Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Instructional Design with Students in Mind

by Mary Howard

On March 29, 2018 #G2Great settled in to initiate an important conversation as we explored the topic, Instructional Design with Students in Mind. Teaching with “students in mind” has been a recurrent #G2Great theme since your chat co-moderators (Mary, Fran, Jenn, Amy) believe deeply that effective teaching is student-centered rather than publisher or teacher-driven. Over the past three years, we have celebrated this theme even if the words students in mind didn’t appear in the title.

This week, our dialogue focused on varied instructional design areas that include read-aloud, conferring and small groups; the impact of workshop model; and the role of productive struggle, predictable structures and transfer. As I looked back at the inspired tweets that rose from our chat discussion, I was immediately struck by the interconnectedness of these components that help us to keep students at the center of those practices.

Based on this observation, I realized that it made sense to focus this post on that interconnectedness. Instruction cannot occur in a vacuum where each component is considered in isolation but how those components can work in tandem. In other words, powerful “pieces” of instructional design combine seamlessly across every learning day as they begin to intersect into a proverbial instructional puzzle that is much bigger and far more powerful than those “pieces” could be on their own. I am convinced that our ability to create an instructional design with students in mind will require us to explore that design from a global instructional perspective.

With this idea driving my thinking, I decided to address our questions collectively and noticed Seven Student-Centered Design Themes. Not surprisingly, these themes are also interconnected as I considered each one using an overarching driving question, “How do we keep students at the center of our day-to-day practices?”

Student-Centered Design Theme #1: BE COMMITTED

The source of our commitment and a central feature of this discussion was clearly the idea of falling in love with reading and writing through daily engagement designed to increase volume. We understand that keeping students at the center assumes that we are able to address both the instructional and emotional needs of our learners. This design theme is purposefully placed in the first position as 0ur willingness to celebrate or ignore this theme can dramatically impact student learning for better or for worse. Instilling lifelong love of literacy and maximizing the critical role of volume is central to our  student-centered design theme.

Student-Centered Design Theme #2: BE RESPONSIVE

In an age where scripted programs continue to spread like a virus across our schools, it is more important than ever for us to remain steadfastly responsive to the unique needs of students. These programs are riddled with preconceived questions that come with predetermined answers, thus putting the program at the center while crowding children out of their rightful place. When we generate more questions than we ask and create opportunities that respect student thinking in the context of learning, we make a much-needed shift from program or teacher-driven instructional design to a focus on student-centered learning.

Student-Centered Design Theme #3: BE CURIOUS

Another important theme explore teachers’ role as dedicated professional noticers. As teachers who are thoughtful and curious about children, we know that we must pause within the learning moments. These moments give us time to step inside the learning process so that we can gaze upon and ponder what we see and hear and what that means. Through these reflective wonderings, new possibilities begin to come into view and help us to consider next step opportunities. This continuous cycle allows us to move seamlessly between a fluctuating role as teacher and learner so that we can happily follow a curiosity-inspired trail to greater understandings.

Student-Centered Design Theme #4: BE INVITATIONAL

As we become more curiosity-inspired, we begin to recognize the impact of our practices when we embrace an invitational spirit. This happens when we are able to let go of the ineffective notion of the teacher as leader at the helm of the ship so that we can step aside as students to assume the lead role. We acknowledge that in doing so we are also inviting students to wade in the productive struggle pool of potential, knowing that they will emerge victorious and better for it as we wait in the wings to offer feedback, encouragement and carefully timed support that does not rob them of opportunities to linger at the thinking helm without us.

Student-Centered Design Theme #5: BE FLEXIBLE

As we begin to relinquish our own responsibility in order to give students increasing ownership of this process, we must also learn to change our mindset by assuming a flexible stance. We acknowledge that flexibility comes with great rewards and so we are willing to let go to contemplate the opportunities that rise from this flexibility. This shift to a broader view of options can come with uncertainty that allows us to expect the unexpected and notice wonderful surprises that come our way as a result. This does not mean that we do not have a map to guide us, but that we are willing to meander our way to new pathways informed by students engaged in the messy process of learning.

