being a student, being a teacher, new year, Student Engagement

Space

I have been thinking a lot about space lately.

Not the kind that surrounds us on a dark night, but the kind that surrounds us as individuals.

Perhaps it is because I have been flying more and as a woman, I constantly find my space taken by white men sitting next to me, refusing to even share an armrest.  I am so used to it, I have found I slip into patterns to make myself smaller in order to not encroach on their space.

Perhaps it is because in my thinking work this summer I keep coming back to how white my professional space is within my district, reflective of the lack of diversity of so many districts here in Wisconsin.  How can we change this to be reflective of the kids we teach?

Perhaps it is because I see the critical conversations surrounding education online and how often it is silenced because people say we need to speak nicely to each other, to not make the space unwelcoming or unkind.  We use these platitudes so often to silence the voices of those who have been silenced for so long that we fail to recognize the same destructive patterns.

Perhaps it is because I see my own daughters apologize for the space they take up at times as we remind them to be nice, to be kind, to speak appropriately, whatever that may mean.  Even as I cringe when the words slip out inadvertently, taught to me by many years of public socialization where we are taught which type of women should be heard in this American society.  And I can tell you from experience that the minute you raise your voice, you are deemed angry as if anger is a bad thing.

Perhaps it is because I feel like as a white woman I am often afforded more space because of my skin color than I really deserve.

Space, and how much space we are given, seems to be crowded with well-meaning intentions and misguided constraints.  Space and what we do with it also seems to be dictated by those who feel their space encroached upon and who must make a decision of whether enough there is enough space for us all.  (I think there is, but that is for a different time.)

I think of space when it comes to our students, how for years I have discussed student voice on this blog and how I have attempted to create an environment where students can speak up no matter what they are saying.  How for a long time, through my personal reflection, I have implored others to give students’ voice without recognizing the inherent problem in that statement; students already have a voice, they come to us loudly, yet, it is within our pursuit of calm and compliant that we silence them for the benefit of “learning for all.”  And so I come to the natural conclusion that my work is not about giving students a voice but instead about space and more specifically, giving them back the space we took from them in the first place.

And that starts with the very first day, the inequity of our voices as we go through our day with kids we don’t even know.  How many of us talk about those first days as exhausting because our voices are constantly heard?  How many of our students feel drained not because of all that they had to do but instead all they had to listen to?  How many of us plan out to the minute what we will be doing in order to “Set the year up right” without a care for how welcome or even safe students may feel in our rooms? Perhaps what we need is a little bit of silence, more them than us, more we than I.

So as I plan for those first of many days, I am thinking about the space of my voice.  The space of me within the room and how it needs to be balanced with the space of others.  How I need to think of my voice, the adult voice, as something that also takes up space and therefore needs to be weighed in order to give back space to others.  And not just in the classroom, but in life.  After all, we get one chance to start off right with these new kids, why not get our priorities straight from the get-go?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, being me

These Kids, Our Kids

She tells us that she is not smart.  That school is not a place she wants to go to because that’s where all the smart kids go.  The ones who can read.  The ones who can do things so much easier than her.

She shows us that she is trying.  That every word that sits in front of her is a mountain to be climbed, seemingly no matter how many times she has seen it before, the climb is still there.  The doubt is still there.  The wanting to give up, because “This so hard, Mommy..” and we tell her to sound it out, to try again, to see the letters, even as they move and squiggle and run away from her eyes as she tries once again.  Everything taking twice as long as her twin brother.  Everything coming at a price of time that seemingly no other child has to give up because to them it just comes easy.

So we search for answers, for teachers who see the girl before they see the problem, for others who like us, sit with a child where reading does not come easy.  Where reading is not a magical adventure but instead dreaded work that doesn’t bring happiness but only affirmation of her supposed lack of can.  And we get the doctors involved and they tell us their diagnosis and I cry in the meeting because wouldn’t it have been nice if it wasn’t a specific learning disorder but instead just something that hadn’t clicked?  Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had it all wrong and she had us all fooled?  Wouldn’t it have been nice?

So we sit down with our little girl, who really isn’t so little anymore, and tell her that we did get answers and as we thought it turns out her brain just learns differently.  That reading is, indeed, hard to figure out but not impossible.  That now that we know more, we can do more, we can get help, we can get support, and we can go in the right direction rather than searching in the dark hoping for something to help us.  We can tell she doesn’t believe us, not yet, anyway.

And as summer unfolds, we hope that having this time can give us the time we need to build her back up, not because anyone tore her down, but because this mountain of reading has been telling her for too long that she is not as good as she thought she was.  And once those whispers started they were awfully hard to drown out when the proof is right there in front of her on the page.

And I think of how the systems of school play into this self-evaluation.  How the grades and the labels so often harm.  How we, as educators, sometimes confuse good grades with dedication, as if a child who is failing a class isn’t dedicated?  As if all a child needs is to just work harder, or hard enough because then the learning will surely come, and how for some of our kids, that is simply not true.  That I can see my child work hard.  That I can see my child stay at the table longer.  That I can see my child give her best every single day.  That I can see my child get extra teaching, tutoring outside of school, and yet the results don’t come because it turns out that hard work doesn’t always equal results.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones working the hardest if we really had to compare.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones pulled out of recess and fun activities in order to go work more.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones given fewer opportunity for choice because it turns out that when you need extra support we have to cut something out of your schedule.

And these kids, our kids, sit with the same kids year after year, traveling as a group because the only thing we have identified them by is their lack of ability.

And these kids, our kids notice.

And these kids, our kids, know it.

And these kids, our kids, feel it.

And these kids, our kids, slowly start to take on the new identities we have created for them in our data meetings, in our hallway conversations, in our quick meetups when we make our lists, where we make our groups, where we share the stories that we think define these kids.

And these kids, our kids, are honored for their efforts by being given new names; struggling readers, lower level learners, behind, and you wonder how they lose themselves in the process.

And you wonder why one day, despite our best intentions, they tell us that they don’t think they are smart and that they don’t want to go to school.

So as my family once again adjusts itself in our pursuit of learning for all.  As we celebrate the answers we have been given this week while nurturing the child who is at the center of it all, I ask you to please consider this.  My child, our daughter, is not a struggling reader, she is a reader.  Period.  To tell her otherwise would break her heart.

And so these kids, our kids, deserve to be fully spoken about, to be fully known.  For us to start a conversation asking how they see themselves and if it is through a negative lens we actively fight against that.  And we tell them we see their effort, we tell them we see their progress.  We tell them we see their smart, and we stop with the labels, and the assumptions, and we see the kid for who they are rather than what the data tells us.

Because this kid, my kid, doesn’t think that reading will ever be something she can do, and I need, she needs, everyone that works with her to believe otherwise and loudly, because my voice is not enough.

Please.

being a student, being a teacher, building community, new year, student choice, student voice

Getting to Know Our Students Survey

Every year, I do several surveys at the beginning of the year, I don’t think I am the only one.  As we try to get to know these kids that have come into our lives, I think it is so important to gather as much information as they are willing to tell us in order for us to be better teachers for them.  But I also think about how hard it can be to answer questions those first few days of school when you don’t really know what your answers will be used for, when you are not quite sure who this person is who is asking you these questions, when you are perhaps not even sure what the questions mean.

So this year, I am changing my approach a little bit.  The questions have been changed to be more of a progression of trust, not because I am under any impression that from Tuesday to Friday the students will trust me, but because I want to honor the relationships we are building and the fact that they take time.  Students will be asked to answer a few questions every day, but can also choose to speak to me about these things.  They are focused more specifically on what the child needs from me potentially to be successful and not so much on academics.  Students will do a separate survey every day, while not ideal, it will allow me to see their answers as the week progresses and then create one answer froup per student at the end of the week.

Along with these questions, I will also give my reading and writing surveys during that first week.  Those will be on paper as I place them in my conferring binder alongside the notes I take during our conversations.

Before the children have shown up, we will also have asked those at home about them.  We want to reach out to parents and caregivers as experts on their children and honor the knowledge they have through a home survey.  It is sent electronically before school starts and I respond to each person that takes it with follow up questions, those who do not have access to email or choose not to take it online are handed a paper version once school starts.

