Is the Mindfulness Really For Them? And Why that Matters

I shared an observation this week that generated a bit of discussion:

Mindfulness in itself is not the issue for me; in fact, I think it’s a huge part of students being able to take ownership over their own learning and to feel confident about being in the drivers seat of their own lives. The same might be said of Self-Reg, social-emotional learning, and every other related trend.

I think it’s precisely because we’re delving into students’ personal feelings that it’s so important that we get our why right. There are 2 levels working here.

First, if we’re not truly doing it for them, but we’re pretending we are, that’s emotional manipulation. Plain and simple. We might counter that if the end results are the same, it doesn’t really matter. But it does. It’s the difference between feeling that someone is nurturing you vs programming you. And kids can tell that difference.

Second, if we are looking at broad systemic issues that have less to do with learning and mindsets & more about money and race, and then we try to put that on the kids by making them more mindful of themselves…words fail me.

Issues like suspension. Where not only are black kids are over-represented in suspension rates, but pretty much every other race is under-represented. Where we see the problem show up as young as preschool. We need to check our practices before trying to put this on the kids.

Or like standardized tests, which “are almost universally correlated with household income: more income, higher scores.” (Why They Can’t Write by John Warner).

Of course, we teachers only have so much control over mandates. But we can reflect upon our own why. Only then will we have the transparency and true emotional support that our students need as they wade through the system.

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5 Things That Might Be Worse Than Summer Slide

Here’s a funny thing about this post: I actually had spent the weekend questioning the idea of “summer slide” (the alleged phenomenon in which students lose 2+ months of learning from the previous school year), only to open my computer on Monday to find this post on Edutopia: “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide.'”

Here are 5 things that might be worse than that supposed summer slide:

1. Missing out on hose water, muddy hands, and grass stains.

2. Poisoned reading attitudes because of all those mandatory summer reading assignments.

3. Neglecting mixed-age & unstructured play opportunities: building blocks of childhood development that can be difficult to attend to during school months.

4. Underdeveloped balance and motor skills that interfere even with the child’s ability to sit upright once school resumes.

5. Missed opportunities to learn a new skill & develop self-regulation: riding a bike, learning to swim, even entrepreneurship.

Of course reading and math are important, and we all want to see our children grow. But growing, thriving, healthy children involves so much more than this narrow scope. Let’s not let our fear of “falling behind” get in the way of magical summers in which our kids are free to explore world around them, catching fireflies, selling lemonade, working on family projects, and starting clubs with friends. Let’s honor the many ways a child can grow throughout the summer.

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The Aftermath of Awarding $55,000 in Scholarship Funds

The past couple of weeks since announcing our scholarship awardees have been a incredible whirlwind. Most of it has been a joy as we have enjoyed the enthusiastic responses from students and their families. Some has been unfortunate as we had do deal with some plagiarism, which is always taken very seriously at HonorsGradU.

We especially love it when it works out to surprise our recipients with the news.

Xelah Baca, creator of BHS Recycle, received the news from her mentor during an awards ceremony:

And I was able to fly down to surprise Anthony Neil Tan with the news that he was selected as our top recipient during his senior awards night for his creation of the Maker Hub Club:

Check out the newly updated Past Winners page to view all 5 students’ prototypes, reflection videos, and colleges. We look forward to sharing more about the background of these 5 outstanding students this summer, and to seeing Anthony’s project grow with another fully funded iteration. Thank you again for your efforts to design a better future!

For you incoming seniors, be sure to stay tuned for the details at the end of the summer on our 2020 scholarship program!

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Announcing Our 2019 Design A Better Future Scholarship Awardees!

This is our seventh year of running a scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. Over the past two years, we have offered a program in which students develop a community-improvement project based on the model of design thinking.

We were inspired by the ambitious, generous, and innovative projects from this year’s applicants. The vision of these high school students gives us so much hope for the future. Our scholarship committee is pleased to announce this year’s 5 recipients:

Anthony Neil Tan, top recipient to receive an additional $5,000 toward another iteration of his project: Maker Hub Club

Xelah Baca: BHS Recycle

Elizabeth Hansen: Composting For A Cause

Sruthi Kundur: Stay Healthy, Be Confident Hygiene For Women

Cobi Reed: Envisioning a Better Future

Congratulations to our awardees! Watch for additional updates, including on our Past Winners page.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Allowing Children to NEED the Learning

This quote resonated hard with me today:


If we step back from the pressures and expectations and chaos for a moment, I think we can all agree: reading truly is a gift. Indeed, all of learning is a gift.

But do our fears for readiness and standards swallow up this truth? Particularly where our youngest learners are concerned?

I have been loving Kelsey Corter’s pieces lately on Two Writing Teachers where she emphasizes children learning to read and write because the children themselves realize they need it. In “Finding Purpose: The Key to Making High Frequency Words Stick,” she writes:

“Kaylee learned two words very quickly in the first weeks of kindergarten — two words which she wrote again and again: love and Kaylee.

…Kaylee learned these words before learning all of the names of the letters they are comprised of. She learned these words because they were important to her. She needed them. She needed to know these words to spread her message.”

~Kelsey Corter

Isn’t that just beautiful? What if, instead of being daunted by the lists and the letters and knowledge, we spend time finding out what our children need right now? What if we trust that they will, in fact, come to realize for themselves that they need those letters as a next step in making meaning for themselves? This is another example of choosing trust over fear.

