Just Fine is Not Enough

Today, my baby twins turn two.Hard to think they were ever small enough to fit in my body when they stand in front of me demanding another waffle, another kiss, another story.  And yet, two years is a long time, a lot has changed.  Not only have they changed, but we have changed. The world has changed in ways we could never imagine.  Sometimes on purpose, other times out of necessity.  Change, as they say, is a constant.

I think of how we change in the classroom and how we often change based on what we need.  We are after all the ones who wield most of the power.  We are the ones who plan the lessons.  Who chart the course.  Who have to act in charge, even if we don’t feel it.  We change when things don’t work for us, when things don’t fit into our framework of what our classrooms should look like.  We change when the little voice inside tells us we need to.  And sometimes we change because the kids ask us to. Then we get happy, we stay, we think our change is enough and the years start to tick by, and we forget that we ever needed the change because what we are doing seems to work just fine.

“Just fine…”something I hear so often when I ask people to whether they can change.  We hold up our files of success, our pictures of kids engaged, we find the proof we need that things are working and kids are learning, that our change that happened so long ago was enough for now.  Yet those kids are not the same, I see that in my own four kids.  The twins are nothing like Theadora when she was two, the world has changed a lot since then.  And when Augustine turns two, the world will have changed again, and so will the kids in it.

So be proud of your change, but check it too.  You may have found it works “just fine” but is it time to change again?  To fine-tune?  To adapt?  To throw it all out?  Is it time to listen to the kids that are coming to you now, not those that you taught a few years ago.  The ones who are excited to have you be their teacher this year.  Is there change that needs to be done for them? I know there is for me.

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Some New (and Old) Ideas for Reading and Writing

My head is spinning, the thoughts are creeping in, ideas seem to be coming from everywhere and it is reaching that critical time…How in the world am I really going to teach reading and writing to my incoming 7th graders?  Not the curriculum, that has been taken care of for me, but how am I going to work with it?  How am I going to get them excited about it?  How am I going to welcome them, get their attention, and then keep it for a whole year of our adventure?  How will I bridge the gap between my elementary mindset and their middle school mindset?

So while, I don’t have it all figured out, after all, who really does before the kids show up, I do have some ideas of what we will do to create a great writing/reading experience.

  • I brought my library with me.  There may not be many other middle school teachers that have this sort of library in my new district, but my books are who I am.  Along with it, I brought my rocking chair, my carpet squares, and all of those picture books that mean so much to me.  Together we will dive into the library and make it our own.  I cannot wait for students to explore it.

    our library corner

  • We will start with a picture book.  Picture books are the vessels with which so much knowledge can be dispersed.  They lure us in with their colorful pages and seemingly easy words, but leave us with deep thoughts and inspiration to write.  So we will start with students choosing which book to read aloud.  Current contenders include Pete & Pickles, Journey, Sparky!, My Teacher is a Monster, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Chu’s Day, The Story of Fish and Snail, Chalk, It’s a Book, and Unicorn Thinks He is Pretty Great.  I hope each class chooses a different one.

    picture books to grab their attention

  • We will discuss the good and the bad.  Last year’s lesson on why reading sucks taught me so much about my students and I hope to replicate it in some way this year.  While I want to highlight how incredible it is to read and write, I need to acknowledge all of the kids that don’t feel that way.  We need to have an honest discussion and we need to put all of our reading and writing demons out there.  We cannot move on if we are not honest.
  • We will use reflection.  I learn so much when the students allow me into their heads so this year we will start with a reading and writing reflection.  I may be crazy to think I can do the workshop format with all of my students, but I am going to try.  This reflection will serve as our starting point.   There has to be a way to get these kids reading, writing, reflecting, and talking.  This is how we grow, this is how we learn.
  • There will be comics.  I have always had some comics in the classroom, but this year I brought more out.  I know that some of my students are very reluctant readers and I need to catch them with something.  So comics, graphic novels, and books that I may not have thought would fit for 7th grade has been brought along, and they will be pointed out and placed into the hands of students.  Whatever it takes to get these kids reading.
  • Books read will still be displayed.  However, this time it will be on a bulletin board rather than on the door.  I really want the focus to be on students’ reading and not mine when people walk by, so it will be our favorite book covers gracing our door rather than just what I have read.

