being a teacher, being me

These Kids, Our Kids

She tells us that she is not smart.  That school is not a place she wants to go to because that’s where all the smart kids go.  The ones who can read.  The ones who can do things so much easier than her.

She shows us that she is trying.  That every word that sits in front of her is a mountain to be climbed, seemingly no matter how many times she has seen it before, the climb is still there.  The doubt is still there.  The wanting to give up, because “This so hard, Mommy..” and we tell her to sound it out, to try again, to see the letters, even as they move and squiggle and run away from her eyes as she tries once again.  Everything taking twice as long as her twin brother.  Everything coming at a price of time that seemingly no other child has to give up because to them it just comes easy.

So we search for answers, for teachers who see the girl before they see the problem, for others who like us, sit with a child where reading does not come easy.  Where reading is not a magical adventure but instead dreaded work that doesn’t bring happiness but only affirmation of her supposed lack of can.  And we get the doctors involved and they tell us their diagnosis and I cry in the meeting because wouldn’t it have been nice if it wasn’t a specific learning disorder but instead just something that hadn’t clicked?  Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had it all wrong and she had us all fooled?  Wouldn’t it have been nice?

So we sit down with our little girl, who really isn’t so little anymore, and tell her that we did get answers and as we thought it turns out her brain just learns differently.  That reading is, indeed, hard to figure out but not impossible.  That now that we know more, we can do more, we can get help, we can get support, and we can go in the right direction rather than searching in the dark hoping for something to help us.  We can tell she doesn’t believe us, not yet, anyway.

And as summer unfolds, we hope that having this time can give us the time we need to build her back up, not because anyone tore her down, but because this mountain of reading has been telling her for too long that she is not as good as she thought she was.  And once those whispers started they were awfully hard to drown out when the proof is right there in front of her on the page.

And I think of how the systems of school play into this self-evaluation.  How the grades and the labels so often harm.  How we, as educators, sometimes confuse good grades with dedication, as if a child who is failing a class isn’t dedicated?  As if all a child needs is to just work harder, or hard enough because then the learning will surely come, and how for some of our kids, that is simply not true.  That I can see my child work hard.  That I can see my child stay at the table longer.  That I can see my child give her best every single day.  That I can see my child get extra teaching, tutoring outside of school, and yet the results don’t come because it turns out that hard work doesn’t always equal results.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones working the hardest if we really had to compare.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones pulled out of recess and fun activities in order to go work more.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones given fewer opportunity for choice because it turns out that when you need extra support we have to cut something out of your schedule.

And these kids, our kids, sit with the same kids year after year, traveling as a group because the only thing we have identified them by is their lack of ability.

And these kids, our kids notice.

And these kids, our kids, know it.

And these kids, our kids, feel it.

And these kids, our kids, slowly start to take on the new identities we have created for them in our data meetings, in our hallway conversations, in our quick meetups when we make our lists, where we make our groups, where we share the stories that we think define these kids.

And these kids, our kids, are honored for their efforts by being given new names; struggling readers, lower level learners, behind, and you wonder how they lose themselves in the process.

And you wonder why one day, despite our best intentions, they tell us that they don’t think they are smart and that they don’t want to go to school.

So as my family once again adjusts itself in our pursuit of learning for all.  As we celebrate the answers we have been given this week while nurturing the child who is at the center of it all, I ask you to please consider this.  My child, our daughter, is not a struggling reader, she is a reader.  Period.  To tell her otherwise would break her heart.

And so these kids, our kids, deserve to be fully spoken about, to be fully known.  For us to start a conversation asking how they see themselves and if it is through a negative lens we actively fight against that.  And we tell them we see their effort, we tell them we see their progress.  We tell them we see their smart, and we stop with the labels, and the assumptions, and we see the kid for who they are rather than what the data tells us.

Because this kid, my kid, doesn’t think that reading will ever be something she can do, and I need, she needs, everyone that works with her to believe otherwise and loudly, because my voice is not enough.

Please.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

The Teachers Tell Us…

A reflection…

Working through my keynote for this morning and I keep coming back to this moment from my own students – I asked my students who the “bad” kids were and they answered, “The teachers tell us…”

Even though I was there to witness it, it still hits hard every single time I see it. The power we wield, as educators, as adults, in how human beings see each other is astounding. It is something I carry with me every single time I teach, that through my actions, whether conscious or not, I will shape how a child’s humanity is potentially seen by others. While not singlehandedly determining the narrative, my presence, my being will provide others with a road map of how to see themselves and others.

It is something I don’t feel we spend enough time discussing, pondering, and helping us shape our teaching experiences.

And it starts on the very first day where we explain through our rules what “good kids” do and a child looks at that list and doesn’t see themselves.

