being me

Good Enough

We got the news last Sunday at 2 PM, while we were standing at our public library, stocking up just in case. “Schools are closed until April 6th.” The two days of goodbyes we had planned for getting food, devices, and books to kids no longer an option. Of giving phone numbers and reassurances. No “see you later,” no clean out your locker, no what do you need? Nothing.

So, as parents, we went home and did what we do best; plan. Create a schedule for the very next day where some sort of home learning would have to happen. Try to explain to our own kids, ages 6, 7, 7 and 11, what this meant. Answer their questions in a factual way without scaring. Try to come to grip with this new unprecedented reality. Take a deep breath and simply do the best we can.

We have been doing the best we can since then.

We all have.

And now as we face schools being closed indefinitely, we will continue to do so.

Yet the best we can is very much dependent on the day. Yesterday, I felt on top of the world. My kids did their academic work we have scheduled for an hour each day. They invented adventures together, I baked a cake with my son and it tasted good. I wore earrings as I prepped for my Facebook Live in our Passionate Readers community. The kids liked dinner. We laughed, we danced, we went outside, and we learned things about the world, letting our curiosity guide us. This whole deal – we got this.

But today, my kids slept in, they didn’t want to get up. They decided it was pajama day. They decided that they didn’t have to follow the rules of math that have been around for thousands of years because they “don’t like them.” They didn’t want to hold their pencils right, or trace the words, or read because “reading is stupid.” They couldn’t do their enrichment packets sent from their schools because all of the instructions are in Spanish, and their dad and I don’t speak Spanish. They left a mess in the kitchen, upended my teaching supplies, and decided that they were done. Just in general done. As my son exclaimed, “I hate the Coronavirus.”

And so I tried different methods, and I took a deep breath and tried again, and I gave them choice, and I gave them rewards, and I listened to their feedback, and I chunked it out, and I problem solved with them.

But the learning; that still wasn’t happening.

Despite having the tools. Despite having the time. Despite being an experienced teacher. Despite being able to provide a life filled with privilege when it comes to the basic needs of us all.

And so I yelled, even though I knew better. I shared my frustration because even though I am the adult; the world seems really scary to me right now too. Because my worries are stopping me from sleeping; I am the lone income in my family and while I am grateful for my teaching job, with my extra work all being cancelled, the threat of financial insecurity is real. I am worried about my students. I am worried about the community that is lost. I am worried for our economy. For all of the many inequities we see play out and how it will affect the future we are looking toward. And the worries are real even though I know they are not helpful, and much like my kids, I am just trying to do my best.

And the yelling did nothing. Only splintered the day more. Instead, I stepped back, let my husband take over and crafted a new plan.

So today, we are doing recess. We are doing art. We are doing bike rides. We are doing reading if we want. Games if we want. Videos if we want.

And we are going to call it good enough for today. Good enough for right now because right now is all I can influence.

And so I share this as reminder; that what we are doing right now is not homeschooling.

That we cannot ask the adults who care for our students to become teachers overnight. That we cannot ask adults who are carrying the weight of their families on their back to also shoulder the responsibility of becoming their teachers.

That as schools plan for this remote/virtual/online learning that we are all expected to be able to do now, that we cannot for one moment think that it is going to be like school. That even if we invent amazing learning adventures to go on using online services, those websites may not be able to handle all of our traffic. That even if we provide devices and hotspots that doesn’t make our learning equitable. That we cannot ask our students to sit in front of screens for hours each day, trying to patch together what would have been the learning we would have done together. That we cannot expect our students to be in a healthy place for learning. That even if we send home work to do, it may not get done. And we need to be okay with that.

Because we are not together. Because we are not there to support. We are not even there to hand out paper, or pencils, or ideas if needed. So how can we expect those at home to take over?

What we can do though is simple; be ready. Be ready to pick up the pieces and help the students that return to us wherever they are in their learning journey. Be ready for push back. Be ready for the reality of what this new path will look like. Be ready to be okay with good enough. Be okay with being partners and not always leaders.

Because right now is maintenance. Keeping kids in the game of learning. Of drilling down to the most important essence of what education can be; community, connection, relevance, and grace.

That while the adults surrounding our students are facing an unsafe world, we need to make sure we do not do more harm than good. That we push back against district mandates that will further inequities. That we keep our reality in stark focus so we don’t add further stress to an already unpredictable world.

Right now is not normal, and nothing we invent or create or implement will make it normal. So perhaps like I had to, we all just need to take a deep breath and be okay with good enough for now.

And my kids? Well, I have recess to go do. A new adventure awaits and tomorrow we try again.

Take care, I’m here to help.

being a teacher, being me, conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

What’s Important in Your World – A Small Question to Boost Conferring

I have been having small conversations with students. Isn’t that what teaching is in so many ways? Much like we live life in the moments in between the big, we teach in the moments in between the big as well, the big assignment, the best draft, the presentation. We go throughout our day using our voice to connect, our bodies to show our listening, our eyes to show we care. We seek out those moments in between hello’s and goodbye’s to make sure that with us, these kids, our kids, feel seen, challenged, and cared for.

So in thinking about how I could structure more conversation to build trust, I have been starting each reading conference with a simple yet meaningful question. Inspired by Sara Ahmed’s work in Being the Change, after I have asked them how their night was, how their day is going, I then ask, “What is important to you in your world right now?” It took some finessing with the question, in some conversations it flows seamlessly and the students latch onto it and take it in the direction they need it to go. Others ask for clarification which I typically bumble through, but what it shows me each time, is that continued need to connect that drives everything we do in room 203.

That there is still much to be done.

That all of the community we think we have built is still not enough. That each child is still carrying so much within them that ties in with their day, their mood, their thoughts, their actions, their dreams. From the worries about homework as the end of the quarter nears, to friendship issues they are navigating. From coming to terms with sports ending and figuring out what else to use their time on, to not quite knowing what to do with something they know, these kids take that question and allow us one more glimpse into their lives. One more way to build a way for them to trust us with the emotions that are tied into the work we are doing.

Because I can start a conversation asking just about their book.

Because I can start a conversation getting right to the skill.

Because I can start the conversation by asking what they are working on as a reader.

Because I can start the conversations moving into the work as quickly as possible.

But what that will never do is build the kind of trust we need to have with each other when kids tell me how they really want to grow. Why they worry about reading. Why they worry about writing. Why they worry about being in a community where some seemingly don’t understand them. Why they worry about grades, about the future, about the news.

So for now our conferences are taking a little bit longer. So for now, I am not quite sure how the conversation will go. I am not sure when we will get to the work they are doing as readers. But we will and we do.

But before then. Before that.

I get a tiny glimpse into their world and isn’t that what teaching is also about in so many ways? A tiny glimpse so we can help them capture the world the way they want to.

It is for me.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, 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 me, new year

Here’s to Life in the Mundane

Seated around the breakfast table with our kids this morning, it was hard to not get wistful for a moment. To take a moment to appreciate the last decade, the wonder of the ten years that have passed, a decade that brought us three more kids through the miracles of medicine. A decade that started with me in my second year of teaching, ready to give up on it all but instead beginning a blog, which led to a book and then three more books, and then to travels around the world trying to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. A decade shaped by new friendships but also lost ones. Of more love, of new wrinkles, of back problems and first world privilege. And a year that was for the most part uneventful in the best of ways, a year that came in quietly and leaves us in a flurry. As the kids made funny jokes, threw mini tantrums, and we celebrated Thea’s 11th birthday, we asked what they loved the most about the last year. What stood out?

A few things were crowd favorites; travels to Costa Rica , Taiwan, and New York, going to school and starting new classes (phew), getting Piglet, our hedgehog after many months of research. All extraordinary events that shaped our year. Events out of the ordinary. Events that we counted down to, saved up for, commemorated in our albums of pictures. And yet, it was in the moments after that my thoughts gathered. The little moments that make our years, the routine and ordinary. The life lived in the mundane that truly shaped this year.

Taking long walks with Brandon as we contemplated our lives and tried to figure out the everyday trials and triumphs of parenting.

Reading books in small moments, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Text messages received from family and friends. Emails, phone calls, and letters.

A fresh cup of tea awaiting in the kitchen when I came home.

A car with heated seats, finally.

Friday movie nights ensuring us that our love of Star Wars was dutifully passed on.

Bike rides.

Pool time naps.

Quiet work time before the students show up.

Thea trying out a new sense of humor.

Ida discovering her dyslexia super strength.

Oskar making sure to say I love you.

