Have You Asked Parents Yet?

 

Give them a chance to tell you about their child...their stories deserve to be heard.

I have 30 more emails to go tonight.  30 more individual responses as a way to reach out.  30 more individual responses as a way to say thank you.  30 more individual responses as a way to plant a seed.  Why so many emails to go?  My team and I teach more than 150 students and every year we ask the parents/guardians to take a beginning of the year survey.  We ask a few simple questions to start to get to know our students more.  To get to know the families more.  To start the relationship that we hope to have with them all year, and every single person that takes the survey deserves to get an email in response.

If you teach younger students, this may be nothing new for you, after all, the parent survey seems to be a pillar of beginning of the year.  Yet, I don’t hear of it often at the middle and high school level. I don’t see many middle or high school teachers discuss their beginning of the year surveys.  Which is such a shame because the information that we get with our few questions is invaluable.  This is how we know that a child may have lost a parent.  This is how we know if a child has had a tough school experience, if they love to read, if they cannot sit still.  If all they hope for is a day full of PE or if they really hope that this is the year that their teachers will like them.  This is how we know if those at home may not like school much and would therefore prefer to not be contacted.

What we have found the last few years is that this small beginning of the year survey is a chance for those at home to know that we value their knowledge of their child.  That we value their commitment to school.  That we value who their child is and the journey they are on, as well as take the role we play very seriously.  We ask them how involved they would like to be to help us gauge their feelings about middle school.  We ask them how they would like to be contacted so those who do not want an email can be called instead. We ask what their goals for their learner is so that we can help them achieve that, not calling it a weakness, but instead having them help us become better teachers.

I know that we often want students to become more independent and not so reliant on those at home, yet a survey is still in place.  What those at home know about their child is worth sharing.  What those at home know about what their learner still needs or strives for is worth hearing.

So if you haven’t done a beginning of the year parent/guardian survey do it now, even if the year has already started.  Ask a few questions, send it out electronically and then hand paper copies to those who do not fill it out.  Send a few reminders and then send a thank you email.  Plant the seed of goodwill that will hopefully carry you throughout the year as you try to create a learning experience that works for every child and every parent/guardian.  Trust me, you will be glad you did.

To see our current parent/guardian survey, go here.  In the past we have also used the standard “What are your hopes and dreams for 7th grade?” but found that this survey gave us more information.

PS:  I think I blog about this every year, but it is because I am blown away every year by the knowledge we receive.

Just An Immigrant

Eighteen years ago, almost to the day, I stood in a small office in the Logan International Airport, Boston, Massachusetts clutching a sealed envelope to my chest as I tried to slow my galloping heart.  In the envelope was a copy of my chest x-rays, not seen by anyone until the official in front of me would open them up.  My pile of papers had been handed over and he riffled through them, tossing those aside that seemed unimportant.  I am not sure I took a breath at all.  I knew that if he found a mistake, if something seemed out of sorts, if something was missing, or a box was not checked, that was it.  No questions, no explanations, I would be back on a plane to Denmark and all of the time, money, and hoping would have been for nothing.  Standing there as an eighteen year old, I remember feeling so little, so scared, and so unsure of myself.  My fate was in the hands of a stranger and all I could do was smile.

“What are you doing here?” or something similar is all I remember being asked.  I must have answered correctly, in my perfect English, because he finally stamped my passport and handed it back to me.  “Welcome to the United States of America…”

I am immigrant from Denmark.  If you would have told me twenty years ago that I was to be a part of the American story I would have been perplexed at the notion.  Leave my home behind?  For good?  I would not have been able to imagine such a future because being Danish was such a part of me.  Of my future.  Even if I was not sure what that future held.

Yet, when my mother received a job offer too hard to refuse, I was excited, hopeful that I too could come with my family.  We spent months doing paperwork, traveling to and from an embassy that was more than five hours away.  We had the means to do the travel by train, missing work and school as needed.  Everything was checked and double-checked, every answer scrutinized.  We had to be sponsored by my stepfather, an American citizen, even though my mother had a university professorship waiting for her with a guaranteed income.  We needed health examinations, vaccinations, yes, even chest x-rays for tuberculosis.  We had to promise our allegiance and know that even if all our paperwork was in order, once we stood in the immigration official’s office in the airport, by ourselves, it was still down to that individual officer to grant us the right to stay or send us on the next flight home.  Nothing can prepare you for that feeling of lost control.  When people speak of “legal” immigration as if it is just an application to fill out, I laugh, if you have not tried to immigrate to this country, you probably don’t know just how hard it is.

