PD in my PJs!

9b407nfkqba6camy1c4khljlmzuzfonushhoojmbgttwsh2d2tkjult3d90nw-_e-_lk88imu9yw1630-h1222-noSo today was the Fall 2016 Educators Collaborative Gathering or #TheEdCollabGathering. I can’t believe I haven’t participated in this before! Chris Lehman and his incredible ‘Ed Collaborators’ put together a day of premium professional development delivered right into my home…and it was FREE!

The day kicked off with a passionate  talk from Chris to all of us. He starts, “Educators are people. We are humans. We are humans with concerns, and love, and identities, and families, and so much that make us human. And too often as educators we can walk into our school building or classroom and feel either by choice or by pressure of society or the culture in our school that we need to let go of those of those parts of ourselves, that we may need to let go of parts of our identity, or the things that make us laugh, or the people that we love, the families that we are in. There are times we have to, or feel like we have to let go. And what I want to suggest to you today…is that one piece of your humanity that you can’t let go of, we can’t stop being, is political. Because if you are not political, everything that is happening around us will become predictable.” In essence, Chris invited us to reimagine what being political means.  You need to hear it in his own words here:

Chris then introduced the amazing Katherine Bomer who screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-15-08-pminspired us with the a whole group session entitled “Writing is a Journey of Thinking, and the Journey is Everything.  She helped us rethink our concept of the essay and how essay is really literature- not simply 5 paragraphs! Her keynote follows Chris’ keynote in the video above.


After that we were free to choose from an screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-26-52-pmamazing lineup of workshops in each of the the next four sessions. How are you supposed to decide which session to choose when they are all phenomenal?? The good news is, every session is archived! So if you missed today’s #EdCollabGathering or you participated, but wanted to check out too many sessions at the same time, you can go back and watch every single session–as much as you want!!

Click HERE to head over to the AGENDA AT A GLANCE page that will link you to each and every session.

Now, I said this was free, but Chris did ask that we pay it forward by making a donation to a charity (since you didn’t have to spend anything on this great PD).

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-33-59-pmKatherine Bomer, chose the charity CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and encouraged participants to consider this as one of the charities we might support in honor of this incredible day of learning. Click on the image or HERE to make a donation. These advocates are there for kids who are caught up in the court system and need someone who knows and cares about them to navigate the legal situation they never asked to be in!

Here are the sessions I participated in:


And if today’s sessions aren’t enough free PD in your PJs, mark your calendars for April 8th! That will be the day for the Spring 2017 #EdCollabGathering!  I can hardly wait! And in the meantime  here’s the link to all the past #EdCollabGatherings on YOUTUBE.

I STORIFIED my tweets here!

I stored my photos here!


What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-8-40-09-pmAuthor Melanie Conklin knows just how to pull your heartstrings until you think they’ll snap, and then gently nurtures them back to a new normal with loving kindness. In her debut book we meet 11 year old Thyme, who’s brother Val has a rare and dangerous cancer.  He has just been accepted into a new drug trial-which is great news. But the family must leave their home and friends and move thousands of miles away  to New York City -which is bad news for Thyme and her sister Cori. All Thyme can do is count the days, and hope for a miracle for her little brother and a way for her to get back home to the life she loved. In the meantime she discovers new friends, a new boy, and a crumudgeon of a neighbor who all plant seeds in the garden of this new life and she must grapple with the guilt and confusion over these conflicting worlds. If this is a first book, I am SO excited to see what other characters Melanie will bring to life for us in her next, and next, and next!

It’s Bigger Than a Dot!

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-26-49-pmThis week, Sept 15 was International Dot Day. All across the world, classrooms were celebrating the creativity that springs from the initiation of effort-even the tiniest attempts.  “Make your mark!“became the mantra with students.  I believe that when we accept and encourage our children wherever they are and honor their efforts, great things can happen. Peter Reynold‘s brilliant book , The Dot , illustrates this so beautifully.  In this story, we are introduced to Vashti, a student who lacks confidence in her ability to draw. Her teacher encourages her to “just make a mark” and what happens after that changes how Vashti sees herself and her abilities. Talk about growth mindset! (check out the story below)


Worldwide, students heard that powerful message and experienced the potential of The Dot as the start of something wonderful.  These literacy events can be transformative for children everywhere, and the sense of community that comes from knowing we are part of something bigger than our classroom is empowering. When I tell kids that children on the other side of the world are reading this book today, or celebrating dots today, you can see the look of awe spread across their faces. Grab a globe and show them. Tell them about a child in Africa, or China, or France and watch them begin to think globally. We are all the same-we are all connected.

