Tag Archives: Linda Rief

The Power of a PLN

The idea of creating a PLN (Personal Learning Network)has been transformed with the proliferation of social media.  In the past we made connections within our schools or neighboring district, through workshops we attended, or classes we took.  Today we can connect with authors, professors, teachers, administrators, and experts in our field no matter where they are located geographically. Our PLNs can be global learning networks with the click of a mouse.

PLNs are about collaborating, sharing, and learning from those who are as passionate about education (or literacy, math, science, etc) as you are. It can take awhile to build up a network, but the rewards are great.  Your thinking is challenged and stretched from the diverse perspectives and approaches that your colleagues bring to the table.  We can easily find ourselves entrenched within our classrooms, buildings, or districts and begin to see teaching and learning through a very narrow lens.  When we broaden our circle, we can envision greater possibilities and find more support for our goals.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet up face-to-face with our PLN members.  These moments are powerful.  National conferences such as NCTE or ILA bring many PLN members together. When members cannot attend they can still “participate” through social media and become virtual attendees with the help of a hashtag. We can begin to “follow” those whose posts inspire, encourage, or challenge us to think more deeply. Over time we assemble our PLNs with those that we respect and admire.

This past Friday I was so lucky to be able to merge my local PLN (the wonderful teachers in my district) with my global PLN at a workshop. We had ten teachers from Augusta (we would have had double that if we didn’t have a substitute teacher crisis) attend a Heinemann workshop with Lester Laminack.  It was exhilarating for me to watch my colleagues laugh and nod through the workshop and then discuss what they want to do when they get back to their classrooms.

Augusta teachers join Lester Laminack for a day of laughing and learning.

I also got to observe two much-admired members of my PLN as they used their writer/reader notebooks to capture ideas from the workshop. Linda Rief and Penny Kittle are masters of the writers notebook, my own are inspired by their approach.

Later in the evening I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a diverse group of educators thanks to my friend Karen Cook.  She invited me to join her as Linda and Lester, literacy consultant Kellie Smith, and Cape Elizabeth superintendent Meredith Nadeau  dined and discussed a variety of literacy topics.  It isn’t often that I have conversations with such an eclectic group.  And so my PLN continues to grow and diversify.


It doesn’t happen overnight.  You cultivate your PLN like a gardener tending to his seedlings. With care and nurturing your PLN will continue to blossom and the harvest will be bountiful ideas, knowledge, and perspectives that will expand and challenge your current thinking. I encourage everyone to begin cultivating their own Personal Learning Network, there is nothing else like it! Just like LOVE-the more you give, the more you receive!

What’s On My Book Radar18079712

Every once in awhile you read a book that stays with you long after you’ve closed the cover. Nikki Loftin’s beautiful tale of a boy (Little John) living in the shadow and guilt of his sister’s death and a mysterious foster child (Gayle) he befriends is one of those stories. Gayle has a magical voice-literally and Little John is tricked into betraying Gayle and robbing her of her voice. He is determined to make things right and must make some difficult choices to be the person HE wants to be and not who his father thinks he should be. The magical realism genre has gotten so good lately! You’ll want to include this book on your “To Be Read” list for sure!!


Stand on Your Desk

I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” -Robin Williams (as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society)

Many of us are in shock as the news of Robin William’s death reverberates throughout the media landscape.  We are in disbelief that the man who moved us with laughter in his comedy and tears in his drama is gone.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, are abuzz with condolences and remembrances. Many are posting or asking others what their favorite Robin Williams’ movie or quote was.   I think teachers can easily relate to the passionate teacher  he portrayed (John Keating) in Dead Poet’s Society or the insightful therapist (Dr. Sean Maguire) in Good Will Hunting.  Both characters pushed young men to discover their talents and live their lives fully-a desire most of us have for our own students.

I was just beginning my teaching career when Dead Poet’s Society was released.  My first year of teaching was incredibly difficult and many times I fought the urge to give up and and walk away.  Though I didn’t teach preppy high school boys, I was completely inspired by this fictional teacher’s approach to life and learning.  I held onto the belief that teachers do make a difference, and though they may not be rewarded by society for their efforts, the impact on the lives of their students is incredibly rewarding.  I stayed in teaching.

I did not know Robin Williams personally, the characters he portrayed were not real, and yet my experiences with his work and his persona have impacted my life.  Every experience we have shapes who we are. Every event, book, movie, play, poem, song, dream or relationship has an impact on who we are, how we think, how we work.  I will take some time this week to revisit and remember some of those experiences he gave me, and be grateful for his talented life.  I am reminded that we are only here briefly on this planet, and that every moment counts.  I want to make my moments count.  I want to “stand on my desk” and remember to look at things in a different way.

As we go back into our classrooms, maybe we can reflect on this, and be inspired by this. Be brave, do good things, and your body of work will live on long after you are gone.


