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!

When One Is Enough

I love reading through posts in January to see what One Little Word people choose to help them focus their energies and passions in the upcoming year. It is often hard to think of just one when there are so many ideas racing around in my head and so many passions beating in my heart.

One thing I want to do as a coach and colleague this year is to help us all become more mindful and present during our days. I would often find at the end of the day that I’d wonder, “What did I even get done?” There would be times that I’d notice my shoulders were tense or my jaw was clenching and I’d realize, “Oh, I’m feeling stressed.” In my post last week, I shared my first activity toward encouraging greater mindfulness.

So I thought, sure MINDFUL would be my One Little Word. But then I pushed that thinking and wondered, “To what end?” and I realized it was because I wanted to appreciate the moments and experiences I have in this short life. I wanted to experience more gratitude for what is, and less angst for what isn’t.  Comparing what could be or nostalgia for what was can suck all the joy out of what IS.  Being more present with what is happening around me and inside of me can help me focus on the gift of being alive.


GRATITUDE encompasses so many other intentions as well-it encourages me to be thankful for KINDNESS, GROWTH, CALM, TRUTH, POSITIVITY, LOVE, MINDFULNESS…you name it. It encourages me to accept people and events in my life for what they are and not feel so compelled to change them. I can only change ME, and if I do it with a grateful heart I believe it will lead me to a more gratifying life.

IGratitude Writing.jpg‘ve got a few ways to intentionally focus  on my GRATITUDE this year (and build a more writerly life!)  They involve quick writes each day to reflect on my blessings, happiness, and gratitude. They won’t take a lot of time, and the research on how gratitude can change the brain is pretty profound, and I’ll explore/share some of that this year as well.  I believe these will be a valuable investment of a small amount of time each day!

So as challenging as it was to choose ONE little word, I am satisfied that this one is enough! Whatever your One Little Word is, may it lead you to a richer life in 2019.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 10.31.51 am24 HOURS IN NOWHERE by Dusti Bowling

I wanted this to be my first book in 2019 because I wanted my year of reading to start out with a bang-and it did! Dusti Bowling takes me to a part of our country as different from my home in Maine as possible-offering a window into the lives of several poverty-stricken children in Nowhere, Arizona.
But being poor is relative for Gus, Rossi, Jessie, and Matthew who enter into a deadly Frenchman mine to seek a piece of gold, each for differing reasons. As the mine collapses they begin to bond over how hard their lives have been and find that if they survive, their lives could be altered forever. I love Dusti’s writing; she is somehow able to weave humor into trauma, peel back layers of her complex characters, and bring us to her beloved desert with vivid descriptions. Kids are going to love this adventurous tale!


A Gift to Remember

We teachers  are part of the village that raises our communities’ children, but somehow it seems we are increasingly the only ones being held accountable.  So much is continually asked of us, expected of us, and evaluated of us that many teachers are leaving the profession and fewer are choosing this path as a vocation. We need to find ways to support one another in an increasingly stressful  life as teachers. As an instructional coach, I see part of my job as encouraging greater self-care and supporting teachers hearts and minds as well as their professional learning.


This year I wanted to give a small gift to our teachers that might make a meaningful impact.  I’ve been practicing greater mindfulness in the past few years that has helped me find a better balance in my personal and professional life, as well as in experiencing a greater sense of harmony and presence in my day to day life. A weekly yoga practice, a daily meditation practice, and lots of ‘Zen’ reading has fueled this awakening.

But until it becomes a habit, it can be easy to forget to be more mindful. So I wanted to gift a reminder to my colleagues that might help them. I gave each a mindful marble as well as this letter:

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My hope is that we are able to reduce some of the stress in our lives and develop a deeper sense of gratitude for what IS and worry less about what COULD or SHOULD be.  I would love to hear how you are practicing self-care and welcome ideas for how we can support one another in the coming year(s) and open our hearts and minds to more meaningful experiences.


One More Off My TBR Stack!

hey kiddoHEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A powerful graphic memoir by author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, this left me with greater appreciation for his artistic success and deeper empathy for our children growing up in homes with addiction. Krosoczka offers us glimpses into his life that are raw and real; heartbreaking at times and inspiring at others. He cleverly incorporates original artwork from his childhood and teen years, as well as letters from his incarcerated mother to share his story. This is no pity party, but it is sure to move you. With difficult subject matter and authentic obscenities I’d say this is a powerful window-book for older readers, but could be an inspiring mirror-book for children growing up in similar situations. A National Book Award Finalist, this novel deserves all the praise it is receiving. You can see Jarrett’s TED Talk about his journey from boy to artist here:




Letting Go

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My post this week isn’t about school, books, teaching, or even the holidays. Though they have all been on my mind, their importance was diminished by the passing of my dearest buddy, Murphy, and the shock and sorrow that enveloped my family.

