#teacherswrite experience=INSPIRATION

 

If you teach writing in K-12img_5103-1 you must experience #teacherswrite. Look for more information on Kate Messner’s Blog. This is a summer program (free) where teachers can experience minilessons, quick writes, and feedback, from REAL authors, to inspire teachers to write. Don’t you think you’d be a better teacher if you were a better writer? Makes sense right?!

I’ve always been afraid of writing. During my school experience, I was more confident with Math and Science. I felt okay about the rest. After becoming an avid reader in my adult years and seeing the positive impact on my teaching, I thought, “Why not become an avid writer?” This is what lead me to #teacherswrite. I fell upon it because I’m active on Twitter. (BTW, the best teacher professional development out there. If you are not on Twitter for education, you MUST be!)

Now I am writing every day. I am inspired. I plan to write at least half an hour every day from here on out. I will share my plan and my writing with my students. I am eager to teach writing. YAY!!

So, now for the hard part. I am posting below some writing I am currently working on. I know I have a LOT to learn and more I can improve on. But, I will not get there without practice, without failure. I need to be brave and share. Just like I will expect my students to do. If their teacher is taking a leap of faith, my students might just be willing to as well. I hope. Here it is. Feel free to comment.

   *                  *                 *

Three months later, I sit in the doctor’s office waiting for my name to be called. It is a nicely decorated with black and white photos of the city, but I stick out like a sore thumb. The waiting room is full of old people. Some with oxygen machines, walkers, canes. I believe I am the only one here below the age of 60 besides my mom. It is a rheumatology office, which apparently affects mostly the elderly. I guess Dr. Sail hopes this new doctor can figure out what is going on with me.

 

One old guy walks to the door when his name is called. He has one of those walkers you hold onto to help you balance. Every movement he makes looks painful. I cannot help but think, “Could I end up like him?”

“Liz.” calls the nurse.

My mom and I follow her like baby ducks into the examination room. The nurse checks my vitals and asks, “How have you been since your last appointment with your pediatrician, Dr. Sail? He sent us all your records and felt Dr. Pillman might be able to help you.”

“Have you watched any zombie movies lately?” I retort.

“No, why?” the nurse replies, looking at me like I am crazy.

“Well, you know how a zombie looks and acts in movies? That is how I feel inside. Dead.”

“O-kay,” and the nurse rolls her eyes.

“Except for the wanting to eat people of course!” I assure the nurse.

“Glad to see you still have your sense of humor Liz.” The nurse whispered as she shook her head. I could almost read her mind, thinking I am a crazy, mentally messed-up teenager. “Dr. Pillman will be in with you shortly.”

Waiting for the doctor is like waiting for the ketchup to come out of a brand new bottle at a restaurant. All I want is for the doctor to fix this and Mom is just sitting there reading a magazine. “Mom!” I shout.  His name is Dr. PILLman. Come on! Can’t he just give me a pill to make it all go away? Isn’t that what doctors do? I just want to move on with my life and get back to volleyball and friends and middle school.”

“Honey, some things are not so easy to fix. Don’t you think you might be over-reacting a bit? You should feel thankful this is not something deadly like cancer.” My Mom always looks at the bright side of things, puke!

“Thankful!” I shout. “I can’t do ANYTHING I use to. I am losing all my friends and YOU think I should be thank-”

Knock, knock. In walks a man who looks nothing like a doctor. “I am Dr. Pillman. Is everything okay?” My mom and I both look at him with no response.

“Well then, you must be Liz’s mom, Beth, and you must be Liz.”  

Thanks for noticing the obvious Dr. Pillman, who looks nothing like a doctor, more like a surfer.  He has long black hair pulled back into a tight pony tail. Instead of wearing a white doctor coat, he is wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt. Maybe I should be nice to him. He might be able to fix this. I hope, crossing my fingers.

“Hi,” I slightly wave to Dr. Pillman. He turns to my mother and introduces himself, sitting on his round black doctor chair with his clipboard in hand.

Dr. Pillman asks, “How have you been feeling lately Liz?”

I blurt out, almost shouting, “I feel like I am a 12-year-old in a 70-year-old body. I can barely make it up and down the stairs without my legs screaming in pain. My arms and legs burn. All. The. Time. My ribs ache when I sit down. I cannot write for more than a minute without my wrists screaming in pain. I am constantly nauseous. My stomach queasy, especially in the morning. Nothing helps the pain. It is crazy! It hits me so fast. One minute I can feel fine and I think to myself, ‘Maybe this is it. Maybe I will start to feel normal again.’ A couple of hours later it is like someone just flipped a switch. And I go from feeling normal to crashing on the couch. I think that about covers it.” I take a deep breath because all of that came out of my mouth super quick!

