The 30-Second Book Talk

Student book talks are one of the many ways that students share recommendations for each other.  Recommendations of books are a natural way to grow readers and they help immensely in the classroom when peers can hear from each other rather than just recommendations from me.

In the past, I would often ask kids if anyone had a book to recommend and yet it seemed that it was always the same awesome students who felt brave enough to recommend their books in front of the whole class.  There is just something about 7th grade that makes even the boldest kids shy.

So rather than limit the book talks or force kids, we created the 30-second book talk.  Yes, some kids still get nervous, but now they are prepared rather than feeling like they are coming up with something on the spot.

The idea is super simple.  Every student gets a notecard, on it, they write a brief recommendation of the book they want to share.  They can talk about the book and why it is a great read and who may like it as well.  Their names go on the book and then they hand the cards to me.


Every day, when we remember, or sometimes just when we have a little bit of extra time, I pull a few cards from the stack as students enter.  I then have the book covers ready to be projected, I give the card back to the student as a way to let them know they will recommend today and then we are off after their independent reading time.  This gives the kids recommending a few minutes to read their book talk and adjust if needed.   Kids read off their cards if they want or they invent on the spot.  Their peers have their to-be-read lists out and add as they hear great titles shared.  The book cover is projected so everyone can see the title and author and the intimidation factor is lessened.

Because we have so many students, these cards usually take us at least two weeks to go through and then we can do another round if we choose to.

There you go, another simple idea to create more passionate readers.

PS:  You want to see some of our favorite books, go here

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



Who Keeps You In Line?

On Friday, I stood on the stage at EARCOS in front of hundreds of passionate educators from all over Asia and told them my story of change.  The story of how my students have changed me. It was met with applause, with careful words shared after about how they felt inspired, moved, how what I had said mattered and how they wish more educators had been there to hear this powerful message.  I felt on top of the world.  As if I mattered, as if the words I spoke mattered, as if I had made a difference.  Like I had it all figured out.


Today, some of my students reminded me that our class is boring, that what we are doing doesn’t matter much, and that no, they were not happy to be back after spring break, thank you very much.  Ah, the life of teaching 7th grade.

So much changes in a few days.; from high praise, hugs, and admiration from fellow educators to sometimes harsh words served up frankly from the very students I serve.

It seems that I am not the perfect teacher after all, but I knew that already, even before today, because I teach students who speak up.  Who sometimes forget to say the nice before they get straight to the point.  Who have no problem pointing out what they dislike, but still are working on how we can make things better together.  Who, yes, sometimes like our class, but often push me to be better, to try harder, to keep thinking.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In fact, if it weren’t for my own students, I wonder how much of the hype I would end up believing.  Probably all of it.  After all, it is hard not to believe someone when they tell you just how much you matter and how great of a teacher you seem.  And yet, it is easy to say someone is a great teacher, coach, administrator, fill in the blank, when you are not in their classroom or schools.

And so I wonder what happens when we don’t have the presence of those we serve to put us straight.  When we leave the classroom, or the school, or the job and no longer are in touch with those who our words affect the most.  When we only hear the good but don’t get a lot of bad?

What happens when our great ideas no longer really have to stand the test of time?  When our great ideas and “just do’s” don’t actually have to face the test of our own classrooms?

How do we keep ourselves in check if all we get is admiration?  Who brings us back down to Earth to remind us of how teaching continues to be a challenge, even when we think we have it all figured out.

I see it play out in social media all of the time.  From the inspirational tweets that seem more quippy the older I get.  From the followers that rush in to excuse any old statement someone makes because surely they didn’t mean to sound like an idiot, or condescending, or like a know it all.  To how we end up equating followers and likes with quality, with actual work, with some being “rockstars” or somehow better than “just” the regular educators.  How we constantly seek inspiration to be just like those who forget to share their failures, who somehow appear more than the rest of us.

I think it is a dangerous thing.  I think it is too easy to take oneself too seriously.  I think it is easy to write about only the good and not share the bad.  I think it is really easy to compose posts, tweets, or pictures that only tell half the story.  Yet, showing off flaws, off failures, off the not so great is what makes us all human.  Is what makes us actually relatable as educators.  I have never claimed to be a perfect teacher, nor will I ever, my students would tell you that there are great moments, and then there are boring ones, just like in most classroom.

And so for that, I am grateful.  For their honesty, I am thankful.  Because if it weren’t for my students, it would be easy to think that I was more than I am; just a teacher still trying to figure out how to become better.  Not someone who already knows it all.

So who keeps you in line?  And how do you grow from their words?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

My Favorite Books Part 1 – 2018 #pernillerecommends

Hard to believe that it is April 1st as I sit in South Korea writing this.  The past few days I have been in Bangkok speaking but also exploring and of course, sneaking in a few reading moments here and there.  As April begins, the first quarter of the year is done and with it comes some excellent reads.  Why not share them here in case you need some inspiration?

Favorite Middle Grade and Younger

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is one of my favorite new graphic novels for the year.

From Goodreads:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed was just chosen as the Global Read Aloud choice for Middle grade despite it not being released until May, that is how much I believe in this book.

From Goodreads:

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown is one of the most perfectly written sequels I have read in a long time.

From Goodreads:

Shipwrecked on a remote, wild island, Robot Roz learned from the unwelcoming animal inhabitants and adapted to her surroundings–but can she survive the challenges of the civilized world and find her way home to Brightbill and the island?

I wanted to love Rebound by Kwame Alexander so much and it turns out it was easy to do.  A wonderful prequel to The Crossover that will hook many readers.

From Goodreads:

Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshipping, basketball star his sons look up to.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani was a GRA contender for 2018 and rightfully so.  Set in India during the partition this book left me captured throughout its journey.

From Goodreads:
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

While I will admit to being more of a cat person than a dog person, Sarah Albee’s newest book Dog Days of History almost convinced me to rethink my allegiance.

From Goodreads:

What is it we love about dogs so much? From ancient times to the present, dogs have guarded us, worked with us, marched off to war with us, and of course, just sat on the couch with us for a cuddle. Throughout the course of human history, this partnership deepened from dogs doing a service into friendship. Dogs have been by our side through it all, and this book tracks our common story from wild wolves in ancient civilizations to modern-day breeds, highlighting famous pooches of the past and present along the way.

Serious, yet funny at the same time Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt was an easy story to like and recommend.

From Goodreads:

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ghost Boys is a must read, must contemplate, must share.

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

For earlier readers, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes is a sure winner featuring a character that sees the world just a little bit different.

From Goodreads:

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!


Favorite Young Adult

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a must read; fantastic world building and narrative action that leaves you begging for the second book to come out soon!

From Goodreads:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed was just chosen as the Global Read Aloud book for YA – enough said.

From Goodreads:

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Reminding me in all of the best ways of Piecing Me Together by Rene Watson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a beautiful consideration of what it means to be a female growing into her own skin.

From Goodreads:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus has shifted from the hands of one student to the next since I booktalked it more than a month ago. It is one of the most requested books in our classrooms.

From Goodreads:

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.”


While technically Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is not out yet, it will be in just a few weeks and it is so worth your pre-ordering.  Zombies, history, social justice and a radical butt-kicking female lead character, yes please.

From Goodreads:

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins is a book that deserves to be read and shared with others.  An intricate weaving of family and how we grow apart to only grow together.

From Goodreads:

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Both heartwrenching and heartstopping Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake was thought-provoking and also, unfortunately, incredibly timely in our culture.

From Goodreads:

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future.

Who would have thought that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson could be even better, it turns out that the graphic novel took it to another soaring height.

From Goodreads:

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.

Not sure whether to categorize Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge as YA, but it is gorgeous and also making its rounds quickly through the reading lives of our students.

From Goodreads:

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.


We live in a time where it seems the books being published just get better and better, and I cannot wait to see what the next quarter of the year will bring.  Happy reading to all!


Happy Book Birthday Sara K. Ahmed – Win A Copy of Being the Change

Note:  A winner has been selected and notified, thank you so much to everyone who entered.  The book is incredible and I hope you love it.

There are books that will move you.

There are books that will challenge you.

There are books that will give you practical ideas.

There are books that will force you to reevaluate your practices and then offer you a new pathway.

There are books that become heart books because you know that within their pages your heart was changed and you somehow became something more than you were before.

And then there are books that are all of these things rolled into one.

This is the case for Sara K. Ahmed’s book Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension which is released today by Heinemann.  Happy book birthday!!

I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of this book and I will tell you this; it has totally transformed my teaching plans for the final quarter of the year.  That’s how powerful this book is.

With stories, reflection questions, and also actual lesson ideas, this is the perfect package for anyone who wants to bring the world in and also navigate these tough topics with their students.  I am telling you, this book is a game changer.

And so because I want as many educators to discover and read this book, I am giving a copy away.  This will be a quick giveaway ending March 30th already.  All you have to do is leave a comment and I will pull a random winner.  But in the meantime you really should order the book and then just enter the giveaway to have an extra copy.  You won’t regret it.

Official description:

Topics such as racegenderpoliticsreligion, and sexuality are part of our students’ lives, yet when these subjects are brought up at school teachers often struggle with how to respond. How do we create learning conditions where kids can ask the questions they want to ask, muddle through how to say the things they are thinking, and have tough conversations? How can we be proactive and take steps to engaging in the types of conversations where risk is high but the payoff could be even greater?

