Be the change, choices, student choice, Student Engagement

How Do I Learn Best – Setting Students Up For Learning Success Beyond Our Classroom

How do i learn best Design

I never planned on teaching through a global pandemic. I doubt anyone did. And yet, here we are, two months to the date when I last saw all of my incredible students in our classroom as I told them, “Take care of yourself, thank you for today, have a great weekend…”

Had I known that March 13th would be the last day of our face-to-face school year, I would have done so many things different. Loaded them up with books. Made sure they cleaned out their lockers. Taken their questions. Created plans. Made sure they knew who to turn to and how to get a hold of us. Told them how much our community has meant to me every day. Hugged them if they wanted to. And yet, now, two months into whatever we are calling this kind of teaching, I am so glad that there were things that we did do all year that has helped us as we transitioned to fully online, to this independent study with support from teachers rather than what school normally is. There are steps that we took as a team all year that our students now say pay off as they sit at home, trying to navigate this online world.

For the past ten years, I have tried to create a classroom where students are given the space to shape their own learning, to discover how they learn best, to go past grades to reflect more deeply on their own needs as learners and as humans and then act on those needs if possible. To create ownership over their learning rather than have school just “be done” to them. I have tried to create an environment where students help plan the lessons, shape how they will be assessed, and also what and how we should pursue our learning. It means that every year there are parts of our learning specifically set up to to do this and it is these parts that now help us have more success in whichever way we define success these days.

So I thought I would give a brief overview of these parts, but also let you know that how to do this is the central question of my book Passionate Learners and that I do virtual and in-person workshops on it as well. (If you would like to have me do this work for you, please reach out).

Part 1: How do you learn best?

This central question is one that we pursue in all of our choices because it is not just that I want a child to be able to be successful in 7th grade English, I want them to take the skills and knowledge they have gained about themselves and apply it to their life after 7th grade English. I want them to be able to walk into a learning situation and know how to advocate for themselves as well as make smart choices that will lead to success. Perhaps too big of a goal but a goal nonetheless.

So how do you learn best applies to where you sit, who you work with, how you approach a project, how do you want to be helped, and even how do you want to be assessed? It applies to every part of how we are in the learning community and how we reflect on ourselves and then use that knowledge to create better conditions for ourselves. A small way of working through this can be seat selection; do I learn best seated on a chair, a yoga ball, a stool, on the floor, standing or lying down? How does where I am in the classroom impact what I can do? How does who I work with impact my learning? How do I approach new topics in a way that makes sense for me? We try out, we reflect on our choices, we discuss, and we draw conclusions in order to move along in our journey. We also discuss how this applies to our “regular” outside lives away from school. How can we speak up and advocate for ourselves and others in order to create change?

This question is central to everything we do. It is where I feel I see some of the largest growth in our year together. It is where I see a lot of engagement shifts for students, especially those where school has not been something they have cared for or felt safe in before.

Part 2: What are your choices?

In order for us to know how we learn best, we have to try out a lot of things. This is why choice in many different aspects of their learning is such a cornerstone of everything we do. Whether it is choice in product, choice in who they learn with, choice in how they learn something, choice in how they are assessed, or even choice in their setting, every choice they are are offered and then make will give kids further insight into how they learn best. Because even what may appear as a “bad” choice is something you can learn from. And so always providing students with choice in some aspect of their learning is part of my planning. If I cannot provide them choice in their product due to state or district standards, then I need to make sure they have other choices to use. They need to have a say in as many components as possible in order to feel proper ownership and also be able to make great and not so great choices. This goes for all students, not just those who have earned it. So this means that even if a child repeatedly makes not so great choices, that we continue to dialogue with them and help them make choices that will support their learning. This doesn’t mean they always get free range but that all kids need to have at least some choices at their disposal, otherwise, we cannot expect them to ever make great choices on their own.

This is one of the things I love the most about being a teacher; providing a safety net for students to explore many different options even if they don’t lead to the type of success they, or we, had hoped for. Our schools should be a safe place to make mistakes. Often kids – and adults – assume that if a child doesn’t complete work or doesn’t use their time wisely that they have failed in the learning, and yet the experience of not being able to do something well is rife with chances for exploration and reflection.

Part 3: What did you learn?

Rather than assume a child has failed if a product is not finished, this is the chance to discover what they did learn in the process about themselves. Did they discover that they need to work with an adult more closely? That selecting the teammates they did, did not work out. That they didn’t do their part and that led to group strife? Giving them built-in chances to assess themselves and the process of learning they have engaged in in order to see what they need to change is a powerful tool in learning and one that needs to be central whenever there is a natural end to a learning cycle. This is also a chance to celebrate any successes they have had; what worked well? What should they replicate in the future? What do they know about themselves now that they didn’t before?

We often assume that students will naturally take this time to internalize these reflections and know what works and what doesn’t, but in my experience this is not always the case. Often, we need to build in time to reflect so that the transfer of realization can happen for each child. We do this through surveys, reflection prompts, and conversations, whatever fits best for the moment. In the beginning of the year, the reflection is often fast and shallow but as the year progresses, I start to see further depth in their answers because we discuss what it means to know yourself. I also offer up more in class chances to share how they are growing as learners which then helps other students go through the process as well.

Part 4: How do you handle obstacles?

Throughout the year, we inevitably have a lot of failures and missteps, but rather than see them as such, they are only thought of as learning opportunities, both for the students and myself. Often these are small such as getting behind on a larger project, being distracted in class, or even just not using the tools provided in a meaningful way, but sometimes it turns into fully missed learning opportunities or complete breakdown in the learning. While this is frustrating for the student, and sometimes the teacher, when it happens there is so much that can be learned from these obstacles because inevitably students will face obstacles in the future that are similar. So rather than give up or assume that obstacles are out of our control, we work through them together and try to solve them together.

