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.

being a student, student choice, Student dreams, writing

A Few Ideas for Better Peer Editing

I became disillusioned with traditional peer editing a few years back after I had once again spent a long time coming up with a specific checklist for students to work through in order to help them strengthen their writing. I think this was my 10th version of said checklist, a list that was specific in its purpose, supposedly easy to follow, and exactly what we were working on. Almost every single student pairing blasted through the list and turned to me proudly to tell me that it all looked good, that they had now produced their very best draft, and that surely, there was nothing else they needed to fix.

And yet…when I inevitably peered over their shoulder, I saw the same mistakes. The same missed opportunities for discussion about their writing. Depsite the checklist. Despite all of my careful planning.

Move to 7th grade and I mention peer editing and all I am met with is groans. “Please not that, Mrs. Ripp…” and so as always, i would ask students to tell me more about their reaction and what they told me was the final nail in the coffin for my traditional way of doing peer editing.

We don’t trust our editors and writing is personal.

They just tell us it’s all good.

We don’t know how to help.

They don’t want my help.

I knew then that not only was I past the checklist days, but I had to change the whole writing community we had established in order to help them grow together as writers, a dream I am still working on year after year.

So in the past few years, we haven’t had a peer editing process per say, what we have done instead is focus on creating a writing community that is established early. A writing community that celebrates our writing, a writing community that (at times, because let’s be realistic here) doesn’t hate to write.

While this is still major work in progress for us, there are a few things we are proud of. These include:

  • The choice of who you work with in your writing. This way students start to see who can naturally help them with their writing rather than the constant forced pairings of years passed.
  • The choice of whether to continue revising/editing or to be done. Students know that when they see work as done, it often is, they then choose to either start a new piece or continue to work on the current one.
  • The understanding of the need for others’ eyes on your writing at times. The students we teach often ask each other naturally to look at their writing because they know that if they don’t, they will miss opportunities for growth. This is encouraged with built in time and conversation about what it means to be with fellow writers. Students are encouraged to share, read, and comment on each other’s writing when it makes sense to them. This is huge for ownership and lens of what they need.
  • The choice of whether to share or not. While students are expected to share some of their writing with the community, not all writing is for others. This has been a part of our foundation as it is important that students see their writing as theirs to own, not mine.
  • The choice to write poorly. It has been important for our students to understand that not all writing is going to be great. That sometimes what we are writing is not working, is not great, is not something we want to share. What we work on is getting past that feeling whether by abandoning a piece or working through it.

I know when I started writing books and realized what editing and writing communities really did for my writing, I know I wanted to emulate that in my classroom and yet for many of my students, they don’t see a purpose in their writing beyond the teacher telling them to get it done. This is why it has been such a long process for me because not only am I trying to get them to write better, but also to see power in their writing. This is also why I don’t write about our writing work very often because it is such a huge work in progress and I doubt my own ideas a lot, despite the growth I see.

So, the other day as we were finishing our This I Believe scripts, I turned to my learning community to see what else is out there for ideas in better writing partnerships, especially with an eye on revision, and I was not disappointed. There were so many great ideas and opportunities for growth shared that are helping me go further in my journey. So wherever you are in yours, perhaps some of these ideas will help you further develop your writing community as well. I know I have a lot of work to do with my current and incoming students as we continue to try to make our writing more meaningful.

This is yet another reason why I love social media so much, thank you so much to everyone who shared. There is a wealth of ideas here, many of them centered around the individual child’s identity as a writer and the vulnerability that is naturally involved when it comes to sharing what we have written with the world. And that for me is always the biggest piece; how will my students feel after they have shared their writing? Will they feel empowered or will they feel taken apart? Will it truly have transformed their writing or will it just be one more reason that they think they cannot write?

I know I have much to learn!

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!

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 student, Book Clubs, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Join Me for the Summer Book Study of Passionate Learners!

With the bustle of April and all of the excitement that that brings, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a summer that calls for reflection, relaxation, re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore summer for all of its passion and courage, and also time to just be a reflective practitioner.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that there will be a summer book study of my first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students , which will kick off on June 1st and run for four weeks until June 28th. Why June? Because while I am still in school in June, I am also itching for some reflection for the new year. And then comes July, where I take time off in order to be a better person and I hope others do as well.

This book is what started it all, it reflects the journey I have been on, inspired by research and people who did the work before me, to create a more human and engaging experience for all of my students, particularly the kids who felt that school was not a place for them. The book is an honest view into what I did then and what I have learned from my students in order to be a better teacher for them while also working within the restrictions of a public school system. It is not meant as a step-by-step guide, but instead as a way for you to reflect on your own decisions and how you can change your teaching to allow room for your students to have more control and power over their learning experience. While the book study will take place in the Passionate Readers Facebook group, it is not a book focused on reading specifically, but rather overall student engagement.