    my old book door display

    my old book door display

  • There will be voice.  We start with short stories and I was reminded of the art of story telling by a friend.  I need to see where students are as writers before we can set goals and short stories lends itself perfectly to this.  Students will be encouraged to create one of their own, using a medium they are comfortable with.  We will focus on telling their story rather than all of the heavy editing, that will come a little bit later as we start to grow, set goals, and become mindful writers.
  • We will be global readers.  We will be reading “One for the Murphy’s” as part of this year’s Global Read Aloud. I cannot wait to see the students connect with others as they think about this book and its powerful theme of redemtion, love, and finding one’s place within the world.
  • I will share my reading and writing life.  I will continue to prominently display what I am reading, but new this year, I will also display what I am writing.  I think it is easier for us to show off our reading because kids expect us to read, but do they know us as writers?  I think it will be powerful for the students to see that I write all the time and for a variety of reasons.  Hopefully, this will spark discussion as well.

    writing sign for the door

    writing sign for the door

  • Non-fiction will have a home.  John T. Spencer inspired me when he discussed how we as adults forget that we read non-fiction all the time, yet it seems to warp itself into a textbook centered beast in our classroom.  So this year I will embrace non-fiction even more.  Not to forgo the wonders of fiction, but to help students understand how much non-fiction text they are already surrounded by and to realize that this counts as reading as well.

    nonfiction gets it's own shelf

    nonfiction gets it’s own shelf

Of course, this is not it.  There will be more as my thoughts settle and I get into the classroom and see what else I can do.  But it’s a start and I am excited, and that to me means more than anything right now.  What ideas can you not wait to implement?

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

3 Easy Things to Try That Will Make a Big Difference

The reviews have been rolling my way, quietly, yet loudly making my heart sing.

“I loved   book by so much bought copies for our whole staff! Great read for where we are at & wanting to go!”

” I am enjoying your book. You climbed into my head and my thoughts. Thank you for sharing your story.”

“”I never marry an idea, I date it.” Pernille Ripp in Passionate Learners. Great quote from an awesome book!

These people, these strangers, are reading my first book “Passionate Learners…” and they actually like it.  What an amazing feeling that is.  This book about my own transformation is inspiring others to change the way they teach, helping them give the classroom back to their students too.  What an honor to be a part of someone else’s journey of change.

So I am often asked, where do I start?  What can I easily do right now to change the way my classroom flows?  Here are my top three most frequently given answers (I think).

Ask your students what they want.  This simple, yet teacher-changing way of changing the way we teach is also one of the easiest things to do.  It is what we do with their answers that may make it hard.  So ask your students what they would like their year to be like?  What they would like their rules to be?  How an assignment should be done.  What a great teacher does.  And anything else you can think of.  I started asking my students all of these questions and more, and then I started changing the way I teach.  Why not give them a voice?

Let students work wherever they want.  I hate sitting still, I hate being forced to sit in a desk.  My students can work wherver they want as long as it works for them and the people surrounding them.

Offer Choice.  The very first thing I will do with all of my 7th graders is to ask them to pick the picture book I read aloud to them.  Then they will be asked to respond to it in some way.  While not full choice, as in, “What do you want to do right now?”  it gives them an idea of what our year will be like.  That we will share a lot of reading and writing but that their choices in reading and writing matter.  That they are here to uncover or shape their inner reader/writer and that their voice matters.

These three simple things can make an incredible difference in any environment.  Think of the message it sends from the very beginning; your opinion matters, as do your ideas, and you know yourself best.  That is the message I hope to start with and that is the message I hope my students understand.

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

What We Need to Remember

image from icanread

“I don’t think I can thank you enough.”  And with that, we said goodbye, and our nanny of the last two years left our home for the last time, ready for her new adventure. I held back tears, after all, our nanny has helped us raise them, helped us care for them, helped us love them.  We have trusted her with our most important parts; our kids, and she has always lived up to the challenge.  I hope our new nanny does too, after all I spent weeks picking her.

When we send our children to school, we don’t have as much choice in who they get as a teacher.  We hope, of course, that whomever they get will love them, will care for them, will help them be passionate learners.  But the choice is not really ours.  We place our faith in an interview process that may have happened long ago, a screening or selection process for class lists that may be mostly random, and we place our faith in the humanity of that very teacher.  That they will get our child.  That they will love them too.  And it is our job to love, to think, to remember.

So before we plan for anything new this year, remember they are a child.

Before we raise our voice, point our finger, shut the door, remember; they are a child.

Before we get frustrated, get ready to discipline, to gossip about that thing that drove us crazy, remember they are a child.

Someone whose parents hopes that you get what they see at home.

Someone whose parents sends their best child to us every day.

Before we assume that parents don’t care, or that there is nothing we can do to help, remember; they are a child.

Before we tell them the long-term consequences of their poor decisions, remember they are a child.

Before we shoot down ideas, reject change, reject new, reject anything other than our own, remember; they are a child and we should be doing our best to give them the best.

Before we hold back, before we leave scars, before we tell a child what they can or cannot do, remember exactly that, they are a child.  They do not belong to us, but we get to have them for a bit.   They are someone else’s, ours to borrow, ours to safeguard.  They are someone’s child, yes, but they are also ours for just a little bit and we can never forget that.

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

So My Kids Did a Reading Challenge and All I Did Was Lie…Almost

photo (18)

It started as a great idea; new town, new library, let’s go explore!  We went, we fawned (yes, fawned) over the incredible library and then we saw what I knew already would be there; The Summer Reading Challenge!  Thea, my 5 year old, and the only one aware enough to notice it, saw it right away and began to ask questions.  “What’s the robot for?  How do I get a sticker?  I want a bookmark!”

So I signed them all up, even the baby, thinking this would be great.  No big deal, after all, we read a ton, a challenge and log will only cement that.  With our library books in hand, our new brightly colored reading logs, we went home to start the epic summer reading challenge.

At first, it was no big deal.  We read a book, I had our 4 booklets right there, and down they went onto the page.  Thea would ask to read another because she wanted one more title in her book.  Sure!  I couldn’t believe how much we were reading.  Then I started to forget, leaving the booklets in random places.   I often forgot and then had to really think hard about what we were reading.  It wasn’t that we weren’t reading, it was more that I didn’t carry a booklet with me when we did.  I can’t find a pen half of the time.  So although reading continued to surround us, I quickly noticed how much of a pain it was to write it down.  Oh well, I figured this was the least I could do to keep a focus on readin g this summer.

Off we went to the library, proudly handing in our booklets and getting our prizes in return; stickers, baseball ticket, and even a temporary tattoo.  More books came home with us and I couldn’t wait to just read them.  Then, Thea started to ask me to read so she could win stuff.  Yup.  My ferocious book swallower didn’t care what I read to her, it could have been the back of a can for all that mattered, but she wanted to make sure she would get stuff when she went to the library next.  When I asked her why it mattered, she innocently said, “Because I want to win!” with the look of a lion that’s about to devour its prey.  Reading was not our chill out time anymore, it was our competition.

Then I got sick.  And not just it’s a cold kind of sick, but flu sick, for 2 weeks.  Yes, we read, barely, some days my throat couldn’t swallow so reading was more of a miming game.  But we read because it’s what we do.  Reading is what we have always done.  Books go everywhere with us, books are the tapestry of our family, we recollect memories through books.  We read until we fall asleep.  Filling out a log was the furthest thing from my mind.  After two weeks of being sick, I knew we had read, but what we had read and when we had done it; no clue.  So I lied.  I wrote in whatever titles I spotted in the living room, circled 15 minutes on every day.  I was sure we had done it, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t pretend to read, but the details had completely escaped me.

