Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

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