Once Again, On My Own Inherent Privilege

I am not sure where these thoughts fit in, or whether they are even ready to be shared, but I keep coming back to the same conclusion and I feel like I have to write this out.  So hang with me as I try to make sense of all of this.

Recently I had my US citizenship interview; that scary sit-down meeting that I have been waiting more than 7 months to have.  The one where you fill out a 16 page application answering in-depth questions about your life, your intentions, your affiliations, your identity.  You send it in, you pay the money, they fingerprint you and then you hold your breath hoping that they will see you fit to be given citizenship. Or even fit to be considered.  And you wait, and you watch the mail, and you check their website, maybe once a day, until finally one day a notice shows up and tells you to be there or else…

So I went and my hands got sweaty and I kept thinking, what if I screw this up?  What if they say no?  What if the person behind the desk sees something they do not like and this means no?  Then what?  I walked in on shaky feet, heartbeat racing and it began.  I had to answer 6 questions correctly – what is the supreme law everyone -I had to read a sentence, and I had to write.  I had to pledge to say the truth and nothing but the truth.  I then had to re-answer all of the same questions I had already said yes or no to on the initial application;a long rambling list of loyalty to terrorism, of whether I have committed genocide, if I have ever harmed others, held others against their will, which groups I belong to.  All things that I tried not to crack up about because the questions are so crazy and as my students had said, “Who would ever say yes to any of that, Mrs. Ripp?”  Yet as the interviewer quickly went through the long list of questions, not skipping a beat, I realized something once again…

No one is questioning my answers.

No one is asking follow up questions.

No one is wondering whether I am lying.

No one is questioning what my “real” intentions are for wanting to become a citizen.

No one is protesting.

No one is worried that I might become a part of this nation.

Because I am a woman.

Because I do not wear a hijab.

Because I am white.

I have written before about the inherent privilege I have in this nation as a white immigrant who looks like an American, who speaks English without an accent.  About how no one thinks of me as “other” or “foreign.”  About how surprised people are when they find out that I was not born here, nor raised here as a child.

I have written before about the path I am given because of things mostly outside of my control.  And yet, today as I read about the removal of Adam Saleh on a Delta flight and tried to find out more about the story, I realized another thing; how many times have I sat on a flight and spoken on my phone to my family in Danish and the only questions I have gotten were delightful ones about that fun language I was speaking?  How I have never been questioned about the content of my conversation or been seen as a threat because I spoke another language.  How no one has ever looked at me with fear because of an every day action.

And I think of my Muslim friends where the opposite is their new reality.  Where they are scared to walk the street with their hijab, afraid of having it ripped off their heads or of the treatment they will be given. And even my friends who are not Muslim but speak a language that sounds like something dangerous.  Who may look like something we are afraid of (read; not white).   Where they are scared to speak their own language in case someone around them mistakes them for plotting something sinister.  Since when did we get so scared?  Since when did we get so close-minded when it comes to others?   Since when did we equate terrorism not with the actions of a few but the culture and appearance of many?

And sure, we can find example upon example of the terror acts we have seen to justify our fears but then why are we as a nation not also terrified of white males?  Why are we not terrified of people who look like my husband because white males statistically are behind more terror acts than jihadists?

So while I passed my citizenship test with ease, I left with a heavy heart.  Once again, me being white offered me a privilege that will not be extended to others that I know.  Once again I am aware of the situations I will more than likely never face because of where I come from and how I look.  And I have no answers of what to do except to keep thinking and speaking up and teaching my students about others so that they do not end up being those people who are afraid of anything other than what they know.  Who are not afraid to connect with those who might not look like them, speak like them, or even think like them.  We are living in a world of fear and that fear is driving us apart, we cannot let it.

With Just One Simple Tool…


“This is nothing special…”

“Others have done this better…”

“Who am I to share…”

How many of us have thought or even spoken sentiments such as these as we have published our ideas, spoken up at staff meetings, or even invited a colleague in.  The imposter syndrome is real and I think many of us live it.

