Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

 #G2Great ANNIVERSARY YEAR 8 Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action

To go straight to our #G2great schedule change description, you can scroll down

by Mary Howard

On August 29, 2012, my 2nd book was published: Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters(Heinemann). I was thrilled when that book became the source of #G2great twitter chat on 1/8/15, as reflected below and in our Wakelet artifact.

Since this chat launch, our team has changed over the years and now includes fellow founding member, Jenn Hayhurst with co moderators Fran McVeigh and Brent Gilson. We have also been very fortunate to have the supportive guidance and input from Towanda Harris. Across the years our mission statement has guided our thinking.

For seven years, I’ve been honored to write our anniversary blog posts. As always, our anniversary topic will be my reflection centerpiece: Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action. In this post, I’ll view transformation from a dual perspective:

Transformation from the lens of #G2great twitter chat across the years

Transformation from the lens of those who joined our chat on 1/5/23.


I found two pertinent definitions describing TRANSFORMATION as a noun:

1) a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance

2) an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed

While transformation can be “thorough” and “dramatic” as shown in the first definition, I lean more heavily on the second one that views transformation as a PROCESS. I consider the most essential feature of transformation step-by-step change that occurs OVER TIME (not OVERnight). In other words, there is no end point as illustrated by key words “transformING and “BEING transformed.” I began my professional journey in 1972 and 51 years later, I continue to reside in a constant state of becoming. My belief in continued professional learning helps me fine tune, confirm and adjust my thinking. Like so many other educators, I’ve traversed along a meandering path on a never-ending transformational journey. Some changes are more time consuming and demanding than others and may be accompanied by the push and pull of comfort and discomfort given the inevitable uncertainty of any transformational process

These related words that accompanied the definitions seemed fitting:

The terms and the definition I’ve chosen to highlight reflect an internal shift with the POTENTIAL to be transformative. I use the word “POTENTIAL” very intentionally since transformation requires responsibility. Simply adding furniture, doing an activity viewed on social media, or joining a questionable facebook group blindly is devoid of transformative potential when those things are based on the popular idea of the moment rather than sound research support. Transformation is an active rather than passive process and is only possible when we explore and awaken research supported beliefs with intent and then transform those beliefs into action where it will have the most impact – with children. Impact assumes that there is benefit to the decision maker as professional (teacher) and recipient as learner (students).

Sadly, a quick fix educational culture further escalated by COVID-19 and efforts to use this to justify the battle cry of “learning loss” has compromised how we view change. Transformation has nothing to do with performing like mindless puppets according to the mandates of others (often with little or no benefit of experience or knowledge of literacy and children). Transformation takes time, dedication, an ongoing quest for professional knowledge, and an unwavering belief that no one-size-fits-all script can dictate the direction lifelong learners of literacy committed to individual children can understand.

I’d like to begin this discussion from the perspective of our #G2Great eight-year labor of love and then close this post by sharing some twitter thinking from our anniversary chat discussion on 1/5/23.


#G2Great chat has actively engaged in a transformational process across the years. We have made a wide range of concrete shifts on behalf of our chat and those who grace us with conversational wisdom via twitter. This “collective community of invitational conversations” and transformational opportunities those conversations have afforded us have motivated our team to make these shifts on your behalf and thus keep #G2Great alive and fresh.


The conversations that have taken place week after week on #G2Great chat have become our transformational drive since we opened our twitter doors. The first part of that change process began in mere weeks when we made the decision to transform our initial vision of a book study that would end after ten weeks into a long-term chat that continues seven years later. But we didn’t stop there. My book was initially the focus, but we shifted to topics beyond my book on 3/19/15 with Engaging Stakeholders in Deeper and More Meaningful Ways. On 7/16/15 we explored an amazing TedX talk with Kimberly Davis: What it Means to be Brave.

We soon recognized that we had an incredible platform to spotlight wonderful books and engage in twitter style conversation with a virtual Who’s Who of authors. Our first book spotlight was with Lisa Eickholdt in a two-part book study on 9/3/15 and 9/10/15: Learning From Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts.

Since that time, professional books have remained a major chat feature and we’re honored that many remarkable authors have shared their gift with us. This motivated us to adjust the number and source of chat questions as we invited our authors to craft their own questions in honor of their book and the wonderings that they wanted to invite.


Once we made these initial shifts in our ongoing transformational process, we continuously explored and applied other shifts over time:


• Wakelet Artifacts: We’ve collected each chat since our 2015 launch so that educators can revisit previous chats. Our Wakelet collection offers a home for inspired thinking.

• Literacy Lenses Blog: We knew that a blog would add a new layer of reflection so on our first anniversary on 1/7/16 we launched Literacy Lenses . Since then every chat is accompanied by a reflection in our blog.


We initiated the first of nine series on 2/4/16 to highlight a common topic with related areas of focus over 4 to 5 weeks: Holding Tight to Practices that Matter: read aloudshared readingconferringsmall groupsindependent reading.  


Our belief that students have great wisdom to share led to inviting our first student guest was Sam Fremin: Shifting Our Perspective: Viewing Our Teaching from a Students Lens followed by several #BowTieBoy chats: Exploring Instruction from Our Students’ Eyes, Paul Sinanis: Instilling a Life-Long Love of Reading from a Student Lens, and Olivia Van Ledtje based on her book, Spark Change: Making Your Mark in a Digital World


We added alternate texts we knew would inspire conversations with a few firsts:

• Article study with Alfie Kohn: Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School?  

• Podcast study with Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice

• Blog Study with Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson: Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?


We stepped outside of an education box so that we could connect with authors who lived in the business world but made connections to literacy including Kimberly Davis: Learning Our Way to Professional Excellence; Drew Dudley: This is Day One and Jody Carrington: Kids These Days.


Over the years we’ve included many administrators including a 2016 Leadership series including Dennis Schug, Natalie Miller, Tony Sinanis, and Matt Renwick and Seth Berg. We also created a chat from a schoolwide focus with Mike Oliver, principal of Zaharis Elementary with Beyond Borders: A Journey to Becoming


We’ve been fortunate that remarkable authors have widened our perspectives, understandings and commitment to continued learning and growth such as:

• Gholdy Muhammad: Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy

• Sonja Cherry-Paul: Stamped for Kids: Racism, Antiracism and You

• Matthew R. Kay: Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom

• Lorena Germán: Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices

• Liz Kleinrock: Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community

• Kim Parker: Literacy is Liberation: Working Toward Justice Through Culturally Relevant Teaching

• Afrika Afeni Mills: Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Anti-Racist Pro-Human Students



We recognized that many educators had not written a book we could spotlight but were doing amazing things worth celebrating. In this spirit we added our Educator Spotlight chats to honor their contributions to literacy with Nawal Qarooni: Our Collective Strength: Children As Curriculum; Paul Hankins: Everything’s a Remix and Islah Tauheed: Teaching as a Radical Act


We explored a slower chat format for discussion across a day. A SLOW CHAT allowed educators to respond to questions at their leisure such as Professional Reflection as a Stepping stone to Decision Making and Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation. Since change may also require us to LET GO of our choices, we alleviated this format since it did not invite the active discussions we knew teachers needed.