Yet, now, eighteen years later, I am not treated like an immigrant.  In fact, I never have been.  It is as if once I left the airport office then my Danishness faded away and people assumed that I was an American much like them.  Blame my white privilege skin color that never make people pause over my heritage or race.  Blame my stereotypical Scandinavian appearance and you will quickly see why my story is not viewed as part of the immigration tale of this great nation.  And yet,  I am not an American citizen, not yet anyway, my Danishness runs deep as I was shaped by a culture that may look similar but is so different in so many subtle ways.

I was raised in a country whose notion of  racism is not based as much on appearance but more on religion.  I was raised on a notion of adulthood by the time we reach 15.  Of personal responsibility, but also being part of a social contract.  I was raised to be outspoken, not afraid of hurting others but only hurting them when I chose to be silent.  I was raised on the notion that religion is a private matter even if we have a state church and that it is not my job to tell you what to believe, nor how to believe it.  I was raised believing in equality and love for all.  That we need great education for all children so that we can become a greater nation.  That we are only as strong as our weakest link and so we have a societal duty to lift others up when they need it.  I was raised in a country that told me to be strong in my role as a woman, as a mother, as a feminist, to know that I too could rule a nation, where I did not have to hope for the future to look female leadership.

While my name has certainly given people pause, it is rare, if at all, that anyone assumes that I am one of those immigrants that shape this nation.  That my family was fortunate enough, rich enough, to work our way to legal immigration.  That my family had enough resources, not as we pursued a better life but one that would look very similar to the one we left behind. We knew there were opportunities in America, we are grateful for them, which is why we came.  Yet when someone speaks of immigrants.  Of how this country has enough of them.  Of how we must close our borders or slow the flood to a trickle, I cannot help but wonder if they mean people like me or just people that do not look so darn American?  If when we speak of vetting harder, or scrutinizing applications better, whether that would ever be applicable to someone like me?

So when we look at the names of our students.  As we look at their appearance, at the history that is visible on their skin, are we really seeing all of them?  Are we really getting their full story or only the story we choose to see?  How often do we pain a picture of what an immigrant looks like and have little understanding of what it really means?

Eighteen years ago my dreams were in the hands of a nameless man, he held them as if  I was just another appointment on his calendar, because I was.  He had no care for whether I was approved or not.   I walked into the office as a Dane and left as someone who belongs to two nations and yet at times feels lost in both.  I left as someone who searches for their roots, knowing that they no longer fit into where they came from but are not sure that they fit completely into where they are.  I have been changed.  For the good and for the bad.  I have become American, even as I have clung to my Danishness yet still seen it slipping away.  I have loved this new nation, yet at times, not been sure that this new nation loves me.  After all I am just an immigrant, and my dreams remain at times in the hands of strangers.

 

 

My Can’t Wait to Booktalk Books of Summer 2016

This has been the summer of a lot of things; speaking, writing, airports and traveling, meeting incredible people, trying to help better education.  Of endless days and longing for home at times.  Of new adventures and having to become more extroverted.  But that is not all, it has also been the summer of pool-time, of ice cream, of snuggling with our kids in the morning and sometimes also at night.  Of days at the movies and dinner with friends.  And then it has been the summer of books.  Of glorious moments spent in the company of brilliant writing, of can’t wait to turn the next page, of I cannot wait for a child to discover this book.  A summer of books and those books now fill the tables in our classroom, waiting for others to discover them, love them, and then book talk them to others, much like I am book talking them here.

So what has been some of my amazing reads?  (You can follow me both on Goodreads and on Instagram if you would like to keep up live with what I am reading).

I started my summer with The Best Man by Richard Peck.  Spurred on by my friends’ love of this book and by the sad fact that I had never read a Richard Peck book before, I was glad to start the summer with this one.  I was delighted, surprised, and ever so wonderfully tangled into the story and yet I have had the hardest time booktalking this book other than to tell people they should read it.  In fact, I handed a copy of it to someone at ILA and said just that.  This is a great addition to classroom libraries 5th grade and up and I will definitely be revisiting all of my Richard Peck books because of this story.

From Amazon:

Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer,; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school.

But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he’s the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story.

How amazing of a storyteller is Kate Messner?  I loved The Seventh Wish so much that it got it’s own stand alone review on this blog, and I stand by those words.  This book belongs in our classrooms, in our libraries, and yes even with elementary children.

From Amazon:

Charlie feels like she’s always coming in last. From her Mom’s new job to her sister’s life away at college, everything else always seems to be more important than Charlie’s upcoming dance competition or science project. Unsure of how to get her family’s attention, Charlie comes across the surprise of her life one day while ice-fishing . . . in the form of a floppy, scaly fish offering to grant her a wish in exchange for its freedom. Charlie can’t believe her luck until she realizes that this fish has a funny way of granting wishes, despite her best intentions. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they’ve ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish.

My students and I have been obsessed with the MiNRS series from Kevin Sylvester since the inaugural book last year.  In fact, they kept asking whether I could somehow get them a copy of book 2 before school was out.  Alas that did not happen but I did receive an ARC this summer.  It is so good.  Page turner, sucks you in, can’t believe I now have to wait another whole year to wait for the third book.  This is a must add series 4th grade and up and yes my 7th graders love it too.  (Note: Only available for pre-order)

From Amazon:

They are coming to get you.
Hide.
Hide.

Hide.

The children of Perses have been receiving this message on repeat, from Earth, for weeks. Christopher, Elena, and the other survivors of the attack on their space colony know two things: their victory over the Landers will be short-lived and a new wave of attacks is imminent.

New Landers arrive sooner than expected. Led by the ruthless Kirk Thatcher, and armed with a new lethal kind of digger, they vow to hunt down and destroy everyone.

The kids have nowhere to go but underground. Again. But resources and patience are running low and the struggle to keep everyone safe is complicated by all the infighting amongst the kids.

As Christopher navigates the burden of leadership, he also has to decide whom he can trust. There are no easy answers. And with deadly consequences on the line, there is no room for mistakes.

Will Christopher be able to successfully lead the group back to Earth? Or will Thatcher make sure no one survives?

How I have managed to go these years without falling in love with The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefwater I am not sure.  This has been one of my most recommended books this summer because I dropped everything just to read this whole series in a week.  Now that that the whole series is out there is no reason to wait to get this for your classroom library, I would recommend middle school and up.

From Amazon:

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Hands down one of the best non-fiction autobiographies I have ever read.  Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer! about E.B. White is a masterpiece in visual layout as well as text.  I have ordered another copy to house permanently in my classroom and will be using it to teach writer’s craft.  I cannot wait for children to fall into the delight of these pages and to be inspired to write more themselves.  (Note: Available for pre-order).

From Amazon:

“SOME PIG,” Charlotte the spider’s praise for Wilbur, is just one fondly remembered snippet from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. In Some Writer!, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell his story, from his birth in 1899 to his death in 1985. Budding young writers will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is the first book I plan on booktalking this year.  This is the book I hope most of my students discover.  This is the book I keep recommending.  A masterpiece in story-telling that I could not put down and neither could those I have handed it too.  This debut author has taken everything that is right about a great YA and put it into a book.  I cannot wait for his next book.

From Amazon:

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
 
The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

 

Another incredible non-fiction text, this time in free verse (Oh how I adore free verse), Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland is a must add to your library.  This text sheds light on the landmark case of marriage equality and is riveting in how it unfolds.  You fall in love with the Lovings and their simple fight to simply be allowed to be married.  (Note: Available for pre-order now).

From Amazon:

From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.

I was handed Fenway and Hattie by the author herself, Victoria J. Coe, and read it the very next day. Delightful, fun, and imaginative I have recommended this book to many people since.  I love how Victoria Coe writes it from the perspective of a dog and will be using this to show perspective writing with my 7th graders.  While this is geared toward a younger audience, I think some of my 7th graders will enjoy it as much as I have.  This is also a contender for Global Read Aloud 2017.

From Amazon:

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie. 

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right. And he’s going to prove it!

What an incredible book Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is.  In fact, I would be surprised if we did not see this book receive awards later this year.  Unlike anything I have read in a long time, Wolf Hollow draws you into a world that speaks of simpler times and yet the story unravels in a way you would not expect.  From 4th grade and up, this book is also a must add in middle school.

