My Most-Read Posts of 2017

Last year, I shared 20 of my favorite blog posts that I read from educators around the world during 2016. With the help of a great bookmark Chrome extension to help me chronologically sort my bookmarks, I am excited to be working on a similar post for 2017 to help me search out patterns and reflect on my biggest aha moments this year — and of course, to thank the teachers who have taken some of their precious time to share!

But meanwhile, I’m inspired by George Couros’ recent post in which he shares the 5 most-read posts on his own blog. I appreciate the chance to create, as he puts it, “an archive for my learning as well as an opportunity to share with others.”

#5: TPT: On Teacher’s Personal Generosity: I continue to ponder this debate as I watch the headlines on providing tax breaks for teacher spending. I can’t help but speculate over certain “what if” scenarios, but I remain firm in my view that there are so many deeply personal layers to this issue that we need to make compassion a priority.

TPT Debate: On Teacher’s Personal Generosity

#4: Change: A Where We Are In Place & Time Provocation: I’m so glad that what started out as a way for me to archive and organize the most thought-provoking resources I find has proven helpful for so many teachers!

Change: A “Where We Are in Place & Time” Provocation

#3: A How We Express Ourselves [In the 21st Century] Provocation: I wrote this provocation as a way to help us remember that self-expression is a truly boundless endeavor in our 21st century world. I enjoyed the chance to revisit the video, “The Adaptable Mind” that I included here; I found it fascinating view at how the world is shifting, and what skills will empower us and and our students.

A How We Express Ourselves [In the 21st Century] Provocation

#2: 4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up With Basals (& How to Finally Move On!): I think many of our fancy new computer programs are the new “basal reading program,” but with the stamp of “personalized” tech, they are not held to the same scrutiny. My biggest concern rests with the notion that our struggling readers especially need such programs for remediation, but I think Pernille Ripp put it best in her currently-pinned tweet:

4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up with Basals (& How to Finally Move On)

#1: Inquiry: What Trajectory are YOU On? I’m actually quite pleased that this one gained the most views of posts I wrote this year because it’s a wonderful showcase of thinking and growth from a group a teachers I hold dear. It was also a great opportunity for me to synthesize all my resources and understanding on what it means to be an inquiry teacher so far. I know I still have a long way to go, but I am proud of mileposts like these along the way.

Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

Thank you all so much for reading and for sharing your own work! It is such a gift for me to be able to continue my professional learning through this platform and through interacting with my PLN.

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What’s The Difference Between Skills & Mindsets?

A friend in my PLN recently responded to one of my tweets with some thought-provoking questions.

My initial response was to say the difference between a skill and a mindset is that mindsets are more of an innate part of us, whereas skills are not necessarily fundamental to our human experience. But let’s take a look, for instance, at the approaches to learning skills encouraged at in the PYP Programme:

  • Thinking skills:
    • Acquisition of knowledge
    • Comprehension
    • Application
    • Analysis
    • Synthesis
    • Evaluation
    • Dialectical thought
    • Metacognition
  • Communication skills: 
    • Listening
    • Speaking
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Viewing
    • Presenting
    • Non-verbal communication
  • Self-management skills:
    • Gross motor skills
    • Fine motor skills
    • Spatial awareness
    • Organization
    • Time management
    • Safety
    • Healthy lifestyle
    • Codes of behavior
    • Informed choices
  • Research skills
    • Formulating questions
    • Observing
    • Planning
    • Collecting data
    • Recording data
    • Organizing data
    • Interpreting data
    • Presenting research findings
  • Social skills:
    • Accepting responsibility
    • Respecting others
    • Cooperating
    • Resolving conflict
    • Group decision-making
    • Adopting a variety of group roles

Clearly, many of these skills are crucial parts of the human experience, that could well be thought of as a mindset, such as metacognition, listening, and respecting others. Meanwhile, the PYP Programme also includes attitudes we work to encourage, including:

  • Appreciation
  • Commitment
  • Confidence
  • Cooperation
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Tolerance

These are certainly what I would consider fundamental mindsets, or ways of thinking, along with Agency. I think it’s clear that we are always working to cultivate all these skills and mindsets. It’s just that skills are the means by which we cultivate mindsets. 

All that said, because these mindsets are innate, fundamental parts of us all, I believe that if we make room for and honor student voice in our classrooms, they will show us additional, unanticipated means by which we can create a culture of agency, empathy, enthusiasm, etc.

What are ways you seek to cultivate mindsets in your classroom?

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5 Favorite Children’s Books (2017 Read Alouds)

I always love the opportunity to make another #booklist because it helps me catch up on my Goodreads indexing — not to mention the fact that it helps me think about which books really draw me in and why. So I appreciate this pass-it-forward invitation via Norah Colvin. Thanks Norah!

For those I nominate that want to join in, here are the “rules:”

  1. Thank whoever’s nominated you and share their blog link.
  2. Let us know your top 5 children’s books
  3. Nominate 5 people to do the same
  4. Let your nominees know you nominated them

I can’t make a top 5 list of children’s books without it being from a pretty specific category to narrow it down! So I’m going to choose from junior fiction. That I’ve read this year. That I would consider as classroom read aloud material. These were the ones that I couldn’t put down — that I carried upstairs and downstairs and in my diaper bag and on my nightstand, all in the hopes of catching another few pages. I hope you enjoy them as well (P.S. You’ve probably noticed a genre trend here–I promise I did check out many realistic fictions, but for whatever, reason, they weren’t doing it for me this year. Mystery all the way in 2017!)

Incorrigible Children by Maryrose Wood: I am dying for the next book in the Incorrible Children series! As much as I love following the story of the 3 children raised by wolves that are now brought up by their plucky young governess Penelope Lumley, I think I might enjoy Wood’s Lemony-Snickett-like narrative asides just as much.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson: If you loved Roald Dahl’s books growing up, or even just possessed a vague inclination, this one is worth checking out. In a Matilda-meets-Charlie & the Chocolate Factory story, Tabitha Crum, along with 4 other children, is invited to the home of a fabulously wealthy Countess for an important announcement. She is quickly swept up in a mystery as children start disappearing and the Countess doesn’t seem what she appears.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Breath-taking. I loved the poetry and flow, and I never wanted it to end. From Goodreads: “One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic…An epic coming-of-age fairy tale.”

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan: Ok, this one definitely merges some historical fiction in with the mystery! I enjoyed the character development and interactions as Nell works to prove herself to be of use to her Aunt Kate when she is brought to her doorstep. This assistance eventually builds from chores to real-life detective work to assist Aunt Kate’s work with the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel: I was introduced to Oppel’s work this year and loved it all (The Nest and Every Hidden Thing also topped my lists this year, but neither one would probably be suitable as elementary read alouds–intensity in The Nest and some mature content in Every Hidden Thing). The Boundless will make for a gripping read-aloud as Will Everett must keep ahead of a deadly plot while working his way up the Boundless train!

5 bloggers nominated to add their 5!

Pernille Ripp: Many of my library book holds are because of Pernille’s advice! An English teacher in Wisconsin, she’s always pushing the status quo on reading and writing instruction.

Faige Meller: Though retired from her own kindergarten classroom, Faige’s work in influencing children is far from finished! She often writes about her work as a substitute children and about how we can better connect with our students–and one of my daughter’s new favorite reads (Roxaboxen) came from her recommendation.

Man-Cub Mamas: On the #TeacherMom spectrum, this blog is definitely more on the Mom side, with all sorts of tips at home. My favorite, of course, as been the book recommendations, supplied by a good friend of mine, which is why I’m adding the nomination here!

LitLife Blog: The literary connection of this blog is clear in the title, and I am a huge fan of Pam Allyn’s work. I haven’t heard from them on that platform for a while now, but perhaps this nomination might invite a new book list? 🙂

Library Girl: I am so impressed by her work with the #30SecondBookTalks and World Book Talk Competition. Jennifer LeGarde is passionate about creating cultures of reading.

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Because I Stayed–Thanks to A Teacher

My senior year of high school, I decided to take AP Calculus. I was taking some other advanced classes as well, and it wasn’t long before my math grade started to lag. Anxious about upcoming college applications and the desire for nothing to mar my GPA, I approached my Calc teacher, Bob Burns, to tell him I should probably drop his class. It was a small school, and between the fact that he had taught several of my previous classes, and that he had coached for a couple of my teams, we had a established a solid relationship.

Given that background, I expected that he’d respond to my concerns with reassurance, telling me I shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my grade and supporting my decision to drop his class.

I was, um, wrong.

Instead, Mr. Burns declared that if I chose to drop his class that day, I would be setting myself up to drop every other difficult and important thing that arose in my life.

Needless to say, I stayed. That was the single most precious skill I gained from his course that year: learning to stay even when the stakes are high.

As a tribute to Mr. Burns, I’d like to list other pivotal moments since then when I stayed where I might otherwise have very easily left had it not been for his bold words that day.

When I was so homesick my first month of college that I thought there was no way I could live so far from home, I stayed. And earned a teaching degree from a wonderful school.

When I was sure there was no way I could continue waking up at 4 am for a custodial shift, I stayed. And was able to navigate the world of college financing.

When I felt I simply could not handle my commute and daily goodbyes to my baby girl as I left to teach, I stayed (until bedrest and a couple more babies prompted my current sabbatical). And gained irreplaceable experiences, perspectives, and professional development that would inform all facets of my life, including my current blogging and child-rearing.

When I felt I would surely run out of ideas and should give up blogging, I stayed. And have discovered a remarkable PLN that has continued to push my thinking as a teacher.

Mr. Burns may not have caused all these events to unfold exactly as they have. But I know that without his bold lesson in persistence, I would have been much less likely to stick around for the hardest, but ultimately, most rewarding aspects of my life. And that is certainly thanks to a teacher.

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The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

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5 Reasons To Prioritize Relationships Over Content

It is the relationships that separates schools, not the content.” 

What makes the above statement from George Couros true? What makes the quality of relationships within a school so defining?

1. Content is available everywhere: Khan Academy, Google, tutoring software. Our secret weapon as teachers is our rapport and responsiveness to students’ needs. As such, we should challenge anything that seeks to twist our role from responsive guides to automated deliverers (we must remain agents that purposely wield the textbooks, tech, etc. to meet students needs — and not become pawns being acted upon by such resources).

2.Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” If you have somehow missed the phenomenally inspiring video from Rita Pierson, you’ve got to check it out. Our students will remember the way they were treated in our classrooms for far longer than any clever science lesson or math worksheet. While 180 days may seem long, if you do the math of an average class of 25-30 students, that only gives us 6-7 days per student to prove to them that they matter and belong in our classrooms.

3. It improves classroom management, which in turn increases time for learning. Edutopia recently shared an article based on 700 teacher responses on “5 Principles of Outstanding Classroom Management.” Guess what was on that list of top 5? Yep, building relationships. And when those relationships are secure, when they know they are seen and heard and belong, they are more willing to trust us as we guide them toward their learning.

4. It improves our modeling efforts. If we want our students to see themselves as readers, as writers, and mathematicians, as scientists, we need to model what exactly that looks like. As Lucy Calkins writes in her 10 Essentials of Reading Instruction, “Learners need teachers who demonstrate what it means to live richly literate lives, wearing a love of reading on their sleeves. Teachers need professional development and a culture of collaborative practice to develop their abilities to teach.” Such modeling is only successful if students have a desire to exemplify what we demonstrate, and that only comes through strong relationships.

5. It creates an atmosphere of greater authenticity. Especially for our students who struggle against “the game of school,” changing the rules by focusing on people first is powerful. Our students start to learn to trust that they can truly show up for the learning each day, because they will be seen and valued.

What are reasons you have found to justify the time required for prioritizing relationships?

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Balancing Reading Challenge With Choice

It was another day of library time in fourth grade. Most of my classmates headed to the fiction section. A few dared the dark musty nonfiction corner (I still have no idea why it was always so poorly lit in that corner!). And I went for the picture books. I just couldn’t get enough of the pictures, and I certainly didn’t have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading just one page.

So it had gone week in and week out — until that momentous day that my sweet librarian, Mrs. Lutz, chose to intervene. She had apparently noticed my quiet reading habits, and chose to step in to offer a challenge. And what could easily have turned me off from reading instead launched me into the world of children’s fiction and deepened my self-identity as a reader.

How did she strike that careful balance of providing challenge without judgement?

Here’s what she did not do:

  • Tell me the books I was reading were babyish or below my level.
  • Prevent me from reading books of my choice.

Here’s what she did do:

  • Listened to what kept me coming back to the picture books (the pictures, of course).
  • Shared some books that she loved (that conveniently included some pictures).
  • Encouraged me to keep stretching my reading muscles.

It can seem an impossible task to help our students stretch themselves while simultaneously honoring their choices. And while choice should ultimately take precedence for their personal reading, finding this balance can help students expand their view of literary possibilities.

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