Fostering Makers

The last few weeks I’ve been working in kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms trying to foster “makers”-book makers to be more precise.  Based on the work of Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland*, we are encouraging our youngest writers to think about what they notice in the books they read and inviting them to use what they know to create their own books. Simple, right? And yet so powerfulScreen Shot 2020-01-19 at 5.39.11 PM.

*About the Authors was my first inspiration for making books years ago. Getting Started with Beginning Writers  is their latest.

 

 

First of all, the kids are excited to be making actual books, and by actual I mean two pieces of copy paper folded in half and stapled together, voilà…a book! They suddenly are filled with ideas that they want to turn into a book. Second, we get incredible insights into what they notice and know about print concepts and how books work. With no lines we can see how they choose to use space and if they have a solid grasp on directionality,

IMG_6572return sweep, and book layout. They get to make ALL the choices, not limited by lines or predetermined space for pictures on every page. (We created a space on the cover for now as a scaffold for determining fronts and backs.) Also, our writers are connecting ideas to one another in a way that they didn’t do with a single piece of lined paper. Some have miraculously moved from one to multiple sentences during workshop. IMG_6573

Because we work on a book for more than one day, they are being introduced to the concept of revision in a natural way. Going back the next day to add details in pictures or words is just how we roll. When they ‘fill up’ a page they don’t say, “I’m done!” because there are 6 to 8 more pages waiting for them to dive right in.

Is this anything new? No. Is this radical? No. Is it meaningful and effective? YES! It gives students a sense of agency as they create authentic texts for real audiences. We are putting some finished books into the classroom libraries, some kiddos want to give their books to someone as a gift, and we are curating a collection of amazing mentor texts from these real-life mentors that we can share with future students. How empowering. IMG_6575So do yourselves a favor and check out the books by Katie and Lisa (see above) and give book making a try as an option for your students. You’ll learn so much about those youngest writers, much of which isn’t linked to any standards!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Image result for tracking pythons kate messnerTRACKING PYTHONS by Kate Messner
This is Kate Messner’s first middle grade nonfiction book and it is fantastic. She takes us on a quest to control the population of invasive Burmese Pythons that have overrun south Florida, and the unique approach scientists are using to track them. She uses both a narrative and expository structure to tell the story and inform the reader. She includes QR codes that allow us to see scientists and pythons in action. She includes dozens of fascinating photos, sidebar facts, and a timeline of the invasion that help give a complete picture of the challenge. I was sent a copy of this text by the publisher but I would definitely seek out any book by Messner, because I know how much research and work goes into her books. Kids who are mesmerized by snakes or are interested in scientists and their work will be captivated by this book. I’m always on the lookout for good nonfiction-and this hits the mark

Don’t forget turn back around…

Those lyrics from Lori McKenna, made famous by Tim McGraw hold many life lessons that I try to live and learn from. Yesterday I spent my morning turning back around and helping the next ones in line as I worked with teachers who were candidates for National Board Certification. Our Maine Education Association sponsors a workshop once a month to support teachers working toward NBCT.  I participated in those workshops on my journey toward certification, and I was grateful for the support and encouragement. I vowed that if I achieved certification, that I would give back to that group and do what I could to help others achieve certification.

I’ve been working with an amazing kindergarten teacher in our district the past two years as she works her way through the four rigorous components and I’ve agreed to read entries from teachers outside of our district who I’ve met in a variety of educational contexts.  If you’re an NBCT, you know just how much of a lifeline that encouragement and feedback can be from colleagues-it is invaluable.  I was lucky to be one of four teachers from our district who worked together and nudged one another along.

As part of my #100DaysofNotebooking I created an entry to reflect on the core principles of NBCT and the day I learned I had become certified:

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Do you know someone who is working on a goal that may seem overwhelming at times? Perhaps someone is enrolled in a Master’s degree program, participating in the National Writing Project, or trying to get something published. Maybe they are just trying to survive and thrive in their first years of teaching. What supports could you offer (that wouldn’t drain your own precious time or energy to a deficit)? Is there a small lift you could offer? A note of encouragement? An invitation to read some work? A cup of coffee and a vote of confidence?

And if you have achieved something yourself: a degree, a certificate, an accolade…can you turn back around and help the next one in line? If we are going to sustain an excellence in our teaching profession we need to grow it. We need know we are not alone.

Always stay humble and kind.

