All posts by paulabourque

About paulabourque

Paula is a Literacy Coach K-6 in Maine and author of Close Writing from Stenhouse. She believes the best writing teachers are teachers who write. She knows it takes courage to put yourself out there and share your words with the world. She created this blog as a place where we honor those who teach and write and show how big their brave is!

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.

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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:

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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+

Sketchnote Coaching

I’m back to blogging after a bit of a hiatus. I finished my second book for Stenhouse and turned over the manuscript recently, so my writing time was pretty focused. I’ll write more about that process, but today I wanted to share a new way I’ve been using sketchnoting in classrooms.

During this year of coaching, as teachers have asked me to observe lessons, I’ve been sketchnoting the activity, interactions, and movement of the class and teacher with visual notes. These have become a powerful tool for post observation conferences.

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As I take notes, I try very hard to be non-evaluative and encourage teachers to self-reflect and self-evaluate their lessons. Sketchnoting has made that so much easier for me. I capture what I see in words and images that are not filtered through my descriptive vocabulary.  This has opened up greater conversations with teachers, and they love keeping a copy of the sketchnote for their portfolios.

This last week I tried something new. I often ask the teachers what they are focusing in their lessons, what their learning targets or success criteria may be, or even what they want me to notice-this guides my observation and allows me to get targeted feedback. However, this time I created a color key for the literacy areas Caroline, a 2nd grade teacher, was trying to incorporate into her science lesson. I sketchnoted her lesson and then afterwards asked her to reflect on her lesson with those areas in mind. Where did she feel like she was able to incorporate them? Where did the students engage with them? She then coded the sketchnote with those colors as we discussed the lesson.

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Before color coding

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After color coding

Caroline told me this was the best observation she ever had. She is already an incredibly reflective teacher, and this let her tangibly reflect and document her self-assessment.  I think this could be a powerful tool for teachers to use when observing student group or independent work as well.

If you haven’t tried sketchnoting yet, I’d encourage you to check out some resources over the summer. I’ll be presenting with Tanny McGregor and Buffy Hamilton at ILA in Austin on sketchnoting. I’ll share more information on this in future blogs as well.  You can check out my Padlet of resources to get started.

Made with Padlet

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 8.49.43 AMGhost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real weapon. The story is told from his perspective as a ghost as he watches his family’s agonizing struggle to seek justice for his death. The only human who can see Jerome is the police officer’s daughter Sarah, who is also struggling as her family’s life has been upended. Sarah wants to right a wrong done by her father and help Jerome, but she isn’t sure how. Jerome also meets another ghost-Emmett Till- who was lynched in 1955 and is the presumed leader of the ghost boys-murdered young black men. What does justice look like? How do people (or ghosts) heal from these tragedies. How do we face unconscious bias in our world? Jewell Parker Rhodes’ book may help start that conversation for many readers as she shows us not everything is as black and white as we see it.

Looking for Poems, Finding So Much More

Well, I am back to my ‘regular’ blog in which I write about teaching and learning and my life as a literacy coach. (For the month of March I blogged a Slice of Life each day for the Slice of Life Challenge) hosted by the TwoWritingTeachers blog)

Many of you may know that I really love poetry and I love sharing this passion with kids. This week a real highlight was working in several fifth grades and introducing them to the wonderful world of Found Poetry. (Some may think call it Black Out Poetry, but we aren’t blacking out the rest…) I told the kids, “Poetry is everywhere, sometimes you just have to find it. Today we are going to practice looking.”

I talked about finding words or phrases that appealed to them and lightly circling them…juicy words, fun words, interesting, or curious words. Then asked them to, “Think about those words and what images or ideas come to mind. How do the first and second words connect? Do they? Are there words in between that could help? Would be better? Go through your words and look for that emerging poem. When you have found it, box out those words so they pop! Then you can illustrate your poem if you wish or create a doodle to pull those words forward.”

Boy, did they find some poems! The range of emotions and themes blew me away. These were first time attempts! I cannot wait to see what they find the rest of this month.

 

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One More Off My TBR Stack!

IMG_3281.jpgThe Creativity Project edited by Colby Sharp

This book really IS awesometastic! Teacher, Colby Sharp invited some of the best writers of kidlit to submit creative prompts and then respond to the prompts of one another. The result is a collection of incredible short stories, poems, comics, illustrations, and CREATIVITY that will truly delight readers and inspire writers. In the second half of the book, authors submit creative prompts for readers to respond to with their own creative flair. I am a huge fan of these kidlit authors and loved it. Kept telling myself, “just one more” as I read in bed the last few nights. Ages 8-12ish

 

shared slices

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For thirty one days
we have shared our slices
of success, of loss
of sacrifices.
We read and respond
to the words of peers;
shared a laugh
and shed some tears.
The month is done
but words not yet,
stay close to those
you can’t forget.

I am so grateful for the connections I have made with other slicers this month. I have followed several on their blogs and Twitter, and hope that one day we may meet in person. From past years I was blessed to meet Fran, Aileen, Kathleen, Michelle, Leigh Anne, Stacey, and so many others that I’ve been lucky enough ‘tweet up’ with.
Follow other slicers. Keep those connections. Keep living the writerly life of a slicer.

Thank you to everyone who responded to my posts and connected with me during this month. Thank you to everyone  who inspired me with their writing.
I am thankful for and humbled by this community.

tilbury town

IMG_2991.jpgI found
my place
in Tilbury Town
where
Robinson grew and
gained renown
and penned
his poems
of life and pain
of small town
folks
in
rural Maine.

 

I love my little town. Gardiner, Maine was the boyhood home of poet Edward Arlington Robinson who used it as the inspiration for many poems set in his fictional American “Tilbury Town“. This little community on the Kennebec River has been my home the last 25 years. I grew up in the Midwest, which I still hold near and dear…but the hardworking and caring people that make up this community have created the ideal place to raise my family and build a fulfilling life that brings me so much joy.

#micropoetry #SOL18

om

The
universeIMG_2971.jpg
in a
sound
from the
beginning
of time
at one
with others
whose
voice
joins
with
mine.

 

#micropoetry #SOL18

If you have ever taken a yoga class you may have joined in the chanting of “Om” at the opening and closing of your practice.  There is something truly mesmerizing the way you lose the sound of your own voice as it joins the vibration of the chant and you feel totally connected to the others in the room and beyond. There are brain researchers who are studying this phenomenon and finding support for the positive effects many people experience from chanting “ah-oo-mm”-similar to nerve stimulation treatments used to treat depression and epilepsy.  As I try to connect my mind, body, and spirit each week, it is the simplest of sounds that helps me in such a profound way.

mrs. beasley

IMG_2962.jpgDid you ever
have

a toy
that personified
a phase
of your childhood
you had
forgotten
until you walked
into a room
and saw
that someone else
preserved
that fading memory
and tattered toy
in a way
you wished
you had?

 

Last week I walked into a co-worker (and friend’s) classroom and saw Mrs. Beasley staring at me from the corner as if to say, “It sure has been awhile. What’ve you been up to?”  Her apron and granny glasses were missing and her stuffing was sticking out in places. She’d aged about as well as I had. But she still had that loving smile that soothed me as I fell asleep at night and greeted me as I woke each morning. Her big blue eyes looked right into heart and pulled me back into my own elementary school for a trip down memory lane.