In another post, Kelsey elaborates on all the many ways children will find they need writing through play. To inform, to convince, to observe, to create, to connect, to remember.

When we invite children to read or write, we offer them a magnificent gift to do all of these things, and when we make these invitations in the most natural of settings as play, it becomes even more accessible.

Treasure reading and writing as a gift. Especially when you are worried about your children showing zero interest in those flash cards or letter sounds. If you hold to it as the gift it really is, your children will build a stronger, more beautiful foundation of reading and writing as their own readiness unfolds.

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Book Club Ideas for Elementary Principals

I don’t know if my principal knew what she was getting herself into when she asked for book recommendations for her Principal’s Book of the Month list she’s launching next year. But I figure that after all the time enthusiastically devoted to this task, I should share here what I sent to her.

I started with author study recommendations. Because she is choosing 3 books each month — one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6 — I shared a few authors whose works spans all these ages. Some don’t actually have chapter books out (like Peter Reynolds), but have picture books that I think would be just as suited for older grades as younger!

  • Kate Messner
  • Mo Willems
  • Laurel Snyder
  • Kate DiCamillo
  • Paul Fleischman
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Peter Brown

Next I gave codes. PB=picture book; GN=graphic novel; CB=chapter book. Obviously, kids (and adults) of all ages need all three of these categories in their lives.

Now, onto the book recommendations! I was sure to note that many of these grade levels are flexible–I would fully endorse “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” just as much for a 6th grader as a kindergartner. I also added video previews of the books wherever possible.

Grades K-2

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold PB (great back-to-school read) video
  • We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins PB (hilarious back-to-school read that I’d recommend for all ages) video
  • Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett PB (simple, yet interesting story/word play that young readers can actually read themselves)
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld PB (on emotions, self-expression, & empathy) video
  • Because by Mo Willems PB (a story that celebrates music, as well as all the cause & effect of inspiration & effort) video of the story behind this story
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis PB (good nonfiction read that explores water & highlights vocabulary in interesting way–perhaps a good one to pair with other water conservation books for a month)
  • The Earth Gives More by Sue Fliess PB (book in verse that illustrates seasons, nature, and the importance of caring for earth–good April earth day read)
  • Fox & Chick: The Party by Sergio Ruzzier GN (accessible early graphic novel full of word play, inferring, and fun) video review
  • Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder CB (sweet early reader that has an enjoyable plot line of 2 brothers’ doings)

Grades 3-4

  • Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera PB (beautiful for any time of year and any grade: story in free verse of a boy’s immigration experience & adjusting to new language & environment) video
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson PB (another wonderful back-to-school book that I would recommend for all ages; finding belonging amid our differences) video
  • Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell PB (great for cultivating empathy & understanding) video review
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown PB (on cultivating creativity, problem-solving, & gardening) video
  • Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones PB (story in verse on persistence and and invention, with great word choice) video
  • Water Princess by Peter Reynolds PB (story of a girl going to fetch water for her family in an African country) video
  • Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse CB (each “chapter” is a different type of poem told from the different characters’ perspectives as they deal with unexpected setbacks, worries, & adventures of camping)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo GN/CB (fantasy with messaging that kids will find highly relatable–especially those who deal with divorce & custody issues–with plenty of humor in the mix) book trailer
  • How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher CB (nonfiction how-to that’a s lot of fun to read)
  • Fergus & Zeke by Kate Messner CB (a good easy reader chapter book with lots of illustrations and good friendship themes) 

Grades 5-6

  • The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy PB (story about rule-making, fairness, & voice, with some lovely Spanish phrases thrown in) video of author reading first part
  • The North Star by Peter Reynolds PB (beautiful story about finding your own path) video preview (The Dot & Say Something are others I would recommend)
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm CB (strong & funny protagonist voice; historical fiction story of boy living during the Great Depression; his problem-solving, his fibs, and his sense of community) book trailer
  • Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown GN (engaging nonfiction of the process it took over decades to get humans to the moon)
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl & Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier CB (moving and compelling fantasy/historical fiction of 11 year-old Nan trying to survive as one of Victorian London’s child chimney sweeps) video introduction by the author
  • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley CB (hilarious realistic fiction as a boy who has trouble feeling sorry for himself accidentally ends up at a camp for “troubled boys;” themes on friendship & belonging) book trailer
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage CB (strong voice in a fabulously written realistic fiction/mystery. Best part is its the first in a series that kids will be dying to read for themselves) book trailer
  • The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson CB (Harry Potter lovers will love this fantasy read)
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly CB (realistic fiction told from the perspectives of the 4 main characters) 
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (lovely and unique story of a pet fox that is returned to the wild; told from both the fox and the boy’s perspective)
  • Seventh Goldfish by Kate Messner CB (I actually wrote a review on this one that I’ll link here)

What book club reads have been popular across your school grade levels?

featured image: Dan Barbus

Our Scholarship Finalists Have Been Emailed!

For those students who applied for our this year’s Design a Better Future scholarship program, we are pleased to announce that we have selected 10 finalists.

These outstanding students have been emailed some follow-up questions about future potential iterations of their project, as well as how they might continue local impact post graduation. Please check your email inboxes ASAP to respond to our questions so that we can make our decision on our final 5 awardees. We plan to make that announcement next week on Monday, May 20th!

Thank you to everyone for your participation. We are extremely impressed at the efforts and passion we have seen in this year’s group.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto