being a teacher, being me

But Do They Run Into Our Classroom?

I initially wrote this post four years ago but rediscovered it this morning as I started to dream about the year ahead. It is not surprising that it still rang true to me as the past few years teaching during COVID have placed even more expectations on the type of experiences we create with and for students. Perhaps you feel the pressure too?

For twelve years I have been sharing my thoughts on this blog.

Twelve years of good.

Twelve years of not-so-good.

Twelve years of let’s try this and see how it goes.

Twelve years of let’s figure it out together. Let’s change it. Let’s disrupt. Let’s center kids and the voices who have been ignored for so long.

Twelve years of simply needing to get it out so that my brain could process whatever it was and move on.

So many years and words documenting trying to be more than I am as a teacher.  Of living, breathing education. Of late nights and early mornings trying to come up with a new idea, a twist on an old idea, of more pathways, of centering kids in new ways so they can hopefully feel safe, find value, and be seen. The years have flown by even as the days sometimes have dragged by. I have loved it for so long but the past few years, now more than ever, the pressure to be not just a teacher but to be a life-changing one, to handle everything thrust at us with grace, ease, and innovation, has become an insurmountable mountain of expectation that is crushing us all. To not just have great lessons but also make it look easy for those watching has become the norm rather than the exception.

And the pressure builds as we take on the responsibility not just to help them understand, but to create spaces that can compete with everything else that pulls kids in. So what no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how there would be this unbelievable pressure to be an amazing teacher.  To be the kind of teacher that truly changes lives.  To create the type of environment that students cannot wait to be a part of.  What no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how much social media would lead me to believe that I was doing it all wrong, most of the time, because my students are not always those students that love school.

It is fed by the statements that surround us…

“If they didn’t have to be there, would they really show up?”

“Students should be running into your classroom not running away…”

“If they don’t love it, then you are doing it wrong…”

“If they are on their phone, your lessons must not be engaging enough…”

And while I get the sentiment behind these statements, I also think of the danger of them.  The unattainable versions of reality that really none of us can ever live up to.  These notions of creating such over-the-top unforgettable classroom experiences that make kids want to run into our schools, choosing us and our classroom above everything else.  Every. Single. Day.  Who can live up to that?

For fourteen and a half years, I have chased the mirage of being a perfect teacher as the markers continually move.  Of trying to be the type of teacher that created those types of experiences that would make students flock to our classroom.  That would make students want to come to school.  And while there have been days where it almost felt like that, I have never fully achieved it, not for every child, because let’s face it, it is a completely unrealistic notion.  And it is a notion that is driving teachers to feel as if no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work, they will never be enough.  They will always be lacking.  How exhausting and debilitating is that?

So I am going to give it to you real straight because that’s what I always try to do; most of my 7th graders would probably rather hang out with each other than walk through our door.  Most of my 7th graders would not run into our classroom if given the choice.  They would probably rather sleep, watch Youtube, make TikToks, or simply hang out.

And I am okay with that.

Because that’s normal child development.  Because it is okay for our classroom to be low on their choice of experiences.  Because it is okay for our classroom to not be something they think about when not in school.  Because it is okay for kids to not be excited about the idea of going to school.

What is not okay is for them to hate it once they do get in our rooms. 

There is a big difference.

And so that is where we do the work.  To create experiences that make students want to engage within our learning.  That makes students feel as if they matter once they are there.  That makes the time fly, the minutes pass until the next class, where they can hopefully experience that again.

So while most of my students would probably not volunteer to come to our classroom, once they are there, many of them love it.  Many of them love what we do, who we are, and how we grow.  Many of them would choose to stay once there.  And to me, that is what matters.

So the next time you hear someone state, “But would they choose to come?”  It’s okay to say, “Probably not” and not feel like a horrible teacher because what you realized is that the question was wrong all along, not you.  Because what you realized is that you can teach your heart out and still have a hard time competing with everything that surrounds young people these days.  Because what you realized is that the question should have been, “If given the choice would they choose to stay?”

