Can I just discuss priorities for a moment?

I find myself at a point in time where it apparently bears repeating that some of our priorities in education seem a little misplaced.  After all, I don’t know how many more discussions I can bear witness to that centers around which expensive curriculum to purchase when our librarians are being forced out of their jobs.  How many more giveaway prizes are needed rather than actual books?  How many more paras we need to help the students, rather than certified staff?

If our priority is to create education that actually works for all kids and not just the ones who are easy to teach, then we need to discuss what our priorities should be.

Our priority should not be how to punish the kids that misbehave but rather how we help them remain in our classrooms instead.

Our priority should not be for how we can force kids into our rigid systems but instead how we can make our systems more flexible.

Our priority should not be how many skills a program will teach if we don’t have the foundational knowledge to understand why these skills are needed.

So can we instead decide that it only makes perfect sense to…

Invest in certified staff, particularly in areas that have the biggest impact such as special education, the arts or the library.

Invest in books before basals.  Books before programs.  Books before computer programs that teach basic reading skills.

Invest in raising student’s voice, rather than finding ways to quash it.

Invest in mental health services, in counseling, in smaller class sizes so we can truly connect with all of the students we teach rather than in more security and locks.

Invest in the staff we have, in order to retain an experienced staff, rather than always focusing on how to recruit the new?

Invest in community.

Invest in access for all kids.

Invest in hugs.

In smiles.

In high expectations for all.

In challenging all.

In equity and in hard conversations that uncover our own areas of weakness.

In the basic components of education that may not garner news headlines but that we know works, respect, credibility, training, reflection, and yes, love.

Can we please make it an expectation that if you teach kids you have to actually like kids.  After all, it doesn’t feel like too much to ask.

Perhaps if we straightened out our priorities and went back to common sense, we wouldn’t be having so many of the same conversations again and again.


If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



The Missing Part of Great Professional Development

I started my newest book Passionate Readers with a chapter on teacher reading identity.  At first, I couldn’t quite grasp why my brain kept going there, after all, this was meant to be a book for teachers, not about teachers.  And yet, every time I went to write, my mind wanted me to write about teachers and the decisions we make.  How our own reading experience colors every decision we make within our reading instruction and beyond.  How our own school experience sneak into the way we teach, whether we are aware of or not.  How the very essence of who we are influences everything we do.

Need proof?  Look at your classroom library and search for your own reading gaps, books you don’t like to read,  and then look at which books you are purchasing most of?  Which ones are you not?  I guarantee that part of your book gap comes down to your own reading preferences.

I started Passionate Readers with teacher identity because so much of what we do depends on who we are.

Depends on what we bring with us through our own experiences.

Depends on how we see ourselves in the world.

And yet, how often is our professional development focused on who we are?

How often are our conversations focused on what we need to change in ourselves, rather than what students need to change?

How often do we get multiple ideas for what students will experience or create without looking at the process we need to go through as professionals first?

How often do we spend lots of time learning about student’s needs, development, or even the latest greatest thing, without ever turning the lens inward?

How often would we rather embrace change when we are the ones implementing it rather than the ones experiencing it?

Yesterday, as we had a professional day in our district, I was reminded of the power of starting with teacher development, rather than what to do with students.  To focus on who we are, what we bring, and how we need to change before we focus on more things to work on with students.

We have been going through an equity discussion throughout the year and rather than focus on all of the things we could be doing with students, we have been focusing on who we are as teachers, as people.  We have focused on what we need to work on ourselves before we even dive into the work with our students.

It is powerful to start with ourselves, it is also super hard, even uncomfortable at times.

To realize my own implicit biases and how they color my worldview.

To realize how my own value system directly influences many of the small decisions I make every day.

To realize how much of who I am is what I rely on when I am making decisions that impact all of my students.

But all of the reflection, all of the discussion, the time to think, is what we need to do this work right.  to not just pull out another lesson that will hopefully help our students when we haven’t done the work ourselves.

