A Different Gift This Year

Most of us are well into the holiday season already. Thanksgiving was early this year, which stretched the festivities by an extra week for most. Hannukah starts today for my my Jewish friends and Black Friday is already in the rearview mirror. Talk at the staff room table often centers around plans and shopping for the holidays.

It’s festive, it’s fun…it’s frenetic!

This year we’ve already had several snow days before December even arrived  and during our last one I realized it was the first time I didn’t have some project or plan waiting for me to work on . My book is off being printed, my National Boards are completed, my workshops and conferences for the year are behind me. I had a day to myself without a TO-DO list nudging me along.  It was incredible!

It got me thinking about how infrequently I experience that situation. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my ‘busyness’-I love living life to the fullest and packing in as many experiences as I can into this short journey I’ll have on this earth. I rarely regret any of the choices I make to do, go, or create – but I also realize there is a cost that I sometimes ignore. In order for the value of these experiences to be more meaningful, I need to appreciate that.

I decided that for this December I am going to give myself a guilt-free gift that I can unwrap each day and appreciate…the gift of NO. (or No, Thank You!) I work at four schools and each has it’s own Secret Santas, Goodie Days, Gift Exchanges, and Christmas Parties. In the past I have tried to participate in something at each school to feel connected to my colleagues with the spirit of the season. And I enjoyed each experience very much, but what I neglected to recognize was the cost of participating. Sure there is a monetary cost, but it was the mental cost of planning, scheduling, shopping, remembering that I didn’t fully appreciate. I almost always found myself scrambling to fit it all in and over-scheduling myself with the preparation parts.

I have no worries that anyone will feel slighted, in fact, I think that’s a bit of hubris to think that my absence would negatively impact anyone. I love leaving my own notes and gifts to teachers and friends that fill me with gratitude and offer them some holiday cheer-and that doesn’t need to be on anyone’s schedule but my own.

Saying “NO.” is not saying “Bah-Humbug”!

“No” offers me the gift of space.  Space to say “Yes” to something I may not have had time for. Space to be open to in-the-moment simple joys-to sit and listen to music, watch my tree twinkle, snuggle with my pets, gaze at the flames in the fireplace, savor a Christmas cookie nibble by nibble.  “No” invites more mindfulness because it reminds me that I have choice in all I do-that I can make choices with more intention. It encourages me to BREATHE IN the spirit of the season. May you find a little of this guilt-free gift in your stocking this December as well.  You deserve it.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.07.06 AM

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu is a brilliant storyteller. She knows how to dangle just enough foreshadowing and mystery in front of her readers to pull us in and keep us captivated. She knows how to create characters we cheer for and cringe at. She knows how to weave the threads of plotlines together to create a gorgeous tapestry of story. The Lost Girl (releasing Feb 12,2019) is her latest gem.
Identical twins Iris and Lark have been inseparable until 5th grade when their parents think it best for them to be in separate classrooms. They have no idea the impact this will have on their girls, especially at a time when strange things are happening in their community. A mysterious shop sets up in town that Iris can’t seem to resist. Lark keeps having possessions go missing and becomes more reclusive. Neither has any idea of the dan
ger that awaits them, but our surreptitious narrator tries to warn the readers-are they paying attention? Not all is as it seems!

Here’s a book talk by Colby Sharp!

Advertisements

NCTE 2018 Ah-has and Oh-Yeahs

When I can’t attend a conference (and that is most of the time) I like to learn vicariously img_0221.jpgthrough other attendees. I follow hashtags on Twitter, I look at posts of Facebook or Instagram, and I read the blogs of those who share out. I think it is only fair to reciprocate whenever I can. Last week I attended NCTE18 in Houston and tried to tweet out quotes and highlights as well as my sketchnotes. (You can see all of my #NCTE18 sketchnotes HERE)

So what did I take away from this conference (other than dozens of books for my TBR stacks?) Here are some of my Ah-ha’s and Oh-yeah’s in sketchnote form…

Raising Student Voice: What is our Role in Equity and Justice in the Classroom?

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 9.10.03 AM

Cornelius Minor gave me lots of food for thought:

Oppression can be pervasive in seemingly innocuous practices that our privilege blinds us to. Open our minds and eyes to how others may feel left out or less-than with the systems we consider ‘normal’.

There is a big difference between DIVERSITY (“all the people are at my table“) and INCLUSIVITY (“I change the rules for all”).  Where do my beliefs and actions fall?

 

 

 

Sharpening the Intervention Lens Through Responsive Conversations

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 9.15.30 AM

Dr. Mary Howard always provides me with ample Ah-ha moments and she didn’t disappoint this time.

She challenges us to rethink interventions-that sometimes 1 minute could be the most powerful in a child’s day if we are responsive to their needs.

The best teachers do more writing after teaching than before.

Interventions should be JOYFUL, not PAINFUL.

We can’t TEACH kids we don’t know! Look in their eyes and show them how important they are!

 

Enacting Sustainable Teaching: How Mindfulness, Embodiment, and Literacy Practices Can Help You Stay in the Profession for the Long Haul

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 9.20.58 AM

Teaching is one of the few professions that intersects professional and private lives. We need to embrace Sustainable Teaching Practices. The presenters from CSU Writing Project shared some of their research and understanding.

I will definitely be revisiting these ideas in future posts. You can check out their website at https://www.csuwritingproject.net/what-is-sustainable-teaching.html

If we don’t find a sustainable balance between our professional and personal lives, we are destined for burnout and stress-and that doesn’t allow us to be the best teachers, parents, spouses, friends, or family-members we can be.

 

Keepin’ it Real: Authentic Responses to Reading

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.03.44 AM

I appreciate that each of these panelists (several from Maine) are in the classroom everyday and using these practices.

Though many were not new ideas they offered ideas for rubrics  and reflection that teachers could use in assessing student responses that are more authentic than tests, quizzes, and response logs.

They reminded us that we can’t just assign these approaches, but that we have to explicitly teach students how to use them, and scaffold them as needed. If kids aren’t ‘getting it’ then it is on us to reteach, provide feedback, and model for them.

 

Writers’ Notebooks: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.45.25 AMMichelle Haseltine, Linda Urban, and Amy Ludwig VanDerWater are my go-tos when it comes to writers notebooks, so when they were scheduled to present a session I was gobsmacked!

I love the idea that our notebooks are gifts to our future selves. Author Anne Nesbet talked about this in a session I moderated as well. She suggested entries and documents that balance LARGE (world events) with LOCAL (community or personal) to write about.

Also-don’t be intimidated by perfect- be messy and raw. These aren’t published pieces they are an exploration of our heart and soul on paper.  Surprise yourself!

There were more take-aways that I’ll explore in future posts, but these were some sessions that will resonate with me for a long time. Of course, the sessions I presented with others shaped my teaching in profound ways as I prepared, reflected, and practiced more mindfully what I planned to ‘preach’. You can see those presentations here:

https://www.paulabourque.com/ncte-2018

Anytime we plan to teach others, we enhance our own practice and deepen our own understandings. If you have never thought about being a presenter, I would strongly encourage you to try it. You will definitely come away a stronger teacher and more reflective practitioner. Call for NCTE 2019 proposals are open now https://convention.ncte.org/2019-convention/call-for-proposals/

One More Off My TBR Stack!

IMG_0305

SHOUTING AT THE RAIN by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
I have been waiting so long to get my hands on this book and all I can say is that it’s worth the wait!
Lynda Mullaly Hunt actually threw out her first manuscript and started all over with a new setting-Cape Cod and the story poured right out of her heart and onto the page.
We meet Delsie living on the Cape with her Grammy, abandoned by her mother and never knowing her father. Until this summer she has never given the situation much thought, but as some friends rehearse for Annie at the summer playhouse, she realizes she, too, is an orphan. She feels an even keener sense of loss when her best friend, Brandy, chooses a self-centered summer visitor, over their longstanding friendship. Along comes a new kid, Ronan, who is sharing some of the same struggles as Delsie, but handles his frustration in more destructive ways. Together they confront challenges we hope our children never have to weather, and make some discoveries about themselves and what family really means. So glad I finished this on Thanksgiving-a perfect way to celebrate the day!

Literacy for All? I Can Visualize That!

This past week I attended the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island with the literacy specialists from my district. It was wonderful to go with a group of passionate peeps so we could discuss we we heard and learned. Again I used sketchnoting as a way to capture the big ideas from presentations and encourage me to revisit my thinking, as I revised with colors and doodles.