After 7 years of weekly twitter chats, we knew it was important to revisit past chats that with new eyes and fresh questions including What It Means to be BRAVE with Kimberly Davis Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-8 Classroom by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke and Maximizing Student Engagement in Literacy Across the School Day (Topic)


We began to notice common topics and themes across books and created book pairings that would offer two back-to-back weeks of books with a related topic:

1) TALK: Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk by Maria Nichols and Hands Down, Speak Out: Literacy and Talking Across Literacy and Math by Kassia Wedekind and Christy Thompson (this was our first book connecting math and literacy with later addition of Allison Hintz and Antony T. Smith: Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy and Wonder.)

2) TRANSLANGUAGING: Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers by Cecelia Espinosa and Laura Ascenzi-Moreno and En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students by Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera

As you can see, our #G2Great chat has been in a state of transformational change across the seven years our chat has been in existence. This year, we believe it’s time for a step in our transformation as we look ahead to year 8.


The shift that we’re making this year was not taken lightly; based on thoughtful observation, conversation and contemplation as a team with careful thought across two years. For seven years, we’ve held weekly twitter chats. As you can imagine, this has required constant planning and commitment across 357 chats to date and counting. We know that this also makes it more difficult for our chat family to attend weekly, especially in challenging times. Yet, we also know that in challenging times, we need a safe space for conversation and collaboration. This year, we will adjust our calendar for the first time in our 7-year history:


Effective on our first twitter chat on 1/5/23, we are making these changes:

  • MONTHLY chat on the 1st Thursday of each month
  • Same time slot will apply from 8:30-9:30 EST
  • Occasional 2nd Thursday slot for paired books/topics
  • Continued references including Wakelets and blog posts
  • The addition of a new monthly twitter chat (see below)


Brent Gilson is one of our #G2great moderators. If you follow him on Twitter, Lifting Literacy Facebook Group or his blog, “Things Mr. G Says”, you know the amazing things that Brent is doing with his students and his gift for engaging educators in thoughtful conversations. Brent’s new twitter chat will be called “Lifting Literacy” and it will occur on the last Thursday of each month at the same 8:30-9:30 EST time slot. His first chat launch is on 1/26/23 with a book study on Angela Stockman’s new book, The Writing Workshop Teacher’s Guide to Multimodal Composition (grades 6-12) as shown below. Brent will also maintain a chat blog on his Lifting Literacy Website.

To help you keep up with both of these chats as well as reminders of off weeks, we have added a COMING SOON section on our chat blog. Upcoming chats will be added here so that you can plan accordingly (see the top right corner) and we will also continue to advertise new chats on twitter at #G2Great.


With our transformational process in mind, Seth Godin’s words seem fitting.

Over the course of our seven-year history and counting, we have added, deleted modified and questioned many things as a team. The one thing that never changed, however, was our weekly schedule. We feel certain that our EIGHTH anniversary is the right time for this shift to a monthly chat. We are still very committed to our #G2Great chat and to the wonderful educators who join our twitter conversations. We are are not going away but simply continuing one more phase in our ongoing transformational process. We will consistently keep an eye on our #G2great page and respond whether we are holding a chat that week or not. We hope that you’ll continue to share your thinking with us and join future chats in the coming year.

We are so grateful to those of you who have attended our chat and engaged in the conversational twitter style dialogue that has inspired us to continue our #G2Great labor of love. Each chat is created in your honor and we always gain new insight through your eyes. We are excited to explore the 2023 year with each of you who make your way back to our chat and invite your input. We look forward to learning through new conversations in the coming year.

In closing, let’s look at a few tweets shared on our 8th Anniversary chat:

1-5-23 ANNIVERSARY CHAT TWITTER WISDOM LAUNCHING 2023 Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action

John Schu and The Gift of Story

Wakelet Link of all Tweets

Guest Author: Kitty Donohoe

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, the #G2Great Chat enjoyed a memorable conversation with Mr. John Schu regarding his book THE GIFT OF STORY.

In John Schu’s GIFT OF STORY, Katherine Applegate offers a fitting quote showing just how timely John’s book is.

“When you feel lost in the black hole of test scores and Zoom meetings, in crises big and small, in challenged titles and tight budgets, this book will be your touchstone. For every teacher and librarian and parent who’s placed the right book in the right hands at the right time, THE GIFT OF STORY is a reminder that you are not just molding minds, you are nurturing souls.”

And many of us know what that is like, and yet when we stick our heads out of the mire of all the “yuck” we experience, magic can happen. When we remember that story truly is a gift, when we remember the little ones who benefit from those stories, we are reminded of what is important.  When I taught on Zoom school for a year, I forgot there was a pandemic whenever I saw the dear faces of my second grade students reflected on the screen.  And in Grace Lin’s book WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, there is a wonderful quote about stories.  A stonecutter and a storyteller are imprisoned by the villain of the story.  However, this is what the stonecutter says: “For to be in prison with the Storyteller is to not be in prison at all.” Stories set us free, wherever we are physically, we are in the story mentally. Grace Lin got me and my second graders through lockdown, and that is a gift indeed.

The Good to Great Twitter Chat featuring John Schu offered educators, librarians, and parents, a chance to join in and celebrate the joy of stories.  We shared our stories with each other and in the process exchanged book ideas, and came out a little fuller, a little happier, because that is what happens when you share stories. That is what humans have been doing since before there was even the written word.  We shared stories, we felt joy, and we drew closer to each other in the exchange.  That is how community is formed.

While I have never met John in person, I have met him on Zoom and through social media. This quote from the book and the experience of those who know him well is so true. John Schu is infectious with joy.  This was so evident in the chat.  And we all know that this love of books he so avidly shares with others has created a worldwide pandemic of joyful reading for young readers. And isn’t that the kind of pandemic we all want to happen?

In his book, THE GIFT OF STORY, John includes quotes from authors regarding their experiences with story.  This quote from Dav Pilkey really speaks to so many young readers who can relate to the challenges that one of their favorite authors had.

This is so pertinent. How often have we as educators, teachers, or librarians, seen joy light the face of a child who sees themself reflected in the pages of a book.  For books are magic, they can say: I see you, I hear you, I know you.  And everyone needs this!

These are words of wisdom from Fran McVeigh, making room for reading both physically and mentally. And choice, choice, choice!

Dr. Mary Howard points out basically how we have a choice in education.  What are we going to choose?  Are we making time for stories for children? Or are we NOT? It is up to us.  

Often when I get overwhelmed with all the mandates imposed upon teachers I find myself unable to concentrate and focus.  My planned day wavers before my eyes as more and more is expected of educators and children.  But then suddenly, I spy the pile of read aloud books I have on my desk and they shout out to me, “Remember us? Your old friends? Your new friends?” And then, the calm comes, the antidote for all the chaos – a good story.  John reminds us of the importance of story. And the books truly do call out to me and the students. When the classroom reading life is in order, everything else magically falls into place.

Wow, click on that link readers and discover wonderful books to add to your read aloud pile, or your classroom library!  We all need new ideas for books to share with kids.

Click on this link to see the list of even MORE books Mr. Schu suggests!  What a treasure trove!

And another great book idea resource!  Click on the link to see the article!

This chat was a joyous exchange of a shared love of BOOKS and STUDENTS READING! 

In his book, John has organized and curated tremendous resources. This is done in an innovative and helpful way.  

One thing he does is to have short book reviews of myriads of books throughout THE GIFT OF STORY.  It is so user friendly. Busy educators and librarians can thumb through it at-a-glance when looking for resources.

A very clever and creative device Mr. Schu uses throughout his book is his use of hearts to tie it all together. One of my favorites is the embedded QR codes in hearts.  One section of his book has book trailer links in the hearts like this:


Another lovely way he incorporates heart embedded QR codes includes links to articles like this one by Dr. Sayantani DasGupta, pediatrician and children’s author:

“Stories Are Good Medicine: Literacy, Health, and Representation”

There are so many other wonderful resources in Mr. Schu’s book THE GIFT OF STORY. I would have to copy and paste the whole book in here in order to mention them all. But you can get them in this marvelous book that is a true friend to all who love books and want to pass this love around, just like Mr. John Schu!

Thank you Mr. Schu for being a light for children and book lovers all over the world. Thank you #G2Great Chat for making a space each Thursday evening for like-minded people to come and share their stories.  We all see you and appreciate you.  We are a community!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

About Kitty Donohoe, this week’s guest blogger:

Kitty Donohoe teaches second grade just a gull’s cry from the Pacific Ocean at Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica, CA. Her debut picture book, HOW TO RIDE A DRAGONFLY, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, comes out May 23, 2023. Publisher: Penguin Random House/Anne Schwartz Books

Don Vu and Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Link to the Wakelet collection of all tweets from the chat

By Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, November 3rd, 2022, Dr. Don Vu was a guest moderator with #g2great to discuss his amazing new book, Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Supporting Our Immigrant and Refugee Children Through The Power of Reading. This book is unique because of its focus on the reading culture of a school (and its elements) and the needs of immigrant and refugee children and their families.

Dr. Don Vu shares stories of his childhood experiences as an immigrant. Those stories bring his ideas and beliefs about supportive communities to life and include his views as a teacher and administrator. Check out this tweet pinned to his Twitter feed.

Because his family fled Vietnam in 1975, he has first-hand knowledge of what “real life” is like for immigrant students.

That unique perspective struck me as I read the book and read back through the Wakelet archive. I have some experience with a few immigrant students. A tiny bit. I wonder “What if a teacher experienced their own classroom through the eyes and ears of an immigrant or refugee child?” What seems to be working? What might they consider doing differently? What might they stop doing?

I will circle back to those questions later in this post as I want to continue with some of Don Vu’s wisdom from the chat. Remember that the text title is Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Think about the source of that phrase. Think about the individual words and their meanings. Think about the cumulative effect of that phrase. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t happen in isolation. Success will be found in communities with support systems that surround the students. Features of community that Dr. Vu focused on in the book are Commitment, Collection, Clock, Conversation, Connection, and Celebration so I searched for some supporting tweets.

Commitment: Meet Students Where They Are and Passion



Connection and Celebration

What works for immigrant and refugee students and families? What should education include? What should support include?

During our chat and in the book, we heard many stories. We know students have stories that we need to hear. We also know that we need to think about the assets that students have when they arrive at school. We know students have to be met where they are. This means thinking about translanguaging from previous chats around Rooted in Strength here and En Comunidad here. Supporting students in their first language is critical before students begin to learn additional languages – whether speaking, reading or writing. We know students need a lot of talk. Talk provides practice. Talk enables teachers and community members to understand needs and wants as well as levels of support. Students and families need to see themselves in the resources in the classrooms – books, pictures and videos. Setting up quality learning environments where learning flourishes requires a great deal of attention and care in the form of accepting students’ assets, increasing the use of translanguaging, more talk, more practice, and more resources for success for all.

What seems to be working? What might they consider doing differently? What might they stop doing?

Educators, schools and communities need to take stock of their own resources and conduct a bit of data analysis within cycles of action research. For students with x, y, and z as assets, we have found success with ______. Can we repeat that success with multiple groups of students over time? If we are not finding success, what might we also try? Could we add or change one variable at a time so we can try to connect the instruction, the change, and the results? What does the research in the field say? Are some of our instructional practices aligned with the research? What data suggest that students would be best served by dropping ineffective practices like requiring all schoolwork to be in English (as one example)?

And finally, how can you discuss the present culture in your classrooms, buildings, schools, and community? Are life, literacy, and pursuit of happiness a part of your goals?


Additional Resources


website – link

webinar –

“Using Story to Promote Equity for Our Immigrant and Refugee Children” link

Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy, and Wonder Through Read-Alouds and Discussion

by, Jenn Hayhurst


Click Here for the Wakelete

Have you ever gone to a national conference? If you are a teacher, going to a national conference gives you more than just information. It bonds you to all of these wonderfully generous people who are at their truest selves, gifted teachers. They help us to learn through their wit and insight. They are genuine, and at times even poignant.  I once attended an NCTE conference where Tom Newkirk – wait, I could geek out here and go on about how much I admire this man, but I digress… shared a deeply personal story about his wife’s cancer.  He recalled how when they were reading about potential treatments, they were reading it as part of a story they were telling themselves. Their purpose for reading was vastly different than the author’s intent for writing. His message to us? It was to enlighten but also to remind us that learning through story is powerful because we are wired for story from the start.

 “Stories are how we understand the interrelationship of events. Stories are at the heart of how we learn because they create memories and provide details we want to know. Stories grab us in a way no list of facts could ever do.”

Jim McElhaney review of Newkirk’s Minds Made for Stories

On Thursday, #G2Great welcomed Allison Hintz, and Antony T. Smith to #G2Great, to lead a discussion around their book, Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy, and Wonder Through Read-Alouds and Discussion. Mary asked me if I would write the blog post and I was excited to write about this important concept. What would happen if we viewed real children’s literature through a math lens rather than viewing literacy and math as separate aspects of the curriculum? This idea of mathematizing children’s literature would extend an intriguing open invitation for math learning in a whole new way. I was hooked! I love the idea of giving learners space to ask their own questions because it rings true. Teaching through the art of a well-constructed question; one that generates more questions is a deeply held personal belief for my own teaching.

We Read Professional Books to Learn From Others

Allison and Antony have real expertise in mathematizing children’s literature.  During a pre-chat interview they said: 

“Our collaboration integrating math and literacy within the context of children’s literature is joyful! In working for eight years with teachers, students, children’s librarians, and families, we have learned a great deal about children’s thinking and how to nurture their mathematical identities. We also have seen the powerful ways stories provide a creative and engaging context for exploring our world as mathematical sense-makers.”

I was a kid who was labeled as a strong reader and writer, but not necessarily a mathematician. Teachers know (or should know) that the labels we use to describe children will stick, and I am not an exception. How could I add to a child’s mathematical identity when I don’t feel up to that challenge? The answer was immediate. I would need more professional development and then experience in how to ask open-ended mathematical questions. For my first attempt at generating an open-ended math question, I used the book, Last Stop on Market Street. It felt like a lame first attempt when I wondered how much the bus fare was but it also gave me insight into what children might ask in the early stages of learning.  Then I read what Nadine and Mollie had to say:

Ok, their wonderings felt superior to mine, but I was not deterred to try again.  This time, I asked the experts what they thought about my favorite (new) picture book, Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away.

Look at what Antony suggested…

Three Big Takeaways

●  Almost any story can provide a meaningful context for mathematical thinking and discussion.

●  When we ask children what they notice and wonder about we are providing an opportunity for young mathematicians to be curious as they explore and share their questions and ideas.

●  Math and literacy work powerfully together! Mathematicians reason, analyze, predict, and construct meaning; readers ask questions and identify and solve problems.

As I consider this, and everything else Allison and Antony shared during the chat, I can’t help but think about how mathematizing children’s literature may even generate deeper connections to characters children love. Maybe by having those deeper math conversations we will be contextualizing these characters in a way we have never done before as we make the characters children love even more present in their lives. Maybe, when they leave school they might wonder about how many bricks are in their own houses. I am going to work on my own issues about feeling inadequacies as a mathematical thinker to extend this invitation to my students too. I invite you to read this wonderful book because there is so much potential for these math conversations to make learning even more nuanced in ways that are novel and connected to their lives. That is a recipe for learning and transfer, but Allison and Antony really said this best:

“How children see themselves–and are seen by others–as mathematicians is significantly shaped by their experiences in classrooms and school communities. Through mathematizing children’s literature, we have the opportunity to affirm a child’s mathematical identity and agency while also nurturing them as readers.”

We are so grateful to Allison Hintz and Antony T Smith for sharing their expertise and teaching us all about Mathematizing Children’s Literature.

To learn more about how to link math and literacy you may also search our website to read Mary’s post: Hands Down, Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math, and please visit Stenhouse Publishing to view videos and accessible resources for Mathematizing Children’s Literature Sparking Connections and Joy Through Read Alouds and Discussions

Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners

See the 1/11/18 chat HERE • See the 10/20/22 chat HERE

Written by Mary Howard

On 10/20/22, we had the great pleasure to welcome Regie Routman back to our #G2great chat for a renewed look at her incredible book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018, Stenhouse). We first celebrated Regie Routman and Literacy Essentials on a #G2great chat 1/11/18.

It was a conscious choice to honor Literacy Essentials a second time. At the start of 2022, our chat team added a BLAST FROM THE PAST feature. We’ve held weekly chats since 1/18/15 with year eight coming January 2023. As of writing this post, we’ve supported 351 chats with many professional books. In an educational publishing industry in a constant flow of new books, we know that some are still desperately needed regardless of publication date. Our goal is to put important books back on the radar screen to for teachers who missed it when it was published. When we select a book for BLAST FROM THE PAST, we modify quotes and questions so that even teachers who attended the first time can see the book through fresh eyes and renewed perspective while bringing new research supported understandings they gained since it was published.

One quote we shared in both chats speaks volumes about the very heart and soul of Literacy Essentials and why nearly five years after its publication, it remains at the top of my list of MUST-READ books:

From the publication of her first book, Transitions: From Literature to Literacy in 1988 to Literacy Essentials, Regie Routman’s deep belief in teaching with a sense of urgency and her unwavering respect for how we expend precious minutes has been a central belief in all of her inspired work. Regie writes these words about teaching with a ‘sense of urgency’ in Literacy Essentials:

“Teaching with a sense of urgency means focusing relentlessly on what’s most important throughout every single day, moving at an efficient and effective steady pace, seizing problems and failure as opportunities for growth, and changing course as needed.” Page 55

Regie brings this spirit to life by highlighting three Literacy Essentials including: Engagement, Excellence, Equity. Across the pages of Literacy Essentials, she consistently honors a sense of urgency with every possible detail in repeated sections including, Take Action with ideas for moving forward; Efficiency Tips to fine tune our efforts, and a mesmerizing real-life personal Story at the end of each chapter that inspires and informs our professional lives. (Note: Be sure to check out the links at the bottom. The first two I shared offer free resources for Literacy Essentials. I also suggest perusing the Stenhouse June/July 2019 Literacy Essentials Book Study in an amazing conversation with resources, references and comments from Regie Routman.

Let’s pause for a moment to hear from Regie Routman and her heartwarming response to a question we posed about Literacy Essentials:

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

These are tough and traumatic times to be teaching, although that has always been true to some extent. What’s most important, I believe, is to lead with empathy and a compassionate heart, to collaborate with colleagues because this job is too complex to do by ourselves, and to be responsive to our students’ strengths, interests, and needs. Think about focusing on these 3 R’s first: relationships, relevance, and resilience–and establishing a classroom and school culture of inclusion, respect, and conversations that matter.

Through prioritizing high expectations, meaningful content, and wide choice in the texts students read and write, we can still bring joy to teaching and learning. None of this is easy, but my hope is that reading and discussing Literacy Essentials will make your teaching/learning/living life more satisfying, engaging, excellent, and equitable for you and your students. Use the detailed Table of Contents with sections to decide where to begin or dig in. I am by your side as fellow learner and teacher. Remember this: you can only do the best you can, and that has to be enough. Uplifting even one life is a huge accomplishment. For that learner, it can be lifechanging. Go easy on yourself, take deep breaths, and savor some moments in the day just for you. 

When Regie was on #G2Great on January 11, 2018, I had the great honor to write our post that can be accessed here. Since my focus in that post was on the book, in the remainder of this post I’d like to highlight learning shared on our twitter chat discussion to extend and support my initial blog post and Literacy Essentials

A great place to begin is with Regie Routman’s responses to our #G2Great questions. I’ve included the question followed by her thoughtful response/s:

Q1 Before we begin, let’s reflect on Regie’s challenge to approach our teaching with a “sense of urgency and relentless pursuit of excellence.” How do you make this a daily priority, regardless of roadblocks that may stand in your path?

Q2 In her book, Regie draws our attention to three areas that reflect Literacy Essentials for all learners: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity.Why are these essentials more important than ever?

Q3 Regie has long championed the reading-writing connection. How can the reciprocal role of reading and writing elevate our teaching? What is one way that you celebrate this mutual relationship in practice?

Q4 Regie reminds us that the end goal of teaching reading is to help students ‘BE READERS’ and she emphasizes free choice independent reading as our #1 priority. How do you bring this priority to life within each teaching day?

Q5 Regie writes, “Equity means we provide all students equal access to an excellent education— that is, we ensure they receive what they need and desire to reach their full potential.” How are you making this vision a reality? 

Q6 Regie asks us to focus on “responsible assessment” including formative and self-assessment to ensure that instruction addresses the specific learning needs of children. What are YOUR responsible assessment essentials?

We are very fortunate to have an incredible group of educators who join our weekly chat discussions. These amazing educators added an additional level of thinking for our Literacy Essentials discussion:



I’d like to reach back to 2018, the year that Literacy Essentials was published and Regie joined our #G2Great chat for the first time. On August 18, 2018, Regie shared this wonderful tweet that I’ve referred to on many occasions since it speaks volumes about central messages that appear across Literacy Essentials.

One of the beautiful things about having such an important book on our #G2Great chat twice is that it allows us not only to bring Literacy Essentials back into public attention, but also gives us two conversational references that invited old friends and new into the conversation over time in a collective merging of understanding ranging from 2018 to 2022.

Books like Literacy Essentials need to be on a shelf of honored books within easy reach, referenced so often that the pages are dog-eared with highlighting and pencil jots from cover to cover. I’m a long-time advocate for re-reading one or two books each year that spoke to me in the past. That is the intent of our Blast from the Past chat and I can’t think of a better book to reach for virtually or face-to-face.  

In her introduction, Regie writes a “Letter to my colleagues” and she poses a question that is pertinent to all of us, especially in such a challenging time in our history:

“How do we rise to the challenge of providing an engaging, excellent, equitable education for all learners—including those from high-poverty, underserved schools? In spite of all the obstacles we face—politically, professionally, personally—we teachers matter more than ever.” Page 1

There is no doubt in my mind that the answer to that question is to read Literacy Essentials from cover to cover, refer to it often and keep it lovingly perched on a shelf of honor for easy access.

On a very personal note, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Regie Routman; for long-time dedication to this profession, teachers everywhere who put her words into action and the children who are at the center of all she does. I will forever hold dear your message and I’m so honored to call you dear friend. With much love and deep appreciation!



Literacy Essentials at (includes book excerpts from each of the 3 sections of the book, a video walk-through of the whole book, a Study Guide, and several podcasts; one “podcast” and Stories, personal and professional, that are woven throughout the book. (Highly recommended) 

Literacy Essentials Stenhouse website (more free resources including hundreds of professional articles and some videos, all related to the book’s content, that are hyperlinked for reading, viewing, and downloading for study and discussion. There is also a comprehensive, extensive lesson plan and downloadable samples of class authored books.

#G2Great chat with Regie Routman on 1/11/18 for Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity

#G2Great Wakelet artifact from our 1/11/18 #g2great chat with Regie Routman   

ORDER HERE: Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018, Stenhouse)

Literacy Essentials Stenhouse Literacy Essentials Book Study (June/July 2019)

A generous list of Podcasts compiled by Regie Routman

Three-part podcast with Jacob Chastain: Equity with Regie Routman

‘Roaming Around the Known’ with an Adult Learner by Regie Routman

Regie Routman on What’s Essential Right Now in Education with Matt Renwick

Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students

A reflection by Brent Gilson #G2Great Co-moderator

This week the #G2Great chat was honored to have Afrika Afeni Mills join us to discuss ideas from her beautiful book Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-human Students. As I have the opportunity to reflect and share this week I wanted to start with her words.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

In a previous role, I was the Curriculum and Instruction Director for an organization called Discovering Justice where I had the opportunity to revise the Children Discovering Justice curriculum, and to facilitate professional learning experiences for teachers in the Greater Boston area based on that curriculum. These learning experiences provided participants with opportunities to engage in conversations about race and U.S. history, and in that work, I noticed that while teachers enjoyed the learning experiences, they didn’t have opportunities to engage in this learning in an ongoing way, and that resonated with my experience as a pre-service and in-service teacher. 

From 2015 until earlier this year, I worked with a company called BetterLesson where I served as an Instructional Coach, Senior Manager of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I was also able to connect with educators around the country through keynote, workshop and master class opportunities at conferences with my good friend and colleague Monica Washington (2014 Texas State Teacher of the Year). In that work, we noticed the same thing. 

In 2019, I published a piece on the Teaching While White blog titled A Letter to White Teachers of My Black Children. That post went viral, and the response told me that this was a topic that educators wanted to explore further. While the focus on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning is vital, I noticed that there weren’t as many resources to support teachers who were working with students who identify as White to become antiracist and pro-human. 

My hope, especially in our current polarized climate, is that educators will see that we need to engage in our own racial healing, awakening, and development in order to be equipped to offer our students the learning experiences they both need and deserve.

Reading through Afrika’s thoughts above I am struck by her hopes at the end. For educators to take the time for their own racial healing, awakening, and development in order to be better equipped to serve our students in the ways they need and deserve.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on race and the world my students will be heading out into. I have written about this a lot before but in my own experiences, we do not have much diversity regarding race in our area. During the chat, I have the opportunity to reflect on my own childhood and questions about my own experiences with race. I grew up in a setting much like my students. The bulk of my ideas around race came from pop culture. I did not attend school with a Black student until Junior High. Largely my community was white. My first intern teaching experience in a “real city” was eye-opening. Different cultures, identities, and personalities. It was a wonderful and rich learning opportunity. This could not have been more starkly contrasted by my first job in rural southern Alberta. I remember doing Pen Pals with my old school and kids making faces as they read names they had never encountered or learned about traditions and customs different from their own. I knew in those moments it was important to help my students in these communities see the world outside their experience for the beauty there is.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

The concept of windows and mirrors as introduced by Emily Style and further developed by Rudine Sims Bishop, is an important one for educators. All students deserve learning communities and experiences where their identities are accurately reflected back to them in the content, and ways of being that are implemented in the pedagogy (mirrors). Students also deserve the opportunity to gaze beyond the familiar to learn about identities and experiences that differ from their own (windows). This is how we create and sustain a truly whole and healthy society. Unfortunately, students of color experience far too many windows, and far too few, and often inaccurate mirrors, and White students experience far too few windows, and often distorted mirrors. 

As the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) inventories in 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2020 show us, there is far more representation of White characters than there are of People of Color in children’s books. Even the representation of animals far exceeds the representation of People of Color, which, by the way, is one of the things that makes current book banning efforts and legislation so absurd. The same folks who are pushing against what they’re calling “indoctrination,” “divisive concepts,” “anti-American” books and content don’t seem to realize that they’re supporting what they say they’re against. As educators, we have the ability, opportunity, and in my estimation, moral imperative to provide students with accurate, healthy, windows and mirrors. 

I always love the opportunity to write the weekly reflection when it is my turn and this week is no exception. I try to help my students with the idea of windows in the books we read as a way for them to see beyond themselves. Sometimes they remind me that they could use some mirrors too (if you have any rural white kids who love hockey, hunting, and ripping around on mopeds let me know…maybe I need to write it). We spend time discussing windows and the importance of learning about the world. We also spend time talking about the quality of the windows and mirrors. I was writing a paper for University this summer and focused on Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s work and Graphic Novel representation of indigenous characters. I wrote about how often the mirrors present were more like funhouse distortions. I wonder how often as educators we present students with distorted funhouse mirrors and cracked or broken windows. As Dr. Kim Parker has often mentioned we need books that focus on joy instead of only sharing trauma. We need quality mirrors and windows to not only support our students but also ourselves.

I love this quote from Afrika. It isn’t easy. It is the work of community.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

You are not alone in this journey. There are many of us who have been, are now, and will be engaging in this important work, and we are here to support one another. There are an increasing number of resources to inform your journey as well as learning communities to fortify you along the way. This work isn’t easy, but as we teach our students, with support and effort, you can do challenging things. As the attack on the capitol on January 6th and racially motivated mass shootings have taught us, there’s far too much at risk if we don’t.

The light of TRUTH…Rebuilding something Better.

The #G2Great team is so grateful to Afrika Afeni Mills for taking the time to share her words and lead our chat this week. We hope everyone will take the time to better learn about themselves so they can best serve their students. If you are looking for more of Afrika’s work and you should there are links below.


Open Windows, Open Minds Newsletter


Facebook: Open Windows, Open Minds

Instagram: Open Windows, Open Minds

LinkedIn: Afrika Afeni Mills

Twitter: @AfeniMills

Blog Posts:

Five to Thrive: Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Middle & High School ELA

Wakelet artifact consisting of all #G2Great tweets here.

By Fran McVeigh

The three authors of Five to Thrive: Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Middle and High School ELA who joined #G2Great on Thursday, October 6th are noted for their ELA knowledge. Matthew Johnson had not previously been here as an author, but his collaborators Matthew R. Kay Not Light, But FIRE: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom, and Dave Stuart Jr. these 6 things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most are familiar to many #G2Great followers. If they aren’t typically on your ELA radar, you need to elevate them now!

Also, note that two additional titles in this Corwin Press “Five to Thrive” series were represented on #G2Great previously. Christina Nosek with Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Elementary Reading and Melanie Meehan’s Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Elementary Writing. All of the titles are worthy of your attention!

Because this was part of the series, I am beginning with the authors’ responses to the questions which explain my interest in this book for the #G2Great chat.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

The last couple years have been really rough for educators. This has led to a large number of new teachers entering the profession due to retirements and led to many teachers feeling exhausted, overextended, and burnt out. We wanted to write this book–which is about what works in the classes of three teachers in three very different locations (rural, suburban, and urban), and schools (small, medium, and large)–to help both those new teachers and those seeking to be new to focus on the areas that matter the most and can help them towards better, more equitable, and more sustainable teaching .  

Email 9/28/2022
What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

Arguably the biggest takeaway is that community is not a second-tier concern to be focused on once the real work is done. The pandemic helped to show us that building strong and positive classroom communities is essential work that we need to thoughtfully and purposefully engage in daily. Other themes that bubbled up were the importance of constantly listening to and consulting the students in an effort to build a true partnership, the importance of finding community as educators to keep our own lights burning bright, and the importance of revisiting and reflecting on important ideas/skills/topics again and again and again while designing instruction.

Email 9/28/2022
What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?   

Few resources are as precious as teacher time or student voices. We need to treat each with the respect that they deserve!

Email 9/28/2022

Key points deal with respect for teachers and the:

Value of community

Value of teacher time

Value of student voices

These key points are exemplified in the quotes and the responses in the chat. (The slides from the chat that include pretweets or quotes during the chat are in gray boxes separate from actual tweets that remain white like Dave Stuart’s below as I play with different format options in this post.)

Value of Community

“What we’re after is the active construction of class cultures that are courageous, curious, and collaborative; social places where students listen to each other, finding themselves both pushed and secure, challenged and inspired. We want a classroom where students measure their strengths and successes based on their own growth.” 

“…it is important to acknowledge that we should consider community building as the work of our curriculum choices and pedagogical moves throughout the entire school year.True community is not built with a couple of initial exercises. (p. 6

Value of Teacher Time

“We authors still believe that teaching is the best job in the world, but we get it when we hear yet another colleague say, I can’t keep doing this.” “On default settings, the secondary ELA teacher’s job isn’t sustainable.” (p. 116)

“What makes feedback effective isn’t how many words the teacher writes in the margins. What makes feedback effective is how much the student reads, understands, and ultimately learns from it.” (p 61)

What do we know now?

Value of Student Voices

“Listening authentically is effortful, after all. It takes significant bandwidth for students – and, frankly, their teachers – to tune out distractions and lock in on any speaker’s ideas for even the shortest amount of time.” (p. 13) 

And then what? So what? 

Perhaps you think this book is designed for beginning teachers. Perhaps you think it might fit into a secondary ELA methods course. Perhaps you think that a MS/HS ELA team could study this book together to build a more “common sense” approach to building a collaborative team. Perhaps an ELA teacher would hand it off to his/her administrator. Perhaps an administrator would hand this book off to a teacher new to the building.  All of these are possibilities.

If you embrace the idea of teacher stewardship in the classroom, you might consider these actions.

Volunteer to be a mentor.

Check in with a new teacher – new to your content, department, building, or district.

Pass this book on to an administrator who does not have an ELA teaching background.

Follow the authors on twitter, social media, or their blogs!

Study your classroom for its safety in sharing, connecting, listening and learning from each other. How will you nurture community for students and teachers? How will you nurture and protect time? How will you nurture your own continuous learning and reflection?

Additional Resources:
Matthew Johnson
Re-Write – Blog – Link
Essay of the Week – Link
Corwin Author Page – Link
Matthew R. Kay
Website – Link
Stenhouse Author Page – Link
Corwin Book Page – Link
Dave Stuart Jr.
Teaching Simplified – Blog – Link
Article of the Week – Link
Corwin Author Page – Link

The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library: Building a Collection That Inspires, Engages, and Challenges Readers

Take a look at our #G2Great chat Wakelet artifact HERE

On 9/29/22, we were privileged to welcome Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp back to #G2Great chat to discuss their incredible new book, The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library: Building a Collection That Inspires, Engages, and Challenges Readers (2022, Scholastic).  Donalyn and Colby also joined a past chat on 2/21/19 for Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids (2018, Scholastic) and more recently on 5/12/22, Donalyn supported a #G2Great discussion around her book co-authored with Teri S. Lesesne The Joy of Reading (2022, Heinemann)

Before I even finished the introduction of their remarkable book, I realized that I was happily holding a desperately needed educational gift in my hands. As I read their shared “HOPE” for The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library on page 13, I paused and nodded:

“We hope this book provides you with tools to look at your library through a different lens, curate it with students in mind, and tap its full potential throughout the year”. (p 13)

I’ve read many books about classroom libraries over the years, but I have never read a book that is more supportive, informative, and from the heart as this book that keeps the promise of “COMMONSENSE GUIDE” on every page. One needs only to look at the Table of Contents to see that Donalyn and Colby leave nothing to chance, offering every possible detail that educators will need. At a time when dictatorial mandates are at an all time high, Donalyn and Colby show us what a respectful flexible “guide” looks like with ample room for teachers to apply their wise advice in their classroom in honor of the students in front of them. It doesn’t read like a DO THIS but rather an invitation in the spirit of CONSIDER THIS. This elevates the role of professional as decision-maker.

This became very clear to me in the introduction on pages 6 to 13. We are given a front row seat in Colby’s classroom as we gain access to the in-the-head thinking that inspired his decision-making process. We are able to see how he addresses the challenges presented during the pandemic without ever losing sight of his deep commitment to getting books in the hands of every student. We listen in as Donalyn and Colby make us privy to the analysis, observation, thinking, planning and adjusting in the name of the readers in his classroom and then take that a step further as they look ahead to a new year. Their book reads as if we’re standing on the sidelines, intently listening in as they consider every possible informed option and then use their collection of information to craft a classroom library space that Colby’s students deserve. Every page is a reminder to keep students front and center in the course of decision-making.

Donalyn and Colby make this clear in a quote we shared before our chat began:

The tweet below that responds directly to this quote is a beautiful reminder

If you attended our #Great chat, then you know that the fast-paced discussion provided a treasure trove of thinking in celebration of The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library. Obviously, there is no possible substitution for the detail Donalyn and Colby give us in their book so we highly recommend that you check The Commonsense Guide out HERE. But for the rest of this post, I’d like to draw from the wonderful twitter style discourse that can support and extend the book. I’m going to share this TWITTER WISDOM in two parts, starting with Donalyn Miller and followed by some selected tweets from the many wonderful teachers who participated in our #G2Great chat. Although Colby was unable to attend due to prior commitments, he was definitely there in spirit.



And let’s not forget this reminder from Judy Wallis


In this post, my goal was simple and personal and leads back to my long-time belief in the critical role of volume, choice and exposure to books that reflect our children not just as readers but as humans. To this end, this post is a celebration of the gift of understanding that Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp so generously share with us through their book The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library. This book looms large in our responsibility to our children and we are grateful that we were able to extend and celebrate this gift through our #G2great experience.

For me, this is the tipping point and what makes “The Commonsense Guide” a must read. In the wise words of my dear friend, Heidi Mills: “HOPE is a verb.” Donalyn and Colby model the spirit of this message by writing a book that will generously offers us the actionable steps that will bring “BOOK HOPE” alive. From cover to cover it reads like an invitation to teachers to create a classroom library that keeps children at the center of a collaboration as we learn how to breathe new life into a space in honor of and with the input of our children to ensure that the classroom library will indeed become ‘the heart of the classroom’. As if the book couldn’t get any better, they wisely add sections with Colby’s Classroom and Commonsense Suggestions from guest authors across the book. There is no detail left unturned as they show us how to bring children and books together in such a beautiful and personalized way.

I’d like to close with the quote we shared at the end of our chat:

We would like to extend our deep appreciation to Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, both for writing The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library and for sharing their gift with each of us in our #G2Great chat.

Suggestions from our #G2Great chat friends for ideas and finding books



Order The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library: Building a Collection that Inspires, Engages, and Challenges Readers by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp (2022 Scholastic).

Order The Joy of Reading by Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne (Heinemann, 2021)

Book Whisperer

The Author Village

The Book Whisperer Facebook Page

Live Facebook Announcement from Donalyn and Colby

Revolutionary LOVE: Creating a Culturally Inclusive Literacy Classroom

By Brent Gilson

For an archive of the chat check out the wakelet here

I wanted to start this chat by pointing out the importance of creating classrooms that are culturally inclusive and more specifically that are safe spaces for Black and Brown students. In an education landscape that is steeped in whiteness and white supremacy, I think it is important to mention that I am still learning and currently work in an area that has a very small amount of students that are of the global majority. I think that makes this responsibility to create these loving spaces all the more important but I am also acknowledging that I am not an expert, just a teacher doing his best to learn and getting a chance to reflect on a beautiful chat.

I was thinking all week about how I might be able to talk about the importance of creating culturally inclusive literacy classrooms. How I could authentically share the message of the authors and the chat participants. Ultimately I settled on a bit of personal reflection and sharing the wisdom and love that permeated through our chat last Thursday.

As a teacher in a largely white area, I often try to utilize the brilliant scholarship of Black and Brown (mostly women) educators. Often times we see the same ideas repackaged, given a new paint job and a new edition, and sold as new ideas. This is not the case in the work of those I and so many others learn from.

In my own classroom the work of Black women scholars like Lorena Germán, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad-Jackson, Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul, and Dr. Kim Parker all weave through the work we do. The words of Dr. Muhammad-Jackson cover the actual walls as I try to help all of my students see the geniuses that they are. While their scholarship came about to create learning spaces to celebrate Black and Brown children and their culture and identity their work is also rich pedagogy that benefits all students. As the chat with the authors of Revolutionary Love moved forward the thought that this work would have the same kind of impact in any classroom. Creating classroom spaces that honour and respect student cultures, and that are anchored around love and joy are good for all students.

As the chat continued so much wisdom was shared

“Committed to making something of what they learn about their students. Revolutionary Love is not just a phrase it is an act. A way that we honour our students. We honor their identity—every piece of it—so that they know it is not only ok but lovingly expected that they show up as their complete self.

Heart to Heart Connections. This is it. Start there, the work becomes easier when our students know we care.

Students at the heart. Connections from the heart. Revolutionary Love. Honouring all aspects of our students.

The educational world is facing a series of storms. Book bannings, racial injustice, laws that target communities of colour, laws that target LGTBQ communities, and so many more issues. What we know however is through building communities with a foundation of love we can withstand the storm. Revolutionary Love provides us with the inspiration to do so.

I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect and to the authors for their work. If you are looking for a copy of your own you can pick it up here

Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry

You can access our #G2Great Wakelet Artifact of this chat HERE

Written by guest blogger, Travis Crowder

On 9/15/22, we were honored that our good friend, Linda Rief, returned to our #G2Great guest host seat to discuss her incredible new book, Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry (Heinemann, 2022) following a previous #G2Great chat on her book Read, Write, Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading Writing Workshop (Heinemann, 2014). We were also honored that our friend, teacher and writer Travis Crowder wrote this beautifully reflective blog post. Travis describes himself as a Reader. Writer. Teacher. Learner and author of Reflective Readers: The Power of Readers Notebooks. He blogs and is currently a Doctoral student at UNCW. We are so grateful to bring these two dedicated and thoughtful minds together:

Travis Crowder Reflections on Whispering in the Wind

“Stafford didn’t read his words—he spoke them. He delivered his poetry, simple but elegant words, riding on his voice and cupped in his hands as if saying, ‘Here, peek in, look what I noticed that I want you to notice. Feel what I felt at that moment. Taste these words in your mouth and feel how they slip right through to your heart” (Rief, 2022, p. 2).

“His [Stafford’s] voice said, ‘Here, take these words. Make them yours’” (Rief, 2022, p. 3).

NCTE. Atlanta. 2016.

            I scanned the event program, looking for names I recognized and topics of interest. I recognized Linda Rief’s name amidst a row of others. Seeking Diversity, Linda’s first book, gave deeper nuance to my thinking about reading and writing workshop. At this conference, she was part of a panel discussing poetry and response. Since I had always loved reading and teaching poetry, I was sure I would gather new poems and strategies for teaching them. And further, Linda was someone I wanted to learn more from. So, I picked up my messenger bag and headed toward the lecture hall.

            The room was quiet when I arrived—thirty minutes early—but found a seat as the lecture hall filled with eager educators. Right on schedule, the session began.

            We had all been given Maggie Smith’s (2017) Good Bones, and I cradled the stapled pages in my hands as Linda stepped to the podium. She directed us to the text, and with her eloquent, dulcet tones, she breathed life into the poem. When she finished reading, she invited us to pick up our notebooks. Write anything this poem brings to mind for you or borrow a line and let that line lead your thinking. I borrowed a line and took it into my notebook. I wrote and wrote into the line/idea I found, only coming up for air only when Linda told us our writing time was over. This approach to poetry was different. It was indelible. And wonderfully humane. I was no longer just interested in this session. I was riveted to my seat, craving more of what I had felt in those precious moments of writing.

            After we had finished writing, she discussed the importance of response and artistic expression, even sharing several examples from her writing notebook. Those examples were exceptional, and they demonstrated a way of exploring poetry I had never considered. Yes, I had always loved poetry, but my way of thinking about them had been so limited. With that single session, Linda showed me a different way, and it has made such a difference for me and my students. I shifted from teaching poems to sharing poems. And while I had carried my love of poetry into the classroom years before, students were only responding to the questions generated while the poet’s gorgeous words languished underneath the weight of my thoughts. Yet here she was, saying, Try it this way. See what ideas unfurl.         

Whispering in the Wind, Linda’s latest book, is a powerful ode to poetry and response that offers more of that difference. With this professional text, Linda holds the idea of poetry out to us, nudging us to peek in and look more deeply at a poet’s language. Softly, deftly, she encourages us to find as many poetry collections as possible, read as much as possible, and share with students…as much as possible. But even more, she invites independent reading around poetry for students to discover poets they love and decide what it is they are looking for.

As students find poems they love and connect with, they are asked to take those poems into Heart Books, which are completely blank books that students fill with poetry that matters to them. On one side of a two-page spread, they write or paste in a typed version of the poem, and on the facing side, they create an artistic rendering of the poem. Of course, this structural set-up is only a suggestion. As students create the two-page spreads in their Heart Books, some keep poem and art separate while others let their sketches and drawings blend with the poet’s words. The beauty rests in choice and ownership—it belongs to the students, and they decide what works for them. Students’ work is featured across multiple pages toward the middle of the book. We, her readers, get to see the result of a master teacher leading young people into deeper reading and thinking.

Linda writes, “I was most impressed with the way so many students were motivated to go back to poems again and again, thinking through what they noticed the poet did that touched personally or helped them garner ideas or craft moves for their own writing” (p. 41). One of the things I love most about this book is a focus on possibility. There is no set group of questions or guiding ideas to take students through poems. But like that NCTE session all those years ago, Linda continues to invite all of us to read, find lines that matter to us, and pay attention to what we notice. Something is there. Just look and you’ll see what the author has for you.

There is a focus on reflection, too.

Before students begin the Heart Book process, they take note of their feelings about poetry. Then, they spend time across the year gathering their poems and filling the pages of blank books with poetry and original art. Later in the year, there is an opportunity for students to reflect on changes in their thinking. She asks them to consider: How has my thinking about the concept of poetry changed? With such a humane approach to teaching poetry, I imagine students’ thinking shifts dramatically.

In addition to Linda’s incredible philosophy about poetry and Heart Books, she adds art invitations and ideas to get students thinking about their Heart Books. There is no right or wrong—just an invitation. I can hear Linda’s voice nudging all of us to grab our notebooks, find poems that resonate, and start building our own two-page spreads.

And I can also hear her reminding us that choice matters. Yes, share poems with students. Ask them to write what comes to mind or borrow lines and write from them. But, surround them with poetry, too. Find poetry collections and help them become familiar with poets as they read and write their way into deeper appreciation. Linda advises that we “help students find poems that connect to their very core” and “see the world in ways they don’t usually see the world” (p. 156). She reminds us that connection is powerful, but so is diversifying how we see the world. Poetry is that powerful. It has the energy to change what we see and how we think.

Yes, poems are critical.

They are microcosms of the world and they guide us into intersections of thought that we may not have known were possible. For me, poetry has been a light. A radiance that emanates hope out of darkness. A spark of something more. In a time of standardized teaching and learning, I encourage language arts teachers to listen to Linda’s words. Like Stafford’s voice did to her, I am confident Linda is whispering to all of us, “Here, take my words. Make them yours.”

When we do, we’ll find the poems that matter to us, feel the poet’s words slip right through to our hearts.

We’ll find, all over again, that poetry still affects our hearts in the most unexpected ways.

And if we listen to Linda’s gentle guidance, so will our students.


Rief, L. (2022). Whispering in the wind: A guide to deeper reading and writing through poetry. Heinemann.

Smith, M. (2017). Good bones: Poems. Tupelo Press.

We are so grateful to Linda Rief for hosting our chat and to Travis Crowder for sharing his personal reflections and learner, reader, writer and teacher. I have included our chat question with Linda’s wonderful responses below.

Q1 In addressing “Why Poetry” on page 3, Linda describes her 8th graders response when she asked about favorite poets: “They cringed at the word poetry.” Why do you think that many students have a visceral response to poetry? How can we change this?

Q2 Penny Kittle writes in her endorsement, “This book is a master class in poetry, teaching writing, and joy.” How do you approach poetry in a way that will allow you to teach poetry writing while you also create an atmosphere of joy around it?

Q3 Linda reminds us on p. 156, “…students can do their best work when given choices, time, mentor texts, and positive responses that keep them growing stronger both intellectually and emotionally.” How do you nurture these things in your classroom?

Q4 Linda emphasizes that in Heart Books, students “are responding to the poems they chose. Responding, not analyzing.” What do Linda’s words mean to you? How can this change their perception of poetry?

Q5 Linda says, “The more the students became involved in finding poems that spoke to them and spent time planning, playing with, and crafting their illustrations, the less the evaluation form mattered to them.” (pg 148) How will you bring Linda’s words to life this year?

Q6 As we close our #G2Great discussion with Linda, what are some key takeaways that have inspired new thinking or ideas that you plan to translate into your teaching this year?


Order Whispering in the Wind: A Guide to Deeper Reading and Writing Through Poetry by Linda Rief (Heinemann, 2022)

Blog post by Linda Rief: What Changes Kids’ Minds About Poetry? (Heinemann)