aha moment, being a teacher, being me, Student

Don’t Go for the Best


No matter how many times I speak somewhere the process is always the same.  I barely sleep the night before, my stomach turning, and in the morning I wake up thinking I have nothing to say.  No words to share.  And that I certainly have no right being the one speaking in front of people.

But then I remember my students.  Those students who share their truths with me every day about why they are disengaged.  Why school is hard.  Why they just want to get school over with.  And I find my courage.  I find my purpose.  I don’t speak for me, I speak for them.

So when you feel a little overwhelmed.  A little like you have no right to be doing what you are doing.  A little out of your league, remember this;  it is not about being the best, it is not about being the only expert or having it all figured it.  It is about being better.  About making a minuscule change every day that will lead to a better place.  About finding your own path and following it, overcoming the obstacles that are bound to be there, including the ones you put in front of yourself.  My students taught me that. So for them I will be better today than I was yesterday.  For them, I will find my courage.  For them I will.

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!) just came out!

being a teacher, being me, hopes, new year, Student, teaching

What We Need to Remember

image from icanread
image from icanread

The words seem to fall off the pages as I scroll through their answers.  The beginning seeds to what will become the kids that we will get to teach.  They speak of hope, of dreams, and wishes.  They speak of failures in the past, of words beyond their control, and actions they wish they could have protected their child from.  Some merely say they hope for a good year, while others ask us to please love their child, that they could really use someone more who cares.

We take these children for granted.  We take their dreams for granted.  Their hopes.  Their wishes.  We have them speak but then do not always listen.  We hurry so much at times in our urge to get to everything that we forget that we are not here to teach content, but here to teach children.

Yet the parents.  The guardians.  The ones that sit at home.  They tell us to please remember.  To please not forget, that that child we spoke of today in our meetings, that the child we mentioned to our families, that the child that kept us up thinking late last night, that child belongs to someone.  That at one point that child was so loved that the world seemed to stop for a moment and everything else fell away.  Even if life has changed by now.

So as we get ready for another year, please remember that we do not teach products.  We do not teach neat little boxes that will follow our every direction.  That we do not teach robots who will comply with our every whim.  We teach human beings, with all of their laughter, with all of their joy, but also with all of their anger, their confusion, their restlessness, and their dreams of something better.  Please don’t forget that.

Because from one parent to another.  From one teacher to another.  Sending your child to school and hoping that someone else will get them is one of the hardest things to do.  It’s one of the biggest leaps we take.  We hope with every inch of us that on that first day of school our child will come home with a smile on their face and not just talk about all of the great things they did but about how much they love their teacher.  How much they cannot wait to go back.

We hold the power to the future, we cannot forget that.  Even on our toughest day that child is someone else’s.  That child has dreams.  And that child needs us to love them.  Even when they don’t love themselves.

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, first day, new year, reflection, Student

On the First Day of School


Today I was reminded of the stark reality that is the 45 minutes blocks of time that I teach in every day.  As I sat and planned my first quarter, or at the very least wrote down some of the ideas I have, I kept glancing at that first day; the one that seems so magical.  I have so many ideas.  So many things I would like to do on that very first day.  Yet, the 45 minutes really stifles a lot of creativity.  The 45 minutes really forces me to see what is most important.

On the first day of school I don’t want to do activities.  I don’t want to play games.  Nor do I want to fake my enthusiasm.

On the first day of school I don’t want to force student into awkward ice breakers, while they hope the teacher will forget it is their turn next.  I will not force them to bare their soul, nor to share their dreams.

On the first day of school, we will not have many things planned.  We will not spend precious time listening to me drone on.  We will not run around hectically trying to figure it all out.

Instead, on the first day of school we will sit quietly and listen to a book read aloud.  We will have the time to speak to one another.  We will cautiously start to feel each other out, find our friends, glance at the new people.

