The Power of Story

Working in schools I frequently hear comments like, “We don’t need to focus so much on narrative writing anymore.” or “We need to do more informational and argument writing.”  And while it is true that we want our students to become stronger writers of informational and persuasive pieces of writing I believe the best way to do that is by learning to craft a powerful story.

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”- Joseph Stalin

 When we read informational texts that focus on a collection facts and  dates we are not enlightened to the events, we are merely aware.  When we read articles or opinion pages that toss out statistics to persuade us, we don’t empathize, we anesthetize. We can become overwhelmed and retreat to our current, comfortable stance.
Think about the news stories coming out of Syria with the statistics and facts of the civil war going on there. We cannot grasp the intensity or importance of the situation when we are inundated with numbers. But then we see the image of Omran Daqneesh-or as he is better known-the boy in the ambulance in Aleppo. People all over the world want to know his story. The crisis becomes real-the pain becomes comprehensible, the civil war becomes visible.
“Stories are about 22 times more memorable than facts alone.” -Jerome Bruner
This isn’t only true about tragedy and crisis. We can see this this when children read/witness the story of one caterpillar becoming a butterfly rather than reading an informational text about the stages.   We see this with the classic School House Rock video I’m Just a Bill. that tells the story of how a bill becomes a law. We can read the congressional process in a text and recite the steps, but when we see the story of “Bill” we comprehend the process in a whole new way.
Think about how you come to learn anything, and you will probably find that a story helped you to conceptualize and internalize that information into meaningful understanding.
So before we decide we should spend less time teaching narrative writing in our schools, let’s consider how we could extend narrative writing into any and all modes of writing. Let’s expand our definition of narrative writing to move beyond personal narratives and creative short stories, to include narratives that illustrate concepts and positions that inform or persuade. Look at the news clips, magazine articles, and informational texts that surround us and you will see story at the heart of the best of these.

What’s On My Book Radar

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Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Though not new (2013) I find myself revisiting this book often.  This week I was working on a PD session for teachers on editing and found this sitting with my books on punctuation.  And it is a helpful mentor text for that, but for so much more. Amy  had a way of bringing story and meaning to life with the simplest of examples. I never thought I would empathize and care about a piece of punctuation- but Amy and Tom did just that. This book is a classic example of how the story of an exclamation mark can help readers understand the concept and purpose of an exclamation mark-(and it discovering our own purpose).

How To Take Charge of Your PD

It can be frustrating as a teacher to participate in professional development (PD) that you don’t perceive as meeting your needs. I’ve been there myself. I’ve come to realize that PD needs to be differentiated, the way instruction for our students needs to be differentiated. Schools cannot meet the needs of every teacher with the limited time and resources they have dedicated to professional learning. As a result, they need to focus on federal, state, district, or school based initiatives-some of which are mandates they have no control of.

So as educators, we need to find ways to take charge of our own PD. Since I have grown my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) I have found so many more opportunities to do just that. Where in the past I might buy and read professional books for myself or wait to see what workshops would be coming to my area-I now have global networks of educators who are literally streaming PD into my life on a daily basis. I am continually inspired, challenged, and excited by the ideas and innovations of my colleagues and will never hunger for professional growth because of them.


If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you are already on Twitter and do not need convincing about how amazing this platform is for building a PLN and growing your PD.  But what about the colleagues in your school who are looking for opportunities to stretch and grow professionally?  It is often very difficult to explain how incredible Twitter can be when what they see is a president tweeting insults to others or Russians using it as active measures to disrupt democracy. Twitter is getting some bad press (and not entirely unjustly) but it remains one of the most powerful tools for bringing ideas and people together.  We need to show, not tell our colleagues how this can put the power of PD into their own hands. Start with


Similar to Twitter, other social media platforms can also be a great vehicle for connecting with like-minded or content related educators.  We can easily get “lost” surfing through social media. It is important to follow people who will inspire you so you don’t get mired in drama and minutae if you want to use these as professional tools. Sometimes setting up separate personal and professional accounts can be helpful. Here are a few ideas to get started.