Student-Centered Design Theme #6: BE INTENTIONAL

Across the chat, the idea of being intentional in our efforts to keep students at the center of all we do was celebrated. While intentionality was peppered across each of the chat questions, this topic almost always took us full circle to how we could use this new view to promote transfer of learning. Intentionality is not a passive process but one that requires us to be professionally purposeful as we recognize that transfer is the gold standard of all we do. Without transfer, “learning” will remain forever just out of reach, so we keep this ultimate goal in our sights at all times. In this way, we ensure that learning will not be stuck in a single teaching experience but will live on through exposure within varied contexts.

Student-Centered Design Theme #7: BE JOYFUL

It seems appropriate that our last design theme brings us full circle back to the first one and is the thread that is interwoven across the other five. Our commitment to love of reading and volume bring us back to joyful and magical learning that merge into synonymous understandings. It was clear from the beginning to the end of the chat that our efforts to keep students at the center of learning always comes back to our desire to motivate, inspire, engage and beckon our children into joyful literacy. We agreed that magical book experiences were the main ingredient of that joy and recognized that our ability to approach learning with a celebratory lens focused squarely on our learners was critical to the joy process from both a teaching and learning perspective. And though this perspective we can enrich and elevate our ability to keep students in mind.

The dedication of the professional family that Fran, Amy, Jenn and I have worked tirelessly to gather together every Thursday night on #G2Great is a testament to our recurring theme of keeping students in mind in every aspects of instruction. Our incredible collaborative learners do not gather on #G2Great in a quest for one-size-fits all narrow activities. Rather, they gather to engage in a shared learning that will inspire each of us to become our best selves so our students can become their best selves. This is the heart and soul of our goal to keep students in mind. The dialogue that lifts #G2Great into Twitter trending each week reflects the student-centered devotion that our #G2Great educators bring gloriously to life in classrooms across the country.

And we are honored to celebrate the heartbeat of those conversations!


Using Picture Books to Spark Collective Curiosity

By Amy Brennan

On March 22, 2018 #G2Great welcomed with immense excitement Peter Reynolds and Susan Verde as guest hosts to lead a discussion around using picture books to spark collective curiosity. Like most educators, picture books have been a sacred part of my professional and personal life. During my graduate school years as I studied literacy, my most adored professor started each class reading aloud a different picture book. With each book she told a carefully developed story that connected her to the book. When I began teaching I remember sitting in classrooms with my mentors and we just read picture books to each other, combing through our shelves and sharing our books. Our collaborations in dialogue developed from our connections to those books we shared, sparked creative curisosity for all of us. They lead us to share those books with others, just as when my professor read those books each week. Years later I recall sitting at a celebration for the end of a weeklong institute on reading at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. At that celebration they read-aloud Peter Reynolds’ Ish. This book was then shared back at my school and we all worked along with our students on living “ishfully ever after.”

Sparking Collective Curiosity

Peter Reynolds and Susan Verde joined together, just as so many other do –  to share in the collective curiosity that is sparked by picture books. Through their collaboration in creating their books they have SPARKED the COLLECTIVE CURIOSITY of so many others. Read the tweets below to see how they have enriched so many teaching lives.


Engaging Students in Powerful Picture Book Collaborations Through Dialogue or Creation

Collaborations can happen in dialogue or creation, and oftentimes collaboration leads to both. We can engage our students in read-aloud through accountable talk through partnerships and whole class grand conversations. When we invite students to share a book it helps to create a community. It builds a shared experience that potentionally expands from the classroom to each and every contact that each member of the classroom community has beyond the classroom.

Reading inspires writing. When we invite our students to listen with a writer’s mind it can spark the writing process for our students. Students can create their own writing pieces through reflection and connections that grow during the shared experience of reading a powerful picture book. These words, once written can change lives because the dialogue or creation that comes from sharing picture books can create waves of change that spread messages of hope, wonder, joy and peace.  

Books That Power Your Classroom Mission  

Picture books spark collective curiosity when they are shared, discussed and extended through creative expression. Peter Reynolds and Susan Verde have collaborated on several books that beg to be shared, discussed and extended. These collaborative creations have the power to spark our students to take action and make the world a better place.

Peter Reynold’s Website
Susan Verde’s Website

Reflect Refocus Renew Refreshing Your Professional Spirit

By Jenn Hayhurst

The origin of #G2Great was born out of reflection. A conversation that began in my home office over Twitter with a fellow literacy coach, Amy Brennan, and a brilliant author – yes, I am talking about you, Dr. Mary Howard.  Together, we were able to connect and create something that has grown as a source for weekly reflection on a grand scale. It was our desire to reflect with greater intention because #G2Great was, and forever will be, inspired by Mary’s book, Good to Great Teaching Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters. As the chat grew we needed backup! The addition of Fran McVeigh completed our team, and now there is no looking back. We are always striving to, Reflect, Refocus, and Renew (so we may) Refresh Our Professional spirit…

As I meandered my way through Storify to write this week’s blog post, I realized that the #G2Great  community is totally stoked in reflection! You all shared practices and insights and this lifted my spirit in ways that were both inspiring and reaffirming.

Making Reflection A Habit of Mind Through Daily Practice 

There is no one right way to reflect, the real power for reflection lies in daily practice. When we allow ourselves to just stop breathe and focus on the practices we are holding up our, in the words of Dr. Gravity Goldberg,  admiring lens to ourselves. We are so worth the effort! Every time we reflect, we are rooting ourselves in deep appreciation for our teaching. We are being intellectually curious and that leads to wonder and discovery:

Probing Possibilities Reflecting Our Way to Personal Growth and Goal Setting

Reflection spurs change because it is the thoughtful pause that gives us time to nurture growth. Goals are like seeds for reflection work, unlocking our potential. Sometimes we have a plan for our goals, tending to them, reflecting on our needs so they may blossom. Sometimes goals can be like wildflowers!  All we have to do is to reflect on what is happening in real time right in front of us, and we see patterns in a beautiful landscape we could not have anticipated. In essence, reflection makes our goals visible, it opens up the landscape for meaningful discourse, and it sharpens our attention for what matters most:

Outgrowing Ourselves Through Reflection

Knowing what you believe is a beginning, not an ending. Reflection is the thing that keeps us flexible and free-thinking if we do it with open minds and hearts. When we untether risk from fear we allow ourselves to take that leap. Every time teachers reflect to expand their beliefs to accommodate a pluralistic lens we push ourselves to grow.  Whenever we are receptive to our students, colleagues, or when we decide to try new things we are outgrowing ourselves:

Writing to Reflect Because Writing Will Set You Free

Writing has changed me in ways that I cannot explain; while at the same time, it has brought me to home to know myself in ways I could not have imagined. Teaching demands authenticity we cannot teach what we don’t understand. Understanding of all things begins once we understand ourselves. Therefore, reflection is a practice that is not bound by the school day, season, or year – it is the work of a lifetime. Reflection is our inner voice, our constant companion, and when we write we are setting ourselves free to create and discover:  

As I close out my post to you, I am humbled by an overwhelming feeling of connectedness to all the teachers who are willing to share during our weekly chats. Teaching can feel very solitary at times, because minute by minute, we are making decisions that shape our students’ view of themselves and of the world. Some days we will be defeated, some days we will triumph and the space between these realities is filled with a million reflections. The good news is we don’t have to do this on our own, we can look within ourselves and within each other to reflect, refocus, and renew:

#BowTieBoys: Exploring Instruction through Students’ Eyes – Creating a Positive Environment

By Fran McVeigh

There was an air of excitement and electricity that led up to the #G2Great chat with the #BowTieBoys on March 8th.  The boys, ranging from 7th graders to 11th graders, craft their own questions, greet folks to the chat and carry on conversations as veterans. I’ve been lucky to “know” the #BowTieBoys for three years but I didn’t fully understand their depth of knowledge and commitment to improving education until #NCTE17.  In St. Louis, I saw them individually and as groups multiple times across the days, as they were quite literally the first people I saw at the conference hotel and in four sessions over the course of the conference.

What is their story?

The #BowTieBoys are some very gifted literate secondary students who have literally banded together to study how education could be improved.  Their future plans and interests are as varied as they are. Meeting their parents at some of the sessions added another dimension to my understanding.  What if students were encouraged to study the work of some of the best and brightest? And who would that be? They were on panels and in pictures with Lester Laminack, Linda Rief, Dr. Mary Howard, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. They read and study professional education texts.  Who wouldn’t grow and learn from those #Edu-heroes?

What are the Keys to Creating a Positive Environment?

