  That reflection is great but self-doubt isn’t.  I am learning once more to forgive myself for the teacher I am right now, with an eye on what I want to become.  The path is there in front of me, I am already on my journey, but first I need to forgive myself.  Do you?

PS:  My second book comes out today.  Empowered Schools, Empowered Students is finally ready for others to read, dissect, and hopefully like.  Thank you to those who pre-ordered it.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Do You Wanna Be Friends?

image from etsy

“Do you wanna be friends?” the little girl at the park asked Thea, my 5 year old.

“Sure!” Thea said and off they went, playing for the next 20 minutes.

I remember when it used to be that easy.  Just ask someone to be your friend, after all, who says no to that, and off you went on new adventures, new friend close by, sharing all of the joy with you.  You didn’t care about their family, or what they liked, you didn’t care about their beliefs, or other big picture things.  They had asked to be your friend, so off you went, friends for now, who cares about later?

As adults, we seem to have muddied it all up.  As someone who is shy naturally, I never ask someone to be my friend, but I hope and I try and I reach out, yet it still seems so hard to navigate.  We ask questions of each other, as if being a friend is something you have to interview for.  We consider whether we have time for more friends, after all, we are all so busy.  We do friend trial periods to see if we really are a good match, and when it doesn’t work out, we are swift to cut off contact.  It is not that we are not friendly, because we are, but we do not easily extend the branch of friendship.  That is something to be earned, to be given only after a long evaluation.

What if we started just being friends with people?  What if instead of interviewing new people, we assumed that they are a nice person, that they have something to offer to us.  What if at our schools, with all of those new teachers, we went out of our way to include someone, to invite someone, to be a friend to someone?

I know we are all busy.  I know we are all worried about getting hurt by new people.  But perhaps we have made it too hard for ourselves to find new friends.  Perhaps the barriers we have built have become walls rather than doors?  Perhaps we should all just start asking, ‘Do you wanna be friends?” to the new people we meet?  Think of the power that would have.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Are We Having Honest Conversations with Kids?

image from icanread

The groan could have been heard for miles it seemed.  The 7th grader in front of me looked at me with that look only kids can give you when you have said something that they hate.

“Post-its?  I hate post-its, why do we have to use post-its?”

I bent down and said “Why?” took the few minutes to discuss and then knew I had to change what I was about to teach.

It was my first day of readers workshop with the students and I was pumped, I couldn’t wait to get them started on their journey to think deeper about their books, have better conversations, and boost their writing.  And yet, already by the first hour, I had run into a boulder of disapproval.

In the past, I would have had a conversation with the student as well, but it would have centered on explaining why this was good for them, why they had to do it, and how they just had to trust me.  This time though, I knew it wouldn’t be enough, that my role right now is not to force habits because I said so but rather create discussion and find habits that work for us.  So I listened and we discussed and I realized that the student brought up points that I think of myself as I read through some of my lessons and it was time for me to admit it.

Being a teacher is sometimes like being an enforcer.  We tell children what to do because we know best, we know the end point, and so we know the building blocks that they need to get there.  We have discussions, we offer choice, but how often do we listen to what the students are telling us and admitting our own doubts or thoughts?  How often do we admit our own adult habits and how they fly in the face of what we are teaching and then create a new path forward because we know the students might be right?  How often do we listen when students tell us how they feel and then actually act upon it even if it means changing the way we teach?

We have to have honest conversations with our students.  We have to be able to admit that sometimes the ideas we first had are not the ideas that are best suited for the children in front of us.  That we as adults have developed habits that fly in the face of what we are teaching and yet we still manage to be deep thinkers.  We have to admit that sometimes our lessons are not “real life” or even do-able for all of us.  We have to admit that not everyone has the same path forward to whatever goal we may have set.

I speak to my students about developing as independent thinkers, yet I expect them to conform to all of the same rules in our classroom.  I am not sure how to go forward, but I know something has to give.  We may know what is best for most, but I need to know what is best for each.  And that will take a lot of honest conversations.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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