 

One More Off My TBR Stack

forgotten city

FORGOTTEN CITY by Michael Ford
There is no shortage of dystopian books, but this one is unique in a number of ways. The world is not destroyed by war and conflict but rather by corporate greed. A deadly chemical (Waste) is unleashed on the world and devastates all life. Millions are killed and we think only Kobi and his father survive, but when Kobi’s father doesn’t return from one of his scientific missions, Kobi leaves their safe space to search for him. What he finds upends his reality…he finds he isn’t alone and cannot trust what he sees. So many twists and turns in this adventure: creative mutations, unexpected consequences, crafty characters all make this a terrific science fiction thriller. First in a series and currently on the 2019-20 MSBA list. A real page turner.

#100DaysofNotebooking

I am so lucky that I have a dedicated notebooker as a dear friend. Michelle Haseltine has been notebooking since 1982.  She is on her 83rd notebook!! I am so inspired by her dedication to “showing up to the page” every day.  Now she is even more inspiring; she has created a group called #100DaysofNotebooking that has members from around the world! The idea is to commit to notebooking for 100 days-whatever you want to put on a page is PERFECT.

Michelle says, Notebooking is about sharing your story. Show up to the page every day. Focus on that and soon you will have your story on the page. There is no right/wrong way to notebook. Show up! We invite you to join us into our community for support and encouragement!

My notebook entry today was based on the variety of formats and ideas I’ve read

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through in the past several days-and I know I did not capture all of them.  For anyone who thinks they can’t notebook or wouldn’t know what to write about, you’ll find so many ideas and inspiration from this group.

You can spend as much or as little time as you want writing each day. You can choose to share, or not to share. If you are on  Twitter, just use the hashtag #100DaysofNotebooking to see some examples.

Sure, we are a few days into the new year, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a GO. Once you start writing each day, you will experience the world around you in new ways. You’ll be more present and aware-you’ll notice more because you are open to ideas that you can notebook. Being a writer changes the way you see and experience the world.

What are the rules?

1.Show up to the page.

That’s it. Just turn a page each day and put pen to paper. See what comes out. Discover your thinking.

PLAY!

As a bonus, Michelle has also created a Spotify playlist of songs to inspire ideas and creativity. Seems like each day this group keeps growing with inspiring support. Check it out-I don’t think you’ll regret it! If you want to join the private Facebook page you can request permission here: 100 Days of Notebooking Facebook Group Hope to see you there!

 

One More Off My TBR Stack

What it isWHAT IT IS by Lynda Barry

My first book of 2020 and I think this one is going to change my life! It fits so well with my goals for notebooking as well. Lynda asks some big existential questions and playfully writes and draws some responses that invite even more questions that only the reader can answer for themself. She frames thoughts about writing in unique ways; “Handwriting is an image left by a living being in motion-it cannot be duplicated in time or space.” or “We are practicing a physical activity (writing)with a state of mind.” If you’ve ever wanted to keep a notebook of thoughts, wondering, doodles, or stories I encourage you to add this book to your collection. It’s been around since 2008 and I’m surprised it hadn’t found me yet.

Give the Gift That Promises a Lift!

Waking up on my first day of our winter vacation, filled with gratitude after a great night’s sleep. Vacations provide a much needed break to rest, replenish, and rejuvenate. But they also provide a stopping point that mark accomplishment. We did it. We made it to this point. We won!

But vacations don’t have to be the only stopping points to reflect on accomplishment. Teaching is hard and often we only stop to reflect when something frustrates or upsets us. In reality, our days are filled with many wonderful moments for our students and ourselves. There are many accomplishments that we don’t take time to celebrate because they may seem too small. I think that’s a mistake. One of my favorite sayings is, “Nothing is too small to celebrate!”

So this year I decided to build on the advice of some of my kindergarten friends who asked each other at the end of the day last year, “What’s your win?” I blogged about it in February (What’s Your Win? Feb 2019) but have thought about it all year. So for a holiday gift for all of our new teachers I created a What’s Your Win? book.  It started with a simple monthly calendar/planner. You can pick these up anywhere (and after Jan 1st you’ll get them 50%off or more!)img_5622

Inside I included a short message to encourage them to stop each day and jot (a very micro quick write) something positive that happened that day. It could be professional or personal,  profound or petty.  Those are your WINS!! The point being, there is something positive to be found and celebrated each and every day. Our lives are filled with wins that we neglect to celebrate. Imagine how much a lift you will feel by the end of the month when you see a page full of WINS. Imagine at the end of the year having a book of 365 WINS.  These teachers deserve some celebrations. They deserve a daily lift.

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Can you think of someone who could use a lift as a teacher? Are you and your buddies feeling overwhelmed and defeated too often? Why not pick up some inexpensive planners and give them a gift that promises a lift!? While you are at it, gift yourself, too! What a great way to end each day by asking your colleagues, “What’s your win, today?” Leaving school each day on a positive note sets up a positive trajectory for arriving home to your loved ones. Imagine what a gift it could be for them to have their mom or dad, husband or wife coming home feeling more upbeat and positive after a long day of teaching! Imagine how you’ll start to experience your day when you are on the look out for WINS?

We see what we look for.” – John Lubbock

But don’t wait until 2020. I just read an article in the New York Times encouraging us to practice any New Year’s Resolutions as a “dry run” to help encourage greater success with a new habit. It makes so much sense. Runners don’t enter races without practice, why do we set ourselves up for something meaningful without practice? Grab your planbook, a crumply 2019 calendar, a piece of scrap paper and jot a WIN at the end of a few days over vacation. I hope those wins include sleep, reading, calm, twinkling lights, good food, and lots of love.  Here’s to a year of WINS and some weeks of ‘winning’.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 8.37.11 AMBIG MAGICby Elizabeth Gilbert
Ok, I know this isn’t the KidLit that I usually review, but I’m still thinking about it two weeks after reading and it fits so well with thoughts on resolutions. This book was recommended in a recent Teach Write Twitter chat. It’s been out since 2015 so I am surprised that I missed it, but I am certainly glad that I found it. Elizabeth Gilbert shares the paradoxes of creativity (we are terrified, we are brave…we toil alone, we are accompanied by spirits…art is a crushing chore, art is a wonderful privilege) and invites us to make space for these paradoxes. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the notion that “Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form” that have consciousness and will, and that “the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.” If an idea taps us to bring it forth we can say YES or NO, and that most of the time people say NO, so it moves on to someone else. This has me excited to welcome ideas into my life and to think about saying YES more often. I also love that she disavows the suffering artist concept and encourages more playfulness and joy. If you are looking to lead a more creative life, I strongly encourage you to bring some Big Magic into it.

Vicarious PD: Sharing the Wealth of #NCTE19

Last weekend I had the very good fortune to be able to attend NCTE 19 in Baltimore, Maryland and came away with inspiration and ideas to fuel me moving forward this school year. However, I realize there are so many teachers who do not have this opportunity so I try to share my takeaways with as many as I can. Looking for ways to make my learning accessible to others is always a bit tricky but I think vicarious learning can be a powerful PD opportunity. I think it is important to share the wealth of professional knowledge whenever we can.

This week I reflected on the sketchnotes I took during each session. As I revisit them, this is my opportunity to revise as well. I’ll add color and detail as I contemplate and reflect on the ideas the presenters shared. Sometimes I don’t fully color a sketchnote, leaving an open invitation for more reflection and revision.

Another revision I included this time was to insert QR codes into my sketchnotes with links to photos, handouts, or presentation links that I can revisit in the future. It was fun thinking about how to make my notes more interactive and meaningful. Here’s an example:

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Then I wanted to create a centralized location for all of the notes and resources I curated so I created a Google Doc with hyperlinks to material for the sessions I attended. Click on the link below the image for access to all of my resources.

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 9.43.35 AMhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1BD1KUTwbTDEY3zUZfCSrNZCVhk2Um8WFfYSoPlZMKmI/edit?usp=sharing

Feel free to share with colleagues and connect with me on Twitter if you would like to chat more. Not being able to travel to a national conference shouldn’t mean you still can’t learn from them. I encourage anyone who has the good fortune to attend nErDcamps, conferences, or workshops to find ways to share those great ideas with colleagues and PLN members. Rising tides lift all boats, let’s create a tsunami of shared PD!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 9.50.19 AMMY JASPER JUNE by Laurel Snyder
I have loved every book Laurel Snyder has penned, and My Jasper June is no exception. A beautiful story of friendship and loss, and the danger of silence and secrets. As the school year ends, Leah is facing a summer alone, one year after the death of her younger brother, Sam. Her friends and neighbors don’t know how to relate to Leah, and her parents have become ‘ghosts’–there, but not really there- so loneliness has become a dark hole in her life. Then she meets Jasper, a mysterious girl with a real joie de vivre. But as their friendship forms, they each begin to share secrets that have haunted them and have to decide how long they can keep these secrets from others. A story of grief and loss, but also of love and hope. She even has a teaching guide for educators who would like to dig into this book more deeply.

