Getting Back on the Seesaw without Taking a Tail Dive


When I was little, there used to be seesaws–like, legit seesaws. The kind where if your friend jumped off, you were about to take a tail dive into the dirt. Obviously, it was more fun when your friend stayed ON the seesaw, as you could balance each other out. Good old 1980s fun.

So aside from reliving my Golden Girls’ past, there is actually a point.

As teachers, balance can often be hard to manage. We are torn between wanting to give one million percent to our students (they are our kids once they enter our class, after all). And we are torn between our own self-care, something that is often, frankly, brushed aside. We are natural caregivers with everyone but not necessarily ourselves.

We need to get our “full” selves back on the see-saw and stop having our “work” selves cause us take a tail dive into the dirt. But how? How do we do this when there is so much to be done?

Below is a list of activities that you can do. Some cost some green. Some are as free as a hippie at Woodstock.  Some take one minute. Some take an hour. The point is, you must carve out at least a few minutes for yourself on the daily–and maybe at least one hour on the weekly…I try to hit an hour daily if I can, but with teenagers and teenage social schedules, that can sometimes be tough…so I adjust. On those days, I shoot for 15 minutes. (For your ease of use, and so you don’t have to read all of them, I’ve put them in bold…so choose your adventure).

Available on Amazon

*Morning coffee with your tribe. Either rotate buyers or everyone BYOCoffee. Use this to talk about anything but work. Use it to catch up on what your kids are doing, what craft you are making even if it’s something like crafting with cat hair (apparently, it’s a thing, and there is a book about it). Anything. But. Work. Because honestly, if you don’t take a brain break from work, your brain is Going.To. Burn. Out.

*Speaking of tribes–don’t have time to meet? First, wrong, make time. Second, create a friend group on text, Groupme, Facebook, the Snapchatter…whatever.  Send each other feel good quotes, funny memes, a selfie of that hairstyle that you worked on for twenty minutes and then forgot your umbrella during a torrential rainstorm…things that will make you smile even if it is just for a few minutes.

*Jam out to your music on the way to school, on the way home, in between classes. Or better yet, jam out to an audio book (I totally do this, and it may or may not weird some kids out when they are like–hey, Mrs. Z what are you jamming out to? Me: Oh, ya know, a little Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. (Seriously, his book is all kinds of amazing, and THAT VOICE!)

* Work out. There are a lot of places where you can take a class for free to try it out.

*Orange Theory (I totes recommend this–it can be as hard core as you want, and the trainers are motivating…there’s that whole thing where you’re heart rate is up for everyone to see–nothing like a little competition.) Plus, the orange lighting-super flattering.

*Cycle Bar (Oh. My. Gawd.) #1. The trainers are super positive and philosophical little ohm-makers. #2. And, it’s a great workout to loud music club lighting…Really, it’s like clubbing on bikes.

*Title Boxing (Get it Guuuurl). Grading papers got ya down? Take it out on the bag.  Want to feel strong, this is a class for you. I like to channel a little Ronda Rousey when I’m there. In my head–oh, 138 papers to grade? (punch the bag) I think it’s 125 now (punch the bag).

*Straight up, go to the gym. Take your tribe with you to hit some weights, the pool, the track, shoot some hoops (depending on gym.)

*Working out could be as easy as taking a walk to the bathroom on the other side of the building instead of across the hall. It’s legit a sprint because you have maybe 4 minutes to change classes. But sometimes those extra steps are just what you need to clear your head.

*Or simply put, go outside. Go for a run. Ride a bike. Roller skate on some hip and happenin’ old school four wheeled numbers.

*Write. Write your thoughts, fun quotes you enjoy that motivate you…paste pictures…do the bullet journal thing. Plan a trip that maybe you’ll take someday. Oh, Hawaii, someday I’ll see your lovely sands and palm trees.

*Look at photos: For clarification–photos on social media aren’t always the best (as studies are showing). But your own? The ones you take with family and friends and places you have gone. Food that you had two weeks ago that was so good and pretty that you just had to photograph it. (Don’t judge…I’m a foodie). This takes two seconds and can make a difference in your motivation for the day.


And he’s relatively travel sized.

*”Deadpool on a Shelf”–hear me out…I have a Deadpool figurine. He’s posable. And, yes, we leave him around the house holding messages. So, why not have a family one. Or implement it into your classroom if that brings you joy. Deadpool not your thing (WHY? He’s, like, THE COOLEST. SUPERHERO. EVER. But I’m not judging.) Perhaps another figure is more your style…maybe Eeyore (you anti-Deadpool you, J/K)…or Wonder Woman…or even the random bobble head that Uncle Nick gave you three years ago that you are still scratching your head over.

*Scroll Pinterest: It’s like the Sears catalogue for the next generation. I have so many pins I could probably just scroll my own and be totally surprised.

*Speaking of Pinterest….Cook–I don’t always have time to cook; I’ll be honest. But on Sundays I do a lot of meal prep so I can reheat. I try to look up different recipes on pinterest, and I try new ones every couple of weeks.  Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are called Donatos.