So join the Passionate Readers Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, Facebook Lives, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this school year the best one yet.

In the book club we will explore how to:

  • Establish or expand a learning experience based around giving space for student voices.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behavior.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  June 1st -June 28th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free – you do need a copy of the book, though, you can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

Sign up: Please fill out the Google Form in order for me to email you all the details when we kick off. Don’t worry, I don’t use your email for anything else. Also, join the Passionate Readers Facebook Group in order to be a part of the discussion.

Thank you for wanting to be a part of this conversation, I cannot wait for this opportunity to learn together!


Be the change, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice

On Student Voice and How All Means All

If I asked most of my students, they would consider me a great teacher for them. They would tell you how safe they feel in our classroom, how they feel respected, how they feel like what we do is worth their time. It is easy feeling like a great teacher if those are the only voices you pay attention to. But if you were to speak to a few, perhaps the ones who would need some extra goading, perhaps those who choose to remain mostly silent throughout our time together, a different story would emerge. They still hate English, they still hate reading and writing, they find little value in what we do, and some, probably, also see little value in me.

I don’t think I am alone in that. Our schools are filled with both kids who flourish and those who don’t. Those who see the value added to their lives in what we do and those who don’t. Those whose days consist of success and those who have limited success. But whose voices are being heard in our conversations? Whose voices are shared in assemblies? Whose voices are shared when we invite incoming families in to discuss what a school experience consists of with us?

And what happens when we don’t monitor whose voices get the most space within our school? When we once again select the few kids that we know will speak up, speak eloquently, and will stick to the message that we know reflects us best? It means that we create a false sense of accomplishment, as if student voice is something we can checkoff, as if everything we do is exactly right and all we need to do is just stay the course.

I worry about the echo-chamber we sometimes create, whether inadvertently or purposefully. How many of us purport to support student voice but then only give the biggest space to those we know will shine a positive light. How we assume that a child must view their schooling as favorable as long as their scores, grades, percentages show them as successful. How we squelch the voices of those who may have less than stellar experiences to share. How we dismiss their voices as simply kids carrying a grudge, or not understanding, or simply just being in a tough spot. How easily we dismiss their experiences rather than recognizing them for the incredible learning opportunity they are. A chance to dive into what we still need to work on, a chance to create a partnership with those whose experiences are not successful despite our carefully laid plans and best intentions.

When I ask others to make space for students to reclaim their voices, I don’t just mean those whose voices echo our own sentiments. I don’t just mean those who will present us in the best of lights. All means all and that includes those who will tell us the unguarded truth even when the truth hurts. This is why in all of my presentations there is truth that hurts, statements that made me grow, that felt like failures when I first was given them. It is important to model to others what real feedback looks like, to acknowledge that at times we will fail our students. That at times we will not be the teacher, or the school, or the district that they needed us to be and we now have to figure out how we can do better, with them. Because that is what the truth does; it gives us a chance to grow. To become something more than we were before, but we cannot do that if we only make space for those voices who will tell us all of the good we are doing without mentioning the bad. If we only select a few to represent the many without giving everyone a proper chance to speak up, to be heard, to shape their experience.

So survey all of the kids. Give space to all of the kids. When students are invited to speak at your training events, at your staff meetings, at your school board meetings, invite a broad range of perspective. Sure, invite those kids in where the system is clearly working, but also invite those who tell us through their behavior that it’s not. Who perhaps may be doing well but who really do not love it. Monitor who you give space to so that all experiences can be represented because if you don’t then it is really just a sham representation. And then ask meaningful questions, not just those where students will provide you with sound-bytes that will do little to move the conversation along.

Ask them if they feel respected.

Ask them if they feel valued.

Ask them if they feel represented.

Ask them if what we do matters.

Ask them how by working together we can make it better.

And then listen to their voices, all of them, and instead of dismissing their words take them for what they are; the biggest gift to do better, to be better. An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that?

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.  

Be the change, being a student, punishment, student choice, Student dreams

What Are They Trying to Say?

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As I sat with colleagues not too long ago discussing a shared former student, it was mentioned how she still sees me as an ally even though I no longer teach her. Hard to believe as this was the same child that slammed my door loud enough to shake the team area while telling me exactly what she thought of me and *!@&*% class. And yet, still, to her, I am someone who cares. To her, I am someone who still has her back, despite our ups and downs while I had her.