Again we went to the library, completed booklets in hand, Thea ready to harvest her prizes.  I handed the booklets to the librarians, sure that they would see through my deceit.  Sure, that they would question why it was all written in the same color pen, why my initials looked the same every day.  They didn’t, they meticulously checked each entry, then guided Thea toward the trinkets she had earned.  I breathed a sigh of relief, we were done.  Reading could go back to being about reading, not about winning.

I thought we were stronger than a reading challenge.  That something like this would only enhance the experience we already have with our books, going against my own teacher voice.  I thought we were better than this.  That our reading would never be a chore, a competition, or something to lie about.  I never thought that our joy for reading could be replaced with an eagerness to read simply for the act of writing a title down, not for the experience of the book itself.  I was wrong, it was proven, and I ashamed.  I should have known.  I should have thought about it.

We are about to leave, Augustine wants a bottle and the twins need a nap.  Then Then spots it; a shelf full of books with a pink poster.  Win these!  Do the Extra Reading Challenge!  “Mama, what’s that?!” she exclaims eagerly pointing.  “Nothing, honey, now let’s go find some books…”

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

In Defense of Boredom

image from icanread

You would think Thea, my 5 year old, would be in her element.  Long lazy days to do whatever she wants.  Beautiful afternoons to spend at the playground next door.  Time to read, play, draw, dance, even watch TV.  Heaven…except it’s not.  Thea is bored.  And she tells me frequently whenever I am not playing with her.  Whenever we are not doing something.

At first, I jumped into action.  Boredom dispelled with fun activities.  Boredom banished by mama and her wallet.  You want a dog and pony show, coming right up!  Except it wasn’t enough, it never was.  I found myself searching the web frantically looking for more great activities.  Running to the store to buy more stuff.  Turning  on the TV as a last ditch attempt.  Being a boredom buster became a full time job and  I was exhausted.  Since when did summer become one endless list of to do’s?  If she was bored, well, then I was a bad mother.

This happens in our classrooms too.  We think that if we aren’t putting on a show, we are not doing our job.  That if students aren’t excited and loudly engaged at all times, we must be failing as teachers.  We imagine that there will be no time to be bored.  Students will practically skip into our classrooms, eager to start.  And sure, some days they do.  Those days are easy.  It is the days where they drag their feet, have to prop open their eyes, stifle yawns and give you that look, those are the days where we really work.

Yet, much like I realized with Thea, it is not my job to be the boredom buster.  It is my job to present learning opportunities that might engage, that might excite, that might spark an interest.  But I can only do so much.  I can only bring so much to the classroom, and at some point the students have to step up too.  At some point, they have to embrace their boredom and find out what to do with it.  How to work through it.  How to be their own boredom busters.

We try to shield children from boredom and in our eagerness forget that being bored is a gift.  Being bored is not a four-letter word.  It is not something to avoid, nor something to ridicule.  Out of boredom comes curiosity.  Out of boredom rises innovation.  If we do not give our students quiet time, time to reflect, time to be still, yes time they may see as boring, then we are robbing them of time to think.

We think that our classrooms should be loud at all times.  That loudness equals learning.  Yet, I have found that some of my most powerful teaching moments have been the quiet ones.  Where students have had time to think, to be bored, to create, all without me putting on a show.  Sure, loudness is important as well.  But the true essence of innovation can often be found shrouded in silence, when students are asked to do something about their boredom.

So when Thea tells me she is bored, I ask her what she will do about it.  She has run to her room and pulled on her princess dress only then to concoct an elaborate fantasy scene with parts for everyone in the family.  She has quietly drawn pictures of things I would never imagine.  She has gone to her room and sat with a book.   She will never stop telling me she is bored, after all, it seems to be a rite of childhood, but I am no longer the one that rescues her.  She is doing that herself.  Let’s give the same chance to our students.  Let us help them embrace being bored.

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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