From Amazon:

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

I loved the scary tale and the beautiful language of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. I rooted for the main character Corinne as she fights for her father and the rest of her island, protecting them from the supernatural beings that live in the forest.  For kids that love a great scary story, I cannot wait to book talk this, and even better; there is a sequel coming.

From Amazon:

Corinne La Mer claims she isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters made up by parents to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest, and shining yellow eyes follow her to the edge of the trees. They couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger at the market the very next day, she knows something extraordinary is about to happen. When this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, danger is in the air. Severine plans to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and to save her island home.

Although I hail from Denmark originally I tend to not read many Scandinavian childrens’ books.  They simply do not fall into my hands often.  I was therefore thrilled when a copy The Ballad of a Broken Nose by Arne Svingen made it into my hands.  Refreshing and honest and also very Scandinavian, I think this book will provide a wonderful read for 5th grade and up.  This is also a global read aloud contender for 2017.

From Amazon:

Bart is an eternal optimist. At thirteen years old, he’s had a hard life. But Bart knows that things won’t get any better if you have a negative attitude. His mother has pushed him into boxing lessons so that Bart can protect himself, but Bart already has defense mechanisms: he is relentlessly positive…and he loves opera.

Listening to—and singing—opera is Bart’s greatest escape, but he’s too shy to share this with anyone. Then popular Ada befriends him and encourages him to perform at the school talent show. Ada can’t keep a secret to save her life, but Bart bonds with her anyway, and her openness helps him realize that his troubles are not burdens that he must bear alone.

Some of the most important graphic novels to be published ever are the March trilogy created by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell.  The first two books were already popular with my students,  in fact, I had to re-purchase my set as the first two had left my classroom.  I thought I knew a decent amount about the civil rights movement and its history and yet the March trilogy just proves once again how little I know.  I am so grateful for the knowledge these books will pass on to my students.

From Amazon:

Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, continues his award-winning graphic novel trilogy with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, inspired by a 1950s comic book that helped prepare his own generation to join the struggle. Now, March brings the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence — but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before. Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the movement’s young activists place their lives on the line while internal conflicts threaten to tear them apart.

But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy… and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

 

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell is a book I didn’t expect to love as much as I did.  I had heard from others that it was a great title and yet whenever I picked it up, I just didn’t quite fall into the appeal of it.  Its tale of honor, family, and yes, wolves left me mesmerized from page 1.  This is the best of books; nature and survival, historical fiction and fast paced adventure.  This is a must for 4th grade and up.

From Amazon:

A girl and the wolves who love her embark on a rescue mission through Russian wilderness in this lyrical tale from the author of the acclaimed Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms.

Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.

One of these days I might write an entire post about how much I admire the talent and work of Jacqueline Woodson.  The conversations she invites us to have in our classrooms are profound and I am so thankful I finally discovered her book If You Come Softly.  While the story is set in high school it is not high school langue which makes it even more accessible to many students.  This book about race and love and growing up is one I won’t forget.  I also read, and loved, Behind You, the follow up novel.

From Amazon:

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he’s in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he’s going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don’t exactly fit in there. So it’s a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock and after that they know they fit together — even though she’s Jewish and he’s black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that’s not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.

We loved the first book in Sabaa Tahir’s series An Ember in the Ashes and so I was so excited to read the sequel A Torch Against the Night.  Sabaa Tahir delivers a masterful follow up to this great YA series, fast-paced with magic, adventure, and a little bit of love, this is the type of books that many of my 7th graders gravitate toward.  This comes out at the end of August and I cannot wait to book talk the two books to my students.

From Amazon:

Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

Following the events of the Fourth Trial, an army led by Masks hunts the two fugitives as they escape the city of Serra and journey across the vast lands of the Martial Empire.
 
Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—and save her brother, whose knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholars’ future. And Elias is determined to stay by Laia’s side…even if it means giving up his own chance at freedom.
 
But Elias and Laia will have to fight every step of the way if they’re going to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Helene’s mission is horrifying, unwanted, and clear: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

 

On the Very First Day

How do you want students to feel after the first day of school? @pernilleripp

19 days.  19 days before my back to school nightmares will stop.  19 days before all of those dreams, hopes, wishes and fears become reality.  19 days before the first day of school.  Before they come.  Before they enter our classroom, see all of our books, and hope that this year will be amazing.  19 days seems so close yet so very far away.