Sure, you might have missed Dot Day, but there is a year filled with events that celebrate literacy and our global community. Participation in these events means so much more than arts and crafts or reading a singular story.  Being a part of something bigger than ourselves helps us feel connected and important.  We can relate to others with a common story, idea, and message that becomes universal. We can identify ourselves as members of a larger, more inclusive community. We matter in the world.

So don’t worry if you missed Dot Day. There are many, many celebrations that you can plan for. You don’t have to do them all, but I encourage you to participate in something this year that lets your children become part of something bigger than their classroom. Maybe it is a school-wide or district event. Maybe it is something in your city or state. Perhaps it is a national or global initiative. You’ll be supporting their understanding of literacy while promoting the importance of humanity.

Some Literacy Initiatives You May Want to Check Out


International Day of Peace -Sept 21

Banned Books Week 2016: Sept. 25 – Oct. 1

Hispanic Heritage Month Sept 15-Oct 15

The Global Read Aloud Oct. 3- Nov. 11

Black Poetry Day – Oct. 17

Teen Read Week Oct. 9-15

National Day on Writing – Oct 20

National Family Literacy Day -Nov 1

Picture Book Month – November

American Indian Heritage Month- November

African American Read In- February

World Read Aloud Day – Feb 16, 2017

Read Across America Day -March 2, 2017

World Book Day March 2, 2017

World Storytelling Day March 20, 2017

D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read) April 12, 2017

National Poetry Month- April

National Library Week April 10-16, 2017

Children’s Book Day- April 30, 2017

Children’s Book Week – May 1-7, 2017

You can also celebrate:

Author’s Birthdays, Book Birthdays,&  Book Awards

If you are like me, you love any excuse to celebrate books, authors, writing, and reading! Let’s ignite in our kids a genuine love of literacy. When we  rejoice and honor the role of literacy in our lives and our world we are giving our students an incredible gift.

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-11-52-20-amFans of Jennifer Nielsen will be thrilled with her latest book, The Scourge.  In true Nielsen fashion, it was a page-turner that I didn’t want to put down. Ani Mells lived during the time of the scourge- a plague from which no one recovers. When she is diagnosed with the scourge and sentenced to  Attic Island, the colony where victims live out the end of their painfully short lives, her loyal friend, Weevil, makes a brave decision to make sure Ani doesn’t die alone. But when Ani gets to the colony she makes some discoveries that may save others from her terrible fate, if only she lives long enough to reveal the secrets!  I am thrilled that this is a stand-alone book. I love a good series, but there is something satisfying with a well-told tale in a single text. I highly recommend this book to all middle-grade readers and their teachers! I think you’ll be mesmerized, too!


Creating a Readerdom!

This last week I was teaching in a 6th-grade classroom.  We are at the beginning of the school year and teachers are working on creating a community of learners.  I believe deep literacy learning happens best in a community where readers and writers feel connected to others and not always immersed in an isolating task.

I believe in the power of a Readerdom!

I wanted to get the students to connect with their reading identities as well as those of their peers. Together we engaged in 4 Activities.

“I am the kind of reader who___” We discussed what identity meant- with the students  defining it as “It’s who we are.” I added, “Yes, it’s all those things about you that make you uniquely you!” I shared some of my own characteristics that are woven into the fabric of my reading identity and then asked them to share some of theirs.  Most students wrote so much they had to use the back of their papers. Their teacher later expressed surprise at how much they wrote and how they reflected on who they are as readers.img_1432


“Who is_____ as a reader?” I then asked for volunteers to share what they had written. To encourage active listening and connections I had the other students make a list of those who shared. Next to their name they were asked to write something about that person as a reader. They could choose anything that resonated with them, or a summary.  I heard lots of, “Oh yeah, me too!” as students shared.


“Who else likes_______?” On a separate sheet of paper I asked students to choose ONE genre that they really like.  For many it was hard to narrow it down.  I told them I would have a hard time selecting one but it didn’t have to be a singular favorite, just one that they truly enjoy.  Then they had 10 minutes to circulate around the room to see who else really enjoyed reading books in that genre and collect their names. Afterward I told them, “Now you know who you can ask for recommendations.  These students will be a good source for you to get ideas and discuss books with.”


“Stranded on an island.” The last task was asking students to imagine they were stranded on a deserted island and they could only have THREE books there with them. Which books would they choose? Many students knew right away, but others struggled with thinking up titles or narrowing their choices.  This information told me which books they had either read recently, loved deeply, or were important enough to remember. The kids were fascinated by the choices of their peers. Expressions of “OH YEAH!” “REALLY?” and “OH, I FORGOT ABOUT THAT ONE!” permeated the room. img_1435

As you can imagine, it’s not just the responses that enlightened me about their sense of self as readers, but when I observed them thinking, reacting, struggling, or debating I could see them connecting with a part of their identity they hadn’t been in touch with much. They clearly are more aware of their reading traits and a greater connection to the reading community of their classroom

We were taking our first steps in creating a Readerdom where readers rule and books are the queen! Long live the queen!

