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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In Honor Of Teachers & Mothers

I just had to share this beautiful video in anticipation of Mother’s Day this weekend.

What exactly is the role of the teacher? SO much more than the conveyor of knowledge.

All of these roles are assumed by both parents as well, but it is tender to consider and qualify the many roles of a mother, especially since these efforts are usually upaid and uncounted. Teachers often face similar undervaluation. See Melinda Gates’ excellent recent piece entitled, “The massive, hidden costs of women’s unpaid work.” She writes,

“To care is human — and caring for children or aging parents should be an expression of love. It can offer us some of the most meaningful moments of our lives. But if it’s assumed that women will do all these tasks, then caring that should be joyful becomes a burden, and work that should be shared becomes isolating.”

Melinda Gates

Let us count these roles, these efforts, this love. It is beautiful, powerful work, and becomes more so when we really see one another for what we are providing for the world’s rising generation.

Happy Mothers Day & Teachers Appreciation Week!

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My Professional Portfolio

My precise timeline for returning to the classroom has been unknown for some time. I am pleased to share that a clearer plan has lately emerged: I intend to resume teaching in the fall of 2020. Not only will this coincide nicely for school schedules for all my kids, but it will allow me to spend additional time building momentum for local Safe Routes to School efforts.

This plan has me realizing that this time next year, I will be submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs. After 5 years, I’m feeling a little nervous, but as I’ve learned time and again, the best remedy for that is reflecting and blogging.

What “aha” moments have I had during 5 years of researching, PLN-building, and writing what is now 456 posts? What would I most want a future administrator to understand about what I have learned? How has all of this built on my previous 4 years of teaching fifth grade, and what will this mean for my future classroom approach?

I’m digging through old posts today to try and find answers to these questions.

March 2016: The Story of a Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned

This was the first time I wrote plainly about my personal learning since I had left the classroom. Until then, I’d often felt like an impostor for writing about teaching, worried I would be “found out” for not being in the classroom. This was when I first began to understand the way my edu-blogging was helping me grow as a professional, and that that mattered more than any other outcome. Interestingly, it turns out that this mindset shift has also been pivotal for my approach to student learning. Personal meaning & growth > appearances.

May 2016: In My Future Classroom

Key takeaway in this post: the need for students to clearly own and understand what they have mastered, and for them to be given opportunities to convey that to their caregivers. (See also “Inquiry Into Owning My Own Learning“).

September 2017: My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

I realized that though my classroom career has been on pause, by no means has my professional learning has been stagnant! Particularly helpful in that journey was the epiphany that I could structure my writing schedule so I could really “write what I know.”

April 2018: I Am Driven

Powerful connection happens when we learn to truly put ourselves in the learning arena alongside our students. How can we possibly expect our students to truly be vulnerable and take risks to grow in their learning if they feel like their teachers are sitting on the sidelines? Brene Brown’s emphasis on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote has settled deep into my teacher soul here:

Image result for brene brown theodore roosevelt quote

June 2018: I Can Never Go Back

My inspiring former student referenced here has profoundly impacted my resolve to truly make building meaning a priority. “After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.” This particular student will be graduating high school this year, and I had the privilege to watch him perform at the State Poetry Out Loud Competition, and to win a scholarship competition with his piece, Cross Stitch. Once our students find their voice, we have no idea what will come next.

February 2019: 5 Things I Want My Students To Know About Me As a Teacher

The idea of building self-regulation skills has been eye-opening to me in the way I approach student ownership and classroom management. I am learning to understand how a child’s choices often reflect more than might meet the eye.

I look forward seeing additional learning unfolds during this last year!

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6 Picture Books on Seasons, Earth Day, & Nature’s Abundance

Having grown up in an area where the change in seasons was not particularly pronounced, I can’t stop geeking out about it where I live now. Every day is like a treasure hunt that never disappoints: a new variety of blossom budding here, a new nest built there.

Spring is a particularly lovely time to observe and celebrate the abundance of our earth & to visit our responsibilities toward it, not least because it includes Earth Day (coming up on April 22). Here are some of my favorite picture books that will be sure to enhance the celebrations.

The Earth Gives More by Sue Fliess & Christiane Engel. This beautiful read shares not only the changing of the seasons, but the abundance of the earth through time. Pleasant rhymes without becoming overly didactic.

Luna & Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. Follow Julia Butterfly Hill’s conservation efforts as she made an ancient Redwood named Luna her home for two years. Our students may not be able to live in a tree for years, but they will be inspired by the action of one.

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul & Elizabeth Zunon. Speaking of the impact of one, this is a powerful story of the difference a person can make to their community and the earth. Your students will love the unique collage illustrations as well.