So to all of us who plan professional development.  To all of us who are on our own journey.  It is okay to start by looking at ourselves, in fact, it is necessary.  Start with yourself before you ask for a change in your students.

And plan for it, make time for it, value it, and expect it.  How can we possibly expect our students to grow under our care if we are not growing ourselves?  And I don’t mean in having more strategies to apply, but truly growing as a human being that understands why they do what they do.

So play by the same rules we set forth for all students; take the time to reflect on who you are, how you want to grow, how you need to grow and then set a goal.  Pursue your own change as you would that of your students.

Start with you before you start with them.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Ideas for Helping Students Raise their Voice

Student voice-PixTeller-204654.jpg

My mother raised me to raise my voice.  She raised me to believe that my voice mattered.  That speaking up when I saw injustice was a part of my civic duty.  To not take my position of power within my white privilege for granted but to recognize it and share it with others.

My teachers taught me I was different.

That I was too loud.  Too opinionated.  Too much.

That I was the bad child to be avoided.

That I needed to learn how to tone it down.

Lower my voice.

Speak less.

Let others speak before I added my voice.

If it wasn’t for my mother’s insistence that my voice mattered, I would have been a silent child.

A silent adult.

As I see students speak up in the aftermath of yet another horrific school shooting, I cannot help but be proud.  This is why I teach the way I do.  This is why I believe that what we do matters.

When we create learning communities that thrive on discussion.  That thrives on student voice.  That tell those we teach to speak up rather than to stay silent, this is when we are truly changing the future of this world.

So what can we as teachers do to encourage student voice?  How can we make sure the very children we teach know that their voice is needed for a better future?

Let them speak.

While it sounds so simple for many of us, it is not.  Afterall, faced with curriculum deadlines, content standards, and all of the things we need to do, there are times that we forget that teaching is not meant to be a performance of one, but a chorus of many.  In fact, research indicates that teachers speak more than 60-75 % of the time.  That leaves very little time for those we teach to find their own voice.  So monitor your own.  Ask a question and step back or better yet, ask the students to ask the questions and guide them along the way.  This doesn’t start as they get older, this starts as they enter school.


Teach them to question.

Questioning is one of the single most powerful skills we can pass on to students.  And yes that also means questioning us.  Provide opportunities for them to question what they see, let them know that they should be questioning what they are learning, and show them through example that it is fine to question you, the authority in the room.  I would rather have students who dare to speak than those who remain silent.  We discuss how to question authority with respect, but also that you should fight for what you believe in.

Make room for debate.

I know it is scary at times to be a teacher in a heated political climate, at times, I feel like whatever I say feels like a loaded question, and yet, we must find ways to bring hard topics into our classrooms and then step aside.  I tell my students that I am not here to shape their opinion, I am here to give them an opportunity to shape their own.  They know our discussions are not about what I want them to believe but instead about them coming up with something to believe in and then fact-checking it.  It is not enough to have an opinion, you must realize where it stems from.

Ask, “Now what?”

My wise friend, Dana Stachowiak, taught me to always ask, “Now what?” when I believe in something.  She reminds me that forming an opinion is not the point, but doing something about it and continuing to question is.  So when students write persuasive essays, when students discuss, when students uncover new information, ask them, “Now what?”  What do you plan on doing with the information?  What else do you need to learn? What can you do with this belief that you have?

Show them change.

I survey my students throughout the year about how I can be a better teacher.  It is one of the best things I do.  And yes, there are criticisms every single time I read the surveys, things I could do better.  Things they would like to see me improve.  And so I try when I can and we discuss the changes needed for the experience to be better for all of us, me included.  When students see an adult, who does not have to listen to their voice because let’s face it nothing says we have to, actually listen to them and implement change because of them, they see the power of having a voice in the first place.  This is vital for them to believe that they can be changemakers.

Support don’t punish.

