Teacher Leadership · Writing Workshop

My Writing Journey

A few weeks ago, Lori, Kris, and I shared about our blog, our writing group, and ourselves as writers.  As we stood in front of these Juniors and Seniors who were about to begin blogging as part of their Physics class, I felt very proud. We were asked to talk to young writers about writing because we are writers. Throughout my life I have worn this label proudly, it has faded into the background and almost disappeared entirely, and recently has surfaced with new enthusiasm.

My journey as a writer has been a bumpy one:

  • As a child, I was a journaler. It makes me laugh when I think of those notes full of friendship woes and puppy love crushes.
  • Through high school and college, I was a procrastinator who spent many a late night/early morning cranking out a paper to be turned in a mere two to three hours later.
  • As a young teacher, my writing life was non-existent.
  • As a soon-to-be Mom, I wrote letters to Brody sharing my excitement, hopes, and dreams for him. (I have added to letter to this journal on each of Brody’s birthdays.)
  • After discovering the work of Lucy Calkins and The Reading Writing Project, I began writing what I asked my students to write.  (This was very eye-opening and a wonderful reminder that writing is difficult.)
  • In pursuit of my EdD, I slipped back into old habits from high school and college and quickly learned that these habits do not produce writing I am proud of.
    And today, I try to write at least three times per week. Some of this writing holds the seeds of blog posts, some of this writing helps me celebrate the wonderful business of our lives, and some of this writing will never be seen by anyone but helps me think.

As I think about this writing journey, there are three things that I know are most important to my writing process:

  1. A clear audience. Is the writing only for me or will I share with a larger audience? When the writing is only for me, I freely share all of my opinions and include the brutal honesty that will help me truly reflect. When the writing is something that I think could be shared, I am more careful with my words, I write in a more concise manner and I think about details I can share that will engage the reader.
  2. A topic I care about. It is almost impossible for me to write about something that I do not care about. Writing is hard – I have to be 100% invested to put forth the effort!
  3. Feedback from others. The encouraging words from others about my writing are fueling me and I am so grateful. I LOVE when someone mentions our blog and wants to talk about one of the posts. I LOVE when someone shares that something I wrote and posted on the blog has caused them to think. I LOVE when my writing group praises me for the writing habit I am working to develop.

As I reflected on my personal writing process I started thinking about all classrooms where young writers are asked to think.

  • I wonder what our young writers would recognize as the essential elements to their writing process. Do our classrooms allow for these essential elements?
  • I wonder if our young writers feel ownership of their writing process. How can we help them develop this?
  • I wonder if our young writers would describe themselves as writers. How can we help them build this identity?
Community · Culture · Environment · Students

Words Are Power

No surprise The Magic of Words book was my favorite.

I have always loved language and words! I know that sounds kind of weird, but it is true – crosswords, word searches, Boggle, UpWords, Scrabble, the Childcraft books that came with the World Book Encyclopedias, and Babysitters’ Club books filled many days when I was young. Then my favorite class in college – LINGUISTICS. I thought I was in heaven!

Words make us feel!

  • Excitement … my infant says momma (or something that sounds like momma) and tears immediately fill my eyes.
  • Fear … “I think we need to talk.”
  • Happiness … my 14-year-old says “Mom, I love you” (or anything at all to me).  Grief … “Pap has passed.”
  • Inspiration … Mom saying “I am proud of you” (yes – even at 43 this still matters).
  • Disappointment … “I am sorry, but we chose another candidate.”
  • Love – “I appreciate you.”

Language. This stringing together of words that we often take for granted is so important. It allows us to think together. It creates culture … language creates a community.

What we say and how we say it shows others what we think and how we feel – and it matters. A group of students is off task … a teacher says “Get back to work or you will be eating lunch with me.” Or “When you are off task it interferes with the learning of others and makes me feel frustrated.” Or “What is going on? What is getting in the way of your learning? How can I help you get back on track?”

Using we to describe our classroom communities, referring to our young learners as readers and writers, describing our English learners as developing bilinguals – all of these nuances are meaningful and convey different messages.

Recently a teacher shared a quote with me that reminded me of the power teachers as the adults in the room hold.

“The messages that students receive externally become the messages they give themselves.”

What messages are our students hearing? Are these messages what we want them to hear? We must be more careful with our words and never forget the power they hold!

Uncategorized

#fangirling

Dublin Literacy Conference 2019 – where do I start? This conference is always the perfect pick me up at the end of February – hearing the messages from others passionate about learning, connecting with the many committed educators who come together to learn, and feeling the excitement that a love of learning creates.

This year I had the opportunity to learn from two amazing authors through their presentations, but also in personal conversation. And can I just say that my YA author fangirl-ship grew exponentially!

Hena Khan, one of the loveliest people I have ever met in my life, is one of those people who effortlessly makes those around her smile. She writes books so that while reading young people today do not have to “accept the fact that no one looks like [them]” and will never think “my story doesn’t matter.”

Humility, intimacy, and gratitude were not just the main points of Jason Reynolds’ keynote, these are the characteristics he exhibited from the moment we picked him up in the morning until the last book was signed that evening.

And these authors are not just super awesome people – they are 100% committed to the readers of their books. Over and over I heard thank yous to teachers for putting books into the hands of students. When I told Jason that my 8th-grade son asked me to tell him “I think he writes good books” Jason’s smiling response was “I’ll take it.” Hena shared that the best part of the day was when the students who attended her family session earlier in the day came back hours later to get their books signed. The words and actions of each of them reminded me of how awesome it is to spend most days of my life surrounded by these curious, talented, opinionated, lovestruck, confused teenagers and reminded me how important it is that they know that “it’s okay.”

Thank you to everyone who helped this YA author fangirl learn at this year’s Dublin Literacy Conference.

Reading

Dear Nic Stone,

“We argue that the ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to be better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we want to become.”

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Disrupting Thinking

My 8th-grade son has just finished a book club experience as part of his ELA class. There were several books he could choose from – The Hate U Give, All American Boys, Ghost Boys, Tyler Johnson Was Here, Dear Martin, How It Went Down and Piecing Me Together. After we talked a little about each book he decided to read Dear Martin.

On a cold Sunday afternoon as we were driving home from Target, (I am learning that VERY important conversations often happen in the car with 14-year-old boys.) I asked if he finished reading and if he liked the book.

“I don’t know – I thought I would learn more about how to stand up when people do things they shouldn’t. He told us about a lot of things that should never have happened in the first place.”

I responded, “Yeah, but when I read I learned a lot. I’ve never thought about talking to you about how to talk to police and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I looked different than everyone around me. And Justyce felt like this every day when he went to school.”

“Yeah, but Mom people are people and I think as generations move on things change … our friends are better.” He then described some things that my 93-year-old Gramma has said over the years. “I get really mad when family says racists things – they know better. How can I respectfully tell them that it bothers me?”

Wow! I honestly am not 100% sure that I navigated this conversation correctly and by no means is this conversation over. But there is one thing I do know – without these books and these amazing authors I would be even less prepared to talk about this with him.

Rudine Sims Bishop writes about how books can serve as “…windows, offering views of the world that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange.”  I am forever grateful for authors who become some of my greatest teachers, through whose words I am able to peek into worlds beyond my experience. Elizabeth Acevado (The Poet X), Samira Ahmed (Love, Hate and Other Filters), Tahereh Mafi (A Very Large Expanse of Sea), Mitali Perkins (You Bring the Distant Near), Jason Reynolds (For Every One), Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ghost Boys), Benjamin Alire Saenz (The Inexplicable Logic of Life) and Angie Thomas (On the Come Up) .you have each recently been my teacher and I want to say THANK YOU!

THANK YOU to all of the teachers and librarians who make these books accessible to young readers. THANK YOU to my son’s 8th grade ELA teacher who used these books as the anchor for book club discussions and learning.

THANK YOU!

Goal Setting · Leading · Teacher Leadership

Expert … or Specialist?

This fall Beth and I spent a Saturday learning with Kristin Ziemke. Our district is in the process of becoming one-to-one in grades six through twelve and I have been thinking a lot about what blended learning looks in the HS ELA reading and writing workshop. When we noticed that the Literacy Connection was bringing Kristin to the area we decided to join, even though the workshop was marketed for K-6 teachers (another post coming soon related to this).

While I learned so much about purposeful leveraging of technology from Kristin (hopefully yet another post will be coming), what I have been thinking most about is this idea of expert or specialist and her description of these two terms. Kristin described an expert as “someone who knows it all” and a specialist as “someone who believes the learning is never done but wants to know all they can.” What a difference in mindset!