Creating Playgrounds for Writers

Jean Piaget said it. Marie Montessori said it. Even Fred Rogers said it.

“Play is the work of childhood.”

As teachers we know how important play is to a child’s development, but we also know school is not an all day recess. So how do we incorporate more play into our students’ learning time? I believe quick writes throughout the school day allow children an opportunity to play on paper. They can play with ideas and play with ways to convey those ideas in writing.

What are quick writes? Short bursts of “thinking and inking” that are not evaluated or graded. They are invitations to explore thinking, feelings, and wonderings in whatever way speaks to them. In my book Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms I provide a variety of “sparks” to invite playful inquiry and reflection.

Just as there are “rules” for recess that are designed for students wellbeing, I have only a few “rules” for quick writes that support the wellbeing of the learner:

  • Write the whole time-just let those ideas flow onto the paper without a filter
  • Be kind when writing about others
  • You don’t have to share if you don’t want to
  • Have fun with it

I want them to see that writing is more than drafting stories or creating reports. WritingScreen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.28.42 AM is a way to play on paper and find no judgements. I wish I’d had time like that as a student. I don’t think I would have found writing so intimidating or have been so reluctant to do it unless it was assigned.

I’ll be sharing some ideas and resources at NCTE 2019 in Baltimore this week to help create more PLAYGROUNDS for writers in our classrooms. I hope if you are going that you can join me, but I know many will not be able to attend so I’m happy to share my resources here as well.  You can access the link to my slides below.

 

 

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https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Bxy2SNES0NeSXipFWxUCKbylI2bB7HKUhKYnl9CH4ys/present?usp=sharing

Here is a copy of my handout with QR codes to some of my resources as well.

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You can find more ideas and resources for Quick Writes in my book SPARK! or you can connect with me anytime on social media @LitCoachLady on Twitter. Let’s bring more opportunities for purposeful play in our students’ day by creating Quick Write Playgrounds!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 9.32.51 AMGIVE AND TAKE by Elly Swartz
Elly Swartz has written another compelling and compassionate middle grade novel that opens minds and hearts to some of the fierce challenges our children face. In Give and Take we meet 12 year old Maggie whose grandmother recently passed away from dementia, whose family is temporarily fostering a newborn about to be adopted, and whose friend is bumped from their all-girl trap shooting team. Seems like Maggie is has had to say goodbye so much that she finds she can’t let go of things and saving mementos turns into a problem with hoarding that she can’t control. Swartz’s background in psychology has helped her create characters that need to work through mental health challenges and allow readers some insights and empathy for the human condition while crafting engaging storylines that pull you in and have you turning pages long into the night.

 

Kindling Joy and Thinking in Emergent Writers

In my book Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms I share sparks for some of our youngest writers with the idea that we meet them wherever they are in their writing development. For some that may be at a drawing or a label stage of early writing. For others it may be at a word or phrase level. Too often writing is often seen as legitimate and “real” when it conveyed at a sentence level. But if we limit our definition of writing to that advanced stage we are in danger of missing out on some powerful messages being conveyed and limiting the exploration of thought that can happen with the smallest of pencil strokes.

In my district there are two first grade teachers who have made daily quick writes a routine with their students. The “Sparks” they offer may be pictures and images, a single word, or a question to stimulate their thinking. To make it easy and accessible for all students they have used labels to print the verbal (written) sparks so that students don’t feel the need to copy over those words before diving into their own writing responses.

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These short quick writes are not just about transcribing responses onto a notebook page, they are opportunities to activate thinking, and sometimes emotions, as students contemplate what they know or what they believe. Yes, they are getting practice with encoding letter sound correspondences, but they are also playing with encoding as the process of actively relating new information to knowledge that is already in memory as they respond to each spark.

Here’s what these teachers had to say about quick writes with their first graders:

Since starting Quick Writes in the classroom this year, I notice my students can start writing right away knowing they only have 5 minutes to write. Most of them started with pictures first and now they are writing words. I see their confidence growing in their writing… they are no longer saying, “I don’t know what to write about,” they just write. As the teacher, I am learning a lot about my students in just 5 minutes of writing daily.”Maureen Cooper

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 9.31.29 PMI think Quick Writes are having a very positive impact on my students’ ability to write joyfully and without the worry of someone critiquing their writing. I’ve seen their creativity emerge during this time as they are able to respond to a prompt in any way they choose. I have also noticed that ALL of my students (every single one) are excited to share their quick writes with each other when writing time is over and they all have the confidence to share their writing in front of the whole class. Quick Writes have really helped even my most reluctant writers find their voice and share it with others.” -Kate Parker

I believe Quick Writes are a perfect way to empower writers of all ages, and I encourage teachers not to wait until they are “writers” before starting. When we redefine what writing is to encompass all marks that convey meaning, we can see all of our students as writers and we can ignite a writing passion early in their school careers. If you use Quick Writes with your emergent writers I’d love to hear from you.  Let’s spark joy, thinking, and creativity with more bursts of low-stakes writing for all students.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 10.51.09 AMThe Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras

WOW! I loved this medieval adventure for so many reasons. Diane Magras (Maine author) has given us a heroine we all need to cheer for-12 year old Drest is the youngest child of the Mad Wolf of the North, and when he and her 5 brothers are captured by invading knights and taken away to be hanged, she is the only one who can save them. She brings along a wounded enemy knight with her, who she plans to exchange for one of her brothers. But she encounters much danger along the way and is spurred on by the voices of her brothers in her head when she most needs their advice and encouragement. Drest also learns some hard ‘truths’ about her warband family that she wrestles with as she tries to make them proud, but also do what she feels is right in her heart. Her quest will keep readers riveted and they’ll be happy to know a sequel awaits them. I listened to the audio book narrated by the incredible Joshua Manning and it was fantastic! His Scottish voices brought each character to life so vividly. If you love a good adventure, do NOT miss this 2019-20 MSBA nominee! (Oh, and I equally love the sequel The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter!)

 

 

When Curriculum Becomes Life or Death Learning

This week we had a day and a half of professional development in our district. For some of that time we broke into teams and groups to work on curriculum and to share ideas on pedagogy, resources for implementation, and time for collaboration. We want to make sure our instruction is meeting the academic needs of all students and take that work seriously.

Then we focused on a side of education we rarely discussed at the start of my teaching career: the social-emotional needs of our students, in particular those who have experienced trauma and at risk for harming themselves or others. This was painful for us as teachers to explore, because we know how painful it is for our children who are experiencing this in their young lives.

 

We first had a training on “Understanding and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse”. When you hear 1 in 5 people are involved in sexual violence in your state, and you look out at your classroom to the faces of those 20 or more children, you know the odds and it breaks your heart.  I’m certainly going to spend some time on the Children’s Safety Partnership website this weekend to become more familiar with their resources.

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I kept wondering how many of our children struggling to follow rules, engage in our lessons, treat others kindly, or control their behaviors are dealing with trauma we could never imagine? How do we teach them when their little hearts and minds are so wounded?

 

Then we had a training session on Suicide Prevention. We learned that our state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds!

We (teachers) might be one of the most protective factors for our students in  preventing suicidality.  Our relationships and connections with our students may be a lifeline we don’t even know we are throwing out. 

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The last session of the day was exploring the “Traits and Characteristics of Violent Offenders”- in other words, those who have carried out mass shootings .

Our local police department prepared a presentation that helped us recognize these traits but were careful to say there is NO “model profile” of a school shooter.

The term that stuck with us was “leakage“-signs that are red flags or indicators of threat that offenders put out ahead of their violent acts, but are often only recognized in hindsight.

Sandy Hook Promise has put out some great videos to raise awareness with this issue.

 

So being a teacher these days is not only about ‘Readin’, Ritin’, and ‘Rithmetic. Those 3Rs are competing with Social Emotional Learning  and truly life or death issues for our students. Later this month our state test results will be released and there will be cries from the communities for us to raise those scores and work on school improvement plans. Luckily our state has done away with school “Report Cards” that shamed us on these high stakes tests and would have tied them to our teacher evaluations. But the pressure is on teachers to transform lives both academically and social-emotionally with less and less resources.

Am I saying we should lower our expectations? NO WAY! I am saying we should increase our society’s expectations for raising and supporting our children. It needs to be an “All Hands on Deck”, “It Takes a Village”, “No Child Left Behind” mentality from our entire society. It takes money and resources and a real understanding of what schools are being asked to do. We will never be able to attract the best and brightest to become teachers in the future if we blame schools and teachers for every failure, if we don’t have competitive salaries that will draw and keep educators in this difficult profession, if we underfund resources by diverting them to private schools, and we throw around flip and ill-informed comments like, “We can’t throw money at all our problems.” Education is a piece of the puzzle, but so is health care, nutrition, mental health resources, and child care. Accountability is often laid solely on the shoulders of schools. This must change.

I go to work each week grateful for the teachers who return each day to their classrooms with a passion for what they do. They are making a positive difference in the lives of children, no matter what their MECAS score tells us. This weekend many of them will be contemplating the depressingly serious professional development we just had, I’m glad we have a long weekend.

One More Off My TBR Stack

THEY CALL US ENEMY by George Takei, (with Eisinger, Scott & Becker)
This graphic novel memoir by actor/activist George Takei (Sulu on Star Trek) takes us back to WWII when every person of Japanese descent in the west coast was rounded up, taken from their homes, and forced into “relocation centers”. They lost everything (homes, businesses, jobs…) and were held for years in camps with armed guards. This was America and these people were Americans. How could this happen? Could it happen again? As Mark Twain once remarked, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Timely, powerful, and important memoir told in an engaging and accessible format for readers

World Teachers Day- So What Are You Doing?

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This World Teachers’ Day will celebrate teachers with the theme, “Young Teachers: The future of the Profession.” How fitting for me and my district as we have a large wave of novice teachers this year. Their enthusiasm and passion those first few weeks has been inspiring, and as we enter the second month of school the stresses and strains of finishing assessments, writing goals, setting up parent conferences, and starting RTI plans for students on top of dealing with some unprecedented behaviors are beginning to take their toll on many.

Teaching is hard, even for veteran teachers, and when your tool kit is stocked with the most basic supplies from your pre-service training it is often downright overwhelming. I’ve been trying to meet and collaborate as much as possible with our new teachers and I wish I could clone myself to be there more often. But what I have seen lately is so encouraging: colleagues, mentors, and partner teachers stepping up to support these novice teachers; putting in extra hours and energy to help them be successful.

Some of these partner teachers have always worked with veterans with whom they could collaborate or lean on, and now they are taking on that role for their peer. That is something I don’t think we can appreciate enough. Every teacher who teams with a new teacher is taking on an extra load of work. Even when it is gladly and willingly done, it is still more work that isn’t compensated and rarely recognized.

There is not always a lot of support outside of the school (though we are sometimes blessed with amazing parent groups and donors) so we must usually look within our ranks for that support. So what can we do to be supportive colleages?

For new teachers:

  • Volunteer to take a duty every once in awhile so they can catch their breath and catch up on the ever-growing “to do” lists.
  • Drop a note of encouragement on their desk or in their mailbox (and a piece of chocolate makes it even sweeter)
  • Give them specific feedback on something you notice that is working. Often we give them advice for what might be problematic, but we all crave that feeling of competence.
  • Offer a space in your room for students who need a time-out. It can make a world of difference for that teacher to know we are all in this together.
  • Ask them, “What went well today?” to help them to focus on the positive, it’s too easy to perseverate on our ‘failures’ and challenges. We sometimes need a reminder that good things are happening in our classrooms.
  • Create a care package at different times in the school year that are predictably challenging. (Some Tums, Advil, Vitamin C, Chocolate, or gift cards would be so appreciated)
  • Try to remember they aren’t familiar with our institutional knowledge and routines-check in with them after staff meetings or workshops to see if they have questions, concerns, or confusions they may not have voiced in a group.
  • Try to get to know them, or spend time with them, outside of school. Teaching is a lifestyle and not just a job. The happiest teachers are those who have found a tribe to laugh with and lean on in life.

For partner/mentor teachers:

  • Notice and thank those teachers who are partnering with a new teacher– recognize that their workload has increased significantly.
  • Offer to take one of their duties so they can work with their partner a bit during the school day and not just after hours.
  • Drop them a note of thanks for mentoring our next generation of teachers. We want our profession to stay strong and their role is essential in that goal.
  • Consider getting them a gift card or picking up an extra coffee on the way to work-they aren’t being compensated enough for that extra work.
  • You can never offer too much chocolate!