And to that I can honestly answer, “Yes, most of the time I think they would…”. And if my answer is no, then my follow-up question is, “What needs to change?”

It turns out that perhaps I never needed to be a perfect teacher, I just needed to be real.

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. 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.

being a teacher, being me

Ideas to try to Lessen Your Workload

Cross-posted from my Patreon community. Join me there for a lot more writing, access to lesson plans, monthly Q&A opportunities, curated book lists, and other collaborative opportunities.

The initial pandemic lockdown made it painfully clear that I had few boundaries when it came to my work and non-work time.  After yet another night of sitting behind my computer until 10 PM, my husband gently shut it and told me that this was not working.  And he was right.  But how do you set better boundaries when the world feels like it is on fire and you have to be part of the team that sets it right again?

Idea 1: Set your own time frame and limits and then stick to them.

Since preparing for teaching is a job that is never complete; how much are you willing to work beyond your hours? Put a post-it note up detailing how many free hours you are willing to donate to your job a day or a week and then keep it visible. We often forget just how much extra time we are putting in, having a visual reminder of it can help us find more of a balance.

Idea 2:  Set up firm boundaries for your availability.

It is so easy to be plugged into work at all times. There is always work to be done, there are always emails to answers, or new ideas to find, but often what we assume will only take a small amount of time, do not when we add up all of the extra minutes we use “just checking.” So set guilt-free boundaries for your own availability and when you will do work over the evenings/weekend often. As a result of clear boundaries, I have strict email guidelines for myself: No work email on my phone, no checking email after 8 PM on weeknights, no checking it on Friday evenings or all of Sunday at all. I also have clear boundaries for when I will work during my weekend: Saturday morning only and only if I absolutely must. Sunday’s are a day of rest, relaxation, and doing things that bring me joy.

Idea 3: Work when you are most productive.

I am a morning person and have been since the arrival of our oldest child. I work best when it is still dark out and everyone is still asleep and so when I have a lot of work to do, my extra hours are placed early in the morning. I think quicker, I have more energy, and my optimism is still sky-high, this allows me to do my best work rather than waiting until evening when I am tired and I long for sleep. Know yourself and your own energy times and try to plan your work time then. Allow yourself to get the rest you need rather than working beyond those hours. Often it takes a lot longer to finish tasks when you are working during your tired time.

Idea 4: First task: Always be ready for the very next day.

This is the simplest yet most effective idea I have that I shared with my own new teacher husband who was working late into the night every night for months trying to keep up. While we often get pulled into grading, answering emails, and planning entire units before we prepare for the next day, I have flipped the order of my tasks; now I start with the preparation or the very next day before I take on the bigger work I need to do. When I walk out for the night, my classroom is ready for the very next day, including materials, lessons plans, and the space itself.  That means I can choose to not work in the evening because I know I am ready for tomorrow and that allows me space to be with my family, to read, and to do whatever I want to do that is not work-related

Idea 5: Plan out your prep time.

This idea was graciously handed to me by a colleague who first got me clued into setting better boundaries. So often our prep time gets consumed by quick check-ins with colleagues, copies, classroom clean up or all the millions of other small things that crop up in our day. Instead of leaving things to chance, when I make my daily to-do list, I plan out what I will use my prep time for specifically, so I know when I need to prepare something. Often the first thing is to be fully ready to teach tomorrow, then run any errands around the building I need to take care of, and then grade /plan units after that. I tend to not stop by colleagues’ classrooms unless I have extra time to talk so a quick email or phone call to ask them a question is always my preferred way to get answers. This also helps me be more cognizant of other people’s time as I don’t want to take up more of their time than I need to.

Idea 6: Cut back the extra work.

I spent an extraordinary amount of time laminating my first few years as a teacher, as well as changing out bulletin boards. Now, I hardly ever do either, because I don’t see the need. If I need to change a bulletin board, I ask students for their help and not many items deserve to be laminated.  What are your extra tasks that suck up your time?

Idea 7: Do a time inventory.

While this takes time upfront, it can save you time in the long run. Shadow yourself for a day or a week and notice what is taking up your time, both while you are teaching and when you are in preparation mode. Is everything that you are doing needed? Where are you spending more time than needed? What brings you joy and you want to preserve? When are you unproductive and when are you not? Studying your own patterns can help you see areas where you can be more efficient within the time constraint given.

Idea 8: All the other little things.

How else can you save time?

· Create form emails and comments that you can re-use from child to child when it comes to communicating needs and successes, have them saved somewhere accessible.

· Leave comments on your lesson plans as you teach them, so you know what needs to be fixed/reworked/cut out if you use it again.

· Embrace using your ideas again for lessons but rework them and adapt them to the needs of your current students.

· Involve the students in making anchor charts, classroom study guides, and self-assessment, and make these tools live with the students rather than after class.

· Consider what really needs to be given feedback or assessed and consider how much of that feedback can be spoken at the moment rather than written after the fact.

· Shut your classroom door. While an open door often means, “Come on in!” a shut door will often cause people a pause before they enter. It signals that you would like to be left to work rather than chat.

· Stop volunteering yourself for everything. I have the hardest time saying no when it comes to anything for children and yet, I purposefully do not reply at first to any emails that ask for volunteers unless I am excited about the opportunity. Often my volunteering was not because I wanted to but because I felt I should, so step away from that request and give it some real thought.

· Share ownership with students wherever you can. I often spent time on my prep and at the end of the day cleaning up our learning space, but now if the classroom is in disarray, I dismiss kids by table once it is cleaned up. I make sure we have enough time to clean up, so they are not late for their next class.

· Create a list of what really needs to be done: should do, can do, and would like to do someday. If you ever have extra time, refer to the list and see what you can tackle.

What else?  How do you lessen your own workload?

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.

authentic learning, being a teacher, being me, hopes, Reading, Reading Identity, Student Engagement, Student-centered, Virtual Learning, Writing Identity

Join Me in Our Patreon Community!

For the past 12 years, I have shared everything I could think of on this blog, on social media, and working with other educators. Every lesson shared, every question answered, every request sent to me has connected me to so many of you; I have been so grateful for your support of me, the Global Read Aloud, and the work I do.

For 12 years, I have worked tirelessly to help create change in education, to try to lighten the load as much as possible, and to continue this important work. And while that work will continue it is time for it to eveolve a little bit to give you an opportunity for more direct interaction so today I have also launched my Patreon page.

What will this community entail?

It will give us a way to collaborate in a new way, where you don’t have to wait for your district or school to hire me or be able to attend an event, but instead allow you to reach out, get support, and work together in accessible ways. It also will allow me to continue the work of the Global Read Aloud in a sustainable way. In fact, one of the tiers is meant as a way to just support the GRA!

Being a member will offer you access to virtual sessions, curated monthly booklists, specific breakdown of lessons and units, access to some of my presentations, as well as personal brainstorming sessions with me if you so choose. There will also be exclusive content, early access to new resources, monthly Q&As, as well as other opportunities for connections. You can even snag me for an hour-long brainstorming session for you or a small group of people!

With this access, you will get a chance to really tailor our opportunity to work together. You can have specific support from month to month, help co-create units and get the support to create change in your unique situation.

I am excited to have an opportunity to interact more organically and also be available to you for any specific questions and needs you may have.

If you find value in my work or have benefitted from it in, then I welcome you to be a part of the community on Patreon where the learning, discussion, and collaboration will continue. If you can’t, don’t worry, this page will still exist with occasional updates and 12 years of materials.

6 Tiers of Support to Choose From

There are 6 different levels for you to choose from, they all offer unique experiences and ways to support this work. All monthly work will kick off March 1st but there are already resources there to explore and help you.

To become a patron, go here.