While we can all agree that we should know better, sometimes our own voice shouts louder than those who are thankful for the ideas we share.  This is how I felt writing my new book, Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration.  Who was I to share on global collaboration?  Who was I to tell others how they could integrate technology in a seemingly more meaningful way to empower their students? Who was I to say that I knew something about this, after all, I am not the only one doing just this.  And yet…

We are never the only ones doing something.  There are very few original ideas in the world.  Instead we live in a world that creates off of each other, that shares wildly so that more good can come of it.  Integrating technology tools to create more meaningful experiences seems easy because it is.  We do not need millions of dollars worth of new technology to collaborate with the world, that just makes it easier, instead what we need are just a few simple tools.

So you start with Twitter…

Perhaps it is a classroom account, perhaps it is your own personal one.  You create purposes for the tweets you send.  For example, when a child finishes a book, you search to see if the author is on Twitter and then you send them questions, compliments, perhaps even needle them for  some sequel information.  Imagine the deeper understanding that happens when a child realizes that this author is a human being who has more thoughts they would like to share.  Even if the author doesn’t reply you can still see what they tweet about and discover a whole new dimension to them.  Sometimes helping a child get hooked on a book happens after they have read it and they all of a sudden see the person being the experience they just had.

Or you go to Twitter and you ask for people to become your audience for something your students have created.  Perhaps they are speeches, perhaps they are nonfiction picture books, perhaps you need others to Skype in live to be judges for a poetry slam.  Whatever it is, you ask for others to sign up and they agree.  Or you go to Twitter and you invent a hashtag surrounding a common purpose like Karen Lirenman and her students did when they asked others to take a picture of the view out of their classroom window and share it with the world.  People did and her students learned that our views look quite different.

Perhaps you ask others what the temperature is.  Perhaps you ask others to be your editors.  Perhaps you create a story only told through tweets.  Perhaps you ask for experts to connect with your classroom so that your students can understand something more deeply.  Perhaps you ask for help in solving a challenge or ask for a recommendation or send out challenge questions to others.  Perhaps you ask for a longer partnership to occur between your classrooms because so many other people out there are probably teaching the same curriculum as you are.

Perhaps Twitter is not your tool of choice.  Perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or scary, or perhaps you are not quite sure how to use it.  That is okay too.  This is not a post heralding the power of Twitter, instead this is a post talking about connecting with others.  Because this is what is easy in regard to global collaboration; finding others.  But you won’t know that until you start asking.

So find your tool and find out how you can make what you are already doing more meaningful, more powerful, more engaging for the kids you teach.  How can you give them the power to connect with others so that they can see the relevance of the work they do?  How can you impact the world, but even more importantly, how can the world impact your students?

We speak of creating more empathetic human beings, of the power vested in us as the creators of the future.  We speak of creating deeper learning opportunities but then run out of time when it comes to bringing the world in.  We run into filters and restrictions.  We run into our own nervousness, our own fragility when it comes to taking risks.  But I am here to tell you; embedding global collaboration throughout what you already do is not hard, it may take time, and thought, and planning, but doesn’t all great teaching?  So pick a tool, look at what you already do and ask; how can bringing others in make this better?  What can others bring to this process to make it more meaningful?  Then trust yourself and try.  You will never look back once you do.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then 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 Favorite Picture Books of 2016

I thought I wouldn’t be able to pick all of my favorite picture books from 2016, and then I realized that I do not need to.  I can write this post as a way to pay homage to the picture books that started conversations, that taught us to think, to question.  That made us laugh out loud, that made us cry.  This post is therefore not the best picture books of the year necessarily, they are the ones I loved.  The ones I remember as I sit at home fighting off the flu.  I can guarantee you that when my head clears and I am back in our classroom, I will add more to the list because inevitably some will get left off.  While most of these were published in 2016, some were not, some were simply discovered by me finally.  Also, to save my own sanity at the length of the post, I will only write one sentence about each book. I encourage you to read them, to buy them, to praise them, to read them in your classroom and to advocate for the use of picture books with all ages.

