Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

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

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

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

About how it doesn’t all add up.

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

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

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

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

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

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

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

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

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


being me

What Did You Want to Be This Year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being me

Dear @Pink

Dear Pink, or should I call you Alecia?

You don’t really know me, not much any way, not unless you count the few minutes last night that we met in a back hallway in the Fiserv Forum as you hugged my little girl, Thea, who is not so little any more, and told her about your own experiences with bullying and how we could not let them win.

I was Mama, the woman who stood there with tears in her eyes, not quite sure that the scene that unfolded in front of her was real. Not quite sure how we went from sitting in a seat waiting for you to come onstage, fulfilling one of our bucket list items together, to standing here in your presence. Trying to decide in that moment whether we deserved to be here with you, you who have given so much of yourself to the world already. You who fight for the under dog. You who say the words that so many of us want to but sometimes don’t have the courage to. Yet here we were, living out a dream, neither one of us had ever contemplated.

You saw my tweet celebrating that the bullies had not won. That we were going to use your concert as a way to celebrate that no matter what words they flung at Thea, no matter how hard they pushed, how hard they hit, how many times they chanted all of those ugly things, they would not win. That they did not win.

And so you gave us the most valuable thing you have; your time, and for those few minutes, you changed our lives, cementing a course we had already begun, but gave us the push to keep going. You saw us in our quietest but biggest moment of reclaiming. You saw us face those words that had kept us awake for so many nights. You saw the tears of what it feels like as a parent to not be able to defend your child, to not be able to make your child believe what you shout loudly all the time, you saw the love that we have for our children and how we would do anything to build them up.

But what you didn’t see last night after you gave us your time, was how Thea reacted. How at first, she couldn’t believe it. Neither of us could. After all, who would think that a tweet would lead us to hugs and talks to you? How we kept telling ourselves that this was real, that this had happened, that you were exactly what we thought you would be – passionate, caring, real.

But what you didn’t see last night, was my little girl, who like I said is not so little anymore, feel like she was truly somebody worthy. Feel like the past year, with all of its anger and tears was no longer her year, was no longer her defining moment. Was no longer the story she was writing.

What you didn’t see last night was when you talked about Thea on stage and then sang the song we had yelled at the top of our lungs so many times at home, that Thea had tears in her eyes. My girl, who does not cry unless she is hurt badly or very tired, stood their singing along with you from section 116, row 14, seat 1, screaming your words back at you, telling you that she believed it too.

Because that’s what meeting you did for her. It allowed her to believe that the words were meant for her. That all those times we sang “…change the voices in your head, make them like you instead…” we meant it. That those words were real and true and everything I , as her mother, wanted her to believe.

So when you sang, “Pretty, pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel, you are less than, less than perfect…” Thea reached for my hand, squeezed and then turned toward the world and sang. She knew the words were hers but sang loudly for the rest of the world to hear them as well. For all those kids who need those words. For all of the adults, including me, her mama, who needs them too.

So dear Pink, thank you. Not just for making the embers of what Thea is turn into a fire. Not just for giving us your time. Not just for being you and fighting for us all. But for telling Thea that what the bullies had tried to make her believe was simply not true. For allowing Thea to take a moment to tell you how she admires you. For telling Thea that she was beautiful.

And for giving me the reminder that we can all be more like you. That as a teacher, I get to tell the kids that are in my care every day, how amazing they are. How much they matter to the world. How with every moment I am with them, I can be like you, and help them see the beauty within themselves.

This morning as I drove Thea to school, she was unusually quiet. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she was so sad it was all over. That the night before had ended. But I realized that in that moment that she was wrong and I told her so.

I told her, “This is not the end, this is the beginning, your journey forward has just begun.”

And her smile came back and I dropped her off and I swear she floated as she walked.

So dear Pink, thank you. From one mama to another, thank you for what you did last night. Thank you for fighting for us all. Thank you for putting yourself out there so little girls, and not so little girls, can remember what it means to be unapologetically amazing. And for us who have been around a while to remember it too. We can be the light that shines on others. We can be the arms that reach out. We can keep going even when it burns because like we sang with you just last night, “…just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try…”

So that’s what we will do, keep trying. Keep believing. Keep living. Keep knowing that we are not broken, just bent…

Love,

Thea’s Mom

Be the change, being me

On Forgiveness…

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I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness. Not so much forgiveness in the sense of feeling at peace with the world, but instead the forgiveness we sometimes lack in education; the forgiveness of ourselves. While we spend our days often forgiving others for the things they say, the things they do, the slights that are bound to happen when we work with and around other human beings, we seem to forget to give ourselves the same treatment. To realize at the end of the day that we, too, are only human, and that as humans the best we can do is the best we can do.

I think of forgiveness more often as the days tick closer to yet another break in an already tumultuous winter. With all of the days off, with the weather driving us inside more than ever, we never quite seemed to settle into the lull of the winter routine, where we find comfort in the small moments shared within our learning spaces. Where we find comfort in the trust we have placed within the community to allow us to be the people we are. Instead, it felt rushed at times, forced at times, and sometimes as if we had altogether forgotten what the community that we had painstakingly built up really felt like.

And so as the children we work with at times seem to push us away harder than ever before, I have spent many nights reflecting on what else I can do. What else we can do? What now? What next? And I will admit, there are simply nights where I have come up shorthanded. Where I have realized that my bag of tricks has run dry and that for right now, there is nothing more new I can try to re-engage a disengaged child. There is nothing new I can try to help a child stay engaged, help a child learn, help a child read a book. It is a hard thing to swallow. After all, we are supposed to work daily miracles within our rooms, never giving up on a child, never resting until every child is learning, every child is reading, every child sees value in what we do, what we are together.

And yet, sometimes we don’t work miracles. Sometimes even the best of ideas fail. Sometimes the team cannot brainstorm anything else to to try. Sometimes even what has worked for every child before this one, fails. And we carry that failure with us as yet another added weight in already heavy load. We carry that failure as if it means that we have failed all of the children we teach, as if we will never be a good educator again.

Those who work on the fringes of education, those who sit in power, may tell us that the fault lies within us, the educators. That if we only gave more choice. That if we only gave more freedom. That if we only gave students more space to be who they are and not who we want them to be, then, then….they surely would learn. That if we just brought in more technology, if we only let them lead, if we only gave them the reigns, then, then…they surely would thrive. And yes, those truths ring loudly, that has been the journey I have been on with my students for the past nine years. There is so much to be gained when we have freedom, when education focuses around the individual and not around the group, when the explorations we do are led by students, created by students, and valued by students. There is so much to be gained when we create equitable spaces that are focused on the humanity of each individual and not just tests, homework, and grades.

Yet to always fault the educator with no mind for what is already in place is to dismiss the larger problem. That true education is a collaboration. That for students to really be invested in learning, they have to first be invested, and yes, that means feeling safe enough to invest. That we can provide amazing opportunities for self expression and for some kids it is simply not enough, right now.

So this week, I realized that I am only human and that perhaps others needed to forgive themselves too. That at some point, stepping away from a child who has actively refused every single opportunity we have provided to learn, to change the system, to engage somehow, is the only next step we have at that moment. And that stepping away does not mean giving up. That stepping away, for now, does not mean that that child cannot learn, that that child cannot re-engage, that that child cannot find meaning. But it does mean that right now, I am not the teacher they need, I need time to come up with new ideas, and I need to be okay with that. That perhaps what we all need is a break once in awhile to remind ourselves that we are not meant to be saviors, but instead the bringers of opportunities. And sometimes that means stepping away and forgiving ourselves.

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 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

To the Moments

This is not a revolutionary post. One that will echo through our chambers as it brings forth the message of new. This is not radical, nor groundbreaking, but instead a gentle reminder to the world at large of what the small things can really do.

That when we take a moment, the moment, to say thank you, to acknowledge, to praise, the ripples that emanate may just one day turn into waves. May make the difference between a child who felt school was unsafe now is a place for her after all.

That when we go out of our way, come back to the way, of what it means to see how a child is trying, how a child is doing, what a child wants to be, we may just remind them that they are, indeed, all we need them to be.

So this is a thank you to the smiles and the hi’s. To the people who stand outside their classrooms, their offices, their schools and busses and every day greet the people with the loudest hello they can.

To the notes and the postcards, to the gotcha’s, and high fives. To the praise that matters and the shoulders that carry. To the scoot in’s and scoot overs. To the “Are you ok’s?” “I got this” and “Any time…” To the hugs, the goodbye’s, the thank you’s and taking the time. Every time. Any time.

A thank you to the quiet moments and the not so quiet. To the questions, the laughs, the aha’s and uh-oh’s.

But most of all, thank you to the people who saw our daughter for everything she was and not everything some wanted her to believe. Today, through your recognition, she started to believe it a little bit more, that she, too, is somebody worthwhile. Today, she saw for the first time in a really long time, what we have never lost sight of. A kid that matters. A kid that matters to others. A kid that is somebody.