I have already published the first post and access to my curriculum map, with more content to come. I am excited for what this community will allow us to do and how we can grow together, so welcome!

Thank you for your continued support.

Best,

Pernille

being me, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reading Choices…Again

I brought 4 books with me for our trip to my brother’s. 4 different books, in different sizes, with different worlds, hoping that at least one of them entices me into its world so that I can have a new book to book talk on Monday. 4 hopes to read, 4 hopes of time spent sitting in another world than the one we currently reside in. It is now Saturday and I have yet to crack open a page, yet to fall into the pages of a book, despite knowing I need to. Despite knowing that I won’t regret it if I just start. Despite knowing that it really won’t take me that much time to read if I just do it.

And yet…

The world continues to feel so heavy and the books still feel like work and so I push it off and think that perhaps a little later, I will take the time, make the space, find the energy. Perhaps if I just allow myself some rest then reading will not feel like such a chore.

I see this exhaustion in many of my students as well. That hope to read that just doesn’t happen. The knowing that they should read, that they will like it if they do, that if they just get started then it will not feel like such a huge obstacle. That the books look good but…

So they gravitate toward shorter books, fast-paced action books that take you to the edge of your seat right away. They grab our novels in verse telling me that this is what they need right now to feel transported. That the sparse words allow them to focus. The graphic novels and illustrated chapter books pass from hand to hand, children snuggling in with illustrations that call their names. From re-reading Dogman, to eagerly waiting for the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid, from finding old series they read before, to shorter books, fewer words, and not ones that feel so heavy, the kids are reading as best as they can.

And I get it. My own reading life has mainly consisted of the same diet of fast-paced, shorter books. Of incredible graphic novels. Of books without death. Of romance and “easy reads.” And the longer books sit on my shelf waiting for the day that I feel I have the space to take them on again. Who knows when that will happen?

I hear other educators lamenting the fact that kids are not reading as much as they used to. That the kids are reading books that are too easy. That the kids are not doing reading right, again, and that surely what is needed is more accountability, less choice, and more rigor. That if the kids are not reading what some have deemed as proper reading material then surely we just need to increase the demand so they can understand how serious we are. Remove the Diary of a Wimpy Kids. Stop booktalking graphic novels. Stop allowing free choice, when we know so much better. We have to get “back to normal” and in that normal, we take on serious topics and read long books. We grow up a bit and let go of the graphic novels. It is time to move, to get back to it, to challenge ourselves.

But perhaps the world is challenging enough. Perhaps the world doesn’t allow us much space to laugh? To sit with friendly pictures rather than frightening ones. Perhaps the world has not let up its relentless battering for so long that we barely can catch our breath. And perhaps those books we are so quick to push kids away from allow us to finally breathe. To rest. To find peace. To giggle. To fall slowly back into a routine of reading that seemed paused for so many of us.

And so I urge us all to consider the emotions attached to the act of reading. To the space we need in our life to take on reading. To the readiness we need to fall into the pages of a book and stay there. To honor the choices of the children we teach because as long as they are reading, they are reading.

We hoped for a return to familiar lands in this pandemic. We hoped for a reprieve, for the world to stop shifting below our feet, so have we considered how books that we choose ourselves provide us that beginning?

So let them read what they choose to, again. Let them fall into the pages they have read before, again. Let kids consider what they can make space for, again. And withhold your urgency to push for more, for harder, for longer, again. Kids know what they need, much like we do when we choose our own books. So honor their choices, even if they do not make sense to you, again.

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.

being a teacher, being me

Perhaps Like Me

I have been meaning to check in on here, to write out words that do not carry the weight of the world within them, and yet every night, as I fall asleep before 9 PM, I am left with no words, no energy, no reason to share what we are doing because all of my energy seems to be centered in merely existing as this year unfolds.

We thought that last year would be hard, and yet this year, with its intangible difficulties, with its ever-present pressure to continue to just figure it out, has snuck up on me and my family in a way I could have not imagined. How do you maintain a sense of family when you barely see each other beyond the dining room table and guiltily still put your own children to bed around 8 PM just so that you can try to catch up on the sleep that seems to never be caught?

Perhaps, you find yourself in a similar situation. Unable to quite explain to others why this year is harder than the last and yet wish that you could so that perhaps someone could you give you an answer of what to do instead? Because you have tried to change the way you teach, you have adapted, differentiated, cut back, raised up, and lessened the load. You have sought out the experts that graciously share their knowledge, eager to give as much as they can even as they don’t have to navigate the everyday realities of teaching during an ongoing pandemic and you wonder how much they really can know. Perhaps, like me, you have read books, listened to podcasts, browsed social media, and stared in awe as others seem to be functioning just fine, and wondered what is wrong with you and this exhaustion that creeps itself into everything you don’t do. Perhaps, like me, you have tried to make space for self-care but realized that even there you run out of time. And so the guilt intensifies because now you cannot even care for yourself well so how are you ever to be trusted with the care of others?

And perhaps like me, you stand in your classroom, surrounded by incredible children, and realize that this is not the root of the exhaustion but everything that waits outside of the door is. That these kids, these brilliant, resilient, vivacious kids, are not the reason for the despair but one of the only things that combat it. That if you are feeling this way then how do the kids feel? And you see it in the dragged footsteps of your own children as you get them out of bed, in their short responses when you ask what homework they have, in their pleas to please stay home just so we can be together. The world changed and yet we are expected to go on as if it hasn’t because we have so much to do.

And the tiredness is pervasive. It shows up when you check your email and see one more helpful tip or additional thing to do. It shows up when you are told of the professional development that must still be completed even though you know that you have developed yourself more in the last 20 months than you ever had before in your teaching career and no official recognition happened for that. It shows up when you are expected to be evaluated this year and it makes you want to laugh because you are certain this year is not the year to think of the future because you can barely keep up with the growth you have already been forced through. And how are administrators supposed to find time for that anyway? It shows up when your community is at odds with schools at the center because of what they say you do or don’t do to indoctrinate children

Yet the world keeps spinning and we are told to not only continue to do the near-impossible; catch them up, fill the gap, change your teaching, change the world, but also to take care of ourselves, to rest, meditate, and go for walks. To consider how every action we do charts our course for the future. And you try, and you fail, and you feel like it will never be enough, and yet you show up the next day and try again. Because that’s what we do. We try again, even if we no longer know what to try or how we can find the energy for again.

And we will do so until we break because that is what the system has trained us to do.

So in this quiet moment of this Saturday without plans, I urge us all to also recognize that the new normal is being shaped right now and that unless we collectively raise our voices and push back on the increased workload, the increased pressure to get back to what was a broken before, this will be the norm. That this feeling that so many of us carry of not being enough, of exhaustion, will be the feelings that shape the teaching professions even more so for years to come. And it wasn’t like teaching was an easy profession to begin with.

So perhaps, like me, you don’t need more to do but less. For someone to remind you that we are doing hard things every day. That the kids in our care are doing hard things every day. Of how we inch by inch are building a new normal and how we need to be in charge of what that normal looks like alongside the kids in our care. That if we do not continually remember how broken the system was to begin with then surely we will try to glue back together the pieces even as the cracks show.

And so I remember how important boundaries are, of how it cannot all be placed on the shoulders of educators because that was never what our job was supposed to be. Of the power of saying no, guilt-free. Of the power of raising your voice and pushing back. Of saying enough. Of recognizing that there is only so much you can do and that does not make you a bad educator but instead a realistic one. Of knowing that every day the biggest gift we can give to the kids in our care is to be fully rested, to be fully present in order to recognize that no, the problem is not just you, it is the very system we reside in, one that we have a chance to shape into something better than it was before but not if we don’t push back on the things being forced upon us now. So rest up and raise your voice when you can. I know I will.