Be the change, being a teacher, being me

Lessons From Ten Years of Trying….

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The night before my very first day as a teacher.  This is what terrified looks like.

Ten years ago, I said thank you to my very first class of 4th graders.  Thank you for their dedication.  Thank you for their persistence.  Thank you for their love.  I know I cried as I hugged each and every one of them, thanking them for our year.

Today, I will hug as many 7th graders as I can.  I will thank them for a year filled with laughs.  With challenges.  With growth.  With love.  Teaching is by far the best thing I can do with my professional time.  When I look back on ten years of teaching, I cannot help but think of all the things I have learned.  Of how I have grown.  Of how I am still growing.  There is so much to learn, still.

But ten years has also taught me a lot about what it means to be a teacher.  What it means to get up every morning and do this job.  Not just because you have to, but because you can.  And as always, the kids I have had the privilege of teaching are the ones who have taught me the biggest lessons.  The ones who have made me who I am today.  They taught me…

That’s it’s not about me.  That the needs of the students should always be my focus.  That when I am wondering what I need to change, they are where I start.  That my assumptions, while sometimes on point, will never be as accurate as what they will actually tell me.  That their advice, if we only take it, will transform our teaching for the better.

…but sometimes it is.  Sometimes I am the problem.  Sometimes I am the reason a child hates school.  Sometimes my decisions, even if made with the best of intentions, will harm rather than build.  It is my job to make sure that I know that.  That I realize the immense power that we have over the future of the very children we teach.  That I ask the hard questions in order for me to grow and to create an experience that works for every child as much as humanly possible.

They have taught me…

That a smile will always go further than a well-developed lesson plan.  That my attitude when it comes to the very kids I get to teach is a choice.  That saying hello, that smiling, that telling them how much I love this job, how much I love them, will make a difference.  Even to those who push the hardest.

….but sometimes a well-developed lesson plan can move mountains.  When students plan lessons with us, offer up their ideas, and invest their energy, we are already further than we could be without them.  That lessons need choice, relevance, and challenge.  That every child deserves to be held to high expectations, and every child needs a second chance when something doesn’t work.

That those who push you the hardest, leave the biggest marks.  That often those kids who see no value in school, no value in you, are the ones you will fight the hardest for.  That it is not your job to save them from their lives, themselves, or their circumstances, but that you are there to love, to offer up ways to navigate their lives, and to remind them that they have worth.  That in this world, they matter.

…but sometimes they don’t want you to be in their corner.  And that’s ok, too.  We can try to connect with every child we teach, knowing that for some we may be exactly the type of teacher they do not want.  The biggest gift we then can offer up is, besides not giving up, to help them forger connections with others.  To help them have someone they connect with, so they know that they are not alone.

They have taught me…

That I don’t know it all.  Especially the more I teach, I realize how little I know.  Ten years ago I didn’t think about my privilege.  I didn’t think about how marginalization hurt the very kids I taught.  How inequitable our school system is.  How white skewed my classroom library was.  How I didn’t know everything.  But I grew, and I will continue to grow.  I will continue to admit when I screw up, and it happens a lot, and I will continue to apologize, to use the power I have been given to fight for others and with others.

…but I do know some things.  I know that love matters.  That research matters.  That conviction matters.  That sometimes being the sole voice for change is scary, but necessary.  That we grow best through kindness, but sometimes kindness will not tear down walls.  That what we believe in directly influences how we teach, but that our bigger job is not to give students our opinion, but instead make space for them to develop their own.  That every day I get to work with kids is a better day.  That there is hope.  That this new generation of kids we are raising are changing the world.  That I would rather be a part of the fight, then safe on the sidelines.

I became a teacher because I hoped to make a difference.  I hoped to create a classroom where every child felt safe, where every child felt loved.  I don’t know if I have succeeded, but I do know that teaching has changed me.  That I would not be the person I am without the influence of the many incredible children I have taught and who have taught me.

I came into this profession to make a difference but in the end, it was the kids that made the biggest difference to me.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  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.