We will ask the questions about 7th grade that we have, not because we have to but because we will take the time if needed.  Students will set the rules of the classroom, as always, and it will take as much time as it needs.

The first day of school is meant to be a great experience, but that does not mean we cram it full of things to do.  That doesn’t mean that we put on our entertainer hat and try to juggle as many balls as we possibly can.  Instead, it means that we take the very first step to get to know these students that have been thrust into our lives.  That they take the very first step in trusting us and trusting the community.  That can only happen in a genuine way if we take things slow.  If we allow time to just be, to just sit, to just talk.  So as you plan for the very first day of school, plan for the quiet, for the reflection, for the conversation.  Don’t spend so much time planning for all of the things.  Because this isn’t about how to prove how fun you will be this year, it is about showing the kids that you care.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, being me, Student

If You Don’t Love the Kids

recite-10wdjq2I did not love school as a child.  I went.  Did my work.  Spent time with my friends.  Followed the directions and did my homework, mostly.  I did not hate school as a child.  It simply didn’t have enough significance for me to garner much of my emotion.  School was something you did, not something you loved.

Yet, as a teacher, I love school.  I love the feeling of coming into my classroom in the early morning hush waiting for the students to fill it.  I love the deserted hallways after the last bell has rung and the remnants of forgotten pencils remind us that the kids were just here.  I love the ideas.  I love the creativity.  The freshly sharpened pencils, the unused pens, the brand new books that are crying out to be read.   The camaraderie that exists in my school, the stories that are shared, the laughing, the tears, and even the frustration when we just can’t seem to get that one thing right.  I love the passion that goes into creation a community.  But most of all, I love the kids.

I love the kids and their faith in us that this year will be incredible.  I love the kids and how raw they can be, daring us to believe in them when they have stopped believing in themselves.  I love the kids and their uncovered stories, their attempts at fitting in, and the way they secretly look for guidance even when they try to push us away.

I love the kids because if I didn’t I shouldn’t be teaching.

I love the kids because my job as a teacher is not to love the learning, the teaching, or the content.  It is to passionately believe that the kids I get to be with have something amazing to give to the world.  All of them.  And so as we prepare ourselves for a new year here in the United States, I hope that we all keep in mind that we are here for the kids.  That school is about the kids.  Not us.  That we became teachers not to kill the love of learning, but to protect it. So if you don’t love the kids, please take a moment to think about what you should be doing.  Take a moment to reconsider.  Teaching isn’t about us, it is about them.  And we start from a place of love.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

advice, aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me, learning, Reading, Student

How to Break the Rules Gently – Creating Experiences that Protect the Love of Learning

In true EdCamp Style, Nerdcamp yesterday was all about the collaborative sessions.  I, alongside Donalyn Miller (!) ended up facilitating one of my all-time favorite sessions ever  “How to Break the Rules Gently –  Creating Experiences that Protect the Love of Reading.”  I tried to tweet as much of the advice shared as I could but thought a follow up post would be in order as well.

Let’s face it, we have all worked within systems that went against our beliefs in some way.  Whether we were told to follow curriculum we didn’t believe in, follow rules that broke our hearts, or even just compromise in a way we never thought were would.  Being an educator often means we are wondering how to protect the love of reading in our classroom, the love of school.  And not because people intentionally set out to destroy either of these things but sometimes decisions are made that have unintended consequences.  So do you work within  a system that has rules or curriculum that you want to change or break?  How do you create change when it’s just you fighting?

You know your research.  One of the quickest ways to keep a teacher quiet is to say something is research-based.  So you have to know your own research says Donalyn Miller.  You have to be willing to ask to see the research, and then counter with your own.  Stay current, stay knowledgable and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Donalyn recommends the book Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss & Terrell Young as a great place to start.  I ordered it yesterday.  You also don’t say that you are “just” a teacher said Leah Whitford.  You are a teacher, you have power.

You inform parents.  Most parents think that what we choose to do in school is always in the best interest of the child, but this is not necessarily true.  So have a classroom website where you describe what you are doing in class, what students have do, and also the requirements you are faced with.  this is not to complain but rather to inform, because parents cannot speak up if they don’t know what is going on.

You speak kindly.  I used to think change would happen with a sledgehammer approach but ow know that just stops people from listening to you.  It is not that you should be quiet, or not be passionate, but you will get much further with a kind approach where you validate others in the process in furthering real change.

You compromise.  We all think what we are doing is in the best interest of our students, so connect with others and share ideas.  Withhold judgment when you can, but always share what is happening in your room and offer resources.  Don’t claim for it to be the best, but simply share.  Be willing to use others’ ideas as well and compromise on your team.  That doesn’t mean you have given up your ideals, it means you are an adult working with other people.

You find your tribe.  If you cannot find someone in your school that shares your same ideas, look to other schools in  your district, look in your county, and obviously look online.  The Nerdy Book Club is a great place to start.  However, having local connections to keep you sane and invested is a must as well.  It is important that you know you are not alone in your corner of the world, but you have to search these people out.  They may be scared to speak up like you.

You work within the system.  When I was told I had to do reading logs, I had students do them right in class right after independent reading.  I was still doing what I was told but not sending them home.  So find ways to work within the rules that may be imposed on you if you cannot break them completely.

You find your core beliefs.  Figure out what your core beliefs are or values within the classroom, write them up, hang them up and then make every decision based on those.  I think the visual reminder of what you are fighting for will help you pick your battles as well as lead the way.

You are willing to let go.  Sometimes something we love does not fit the purpose anymore, so if you are asking others to change you have to be willing to change yourself.  Even if you spent money on it.  Because money doesn’t equal qulity or great ides or passionate students.

You find out the reason why.  Often when new things are imposed on us, such as leveling a library or doing a reading log, there is a bigger reason behind it.  Find out what that is so that you can try to find other ways to reach that same goal.  So for example if you are told to level your library, if it is for students to be able to self-select “just right” books then explore other ways to achieve that.  Present these ideas and be ready to discuss why these may be a better fit.  As Donalyn said, “Everything we do is a scaffold toward independence – that’s the end game.”

You stop assuming.  We are terribly good at assuming why rules are made or how administrators will react to us.  And yet, often our assumptions are wrong.  So have courageous conversations.  Ask gentle questions and try to broach the subject.  You may be surprised when you find an ally rather than an enemy.

You involve your students.  The biggest advocates for independent reading time in my 7th grade classroom are my student, hands down.  So offer them ways such as on blogs, vide, Twitter, newsletters or whatever else you can think of to spread the message about the things they love in your classroom.  If you want parents onboard, get their kid excited about school!

You work together.  Invite others in to see the classroom environment you have created.  Ask other teachers to come in and observe if they want, admin even though you don’t have, get the special ed teacher to be a part of the movement or any other special teacher you can.  Involve your librarian, they are a reading warrior if I ever met one.  Bring in parents, have family nights.  Find a way to spread the positive image of your class so that others will fight for it as well.

You stay persistent and passionate.  Don’t confuse passion with anger, although it is okay to get angry sometimes.  But stay passionate and persistent in your goal to protect students, stay on top of your reasons for doing things, stay up-to-date on research, and stay down to earth.  No one wants to listen to anyone who thinks they are better than others.  Don’t give up, real change can take a long time, but we must stay at it.  Even if it seems like you are totally alone and no one is listening.  As Jen Vincent said; “You never know what will come of a conversation you have.”

aha moment, being a teacher, being me, community, Passion, Student

7 Things to Try Before You Almost Give Up On A Student

I have to admit it; I have not loved all of my students in the same way.  Not all of my students and I have clicked.  Not all of my students and I have had the best relationships.  Not for lack of wanting to.  Not for lack of trying, but sometimes it seems that bigger things are in play and the universe just doesn’t align.  And yet, even if I had a harder time connecting with a child, whatever the reason, I still had to be the very best teacher I could be.  So what are some techniques I have used to make sure that I connected on some level, even with the seemingly most challenging students?

