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Monday, August 6, 2018

End Game: When Superheroes, Football, and Reading Levels Collide

I was recently watching the movie Infinity War, one of the most recent releases within the Marvel series of action superhero movies. As a family, We like a lot of different movies. Some of my favorite movies don't necessarily always jive with the likes of my kids. That said, my cool mom status seems to tip forward a bit when I show great enthusiasm for a movie they are eagerly awaiting to see.

The movie spawned a desire to find and watch more Marvel movies. In our search, we stumbled onto an action television series featuring a superhero character named The Flash, who has incredible super speed. I appreciate that this show reaches for intensity while leaving a little to the imagination. 

In one of the episodes, a villainous character is routinely one step ahead while seemingly vulnerable. As the episode was nearing a close, The Flash became hip to the character's desire to indicate one end game while actually planning for another. After the episode was over, I was left wondering about the phrase, "end game." What's my end game? Not to be morbid, that's not where I'm going with this. I was actually thinking about readers. I know, major topic shift but I tend to take inspiration from strange and unlikely places once again confirming I don't always know the end result of a started endeavor.

So there I was, lying awake thinking about how often as teachers our end game is way different from our students. We think about accomplishments as end products. End game. We see passed reading level assessments as a means to an end. End game. We plan strategies and lessons for individuals so they can keep moving forward. End game? Really? Do we really think kids have, or for that matter, should have an end game in mind when looking at themselves as an eight-year-old reader? I mean really, does the letter P really mean you've reached the end as a third-grade reader and now you're one of the fourth-grade kinds? 

I'm not really here to debate the purpose of levels in a library, their existence or non-existence in your vocabulary with your students, or any of that. I have developed my own opinions on this subject, and I don't feel like yelling so I'll just tell you to go do the research if you still think kids need to know their reading level to achieve greatness as a reader. They don't. Period. (Redundancy with the end game of this statement was the best way I could taper my tendency to ramble).

What is the end game people? What's your end game? Let's pretend for just a moment that you're a football coach. (I'm channeling this from unknown places right now and have no business pretending to know how to coach football, but I can reach for a moment for the sake of intensity). When your team scores the winning touchdown in the final championship game, there is a lot of preparation sitting underneath that win. A lot. There were likely missteps along the way, fumbles, interceptions by the other team, buzzer echoes that muffled the sighs of a crowd. There was disappointment along the way at some point whether it was a practice or a game day. But you went back out there, and you and your team did it all again. And here you are, holding a trophy. The quarterback and offensive lineman are dumping the teams cooler over your head, and you're screaming hysterically. In that moment what are you thinking about? You are literally in a synchronized repetitive jump with your teammates circling you. I think you feel like you made it. I think you feel like the work was worth it. I also think it's not your end game. You're going to go back out there because that feeling is so awesome you want it again and again even though you know you can't always have it. It's worth the wait. 

Readers keep reading. It's not about an end game strategy. There might be an illusion of some end game accomplishment, but I dare say even in football when you are visualizing your end game win, it isn't the true end game. How can something be the end if it keeps going? Readers shouldn't have an end game either. There are touchdowns, and there are fumbles but if a reader is made they keep picking up books. They go season after season. We better start wrapping our head around the idea that our responsibility as leaders of readers is about getting them back out on that field of possibility.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Edged with


Hands holding
Result of

*An acrostic poem that falls on my heart these days.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Accountability or Excuse?

I don't know. Am I?

I'm still learning a lot. If I ever felt as though I knew everything, I hope I would recognize this and remind myself that I function best when in a learning state. I also, don't need to be a finger pointer. However, I know looking in the mirror is a good idea.

I think most people recognize and follow the understanding of, people do their best with what they know at the time. We can all appreciate that our beliefs might change with new information. For instance, practices in education often vary and evolve. We learn more; we change, we grow and get better as educators.

Now comes the part I don't understand. Come with me to a hypothetical scenario.

So here we have a teacher who works hard, knows and understands students to the best of one's ability, and learns that a practice, which has become ritual-like in the classroom is, in fact, damaging to students. Research has come out, the method is not only detrimental to a child's self-image as a learner in most cases, but it also gives false positive results when practiced. Meaning, an immediate result might be positive but a month or even just weeks later, the skill is non-existent, and the student is unable to build on top of the skill.
The teacher is relieved, it never felt right, to begin with. This means trying something new is appropriate. The teacher tries out some different practices and ideas. The results are mixed, and there is no immediate fix, solution, or replacement. The old practice, remember, that one found to be incompatible with the education of students, didn't get great results, but it got results that were easy to report. The teacher has mixed feelings about it but doesn't have a better idea. The students weren't showing any new understandings with the new practices, and the teacher feels as though at the very least, the old ritual practice held students accountable. The teacher wonders for a moment what other teachers might be doing to solve this problem but decides to go back to the old method. When asked why, the response is, "My students weren't being held accountable, so I went back to what I was doing before, and they are once again doing the work I need for reporting. I see growth."

I don't paint this picture to cause angst or humiliation. I do wonder though, why? Don't we know so much now? Why would we continue practices that not only make us as teachers squirm but that are unsupported? Why would we convince ourselves that something proven to be damaging is worth the risk because we haven't found something better? Can't we add YET to this statement? Why would we stop looking for the best practice out there? I realize that there are transition periods within change. So? Let's acknowledge the transition phase and keep moving toward the better alternative. Don't give up. Don't use accountability as a crutch. Don't wait for permission to try something new. Challenge yourself. Ask for help. Amazing things happen when we show our vulnerability and that we haven't got it all figured out. This opens ourselves up to new learning. It's quite exciting actually.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

My Top 9 Teaching Tips

I saw on social media a call for teaching tips. There are so many, but I started to think, what would be my top tips for a new teacher, or a new to district teacher, or someone just needing a tip?

I have more, but nine seemed like a good number. Not a top ten, nine leave room for more. Ten seems like an ending number, nine is open.
So here are my top nine tips in no particular order.

  1. Don't be afraid to fail.
  2. Set high expectations but not any higher than you would expect of yourself. Evaluate this often.
  3. Little people are just smaller people. Treat them like human beings.
  4. READ-A LOT and write down your thinking. 
  5. Reach out to global education communities through Twitter and blogging. The spaces for learning are limitless and authentic research-driven instruction is waiting for you. Find it.
  6. If you realize you were doing something just because it was what was always done and you want to change...don't wait, change.
  7. Smile and laugh a lot with your students.
  8. Don't let adult problems dictate decisions for your students. They don't belong in the same column or conversation.
  9. Always be an advocate for yourself/students and what you believe in most but be ready to support your beliefs with real and practiced practices. You can't be an expert if you only talk about good ideas. You have to be a practitioner of those ideas.

Good luck.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Two Drafts Sit Waiting

It's funny. Well, maybe it's not funny. Maybe it's cowardice. Maybe it's fear. I'm not really sure. Maybe it's that when I put a message into the world I want to be sure it matches with my beliefs as they currently reside in my brain. Maybe that's it.
A week or two ago I wrote a politically charged slice of life story. Then I decided it wasn't a good idea. Today, all day, I've been writing and re-writing this message about educators and the role of passion in our practice. I may have gotten it right, but I don't think so. Then I begin to think, does it matter if I got it right? What would I tell my students?
I'm one of those people who really likes having face to face conversations, debates, and respectful arguments that challenge my thinking and the people I'm faced with. I like this kind of engagement. I don't like reading messages that seem emotionally charged and off base, misinformed, or shared merely as bait. I don't comment on these. I don't get myself wrapped up in arguments that feel one-sided.
Then I think, in terms of posting heavy opinions here, maybe this is me over-analyzing things. For one, very few people will likely read it, and since when do I care what people think? That's just it though. I might be unsure of my role at this moment. Am I a voice or am I a listener? Am I an activist or am I a coordinator? Well...I'm neither really of those second two. Maybe I need to venture out of my comfort a bit more. Little has stopped me in the past. Not sure why I find it so hard now.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Otherwise Never Told

I've been bouncing around this evening reading different slicers reflect on their month of writing. It is always wonderful to read how the challenge positively impacts so many people. The March SOLSC was certainly a life changer for me, and I'm always so happy to hear that it is an experience that replicates for so many others. 
There is something magical about writing every day. On those days when it seems difficult, finding an image or moment to write about always surprises me. They become words I never would have written. A story I'd never have told, yet I've told it. I think that is what I enjoy the most, writing and collecting stories and ideas I never would have otherwise. Writing every day and having the routine of collecting creates a treasure of ideas and is such a reward. 
Thanks again to this wonderful community who has fueled me for so many years and never disappoints. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ghost Notes

Looking through
a sliver view
of opened window.
Sun touched leaves
embraced by the setting day
jitter outside
through the pixelated screen.
A bud-less branch
tickles and interrupts
the rays with sway.
And I sit
in this ghostly corner
where notes would flutter
up and out a different window
with the same name.
Keys, black and white
emoting a song,
now reduced
to a speaker
across the room.