being a teacher, being me, writing

As We Write…

All day, writing has been calling to me.  The magic of the words unfolding, my thoughts becoming clearer, my ideas set to page, taking a life of their own.  Ideas abound, swirling until I feel unsettled, craving the peace that inevitably arrives after the writing has happened.  A picture book?  A new book for educators?  A blog post?  A poem as I prepare to advise our slam poetry club starting tomorrow (wish me luck)?  The urge to write is there even if the ideas are not fully formed, fully present, but the keys call my name as I sit in front of the fire, reflecting on today.

I wonder how many of our students have that urge?  How many are called to write as they process the world around them?  Search for their unique way to sift through the bombardment of images and thoughts that constantly surround us?  How many feel the call of a pen, a journal, a keyboard, as a way to unpack and digest?  As a way to create something that didn’t exist until they decided to create it?

I have said it before, but it bears repeating; in our eagerness to make sure that students can write well, are we extinguishing their very urge to write?  To tell stories?  To reflect?  To process somehow?

When we ask our students who they are as writers, their answers lack little surprise; I am a writer who writes because I have to.  I am not a writer.  I hate writing.  I am a writer who writes in school, that’s it.

“How many sentences do I need, Mrs. Ripp?”

“How long should it be?”

“I don’t know what to write…”

Not let me write.

Not can we write?

But why do we have to write?  I will never use writing when I am… older…in my job…when I leave school.  Fill in the sentence however you see fit.

So for the next four weeks, we will play with writing.  We will form stories, journals, poems, plays, comics, whatever strikes our fancy as we take away the assessment.  As we make a space every day to simply write.  As we make a space every day to share what we wrote if we want to.  As we make room for the conversations that need to surround the writing and the writers.  As we strip away the to-do’s and search for the to-be’s.

As we discover perhaps not just who we are as writers, but more so who we want to be.  As we search and perhaps even find a place for writing somewhere in our busy lives so that perhaps, just perhaps, their answers will not always be, “do we have to write?” but instead can be “Do we have to stop?”

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.      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, being me

One Small Thing

Our house is a mess.  In between coming home from being away, the rush of two school days, the joy of Thanksgiving and now the Christmas decorations, it seems that on every surface, in every corner, there is something out of place.  A job that calls for my attention, urging me to pick up, clean up, fix, do.  It is overwhelming to simply wander, now knowing where to start.

My house reminds me so much of our work as teachers.  Everywhere we see projects half-finished, ideas calling out for us to work on them, conversations that should be had, and, indeed, children who seem to have a long way to go.  Children who we are not quite sure how we will ever get there, wherever there may be.  Children who need us in ways that we have not really discovered fully yet.  Children whose lives will be shaped by the decisions we make, whether we intend them to or not.

It is overwhelming at times, all-consuming at times, urgent at times.  Where do we start?  Where do we go?

Too often we are big idea people as teachers, and yet within this innate quality to juggle many different components at the same time also lies a dangerous mindset; the idea that we must think of all things at the same time.  The idea that if we do not constantly focus on the whole then we will never reach our destination.  It is a paralyzing mindset, one that may spur us into action at first, but then burn us out.

Yet, just like our houses, our lives whose unfinished projects call our names, we have a choice to make.  Do we sit back, looking at all of the projects calling to us, or do we simply go from one thing to the next?  Do we have an overall goal in mind, but then focus in on the one small thing we can do right now?  The child we can sit with?  The lesson we can plan for tomorrow?  The book we can read tonight?  The idea we can try right now?  The change we can when it comes to the inherent wrongs we are constantly faced with in this world?

So I propose a simple reminder today; focus on the next small thing and once that is accomplished then focus on the next small thing.  Be aware of all of the needs, but focus in on one.  Don’t force yourself into this perpetual state of overwhelmedness that seems to envelop us all as teachers, as adults.

Start small with each child focus on what you will try next right now.  The next few days.    Change a text.  Change an approach.  Try something new.  But do it one at a time.  And then pay attention to the small changes.  To the small moments that indicate successes that we so often miss when we keep our eye on the end of the year.  The growth is happening, I promise, we just have to take a moment to see it.

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.      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, being me

The Great Teacher Myth

I have spent the last few hours quietly wandering around NCTE, trying to listen more than talk, processing, pondering, and also trying to reflect on the work that lies ahead when I return to room 235d this Monday.  When the reality of what it means to teach comes back versus this dream world where we sit and discuss how we can change what we do to make it work for all kids.  To work for all adults.

And yet, the learning doesn’t have to end when we return to our school.  The conversation doesn’t have to end.  Only if we make it.  Because in our school, every day, we are surrounded by people who have ideas.  By people whose voices may not have been heard, yet.  People whose ideas have not grown past their own classroom doors.  And yet, how many of us will go back and try to engage in the same professional conversations that we engage in when we leave our schools?  How many of us would rather go to a professional development day than spend a day immersed with our colleagues, trying to grapple with the weight of the very reality we teach withing?  How many of us, myself included, would rather idolize someone who doesn’t teach with us because they seemingly have it all figured out and if we only listen to them some more we will, surely, finally be a great teacher?

It’s a lose-lose situation and an unsustainable one at that.  When we assume that “those teachers,”  that “those experts” have it all figured out, we only see ourselves as less than.  As someone who perhaps doesn’t have ideas to share.  As someone who there isn’t space for in the conversation.  As someone who will never be good enough, let alone a great teacher.  And this simply isn’t true.  Our schools are brimming with people, and yes, kids are people, who have so much to share if we only start to realize the wisdom that surrounds us.

Because I can tell you this; as someone who has been given a lot of space, who has had labels, both positive and negative, attached to her very being; I am nothing special.  And I don’t mean it as a false sense of denigration.  As a way to tear myself down so that others can lay on the accolades.  I am simply a teacher who chose to reflect out loud.  Who chose to question her own practices because she faced the very harsh reality that if she continued on the path that she was on, she would harm children.  Who screws up oftentimes privately, sometimes publicly, who is lucky enough to have people who care enough (or are angry enough) to point it out and tell me I can do better (thank you!).  And so are you.

So it’s on all of us.  If we don’t give space.  If we don’t strike up conversations.  If we don’t reach out and ask for help from the very people we work with.  If we don’t share more of our mistakes as some of us are handed pedestals to stand on, then we are doing a disservice to those who come to us or guidance, who trust us with their time, who call us colleagues and mentors.

So find your worth, share your story, trust me when I say; we are all just trying to figure this out.  Sometimes we do great, sometimes we don’t, but we are all in this together.

 

 

 

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.

 

being a teacher, global read aloud

The Difference the Global Read Aloud Makes #GRA18

As the 9th annual Global Read Aloud wrapped up, I received the following letter from Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound.  It made me think of how grateful I am for this project, for the people who believe in it, and for the movement it has created around the world.  

And so, this is the blog post I posted on the Global Read Aloud blog, I thought I would share here.

Whenever I choose a book for the GRA, I hold my breath for a long time.  Will the people who read it aloud get why I chose it?  Will they see the beauty?  The possibility of understanding?   The connections between themselves and others whose lives may seem so different?  The books chosen this year once again allowed people to step into a culture that many had not experienced.  To cheer for a girl who seemed to face impossible circumstances and yet trusted herself to make a difference.  To understand a boy who in the end just wanted to be himself.  To hold our breath for three refugees as the world turned against them, to understand a girl’s path to adulthood when the world only sees her through one part of an identity.  To dive into indigenous culture and see it for its beauty and its presence all around us.

To the authors and illustrators of these books, in sharing your words with us, you allowed us to share our words with the world, and that means that the world has now changed.  I cannot thank you enough for creating these books because while the Global Read Aloud may be coming to a close, for us all, these books and their stories have provided us with something bigger – a beginning.  And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound, wrote the following thank you.

Dear Teachers,

When I was eight years old my mother packed me leftovers for my school lunch: keema with roti. Children teased me mercilessly in the cafeteria. They scrunched their noses and pretended to gag at the sight of the unfamiliar food.

During the Global Read Aloud you ordered samosas, pakoras, jalebis, chai, and full Pakistani feasts for your children to sample. I saw a picture of a South Asian child sharing with pride the roti they had for lunch with their class.

When I was ten years old I ran into kids from school while my family and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to a dinner party and dressed in our finest shalwar kamiz. For weeks after, children poked and prodded me about the “strange” costumes.

During the Global Read Aloud I watched parents visit your classrooms in shalwar kamiz to share their Pakistani culture. I saw photos and videos of children wearing their ancestral clothing, standing before their classrooms as they discussed the beautiful outfits of South Asia.

When I was twelve years old, I went to school the day after Eid with deep orange henna still on my hands from the holiday. Children shrieked and pretended my hands were diseased. Despite my explanations, they refused to sit next to me until the color at last faded from my hands.

During the Global Read Aloud, you discussed henna, you brought them into classrooms. You celebrated the tradition and children decorated one another’s hands.

All through my elementary school years, I was taunted for my identity. And yet I couldn’t hide from who I was. My skin, my hair, my name— spoke too loudly. And as painful as it was, I thought it was normal. I accepted it.

During the Global Read Aloud, so many of you went beyond the book and dove into Pakistani culture. You brought in music. You Skyped with classrooms and people in Pakistan and around the world. You invited local community members to share about the people and the culture of Pakistan. You walked into South Asian markets and clothing stores and bought pomegranates and chadors and did everything you could to bring “over there”— here.

In a world where Pakistan is often equated to dangerous, you helped combat stereotypes. You helped children see the underlying humanity that all people possess which bind us together—because that is the truth. There is no “us versus them”— we are all people.

I’ve read your e-mails and posts. I’ve looked at all your photos and videos. I’ve visited classrooms for school visits and through Skype. I’ve loved the discussions you’ve had with your students on patriarchy, indentured servitude, fairness and justice, and hope.

But you did something else too.

You not only helped children glimpse life in another person’s shoes, you helped children feel seen. You honored them. You validated them. You celebrated them.

When I got the e-mail from Pernille Ripp that AMAL UNBOUND was selected to be part of the global read aloud I was humbled and grateful. What a dream as an author (and a former educator!) that my book would be read by your students. But I could never have imagined just how deeply meaningful and personal this experience would be for me. In honoring your children, the scars from my childhood feel healed.

Regardless of which book you chose, by participating in the Global Read Aloud you opened children’s minds and hearts and connected with the world around us and in doing so you created a whole heaping of empathy that the world can never have enough of. And as the whirlwind six weeks of the Global Read Aloud come to a close, from the bottom of my heart, I  thank you.

With love and gratitude,

Aisha Saeed

Sign up for 2019 is open, join us as we once again try to connect the world, one book at a time.

 

 

 

 

being a teacher, contest, Reading

Win A Copy of Game Changer

Thank you to the more than 750 people who entered – the two winners were randomly drawn and have been notified.  I highly encourage you to purchase your own copy.

 

This morning as I stand in my kitchen making waffles for my four ravenous children, I have also been sneaking some reading in.  After all, isn’t this multitasking at its finest?  The book that keeps pulling me away from the wafflemaker?  It is the new book Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by the fantastic Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp.

With its inviting layout, straightforward language, and research-based best practices, this is a must add for any educator who works within literacy.  The book features tried and true fantastic ideas for increasing the access to books for all kids, and not just in the traditional sense of placing books in the hands of children, but also how to help students develop or maintain a positive relationship with reading.  As someone who spends much of my time immersed in the same world of advocacy, I love the realness of the book, its no holds barred advocacy for all kids to have meaningful and personal relationships with books, as well as all of the research cited.  (I geek out on research).

In order to celebrate its release, I am therefore giving away two copies of the book.  This contest is open to the world, so no matter where you are you can read the book.  All you have to do is enter on the form below.  I will pull a winner tomorrow night, Sunday the 11th of November.  If you do not win, please consider purchasing this book on your own, you won’t regret it.