Be the change, being me

On Forgiveness…

Black,                 Free Image

I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness. Not so much forgiveness in the sense of feeling at peace with the world, but instead the forgiveness we sometimes lack in education; the forgiveness of ourselves. While we spend our days often forgiving others for the things they say, the things they do, the slights that are bound to happen when we work with and around other human beings, we seem to forget to give ourselves the same treatment. To realize at the end of the day that we, too, are only human, and that as humans the best we can do is the best we can do.

I think of forgiveness more often as the days tick closer to yet another break in an already tumultuous winter. With all of the days off, with the weather driving us inside more than ever, we never quite seemed to settle into the lull of the winter routine, where we find comfort in the small moments shared within our learning spaces. Where we find comfort in the trust we have placed within the community to allow us to be the people we are. Instead, it felt rushed at times, forced at times, and sometimes as if we had altogether forgotten what the community that we had painstakingly built up really felt like.

And so as the children we work with at times seem to push us away harder than ever before, I have spent many nights reflecting on what else I can do. What else we can do? What now? What next? And I will admit, there are simply nights where I have come up shorthanded. Where I have realized that my bag of tricks has run dry and that for right now, there is nothing more new I can try to re-engage a disengaged child. There is nothing new I can try to help a child stay engaged, help a child learn, help a child read a book. It is a hard thing to swallow. After all, we are supposed to work daily miracles within our rooms, never giving up on a child, never resting until every child is learning, every child is reading, every child sees value in what we do, what we are together.

And yet, sometimes we don’t work miracles. Sometimes even the best of ideas fail. Sometimes the team cannot brainstorm anything else to to try. Sometimes even what has worked for every child before this one, fails. And we carry that failure with us as yet another added weight in already heavy load. We carry that failure as if it means that we have failed all of the children we teach, as if we will never be a good educator again.

Those who work on the fringes of education, those who sit in power, may tell us that the fault lies within us, the educators. That if we only gave more choice. That if we only gave more freedom. That if we only gave students more space to be who they are and not who we want them to be, then, then….they surely would learn. That if we just brought in more technology, if we only let them lead, if we only gave them the reigns, then, then…they surely would thrive. And yes, those truths ring loudly, that has been the journey I have been on with my students for the past nine years. There is so much to be gained when we have freedom, when education focuses around the individual and not around the group, when the explorations we do are led by students, created by students, and valued by students. There is so much to be gained when we create equitable spaces that are focused on the humanity of each individual and not just tests, homework, and grades.

Yet to always fault the educator with no mind for what is already in place is to dismiss the larger problem. That true education is a collaboration. That for students to really be invested in learning, they have to first be invested, and yes, that means feeling safe enough to invest. That we can provide amazing opportunities for self expression and for some kids it is simply not enough, right now.

So this week, I realized that I am only human and that perhaps others needed to forgive themselves too. That at some point, stepping away from a child who has actively refused every single opportunity we have provided to learn, to change the system, to engage somehow, is the only next step we have at that moment. And that stepping away does not mean giving up. That stepping away, for now, does not mean that that child cannot learn, that that child cannot re-engage, that that child cannot find meaning. But it does mean that right now, I am not the teacher they need, I need time to come up with new ideas, and I need to be okay with that. That perhaps what we all need is a break once in awhile to remind ourselves that we are not meant to be saviors, but instead the bringers of opportunities. And sometimes that means stepping away and forgiving ourselves.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.  

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher

Every Day

I have been thinking a lot about the way we show others that we trust them. About how we code switch between our different environments, how we let down our guard when we feel the safest because that is the only place we can truly just be without having to worry about the potential judgment we face within our uncensored self. How sometimes, when kids trust us the most it is when they show us the hardest sides of them. When they let us see their anger, their tears, their silence.

And I get it. We all carry our guards up, hoping that others will allow us to lower them enough and not reject us when we are the most vulnerable. I think of my journey on here, and how there have been times where I couldn’t believe I shared the thoughts and yet, somehow, somewhere they resonated with someone else.

I think of how long relationships take to truly form, even when we see the same kids every day. How some, right away, click with us and we move into comfort quickly, while others look from afar, not quite sure how to take us, to use us, to fit in with us.