I have spent a great part of the summer being afraid of the year to come.  Being afraid of the dreams I have for the year.  Being afraid of how I want it to be better than the last year but now quite sure how to make it better.  I think fear is common when we strive to be better.  I have run lesson plans through my mind, thought of possible scenarios, created and torn down the paths we may walk.  It is so hard to plan for a year when the students are not here yet.

Yesterday, I finally realized that while the curriculum calls, it is not what is most important right now.  It is not what I need to first focus on.  I speak about how our classrooms should be all about the students and how important that first day is and then forget to listen to my own words.  I am probably sick of my own voice by now.

So on the first day of school we will start with a picture book, we will start with conversation.  We will start not by speaking of all the things we have to get done, but all of the hopes that we have.  The students will speak more than me.  On the first day of school I will not worry about curriculum, but rather about how they feel.  How they feel after our first class together.  How they feel about the year.

Because we can prepare and plan.  Because we can create and get ready.  Because we can see the path that lies before us and take the very first steps.  And we will do all of that.  But we will also celebrate that we get to be together.  That we get to share 7th grade together.  So I will not plan much to do.   I will not plan for many things to be completed.  I will instead plan for the emotional experience that I would like them to experience; that this room is theirs, that this room is safe, that this year will be special.  That they matter and that their voice matters..

Now I just have to remember my own plans.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

My 10 First Day Picture Books 2016 #pb10for10

The very first thing we do on the very first day is to read a picture book.  The look of surprise on my 7th graders when I ask them to come on over to the rocking chair is worth it every year.  We are a classroom of books, of stories,  of illustrations and they surround us beginning on the very first day.  All summer I scour my local book stores and libraries.  I read reviews, I reach out to friends.  I search high and low for that perfect book, the one that will make us wonder, make us laugh, make us think.  Make us start to believe again that reading is something magical.  Our pile of ten books is one that I look back upon remembering that this is what framed our very first day.  That will frame the experience we are about to have.

So as the students come on over, scoot in as close as possible so they can see all of the details, these are the 10 books that will be held up high for a vote.  I cannot wait to see which books they choose this year.

How many gushing words can I say about School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson.  I am fairly sure that these two have created one of the best picture books not just of 2016 but of many years to come.  This is bound to be a classic at every grade level.

How great is Baa Baa Smart Sheep created by Mark and Rowan Sommerset? This story of a sheep that sets out to trick a turkey is laugh out loud funny and sure to gain attention.  There is even a sequel out which I also cannot wait to share.

Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love is also in my pile of books for the first day of school.  Funny yet poignant in its message, this will also make a great picture book to teach theme.

I laughed out loud when I read Poor Little Guy by Elaina Allen, but this book is not just funny, it also carries a great message; don’t judge others by their looks because you never know what will happen.  I am a fan of this book.

What happens when those around you decide to keep spoiling the book for you and all you want to do is read in peace?  That is exactly what Mihn Le shares in his fantastic picture book Let Me Finish illustrated by Isabel Roxas.  How fantastic will this picture book be for discussing reader identity?

Kwame Alexander is the reason many of my self-identified non-readers are now readers, so this picture book was a given.  Come to find out Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares (another of my favorite writer/illustrators out there) is all about the pleasure of reading.  Yes please!

My friend Jillian Heise told me to read A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young because I would love it and she was right.  Funny yet with such a great message about how we can fall victim to wrong impressions, this book is a great book for all ages.

What happens when your classroom pet turns out not be so ice and cuddly?  Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole is a tale of just that.  Sure to hold their attention and make us laugh.

What happens when an angry monster shows up at the library and interrupts Oskar and Theodore’s quiet time?  Well, you will have to read The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora to find out.  What a fantastic way to introduce our classroom library that should not always be quiet.

Every person I have had read A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins has loved it.  Funny and surprising, I have loved the reaction that children and adults have to this book.  What do we do when our initial prediction turns out not to be true after all?

There you have it, my 10 picture books for the first day of school and also my blog post for the fantastic Picture Book Ten for Ten that happens every year on August 10th.  Make sure you check out the hashtag #pb10for10 and all of the other great posts to receive some more inspiration.

To see all of our lists for favorite picture books, please go here.  