It’s World Teachers’ Day. Take a few moments to think about our fellow teachers. What is one thing we could do to make the life of a fellow teacher better? Will you do it?

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It starts with one thing.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Choose Kind.

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One More Off My TBR Stack

Image result for Other words for home bookOTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga

This is a story I wish every middle grade student (and their families) in America would read so we would have more empathy, love, and kindness and less talk of “go back home” and “build that wall” when we meet immigrants like Jude and her mother. They come to America to stay with Jude’s Uncle Mazin because her beloved home of Syria has become so dangerous and her mother is pregnant with her baby sister. Uncle Mazin’s wife, Michelle, and daughter, Sarah, are not Syrian (and Sarah becomes jealous that her father is giving Jude so much attention.) What does it feel like to walk in the shoes of someone fleeing violence and coming to America for comfort and safety, only to experience xenophobia and islamophobia that you struggle to understand? A much needed book that tears down the walls of “otherness” and helps us to see we aren’t as different as some would pretend us to be. A beautifully told novel in verse that will open hearts and minds.

Every Child Can Write Blog Tour Stop 3

I love when a professional book comes along that embraces my philosophy and passionevery child can write for writing with students. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Melanie Meehan’s upcoming book Every Child Can Write from Corwin. One of my biggest beliefs is that there should be a place at the table for all writers and we as teachers have the power to create that space.

As part of the BLOG TOUR for this book (Stop 1, Stop 2) I wanted to focus on Melanie’s insights into environment. As she states, “Environments matter. Instruction and learning happen within environments, and it’s our job to set them up to be as conducive to achievement for everyone as we possibly can.” She shares a message from her 4th grade teacher friend, Missie Champagne, who told her class, “Everything in this room is made for you or by you.” Imagine how empowering that message is for students to hear, that this room is personalized for you! The intentional choices we make to set up our environments might not be obvious to every child-we need to help them see that this space reflects and reinforces the learning and the goals we have for success.

Melanie has 3 big ideas for environment:

  1. Striving writers benefit from an organized environment, and they need routines in order to maintain that organization.
  2. Our classroom spaces should contain only materials that foster student learning and independence.
  3. The more we create, provide, and encourage the use of tools for independence and repertoire, the more learning will happen in our classrooms.

She then meticulously shares ideas for how to set up the environment and create routines that help our students move toward greater independence. She shares tips on how to reduce clutter, maximize the physical space for working, and how to choose materials and tools to promote more self-directed learning.

She really encourages us to look at our classroom through a different lens. Do our spaces reflect our priorities? Would someone be able to recognize our recent learning emphasis? Does this help students learn? Do students know how to use this? DO they use this?  So often we see ideas in other classrooms, on social media, or TpT and wonder if we should try it. Being reflective and intentional in what we want our students to learn and do will guide our decisions regarding environments, and Melanie’s book can help you to become more reflective and intentional.

She also has a chapter on routines that can help you be just as reflective. She has examined some of the roadblocks to independence that inhibit writing and offers some support for teachers.

Melanie has 3 big ideas for classroom management and routines:

  1. Transitions work best when everyone gets to where they belong during instruction and independent writing time.
  2. In order for instruction to be effective, students must not only listen to it, they must understand it.
  3. Independent writing time should involve independent writing.

Now you might look at these and think, “Duh, that seems pretty obvious,” but we know it doesn’t always happen, especially for our striving writers. Melanie offers tips to help involve the students in the set up of routines and expectations as well as help teachers anticipate the inevitable challenges and barriers for students’ success. Teachers will definitely come away with more tools in their classroom management toolkits after reading this chapter.

The rest of Melanie’s book offers ideas and inspiration for supporting all writers with many of the “pitfalls and potholes” that inevitably occur, especially for those students who keep you up at night with worry and concern. She’ll help you establish entry points, bridges, and pathways for all writers to succeed.Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 6.20.00 PM

Tomorrow, Lynne Dorfman will continue the conversation as the next stop on the blog tour, followed by  Fran McVeigh. Please plan to join the #G2Great Twitter chat  all about Every Child Can Learn, on Thursday, October 4th at 8:30 EST,.

For a chance to win your own copy of Every Child Can Write, please leave a comment by October 7th. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number.

Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, a contact at Corwin will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)

If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of EVERY CHILD CAN WRITE within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.