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

On Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enoe is gorgeous and 10 minutes from our apartment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we can wait for the time to be right.

Or we can embrace the time that is now.

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

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

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

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

being me

On Moving Home 24 Years Later

It has been three weeks since we landed in Denmark, the country of my birth that I left 24 years ago for the US. Twenty one days of an absolute whirlwind of getting our kids enrolled in school, starting my new job, moving into our temporary apartment, buying furniture, battling jet lag, doing all of the documentation for my husband’s residence application, findings doctors and dentists, buying a broken car that we didn’t think was defective , and all of the many daily things that we do as parents to ensure that our four children feel like they are settled as well. Three weeks of the craziest to-do list I have ever worked through as an adult.

And I suppose that today the dust settled just enough for me to take a moment and take it all in, to surrender not to the to-do but to the to-be and while there has been so much joy surrounding this decision to uproot our entire lives to pursue a better future, today the sadness also hit me. Not just for those I left behind, who I miss so dearly, but for the me that I left behind as well.

I am not a teacher currently, couldn’t even get an interview when I tried. I am no one’s expert. I am no one’s close friend or confidante. Beyond the scope of my family, no one relies upon me to be in their immediate vicinity and help. I am not a go-to person for those I work with or trusted yet.

Because here in Denmark I am just Pernille. Just a Dane that moved away and now came back. Not a facilitator, coach, or expert in anything.


Just Pernille who doesn’t know how to do her job and has so much to learn. No one emails to collaborate. No invitations to go teach others. No opportunities to write, to learn, to grow besides the ones I carve out for myself.

You would think it might be freeing but it turns out it is really lonely. It feels scary. It feels like I have completely left so much of what I held valuable within my identity behind and have no idea whether I will ever get to be that again. And I miss it. A lot. More than I thought.

And so I think of the students in our care who show up new to us. Who perhaps also left so much behind with the previous teachers that they had meticulously built, who had a place and a space in their previous years that we know nothing of. Who are hoping we see their value, who are hoping we see their need to be seen. To be known. To be something more than just another kid we teach. How do we create opportunities for them to be known? How do we create opportunities for them not to feel less than but instead continue to build on the momentum they had?

We start with conversations and invitations. We listen more than we speak. We offer opportunities for genuine collaboration and for them to show off what they already are and what they already can do. And we ask questions about them and we offer opportunities for them to fill in the blanks on the questions we don’t even know to ask. And we plan for it because it cannot be left to chance.

Because starting over may be freeing in so many ways but it is also exhausting, even embarrassing at times when you don’t know how to act, when your sense of self is based upon things that are no longer present.

And so we sit together in the messiness of not knowing each other and recognize the power of the moment. We slow down enough so that we remember why we came together in the first place; not just to teach, but to learn. About the world, about ourselves, about each other.

And we give ourselves grace. We embrace all of the moments and all of the emotions. And we breathe and plan and adjust and readjust and hopefully inch by inch, or should it be centimeter by centimeter, we grow into this brave new world and continue our journey. Even if it feels overwhelming right now.

I know we made the right decision for our children to move home, not just for their future, but for their now. I hope it was also the right decision for us, their adults, I hope I find a place to fit in again. I hope I can be Pernille, someone who means something more, again.

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