That quote is 5 years old and yet, I wonder how many kids would still say something like that in schools across the world.

How many kids would consider themselves “bad” kids because that is the legacy we make for them?

Or how we label entire grade levels as “hard” groups or other awful titles and then wonder why they live up to it?

Words matter, actions matter, and the way we help children shape their identities in school to the point of where some are trying to succeed despite us is something to sit with, and then something to do something about.

Because as the mother of a child who felt unsafe at school due to bullying, who felt her teacher hated her in kindergarten, that was exactly the legacy she thought she should live up to. A child who didn’t belong, who was angry, who was broken.

And as a teacher who continues to screw up, despite her best intentions, I have realized that the least I can do is ask the very kids I teach whether they feel safe and respected and if they tell me no, then do something about it.

Because then, perhaps, we can change the narrative.

Be the change, being me

Chasing Happiness…

For a long time, I have kept a journal, well, let’s be transparent here, not a journal, but a long-standing to do list in a journal form. What started as a commitment to keep a bullet journal has morphed into my own version of my life in a book, with plenty of boxes to check off daily, and also main points of the day. My husband provides the journal, painstakingly researching the ones with the best paper and presents them with pens whenever a chance affords itself, I am lucky like that.

Every morning, while my computer boots up, I pull out my leather-bound journal and make the day’s to do list. A quick brain dump as I think of tasks big and small that need to be completed in order for my brain to change focus and be present when I get home. Sometimes on Sunday’s I make my list for Monday in order for myself to continue to focus on home rather than school as the weekend ends. On the days, I feel disorganized and off it is often because I haven’t taken the time to make my list. On the days I feel more stressed and scattered, the same culprit is at play.

After the to-do lists comes the second part of my ritual, a simple list on the previous day’s page titled “Happiness is…” In the quiet morning hum of my classroom, under the covered fluorescent lights, I try to take a moment to remember all of the happy moments. The ones that brought me peace and happiness that previous day.

This year for my word of the year I chose the word “More.” More love, more joy, more slowing down, more meaning, learning, more great food, naps, and everything that makes life truly worth living; more family, friends, and people who inspire me. More of the good things balancing out the to-do’s and the must do’s in order to be a responsible human being.

And I embraced the pursuit of more, I still do, but I also quickly noticed that my happiness list was dwindling, that in my eagerness to do more, I ended up working more to get more done, to be more productive, and so there weren’t many true happiness moments beyond the big events that stood out. If you looked at my happiness list, you might think I lived a sad life, and yet, that short list also became my realization that perhaps there weren’t as many happiness moments as one might expects but not in the way one might expect.

Because there is nothing wrong with my life, instead, my lens was foggy. I looked for true happiness, that elusive feeling where the world stands still and you get that this moment, this very moment you are in, is of importance. It turns out we don’t have many of those if we compare our lives to others. We don’t have many of those if we are too busy to-doing and not just to-being. What we do have is small moments of joy sprinkled throughout our daily life that we seem to skim over in our task-slaying ways.

So this summer, all four days of it so far, I have been chasing happiness. I have been making my to do list in order to have more moments to add the next day. I have added my yoga, because it makes me feel better, I have added my bike rides with my children as they are all out of training wheels and the world beckons for our exploration. I have added the quiet nights with Brandon as we watch in wonder Good Omens and the illustrious story-telling. The chocolate, the great books – so many great books – the sunlight, the naps, the phone calls and contacts with friends, the pool time, the compliments, the great learning from others. The ideas I am collecting from the learning I am doing that I know will create better learning opportunities for all of my students. I am looking at my own deficits in understanding and not seeing them as faults but instead as a learning opportunity. How wondrous it is that we can learn so much from others and in turn become more than what we were? I am planning for these because it feels right, it feels good, and don’t we all need a little more goodness in our lives?

And so my list is fuller and so is my life.

I know, that life will get filled up again, it always does, but chasing happiness in the form of meaningful interactions is something that will always be worth it. To seek out opportunities that will bring you joy is never wasted, unless the joy is at the expense of other people. I know I can become more than I am due to the teaching of others, due to the time with my kids, due to the meaning I choose to add to my life and pursuits. That is on me, that is my mission. And I can channel that into the teacher I am, that teaches with purpose, with an eye on changing the very experience we have together in order for the children to have a better chance at their happiness pursuit. If, in the moment you are in, there seems to be little joy, ask why. Is it beyond you, because let’s face it, life can be cruel at times, we certainly have already navigated some difficult situations in the last few weeks, or is it just your lens that needs to change?

Only you can fully answer that, but perhaps a list is in order. Won’t you chase happiness with me?