I want others to think of me as a specialist, but do I present as an expert? And if I do present as expert how does that impact others’ abilities to learn? I am writing as a literary coach, so I am thinking about adult learners, but I also think this applies to the learning that happens in our classrooms. If a teacher sees herself as a specialist and not as an expert how does this impact student learning?

Some things I will commit to to ensure that I remain a specialist:

  • Read a wide variety of research about literacy, especially HS literacy
  • Question this reading and align it to my core beliefs about learning
  • Listen to others with a truly open-mind
  • Consistently share my new learning
  • Talk about failure
  • Be flexible
  • Look for the happiness and joy in literacy learning
  • Value the questions of others
Community · Culture · Teacher Leadership

Better Because of My Champions

 

People who will nourish you and help you love this crazy complicated, exhilarating pursuit.
Happy to be at school every day!

These two statements have appeared in my recent reading and they have prompted me to stop and think … I LOVE this very important work that we as educators do every day. I love the relationships I develop with the amazing young people who enter our schools every day. But I am reminded that we must NEVER discount the relationships we build with the adults who are on this journey with us.

I am better (a better educator and more importantly a better person) because of these amazing, kind, curious people. These people have taught me to:

  1. Listen without judgement. This is hard! I have very strong opinions about what good instruction is, about how we should talk to and about learners, about our ultimate mission as educators… Those in “my balcony” help me recognize that these beliefs define my core, but can sometimes cause a bias that I have to work very hard to put aside in order for me to truly hear.
  2. Be honest and humble. I am extremely lucky and my tribe is full of absolute rock stars! My thinking is pushed through conversation with these colleagues and I learn from them all of the time. But each of these rock stars is reflective and a true learner who wants to get better every day. They have shown me the true meaning of humility.
  3. Lead by example. Whether leading a building, a school district, a classroom or a learning activity my people lead with grace and kindness. From them I have learned that people always come first!
  4. Embrace new opportunity. Wow! I think this is the most important thing I have learned and the thing I am most grateful for. The educators around me have encouraged me to try new things (ie. paddleboard yoga) and share my learning with a wider audience than I would have ever thought possible (ie. this blog). These opportunities have revealed parts of myself I didn’t know were there.
  5. Ask for help. No one has all of the answers and the sooner we realize this the better off we are and the more we can learn; being an educator (and life in general) is hard … knowing there are people willing to help is a true blessing.
  6. Question. It is not good to be surrounded by people who always agree with you. They either are not being honest, or you are missing out on important ideas and new learning. My chamopins are always willing to ask the hard questions and to push back on my crazy ideas. Who knows what I would have stepped in without their “have you thought about this” conversations.
  7. Honor and celebrate. We celebrate the successes of others and honor the slip-ups that happen as opportunities for growth. This has forever changed my mindset and made be a better person!
  8. Breathe and enjoy the ride. In my younger years I was a bit, let’s say, high strung. I hate to admit, but I often engaged in complaining and wallowing in frustrations. This absolutely was not helpful or productive. My champions help me to take a breathe, remember it isn’t always going to be perfect, and remind me to enjoy the messiness of learning and growing.
  9. Be patient. Anything worth having takes time (and may not follow the timeline you developed in your head). The “when” is very important!
  10. Never lose sight of the goal. This past spring was very hard for me – I have never heard “no” so many times in my professional life. But each of these nos was followed by words of encouragement and reminders to never give up, to always do my best and to never stop advocating for the best possible educational system. Exactly what I needed to hear!

Who are your champions? As we start this new school year I challenge you to let them know how much they matter and how grateful you are for them.

 

Culture · Environment · Teaching

Preparing Kids for the Future and Losing Sight of Today

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 8.23.50 AMI have been thinking about this a lot recently.  It seems like over the past few weeks I have heard many educators bringing up what the next phase of education expects as a justification for decisions being made in schools and classrooms.  I don’t believe that this is how we should be making decisions!

Right now my time is spent in high schools and while I know it is important for all students to get into a good college and be able to pursue the career of their dreams, I do not feel that we should be making decisions about how we educate our high school children based on how colleges are doing things.  First of all, most colleges are pretty traditional. College classes today do not look much different than they did twenty-five years ago when I entered as a freshman.  Also, there is a maturity level to a college student that many of our high school students simply do not possess YET.  Finally, college students have a lot more choice in their learning than high school students do. (Do I want to take a class at 8 am or would I rather start my day at noon? Do I want to take calculus and chemistry during the same semester or should I spread them over two semesters?)

I fear that this constant worry about what is coming clouds what is happening. We have well-defined standards for learning at each grade level and I strongly believe by focusing on these standards, asking students to think deeply, providing choice and listening to students voices about their learning we can ensure that all students will be successful, enthusiastic, curious, innovative, civilized participants in life.

We need to let students enjoy the learning they are engaged in and build upon the skills and strengths they have come to us with. We must continue to push them to think deeply, question and take risks while trusting that we are doing a good job and knowing that they will be prepared for any next step in life they might take.  We must encourage them to love the life they are experiencing and learn each step of the way.

Each phase of learning –  a 6-year-old beginning to read, a 12-year-old discovering that the segregation of our history still impacts our country today, or an 18-year-old writing a killer college essay that ensures acceptance to the college of his dreams – is something to be cherished!

Reading

Making Yourself Visible as a Reader

Recently a colleague pointed out that she was impressed by the many ways I make myself visible as a reader.  At first, I thought, do I? Then I started to think about how many little things can be done to share our reading lives with others.

Email signature

Several years ago, I noticed a currently reading list as part of the person’s signature in an email I received. I love this idea and now list YA books, adult books and professional books I am currently reading in my email address. (I apologize for stealing this and I wish I could remember who originated this brilliant idea.)

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Currently reading bubble on office door

At one of my schools the office door is very visible, so I started listing what I am currently reading on a vinyl cling bubble. I have seen teachers share this in several 52941392124__992B12B5-A5F5-45A1-9DF1-646634EA1F5Edifferent ways in classrooms, too. One teacher has her name, her co-teacher’s name and her principal’s name on her whiteboard. Under each is the title of the book they are currently reading. Two teachers (one teaches 9th grade Social Studies) have a big Post-it in the classroom where all of the books the teacher has read this quarter are listed. Another teacher has an image of each book cover on her door representing each of the books she has a read this year.

Goodreads

Goodreads is a social media site for book nerds. This site allows you to share with other readers what you are currently reading and then rate and share reviews of books as they are finished. One of my favorite parts of Goodreads is seeing what my friends are reading and building my to-read list.  Goodreads also allows you to automatically share reviews and ratings of books read to Twitter and Facebook making your reading even more visible.

I am always surprised by how many people – teachers, students, and administrators – engage in conversations with me about books after receiving an email or walking past my door or friending me on Goodreads.  Some ask if I am enjoying a certain book or if I would recommend a title or how I find time to read so many books.  These conversations have helped me to meet teachers I may never interact with otherwise, reconnect with former students and share new learning.

Being a reader is definitely a big part of who I am as an educator and a person.  These three small things help me make being a reader visible to those around me and also help me to hold myself accountable to reading goals I set for myself.  How can you make yourself more visible as a reader to those around you?

Students

The Power of Labels

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Last week my son began seventh grade! I have never been so anxious about the start of a school year.  Yes, I was nervous when he went to kindergarten, but there was much more excitement than anxiety.  This year there is worry … Can he handle the independence of middle school? Will he align with the “right” peer group? Does he have the study habits necessary for success? (I don’t think he does… AHH!) How can I support him without being overbearing? (He is entering my wheelhouse and I have to be Mom and not Mrs. Shaffer!)  But most importantly I worry that his teachers will see his label and not see him.

In first grade, my son was diagnosed with ADHD.  This was no surprise! When he was a toddler, I sometimes described his activity as a top that just kept spinning and spinning – words that I am pretty sure I stole from an ADHD rating scale.  Although he has made significant strides managing his inattentiveness it is a journey and last year his teachers and I decided that a 504 plan would be beneficial to ensure his success. As an educator, I know this is only a document that will guarantee he receives everything he needs to ensure he learns; but as a mom, I was making the decision to label my child, the person who matters more to me than anyone in this world. 

When a label is placed on a child assumptions about that child follow. All learning is easy for the gifted child, but they may need help making friends. A child with anxiety is going to struggle with attendance and can not handle redirection. The ADHD child must sit close to the instruction, will be distracting to those around him and will never turn in homework on time. While some of these generalizations may be correct some of the time for some kiddos and may provide very early guidance for classroom teachers, they are generalizations!

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 9.31.26 AMI beg that all educators look past these labels and truly get to know the learners in their classrooms. I also demand that all educators remember that these labels are A descriptor and not THE descriptor. Every child in our classrooms is an individual and needs different things from the adults who are supporting learning … please value each child’s uniqueness and help his or her learning thrive!