Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There Is Still So Much To Do

As I worked on organizing new math curriculum materials in my classroom yesterday, I realized that we have three weeks until the kids return.

There is still so much to do.

My plan yesterday was to change seating as I continue to move more and more toward a flexible seating arrangement for the kids. But when I saw the boxes of math, my scattered brain moved in a different direction. I turned away from the seating arrangement and sought out ways to organize the manipulatives and tools in a way that the kids could grab what they need when they need it. So seating will have to wait for another day.

There is still so much to do.

I have been reading professionally all summer (insert sarcastic remark about teachers having summers off here.) Paul Solarz' Learn Like a Pirate, Mraz and Hertz' A Mindset for Learning and Lisa Highfill's The Hyperdoc Handbook have informed my professional life. But I was BLOWN AWAY by the thoughts put forward by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst in their latest literacy gem, Disrupting Thinking. Helping readers read in ways that create compassion and kindness in them. Guiding kids to read and understand not only what the text says, but what they think and feel as they read. Thinking critically. Disagreeing with the author. Learning how to spot inconsistencies in information that's purported to be true. WOW. This is my job, and it's never been more important.

There is still so much to do.

I read over 30 middle grade and picture books this summer, in preparation for books talks and for our first foray into #classroombookaday. Stocking our class library with books that will represent all my wondrously diverse students was, is, and will continue to be a huge goal. Do I have books they can hold up as a mirror and see themselves? Do I have books they can hold up as a window and see the world? Do I have books that will challenge their thinking, help them develop empathy, see things from another's point of view? Will the books I choose to read aloud each afternoon before we leave reinforce the necessity of compassion and kindness? In a world where leaders are cyberbullies, it is vital that we, as teachers, do whatever we can to instill empathy and compassion in our young people. We have an incredible job. We can be a force for peace through education. Each and every book that I encourage my students to read sends a message: I believe in you. I see you. I want for you to be as kind and compassionate as I promise to be to you.

There is still so much to do.

The literacy curriculum we have is great. It offers choice in reading and structures that develop the students' critical thinking skills. But I want to go further. Inspired by Jess Lifshitz (she shares a TON on her blog) throughout the past year and again at the Chicago Scholastic Reading Summit, I want to help my kids see that what they research has meaning. That they can use their writing to have a voice. That they can make a difference. This means adjusting the curriculum to meet the needs of my students and this world they live in.

There is still so much to do.

I am terrified as I write this. But I am also emboldened. The support of my administration is second to none, and the inspiration of my colleagues - in my building and in my PLN - serves as a touchstone, guiding me and moving me forward. Yes, there is still so much to do. But we can do it. We can do nothing less.

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Thank you to the amazing crew at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share my Slice of Life. If you'd like to read more wonderful stories, click here!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Joy in Sarah's Face

I have a new favorite thing. It's what happens to my 15-year-old daughter's face when she finds something really funny. Whether it's something she read in a book, saw on Instagram, or heard one of us say, her face goes through an amazing transformation. She starts in "resting bitch face" or RBF (her words, not mine, and very typical in our family) but then, something magical happens.

The happiness starts in her eyes, which look up from whatever she's doing and go wide, as though she's just had the most brilliant idea. They glitter and shine like the sun reflecting on the ocean. Then, the rest of her face joins the party. Her cheeks lift, her mouth opens, and her lips pull back in a huge smile. Sometimes there's laughter, but it's mostly - and a little ironically - a silent joy. Not one millimeter of her face is excluded.

The other day, I witnessed this step-by-step awesomeness. I was slightly worried that I'd offend her, but I took a chance and said, "When you find something super funny, your face is so great. It reminds me of that thing the sloth at the DMV in Zootopia does when he hears or tells a joke."

Her response? She made the face, so I guess she found it funny.

I'm not sure who was happier in that moment.

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Thank you to all of the wonderful folks at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share this small slice of life. To read more slices, click here and click on "Slice of Life"!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When FOMO Leads to Gratitude

It's day two of NerdCamp in Parma, Michigan and I'm on my couch. I have mixed feelings about this. Tomorrow is my 44th birthday and, every year for the past I-don't-know-how-many, my twin sister and I have celebrated together. She usually comes here so we can bask in the warmth and glory of Summer Chicago, but we have also met in California a time or two. Needless to say, we've been together this time each year before NerdCamp was a twinkle in Colby Sharp's eye.

So why do I feel like I'm missing out this year? This is the fourth year of NerdCamp. I've known about it since its inception, and I always thought, "Hey, that'd be fun, but I'm having a good time, too!" This year is different. As I write this, I think it's because my relationships on Twitter have evolved and become deeper. For the first time since I joined Twitter in 2009, I am part of a tribe. My #bookexpedition crew and I have become friends. I've even met a couple at various conferences (I wrote about it here.) And, as I write this, it's the realization that a shared experience around books is what I really love, emphasis on shared. To work toward bettering the reading lives of our students, and to share that experience with other like-minded folk, is it. The tossing back and forth of ideas, the expressing of mutual favorite books, and the learning and growing together is what truly energizes me.

Me (l) with my sis at Wrigley
I actually feel a bit bad writing this, because I am having the TIME OF MY LIFE - as always - with my twin sister!! We caught a Cubs game (they actually won), have spent countless hours in the pool with family and friends, and are going to see Hamilton on Thursday! The quiet times we've had talking about major life changes (her) and the hilarity of raising The Teenager™ (me) are life-sustaining. No one gets me the way she does. We have unique shared experiences that are precious to me. That, coupled with the fear that this may be our last summer where we get a big chunk of time together (those major life changes lead us to amazing, yet different, places) makes me feel a little guilty about my case of FOMO. But I guess it's okay to have an amazing celebration with my super fab sissy and feel a little sad that I can't be somewhere. NerdCamp will be around - it's grown unbelievably successful, so I can't imagine it would end any time soon - and this time my sister and I have together is so fleeting.

In the end, after working my way through the jumble of feelings, I am grateful. Grateful to have this time with my sister (who has come, and stayed, despite some craziness going on with her family.) And also grateful that I have a tribe who I connect with so much that I miss them a little when they're together. So I'll follow them on Twitter, celebrating with them as they learn from rockstars like Stacey Riedmiller and Pernille Ripp and meet wonderful authors like R.J.Palacio and Elly Swartz. Then I'll put down my phone and celebrate my life with the one whose been with me through it all. That's what I'd call a win-win.

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Thank you to the wonderful crew at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share my Slice of Life. To read other slices, click here.

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