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?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

In her Honor..A Tribute to my Mom

My mom, in 1953

It's been 15 years since we lost our mom. I say, "we," because she left behind 5 kids, many grandchildren already born and a couple yet to be born, and missed the opportunity to meet her great grandchildren. She was way too young, 63, to be exact. We simply weren't prepared to lose the grandma to our kids and the woman who held our family together.

My relationship with my mom had its ups and downs for wasn't perfect by any means, perhaps because in so many ways we were more alike than I wanted to admit. In fact, I see more of her in me each day I grow older, and I've grown to embrace the strength and stubborn streak I got from her.

What I will always be thankful for is that my mom was very close to my kids. Nick and Stef loved being over at my parents' house, swimming, playing, hanging out while I was at work. My mom seemed happiest of all as a grandma, as if she had waited her whole life to spoil her grandkids. Now that I am a grandma, I understand her even better.

My mom taught me the importance and joy of giving. There were no ordinary gifts given by my mom. She knew the exact gift each of us needed or wanted and would not settle for anything less. Gift giving remains one of my greatest challenges as I always have to think up something original, thoughtful, special to carry on her legacy.
My mom was a very sensitive woman, though it was hidden beneath her sharp sarcastic tongue, which I naturally possess as well.  She gifted all of us with creative inclinations: to sew, paint, craft, sing, make music, write.. and shared with all of us her love of reading. 
On this day, April 6, 2014, I gratefully savor the memories and gift of the time I had with her. I love you Mom. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

365 Mindful Moments: Hurt Heart...

This post resurfaced on Twitter tonight and reminded me of an important story of a very special student and an administrator who was not supportive of her needs.

This post still hurts.. 4 years later..

365 Mindful Moments: Hurt Heart...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Student Reflections via Haiku Deck

Sometimes we stumble upon things serendipitously, and it turns out to be a great time to share.
Last year, for our schoolwide end of the year, "Celebration of Learning," my 4th graders put together incredible presentations based on some key discoveries they had made throughout the year. They chose projects that helped them learn most and created presentations to share with the school and with family members. I can't share those slideshows due to school rules, but I can share these reflections.
After the big day of our presentations, the students created reflections of the entire experience on Haiku Deck, posted below (which can be a bit tricky to view depending on your device) or on this wall (easier to navigate!)  They wrote about both our group performance of music videos we created at the Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco, as well as their own individual presentations.

What's your favorite way to share student reflections? 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When was the last time your work was edited?

Every time I write something that isn't for my eyes only, I fret. I write, procrastinate, read aloud, write a bit more, procrastinate a lot more, write, edit, and revise until I make myself a bit (more) nutty.

On this blog, though, I have freed myself from the need to be 100% comprehensible, because sometimes I think it helps to share my thinking journey with the help of my wonderful network of learners. The learning/thinking process is often murky, tiring, and sometimes frankly overwhelming.

Recently, I had an "aha" as I attempted to extinguish the anxiety of submitting my work for an editor. Every time I've gone through the editing/revision process with an editor, whether it's the ASCD Arias book I just completed or for my occasional pieces for EdSurge, I've gained a greater appreciation and deepened empathy for my students.

When they put their thoughts into words, and receive our "helpful" feedback, students are in such a vulnerable space. I wonder how often we ponder this as we take our colored pens and proceed to write on top of their work. I wonder how what we say,  even down to the tone of our words, impacts the future of our writers. This brings me to my question:

Have you had a recent experience of sharing your work and going through the writing process with someone who had some sort of authority or power over it?

Maybe we don't need to have others edit our work to remember this feeling. But it can't hurt to try it out. Next time you write that blog post, poem, or short story, why not send it to a friend who will be brutally honest? Or even better, why not take the plunge and submit your work to your favorite website or publication?

Your students will thank you.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wait Matters

So I'll make this short as it's a painful post to write, and, frankly, I share it because it relates to the way we help kids deal with the complex issue of forgiveness.

I got a message yesterday that hit me straight in the gut. As I read the words, I literally felt sick. I won't reveal those words, but they were certainly straight to the point.

I had hurt someone, not just anyone, but a good friend, not intentionally, but perhaps by 2 counts of careless neglect. I accepted an invitation from a nearby friend, although a tiny voice inside whispered that perhaps I should talk to the faraway friend who might feel excluded. I then proceeded to quell that voice inside somehow and subconsciously decide there was nothing to talk about.  Why? Now this is all conjecture because I never allowed myself to think about it..but maybe it was because deep down I was afraid to face a conversation where I might have to hear that someone I care about could be hurt.

This happens all the time with kids: they exclude others without fully realizing what is happening.. and then fail or even refuse to consider how the others might feel... but more about that later.. 

Of course, this type of avoidance never goes well. Ignoring that wise little voice of intuition is never a good thing. But I did.. perhaps because I'm juggling too many balls, perhaps because I lack confidence in dealing with potential conflicts .... the reason doesn't matter. I screwed up. 

And this brings me to the what next.

I sent an apology. I tried to explain (and tried not to defend) my actions or lack thereof. And now I wait, in the gut-wrenching knowledge that I have caused another human being emotional pain, and that this person may decide to never forgive me. And I am so very sad.

And then it dawned on me: It's not in my control. I must wait.. If I keep trying to reach out, perhaps I am not honoring the other person's need for time. Ultimately, I will also have to forgive myself, whether or not the other person does.

This brings me to what we do with kids when they make a mistake that hurts another person. 

We often make them apologize, and then we also expect the offended person to accept. What if that person isn't ready to forgive? Do we help kids understand that relationships are a process and that a breach in trust just doesn't go away after the, "I'm sorry?"

Just as adults need time for processing, so do kids. Feelings are a complicated landscape, and so often we make things worse by our own need to tie things up in a nice bow and say we've taken care of it.

I don't know how to make right the wrong. And I'm an adult! Imagine how complicated it is for kids.

I do know this:
I vow to act with more intention and to listen to the sensitive soul inside me who keeps me on track.
I will practice letting go of the outcome; I cannot expect someone to forgive me, but only express my feelings of regret and hope that one day they will believe again.
I will help kids understand that the process of forgiveness is not a clean, simple, linear one and that it's okay if we don't have immediate closure.

Here's a final question for you: 
How do you help kids move on when they don't get the result they want?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

EQ Week 2014 is coming, March 10th-15th!

I strongly believe that the more we learn about emotional intelligence, the more able we are to navigate our own emotional lives as well as empower those we interact with each day.

In 2012 I participated in the very first EQ week webinars, and I was excited to learn about the wonderful work of Six Seconds. I attended their educator training the following summer and began to incorporate more social emotional lessons into my 4th grade curriculum. 

I'm excited to share: EQ WEEK 2014 -- the 3rd annual online conference with over 60 webinars - all free!!!  Speakers from ALL over the globe will share their wisdom on neuroscience, parenting, leadership, teaching -- and LIFE. Webinars are live and have limited space, but recordings are avail for a month following.  Details & signup here: 

Hope to see you (virtually) there! 

(Just an FYI: I gain nothing financially from sharing this news. I just believe in the power of EQ!) 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Civility: Are we Modeling it?

This little guy, at nearly 4 months, watches everything and has begun responding by imitating.  I'm certainly cleaning up my language and thinking of how I will do my best to be a good grandma role model ;-) 

Just back from Costco, which was a darn stupid idea on the day before Super Bowl. Getting my car  parked was a feat in itself, even though I aimed for a space in the absolute farthest lot.

As I entered the store, I paused waiting for the lady next to me to go ahead. We both smiled, saying at the same time, "Go ahead." Ok, I thought..this won't be as bad as I expected.

Halfway down the frozen aisle a kid ran by, bumping into me. I'll admit: I was a bit irritated as I had seen kids running on the previous aisle and it was crowded and a bit dangerous to have 8 year olds ducking and diving. In any case, as he blazed by, realizing that he had just hit me he stopped, looked at me, and said, "Excuse me.. sorry!" A smile crossed over my teacher face as I thought of telling his dad, down the aisle, that I appreciated his politeness. I decided, however, that much as I would welcome such a comment from a stranger, not all adults would take it the right way. I carried on, trying to get out of there as fast as possible.

Moving toward the front of the store, I rounded a curve, and nearly collided with a woman, shaking her head and frowning as I uttered, "Excuse me." We were both completely where we should be: simply navigating a shared space. For some reason, though, she could not be gracious in this negotiation. I smiled and carried on. Kill 'em with kindness, right?

Whatever, I shrugged, as I decided it was definitely time to get out of there. The checkout line: perfectly pleasant, as I chatted with the cashier and bagged my items, remembering the many years I spent working in retail and my vow to always treat others especially kindly.

The parking lot was where it hit me the hardest. Safely in my car, groceries packed, I witnessed an interchange between drivers much like the one I had with my cart in the store. A woman threw up her arms, shouted out her window at another woman who was simply coming around the corner and "in her way" for a few seconds. Wow, I thought, maybe I missed something.

But it was her next move, when she was suddenly behind me in the line of cars exiting the lot that got my attention. Because I didn't hit the gas full speed as the light changed, she swerved out into the next lane, nearly clipping my car as we rounded the turn.

SO many questions ran through my mind: Is she in a hurry to get somewhere because someone is in danger? What would rationalize such behavior: driving a car so aggressively? If she pulled up next to me, and I had a chance, would I say something? 

Of course, I must admit, that I was somewhat pleased that her impulsive move left her at the end of a slower moving line of cars. Ha! That's what she gets, I thought. I'm human, right?

Afterward, I kept thinking about how we expect kids to be polite and civil, yet we see so many examples of adults who are not modeling it. I'm sure I'm guilty too, but now, with a grandson watching, I'm sure I'll be a bit more aware of my words and actions.

Little eyes are watching.