 

 

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being a teacher, Book Clubs, books, Literacy

Join the Passionate Readers Summer Book Club Study

While summer is definitely a time to unwind without guilt for me, it is also a time where I want to grow as an educator.  Where I want to think of new ideas, come up with a plan, and maybe even make a few connections.  And I am not alone.  When I asked the educators in our Passionate Readers Facebook group what their plans were for re-energizing themselves over the summer, every person who answered had some sort of professional learning they wanted to do.

So in order to start a conversation.  In order to help each other grow.  In order to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate, I invite you to join us for an informal four-week book club centered around Passionate Readers.  We will discuss teacher reading identity, student reading identity, classroom libraries and of course, share must-read, must-add titles for you to consider adding to your classroom.

The book club is free, all you need is your own copy of Passionate Readers and to join our Facebook group where the questions and discussion will happen.

Once a week, I will join do a Facebook live conversation where I can answer questions, highlight books, and share ideas.

The book club will kick off June 17th and run for four weeks wrapping up July 8th.

1st-week focus – Teacher reading identity and how our habits influence our teaching.

2nd-week focus – Classroom library and must add book titles for the year.

3rd-week focus – Student reading identity – choice, goals, and independence.

4th-week focus – Conferring, lessons, and getting ready for the year ahead.

So if you would like to join, get your copy of Passionate Readers ready, join the Facebook club, and get ready to share.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, end of year

7 Must Do’s at the End of the Year

With just a few precious days left with the kids I have gotten to call mine for the year, my body is bone-tired.  I think we all are.  Yet, my mind is eager, I am excited to send these kids off for summer, and yes, I am also excited for the next group of kids coming our way.

So within these last few days lies an incredible opportunity to grow.  To prepare for the next year even if this year is not quite over.  I have seen some great posts on things to reflect on as the year ends for so many of us and thought I would share what I plan on doing.  Perhaps, you could use a few ideas yourself?

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow.

I plan on keeping certain experiences.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps me think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  goodbye curation project!  Goodbye identity journals!  Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  In fact, I already did that.  Last week, my husband and I moved all of our bookshelves so that I could reclaim the front of the room as part of our teaching area.  It has made a huge difference to the feel of the room, how welcoming it looks.  Why wait until next year?  Try it out now and see how it feels.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing is what comes to mind, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more joyful writing experiences, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together.

I plan a challenge.  Every summer, I try to discover the work of new amazing leaders in education.  One year it was educators like Val Brown, Dana Stachoviak, and Cornelius Minor, another it was diving into the work of We Need Diverse Books and figuring out how to work through my own biases and change the way I taught.  Every year, I pick a challenge that will push my thinking, make me realize my own mistakes, and also help me become a better educator.  It can be hard at times, but it is definitely worth taking the time to realize the gaping holes you have and then actually doing something about it.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

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, summer

Parents – How to Create Great Summer Reading Experiences for All

White, Black, Red, Blue,  Free Image

I know many of us educators (and those at home) have been working hard all year to try to cultivate or protect a love of reading in our learners.   Now with warmer temperatures and summer beckoning for the Northern Hemisphere comes the real test; will kids keep reading over the summer?  Is what we did enough?  Did we lay enough of a foundation, get them excited, get them hooked so that the next few weeks or months will not put them in a reading drought?  While time will truly be the judge of how the work might pay off, here are a few ideas that may help depending on the age of the learner.

Have a to-be-read list.  All year we have cultivated ours, trying to add as many titles as possible so that when the students leave our classrooms they have something to help guide them when they are either at the library or at the bookstore.  This is especially important for our “fragile” readers, those who have just discovered that books and reading may be for them after all and need a constant diet of amazing books.  But really all kids should have one, not just some.  I just had students send home an email with their to-be-read list or create a Goodreads account, so reach out and ask your learner’s teacher to see if they have one made.  Even if the school has not created a to-be-read list it is not too late to make one!  Browse the displays at the library or at the bookstore and write it down somehow. Keep the list on you because you never know when you come across an opportunity to find more books.