We all have these children in our memories, perhaps you are teaching one right now (or many). The kids whose love language seems to be filled with protest, with ways to push us as far away as possible. Whose method of communicating their lives and their needs do not follow the same path as our own. How these kids, our kids, sometimes are the ones that carve out the biggest place in our days and in our hearts as we try to understand what it is they are trying to tell us. How they often make us feel like failures when our latest attempt at connection was dismissed and not enough. And yet….in every moment, in every day, we have this incredible chance to show that no matter what they throw at us, we can still be there, we can still care, we can still ask if they are okay rather than react in a more volatile way.

We speak so often of our vision for what our schools should look like. What they should sound like (silent in some cases which is terrifying but that’s for another day). What they should feel like for every kid. We plot and we plan. We dream and we train, and yet, some of that seems to be forgotten the very moment a child fails to live up to our expectations (thank you, Shana White for that thought). The moment a child seemingly steps out of line. We throw our hands up in exasperation, lose our temper, and quickly a situation that did not need to spiral out of control has done just that. Just because we had to prove a point.

I can only speak for myself, I try to not yell. It is something I work very hard at. Not because there are no situations where yelling might be used, but because I think the act of an adult yelling is only to be used in true emergencies. Yelling is only to be used when things are really dire. I don’t want to scare, nor intimidate my students, why would I? Instead, I try to treat these kids as the human beings they are; complicated beings who are carrying their own set of burdens every single day, just like I do. I try to treat them the same way I want to be treated; with concern, with an eye on my humanity. Not in an angry, authoritarian way, because in the long run, it does more damage than good.

So as I think about our school system, about the horrible inequities that exist, especially for marginalized populations, I think of what I can do. How I can certainly share the information that inspires me such as this article from Teaching Tolerance, but also the small things that I can do within my own sphere; our classroom. How I can approach each situation with calmness, how I can approach each child with care rather than anger. How I can ask if they are okay rather than jump to conclusions, how I can ask how I can help, how I can respond in calm rather than anger. How I can use humor and trust to try to diffuse the situations that arise. That I can try to be a part of a classroom that functions on humanity rather than punishment. How when I mess up, because I will, I can apologize and try to do better.

I know that every child is trying to tell us who they are, they just do it in many different ways, and sometimes those ways can be seen as a challenge. Yet, I know how deeply I care about my own story being told and heard, I can only imagine that our students do as well. Yes, our system needs to change, and we need to be a part of that, but that change starts right within our own spaces in how we treat the very children we get to teach every single day. How we protect their humanity even as they sometimes rage. We will never know their story if they don’t ever trust us enough to share it.

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.   

Be the change, being a student, Literacy, Student dreams

Disrupting the Narrative in Small Ways

I had the chance to sit with a few of my brilliant colleagues this week to plan our upcoming units together. Count this as another reason of why I love working for Oregon School District; the chance to get a sub so that we can collaborate and actually have time together to share ideas, push our learning, and try to craft meaningful experiences.

One thing that struck me among many was the careful selection of the types of materials we were using to illustrate teaching points. As an example, in our upcoming TED talk unit, where we hope students will not only deepen their passion for something but also be able to share that passion with others, we searched for TED talks that not only illustrate the teaching point such as engaging openings or illustrating a certain type of through-line but also spoke to potential social issues that our students are aware of in different levels, meaning some live it and some are not even aware it is an issue.

This purposeful selection of the materials we use to teach something is a big attempt for us to not just teach kids the “standards” but also expand their understanding of the world around them and hopefully find something to become invested in, to disrupt the privileged narrative that many of us live in. Yes, our students need opportunities to grow as students of reading, writing, speaking, and everything else that is involved in their education, but they also need so much more than that; to become (more) aware of the issues that face us all.

And so when I think of disrupting the narrative, of increasing social awareness within the classroom, it certainly is in the large units we plan, how we treat kids, and also the educational framework we place them in. But it is also in the day-to-day, the videos we show of speakers, the read alouds we use, the mentor texts we share, the images, and the quotes we use. Whose stories are we constantly framing our learning in? Whose experiences are the dominant narrative? Are we embracing the small opportunities that naturally present themselves within our classroom to question, to push thinking, to urge students to inform themselves so that they can formulate (better educated) opinions? And more importantly, are we asking students to take on the hard work of noticing? Of questioning? Of changing the world that they function in? Are we giving them the opportunity to explore the perimeters they work within in order to question that very same framework?

When we plan our lessons, we have so many opportunities to make the work bigger than the learning target we are trying to reach. We need to be aware though of our choices and then push ourselves to expand those choices. Whose stories are we upholding? Whose stories are forgotten?

PS: I wrote about the text selections disruption process we use more purposefully here.

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.