My main causes of happiness…

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

White, Black,  Free Image

I have been thinking a lot about failure. About this whole notion of growth mindset and having kids take risks. About how often we ask kids to just keep trying even when it is hard yet seem to fail to do so ourselves. About how often we expect kids to give us their all, their best, their utmost, and then for them to navigate the pieces when it all falls apart, after all isn’t that what having grit teaches you to do?

About the supposed safety nets we have in place for students to fail safely.

About how we tell them that experimentation is great, that trying something new is the way to learn, about stretching themselves into unknown territory so they can discover who they truly are.

About how it doesn’t all add up.

Because the thing is, and I know I have said this before, we say a lot of things as educators without really thinking about what we are asking all kids to do. We say a lot of things without looking at the systems we already have in place, the routines and procedures that wield so much power in our schools that actively fight against this whole notion of embracing failure as another way to learn.

Take grades for example. We tell kids to take risks but then expect them to all succeed even if on shaky ground. If they don’t, then their scores or assessments reflect that. How often do we fail to recognize that it is because we attach subjective scores to something that we boil learning and curiosity into something we never intended. It becomes nothing more than an experiment in playing the grade game rather than the true learning experience it should be.

Take control and compliance. How often do our beginning of the year routines surround getting kids to be quiet, to sit still, to only ask questions when we designate the time for it. To make only the smallest of spaces for themselves in order for all of us to function because you can’t have a functioning classroom if kids are too loud, too energetic, or take up too much space.

Take how we handle behaviors. How often the preferred method is social isolation playing itself out in some form of removal from the classroom. How often we ask kids to leave in order for us to keep teaching and yet we see the behaviors continue as they rejoin us because nothing has changed in the experience, only paused.

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

How often we tell our dreamer kids to come back to Earth.

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

How often we somehow tell kids that to be a successful student all you have to do is play by the rules but then we never hand them a rule book or we change the rules altogether.

And then we wonder why kids say they don’t think school is for them.

So as we race toward the end of the year, or perhaps only the middle depending on your hemisphere, I want to take a moment to think about what my students are telling me they need. About what I am telling them not just with my words, but in my actions, my routines, and my expectations.

About how I need to continue to ask whether I not only would want to be a student in my own classroom, but also could be a successful one. About how we need to not give students a voice because they already have one, but instead need to carve out an authentic space for the things they have to say.

How it starts with asking questions – do you feel respected, does this learning matter, how can we create engaging learning opportunities together? How it continues with reflection – how is my voice and my power being used as a potential tool for inequity, does every child feel safe with me, does every child have a chance of truly belonging? How it rests with us as we realize that there is still so much to be done, and yet so that can be done if we start within the small decisions we make every day. If we take apart the small routines and structures that we put in place to make it work for everyone and ask whether it truly works for everyone, because almost everyone is not close enough. How along with our thoughts surrounding how we want to have better curriculum, we also need to think of how we want students to feel with us and then how we are going to accomplish that.

How when they tell us that they want to change the world, we start with the one they live in every day; our classrooms, our schools, our attitudes.

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

Because much like our students, we all have so much to learn. I have so much to learn. I have so much more failing to do, only so I can keep growing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, summer

Ending the Year on a High Note – Some Must Do’s As We Wrap Up

Yesterday, I wrote about what I wanted out of the year and how it had gone, and yet, within that post is also the hope for the coming few months, for the coming year. Isn’t it funny how we, as educators, already start to plan for the “new” year already in the spring?

And so with only a few precious weeks left, I wanted to once again share what my Must-Do’s for the year are in case anyone else wants a few ideas.

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow. To see this year’s survey, paper copy go here – I will do it as electronic version as well, to see that go here

I plan on keeping certain experiences and make a map.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps us think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start. We have started as a team to create our map for the upcoming year, this helps us plan and discuss what we want our students to experience with us.

I plan on face to face collaboration. Our district believes in paying teachers to collaborate over the summer, which I plan on once again taking advantage of. So as I take on a new class next year (Enriched English), I plan on spending time with those who know more than me. I am so grateful for this opportunity for concentrated learning.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  Goodbye feedback tracker! Goodbye reading rate tracker! Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  Every year, i do revamp of our room, but this year I get to move rooms altogether to a larger room with more room for all of our books. So not only do I get to go through everything, but I also get to set up a whole new experience for the students. However, if I wasn’t moving, I would still move furniture, go through files, weed books, and just refresh everything. While we don’t have a lot of fancy furniture, these small changes help keep the pride in the room intact which shapes the experience.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing continues to be a focal point, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more meaningful writing experiences that will help students reignite their writing identities, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together. Some of these books are re-reads, others are brand new and I cannot wait to let the work of others shape the every day work I get to do with students.