Augustine deciding that school is fun even it is work.

Saying thank you. Saying please. Saying yes.

This is when we lived. These are the moments that have shaped us. That will continue to shape us. All of the everyday decisions and breaths that we take that make up our entirety.

And while 2020 will carry many extraordinary events into our lives; Brandon’s graduation with a degree as a tech ed teacher (need a teacher in your school?), my 40th birthday, travels to Iceland and Puerto Rico, Thea starting middle school, it will be in the mundane that we live. In the moments for small contemplations. In the moments of quiet. Of loud. Of sameness, routine, and commitment. Of embarking on a year of yes and more. Of stretching ourselves to the fullest when we can and retracting when we want to. Of looking up, as Joanna Gaines, reminds me to do, of soaking it all in, of shutting down and tuning in. Commitments to a life best lived not in the magnificent margins but in the everyday extraordinaires.

I am so grateful for 2019, for a life lived in the daily. Perhaps our paths will cross?

A quiet moment with a cup of tea in the middle of the rainforest in Costa Rica

authentic learning, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning

Re-thinking Our Learning to Infuse More Joy and Choice

One of many things I love when on break is the chance to simply reconnect with amazing people, and when said amazing people are fellow educators, you can bet that it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to how to make the educational experience better for all kids.

After dinner, I was left thinking about how often we get so caught up in all that we need to do that so many of those grand ideas, the ideals we dreamt up this summer or whenever we have room to be inspired seem to be forgotten as the year starts and the pressure resumes. That while we implement many things, tweak many others, there are many notions and ideas that simply don’t happen. And who can blame us? There are so many days that I am just keeping my head afloat trying to stay a few steps ahead of the students in order to create and sustain relevant educational experiences.

Last night, the conversation turned to joy and play. How little there seems to be purposefully implemented throughout especially older students’ daily routines in school. How the minute they come to us in the upper years there are few opportunities for infusing joy and allowing more creative approaches to learning. And while both of those concepts are foundations of learning I hold dear, I also look back at my own curricular choices for the year and see how easily those two tenets of learning get siphoned away as I feel the need to do more, dig deeper, and make sure that the learning is “serious.” However, the siphoning itself relies on a untruth – joy and creative choice does not equate easier learning and is serious business, in fact, often purposefully creating moments for joy and creative choice requires a broader commitment and self-reliance within the learning happening. So with this in mind, I have done some restructuring of a few upcoming units and also rededicated efforts in other places, so what might that look like coming up in room 203?

The main questions I focused on in my reflection is: how might this spark joy and engagement and how do students have creative choice?

Re-committing to picture books. I usually read a lot of picture books aloud to my 7th graders and also use them in a variety of ways throughout our curriculum and yet, this year, I feel like with the busyness of it all, picture books have been less of a central tenet to us. It’s time to change that. In a little more than a week we kick off our Mock Caldecott unit for the year, a two week investigation into twelve incredible picture books for the year that will lead into a persuasive speech in which students will try to sway others to their choice of winner of the Caldecott. Reading picture books together is something that we already see as joyful and doing it in small groups will hopefully bolster that. Creative choice comes in how students want to persuade their peers – how will they deliver a message that is persuasive in nature and which tools will they use?

Bringing back our immersion project. Two years ago, I did an extended genius hour project in which students got to pick something to learn for themselves in order to teach others about it through a mini-lesson. This consisted of identifying an area to immerse themselves in and then spending time figuring out how to create an enticing lesson for others to learn from them. The topics were broad: How to do a card trick properly, what integration methods are necessary to integrate any function and how are they used, how do you play guitar and so on? These were all catered to student interests and were very broad on purpose. We then infused note-taking skills, how to find sources to teach them how to do the skills, and how to engage an audience in order to help them understand a concept, as well as created a speech rubric in order to practice public speaking. This year, I will finetune it with a few more scaffolds for those who are not sure what they would like to teach, as well as opportunities to tandem-research. This project sparked a lot of joy the first time we did it because students got to self-select their learning, immerse themselves into something they found relevant, as well as show off their knowledge in a fun way. There was a lot of natural choice embedded throughout.

Re-thinking our TED talk unit. Every year, the students get an opportunity to create a TED talk on a chosen topic and then give it to the class, and while the unit itself is solid, I want to spend more time helping students choose topics that they are invested in already. This year many of our students have expressed a deep interest and commitment to social justice work, as well as the overlooked history we have explored. This will, therefore, be my starting point in reminding students of what they already know and which questions they may have to push their thinking further. So often we push students into new learning without realizing how much work it is to research and then synthesize and process all of the information into a brilliant short speech. With the re-introduction of our immersion project, I want to implement more time for students to dive into their identity and what they are already interested in so that their TED talk work can be more focused on filling in knowledge gaps, rather than starting all over with research. This will also be an opportunity to jump into persuasion, how advertisement plays on our biases, and how we are influenced by social media. Choice plays into topic, as well as the angle they want to take in their talk.

Asking for more student input and taking the proper time for it. In the Enriched English class I teach, we have 6 vocabulary lessons consisting of 25 vocabulary words each that we need to somehow process, understand, and implement into our vocabulary. While I have gamified it in the past and also allowed for choice in how students show mastery, I have never really loved what we did. The words seem like a chore no matter how I spin it This year, I plan on showing students the vocabulary and then having them come up with opportunities for how we can learn it together. While there will undoubtedly be traditional methods for students to choose from such as rote memorization with a quiz, I also want to give them the opportunity to come up with other methods for learning that they will be able to choose from as we move into the vocabulary. While I already try to get as much student input as possible, I feel it often gets rushed, so this is a reminder for me to slow down and let it take the time it takes, and this goes for all classes, not just the Enriched English class.

Re-committing to free writing. We have been dabbling with free-writing throughout the year but due to book clubs in December, we changed our process. While students continued to write on their own, the community piece was lacking and so as we enter into January, I want to bring back the prompts and self-selected choice and the time to then share the creations we have. I also want to bring back the notion of playing with writing that so often gets lost as we write. Students so often fear that they have to write great pieces every single time which is an incredibly damaging notion for anyone trying to work through the emotions of writing and so I want to model my own not-so-great writing that tends to happen when we do a free-write. Students don’t need perfect role models, they need real ones.

Skyping with authors. Talking with actual authors is magical at any age and the advent of World Read Aloud Day reminded me to sign up to bring authors into our classrooms more. This is something I used to do a lot but once again seem to have gotten away from. I cannot wait for students to hear from Kevin Sylvester, Juana Martinez-Neal and Ishta Mercurio as they discuss their writing process.

Participating in Global School Play Day again. I love this initiative created by Scott and Tim Bedley with the idea to infuse more play into schools again. I have done this day before with 7th graders and while I am not able to do it the day it is scheduled for this year, I will do it instead on February 7th where students will get all of English to simply play with each other. You should sign up as well.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I am glad to be bringing this lens back to our work together this year to hopefully create experiences where it is not just students learning from me, but more from each other. Where there is more cooperative problem solving, more relevance, and more choice. Where maybe, just maybe, students can think of English class as a class that is meaningful to them beyond developing a love of reading and writing and helping them find themselves. Who knows, but I will keep trying.

I posted the following question on Twitter last night and the responses are definitely worth checking out – so many great ideas for infusing more play and creativity into our work.

And now I ask you as well; how will you restructure or continue to reinforce the notion of play and creative choice in your class these upcoming months?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, 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 me, New Adventure, new year

Embarking on a Year of Yes

December 1st…

Chocolate calendar opened. Candles burning bright. Christmas tree up and presents are starting to appear below it as we think back on the year that was and the look forward to the year that will be. To the year I turn 40, to the 10th year of this blog.

For the past year, I said no a lot, focusing on my family as my husband enters his final year of his education degree – I cannot wait for him to graduate in a year! As my kids settled into new routines, as we worked through another diagnosis for one of the children. No to anything extra that would take my focus away from my family, away from my classroom. And I loved it, mostly, it was wonderful to have time to breathe and time to re-prioritize. But…and there’s always a but. I missed out on great opportunities to learn. On meeting new people. On exploring new facest of my life that I otherwise would have grown from.

So with the blessing of my husband, I am embarking on a year of “yes.” On saying yes to as much as I can manage, on saying yes to new collaborations, to new adventures, to new learning. On saying yes when it feels like a great fit either personally or professionally. On saying “yes” when it feels as if I can help in some way.

While it will not be yes to everything, after all, I am only human and do not want to work all of the time, it will be a lot more yes than no, a lot more let’s try than no thanks. A time to perhaps write another book, to blog when I can, to learn as much as I can.

So this is my invitation to the world; whether it’s for collaboration, working with other teachers or speaking at a conference, whether it is trying a new idea, meeting new people, doing interviews or reflecting through something, whether it’s for friendship or some other thing, send your idea my way. Reach out, send an email, come say hi if our paths cross.

Welcome to the year of yes, I cannot wait to see what happens.

To contact me, please go here https://pernillesripp.com/about/

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, 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

achievement, being me, Reading, Reading Identity

My Daughter Will Not Be Left Behind

Our daughter’s annual IEP meeting is coming up. It’s a big one, she is headed to middle school next year and this is the document that is meant to wrap her in protection. To make sure that she still gets the services that her numerous teachers have offered her through the years as we have watched her grow from barely reading to where she is now. It has been a long process, I have documented it on this blog, and yet the growth has been there because of the people who have seen her for more than a reading score. For more than a reading level. Who have sat with her, countless hours, and asked her to read, to explain, to try, and taught her new ways to look at the pages and find meaning. Who have seen her whole process as a reader as something to pay attention to, and not just her comprehension. Here as a human being. We owe so much to the teachers that have had her in their care. Who, like us, know and believe that the best we can do for kids who are vulnerable in their learning is to put highly qualified professionals in front of them in order to see the child and not just the disability, the lack of, the less than. To keep their dignity and humanity at the center of all of our work.

So imagine our surprise when we were told that in middle school her reading growth would be measured using Lexile. A computer test will test her throughout the year and progress will be reported to us this way. After we made sure we heard correctly, we told them that that would not be acceptable. We know our rights as parents when it comes to an IEP. Her meeting is next week, I know we will come to a solution with her team because that’s how they are.

And yet, what about all those kids who do not have someone fighting for them? Who do have people fighting but no one listens? Whose parents or caregivers are not even invited into those conversations because our assumptions about them have shut the door? Whose parents or caregivers do not know why Lexile is problematic? Why trusting a computer to spit out a test score is problematic? Why basing a child’s reading instruction which inevitably becomes part of their (reading) identity on what a computer test tells you is problematic? Why, once again, removing experts, trained professional, from the equation is problematic? Why reducing a child to a score is problematic?

And it keeps happening to our most vulnerable kids. The kids we worry about and then have no problem putting in front of a computer who will not understand the nuances of their thinking, the way they reached an answer, or even give them enough time to think about it. But sits there, waiting for an algorithm to be complete, in order to supposedly tell us everything we need to know. And we base our instruction on this? And we base our assumptions on this?

We are in the business of human beings and yet how often do we, educators, say yes, or are forced into, instructional components that have nothing to do with valuing children as people. Education says yes to the easy. Education says yes to the packaged. Education says yes to the computer. To the limitations. To the less-than-equal instruction, because it might save us time, it will make us more efficient, it will make us all achieve, but it doesn’t. Because the kids who continue to strive are left behind while we pour our human resources into the kids that can.

My daughter will not be left behind. She will not be left behind a computer screen. Or behind layers of inequity that would rather dehumanize her than provide equity in the deepest way we can; human power, human potential. Because we will fight. But it’s not enough for me as a parent to just fight for her. Because this is a story that plays out loudly in so many places. How else can we mobilize and try to break the cycle of inequity that has always been a part of our system? That has always been based on creating further inequalities and separating the kids who can from the kids who can’t. A system that continues to protect those whose circumstances allow them access to more opportunities, better opportunities, and offer nothing but band-aids to the kids who need so much more than that. And I am supposed to be okay with that.

On Monday, we meet and while I will gladly pull out research and offer alternatives, I also know that it won’t be a hard fight, not for me, because of my privilege as a white, college-educated, middle-class woman. Because of the quality of educators our daughter is surrounded by. But it shouldn’t have to be that way. I shouldn’t be able to game the system because of what I know. I shouldn’t have to raise red flags when those flags should have been raised before the program was even purchased. Before the first child was placed in front of that test. We owe to all our kids to do better. To fight and break the continued systems of oppression who function alive and well within our educational system. Which have created a system that can predict who will succeed before they even show up.

Right now, it’s my daughter who’s on the line, my miracle, but it could just as easily be any other child.They all deserve better.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, 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