aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me

On Change

We have settled in. Sort of anyway. The kids know how to get to school, when to leave, where the parks and library are. We meal plan, have Friday night movie nights, and try to be outside as much as possible as fall is here and the leaves are changing. We have ideas for how we want to fill our time and sometimes they come to fruition. I have never felt so adult in my life.

And yet, I still feel unsettled. My routines are partially in place, I get to work on time, get home on time, cook meals, and put the kids to bed. But the other things that make up a life are still not there really. I am out of my reading routine, I am not sure when to call people that I normally talk to, I am posting on social media at the wrong time. I don’t even feel like I know how to dress anymore. And what am I even anymore now that I am not teaching kids actively?

And so I dream of the things I want to do, waiting for that right time. When life has finally settled more. When the kids seem to be okay. When I feel right for longer stretches of time. But when will that happen? Do we ever really feel well-rested and fully ready to take on anything?

Change is hard when ordinary life is overwhelming. When we tread water and try to just make it to the finish line of the day.

Change is hard when we have been in the same place for a long time. We know how to make things work, so why rock the boat?

Change is hard when we have to worry about the daily lives of others, make sure that we don’t up-end too much because who knows how it will reverberate in the future.

Change is hard when it is just us trying to make our way.

It seems there is no time when change is not hard.

I have wanted to winter bathe for years. In Wisconsin, there wasn’t much time for it. But here in Denmark, it is everywhere. I spoke my idea aloud to my husband, tried to sign us up for a membership (sauna included after the dip) but was told there were no open member spots.

Friday night, I got sick of waiting for the time to change. For life to feel under control enough for me to take more on. After all, there is no guarantee that that will ever happen. I cannot think of a time in my life when time was abundant and energy was too.

So Saturday morning we drove to the ocean and ran into it. 53-degree air temperature. It was not warm, not winter either. And we ran out and huddled in our towels and laughed. This morning we did it again.

Enoe is gorgeous and 10 minutes from our apartment

We don’t have access to the sauna. I don’t have my flip-flops, they are in a shipping container coming our way. We each have one towel which tends to be damp most of the time. There is sand everywhere in our car. We are probably not doing it right, I think we are supposed to sit in the water for longer.

But we feel alive. And we like it. And we want to do it again. It was just the change I needed to feel good about the now we are in.

Change is funny that way. We can wait for the right time in our lives to finally change. We can wait for the big moments such as a move across the world to finally change. We can wait for others to tell us, to make us. Or we can simply take a step and make the change we have wanted for so long.

I could have waited for our membership to go through. I could have waited to get the right gear. To grow bolder. To grow older. For the time to feel more right.

But I didn’t. Because the change was needed now.

How often do we wait for the right time in our classrooms to change? How often do we think, “next year”, or when I switch grades, or when the time is better. Or even when I am not just trying to survive every day. Our routines save us time and time again but at what cost?

So what are the changes you have been dreaming of? What have you been too afraid to do?

The time will never be right, so consider what you can tweak? What can you replace so it doesn’t feel like more is added? What is that unit? That lesson? That shift in practice you have wanted to try?

If you are scared, tell yourself it is a pilot. Allow yourself to try and know that it doesn’t have to be permanent. We jumped at the chance of moving home because we knew we could return to the US if it didn’t work it (it wouldn’t be easy to relocate don’t get me wrong but that door is not closed).

If you feel there is no time, audit your schedule; where can you fit it in? (What might you pause in order to try something new).

If you feel there is no support, involve your students in the planning. Their excitement often carries us through.

If you don’t know what to change but know there is a need; ask your students. What works? What doesn’t? What are their dreams and hopes? What can you plan together?

I spoke of moving home to Denmark for years, casually mentioning it, and always thinking “some day.” But to take the leap, to say yes, and actually do it has been the scariest adult thing I have done since having children. And it is easy to get paralyzed by that. It is easy to feel like that change was enough change and now we settle into our routine as quickly as we can.

But it turns out there are still many other new things to try.

The change continues. What is the life I have wanted to have for so long? What are the routines I wanted to change? How do I want to raise my children? How do I want to live my one and precious life to quote Mary Oliver?

Because we can wait for the time to be right.

Or we can embrace the time that is now.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, change never is, but it can make us feel alive again.