My stack of summer PD reading awaits – I can’t wait.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us as it kicks off next weekend!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


being me

What Did You Want to Be This Year?

I think there may be 3 weeks left of school. At this point, I am not sure, simply because I don’t want to think about the end. While summer beckons, I also want to make sure that I stay fully present with the kids, the ones that I have the privilege to teach this year. Because teaching is a privilege, and at times, I need to remember that.

As we unwind a year of growing, of exploring, of hopefully doing work that mattered, I have been thinking about my own growth. As I pour through the work of students, marvel at their quiet moments of discovery, I wonder what the year has given me, beyond the laughs, the ups and downs, the conversations and lesson plans. I wanted my students to evolve in their thinking, in their reading, writing, speaking, but also in how they saw the world, but what about myself; what did I want for myself?

I wanted to be more present. To not worry so much about the outside, but rather be in the moment with the people who were in front of me. I said no more, said yes more sparingly, tried to tune in and also appreciate the sheer energy that it takes to be a present teacher, present human being, one that isn’t thinking of the next five steps while others are right there with us. I am still working on this as I continue to balance what it means to be a teacher, a mom, a wife, a human being who also needs time to just think and be still. For the coming year, it will mean less public Pernille, and more private me.

I wanted to be stronger. Daily yoga helped me with physical strength, knowing my own limitations and embracing them meant more room for my emotional strength. I recognized that I have given immense power to others who do not know me but have no problem judging me and how exhausting handing that type of power over to others has been for me. I recognized that as an introvert some places, both in real life and online, are simply too much for me, despite how amazing they can be for others. So no NCTE this coming year, yes only to one day of Nerdcamp, and more yeses to quiet reading, to outside walks, to turning off social media, to only dipping into Twitter for inspiration and knowledge rather than lengthy interaction.

I wanted to let go. It is amazing how much shame and embarrassment one human being can carry while realizing that these emotions are the ones I tend to carry with me the longest has both been startling and liberating. No wonder, my energy has been drained when all I can see in the mirror as I look are all of the things I have done poorly. And so there has been a lot of letting things go, of recognizing that once again, I am good enough, and that I don’t need to be perfect, but instead need to be a learner. That when my own family sees me, they see me as a good mom, as a good person, and that I will a better person if I embrace that, rather than what others who are not as important want me to believe.

I wanted to be more focused. Narrowing in my growth areas really helped me navigate all of the incredible opportunities that abound daily in our teaching world. I know I wanted to learn more about anti-racist practices, about helping students claim their voices as social activists, and about supporting the very students I teach, not as focused on the world at large and how I can help others. It meant writing and sharing less, it meant accepting advising roles for 7th grade GSA, for starting a spoken word poetry club, for co-faciliating a BSU book-club, for sitting with the very kids I teach and asking them what they need to be empowered, engaged and feel valued and trying to figure out what I can do to help them achieve that. It meant leading less and listening more, something that I continue to love in all aspects of my life.

I wanted to be more unafraid. Unfraid to be who I am, unafraid to explore what I do not know, unafraid to share my mistakes as I have in the past, but also unfraid to settle within myself and realize that perhaps my path does not continue in America but rather that as an immigrant to this nation, it is perhaps time for me leave. And so we have started exploring options, to see whether we can go home to Denmark or even Europe as international teachers once my husband finishes his degree as a Tech Ed teacher in a year and a half, whether somewhere else in the world will be our future destination. It is scary, yet exciting to think of uprooting my family like that, but I have never fully felt home in America and so perhaps home is waiting to be found out in the world. Even if it means leaving vital parts of our life behind.

So as I think of the year to come, of the new opportunities to come, I am excited to first have a summer of traveling, of reading, of being at the pool with my kids, of sipping as much tea as I can, of farmers’ markets and library visits. I am excited to rebuild my energy and excitement so I can say yes again. Yes, to somehow helping with the start of a Hispanic Student Union at our school, yes, to teaching an enriched English class, yes, to diving further into equity and anti-racist work, yes, to learning how to be a better teacher of writing. Yes, (perhaps) to writing a series of blog posts or a book that will perhaps help student dive deeper into reading identity, but not committing to anything I don’t have energy for if I can help it. Yes, to walks, to reading with my kids, to yoga, to eating better, to reducing our plastic usage, to traveling, to singing music loudly, and to getting more tattoos. Yes, to exploring new opportunities with an eye for what I can learn, rather than what I can teach.

And so I wonder, what has the previous year taught others? How did you grow? Did you accomplish the goals you set out to reach or did you realize that your life needed something else? What did you want to be this year?

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us as it kicks off next weekend!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.