When I first started out as a teacher, I assumed that I had to solve every problem for a child, now I know my role as the teacher is to make sure they have an adult to help them solve something if they want to but that we solve it together. And also that sometimes a solution is not what we had hoped for but it will work for now.

Setting up opportunities for students to reflect on the obstacles they faced as well as how they navigated them is a powerful way to invite them into further investment into their own learning. It allows us, the teachers, a way to see which obstacles we have inadvertently placed in the path of students because often I find that it is one of my components or ideas that are causing problems, not just the choices or actions of the students. Sharing the ownership of the learning helps me grow as a practitioner in ways that are instrumental to the changes I make and seek out.

Part 5: Do you trust yourself?

I have to trust my students that they are trying. That they are giving me what they are able to give me in the moment. I have to trust that the feedback they give me is something that matters. That even choices I don’t understand are a way for them to grow. This also means that I have to continually give students chances to prove to me that they can handle further responsibility. That students constantly get a chance to try again and that I don’t narrow their choices because I think I know best and that they will not be able to handle something. Instead I state my concerns upfront and we come up with a plan.

So continually thinking about how responsibility can be shared comes down to how much we trust our students. Even if a child didn’t make a great choice the first time around doesn’t mean that they won’t now. And that is central to what we do; always resetting, always reflecting, always pursuing the learning that we need to do in order to grow as human beings and not just in English.

So you may ask; what does all of this have to do with what we are doing right now? Well, for us, it means lots of choices in their learning – 9 different learning paths options as we speak right now . It means that many students are able to reach out to get what they need or ask the questions they have in order to navigate the obstacles in their way. It means that students are giving me feedback on the learning we are doing and offering up ideas for how to make it better. It means that they are advocating for themselves or finding adults that can help them. It means that many students feel confident in English right now despite all of the format being differently because the independence and advocacy piece has been cultivated and grown all year. Even if that confidence leads to letting me know that the work is too much right now, because that is a win in itself.

And so as I look ahead at the potential for starting next year online, my mind is buzzing with ideas of how we will create the same conditions for next year’s class even if we do not start face to face. Of how students’ voices will be a central component to everything we do in English because that is what we do. Of how I can help guide kids through the reflections we need to do so they can disocver what they already are capable of and how they would like to grow.

The world may look different right now, but that doesn’t mean our philosophy has to change, just the implementation of it. And I am here to help if anyone needs it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

authentic learning, learning, Personalized Learning

Great TED Talks to Use With Middle Schoolers and Other Ages Too

I wanted to immerse my students in thought provoking TED Talks and videos as one of the new options in our final round of “Choose Your Own Learning.” Watching these videos will allow us to continue the work we have done all year on expanding our world view and discussing “Whose Voices are Missing?” as well as allow students for a chance to work on their analysis skills. Students will watch one video a day and then either write or record a response to the video. While I wanted to draw in specific non-fiction skills, I also just wanted students to have a chance to connect and respond. To see my very much work in progress assignment, go here.

While I had several videos I knew I wanted to use with students, I also knew that there were many I had not yet discovered. Enter my incredible Twitter network. I sent out the following Tweet

87 replies later, still growing, and I could not believe once again the treasure trove of incredible videos that were suggested. My gratitude runs deep and so does my penchant for sharing, so without further ado, here are many of the replies given to me with thanks to those who shared them. I am so grateful for all of you. Some are not here that were suggested more than once. I have also ones that we have used throughout the year that have started great discussion in our classroom.

Jamila Lyiscott – Three Ways to Speak English

Jamila Lyiscott is a “tri-tongued orator;” in her powerful spoken-word essay “Broken English,” she celebrates — and challenges — the three distinct flavors of English she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents. As she explores the complicated history and present-day identity that each language represents, she unpacks what it means to be “articulate.”

NY Times – Growing Up Black in America

In this short documentary, young black men explain the particular challenges they face growing up in America.

Matthew Carter – Your Story is Your Superpower

When two teenage boys robbed Matthew at gunpoint almost 11 years ago in front of his own home, he spent many years being fearful of teenagers and feeling haunted by the memory of a cold gun barrel pressed against his head. He realized that living in a state of constant fear prevented him from living his best life, so he worked tirelessly to change his mindset and learn the difference between things he could control and things he couldn’t. Decisions based in fear often result in not being in alignment with our true selves. At its core, the majority of problems seen in most media outlets are stemmed in the emotion of fear. A child is not born afraid. These emotions are imposed on them from another’s fears or caused by life experiences which results in us building both emotional and physical walls to keep out what we’re so fearful of. Being in the “flow” of life allows our natural state of being – love – to be the driving force in our decision making. Matthew works at The Ohio State University and is working to follow his life’s purpose. He has survived two instances of gun violence. He visits schools throughout Ohio and across the country to share his story – a message of hope and perseverance.

Prince EA – What is School For?

Kandice Sumner – How America’s Public Schools Keep Kids in Poverty

Why should a good education be exclusive to rich kids? Schools in low-income neighborhoods across the US, specifically in communities of color, lack resources that are standard at wealthier schools — things like musical instruments, new books, healthy school lunches and soccer fields — and this has a real impact on the potential of students. Kandice Sumner sees the disparity every day in her classroom in Boston. In this inspiring talk, she asks us to face facts — and change them.

Noah Tavlin – How False News Can Spread

Dive into the phenomenon known as circular reporting and how it contributes to the spread of false news and misinformation.

Stephanie Buari – How Fake News Does Real Harm

On April 14, 2014, the terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Nigeria. Around the world, the crime became epitomized by the slogan #BringBackOurGirls — but in Nigeria, government officials called the crime a hoax, confusing and delaying efforts to rescue the girls. In this powerful talk, journalist Stephanie Busari points to the Chibok tragedy to explain the deadly danger of fake news and what we can do to stop it.

