Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Our Best Hope

This morning, like every morning, I headed out with Rosie for a walk. It always clears my head, which was whirling. I was thinking of the ugliness I've seen online of late. The horrible violence in our world. And, much less important, but the never ending to do list I had at home. Anxiety was building and a walk was my remedy.

As I walked I listened to Matthew Winner's podcast with Beth Kephart and my brain quieted. Beth said so many smart things...

I do believe we can save each other through story.

What I see when I work with my students, when we do what we do together, when we tell the truth together, when we listen to each other, when we try to elevate what storytelling is, ... I see what can happen in communities.

We only have one life to live.

Beth's words swirled in my brain. I reflected on a conversation with my new colleague last week. We talked about how lucky we are to teach 7th grade Language Arts. How in our classes we get to share stories, tell stories, write stories. How our classes can be built around building character. How we can help students become their best selves. 

And then, I walked on. And came upon some chalk words on sidewalk sections. And I smiled. And took photos. And tears sprung up. I know so many of the kids that live in these two blocks. I've taught so many of them. They have the best hearts. I love that one (or more) decided to put out a positive message for others to see. That I got the chance to see it. 

My heart grew full. I was reminded that the world might be filled of ignorance and hate, but it's also filled with love. And compassion. And kindness. And that these kids are our best hope. I'm beyond grateful that I get to teach them. Lin Manuel Miranda was right. How lucky we are to be alive right now. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You reading? 7/18

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

I haven't posted my weekly reading for three weeks. You'd think that would mean I would have a ton of books to share. Not really.

I mean, twelve books is fine, but if you look closely, you'll see only picture books from 7/9-7/16. That's because I began Scorpio Races on 7/4. It took me from 7/4-7/17 to read the first 100 pages. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't connect to the characters. Looking back, I think that was for a variety of reasons. I only had moments here and there to read - 10 or 15 minutes at a time. I couldn't dive in. I was preoccupied, my mind was focused on my finals, projects I needed to complete. But I persisted. Yesterday I came home and decided to read for an extended period. A close friend had purchased this book for me. She loved it and said she was certain I'd love it too. I knew I hadn't given it a fair shot.

I lay down to read around 3pm, emerging from my reading zone around 6:30pm. While it had taken 13 days to read the first 100 pages, I'd read the last 300 in a bit over three hours. I was in love with the book, the characters, the setting. For the last fifty pages I had found myself slowing down. I didn't want to be done. I wanted to stay in the world of Sean and Puck. I wished, desperately, for a sequel with the two of them so I'd have something to look forward to, but I knew there wasn't one.

I'm left thinking of what this means for my students. I strongly believe in devoting part of my class period to independent reading. I cannot be at their homes to ensure they read, but I can make sure they do in school. However, if their only experience reading is in 10-15 minute bursts, like mine was for the start of the book, will they fall in love with a book? Will they be immersed in a world? This is a conversation I will have with my students in the fall. Something to think about for certain. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Creating a More Peaceful World

I've missed Sunday mass for the past few weeks. Between vacations and conferences, I seem to be gone an awful lot. Today, however, we were home. Sitting in the church always brings some peace to my heart, my mind. Today our priest ended with a plea for us to help provide school supplies for those who can't this fall. He ended with, "I know this. If we want a more peaceful world, it begins with education." 

I sat in our pew with tears in my eyes. The news reports each day are wearing on me. I know their is evil in this world. I also know how much good there is. A week ago I wrote about the power of story to help us learn and grow. (HERE) One thing I think I left out was the importance of conversation.

My friends and I often joke about FOMO (fear of missing out) when we are unable to attend a conference. Never have I had FOMO more than last week when I read the tweets coming out of ILA. While the sessions were amazing, and plenty of friends were there who I wanted to see, specifically I wanted to attend sessions led by Cornelius Minor & Sarah Ahmed. They were discussing issues in our world right now - how do we confront unkindness when we see it, and how do we have these conversations in our classrooms. They talked about how we can't shy away from conversations with our kids, how important reading and writing is for our students. This is something my brain is swirling around.

As I move on to middle school, I'm looking for how my teaching life will be shifting. Conversation, however, has always been a focus. I want to talk to my students, to help them discover who they are, who they can become. Story, writing, conversation - these are the pillars my classroom will reside on.

If you want to think more about this, here are some links for you:

Here's a link to an amazing video on Facebook with Cornelius and Sarah talking with Heinemann Publishing about what their session would be about at ILA: (VIDEO).

A write up on Cornelius's pop up session at ILA (HERE).

Anne Lee's Nerdy Book Club post for Sunday (HERE). 

Pernille Ripp is the creator of Global Read Aloud (HERE) that I think could inspire tons of conversation both in the classroom and branching out to the world. 

As for me, my priest's words are woven into me today. Reading articles like this, reviewing the book Upstanders by Sarah Ahmed and Smokey Daniels, I am ready to be back with my students, back in the classroom. Conversation, stories, writing. This is how we will create a more peaceful world. Let's get started. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

NerdCampMI 2016

I'm a homebody. My absolute comfort zone is to be home and able to hear my boys playing somewhere in the house, most often in the basement on various video game consoles. I feel at peace at home, my anxiety is typically at bay, and it is where I am the happiest. This summer, however, has found me on the move. The last time I was home for a full week was the week of June 6th. I've traveled to Scholastic Summits (with another coming up in a week), a writing retreat, a vacation, and just recently - NerdCamp. 

This is the fourth year of NerdCamp Michigan. Colby and Alaina Sharp along with Suzanne Gibbs and a fabulous team (that I can't remember every member of, so I'll just stick with "team") have put together an amazing unconference. (And it's FREE! What??) I have attended three of the four years and every year I walk away amazed and ready to come back for more. 

This year was no different. While I was operating on adrenaline, and really needed to go home and sleep, there was no where I'd rather be. I arrived Sunday night and got to have a fabulous dinner with Teri Lesesne - what's not to love about that? We talked books, education, and current events. The pace of this conference is different than others. Time is given over to conversation, gathering with colleagues. It is glorious. While I'm typically stressed out about presenting and cannot sleep the night before, I crashed on Sunday night and awoke refreshed.

Monday I headed to the NerdCamp with Teri. We began in the gym for NerdTalks - wonderful fast paced speeches from authors and friends. By this point one of my colleagues, Benjie, had arrived and she and I looked around the gym in wonder - over 1000 people crowded in to kick off the day. We began with Kathy Burnette, whose speech about the power of books brought me to tears. Then Teri Lesesne came on to discuss censorship in all its forms. Raina Telgemeier was up next. My students would have flipped! She spoke about how real life people end up in stories and a special person who had been in her book, Smile. Pernille Ripp came on to talk about how we must listen to what our students tell us. I know Pernille online, but haven't spent much time with her in real life. This speech made me wish we taught down the hall from one another. Donalyn Miller came on and read a beautiful post she had once written for Nerdy Book Club on the power of books in our lives, how they can help us overcome hard beginnings. Finally, Colby had a surprise guest, and from the moment her head of hair appeared, people knew it was Kate DiCamillo. Man, what a presence. She can take an audience of over 1000, but make it feel like she's speaking directly to you. 

From there we had three sessions stretched in front of us for the afternoon. I was presenting for the first two sessions on building your classroom library. As I mentioned above, I'm typically nervous to present, but not at NerdCamp. Each session brought in amazing people. When I'd announce I was moving to middle school, middle school teachers would cheer. Yes! Tribe found. People were kind, gave great feedback, and had tons of energy. I loved it. For the final session I went to listen to Teri and Donalyn talk about reading identities and what shapes ours. Powerful stuff. 

Monday afternoon found many authors signing books in the cafeteria. Benjie and I headed over to get Gae Polisner's ARC of The Memory of Things. I'd read anything Gae ever wrote, but to Benjie and I, she's a rock star. Our book club read The Summer of Letting Go a while back. Gae Skyped into my dining room, we all sat and chatted with her about the book over wine. It was awesome. 

Monday night there was a dinner. More food, conversation, and time to just hang out. I was surprised and thrilled to find a friend at our table that reads this blog. Every time someone tells me they do, I shake my head in wonder. So cool! 

Tuesday is the "edcamp" portion of NerdCamp. People proposed sessions and you were asked to go to what you wanted. I went to a session on diverse books from Teri and Donalyn. My to read list has grown. Then I saw Pernille Ripp as she talked about what her Language Arts class looks like at the middle school level with only 45 minutes for a class. Whoa! She shared brilliant ideas. (See comment above - wishing again she was down the hall.)

Lunch was a trip. A bunch of us gathered in the commons area. Jillian Heise was kind enough to share F&Gs with us. I sat between Benjie and Karen Terlecky and we read, and read, and read. Looking up at one point I noticed we had around 15 teachers there, all snacking on one thing or another, some reading books on their own, many sharing a picture book with another. Laughter abounded. There were shouts of, "Pass that one to me next!" and "I know exactly how I want to share this one." 

In the afternoon we headed back to the gym to build the schedule for the remainder of the day. I joined Donalyn Miller and Cindy Minnich in proposing a session on writing for Nerdy Book Club. We gathered in the library with a great group of educators and talked about what Nerdy is and why it takes a community to run it. While there was one more session available after that, I headed home. I felt an extreme pull to get the drive underway. It was only upon sitting down in my car that I realized just how tired I was. 

Driving home gave me the chance to reflect. In one of her sessions Donalyn Miller mentioned that if she had been told eight years ago that many of her closest friends would be people she had met online, she would have thought that was nuts. In actual fact, that is exactly what has happened to her - and to me. Hugging friends goodbye, I felt gratitude at this chance to grow and learn for two days with these amazing people. What a blessing.

My heart has been heavy of late. As I wrote a week ago (HERE), the news is hard to handle. We have major issues going on in this country. NerdCamp gave me the chance to share that heartache with friends. In sessions, conversations with friends, talking to Benjie before we finally crashed for the night, or in impromptu talks on Tuesday - the news came up again and again. Diversity in books was a constant thread of conversation. Social justice topics in our classrooms came up repeatedly. Censorship, gatekeeping, equality....again and again, I was reminded of why I am proud to be a part of this group. These are hard conversations, but no one is shying away from having them. I left NerdCamp more hopeful than I have been for some time. Thank you to all that made an amazing two days possible. I cannot wait to go back next year.

Also - Teri Lesesne has a great recap of NerdCamp here

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Opening Our Eyes

I have a love/hate relationship with The New York Times. A friend bought me an online subscription this year - awesome gift. On my phone I now get push notifications for the paper. Many times I will click on the home button to check the time and see a notification that makes me smile like, "Job growth in the U.S. roared back in June with a gain of 287,000..." Unfortunately, of late, that is often outweighed with notifications that tell me of violence. 

Sometimes I wonder if my heart can handle much more. The violence worldwide seems to only be escalating, yet I know the world is much safer than even when I was growing up. I have to wonder why I feel that way. If it is just the constant news, if the media spins everything, or what. And then I realize it doesn't matter if it's safer, we still have so much work to do.

My Facebook feed for the past week has been filled with Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and Police Lives Matter posts. As I've read, I grow more and more thankful for Carolyn Shields. I've mentioned Carolyn before. She was a professor in a social justice class I took for my administration degree. Before taking her class I think I would have considered myself "color-blind" that I saw people equally. Through uncomfortable and hard conversations with both Professor Shields and my classmates, I began to realize that I was saying that from a point of privilege. Of course we see color. 

My friend posted about this on Facebook yesterday. He mentioned that he can't "keep calm", he has a black son. And while not everyone in my community gets it, I do. Since reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates I keep thinking about race and raising children. Recently I was listening to Luke and his friends playing in the backyard. He had a Go-Pro strapped to his head because they were making a movie. The other boys had hoodies on with their hoods pulled up. There were Nerf Guns galore splayed across the backyard. The boys would gather together, discuss the next scene, and begin racing around the backyards of our neighbors. Shouts rang out, fake fights were scripted and taped, and they made their movie. I stood at the window watching them from our kitchen, tears running down my face. I had no fear that they would get in trouble for this moment, and neither did they. If their skin was darker, if we lived somewhere else, I don't know that I could have felt that way. We absolutely live in a world of privilege. 

This afternoon I'm driving several hours to get to Michigan for NerdCamp. Tomorrow I present on building our classroom libraries. For that presentation I purchased some books to hand out to folks attending. When considering what books to buy I picked three that were part of my library last year, that I felt were important in some way. Picking these books made me think once again about the importance of books as windows and mirrors. When I want to scream in despair as I read Facebook posts, I'm reminded that screaming isn't the answer. Sitting in Carolyn Shields class, I was ignorant, but didn't realize it. She didn't yell at me, but showed me the way. The different was I was willing to open my eyes. So many seem to only see their own side, not willing to consider others. That is dangerous, but we can't yell, we need to have conversation.

Reading the news makes my heart hurt for so many communities. Looking at status updates, I wonder if we can just open our hearts, and our minds, a little bit. In my tiny corner of the world, diversity is minimal, but it's changing. The conversation I've seen online has had bright spots. More and more people have come together as I did in my class, ready to learn. Ready to grow. Stories will save us, of this I am certain. Stories can teach us empathy. Stories can bring about understanding. Let's keep sharing and keep the conversation going.

For further reading, please check out Franki Sibberson's blog post from yesterday. (HERE) Not only is the post great, but she has a curated list of online reading that is amazing.