Don’t wait. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

In fact, you could say, come on in, the water is just fine.

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, punishment, student choice

A Small Question to Help Further Build Positive Relationships

I was speaking to my husband who is a first-year teacher and the topic of navigating student discipline came up, as it often does. He teaches middle school like me, and if there is one thing I know about middle-schooler it is how often they do not think through their decisions before they act. It leads to a lot of funny moments, but at times, also a lot of behavior displays that can be rather disruptive to the rest of the class or to themselves.

He asked me what I do when a child continuously disrupts. How do I approach them to help them change? And while I laughed a little because I am not sure that we can really make a child change, I do believe that there are ways we can invite them into a conversation about their choices without jumping right into punishment. And that has been a major change for me; slowing down before jumping to conclusions, but then how do you do that at the moment when perhaps you also feel heated and a bit indignant at yet another disruption?

I use a simple question, “Are you okay?” before proceeding with any decisions. I have used it so often that it is now hardwired into my language. This is to slow me down, to increase communication, to recognize behavior as a way of communication, and to center my approach in unconditional positive regard.

When I first started using it many years ago, I had to really think about it. Our brains are wired to jump into decision-making rapidly, in fact, educators reportedly make thousands of decisions every single day, each one opening a new instructional possibility. No wonder we often switch into a rapid-fire mode when navigating a child’s seemingly poor decisions; we have so many other things to juggle at that moment. But it is often this automaticity that can backfire in the long run, rather than recognize the uniqueness of the situation at hand, we treat it as if it is routine. Perhaps sometimes it is when handling a child’s repeat decisions. And yet, we must come into each situation recognizing its uniqueness and its opportunity for exploration. Asking, “Are you okay? “ and following up with “This does not seem like you…” (even if it is a repeated behavior pattern) signals that we are concerned about the human in front of us and not just the choice they have made.

That pause also allows us to recalibrate ourselves and get our emotions in check before proceeding further with a conversation. This can make the difference between strengthening a relationship or doing further damage.

Of course, if students are engaged in dangerous behavior, such as fighting, or physical destruction on a larger scale, I don’t often use this approach. When safety is at risk, other communication methods are used, but this does not happen as often as our brain sometimes wants us to believe. Slowing down, seeing the child as a child, no matter their size, and recognizing the inherent power imbalance at play, can help us navigate many behavioral situations.

And more importantly, I am worried about them and their well-being. So why not ask before we jump to further conclusions?

This post originally appeared in my Patreon community, where I share weekly lesson plans, resources, curated book lists, mini-pd recordings, and also live Q&As. If you would like to learn more frequently with me, I invite you to join. If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me coach, collaborate with your teachers, or speak at your conference, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.

Be the change, being me, end of year

On Counting Down the Days…Again

Make those last days count Design

An older post from 2017 that still rings true today. I will not do a countdown for many reasons, even if I know how many days I have left. While the belief started as an epiphany of the wildness it was creating, it now rests more solidly in the notion that not every child has a safe place to be during the summer. And while this year of teaching has been like no other and every single person involved with schools deserves a break, to step away from simply making it through the day, I still know that for some being out of school does not allow them to thrive in the ways I hope every child has the possibility to; with food, a bed, adults to supervise and care, learning opportunities, and true rest. We can still celebrate a conclusion of an extraordinarily hard year without counting down the days together. We can still be glad to have the chance to step away to recharge without notching days.

The other day I was asked, “What is the one thing you would tell teachers to stop doing as the end of the year nears?”  I needed no time to think because my answer is simple; the countdown.

I used to do the countdown with my students.  20, 19, 18 days left of school.  Each day the kids would get more excited.  “We are almost out of here, Mrs. Ripp!”  They got crazier as the countdown neared the end, energy barely contained, and I loosened the reins, had fun, did less curriculum and more community building.  Except the days dragged on.  The kids grew restless, and I even started looking at the clock, wishing the day to be over.  Was this what teaching the last few weeks of school would always be like?

Six years ago,  after a particularly trying week, I had an epiphany – one that many have had before me.  I was creating the excited mess unfolding every day in my classroom.  My choices in doing a countdown and stepping away from our routines were signaling to the kids that school no longer mattered.  That what we were doing no longer mattered.  That all they had to do was wait it out and then this, too, would finally be over.  As if our students needed any more reminders that school is not a great place to be.

So I stopped the countdown, I went back to teaching and have not looked back since.  Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade! -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year.  I am done with you.   Is that really what we want to tell our students?

Yet, this is not the only reason I hate the countdown.  One year, a child cried under his desk on the last day of school.  Inconsolable, I asked him what had happened.  Had someone said something to him that I had not caught?  Instead, he looked up at me, tears running down his face and said, “Don’t make me leave…I don’t want to go on vacation, I want to stay here.”  I cried with him and did the only thing I could, hug him and tell him I would always be here for him if he needed me.  Yet, his words have stayed with me all of these years.  This child did not look forward to summer.  This child faced a summer of unknowns, of food shortage, of not knowing who he would live with, of who would care for him.  Summer did not represent a break, but an uncertain future where he had to carry the weight of a society who has very few safety nets for children in poverty and home adults who are trying to survive.  Our classroom was his safe space.  In our classroom, he felt cared for, knew he would eat, and knew he had people with him. Outside of school that wasn’t always the case.  By counting down the days, I was reminding him every day of what was ahead after that last day of school; uncertainty, fear, hunger.  None of those messages were what I hoped to convey to my students. None of those messages were what my silly countdown was meant to convey to him. And I am sure there have been others who silently dreaded the end of school, who didn’t show it through their tears but kept it inside or showed in other ways. Who didn’t excitedly tell their peers about all the things they couldn’t wait to do but instead hoped that they could stay together, sta where they were, instead of walking out on that last day of school. So while school certainly doesn’t represent safety for all children, for some it does.

So It is not that I don’t know how many days are left.  That I pretend to be clueless as to the end of the year. It is just that I don’t advertise it. I don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing together, than what we have built together.  It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do.  It undermines every single time we have said that school is important, that our community is valuable.  I have less than three weeks left and so much still to teach and learn, so many opportunities to keep connecting with kids, to continue to build community and provide resources that will hopefully make a difference in the days ahead. So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom.  That we have so much learning still to do.  That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable.  Because we need every minute we can get. Because what we have built matters and I am sad to see it go. I am sad to see them go. I don’t need a countdown to remind me of that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

To All the Tired Educators

Before the first day of school, oh the excitement and nervousness present

Dear Pernille, and perhaps so many others

You have been losing a lot of sleep this past year. The world has felt so heavy, so hard at times, and when you finally have found your stride, life has thrown yet another turn your way. Events that will shape you the rest of your life, experiences that are being lived through that will follow you until the end.

You have worked too much, you have tried to create boundaries as well as anyone else, and yet you have felt the insatiable hunger of failure nipping your heels every day, haunting your every decision. Never enough. Never good enough. You have felt like the role of teacher came first, above mom, above wife, above person. You have stayed up too late, gotten up too early, pondered and wondered, sought out idea upon idea in an effort to continue all of the dreaming that shapes the classroom community you build every year with your students. And you have looked at the constraints and tried to plan your way through them, busting the chains of the old ways that have stood in your path, getting tangled up in obstacles unforeseen, expanding energy quicker than you could replenish it.

And now you face the creeping end of the year and you hear the whispers of learning loss, of failed year, of not enough so loudly they feel like drums beating a new path ahead. They drown out the voices of the educators who innovated, who created, who invented and rose to the occasion. Of the kids who met us in the pursuit of learning despite all of their obstacles. Of the home adults who kept trying no matter their own circumstances. Do not listen to them. This past year was not lost. The moments we have lived through, the experiences we have created, the learning that has happened has transcended what we thought was possible. We did the impossible, we did it, despite everything in our way.

Because this year the learning was perhaps not as much in the standards. It was perhaps not as much in the pages of textbooks. Perhaps it looked nothing like we had ever tried before. It was a year of navigating new. Of hearing the words “unprecedented” and “Covid” too many times. A year of figuring out how to connect through screens and distance. Of asking kids to tune in when their reflexes were to tune out. Of asking ourselves to try again when we were beyond exhausted. Of sending one more email, making one more phone call, of showing up and trying again.

It was in living through experiences that will help these incredibly resilient kids for years to come, will help us, the school staff who kept trying for years to come; how to problem-solve technology, how to advocate, how to manage time, how to learn independently, how to chunk out assignments, how to get the help deserved and needed. How to recognize what is the most important in everything we do; not the content but the kids, not the grades but the growth. It was in showing up in whatever capacity we could despite everything that stood in front of us. It was in digging in even after the energy was depleted. In not painting a year in failure before it had even begun.

Because there were many who wanted us to fail. Who told us that the only way to do school was the ways we had done it for hundreds of year, a way that has failed so many before. There were many who couldn’t wait to tell us how this would never measure up, how this would never be enough. And yet we came, we worked, and we kept trying long after our contract hours, long after our energy had left.

So dear Pernille, you have to let the whispers of failure go. You have to rise from the ashes of your own doubt, burn down the defeat and recognize the strength that you carry within you after the last 13 months. You have to look back at this year and see the small triumphs that have risen through the cracks. Not as an attempt to dismiss the things that didn’t work, the kids where traditional learning was put on hold, but to recognize that among the fires there were things that did succeed. That success is not just found in standards and grades, which you have known for so long, but in the small conversations, the openings into their lives, the bonds that have been formed no matter they had to work their way through. No matter how much you worried.

That you and all of the kids in your care did incredibly hard things. They spoke up when they would rather stay muted. They turned on their cameras even when they would rather have sat in the dark, they chatted when they could, they handed in what they could, they asked questions when they could and they hopefully recognized that every day, no matter how much work they did, they were cared for, they were accepted, and they felt safe.

Because what happened in the past year in education is so much bigger than just learning content. Is so much bigger than just one singular experience. It is about community. About innovating through unforeseen obstacles. About a relentless pursuit of connection, of seeing our own mistakes not as places to rest but places to grow. Of knowing that you did the best you could and that what we did mattered, that what you did mattered.

So celebrate these last few weeks. Revel in the kids and their amazing fortitude. Cherish the times that you still get to have with these incredible kids that you got to call yours for a while. And rest. Rest in the knowledge that you did it. That you worked through it. That you learned lessons you will use for the rest of your teaching career. Rest in the knowledge that there will be more learning and growing in years to come and that we did not get lost, we instead found a new path that we had to forge together and that the content and the skills is still on our path. We may just need a new way to get there.

Love,
Pernille

Ready for yet another change – now only 3 feet between desks and 21 kids in the classroom as of April
Be the change, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

A Question to Center Reading Joy

What are the reading experiences Design

I have been thinking a lot about reading experiences of kids lately. If you follow my writing, you know that this is something I think about a lot. Perhaps it is because I finally have big classes of kids in front of me rather than small cohorts. Perhaps it is because we have only 7 weeks left of the year and I feel the urgency of the mission we have been on all year to help kids change their relationships to reading. Perhaps it is because I am presenting on this topic around the world and so I keep thinking of what else we should discuss about it, what else we can do to potentially change the narrative that seems to be repeating itself this year despite our best intentions.

Because I see a lot of kids not reading. I see a lot of kids disengaged from reading. I see a lot of kids who don’t see reading as something valuable or even something they have want to spend time doing. And I see a lot of adults not quite sure how this keeps happening despite everything we are trying.

So perhaps, this post is a way to remind myself to take a deep breath, perhaps it is an offer to us all to rethink the dialogue that surrounds kids’ reading lives. Perhaps this is a reminder to those who need to hear it that this disconnect between books and readers is one we have been working through for a long time, one that we will continue to work through for a long time, and it also didn’t just happen because of the pandemic. And that there are things we can do but that sometimes we create obstacles that we can’t even see, we don’t recognize the long term consequences of short-term ideas.

I could blame previous curricular decisions, after all, wouldn’t we all like to assume that it is solely because of the decision some other teacher made that created the readers we have. And yet, when we do that, we don’t see our own part in this either. We don’t see how we often have to interrogate, audit, and change an entire system rather than just one teacher. It is too easy to blame one year or one experience for killing the love of reading. When we get stuck there, it does us no good, it doesn’t allow us to see past those small decisions and instead focus on the entire experience. It doesn’t allow us to see that perhaps the whole system we function in needs to be aligned and adjusted. That what we see as “okay” may not be at all.

So instead, I would offer up that we use our worry about kids and their relationships to reading to urge us forward. That we start to invest in long-term solutions, discussions, and curricular choices that offer up an opportunity for all kids to connect or re-connect with reading year after year. That we shift the focus from what one teacher can do to what an entire system can take on. That we recognize that to center reading joy is not just the work of one, but the work of many, and that kids need more than one great teacher urging them to read.

And that starts in conversation rather than reading logs. That starts in meaningful work rather than computer quizzes. That starts with making space and time for kids to explore the parts of their identity that is tied in with reading and asking them how they ended up where they are. That starts with recognizing what the reading rights are of all kids, not just the ones we get to teach on a daily basis and then wonder how the experiences they are all guaranteed shape their readerly lives or not.

And so we must put our emotions aside for a bit in order to step into these conversations, to recognize that everything we do should be put on the table in order for us to weigh what may work for all kids. What should be instituted on a whole-school or all-district schedule.

It means that we offer space to think and then space to do. That reflecting on the journey we are on becomes a part of the curriculum, even when we feel pressed for time like this year. That we listen to student voices and have them move us into action. That we consider the weight of their words as we plan for future units and experiences and not just assume that we know what they need or even what they want.

The work of creating joyful reading experiences centered in powerful instructions, access to books, free choice of independent reading books, culturally relevant teaching and ongoing conversations should not and cannot fall on the shoulders of just one teacher. We are not enough, the year we may have with students is not enough. It has to be a whole district or at the very least a whole school conversation and plan.

So where do you start? We start with one single question to guide our work; what are the reading experiences EVERY child is guaranteed in our care. We lay it all out on the table in order to constructively look at what the reading experiences are for every child no matter the reading experience and skills they have had before this year. We truthfully recognize what often happens when a child is identified as being behind in whatever scope the data says and how often that impedes the choices they get to make throughout their day and even the joyful reading experiences they get to be a part of. And then we fight to give them access. We fight to give them equality in their reading experiences and we monitor what happens to the kids in our care.

And we cannot do that work without listening to the voices of our students, without asking the home adults what they see happening while we have kids in our care. We cannot do this work without revisiting the question again and again to re-align and readjust. Without truth, courage, and a recognition that sometimes our best ideas are not the ideas that should continue on.

It takes humility, patience, and toughness to do this work. Our students deserve that their experiences are carefully constructed around choice, around freedom, around receiving the care they absolutely deserve. We can do it and it starts with a conversation and it continues with a commitment.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, new year, PD, student choice, Student Engagement, student voice

Final Free PD Masterclass: Getting Ready for Going Back – How Do We Learn Best?

This summer has been one of worry. Of anxiousness. Of too much time spent thinking about possibilities that seemed to shift every day. Of waiting for answers. Of too many times trying to not think about the fall. But the countdown to go back to school has started for many of us, the future, while still uncertain, has at least been hinted at, and I still have so many questions.

A few weeks ago we were told we would be fully virtual for the first quarter and with that information I knew that I could stay overwhelmed and anxious or I could move into solution mode. To take it day by day, rather than try to figure out my whole quarter; focus on the first week, and then have an idea for what might come after. It has helped calm me as I think of all of the unknowns. (Not that I am feeling calm by any means).

And so, as I move ideas into action, it is time to invite you into the thoughts and discussion in my final masterclass of the summer: Masterclass – How Do We Learn Best – Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. While some of the underlying research and ideas will not have changed from May when I offered it last, I have updated it with ideas of how I plan on establishing conditions to build community, to determine how we can feel safe with one another, how I will embed choice and space for students to speak up and change our time together as we start fully online. This class dives into why it is vital that we center the voices and identities of students as we plan on our instruction and interrogate the systems we have in place. It is meant to inspire, spark discussions, and also offer practical ideas. The accompanying office hours will allow you to ask follow up questions, to share your ideas, and also to have a collective of experts help you with your problems of practice.

So join me for this free PD session offered through CUE and sponsored by Microsoft, just hit the “Join this Session” at the time listed and it will allow you access. Spread the word if you think this masterclass will be helpful to others. This will also be the final free PD I offer for a while as the school year looms large and I have to balance the virtual schooling of my own four kids with the needs of my 80+ students while also trying to keep my sanity.

The class sessions will be:

  • August 13th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 20th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 27th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST

The office hour sessions will be:

  • August 15th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 16th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 23rd 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 30th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST

Don’t forget to check out the other incredible free PD sessions as well that are still being offering during the month of August.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.