So in no particular order, which books am I so grateful to have discovered in 2016?

Be A Friend by Salina Yoon

Friendship. Loneliness. Beautiful.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.

To the Stars!  The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong.

Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment.

Jazz Day:  The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo

In-depth.  Eye-opening.  Mesmerizing.











 Ida, Always by Caron Lewis and Charles Santoso.

Tears. Death. Beauty.













The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

Magical. Hopeful.  Enchanting.












The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Deep. Thoughtful.  Love.












The Wildest Race Ever:  The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Megan McCarthy

Unbelievable. True. Informational.











The Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Frank Morrison

Dreams. Perseverance. Equality.












Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon

How did I not know about this before?












Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller

Funny. Creative. Inventive.












 Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea

Laugh out loud funny. Must be acted out.


Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davis

Story craft. Inventive. Funny.

How This Book Was Made written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Story craft.  Collaboration. Hi jinx.

I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino

Thought provoking.  Imaginative.

This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else)

Creative. Funny. Writer’s craft.












Don’t Call Me Grandma written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Fierce. Unapologetic. Thought provoking.












Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.

Discussion starter.  Community builder.












Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love

Celebrating differences.












 Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead.

Creativity boosting.  Writing process. Storytelling.












Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

Funny. Naughty.  Great read aloud.












School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Meant to be read aloud.  Mentor text.












Let Me Finish written by Minh Le and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

Makes me want to read more.











Return by Aaron Becker

Inventive.  Masterful conclusion.  Dreamers.












Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

Bridging differences. Adventure.  Appreciation.












Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.

Finding commonality.  Social justice.  Funny.










Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Just let me read.











Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David Degrand.

Another book, please?!  Knowledgable.  Crowd favorite.

Inventive.  Perspective. Thought-provoking.
Love is love is love is love is love.












My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison.

Friendship. Perspective. Loyalty.












Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith

Gratitude. Fitting in.  Perspective.











Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson

Finding common ground.  Social justice.












Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead

Heart-attacher.  Caring for others.












Shy by Deborah Freedman

Gorgeous. Empowering.  Tender.












The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead

Humanity. Loneliness. Connections.












The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield

Chasing dreams. Loneliness. Finding home.

Finding commonalities.  Seeing good. Social justice.


Poetry comes alive.













Maybe Something Beautiful written by F. Isabell Campoy and Theresa Howeel and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Inspiring. Dreamy. Do something.













Gilbert Ford’s The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring

Informational. Inventive. Inspiring.













I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Power. Empowering. Speak up.












Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

Surprising. Hilarious.  Sequel, please.












 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora

Monsters in the library.  Imagination.  Read another time, please.












A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Read it again.  Surprise.  Shock.

Just one single promise, please.
You can feel the love with every word. Social justice.
How something was salvaged from the horror of 9/11 and made into something powerful.
How do we cope with the changing minds of our grandparents?
Aresting visuals.  Heartbreak and creativity.
 May we never forget our own humanity when helping refugees.
Who knew learning about octopus could be so beautiful?
I know I left some off because I am writing this from home.  However, this is a start, this is a way to say thank you to all of the books and those who create them that made this year even better.

We Don’t Just Teach Curriculum

My first year of teaching I don’t think I ever thought about the end of the year until the end came.  Taught every day as if this was the only day that mattered.  Taught every day with short-term goals in mind but was too overwhelmed to think about the whole year.  To think about how my 4th graders would have changed by the time they were ready for 5th.  I think this is common, it is part of the first year survival strategy.  One day at a time, sometimes it seems like one lesson at a time.  We keep the whole child in mind but really just teach the skills that we set out to cover and hope we do a well enough job.

Now, nine years in and counting, with the feedback given to me by my students, I keep an eye on the end.  Not to count it down, in fact the end always comes to soon, but instead to remember the big picture, the end destination; better children, bigger minds, more knowledge, more self awareness.

