The Best in 2016 – My Favorite Posts of the Year

Who would have known what this year would bring, how the world would look so different from the promises we arose with in our minds on January 1st.  We have made it another trip around the sun and tomorrow we start a new year, a new book so so to speak.  Who knows what will grace this blog in 2017.

This was a year of change for my family.  Theadora, our oldest, changed school districts, the twins, Ida and Oskar, started 4-K, and my husband left the construction business after 19 years to become a stay-at-home dad and also go back to school to pursue his dream of being a teacher.  It seems in a family life of change, I was the only constant.  A new book was published, another one almost written and so many opportunities to grow as a teacher.   There were 154 posts published on this post, many of them involving literacy, many of them involving books, so which are the ones that stood out to me?

Broken Child

A post about our oldest daughter and realizing that while she does not learn in a typical fashion at times, she was never broken.  Excerpt:

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

12 Ways I Got My Life Back in Balance As a Teacher

A post I needed to remind myself that while teaching is an incredible job it is not the only thing I want my life to be consumed with.  Excerpt:

I get asked often how I do it all.  How do I teach full-time, have 4 children, a happy marriage, and also write, speak, and all of those other things that I am so lucky to do without losing my mind.  And the truth is; I don’t know.  There are good days where I feel like I have succeeded in most things and there are days where I feel woefully overworked.  There is definitely a chase of balance always going on.  Yet, there are some things that have simplified my teaching life that I now take for granted.  Things that used to take up a lot of time that I no longer do or have changed to allow me to not work as much as I used to.  Because the truth is; being a teacher is a never-ending job.  Your to-do list is never done.  There will always be one more thing that should get done, one more idea to try.  Knowing that, I knew I needed to change a few things, in and out of the classroom in order to save my sanity and have a life.

On the Need for Classroom Libraries for All Ages

A post to remind ourselves that the need for classroom libraries coupled with a school library (and librarian!) does not end after elementary school.  We need classroom libraries in all of our classrooms, no matter the age.

It took me 3 seconds to decide that I was going to move my entire classroom library into my 7th grade classroom.  Coming from 5th grade I wasn’t quite sure what the use of a classroom library would be on my new adventure, after all, we would only have 45 minutes together, but I couldn’t leave my books behind.  I couldn’t leave them in boxes.  Even if we didn’t need the books as a class, I needed them.  My books were home to me and when you change schools, when you change districts, when you change grade levels, you need all of the pieces of home you can find.

My husband carried every single box of books into my classroom.  There were more than 100 and they took up an entire wall as I waited for my bookshelves to arrive.  He didn’t mind too much, he has realized a long time ago that I my obsession with books is part of who I am.  As I opened each box and shelved the books in their new home, I couldn’t help but wonder if any child would ever read them?  If dust would soon become their second skin rather than the hands of children.  Was there any point in my meticulous placement of books?

Reading Conferences Within the 45 Minute English Classroom, Yes, It Is Possible

I have tried for the past three years to find time to confer with my students within the 45 minutes that I teach.  It is so hard, but here are the ideas that have helped it become more of a reality.

Confession time; I am terrible at conferring with my students.  This once proud foundation of my elementary classroom is now a crumbling pillar in my 7th grade English class.  Call it a victim of the 45 minute I have to teach everything in.  A victim of the so much to do.  A victim of not quite knowing how to make it productive.  Whatever it is, the conferring that I know I should be doing has simply not been getting done.

Yet a few weeks ago, I realized that the one thing I needed the most (besides more time, more books, more knowledge) was the simple conference.  The one to one interaction with every single one of my students if even for just a few minutes.   Because conferring is the one way I can really reach all students.  Is the one way we can connect the best.  Is the one way that I can really see what each child needs.  Conferring is the best way for me to be a better teacher to all of the needs must of us are faced with.   So even within the 45 minute English class, with almost 120 students spread over 5 classes, there had to be a way.  There had to be tweaks that could be made to make it work so an experiment began.

The Test Does Not Care

Every spring I am confronted with the hours of tests my students have to take, this year was no different.  I have realized though that the test does not care about my kids and it never will.

We teach our students to ask questions, to share, to discuss.  We teach them to find help when they need it, take their time when they can, and to always use their tools.

