All posts by paulabourque

About paulabourque

Paula is a Literacy Coach K-6 in Maine and author of Close Writing and SPARK! 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!

Here’s the Secret to Why I Notebook

There are LOTS of reasons why I love notebooking, journaling, and doodling, but this is really WHY…

For anyone who has ever processed their thinking or experiences through writing…you get it.

Thank you to a fellow notebooker (Jill Heatherington Bless) in the #100DaysofNotebooking Facebook Group who shared a similar comic from TarcherPerigee. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.



by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Wow, did I need this book right now. From A-Z you will find wonderful poems (using multiple forms with descriptions of their structure), quotes that will inspire you from famous people, and anecdotes from the authors’ lives that connect to the theme of the page. Lastly their is an invitation at the bottom of the page to try something that will help make your world and/or the greater world a better place. It would be fantastic if every middle grade and up classroom had at least one copy of this. Better yet, it would be powerful if a page a day were shared with students this year as we work to create a better world!

Stepping into Teaching 2021

This morning we begin teaching again in a new year. Some of us will have resolutions and goals, some of us are just grateful for the relaxation and rejuvenation of a break, some of us are exhausted by the demands of caring for ourselves, our finances, and for others during this global pandemic.

Wherever you find yourself as you begin 2021 (in a classroom that is virtual, hybrid, or in-person) I hope you carry with you a sense of accomplishment for doing something teachers in history have never had to do before.

We can do hard things. We have done hard things.

Happy New Year, TEACHERS! Here’s to another year of being amazing.

Goodbye 2020, Hello (Again) Blogging

2020 was not a great blogging year for me. Though I continued to write each day, my writing was more for me than another audience. I created a Coronavirus Diary that documented each day of the pandemic starting on March 13th when we closed schools. I continued to journal, to notebook, and to create ‘daily doodles’ to also document my thoughts and events. I shared some with the #100DaysofNotebookingandBeyond group, but most were private and personal.

Well, with a new year comes new energy. I would like to blog more in 2021, but I want the entries to be concise and simple. I don’t have any idea where my thoughts or experiences will take me, but I want to use this blog as a way to work through them.

I am also going to join Michelle Haseltine again this year with her 2021 #100DaysofNotebooking group to get ideas for notebooking and to inspire my writing. You can join, too! Sign up here: 100 Days of Notebooking Sign up

We never know what the future is going to bring (a tough lesson for all of us in 2020) but writing is a way to process, explore, and document our experiences like nothing else can. I hope that if you are reading this you will find 2021 to be what my friend Jennifer Laffin calls: THE YEAR OF THE WRITER


This book is for anyone who has ever thought, “I can’t possibly make a difference in this crazy world.” Ann Braden (The Benefits of Being an Octopus) introduces us to four kids who desperately need some hope and support. They are separated by a continent, social norms, trauma, and stigma, but are brought together by one simple gesture of kindness that has a profound ripple effect. The way Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) inspired a generation to “Choose Kind”, Flight of the Puffin will show readers a powerful and creative way to “Be Kind”. Ann Braden does not shy away from tough issues in the lives of children and families, but with compassion and insight reveals how we can all stand up for ourselves and use the strengths we do have to face challenges with courage and grace. I love the way she weaves parallel strengths of nature (octopuses and puffins) into her stories and characters to remind us that we are all connected-every creature. (and I totally love puffins!!!) Getting to read this ARC was the best early Christmas present and a wonderful way to finish up this incredibly challenging year (2020). Look for this book May 4th – you do NOT want to miss this MUST READ, MUST OWN, MUST SHARE book in 2021.

It Takes a Village, Not Just a School

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 6.34.58 AMI head back to school this week and have never worked so hard during my “vacation” to prepare for the start of the school year.

I am reading everything I can on how to be an anti-racist and become an educator who embodies social justice and equity in both my personal and professional life.

I am learning how to use new digital platforms to deliver instruction in engaging and meaningful ways. I know what and how to teach, now it just feels like I have to do everything with my left hand and it is sucking up an incredible amount of mental bandwidth to make that happen.

Teachers across my district, our state, and the country are rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever needs to be done to meet these new challenges-including updating their wills and getting their personal affairs in order. This is not a normal return to school, and tragically for some it will probably be their last. This virus doesn’t care how dedicated you are-just how accessible you are.

This quote (above) by Heidi Crumrine speaks to what my aching heart feels…“Our schools have become a panacea for fixing all of the problems of society, and now we have a problem that our schools just can’t fix.” And yet SCHOOLS NEED TO OPEN has become a rallying cry for those aching for normalcy and for a society that has expected schools to:

  • furnish daycare
  • feed hungry children
  • offer mental health services
  • provide dental and medical care
  • arrange for crisis intervention
  • protect children from abusive homes/situations
  • offer sports, arts, and extra-curricular activities (during and after school)

because we as a society haven’t figured out that our children (future citizens) would be much better off if the “village” rolled up its sleeves and offered these services as well. Asking schools and teachers to bear the burden while raising test scores, providing differentiated learning from severely disabled through highly ‘gifted’ span of learners, and meeting every state mandate passed by legislators has always been a big ask (oh, and please cut your budget by 5-10% each year–don’t want to raise our taxes, ya know!)

If we were the problem solvers and innovators that I always hoped America would be, we’d take this crisis as an opportunity to re-prioritize and creatively respond to the needs of our society rather than shifting responsibility (I.e. BLAME) to our schools.

Are we that America? As some schools that have reopened are already shutting back down again  we may have to seriously contemplate that question this year.  Does our village (America) really care enough  to raise our children?

Another Good Read…

Broken into 20 engaging lessons to empower young people, Tiffany Jewell guides readers through exercises to explore identity, recognize racism, fight its injustice, and become anti-racist. She shares stories of her personal history as well as cultural history that she quotes James Baldwin as saying, “We carry our history with us. We are our history.” If you ever wanted to build skill in speaking up, standing up, and becoming an anti-racist, this is the book for you and your children/students. The illustrations/graphics by Aurélia Durand are bold and beautiful, and the invitation to start a notebook to explore our experiences, beliefs, and identities really appeal to me. I think 6th grade and up would learn so much-I know I did. A must-have for any anti-racist resource library.

If You Really Loved Me, You Would

I live in Maine, and on Friday our state released the color coding system for reopening schools: Red means schools should only conduct remote learning. Yellow means schools should adopt a hybrid method of in-person and remote learning. Green means schools may return to in-person learning if specific guidelines set by the state can be implemented. Somehow ALL counties were classified Green! 

Our district has already been planning for a hybrid method and I think a lot of people were stunned that we were given a greenlight, but those specific guidelines that must be met will make in-person learning unrecognizable to most students, teachers, and families:

Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 8.20.45 AM


  • Our classrooms were built to the smallest size allowed by law.
  • We have 1 bathroom/sink in most rooms.
  • We have kids dropped off visibly sick at school each day.
  • We have a severe sub shortage to cover sick teachers’ classrooms every-single-day (pre-COVID).
  • We have parents who are anti-maskers and many students who are not compliant with classroom rules.

meme1In “normal times” these were challenges for teachers. During a pandemic they could be life-threatening.

For years teachers have felt the pressure to take on more and more responsibilities for raising our nation’s children. Because we love them, we willingly and passionately do it. We spend our own money, our own time, our own emotional and physical health sometimes to care for these kiddos.

For awhile this spring we actually felt valued by society as it became glaringly apparent how much schools and teachers do for the children of this country every single day when we were suddenly cut off from them. Parents, politicians, and the public were praising teachers…for awhile.

But the pandemic rages on, and public opinion is shifting. Memories are fading. Gratitude is fleeting. From one of the biggest voices on down we hear cries of,

“Schools need to open.”  “Kids need to be in school.”  “If schools don’t open, we defund them.” “That’s their job, they need to do it.

And while I agree in normal times that that is the normal thing to do, we are NOT in Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 10.22.34 AMnormal times. Teachers are retiring and resigning. Teachers are scrambling to get their affairs in order, to strip classrooms, and to prepare for the scariest days of their careers ahead of them.

We know kids need to be in school, but do people realize that schools will not be what kids have known. It is not hyperbole to say they will resemble correctional institutions with the restrictions and protocols being implemented. Emphasis on isolating, distancing, and safety precautions will take priority. All the engaging learning techniques we implement to connect with and reach our students are no longer appropriate or safe.

I’m wondering, how will…

  • 5 year olds who can’t keep shoes on and constantly chew their clothes be wearing masks all day?
  • primary students who crave reassuring hugs stay 6 feet away?
  • students sit in desks, in rows, with no personal items all day long?
  • dysregulated students respond to even more rules and regulations?
  • schools find substitutes willing to expose themselves to dozens of potentially deadly virus carriers each day?
  • teachers know if they are safe, or if they are bringing COVID home along with their lessons plans and piles of grading?

And yet the pressure is on to move forward. The implication: If you really love your students, you’ll just do it.

And my heart breaks because there is no good solution and we really do love our students…

Another Good Read…

Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 10.35.22 AMAMERICAN AS PANEER PIE by Suprikya Kelkar
I dare you to read this book without your mouth watering at all of the delicious Indian food being described! I also dare your heart not to melt a bit at the vulnerability and angst felt by 11 year old Lehka, born in Michigan of immigrant parents, who seems to live two lives: a home life filled with tradition and a school life where she is teased for her culture. Then a new neighbor moves in, Avantika and her family, who are new immigrants from India. Lehka worries that Avantika will be a victim of the xenophobia in her community, but is amazed at how Avantika isn’t afraid to stick up for herself. There are overt racist issues (hate crimes and the election of a xenophobic far-right senator) but there are a myriad of micro-aggressions that the girls endure as well, even from ‘nice people’. Even Lehka and Avantika realize their need to work on their own issues with colorism, tolerance, and how to be an ally. Slowly Lehka finds her own voice and realizes our society’s problems aren’t going away quickly, but that we can still make a positive impact one person at a time. I would have loved a glossary to help me with unfamiliar terms and language, but Kelkar does a pretty good job of using context to help the reader along. Another wonderful selection for #WeNeedDiverseBooks in our classrooms to promote understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for all people and to expand our definitions of being American.


The Learning Space

Regular visitors to my blog may have noticed that there hasn’t been a lot of activity. The shift to remote learning (emergency teaching) was a shift that threw a lot of us into uncharted waters and we were just trying to stay afloat.

In addition to joining over 45 Facebook classrooms,  participating in dozens of Zoom classes, and coaching teachers privately over Zoom, I accepted an invitation from the Maine Dept. of Education and Educate Maine to create original video lessons for 3rd-5th grade students that would air on Maine Public television in a series called THE LEARNING SPACE. This was one way to reach our students who did not have internet access or who were looking for some engaging and fun learning beyond our virtual classrooms.

I was nervous about accepting. Who was I? What lessons could I create that would be meaningful? The usual doubts and imposter syndrome crept in. But I remember so much of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, including:

“your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here.”


So I dove in. I wanted kids to understand the importance of the moment that they were living through and its historic implications. I also am on a mission to expand our definitions of writing to include non-alphabetic elements that allows more seats at the writing table.  As a result  I created a lesson on multi-modal documentary writing.

I realized that wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be and so I combined my LOVE of nature and notebooking to create a lesson to encourage students to start a nature notebook. I took them with me on my daily walk and showed them how I create entries in my own nature notebook.

Heck, now I was on a roll. What else do I LOVE that I would like to share with students and spark their own creative passions?  Poetry! I know this can be intimidating for kids (and grown ups) so I wanted to show them some fun ways to use REMIX to create new poems from found sources of writing, to build on the work of others to create original pieces of work: Poetry Remix!

And finally, I LOVE to connect with kidlit authors. They create the content that our students love, so I know I can learn so much from them. (and they are some of the most compassionate, caring, and sometimes comical people I know!) I asked two Maine authors to help me create a lesson called Writing With Writers. Lynn Plourde has penned dozens of amazing picture books, a nonfiction graphic novel, and a poignant middle grade novel. She’s brilliant. Tamra Wight has authored one of my all time favorite series: Cooper and Packrat Mysteries set in Maine. She is also one of the best nature photographers I know!


If you think any of these would interest or inspire your students, please feel free to use and share. I’d also encourage teachers out there to think about creating some lessons that reflect YOUR passion for life and learning and share those with the world, too!

Another Good Read…

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 10.25.45 AMSTAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

This is a book I wish everyone, absolutely everyone, would read or listen to. I alternated listening to Jason Reynolds powerful reading on Audible and then going back to reread the words myself to let sections sink in and sit with me. As he writes, “I hope after reading this NOT HISTORY book, you’re left with some answers. I hope it’s clear how the construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, whether financially or politically. How it has always been used to create dynamics that separate us to keep us quiet.
The institutional racism that exists in our world will not just go away without conscious anti-racist policies and people who embrace them. This book will open your eyes to the pervasive laws, policies, and norms that perpetuate racism in ways that may not seem obvious and transparent. Reynolds and Kendi share and explain racism throughout history to young people in a way that makes it accessible and powerful for all people. Reynolds builds on Kendi’ original book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” and creates and engaging and fast-paced narrative remix that you can’t put down. PLEASE get yourself a copy of this book. PLEASE share it with others. PLEASE learn about and live an anti-racist life. Racism hurts EVERYONE. This book will help EVERYONE.

April Cruels!

It’s National Poetry Month. Something to celebrate in a bleak spring. I think my poem-ish piece reflects the hopes and realities of our world community right now.

April Cruels


I think we all woke

with the wish,

with the hope

that a joke

was being played 

on us all.

But our dreams gave way

to the news

of the day,

the new normal

still casting

its pall.

#SOL20 Day 31 “Take-Aways”

SOL20This March I have been participating in the Old Friend from Far Awaymonth-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I  posted a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I used Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post was a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises.



What has your slicing taught you about your writing process this month? What are the take-aways you will draw from this challenge and this community  going forward?

Thank you to everyone who participated this month. You’ve all made me a better writer! (and I believe a better person)

#SOL20 Day 30 “What?”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the montOld Friend from Far Awayh-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I will be posting a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I am using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post will be a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises to practice the skill of noticing and remembering.


I think we learn all kinds of lessons from our parents. Often they aren’t the ones that they preach, but the ones that they embody and live. I try to think about what lessons my own children will learn from me, and ultimately that will be in their hands, not my own. What lessons did you learn from your father (or mother) that have lifted or inspired you in life?  Does he/she know that?