being a teacher, books, community, Literacy, Passion, students

A Powerful Lesson in Book Choice and Discovery

image from icanread

I felt so guilty this morning planning final details of my lesson.  After all, we are three weeks into the quarter and there is so much to do already.  Three weeks and what have we really done?  And yet, the books had been piling up.  I had seen the students book hopping, abandoning at a rapid pace.  And I knew there were so many great books to share.  If only we did not have to do these other things.  If only we had the time.

So this morning, I realized that we needed to find the time.  That book shopping was not a luxury I could hope to get to but instead was a necessity.  And not in a hurried, five minutes at the start of class kind of way either.  Not in a “let’s fit it in quick so we can get to this other thing” kind of way.  No, we had the need to make book shopping THE thing to do today.  No matter what else we should have been doing.

They came in and immediately saw the piles of books; my favorite reads from the summer, brand new books that I haven’t even read, and some older favorites that I know they need to discover.  Right away, the questions started.  “What’s this?  Did you see this?”  As the students grabbed their readers’ notebooks, I interrupted their conversation.  “Come on over.”  And they did, surrounding me in the rocking chair as I read aloud the inspiring It’s A Book by Lane Smith.  I love reading this book aloud to older students because they always giggle and then look to me to see if I got it too.  And I do and I giggle too, and we marvel at the wonders of simply reading a book.

I asked them how they find new books to read and we brainstormed a list together.  Nothing extraordinary but a simple reminder to indulge in the art of looking for a book.  To take the time to truly go through the books and not just cast a glance at the cover and then make a decision.

They were itching to go. The books calling out for them and yet, I held them back for another few minutes as I book talked a select few books in each pile.  Already the students were writing down titles.

“I know Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan looks like a giant book, but the pages will fly by as you read.”

“You think that The False Prince is a good book, but then you get to page 88 and it becomes a book you have to read as quickly as you can to see what happens next. And did you know the same author wrote A Night Divided?

“In my hand I am holding the best book I have read so far this year.  Yes, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is really that good.”

Finally, I told them to take their time, that I would give them the whole class period if they wanted it.  And off they went.  Their papers clutched tightly and their hands reaching out for all the books.

I stood back, observed, and smiled.  Everywhere students were reading pages, sharing books, offering recommendations and scribbling down titles.  Questions floating through the air as students told each other why they had to read this one, or how they couldn’t wait to read this other one.  One child proudly showed me they had already found 10 titles to read and they knew they would find more.

As I walked around, the students came to me and offered up book recommendations, asking me to please write it down because they knew that so and so would love the book.  They asked me if they could book shop our regular shelves or if I knew of a book that was like this other one they loved?

As I stood there and observed, I realized that it was not merely book shopping that was happening in front of us.  It was the beginning of a community of readers.  Of students that want to talk about their books, that want to share the stories they love with others, and that cannot wait to read a book.  Not all of them, but many, and the others I will continue to work with.

We may not have gotten to that other lesson I thought we needed.  We may not have gotten all the work time we need for the first speech we are giving.  We may not even have had our independent reading time that we so ferociously protect.  Instead through the discovery of books, we really discovered each other.  I cannot wait to see where these communities will go next.

PS:  If you are wondering which books I book talked, many of them can be found right here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

being a teacher, building community, community, new year, students

They Are Not Mine…Yet

image from icanread
image from icanread

I almost know all of their names.  All 118 of them.  Not because I have some magical brain penchant for memorizing names and faces.  Not because they all wear name tags.  No.  Every night I have pored over their faces, trying to remember each one, trying to figure out who they are.  Because I still teach strangers.  Strangers that I am trying to establish a community with, strangers I am trying to get to trust me.

So this week has been about them.  About why they love or hate reading.  About how they see themselves.  About how they react to picture book upon picture book as we try to weave a common thread.  And it seems to be working.  Slowly.  The stories are gently coming, the nervous laughter disappearing.  The hand raised a little faster.  We have a long way to go but ever so slowly the seeds have been planted, the foundation is being laid.

So today I will do my name competition; do I really know all of their names after just 3 days?  I will read another picture book as I rock in my chair and they share the tattered bean bags.  I will thank them for the few days we have spent together and wish them a happy long weekend.  I will hope for a smile, a high five, and a farewell, knowing that hopefully some day I will get to take these things for granted.  I will hope for a hallway greeting, a quick goodbye before the bus comes.  Little things that show the relationship we have built.  Those things that I miss so much.

