A Sign to Welcome Them All

I have been in my current classroom for three years, about to begin year number four.  Never have I stayed in one classroom for so long and so my room, well, it is looking like I have been there a while.  Everything has its place, everything is where it feels comfortable, but comfort doesn’t equal excitement, so in order to show off the excitement I have for this new batch of students, I want to change it up a little bit.  As much as I can anyway with all of our book shelves, with all of our tables and chairs. And where does the change begin?  Right as they enter the door.

One of the biggest components of our classrooms is the need for students to feel like they belong so I knew I wanted something to signal how glad I am that they, the very child they are, showed up.  I also wanted something to communicate that all children are welcome, no matter their identity, no matter how they view themselves or are viewed by others.  I kept coming back to a blog post I wrote in the aftermath of some of the hateful acts here in the USA and realized that I knew exactly what the sign should say.  So here it is, I am so excited with how it looks, feel free to use the saying but please give credit.  I used Jenna Sue Design on Etsy because I have used her before and love her style.

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Change starts with us and so does safety and feeling like you belong.  I am glad this sign will be the first thing students see when they come through the door of our classroom.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

 

 

 

On the First Day

On the first day of school, how will the students be greeted by you?  Will you stand by the door, saying hello, welcoming them in, or will you be busy with last minute preparations for the kids who already showed up?

On the first day of school will the kids be told where to sit or will they be given choice right away?

On the first day of school will the rules already be posted?  The expectations already made?  Or will you have that discussion with the kids so they can be involved in how they want to feel?

On the first day of school will the whole year have been planned out already or will you wait to see who these kids are and what they need?  Will their voices be used to shape the curriculum or has that been done for them already?

On the first day of school will you be excited to start another year?  Will you be honored to be a teacher?  Will you be aware of the immense responsibility and opportunity that comes with what we get to call a job?

On the first day of school will you worry more about all of the information that you have to share and the things you have to get done, rather than how the students feel as they leave your classroom?

On the first day of school will you plant the seeds of the future learning that will take place?  Will your students’ voices be heard already or will the day be dominated by yours?  Will the work you do be meaningful or something just to get through?

Will you be honored to meet each child?  Will you welcome each one, no matter their past, no matter their needs?  Will you face your own fears and teach courageously so we can begin to right the wrongs in this world?  Will you find your own voice to start courageous conversations?

On the first day of school will you be glad you showed up, perhaps exhausted at the end, yet happy or will you dread the year that has just started, unsure of why you chose to come back?  Will the students leave thinking that perhaps this year will be amazing, that perhaps they will be interested, that perhaps they will be challenged, that perhaps you will care about them?  Or will they drag their feet and answer “fine…” when their parents ask them how the first day was.

On the first day of school will you know that this year will be worth it?  That this will be an opportunity to grow?  That yes, there may be hard days, but there will also be so many great ones?  Will you tell the kids thank you when they leave and mean it?

On the first day of school, we set the tone for the learning that will happen the rest of the year.  For how kids will feel when they enter our learning spaces.  For how we will be viewed as a new adult in their life.  Let’s do it right this year.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

 

 

 

Win A Copy of My New Book Passionate Readers

In four days my new book comes out.  I have been trying for a while to come up with a catchy blog post to announce it, but the truth is, my heart is heavy with the images of hatred coming from Virginia.  With the calls to action, yet the fear so many educators have when it comes to teaching against hate in our classrooms.  It seems silly for me to be excited about a book.  But perhaps that is life in a nutshell, we are conflicted with our emotions and driven toward change.  Good can exist along evil.  Happiness can exist along hatred.  Even as we reel with the news that unfolds around us, we are preparing for our first days, or perhaps we are already in them, getting to know this new great group of kids.

I wrote Passionate Readers as a way to give my students’ voices a bigger platform.  To once again share the common sense advice that they have bestowed upon me and anyone else that would listen as I asked them how we could make reading suck less.  (Student words…)  I wrote this book not as a literacy expert, but as one who is on a journey to become better at teaching reading, at creating reading communities, at helping students hate it less or even love it more.  As someone who was faced with 45 minutes for all English Language Arts and faced with the daunting task of getting vocal resistant readers to give books a chance.  I filled this book with the research that I stand upon, but also the practical day-to-day that we all crave when we seek inspiration. I filled this book with every small thing that has worked and also the things that haven’t.  I filled it with all of me and now, the world awaits.  And it is terrifying, yet exhilarating to see it be released.

So in honor of the release date of Passionate Readers, I would like to give a copy away.   Once I have a copy myself, I will mail it to one winner and hope that it becomes a book that is worth your time.  All you have to do to enter to win is leave a comment on this post.  The contest will run until August 17th at midnight, the day the book comes out.

PS:  If you would like to order your own copy, please go here 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

Great Picture Books to Inspire Hope in the World

It seems that these are dire times.  That hate, anger, and rage against others is more than the norm than ever.  I can tell you, going home to Denmark, many friends have asked me; what in the world is happening in America?  At times, it feels as if we are judged as a nation by the very loud actions of a few and so it comes down to the rest of us, those whose voices are for some reason not being heard to make sure that the America we know is one of love, of hope, of kindness.  A place where all can exist unafraid.  What better way to spread more kindness, love, and hope in the world with a few great picture books?

I wonder if there will ever be a time where I can read I Wish You More  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  (Author), Tom Lichtenheld  (Illustrator) without tearing up.  After all, Amy’s whole mission in life seemed to be to spread more love and happiness.  What better way to remind ourselves that this is what we should wish for everyone?
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator) continues to be a needed book.  We must teach children that their actions, even their unkind ones, have repercussions and that we all play a part in how we make others feel.  While this book does not offer up a happy ending, in my eyes, it offers up the perfect one.

My favorite Peter H. Reynolds book, which says a lot, is The North Star.  We follow the journey of a boy who goes on a windy path to get to where he needs to be.  I end every single year with a read aloud of this book because my students are on a journey that is just beginning, even if the future seems a bit unknown and sometimes scary.

Originally published in 1993, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is about to be reprinted in 2018 for its 25 year anniversary.  What a powerful picture book written by Maya Angelou using paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat to remind us to face our own fears.

When we learn about what others have accomplished and overcome sometimes our own troubles do not seem as scary.  I love Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics 
At times, the biggest reminder we need to not feel afraid is to be in the very moment we are in.  Now by Antoinette Portis is magnificent in its simplicity and powerful reminder of mindfulness, quiet, and patience.

 

 

While not out until February 2018, I wish Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill would be the very first read aloud in every single classroom.  We are so quick to tell children to be kind, but do they really know what that means?

Sometimes our best-laid plans and biggest dreams don’t turn out the way we had anticipated, so then what do we do.   In We’ll Paint the Octopus Red 

 

 

How can you find hope in a picture book about death?  In the Danish picture book Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved (Author), Charlotte Pardi (Illustrator), Robert Moulthrop (Translator) they manage to do just that.  While death is inevitable, how we feel about it is a choice.
Have we forgotten how to be united as a nation?  Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass  (Author), E.B. Lewis (Illustrator) shares a remarkable story that would be a great reminder to many.

 

Be a Friend by  Salina Yoon reminds us all to see past the obvious when looking for a friend.  After all, who doesn’t hope to meet joy?

 

While it is certain that all of Kathryn Otoshi’s books could be on this list, my favorite is One.  The book reminds us of what the power of one can do in the face of adversity.

 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald  (Author), Freya Blackwood (Illustrator) reminds us of the power of familiarity even when everything seems new and scary.  It is also a beautiful tale of friendship and reaching out to others.  

 

Sometimes the world is so scary that all we want to do is shut the door and protect our hearts.  The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers reminds us to not do that but to keep on loving even when we are afraid of our hearts breaking.

 

We are one, even when we are split, even when we are hurting, even when others seem hell-bent on splitting us apart.  One Today by Richard Blanco  (Author), Dav Pilkey (Illustrator) is the beautiful poem from President Obama’s second inauguration is the commemoration of the dreams so many of us carry for the United States.

 

A few great picture books to bring back hope, and love, and kindness.  What are your favorites? To see all of our favorite books, go here.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

What Parents Wish We Would Ask Them About Their Child

We tried to have kids for three years before we were successful.  Three years of hoping this was the time.  Three years of doctors shaking their heads, of appointments, of surgery, of medicine to help.  Three years of dreaming.  When she came I cried knowing that the miracle she was would never be fully understood by others who had not traveled our journey.  She cried right along with me.

When she started school I wrote a letter to her telling her of the hopes, the fears, and the dreams we had for her as she embarked on this next phase of her journey.  We held her tight, hugged her, and sent her on her way.

For the past eight years, we have been the parents of her and three more siblings, all with their own winding road into being.  We have watched in awe as their personalities have grown, as their will have formed.  As their knowledge of life, of who they are, of where they fit have expanded and shrank, depending on what happened at any given time.  And we have seen the not-so-great, the tantrums, the curveballs that all kids present you with and we have held our breath at times when we have been in public and this thing that is happening right in front of us that seems to have come out of nowhere is making us both want to just die of embarrassment.

You are our most precious.  You are the things we are the proudest of.  But you are also what we worry about the most.  And so with three kids about to start school, I hope we get a chance to tell your teachers who you are.  Not so we can pretend you are perfect but so we can present you for everything that you are.  Willful and strong, creative and flighty, funny and sometimes mad, but always you, and always a child who is exploring who they are and what life has to offer.

Today, as I prepared our own home survey (Spanish version here) that we send out to all of our incoming parents, I asked my PLN which question do they wish, as parents, they would be asked about their children.  The answers were too good not to share, so thank you, everyone, who responded.  Thank you for sharing your hopes so that we can all become better teachers.  So that we can start the year on the very best foot, hearing who your child is from the people that know them best.

 

What do parents/guardians wish we would ask them about their child?

When you think about your child, what makes you proud?

What are they passionate about?

What do they cry about at home?

How can I help make this a great year for your son/daughter?

How can I make your child feel safe and open to trying new things?

Do you have any suggestions on how to best connect with your child?

What sparks your child’s interest?

What triggers frustration or withdrawal?

What two things I should do and two things that I should avoid?

What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
What helps to motivate your child to do his/her best?

What else?  What would you add to the list?  How would you like to share the story of who your child is with these new teachers?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

On In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.