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes & Laura Dronzek. Though this book doesn’t come back specifically to conservation efforts, it’s a lovely representation of spring’s unpredictable arrival and nature’s lovely, winding course.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Students who may have a harder time connecting with nature in their urban environments will especially love this story as Liam finds a way to unfurl Nature’s abundance in the middle of the big city (also see High Line greenway).

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon & Marla Frazee. Lyrical poetry and gorgeous illustrations that will truly get students celebrating the abundance of this beautiful world.

Bonus: be sure to also check out the picture books round-up for my Sustainable Development Goals provocations that I’ve gathered here.

Happy Earth Day!

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How A Well-Run Classroom is Like a Well-Run Safe Routes to School Program

Last week, I came across this tweet from Amy Fast:

We cannot change human behavior by solely providing consequences & discipline. You also cannot change human behavior by solely empathizing & supporting. It’s often the combination of hope AND discomfort that ultimately compels us to change. This is true in education & in society.— Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) April 5, 2019

Immediately, my mind went to my efforts over this school year with Safe Routes to School. One of the very first things we learned is that a successful SRTS program requires comprehensive efforts from all of the 6 E’s: Engineering, Enforcement, Encouragement, Education, Evaluation, & Equity.

When school leaders are frustrated that parents are disregarding their Safe Routes programs or policies, it’s likely the answer lies not in “entitlement” or “laziness,” but in a need for further support & guidance.

The National Partnership for Safe Routes to School has provided an excellent online guide that shares strategies and case studies for each of the 6 E’s. If you have any connection to Safe Routes at your school, I highly recommend digging in!

Back to the classroom. As Amy Fast described in the tweet above, we need a mix of strategies in order to affect human behavior. Here are my connections for each of the SRTS strategies to the classroom. Especially as some students struggle with the adjustment in coming back from Spring Break, I hope this is a timely post for anyone looking for ways to bolster their classroom culture!

Engineering: In Safe Routes, this is design. It might be crosswalks, bulb-outs, flashing lights. In our classrooms, it is how we construct that “third teacher” for learning & appropriate behavior.

Enforcement: In Safe Routes, this is police or safety patrol monitoring. In our classrooms, this comes back to our classroom expectations.

  • Do you hold regular class meetings to help reinforce expectations? Key here is regular; if they only happen to lecture students for poor behavior, they will not be as effective as meetings that students know they can always depend on for housekeeping outlets & community-building.
  • Do you emphasize and purposefully work on developing self-regulation skills?

Encouragement: In Safe Routes, this is fun, excitement, & interest. In our classrooms, this is the way we celebrate together & make our classrooms places to look forward to being in.

Education: In Safe Routes, this is providing safety training & spreading awareness of SRTS goals. In our classrooms, this is ongoing efforts to work toward the why & how of learning & behavior (and not just the what).

Evaluation: In Safe Routes, this is assessing our effectiveness & program course-correction. In our classrooms, this is assessments for our content, yes, but it’s also assessing the culture in our classroom.

Equity: In Safe Routes, this is accessibility, normalization, & stakeholder voices. In our classrooms, it’s the same thing!

This is not intended as a comprehensive or a condemnatory list. Just as a Safe Routes program is always tinkering and working toward stronger strategies, so, too, will we tinker & experiment with our teaching and learning. What are other strategies you would bring to the table?

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7 More Videos That Provo Science Rocks

I seem to have an unquenchable thirst for curation. I’m always squirreling away bookmarked videos; reorganizing my photos in a way that family can really enjoy; searching out connections among picture books that I can compile into lists for future students.

Perhaps that’s the next challenge of living in an era of almost limitless information and content? To learn to sift, connect, and extract what matters most to us. And while this particular post is perhaps broader in concept than my inquiry provocation posts, I found myself drawn to sharing anyway.

So, nearly 3 years after my first “7 Videos that Will Prove Science Rocks” post, I’m sharing a few more that I find inspiring. What are ones that you love? Which ones might fill your students with awe and wonder?

#1: Gravity by Clemens Wirth

#2: Seasons – in a Small World by Beauty of Science

#3: Look Up! The Billion Bug Highway You Can’t See by NPR

#4: Magnetic Fields in Slow Motion by Magnetic Games via The Kid Should See This

#5: To Understand is to Perceive Patterns by Jason Silva

#6: States of Matter by Peter Tomaszewicz

#7: Upside Down & Inside Out by OK Go (Other contenders are The One Moment & This Too Shall Pass)

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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: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, & Elizabeth Zunon

#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

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