Friday, July 27, 2018


Parsons Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine

Last week I was on vacation. Four days with dear friends in New Hampshire. Three days in a fabulous class, "The Power of Narrative," with Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, and Penny Kittle, and then three days soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean at a beautiful little beach in Maine. After I came back, Ralph emailed me (or wrote a comment on my Facebook page). I have been thinking about that line all week. Last night and this morning, I tried to make it into a golden shovel poem. Not sure I was totally successful, I had trouble with the lines that ended with "I" and "you."

Mermaid Dreams

I am fairly certain that
will soon become a mermaid, or at least I hope
that might be true. You 
might also consider this possibility, soaked 
in sand, sun, sea spray, the 
peace and power of the beach
travelling into 
the pores of your 
tired soul and healing your world worn heart.

Carol Wilcox

Catherine, at Reading to the Core, is hosting Poetry Friday. You'll definitely want to stop by- she's giving away a copy of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong's latest collection, GREAT MORNING: POEMS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS TO READ ALOUD.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

CYBER PD- Chapters 5 and 6

I'm participating in #CYBERPD this summer. This is my very late reflection on Chapters 5 and 6.

My superintendent is resigning, after ten years at a very hard job. At our first meeting of the year, he reflected on some of his accomplishments and then asked us to consider, "What do you want your legacy to be?" And of course, the first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted my students to be lifelong readers and writers. But, then, as I really thought about it, I realized it's really bigger than that. 

I want kids to be readers and writers, because I want them to be ready to live big in the world.   I want them to be ready to make a difference. I want them to understand that everyone has their own story. I want them to listen to other people's stories with grace and compassion. And I want them to be people who have the skills to tell their own stories, both verbally and in writing. 

And as much as I want those things for them, I want them for myself.  

I want to be a listener. A real listener. Someone who listens to understand. Not just someone who listens so that I can rebut, or have my turn to talk. I want this to be true in my professional life and I want it to be true in my personal life. I want to be slower to judge and slower to discount opinions that are different from my own.

I want to get out of my own echo chamber. It's so easy to hang out with people who believe/like the same things as I do. In the current political climate, I think that's especially true. It's hard for me to listen to people who support our current leader, even to read articles or watch their news shows, but I feel like I really need to at least try. I need to try to understand. 

That's true in my professional life as well.   I read a lot of professional literature, but I mostly read texts by people who believe the same things as I do. I think that's also true of children's literature. It seems like the same authors get promoted again and again and again. I want to push beyond those boundaries, to follow new blogs and new people, to explore new ideas and methods. 

I want to commit to a learning stance. I don't want to get out of my "echo chamber" only to say I'm getting out of my echo chamber, I want to go into interactions (with people and text) ready to learn and be changed. I really do want, as Ahmed suggests, to say, “OK, I know my truths, but I am going to listen and accept what this other person is saying also as a truth." And then I want to say, “What do I DO with these new truths?”

Get proximate to the human story. I want to be a doer. I want to get my hands dirty. To care enough to take action. And I want my students to do that too. I want us to pick a cause, either collectively or individually. Global warming? Plastic in the oceans? Gun control or gang violence in Denver? Gentrification in our school neighborhood? Our burr-ridden school playground? I want kids to choose a cause that is bigger than themselves, to research it, to develop a plan, and to take action. I want kids to learn that they can make a difference in the world.

I want to shine a spotlight on the upstanders. In my own life. In my classroom. In my school. In the world. The world seems so very dark right now. And it's easy to get caught up in all that darkness. I want to make conscious efforts, every single day, in my postings on social media, and in my dealings with my students, and others, to shine a spotlight. To bring joy. To bring hope and light.

I want to be proactive with my privilege. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" As an educated, middle class white woman, I have lots of privileges that others- my sons, my students and their families- don't have. Because of that, it really is my job to stay informed, to raise awareness, and to advocate for others.

I've been an educator for over thirty years. Pretty much every year, I have participated or developed some activity or program, formal or informal, to help kids develop their social awareness, to be kinder or more caring. A lot of it is pretty much just lip service. I have loved BEING THE CHANGE, because I feel like it's a book I can use, both to make change in the world, and to help kids make change in the world as well.

Thank you, Sara K Ahmed, for this very powerful book. I can't wait to start implementing these practices in my classroom.

Monday, July 23, 2018


Yikes! I've finished reading BEING THE CHANGE, and have pages and pages of notes, but somehow, I'm way behind on my responses. I'm not a very good group member this year! So sorry to all of my colleagues...

MicroAggression: Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional , which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” Dr. Derald Wing, Columbia University, quoted in Ahmed, p. 58.

Micro aggressions. It's so easy to think of those that have been committed against me. Shorty. Four eyes. You've never been married? Aren't you retired yet? I laugh them off, and yet even so, they really do hurt a little.

And then I think of those committed by well-meaning educators on a daily basis.

Not quite ten years ago. Two weeks into the school year. My phone rings and I see a number from the school district. It is my oldest son's English teacher. She introduces herself, and then explains that she is calling to talk about independent reading. Several times a week, students in her class are given time to read independently. They need to bring a book so they are prepared for independent reading. My oldest son, it seems, has not been doing this. She wonders if I could help? Do we have any books at our house? If not, she can help him check one out from the school library. I look at the two groaning, seven-foot bookshelves in my dining room, think of the teetering piles in my office, or the garage full of boxes of books, and assure her that we can probably find at least one book at our house.

The call amuses me more than a little, but at the same time, it's really not funny. I imagine the teacher pulling up my son's name on our district website. Making assumptions about my son. About our family. African American boy. IEP. Athlete. Single parent. Probably no books in the home. She does not know that I am a past president of the state reading association. Or that I am a teacher. She really does want to help my son.

This is maybe an extreme case, and yet I see teachers, including myself, commit micro aggressions all the time. These are the first few that came to mind:

1) The child shows up without school supplies.
Her parents expect me to supply everything.
Reality: The family is one step away from homelessness. They either pay the rent, and buy groceries, or they send school supplies. Hard choices.

2) The family is 15 minutes late, pretty much every day.
That mom needs to get organized. She needs to get her kids up earlier and get to school on time.
Reality: Mom is a cleaning lady at a hospital. She puts her kids to bed, and then goes to work. She gets off at 7:30, and races home to pick up her children. Even so, they are ten minutes late every day.

3) The parents that don't show up for Back-To-School Night or miss parent teacher conferences.
You know why that child isn't doing very well in school.
Reality: The single mom doesn't have any one to watch younger children, or doesn't have transportation to get to special events.

4) The child that is severely overweight, but comes with a large bag of chips, no fruit or veggies, every day.
That family doesn't care about their child's nutrition. Someone should call social services and report them for child abuse.
Reality: The school is located in a food desert. The family doesn't have a working vehicle. The local 7-11 is where they grocery shop. Sometimes there is fruit, mostly there is not. There are never vegetables. Convenience stores don't stock perishable goods.

5) The child has failed the last 3 (you fill in the blanks).
Teacher: You need to work harder. You need to study more after school.
Student: I do study. But it's hard to find a quiet place.
Teacher: Just go to your room and study

Reality: Seven people are living in a two bedroom apartment. There's no place to go to be alone. 

This chapter reminds me that all of us really do the best we can, pretty much every day. It's important to treat each other gently.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Like so many Americans, I live in a constant state of disbelief. Pretty much every day, and often several times a day, I say to myself, "How can this be happening?" And I send emails and sign petitions and make phone calls and give money and march and wonder when this nightmare will be over. I spend a lot of time, too,  wondering what to say to the children and young adults in my life.

Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson are releasing a new collection that may help, just a little. In the introduction to WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES they describe waking up the day after the election, wondering what they could say to the young people in their lives:

"We grew up in the segregated south, when life for us was much different than it is today. Racial discrimination, prejudice, and hatred against African Americans were pervasive. We were prohibited from going to school with White children, so we went to all-Black schools. We couldn't go to the public library that Whites used. We were forced to sit in a "special section" in movie theaters. We couldn't even try on clothes or shoes from the stores downtown. Our parents had to purchase them , bring them home, and then see if they were a good fit. If they weren't they couldn't be returned…

This segregated but unequal system we were forced to endure was extremely trying and often frightening. Yet in our all-Black communities, we were embraced by accepting arms, motivated by encouraging words, and shelted by watchful eyes that probed for signs of lurking dangers seeking to engulf us. We were loved! We knew it! we could feel it!…

"How could we share this valuable advice with you?" we thought. "How could we let you know that there are nuggets of sustenance for you just as there were for us when we were your age?"

That's how the idea for this treasury was born…

WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES is a collection of more than fifty texts- poems, prose, letters, essays, and art, all by contemporary authors of color. People like Arnold Adoff, Kwame Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Ashley Bryan, Floyd Cooper, Sharon Draper, Margarita Engle, Tony Medina, Marilyn Nelson, Ellen Oh, Eric Velasquez, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jacqueline Woodson, and oh, so many more. The book doesn't come out until early September, but it's definitely one you will want to preorder. Here are two of the many poems I know I will use.

We've Got You
Pat Cummings

The storm is coming.
There is always a storm
But we've got you.
We've weathered the fury
you're heading into
and we know how to shelter.
How to gather force.
We've seen where the storm
     is weak.
We've got you.
So tuck in,
     stay close,
        grow strong.
We're here. You're wind.

            And you?
                   You're our coming storm.

A Talkin-To
Jason Reynolds

I could tell you all the bad things,
all the bad things that cut and scare
and howl and growl and gnash and
bear teeth, bright and sharp that
glint in the moonlight.

I could tell you all that's frightening,
all that's frightening and lurking
and looming and hiding in the brush,
razor-hair pricked up on the back
of something too sly to see.

I could tell you about all the loud things,
all the loud things that scream
and shriek and shred our ability to hear
each other, the beasts behind screens,
scrolling banners of bully-banter

I could tell you all the things
all the things that are trying to tell you
about you, about how you should run,
and how you should run,
and how you should run,
but I'm about you above all things,
above all things, so I'd rather tell you
one thing and one thing only:

everything bad and frightening and loud
will always hide when you hold your head up,
will always hide when you hold your heart out,
will always sing a shrinking song
when you fly.

Sylvia Vardell is hosting Poetry Friday today. She and Janet Wong are releasing another fabulous new poetry collection! This one is for school leaders! I know what will be on my administrators' desks the first day of school.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

CYBER PD, Part One

I'm participating in CYBER PD, which I have done almost every summer for a number of years. This week, we are reading, BEING THE CHANGE: LESSONS AND STRATEGIES TO TEACH SOCIAL COMPREHENSION by Sara K. Ahmed.

I'm excited about the book, because this year I will have my own classroom, at least half time this year. I'll be teaching three sections of sixth grade language arts. My school is K-8, Dual Language. Since I started there, six years ago, we have always had two sections of every grade. This year, the primary grades are down a little, and the demand for our middle school was high, so we added another section of sixth grade. That means that approximately 45 of my students will have been together and known each other since kindergarten, and the other 20 are brand new to the school.

There is also a socioeconomic factor at my school. The majority of our existing students are working class poor. Many of our new students have come to the school because their families are interested in our dual language model. These students tend to be more middle class. They do interesting things on weekends,  go on vacations, have the cool toys that show up on television.  I suspect that this will also play a role in our classroom dynamics.

I also know that middle school is a hard, hard time physically, socially, and emotionally. I want to do all that we can to make every single kid feel comfortable and valued and loved and accepted and honored for who they are as a human being. I want to make sure that kindness is something that every single kid values and practices every single day.

For these reasons, my teammate and I know we are going to have to spend a great deal of time building community. I'm grateful then, for the suggestions in the book. I know I will use a lot of them. I especially love the ideas in chapter two, thinking about how to teach kids to "Listen with Love." That's an area I really want to work on this year.

One part of the book, however, did leave me with huge concerns. I'm going to address that in this next section.

Names: A Cautionary Tale
Once upon a time there were two little boys. The little boys had traveled an extremely rough road. Their own mama couldn't take care of them, so they ended up in a variety of less than savory situations. For a few months, they even slept in someone's garage. Finally, they ended up in the care of an evil queen. There wasn't enough food. They slept on mattresses on the floor. They were little and afraid and they sometimes wet the bed.  And then she beat them. Eventually, their principal found out. And they were taken out of that situation, and went to live somewhere else. At the new house there was food, lots of it. And there were toys and bicycles and a dog named Maggie who licked people's faces when they were sad. And things weren't perfect, but they were definitely much, much better.

Most of the time, anyway. One of the times that was hardest for the boys was when people asked them about their family. Their mom always told them that families are made lots of different ways. She told them that they could love more than one mom, and that the mom who had birthed them had done the best that she could. She told them that they could call her mom, or they could call her Miss C, or anything that felt comfortable to them.

Deep down inside, the boys knew that theirs was not an ordinary family. There was no dad. And their new mom wasn't a typical mom. She was a little older than most moms. And she didn't look anything like the boys. She was very short, and they were both tall and strong. She was white, and they had rich chocolate brown skin. When kids asked them about their family, they usually tried to change the subject.

And then there was that name activity. It always happened the first week of school. "Tell us about your name. Where did your name come from?" These boys had strong and wonderful names. Isaiah was one of the four major prophets of the Old Testament, and there's a whole book in the Bible named after him. Kadeem is a Muslim name. People with the name Kadeem are "very versatile, idealistic and intuitive. They are bold, independent, inquisitive and interested in research." 

The problem was, the boys had no idea why their biological mother, the person who named them, had picked these names. They didn't know the story of their names, and they didn't have any way of finding out. And it always caused problems that first week of school, when the "tell the story of your name activity came up." Their mother wrote down the generic stories behind their names, and put them in their backpacks that first week of school. She told them that they could talk about how their hyphenated last name had come to be, they knew that story well. They didn't want to do that. They wanted a first name story, just like everyone else's name story. And that made the first week of school really, really hard. Sometimes there were even behavior issues, because it was easier to draw attention in a different way than to admit that that they didn't know the story of their names. They were excluded from the classroom community from Day One. 

People who know me have probably figured out that the boys in this story are my sons. They were students at my school, and I adopted them, from the foster care system, at ages 7 and 9. We didn't know the stories of how/why they were named, and we didn't have any way of getting those stories. And it made for some really hard times. More than once, I got bad behavior phone calls the first week of school.

I don't know how I would address the name issue. I fully agree with Ahmed, that names are important. I work hard to learn kids' names, even before the first day of school. Most of my students are Hispanic, and in that culture, the child retains the name of both their mother and their father. I encourage my students to use their full last names, to honor both parents. I think it's incredibly important to pronounce peoples' names correctly.

I also know, though, that there are kids like my sons, who come from a hard background, who don't know the stories of their names, or who find those stories painful, and who would rather not remember or talk about their names. I don't know, then, exactly how I will approach this activity, but I know it will look very different in my class. We might look up what their names mean, but we probably won't do the "tell where your names come from." Not unless I can think of a different way to do it, that doesn't exclude kids who have already had a hard time in life.

Social comprehension. So important and yet so very complex....

Friday, July 6, 2018


I might have already told this story, but one of my first memories of poetry as an adult has to do with Naomi Shihab Nye. I was at the International Reading Association Convention (now the International Literacy Association) in San Antonio, in the late 1990's. My dear friend, Lisa Lenz Bianchi, and I were walking through a little shopping area close to the Riverwalk. Lisa, a poet and lover of poetry, noticed that Naomi Shihab Nye was doing a reading that night, and so we went.  Nye read poetry while her little boy, probably about four, played with a truck on the floor in the back of the room. And it was magical.

I'm always excited, then, when I find a new book by Naomi Shihab Nye. I grabbed an ARC of her latest book, VOICES IN THE AIR, at ALA, when it came to Denver in February. And like pretty much everything she has ever written, I love it. I say that with a caution, though. Naomi Shihab Nye regularly writes poetry (A MAZE ME), and picture books (SITTI's SECRET), and novels (THE TURTLE OF OMAN) for children and young adults; she's written more than thirty books. If you pick up VOICES IN THE AIR, expecting to add it to your classroom library, especially if you are an elementary teacher, you might be disappointed. There are poems in the book that I would use with children, but it's more a book for older students and also for adults.

VOICES IN THE AIR celebrates many of the people who have shaped Nye as a poet and as a human being.  Each page (or most pages) includes a dedication or a quote to that person, followed by an original poem; the review of the book says that there are over one hundred, but I didn't count. The range is wide- historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, poets (Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Longfellow) and people who live in Nye's world (her father, neighbors, etc). In the back of the book, there is a quick biography of each person. Nye's poems (and the introduction to the book, which is also beautiful) remind me to live well, to slow down, to be still, to pay attention and to listen, to others and to my own heart. A really important reminder during this hard and often awful time.

      for Vera B. Williams

Your mama will have a chair
Everyone will have a chair
There are enough chairs

In the dreams we share
desks with smooth wooden tops
name cards in calligraphy
cubbyholes under seats
what else might people be given?

When everyone sits calmly in chairs
Numbers march across pages
Letters line up friendly-fashion

Hopefully we might like those letters enough
to shape them into stories
Where have you been before here?
Who did you see?
A woman of sturdy conviction
clear, clear focus
making history with her hands

A garden, a muffin, a world
Greedy men say "More!" to war
Sitting together telling stories
could change that but who will take the time?
Missiles faster

All our lives to speak of simple things
turns out to be
most complicated

Naomi Shihab Nye


It's been a spectacular day, Grace!
We gushed
and she cleared her throat.
Not that great, she said--
but pretty good.
Didn't you like our long drive into the woods
     to see trees with rounded buttocks?
They were okay.
Our splendid dinner?
Grace, guide us. What is politics to you?
You are such a brave activist.
How do we live?
What do we do?
Politics is simply the way human beings
     treat one another on the earth.

Naomi Shihab Nye


News loves to be bad.
It's a bad habit.
Think of all the good things people do---
Right now, how many people in our own town
are stirring soup to give away...
Bad news still gets more attention.
trash talk, insult...
at some point you make a decision.
Which world?
Malala, smiling warmly, speaks of dreams,
girls going to school,
mutual respect.
The newscasters stick her in
after lots of badness.
They know we can only take so much.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Have a peaceful week…

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I am a morning person. I love, love, love the early hours of the day. I bounce cheerily out of bed at a time my sons grumpily  refer to as the "butt crack of dawn," take my shower, have my breakfast, throw my teacher bag out of my shoulder, and I'm off. I'm pretty much always one of the first people in the parking lot at work.

Son #1, on the other hand, is NOT a morning person. When I adopted the boys, Son #1 was 9, and one of my biggest learnings that first year was that not everyone wakes up bright and cheery.  Not everyone wants to interact right away. Or eat breakfast. Son #1 and I have had many, ummm, less-than-stellar interactions in the morning.

Since the boys have been driving, it's been a little easier. You see, I'm usually gone long before they awaken. I sometimes text, or leave them a note, but I don't see my sons in the morning. And I think
that's better for all of us.

Except not in the summer. In the summer, I am around a little more. I see what's going on. And it pretty much makes me crazy.

Take this morning for instance.

I was awake right around 5. I had my shower, did a little spiritual reading and reflection, and then went to work around 6, in preparation for a meeting at 9:30. At about 7:20, it occurred to me that Son #1 was still not up. Son #1 has to be at work at 8. He works close to downtown. Downtown is about twenty minutes from our house, when traffic is good. At this time of day, traffic is never good. And he has to park in a lot and catch a van to his actual work site at 7:50

I wonder if I should wake him up, but remind myself he is an adult. He can set an alarm. He can get himself up.

At 7:24, I hear him emerge from his bedroom and head to the bathroom. Phew. But he is in there ten minutes. I know there is no way he will be on time. My stomach is in knots, but I don't say anything.

And then he comes out and is in his bedroom for another few minutes, presumably getting dressed.  I resist the urge to tell him that he is going to be late. He is an adult after all. He is supposed to be able to manage his own time.

At 7:41 he emerges from the bedroom, and saunters toward the door. Every fiber of my being feels the need to scream,"HURRY UP!!!! YOU'LL BE LATE. PEOPLE GET FIRED FOR BEING LATE!" I bite my tongue, look up from my computer, and smile.

"Goodbye, have a good day."

He smiles back and manages, what for him, a non-morning person, is a somewhat pleasant greeting. "Uh-huh." And then he walks out the door. At 7:42. He is definitely going to be late. But I didn't say anything. Crisis averted. 

I am so glad I am a morning person. I am really thankful I go to work before he gets up. I couldn't stand this every morning.