 

Sketchnotes from Donalyn Miller’s Keynote Address

Sketchnotes from Katie Cunningham and Jodi Falk’s Joyful PD Session

While I value my own personal sketchnotes and enjoy sharing them with others, something even more important came from this approach. One of the other literacy specialists began to experiment with this practice and shared her notes with me. Erika told me as she was sitting in a session, a woman was observing her doodling and asked, “Do you know Paula Bourque?” Erika chuckled and let her know that we work together.

When she returned to her school, Erika shared her notes with her para-professional colleagues and we had a discussion about how this approach could benefit the Title I students they serve. We talked about how it can be intimidating to see more polished and practiced sketchnotes, but Erika assured them that her initial attempts were quite simple- and as we looked at them, we could see the quick progress that can be made with intentional practice.

Erika’s sketchnote samples over a three day period.

Erika and I shared how this approach can actually change the way you think about information you are processing. She talked about how she was worried at first that she couldn’t sketch and listen, but found that with a little practice, those concerns were ameliorated. Erika took her notes to a far more artistic level than I use, and that is part of the joy that is sketchnoting–it is individualized, creative, and  generative.

So whether you will be attending a conference, participating in PD, reading a text, or listening to a podcast- grab a pen and paper and start doodling. See where it takes you. That’s a form of Literacy for All that I will continue to advocate for.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 10.51.52 AMAN UNINTERRUPTED VIEW OF THE SKY        by Melanie Crowder

How is there so much I’ve never heard about in our world’s history? I am fascinated by the people and places that I know so little about-especially the indigenous people who are often unfairly marginalized. Melanie Crowder’s novel is set in Bolivia in 1999. Francisco lives with his sister, Pilar and his parents. He’s in his final year of school and has little ambition. Then his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison, his mother realizes she cannot support the family alone, so abandons them. Francisco and Pilar have no where to go other than to live at the prison with their father. They realize prisoners have to pay for their cells and their food. They cannot afford a lawyer to plead their father’s case. All seems lost. Somehow Francisco must find a way to help his family, and another desperate girl trying to survive in the men’s prison. He begins to appreciate the gifts he had in life-and still has. I love this story and the beautiful prose and poetry that bring it to life. A Maine Student Book Award (MSBA) 2018-19 nominee for older readers.

 

Don’t Be Fazed by the Phases

Studies examining  first year teachers have sadly shown that 35% of teachers leave the profession during that first year. By the end of the fifth year, 50% of teachers have left the field! (From Teachers Helping Teachers, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MA) For those of us who have made it beyond that fifth year, we know it never gets easy, but we’ve found ways to make it meaningful enough to stay and thrive.

In mentoring new teachers over the years, I’ve become familiar with these phases.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 8.33.40 AM
Moir Model*

Now, this is not to scale, but a representation of the dips and rises in attitudes toward teaching that are predictable based upon the research of Ellen Moir*.  But I think many of us veteran teachers still experience these same fluctuations in our perspectives about the challenges and rewards of our profession.

Anticipation– For new teachers the excitement about finally getting our own class, being autonomous, taking all those years of study and getting to apply it is an almost giddy feeling, tinged with a little anxiety. For veteran teachers getting our rooms ready, looking forward to a new crop of students, remembering why we got into teaching in the first place are often hallmarks of this phase. We’ve had a chance to rest and rejuvenate so we can come to the year energized.

Survival- For new teachers, the reality of the complexities that couldn’t possibly be covered in college classes comes at us full force. We begin to compile a list of Why didn’t somebody teach me about this? concerns. We don’t have a toolkit of experience or resources to dip into as needed-we are often spending 70 hours or more on school work each week.  For veteran teachers, trying to balance the completion of assessments for dozens of students, building relationships and classroom community, and implementing a curriculum with new students is challenging. We quickly begin to notice which students are going to need more support and scramble to put those in place as early as possible.

Disillusionment-For new teachers, the long hours and stress begins to take its toll. Many of us begin to doubt our ability to do this job for the rest of our lives. Parent conferences and report cards add another layer of anxiety, especially when there are challenging students. Classroom management is a huge source of stress for new many teachers at this time-we feel like we can’t teach when we have to keep putting out fires. Many new teachers get sick during this phase. For veteran teachers it may not be disillusionment as much as discouragement. The shorter, colder days take it’s toll, balancing family holidays and commitments with work is a challenge. Our eating and exercise often falls by the wayside which can cause us to feel less well.

Rejuvenation– For new teachers, coming back from a winter break often gives us a fresh attitude. Surviving those disillusion months gives us a taste of positive growth mindset as we experience a sense of accomplishment. Our toolkits are beginning to have some resources that have been successful and we are feeling a part of the school community.  For veteran teachers, we know this is prime teaching time where routines have been established and some solid learning is happening. A few vacations thrown in breaks down our work into manageable chunks of time that don’t feel as overwhelming.

Reflection-For new teachers, we look back over the year and realize we made it. We are often asked to reflect on challenges and successes and really notice just how much we’ve accomplished. We think about what we wish we had known before, and appreciate that we know it moving forward. For veteran teachers, we are in the homestretch. We know how much our students have learned during the year and there is a tremendous sense of pride in working with these children. We know our time with them is coming to an end and in a bittersweet way, helps us to appreciate them more.

So What? Awareness of the predictable phases of teaching is not intended to scare or warn anyone about the challenges for teachers- we are already well aware. Rather, understanding the ups and downs as cycles that are somewhat universal can help us realize it’s normal not to be euphoric each day we step into the classroom. It’s normal to feel stress and it’s not just us experiencing it alone. We can reach out to one another to give and ask for support.

Don’t wait for new teachers to ask for help, check in with them and be a shoulder. Giving unsolicited advice may add to their sense of disillusionment as they question, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or worry, “She doesn’t think I’m competent.” A kind note, some chocolate, an invitation to go for a walk might be just what they need to get through a tough day.

Don’t assume veteran teachers are “all set”. Each year they have a new group of students with new challenges. Most are trying to balance work and home and suffer from guilt that they aren’t doing enough. Be there for each other. Sometimes when we are most stressed, doing something kind for someone else is the best prescription for what ails us.

Teaching is tough, but remember we are all in this together. It takes a village to raise a child-let’s make our villages as loving and supportive as we possibly can-whatever phase we are in.

*Moir, E. (1999). The stages of a teacher’s first year. In M. Scherer (Ed.),A better beginning:Supporting and mentoring new teachers, 19–23. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 9.12.02 AMThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

WOW! The way Ann Braden is able to weave the layers of complexity for her lead character, Zoey, into a compassionate debut novel has blown me away. Ann takes us into the lives of people struggling below the poverty level to help us understand it’s not as simple as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” to overcome the crushing challenges that prevent so many from making ends meet and getting ahead-challenges that most of us haven’t given a second thought in our own lives. Interlace the topic of our recent gun debate and how our initial convictions might be confronted by thoughtful and reasoned debate, and I think most readers will walk away from this book with a sense of enlightenment as well as enjoyment from a well told tale. A must-read (for mature readers as this deals with difficult subject matter).

 

 

nErDs Unite!

The longer I’ve been teaching, the more I know how important it is to take charge of my own professional development and not wait to see what might be offered by someone else. Don’t get me wrong, school-based, district-based, or state-based PD can be great, it’s just not enough. Not if I want to be my best and feed my insatiable appetite for learning.

That’s one reason  I love EDcamps and nErDcamps so much. That’s why I attended nErDcamp NNE (Northern New England) this weekend in Maine along with my tribe of nErDs.  Teachers and authors came together to share ideas, pose questions, and collaborate on answers to the daily challenges of being the best educators our children deserve. Giving up a precious weekend requires a lot of passion and self-motivation!

Big shout outs to the nErDcampNNE organizer Susan Dee, and her team of nErDs who made this weekend in Freeport, Maine a huge success. They brought in authors, and lots of free books, and lots prizes for the event. Everyone walked away with bags of ‘swag’!42797496_10214952710564590_8524555302740164608_n

Also a huge thank you to all of the authors who came together for nErDy Author Night on Friday. They packed the gym at Morse School with fans who got a chance to talk with their favorite authors and get books signed by their heroes in kidlit. Look at this lineup!

42638437_1786957734736039_3975027060337803264_o

For the second year, I brought my “Genius Notes” book that I invite authors to write in. I ask them if they would share one piece of advice for the student writers back in my district, and I’ve never had a single author decline. They are so generous in their thoughtful advice and it is so exciting to share their tips with young writers.

I was also able to share some of the work I’ve been doing around quick writes and get ideas from others in our session. Authors such as Haley Barrett, Elly Swartz, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt all had tips for sparking ideas in short bursts of writing. Teachers shared what works for themselves and their students. That’s what I love about these sessions-it is a give and take from everyone. 42912894_10216891224943001_2273204431744925696_o.jpg

So if you ever get the chance to attend an EDcamp-get your nErDy on and DO IT! Take charge of your own professional learning, share your expertise with others, and become a part of a collaborative community that cares about books, about learning, about kids…as much as you do.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.48.29 PMThe Wish List: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson

Playful!
It’s the one word that kept resonating with me as I read this novel for young readers. It also kept coming up in nErDcamp sessions as authors shared tips (and mentioned Sarah quite a bit.)

Isabelle is training to be a fairy godmother (her grandmomma is president of the Fairy Godmother Alliance) so the pressure is on for her to be good at it-in fact, her sister already is. But Isabelle would rather play than study-she might just fail her training! So she is assigned a “practice princess” to prove herself worthy. Unfortunately Isabelle finds out she has been assigned a “normal” girl and her worst fears might just be realized. I often read a lot of ‘heavy’ and serious kidlit books, so it is fun to get some time with whimsical books for younger readers-and Sarah’s got a great website (http://www.saraharonson.com ) I love the  #TipsonTuesday section for writers of all ages. Just what I needed this week.

Sketchnote Coaching 2

In my June blog, I shared my foray into using sketchnotes as a coach.  Using visual notes to capture the conversations, the seating arrangements, the anchor charts, and movement of the lesson has helped me to tune into the interactions much more intentionally. I’ve found in the first month of school that it is becoming easier and easier to quickly sketch what I am observing and noting.

I’m also contemplating how I can layer specific visual information such as color or captions to help me look more purposefully, while still being open to the dynamic nature of classroom teaching and learning. I work in four buildings with more than sixty classroom teachers. Could my sketchnotes help me look for patterns or evidence of intended learning at a glance?  I’m guessing it will be more doable than pouring over narrative notes from that many classrooms.

For now, I’m not overthinking it, just seeing what emerges. But I suspect if I stick with this, my sketches can lead me to new ways of thinking, reflecting, and analyzing that will help me in my role as a literacy/instructional coach.

I’ve added a box to my sketchnotes to invite teachers’ reflections. I ask them to reflect on:

  • what happened after I left,IMG_8622
  • what happened before I came,
  • how they think the lesson went,
  • what they are wondering
  • what insights they achieved
  • what their next steps are, etc.

I make a copy of the coaching sketchnote (color if I can get access to the office copier) and leave a copy with the collaborating teachers. They have loved seeing their lessons captured in a comic form. I’m definitely seeing a preferred structure and format in my notes emerge, and the icons I use are more simple and efficient than ever-this has allowed me to pay more attention to the lesson, and less to my sketching.

I’ll keep blogging periodically about how my thinking and sketching is growing or changing. I’d love to hear if others are trying a form of visual coaching notes. Let me know.

Get Your Nerd On This Week!

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 9.12.07 PM

Though it is probably too late to register for nErDcamp Northern New England, you can still make it to the nErDy Author Night.  According to the website, “Over 40 amazing local and regional authors and illustrators will be on hand to sign books and meet their fans! Books will be available for purchase (cash, check, charge) from Sherman’s Maine Coast Bookshop. This event is open to the public so bring a friend and the kiddos to meet their favorite author!”

Look at this lineup! And it’s FREE!

One More Off My TBR Stack!

RestartRESTART by Gordon Korman

Chase Ambrose wakes up in a hospital room with no memory of what put him there, only that his name is Chase. But who is Chase? That’s not going to be easy to answer. Slowly he learns about his life and he’s shocked by what he discovers. He’s a star athlete at his middle school, but also one of the biggest bullies-or at least he was. Benched with a concussion, Chase tries to discover who he wants to be and knows it’s not the boy he was. Maybe his accident was a lucky break if he truly wants to RESTART his life. Gordon Korman created another incredible story that nudges readers to consider right and wrong, good and bad, and how it’s not always as clear as we think it might be. An MSBA nominee for 2018-19 that I think kids are going love-I sure did.