*Make lists: Yep, I’m a lister. I list things I’ve already done just so I can cross them out and feel accomplished. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s satisfying. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own channel on Snapchat…is that what they are called channels? Or…..

*Draw/Doodle:  I have ZERO talent here. But, I can tell you that my students do this a lot…and not so secretly, I love it…and sometimes I  even draw back (although not quite as well as they draw). It takes away some of their stress while they do assignments, and frankly, I enjoy their amusement at my drawing communications.

*Breathe: (this is not an optional adventure) Guys and Dolls, teaching is hard. It’s GREAT. And it’s INSPIRING. But it can be exhausting. And you need to take care of you because you have hundreds (some of us thousands) of kids who are looking to us to be ready to roll on any given Monday.

Other ideas? (Of course there are! Comment on what helps you balance your life seesaw!)

Side note…Deadpool loves Peter Cetera


Classroom Libraries · co-teaching · Culture · Literacy · Reading · Reflection · Students · Teaching · Uncategorized

Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students

img_3133Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students 


This year, I read both Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani and A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice by Kate Roberts, and these books inspired me to make huge changes. Most notably, Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I used these two texts to collaboratively make changes to our end-of-the-year unit surrounding The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

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A Novel Approach

Over the last few years, we have made some gradual changes away from whole-class required reads for many reasons, but The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has always remained a staple of our English I curriculum.

The Debate:

Whole-class texts: Independent reading:
“Believing in teaching whole-class texts–long or short–suggests the belief that struggle is productive for young readers, that kids that kids need to read great books, that focusing on a common text builds strong and literate reading communities, and that students benefit from controlled questions and activities led by a proficient reader (the teacher).” “Choosing to focus on independent reading shows the beliefs that reading ability matters, that kids are going to benefit most from having experiences with great books that they can read on their own with strength, and that knowing the skills it takes to read any book will help them to build greater independence. This also suggests a belief that choice in reading is essential in building a strong reading life and that often our very identities are in part shaped by the books we have read.”
Both excerpts are from Kate Roberts’ A Novel Approach: Whole Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice

I personally tend to value independent reading over whole-class novels, but Roberts’ book provided great reminders of the importance of mentor texts, shared experiences, and modeling. Plus, it merges the best of both worlds, so it gave me fresh ideas and new energy going into 4th quarter, the only quarter that I still teach a whole-class novel. For the last few years, I’ve tended to focus on all the negatives of whole-class novels and all the positives of independent reading, but Roberts’ merging of the two provides a unique balance that allows time for both types of instruction and celebrates both types of learning.



Deb Maynard and I both took a course led by Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Kristy Venne (@KristyVenne) surrounding the book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I took photos of the pages that resonated with me the most.


With this in mind, PLUS the ideas presented in A Novel Approach, we ultimately decided NOT to get rid of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet altogether, but instead, keep Romeo and Juliet as a mentor text, teach the reading skills required to tackle such a challenging read, and help students apply those skills to their independent reading books.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 2.33.38 PMIn addition to allowing students to purposely pair choice novels to The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, we gave students choice in writing prompts, and students proposed summative celebrations of learning rather than us assigning and requiring the standard compare/contrast essay that we always have.

You can read more about how we introduced the new unit and unique expectations to students and families here.


Throughout the unit, Deb and I read contemporary YA novels, too, and modeled all of the thinking and writing that we asked students to do.

We modeled thinking that we actually do when reading any book for any purpose since most of our students were reading different books than us and each other.

Taking the journey with students helped us to better know what skills were truly necessary, what work was especially hard, and what challenges most students would face.  

Critical Questions

1. What decisions are we making for students that they could make for themselves?
2. What changes should be made to inspire students to build independence and take ownership over their reading lives?
3. How can we make this shift:

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WHO – Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I co-teach English I all day (five 48-minute periods).  We worked together to make all of these changes to our teaching routines and strategies and to make changes to our unit expectations and assessments in order to empower students to take ownership over their reading lives. Hear more about WHAT and WHY here: 

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WHERE – Dublin Coffman High School, 9th grade, English I, inclusion

WHEN – 4th Quarter, 2018; The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Unit

HOW – surveys, flipgrid reflections, online discussions, observations

LIMITATIONS – It is difficult to quantify and calculate things such as empowerment, engagement, interest, and rigor, so we’ve had to rely on our observations, and have done our best to encourage students to be 100% honest in their survey responses and flipgrid reflections.


Because our unit in its entirety and our Action Research Project involve so many parts, I am going to break all of that info into multiple blog posts. Plus, we haven’t even finished reading Romeo and Juliet, and students are just now starting to work on their summative celebrations of learning, so stay tuned! More will be coming in a week or two, and I can’t wait to share!


Inspiration comes from unexpected places

Have I mentioned that for the last 15 years, I have been a math teacher?  I have lived and breathed mathematics education and it has led me to the beautiful world of leadership, where I am blessed to lead others.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend our district’s Literacy Conference.  You heard me right. LITERACY. It was AMAZING professional learning and inspiration.  I am not a reading or writing expert, yet as I sat in this conference, I soaked up so many ideas and strategies that will transfer perfectly to my work with teachers across curriculums.  This is proof, maybe even encouragement, that inspiration comes from the most unexpected places and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to learning within our own comfort zone.  

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Here are 4 reasons why we don’t need to look for subject specific PD all the time (Secondary teachers, take note and elementary teachers, come to math PD!)


  • Humanity comes first.  At the literacy conference, it was all about kids.  Students introduced the speakers, students shared their insight about reading and writing, students shared their technology knowledge with us, and students shared their writing and melodies.  In the words of Linda Sue Park, “You are arming our youth to save the world.  Readers, writers, and teachers coming together to help our youth.”  Educating our children is about saving the world.  Wowser. That was powerful.  And then @gcouros shared, “We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”  These powerful messages have so much to do with humanity and the impact we, as teachers, can have.
  • Learning is learning.  Yes, different content has different learning progressions and themes, but kids are kids.  This means that the way we learn is the same no matter what we are learning. Brain research supports this.  Motivation and engagement research supports this.  When we are thinking about the “best” ways to teach, we just need to focus on the desired outcome: learning & growth.  
  • Rigor crosses all curriculum. When we are working to stretch our students, we know that rigor is important.  When I read the definitions of rigor in Roberts’ DIY Literacy, it reminds me of the definitions that I see about mathematical rigor.  We achieve this through individualizing for students, through reflection, choice, and goal-setting among other things.
  • Learning is a result of engagement.  We know that learners grow the most when they are pushed to do most of the thinking.  Instructional models like workshop, PBL, and inquiry cross over to all content areas, because students are doing the thinking.  This was loud and clear at Dublin’s Literacy Conference.  We can engage students through ownership of learning.  We can conference with them to help guide learners.  We don’t need to tell them what they need to know.  We need to guide them to be curious so that they WANT to know.  How do you engage your students in an authentic way?


So, as I take my new (literacy) learning with me this week, I am calling it inspiration.  How can we push outside of our “worlds” to learn from the community, our students, our parents and experts from other areas to improve and move forward collectively?  How can we collaboratively improve teaching and learning?  We can do it.  It’s for our children.


Daily Call

Olivia is my youngest child. Although, she really isn’t a child anymore.  She is a second year language arts and social studies teacher in a neighboring school district.  And me, I am a 32 year veteran currently serving my school as its Principal.  We are at opposite ends of our careers, and this isn’t the only quality in which we are different.  Liv and I have had a tumultuous relationship.  My recollection is that from the moment she was born we were either completely in love OR completely frustrated with each other.  Fortunately, as both of us have matured, our relationship has too.

In fact, each day between 5 and 5:30 pm, Olivia calls me. I am usually on my way home from school or finishing up with the loose ends of the day.  We spend our 20 minute phone call debriefing the day.  I learn about Cheyenne who eats paper from her math journal, verbalizes every thought that pops into her head and doesn’t believe she can read or write since she was retained when her twin sister moved on to 6th grade. I learn about Jason, a student with autism, limited English proficiency, and a fierce desire to impress his teacher and classmates.  I learn about Dametrese, a boy who Olivia describes as her most advanced reader and writer. She tells me about how they challenge her; how they make her laugh and how they make her a better teacher.   Even though I have never met any of these students, I feel like I know them. I feel like they are my students, too.

Around March of her first year of teaching, our calls changed.  Initially, Olivia was consistently frantic, exhausted, or stumped about the next steps for things that happened that day.  The conversations were very one-sided  She asked lots of questions and I gave her ideas about how to proceed.  However, as the year went on, our conversations evolved.  They became less a question and answer session and more of a dialogue about the strategies she was using.  Instead of Liv asking questions, I became the questioner.  She continued to share the ups and downs of the day, but the essence of her story was more about how she felt about the strategies she was using.  Our roles changed and as a result, our conversations got better and more meaningful, for both of us.  The questions I heard myself asking Liv became questions I asked myself- and the teachers I am learning alongside- about the lessons I observed in our school.  My daughter was providing me the opportunity to practice instructional leadership!  She pushed back when my questions didn’t make sense.  She even hung up on me a couple of times when my questions offended her. Gratefully, she loves me unconditionally, called me back the next day and made suggestions about how to ask the questions differently before I offended one of the teachers at our school.

I cherish the talks Liv and I have about our work.  We continue to grow as professionals. We talk about books.  We talk about what she is learning from her literacy coach. We talk about her perceptions of morning PD sessions. Most importantly, we talk. Not everyone is blessed with a daughter who telephones every day and who shares her passion for teaching.  It is my hope, though, that each of us can find a confidente that pushes us to grow just as Liv and I have done for each other. Who will be your daily call?