I have been appalled at the districts that are telling students they will be suspended if they protest.  Have we forgotten that this very nation was founded on the notion of protest and speaking up when we saw a wrong?  Why we would tell students, who we teach about inequality, about courage, about sacrifice, that they cannot exercise their right to free speech, blows my mind.  So instead of saying no, find a way to support.  Show them where they can go to protest, show them how to do it safely.  Step up as leaders of this future generation rather than the oppressive older generation, a cliché that has been held on to for too many years.

Create deeper learning opportunities for all.

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to read the final draft of Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change, a book being released on March 29th by Heinemann.  Sara’s book ignited my already present fire to create further opportunities for students to dissect their own identity, to push their own knowledge boundaries, and find a way to bring the world in as part of our curriculum.  This book is a game changer and provides a blueprint for us to do more with what we already do.  Centering on student identity and not the teacher’s this book gives us the needed tools to create classrooms that are focused on social comprehension without dictating a political path.  I am thankful that this book will be out in the world soon for all of us.

Don’t forget our purpose.

Education is to better our world, not to create better test takers.  Education is to create a new generation of literate adults who question the world around them, who uncover information, who seek to right the wrongs of this world.  To help children become complex thinkers and problem solvers, who strive to make this world a better place not just for themselves but for a society as a whole.  That is not a political sentiment, but a humanitarian one.  We must continue to do better.  We are teachers of the children who will write the history of this world, so what type of history would we like them to create?  One that echoes the dystopian novels that sit in our classrooms, or one that continues to focus on better for all?

For the past weeks, my students have looked to me and the other adults in our building for answers more than ever before.  I have been asked how I will keep them safe, what our plan is in case the unthinkable happens, how I feel about what is going on in the world.  I have done the best I can to share my own thoughts without scaring them, without forcing my opinion on them.  And yet, I keep thinking about all of the things we already do; how our job as educators was never to be the sole voice in the classroom, but instead to help our students raise theirs.  So how do I plan on keeping them safe, by making sure that they know they can change the world.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.





Because We Teach

How do you follow up a blog post that writes about how you don’t want to be a hero?

How do we adequately describe what it means to pick up the pieces and keep on teaching, even though it seems America has gone mad?  Even though some people, including our president, are saying that we should be armed in order to protect the children we teach?

How do I write about all of the seemingly trivial components of what it means to be a teacher, what it means to teach,  when once again we have been reminded we may be the single difference between a child feeling loved and a child feeling the need to kill.

Where I live we have had a threat in a school in our county every day in the past week.  It doesn’t even feel surprising anymore.

And yet, as we walk through our doors our days continue to unfold.  We slide back into the same old routines, but with a heightened sense of awareness.  We truly look at our students, look them in the eyes, and we say thank you when they leave us for the hour, for the day.

We say good morning and mean it.

Ask them about their day.

Sit next to them as we re-teach, explain, and help where we can.

We look for warning signs but we also look for the good.  We notice the good.  We point out the good.

On my computer hangs a post-it note that says, “Which child are you giving up on?”  Inspired by a conversation Lisa Meade shared, this simple note is my constant reminder that in our school we don’t give up on anyone.  That in our school, we seek out all of the kids.  That in our school we don’t want invisible children.  That when we think we have done enough, there is always more to do.

That in our room, their presence matters.  That they came, despite the obstacles that may have been in their way.  That in this room, their presence makes my day better even if they are not sure others care.

So when we pick up the pieces after yet another mass shooting, we do so with care.  We renew our vow to continue to be focused on kids first, teaching second.  To take the time to truly get to know the kids we teach, not because someone told us we had to, but because we cannot imagine not knowing them.  And we use the fear that may be following us into our rooms as a way to drive us all toward goodness.

We remember that because we teach we get to be a part of the conversation of what happens next.

That because we teach we get a choice to either focus on kindness, empathy, understanding and acceptance, rather than hate and mistrust.