1. Relationships and Respect 

Relationships and respect are so intertwined that it is difficult to have one without the other. As a teacher, it’s important to build relationships from day one in the classroom.  That might be the conversations in the hall about the school event the night before, at the door about individual scores and expertise, or in the classroom pulling in specific student interests to engage the students in the learning. Respect is not about assuming it will be bestowed on teachers as a point of privilege. True respect is about caring for students and being able to be human when students do need a bit of extra care, or being able to laugh and joke as teachers and students learn from each other. Respect is a two-way street and students will earn teacher respect and trust as they also work on developing relationships and treating others kindly. Students have strengths that they can use to teach others in the class, perhaps in the area of digital tools but also in those areas of personal interest where they spend time every day.

As Sam Fremin said,

“EVERYONE in the learning community is a learner AND a teacher.”

  1. Transparency

Transparency is often found in communication that builds on the relationships formed under mutual respect. Secondary students also prefer to have their voices heard as well as to have choices in their daily work. Teachers that can admit mistakes and move on not only exemplify transparency but they also model how to continue to grow and persevere in the face of difficulties.  Transparency is necessary for a growth mindset for students and teachers.

Other areas of transparency include:  setting time frames for assignments together, having high expectations for all students and developing the assessment/evaluation criteria together. In a transparent environment, everyone is a learner and everyone makes positive growth. Above all, transparency assumes an openness and an atmosphere of honesty from both teachers and students that builds upon the respect previously mentioned and often includes asking for feedback from students and then acting on that feedback.

  1. Strategies to Engage ALL Learners

Several strategies were mentioned during the chat including:  time, transparency, and trust. Time included allocating enough time so students can work with their peers.  Time to explore topics that students are interested in. Time to work on projects for creation or even problem solving.  In addition to transparency qualities previously mentioned, allowing choice of assignments and opportunities to pursue tasks that allow quiet participation for students who prefer to work alone is important. Variations in groupings for work will  And with trust, strategies that allow a voice in how the task will be evaluated, perhaps the co-creation of rubrics or the negotiation of due dates, are preferred.  Trust can also be built as a part of those teacher-student relationships when teachers attend the co-curricular activities of their students.

  1. Low Student Stress Levels

In the classroom, stress can be reduced by ensuring that time is allocated so that students always begin projects or homework in class, ask questions, and clarify that they know what the learner outcomes are.  Students appreciate teachers who chunk projects into smaller shorter deadlines that enable students to have frequent check in points. Feedback along the way in bigger projects or tasks also allows students to know what they can do to improve learning. Simple conversations with students in terms of whether time frames seem reasonable, how can stress be reduced and how does this fit with other course requirements.  Similarly teachers who communicate with others can be aware in advance of due dates and not have three or four major projects all due on the same date. Stress is a real issue. Learning does not occur and students cannot thrive when a learner is under stress. That also means that tasks and projects should be valuable to students and teachers and not perceived as busy work.

  1. Reasonable Grading Timelines

What are reasonable timelines for grading?  If a task is assigned to be done in one day in one class period, how much time should the teacher have to grade that task?  A typical “It depends” answer may prevail because if this is during class periods 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and the teacher’s prep period was period 2, the grades will probably not be posted that day.  But is it fair for students if two or three days pass and those grades are still not posted? Grades are an interesting school phenomenon. Grades are after the fact and they close the door to learning. Yes, it would be nice if more focus was on learning and less on grading, but timeliness of grades is an issue that perhaps again relates back to transparency, relationships, and respect.

  1. Cell Phone Usage

Should cellphones be used in classrooms?  Again the answer might be, “it depends.” If students in the building have 1:1 devices, the need for cell phones may be reduced. Sometimes cell phones might be more efficient uses of technology and/or feedback for students and teachers. The learning needs should drive cell phone usage rather than the need to have a fun, cute activity.  This again, could be a source of both transparency and trust if students approach a teacher outside of class time with a new app or extension that would really make learning simpler in that classroom. Showing, explaining, and providing a rationale in a separate setting would also be respectful of student, teacher and class time. It is important for teachers to be consistent in their messages about how, when, and where cell phones can be used.  But if that is not a skill taught at school, where will it be taught? How and when will students learn to manage the distractible portions of cell phone usage?