Take it personal sometimes.  My mantra used to be “don’t take it personal” until I realized that sometimes a poor relationship with a student is indeed a direct reflection to how they feel about me, not what I am doing.  So rather than dismiss it, I ask them questions, engage them as an equal to express my concern and then try to reflect on what it is they are reacting to.  If it is something I can adapt to or change from, then I do.  Other times, I have just had to suck it up and try a different approach.

Speak kindly about them.  The quickest way to build personal dislike is to constantly stay focused on the negative attributes of a child; those things that drive you crazy.  So turn your thinking around; whenever you feel yourself wanting to say something negative, stop, and find something positive to say instead.  Yes, even if it seems contrived, because what you say, you start to believe.  So if a child is having a particularly rough day in my classroom or with me, I go out of my way mentally to find something nice to say to others about them.  After all, they are running through my mind anyway, why not spread something positive.  This doesn’t mean you can’t vent, I think venting about situations can be very powerful, but keep it short and to the point.  Prolonged venting only exacerbates the negative emotions already attached to a student or situation.

Find the humor in the situation.  Even the kids who have driven me the most crazy can usually make me laugh by now.  It wasn’t always that way, but it has become a way for me to create a relationship with someone who I otherwise would probably label as a troublemaker in my mind.  So find the funny in the misbehavior, share a funny moment when they are not acting out, use humor as a way to bridge your personalities, even if you still don’t see eye to eye.

Forge a relationship outside of the classroom.  Some of my hardest students to teach have also been the ones that I made sure I checked in with outside of school, even if it just meant a casual conversation in the hallway or by the buses.  It is a chance for me to see them as kids, not that kid who does everything in their power to disrupt the teaching of others or whatever the situation is inside of class.

Keep digging.  I have never met a child who had nothing to like about them, but sometimes you really have to dig for it. Some of my students expect you to hate them when they walk through your doors because that is what they have experienced other times, some of my students hate school so much that they will never love it no matter what we change.  Some of my students have to be tough as nails to survive their own lives.  Those kids still deserve a teacher that tries to connect with them, even if they rebuff them 100 times, then you try 100 more times, even a little bitty connection is better than giving up.

Treat them as a human being.  Too often we start treating them like the label they may have, so a child who is angry becomes known as the angry child, or a student who is disrespectful or disruptive becomes known just for that.  Their negative label becomes their identity and nothing else.  We cannot let this happen, not in our minds and not in the way we speak of them.  They are children, yes, children who seem to have mastered the art of driving you up the wall, but children none the less.  And every child deserves to be treated with dignity.

Know when to admit defeat, but not out loud.  Sometimes no matter how hard we try, how much we change, how much we reflect and think and do; that child still hates it, that child still hates us.  Then our job becomes not to give up but to find another ally for them, to find another adult that can have a great relationship with them and for us not to get in the way.  No, that doesn’t mean asking for them to be transferred from our class, but instead allowing for opportunities where they can possibly forge a relationship with another educator or person in your building.  Every child deserves someone that will see the good in them, even if you can’t.

PS:  A few notes since this post was published a few days ago.  I tweaked the title to include the world almost because I don’t think we ever truly give up on child, even if we cannot forge a strong connection with them.  We still keep them in our hearts, they still wake us up at night, we still keep trying even when we feel like giving up.  That’s what teachers do.  Another note is the little bit of wondering there has been on knowing when to admit defeat, some people have viewed this as giving up and that is far from my intent.  Admitting defeat to me is humbling because it involves us realizing that we are humans and not every kid will like us.  Sometimes a child naturally connects with another adult in our building and rather than get jealous, which yes, can happen, we need to help foster that relationship.   I hope this clears everything up a bit.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.