A Few Ideas for a Better Organized Year

Uncluttered space, uncluttered mind

Our school is under construction and dust covers most surfaces as we enter.  I have been in and out of my room, setting things up, getting excited, and yet, because of the construction there are a few things that I am not able to do yet.  The unfinished to-do list seems to haunt me everywhere.

Staying organized is something that most of us do well as educators.  We know that we are setting an example for the students, we know we have to stay on top of all of our piles, especially when we teach more than just one class.  Yet sometimes staying organized seems to be just one more thing to-do on our ever expanding to-do lists.  One more thing to get done before we can actually work.  That is why over the years I have adopted a few small ideas that help me stay organized in our classroom.

The 1 minute rule.  If something can be accomplished in under 1 minute then I do it right away, because all of those 1 minute things quickly add up to way more than 1 minute when left unfinished.  That means most papers get filed away, most things are put in their right places and short replies are given on emails.  This year I may try to expand it to the 2 minute rule.

Where does something want to be?  I pay attention to where I place things naturally in the classroom and set up organizational spots for those things.  This is why my students finished work is not by my desk but by the front.  This is why my book stamp is right next to my computer rather than by the books.  All of these seemingly strange places for things happened because I paid attention to where I naturally wanted to place things rather than where the room told me to put them.

Letting go of paper.  Paper can be a monster in itself, so I have learned to purge.  While I am nowhere near embracing a paperless classroom, I do feel better about the lack of files I have because there is less paper to sort through.  I don’t really use any type of worksheet so most of our papers are classroom sets of texts.

Solicit student help.  Students should feel like this is “our classroom,” which means they are expected to clean up after themselves.  They may seem self-explanatory but I have noticed that students often don’t see the same mess as I do.  So I point it out and I ask them for help.  The last 3 minutes of the day are also used to stack chairs, pick up, and reset the classroom.

Purging the big stuff.  In the past I had too much stuff in our classroom.  Taking a hard look at our furniture and what we did not use helps keep the clutter down.

Replying right away to email.  I hate having a full inbox so if something can be handled right away, I do it.  I don’t strive for inbox zero, but the emails I have in my inbox should be reminders not more things I have to do.

Set up for the next day at the end of the day.  I have a 35 minute commute and while I try to get there at 7 AM every morning, sometimes traffic does not agree.  Cleaning up my space and setting materials out for the next day means I don’t feel rushed in the morning.  Taking those extra few minutes the day before to get ready means that I can walk in and work on something else or even just catch up with a co-worker if I need to.

Don’t send that email.  With the ease of emails I think we sometimes send unnecessary ones.  I have tried to call people more to ask a quick question rather than send them that email.  I am aware that every time I send someone an email, I am creating another to-do for them.

Checking my mood.  I have found that if my work space is disorganized or cluttered, I get grumpier as a teacher.  So if I seem to be having one of those days where I am in a funk, my environment is almost always playing a role.  Therefore taking a moment to re-organize, file, or de-clutter will almost always help alleviate my stress level.

Leave notes for next year.  When a day is done, or a lesson, I try to leave a few notes for next year in my lesson planner or document, in case I end up teaching that same lesson.  That way things I think I will remember as I go to tweak something are actually remembered and the ideas are not lost.  Doing it at the end of the day also means that it does not become one more lingering thing to do.

The Bullet Journal.  My husband introduced me to this way of keeping track of to-do’s and other lists that I need to make.  I love the simplicity of it and have to adapted it to my own needs.  I also try to end most days with a “Happiness is..” list where I list all of the things that made me happy that day.  This helps me see the bigger picture at the end of the day and helps un-clutter my mind.

Keeping our classroom simple.  The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to organize.  While our classroom may seem sparse to some, to me it means room to breathe and move.  Everything has a place and if something is not used, it goes.  Being mindful of the piles means that my stress level stays sane.

Getting things done right away or as soon as I can means that nothing builds into a mountain.  Rather than wait for the weekend to assess that big pile of assignments, I start on it right away, chipping away so it gets done.  My students also tell me they appreciate the quick turn around, after all, they met their deadline for the project and would like to figure out what to work on now.  They cannot do that if my part isn’t done.

There you have it, a few ideas for staying more organized, especially if you teach 100+ students.  What are your favorite ideas for staying organized?