This is one area I want to explore more this year.  This is a “walkie-talkie” app for smartphones. Many education chats, conferences and leadership teams now use a Voxer group to collaborate.


As great as virtual communities can be, there is nothing like connecting with passionate teachers in person.  EDcamps are springing up all across the country. These day-long, free professional development conferences are incredible. Last weekend I attended nErDcampNNE (Northern New England) here in Maine.  Not only did I get to learn from amazing kidlit authors and innovative teachers, I had the opportunity to share my own passion and expertise as I introduced a roomful of teachers to Sketchnoting. It was such an empowering experience for everyone. We created our own schedule of sessions from participant requests/suggestions. People stepped up to facilitate and share, then teachers could choose whatever they wanted to see-AND for those sessions they missed, they had access to the Google doc of notes and ideas

Micro Workshops

Even closer to home, is creating professional development opportunities from the wealth of expertise in our own schools.  This year in my district we have had several teachers share their knowledge in after school sessions and opened it up to teachers from other buildings (we have 4 elementary schools in my district).  One teacher shared tips for differentiating with English Language Learners (ELLs) in the regular classroom and another shared how to use ClassDojo to build community and increase communication. We have other teachers who want to learn about SMART boards and DonorsChoose so we will try to set up micro workshops on those topics. I have teachers who have set professional goals on writing, so I am offering a series of micro workshops with strategies from my Close Writing book.  I’d love to say we are paying teachers for this, but our budget doesn’t support it-so we are offering certification credits for those who attend, and extra ones for those who prepare and present. Talk about dedicated professionals!

My point in all of this, is that teachers no longer have to wait for professional development to come to them. They don’t have to bemoan the idea that district PD doesn’t meet their needs. They can be empowered to recognize their own needs and take charge of meeting them-and it can be a lot of fun!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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Wish Tree by Katherine Applegate

I have been waiting for this book for months and I worried that after listening to all the hype, I would be disappointed. It’s hard to live up to the acclaim that this book got, but I am thrilled to say it exceeded any preconceived expectations I had! In the same way she created The One and Only Ivan as a beautiful story with a powerful message, she has crafted Wish Tree. Never preachy but truly edifying, Applegate allows us to confront hard truths in gentle ways. In this story, the Wish Tree “Red” has stood for 216 years observing the ever-changing neighborhood. For years  people have tied scraps of ribbon or paper inscribed with wishes on its trunk and branches. When a new family moves in and a young girl shares her wish, Red feels compelled to move beyond observer. I cannot describe how gorgeous this writing is-I savor each line and find myself slowing down to let the words linger. The message contained in those words is even more sublime given our current political and social climate. I cannot recommend this book enough. Truly elevated to one of my all-time favorite books.

7 +1 Steps for the Care and Feeding of New Teachers

I work in four elementary schools as a literacy/instructional coach, and every year we have new teachers (or new to the district). This year we have more new teachers than I can ever remember. Some come with years of experience from other districts, some from other careers, and some right out of college. Supporting them will require differentiation and that can only happen when we get to know them. In the first few weeks I am already able to appreciate the unique gifts each will bring to our schools.

New teachers get lots of advice, not all of it is relevant to their situation, but I won’t let that stop me from sharing what I have found to be helpful in working with new teachers the past ten years.  Here is what I would offer at this time to new teachers. And to those veteran teachers who work with them-think about how we can help in the “care and feeding” of our novice colleagues if/when they take this advice.

  1. Get a mentor.  This could be the one assigned by your school (if your school does this), but you can also find mentors you feel a personal connection with.  Having someone you can trust to go to with concerns will alleviate so much anxiety and help you to focus on what really matters more effectively. It also provides that colleague with opportunities for growth and reflection so it is truly a mutually beneficial arrangement.
  2. Ask for help.  Don’t try to figure out everything on your own-it’s just too hard. Your mentor, your colleagues, your administrator can answer questions that could consume too much of your time trying to solve-and even then you aren’t often sure if your assumptions or expectations are aligned with the school’s. You won’t look ignorant to others, you’ll look assertive and determined to do a good job.
  3. Build a PLN.  A Personal (or professional) Learning Network can be a group of colleagues locally or globally who collaborate to increase our knowledge and agency in teaching more effectively.  Book study groups, grade level teams, or writing groups at your school are examples, but I’ve expanded my PLN with social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to follow and connect with passionate educators, authors, and school leaders. It has been a game changer. Check out this list of Education Twitter Chats to connect with other educators and get tons of ideas and support.
  4. Don’t get sucked into Pinterest or TpT.  It’s easy to get lost browsing all of the amazing ideas, lessons, and classroom designs on Pinterest- and they can be inspiring.  Just be careful that it doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or always searching for that perfect idea-you need time to discover who YOU are as a teacher. Take some ideas and play with them, let your own pedagogy emerge through trial and error and reflection.  Your school probably has a curriculum you need to become familiar with before you start buying lessons from TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers). Just because it’s cute, standards based,  or on sale doesn’t mean it aligns with your school’s expectations.
  5. Build Relationships. You might feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do this year and feel like you don’t have time to socialize or make phone calls.  Success as a teacher is built upon the relationships we make with our students, their parents, and our colleagues.  Make those phone calls, send those texts, write those notes to parents before there is an issue. Let them know you are enjoying having their child in class. Mention something you notice about them, ask them what some of their favorite books, activities, or interests are.  You and the parents can become a team.  Get to know your students as children who have hopes and fears, and not just learners. One of my favorite sayings is “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”-Teddy Roosevelt. I have found this to be a truism and there is an incredible amount of research to show the importance of relationships for success in school. Remember, those students who are hardest to love need love the most. Genuine relationships are an investment that pays huge dividends.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  You will!  We all do. Everyday. Some are small and no one else notices, and some are doozies.  Mistakes do not equal failure, they are opportunities to learn and grow. Think about taking a test when you were in school-did you give a second thought to any of your right answers? If you are like me, you zoned in on the mistakes and did some deeper thinking to see where you went wrong. Life is like that-mistakes offer us the chance to reflect and grow. If you haven’t made any mistakes yet, you probably aren’t moving out of your comfort zone-and that’s no way to learn. “Don’t waste a good mistake, learn from it.”-Robert Kiyosaki.
  7. Seek joy.  If you aren’t enjoying what you do, your students won’t either.  Now I realize teaching isn’t a laugh-a-minute, but if you are stressed to the point of unhappiness you aren’t helping anyone.  We often get so busy doing things that we may miss noticing things.  Kids are amusing; they say and do quirky things.  Take time to appreciate that. Laugh at ourselves-hey, as I said before, we’ll make mistakes.  I’ll bet some of them are pretty amusing if you think about it. You don’t have to plan “Fun Fridays” to incorporate more joy into your classroom. If you are looking for ideas, Google “joy in the classroom” and you’ll find tons of inspiration. Learning should not be drudgery. We don’t want compliance from our students, we want engagement. If you find yourself saying/implying “We have to do this.” there is probably not much joy in it.  And then make sure you have time outside of the classroom to pursue your passions, play with your family, feed your soul. We only get one go around in this life-don’t waste it.  When you find harmony between work and play teaching can become a way of life-not a job to deal with.

+1 BONUS TIP- Write about it! -Again, I can appreciate that you are time strapped this year so I am not talking about writing a novel about your first year. What I am talking about is keeping a journal to capture snippets from this year.  You think you will remember everything—you won’t. Unfortunately what many teachers remember are the hard times, the mistakes, and the kids who got under their skin.  There is bountiful research to show that keeping a gratitude or joy journal boosts mental as well as physical health. Writing down questions, concerns, or thoughts frees up mental bandwidth so that you aren’t carrying it around 24/7. I’ll be sharing more about teachers as writers, but for now I invite you to take less than 5 minutes a day to jot down remembrances, wonderings, and joys from your day. Your 2nd year teacher self will thank you!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater illus by Ryan O’Rourke

I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this book and I can’t tell you how much I love, love, love it!

Amy has penned a collection of poems to celebrate, inspire, and capture the joys and wonders of reading. I wanted to dive in and devour them all, and now I want to share them with students and give them time to savor each and every one.  Invite them to reflect on their own reading lives through the words of each poem. I definitely think this is a MUST HAVE for every elementary classroom. It is just that good!!


How Do You Frame Your Teaching Story?

It’s Friday afternoon and the last students have left the building. What story do you tell yourself (or others) about that week? About that day? I know for myself, I often find myself sharing my stories with my husband.  He’s an elementary guidance counselor and is a great shoulder to lean on. I often discuss my teaching stories with the district math coach who understands what I do so well and can connect. Many of us have friends and loved ones, or even social media that we share our stories with.

But what stories are we telling and retelling? We know there is no single story to our teaching day. We could tell any one event or moment from a variety of perspectives and with differing tones. Rarely do we tell stories without some emotional backlight.  We choose to tell certain stories because they effect us in a visceral way.  We may tell our stories with pride, joy, humor, frustration, sadness, anger, etc.fig-8-9-paula-talk-it-out.jpg

Whether we tell or retell these stories to others, we replay these narratives in our heads and in our hearts. They begin to define those moments and ourselves as though they are the singular truth. They begin to shape our perceptions of our students, our teaching, our lives. They take a foothold in our memories. But neuroscientists have shown that each time we remember something, we are reconstructing the event, reassembling it from traces throughout the brain rendering it less reliable, less ‘accurate’.

I encourage you to reflect on the stories you tell yourself or others about your teaching lives in the coming weeks. Take a moment to look for some patterns of thinking. Ask yourself:

  • Which stories am I choosing to tell?
  • How am I framing my story?
  • How do my stories end?
  • How does this frame affect how I feel and what I believe?
  • Could this story be told truthfully in another way?
  • How would that affect how I feel and what I believe?

We all know teachers who seem joyful and upbeat most days and sadly we know some who seem downbeat and despondent most days. Are some just lucky or unlucky with the students they get and the classrooms they work in each year? What stories do they tell and what effect do you think that has upon their lives? Have they begun to live the narrative they’ve created?

Now I am not saying happiness is achieved by simply ignoring the hard parts of life and pretending everything is ok. It is important that we acknowledge the struggles and challenges and share them with others. But it is in how we choose to frame these stories  where the power lies to find hope and courage or repeated frustration and despair.

You have probably heard the saying, “Perception is reality“. It sounds oversimplified, but basically everything you know as reality has to be processed by your brain to be perceived. It is my desire that every teacher experiences a reality filled with love, purpose, and joy. I believe that we have the power to shape that reality and not wait for it to materialize. I acknowledge we have no control over so many events in our lives and I know we cannot wish our way out of depression, grieving, physical or mental illness. I am not referring to debilitating or catastrophic events, but to the everyday life in the classroom.

I am not advocating that we stop telling our stories-just the opposite. I want us to acknowledge that we have more stories than we can possibly tell and reflect on which we choose to share. Tell those stories of challenges, don’t feel guilt for needing to vent. And then for each story that frustrates us, find one (or two) that encourages or delights us. They are there, waiting to be told, too. They are waiting to become part of our reality.

What’s On My Book Radar?

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COME WITH ME by Holly McGhee illus by Pascal Lemaitre

What a timely book in an age of bleak headlines. A little girl is overwhelmed by the news reports of anger and hatred and asks her papa what she can do. He responds, “Come with me.” Together they walk hand in hand  to ride the train to see and get to know the people. She asks her mama the same and she responds, “Come with me.” Together they walk hand in hand to the market to see and get to know the people. She begins to see that “one person doesn’t represent a family, or a race, or the people of a land.” And “One step at a time they saw what they could do to make the world a better place.”  For every child and grown up who has felt the desire to make the world a better place…read and share this book of hope and understanding.









Could You Eulogize a Student?

I am sorry for the morbid focus of my blog, but the past few days have been  difficult ones for my small town in Maine, and my blog reflects my current thinking and experience. This week, on the first day of their junior year, one of my son’s classmates was in a horrific accident on her way to school. She could not survive her injuries and passed away the next day. Friends, family, teammates were left shocked and grieving. Needless to say, the staff at the high school found themselves comforting students and one another. Our students are our kids, so I knew they were hurting deeply, too.

That evening a candlelight vigil was held on the soccer field where she was the star goalie. A thousand members of our small community came out to honor her life. When asked if anyone would like to speak about this wonderful child I was in awe of the teachers who were able to hold it together, and share remembrances. In fact, it was a teacher who was the first to speak.

Their words told the students, parents, and community members who were in attendance…“I notice you.”  “I care about you.” They were comforting, amusing, and healing.  Certainly some students are much easier to remember and regale, and this student had touched the lives of many. As I listened it got me thinking about all of our students. Could we share anecdotes, memories, or eulogies for each of our students? Do we wish we had captured more memories? Are there some we might wish we had noticed more?

I hope that no teacher ever finds themselves in the situation that these educators were suddenly immersed in. Trying to find the words to convey the essence, the importance of a child’s life is not easy…layer that with shock and grief and it becomes heroic. But the power of those words to lift up that child in the eyes of friends and family was indescribable.

We’ve all heard the advice, “Don’t wait until I’m gone to tell me how much you care.” It’s so true. We tell our students often how much we do care, how much we love them..but sometimes we get so busy we may not notice or note those anecdotes that exemplify and reflect the depth and truth of those words. The teachers who spoke the most comforting words had specific stories and narratives that invited vivid images and fond memories.  Saying “she was kind” was one thing…sharing examples of how she helped someone by relaying words and actions was another.

As we embark on a new school year, I hope that all of us are able to tell each student how much we care about them. May we find time to jot down words, deeds, and remembrances of each student we have in our classes. May we truly notice those idiosyncrasies that others will immediately relate to.  May we capture some of the comments and quotes from our interactions that reflect their voices. May we find opportunities to share those with their parents while they can still hug their child and appreciate them in person. May our students feel noticed, acknowledged, and loved by every teacher they have.

May we never find that the words we wish we had said, were left unheard by those who needed to hear them most.

What’s On My Book Radar?

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I am always looking for ways to turn students on to poetry, this book is one of my latest favorites. I love how these poems twist and turn across the page. This collection of poetry shows how fun the creative use of words can be! An incredible mentor text for thinking about ideas, structure, word choice, voice, and importance. Kids who are intimidated by the stoic nature of poems may find this playful text a welcome invitation into the world of poetry.  A Maine Student Book Award (MSBA) nominee that I hope many readers will discover and love.

How to Know If You Are Ready for the School Year

In Maine we begin school a little later than many of my teacher friends across the country. So for most of the month of August I’ve been reading posts on social media from teachers who are setting up their classrooms and preparing for the start of a new school year.  They are filled with excitement and energy mixed with a twinge of anxiety about being ready. (and sometimes a little grief with saying goodbye to summer).

I’ve had many people in the last week or two ask me, “So, are you ready for school to start?” and I know many of my teacher friends have been asked the same question. My go-to response is almost always, “Ready or not, here it comes.”

So how do we know if we are ready? What defines readiness? For some it comes with the satisfaction of setting up a classroom that is welcoming and engaging. We love to see photos of classroom designs and layouts to get ideas and try new things. Teachers are some of the most creative people I know, and their talent for interior decorating of simple rectangular space can be inspiring. But this can be a double edged sword in which teachers may be doubting if their own classrooms are Pinterest-worthy and credit cards get maxed out buying books, supplies, and furniture that will never be reimbursed.

This past week was in several of my four schools and many teachers were working with loving care and passionate intensity in their rooms. Unless you are a teacher (or are the parent or spouse of one) you cannot fully appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into getting classrooms ready for the start of a school year.

I fondly recalled that first day of school when my students would see the fruits of my labor… “Mrs. B., you’ve outdone yourself with the bulletin board design-I feel so welcome!  Your desk arrangements are so thoughtful- we will definitely be able to interact more cooperatively this year. Thank you for supplying us with so many markers, post its, and pencils- and storing them so creatively-we will definitely make sure they are put back neatly at the end of each day. The lamination of every name tag, anchor chart, and posted schedule was a nice touch, hope it didn’t take you too long.”

Haaaa! Dream on. In reality they rushed in, unpacked their backpacks, reconnected with friends, an asked if it was time for lunch.  Now, I don’t want to imply that any of those tasks was a waste of time and effort. These touches are for us more than they are for the kids, and they are meaningful because we live and work in those spaces every single day, too. We need that feng shui for our environment, to feel some sense of harmony and satisfaction. So yes, in one sense, this is readiness.  Readiness for ourselves to feel prepared to work in an environment that sustains us. But how do we know if we are ready for the work?

I believe we are ready when…

  • You genuinely love kids and want to spend your days with them
  • You care enough about their well-being to be a little anxious about their success
  • You have some butterflies of excitement and anticipation for the new year
  • You expect a growth mindset from your students as well as yourself- (remember FAIL-First Attempt In Learning)
  • You believe whoever does the work, does the learning.
  • You’ve taken time to fill your own bucket over the summer
  • You appreciate your preparation efforts and aren’t focusing on what you didn’t do or should’ve done.

YOU are what really matters to those students. Take care of yourself as much as you take care of your classroom space.  Primp your classroom…pamper yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others-readiness is a state of mind more than a state of completion. Seek to find some balance between what you put into the teaching and what you put into the teacher.

The classroom is your container. What you and your students bring to it day by day, drop by drop, will be what fills it. Don’t worry if it seems a little empty right now. It is a work-in-progress!

Ready or not, here it comes…You’re ready.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 6.02.54 PMONE AMAZING ELEPHANT by Linda Oatman High

Lily Pruitt lives with her father in West Virginia. Her mother lives with her grandparents as part of a traveling circus show. Lily loves her grandparents but is devastated by her mother’s abandonment. When her grandfather Giant Bill passes away unexpectedly, Lily flies to Florida alone for the funeral. There in mourning are her grandmother, her mother (and sleazy boyfriend), as well as Giant Bill’s best friend- Queenie Grace. Queenie and Bill had a circus act together, but also a deep and loving relationship. Lilly is afraid of Queenie, but as events unfold she finds herself protecting and even loving this gentle beast. Told from alternating points of view from Lily and Queenie Grace, we are presented with a story of genuine empathy and compassion. A bit of Because of Winn Dixie meets The One and Only Ivan with an important Author’s Note about elephants in captivity.


Why I Won’t Be Asking, “How was your summer?” Anymore

The first days of school I am so excited to reconnect with students and my ‘go to’ conversation starter has almost always been a variation of “How was your summer?” But according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network approximately 25% of American children will experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16, and there is a very good chance that many of our students had a summer they would like to forget. I realize trying to offer an answer to that question can be incredibly stressful and difficult for these students.

Many will be eager to return to a stable and predictable environment, but they don’t always express it with love and gratitude. Many are wounded and traumatized by experiences that make it difficult for them to build relationships, express emotions “normally”, or communicate effectively. What we interpret as indifference, opposition, or resistance to being a member of our school community may not reflect how much they are counting on us to invite them into the fold; to make them feel safe, welcome, and loved. Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 7.43.35 AM


So what can we do instead of asking about their summer? Well, we don’t need to pretend it didn’t exist. If students openly talk to me about their time away from school I will be glad to listen and converse, I just won’t be soliciting that information in a public way.

What I’ll focus on  is the here and now of this school year. I’ll think more carefully about what conversation starters and questions I’ll use in a whole group setting, where students may be reluctant to bare their souls to people they are unsure they can trust yet.

For whole group perhaps I could start a conversation with (depending on the grade)…

  • What are you looking forward to in ____grade/this class?
  • What are you hoping to learn this year in ____grade?
  • How do you learn best?
  • How can the teacher and your classmates challenge and support you this year?