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-2-09-49-pmWISH by Barbara O’Connor
Speaking of queens, Barbara O’Connor is  the queen of empathy! She creates characters that help us walk in the shoes of others and ‘wish’ we could be better people.  In this middle grade novel, Charlie Reese is an eleven year old girl who has been making the same wish since she was in 4th grade. It’s a secret, and she needs to make it every single day or it won’t come true. She finds all kinds of ways to make wishes (on stars, clovers, and some unique old wives’ tales!) She is sent away to live with her aunt in the Blue Ridge Mountains when her mother and father can no longer take care of her. She meets a neighbor who becomes an unlikely friend and a stray dog that has yet to be tamed. But she still wants her one wish to come true.
All I can say is get to your favorite bookstore as fast as you can and get your own copy of WISH, you can thank me later!

Having Faith in Beginnings

It has certainly been a week of beginnings. I watched students pour into school to begin their new year. I spent the day with kindergarteners as they experienced school for the first time. I worked with brand new teachers as they began their careers in the greatest profession ever. I saw my son begin his sophomore year in high school and yesterday I dropped my daughter off to college to begin her new life away from home.

I had faith that each of these individuals who stood on the brink of these beginnings would move forward successfully-and they did. For many I stood beside them, available to help if THEY wanted it, being fully present in the moment. I was excited to watch them take these steps, and cautious not to take the lead. For those of us who have made that walk, it is tempting to try and be the guide. We can anticipate the challenges, we have observed common pitfalls, we have experience we’d like to share. We want to help.

I remind myself that it is their beginning, their journey, their turn to embrace the experience. So then I am freed up to observe and marvel at the unfettered enthusiasm and the skillful navigation untainted by familiarity. And if I am open and mindful I will find this an incredible learning experience of my own. That takes faith.

As we welcome new students and new teachers into our schools this year, it is my hope that we can learn along as we observe them maneuver through beginnings and steer uncharted courses. Yes, they’ll veer off track, they’ll hit bumps in the road, they may even crash at times-but how they adjust, correct, and renavigate can offer us all new insights and direction.  We can choose to always lead and we will stay on the same path, or we can share the lead and reach new destinations together.  That takes trust. That takes faith.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 9.12.30 AM

What’s On My Book Radar?


Rather ironic that as I focus on beginnings, I find this amazing gem that focuses on endings.Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is one of those books I believe every teacher should read. We can all recall at least one teacher who touched our hearts and will stay with us always-that is what Ms. Bixby has done for her class. After finding out that their teacher is sick and will need to stop teaching to get treatment, three boys  (Topher, Brand, and Steve) come up with a plan to let Ms. Bixby know just how much she means to them. Told through each of their eyes, we witness how much of an impact the kindness and love of a teacher can have on the lives of their students.This was the perfect book for me to read as I begin my 29th year of teaching and strive to make a difference in the lives of those around me.  May it feel you with inspiration and appreciation. Just keep the tissues handy!




Let’s WOOP it up this year!

As we begin another school year, those of us returning to the classroom bring a wealth of experience, a stocked tool kit, and sometimes a little baggage or anxiety.  The new year brings opportunity to create the life in teaching we always dreamed of. We often rearrange our classroom spaces, revise our lessons or reorganize our schedules.  With a new year and new students we have a new blank slate upon which to create.

So it’s a great time to ask ourselves, “What works, what doesn’t?” And by that I mean, inviting ourselves to reflect on our practice and consider what was effective, engaging, and enjoyable- and what wasn’t.  Sometimes we fall into patterns of behavior and it is almost like going through the motions. “ I’ve always done it this way.” When we acknowledge past successes and take time to reflect there is a greater chance that they will repeat. When we are honest about what our challenges are, we can more purposefully address them. For most of us, this isn’t just a job. This is life.

So how do we create the life in teaching that we want? Maybe this year we could try to WOOP it up!

Over the summer, I had more time to read a greater variety books and listen to podcasts that weren’t about literacy or teaching necessarily. I found myself fascinated by the work of psychologist Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, author of Rethinking Positive Thinking:Inside the New Science of Motivation. She believes the obstacles that we think prevent us from realizing our deepest wishes can actually lead to their fulfillment, but we can’t just think positive thoughts. Ironically, she found those who have stronger, more positive fantasies about reaching their goals are actually less likely to achieve them. She and her colleague Dr. Peter M. Gollwitzer introduce me to a strategy called mental contrasting- a visualization technique that research has shown can increase positive outcomes for goals. But she wanted to move theory into practice so she created WOOP!


The 4 steps: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan can be applied to situations in our classrooms for both the teacher as well as the students. The basics are:

WISH– What is an important goal or wish that I would like to accomplish in the near future (next few weeks)?

IMG_0928OUTCOME– What would be the most positive outcome? How would that make me feel? Imagine it as fully as I can.

OBSTACLE– What is the main obstacle inside ME that holds me back from fulfilling that wish or dream. Is it a habit, an emotion, a belief. I cannot control external obstacles, only those within myself.

PLAN– Identify one action you could take or thought you could think that would overcome that obstacle.  “If… (obstacle), then I will … (action or thought).”

So how might that look in action?

WISH-in the next few weeks I want to submit  two pieces of professional writing.

OUTCOME- I would feel a sense of relief and accomplishment if I created something worthy of being published. It would be exhilarating.

OBSTACLE- I know at the start of the school year I am not very good at prioritizing my time. I often feel like I have to say yes and I try to  front-load a lot of my work with students and teachers. I want to start things off on the right foot and I often take on too much.

PLAN- I am going to block off at least 1 hour in my schedule outside of school for writing each day. No email. No social media. No lesson plans or curriculum work during that hour. That time will be sacred.  “If I am asked to do something, then I will schedule it outside of that time -or even consider not doing it.”

I know that sounds ridiculously simple.  That’s the point. WOOP is breaking down the research behind mental contrasting with implementation intentions into a habit for thinking about how to approach your goals with deliberate focus. Oettingen knew that the acronym could help to trigger positive action because it is catchy and memorable. If there are things you would like to accomplish in your classrooms this year, perhaps you could WOOP it up!

She  has FREE POSTERS for your classroom and there’s even an app for that! You can check out a few videos from Character Lab on implementing WOOP in your schools here.



What’s on My Book Radar?

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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Author Meredith Russo is truly writing from the heart with this poignant YA novel. Amanda is the new girl at her school in Lambertville, Tennessee.  She wants what all ‘normal’ girls want; friendships, a boyfriend, to simply fit in.  But Amanda wasn’t always your ‘normal’ girl. She was born Andrew- a girl trapped in a boy’s body. As she strives to live an authentic life, she wants to be honest. But with a bullied and tortured past, she is afraid to trust. Then she meets Grant Everett, she experiences life in a new way, and fears that honesty could risk it all. For anyone who has ever struggled with understanding  the concept of transgender or transsexual identity- this book will help you as you walk a mile in the shoes of one teen who will open your eyes and open your heart. A great addition to any high school looking to offer more “windows and mirrors” in their collection of texts to celebrate diversity.

Who Is Telling Our Stories?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear some story in the news or online about teachers or teaching. These tend to fall on the spectrum of martyrdom to disgrace by spotlighting the heroic or the failed teacher. These stories sell newspapers or create enticing ‘click bait’, but they paint inaccurate or incomplete stories about what it is to be a teacher. Politicians, parents, and people everywhere can develop skewed perceptions of teaching that frequently leads to teacher-bashing, disrespect, and even cries for endless reform.

I would like to see that change…Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 5.52.40 PM

Our silence can create a vacuum that is often filled with angry or uninformed voices.  Too often teachers are painted as this monolithic group who think and act similarly. Look around our schools.  There is such a variety of experience, background, philosophy, pedagogy, and passion. I think the chorus of our voices create a rich song, if we are brave enough to sing it!

There is often a perception that teaching is relatively easy. We may be inadvertently perpetuating that myth when we don’t attempt to shift that belief. I am reminded as I watch athletes competing at the Olympics this summer that they make it look easy-sometimes even effortless. Though we know that is not the case, we might still be surprised at the time and work put into those performances. I think that is often the case with teaching. Though people rarely have the opportunity to see teachers in action, when they do visit a classroom, or when they hear their children talk about it, they aren’t grasping the effort that went into making that lesson or that classroom environment happen.

Now, I’m not advocating that anyone starts whining about how hard teaching is or Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 6.02.54 PMcomplaining that ‘nobody understands’. I would just love to see teachers share their process more. We all have dreams, hopes, reflections, guilt, epiphanies, doubts, inspiration, and ideas that our colleagues can appreciate. We don’t have to make ourselves vulnerable or uncomfortable to be more open and honest. Teachers have a great sense of humor-look at the memes that flood our Facebook walls!            (creds to someecards)

To start, I would first encourage a teacher to think about their audience and ask themselve, “Who would I like to tell MY story to?” (this will help you to consider format) It could be for your students as you share your writers’ notebook or sample pieces of writing. It could be for their parents as you create a newsletter of some kind. It could be for your community as you share newspaper articles or presentations. It could be for your colleagues with a Facebook or a Voxer group. It could be for an even wider audience with a YouTube channel, Twitter Chat, blog, or book. Maybe you simply want to write for YOURSELF. I have found writing to be an incredible opportunity for discovery!

We must, however, be cautious that we protect the stories of our students. They are not for us to tell. Their identities, perspectives, and thoughts are sacred and must always be honored. I will never use a students’ name and only use their work or image with the expressed consent of the parent and the student. I like the adage “Measure twice, cut once” to inspire me to “Think twice, post prudently.” There are many humorous anecdotes best kept private!

 In my district we have a handful of teachers who get together somewhat regularly to write. Some write poems to their grandchildren, journal about their lives, or work on projects they’d like to publish. We are a community. Several teachers I approached have expressed an interest in starting to blog about their teaching. As school begins I want to support them in this process. An easy place to get started is setting up an eduBlog. This YouTube video will walk you through it.

Regardless of your format of choice I want to invite you to write your story. Start putting those ideas, experiences, and feelings into words. It’s cathartic, it’s empowering, it’s important.  I welcome YOUR ideas for the encouraging this process as well. Write them to me!!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Summerlost by Ally Condie (author of the Matched series)Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 6.13.26 PM

The summer after Cedar lost her father and brother in a tragic accident, her mother buys a summer house in the town where she grew up. Cedar makes a new friend, Leo, at the Summerlost theater festival and together they explore the mysterious death of Summerlost’s most famous young actress and discover more about life than about death. A tender story about dealing with loss and the guilt that can sometimes accompany it. Ally creates beautiful characters that show how diversity doesn’t have to be the central theme of the book, but rather the real life experience and traits  of the characters within. For middle grade readers.


What is ECET2?

This past week I went to a two day conference on the campus of Colby College that was unlike any I had ever attended before.  The focus was on teacher leadership, innovative instructional practice, and honoring the dignity of of teachers and our profession. And it was FREE. This ECET2ME Convening was hosted and organized by Educate Maine and Maine State Teachers of the Year. So what is ECET2?

ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (and the ME stands for my state of Maine). According to its website ECET2 has 6  Key Beliefs that are supported at these convenings:

  1. Nurturing trust among teachers
  2. Focusing on each teacher’s potential for growth
  3. Inspiring both the intellect and the passion that drives teachers in their work
  4. Providing time for collaboration and learning
  5. Putting teachers in the lead
  6. Recognizing teachers as talented professionalsScreen Shot 2016-08-13 at 8.13.28 AM

Every moment of these two days teachers were made to feel appreciated and respected.  Hosted by teachers, for teachers it was tailored to meet our needs so perfectly and make us feel like “royalty”.  We had inspiring “Cultivating the Calling” keynote speakers such as Shanna Peeples (the 2015 National Teacher of the Year) as well as local teachers, breakout sessions focusing on leadership, innovation, and empowerment, and facilitated colleague circles to discuss and problem-solve real and relevant issues in our schools.

And beyond all that learning there was time for networking and celebrating.  A lobster bake was provided on the shores of the campus lake and the incredible generous Stenhouse Publishers provided each participant with a free professional book of their choice and an opportunity to discuss it with colleagues. A free performance by the wildly talented improv group Teachers Lounge Mafia got us all laughing together and appreciating the humor that surrounds us each and every day. Toss in free gourmet boxed meals, more snacks than you could eat in a week, and plenty of coffee and infused waters.

We ended the convening with a showing of the film Most Likely to Succeed complete with movie candy and popcorn!  After the film, we had a live Twitter chat about it.  The cool thing about this was rather than telling participants about Twitter, they taught participants how to use it! A classic example of modeling and guided practice…brilliant!

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Thank you ECET2ME sponsors!

With funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and local organizations, the amazing ECET2ME Team, led by Karen MacDonald and Jenny McLellan put in countless hours and so much passion into making this event happen for 150 Maine teachers. I can’t thank them all enough. (and I truly apologize that I can’t name you all individually!)  Each of us  left the conference feeling inspired, empowered, and connected.  We are charged with going out and sharing what we experienced and learned with our colleagues and cultivating the calling of teacher leadership. We left with a stronger network to lean on and collaborate with as we navigate the challenges of teaching. We are dedicated to promoting teacher leadership, positive school culture, and the advocacy for what is best for our students.

If you get a chance to attend an ECET2 Convening- DON’T PASS IT UP!  It’s a game changer! Here’s my PHOTO ALBUM of the event so you can sneak a peak of what it’s all about.