So while I teach to ensure equal success with our content, I also teach with a larger goal in mind, always propelling us forward; how to become better human beings.  How to walk away from 7th grade English and feel like they know themselves better.  How to adapt any learning environment to learn better.  How to have courageous conversations.  How to figure to figure out who they are and where they want to go.

So we weave in the small, but often missed, questions throughout our curriculum, throughout our explorations.  I ask my students what is their writing process, they often have little clue, and we revisit the question as the year progresses, so that they know that this matters to who they are.

I ask them how they adapt the environment to fit their needs.  Where do they sit to learn?  How do they learn best?  How does who they sit by affect the way they feel about our class?

I ask after every major unit what they grew on and what is next, how will they get there?  They always assess themselves on anything bigger before I do, after all, they need to have a part in what they have accomplished.  I ask for feedback on the things we do to make sure they matter to the kids.

I offer choice, of course, but not just in product, but in engagement, in assessment, in process, because sometimes product choice is not an option.  I constantly ask them to self assess, even those who cannot be bothered, so that they know that how they feel they did matters to me and to them.  We stop and discuss when we need to and adjust course when we must.

I ask them who they are, how they feel, and how I can be a better teacher for them, for the class.  Do they feel respected, do they feel this matters, do they want to come to class?  And I listen, and I do something based upon what they tell me.

We were never meant to just cover curriculum, we were never meant to just prepare kids for the test, for the next year, for college and career readiness.  We were meant to be the handlers of the future.  To guide our children to stay curious.  To protect the innate love of learning they come to us with.  We were meant to help create a better populace that can accept who they are and know that within them there are things that matter, things that still need work.

So don’t just cover the curriculum, don’t just go through day to day.  Embrace the amazing opportunity that comes with being in education; the chance to shape the future with the conversations we have now.  We are not just teachers of our subject areas, we are teachers in every wonderfully convoluted term of the word.  So ask questions beyond the subject, give time to reflect, to slow down, and to find  a pathway to being better.  Keep an eye on the end not because you want the year to be over, but because in the end, you know that what you did together mattered.  That those kids you were lucky enough to teach grew in more areas than one.  That is the promise we can make every day.  That is a promise we can keep.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then 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.

Teaching Tough Topics – An Exploration into Suicide Prevention

For the past two weeks my students have visibly struggled in class.  They have questioned.  They have reflected.  They have stopped and spoken to each other as they have made their way through a topic that I wasn’t sure we were ready to do.  A topic I felt uncomfortable even discussing, but I knew we should.  For the past two weeks my students have to come class ready to learn, eager to get started, and worked until the very last moment, asking if we were continuing the next day.  They have been fully invested, fully aware, but also just a little bit timid.

One month ago I saw an article get released by NPR, it spoke of how the suicide rate among middle schoolers is at the highest peak ever.  It stopped me in my tracks, after all, this is my age group, these are my kids.  And while I am lucky to have never taught a child who has committed suicide, I know I have taught kids who have tried, kids who have contemplated, kids who still carry the weight of suicidal thoughts and are not sure what to think of themselves.  The article sat in my inbox staring me in my face, daring me to do something.  And yet…would my students be able to handle a topic like this?

On Monday the 5th, I cleared my voice and told my students that for the next few weeks we were going to pursue knowledge, that we were going to discuss, explore, and question.  That we were going to go as personal as we wanted to.  That the topic was dark but necessary. Were they ready?  Yes, they told me.  And so we began; focusing a unit on the question, “How do we prevent suicide in middle schoolers?”  And I am so glad we did.

For the past two weeks we have been surrounded by hard conversations.  Surrounded by outrage, by questions, and even by sadness.  They have asked things out loud that they might not have had the courage to ask out loud before.  They have shared their truths and also shared (some) of their fears.  They have cried with me when we heard a glimpse of a parent’s 911 call pleading for help for their own child.  They have been outraged at the intense bullying some children have suffered from.  They have discussed responsibility and guilt.  They have struggled with the central question and reflected upon their own actions and how they affect other people, even when they don’t mean to.