What’s on My Book Radar

9780325053608Talk about “doing good things”, this book is a testament to great teaching! I love Linda Rief.  She is the real deal when it comes to walking the talk!  My son is going into 8th grade and I wish she was going to be his teacher.  So excited to get my hands on this book and learn from one of the best.  If you use a workshop model of reading and writing in your middle grade or middle school classroom, this book is a must for your professional library!

4cf45b_c809c4d7e12d5d2c4d3515a33108175d.jpg_srz_p_350_540_75_22_0.50_1.20_0So many books, so little time!  As my summer is quickly coming to a close, there are still so many books I want to read.  I Kill the Mockingbird has been one of them.  Three friends try to create a buzz about reading their late teacher’s favorite book (To Kill a Mockingbird).  They hatch a plan to create a shortage of the book in their community, thereby creating a demand.  A perfect book for fanatic readers!

Picture Book 10 for 10 is back!  Reflect and Refine blogger Cathy and Enjoy and Embrace Learning‘s Mandy have hosted this event the past 5 years.  They share their top 10 “Can’t live without” picture books and invite others to post their own selections of 10 picture books.  What are your “Go to” picture books that you love?

 Happy Reading.


The Fire and the Journey

The kindling (experience) has always been there.
The flint (ideas) and stone (desire) were at the ready.
It just required a spark to ignite this blog and bring it to life.

Attending the NCTE Conference in Boston this weekend provided the perfect spark to bring the smoldering writer in me to a blazing blogger.

Reconnecting with Laura Robb at NCTE 2013.
Reconnecting with Laura Robb at NCTE 2013.

I had the very good fortune to connect again with Laura Robb and she encouraged me to just write.  When she’s not on the road, she disciplines herself to write everyday.  I thought about her dedication to the craft of teaching and her contributions to teachers and felt very inspired.  Laura had faith in me.  I have faith in myself.

Linda Rief
Linda Rief

In another conversation with Linda Rief, she shared, “The biggest tip I can give them (teachers) is to start to write and read for yourself.  So many teachers read, but so many of them don’t write.  It’s hard, and it’s risky, but it’s so valuable because the kids really trust you as a writer, when YOU write.”  I thought about that exchange for quite awhile. I’m one of those teachers who reads prolifically, but not so much with the writing!  Time to change that.

I’ve always been fascinated by writers. I love the backstory of novels and books that I cherish.  Whenever I get an opportunity to hear authors describe their craft, their process, their thinking behind the story I am captivated.  While at NCTE I had several of those opportunities.  I sat in sessions with Kirby Larson (Hattie Big Sky), Barbara O’Connor (Greetings From Nowhere) and Karen Cushman  (Katherine, Called Birdy) as they discussed creating story worlds and the incredible degree to which they research their topics to create accurate portrayals of their characters and setting.

Kirby Larson
Barbara O’Connor

Creating Story Worlds
Creating Story Worlds
Karen Cushman

I was then treated to a presentation by Jarret Krosoczka (Lunch Lady) who shared his process behind creating his graphic novels and artwork.  We learned here he gets his ideas, how he develops his characters, and how he physically creates his books.   He let us in on some of his personal life and how his experiences and relationships have shaped the author/illustrator he has become. His TED Talk How a Boy Became an Artist is truly inspiring.

Jarrett Krosoczka

But one of my favorite encounters didn’t happen in a convention hall, it happened in the lobby of our hotel.  Meeting up with some other Maine educators, they introducedOne For the Murphys me to Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  My response…”Wait, One For the Murphys”?  I had just finished reading this brilliant book and couldn’t wait to talk with Lynda about why she ended it the way she had and to ask her what the epilogue might have been.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Lynda, a former 3rd grade teacher, was gracious and delightful to talk with.  She introduced me to the characters of Carley and Toni like they were her own children.  She shared her non-conventional writing process, which I encourage you to  ask her about! She inspired me take up the pen and just write!

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

So now, I need to step inside the shoes of a writer.  I need to walk around and get comfortable.  I need to break them in and not fear the blisters or aches.  I need to walk that mile.  I hope you’ll come along with me.  As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reminds us ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I am ready to begin that journey.

What’s on my Book Radar!

Professionally speaking, I just picked up two books that I am dying to dive into:

Reading in the Wild 55411_9781452268637

I have had the very good fortune to converse on a few occasions  with Donalyn Miller and I must say her passion for books is totally contagious.  Her first book The Book Whisperer has been a staple on this literacy coach’s desk for quite awhile.  I can’t wait to venture into the wild with her to support  a lifelong habit of reading for our students.

I have long been a fan of Harvey (Smokey) Daniels and was so excited to see him speak at NCTE.  The title of his book The Best Kept Teaching Secret pulled me right in!  He demonstrated the power of some of these written conversations during one of our sessions.  I realized immediately the effect of shaping my thinking and not merely reflecting my thinking as I worked with a partner to dialogue about a topic.  Looking forward to implementing these strategies into classrooms and observing the thinking and learning that springs forth.

Hope you all have a safe, restful and reflective Thanksgiving.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson