Best Inquiry Picture Books: Sustainable Development Goals Round-Up

This is the last installment in a 3-part series. View the other two:

Here is the last installment in a series of picture book round-ups from my inquiry posts! It’s a great feeling to know that so many of my favorite picture books are organized in one place. As with the other two posts, the links to the original inquiries (which include other resource like videos and photo series) are hyperlinked throughout; keep in mind that while I have included picture books for all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, a few of those inquiries are not yet finished. I hope you can find some new reads to help spark thinking and wonder with your students.

Inquiry into SDG’s (introduction): If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith & Shelagh Armstrong

#1: No Poverty: Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting & Ronald Himler

#2: Zero Hunger: The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway & Sylvie Daigneault

#3: Good Health & Well-Being: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

#4: Quality Education: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

#5: Gender Equality: Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai & Kerascoet

#6: Clean Water & Sanitation: The Water Princess by Susan Verde & Peter H. Reynolds

#7: Affordable & Clean Energy:

#8: Decent Work & Economic Growth: One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway & Eugenie Fernandes

#9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure: If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson; The Red Bicycle: An Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella and Simone Shin

#10: Reduced inequalities: It’s Mine! by Leo Lionni

#11: Sustainable Cities & Communities: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton; The Promise by Nicola Davies & Laura Carlin

#12: Responsible Production & Consumption: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

#13: Climate Action: What Can A Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers & Shawn Harris

#14: Life Below Water: Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne & Éric Puybaret; The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

#15: Life on Land: The Tree Lady by Joseph Hopkins & Jill McElmurry; A Boy & A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz & CaTia Chien

#16: Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! By Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin

#17: Inquiry into Partnerships for the Goals: Be Kind By Pat Zietlow Miller & Jen Hill

featured image: Dara or

5 Ways To Make Room for Ownership with “Learning Targets”

I want to see students journey. I want to see them wonder. I want to see them trusting in themselves as they make decisions about their learning — because I don’t hold all the answers for what works best for them.

But I also want to see them given the tools to navigate that journey. I want them to see them feeling confident about strengthening skills. I want them to see them trusting my feedback as their learning consultant — because I can offer them guidance on their journey!

So where does the compromise lie, especially when we’re talking about posting learning targets, success criteria, etc.? After asking this question and searching out my PLN’s strategies over the last several weeks, I have found a few ideas. I would love to hear more of yours!

#1: Don’t necessarily make the success criteria the content itself, but rather the skills and mindsets students might need to be successful.

For example, instead of:

“Identify the difference between weathering and erosion.”

You might write:

“Clearly communicate your science observations through speaking and writing.”

#2: Co-construct success criteria with students.

#3: Rephrase learning targets as questions.

#4: Use James Durran’s “Boxed” Success Criteria device (I really like the big wall version). Read full post here.

#5: Allow students to plan their own learning time based on learning goals they develop (from the curricula & from personal goals)


Ultimately, shifting our conversations from what we expect students to learn to what tools might help students learn can be powerful. Because in the end, their learning is up to them!

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“Diverse System, Maximum Resilience”

I recently watched the video below via The Kid Should See This. Though it’s entitled, “A Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future,” gardening was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking of, you guessed it, students and learning.


First thoughts: How does conventional gardening relate to conventional education?

  • Neat rows for maximum efficiency
  • Keeping species (or age groups) separated from one another
  • Focusing more on maximizing performance from each plant rather than considering how different plants might work together for growth

Next: How are principles of gardening sustainability applicable to learning?

  • Teaching/permitting students to take the lead in their learning.
  • Setting up the environment so that students can flourish in their strengths and in ownership (from access to supplies to apps to loose parts objects). See example in our stop-motion movie making efforts.
  • Ensuring that instruction in skills is balanced with nurturing of meaning and connection. Read this story of two poetry units for ideas.

And finally, how do we mitigate the fear of messier gardening learning and less control?

  • The first answer comes from a quote from the gardener in the video, Martin Crawford: “It can seem a bit overwhelming to have so many different species, but you shouldn’t stop that from beginning a project because you don’t have to know everything to begin with. Just start, plant some trees, and go from there.”
  • Engage students’ voices through class meetings, suggestion boxes, and having plan their own time, and self-assessment. See “10 Ways for Every Student to be on their own Learning Path.”
  • Work with parents proactively so that they understand that messy does not equate to out of control or lack of learning.

I love the image of teachers as gardeners, and all the more so when it’s less about control/production and more about trust in inherent potential. Nourishing along the way, we can all find richer meaning, resilience, and sustainability.

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10 Fabulous Informational Texts

With how dearly I love my fiction, I feel like I can sometimes devalue informational texts. But the truth is, we have come across so many wonderful reads lately that I know I should share! After all, having a variety of book access is key in helping our students come to identify as readers. I hope you can find some that your readers will love in this list!

#1: Fur, Feather, Fin, All of Us are Kin by Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis

#2: Everything & Everywhere: A Fact-Filled Adventure for Curious Globe-Trottersby Marc Martin

#3: Gravity by Jason Chin

#4: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

#5: Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies & Emily Sutton

#6: How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin & Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo, Giselle Potter, & Jacqueline Tourville 

#7: Astro-Naut Aquanaut by Jennifer Swanson

#8: The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

#9: Fearless Mary by Tami Charles & Claire Almon

#10: What if You Had T. Rex Teeth? & Other Dinosaur Parts by Sandra Markle & Howard McWilliam

Bonus: A few nonfiction authors I’d recommend would include:

  • Dianna Hutts Aston
  • Seymour Simon
  • Kate Messner
  • Steve Jenkins
  • Bethany Barton
  • Brad Meltzer
  • Brian Floca
  • Jeannette Winter
  • Sara Levine

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5 Things I Want My Students to Know About Me as a Teacher

Olwen recently posed one of her fabulous thought-provoking questions.

What motivates you as an educator? What is it that you really want your students to know about you as a teacher? #KidsDeserveIt #inclusiveEd #pypchat #LeadLAP @ShiftParadigm @ChrisQuinn64 @mraspinall @mary_teaching @cvarsalona @burgessdave— Olwen (@notjustup2u) February 6, 2019

I was going to write a quick, agency-related reply, but then I got thinking some more and decided a blog post was in order.

#1: I believe in helping students take the wheel for their own lives.

I see myself as a guide, ready to help students make necessary adjustments and to help them discover possibilities they had not yet considered. I recognize that this requires sharing ownership over the learning space, honoring student voice & choice, and letting go of my need to feel “in control” in favor of messy-but-essential student-led planning.

#2: I want learning to be as authentic as possible.

Obviously, we can’t always go visit the Louvre to study the art in person, but thanks to the digital world, there’s so much more at our fingertips than our dusty textbooks and basal readers. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Studying mentor texts to learn their craft and technique rather than having drills about those techniques.
  • Exploring landforms using Google Earth or by going outside rather than having a powerpoint presentation about them.
  • Using real-world math problems rather than sticking with endless practice sheets.
  • Making connections by using provocations and focusing on big concepts rather than learning every skill and subject in isolation.

#3: I try to practice what I preach.

If I tell my students to be risk-takers, I want them to know how I’m working on it, too. If I expect them to write poetry, I will work to truly engage in the process right alongside them. If I want them to take action in their community, I will do the same. I never want to be that coach sitting on the ATV riding alongside runners!

#4: I love being a teacher, but I have a lot of other interests, too.

My family is the most important part of my life, and I have a lot of other passions that help me to feel happy and fulfilled, from biking to carpentry to urban planning. I want them to know this not only because it helps them understand who I am as a human being, but so that they also understand that I truly do love to keep learning new things.

#5: My foundation for “classroom management” is a blend of self-regulation, relationships, and humanity.

I am terribly imperfect at this, but it is something I strive for. I would rather put my energy in teaching students the tools to regulate their own feelings and impulses than to try and regulate them myself. I would rather sit on the same side of the table to have conversations with individual students rather than place all the blame on the student. I would rather work on finding a solution together rather than keeping them in from recess.

I hadn’t realized how important it is for students to really understand all these things about me as their teacher until I wrote them down, so thank you so much, Olwen, for the reflection opportunity!

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An Open Letter: To School Choice, From a Teacher

Dear School Choice,

How did our relationship get so complex? Back in college, things were so black and white: you were a shady character I was supposed to avoid (what with those rumors about causing the demise of public education and whatnot).

But then I graduated during the recession and the only gig I could find was at…a charter school. Actually 2 charter schools–the first, where I worked as a TA, was rife with many the problems my professors described. But the second was unique in that it provided the International Baccalaureate program, introducing me to inquiry, student-driven action, and global citizenship.

(see “I’m Finally Using the PYP Key Concepts!“)

Over the years, I witnessed some of your problems I’d been warned about like high teacher turn-over. But mostly, I was grateful to have learned so much about how to help students take ownership for their learning, and to have been given lots of leeway to try new things as a teacher.

(see “When DIY PD Goes Terribly Wrong–Or Does It?“)

So when it came time to enroll our oldest, you and I were in a much more flexible place than when we first met. But I still opted to go with our neighborhood school, which is part of the district, committed to the idea of “lifting where we stand” (and just plain wanting our child to be able to walk or bike to school). In that commitment, I thought I could go back to brushing you off.

But I met too many people that seemed to have compelling reasons to depend on you:

  • traveling with the family so often that homeschooling (worldschooling) made sense
  • transferring to a different school within the district that offered a language program
  • having a child with such severe anxiety that online homeschooling became an important alternative
  • searching out a school with a focus on autism to meet a child’s needs
  • encountering concerns at the local school in which the child’s and/or parents’ voices are regularly dismissed (and choosing another school where the opposite is the case)–especially when severe bullying has been involved

I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve learned you’re complicated. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell parents to shun you. But it’s a lot harder when you hear exactly how their children are struggling, and tell them to ignore available alternatives that might, in fact, be a better fit. For those parents, not taking you up on your offer almost feels like bad parenting.

All that said, I still do maintain some reservations that keep me from inviting you to our next dinner party:

  • There is no perfect school: just because an alternative is available does not guarantee that that will solve all problems.
  • Parents who have the most socioeconomic advantages tend to be the ones most involved in school choice, which means it can contribute to socioeconomic divides & even modern segregation.
  • There is power in a community uniting to find out how they can improve their local school (rather than simply abandoning it).

I hope you don’t take my concerns personally. I do know that sometimes, you’re more focused on bringing something new to the table (like a special program for autism or International Baccalaureate), and not just assuming you’re going to do the same thing as districts but better. And seeing the good you’ve been able to accomplish for families that need alternatives has helped me judge you less.

So, though I expect our relationship will continue to be uncertain, I’m glad we seem to understand each other a bit more. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, and I hope to see more conversations moving forward on how to best serve children and communities.

What Really Matters? Connection. Really.

As I’ve already written, my one word goal for 2019 is flexibility. But it was very nearly connection. And maybe it’s just that it’s on my mind, but I have been seeing conversations about connection, and conversely, isolation, EVERYWHERE!

In Megan Morgan’s #OneWord2019 of trust:

I am living out trust when:
I will choose connection over isolation.
I will add value to others and myself.
I will treat myself as a trusted friend.

~Megan Morgan

In Richard Ten Eyck’s Rethinking Learning Blog:

In my visits to schools throughout the country over the past 15 years, I have seen school after school in which separation dominates… kids separate from teachers, teachers separation from leadership, kids separate from one another. In many of these schools, teachers in adjacent classroom have no idea what is happening next door. Teachers work in isolation with little or no understanding, commitment, acceptance (pick your noun) of a common direction, vision, purpose (with the possible common commitment to have their kids achieve arbitrarily determined cut-scores on state assessments).

~Richard TenEyck

In Strong Towns’ piece about child abductions and the human habitat:

By closing ourselves off from each other, we do serious damage to ourselves and to society—and sometimes, that damage is worse than the danger we feared in the first place….The story of Jayme Closs should give us cause to hug our children a little tighter, but then to love them enough to send them out boldly into the world—and while they’re out playing, we need to work to make that world just a little less isolating for them.”

~Charles Marohn

Not to mention the last couple of weekly Dose of Daring emails from Brene Brown:

Connection cannot be an afterthought. It cannot take the backseat to curriculum. It cannot be another program.

Connection in our classrooms might look like:

  • Choosing messy conversations over neat clip charts or similar systems
  • Helping students plan their own day to gain a broader picture and make their own connections for a meaningful learning path
  • Engaging in inquiry with our students, and sharing our genuine personal learning journeys
  • Building in blocks of time to listen and share, such as a weekly classroom meeting or daily high/lows.
  • Making reading and writing and math more about being readers and writers and mathematics than about doing all those things.

Once you start to pay attention to just how important connection is, and the heavy price of isolation, you won’t be able to stop noticing. And really, we need it every bit as much as our students do, anyway. How will you choose connection today?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto