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
being a student, being a teacher, being me, student choice, student voice

Disrupting Our Assumptions About Our Own Failures

Our hurry Design

I have been thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. The constant negative self-talk we, as educators, can quickly sink into due to the supposed reactions of children we teach. How we can spiral so easily into defeatist thinking. Into thinking we would be better off quitting, or surely, everyone else is doing a much better job at teaching than we are. That has led us to question the path we felt so sure of before a global pandemic hit.

It’s easy right now to fall into this trap. After all, with pandemic teaching many of us have grieved the loss of normal human proximity to our students. Unsure of how to connect through a screen, a camera that is turned off, a silent chat, a muted microphone, or a face covered by a mask, 6 feet away. Unsure of our safety as we crave normalcy in a world that is anything but. And yet we have risen to the occasion, isn’t that what we always do, tirelessly inventing ways to engage, reinventing the ways that used to work, we have reached out, we have shared ideas, we have searched for pieces we can bring in in order for us to feel a bit more effective. And yet, the weight of defeat has also been crushing at times.

When that learning experience we worked so hard on falls flat. Again.

When more kids turn their camera off. Again.

When the emails we send offering our support remain unanswered. Again.

When rather than engage we are met with shrugs. Again.

When the space for discussion remains silent. Again.

When COVID robs us of one-on-one conferring, small group work, or huddled together learning opportunities.

We carry our defeats in the back of our minds, the assumptions of perhaps how much we have failed, how terrible we are at teaching this year, death by a thousand cuts.

Because what has shifted in Covid teaching is one of the biggest tools we rely on; the small body cues that shift our direction, the facial expressions, and the feel of the room. The small signs that tell us to change, to go a certain way and not another, that allows us to read the energy and transform our teaching on the spot. When met with silence and blank screens or stares it is hard to know which direction to change to.

It doesn’t have to be lost though, it just needs to be transformed. I write this blog post to remind myself of tools I already use, that give me the answers I have been searching. Because my teaching life has been riddled with assumptions, and often negative ones of my own success this year, despite the evidence to the opposite. Perhaps yours has too?

So suppose we remember to ask instead of assume.

Suppose we take a moment and create a survey asking how we can grow and be better. What is working? What is not? What do you need from me?

Suppose we do it after every unit or even once a week. Suppose we believe that survey rather than our negative self-talk.

After all, all of the assumptions we make are more than likely not accurate.

I have been doing so on a regular basis, nothing new in my practices, after all, centering the needs of students based on their individual reactions is what I have been pursuing for years. Centering the identity of each child as they take control of their learning is the work I have been sharing for a long time.

And yet, my practices got lost this year. I forgot to ask as often as I should have. And I didn’t believe the results when they came in, assuming (there it is again) that kids were just being nice because they saw how hard I was trying.

Yet, if I look at the survey responses, the path forward is right there. The answers I haven’t been able to see as easily because I haven’t been in the room with my students for 330 days.

The questions have been simple. What is working? What is not? How can we make this experience better for you? What do you wish I knew? And then ideas to see whether we should change course. Offer up opportunities to do group or solo learning. Keeping a “Anything else you want to tell me option” just in case.

The answers have been straightforward, “I like our unit…No need to change anything…I’m having fun…” Ideas have also been shared, “Can we work together….can we have more work time….can we split into groups?” All statements I would not have thought possible if I believed my own assumptions.

And they have bolstered our path. I have tweaked and changed the way I teach based not on facial cues which easily get lost in virtual teaching or behind a mask but rather in the words they share. I have asked for their feedback when we are together and we have changed course mid-morning. I have put voice to the questions that run through my mind where I would normally find the answers in their behaviors rather than needing an explicit conversation about it.

And so I wanted to share the importance of asking once again. Because perhaps, like me, you had forgotten the power of a simple survey. Of relying on students to guide us when we feel we are teaching blindly. On looking at all of the cues that we can receive from other ways than those we traditionally rely on. There are many questions you can ask, I recommend starting with those that you have made the strongest assumptions about, such as whether kids care about what they are learning, how to change your teaching, why they choose to not share in some way in class.

Then believe their answers. Learn from them. Take the positive as the boost you may need, and the negative or neutral as ideas to move forward. Repeat as needed.

We can think we know all of the ways we are failing as teachers, all of the ways we are not good enough. Or we can ask. Base our answers on actual reality. Engage students in our planning, our tweaking, in the shaping of our learning community much like we always should be doing.

After all, kids are experts too, we just need to remember 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.

being me

A Late Evening Quiet Rally Cry

cape Design

I tend to look on the bright side of things when it comes to education, to try to find the time to savor the small moments, relish in the growth, look at our successes before lamenting all that is lost. I tend to be a person that “eats the elephant one bite at a time.” Who feels fairly empowered by a thought out to-do list, a well-planned unit, and who tries to look for answers or steps forward rather than dwell on the impossibles. And yet tonight, after endless meetings and navigating all of the information that is coming furiously at us as we prepare to be live with students again in February, I am spent. I am drained, beyond exhaustion but with a restless mind and words waiting to be spilled.

Because the truth is I, along so many others, have innovated my heart out since March 13th, 2020. In fact, probably for a lot longer than that. I have taught from email to email, directive to new decisions. I have risen to the occasion, done all I can, tried to bring my very best every day in order to reach every child, despite knowing that it will never be enough for those who measure our current success against what school was for some before Covid.

And I have worked too many hours, missed too many moments in my family’s life, pushed aside the needs of my own kids, kept my chin up, put on a brave face, and swept my fears and feelings of inadequacy under the proverbial rug because in this nation, the home of the brave, teachers are likened to superheroes who are always supposed to be in it for the kids. And if we falter, if we show fear, if we say enough, well then surely our intentions were never as noble as we claimed. Imposters all along who do not deserve the chance to work with children.

And it’s killing us. Quite literally, as I am confronted with another Facebook post talking about that special teacher, who reached all of their students, dying from Covid. What a world we live in now where it is the very act of being together that can ultimately end our lives. Where going against so many of our teaching practices is what can be the difference between staying safe or not. It used to be guns that killed us.

This post is not a cry for help, don’t worry I know how to take care of myself. I have the links to the meditation apps, the mindfulness moves. The new apps and tech tools that will make it all worth my time. I have the sign ups ready for all of the webinars, the professional development from experts who have not actually taught through this pandemic but speak to those who have. I have self-cared into oblivion, yogaed in the morning, walked in the afternoon, made time for doing nothing, and also those new covid hobbies I was supposed to do. I have worked my way through it all to see the road ahead so that I can get a night of quiet, set boundaries, left affirmative post-it notes, looked for the positive, and stepped away when I could. I have laughed about it. Cried about it. Refused to think about it. Spoken about it. Kept quiet about it. And also just taken it one step at a time, as if I was going out for a jaunty little hike; new adventures await!

I have raised my voice, offered my help, asked questions, offered solutions and reveled in the fact that the district I work in is 100% committed to inviting teachers to the table and keeping us there for the entire discussion. I shudder at what happens to those who don’t get to say that.

And yet, again, despite this, my creative energy is nearing its end, my drive to educate under these circumstances is near extinct, despite the amazing students I get to teach, despite the importance of what we do, despite loving so many things of what it means to be an educator and not knowing whatever else I could possible do in my life that would bring me so much professional joy, I am exhausted. Because let’s face it, we can all continue to try to fold in the cheese, but who invented the recipe to begin with?

Because it’s not us, the educators, who need to put on our capes. Who need to step up as selfless superheroes who will give everything we have in order to save the future. We have been doing that for decades and it hasn’t been enough, it never will be. The change has to be sweeping. Has to start within our classrooms but go to the far reaches of society. Our voices, those of people within the walls of school and those attached to it, must be lifted as we once again push back against what the superhero myth of education really does for all of us. It robs us of our humanity. It takes away our right to say no. It removes the ability to advocate for real change because if we advocate for other possibilities, for work/life boundaries, for hard conversation and more importantly actions, then we are seen as sacrificing children in order to better our lives. Yet that is not true, and we all know it, but nothing works better at silencing educators than a swift “It is best for the kids…”

So tonight, I will once again spend some more time checking in on assignments, tweaking lesson plans, perhaps read a few pages of a book before I fall asleep. I will hang up my cape that I never wanted to begin with and go to bed knowing I did the best I could today but also knowing that this is not sustainable and that we have to continue to say that out loud. That this is not normal, that we are still trying to teach and learn during a global pandemic, and that our best will just have to be good enough. Because that is what’s best for kids, not educators who have nothing left to give.

We will offer ourselves grace and try again tomorrow, with our voices raised. Right after we start our self-care routine, of course.

Love,

Pernille

being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning

Collaborate With Me During Free Office Hours

One of the ventures I have been a part of this summer has been the incredible professional development line up facilitated by CUE and sponsored by Microsoft. As I have written on the blog before, every week throughout summer, I, and many other amazing educators, are offering free PD on a variety of topics. I am loving the chance to deep dive into some of my favorite topics such as creating authentic and student-centered literacy experiences and embedding choice and voice into our classrooms. To see all of the sessions I am still offering this summer, please click this link. One of the other components though is equally amazing; office hours.

Once a week, or sometimes more, there is a free drop in office hour with me where we get to just talk. These office hours are not recorded, but are stand alone brainstorm sessions where we can discuss whatever I might be able to help you work through. Perhaps you have clarifying questions about something I have shared, perhaps you are trying to do the Global Read Aloud for the first time, perhaps you are wondering about reading and writing identity. Whatever it is, if you have questions about reading, writing, student engagement, the Global Read Aloud or anything else you think I might be able to help you solve or think about, these hours are for you.

Here is when I will have office hours:

  • 6/28 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/2 –  7 PM PST
  • 7/5 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/12 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/19 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/26 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/29 – 7 PM PST
  • 8/7 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/15 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/16 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/23 – 8 AM PST

All you have to do to access them is to register through this link – come for an hour or just a few minutes but I hope to see you there. I also hope to see you at any of the free sessions being hosted, there are so many wonderful opportunities to learn.

being a student, being a teacher, being me, hopes, Passionate Readers, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student Engagement, teaching, Writing Identity

Creating Passionate Writers – Next Masterclass Kicks Off Tomorrow

Moving to America at the age of 18, gave me a whole new education. An education in privilege, in control, in power, and how to know your place. To pursue your dreams but only if others see you as worthy of that dream.

Becoming a teacher in the American public school system has been one of my greatest joys but also one of my biggest frustrations, my biggest moments of failure, of regret. The power handed those of us with teaching degrees is immeasurable; I can continue the systemic inequities of the structures we work within, or I can learn, listen, question, dismantle, disturb, and create an education that is truly for all kids. I didn’t know that when I started as an educator, my own privilege awarded me blinders and ear muffs. But 10 years ago I started to wake up, a little at a time, although not fast enough, and I recognized that how I used control as a way to ascertain my power in the classroom meant that not all kids could thrive, that not all kids were cared for. That my classroom might have said “Welcome” but those were shallow words. And it was echoed in the curriculum we did and how I helped students grow, how I used choice, how I used rewards and punishment.

And so I started to change the way I taught, the way I thought of education, of my own power within the classroom. I immersed myself in the expertise and wisdom of others who have been on this journey so much longer than I have, I started to ask my students questions I should have been asking from the start and I started writing this blog; sharing my thoughts out loud, inviting others on the journey as I stumbled through and tried to create an education that might work for all kids. A shared experience that would center on the identity of each child rather than the curriculum. It is the work I continue to do and will for a long time. I continue to stumble through on this journey, I continue to share on here, I continue to learn and grow from others while offering my own journey up and now I have been invited by CUE and Microsoft to share through their channels as well as a way to invite you into the journey.

And so I invite you into a conversation surrounding the writing we do in our classrooms with students and how we can use storytelling not just as a way to teach standards but to help students examine and find power within their own identity and story. To come along with me as I share the questions we discuss in our community, the writing we do, and also the resources I have learned from so perhaps you can learn from them as well. So if you have space in your life or a desire to go on this journey with me, please go here to register

The Masterclass will be three parts much like the other masterclass I have done this summer, you can join live or access the recording when it is posted here. I will also be finishing up Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. part 3 this week, on Thursday at 11 AM PST.

Posting this today, I also know that not everyone is in a place for PD or perhaps that this is not the type of PD you want to immerse yourself in, this is okay. The world is rightfully continuing to need our attention and perhaps you are putting in your energy elsewhere or fully taking a break. I know I have been taking many breaks the last few weeks as I plan for actions in the fall and right now, but for those of you who want to learn with and from me, please know that there will be several offerings all the way through summer.

Live office hours will start up next week – my first drop in one is on the 22nd at 8 AM PST. This is a great opportunity for you to bring problems of practice and we can brainstorm together for an hour or so. If you participate in the Global Read Aloud, you can also use the office hours to brainstorm with me or just ask questions.

All of these sessions are free and the sessions are recorded (office hours are not) so even if you can’t or don’t want to be there live, you can access them later.

The schedule for the rest of the summer’s free PD from me looks like so:

Sessions:

  • 6/17 7 AM PST – Masterclass: Passionate Writers Pt1
  • 6/18 10:30 AM PST – Choice and Voice Pt 3
  • 6/24 7 AM PST – Masterclass: Passionate Writers Pt 2
  • 7/1 7AM PST – Masterclass: Passionate Writers Pt 3
  • 7/8 11 AM PST – Passionate Readers – stand-alone session
  • 7/15 11 AM PST – Masterclass: But They Still Hate Reading – Supporting and Developing Student Reading Identity Pt 1
  • 7/22 11 AM PST – Masterclass: But They Still Hate Reading – Supporting and Developing Student Reading Identity Pt 2
  • 7/29 11 AM PST – Masterclass: But They Still Hate Reading – Supporting and Developing Student Reading Identity Pt 3
  • 8/6 7 PM PST – Passionate Learners – stand alone session
  • 8/13 7 PM PST – Repeat Masterclass: Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice as we get ready for a new year Pt 1
  • 8/20 7 PM PST – Repeat Masterclass: Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice as we get ready for a new year Pt 2
  • 8/27 7 PM PST – Repeat Masterclass: Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice as we get ready for a new year Pt 3


Office hours:

  • 6/22 – 8 AM PST
  • 6/28 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/2 – 7 PM PST
  • 7/5 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/12 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/19 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/26 – 8 AM PST
  • 7/29 – 7 PM PST
  • 8/7 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/15 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/16 – 8 AM PST
  • 8/23 – 8 AM PST

I hope I can be of service through these sessions. I hope to see some of you there.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.