Tag Archives: Selene Castrovilla

Beyond Thankful

Since it is the eve of Thanksgiving and there are so many other tasks demanding my attention, my blog this week will be a simple gratitude journal.  I cannot possibly list all that I am thankful for, so I will focus on my time at NCTE in Minneapolis this past week.

I am thankful…


…That I could bring a colleague.  Andrea made this experience so rich and meaningful.  I am lucky that I have such great teachers to collaborate with. I love my job, and the teachers who make it so rewarding.



…That I had a “dream team” for my panel presentation on Close Writing.

They each brought incredible insights to their close writing process and showed us that there is no “ONE RIGHT WAY” to be a writer.  Thank you to Sarah Albee, Linda Urban, Lester Laminack, Kate Messner, and Selene Castrovilla.  Andrea and I learned so much from you all.

…That I got to meet the authors who have touched my life so profoundly.

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with the story of The One and Only Ivan and her latest incredible book Crenshaw. Kate DiCamillo has brought a bit of magic to every story she’s written. I have been a fan since Because of Winn Dixie and haven’t stopped loving her work.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the most compassionate author I know and can call friend. Her books One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree are must-reads for every teacher.  They allow us to see our students in profound ways -and now that I know how much they reflect the heart of this author, they are even more special. And Cynthia Lord is a true gift to kid lit lovers.  Her books Rules, Touch Blue, Half a Chance and  A Handful of Stars bring the stories of ordinary children with very real problems to life for our students in ways that help them know they are not alone-that someone understands.


…That I got a chance to connect with those Nerdy Book Club peeps

that feed my soul (and my Amazon cart!) with their passion for kid lit.  Colby Sharp, John Schumacher (Mr. Schu), and Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer) have so much energy and knowledge.  It was truly infectious!

…That I learned from some amazing authors and educators at panels and

roundtables.  I tried to take photos, and notes, and sketches as fast and furious as I could at times, and at other times I just ‘absorbed’ the experience and savored the moment.

…and finally I am incredibly thankful for the people at Stenhouse who helped me put my ideas into a book that will be out next month.

To say it was a surreal experience would be the understatement of my life. When I saw the lineup of authors to meet and chat at the Stenhouse booth I was blown away.   I am mindful of the quote,

“To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

I will strive to give back to the degree that I am given, to be humbled and grateful by the experiences I am fortunate to have, and to remember to thank those who have been a light in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

What’s On My Book Radar?



I was able to get the most recent “True Story” fairy tale adventure from Liesl Shurtliff.  RED: The True Story of Red Riding Hood.  This fantastical tale was my companion for the plane ride home.  I love the twists and turns of re-imagined fairy tales-Liesl has a wonderful way of bringing fresh insights to old and familiar tales.  Look for this book April of 2016!


The Proposal

So I just sent off my proposal for NCTE 15.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Minneapolis in November!? It’s hard thinking about where I might be professionally 11 months from now and what might be relevant for other educators at that time.  I’ve been immersed the past year on my writing work with teachers and so it only seemed natural that I would be ready to share this collaborative venture with others. So with great anticipation I hit the “submit” button.IMG_2481

Leap of Faith

When I was a relatively new teacher, my principal asked me if I would like to go to a national conference.  Attending NCTM in New Orleans was a life changing event.  I know the power of that experience shaped who I am today.  I am anxious to share that opportunity with other teachers. Without even knowing if our district would fund this,  I asked two ‘new’ teachers to join me in the NCTE venture.  They have worked so closely with me over the past year; willing to be coached, to collaborate, and to let me try out lessons with their classes. I know that being engaged with other educators at a national level will transform their teaching in a similar way that mine was-they are like sponges soaking up new knowledge.  I have faith that if I plan it, they will come!  We are going to make this happen!

I also took a leap of faith in asking several authors that I admire to join us on the panel.  I thought the worse that could happen would be a curt, “no” or a non response.  To my delight, most of them were eager to join the panel.  Their expertise on our topic will be invaluable to participants, and their range of experience, preferred genre and audience will make for a rich discussion.   From picture books to nonfiction to YA, these authors are truly experts in their field.  So thank you Lester Laminack, Kate Messner, Linda Urban, Sarah Albee and Selene Castrovilla for graciously joining these teachers from Maine.  We’ll know in May if the proposal is accepted.  I have faith!

So, forgive me for a shortened post this week.  I am revised and edited-out!! I am excited and exhausted.  I am anxious and hopeful.  I’m off to do more writing and to write about that writing!  If the proposal becomes a reality-you’ll all be some of the first to know!  Until then I’ll keep writing, keep working with teachers on writing, and keep our kiddos writing.  I guess that’s a pretty big hint to the topic of the session.  More details in May -when we get that acceptance letter!


What’s On My Book Radar?

9780545700276_xlgThis week Cynthia Lord sent me an ARC of her newest book A Handful of Stars , coming in May of this year.  To say I was excited is a complete understatement.  If you are a Cynthia Lord fan, I am convinced you will fall in love with this book.  She knows how to create characters that readers truly care about, develop stories that reflect real life experiences and leave you feeling more compassionate and caring for the struggles of others.  I won’t give much away since this isn’t out yet, but I’ll just say that when it hits the shelves you will want to grab a copy!


Engaged or Compliant?

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 1.44.24 PM  I’ve taken a brief vacation from my blog, but not from writing.  A two week vacation allowed me plenty of time for personal and professional projects as well as some much needed family time.

My mind was overflowing with ideas for blogging this week, but this tweet that crossed my home page has really stuck with me. I’ve always tried to share the “why” of what I am doing in classrooms and with teachers, but I’m contemplating how I can take it to an even deeper level.

In an Ed Leadership article   Daniel Pink talked about the difference between compliance and engagement.  When students are doing something because we ask or expect them to, it is compliance.  When they do something because they see why, they are engaged.

There’s a huge difference between compliant behavior and engaged behavior. With compliant behavior, you’re doing what someone told you to do the way they told you to do it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s different from engagement. With engagement, you’re doing something because you truly want to do it, because you see the virtues of doing it….So if we really want engagement rather than compliance, we have to increase the degree of autonomy that people have over what they do; over how, when, and where they do it; and over whom they do it with.”         -Daniel Pink

He’s not advocating a “free-for-all” in which students can decide whether or not they do the work asked of them.  He considers the possibilities in allowing more choice in what students read or write; how they do their work, or projects that would demonstrate understanding.  Not everything needs this degree of discretion, but with more opportunity, comes more autonomy.  If we want motivated, life-long learners they need this valuable skill.

This level of differentiation is not always easy to manage in a classroom.  Larger class sizes, standardized grading policies, fixed homework rules, pacing guides, fidelity to programs all encourage or reward compliant behavior.  It can be messy if students begin directing their own learning and our standards of measurement are challenged. So how do we help teachers to encourage engagement and a sense of agency in their students while recognizing that they are often being asked to be compliant?

Maybe we start by going back to the question of “Why?”  Why did I want to be a teacher?  Why do I come in here everyday and work with students? Daniel Pink says we focus too much on the how rather than the why and I can see that.  Teachers and I often collaborate on how they will teach a lesson and spend very little time discussing why we would teach the lesson. When we teach something because the curriculum says to, or because it is one of the standards we need to cover, we are being compliant.  We are thinking more about how to teach it.  Maybe we need to have a few more conversations about why we will teach it.  Not to be defiant, but to be more purposeful.

So in this new year, I will resolve to think more about the why before I worry about the how.  I will encourage my colleagues to have those conversations.  I will share purpose more with students and encourage them to wonder why.  In answering that question for ourselves, we can probably find the most powerful answer to how.

You can listen to more from this interview:



What’s on My Book Radar?

I just finished a gripping YA novel by Selene Castrovilla…MELT.  The phrase “There’s no place like home.” takes on a whole new meaning in this story of domestic violence and teens coming of age. Joey is a kid from the “wrong side of the tracks”, but Dorothy can see the boy inside that shell better than anyone.  He is traumatized by witnessing his father’s daily abuse of his mother and turns to alcohol and aggression  to escape.  When Dorothy lands in his Oz of a life we begin to see the power of hope and love.  Told from the viewpoints of both characters, we can see how our lens of experience shapes what we perceive.  Beautiful and brutal.  Not for younger readers, but teens and adults will truly care for the characters in this edgy, poetic novel that will MELT your heart.IMG_3649




Ed Leadership  September 2014 | Volume 72 | Number 1    Motivation Matters Pages 12-17