Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Silence is a Statement

Twenty days ago I ran 2.23 miles. On that run, I thought about a young man, Ahmaud Arbery, who had been murdered while running in Georgia only three months before. I shared the hashtag #runwithmaud and #irunwithmaud. I had conversations with my sons about the privilege they have which they didn’t earn. We talked about how they’ve never been afraid while out running. We sat in that uncomfort. 

I’ve thought a lot about that. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with others when I’ve used the term privilege, or white privilege. I know I’ve upset people, angered some. Excuse me if it sound flippant, but I don’t care.

I ran because a young man was out for his daily run and two white men felt like it was their right and duty to detain him. 


Last October I attended several sessions at our state reading conference. One was from a friend and amazing educator, Cornelius Minor. After the session was done, I went up to say hello to Cornelious and introduce him to my colleague. In our brief conversation, I shared with Cornelius my frustration, what can I do? In a mostly white rural community, how can I make a difference? Cornelius looked at me and said I make a difference by speaking up. By never letting a racist comment slip by. By speaking up when I see the injustice, not staying silent. He said that racism isn’t a black problem to fix, it’s a white problem to fix. Just as it is not on women to fix sexist behavior, men need to speak up, we white people need to speak up when we see racism around us. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what good my lone voice does, but I do speak up. I speak up, I read, I learn. I screw up. A lot. But I show up again and try. I have lots of conversations with my sons. They have likely had more conversations about consent, sexism, homophobia, and racism than any other child in this area. But I want them to be aware. I want them to feel like they can ask questions in a safe place. I want them to speak up when they see injustice, so I need to do the same.

This summer I’ve been meeting each week with a book club on Zoom. Our first book was Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. We’ve read others, but then we read Lifting as We Climb by Evette Dionne. The books have taught me a lot. I still have several books in my house to read. I’m learning a bit more each day. What I learn is not great. I am ashamed of our society. I’m ashamed we haven’t done more. 

Yesterday I woke up to the news that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested. That Amy Cooper had called 911 because a black man scared her when he asked her to put her dog on a leash. I watched the video. I was undone.

Amy says she is not a racist and that she was scared. I read this article from Ibram Kendi and wondered, who in America has the privilege of being allowed to be afraid? I remember back to when I saw my son Luke, then around twelve, staring in the backyard. I asked what he was thinking about. He said he and his friends had been playing Nerf wars in our backyard and our neighbors' yards. The boys had hoodies on, scarves over their faces, as they snuck up on each other. They'd run, played, had neighbors wave at them. Never once was he afraid. He was teary when he asked me if he would have been able to do that without fear if he was black. I looked back and had no words. I thought of the fear a mom must have each time her black son leaves home. I wanted to vomit.

On Twitter, Ibram Kendi shared a link to this document. Kendi has said often that it isn’t enough to be “not racist”, but that we must be anti-racist. I’m learning. 

The image at the top of this post is from Instagram user Sirianna_arathi. The entire caption is worth reading, but one part of it truly stuck with me. Sirianna says, “White folx responding to these status’s by asking ‘how much longer can this go on?’ or ‘when will this stop?’...

And the answer is simple.
It will end when white people take action.”

I’m taking action by writing this post, by donating to causes that I can, by reading books and articles that make me uncomfortable because I feel I haven’t done enough, and by speaking up. By working to be anti-racist.

I hope we can all sit in that uncomfort for a bit, recognize that many of us are privileged, and then do something about it. 

Your silence is not ok. Remaining silent is your statement.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Today is graduation day for the Seniors in my district. I’m positive that back when their parents were bringing them to Kindergarten, this is not the graduation day they imagined. My district has done so much work to give these kids the day they deserve, but it isn’t what anyone planned on. However, I know these kids will be ok. The reason I’m certain of that is hope.

In talking to my friend Cindy Minnich recently, she said these Seniors are born of hope. These kids were born around 9/11 in our country. They are truly a generation born of hope. I have to believe they were put on this Earth to give us hope in the face of despair. They are a reminder that we will go on, that we must go on. They were then, they are now. 

I love every child, every class, I teach. They are each special and own a piece of my heart. That’s true for all classes, but especially this one, these Seniors. I’m not sure why I clicked so much with that group, but they were a group I treasured. They were a group that would come talk to me, long after I taught them. Many of them still send me messages when they read a book they think I’d like, need a book recommendation, see a sunset, have Starbucks, or just are reminded of our time together for one reason or another.

My heart breaks for them as they lost the end to their high school career that they assumed they’d have. I realize that in the scheme of life, in the face of what’s going on, that is a small loss. Yet, I still grieve what should have been. 

I woke this morning and thought of them. I sent a message to my son’s girlfriend on her graduation day. I listened to some music that reminded me of the group. I read some old blog posts written when I was teaching that class. (Specifically THIS one and THIS one.) Heck, my most popular post of all time is about a student from this class. You can read it HERE.

And then, I stumbled on some videos. 

Oh, holy rabbit hole. These videos made me cry. They made me laugh. They made me remember. And, they made me know, with every fiber of my being, that they will truly be ok. Cindy is right, this group of kids were born of hope, and they are my hope moving forward. Reading Facebook and the negativity on there brings about despair. I just need to be reminded of these faces, of all the beautiful kids I have taught and will teach, and I know that we are stronger together. We’ve faced hard times before and will again. 

We will triumph.

For any of my former students from this class, I’ve included the videos I stumbled across this morning below. Enjoy. I wish you the happiest of graduations and best of luck in the future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Student Led Research Projects

Missing these kids.
I saw someone online recently call this time of staying at home The Pause. Not sure if they made that up or it is a common term, but I liked it. I have to say, as I see some friends and segments of the country angry at our political leaders, I feel the opposite. I am happy to do my part, to sit back and let the scientists and doctors try to fight this while I work on not spreading the illness. While I type that, I am also very aware that I wrote that from a point of privilege, I can sit back and let them work because I have a job that is being done from home. I don’t know what the answer is for those that don’t, but I also think we have nothing left to fight for if we’re sick and die, so I’ll stay home.

With that being said, teaching has been interesting during The Pause. I’m still connecting with kids, still talking to them online on a regular basis. It’s not the same, but it has benefits. I’ve loved getting to know them in their home environments. Parents have appeared in Flipgrid videos, Zoom calls. We’ve had some experiences together that have made me laugh out loud. There are absolutely elements of what we’ve been doing that make me want to continue them once school returns to normal. Fingers crossed and praying to anyone who will listen, that’s in the fall.  

As we wrap up the school year, my colleague and I were looking at our last research project. Due to the dates of the school year and remote learning, we’d have less time than usual. Also, a lot of the lessons would be too difficult to do over this type of teaching. Not to mention our district asked us to look at what we taught in this time frame, take half, then take half again. How could we do this project? I thought a bit about how we often give the question - How do humans impact the planet? - then let them pick their own topic to research under that umbrella. Looking at this year, I wondered what if we removed the umbrella? 

As I wrote about in a previous post (HERE), our class during remote learning has had components that could be found in a typical week in class.

  • Daily reading - read independently for 30 minutes a day. Record your reading on the sheet online, similar to our Status of the Class.
  • Daily writing - write for 10 minutes a day. What they write is their choice. One day’s worth of writing shared each week.
  • Weekly interaction - Google Poll question and Flipgrid to respond to. Optional Zoom meeting on Wednesdays. This takes the place of our conferences. 
  • Optional read aloud to follow along with in Flipgrid.
  • New learning - in April they had a poetry assignment each week. Typically this involved a set of poems to read and respond to, either by writing about them, answering questions, or writing their own poem. In May, this will be their research topic.
This week our poll question was this: 

Starting next week, you will research a topic you want to learn more about. You will share this learning on a Google Slide presentation that you will upload to Kidblog to share with us. What is a topic that you would like to spend ten days immersing yourself in to learn more about? 

Now, their poll question isn’t due until Sunday, but here are some of the answers so far:

  • Who is the best baseball player of all time?
  • How do you make the best icing?
  • I want to research and learn more about volcanoes.
  • How do you make the best homemade bread?
  • How do I improve the most as a runner?
  • Livelihood of Justin Thomas(Pro Golfer)
  • Who is the best college softball player of all time?
  • How do you learn to play the piano?
  • What do you have to do to get to a major league sport?
  • How to make the best Brownies?
  • What is the impact of plastic on the environment?
  • Who is the best softball player in the world?
  • Why are pigs so smart?
  • How much good has Corona caused?
  • How do you train a dolphin?
  • Who is the best basketball player of all time?
  • I might research what the best bakery in the world is. Let's be honest with ourselves, it is probably the one Harry Styles used to work at. (I laughed out loud here. Love these kids and miss them something fierce.)
  • Where is the best beach in the world?
  • Why do professional photos look the way they do?
  • What is causing global warming?
  • Who are the greatest musical artists of all time?
  • What happens to you if you do not sleep?
  • Who is the best football player of all time?
  • Who is the best cheerleader?
  • I would want to learn more about adaptations.
  • What are dreams?
  • What is the best way to study the bible?
  • What is the Burlsworth award?
  • Who is the best eventer ( a person who jumps with horses) of all time?
As a result, I cannot wait to see how these kids research these topics and share their learning with us. I think has the potential to be amazing and something we come back to each year.  I've attempted to include my sample below. Hope it helps!

Friday, April 17, 2020


Today came the announcement that I was dreading, but expected nonetheless. Our governor suspended in-person learning in our schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. I sat with that for a bit. 

I will not see my current class in our classroom again.

We will not have another quick write together.

They won’t get to have the fundraising run we had been planning for May.

We won’t get to wrap up the year together with a celebration on the last day while we stand in an empty room and I give each one of them one last tearful hug.

My heart is a bit broken.

I had asked each class on Wednesday in our weekly Zoom calls how many of them thought we would go back to school this year. Not one. Kids said they hoped we would, but realistically didnd’t think so. 

Either did I.

So, it came as a surprise to me that this hit me so hard. I knew it was coming. Heck, I’m grateful for it. If one kid in our district got terribly ill with this virus because we resumed school too early, I would feel horrible. I hate staying home and not teaching, but I will gladly do it to help our healthcare workers and protect our community.

It still stinks.

This afternoon I went to my school. I drew my map for my custodian of where everything goes and I closed up my room. I stood there, before I left, and took it all in. April 17th, over a month before the end of the school year, and my room is done. I hate this.

Then I walked in my house and sat down to have some lunch. Glancing down at my phone I saw lots of notifications - emails, videos, Padlet poems - from my students. I began replying, got into several conversations, and my heart lightened. Our classroom is closed, but we are still together, still learning. They are still taking my breath away by some of the poems they are writing. I’m still in awe of them on a regular basis.

Doesn’t mean that this sight didn’t hurt just a bit.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What Remains

Yesterday I had a Zoom book call with a group of friends. Educators and librarians, we are scattered across the country. One in Washington, two in Texas, one in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania, and me in Illinois. In our group we have amassed years of working with students, helping to nurture readers. In this call many confessed that they have been struggling to read during this pandemic. We talked about what school looks like during this time and how kids don’t know that their reading life will ebb and flow. I felt the talk of books wash over me and couldn’t help but compare this call to my Zoom calls that morning.

Every Wednesday I hold an optional check-in with my three classes. As I wrote about before, these are short calls, twenty minutes or less, where I simply check-in, make a few announcements, then ask if anyone has anything they want to share. I teach around twenty-five kids in each class, but the amount of kids that come each week varies from six to twelve per class. Sometimes I wonder if there is any benefit to holding these meetings, but a large part of each group asks me to continue them, so I do. 

Yesterday as I was reviewing the homework with my first group, I was also thinking through what school has become in my head. My students are often fascinated when I tell them that I can be teaching them while thinking through issues in my head at the same time. I tell them I’m certain this is a prerequisite skill of being a teacher, yet I digress. 

As I glanced over their faces, I thought of what we’ve lost. We can’t sit together, working through text as a group right now. I can’t shop my shelves with a student, browsing titles and book talking each one. We no longer gather together around a video, writing and discussing what it means, pushing our thinking. A lot of the community piece of our classroom is gone and, to be honest, that breaks my heart. 

And yet, yesterday reminded me that what we built together for twenty-seven weeks is not gone completely. In these three fifteen minute chats I had moments like:

A student showing a quick glimpse of his family’s greenhouse. I purchase my lettuce from his mom each week, so we all celebrated to see those beautiful green beds.

Several students cheering when I held up Ben and Erin Napier’s book, Make Something Good Today, as I shared my deep love for their show, Home Town. Apparently I’m not the only fan.

Cats, dogs, stuffed animals, Moms, Dads, and baby brothers joined our chat to say hi.

When I shared what I was reading and writing, I told them I just finished going over the edits from my publisher on the romance short story I had written during NaNoWriMo and it should be published this summer. An entire class applauded me. I teared up.

I told them I was surprised that so many had already gone to our Padlet to write their Age Poem for this week. Then I told them that I cried reading them and someone said, “Of course you did.” 
Finally, at the end of each call I always say, “Miss you guys, Love you.” I heard back so many, “Love you too, Mrs. S,” that I left each meeting in tears. At one point I just rested my head on my dining room table for a bit. It’s a lot.

So, in these times where I am without a classroom, when so much has been stripped away, I have to look at what remains and celebrate it. And what remains is love. I love these kids with all of my heart and am beyond gratified to see that so many of them feel the same. We’ve got this. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

This is Forty-Six

Every year I do a week-long unit of "age" poems with my students. They read several mentor texts, then write their own. I have several of my own on this blog. This year's poem is certainly a departure from the ones that came before. Here's hoping my poem for forty-seven will be similar to forty-five and before instead of this one.

This is Forty-Six
Barely two weeks after I turned forty-six
Life changed.
Conferences were cancelled,
As well as sporting events.
The governor announced
Schools would close.
At first for two weeks,
Then until April 30th.
At the time of the writing of this poem,
It is unknown if that will be extended.

Fear swarmed me.
Anxiety spiraled out of control.
This virus,
Changed everything.

I couldn’t go shopping 
without thinking it through.
We stocked up,
Trying to make less trips to the store.
Curbside shopping,
And dining,
Became the norm.

Before, I could see my parents,
My family,
My mom and dad,
Chris’s mom, 
Only across town, 
But now only seen through the computer screen
As we have regular Zoom calls.

My students,
Now taught online.
Reading a book aloud 
Without them gathered around,
Seems all-kinds of wrong.

And yet, 
This is forty-six.
Inside of the walls of my house,
I have what I need.
Chris is working from home.
The boys surface from their rooms
To run, 
To eat,
To visit, 
Then return to their online worlds
Where they can catch up with their friends.

I look at the calendar,
At blacked out events.
Track meets cancelled.
Appointments rescheduled for months down the line.
I wonder when life will ever return to normal,
And ask myself what normal is anyway.

One day we will leave our homes.
Businesses will reopen.
School classrooms will fill once again.
I will get to see my family,
And hug them tight.
Never again to take for granted
The joy to be found
In being together.

For now,
We shelter in place.
Working to flatten the curve.
In awe,
And filled with gratitude,
To all who are out there 
Keeping us safe.

This is forty-six.