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.     

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

This Is Hard

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“This is hard…”

The group looks at me, hoping I have answers to give, some ways to make it easier.  And while we have been working together for the past ten minutes, while I have been coaching the best that I could, it is also time for the truth.

“Yes, it is…this is hard work but guess what?  You’re doing it.”

They get back to work, we continue with our learning.

This simple moment together doesn’t fix the work that lies ahead.  The hard work of understanding, of growing, of learning.  It doesn’t make it less hard, but what it can do is make it easier to carry.  Make it easier to stick with it, to try again even when it seems unclear, uncertain, or even just plain challenging.  When we acknowledge that this work, whatever it may be, is, indeed, hard we are letting kids know that it is not that they simply don’t understand it.  That it is not because they are somehow dumber than other kids, or less capable, but that instead, that all kids go through these phases of learning and that at times, the work is hard to do, to understand, to break down and carry on with.

So many of our kids who feel less than.  Less than a reader.  Less than a writer.  Less than a student are not always acknowledged for the incredible effort it takes to learn.  For the incredible work that their brain is doing to make sense of something that seems incomprehensible at first.

And so we must tell our kids that learning is hard work and mean it.  We show our own struggles when it comes to doing the work by working in front of the kids rather than doing the work before they show up.  We tell them when we are unsure, when we mess up, when we really have to break it down into small steps in order to feel like we are moving forward at all.  We show them what learning looks like as an adult and then we remember to acknowledge the work behind their growth, no matter how small it seems at times, is something to be proud of.  That in this moment, that in this class, they have grown as a learner, and that is something to be proud of.

The work we are doing right now is hard.  Analyzing text is hard, even for adults, and yet at that moment, when we recognize that this is not easy work, we offer students a chance to see themselves not as students who cannot get it right, right away, but instead as students who are learners.  And learning takes time.  Let’s not forget that.

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, student choice, Student dreams, student voice

The 30 Day Survey – A Quick Way to Give Students More Power

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It’s hard to believe that we have already had 31 days with this incredible new batch of kids.  31 days of laughing, of learning (hopefully), of working to somehow create a community that will matter to all of us.  I think we are finally starting to get into the groove of who we are and what we need to do.

As I prepared for this week, it was therefore natural for me to wonder how the students felt.  Are they also feeling like we are doing worthwhile work?  Are they feeling respected?  How can we change our teaching to make it work for them?

Rather than assume, I did what I have done for many years and what I tell others to do all of the time; I asked.  On a simple 30-day survey, we asked them a few questions about the class, about themselves, and also about how we have been doing.

As the responses came in, I was startled at their kindness.  How many kids said that they wouldn’t change the class, that they like what we are doing, and most importantly they feel respected by us.  In fact, after giving the survey I had kind of a let down – this what it?  All they had to say?  And yet, again I am reminded that it is not always what they say but that they have a chance to speak in the first place.  I tell our students to be honest, that I have thick skin, that we cannot grow if we don’t know what we need to work on from their perspective.  And so whether students tell us hard truths or give us amicable reassurances, it is not always what they say but instead that we asked.  That we listened.  that we did something about the words that they gave us.

So now, we will read more.  I will try to speak less (always something I am working on), and I will try to notice the things they have asked me to notice.  We are so quick to assume what our students may think or feel, instead just ask them.  Whenever you can and whatever you can.  I promise you will learn something.

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, Literacy, Passion, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

The Rights of Our Readers

Today was the second day of school.  the second day of trying to get to know these incredible kids that have been gifted to us.  The second day of trying to establish the seeds for the habits that will carry us through the year, hopefully leading us to a year where they leave feeling like this year was worth their time, that this year made a difference.

Today was the day of one of our big fundamental lessons; when reading is trash or magic.  I shared my past reading mistakes in teaching, we shared when reading sucks or when it is lit (student choice of words).  As the post-its crowded the whiteboard, the questions and statements inevitable came.  Will we have to read books you choose for us?  Will we have to write every time we read?  Will we have to do post-it notes?  All things that in the past, I would have answered yes to but now the answers are different.  You always choose your books, even in book clubs, you will have plenty of choices.  You will not always write after you read, sometimes you will, and because of the work of teachers before me, you will be better at it than ever before.  And post-its?  Sometimes, when it makes sense, but not every time and not at home.  Only here because at home I just want you to work on your relationship with reading, the skills teaching that will happen in class.

As we finished our conversation we merged into what their reading rights are this year.  the things that I will not take away.  The rights they have as individuals on a reading journey.  This is not my idea, nor something new, but once again the work of others who have paved the way for my better understanding of what developing student reading identity really looks like.  As we discussed what rights they would have and what they meant, I wrote an anchor chart, a reminder that will hang all year so we don’t forget just what we can do together.  What choices we may have.  As we went down the list, the relief was palpable, the excitement grew.  Even some of the kids who had not so gently told me how much they hated reading right away, looked less scared, less set in stone as we talked about what this year would like.

And so this is where we stand tonight…  Our very first anchor chart to remind us of what it means to be a reader that is honored within our community.  What it means to be a reader that already has a reading identity, that we will continue to develop together, honoring everyone wherever they are on their journey, rather than forcing our well-intended decisions down over the top of kids.  Perhaps, once again, this year kids will develop a better relationship with reading, will grow as readers, will grow as human beings.  What more could we hope for when it comes to teaching?

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 teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.