That because we teach we get to have a say in how students view the world.

That because we teach we get to tell a child every single day that they matter.

That we are glad they are with us.

That we are proud of them and that they should be proud of themselves.

We remember that because we teach we have the power to change the future.

And that is how we pick up the fragile pieces once more and carry on toward a future that involves the very heart of this country.

A future that we have the power to make better.



I Don’t Want to Be a Hero

Today, as too many times before, I walked into our classroom and tried to figure out what we could use to protect ourselves, what we could use to barricade the door, what I would need to help my students escape through our second story window.  How we would survive in the case of an active shooter.

As colleagues drifted in we discussed the news; another school shooter, more lives lost, more teachers portrayed as heroes as they shielded students with the only thing they had; their bodies.  And we looked around our rooms and we shuddered at the realization that really the only thing we can hope for is a lucky break if someone decides that our school is the next target.  That the only thing we can cling our hope on is that if a shooter was to enter through the front entry, then we perhaps would have enough time to get out simply because of our location in our school.

And as I watched students come to class, ready for another day to learn, I was surprised at their lack of talk about it.  One child finally brought it up, telling me she had seen the videos recorded from Snapchat.  How it was hard to watch and I wondered; have our students become used to this new reality where we don’t do just fire drills but also active shooter drills?  Where my 5-year-old kids come home to tell me how they sat really quiet in the corner so that the bad man wouldn’t hear them.  How is this our nation?

Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) _ Twitter.clipular.png

Last night I sent out the following tweet and all day today the replies have poured in.  Comments from fellow teachers telling me what they have for weapons in the classroom (nuts and bolt, fire extinguishers, bats, golf clubs or anything else they can get their hands on), how they plan on getting out, what they plan to use to barricade the door.  How their doors lock from the outside, how their kids won’t know how to stay quiet and hide.  How they know as special ed teachers that they more than likely will have to shield their kids because they may not be able to get out.  How they are training their students to run around the gunman in case they are taken out.  How they cannot fathom how this is our reality in the United States, because, guess what, it is not the reality for teachers anywhere else in the world, not at this scale.

My husband told me he would be purchasing a rope ladder and window hammer for me to keep in my classroom.  That he would think of something to send in with me in case I needed to defend myself but I couldn’t help but think; what good will a bat do against an AR-15?

We are working in a public school system where our funding is being depleted and our class sizes are going up, leaving us less time to connect with each child, leaving us less time to really get to know the kids we have in our care.  We live in a country where mental health services are being slashed and those who desperately need more care, cannot get it.  We are living in a country where protecting gun rights is more important than protecting human lives.  And we are told to not make this political but how can we not when it seems the only response we have in America is to send thoughts and prayers?

And so this morning, as I entered our classroom, I realized, again, that as much as I want to live to be old, I would also shield my students with my body if I had to. That I would stand in the line of fire if I need to because that is now also a part of my responsibility.  That my students lives matter more than my own.

So today I put on a brave face in front of my students, even if every little out-of-the-ordinary noise made me flinch.  Even if I thought about every student I have ever taught and whether I did enough for them to make sure they felt known, like they mattered, and not like they should come back for revenge.  And I was scared.

I am scared.

Because I don’t want to be a hero.

I want to be alive.

I want to see my own children grow up.

I want to see them graduate.

Fall in love.

I want to be a grandmother some day.

Be called mormor and tell stories of back in the day.

I want to retire and hold hands with my husband by the ocean someday while the world passes us slowly by.

To take my last breath surrounded by my family, not in my classroom.

But I may not get that dream if we don’t change the way our laws work.

How many more children will have to die for us to do something?