Asha de Vos – Why You Should Care About Whale Poo

Whales have a surprising and important job, says marine biologist Asha de Vos: these massive creatures are ecosystem engineers, keeping the oceans healthy and stable by … well, by pooping, for a start. Learn from de Vos, a TED Fellow, about the undervalued work that whales do to help maintain the stability and health of our seas — and our planet.

Jarrett J – Krosoczka – Why Lunch Ladies are Heroes

Children’s book author Jarrett Krosoczka shares the origins of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series, in which undercover school heroes serve lunch…and justice! His new project, School Lunch Hero Day, reveals how cafeteria lunch staff provide more than food, and illustrates how powerful a thank you can be.

Gene Luen Yang – Comics Belong in the Classroom

Comic books and graphic novels belong in every teacher’s toolkit, says cartoonist and educator Gene Luen Yang. Set against the backdrop of his own witty, colorful drawings, Yang explores the history of comics in American education — and reveals some unexpected insights about their potential for helping kids learn.

McKenna Pope – Want to Be an Activist? Start with Your Toys.

McKenna Pope’s younger brother loved to cook, but he worried about using an Easy-Bake Oven — because it was a toy for girls. So at age 13, Pope started an online petition for the American toy company Hasbro to change the pink-and-purple color scheme on the classic toy and incorporate boys into its TV marketing. In a heartening talk, Pope makes the case for gender-neutral toys and gives a rousing call to action to all kids who feel powerless.

Zak Ebrahim – I am the Son of a Terrorist. Here’s How I Chose Peace.

If you’re raised on dogma and hate, can you choose a different path? Zak Ebrahim was just seven years old when his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His story is shocking, powerful and, ultimately, inspiring.

Kakenya Ntaiya – A Girl Who Demanded School

Kakenya Ntaiya made a deal with her father: She would undergo a traditional Maasai rite of passage, female circumcision, if he would let her go to high school. Ntaiya tells the fearless story of continuing on to college, and of working with her village elders to build a school for girls in her community, changing the destiny of 125 young women.

Shabana Basij-Raiskh – Dare to Educate Afghan Girls

Imagine a country where girls must sneak out to go to school, with deadly consequences if they get caught learning. This was Afghanistan under the Taliban, and traces of that danger remain today. 22-year-old Shabana Basij-Rasikh runs a school for girls in Afghanistan. She celebrates the power of a family’s decision to believe in their daughters — and tells the story of one brave father who stood up to local threats.

Monique W. Morris – Why Black Girls Are Targeted for Punishment in Schools – And How to Change That

Around the world, black girls are being pushed out of schools because of policies that target them for punishment, says author and social justice scholar Monique W. Morris. The result: countless girls are forced into unsafe futures with restricted opportunities. How can we put an end to this crisis? In an impassioned talk, Morris uncovers the causes of “pushout” and shows how we can work to turn all schools into spaces where black girls can heal and thrive.

India Hawkins – Facing the Real Me: Looking in the Mirror with Natural Hair

Growing up, 18-year-old India Hawkins was taught how to maintain her hair, but not how to love her hair. A tangled history of political oppression, irresponsible advertising and unattainable beauty standards meant she spent her childhood using chemicals, heat, and protective styling to “manage” the hair that grew naturally from her head. Until one day India decided to “go natural.” But she was in for a shock; India never knew how much she was hiding behind her hair, until the day she cut it all off. In her Talk, India describes the emotional sometimes difficult journey that led her to love her hair.

Haaziq Kazi – Cleaning Our Oceans

When 11-year-old Haaziq Kazi first prototyped his invention to clean plastic from the surface of the ocean, it lasted for about 7 seconds before coming apart in his bathtub. But that didn’t stop him! In fact, his invention just got better and more elaborate. In this Talk, Haaziq’s enthusiasm and creativity remind us that, when it comes to solving some of earth’s biggest problems, our imagination may be one of our greatest assets.

Susan Cain – The Power of Introverts

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Drew Dudley – Everyday Leadership

We have all changed someone’s life — usually without even realizing it. In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives.

Matt Cutts – Try Something New for 30 Days

Is there something you’ve always meant to do, wanted to do, but just … haven’t? Matt Cutts suggests: Try it for 30 days. This short, lighthearted talk offers a neat way to think about setting and achieving goals.

Shane Koyczan – To This Day

By turn hilarious and haunting, poet Shane Koyczan puts his finger on the pulse of what it’s like to be young and … different. “To This Day,” his spoken-word poem about bullying, captivated millions as a viral video (created, crowd-source style, by 80 animators). Here, he gives a glorious, live reprise with backstory and violin accompaniment by Hannah Epperson.

Ash Beckham – We’re All Hiding Something

In this touching talk, Ash Beckham offers a fresh approach to empathy and openness. It starts with understanding that everyone, at some point in their life, has experienced hardship. The only way out, says Beckham, is to open the door and step out of your closet.

Proud to Be (Mascots)

Watch the #BigGame commercial the NFL would never air.

Indigenous in New York

Where does history begin? New York’s infamous Columbus Circle memorializes the founding of a new world and perpetuates the myth of American exceptionalism, while denying the violence against Indigenous people—a will to ignorance. With a crew of Natives, we asked over 100 New Yorkers to identify the “origin” of our Native models to understand where contemporary Native lives exist in popular consciousness. The indigenous story is more accurate and a story that we all deserve to hear. Let us begin to write and speak a healing narrative that honors Native people, let us get to know each other, let us hug each other—you can and should #HugANative today.