 

What We Feed Grows

This is my mantra for the year. It is a truth I see realized around me and in me.

There is science and parable behind this concept.

The parable stems from the story of a grandfather telling his grandson, “There are two wolves inside of us. One represents courage, love, and kindness and the other fear, hate, and greed. The wolves are always at battle in us.”

The boy asks, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The grandfather looks at his grandson and wisely replies, The one you feed.

I feel those wolves battling it out everyday when I feel frustrated by situation or circumstance. One wolf wants me to choose anger and reprisal while the other one pushes for empathy and understanding.  One wolf sees a glass half empty and the other sees the glass half full (or even all full). I wish my default were always the kind and brave wolf, but it is not yet automatic. I haven’t fed it enough–YET. I need to pause, take a step back and make a choice of which one I want to feed in these circumstances.

There is a science behind this as well. Our social-emotional systems function in a feedback loop where our output influences our input. An example may be when we hold onto resentment it influences how we perceive that person or situation and it reinforces those feelings. Hate begets hate. We can recognize this when we hear ourselves or others exclaim, “Nothing ever goes right.”or “This class never listens.” We are in a negative feedback loop that influences our perceptions of all events with a singular, painful lens.

wolves fighting
pbourque 2018

We may not be able to change our circumstance, but luckily, we have the power to shift our perceptions. Our output can influence our input. We can choose which wolf to feed. When we feel like nothing is going right, we can ask ourselves, “Was I kind to someone?” That’s going right.  “Did I persevere and make it to school today?” That’s going right.   Maybe someone in class actually did listen. Maybe that class isn’t good at listening (yet) but they are good at something else. Maybe we can stop thinking of the class as one monolithic group and recognize the tender souls who make up the composition. Focus our energy and attention on their uniqueness and worth.

I’m not saying, Be Pollyanna.  I’m saying what we feed grows. Our choices are growing the wolves inside of us each and every day.  Pay attention and choose the wolf you want to feed.

I’ve found a podcast that I think will help me with this awareness; it is called THE ONE YOU FEED. They also have a Facebook Group for those who would like to continue the conversation from the weekly podcasts. If you have other resources that could support us in our quest for a more meaningful life in and out of school, please feel free to share in the comments. We could all use more food for our wolf.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 8.30.28 AMI LOVE YOU, MICHAEL COLLINS by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

It’s 1969. The whole world is awaiting the launch of Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are going to walk on the moon-they are the heroes to everyone in Mamie’s class. Yet she thinks Michael Collins, the 3rd astronaut on the journey who will stay will the command module, and not get a chance to walk on the moon, is the best one. She decides to write a series of letters to Michael Collins as he prepares for the trip and continues to write him as he is in space. However, her letters are not those of a star-struck fan, but of a girl trying to come to grips with a serious family crisis as the world comes together for the biggest event of their lifetime. The weaving of storylines, and the theme that minor characters have stories that are equally important and compelling as main characters really drew me in. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this historical fiction-and how much I learned. An MSBA nominee for 2018-19.

Behind the Scenes

I know many teachers across the country have already returned to their classrooms and some may not start up until after Labor Day. In our district we begin this coming week-at least our students begin. Many teachers have already put in dozens and dozens of hours of work to make their classrooms an inviting and engaging environment for their students.

Social media and sites like Pinterest can offer lots of ideas for classroom design and creative decoration-but they can also be discouraging if we have a tendency to compare ourselves and our work to others. What those sites can never show is the passion and commitment that go into preparing for a new school year.

Many in the public assume teachers are paid for their work to set up their classrooms, prepare curriculum and lessons, and create materials for all of their children. Many don’t realize that teachers spend so much of their own money for the supplies that these children will use-and we aren’t talking a few dollars here and there. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars every year for books and materials to teach our nation’s children. That’s money that doesn’t go into their retirement, their family savings, or their own child’s college fund.

But even more amazing, is how willingly and enthusiastically they do all of this. Teachers in my district have been excited about preparing their classrooms and building up their libraries with great books. They come to unpaid professional development trainings to learn about new curriculum and share ideas. I have been doing this teaching thing for over thirty years and I am still in awe of the dedication and passion that teachers have for their students and their profession. We have teachers in their last year of teaching who give up days in their summer to continue their learning! As I write this, there are teachers giving up their Saturday morning to distribute school supplies to children in our community.

I know I am singing to the choir with this blog, but I wish those who bemoan the easy life of a teacher or like to comment, “Well at least you had the whole summer off,” could see what summer is really like for a teacher.  There is so much going on behind the scenes in the world of a teacher that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. My post this week is my THANK YOU CARD to teachers across the country (and world) who pour their hearts and souls into this profession.  I hope you enjoy this last weekend, that you sleep well (without those stressful teacher dreams), and that you feel appreciated. For those who have already started their school year, I hope that your expectations and dreams are being realized with your students and that you feel a deep satisfaction from all of your hard work.  Here’s to another amazing school year!

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 8.55.01 AMBOB  by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Got time for one last summer read? Try this quick and enjoyable tale.

Five years ago Livy left her friend, Bob, in a closet at her grandmother’s house in Australia when she went back to Boston. She told him to wait there, she’d be back soon. When Livy returns for a visit, she has no memory of Bob, who has been patiently marking time. Slowly Livy recovers her memory and she sets out on a quest to find Bob’s home. Told in alternating chapters from Bob and Livy’s perspective, we fall in love with both of these vulnerable characters. Intriguing subplots make this story even more engaging. Just what is Bob? Where did he come from? Where does he need to go? Some twists in this text will more than satisfy your curiosity. From two of my favorite middle grade authors: Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead- a great combo!

Checking Our Stories

This month I am participating in #CyberPD with Sara K. Ahmed’s new book Being the Change. It’s an incredible resource to help us teach social comprehension to our students, but also to help us raise our personal awareness of our biases (particularly implicit bias) in areas of race, gender, politics, sexuality, and religion. We all have them-even if we don’t recognize them. Sara’s goal isn’t to shame us, but to enlighten us. She’s brilliant.

One of my key take-aways was Sara’s explanation of how our brain works to show why bias can have such a strong effect on our thinking. She explained that our brain works in 2 big systems.

  • System 1 is automatic and always instantly reacting. This is where we make snap judgments and assumptions.  “When we look at a person, we sometimes make up a quick story about them before we even get to know them; they are scary, they don’t speak English, they are poor, they are cool, they are smart, they are slow and lazy. It happens automatically, without thinking…”
  • System 2 is more logical and rational. “It is more controlled and conscious that a snap reaction. We slow down.” Sara explains that this system is in charge of self-control and more conscious thought.

This got me thinking. How often have I made up a quick story about someone I don’t know? I decided to monitor my thinking more consciously this past week and realized it was more than I thought. As Tom Newkirk asserts, our minds are made for stories. (Newkirk, 2014) and my mind automatically crafted ‘stories’ about people I saw in cars, in stores, on the beach… I can’t turn it off-my curious mind kicks in.

Then I started to wonder– How many of my stories gave generous interpretations and positive attributes to these ‘characters’ in my life? How many reflected my own implicit biases? I am embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t as kind as I want to be in life, that my stories weren’t always as empathetic as I desire to be.

Raising my own awareness is helping me to activate my System 2 more consciously and intentionally.  Everyone has a story-if my brain is going to create a narrative I want to consider them as the protagonist in their own story and not just an extra in my own. I want to see them in the kindest light possible. I want to remember that they were somebody’s beloved child with the same hopes and dreams we all have.

I’m not Pollyanna, I know this isn’t a magical transformation. I know my System 1 will always be working in the background. I know my experiences will always shape my unconscious thoughts. But I do believe awareness is a powerful step for BEING THE CHANGE and changing my experiences in visualizing these stories can begin to change my unconscious thoughts for the better.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 10.56.45 AMCHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi What a stunning adventure author Tomi Adeyemi has crafted that is a metaphor for the the cruelty of racism and blind hatred. Set in the land of Orïsha, we meet our heroine, Zélie, born a maji; white-haired, magic wielding people who bring the good will of the gods to the people of Orïsha and her brother, Tzain. But when she was young, the king ordered all magi executed-including Zélie’s mother and stripped the maji of their magic. We also meet Amari and her brother Inan-children of the king who are conflicted by the cruelty of their own father and their sense of loyalty for family. Forming an unlikely alliance, we see these four set off on a hero’s journey to restore magic to the world and free the people of Orïsha from their oppression. So many twists and turns in this novel, you’ll have a hard time putting it down. Make sure you take time to read the author’s note-I almost wish I had started there!

If you enjoy audiobooks, you will love this version. Narrated by Bahni Turpin, I was mesmerized and completely pulled into the world of Orïsha. Winner of the Tonight Show Summer Reads with Jimmy Fallon, a lot of people will be talking about this book-and that makes me happy!

Too Many Teacher Preachers

I don’t often “whine” about being a teacher because unless you are doing it each day, it is difficult to appreciate the complexities and challenges- and so speaking out doesn’t resonate well with the general public. But teachers are barraged by others speaking out about a profession they know so little about. We have become used to the parade of parents, politicians, and policy makers who criticize and blame teachers for the failings of our educational system and ignore the increasing challenges our students (and society) are facing. We tend to keep our heads down and push ahead.

But lately there has been increasing push back from teachers who want a seat at the table when decisions are made about policies and pay. Teachers in West Virginia bravely led the charge when they walked out protesting low wages and high health care costs. Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kentucky followed suit. Not all ‘won’ their battles, but their voices were heard and they ignited a growing base of support.

I was encouraged by these movements, but I’m well aware that teachers are still expected to fix whatever ails this country and there are too many “preachers” proselytizing their beliefs about how to accomplish this. Sadly,  many of these preachers come from within the education community, but they are professors and researchers who are completely out of touch with the real lives of teachers and students in today’s classrooms.

Pernille Ripp nailed it with her brilliant blog post Come Teach Again – On Teacher Guilt and the Platitudes that Grows It when she shared this tweet by Robert Marzano-a ‘guru’ to many in the education world:

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.04.24 AM

This guilt-laced tweet ignited a firestorm of dedicated and passionate teachers who are fed up with being shamed day after day. Marzano is a researcher who has turned preacher. He is caught up in the frenzy of hyperbole that is replacing reasoned discourse in our country.

“There is NO reason…”  Seriously?  You can’t think of ONE?  Not trauma?  Not homelessness? Not hunger?  Not physical disabilities? Not chronic illness? Not mental illness? Not anxiety? Not addiction? Not abuse?…Not ONE???

And let’s say our students are not burdened with any of these reasons, that they are simply disengaged. When teachers put their heart, soul, and talents into teaching each day we may not have that magic wand in our bag of tricks to transform the free will and personal decisions of other human beings to meet our expectations. Unless you are in a classroom working your butt off every day, you might not appreciate the proverb,

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

Marzano the preacher might want to brush up on his proverbs. Marzano the researcher might want to contemplate changing his hashtag :  #studentengagement to #studentinvestment.  Learning is a partnership between teachers and students who are BOTH invested in the outcome. Those who have been out of the classroom too long might want to stop preaching and start teaching in today’s classrooms. I can guarantee it will be a humbling experience. In the meantime, we need to continue our advocacy for our students and our schools and call B.S when we see it.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.47.03 AMAMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed

(Author Aisha Saeed is one of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books campaign)

Most of us know the story of Malala Yousafzai, but all across Pakistan, and the world, there are stories of girls who stand up to the injustices they face. Though fiction, Aisha Saeed reveals the all-too-real world of indentured servants when she introduces us to our heroine Amal. (Author Aisha Saeed is one of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books campaign)

Amal, the eldest of five girls, has dreams to become a teacher. But one day at the market she is hit by a car driven by the ruling family’s cruel son Jawad Sahib. Ironically he finds her behavior disrespectful and calls in her father’s debt. Knowing he cannot pay it, Jawad forces Amal to become his servant until the debt can be paid. But Amal soon learns the debt can never be repaid when her room and board are added to it each day. She is trapped-but Amal does not give up hope and her courage inspires others to seek much needed change. LOVED THIS so much. A real eye-opener for readers to understand the lives of others and appreciate family, food, culture, and courage. 4th grade+