They sit where they are comfortable in order to access the learning best.  They reach out to those they trust and they use us whenever they are lost or just want to make sure that the path they are headed down is, indeed, the right one.

We try to create learning environments where discovering facts is only the first step of the journey, using them as a way to further understanding is the next.  We use our shared ideas to further the knowledge of others.  Where mistakes happen and we try again.  We try to create learning environments where students have a voice, where they have choices, where we try to make it personal so that the experience they have makes sense for who they are.

What Every Teacher of Reading Should Do According to My Students

Besides my own children my students have always been the biggest professional development I have received.  So it made sense to share their truths as they told me what made them love or hate reading with the world.

I have watched in amazement day upon day as our 7th graders have fallen into reading.  Have become still.  Have been whisked away to other worlds with their books in their hands and nothing to do but read.  I have listened as they have spoken of books, have handed them to each other, have recommended and requested.  Have been in competition with one another to read the book first, have asked me for that one book that they just can’t seem to find.

I have watched as my 118 learners became readers.  Not that they weren’t before, well some weren’t, but now; books are a part of who they are, at least in the 45 minutes we share.  Readers who were dormant are now awake.  Readers who were resistant are now in a fragile dance with books that entice them to keep reading.  Readers who already read have found bigger challenges to keep themselves engaged.  And I am so grateful.  Because these kids gave me a chance  and I now see the difference as we race toward the end.

So today I asked them; what do you wish every teacher would do for you as a reader and they told me, and then they told me to tell the world.

I’ve Had Enough  – No More Public Behavior Management Systems

For years I have fought against the use of public behavior management systems for kids and yet I still see, hear, and read about them every month.  Our job is not to publicly shame children, it never was, why do we seem to forget that?

When I was a 5th grade teacher, my classroom was the very last one before the buses.  Every day, all of the school’s students would pass by and inevitably some of those students and I would strike up a conversation.  Day after day, a little kindergartener would tell me about his day, his shoes, his new fish, or whatever else popped into his mind.  One day, he saw me and beamed,”Guess what, Mrs. Ripp!”  “What?” I asked.  “Peter was on yellow today!”  He told this news as if it was the biggest gift, excitement spilling from his little body.  Momentarily confused, because wasn’t this child’s name distinctly not Peter, it finally dawned on me; he was talking about another student.  “Oh yeah?” I said.  “Yes, Mrs. Ripp, it’s exciting, he hasn’t been on yellow all year…”  It was November.  My heart dropped.

Here was a kindergarten student who every single day so far of the year had been on red. Who every day had their behavior dissected in front of the rest of the class.   Whose classroom identity was being distinctly shaped by poor decisions and whose biggest identifier was his behavior.  I can only imagine what my kindergarten friend would tell his parent every day about Peter.

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow As Adult Readers

Written as a reminder to myself, this post resonated with many when we spoke about the insanity of reading rules we sometimes create in our classrooms.  I am grateful for the discussions this one continues to generate.

Choice.

The number one thing all the students I have polled through theJust an ImmigrantJust  years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Just an Immigrant

Many people are not aware that I am not an American and this year I became even more aware of the privilege my origin and skin color carries.  I had to write about it.

Eighteen years ago, almost to the day, I stood in a small office in the Logan International Airport, Boston, Massachusetts clutching a sealed envelope to my chest as I tried to slow my galloping heart.  In the envelope was a copy of my chest x-rays, not seen by anyone until the official in front of me would open them up.  My pile of papers had been handed over and he riffled through them, tossing those aside that seemed unimportant.  I am not sure I took a breath at all.  I knew that if he found a mistake, if something seemed out of sorts, if something was missing, or a box was not checked, that was it.  No questions, no explanations, I would be back on a plane to Denmark and all of the time, money, and hoping would have been for nothing.  Standing there as an eighteen year old, I remember feeling so little, so scared, and so unsure of myself.  My fate was in the hands of a stranger and all I could do was smile.

“What are you doing here?” or something similar is all I remember being asked.  I must have answered correctly, in my perfect English, because he finally stamped my passport and handed it back to me.  “Welcome to the United States of America…”

The Worst Class in (X) Years

What do we do when a class’ reputation defines them as a group?