Being the Change is based on the idea that people can develop skills and habits to serve them in the comprehension of social issues. Sara K. Ahmed identifies and unpacks the skills of social comprehension, providing teachers with tools and activities that help students make sense of themselves and the world as they navigate relevant topics in today’s society.

Each chapter includes clear, transferable lessons and practical strategies that help students learn about a targeted social comprehension concept. From exploring identity and diversity to understanding and addressing biases and microaggressions, Sara demonstrates how to address real issues honestly in the classroom while honoring and empowering students.

Dealing with social issues is uncomfortable and often messy, but you can build habitats of trust where kids and adults can make their thinking visible and cultivate empathy; where expression, identity, and social literacy matter. There is no magic formula for making the world a better place. It happens in the moments we embrace discomfort and have candid conversations.


On the Circle of Privilege

We woke up to a flight delay.  Not the kind you want to have as we embarked on our 28-hour travel to Bangkok.  Not the kind you want when you already have only a few days to be somewhere. As the morning went on, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make our connecting flight, and numerous phone calls ensued.  Anxious minutes spent waiting to see whether Thailand was within our reach or not.

After 25 minutes of checking every airline, every combination, even surrounding airports, the verdict was in; no, we were not going to make it.  Not on time.  Not tomorrow, perhaps Thursday.  Flights oversold, not their fault, just how it is.  My heart sank, trip of a lifetime had just turned into a 2-day excursion to the other side of the world.

And then something curious happened.  The representative noticed that we were not flying coach. That we were first class on the first bout of the trip due to a small upgrade fee and all of a sudden within five minutes, we were on a flight.  In fact, we were upgraded to first class the whole way arriving only an hour after our original arrival time.

I have never flown first class across the ocean, there is no way we can afford it on a teacher’s salary, and so we were those people; taking selfies in our sleep pod, taking pictures of the pajamas, the slippers, the amenities, the food.  The everything.  We were less than ten people and yet we had four flight attendants taking care of us.  They even opened up the bathroom door for us when we had to go.  Anything we needed was ours.  All put in place to ensure that not only did we reach our destination, but we reached it well-rested, well-fed and with brains functioning at an optimal level.

And I couldn’t help but think to myself throughout the whole thing this is what privilege looks like.  This is what it means to have a head start simply because of your circumstances.

Had I not been able a long time ago to upgrade that short 1-hour flight to Detroit as a way to surprise my husband, we would not even be here.   Because of that small step up, everything else was given to us.  The guarantee of rest, of proper food, of an exuberance of attention that continues at the hotel we are staying at.

We were given more because we had more to begin with.  

This is what happens to many students in our schools every day, where things outside of their control determine the pathway they take through our learning experiences.

Where because they had access to books at an early age, they become early readers, who later are placed in enriched classes.

Where because they had access to adults who had the luxury of not working long hours, they had someone around to sign them up and take them to extracurriculars leading to more participation in clubs, in events, in everything that makes colleges look at you a little more.

Where because they had access to decent food, to sleep, to calm, they were able to come to school and do well, meaning they were given opportunities for those who knew how to do school.  Who didn’t have to work through trauma or hunger, or homelessness, or anything else that can completely change your experience as a learner, as a human being.

And yet, none of that is decided by our students, the very kids the experiences happen to.

All of that is a life set in motion by things outside of their control which then leads to further privilege, to more opportunities, to better lives.

So what can we do once we realize the pathway our students are put on?

We can go beyond tests to measure their capabilities, after all, we all know there is nothing standardized about test results even when we sign forms to proctor them all the same because that would mean that our students had standardized lives to begin with.

We can go beyond data points and truly look at how we compare kids, look at how we determine who gets which opportunities.

We can see the whole child and their circumstances, ask more question srather than assume and make that information a part of our decisionmaking when it comes to the opportunties presented to kids.

We can confront and dismantle the very perceptions we carry about the students we teach and the capabilities they have based upon their circumstances.

We can increase the opportunities for all instead of limiting it to a few.

We can offer more support through family advocates, guidance counselors, tutors, and other point people to those who need it to even the playing field.

We can recognize and actively work to change the part we play in the oppression and perpetuation of a stereotype of kids and their destinies who come from backgrounds that are not similar to what society would like us to believe is the norm (heteronormative, white, financially secure etc).

But we can’t do that if we don’t look at all we have been given and realize that while we may have worked hard for some of it, some of it was also just handed to us.  Was put in place before we even came along so we didn’t even have to ask for it.  Was given to us not because of who we are but because of a group we belong to.

And we can be so grateful that our paths were easy and within that gratitude realize that it is our job to pull others up, not as saviors, but as connectors, as people who need to make room for others to do better than us.  Because frankly if we say as educators that we want to change the world then that change does, indeed, start with ourselves.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



On the Need for Phone Free Classrooms

I teach 7th grade and if there is one thing I have learned about 7th graders, it is that sometimes they do goofy things.  Sometimes they see a hole in a chair and stick their head in it only to find that they are now stuck.  Sometimes they say something that unintentionally makes their peers laugh.  Sometimes they take a risk but fail miserably.