On YA and the Female Cliches that Hurt Us All


For a long time, my husband and I have had a running joke about how I didn’t know I was beautiful until I met him.  After all, if I were to believe many young adults or even adult books featuring female characters, this was the ideal.  The way I was supposed to feel, as the ugly duckling who doesn’t become a swan until a boy meets her and shows her her true beauty.  In fact, as of late, it has become so pervasive within YA that I am frankly surprised when it doesn’t happen.  How dare a girl have self-esteem without it being spoonfed to her by a love interest?

And for a while there, it was funny; how could so many stories published by many different writers share these same stereotypical plot lines?  How could so many young girls not know their own value until someone, typically their love interest, informs them otherwise?  How many times can a girl speak up and no one believes her, listens to her, or even takes her seriously?  And don’t get me started on stories where girls repeatedly say no to cute boys, overly involved friends, or even adults who need them to do just one more thing only to be steamrolled or guilted into doing it otherwise.  Sure, we laughed about it at my house, until I once more realized that for the young people reading these books, these stories are presented as “realistic fiction.”  As the way the world should be, as the way things are.

When viewed through this lens, this is just straight scary.

And here’s the thing, we may not be the ones writing the stories, (and how these are repeatedly getting published once again shows a lack of concern for the portrayal  of females within the publishing industry), but we are the ones that purchase them, that book talk them, that place them in our libraries as just another YA book and don’t even think about the message that these books may be sending to kids about how they really should be to be accepted.  That’s on us.

And so these books, in their repetitive storytelling start to share a common message:

I didn’t know I was beautiful until he told me.

I said no, but he persuaded me otherwise.

I am weak but he made me strong.

I speak up for myself but no one listens or I am called a bitch for doing so.

I am a fierce female except for when it comes to men, then my emotions weaken me and I become indecisive and lost… (Looking at you Divergent…)

When we tell girls, or any kid for that matter, that they need to feel ugly for them to be truly beautiful, we are telling them that low self-esteem is a quality to strive for.  When we repeatedly make the bitchy character the most beautiful kid in school, we teach kids that to be pretty means to be a horrible person.  And don’t you dare think you have worth unless someone has told you so.

When we constantly make girls weak, who say no but then say yes a little bit later because after all, what is the big deal, then we are teaching boys to keep asking and girls to relent.

When we constantly show the girl who is traumatized being saved by a boy through his love then we are telling girls that they cannot save themselves.

And we wonder why we live in a culture that doesn’t believe the victims when they say #MeToo (and yes, ME TOO here).

As readers of these books.  As teachers who book talk.  As people who share book titles, we must do more when it comes to the portrayal of females or any gender child and the cliches of YA.  It may not seem like a big deal but these are the books my students read to find out who they want to be.  These are the books my students read to see how to navigate their social situations.  And while I try to place only books that go past these stereotypes, I don’t always.  They are there in our library being read and shared because the rest of the story may be good.  And yet, what is unconsciously being submitted to all of my students who read these?  And how am I counteracting it?

I read a lot of books.  I also abandon a lot of books, leaving them unread and unrated, as I am not here to tell others of books that didn’t work for me.  And yet, I wonder if I am doing others a disservice when I don’t speak up?  When I don’t ask publishers to reconsider?  When I don’t ask authors why they wrote it?  Is it because we feel like others before us should have done so?  Is it because we worry that we will come off as censoring?  Yet, isn’t every book decision just that – a way to build our collection and not place in certain titles?  And so that’s what I will ponder.  What more can we do as readers when we see books once again perpetuate the female character as weak, as ugly, as needing to be saved, as needing to be persuaded?  What more can we do as adults when we know how damaging these types of narratives being repeated can be?  Do we just hope that our students will know better or do we start to raise our voices?

I, for one, am sick of holding my tongue.


I hope you have read Anne Ursu’s article describing sexual harassment within the kidlit industry, it has weighed heavily on my mind all weekend and this post is a direct result of that.

I also hope you read Jillian Heise’s post on consent, I saw the same problematic portrayal in the picture book she described and yet did not speak out but instead did not recommend or share the book.  I am glad she did, I should have as well.