Visit places where books are present.  We go to the library a lot; when it is too hot and the pool is not open, when it is stormy, when we are tired.  We also go to our local bookstore and browse.  Accessing book, touching books, getting excited about books and anything that we can read is vital to keep the desire alive.  Sign up for the public library’s reading challenge or make it a routine every week to go and get new books.  Spend a few hours reading while you are there.  If there is no library or the library is not accessible to you, reach out to your learner’s school, is there a way they can lend you books?  Our school library does a summer checkout before the end of the year, as do I.  If you are not able to go places where there are books, ask your child’s teacher if you may borrow a big stack of books from them if you promise to bring them back.  I have often lent books to families over the summer as a way to help them keep reading.

Make it social.  I love reading a great book and then talking to others about the book or even better passing the book on to them.  Make reading a social aspect of your summer; have reading “parties” where kids can discuss books, create a book swap with other families, scour garage sales for long-lost favorites.  Offer up yourself to read with your learner or get more than one copy of a book (if you have access to them) so that others may join in the reading.  Too often as parents we think we should read all of the books our child is reading and while that can be a fun bonding experience, it may be more powerful if you can get a friend of your child to be a reading partner.

Read aloud.  Many parents assume that their older kids do not want to be read aloud to, and yet, my students tell us repeatedly how much they miss it.  So why not find a great book and take some time to experience the book together?

Use audio books.  I love that I can borrow audio books from our library – both Harry Potter and the Lightning Thief series has captured our imagination for months.   When your children are in the car, put on an audio book.  Have a copy of the book ready if  anyone wants to keep reading and you have reached your destination.  With all of the research coming out correlating audio books with further reading success this is a winning situation.

Find great books.  Get connected online to communities like #Titletalk, #BookADay, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, or Nerdy Book Club to get ideas of what to read next.  I am constantly adding to my wish list due to these places.  Use the professionals like librarians, booksellers and teachers.  Also, ask other parents what their kids are reading, create a Facebook page to share recommendations or simply use you own page, anything to find out what great books are available.

Create a routine.  We read every night and sometimes even in the morning (as well as throughout the day but then again we may be slightly book obsessed).  Helping your child create a routine where reading is a natural part of the day mean that they will create ownership over the habit, thus (hopefully) inspiring further reading.  I encourage my students to read first thing in the morning before they get up or as the last thing they do before falling asleep.  Whatever the routine may be, sit down and read yourself, it is vital for all of our children to see their parents/caregivers as readers.

Allow real choice.  I have seen some parents (and schools) require learners to read certain books over summer, but summer is meant to be guilt-free reading.  Where we reach for those books we cannot wait to read because they will suck us right in, where we fill up our reserves so we can perhaps finally tackle that really challenging book that we have been wanting to read.  Where we explore new books because we want to.  Too often rules and expectations infringe on the beauty of summer reading; falling into a book’s pages and not having to come up for air until it is done.  That also goes for reading things that may be “too easy” or “too hard” – I devour picture books, graphic novels and all thing “too easy” in the summer, as well as trashy beach reads and Danish crime mysteries.  I refuse to feel guilty about my choices in reading, because that is never what reading is about.

Have books everywhere.  Again, this depends on how many books you have access to, but leave books wherever your kids go.  I have books in the car, in their rooms, in the kitchen, living room, etc.  That way the books seem to fall into their hands at random times; stopped in traffic, quiet time before lunch, a sneak read before falling asleep.  It is a luxury to have books in our house and so we try to make them as visible as possible.

Celebrate abandonment, but ask questions.  When a child abandons a book, this is a great thing.  They are learning that this book is not for them and they can use their energy for a book that will be for them.  But ask questions so that they may think about what type of book they might like.  So they can think about what type of reader they are and want to be.  Make sure that there are other books they want to read as well so that they can keep trying to find great books.

Explore new books together.  Summer can be a great time to try to push your own habits of reading, as long as it doesn’t feel like a chore.  Set a reading challenge, compete against each other if you want, challenge each other to read each other’s favorite books and revel in the shared experience.

Be invested and interested.  This does not mean that you ask your child to write reports about what they read, in fact, I would be very careful as to what type of work goes along with reading over the summer beside reading, but do ask questions.  Ask whether they enjoy the book or not.  What they plan on reading next.  Read along with them or beside them.  Make reading a part of your life so it can become a part of theirs.

Keep it fun.  Too often, especially if our child is not a well-developed reader, we can get rather nervous as parents and think that we must keep them on a regimented reading program at all costs.  That we must have them write about reading or track it somehow.  Have them read, yes, but keep it light and fun.  The last thing we want to do is to make reading a worse experience for them or adding more stress to your family.

What other ideas do you have?

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.

 

Awards, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reading Rewards

He finally found a book he liked.

She actually has a book she wants to read over summer.

He read more books than he ever has before.

She tried a new genre and liked it.

He finally actually read a book rather than just pretend.

These major accomplishments are some that my students shared today as we gathered around to do our end of year reading celebration.

Some of my students read more than fifty books this year, some only read a few.   And yet, within that number lies the story of a child who tried, who didn’t give up, who kept investing themselves as a reader, no matter what their relationship was before they came to 7th grade.  I am so proud of how they have grown.

And yet, when I look around on social media I keep seeing posts about how teachers are throwing special celebrations only for the kids that met their 40 book challenge goal.  That met their AR level.  That reached the growth target set for them.  And I cannot help but get sad, and perhaps, a little angry, because are we truly thinking about what these types of celebrations do to the kids that once again are excluded?  That once again did not get invited?  That once again did not get any recognition no matter how hard they worked?

Once again it appears our well-meaning intentions have gotten the better of us.  That we get so focused on the goal, on the quantity, that we forget about the growth.  The incredible mountains that some of our students have overcome to simply find a book, read a book, love a book.

When we reward only those who have met the goal we have set, we tell the rest that while they tried, it was not enough.  That while they may have finally read a book, they are still not enough of a reader for us to recognize.   That our experience together was never about their growth but was about this arbitrary number that they needed to reach, this goal they did not set.  That while they may have felt like they accomplished something, they really didn’t.

Which teacher really wants students to think that?

What if we instead celebrated all of our kids?  What if we instead asked every single child to reflect on how they have grown as a reader?  What if we instead asked every single child to give themselves an award based on their own perceived accomplishment?

You might get something like this if you did…

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Students who contemplated over their own reading experiences and then wrote their own award.  (To see the template for the certificate go here).

Kids who know they have grown as a reader and who see the worth in what they have done.  Kids who see that the teachers recognize this year’s worth of work and dedication and are so proud of them.  Because we are.  Kids who are proud of themselves, because they should be.

So I implore you, do not make your end of year reading celebrations about the number.  Instead, ask the students what they are proud of.  What they have achieved and celebrate them all.  Let them have the time to see how far they have come so that they can leave our schools with a sense of accomplishment that they might not otherwise have had.

PS:  Next year, start the year by having students set their own goals, as explained here, so that they too can work on something meaningful.

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, being a teacher, books, end of year, Reading, Reading Identity, Student

Best Book of the Year Speech in Just 15 Words

Every year our very last speech is a “Best Book of the Year” Speech.  Every year, my students declare their love for books in front of the class.  They share their favorite reads in order for everyone else to add them to their to-be-read list.  I scribble down each title so I can create a blog post for the rest of the world.  It is always fascinating to see the books that make the cut.

This year, we have worked on brevity.  On the importance of words.  On getting to the point, so we added a twist to this yearly event; you get 15 words exactly.  No more, no less.  15 words to make others write down the title you loved.  15 words to somehow give enough of a glimpse into the book to tempt others.

To inspire my students I read them a Cozy Classic – a 12-word re-telling of some very well-known classics.  Then I have them two days to create their speech, work on their gestures, and prepare for their performance.  The results yesterday were pretty stellar.  Engaged students and lots of titles added.  Lots of laughs while sharing the love of books we have read.  One more step toward creating reading experiences long after they leave us.  Long after the last day of school.

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.