For quickwrites, conversations, or surveys I could ask those same questions or…

  • What do you want to be remembered for this year in school?
  • What is a goal I can help you with this year?
  • What is something you would like me to know about you?

When I see students in the hallways or playgrounds I might say…

  • I’m so glad to see you. I hope you have a great year!
  • Welcome back to ____ school. I missed you.
  • If you heard of or read any good books, let me know. I’m always looking for recommendations.

There’s a wonderful article in the Aug 31 2016, New York Times “What Kids Wish Their Teachers Knew” that can give you even more insight and ideas.

My goal will be to reconnect and check in with students, to let them know their teachers care and are ready to support them. I cannot assume that summer was as wonderful for them as it was for me.  I can learn about their summer and their lives as we work together.  I’m not trying to ignore their experiences, I am trying to honor and respect the reality that not all summer vacations are created equal and I don’t want to start the school year accentuating the “haves” and “have nots” or putting students in a position of sharing ‘on the spot’.  Also, I’m not going to guilt myself or others for asking students in the past. Our intentions are good, we genuinely care. I always remind myself, When I know better, I do better. I am always seeking to know better.

If you have other back to school conversation starters or community building activities that work for you, I’d love to hear them.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 7.52.36 AMREFUGEE by Alan Gratz

Talk about traumatic childhood experiences…

There are a few times in my life when I have read a book and thought, “Everyone needs to read this!” As I dove into the pages of REFUGEE, I couldn’t stop thinking this. JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. How do the lives of these 3 refugee children intersect in history? Gratz masterfully weaves the heartbreaking story of their families, whose only ‘crime’ is seeking a better life, into a tale of courage, sacrifice, and hope. We all like to think we’d have helped the Jews in WWII, but how we treat refugees today is a window into our most likely actions then. I urge you to read this book, to share this book, to open your hearts and minds to the victims of today as you gain a deeper understanding of the history of refugees in our world. (Recommended for ages 8+ but because of the tragic nature of events I encourage you to read it first and decide the appropriateness or readiness for the children in your lives)

When Teachers Differentiate Their Own PD

This week I attended my second ECET2 Conference in Maine. ECET2ME stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (and the ME stands for my state of Maine). According to its national website ECET2 has 6  Key Beliefs that I believe are essential:

  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
  6. Recognizing teachers as talented professionals

I blogged about it in greater detail last year (READ HERE).

This event offered teachers inspirational “Cultivating the Calling” talks, breakout sessions by teachers-for teachers, collaborative circles to problem solve challenges in our schools, opportunities to network with other teachers, ‘speed dating’ with dozens of educational organizations across our state, a lobster bake, a night of improv with Teachers Lounge Mafia, and it was all FREE!!!!

The organizers of ECET2 work diligently to obtain sponsorship from a variety of organizations so that teachers could be pampered and PD’d at no expense. A huge “thank you” this year’s sponsors:Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 8.36.32 AM

If you’ve attended a previous ECET2 convening, you are then asked to volunteer as an organizer, facilitator, or presenter if returning. This allows more opportunity to expand the event to new participants.  I love that idea. This year I presented a session on CLOSE WRITING TEACHERS. I was excited that so many teachers had an interest in being teachers who write and I was thrilled to share my passion for it. (I’ll share it here!)


I hear from many teachers that they wish their own learning could be differentiated the way they work hard to differentiate for their students. So I encourage them not to wait for others (districts, schools, departments) to do it, but do it ourselves. Events like ECET2 or EDcamps are two ways that teachers organize to support one another and promote leadership, excellence in teaching, and collaboration.

Teachers also create their own PLN (Personal Learning Network) via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, etc) to connect with others and deepen their knowledge and skills. They don’t wait for others to present PD to them, they create it!

As a literacy coach entering my 30th year of teaching, I’ve had a lot of professional development (and provided a lot of professional development) and I can honestly say that the best PD has always been the ones I’ve created or sought out on my own, because by its very nature is tailored to my individual needs-the heart of DIFFERENTIATION!

So as you embark on a new year of teaching-I encourage you to think about differentiating your PD to nurture your mind, body, or spirit and help you grow to be the teacher you’ve always wanted to be.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 9.10.43 AMTWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! By Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson
WOW! I love this book! Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson have created an informational book that presents 3 fascinating ‘stories’ of the natural world in each chapter-however, one of them is a lie! If we want our students to be more discriminating readers of information, this book would be such a fun way to get them to read closely and think deeply -and tune in to how ‘facts’ are presented to readers. In an age of “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”, we want our students to be better consumers of information and learn to challenge what they read with common sense and practice analyzing and discerning facts from fiction. The first in a series I am looking forward to sharing with students and teachers.

Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation

From social media posts, I follow the summers of many teaching friends. Inevitably there are also posts that sometimes subtly (sometimes overtly) attempt to guilt teachers for “so much time off”.  This post isn’t going to try to convince people that it really isn’t as much time as they’d like to think. This post is explaining why I want my child’s teachers to savor this time off, why I believe their vacation is in my child’s best interest.

I want my child to have a teacher who…

  • Traveled to new places that can bring back into the classroom and share parts of the world (and my state) that my child may never have seen.
  • Tried new things so they can remember how important that discovery is for learning.
  • Spent some time in nature to boost their mental and physical well-being so they can better appreciate my own child’s well-being.
  • Had time with their own families so they can remember and appreciate how vital that is for all families.
  • Read lots of books so they can better recommend titles and match books to my child’s (and all readers’) interests and needs.
  • Had time to take a class, attend a workshop, or engage in self-directed professional development so they can use new approaches and strategies to better teach my child.
  • Had time to step back, reflect, and gain some distance in order to look forward with fresh eyes.
  • Were able to truly relax. Research shows these people are happier, and I want my child surrounded by happier people.
  • Took a time out from the classroom and away from my child because there is truth to the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
  • Was able to fill their bucket so it won’t be empty for my child (or yours). You can’t give what you don’t have.
  • Had time and opportunities to be reminded that there is life beyond the classroom and that that is what they are preparing my child for.

If you have ever felt a twinge of resentment for teachers and their schedules, I just want to leave you with these thoughts:

We can use more passionate teachers in our profession and many come from previous careers that bring incredible experience and insights. If the grass looks greener over here, think about moving onto this lawn.

I want my child to have a teacher with life experiences, extensive interests, a sense of wonder, expanded world views, and a renewed/refreshed enthusiasm for returning each year to teach my child. And I want that for your child, too.

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 8.08.25 AM.pngAmina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina and her best friend Soojin are entering middle school with lots of changes. As a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina’s coming-of-age has some challenges I’ve never faced. Soojin is becoming an American citizen and wants to adopt an “American” name, her mosque is vandalized by hateful members of her community, and her uncle has come to stay with their family with varying views on what it means to be Muslim. We watch how Amina learns to find her voice and look for ways to bring together the people she cares about. We need more “windows and mirrors” books and this was certainly a wonderful window for me to observe the “normal” lives of “diverse” people. #BooksBuildBridges


#CyberPD Week 4

My blog posts for the month of July will be related to the Cyber PD (online book study) of Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.

This week finishes up our summer 2017 CyberPD as we finished chapters 9 and 10 of Vicki’s book. If you didn’t get a chance to participate this year, I would definitely recommend you join the Google Community if/when you do read this text.  It was so wonderful getting diverse views, takeaways, and questions. It’s also great to see how others process and share their thinking.

Here are my big takeaways (as sketchnotes):

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What’s On My Book Radar?

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This isn’t the New York we know! Twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in an apartment designed by the Morningstarrs (the architects from 1800 who created a fantastical city in the 1800’s with technology no one had seen before). The Morningstarrs also left behind ‘The Old York Cipher’ a puzzle laid into the city that promised the solver treasure beyond imagining. When Tess, Theo, and Jaime’s family/neighbors are evicted from their apartment by a nefarious developer these sleuthing kids believe their only hope at saving their home is solving the cipher, but what they find is nothing they could have ever envisioned. If you like a good mystery, and are looking for a new series, Laura Ruby’s creative Cipher stories are for you!