And for the longest time, it was no big deal.  For the longest time, we laughed at our mistakes, used them to create a community where we could fail together, laugh when things didn’t work, and then go home knowing we tried.

But I have noticed in the past couple of years that this feeling of security in our classroom,  that this sense of community where we can take risks and not care as much if it doesn’t work seems to be harder and harder to accomplish.  I thought 7th graders were hard to get to trust me, but it turns out they have a much harder time trusting each other.


I am starting to think cell phones have a lot to do with it.  The pictures.  The videos.  The instant access to everyone you know.

Now before the onslaught begins; yes, cell phones can be powerful tools, yes, cell phones can bring the world in, yes, we have to help children learn how to use their cell phones well.

But…let’s be honest here for a moment,  how many of us adults have said or thought how we would not want to be a child growing up these days due to the lack of privacy?  How many of us would hate having all of our missteps and mess ups blasted across every social media channel we know? How many of us are over-connected to our phones and then wonder why we are exhausted every day? How many of us are so thankful that there isn’t evidence of all of the stupid things we did when we were younger and didn’t know any better?    And that’s it for me.  I try to create a classroom environment that is safe and accepting for all of our students, but the moment cell phones enter the classroom, that feeling shifts.

Because we have a BYOD policy in my school, kids bring their cellphones to our classroom and while many don’t use them, I know that many of our students feel the weight of the phones in the room whenever we do anything remotely risky, such as public speaking or more physical work.  And while I tell kids to please not film each other or take pictures, they still do on the sly and they share, and they make fun of, and they then forget about it.  But the person ridiculed doesn’t.  And so instead of taking risks, instead of trying new things, I get to teach some kids who are seemingly constantly wondering what others will think, and not just the others present in the room but the others out there in the world only a click away.

And it is exhausting for them and for me.  To constantly feel watched.  To constantly be on alert.  To constantly have to know that every little thing they do could potentially be the next big meme or Snap or Insta post.

I know that I have pushed the use of phones in our classrooms before on this blog, how I have written about using them purposefully, but I will no longer subscribe to the notion that when kids use their phones it is only because they are bored.   It is too easy to say that if teachers just created relevant and engaging lessons then no child would use their phones improperly in our rooms.  That’s not it,  all of us with devices have had our attention spans rewired to constantly seek stimulus. To instantly seek something other than what we are doing.  To constantly seek something different even if what we are doing is actually interesting.  And not because what we seek out is so much better, look at most people’s Snapchat streaks and you will see irrelevant images of tables and floors and half faces simply to keep a streak alive.  It is not that our students are leaving our teaching behind at all times because they are bored, it is more because many of us, adults and children alike, have lost the ability to focus on anything for a longer period of time.

And their brains don’t get a break.  They are constantly plugged in, constantly searching for stimuli beyond what is there right in front of them.  They wonder why they are exhausted and they don’t see how their device is playing into that.  How this hyper-connectivity is draining them rather than firing them up.

Yet, it’s bigger than that.  I worry about the mental health issues that I see my students struggle with because of how their mistakes are amplified.  How they worry about what they are wearing even when they are in small groups of friends because someone might not “like” their outfit.  How they worry what they look like when they are doing something because someone may be capturing it on film.  How a great moment captured on camera can turn sour because of other people’s comments.  How they worry about how their friends will react if they say what they are really thinking.

And they don’t get a break from it either.  The phones and the social media follow them home, for good and for bad.  There is no longer little chance to leave your mistakes at school.  Instead, they can instantly be replayed over and over for anyone that has it shared with them.

So as a teacher, I feel we need to do better.  I feel we need to step in as the adults in the room and create the types of learning environment we all need; ones that are calm, accepting, and safe.   Ones that lend themselves to experimentation, to face-to-face connections, to working hard but also to getting in the optimal zone of thought.

So after spring break, I am declaring our classroom a cell-free zone.  I have done it before, but that was because of distractibility, not because of this.  I am asking students to please leave their cell phones in their lockers, mine will be put away as well, during our 45 minutes together so that we all can let our guard down and take risks together.  There will days where phones are welcomed as a way to amplify their voices, but most, if not all, of the projects we do, can be created using Chromebooks.

And I will tell my students why.  It will, in fact, be one of the first conversations we will have together as we gear up for our final quarter together.  A conversation I think that is long overdue in many of our classrooms.  Yes, cell phones can be sources of good, but not always.  Our students deserve to feel safe with us, not wondering who is watching beyond our classroom walls.  The least I can do right now is start the conversation.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.