  1. Student Involvement in Assessment and


Another feature of a positive classroom environment is student involvement in assessment and grading. This varies from classroom to classroom much to the dismay of students who may see this inconsistency as a lack of transparency. One way to involve students is to have student conferences. Recording the conferences on Flipgrid and sharing with parents would also be an increase in transparency.  Students who help develop the rubrics that are used for assessments would also see this as a characteristic of a positive classroom environment. Teachers who routinely complete the “tests” themselves to check for accuracy and necessity are also respectful of their students and their precious learning time.

  1. Safe and Comfortable Classrooms

How do your classrooms look? Are they inviting?  Are they comfortable? Some considerations include furniture that matches the needs of the students and the various instructional groupings:  space and tables to collaborate in teams, quiet spaces for reading or writing, as well as space for partner work. That might determine the need for tables instead of desks, couches instead of chairs, and a nook or two where students can seek solitude. Flexibility that responds to the needs of the students is important.

As you have read, you noticed the eight components the #BowTieBoys identified for a positive classroom environment were:  Relationships and Respect, Transparency, Strategies to Engage ALL Learners, Low Student Stress Levels, Reasonable Grading Timelines, Cell Phone Usage, Student Involvement in Assessment and Grading, and Safe and Comfortable Classrooms. Others exist but these eight could generate great conversations.


Have you checked in with your students lately about your classroom environments?

What would your students say are the keys to creating a positive classroom environment?

Additional Resources:

Storify from March 8, 2018 chat:

#BowTieBoys Blogs:

4 minute video from 3/9/18 after #G2Great chat: Link

#BowTieBoys YouTube Channel:  Link

Previously on Literacy Lenses:

A Reflection on #NCTE17 with the BowTieBoys – Exploring Choice from Students’ Eyes

BowTieBoys -Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

JV BowTieBoys – Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

Sam Fremin:  Viewing Instruction Through a Student’s Eyes  (storify)

Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom

by Mary Howard

On March 1, 2018, we were thrilled to welcome dynamic duo, Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz, back to the #G2Great chat table for the second time (Revisit their Mindsets for Learning chat on 7/21/16 here). On this much anticipated return visit we collectively celebrated their remarkable new book twitter style, Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom (Heinemann, 2018).

Within minutes after opening this phenomenal book, I realized that I was holding PROFESSIONAL LOVE in my hands. Before I could even finish the introduction, Kristi and Christine beckoned me with words that illuminated their “Kids 1st” vision in an opening quote:

“As we taught we realized that so much (too much) of the profession is focused on the ways teachers can make students successful, but not how we give children the tools to build their own success day after day after day.” (xii)

Just like that, I was utterly smitten and eager to accept their invitation to come along as they shared what they learned when they “sat with their failures and rose to teach again.” Their deep belief in joyful kid-centered learning rose from every page of this magical book that empowers us to sit with our own failures knowing that they hold so many potential successes. I smiled as I turned to the last page, filled with a renewed sense of hope for this profession. I paused to soak in the blessing of gazing into the eyes of their children where the real opportunities have always resided.

This beautiful book is divided into four main sections: Heart Work, Physical and Emotional Environment, and Curriculum. Admittedly, I found myself returning to the Heart Work section to reread descriptions of flourishing, empathetic, playful, flexible, and reflective educators. Each of these rich professional qualities were also thoughtfully infused across each chapter.

As our #G2great chat with Kristi and Christine began, my unquenchable thirst to enter the Kid’s 1st world they describe was my chat GPS. I eagerly searched for tweets that would add to my understandings – and I was not disappointed. My biggest challenge wasn’t finding interrelated tidbits of twitter wisdom but how to narrow those connections down for the purpose of this post. As I began to weave their chat wisdom with their book wisdom, ten big ideas emerged that beautifully illustrate the Kids 1st view described in their book. To combine both, my reflections on their chat messages are interwoven with their book message in italics. While these cannot possibly substitute for a deep read of Kids 1st From Day 1, they complement a shift from making students successful to giving children the tools to build their own success day after day after day.

Kids 1st Big Idea #1: Our Commitment to Children

Kristi acknowledges that mandates have the potential to thwart our efforts to create a Kids 1st classroom while asking us to remain steadfast in our responsibility to children. In other words, we cannot allow compliance to deter us since success is possible when the factors are right. I love Kristi’s use of the word ‘power’ since I see this as a two-pronged factor in that we are taking back our own power so that we can hand that power over to children. Making room for student choice regardless of outside demands reflects that our commitment to children will always rise above our obligation to those “other” things, real or perceived. We should never feel compelled to make a choice between compliance to mandates over responsibility to kids. 

Kids 1st Big Idea #2: “Re-centering” Our Focal Point

Christine’s tweet beautifully segued from Kristi’s Big Idea 1. She continues this discussion by emphasizing where our first allegiance lives and asks us to make the same shift from a different angle. We are once again reminded to return that power to teachers and children by “re-centering” our decisions so that children rather than school elements remain at the center of our efforts. Her choice of wording that “children lead the way” highlights the idea that we become empowered when we make the very decisions that begin with our children. They are our standard, our curriculum and every other element of school you could possibly mention – not the other way around.

Kids 1st Big Idea #3: Relinquishing Instructional Control

The memory of Kristi reflecting on the child who tore her management chart from the wall amid cheering peers is likely to stay with me for a long time (admittedly, I silently cheered from the sidelines). This Kids 1st illustration from a child’s perspective at its finest illustrates that we do our children a disservice when instructional control is at helm. Kristi asks us to replace control with a renewed emphasis on instructional experiences. We can only be responsive and intentional when we offer faded support that is designed to promote increasing independence. We know that we must ensure that our children will assume their rightful place at the helm and this means that we have the courage to step aside so that they can man their own learning ship.

Kids 1st Big Idea #4: Embracing Our IMPACT

Christine helps us to broaden our Kids 1st scope by moving from a now to next view. This wider lens allows us to look to the future as we make our teaching focus about “life” rather than school. While it is certainly our responsibility to have an impact on our children for whatever time we are blessed to them in our care, a Kids 1st perspective always seeks a higher purpose that will live beyond this time so that our impact will linger long after they leave our care. The only way that we can have a classroom that (mostly) hums with collaboration and camaraderie is if we are willing to increase agency and thus give students ownership of learning.

Kids 1st Big Idea #5: The Gift of Authenticity

When I think back on the five qualities teachers bring to the Kid’s 1st table, authenticity always looms large since it seems to me to be the glue that holds each of those qualities together. By bringing our true and most authentic selves to the experience each tine we are in the company of kids and fellow teachers, those qualities will almost always follow. Kristi wisely reminds us that the ME we purport to be and the ME we demonstrate by virtue of our actions in their company must be one in the same. Authenticity is a tap on the shoulder that we believe we owe it to children to be our best selves – for us and for them. That makes teaching joyful, rewarding, and meaningful.

Kids 1st Big Idea #6: Giving Children Ownership

I smiled when I read Christine’s beautiful line from Lion King, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” I love this vision of classrooms as our kingdom and the idea that everything in our learning kingdom belongs to our children. No matter how beautifully designed our learning spaces may be or how many things we bring into those spaces, they will have little value unless children interact with them in purposeful ways. Christine reminds us to turn the keys of the kingdom over to our children so that everything in it can become a force of good. It is only when our learning space grows with children that we can create those spaces so that they begin with a “blank canvas, not a finished masterpiece.”

Kids 1st Big Idea #7: Design from a Child’s Eyes

Room design has gained renewed educational interest as teachers scramble to enthusiastically change each aspect of room design. Unfortunately, these designs far too often hyper focuses on the design itself over how that design becomes a mirror that reflects the unique needs of the children who reside in those spaces. Kristi reminds us that a Kids 1st design must carefully match that learning needs of our children. For this reason, our learning design will rise from their specific learning needs and this will always varies according to the children within those spaces. We can only do this if those decisions are guided by our design for the flexibility to be spontaneous in how the classroom is arranged…  and that includes children by design.

Kids 1st Big Idea #8: Cultivating and Modeling Empathy

In their book, Kristi and Christine define empathy as the “ability to see the world from another person’s perspective and to understand and feel what that person feels in the moment.” They further distinguish empathy as feeling like rather than for others. Christine shares what every Kids 1st teacher knows – that modeling empathy is not a point of arrival but rather is something that we foster in ourselves and others on a daily basis. I love Christine’s view of empathy as giving ourselves permission to joyfully see the world from a child’s perspective. What a lovely reminder that each of us can re-experience the world from a child’s eye view and appreciate that world all over again. This is a blessing in every sense.

Kids 1st Big Idea #9: Creating a Community of Learners

Kristi and Christine acknowledge that “building a productive, functional, joyful community of unique individuals” is not a simple endeavor by any means. In a Kids 1st classroom, we do not confuse classroom management with building community. We recognize our responsibility to help children become one of many and to develop the skills that will allow them to do so even within a myriad of unexpected events that we may not even be able to anticipate. This does not happen by chance but by intentional and explicit modeling as we support and extend these day to day experiences that will inevitably fill our classrooms with powerful learning opportunities.

Kids 1st Big Idea #10: The Flawed Myth of Perfection

Christine’s words bring to mind a vision of the ball and chain that seems to tether teachers everywhere to an unrealistic view in an elusive search for the “perfect teacher.” In Kids 1st, they remind us “Don’t hope for perfect, plan for growth” (ours and theirs). I chuckled at Christine’s idea to create a “letting go of perfection teacher support group” but that just might be an idea worth pondering. It seems to me that perfection is in our teacher DNA, and yet an unrelenting pursuit of perfection can blind us to the incredible learning opportunities that may be hiding just out of the perfection view. We can instead celebrate hard work that comes from wading joyfully in the mess and realize that we can emerge unscathed and better for the experience. My best learning has always come from my less than stellar teaching trials and tribulations. Let’s not avoid them – let’s celebrate them!

As I look back at this exquisite book and the #G2Great tweets that Kristi and Christine have written in honor of kids and teachers everywhere, I am inspired anew. They share their hope that in writing this book their words may have “tugged on a thread that caught your heart and mind…” and I can wholeheartedly say ‘Mission accomplished!’ Kristi and Christine have challenged us to renew our own vision for what is possible as we re-envision our teaching using a Kids 1st perspective. It is my deepest hope that every educator will accept their challenge to bring their Kids 1st vision to life in honor of incredible children who deserve our best everywhere.

Thank you for showing us what heart work looks like Kristi and Christine!


Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom by Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz (Heinemann 2018)


A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful Independent Growth


Anchor Yourself In Your Beliefs by Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz

Facebook Live Q+A:


KIds First From Day One Podcast:


Is Community Building the New Classroom Management?


“But What if No One Listens To Me!?!”


Kristi and Christine FB Group for Mindset for Learning and Kids First:


Christine Hertz’ Blog


(Don’t miss) Tacking Tricky Moments: Four Steps to Being a More Empathetic Teacher


Kristi Mraz’ Blog


A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice

by Jenn Hayhurst

On February 22, 2018, Kate Roberts joined #G2Great to have a conversation about taking a fresh look at the whole-class novel. There is something deeply reassuring about her book, because she asks us to lift our presuppositions, regardless of what stance you take, and find some common ground. What is good about this practice? What’s a potential drawback? How can we elevate this practice so it can evolve based on what we now know about strong instructional practice?

We are all teachers who want to get to the heart of the matter…  how do we help usher in the next generation of readers? As with any complex endeavor, there is so much to consider. Kate’s book inspired all of us to think past our preconceptions because the more we share the more we could learn from and support each other through professional sharing.

Sharing Experiences

Experiences shape us. They fill us up and give us the ink so we may write our stories. If I understand your experience with this instructional move, I can broaden my own understanding. During the chat, I broadened my understanding and I saw the Whole-Class Novel (WCN) as something that is not a yes/ no proposition I re-envisioned it as an opportunity that may be full of potential.

Sharing Expertise

We are smarter together! Yes, the Whole-Class Novel can be an object of inquiry. When teachers think about their end goals for using this instructional practice it can grant permission for critical thinking. We can take this one book, and open it up to all our students and see where they take it. That can be an exciting proposition.

Sharing the Journey

When teachers and students share the journey to make meaning it is magical. It is also powerful that Kate’s book inspired this revelation for the #G2Great community. This is not an easy proposition but it is a worthwhile one. Students will have vastly different interpretations of a book and that’s ok. The classroom is the perfect place to learn how to have those conversations that may not have been possible without this instructional move.

Thank you, Kate for helping us to re-envision the potential for the Whole-Class Novel. Together we continue to shape and grow our practice, because none of us are as brilliant as all of us…