“Well Liz, I have looked over your charts and blood tests. I am here today to give you a diagnosis.” Dr. Pillman looks me directly in the eye. I feel my heart beating fast. Whatever it is, just tell me. Fix this.

“Okay,” is the only thing I manage to squeeze out of my mouth.

Dr. Pillman continues, “I believe you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS for short. We are not sure what causes CFS, but we know it does not damage your body. That is the good news. CFS is characterized by intense fatigue and pain. It can get worse with physical activity or mental concentration.”

“So, that is why I cannot play volleyball anymore and have trouble concentrating in school?” I ask Dr. Pillman.

“Yes, Liz. Currently, there is not a test telling us you have CFS. I was only able to diagnose you because you have been experiencing the symptoms of CFS for more than three months.

My mom interjects, “So, what do we do now? Is there a medication Liz can take to get rid of the symptoms? Is there a cure?”

“I am afraid there is not much we can do. No medication is approved for CFS in children. There is no cure,” answered Dr. Pillman, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “Liz will have to learn how to manage her symptoms by limiting physical activity and taking a lot of breaks. Essentially, she will need to re-learn her ‘new’ self. Most kids grow out of it by the time they are an adult. But it could take years.”

“What!” I abruptly stand up and firmly, slowly demand through my clenched teeth, “No. I need to get back to volleyball. It’s my whole life. You are a doctor. You are MUST fix this!”

“I am sorry Liz, there is nothing we can do.”

I slowly sit back down in my seat, thoughts swirl in my head. Mom and Dr. Pillman continue to talk but all I can do is think back to volleyball. No volleyball? Does this mean every time I feel better and try to be normal, I will feel awful later? How can I be a volleyball player when I cannot even practice. This isn’t fair. He said, “Grow out of it when I’m an adult.” What about my life now? My life is ruined! I feel the tears forming. No. I cannot cry. No.

My thoughts are interrupted by Mom, “Liz honey. Dr. Pillman asked you a question.”

I look up at Dr. Pillman. He repeats, “There is a local support group for children with CFS. Would you like me to give you the information?”

“Whatever,” I snap at Dr. Pillman. He hands me a brochure with kids on the front. Some are in wheelchairs.

Dr. Pillman looks at me and says, “Don’t worry Liz. Once you learn how to manage your symptoms and physical activity, you will crash less often and feel much better. I’ll see you in three months for a check-up.” And then he just walks out the door.

That’s it! I turn around to look at my mom and she’s crying. As I try to hold back the tears, I hug my mom tight and we both cry for what seems like an eternity.

 

* * *

 

The next morning I wake up in utter defeat. Inside I am still Liz, but my body betrayed me. Let me down like a mean, mean joke. “Ha, ha Liz,” my body taunts me, “You thought you were going to be an awesome volleyball player, a normal kid. Not anymore! Normal is something you will never know again.”

Why should I even get out of bed? I can’t do anything. I can’t go to the mall, too much walking. I can’t join my friends at volleyball practice, too much running. I can’t go swimming. I can’t snow ski. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t! “Agggggg!” I scream, slamming my fists into my pillow. “My. Life. Is. Ruined.”

Rage builds up inside me, ready to explode. Scrunching my brow, I look around my bedroom. My heart is beating fast. My hands are clammy. I stare at my wall with the collage of volleyball photos. All I see are memories of what I use to be. A wave of anger takes over. Throwing the comforter off my useless body, I rush over to the photos.  My anger rips off photo after photo. My rage tears them into little pieces. I can barely catch my breath. I scream. I weep. I collapse on the floor.

“Liz! What on earth is going on?” Mom shouts as she opens my bedroom door. “Oh.” I hear her say softly. Without saying another word, Mom lays next to me, holds me tight. We lay there and cry.

In between sobs I plead, “Mom, what am I going to do?”

“We’ll figure it out, honey. We will,” Mom responds tenderly.

#TeachersWrite Experience

Displaying Photo note

I am loving my experience with #TeachersWrite so far. After my first week, I actually have a piece of writing. Yay! I know if I want to be a better writing teacher, I need to write. The #TeachersWrite blog is just I need for guidance to overcome the fear I’ve always had about writing. If you are interested in checking it out, click here. It links to author Kate Messner and her blog. (By the way, if you have not read THE SEVENTH WISH, by Kate Messner, you must.)

Now, for the brave, getting over the fear, part of this process. My work in progress is below. Feel free to comment and share what works for you, what does not, and any suggestions for improvement.

 

He just does not understand! I do not want a dog, I need a dog. When I am terrified after waking up from a nightmare, a dog will be there to comfort me. When grief takes over my body like a disease, a dog will love me.

“Dad, I will pay the adoption fee, pick up the poop, feed him. I swear I will!”

“Rrr,” Dad grunted, shutting the office door behind him.

Defeat washed over me like a wave. I’m drowning. I slowly trudge up the stairs and plop down on my bed.

“Rrr,” I grunt.

My New Writing Journey

 

img_5103-1

 

#teacherswrite 2016 Monday June 27th

I am not a writer. I have never been. I try to say things on paper, but when I read it, the message is not there. No formal training on writing, but I am expected to teach my intermediate students the art of writing. This is why I am here. I want to learn. I desire to learn. I am scared. I worry someone will read what I have to say and think, “Who do they think they are?? Really, you are a teacher?” The fear is there like a wall. Do I climb over it? Do I let others see me in my vulnerable state? Or do I just keep doing what I have always done?
One thing I do know, once I became a reader, I was a better, much better, reading teacher. My passion rubbed off in the classroom. I had a book recommendation for every type of student/taste. If only I can accomplish this with writing. If I become a writer, will I be a better, much better, writing teacher? I hope so.

Now…what do I write about???

#druffelites Top Ten Books

Our Top Ten Most Loved Book List

1. THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince was our last read aloud for the school year. Students were invested in this book. They hated if we only had ten minutes to read on a tight-scheduled day. Many class discussion arose without probing or prodding. If you want a class at the edge of their seats, or a child who cannot put the book down, this one is for you.

From Amazon.com: In this first book in a remarkable trilogy, an orphan is forced into a twisted game with deadly stakes.

Choose to lie…or choose to die.

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

2. AMULET Series by Kazu Kibuishi

Talk about well-loved. I have to buy a whole new set of this series for fall. Girls and boys devoured this series and could not wait for book 7 when it came out this spring. We had wait-list after wait-list of readers read for the next book in the series.

From Amazon.com: After tragedy strikes their family, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the old home of their great-grandfather. On their very first night in the strange house, Emily and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Determined to rescue her, Emily and Navin are led into a world of robots, talking animals, flying ships, new allies . . . and enemies. There, Emily learns that she is a Stonekeeper and essential to the survival of this world, and that her incredible story is only just beginning.

3. THE HONEST TRUTH by Dan Gemeinhart

This is the second year I have include this book as a read aloud. We were even lucky enough to have Dan Gemeinhart visit our school this spring. Students fell in love with the main character Mark and his Dog Beau as they traveled to Mt. Rainier. Taking place in Washington State was the perfect setting since our social studies unit for the year was Washington State History and Government. Students made storyboards of their favorite scene and presented them to author Dan Gemeinhart during his visit. This heart-wrenching tale of perseverance and love engage readers from cover to cover.

From Amazon.com: It’s never too late for the adventure of a lifetime.

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.

But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.

So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

THE HONEST TRUTH is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and one incredible journey.

4. SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Our first read aloud of the year drew in the new fourth graders. Students quickly discovered how invested a reader can get into a book. They cared about Shiloh and despised Judd. This is a wonderful read aloud.

From Amazon.com: Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Phillis Reynolds Naylor.

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun—and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

5. THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

My words will never do this book justice. This is the most powerful book I have read. The main character, Ada, endures more than most of us could imagine. My students fell in love with Ada and HATED Mam, Ada’s mom.We were ecstatic to hear this well-deserved book won a Newbery Honor. After we completed this class read aloud, we had the pleasure to Skype with the author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradely. We found out the sequel will leave off right where this story ended. We cannot wait!

From Amazon.com: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.
 
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
 
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

6. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo

We pre-ordered this book for our Fourth Grade Book Club. Students had three weeks to read the book, then we met after school to discuss. Many finished the book within one week because they could not put it down. Out of the three rancheros (best friends), Beverly was the most favorite. We were not disappointed with Kate DiCamillo’s newest book!

From Amazon.com: Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

7. SOME KIND OF COURAGE by Dan Gemeinhart

The first student to read this book in my class followed along with the award-winning audio book. He would shout, tear-up, and whisper to himself throughout the book. This is a kid who finally fell in love with a book thanks to Dan Gemeinhart. This was also our first Fourth Grade Book Club book and the group loved it. It is action-packed and full of love. It takes place in the 1800s in Washington State. Another must read!

From Amazon.com: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.

Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left.

Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything. But he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back-no matter what.

The critically acclaimed author of The Honest Truth returns with a poignant, hopeful, and action-packed story about hearts that won’t be tamed… and spirits that refuse to be broken.

8. WONDER by R.J. Palacio

This was another Fourth Grade Book Club book the students loved. It made them think about what it would like to be Auggie and how they treat people who may look different.

From Amazon.com: The book that inspired the Choose Kind movement.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author ofSticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

9. DEEP, DARK, AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn

The craze with this book started when a student read this book along with the audio book on our class iPad. He could not stop talking about how creepy this book was and how much he loved it. Students waited for their turn with the book. A great ghost story for any classroom library.

From Amazon.com: Just before summer begins, 13-year-old Ali finds an odd photograph in the attic. She knows the two children in it are her mother, Claire, and her aunt Dulcie. But who’s the third person, the one who’s been torn out of the picture?

Ali figures she’ll find out while she’s vacationing in Maine with Dulcie and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, in the house where Ali’s mother’s family used to spend summers. All hopes for relaxation are quashed shortly after their arrival, though, when the girls meet Sissy, a kid who’s mean and spiteful and a bad influence on Emma.

Strangest of all, Sissy keeps talking about a girl named Teresa who drowned under mysterious circumstances back when Claire and Dulcie were kids, and whose body was never found. At first Ali thinks Sissy’s just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry. . . . Mary Downing Hahn is at her chilling best in this new supernatural tale that’s certain to send shivers down her readers’ spines.

10. THE BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Boy did my students fall in love with this book and ciphers. It was a great book to read aloud this year. It kept the students guessing right up until the end. What a fun book!

From Amazon.com: For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game―before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

My Most Important Job

Today was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but the most important gift I received today was from my oldest daughter.

My room was 80 degrees. Half an hour after students left, so did I. The room was too hot to work in so I brought my work home.

I met my own children at daycare. I even made it before they arrived from being picked up at their school. Emma, my oldest, was the first off the daycare bus. She held a hand-made card in her hand. “Mom, you have to read this!” she shouted enthusiastically. 

We made the five minute trip home listening to classic rock (my girls’ favorite). As we unpacked the car, Emma said, “Mom, read the card!” 

I unpacked our school items and proceeded to read the hand-made card. It read, “Happy Mothers Day” on the front. Inside she wrote, “You are the best mom I could ever have!” On the other side, Emma drew a picture of us exchanging the card. She was so proud. 

I was surprised because Mother’s Day is not until Sunday, yet Emma felt the need to give her mom a card early. 

This was a message I received loud and clear. My children (and being a mother) is my MOST important job. Yes, I LOVE being a teacher and do my very best for my “school children” everyday. But, my children are still the most important and most deserving of my time. 

When you work with a needy population of kids, it can be hard to let your “school kids”and their issues go, when you are at home, away from them. But, when I am home, MY children are the most important.

Thank you Emma, for the Mother’s Day card I received early from you today. You will never know how the card was THE most important gift I received on Teacher Appreciation Day.

A MUST READ FOR ALL AGES

amazon.com

I have been away from blogging for quite awhile. Many other things in my life have needed my attention. That being said, I MUST blog about The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It has been tugging at me ever since I read it, this summer, for the first time.

Ada, the main character, is a girl that will forever live in my heart. World War II saved her life. But really, Ada’s strength is what saved her, and the love of Miss Smith.

You see, Ada was born with a clubfoot. Her mother, Mam, confined Ada to their third-floor flat in London, England. She never learned how to walk. Ada’s only view of the world was from her window. Mam mistreated Ada in various, horrific, ways. Yet Ada found strength. 

After reading this book aloud to my fourth grade class, I asked my students what they thought the author’s message was. One response was all it took to verify my decision to read this book aloud. “If Ada can make it through all her tough times, then I can.” 

Many of my students do not come from ideal home situations. I’m happy to know that Ada’s strength will stay with them. Hopefully Ada will help them through their tough times. 

Here is a synopsis of the book from School Library Journal

Gr 4–6—Bradley turns her keen historical eye from Monticello (Jefferson’s Sons, Penguin, 2011) to the British home front during World War II. Ada isn’t exactly sure how old she is; for as long as she can remember, she’s been a virtual prisoner in her mother’s third floor one-room apartment. She was born with a clubfoot and her mother uses her disability as an excuse to abuse her both emotionally and physically. Ada watches the world through the narrow confines of the apartment window, waves to neighbors in the street, and carefully gauges the danger of being beaten during each encounter with her hateful mother. She envies the freedom of her little brother, Jamie, who goes to school and generally roves the neighborhood at will. When her mother prepares to ship Jamie out to the countryside with other children being evacuated from London, Ada sneaks out with him. When the two fail to be chosen by any villagers, the woman in charge forces Susan Smith, a recluse, to take them in. Though Susan is reluctant and insists that she knows nothing about caring for children, she does so diligently and is baffled by the girl’s fearful flinching anytime Ada makes a mistake. Though uneducated, Ada is intensely observant and quick to learn. Readers will ache for her as she misreads cues and pushes Susan away even though she yearns to be enfolded in a hug. There is much to like here-Ada’s engaging voice, the vivid setting, the humor, the heartbreak, but most of all the tenacious will to survive exhibited by Ada and the villagers who grow to love and accept her.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

Questioning, I Need Your Help

  

 How do we go from toddlers and preschoolers asking questions about everything around them, to school-agers who hardly ask questions at all? What is the message being sent to students in the way we view and deliver teaching and learning in the standard classroom?

Our staff is reading articles about questioning and student engagement. When is a child truly engaged? What is our definition of student engagement?

With these question running through my head during Winter Break, I feel torn by what is expected of me as a teacher, and what I believe is best for the whole child in my classroom. Where is the balance? What is best for one child is not necessarily best for another. How do we get children to be engaged for true learning instead of pleasing the teacher and finding the right answer. 

Some of the things I have implemented this year is the focus on effort vs. getting the right answer. The focus on learning vs. the right answer. The focus on effort vs. correct spelling. I have to say this again and again in my classroom. I find students slowly taking more risks and less fix-mindset, negative thinking. But I cannot do this alone. 

How do we change the culture of school? How do we change a classroom into a learning/wonder/investigation studio? 

I do not have the answers. I cannot begin to pretend to know how to make this change. But I know what I believe in my heart, and I am torn. 

I am turning to my PLN, Twitter community to help me begin to find the answers to these questions. Please help me start the conversation. Please help me find the courage to move forward.

Time for the Little Things

  
I built a Lego house with my girls today. Yesterday, I cleaned the house. I didn’t grade papers or plan lessons.

I spent time on the little things. I took time to relax and keep away from my job for the weekend. It was nice. It was refreshing. It was calming.

I didn’t worry about falling behind. I was present in the moment. I was able to do this because I am doing the same thing with my students this year.

I am taking time for “Yoga Breaks.” I take time to play transition music. I take time to just “be” with my students. 

I am a person who loves schedules and checklists. I am efficient and know how to throw out the “fluff.” But what I am realizing is that I can be too good at this. I need to take the time for the little things. And I finally am. 

I’m adding back in the joy in my job and in my life. It is okay to just “be.” Be in the moment. Be present. Be there for your students and your own children. Be there for your spouse. Take the time for the little things.

Make Mistakes

  
Make mistakes. This phrase is our fourth-grade class focus for the year. Yesterday was the first day of school. I explained to my class how effort=success and that mistakes are okay. In fact, they are to be celebrated, because making mistakes is the only way we learn.

“Make mistakes,” I said. Many heads nodded. A few look at me confused. I then continued to explain to the anxious faces that I will not focus on getting the “right” answer, but I will focus on learning. And we learn by making mistakes.

Make mistakes. Today we tried a challenge to “Save Fred.” Six out of the seven groups successfully completed the challenge. One group broke the life preserver and did not save Fred. We discussed what we learned from the mistake the group made. The group responded that the life preserver was stretched too far, so next time they would make sure to not stretch the life preserver too far. They made a mistake, but they learned from it. They enjoyed the challenge. They had fun. 

Make mistakes. What can we learn from our mistakes? Isn’t learning what school is all about? How do you celebrate mistakes?

Three More Must-Reads!

  
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

What a beautifully told story about a boy and his family who are struggling with the loss of his younger sister. Little did they know a foster girl, who loves trees, would help heal them in more ways than one. A perfect addition to any classroom grades 4 and up.


Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Who knew a magical story about chickens could be so entertaining yet so touching at the same time? Told through letters written by Sofie, a girl who’s family moved from LA to her late great-uncle’s run-down farm. Learning to raise unusual chickens is more difficult than it seems! A great addition to any classroom.


a handful of stars by Cynthia Lord

One of the best books I’ve read this summer dealing with loss, hope, change, and moving on. A touching story of growing up and friendship. I could not put this book down. A must read and must add to your classroom!