Ron Finlay: A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central LA

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

Sugatra Mitra – Kids Can Teach Themselves

Speaking at LIFT 2007, Sugata Mitra talks about his Hole in the Wall project. Young kids in this project figured out how to use a PC on their own — and then taught other kids. He asks, what else can children teach themselves?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The Danger of a Single Story

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

Ismael Nazario – What I Learned as a Kid in Jail

As a teenager, Ismael Nazario was sent to New York’s Rikers Island jail, where he spent 300 days in solitary confinement — all before he was ever convicted of a crime. Now as a prison reform advocate he works to change the culture of American jails and prisons, where young people are frequently subjected to violence beyond imagination. Nazario tells his chilling story and suggests ways to help, rather than harm, teens in jail.

Joy Buolamwini – How I’m Fighting Bias in Algorithms

MIT grad student Joy Buolamwini was working with facial analysis software when she noticed a problem: the software didn’t detect her face — because the people who coded the algorithm hadn’t taught it to identify a broad range of skin tones and facial structures. Now she’s on a mission to fight bias in machine learning, a phenomenon she calls the “coded gaze.” It’s an eye-opening talk about the need for accountability in coding … as algorithms take over more and more aspects of our lives.

Stacy Smith – The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism

Where are all the women and girls in film? Social scientist Stacy Smith analyzes how the media underrepresents and portrays women — and the potentially destructive effects those portrayals have on viewers. She shares hard data behind gender bias in Hollywood, where on-screen males outnumber females three to one (and behind-the-camera workers fare even worse.)

George Takei – Why I Love a Country that Once Betrayed Me

When he was a child, George Takei and his family were forced into an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, as a “security” measure during World War II. 70 years later, Takei looks back at how the camp shaped his surprising, personal definition of patriotism and democracy.

Judge Helen Whitener – Claiming Your Identity

Michaela Horn – Teen Stress From a Teen Perspective

A simple experiment to discover what stresses high school students leads to disturbing results that soon become a story on their own. Michaela Horn shares her journey, results, and the alarming turn of events that unfolded.

Mac Barnett – Why a Good Book is a Secret Door

Childhood is surreal. Why shouldn’t children’s books be? In this whimsical talk, award-winning author Mac Barnett speaks about writing that escapes the page, art as a doorway to wonder — and what real kids say to a fictional whale.

Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.

Kids on Race “Because I’m Latino, I Can’t Have Money?”

Hear some straight talk from middle-schoolers about race and what it’s like to grow up in such racially charged times.

Michael Jr – Know Your Why

Comedian Michael Jr. goes Off the Cuff at live comedy show and uses this completely improv moment as a great illustration for knowing your why and purpose in life. See what happens after he asks if he can sing…

Charlie Todd – The Shared Experience of Absurdity

Charlie Todd causes bizarre, hilarious, and unexpected public scenes: Seventy synchronized dancers in storefront windows, “ghostbusters” running through the New York Public Library, and the annual no-pants subway ride. His group, Improv Everywhere, uses these scenes to bring people together.

Phil Hansen – Embrace the Shake

In art school, Phil Hansen developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose. Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation … and transcend it.

Ed Thomas – What Will Be Your Legacy?

A short documentary for the 2010 ESPN Espy awards. This year the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage was presented to Ed Thomas and family of Parkersburg, Iowa.

Derek Sivers – How to Start a Movement

With help from some surprising footage, Derek Sivers explains how movements really get started. (Hint: it takes two.)

Maya Penn – Meet a Young Entrepreneur, Cartoonist, Designer, Activist

Maya Penn started her first company when she was 8 years old, and thinks deeply about how to be responsible both to her customers and to the planet. She shares her story — and some animations, and some designs, and some infectious energy — in this charming talk.

Adora Svitak – What Adults Can Learn From Kids

Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

Rita Pierson – Every Kid Needs a Champion

Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.'” A rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.

Richard Turere – My Invention that Made Peace With Lions

In the Maasai community where Richard Turere lives with his family, cattle are all-important. But lion attacks were growing more frequent. In this short, inspiring talk, the young inventor shares the solar-powered solution he designed to safely scare the lions away.

Fernando Pérez – The Importance of Bearing Witness

The importance of listening, and validating the stories of others, is demonstrated through an intimate look at Pérez’s great-grandmother who emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. and moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s

Paul Nicklen – Animal Tales from Icy Wonderlands

Diving under the Antarctic ice to get close to the much-feared leopard seal, photographer Paul Nicklen found an extraordinary new friend. Share his hilarious, passionate stories of the polar wonderlands, illustrated by glorious images of the animals who live on and under the ice.

Simon Sinek – Start With Why

Cole Plante – Getting Started as a DJ

DJ and producer Cole Plante is only 17 years old, but he’s already worked alongside industry superstars Skrillex, Avicii and Major Lazer (to name just a few). In this combination talk and DJ set, Plante shows off his mixing magic and gives tips to aspiring DJs.

CM Hall – Social Justice…In a Cookie

The social justice issue no one is talking about…

I, Pencil: The Movie

Beau Lotto & Amy O’Toole – Science is for Everyone

What do science and play have in common? Neuroscientist Beau Lotto thinks all people (kids included) should participate in science and, through the process of discovery, change perceptions. He’s seconded by 12-year-old Amy O’Toole, who, along with 25 of her classmates, published the first peer-reviewed article by schoolchildren, about the Blackawton bees project. It starts: “Once upon a time … “

Joseph Lekuton – A Parable for Kenya

Joseph Lekuton, a member of parliament in Kenya, starts with the story of his remarkable education, then offers a parable of how Africa can grow. His message of hope has never been more relevant.

Vivian Connell – The Monti Video Series

After learning of her terminal illness, Vivian Connell sets out to take her ESL class to the Holocaust Museum.

Suki Kim – This is What It’s Like to Go Undercover in North Korea

For six months, Suki Kim worked as an English teacher at an elite school for North Korea’s future leaders — while writing a book on one of the world’s most repressive regimes. As she helped her students grapple with concepts like “truth” and “critical thinking,” she came to wonder: Was teaching these students to seek the truth putting them in peril? 

Kelvin Doe – Building a Radio

THNKR is proud to present the next chapter in the riveting story of 15-Year-Old engineering prodigy Kelvin Doe. THNKR has exclusive access to Kelvin as he returns to the United States to deliver a riveting talk at TedxTeen and grapples with the impact of newfound YouTube superstardom.

Kevin Alloca – Why Videos Go Viral

Kevin Allocca is YouTube’s Head of Culture & Trends, and he has deep thoughts about silly web video. In this talk from TEDYouth, he shares the 4 reasons a video goes viral.

Pamela Meyer – How to Spot a Liar

On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lies can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.

Ann Makosinski – Why I Don’t Use a Smartphone

Imagine all the things you can do…off of your phone. Parents be warned.

Cameron Russell – Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m a Model

Cameron Russell admits she won “a genetic lottery”: she’s tall, pretty and an underwear model. But don’t judge her by her looks. In this fearless talk, she takes a wry look at the industry that had her looking highly seductive at barely 16 years old.

Grace Lin – The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf

What your child reads sets the path for their own self-worth as well as how they see others. Grace Lin is a children’s book author/illustrator whose book, “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” received the Newbery Book Honor. She shows how the books that are not on your child’s bookshelf are just as important as those that are.

Clint Smith – The Danger of Silence

“We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

Lindsay Malloy – Why Teens Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit

Why do juveniles falsely confess to crimes? What makes them more vulnerable than adults to this shocking, counterintuitive phenomenon? Through the lens of Brendan Dassey’s interrogation and confession (as featured in Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” documentary), developmental psychology professor and researcher Lindsay Malloy breaks down the science underlying false confessions and calls for change in the way kids are treated by a legal system designed for adults.

Laura Rovner – what Happens to People in Solitary Confinement

Imagine living with no significant human contact for years, even decades, in a cell the size of a small bathroom. This is the reality for those in long-term solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment regularly imposed in US prisons. In this eye-opening talk, civil rights lawyer Laura Rovner takes us to ADX, the US federal government’s only supermax prison, and describes the dehumanizing effects of long-term solitude on the mind, personality and sense of self. What emerges is an urgent case for abolishing solitary confinement — and evidence for how our tax dollars, public safety and values are implicated in it. “Prisons are administered in our name and on our behalf,” she says. “We have an obligation to bear witness.”

Aaron Huey – America’s Native Prisoner of War Camps

Aaron Huey’s effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the struggle of the native Lakota people — appalling, and largely ignored — compelled him to refocus. Five years of work later, his haunting photos intertwine with a shocking history lesson.

Bryan Stevenson – We Need to Talk about an Injustice

In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.

David R. Williams – How Racism Makes Us Sick

Why does race matter so profoundly for health? David R. Williams developed a scale to measure the impact of discrimination on well-being, going beyond traditional measures like income and education to reveal how factors like implicit bias, residential segregation and negative stereotypes create and sustain inequality. In this eye-opening talk, Williams presents evidence for how racism is producing a rigged system — and offers hopeful examples of programs across the US that are working to dismantle discrimination.

I know there are many more incredible videos out there to use, I know I discover new ones every year and have missed many here. So leave your favorite in the comments, and again, thank you to all who contributed to this list.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

authentic learning, Be the change, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, student choice, student driven, students choice

Choose Your Own Learning – 5 Opportunities for Learning as We Continue Emergency Remote Teaching

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, please just make a copy because these are my original documents. Please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

We got the the news yesterday; school will be physically shut until the end of the year. The emergency remote teaching will continue. I cried when I heard. I know it seems so silly in the grand scheme of things but I miss our community so much, we didn’t say goodbye, I worry about them, the work I am assigning and everything in between. While the year is not over, it still feels so final. Who would have thought that this was it when I told them to take care of themselves and have a great weekend on March 13th?

And yet, we have also prepared for this type of teaching and learning without even knowing it would be needed. As detailed in my book, Passionate Learners, we pursue independent choice-based learning in almost everything we do all year, not by happenstance but by design. We focus on creating opportunities for students to be independent while figuring out how they learn best as individuals. We focus on choice, personalization, and giving tools for students to speak up for their needs. We do self-paced learning throughout the year and have introduced tools to them as we need. We didn’t plan to finish the year apart, but we are as ready as we could be.

The first round of choose your own learning was fairly successful. Many students appreciated the choices, many students enjoyed the opportunity to pick something that would fit their own learning needs right now and then pursue it with different levels of support from their teachers. Many students clearly showed off their learning and found it worthwhile, fairly stress free, and interesting.

As I would in our classroom, I asked for their feedback before kicking off this second round and tweaked a few things. I also added a new option for them; the daily writing exercises as a way for students to flex their writing muscles without worrying about a long piece. I added better instructions a few places, added in a check-in virtually for others. I am sure there is still much that can be done.

This second round will last a little more than two weeks hopefully. If we need to adjust we will, if we need to change it mid-flight we will. And yes, I share so that perhaps others can use it, please adapt it to your own students as this is made for the ones I know. I will try to give links here to everything that I can.

I welcome the students every time with a slide show posted in Classroom. This is where they will see me welcome them back in a video, see the choices and also make their selection on the survey toward the end. To see the slide show, go here it is short and to the point on purpose.

Three out of the five projects require a weekly meeting with me, students are simply asked to sign up on a form that looks like this.

So what are the choices?

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

Students are given a choice board where they select 4 “boxes” to do with their book. Every box has a video to help them in case they are stuck. These are mostly lessons from me so if you use this, i would encourage you to make your own lessons for your students using language that is familiar to them.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. 

This required more independence from students then I think some realized and so a tweak I have made for the second round is that students need to check in once a week with me to discuss their progress.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

This was a popular choice the first round because a lot of students felt it was easy to manage; listen to one picture book read aloud, write a response a day. I love it because it honors the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, and it allowed me to gather fantastic picture book read alouds that have been shared. I tried to make sure that all choices here are following fair use and copyright guidelines as I do not want to harm any of the creators whose work is being shared. Sample questions can be seen below and the rest is found in the links.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community. The students who chose this in the first round, really liked it and said this was easier than they thought, so don’t be afraid to try this project.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  2. Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  3. Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every week virtually.
  4. Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  3. There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults. The few students that chose this the first round loved it and I hope their enthusiam gives other students a chance to try it as well. It was wonderful to see students immersed in learning that they chose again and also thinking about how to showcase it in a way that they may not have used before.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

Have a story to tell?  Here is your chance to use dedicated time in English to pursue your own writing craft and put some of those sweet writing moves you have been working on into action. Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

The few kids that chose this loved it. They loved the choice in lessons and the feedback that allowed them to write something meaningful to them. To help with lessons, students are given a video bank of lessons that they can choose from every day, as well as the option to find their own lessons and post those. They are asked to create a daily writing lesson plan so that I can see they are working. The once a week check-ins worked well as well because they were just like the writing conferences we would have in class.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  2. Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  3. Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  4. Choices:
    • If a mini-story:  Produce 2 or more pages of a full story.
    • If a longer story (part of a larger piece):  Produce a scene or chapter from beginning to end.
    • If poetry:  5 or more poems or a short story in prose form.
    • If a graphic novel or comic strips:  Discuss with Mrs. Ripp

Schedule a conferring time with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is twice over the two weeks.  These will be via Google Meet.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  3. There should be NEW learning that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.
  4. You will need to fill in a  learning plan and submit it to Mrs. Ripp for approval.  It will be posted in Classroom.

Those who chose it loved it but some chose to do poetry rather than story writing so I added some guidelines for that. I also added videos that were shared by students to our daily lesson video bank.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 5:  Daily Writing Exercises.

Have you wanted to expand your writing techniques and craft?  Here is your chance to be introduced to a new writing exercise a day and then trying it in your own writing.   

Project requirement:  

  1. Watch the video posted for each day (preview in the table below)
  2. Respond either in typing in the box or by submitting an image of your writer’s notebook if you are handwriting. 
  3. You will be given a separate document to record your answer in, this is what you will turn in.

I spent time pulling together ideas for stand alone writing exercises and am incredibly grateful to Amy Ludwig VanDerWater for sharing her daily writing exercises, as well as other resources out there.

I wanted this opportunity to be a way for kids to just have some fun with writing and also have a project that mirrored the manageability of the picture book choice, allowing them do one thing a day and not having to attend to a longer project. I am excited to see how this one will play out.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on the survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools. I am encouraging them to choose something else than what they did the first round but have already discussed with one student who would like to continue working on their story. There will be exceptions made as needed in order to make sure this is meaningful to all kids.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because both of these. rounds will be counted toward the same standards. I have also decided that if a child shows any kind of effort then it is an automatic “3” or higher. This is not the time for me to do deep assessment because all I am assessing then is their access to the learning, it is not fair to students, there are way too many inequities playing out for me to pretend that grades would be fair or objective. As far as if a child does not “show effort” then I will be reaching out and discussing with them.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. Most kids were successful the first round, some were not, so I will adjust support accordingly. I also have support from an incredible special ed teacher, as well as para educators that I can ask for help from.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

being me

This Is All We’ve Got

Our youngest daughter has just slammed her door for the fifth time this morning. At least, I think it’s the fifth, I’m not sure by now. Wedged in between her epic door slams have been big statements. “I hate school!” “I don’t want to do this!” “Why do we have to ever learn anything?!” She comes back out every few minutes, tries to sneak her school issued computer into her room so she can go on it. We stop her, ask her gently to try again, she does, and then throws another fit. We have yet to get through her teacher’s 42 second morning message. Perhaps another break is needed? Perhaps let’s try something else?

Our other daughter isn’t far behind. “I hate Spanish!” “I want to go back to school!” “I don’t get this…” but instead of slamming her door, she slams her computer, slinks off the chair, buries her head. Goes into her room to listen to music. Then comes back out and asks to try again. The minute the words pop up, she is trying hard to hold it together, but soon the frustration takes over again. “I can’t do this!” Slam the computer, run into her room. Rinse, repeat.

Our son is happily clicking through as fast as he can, not really reading what he is supposed to do at times, sometimes pausing for just a moment and recognizing what he needs to do. We are trying to slow him down. Trying to have him reread directions, actually watch the videos, slow down, do it right, stop clicking random things. Did you actually do it or did you just submit? How do you unsubmit? Oh you can’t, ok, well then that’s what your teacher will see. He says he is done within 15 minutes. He is not. We try again. One-on-one support to see if that makes a difference.

Our oldest is 5th-grade independent, holed up in her bedroom where she is hopefully doing her school work in between Youtube, zoom hangouts with friends and lots and lots of tutorials on stuff she hopes to do every day. She sends emails to her siblings throughout, “Hi!” they say with lots of emojis. She comes up once in a while. We ask her to check her work, she shows us, doesn’t want our help. Tells us she’s got this in that way that 5th graders do (I love 5th graders) and goes back to her room.

My husband? Trying to help us all as he finishes his last semester college classes virtually, helping us take deep breaths. Helping us start again. Mediating when it is needed and pulling from his infinite source of calm, he helps us all while trying to do his own work.

And me? I am on my 3rd cup of tea, trying to be present for my own students, answering their emails, planning lessons, reaching out, meeting virtually with colleagues while sitting next to whichever child wants my help. Trying to come up with activity ideas that will sneak learning in without them even knowing it. Taking a deep breath when needed and trying again.

So you could say that this whole emergency remote teaching homeschool online learning business we have been in for the past week is going great.

And so we take the breaks.

We offer choice.

We give snacks.

We step away.

We come back.

We try again.

We limit when we need to.

We direct when we can.

We try again, and again, and again, and again.

And we hope that perhaps this next time we try again, the result will be different. And if not, then we will try again.

Because here’s the thing. This is not because of what they are being asked to do. Their incredible teachers have created age-appropriate, fun-filled, choice-based mini activities for them to do. They have broken it down, recorded videos, given them hands-on learning, checked in with them as much as possible. They are standing at the ready, eager to answer questions, offer help, tuned into the needs of each child and telling us to do the best we can.

And it’s not because my kids are hungry. Or don’t have a safe place to stay. Or have a lot of insecurity in their lives. They are luckier than most, more privileged than many. They have what they need yet it is not enough because we cannot provide them with the one thing they so eagerly long for; normalcy. Despite having everything we need, my kids still feel the world as acutely as we, adults, do. They long for the every day, for the back to school normal, and when they fail to find the words to tell us, they show us instead.

When I speak to the caregivers of my own students, I keep sharing that it is difficult at my house as well, that I trust them to do the best they can even if it means not doing the work. That they know their child best and I trust their decisions. That right now, learning might not look like what we would like it to, and that’s okay. We will figure it out, because we always do.

It has to be okay because this is all we’ve got.

So I write this not for pity or for ideas (we’ve got plenty) but rather to share what it looks like here. In a house that should be fine but is decidedly not at times. In a home that has two teachers present, kids who are generally decent at school despite their specific learning difficulties. In a home where we have the tools to make learning accessible and interactive. This is not homeschooling. This is not remote learning. This is not online school. This is recognizing that we will all do the best we can and that sometimes that means we don’t do the school work. Sometimes that means that we take a break and we try again when we can.

As I write this, our youngest daughter just yelled out “I already know this, ugghhhhh!” as loud as she can. I told her to try it any way to show me. She has a lot of work still to try. So we sit down together, I grab another cup of tea, brace myself for the next outburst and find my calm.

Later, we will shut all of our computers off and go read a book. Ask our kids to go play. Take a break, clean their rooms, perhaps go outside if they bundle up. We will keep learning somehow.

And for now, that will be good enough.

being me, Reading, Reading Identity

My New State of Reading

Normal Design

I haven’t really been reading much. Not like I normally do. Not like when I am home and the days are long and my to-be-read shelf beckons every moment I pass by it. Where I swallow a book a day, share it with the world, eager to pick up the next one.

Right now, my shelf makes me feel guilty. The abandoned books piled around the house. Starting the same book over and over again because I am sure it is good if I can just pay attention. Reading comes in short bursts between kids needing me, my computer pulling me away, my phone a distraction. The need to sleep. To simply sit and ponder. To be outside trying to connect with a world that feels very far away right now. It’s simply hard to read right now.

It’s hard to read when my children demand attention through their yelling matches and “I’m bored, Mom…” and their school work consumes hours of our time and it hasn’t even really begun yet.

It’s hard to read when my favorite genre, dystopian, hits a little too close to home.

It’s hard to read when the to-do’s of my job keep piling on, navigating new territory every day, not quite sure if what I am doing is even close to effective.

It’s hard to read when you worry.

When breathing is harder.

When loss is present.

When sleep is elusive.

When worry is a constant companion.

It’s hard to read when the world outside is scary.

(Even when I sit in my heated house, with a fridge that’s full and my paycheck still intact.)

I read to learn. To escape into worlds and stories unlike my own. To relax. To have my imagination lit up. To be transported and while right now may seem like the perfect time to escape, the tethers that hold me firmly in place are thickened steel, and my mind refuses to settle.

I cannot be the only one that feels that way. I am not the only one that feels that way.

My students tell me that they haven’t really been reading. That they sleep a lot. That there is so much work to be done now that school is back in session whatever this means. That they don’t have books. That they can’t find a good book. That they don’t like reading digitally. That they read the only book they had. That they tried but they have to keep going back to reread, hoping to grasp the story that slips through their concentration. That they don’t know what to read next because nothing sounds good.

And I get it. My assignment of reading 2 hours a week is merely an aspiration at this time. Of saying I hope you’re safe enough to read. I hope you are fed enough to read. I hope you are okay enough to read. That those taking care of you have what they need so you have what you need.

And so we send books to those who don’t have any (a survey and Amazon direct shipment helped us out with that). We send them links to digital books. We fill our Audible account with great books. We leave book reviews on Flipgrid in case they have a way of ordering books. We read aloud to pretend that we are still together.

Because that’s all it can be right now.

An invitation to those that are in a place to receive it.

A way to offer up a slice of normalcy for those who can access it.

Not as a way to punish or grade.

Not as a way to go on with life as normal, because it is everything but.

To demand someone read right now is to fail to recognize what may be happening in their world. Is to ask for the impossible for some.

That doesn’t mean we stop hoping but it does mean that we ask a lot more questions than we might usually: Are you okay? Are you safe? Are you feeling ok? Do you have what you need? Food? Heat? Books? Do you have a safe space to read? Do you have enough time to read? And we respect that students may not tell us their truth because they don’t have to. That all we can do is ask and try, not demand and want.

And we wrap our students in patience rather than demands. In understanding rather than expectations. And we fully sit with the knowledge that this reality is not like anything we have seen before and therefore our approach must change as well.

That perhaps a child can read but not think clearly. That perhaps a child doesn’t have the room for deep analysis right now. That perhaps they don’t have the energy to write but could speak? That perhaps a whole book seems much too much but a short story is accessible. That perhaps picture books are all they can do right now.