I don’t know my students.  Not yet.  But it will happen.  Even if it feels like they will never be our kids.  They will.  They just don’t know it yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

being me, community, new year, Passion

We Are Ready

She was born weighing less than 4 pounds.  So fast that the nurse caught her, no cries.  I didn’t see her until hours later when we both had been stabilized.  I didn’t hold her for another 24 hours and even then it was just for the briefest of moments, after all, anything could make her vitals crash.  Our youngest daughter Augustine was born almost 10 weeks early.  For 6 days prior the hospital tried everything they could to stop her from arriving, but as we now know; when Augustine is ready to do something, she does it.

A few days into their attempt to stop labor, a doctor from the NICU visited me.  He told me that while they were hoping that these words were unnecessary, that if she came, they were ready.  That if she came, they had a room, they had a team, and they would do everything in their power to help her grow.  That she would be in the best of hands because this is what they did and this is what mattered to them.  He then told me of the difficulties that premature babies sometimes face, and how we wouldn’t know for a few years exactly what she might face.  That there were brain development steps that might be harder for her, but if that was the case, then they were ready, they would help her grow.

it felt like I had never changed a diaper before with her
it felt like I had never changed a diaper before with her

I start school in two days.  Every parent that sends their child into our classrooms is hoping we are ready.  That we will help their child grow.  No matter their start in life, no matter their previous years, no matter their summer.  They hope that we have a team that is ready to support, to nurture, and to give whatever is needed for their child to be successful, to be happy, and even to be protected.

So I tell myself that I am ready.  That previous years are now in the past and what matters now is the year we have ahead of us.  That I cannot determine how that child came to us, but that we can work with the child that arrived.  That I will fight for every child.  That I will see every child.  That I will support every child as they try to reach their goals.  That I will support every child even if I am not quite sure of an answer or what help they might need.   It is the least I can do.

As I tried to sleep those nights in the hospital, hoping that by morning my labor had stopped, the doctor’s words ran through my head.  I knew that if she came early, she would be in the best of hands, and that they would do everything in their power to help her.  And they did, and she grew, and after 6 weeks she came home.  Now 20 months later and the hospital tells me that she is perfectly average.  Perfectly normal.  And that she should be just fine.  And I know that we are so lucky and I am so thankful.  Because they were right; they were  ready and so are we.  Ready for whichever kids show up this year.

All 4; we are so lucky.
All 4; we are so lucky.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, books, community, inspiration, Literacy, Passion

How I Select A Picture Book For Our Classroom

Yesterday a new student wandered into our classroom with his parent and younger siblings; locker drop off was happening in preparation for the first day of school.  As I looked up something for him, I heard them excitedly talk about the books in our room.  “Here’s that one that you wanted to read…Oh, do you remember this series….”  And then they saw the picture books.  After all, they are hard to miss.  Right away the comments came, “Oh, I loved this one…”  “Have you seen this one, that looks fun…”  And so forth and I smiled ever so wide, because picture books once again have proven to be a way to connect in our classroom.

But how do you pick the right ones for your classroom?  How do you know which ones to get?  I make lists, as do many others, but how do I even know which to put on the list?  I thought a few helpful tips may be in order.

I am connected.  I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter  I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there.  I follow hashtags like #Titletalk, #pb10for10 and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know.  And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.

I keep a written list handy.  I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag.  I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject.  This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.

I read them beforehand, most of the time.  Many times we will wander to the nearest book store so that I can  browse the books before purchasing them.  How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…

Do I react to it in any way?  A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions?  All of these are things that I look for.

Is it easy to follow?  Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly.  At least most of them.  However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.

Is the language accessible?  Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels ranges from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?

What purpose does it have?  I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self connections, or conversation starters.  We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year.  But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood.  I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.

Will we read it more than once?  Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again.  Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story.  Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.

Do we have other works by the author?  My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible.  Some of our favorites are Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Sometimes I just take a chance on a book.  Sometimes I have no rhyme or reason for  what I bring in other than a small feeling that some kid at some point will connect with it.  I never know which picture book my students will love, so sometimes I just sit back and let them explore and then pay closely attention.  Then I go out and get more of those.

And, of course, I cannot write a post discussing picture books without sharing a few of my new favorites or ones that I cannot wait to get.

Laugh out loud funny, The Pretty, Pretty Bunny by Dave Horowitz is in my first day pile for kids to choose from.

The Promise by Nicola Davies is a beautiful tale of making a difference.  This would also be great for a science classroom.

I cannot wait to get Finding Winnie – The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  I wonder how many students will love this tale of the real Winnie the Pooh.

Why do I have a feeling that Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum will become a favorite of my students?

Picture books are a part of our tapestry and something that I am proud we use in our middle school.  I hope being vocal about the benefit of using picture books with older students will help others take the jump.  I got to discuss more of this in this article here.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, being me, community, new year, Passion

Confessions of a Dream Crusher

We call ourselves the dream makers, the curiosity protectors, the people who will change education from within.  We see ourselves as open-minded, always willing to change, and always looking to do what is best for students.  We come to school on those first few days with dreams spilling out of our arms.  New ideas floating around our heads as we dream of the possibilities.  As we eagerly embark on a new journey.

Yet a few weeks in and our arms seem to be empty.  The dreams gone,  reality set in, and  we think, “Well, maybe next year will be the year we change education, maybe next year these dreams will work.”

We can blame politicians for crushing our dreams.  Sometimes we can even blame administration.  But more often than not the blame lies within our own communities, our own teams, and ourselves.   After all, how quick are we to dismiss the dreams of others before we even hear them out?  How often do we think that we know better than someone else?  How often do we make it a point to share just why something will not work.  Yet, we get upset when someone dares to tell us that our dream is impossible, that our idea will never work, but forget that we say those some words to others.

We are so quick to tsk tsk other people’s new ideas.  We are so quick to jump in with our own opinions, to share our own better ideas.  To not truly listen because in our minds we have already decided that that idea will never work.  We are so quick to burst the fragile bubbles of hope that we all bring back at the beginning of a new year.  As if bringing someone down to Earth is a good thing.

And we can blame society.  We can blame standardized testing.  We can blame the Common Core.  Or we can take responsibility for how we speak to others.  For how we judge.  For how quickly we dismiss.  We can stop crushing the dreams of others.

Schools starts in 10 days.  I will not be a dream crusher anymore.  I will not be the one that says that something cannot work.  I will not be the one that discourages others.  Instead, I will be the one that says, “How can I help?”  What will you be?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, community, parents

It Is Not Just Student Relationship We Should Worry About

Today our incoming 7th graders found out which teachers they will have.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are excited.  I hope they have heard wonderful things about our team.  I know we can’t wait.  Today was also the day that Thea, my now 1st grader, found out her teacher, a moment that was exciting yet filled with questions as well.  Will her teacher “get” her?  Will she love school?  Will this be another incredible school year for her?  What will my role be as a parent of a 1st grader?

For years I have tried to create a welcoming environment for all the people that are attached to our classroom.  For years I have tried, along with my team, to create spaces where parents/guardians can feel like they have a voice, are welcome, and also can engage in tough dialogue with us when needed.  It is something that we pride ourselves on because it has not just happened, we have had to work at it knowing that parent/guardian relationship is vital to a child’s success.   So I was dumbfounded when I came across an article titled “Ten Types of Parents that Teachers Secretly Hate.”  I read it  (I won’t link it here because I don’t feel like giving it traffic) and I was so disappointed in it.  Is this really what we as educators want to tell parents?  That we secretly hate them when they are involved in their child’s education?  That if they don’t follow our rules for engagement then we will complain about them behind their backs?  Is this even what we want to be told as parents?  That teachers secretly label us and hate some of us?

Yet, it wasn’t just the labeling of the various types of parents that upset me, it was the complete disregard for the cause behind this behavior.  There was no discussion of why a parent might be over-involved, might be absent, might be going straight to the principal rather than us.  There was no acknowledgement of what can lead to these types of parental behavior that we “secretly hate.”  No discussion of what a poor school experience can do to future relationships.

I have worked alongside many types of parents and guardians.  Some have been wonderful interactions, others have been tough.  Some led me to tears while others led to great moments of joy.  I am thankful for every single interaction I have had, even if it was a hard one, because each one has made me grow as a teacher.  And sometimes the hardest ones have been the ones I have grown the most from.

So before we assume that parents are a certain way to annoy us, to discount us, to somehow make our workdays harder, how about we assume that all parents/guardians want what is best for their child?  How about we assume that the reason they approach us in a certain way is because that is what they have had to do in the past? How about we assume that they may be absent because circumstance is keeping them from our schools, not choices?  How about we afford them the benefit of the doubt and try to get o know them before we label them as being a certain way.

Much like we try to uncover the past of our students to find out how it affects them now, we should also be trying to uncover the pasts of the adults attached to them.  I am sure I will meet many of the archetypes of parents listed in the article in the coming year, but what I won’t do is assume that I know why.  What I won’t do is hate them.  What good will ever come from that?

We all know relationships matter most when it comes to a successful school year, so why not actively build a relationship with adults as well?  It starts now, not when something comes up, not when it is too late.  What will you do to reach out to them before they reach out to you?

PS:  I posted my welcome parent survey today, I cannot wait to read their answers.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.