Tag Archives: colleagues

Leaving Teaching: Who Gets the Books?


So MANY Books…going to a good home!

After nearly 16 years of teaching and learning with young people, I’m leaving the classroom at the end of the school year.

I am not leaving entirely; rather, I’ll be working in a program that prepares pre-service teachers, a pursuit I’ve wanted to dedicate much more time to doing.

Now, though, is the hard part of leaving. My first thought after accepting my new position was: what is going to happen to my books?  I knew I wanted them to go to someone who knows why a robust, diverse classroom library matters–for all kids, but, in the case of my work, particularly for underserved kids. I also wanted to be able to give the library to someone who might not have the resources to acquire this treasure for him/her/themself.

And while I’ve worked to create a school-wide culture of independent reading at my current school, I’m not so sure it will continue in ways that I’m comfortable.

So, this was a wonderful opportunity to look backwards–something I’m not that fond of doing because, well, when that happens we can see the good and the bad.

Hindsight, certainly.

I have a beloved colleague that used to teach down the hall from me about 10 or 12 years ago. We have continued to be critical, thoughtful friends for each other over the years. He’s wanted to gain a foothold with independent reading with his kids. He knows it matters. He has made smaller achievements with them. He could make leaps and bounds, I think, if he had more resources. His school’s budget has been trimmed even more.

Supplies, particularly books, are usually the first line item to be cut.

He is taking all of the books. All nearly 900 of them that kids WANT to read. He and a colleague are driving across town and will load them all and take them back to their school. 

This colleague sent me an email asking for money for the library.

Is he kidding? But that’s how Chris is. I told him that the fact that I know the books are going to be read and re-read and that that library is going to be used is all the peace of mind I could ever want, and a small step towards giving kids access to all the books they want and need.

But yes, he could take me to dinner and we can catch up as thanks, for sure. Always. I’m also reminded of how ideas leave us connected and believing in the power of literacy and kids’ rights to have literate lives, reminding us to work like heck to realize those ideas.



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Filed under Book Love, Reading Lives, transitions

What Happened When We Asked Students to Think: Part II

After we took the leap of faith into the two-week inquiry unit, there were certainly moments of uncertainty (mine and theirs), frustration (same, though I think theirs might have surpassed mine at some moments), and lots of encouragement. There was also one distinctive moment where I turned to my co-teacher and said something along the lines of “Oh my goodness. This is a disaster.” Said moment of perceived disaster came after we had students think of what they thought our current school needed. Their ideas ranged from later school start times, to longer passing times, to daily nap times, to all-school snack machines. Right?! These are the issues that matter to them. I’m here for it.

Then, though, they had to spend some time finding research to help situate their issue within a larger milieu. That was the day I wanted to poke my eyes out because my kids were overwhelmed. And, since I was one step ahead of them, I wasn’t proficient in all the ways to help them, hadn’t trouble shot the issue enough. I kept telling myself: be a model. Grow with them. I told them why they had to do the research, and we guided them through, but it was difficult to help them see the why of the project. Oh, and they had to find out who in the school was an expert and draft a letter with some questions to that person. What I now understand is that hesitation, that annoyance, was really growth mindset in action. That step in the process was hard, and they could either get frustrated and give up, or attempt to work through that frustration to get to the other side.

The next step beyond the research was to design a solution. If I were charting their energy on a graph, this moment would correspond with a trend upward. In the meantime, students also had to interview their peers for insight as they continued to create their solution. We had two design days. During that time, students created a prototype of some aspect of their solution in preparation for presenting their idea to members of the administration.

All it takes is one: one student or group of students to create something that is beyond what his/her peers think is possible, to set them all off, and that’s exactly what happened. For students who wanted to change the schedule, they created an entirely new schedule, basing their decisions off interviews with peers, the principal and their research about adolescent needs. For another group, they went on a scavenger hunt and found cardboard boxes, which they used to create their idea of a classroom snack dispenser. From that moment, the other students took the project much more seriously. Also true to fashion, the kids who won’t work until they’re up against a hard deadline began to pull together their projects, too.

The presentations were definitely works in progress. Some groups didn’t even get around to explaining their solutions, while others had time to spare, while still others were somewhere in between. It was messy, messy, messy, but the panelists who gave their time to watch the presentations asked probing, thoughtful questions. The students responded equally as thoughtfully. They took it seriously, indicating their in-depth knowledge of their ideas. They owned it, demonstrating that the inquiry process is powerful and vital.

Finally, in the next post, I’ll offer some reflections on this process, what I learned, what the kids learned and why students in ELA classes need the opportunity to become makers (while we are also opening the conversation to diversify #makered).

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PLCs of Care & Concern

I teach in a community where something awful has happened. While I don’t think any of us ever expect such terrible events, the ones that occurred over the last week and that continue to play out have set us off kilter in ways that we are only beginning to acknowledge: the starts at sirens, the feelings of helplessness as we sit awash in the incessant news, the difficulty concentrating…

On Monday, a colleague I don’t know very well was sitting on the wall outside the school. We greeted each other and she hugged me. And I didn’t pull away, significant for me because I tend to shy away from physical contact–I’m just prickly that way. A few minutes later, I think someone grabbed my hand or my shoulder, another colleague, sort of as an acknowledgement that we were both…present, maybe? Here? Together? Yes. The day went like that: people pausing, to say hello, to make eye contact, to linger in spaces where others were making copies, buying coffee, gathering their mail. 

Creating spaces to be together. And oftentimes there wasn’t even any discussion of those events; rather, they were more about check-ins and confirmations that we were all here, breathing, being, moving forward, or even standing still, but we were here, there…together.

Many of us are in professional learning communities that are tasked with improving our practice, a goal that is admirable and necessary. This week, though, I think my PLC grew much bigger and took on an additional task for which I’m grateful: my PLC expanded to include many more faculty members I know in passing, have wanted to know but time limited those interactions, have sprinted by their floors but not really stopped.

Until the week when everything stopped for us and we’ve had to think about how to put it together again. 

And the spring is terrible, too, because by this point one realizes that the end of the year is coming much faster than imagined and one has to make some difficult decisions about curriculum. I tend to get so caught up in those matters that I lose contact with the colleagues that I don’t see every day, and I’m often distracted while interacting with the ones I do see on the daily. 

Not this week. I’ve heard from my former colleagues over email, text, phone, whose first questions are about how I’m doing, what I’m doing to be okay, that they’re thinking about me, that they’re sorry for what happened, that they’re here. I feel their virtual hugs and support, and I lean in to them, understanding that another reason why we teach is that we join a community of others that encourage us, rely on us, need us as much as we need them, and that in times of joy and difficulty, we need to turn to that community for support. 

I’m just so grateful, in this moment, for the support.

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New School Chronicles: Looking for Opportunities to “Bump Up”


My Room With a View

Someone has this concept of “bumping up” in respect to collaboration and space allocation. Essentially, if you put people together, say, in an office, then chances are they’re going to talk to each other, share ideas (hopefully), and improve their practice, in the case of schools. Two heads are always better than one, yes?

I’ve been getting oriented to my new school for the last couple of days. While this is not my first orientation, it somehow feels the most exhausting, but I think that’s attributable to other major life events that are happening to me. I have what might be the best room I’ve ever been fortunate to teach in. In my life. Seriously. See the picture for yourself. 

Today, I sat at a desk, sketching a layout, daydreaming out the window, thinking about what it is going to be like to be energized by young people. I lost all track of time. My room is on the fifth floor; it’s a reward: you climb to the top and you get to sit and talk about ideas, about reading, about writing, in what I hope to create as a warm, welcoming space.

But not today. I am so very tired that I feel my creative juices are drained. I need to recharge, go out in nature, perhaps, or just check into a hotel for a day or so and re-energize before it’s go time.

In my haste to leave my former position, I think I took something for granted (I love reflection–it’s how I actually learn stuff): I had fantastic, brilliant colleagues, who were so generous with their knowledge, so supportive, so…I don’t know, awesome in many respects. Many were the teachers I strive to be. And in the design of the school, we bumped up against each other.

All the time.

If I was thinking of a way to teach vocabulary, I could just wheel around in my chair and ask my colleague. Or, I could walk around our shared space and discuss a short story, or a literary device, how to teach something…with all of us in close proximity, there was a frequent, steady supply of discussion about practice.

My new place also stresses collaboration, and I’m excited to work with my new colleagues. The opportunities for bumping up, though, will be quite different. The school is so spread out and teachers spend most of their time in their classrooms. What I think–and I’ve only been there for a couple of days, so I’m still in the discovery phase–is that time together becomes much more rushed and intentional, more of the interactions are done via technology. That’s just my sense. There are shared spaces, within the school, though, so I’ll be curious to understand how they’re used.

What I began to understand much more saliently, though, was how much of what I learned about practice came, again, during those unstructured moments that bumping up afforded us all. Now, with the possibility of letting my classroom become my primary space (and I know that I’m not going to be gung-ho for running out of the building once it gets colder), I have to be much more intentional about interactions. I don’t want to be that teacher who just closes her door and teaches. I’ve come too far and have too much respect for how improved my teaching becomes from working with others.

I just want to take a minute to slow clap for my progress as an educator. Again, ten years ago, I never would have been able to say that.

I had that instance, today, though, where I wished MK was there to lift my spirits, suggest a great poem to teach, laugh…bump up.

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Filed under New School Chronicles