My last year as a 5th grade teacher we were warned, in a friendly way ,of course, as these warnings tend to be.  “Oh, you will have your hands full…”  Oh, THAT group is coming up.”  My team and I had seen these kids come up through the years, that is the beauty of elementary school.  Yes, we had seen the tantrums, the fighting, the crazy behavior that made many label this group as the worst in (insert however many) years.  But we also had seen the kindness, the energy, the fun that these kids projected and knew that while we may have our hands full, the year with them would be a year where we would always strive to look for the good, rather than the bad because although the bad was so easy to spot, it should not define a group of kids.  Sure there were days where we could not believe what was going on but what I remember most about that year was how incredible the kids were.  How much fun we had.  How there were these incredible lows but also days that were some of the best of my teaching career.  My team would agree with me on this.  Yes we had THAT group but also loved THAT group.

Every year since then I have taken that same pledge; to always look for the good first.  To always praise, to always point out how great of a group this group is.  To change the group narrative in some small way.   To always assume that this will be an incredible year no matter the reputation of a group.  I think it is so easy to fall prey to the notion of the worst class ever.  I think it is so easy to just want to get through a year as quickly as possible, I know there are days that seem never ending where we question everything we do.  Yet when we do, we forget something very important; not every kid is going to have a bad day every day.  Not every kid is going to have a bad class every class.  Sometimes it may seem like this is the toughest day yet, but that too shall pass and just like we hope for a better day tomorrow, so do the very kids we teach.

 

The Least We Can Do 

I was asked to do an Ignite at ITEC, I realized that there was one story I wanted to tell above all; the story of Augustine and her much too soon arrival and how it reminds me that the least we can do is love the kids who show up.

On December 19th, 2013, our youngest daughter, Augustine, was born almost 10 weeks early.  She came so fast that there was no doctor in the room, just the nurse.  She came so fast that I now know what the big red emergency button in a hospital room does.  She came so fast that I did not see her.  I did not hold her.  She did not cry.  For the first minute of her life, I did not know if she was alive.  It wasn’t until my husband, Brandon, told me she was breathing that I think I took a breath.  That life started up again because for that longest minute of my life, with no wailing to calm me down, I had no idea if I was still the mother of three or the mother of four.

They whisked her away from me into their machines, into the equipment that would help her tiny body breathe, stay warm, and her heart keep beating.  See when babies are born that early they need help with everything.  And we can prepare all we want but it is not until they actually arrive and we see how much they need us that we realize that all of a sudden we have started a new journey, one that will take us down a perilous path where we might not be able to see our destination for a long time.

Dear Dav Pilkey

I have long chronicled Thea’s reading journey on this blog and how it has shaped me as a teacher and as a human being.  This letter of gratitude to Dav Pilkey sums her journey up to now.

Dear Dav Pilkey,

You don’t know me, not unless you count the every brief moment I stood in front of you a few hours ago in your book signing line.  Yet I feel like I know you, perhaps that is what happens when your books have shaped the reading lives of so many of my students, I have seen the power they hold to transform children, I am grateful.  But just recently your books have taken on a new meaning for me.

You see, our oldest daughter, Thea, is what some would define as a struggling reader, we choose not to but instead just see her as a child who has not yet found her place in the world of reading, who so desperately wants to belong but still feels like she is on the outside looking in.  Who is developing with every book encounter she has.  Who has to work so hard when it comes to something that others find to be so easy.  Who for all of the years of her school experience has been given support by extraordinary teachers who have helped her believe that one day those words will come off the page and come alive.   Just not yet…

A Quiet Moment

These kids we teach and the books we read, oh what a combination it can be at times.

Life is full right now.  Full of so many wonderful things.  Full of so many privileges, but also challenges, things that will make me grow as a person, as a teacher, as a human being trying to be a better human being.  One of my privileges is to get to teach a class with some pretty incredible kids in it.  They are bouncy, creative, loud at times.  Sometimes they need reeling in that can take more than few minutes and yet every day as they walk out, although I am a little bit tired, I cannot wait for them to come back.

Today, the day after Halloween, I did not know what to expect.  After all, one child had declared to me the day before that really all school should just be cancelled the week of Halloween.  As a mother witnessing my own children’s lethargy this morning, I had to wonder what the day would bring.  Would these boys even be ready for anything?  Would it be a day of wasted time?  As the day grew on and the kids seemed to wake up from their tiredness, I started to ponder just how loud the end of the day would be?  Where would the crescendo hit?

A Story of A Child That Can

Rather than viewing our children through what they cannot do, we need to view them as they are now; capable, changed, and facing a whole life of possibilities ahead.

For the past three years, on December 19th, I have written about the miracle that is our youngest daughter, Augustine.  About her much too soon arrival.  About the fear.  The uncertainty.  The guilt…

I have written about my hope for others to see how a child’s start in life may still haunt them many years later when they show up in our classrooms.  I have written about how the very least we can do is love them when they come.  How we can prepare all we want and yet never be fully ready.

Augustine’s much too soon arrival has shaped our lives in many ways, and yet…last night when I came home from school I did not see a baby that arrived too early.  I did not see a 4 pound miracle.  I did not see a child wrapped up in long nights and frightening futures.  In machines and medical personel.  I saw an almost three year old showing me her pig, Pua.  I saw an almost three year old that wanted to watch that monster show.  I saw an almost three year old that kept her siblings awake by making cat noises.

As I look ahead to 2017, I cannot wait to see what I will write about.

 

 

On Doing Less

As I contemplate the year that has passed, the year that is about to start, I cannot help but think that it all seems to have gone by in a blink.  That this year with all its news, all its wonder, all its sorrows, seem to have rolled me by and is just over.  That while I cannot wait to say goodbye to 2016, I also cannot believe that this year is just done, just like that.

I look at the words that were supposed to define this year; hope, change, slowing down, spending less, giving more, and wonder when those words got lost.  What happened to our audacity?  What happened to our do something attitude?  And how did my own children get so big?

So as I look forward to 2017, I cannot help but think of what I want to do less of.  Of how I want to continue on this path of slowing down, of saying no, of focusing in on the tasks we have at hand rather than constantly stay focused on what is to come.

This year I have embraced the slow down in the classroom.  To take the time it takes us to work through a topic.  To move deadlines, to go deeper, to not do as many things in order to do better with a few.  And I have noticed the relief in the students, I have also seen it in their work; more thought has been put into it, they care more, they have more questions.  They are usually less stressed when they come to English and can actually turn off the outside world and focus on the learning in front of them.

So my word for 2017 is single-task.  For years I have fooled myself into believing that I am great at multi-tasking, but really all I am good at is being distracted.  For years I have felt my brain search out new stimuli every few seconds, not being able to embrace what I am doing right now, not being able to appreciate what I am doing because I am constantly searching for the other thing I need to do.  So this year will be the year of doing one thing, of not having 7 tabs open at one time on my computer, of doing one thing until it is done and enjoying it.  Of doing less and experiencing more.  Of hanging with my kids without my phone, without my computer, without doing, doing, doing.  Of teaching like every moment matters, because it does, of looking at my students more, of slowing down, of being in the moment.

I know I wont be perfect, we never are, but I will keep trying every day to focus more, do less, and do one thing at a time.  What will be your word for 2017?

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

 

 

Once Again, On My Own Inherent Privilege

I am not sure where these thoughts fit in, or whether they are even ready to be shared, but I keep coming back to the same conclusion and I feel like I have to write this out.  So hang with me as I try to make sense of all of this.

Recently I had my US citizenship interview; that scary sit-down meeting that I have been waiting more than 7 months to have.  The one where you fill out a 16 page application answering in-depth questions about your life, your intentions, your affiliations, your identity.  You send it in, you pay the money, they fingerprint you and then you hold your breath hoping that they will see you fit to be given citizenship. Or even fit to be considered.  And you wait, and you watch the mail, and you check their website, maybe once a day, until finally one day a notice shows up and tells you to be there or else…

So I went and my hands got sweaty and I kept thinking, what if I screw this up?  What if they say no?  What if the person behind the desk sees something they do not like and this means no?  Then what?  I walked in on shaky feet, heartbeat racing and it began.  I had to answer 6 questions correctly – what is the supreme law everyone -I had to read a sentence, and I had to write.  I had to pledge to say the truth and nothing but the truth.  I then had to re-answer all of the same questions I had already said yes or no to on the initial application;a long rambling list of loyalty to terrorism, of whether I have committed genocide, if I have ever harmed others, held others against their will, which groups I belong to.  All things that I tried not to crack up about because the questions are so crazy and as my students had said, “Who would ever say yes to any of that, Mrs. Ripp?”  Yet as the interviewer quickly went through the long list of questions, not skipping a beat, I realized something once again…

No one is questioning my answers.

No one is asking follow up questions.

No one is wondering whether I am lying.

No one is questioning what my “real” intentions are for wanting to become a citizen.

No one is protesting.

No one is worried that I might become a part of this nation.

Because I am a woman.

Because I do not wear a hijab.

Because I am white.

I have written before about the inherent privilege I have in this nation as a white immigrant who looks like an American, who speaks English without an accent.  About how no one thinks of me as “other” or “foreign.”  About how surprised people are when they find out that I was not born here, nor raised here as a child.

I have written before about the path I am given because of things mostly outside of my control.  And yet, today as I read about the removal of Adam Saleh on a Delta flight and tried to find out more about the story, I realized another thing; how many times have I sat on a flight and spoken on my phone to my family in Danish and the only questions I have gotten were delightful ones about that fun language I was speaking?  How I have never been questioned about the content of my conversation or been seen as a threat because I spoke another language.  How no one has ever looked at me with fear because of an every day action.

And I think of my Muslim friends where the opposite is their new reality.  Where they are scared to walk the street with their hijab, afraid of having it ripped off their heads or of the treatment they will be given. And even my friends who are not Muslim but speak a language that sounds like something dangerous.  Who may look like something we are afraid of (read; not white).   Where they are scared to speak their own language in case someone around them mistakes them for plotting something sinister.  Since when did we get so scared?  Since when did we get so close-minded when it comes to others?   Since when did we equate terrorism not with the actions of a few but the culture and appearance of many?

And sure, we can find example upon example of the terror acts we have seen to justify our fears but then why are we as a nation not also terrified of white males?  Why are we not terrified of people who look like my husband because white males statistically are behind more terror acts than jihadists?

So while I passed my citizenship test with ease, I left with a heavy heart.  Once again, me being white offered me a privilege that will not be extended to others that I know.  Once again I am aware of the situations I will more than likely never face because of where I come from and how I look.  And I have no answers of what to do except to keep thinking and speaking up and teaching my students about others so that they do not end up being those people who are afraid of anything other than what they know.  Who are not afraid to connect with those who might not look like them, speak like them, or even think like them.  We are living in a world of fear and that fear is driving us apart, we cannot let it.

With Just One Simple Tool…

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“This is nothing special…”

“Others have done this better…”

“Who am I to share…”

How many of us have thought or even spoken sentiments such as these as we have published our ideas, spoken up at staff meetings, or even invited a colleague in.  The imposter syndrome is real and I think many of us live it.

While we can all agree that we should know better, sometimes our own voice shouts louder than those who are thankful for the ideas we share.  This is how I felt writing my new book, Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration.  Who was I to share on global collaboration?  Who was I to tell others how they could integrate technology in a seemingly more meaningful way to empower their students? Who was I to say that I knew something about this, after all, I am not the only one doing just this.  And yet…

We are never the only ones doing something.  There are very few original ideas in the world.  Instead we live in a world that creates off of each other, that shares wildly so that more good can come of it.  Integrating technology tools to create more meaningful experiences seems easy because it is.  We do not need millions of dollars worth of new technology to collaborate with the world, that just makes it easier, instead what we need are just a few simple tools.

So you start with Twitter…

Perhaps it is a classroom account, perhaps it is your own personal one.  You create purposes for the tweets you send.  For example, when a child finishes a book, you search to see if the author is on Twitter and then you send them questions, compliments, perhaps even needle them for  some sequel information.  Imagine the deeper understanding that happens when a child realizes that this author is a human being who has more thoughts they would like to share.  Even if the author doesn’t reply you can still see what they tweet about and discover a whole new dimension to them.  Sometimes helping a child get hooked on a book happens after they have read it and they all of a sudden see the person being the experience they just had.

Or you go to Twitter and you ask for people to become your audience for something your students have created.  Perhaps they are speeches, perhaps they are nonfiction picture books, perhaps you need others to Skype in live to be judges for a poetry slam.  Whatever it is, you ask for others to sign up and they agree.  Or you go to Twitter and you invent a hashtag surrounding a common purpose like Karen Lirenman and her students did when they asked others to take a picture of the view out of their classroom window and share it with the world.  People did and her students learned that our views look quite different.

Perhaps you ask others what the temperature is.  Perhaps you ask others to be your editors.  Perhaps you create a story only told through tweets.  Perhaps you ask for experts to connect with your classroom so that your students can understand something more deeply.  Perhaps you ask for help in solving a challenge or ask for a recommendation or send out challenge questions to others.  Perhaps you ask for a longer partnership to occur between your classrooms because so many other people out there are probably teaching the same curriculum as you are.

Perhaps Twitter is not your tool of choice.  Perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or scary, or perhaps you are not quite sure how to use it.  That is okay too.  This is not a post heralding the power of Twitter, instead this is a post talking about connecting with others.  Because this is what is easy in regard to global collaboration; finding others.  But you won’t know that until you start asking.

So find your tool and find out how you can make what you are already doing more meaningful, more powerful, more engaging for the kids you teach.  How can you give them the power to connect with others so that they can see the relevance of the work they do?  How can you impact the world, but even more importantly, how can the world impact your students?

We speak of creating more empathetic human beings, of the power vested in us as the creators of the future.  We speak of creating deeper learning opportunities but then run out of time when it comes to bringing the world in.  We run into filters and restrictions.  We run into our own nervousness, our own fragility when it comes to taking risks.  But I am here to tell you; embedding global collaboration throughout what you already do is not hard, it may take time, and thought, and planning, but doesn’t all great teaching?  So pick a tool, look at what you already do and ask; how can bringing others in make this better?  What can others bring to this process to make it more meaningful?  Then trust yourself and try.  You will never look back once you do.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

I thought I wouldn’t be able to pick all of my favorite picture books from 2016, and then I realized that I do not need to.  I can write this post as a way to pay homage to the picture books that started conversations, that taught us to think, to question.  That made us laugh out loud, that made us cry.  This post is therefore not the best picture books of the year necessarily, they are the ones I loved.  The ones I remember as I sit at home fighting off the flu.  I can guarantee you that when my head clears and I am back in our classroom, I will add more to the list because inevitably some will get left off.  While most of these were published in 2016, some were not, some were simply discovered by me finally.  Also, to save my own sanity at the length of the post, I will only write one sentence about each book. I encourage you to read them, to buy them, to praise them, to read them in your classroom and to advocate for the use of picture books with all ages.

So in no particular order, which books am I so grateful to have discovered in 2016?

Be A Friend by Salina Yoon

Friendship. Loneliness. Beautiful.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.

To the Stars!  The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong.

Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment.

Jazz Day:  The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo

In-depth.  Eye-opening.  Mesmerizing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ida, Always by Caron Lewis and Charles Santoso.

Tears. Death. Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

Magical. Hopeful.  Enchanting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Deep. Thoughtful.  Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wildest Race Ever:  The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Megan McCarthy

Unbelievable. True. Informational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Frank Morrison

Dreams. Perseverance. Equality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon

How did I not know about this before?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller

Funny. Creative. Inventive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea

Laugh out loud funny. Must be acted out.

 

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davis

Story craft. Inventive. Funny.

How This Book Was Made written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Story craft.  Collaboration. Hi jinx.

I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino

Thought provoking.  Imaginative.

This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else)

Creative. Funny. Writer’s craft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Call Me Grandma written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Fierce. Unapologetic. Thought provoking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.

Discussion starter.  Community builder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love

Celebrating differences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead.

Creativity boosting.  Writing process. Storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

Funny. Naughty.  Great read aloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Meant to be read aloud.  Mentor text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Finish written by Minh Le and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

Makes me want to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return by Aaron Becker

Inventive.  Masterful conclusion.  Dreamers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

Bridging differences. Adventure.  Appreciation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.

Finding commonality.  Social justice.  Funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Just let me read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David Degrand.

Another book, please?!  Knowledgable.  Crowd favorite.

Inventive.  Perspective. Thought-provoking.
Love is love is love is love is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison.

