Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Miss Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish In A TreeFish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(This review is based on an "advance uncorrected galley" or advance reader copy.)

My Friday night was just spent reading Fish in a Tree, and I am sad that I finished this book so quickly.
I fell in love with Carley in Lynda Mullaly Hunt's first book, One for the Murphys, and did just the same with Ally, the main character in Fish in a Tree.
Ally is one of those brilliant kids we've met in our classes, in our communities, in our homes. She shines in some places, while struggling in others, and we gladly take her on as our friend, wanting to fight her battles with her every step of the way.
Lynda introduces us to characters who evoke our own memories of school and of building our identities. She brings our heart into the mix right away and we are pulled in, laughing, crying and cheering the whole way.

I was privileged to Skype- interview Lynda awhile back, and ask her some nitty gritty questions about her first book. Check it out!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Opportunity to Learn: Attacking gets us Nowhere

I've been struck recently by the lack of civility in blog post comment streams, tweets, fb comments and other virtual spaces. Although I realize that being online isn't the "cause" of this incivility, I just wonder to myself as I read teachers and others attacking each other, "Would you say this to the person face to face?"

I have been called, with certain derision, a "do-gooder" in the past, so I realize that I might have a propensity for the rose colored glasses at times, but even when I make a comment with some level of disagreement, I speak/write with a specific intention: to create a constructive conversation, one that simply gets others to wonder a bit, open their minds.

Before we react, perhaps we can just take a moment to wonder about what is going on within us. What is our motivation for speaking up? Has something got us "seeing red?" If so, will our comment work better when we have calmed down enough to write a thoughtful, effective, yet from the heart? Does someone disagreeing with us have to threaten us? Maybe it can just be an opportunity for learning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Believing in Students So They Believe In Themselves — Whole Child Education

Last week, I was so pleased to be part of this discussion with passionate educators and authors.  I don't think I can do justice by trying to summarize, so find a bit of time and take a listen!

Believing in Students So They Believe In Themselves — Whole Child Education

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our Way isn't the Best Way

Who are we, as teachers, (or anyone for that matter) to judge each other? I admit it.. I do it too, so before anyone thinks I am standing on a soapbox claiming to be beyond this, I am writing as much for my own reminding as anyone else.

I happened to see a tweet yesterday that got me thinking:  it was something about waiting for others to come around to “our way” of teaching.

As is often the case with tweets, this one got me thinking.

Teaching is an intensely personal transaction, so why do we arrogantly assume that if others don’t teach like us, they are further down the path to success?

Instead of trying to sell our egocentric ideal approach, what if we simply invited others to ponder two simple questions:

How well do you know your students and what they need?
How is your approach and agenda meeting those needs?

Maybe in this process, we should also step back and take the time to reflect on our own way. Perhaps we’ve been starstruck and blindsided by the edu-star syndrome, buying into what others with lots of Twitter followers think. Maybe when others offer us praise on social media, we fall for the idea that we have “arrived” at our perfect way of teaching. I get it..totally.

I am going to state the obvious: there is no perfect way. What works today, in this particular class, may not work for our class next week. Teaching is an art, a fluid dance…and it should be, because the complex little (or not so little) people that arrive in our rooms deserve an environment that responds to them, that helps shape them, that gives them messages that when we work hard, we can learn. 

What students end up believing they can or cannot do might just be the most important transaction of all.

So how do we inspire others, and ourselves, to continuously reflect on the interactions with the most important people in the room? How do we keep adjusting and accommodating in a system that seems to love its, "that's how it's always been," mentality?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If you want innovation, get a young idealistic teacher..and other damaging myths..

I recently read a post about edtech startups and the presence and role of teachers in them. There were a couple of assumptions that just..well.. let's just say "ruffled my feathers". (And before I get started, I must note that I know many innovative, excellent teachers of all ages, so I have no bias for young or old)

  • One assumption was that if education companies were going to "transform" or disrupt education, having teachers on board was not (necessarily) going to help since they(teachers) have a vested interest in the status quo and because companies have had teachers writing curriculum for years with "no change happening." Um, do we think that the big companies, the great big arms of the edu- machine are going to listen to a teacher, a marginalized professional who is writing that curriculum to supplement his/her measly income? Let's be clear: I gain no financial incentive nor personal satisfaction from perpetuating the bureaucratic machine of education. In fact, I've spent most of my years as an educator fighting and advocating for kids' rights, and when I believed I could no longer effect change, I left my school( to the detriment of my own financial security/retirement plan) for somewhere I could make a bigger impact. 

  •  The writer went on to talk about other industries where the people who made the innovations came from outside the industry. He talked about how teachers are prone to cognitive biases and distortions. Isn't that true of all of us humans? Now this is all fine and good for those on the outside to chime in with ideas, except that education isn't necessarily like the auto industry. We are talking about the lives of children. We are talking about developing not only skills and competencies but BELIEFS about what kids think they can do in this world. Those of us who have been around for awhile understand that many aspects of education are not best suited for the learners in our classrooms. We spend our own money, our supposed "vacation" time, and every moment we can trying to find new ways to meet the needs of our learners. We eat, breathe, sleep, and dream about our students, especially when they suffer hardships beyond our control. 

  • In education, teachers are tasked with being counselors, mentors, teachers, surrogate parents, nurses, caregivers, and so much more. To actually think that we who live within the world of education don't believe that it needs to change is crazy to me. To think that we who are veteran educators don't want it to change is even crazier to me. We have seen more, experienced more "pain points" as they like to say in business. We know what we need for tech in the classroom, just as we have strong pedagogical views shaped by years of experience. We know the damage caused by inequity; we witness the institutional racism that leads to higher rates of formal discipline for children of color. We do our best to intervene. We know the tools we would invent if we knew how to code or had the time to develop these tools.  We feel the pain, and feel it deeply when our children, aka, our students, suffer. 

  • The author also mentioned that perhaps younger, more idealistic teachers are going to be the ones who just might make an impact in edtech startups. He then goes even further by saying that maybe it won't even be those teachers, but the tech savvy students who will enter the workplace.  I'm all for student voice, but guess who will know best how to give those students the microphone? Teachers who get it and, "get them." 
I wrote this post weeks ago, and put it on hold to see if I would feel equally passionate as my anger died down. I am choosing to post it as it is, without editing further, as I believe that as my "nice teacher" self, I tend to make peace more often than I should.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can all be heard as the important voices of advocacy for our students. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students, by Pernille Ripp: a Must- read for Teachers

Reviews are usually not my cup of tea; product reviews, book reviews, etc. are not at the top of my topics. I make an exception, quite frankly, when an author tugs at my heart, strengthens my commitment, and challenges me to take my skills to the next level. I have faithfully read Pernille's blog for many years, and now have the opportunity to share about her first book.

In her book, Passionate Learners, Giving our Classrooms Back to Our Students, recently released by PLP, Pernille Ripp takes us through her transformation from a "follow the rules no matter what" teacher to a passionate co-learner and facilitator who creates a place of shared ownership, mutual respect, and true empowered learning. She leaves no controversial topic unturned: from behavior charts, stickers and parties, to grading, punishment, homework and more. Pernille gives her readers a peek inside her mind: what she used to think, what she believes now, and hints for teachers who want to  build a learning environment that aligns with their beliefs.

Pernille does not ask anything of readers she is not prepared to do herself, nor does she expect to be seen as an "expert." She beckons us to question our deepest beliefs, our best practices, the outcomes of our daily classroom experiences and says that we must continue to question in order to grow. With questionnaires to help us reflect, inspiring student videos and photos to encourage our belief in the power of student autonomy, Pernille provides tools, stories, and questions so that we can tackle any challenge. She does not promise that change will be easy, nor does she assume that there is a "one-size fits all" approach for every classroom. She simply lays out guidelines and tips for making progressive moves toward a goal of a true student centered classroom.

I wish that I had read this book a year earlier as I struggled with being a change maker at my school. Although I have a broad PLN I can call on for support, somehow reading these words felt like an extended conversation with a wise friend. Thank you, Pernille, for your oh so honest story that affirms the gifts and challenges of our vital profession.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Many?

How many times have you put off that picture with your kids because you're having a bad hair day?
How many times have you said, I'll play that game with you tomorrow...I've got to finish this first?
How many ways have you stopped to savor beauty today?
How many opportunities might you have missed by staring into your phone?
How will you find the time to listen to that kid who wants to share his/her "off-topic" story?

I share these questions not from atop a soapbox, but as a reminder, not just to you, but to me. In this world where we seem to often value being busy and productive over present and peaceful, I stop today to remind myself: we only have one life, and it's up to us to grab the joys that live in ordinary moments.


I took a selfie of my grandson and me. No makeup, no brushed hair. Just us, capturing the joyful moment of being outside on a spring day. I wish I had been less vain as my kids were growing up, and not waited for those times I didn't feel "too fat" or "not ready" for the camera.

Today, tomorrow.. and each day I possibly can! 
 I will find a few moments to enjoy the beauty around me, like I did last week when visiting my daughter in NC.

What can you do to savor more of those moments that seem ordinary but can be filled with meaning and joy?