What Parents Wish We Would Ask Them About Their Child

We tried to have kids for three years before we were successful.  Three years of hoping this was the time.  Three years of doctors shaking their heads, of appointments, of surgery, of medicine to help.  Three years of dreaming.  When she came I cried knowing that the miracle she was would never be fully understood by others who had not traveled our journey.  She cried right along with me.

When she started school I wrote a letter to her telling her of the hopes, the fears, and the dreams we had for her as she embarked on this next phase of her journey.  We held her tight, hugged her, and sent her on her way.

For the past eight years, we have been the parents of her and three more siblings, all with their own winding road into being.  We have watched in awe as their personalities have grown, as their will have formed.  As their knowledge of life, of who they are, of where they fit have expanded and shrank, depending on what happened at any given time.  And we have seen the not-so-great, the tantrums, the curveballs that all kids present you with and we have held our breath at times when we have been in public and this thing that is happening right in front of us that seems to have come out of nowhere is making us both want to just die of embarrassment.

You are our most precious.  You are the things we are the proudest of.  But you are also what we worry about the most.  And so with three kids about to start school, I hope we get a chance to tell your teachers who you are.  Not so we can pretend you are perfect but so we can present you for everything that you are.  Willful and strong, creative and flighty, funny and sometimes mad, but always you, and always a child who is exploring who they are and what life has to offer.

Today, as I prepared our own home survey (Spanish version here) that we send out to all of our incoming parents, I asked my PLN which question do they wish, as parents, they would be asked about their children.  The answers were too good not to share, so thank you, everyone, who responded.  Thank you for sharing your hopes so that we can all become better teachers.  So that we can start the year on the very best foot, hearing who your child is from the people that know them best.

 

What do parents/guardians wish we would ask them about their child?

When you think about your child, what makes you proud?

What are they passionate about?

What do they cry about at home?

How can I help make this a great year for your son/daughter?

How can I make your child feel safe and open to trying new things?

Do you have any suggestions on how to best connect with your child?

What sparks your child’s interest?

What triggers frustration or withdrawal?

What two things I should do and two things that I should avoid?

What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
What helps to motivate your child to do his/her best?

What else?  What would you add to the list?  How would you like to share the story of who your child is with these new teachers?

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 In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

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.

 

 

They Don’t Just Need to Find the Right Book…

She tells me, ” I just don’t like reading, Mrs. Ripp, and I am okay with that…”

I turn to her about to say the line we all have said, (can you say it with me?), but before I open my mouth, she interrupts…

“And please don’t tell me I just need to find the right book because that’s what they all say…”  and with that, she walks away.

Her words follow me home and now two years later still ruminate.  I was about to say it, I have said it, and I probably will say it again, and yet she is right, of course.  How many times have we told a child that they “just” need to find that right book?  How many times have we told a child that reading will make complete sense once they find the right book?  As if there is one single book that they just need to find and then everything will fall into place.  One that book is found then the magic of reading will all of a sudden unfold around them and they will all be readers after all?

How easy this is to say to a child when they tell us their reading truths and yet have we really thought about what we are telling them?

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss much of their reading identity without even knowing it.

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss all of the reading they have done to that point.

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss the work that goes into reading for many of our students and all of the work they have put into becoming readers.

Sure, it is a hopeful statement, especially if you have the memory of that one book that made the biggest difference to you.  But what about the child that tries every single day to read and it still doesn’t make sense?  What about the child that did find that book but then was not able to find another one?

Because the thing is with helping students become readers who like to read, it is not about just finding one book.  It is about finding one book they love and then finding the next one, and then the next.    That doesn’t simply happen no matter what we tell kids.  It takes work, patience, persistence, and even some luck at times.  It takes conversations and questions and hope for every child.  It takes relationship and communication.  Honesty and even frustration.  It takes you knowing a child and a child knowing themselves.     Because while one great book can be just a fluke two great books are harder to dismiss.  It is about helping them find these books on their own.  about figuring out who they are.  About validating all of the experiences they have had with reading so far and either protecting the positive or changing the negative.

And so before we let the words roll off our tongue so easily, stop for a moment and think; what is it we really mean when we say “just find the right book?”  Because it is not just the book they need, it is the time, the skill, the motivation, and the dedication.  And while it starts with a great book it does not end there, even in the best of circumstances.

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.

For the Kids Who Show Up

This is for the kids whose stories I don’t know yet.

This is for the kids whom I haven’t met.

This is for the kids whose names stare at me from class lists, whose eyes shine brightly in their school pictures, who right now mean little to me.

But they will.

This is for the kids who hope we will like them, maybe even love them.

For the kids who need us to have their backs.

For the kids who are scared to share who they are.

For the kids who were scared and shared anyway.

This is the for the kids who were born this way, somehow deemed not normal in our gender/race/religion obsessed society.  Who fear the wrath of those who label them different.  Who are scared before they come to our schools.  Who don’t think they will be able to find a book among our piles that speak to who they are.

This is for the kids who are part of all of the kids we say we teach when we write our fancy vision statements, when we discuss how we are going to create safe schools and then do nothing to create community.

This is for the kids who need us most, who may not even be able to share why they need us, yet look to us to keep them safe as they try to access the education they have been promised.

So as we head back to school.  As we start our trainings.  As we meet as a community to discuss how this will be the year we try to reach all the kids, make sure we are really talking about ALL the kids.

Not just the white kids.

Not just the money kids.

Not just the cis kids.

Not just the straight kids.

Not just the Christian kids.

Not just the kids that fit whatever default view we have of what normal is.

As teachers, we try to speak up for all of our kids but we need to know that our schools have our back.  That we can create communities that are truly safe for all the kids that show up and not just for those someone decided deserved to be protected.  That our school boards mean it when they say that this school, this community, is for all kids to succeed, for all kids to have a chance.  Not because it is politics, but because it is human decency.

This is for all the kids who dread the first day of school because they are not sure what they will face.  This is for the teachers who fear as well.

We may not be many.

We may not be the majority.

We may not always get it right.

But we see you.

And in our eyes, you are normal.  In our eyes you are just the child we hoped would show up, so welcome.  I am glad you are here.

PS:  Go read Dana Stachowiak’s post 

But Not For the Kid

We say we believe in choice for all but it appears that all doesn’t really mean all.  That our stipulations get in the way.  That we fill our choice with “but’s…” and then wonder why kids tune out, disengage, and cannot wait for school to be over.

So we say we believe in choice for all

…but not for the kid who didn’t read last night.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t understand what they are reading.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t know how to select the right book.

…but not for the kid who keeps abandoning the books they choose, clearly they are not ready.

We say we believe in choice for all

….but not for the kid who needs intervention.

…but not for the kid whose words cannot be trusted.

…but not for the kid who hasn’t earned it.

…but not for the kid who keeps reading the same thing.

…but not for the kid that won’t read unless we sit right next to them, reminding them to keep their eyes on the page.

We say we believe in choice for all, but do we really?  Or do our “but’s” get in the way?

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.

We Are Stories

I am in the air, headed to another conference, headed away from home for the next three days.  As home fades to a pinprick, my husband’s grandmother lies in hospice, surrounded by family, finishing her journey through life.  The guilt weighs heavily on me, they know I would be there if I could, but still….

 

Our kids are trying to process what it means to die.  Our four-year-old son cries at bedtime telling me, “I will miss her so much, Mom.”   Our eight-year-old asks me why people have to die and how is that fair.  Our three-year-old asks us when Old Grandma will go home, not sure why she isn’t answering when she asks her questions.  My husband, stoic as always, keeps his emotions close to his chest, he never was one for public displays.  We are all processing in our own ways, trying to bumble our way through something we know is inevitable, yet always comes as a surprise.  As each child asks their questions, we try to navigate as best as we can, offering up shallow answers and lots of hugs.

 

 

As our children process, I try to think of what they will remember.  The stories Anita leaves us with.  The little things that stand out to us, to me, as she welcomed me into this family.  As I recognize that without her, my husband would never even exist.  The little gestures that mattered the most, such as how she brought pickled cucumbers to every gathering because she knew they reminded me of my grandfather.  How she met Brandon’s grandfather and the trouble they got in together as they married young, knowing they were meant to be together.    How when Augustine came ten weeks early, she crocheted two blankets the size of doll bedding to keep in her incubator and tiny hats to keep her warm, saying they would be better than the ones the hospital had – and they were.  How she slipped her false teeth out of her mouth just to scare my kids and they didn’t even notice.

Her stories become our stories, but only the ones we know.  There are so many we don’t know. Death is never easy.  Neither is grief.  The thought of all of the missed opportunities.  The missed moments where we could have asked for more stories, more of her.  The times we were too busy.  The times we didn’t ask more questions.

And that’s it, isn’t it?

Stories are all we are.

All we leave behind are the stories that when read from start to finish make the book of our life.

We take life for granted so often, We live as if our time will never run out.  We get too busy to stop and listen to each other.

So as I think of the year ahead in our classrooms, I think of all of the stories we are waiting to begin.  The stories awaiting us.  How it feels as if we don’t have the time to know the kids we teach because we have so much curriculum to cover.  And yet, either way, our story will continue.  The story we will create together will be written into existence whether we give it our time or not. And we can hope that this coming year is one of the good chapters, the one where there is more good than bad, more happy than not.

As Anita slowly passes, our own mortality is remembered.   We tell her thank you, we love her, and hope that it is enough.  That we were enough.  And I hope that one day, my own family will gather around me as I get ready to leave this Earth and will share their stories.  Will have enough to remember me by, not as someone who was there once in a while, when work didn’t call, but who was there for the small moments, where there are more stories than time to share them.

We can’t just wait for it to happen.  We write the story of our year, of our lives.  We are the authors of what awaits.  So make it matter.  Make it one that will be shared for years to come.

We have no more grandparents left after this.  The generation that gave birth to our parents has vanished into memories, ready to be overtaken by the next one.  Ready to have the next chapter written.  As we grieve and process, we are thankful and grateful.  At least we got to be a part of this one story.  This one life.  May we all be so lucky.