Friendship. Perspective. Loyalty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith

Gratitude. Fitting in.  Perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson

Finding common ground.  Social justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead

Heart-attacher.  Caring for others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shy by Deborah Freedman

Gorgeous. Empowering.  Tender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead

Humanity. Loneliness. Connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield

Chasing dreams. Loneliness. Finding home.

Finding commonalities.  Seeing good. Social justice.

 

Poetry comes alive.

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Maybe Something Beautiful written by F. Isabell Campoy and Theresa Howeel and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Inspiring. Dreamy. Do something.

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Gilbert Ford’s The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring

Informational. Inventive. Inspiring.

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Power. Empowering. Speak up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

Surprising. Hilarious.  Sequel, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora

Monsters in the library.  Imagination.  Read another time, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Read it again.  Surprise.  Shock.

Just one single promise, please.
You can feel the love with every word. Social justice.
How something was salvaged from the horror of 9/11 and made into something powerful.
How do we cope with the changing minds of our grandparents?
Aresting visuals.  Heartbreak and creativity.
 May we never forget our own humanity when helping refugees.
Who knew learning about octopus could be so beautiful?
I know I left some off because I am writing this from home.  However, this is a start, this is a way to say thank you to all of the books and those who create them that made this year even better.

We Don’t Just Teach Curriculum

My first year of teaching I don’t think I ever thought about the end of the year until the end came.  Taught every day as if this was the only day that mattered.  Taught every day with short-term goals in mind but was too overwhelmed to think about the whole year.  To think about how my 4th graders would have changed by the time they were ready for 5th.  I think this is common, it is part of the first year survival strategy.  One day at a time, sometimes it seems like one lesson at a time.  We keep the whole child in mind but really just teach the skills that we set out to cover and hope we do a well enough job.

Now, nine years in and counting, with the feedback given to me by my students, I keep an eye on the end.  Not to count it down, in fact the end always comes to soon, but instead to remember the big picture, the end destination; better children, bigger minds, more knowledge, more self awareness.

So while I teach to ensure equal success with our content, I also teach with a larger goal in mind, always propelling us forward; how to become better human beings.  How to walk away from 7th grade English and feel like they know themselves better.  How to adapt any learning environment to learn better.  How to have courageous conversations.  How to figure to figure out who they are and where they want to go.

So we weave in the small, but often missed, questions throughout our curriculum, throughout our explorations.  I ask my students what is their writing process, they often have little clue, and we revisit the question as the year progresses, so that they know that this matters to who they are.

I ask them how they adapt the environment to fit their needs.  Where do they sit to learn?  How do they learn best?  How does who they sit by affect the way they feel about our class?

I ask after every major unit what they grew on and what is next, how will they get there?  They always assess themselves on anything bigger before I do, after all, they need to have a part in what they have accomplished.  I ask for feedback on the things we do to make sure they matter to the kids.

I offer choice, of course, but not just in product, but in engagement, in assessment, in process, because sometimes product choice is not an option.  I constantly ask them to self assess, even those who cannot be bothered, so that they know that how they feel they did matters to me and to them.  We stop and discuss when we need to and adjust course when we must.

I ask them who they are, how they feel, and how I can be a better teacher for them, for the class.  Do they feel respected, do they feel this matters, do they want to come to class?  And I listen, and I do something based upon what they tell me.

We were never meant to just cover curriculum, we were never meant to just prepare kids for the test, for the next year, for college and career readiness.  We were meant to be the handlers of the future.  To guide our children to stay curious.  To protect the innate love of learning they come to us with.  We were meant to help create a better populace that can accept who they are and know that within them there are things that matter, things that still need work.

So don’t just cover the curriculum, don’t just go through day to day.  Embrace the amazing opportunity that comes with being in education; the chance to shape the future with the conversations we have now.  We are not just teachers of our subject areas, we are teachers in every wonderfully convoluted term of the word.  So ask questions beyond the subject, give time to reflect, to slow down, and to find  a pathway to being better.  Keep an eye on the end not because you want the year to be over, but because in the end, you know that what you did together mattered.  That those kids you were lucky enough to teach grew in more areas than one.  That is the promise we can make every day.  That is a promise we can keep.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.