“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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featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Join Us For Our Scholarship Webinar Q&A on March 2!

Do you know any high school seniors? Would they be interested in earning a $10,000 scholarship by engaging in a community improvement project?

If so, please help spread the word about our upcoming Q&A webinar with applicants to help support them in their projects! Unlike many scholarships that call for an (often recycled) essay, our Design a Better Future program asks much more of students in working to give to their communities. We want to be there to help guide them in any roadblocks or questions that arise in their work.

The webinar will take place on Saturday, March 2 at 11 am MST. Two of our scholarship committee members, Mary & Lindsay, will field questions & lead the discussion. Register here to receive a reminder and the link to our Zoom meeting!


Inquiry Into the Self Online

I’m taking a break from my provocation series into Sustainable Development Goals for an important inquiry on the way we consume and share online.

With our White Ribbon Week observances & internet safety assemblies, most students know:

  • don’t share personal information
  • don’t cyberbully
  • don’t meet up with strangers you met online

What we don’t talk about as often is the way they feel about their internet presence. Who do they think they need to be and why? How can they use the internet to help fill their cups, rather than drain them?

This week’s provocation is meant to help foster these deeper conversations.

Resource #1: “Selfie Harm” photo series 

Resource #2: Infinite Scroll by Pete Henderson

Resource #3: Side Effects by Chris Cousins

Resource #4: Brene Brown quote

Resource #5: Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger

Provocation Questions:

  • What does authenticity mean?
  • How do the internet & social media invite us to connect? How can that connection be positive? How can it be negative?
  • How does it work to embrace who we are even as we work to improve?
  • What are side effects? What are the different perspectives on side effects of social media?
  • How does balance connect to our self-care on social media?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

In Which the Preschool App Gets Me Revisiting Scaffolding #TeacherMom

Have you ever downloaded the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app for your kids? If so, you probably know that they adore & can independently play all the games except two. And you probably know exactly which two I’m talking about:

“Put the Fruit Back Together…”

…and “Match the Fruit”

These two games take more stamina than the others. You can’t just start tapping randomly until it moves on until the next game. Which leaves me three choices:

#1: Do those hard games for him so he can play the rest of the game.

#2: Take a firm stance that if he can’t do it all on his own, he’s not ready to play.

#3: Do the hard games together, helping him hold his finger and talking through the process (where did we see the other banana?).

I have tried all three! The teacher side of me would definitely choose #3 every time, but the truth is, sometimes life gets messier than that. The game is usually only even out when we are at a long appointment. Sometimes, he tries to insist on #1 while I am trying to speak with the doctor. Sometimes, I try to assert #2, but find he really does want to give them a try again on his own.

The more I reflect, the more I realize that the only truly damaging stance when it comes to the scaffolding we give our kids is one that is rigid and not sensitive to context.

We like to think of scaffolding as a nice linear graph, gradually releasing toward complete independence in a smooth, graceful line. But really, there are plenty of dips, spikes, and wild turns along the way, all of which require patience for our young students, and for ourselves.

Even for something as silly as making a monkey cheer you on when you match a pair of honeydews.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Canceling Extracurriculars #TeacherMom

A bouldering class sounded like the perfect idea. As a former rock climber myself, what could be better than getting my adventure-loving daughter started early?

But then the class got pushed back into a more hectic territory for our schedule. As we tried to rearrange schedules and manage dinner and arrange transportation, I suddenly realized: it was more than ok for us to just drop it.

Here’s my highly scientific equation for why:

Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!

There’s already enough hustle in our lives just to keep things running smoothly.

Which is why extracurriculars are having to meet an increasingly stringent set of requirements at my house:

  • kids must be able to walk or bike there (which means I don’t have to play my least favorite role of taxi, we get exercise, and we help our air quality. Win-win-win.)
  • cannot compete with meal times (I’ve found that it’s way too slippery a slope for me to be like, yeah, fast food is fine just for now…)
  • must have a compelling reason to take kids away from free play time (which is at least as valuable as the vast majority of extracurricular activities). See #BeTime video below:

Yes, the bouldering class would have been fun. Yes, we probably could have made the schedule conflicts work for a while.

But life is made of all our decisions for today. I’d rather stop putting off when we’ll live exactly the way we want to, and start doing that right now. And that starts with eliminating any activity that doesn’t carry its weight. No regrets.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto