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.

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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.

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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
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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.

PROFESSIONAL BOOK:
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.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

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!

 

 

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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.

 

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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.)

 

 

My ILA16 Dream Team

Close Writing Book JacketNext weekend is the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2016 Conference. This week, I am gearing up for it. As a self-declared literacy nerd, these conferences are more  like Carnival! Spending time with other educators and authors feeds my soul! I learn so much and fill my teaching toolkit so deeply. Now I am also able to share my passion with others as I present at these conferences as well.

I’ve coalesced a panel that ‘oozes’ passion for writing! They are my ILA16 Dream Team! Our session: Close Writing: Fostering Relationships Between Writers and their Writing will be Sunday morning, July 10 (10:30-11:30) in room 109 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. If you are attending ILA16, I invite you to join us.  If you aren’t I encourage you to check out my team of panelists and if you haven’t read their books, you need to. I guarantee that you are in for such a treat!!

Meet my ILA16 Dream Team

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Caroline Eldridge

I am incredibly lucky to work with so many gifted teachers. Caroline Eldridge is a 2nd grade teacher who is truly a Close Writing mentor for her students.  She and I collaborated a great deal this year as we were working on our National Board Certification and striving to lift her writers to new heights.  We’ll be sharing video clips of Close Writing approaches we have used in her classroom and she’ll share some of her insights on creating a culture of more purposeful writers.

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Jennifer Jacobson

Jennifer Jacobson does it all. She is a writer, teacher, educational consultant, editor, and fantastic speaker. I learned so much from her book No More, “I’m Done!” that helped shape my thinking about what it means to be an independent writer. I have been captivated by her novels Small As An Elephant and Paper Things that deal with tough subjects (abandonment and homelessness) with compassion and honesty. They are beautifully written and need to be experienced! Her Andy Shane series books are must-haves for early chapter book readers. Jennifer knows first-hand the challenges teachers face as they try to support young writers. She seeks to empower teachers and writers to overcome those challenges and she walks the talk!

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Cynthia Lord

Cynthia Lord has been my hero since she penned her first book (and one of my all-time favorites) Rules.  This fellow Mainer has a heart of gold and a head full of beautiful stories.  When you hear her speak you will be enchanted by her soft spoken voice that conveys such fervor for writing. Her books for middle grade readers: Touch BlueHalf a Chance, and A Handful of Stars, will touch you deeply and leave footprints of those characters on your heart. She has an incredible gift for taking small moments and crafting the most meaningful stories and vivid characters. But she can also make you laugh and cheer with her Hot Rod Hamster series of picture books and early readers or encourage young readers to volunteer with her new Shelter Pet Squad series. She is truly a close writer who taps into the stories around her and cultivates a garden from their seeds.

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Lynda Mulally Hunt

 

Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a former teacher who has found a calling as a brilliant writer. Her first two novels need to be in the library of every middle grade classroom. One For the Murphys introduced us to Carley Connors who entered the foster care system feeling hopeless and emerged feeling loved. She broke our hearts and put them back together with greater empathy and compassion. Lynda followed that with Fish in a Tree ,where we met Ally Nickerson whose dyslexia made this bright and creative student feel stupid. I can’t imagine a classroom in this country that doesn’t have an Ally, and Lynda has made it safer for those kiddos to ask for help and easier for teachers and peers to be more empathetic and supportive. Lynda has a gift for creating characters that make us reflect on who we want to be as people and challenges us to be someone’s hero.  Her books have won more awards than I can list on this blog, but the Schneider Family Award from the ALA that she just won pretty much sums up her brilliance and compassion.

So that is my dream team. I could spend a week listening to and learning from these people, but we only have an hour. I hope many of you can join us, and I hope that I will have future opportunities to collaborate with these amazing Close Writers!  If you won’t be at ILA16 I encourage you to check out the works of these authors and be inspired by the power of their words.

What’s On My Book Radar?

26875689nine, ten: A September 11 Story 15 years after that beautifully blue day, several fantastic authors have penned novels exploring Sept. 11. This amazing book by Nora Raleigh Baskin introduces us to 4 children and the varied lives they lived as Americans in the 48 hours leading up to the day that would change us all forever. For those readers who know a lot about the events of Sept. 11th the foreshadowing and references will grip you. For those readers who know very little about 9/11 this book will provide a context for the human story beyond the headlines and facts. Baskin is careful when she considers her audience and doesn’t overwhelm them with horrific details, but she shines a light on the tragedy and the implications for Americans as the world around us changed on that day.Read this book. Share this story. Learn from our history.

 

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Finding Our Moments of Zen

 

Most teachers I know are truly lifelong learners.  They never stop honing their skills or acquiring new knowledge.  For many of us, that learning comes from more knowledgeable others, often through books and written words. During summer break I am excited by the prospect of having more time to read and savor professional books, there are so many I can’t wait to crack open.

But this summer I am committed to finding more balance in my Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 7.31.44 AMlife. It is often hard for my brain to shut down and allow me to be present in a moment.  There is always a to-do list  to tackle, ideas that float through my mind, people who need my attention-and these are good things to me. They are satisfying aspects of my life. But as I grow (ahem…age) I have a stronger desire to just BE.   It’s a hard concept to describe but it’s what I consider ZEN.

Taoism.net describes it better than I can:

  • Zen is more of an attitude than a belief.
  • Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.
  • Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.
  • Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.
  • Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.
  • Zen means being in the flow of the universe.
  • Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.

I’m not going to become a Zen Master or practicing Buddhist this summer, I just need to add “Moments of Zen” to my life. So how do we find them?  I think we have to plan for them, to consciously create opportunities, and to connect with our earth more.  Summer is a perfect time for that!  Nature is beckoning us to engage with her. Our senses can help us connect in a variety of ways as we look, listen, touch, taste, and smell the world around us.

Here are some of my favorite “Moments of Zen” so far.  Each allows me to be fully present in the moment and tune out the daily distractions-if only for a little while. My senses are activated in ways that bring me pleasure. My rational mind is freed up to focus on intuition and experience. I feel a part of something bigger than me.

  • Sitting in the woods listening to bird callsIMG_8342
  • Beachcombing for interesting shells and rocks
  • Floating in water and experiencing weightlessness
  • Lying in my hammock being warmed by the sun
  • Sitting next to the ocean listening and watching the breaking waves
  • Lying with my pets on the couch and noticing the syncing of our breath
  • Monday morning yoga on the riverfront.

I’ll keep adding to my repertoire.  I’d love to hear your “Moments of Zen”.

What’s On My Book Radar?

27066007This was  my first summer read and it is one I have been truly anxious to get my hands on. It was SOOOO worth it. Lily was born Tim, but knew early on that she was a girl trapped inside a boy’s body. Dunkin is really Norbert Dorfman who is ‘trapped’ by his odd name and a painful secret he doesn’t think he can share-even with parts of himself! This book will open your eyes to the real life struggles of human beings in our society who just want to belong and could use our help and support to be the people they were born to be. I dare you to read this and not feel changed. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

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What’s a Blogstitute?

Yesterday was the last day of classes in my school district. It is always so satisfying to bring closure to work, to reflect on its effectiveness, and to contemplate new possibilities.  This past week has also seen the graduation from high school of my daughter, Bailey. So this weekend we celebrate her with  a graduation party, as well as my sister’s birthday, our town’s River Festival, and then Father’s Day for my wonderful hubby.

Also this week, I am featured in Stenhouse Publisher’s Summer Blogstitute series. What’s a Blogstitute? Think of it as free summer PD that you can visit and revisit at your convenience and pace. Stenhouse offers a series of blogs on a variety of topics by authors such as: Katie Egan Cunningham, Jake Wizner, Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty, Linda Dacey, Lucy West, Erik Palmer, Ralph Fletcher, Kate Roth and Joan Dabrowski, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, Stacey Shubitz (oh, and me).

I felt incredibly honored to be asked. So many wonderful authors have contributed over the years to this tradition. Because I have been asked so often, “What’s the best way to get started with Close Writing?” I decided to focus my blog on answering that question.  There’s no ONE right way, (as that is one of the tenets of my book!) but I share what worked best for me and my teachers in this Blogstitute post. So as I busily prep for this weekend of celebrations, I invite you to read my blog post for this week by clicking below.  And then make sure you check out the other Blogstitute posts this summer! If you add a comment to the post and/or tweet out using #Blogstitute16 you can be entered to win a stack of new Stenhouse books!

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 6.55.01 AMWhat’s On My Book Radar?

I just finished my 100th book for the school year.  I had set a challenge of reading 40 chapter books this year and without a book to write, I found I had time to read a LOT more!  The 100th was fantastic!  It’s one of those books I can’t believe I hadn’t read yet and so glad I did.  In  fact, it got me thinking that this summer I want to go back and find those books that have been on my TBR list that just haven’t gotten to the top of the pile yet!

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 8.26.42 AMLIAR AND SPY by Rebecca Stead is about a 12 year old boy named Georges (named after artist Georges Seurat)whose family must sell their home and move into an apartment.  He meets a strange boy named Safer who appears to be a loner and a spy! Safer starts asking more and more of Georges, who begins to wonder if Safer is really a friend.  As always, there is more to a story than what we first observe.  Stead is a beautiful writer who can capture the essence of situation so perfectly.  I’m glad I ended my school year of reading on such a high note.  Check out this fantastic middle grade novel!

 

Looking Past the Stress

I strive for balance in my life. I am still striving! There is so much I want to see, do, and yin-yang-symbol-variant_318-50138-1accomplish and yet I have a strong need to be still, silent, and present with the people and places around me.  In Chinese philosophy  yin-yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary,interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. (Wikipedia) These competing desires in my life can actually complement and support one another if I take some time to notice.

This week I took “The Big Test” of the National Board for Professional Teachers.  I have had this monkey on my back all year long. Though I felt very confident in my knowledge as a teacher and a literacy specialist, I felt an incredible amount of stress going into that testing situation. It was physically taxing on my body. One thing that truly helped me, was my ability to look beyond that stressful event and visualize how I would look and feel coming out of the testing center.  I could feel the joy and deep sense of relief wash over me. I could see myself celebrating. I knew the deeper the sense of stress, the greater the sense of relief.

I was able to do this because for years after other stressful (physical and emotional) situations I took the time to stop and notice what relief feels like.  I tuned in more carefully to the joy and release that comes from accomplishing something that required me to push myself in difficult ways.  After runs that were challenging, I made myself zone in on how my body felt afterward. I tried not to move on to the next thing, but to be present and mindful. That helped me in future runs as I was feeling like giving up at times.  I could tell myself, “Just remember what it is going to feel like when you are done!” And it helped, it still does!

As many of you wind down your school year and deal with the stresses of getting it all in, I hope that you will take the time after the students leave to be mindful and present with that sense of accomplishment for all of your hard work. May you find relief, joy, and gratitude wash over you and lift you. May that sense of accomplishment and triumph sustain you into the difficult or trying times ahead.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

 

What’s On My Book Radar

Preparing for the National Boards seriously cut into my pleasure reading time.  I am happy25685283 to say that I can immerse myself in wonderful books again. (This was one of the joys envisioned as I tried to look past that stress!)  I found this wonderful gem of a book and thought it was perfect for the moment.  The blurb on the cover reads, “Everyone has bad days. You have to make the good ones.” It was so fitting!

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern brings us 4th grader, Benny Barrows who seems to be one of the unluckiest kids in his school.  His best friend moved away, his brother is autistic, his father has an accident that ‘wasn’t his fault’.  His mom tries to get him to help others as a way to help himself feel better and he keeps plucking away. But when his dad is hospitalized again he begins to wonder how they can overcome all this bad luck.

If you are looking to be inspired, if you are feeling down on your luck, if you are feeling a little sorry for yourself…you might want to pick up JUST MY LUCK. I’m glad I did.

 

Lessons from a Buttercup

As I approach the last few weeks of school, things can get pretty hectic.  To-Do lists get longer, patience can often get shorter. To counteract some of this stress I try to walk each day around a bucolic farm near my home.  It becomes somewhat meditative to be surrounded by lambs, calves, chickens and flowering fields.  It was during a walk this week that I decided to stop and look more closely.

I plucked a buttercup from a field of millions and inspected its form with a more discerning eye. I remember once studying the parts of a flower: the pistil, stamen, petals (and more). I recalled it’s IMG_6934taxonomic name: Ranunculus repens I decided to examine each part to appreciate its unique design.

It was perfect. It was beautiful.

As I lifted my eyes from that one flower to the enormous field of buttercups before me, they all seemed even more exquisite in that moment. I had a deeper appreciation for the complexity and aesthetic qualities of those flowers surrounding me. Each individual flower contributed to the extraordinary vision of that pasture.

That epiphany stayed with me as I buzzed from classroom to classroom the next day.  Each of those children was themselves a beautiful blossom. I found myself focusing in on one boy or girl in each class and really being present with their distinct and idiosyncratic actions, responses, and work. Not that I didn’t notice the rest, but I knew that by appreciating one more closely, I could appreciate them all more deeply.

As I finish up this school year, I want to take that insight with me-especially the more frazzled I feel.  It will remind me WHY I am here. It will comfort me when I feel like I can’t get it all done.  It will prompt me to stay present and attuned to what is before me.

I hope that you all find opportunities to look closely to appreciate more deeply.  May you all find your own Buttercup Enlightenment!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Though I realize there are MANY purposes for reading, and enjoyment is but one of them, I am not happy that that purpose has taken a back seat to more study-driven reading. I take my National Boards exam this next week and have been immersed in reading through the standards, position papers, research, and rubrics.  I will be so excited Thursday night to be finished with this component of my NBPT quest, that I will probably hit the nearest bookstore on my way home and celebrate with purchase of summer reading TBRs!!

Suggestions??

 

HAPPY READING!