Choice, personalization, and giving options for students has to be central to what we do right now, to what we do all through the year.

That what we may be working through in our tiny slice of the world may look nothing like what our students face.

That if we, professional adult readers, are struggling, how does it feel for the kids?

Today, I am going to try to read. I have been fighting what my doctor assumes is Covid-19 but a mild case and the exhaustion is all consuming. I am going to get through 2 or 5 or 10 pages and then congratulate myself. Be happy that I tried, even if normally I would be able to finish a book quickly. Even if I normally would feel lazy if I didn’t read at least a book a day.

Today I am going to try again because yesterday I tried too. And I am going to encourage my students to try and to to keep trying. But I am going to continue to know that sometimes trying is all we can do. Trying is what will happen rather than completing and that is good enough for now.

Right now is nothing like normal. Let’s not push normal expectations on kids either.

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

To This Kid…

I thought I was a pretty good teacher until I started teaching 7th graders. Their love language was so foreign to me. Gone were everyday stories of home, the drawings, the accidental slip ups where they called you Mom. Gone were having all of the time in the world, vowing to get to something later because we could, all day field trips, class parties, and hugs at the end of the day as they went home. Now it was 45 minutes of teaching content. So many kids whose names I desperately tried to learn as quickly as I could. Very little family contact unless it was needed. One teacher among many, teaching a subject that many students had decided they didn’t really need in their life. The smell of failure was real, the mistakes were often, the sense of never being enough was as pervasive as the stacks of things to grade that followed me home.

I cried so much as a beginning middle school teacher.

I thought my second year as a 7th grade teacher would be my last. I decided to give it one more shot before I made a decision of what to do next. Because if I tried one more time then I surely would realize that I wasn’t cut out to be a middle school teacher. That the gap between the 10 year olds I used to teach and the now terrifying 12 year olds was so much more than just a few years. That I was not the teacher I thought I could be. That they deserved so much better than me.

And yet, that second year something quietly happened; I started to get my feet under me. I realized that I could share my worries about being a good enough teacher and I could ask them how to grow. I could be vulnerable and share the stories from my own life as we started to trust each other more with all that we were. I got their names down in less than a week by studying them every moment I had. I asked them over and over how I could be a better teacher for all of them. I took their advice, changed whenever I could and always kept a door open. In turn, they opened up, teaching me as much at times as I taught them, and together we grew to be a community that made me realize that perhaps 7th grade English was exactly where I needed to be for now. That behind the thorny facades, the eye rolls, the hurried explanations of how reading just wasn’t their thing, or how English was just too hard, there was love. There was respect. There was a quiet commitment to what we were trying to establish together. They showed up every day, so I did too.

At the end of that year, we once again ended with our This I Believe assignment. A moment of grace where kids chose to share beliefs that they fully believed in as a speech in our final days together. Where some kids chose to share pieces of themselves that made me hold my breath and tears run down my cheeks as they laid it all out for their classmates to see. As they proved to me that we had created exactly what I thought I would never be a part of again; a place that was safe. Where kids felt accepted. Where they could be whomever they were, and with us, together in those 45 minutes, they would be okay. It was never perfect, but for the most part it was ours, and that was something.

For years in my Passionate Learners keynote I have shared the story a child who chose this final speech to share something that he knew would potentially change how others saw him. How when he slid his computer in front of me to read his first draft, he didn’t tell me what to look for but instead sat back, crossed his arms and watched me in silence as I read. How his second paragraph made me gasp, my eyes well up, as I realized how he had chosen to share a part of himself, how he was not really looking for my editing skills, but for my protection and care with his words. How he was watching for my reaction to see how it would go. As I looked up, I only had one question, “How can I help?” And he told me, “You already have” and pointed to a small sign behind me.

And so when it came time to give his speech, he stood up there boldly sharing his story, asking us all to protect it, to protect him, to help him feel safe, to be true friends when he needed it the most. And the kids did, applauding at the end, some patting his shoulder, others writing compliments, a few wiping tears. Me, I cried, and recognized that in that moment there was no other classroom I would want to be in. That perhaps 7th graders had a space for me, just like I had for them.

And he went on to 8th graders, we passed in the hallways, sometimes stopping for a quick chat, a check in. I saw him last year at the high school, checking in when he passed me on a visit there. He had a big smile. He told me he was reading. He looked happy. But we weren’t in touch, he didn’t know how much his trust had meant to me. How much his faith in the community we shared changed me as a person. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Tonight, we got the news that this child, this child with his big heart and smile and a bright future ahead, has died.

And for the second time with him, I gasped, and the tears came and I had to sit with the quiet realization that something that had never happened to me has now happened; we lost one of our kids. We lost one of our own. We lost him.

And so I write this through tears as a final goodbye and so long for now to this child who trusted me. To this child who trusted us. Who made our community more than I ever could have thought it would be. To this child, who may have been gone from our team for years, but still was one of our kids, will always be one of our kids.

To this kid, who more than once throughout the past years has reminded me of what it means to fight for kids. To fight for them to be their full selves in our classrooms even as others tell us their lives are against their religion, are immoral, are not natural. To this kid, who saw something in me I had not seen in myself at that time. To this kid who is now gone.

So while I find no peace in this moment, I will say that my life was made better because of his. That I will continue to carry his story with me. That his life will continue to matter in mine. Because this kid, the kids who was, will always be a part of me. A part of us. Whether he knew it or not, but I hope he did.

Five years ago, he wrote, “…everyone should feel wanted, cared for, and believed in by someone who isn’t in their family.” May we all have that. May we all have this kid in our lives, even if only for a brief time.

I send love out into the world to those who need it tonight.

Signing off,

Pernille