In the meantime you can follow the conversations on Twitter:  #ECET2  #ECET2ME  and also with #EDChatME

More links on ECET2

What’s On My Book Radar?

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The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Every year a baby is left in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch to spare the people of the Protectorate from her terror. But this witch (the kind Xan) saves these babies she thinks are being abandoned and finds them loving homes on the other side of the dangerous woods. One year a mother fights to save her baby and is imprisoned for her rebellion and goes mad. Xan rescues this child as well, but she accidentally feeds her moonlight rather than starlight and she is enmagicked. Xan must raise ‘Luna’ and teach her the ways of magic. Meanwhile a young man wants to free his people from the evil witch by killing her and the mad mother has visions of the true evil in the Protectorate. All of these lives intersect with an incredible climax in this fantastic story that I cannot begin to retell with any justice. I hope this becomes a read aloud in many middle grade classrooms this year. It’s going to win a lot of awards.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.00.14 AMA Mindset for Learning

Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz have explored the concept of growth mindset and what it looks like in practice in the classroom.  They explore habits/stances that we can build in ourselves that make us more successful and happier:

  • empathy
  • optimism
  • resilience
  • persistence
  • flexibility

and provide practical lessons and approaches to help us cultivate these stances in our students to become independent learners who embrace the challenges of learning. CAUTION: you’ll want a highlighter, sticky notes, or a pencil handy as you read!

Olympic Teaching: 5 Lessons and Look-Fors from Rio 2016

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As the Summer 2016 Olympics begin much of the world will be following the feats of incredibly talented athletes as they strive for peak performance. Announcers will share profiles of athletes and expound on the life lessons we can take from these games. As with everything I experience, I often see it through the lens of an educator and the Olympics will be no different!

So what can the Olympics do to enhance our teaching?  I guess that is in the eye of the beholder, but for me I’ll be watching for inspiration and insights that will transfer beyond these events. So here is what I’ll be looking for:

Teamwork– even with individual events, no athlete makes it to the Olympics alone.  They are part of a team and there are so many support personnel who help them to make their dreams come true. We teachers are all a part of a larger team, even on those days when we feel most alone.  We couldn’t do what we do without a whole team including administrators, ed techs, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc. And every one of the athletes has at least one coach.  These coaches don’t just tell athletes what to do to win, they have strategies, inspiration, and feedback that helps pull the best out of them. I believe teachers deserve coaches, too. We should never feel like we have to go it alone.

Perspective-I listened to an interesting podcast recently about the perspective of medal winners in the Olympics.  Naturally gold medal winners are the happiest, but  you would think silver medal winners would be next.  Wrong.  It’s actually the bronze medal winners who are happier.  Turns out their perspective makes them more grateful.  Silver medalists compare themselves to gold medalists and think about what could have been. Bronze medalists compare themselves to non-medal winners and feel more fortunate.  Our perspective can certain impact our experiences in life. Constantly comparing ourselves to other teachers, classrooms, schools, etc. can erode our happiness.  Focusing on the ‘gift’ of what IS without the filters of comparison can provide us a perspective of greater happiness.

Goals-These athletes all set daily, weekly, monthly, lifetime goals and have plans to achieve them. They don’t plod along with hope and a prayer.  They approach roadblocks strategically and determinedly.  They all have setbacks. They all fail at some point. I want to think about what goals do I want to set for myself this year. Not goals for evaluation or administration, but personal goals to achieve MY peak performance this year.  Athletes make it look easy-but it’s not.  As I watch replays of victories or medal ceremonies I want to remember how much goal-oriented work went into helping those athletes succeed and take inspiration for those times that the going gets tough.

Failure– more athletes will fail at these Olympics than will win. Very few of those athletes will quit.  Many athletes speak of the losses that taught them more than the wins. Often they credit their toughest losses as being their greatest inspirations. I will enjoy the victories of the winners, but I will also watch how the other athletes handle their setbacks, disappointments, and losses and take inspiration from their courage and solace in knowing that even the most elite competitors will fail and move on.

Celebration-Win or lose, the Olympians all participate in celebrations-did you see the joy in that opening ceremony?  They sincerely appreciate the commitment and effort of their fellow athletes and feel a part of something larger than themselves. Many schools celebrate student accomplishments, but the schools that I work in with the best morale have always taken time to celebrate the effort and accomplishments of staff as well. As I enjoy the Olympics I will be reflecting on those teachers and staff around me who are working on personal or professional goals and contemplate ways to celebrate their efforts, progress, and achievements.

I’m sure as the games progress I will pull more inspiration and insights. I will remember how much effort and sacrifice went into preparing for that moment in the spotlight for each and every athlete, whether they win or lose.  I’ll enjoy the personal profiles and courageous bios, remembering each ‘star’ was once (and some still are) a child who was nurtured and guided to this achievement.

I’d love to hear what lessons others may glean from these games.


What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.27.38 PMDon’t let the title scare you off. It is integral to the story in a way you might not have imagined. I am putting this book on a MUST READ list. A story of three friends during their senior year in rural America (TN) who are contemplating what the future holds for them and are struggling with the limitations their past may have on that. Incredibly well written- I couldn’t put it down! An amazing book that can help young people think about their own personal identities as they see Dill, Travis, and Amelia examine theirs and ask “Who am I?” This book will make you feel so many emotions and hopefully encourage empathy for those around us who are marginalized or ‘discarded’. The Serpent King will be on many award lists this year!




Year-Round “Summer” Reading!

Every year libraries, newspapers, magazines, and bloggers put out lists of the BEST BEACH READS or SUMMER READING BESTS.  There is something festive and exciting about summer reading. Why is that?  Sometimes people admit that they choose different books in the summer. They confess to loving “trashy” books as a “guilty pleasure”.

Hey, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!!

Summer reading shouldn’t be judged as less than acceptable.  It’s a time when people seem to read what they want to read. We reflect on our tastes and preferences.   We look for recommendations from others. We often experiment with new books and genres.  We associate books with the places we read them and special times in our lives. We contemplate our reading identities.

I want that for our students, too.  Sadly many will not read over the summer for a variety of reasons. Many educators, libraries, and schools try to promote, incentivize, and encourage summer reading but ultimately we cannot create the conditions to make that a reality for all. We can’t be there with them to help make it happen. Or can we?

If we want our students to experience the joys of summer reading we can look for ways to create that experience in our classrooms (where we do exert influence). We can ask ourselves: what makes summer reading special?

  • Enticing Book Lists of “Must Reads”
  • “Free” time to read
  • Choice in what we read
  • Fun places to read
  • Conversations about what we read
  • Festive atmosphere for reading

That’s easy enough for most of us. We create many of these conditions in our classrooms already. But what if we just declared a Summer Reading Break a few times during the school year and bring that magic into our classrooms.

Announce an upcoming Summer Reading Break. Really play it up to generate the buzz and excitement many feel for real summer. In anticipation students could:


  • Create summer reading lists/ ‘must reads‘ compiled by students.
  • Create or collect book talks or book trailers to entice readers
  • Get their TBRs (To Be Read) ready for the week
  • Talk to librarians about book recommendations
  • Plan a summer reading corner by  bringing in beach blankets, umbrellas, towels, etc.
  • Discuss their perceptions of ‘summer reading’ and how it could be good for them as readers.


Then for a week you could carve out 30 minutes a day to :

  • Take a school “vacation” and simply read!
  • Put on background sounds of surf, loon calls, bird songs, thunderstorms, etc.
  • Project a summer video or scene onto a SmartBoard/whiteboard.
  • Share some summer snacks.
  • Provide kids time to talk about their reading/books.
  • Write about/Blog/Tweet/Instagram their “summer” reading.
  • Continually make references/connections to how this would look for them during their summer vacations.
  • Reflect on our reading identities!

By the time real summer rolls around, these students will have some schema for summer reading that they may have never had before.  They can associate summer reading with a pleasurable experience. We can continue the conversation about reading and books with our students via a class blog, google doc, email, social media (if students are old enough) during the summer. We could have a mid-summer ‘meet up’ (in person or virtually) to bring favorite books to talk about.

We can’t expect our students to take on new behaviors away from school that haven’t had scaffolding at school.  For something to become a habit, it needs to have repetition and opportunity.  If we want our students to be summer readers, they need opportunities to practice and experience that behavior! When your students come back from summer break this fall, think about who was a summer reader and who was not. Think about why that might be.  Then think about how you can create a few summer reading breaks during the school year that address those conditions/issues.  You might not see the bump during your teaching year, but…

We plant the seeds so that others may enjoy the shade.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.34.05 PMTowers Falling is the 3rd book I have read this summer that deals with 9/11 and like Nora Raleigh Baskin’s nine, ten: a September 11 Story and Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things, this book is a gem. On the 15th anniversary of the tragedy, Deja’s 5th grade teacher presents some lessons on the history of this date. Somehow Deja is the only student who has never heard of 9/11 and yet she will find she is the one student in her class who has a personal connection to that date.  Jewell Parker Rhodes has created a story of friendship and compassion as she introduces us to Deja (a homeless girl) and her two friends Sabeen (a muslim girl) and Ben (a child of divorce) who band together to try to understand why recent history is important and relevant and how it can influence our lives today. I think this is an essential read for students who weren’t alive on that date and are trying to understand why it is so important for our nation (and perhaps their families’) history.



How Can We Invest in PD for Teachers?

I just got back from the International Literacy Association annual conference in Boston.  (#ILA16) I presented on a panel with colleague Caroline Eldridge and authors Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jennifer Jacobson, and Cynthia Lord. It was exhilarating. Preparing for our session on Close Writing got me focused and presenting with these talented people was amazing.  That was only one part of my conference participation, and it was incredibly powerful. I wish all the teachers I work with could have attended (and I did try hard to get teachers sent).

I think every teacher should attend a national (or international) conference more than once during their career.  Sure, there is a wide variety of professional development opportunities for teachers that are effective and wonderful. But ask anyone who has been to a major conference and they will they you they are game-changers because they:

  • enhance our knowledge base with experts in the field
  • create connections to other educators
  • strengthen our teaching tool kits
  • expose us to latest resources and books
  • raise our level of professionalism
  • and help us to feel like a part of a passionate community that is making a difference for students all across the country

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 11.35.41 AMI also know they are cost-prohibitive for so many teachers. Many schools think of the expense as a luxury rather than an investment.  I know my friend Shawna Coppola has this same concern and has put it out to Twitter for some ideas and comments. It’s a double edged sword: on one side these educators are missing out on their own professional development, and on the other side these conferences are missing out on a diversity of voices.  Think how much richer these conversations would be if we had representatives from every type of school, community, and culture.

At ILA there was a huge emphasis on embracing diversity and nurturing the learner.  I think this should extend to adult learners as well. We want our students to have the best teachers, but when it comes to investing in those teachers I think we too easily shy away when it becomes challenging. So what can we do to help more teachers participate? I have a few ideas:

  • Attendees can go back to their schools and become advocates. Share the ideas, resources, and connections.  Promote the personal and professional benefits we receive as participants. People are more likely to support what they know and understand. (And they are less likely to be jealous or indifferent if they know there are possible opportunities for themselves as well.)
  • Talk with school board members.  Approach them with budget figures that they might be able to work into upcoming budgets. Provide perspective: if they allocated $1000/year out of a $5,000,000 budget that is .0002 of the budget for an investment.
  • Inquire about the possibility of teachers setting up payroll deductions (pre-tax??) to support professional development.  $20 a week would give us $1040 in a year.
  • Look for scholarships that presenting organization may have. ILA has some Awards & Grants. The Whole Language Umbrella  has scholarships for their WLU Summer Institute and a year membership in NCTE. The National Education Association has Learning and Leadership Grants that can be applied for.
  • Approach PTA organizations about professional development scholarship funds.  Teachers could help them raise these funds and they (as well as the students and school community) would benefit from the professional experience of the teachers.
  • If there are no PTA-type groups, teachers could try to create their own crowdfunding efforts. Many teachers have become familiar with Donors Choose to provide materials for their classrooms, why not consider investing in the teacher of those classrooms as well? If you aren’t comfortable with online asking, we teachers know an awful lot about bake sales and fundraisers!
  • Take advantage of local and regional conferences and workshops that are often at a lower cost (and sometimes free– Thank You EDCamps and nErDcamps!!) Some of these events are drawing lots of national talent and teachers.  Actively seek out opportunities via social media!
  • Follow conferences on Twitter or Instagram (and yes, even Snapchat now!) Look for the #hashtag for the event and take advantage of all the, notes, powerpoints, images, ideas, and thinking that others are graciously sharing.

I’d welcome any and all suggestions or ideas you may have.  Please post a comment if you can think of others. Professional development is something near and dear to my heart.  I think every child deserves a teacher who is nurtured and supported and passionate.  We can do a lot more to make it easier for teachers to get the highest quality PD.

In the meantime, I’ll share some of my highlights/take aways from #ILA16. I plan to share ideas and information as well as resources with other teachers in my district and coaches in my state.

Click HERE to read my Storify Tweets from #ILA16

Click HERE to see my Google Photos of ILA Take-Aways

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 3.00.06 PMThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

I have not been this excited to get my hands on a book since FISH IN A TREE. I got an ARC at #ILA16 and devoured it in a day. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kyle Donohue watches one of the towers come down while sitting in his HS class. Evacuating the city, he discovers a girl in a very precarious situation and brings her home. Who she is and why she was there is a mystery to even the girl. This is truly a story of hope during some of our nation’s most desperate days. I couldn’t put it down. When this comes out this September I hope it finds it way into the hands of readers everywhere. Lyrical, tragic, unforgettably beautiful. YA 6th grade and up  (Available in Sept but check out that pre-order price!!!)

(Note: last blog post also featured a Sept. 11th novel on my ‘radar’. I am currently reading a third. Tune in for that review next time.)