Even More Interesting Things to Read

Every once in a while it hits me how lucky I am to teach in an era in which it is so easy for educators to share their thinking and learning. Especially as so many brilliant ones do so regularly.

from Janet McKnight’s flickr

Mary Lee Hahn spent the month of March writing teaching truths. I think there’s a book getting started with these posts and I want to read it. This links to the final post, but I highly recommend going back and reading them all. They’re short, but meaningful and worth the time.

It didn’t take too many times of seeing tweets from Sherri Spelic to realize I needed to follow her closely. She’s one of those people who is seriously thoughtful about what she says. So it’s worth listening. (She’s also one of those people who makes worlds collide for me as she’s friends with people in my husband’s world. This happens more than I ever expect.) This piece is the speech she gave at the March for Our Lives in Vienna, Austria.

Zac Chase, again, has a piece that really struck me. He writes about complimenting colleagues and the different way women and men typically respond. Of course, he doesn’t stop with just that observation, but continues by thinking through what we might be doing as teachers that impacts this. Finally, he wraps up with wonderings about what this means for how he should or shouldn’t be complimenting women.

These are all people I feel so lucky to have gotten to know, digitally or in real life. (If I haven’t met them in person, I am hoping so much to do so one day.) Another person I have had the great pleasure of meeting thanks to the internet is Michael Doyle. I would feel badly about waiting so long to share this piece, but the forecast suggests we could have another snow day soon. One of Doyle’s greatest strengths as a writer is to put into words and images his reflections on life and what that means for teaching. This is one of those pieces.

I greatly enjoyed the book George so it isn’t surprising that I thought this post from the Nerdy Book Club was a good one. It addresses the importance of having books about transgender characters (as well as all kinds of characters). This is something I’m still working on in my classroom library and I’m grateful for the reminder.

Her Superpower

Our visit to the library this morning was an energetic one. Due to spring break it has been a while since my 3rd graders were there and they were quite excited to find new books. There were also lots of books available as today was the first day back from break so no one else had really been there to get the books we all wanted.

Our attempts to leave the library always seem somewhat futile. My students are desperate to search for ‘just one more book’ and they would rather sit and read than leave to head back to class (although, many weeks we go back to our room and read because I’m not that foolish). This morning, one girl was saying she wants to live in a library. I suggested she could be a librarian but she informed me that would not do because

a. she wants to live in the library, not work there
b. other people would be taking her books all the time.

Valid points.

She went on to say that she wished she could look at books and, if they glowed, know they were worth reading. That would be a fabulous super power.

from Jason Eppink’s flickr

Dr. Jill Biden (and others)

Paul Tritter, Tommy Chang, Dr. Jill Biden, Deb Delisle

The opening general session at ASCD’s Empower18 was Dr. Jill Biden.

I’m going to indulge myself and share again how I met her in 2014 during teacher appreciation week at the White House and Old Executive Office Building. This picture was taken in her office. It was an absolutely inspiring opportunity.

Hearing her speak to thousands of educators was also inspiring. What followed, however, was even better. She sat down for a conversation with Deb Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, Tommy Chang, the superintendent of Boston Public Schools, and Paul Tritter, the director of professional learning at the Boston Teachers Union (at least I think that’s his title). The talk between the four of them was thoughtful, thought-provoking, and quite fun for the audience.

When I met Dr. Biden back in 2014 she told that group of educators that people often asked her why she continued to teach while she served as second lady. She said that people find it surprising. She looked around the table, making eye contact with each of us, and said, “You all know why I do it.”

During this conversation she said several things that took me back to that moment, several things that reminded me of how passionate she is about teaching and how much it matters in our society.

“We all struggle to find balance in our lives, but it is especially hard for educators. We don’t clock out at the end of the day. If you are anything like me, you never really leave the classroom behind. We carry our students with us everywhere.”

She clearly did and still does many things beyond teaching, but she is always a teacher. Her students are always a part of her life. Seeing her balance that, whether she thinks she’s doing it well or not, is wonderful.

“What inspires me about educators is their ability to use every talent, every skill, every tool that you have to make a difference. You see every opportunity as a gift.”

This is one of the most amazing things I have watched in twenty years in education. Teachers waste nothing, no materials, no ideas, no moments.

“There is nothing like this job. There is nowhere else we’d rather be. But I know it can be easy to lose sight of that on a day to day basis. So let me remind you what you already know: your work changes lives.”

The way she actually said that should probably have periods after each of the last four words. It felt so much like that moment when she made eye contact with each of us at that table four years ago. She believes so strongly in the power of teachers to improve students’ lives and, through that, our world.

Paul Tritter had several comments during the conversation that stuck with me.

“You can’t build a relationship with students if you don’t bring your authentic self. Your identities matter.”

Teaching is a political act. It doesn’t have to be a partisan act, but it will always be a political act. Too often teachers feel they need to sanitize who they are in the classroom. I don’t buy it. Building relationships with our students is one of the most critical things we can do for them for many reasons and that can’t be done without allowing them to know us.

“No two classrooms should look the same. There should be things in common. Just like no two students or teachers are the same.”

This goes along with Paul’s first quote. If we knew the one exact way that all students will learn best we could do that one thing. All of us, exactly the same way. But we don’t. Students are different and learn in different ways and teachers are different too. We need to respect that, encourage that, and use it well.

If you’re interested in reading more about Dr. Biden’s talk, check out this short piece from ASCD.



I’m currently in Boston for ASCD‘s Empower18, a gathering of more than 7,000 educators. As one who lives in the DC area and who attends ASCD’s conference every year I had mixed feelings about being in Boston on the day of the March For Our Lives. Being at ASCD’s conference is important to me. Being at the march is important to me. So I did them together. I attended the March for Our Lives in Boston. (I’m still sorry I didn’t get to be in DC for this march, with my daughters, but I’m glad I got to be at a march.)

Paul Tritter was planning to attend (after he spent some time on stage with Dr. Jill Biden) and was gracious enough to let me tag along, as I do not know Boston at all and would likely have gotten quite lost.

I didn’t take too many pictures for a variety of reasons, but there are plenty online if you are interested.

This sign really caught my attention. “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

A small view of a few of the students who were marching as they entered Boston Common.

This little boy’s sign says, “Ban guns, not Pokemon”.

Before heading back to the convention center and so many adults in education, I walked across the street to the Boston Public Garden. Just inside the garden, in one corner, is the Duckling Sculpture. I stood there, listening to the speakers at the march, watching children run around in the falling snow, and looked at Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings, captured in sculpture on their way to the island in the lagoon in the garden.

Mrs Mallard is captured in this sculpture in the act of taking her children to safety. Our children are asking us to do the same. They aren’t just asking, they are demanding, and they are acting. We can do the same. We can demand. We can act. Truly, it is the least we can do for them.

Trying to Think Through It All

When I began my teaching career twenty years ago I was teaching fourth graders. I spent a decade with fourth and fifth graders before making the switch to first grade. One of the things I noticed when I made that move was how many things I told students, in my attempts to teach them something new, that would complicate their later learning.

For example, I told kids that if you add two numbers you’ll always get a larger answer. In first grade that makes perfect sense. It’s a way to help young children check their thinking and make sure they haven’t made an obvious error. By fourth and fifth, when students begin to understand negative numbers, this isn’t always true. Having internalized this idea makes later math more challenging.

Over the past ten years with first graders, kindergartners, and third graders, I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I introduce new ideas. Or reinforce ideas. Sometimes it gets to be a bit exhausting as I try to think through the many complexities of an idea that seemed simple at first.

Earlier this week I put up a fraction number line to help us build our understanding of benchmarks (using 0, 1/2, and 1 to help understand the size of various fractions specifically). I dragged the duct tape down the wall, annoyed at the whole process. I kept thinking that it wasn’t straight, the kids will just peel it off, etc. When I finished (and it’s really not that long) I stood back, ready to feel good. Then I realized I’d created a line segment, rather than a line. I wanted to just let it go. Students would be arriving in fifteen minutes and I had other things to do. But I couldn’t.

So I made each end of the line an arrow. I couldn’t accept my laziness messing with their geometry learning just because I was focused on their fraction understanding.

I purposely placed the 0 and the 3 at not-quite-the-end of each side of our line. I know my students are certain that the numbers could continue on past 3. I want them not to rule out the idea that the numbers could continue on the other direction as well. I also actually got out a yardstick in order to place the four numbers more accurately. Again, my laziness could have added a small disruption to their mathematical understanding if I had just eyeballed the locations. I’m not so good at eyeballing distances.

We’ve used the number line for two days so far and it, and all the fractions we’ve added, are still there. Fingers crossed that continues for a while longer.

More Interesting Things to Read

A couple of weeks ago I shared some pieces I’d enjoyed reading. I keep opening tabs that I find interesting in the hopes that I’ll do something with them. Something beyond reading them myself.

Shana White is someone you should be following on twitter and reading if you aren’t already. I’m familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale, but had never viewed it in the way she does here. She connects Jonah’s ignorance of the storm (as the others on the boat are doing all they can to cope with it) with many of us who are (or have been) completely unaware of the challenges and injustices around us. Then she goes on to make some suggestions about what to do if you are like Jonah, just becoming aware of the realities around you.

Finding the Tall Poppies from Tim Stahmer hit me because it addresses some of the concerns I have about who I am reading and, as a result, how well I truly understand the world (which connects to Shana’s piece above). I’m grateful Tim has not only continued writing in his retirement but seems to be writing even more.

Some folks have been writing very thoughtful pieces about school shootings and protests against them. I’m grateful for this as my own emotions are surprisingly raw and make it hard for me to figure out what I want to say. (Maybe marching in Boston with friends this weekend will help with that.) Bud Hunt wrote about his 13 year old daughter walking out of school. As always, Bud’s reflections are worth reading.

Most students didn’t know what to do with the counter protestors, so they did what I wish more adults would do when faced with opposing views – they quietly watched and, for the most part, ignored them. Sometimes, our instincts about such things are right on.

I love March because it includes the Slice of Life challenge. I have never participated in this, but I love reading what others write. (Michelle Haseltine and Kevin Hodgson are two of my favorites.) Katie Keier, a kindergarten teacher nearby me, wrote about picture day as one of her slices. It’s not really about picture day though. It’s really about seeing students, noticing what we might have missed, being open to seeing something unexpected, asking ourselves questions about what we are seeing and what it means.


(As I think about who I am reading and who I am sharing this is a slight improvement over my previous post. But I am still far from feeling as though I am reading as wide a set of perspectives, ideas, and questions as I would like to be doing.)

Read Aloud Time – The Way to Stay in Destiny

Franki Sibberson has written in the past about her students having notebooks to write/draw in while she reads aloud to them. I tried it out last year and was thrilled with it. I waited until the middle of the year to try it, as beginning-of-the-year third graders are still growing in their reading/writing/listening skills.

I read The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood (as we were going to Skype with her afterward) and the students each had their own notebook. I spent a few minutes modeling for them how I might use a notebook while listening to someone read, showing some quick writing and drawing ideas. But I really wasn’t sure how it would go (which is exactly how I felt last year). I also thought this book would be a bit challenging for my students as it’s set in the early 1970s in Florida, with a lot of places, events, and ideas for which they do not have much background knowledge.

They loved the book (and loved the chance to talk with Augusta Scattergood) and their notes were fascinating. Some students drew pictures of things happening in the book. Others made some notes to themselves about things that surprised them, confused them, or brought out strong emotions in them.

Theo is the main character. I love the “But…” “But…” “Theo!!” This kid is into the story!

This girl does such detailed drawings (and she does them quickly) as we are reading.

The look on Theo’s face here seems so perfect to me for this part of the story.

These quick sentences are capturing some things that are critical to this student’s thinking. Uncle really got them upset as we read. Even at the end they weren’t totally sure about him.


I love that she titled this, “What I’m thinking” because this isn’t explicit in the book, only barely hinted at.

This isn’t from the book. This is me and two students. When we get started I toss their notebooks to them and then pens. Clearly my aim is not so great. I now hand the cup of pens to a student and it gets passed around so everyone can grab one. (Safer, but far less amusing. They found it hilarious when a pen would bonk someone on the head. Ugh.)

This is my favorite page of all of them. I love this desire for another book with these characters.

Augusta Scattergood also wrote about this and our Skype call.

Reading Too Narrowly

I regularly have a ridiculous number of tabs open in my browser (that little image is what it looks like right now). A few stay open all the time (my teux-deux list, my email, tweetdeck, and my RSS reader). Everything else is temporary. But temporary can mean open for months and months depending. Some tabs are things I want to read or watch. Some are things I want to share or write about. Others are things I need to hang on to until I can take care of something. That might mean talk to my husband or daughters about it, decide if it is something I want to/can do, etc.

The open tabs that I want to share I’m working on sharing here. I did it about a week ago and I’d like to do it regularly. However, after posting that last one I realized I had shared pieces from three white men and one white woman.

Is that a sign that I’m not reading widely enough? Probably.

Is that a sign that I’m not paying enough attention and therefore connecting enough to writers of color that I am reading? Probably.

Are there factors that mean more white men are writing regularly? Possibly.

I’ve made a conscious effort to have the people I read consistently on twitter be a diverse group, in many ways. I read educators and noneducators. I read people who teach at all levels from pre-K through higher ed. I read men, women, and non-binary folk. I read people who live in different places in the U.S. and around the world. I read people of different races and ethnicities. It’s far from perfect, but I’ve been more consciously thoughtful about my twitter feed than I have my RSS feed.

Who are you reading that I should be reading?

It’s Wonder-ful (yes I went there)

I’m reading R. J. Palacio’s book, Wonder, to my 3rd graders right now. There is so much I want to say about this (not just this read aloud but others recently and about books we’re reading in general). For the moment though, I’m struck by a recent conversation I had with a colleague.

She noticed that many of my students have copies of Wonder in their book boxes. At least one owns his own copy (actually, I think he owns two copies as he got one for Christmas and then recently saw the one with the cover from the movie poster and convinced his folks to get him that one too – he wasn’t a reader before this year so I think they’re more willing to do this than most would be). Others have checked copies out from the school library. As we sit on the carpet, reading together, they are reading along. Other friends are leaning over their shoulders, joining them.

My colleague remarked that I’m really nice to allow them to do this. She said many teachers wouldn’t allow students to be reading the same book the teacher is reading aloud. The fear being, I guess, that the students would read ahead and possibly would give something away.

I realized I used to be that teacher. I’m not sure I ever explicitly told students not to read a book I was reading, but I certainly don’t remember a time when students actually did read a book I was reading. I can remember thinking I didn’t want students to read ahead. I wanted to control the reading.

I’m not that teacher any more for several reasons.

  1. I don’t need to control anywhere near as much as I used to. Across the board.
  2. I don’t want to do anything that will squash a student’s love of or excitement for reading.
  3. I don’t worry about a book being ‘spoiled’. The joy of the book is in the shared experience of it, the discussions about it, the gasps and laughter and tears as we read it. Even if students have read ahead and even if they’ve told others about it, we’ll still have that shared experience, discussions, and reactions.

The teacher I am now is thrilled to look out at my students and see multiple copies of the book in their hands.

Perception Can Be Subconscious

As a family we’ve been watching West Wing from the beginning. Our daughters are 14 and 11 and it’s been a wonderful experience, with a few hard conversations. We’ve just begun the third season. As we watch, I’ve been trying to listen to West Wing Weekly, a podcast by Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway. They spend one episode (usually) of the podcast on each episode of the show. I’m a bit behind. As usual.

Today I was listening to the podcast about episode 20 in season 2, The Fall’s Gonna Kill You. It’s a fun episode of the podcast, as usual. But I was struck by something in it that really has nothing to do with the podcast or with West Wing. Joshua Malina mentions a briefcase in the episode that looks well used and not brand new. He really likes that as it feels real and he talks about how his wife was a costume person for many years and how she notices when things are too new. He said something along the lines of: She’ll say, that shirts brand new. That’s not a shirt that character’s been wearing for three years. Malina said that makes a difference in building the world in which a show is set.

Never in 40+ years of watching tv and movies have I ever noticed that something looked too new for a character. Never. However, I recognize that it is quite possible that subconsciously such things have bothered me, even without my being able to identify them. It takes pretty egregious problems for me to get consciously annoyed at a show or movie. I’m very happy to suspend reality and just enjoy.

It struck me that this is true in life as well. Even when we don’t identify something as racist or sexist or ableist or whatever it might be that suggests that one group of people is less than another it is influencing our view of the world. Just as our view of a fictional world may be impacted by many things we don’t consciously notice, our view of reality may be as well.

You may not notice that people of color and women are always secondary characters in movies and tv shows but it impacts your understanding of the world. You may not notice the demeaning comments made to others but it impacts your understanding of the world. You may not notice the characters in all of the books you read but it impacts your understanding of the world.

As humans we take in so much that we don’t notice and it all becomes a part of how we view the world and others around us. If we don’t at least attempt to notice when that happens we are continuing the status quo and continuing to ensure that many are treated as less than others in our society. Question what you see. Question what you believe. Keep asking. It’s not always easy for me but it matters.