While the first-week surveys are not done, I am sharing here in order to receive feedback.  What have I missed?  What have I misworded?  What would you add or remove?  You are more than welcome to make a copy and make it fit your students, just please give credit.  To see the surveys, please see here:

Tuesday – Go here

Wednesday – Go here

Thursday – Go here

Friday – Go here

Thank you to those who have already helped me make it better, here are all of the questions together.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher

What Parents Wish We Would Ask their Child

Yesterday, I asked a question on social media, a question I have asked before.  A question that has been rolling around in my head here in Costa Rica as I dream of the year to come.

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While responses continue to come in from around the world, I am struck by the urgency so many of the questions are wrapped in.  An urgency that speaks to the hopes and dreams, and yes, sometimes fears, that I also share as my own children inch closer to a new year with new teachers.

See my child as the gift they are.

See my child for how hard they try.

See my child for all they are and not just the decisions they may make in their low moments.

Give my child a way to let you know who they are, what they believe in, what they dream, and what they fear.

Get to know my child beyond the data, beyond the rumors, beyond the assumptions that they may be wrapped in due to society, due to the past, due to things outside of their control.

Take the time to be someone in their corner, someone that they know will have their back, someone they know will fight for them and believe in them.

Partner with us, those who send you the child, so that we can be a part of their journey, because it is hard to believe our child is welcome in your class, in your school, if we don’t feel welcome as well.

Get to know our child beyond the basics and have them get to know you as well.

But also, take you time.  Don’t expect our child to trust you right away.  Earn their trust, earn our trust, through your actions and not just your words. Be a champion and admit when you are wrong, help us connect with you as you connect with our child. Because it hopefully goes without saying, I send you our hearts every day, please take care of them.

To honor the time it takes, I will use questions throughout the year not just the first day or first week.  I will continue to ask students many of the ones shared spaced out over time in order to recognize that relationships, real ones, take time and that the answer a child gives me the first week will, hopefully, deepen as we get to know each other.

Finally, for me, I want to honor their history and their home.  As an immigrant myself, my biggest identifier is being Danish, and yet for my children they are assumed fully Americans in their schools, even though they are designated ESL, there is little with care or even curiosity to the identity they share with me, the threads that we weave throughout our home and family.  So I want to continue to work on creating a space where all of students’ identifiers and heritage is understood, honored, and developed.

So what would parents like us to ask their child, here are a few of the many tweets, to see them all, please go to the thread, it is absolutely worth your time.1E542576-3769-488C-87FC-7DEC469650C47FDADB99-082E-4CB6-A4DE-1711BB9ADA5FA356B272-E7F9-439A-8F46-ADB35832906E5B8FE21C-456E-4957-BEF4-B7D9F88BE088070FD854-5F03-4488-90E7-BB43139BC1E1760B1FB8-4942-4EF3-8885-CBB8B66A6611D14A8791-B55B-44E9-BDCA-D8E3C8437FB43A4DE21A-90AA-4882-A6C5-CDB0A29808EDFFC8B014-6B4A-4165-B392-1619ADFB4176D618E765-EE6B-40BE-A0B5-2FE0986244AFDE9DD7B4-8C11-475D-94DC-043FB8946F70

And so now, I ask; what do you wish your child’s teacher would ask them as a new school year begins?

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

The Teachers Tell Us…

A reflection…

Working through my keynote for this morning and I keep coming back to this moment from my own students – I asked my students who the “bad” kids were and they answered, “The teachers tell us…”

Even though I was there to witness it, it still hits hard every single time I see it. The power we wield, as educators, as adults, in how human beings see each other is astounding. It is something I carry with me every single time I teach, that through my actions, whether conscious or not, I will shape how a child’s humanity is potentially seen by others. While not singlehandedly determining the narrative, my presence, my being will provide others with a road map of how to see themselves and others.

It is something I don’t feel we spend enough time discussing, pondering, and helping us shape our teaching experiences.

And it starts on the very first day where we explain through our rules what “good kids” do and a child looks at that list and doesn’t see themselves.

That quote is 5 years old and yet, I wonder how many kids would still say something like that in schools across the world.

How many kids would consider themselves “bad” kids because that is the legacy we make for them?

Or how we label entire grade levels as “hard” groups or other awful titles and then wonder why they live up to it?

Words matter, actions matter, and the way we help children shape their identities in school to the point of where some are trying to succeed despite us is something to sit with, and then something to do something about.

Because as the mother of a child who felt unsafe at school due to bullying, who felt her teacher hated her in kindergarten, that was exactly the legacy she thought she should live up to. A child who didn’t belong, who was angry, who was broken.

And as a teacher who continues to screw up, despite her best intentions, I have realized that the least I can do is ask the very kids I teach whether they feel safe and respected and if they tell me no, then do something about it.

Because then, perhaps, we can change the narrative.

Be the change, being me

Chasing Happiness…

For a long time, I have kept a journal, well, let’s be transparent here, not a journal, but a long-standing to do list in a journal form. What started as a commitment to keep a bullet journal has morphed into my own version of my life in a book, with plenty of boxes to check off daily, and also main points of the day. My husband provides the journal, painstakingly researching the ones with the best paper and presents them with pens whenever a chance affords itself, I am lucky like that.

Every morning, while my computer boots up, I pull out my leather-bound journal and make the day’s to do list. A quick brain dump as I think of tasks big and small that need to be completed in order for my brain to change focus and be present when I get home. Sometimes on Sunday’s I make my list for Monday in order for myself to continue to focus on home rather than school as the weekend ends. On the days, I feel disorganized and off it is often because I haven’t taken the time to make my list. On the days I feel more stressed and scattered, the same culprit is at play.

After the to-do lists comes the second part of my ritual, a simple list on the previous day’s page titled “Happiness is…” In the quiet morning hum of my classroom, under the covered fluorescent lights, I try to take a moment to remember all of the happy moments. The ones that brought me peace and happiness that previous day.

This year for my word of the year I chose the word “More.” More love, more joy, more slowing down, more meaning, learning, more great food, naps, and everything that makes life truly worth living; more family, friends, and people who inspire me. More of the good things balancing out the to-do’s and the must do’s in order to be a responsible human being.

And I embraced the pursuit of more, I still do, but I also quickly noticed that my happiness list was dwindling, that in my eagerness to do more, I ended up working more to get more done, to be more productive, and so there weren’t many true happiness moments beyond the big events that stood out. If you looked at my happiness list, you might think I lived a sad life, and yet, that short list also became my realization that perhaps there weren’t as many happiness moments as one might expects but not in the way one might expect.

Because there is nothing wrong with my life, instead, my lens was foggy. I looked for true happiness, that elusive feeling where the world stands still and you get that this moment, this very moment you are in, is of importance. It turns out we don’t have many of those if we compare our lives to others. We don’t have many of those if we are too busy to-doing and not just to-being. What we do have is small moments of joy sprinkled throughout our daily life that we seem to skim over in our task-slaying ways.

So this summer, all four days of it so far, I have been chasing happiness. I have been making my to do list in order to have more moments to add the next day. I have added my yoga, because it makes me feel better, I have added my bike rides with my children as they are all out of training wheels and the world beckons for our exploration. I have added the quiet nights with Brandon as we watch in wonder Good Omens and the illustrious story-telling. The chocolate, the great books – so many great books – the sunlight, the naps, the phone calls and contacts with friends, the pool time, the compliments, the great learning from others. The ideas I am collecting from the learning I am doing that I know will create better learning opportunities for all of my students. I am looking at my own deficits in understanding and not seeing them as faults but instead as a learning opportunity. How wondrous it is that we can learn so much from others and in turn become more than what we were? I am planning for these because it feels right, it feels good, and don’t we all need a little more goodness in our lives?

And so my list is fuller and so is my life.

I know, that life will get filled up again, it always does, but chasing happiness in the form of meaningful interactions is something that will always be worth it. To seek out opportunities that will bring you joy is never wasted, unless the joy is at the expense of other people. I know I can become more than I am due to the teaching of others, due to the time with my kids, due to the meaning I choose to add to my life and pursuits. That is on me, that is my mission. And I can channel that into the teacher I am, that teaches with purpose, with an eye on changing the very experience we have together in order for the children to have a better chance at their happiness pursuit. If, in the moment you are in, there seems to be little joy, ask why. Is it beyond you, because let’s face it, life can be cruel at times, we certainly have already navigated some difficult situations in the last few weeks, or is it just your lens that needs to change?

Only you can fully answer that, but perhaps a list is in order. Won’t you chase happiness with me?

My main causes of happiness…

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.