I think of the ways students show us they trust us. How they let us into their identity and how they view themselves little by little. How they start to give us slivers of themselves in order to see how we will handle those parts, evaluating whether we will be able to handle all of them, if we will take care of them, or just use it as ammunition when they push us to our limits. When I tell my 7th grade students that I feel I have to earn their trust every year, I mean it. I don’t take it for granted, nor is it assumed. Yet trust is not always shown quietly.

I think of the kids who slam our doors. Who refuse every single trick we have. Who reject us purely out of determination. Who won’t even tell us how to make it better. How they are easy to see as troublemakers. How they are easy to discuss only in labels and incidents, rather than the child they really are. How despite their seemingly hurtful acts, how despite their sometimes loud emotions, they still need us there as a safe person, our rooms as a safe place to scream, to vent, to slam, to break.

Sometimes my students’ love language is yelled through clenched teeth. Sometimes their declaration of loyalty to us is written through swear words and exclamation points. Sometimes it takes us a moment to remember just what those emotions mask – kids who want ot be seen, to be heard, to feel safe. So the least I can do is recognize them for the full human being they are, even when the language they speak is at odds with what we would like to hear.

So every day, we say, “Welcome.” Every day, we say, “We’re glad you’re here.” Every day we remember that all kids deserve adults who remember that today is a new day, a new chance to continue to build something that wasn’t there before. That every day, no matter how it ends, marks the beginning of a chance to help every child feel safe, feel trust, feel home. And that every kids deserves that every day.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.  

books, Literacy, picture books, Reading

A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

Image result for miss mary reporting
Image result for turning pages
Image result for viva frida
Image result for game changers picture book
Image result for ruby bridges book
Image result for counting on katherine
Image result for how the cookie crumbles
Image result for midnight teacher
Image result for i dissent
Image result for so tall within
Image result for drum dream girl
Image result for one plastic bag
Image result for girl running picture book
Image result for danza picture book
Image result for margaret and the moon
Image result for a computer called katherine
Yup – two books about the incredible Katherine Johnson
Image result for anything but ordinary addie
Image result for gloria's voice
Image result for the quickest kid in clarksville
Technically not nonfiction but it introduces/reminds students to Wilma Rudolph
Image result for brave girl
Image result for the world is not a rectangle
Image result for dolores huerta picture book
Image result for in mary's garden
Image result for are you an echo


Image result for wilma's way home
Image result for mama africa picture book
Image result for her right foot
Technically not a person
Related image
Image result for shaking things up
Image result for shark lady picture book
Image result for hillary rodham clinton picture book
Image result for rescue and jessica
Image result for heather has two mommies
Technically not nonfiction but representation matters as far as stories
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression
Image result for i am jazz picture book
Image result for grace hopper picture book
Image result for malala picture book
Image result for dangerous jane
Image result for ada lovelace poet of science
Image result for side by side lado a lado
Image result for martina and chrissie

By no means is this an exhaustive list. We also have some of the picture books left out from last month that feature courageous women. If I had more space, I would have any more. Which are your favorite picture books for March?

being me

To the Moments

This is not a revolutionary post. One that will echo through our chambers as it brings forth the message of new. This is not radical, nor groundbreaking, but instead a gentle reminder to the world at large of what the small things can really do.

That when we take a moment, the moment, to say thank you, to acknowledge, to praise, the ripples that emanate may just one day turn into waves. May make the difference between a child who felt school was unsafe now is a place for her after all.

That when we go out of our way, come back to the way, of what it means to see how a child is trying, how a child is doing, what a child wants to be, we may just remind them that they are, indeed, all we need them to be.

So this is a thank you to the smiles and the hi’s. To the people who stand outside their classrooms, their offices, their schools and busses and every day greet the people with the loudest hello they can.

To the notes and the postcards, to the gotcha’s, and high fives. To the praise that matters and the shoulders that carry. To the scoot in’s and scoot overs. To the “Are you ok’s?” “I got this” and “Any time…” To the hugs, the goodbye’s, the thank you’s and taking the time. Every time. Any time.

A thank you to the quiet moments and the not so quiet. To the questions, the laughs, the aha’s and uh-oh’s.

But most of all, thank you to the people who saw our daughter for everything she was and not everything some wanted her to believe. Today, through your recognition, she started to believe it a little bit more, that she, too, is somebody worthwhile. Today, she saw for the first time in a really long time, what we have never lost sight of. A kid that matters. A kid that matters to others. A kid that is somebody.

assessment, assumptions, grades, No grades, Personalized Learning

Using the Single Point Rubric for Better Assessment Conversations

A few years ago, I read the following post discussing single-point rubrics from Jennifer Gonzales on her incredible blog Cult of Pedagogy. The post discussed the idea of using a single-point rubric for assessment rather than the multi-point rubrics I was taught to use and how they were not only easier to create, but also offered up an opportunity for students to understand their assessment in a deeper way. Intrigued, we started tinkering with it over the last few years as an English department, developing our process as we went. The other day, I realized that I have never shared that work on here and thought that perhaps if someone had missed Jen’s post or was wondering what this looks like implemented, a blog post may be helpful.

So first of all, what does a single-point rubric look like? Here is an example of one we used with an assessment after finishing the book Refugee for The Global Read Aloud.

We operate on a 1-4 standards-based assessment system, so the difference between multi-point and single-point is the descriptive language found for each score. Where under a multi-point rubric you would fill in the description for 1 through 4, with a single-point rubric you just focus on what you would expect an at grade-level product to contain. This is what sets it apart in my mind; it allows us to focus on what we are specifically looking for and recognizing that students don’t always fall into the other categorizations that we set, no matter how much we broke them down.

This is one of the major reasons why I have loved using single point rubrics; it allows me to leave more meaningful feedback for students when they are either not meeting the grade-level target or are exceeding it. Rather than trying to think of all of the ways a student may not be at grade-level, I can focus on what would place them there assessment-wise and then reflect on when they are not. This has allowed me to leave more meaningful, personalized feedback, while also really breaking down what at grade-level thinking contains.

So what is the process for creating one?

  1. Determine the standards or learning targets that will be assessed. Students should be a part of this process whether through discussion and creation of the rubric or at the very least seeing and understanding the rubric before anything is turned in, after all, we want students to fully understand what we are trying to discover as far as their learning.
  2. Once the standards have been determined, decide what “at grade-level” understanding will contain. While the rubric shown above shows only one box per standard, sometimes our rubrics are broken down further within the standard in order for students to see exactly what it is we are hoping to see from them. (See the example below).
  3. Discuss with students if you haven’t done so already. Do they understand what at grade-level understanding looks like and what it contains? Is the rubric a helpful tool for them to take control of their learning? If not, go back to the drawing board with the rubric.
  4. Add reflective questions for students so that their voice is heard and further ownership is created over the learning process. This is important because too often assessment is something that is done to students rather than a process that allows students to fully see what they are able to do independently, as well as set goals for what they need to work on.
A few reflective questions – to see the original rubric, go here

Using the single-point rubric is a breeze for me compared to the multi-point rubric. First of all, it takes less time to create because we really just focus on that “at grade-level” understanding. Secondly, and this is the big one for me, it allows me to deeply reflect on why my gut or the rubric is telling me that a child is not showing “at grade-level” understanding or above it somehow. I have to really think about what it is within their understanding that moves them into a different category. One that is not limited by the few things that I could brainstorm before I saw their work. I then have to formulate that into written or spoken feedback in order to help that child understand how they can continue to grow. This allows our assessment conversations to change from grades to reflection.

Tips for implementing:

  1. Discuss it with students before using it the first time. Our students had not seen a rubric like this before and so we took the time to discuss it with them before we used it. This would happen for any assessment rubric, but it took a little bit longer because it looked different.
  2. Set the tone for assessment. I have written extensively about my dislike of grades and how I try to shift the focus, and yet I work within a system that tells me I have to assess with numbers attached to it. So there are a few things that need to be in place with the biggest one being the ongoing conversation that assessment is a tool for reflection and not the end of the journey. This is why students always self-assess first in order to reflect on their own journey and what they need from us. This can be messy in the beginning but through the year it gets easier for students to accurately reflect on their own journey and what they need to grow. They then hand that to me in order for me to look at their work and then it culminates in a final discussion if needed.
  3. Break it down. It is easy to get caught up in too many things to assess, using the single-point rubric has allowed us to focus in on a few important things. This is important so that students can work on those skills specifically rather than feel overwhelmed by everything within the process.

What do students think?

Our students seem to like them, or at least that is what they say. They understand mostly what they are being assessed on and they understand the feedback that is given to them. Having them self-assess and reflect prior to our assessment is also huge as it shows students that they are in charge of their assessment and their growth and that we want them to fully invest in their learning. It gives them an opportunity to see how they are growing and what their next step is before I add my opinion in there. This can also help reduce the “shame” factor that is sometimes associated with grades. When we discuss repeatedly with students that there is nothing wrong with being below grade-level and instead let the assessment guide us to the next steps, it shifts the assessment process, as well as the internalization of grades.

Overall, the single-point rubric has been another tool that allows us to help students become more reflective learners, while also helping us get to know the students’ needs more, resulting in a more impactful assessment experience for everyone involved. While we started small, the single-point rubric is now almost exclusively the only type of rubric we use in English and for that I am grateful. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would highly recommend you do. If you have any questions, after all my brain is tired from traveling, please leave them in the comments.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.   

Be the change, being a student, punishment, student choice, Student dreams

What Are They Trying to Say?

Black,                 Free Image

As I sat with colleagues not too long ago discussing a shared former student, it was mentioned how she still sees me as an ally even though I no longer teach her. Hard to believe as this was the same child that slammed my door loud enough to shake the team area while telling me exactly what she thought of me and *!@&*% class. And yet, still, to her, I am someone who cares. To her, I am someone who still has her back, despite our ups and downs while I had her.

We all have these children in our memories, perhaps you are teaching one right now (or many). The kids whose love language seems to be filled with protest, with ways to push us as far away as possible. Whose method of communicating their lives and their needs do not follow the same path as our own. How these kids, our kids, sometimes are the ones that carve out the biggest place in our days and in our hearts as we try to understand what it is they are trying to tell us. How they often make us feel like failures when our latest attempt at connection was dismissed and not enough. And yet….in every moment, in every day, we have this incredible chance to show that no matter what they throw at us, we can still be there, we can still care, we can still ask if they are okay rather than react in a more volatile way.

We speak so often of our vision for what our schools should look like. What they should sound like (silent in some cases which is terrifying but that’s for another day). What they should feel like for every kid. We plot and we plan. We dream and we train, and yet, some of that seems to be forgotten the very moment a child fails to live up to our expectations (thank you, Shana White for that thought). The moment a child seemingly steps out of line. We throw our hands up in exasperation, lose our temper, and quickly a situation that did not need to spiral out of control has done just that. Just because we had to prove a point.

I can only speak for myself, I try to not yell. It is something I work very hard at. Not because there are no situations where yelling might be used, but because I think the act of an adult yelling is only to be used in true emergencies. Yelling is only to be used when things are really dire. I don’t want to scare, nor intimidate my students, why would I? Instead, I try to treat these kids as the human beings they are; complicated beings who are carrying their own set of burdens every single day, just like I do. I try to treat them the same way I want to be treated; with concern, with an eye on my humanity. Not in an angry, authoritarian way, because in the long run, it does more damage than good.

So as I think about our school system, about the horrible inequities that exist, especially for marginalized populations, I think of what I can do. How I can certainly share the information that inspires me such as this article from Teaching Tolerance, but also the small things that I can do within my own sphere; our classroom. How I can approach each situation with calmness, how I can approach each child with care rather than anger. How I can ask if they are okay rather than jump to conclusions, how I can ask how I can help, how I can respond in calm rather than anger. How I can use humor and trust to try to diffuse the situations that arise. That I can try to be a part of a classroom that functions on humanity rather than punishment. How when I mess up, because I will, I can apologize and try to do better.

I know that every child is trying to tell us who they are, they just do it in many different ways, and sometimes those ways can be seen as a challenge. Yet, I know how deeply I care about my own story being told and heard, I can only imagine that our students do as well. Yes, our system needs to change, and we need to be a part of that, but that change starts right within our own spaces in how we treat the very children we get to teach every single day. How we protect their humanity even as they sometimes rage. We will never know their story if they don’t ever trust us enough to share it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.