Some October Readings

October is often a bit of a low point for me (and maybe many teachers). We’re past the first few weeks of the school year so the excitement and energy of the newness is gone. We’re settling into routines and at the same time it’s getting cold outside and sunlight is seriously waning. It can make things feel tough.

It has made me extra grateful for all of the amazing writing people have been sharing this month.

from Crystal Marie Lopez’s flickr

That look of awe is how I feel reading all of these awesome pieces.

Jessica Lifshitz is often a favorite of mine for how thoughtfully she thinks things through and for the phenomenal work she is doing with her students. This piece, Who Will We Raise?, is timely and thought-provoking. She writes about some courageous people in the news recently and how we can help our students become change makers.

We need to move away from teaching blind compliance. We need to move away from teaching a history of our country that depends solely on the narrative of white men in America. We need to move away from teaching the value of only one language and one culture. We need to move away from lessons that teach our students that only one type of life is worthy enough to be brought into our classrooms through the books that we read and the curriculum that we cover. We have to stop pretending that this job is not political and start realizing that we have a world to save and good humans to raise.

Our society has real trouble with mental health. (We have some problems with physical health as well, but far more with mental health.) Leah Tams wrote an absolutely beautiful piece about this that should be widely read in order to have a clearer perspective on mental health.

I’m writing because even though transparency and mental health have come a long way during my lifetime, it’s important to constantly remain open and supportive about mental health problems.

I am loving the #BuildYourStack posts and hashtag from NCTE. This specific one added to my ‘books to be purchased’ list. I own about half of these and I clearly need them all.

Kevin Hodgson is another favorite. He never ceases to amaze me with all he is doing for his own personal learning and for his students as well as the discipline with which he writes on a daily basis. It is impressive. I read his book reviews carefully as he has never steered me wrong. Hey, Kiddo is on the way to my house thanks to this review.

There’s a real spirit of fighting against the odds in this story, and of finding the people who will be there to support you along the way. If you are lucky. For surely, just as Krosoczka’s story shows how far he came with a mother with a heroin addiction and a father who did not reach out to him until his late teen years, there are so many kids — they’re in our classrooms if we look close enough — who are struggling without the support Krosoczka was able to get from his grandparents and extended family.

Another frequent favorite (thank goodness for all these awesome people writing) is Sherri Spelic. I’m not going to quote anything here because I think it’s a post that significantly benefits from reading in its entirety. It is a piece I read feeling a massive sense of connection. I’ve never met Sherri in person but that hasn’t stopped me from feeling close to her when I read her words.

Peter Anderson is someone I knew in person before I began reading him online. As I rarely see him in person I am glad to have him in this way. He has frequently mentioned and written about Peter Elbow’s book, Writing Without Teachers. I loved the book when I read it but whenever Peter writes about it I realize how little I really got from my read. This post is about conferring with writers, something I do regularly but with inconsistent success.

This is where I try to respond to the piece as a reader. I ask what’s gonna happen next. I tell them what I’m curious about as a reader. What questions I have and what the piece makes me think about and feel.

That was such a great perspective on conferring. Responding as a reader, powerful idea that seems so basic now that it has been shared.

Cathy Mere has been on a writing roll lately and it’s been wonderful. This piece, What Do We Do When Our Truths Aren’t the Same?, helped me think about different perspectives and how often people are talking about the same thing without understanding each other.

As educators, we often sit beside people who have a different truth than we have.  Whether working with our teams, sitting with parents, or listening to specialists we can find our truths do not match.  Whether teaching, coaching, or leading, we run up against those who have a different way of seeing situations.  So often in these situations it seems we choose a fight or flight strategy.

There’s Nothing Wrong with Ignorance from Tim Stahmer is an important read right now. We are all ignorant about many things without it being a problem. And yet…

The problem comes when we form an opinion on a particular topic while still largely ignorant about that topic.

Another piece from Cathy Mere, Just Hit Your Mark, is wonderful. Scaffolding, especially over-scaffolding, is something I think about fairly frequently.

 know I want to be intentional in teaching next steps for readers, but I also know I have to monitor myself.  If I find myself giving a myriad of prompts instead of just scaffolding the next step, I know I’m teaching the book and not the reader.

‘I know I’m teaching the book and not the reader” what an important idea to hang onto.

Presuming positive intentions is also frequently on my mind, when it comes to both students and adults. However, presuming competence is something I do far better with my students than with adults. This piece from Organized Chaos was a push I needed.

We talk a lot about presuming competence in our students, but we don’t always do it with our colleagues. We assume that because a teacher doesn’t recognize a particular term or practice, or that a teacher approaches a behavior in a certain way, that the teacher isn’t as good, competent, or informed as we are. 

She often helped me to be a better, more thoughtful, kinder teacher when we worked in the same school. I’m grateful she is still doing so.

She wrote another piece about suspensions and teacher working conditions. It is definitely worth reading but I’ll admit that this point is the one that made me stop.

1) Suspension is about us, not the kids. We suspend kids when we don’t know what else to do in a specific situation. We suspend when we feel helpless.

A Reminder about Teaching Students Math in NYC (and Beyond), from Jose Vilson is a good reminder about our roles as teachers and how we serve our students.

If students already knew everything when they walked in, we wouldn’t have jobs. Also, the conversation is never about what they do know. None of our kids come with nothing into the classroom. Aside from their full humanities, stories, families, and genetics, they come with knowledges we should try to tap into whenever we get the opportunity. How do math teachers – or any teacher – expect students to open themselves to new horizons when we’ve already shut down the curiosity they brought with them?

Finally, KQED’s Mind/Shift blog covers a wide range of educational topics. This piece spoke to me because I know how difficult it is, at least for me, to be sure I am offering inclusive experiences and spaces for students different from me. Knowing and understanding others’ lived experiences is a challenge that requires serious work on my part.

Studies have shown LGBTQ students are more likely to be bullied at school, which can lead to missed classes and a higher risk of suicide. For those kids, a teacher who knows how to be inclusive — or how to “queer” the classroom, as some refer to it — can make a big difference. But many teachers aren’t sure how to do that. Over the years, gender and sexual identity have evolved, and not everyone has kept up.

Wow. This is an astounding collection of pieces. The online world of educators never ceases to amaze me.

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