I have sat in awe as they have taken this topic and explored it in a way I could not have planned for.  As one child told me, “Mrs. Ripp, I know this sounds strange but I find this to be fascinating and yet also so sad.”

I wasn’t sure my students were ready.

I wasn’t sure their parents would understand.

I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.  If it would matter.  If it would be worth our time.

I wasn’t even sure that I could handle this topic in a meaningful way.

But we did, and it was, and the kids now know what the warning signs are.  Now know to ask each other if they are worried.  Now know that suicide tends to not be impulsive, that there are hints dropped.  Now know that even “normal” looking kids can have suicidal thoughts.  Now know what the real effects of bullying can be. Now know to have conversations with someone they trust if they feel like this is a solution for them.

Too often we shy away from the hard topics because we are not sure it is the right time.  That we are the right person to teach it.  That our kids can handle it.  That our community will support us.  Yet time after time, these kids amaze me.  Time after time, they prove that they are more ready than we could imagine.  That they don’t want to invest their time in “boring” topics but want to deal with the real side of the world.  They want to know what really happens, how people are really affected, and they want to know what they can do to make it better.  Our job is to support them.  To help them understand. To help them navigate this world that they live in so they can have better lives.  Our job is to educate and not be afraid, to plant seeds that may in some way help them as they grow.

For the past two weeks I have had more hard conversations behind closed doors with more kids than I ever could have imagined.  I have cried with my students.  I have thanked more kids for their bravery.  Told them that no matter how they feel they matter to me, to us.  For the past two weeks I have marveled as the facade of some my kids have crumbled and they have risen from their pasts like a phoenix from the fire.  All because an article haunted me.  All because I thought it might just matter to them, to me, to us.  And it did.  And so we did.  And we grew from it; closer, stronger, better.  Isn’t that what teaching is about?

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then 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.

A Story of A Child that Can

For the past three years, on December 19th, I have written about the miracle that is our youngest daughter, Augustine.  About her much too soon arrival.  About the fear.  The uncertainty.  The guilt…

I have written about my hope for others to see how a child’s start in life may still haunt them many years later when they show up in our classrooms.  I have written about how the very least we can do is love them when they come.  How we can prepare all we want and yet never be fully ready.

Augustine’s much too soon arrival has shaped our lives in many ways, and yet…last night when I came home from school I did not see a baby that arrived too early.  I did not see a 4 pound miracle.  I did not see a child wrapped up in long nights and frightening futures.  In machines and medical personel.  I saw an almost three year old showing me her pig, Pua.  I saw an almost three year old that wanted to watch that monster show.  I saw an almost three year old that kept her siblings awake by making cat noises.

She will always be the baby that came too soon, but she no longer is just that child.  She is no longer just a preemie, she is my willful, loud daughter, making her own place in the world.  She is the child that crawled at 5 months, who walked at 9 months.  She is the child that is perfectly average.  A child that defies the odds.  Who didn’t wait for someone to tell her that she should do what her siblings were doing but simply ran after them and did. And with every naughty thing she tries not to get caught doing, she is rewriting how we see her.

How often do our students show up with haunted pasts?  With files that follow?  With reputations and beginnings that yes, have shaped who they once were, but now no longer defines them?  How often do our students come to us with assumptions laced around them so tight we can hardly see past them even though that child is no longer the child that presents itself.  How often do we acknowledge the past, even if the past is just yesterday, but then purposefully readjust our focus to see the child that stands before us now?

Augustine was the child that came too soon, but she is now the child of can’s.  The child of will’s.  The child of average.  No one who meets her now will ever guess her tumultuous beginning, and I am glad. How many of our students are trying to escape a past that no longer is them, that no longer is all they are?

I became the mother of a premature baby 3 years ago, but I am now the mother of an almost three year old.  A little girl that didn’t care what the doctors said.  A little girl that from the moment she could, she did.  She asks to be seen for who she is now, not what she was before.  The least I can do is adjust my vision.


I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then 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.