Thirteen years ago we rescued a little dog, or maybe he rescued us. He came into our Screen Shot 2018-12-22 at 8.12.28 AMlives and brought so much joy each day. Walking through the door we were always welcomed with an exuberant wag and warm cuddle. He would patiently wait for one of us to sit and then take up residence in our lap. He lived to snuggle and we loved it so.

In recent months he’d slowed down and was no longer able to jump into our laps so we bought little stairs to ease his way. We knew there would be no forever, but we were never ready for no more. I think he waited for my daughter to come home from college, to see his Bailey one last time, and for that I am beholden.

We relive our last moments as though they were somehow more significant than the thousands of kisses and snuggles and other precious moments that preceded them. For me, I recall kissing him goodnight, chucking his chin,  and whispering, “I love you, buddy,” the way I did each evening. Then during the night his sleep became permanence and my buddy was gone.

Our heartache was excruciating at the discovery, and the tears flowed until we could literally cry no more. But “after great pain a formal feeling comes”, a gratitude so deep it is lifting me out of anguish. I realized I would not feel this grief if I had not loved so deeply, and that is the price we pay for loving others in our tenuous lives. If we outlive those we love we will grieve, and hopefully our grief evolves into a gratitude that sustains us.

I know others are suffering far greater traumas in life, but to compare is to miss the point. We each in our lives must navigate great pain. “First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.“I am hurting, I am sad, I am finding a new normal, I am letting go.

Goodbye, Murphy. We love you so.

Casey’s first kiss from Murphy
A million snuggles with Murphy.
Always in search of a lap.
A face we will never forget.

Delicious Words

Have you ever been reading along in a book and suddenly the words wake you out of your reading trance? The precise selection, the unique arrangement, or the magnitude of their meaning dawns on you as pure delicious reading. And once you are awakened to their presence you hunger for more-then unsurprisingly you find more. You just needed to be stirred from your suspended animation.

I’ve decided I want to start collecting these delicious words so that I can go back and savor their flavor, but also to share them with others to give them a sample taste. Last week I started a hashtag on Twitter #DeliciousWords to begin collecting lines that caused me to pause and reread, to ponder the author’s process at that moment in selecting just the right words to convey their thoughts so beautifully.  Here are a few from this week’s reading:

SWEEP by Jonathan Auxier
IN YOUR SHOES by Donna Gephart


And then Friday I attended a Heinemann workshop with Penny Kittle and Linda Rief in which they shared their writer/reader notebooks with us. I was totally mesmerized at the way Penny crafted “Beautiful Words” entries into her notebooks. This took #DeliciousWords to a whole new level for me! Now I want to collect even more deliciousness and preserve them in a notebook. Check out some examples she shared (used with permission):IMG_0706IMG_0708So if you are looking for ways to revitalize your writer/reader notebooks, literally take a page from Penny and Linda. They weave the look of Found Poems with the skill of noticing authors’ craft with these beautiful entries. If these creations of art are too intimidating, just start collecting with photos, copying lines, or tweeting out the #DeliciousWords you find.  Share what you savor knowing no two readers have the exact same tastes, variety is the spice of life!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 8.36.19 AMSWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER by Jonathan Auxier

Every once in awhile you read a book that you simultaneously can’t put down and yet want to it to stay immersed in that world and linger on-SWEEP is one of those books. Jonathan Auxier takes us to the world of child chimney climbers in Victorian London, who are typically indentured servants trapped in a life of cruel and dangerous work. Society turns it’s face away from the horrible child labor because their fear of fire is greater. We meet Nan who was raised by the Sweep, but when he mysteriously disappears she is forced into the servitude of Wilkie Crudd-a Fagin-like master who works his children to the brink of death. When Nan is nearly burned alive in a chimney she wakes to find herself in the care of a mysterious creature. She befriends “Charlie” and learns that he is a Golem sent by the Sweep to protect her. But in this hard life they struggle to save each other and the children that no one cares for. Beautifully told with so many lines I needed to write down to remember. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book-a perfect Dickensian read for the holidays!

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!

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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!

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?

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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

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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

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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

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

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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:

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

One More Off My TBR Stack!


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.

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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!


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

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 ( ) 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!

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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.