Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations & Misconceptions

by Jenn Hayhurst

To read the archive of this chat please click here.

Steam is rising fast from my “back to the grind” coffee cup. It is early morning, I wanted a fresh head to write my reflection for our #G2Great chat Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions (Thursday, September 9, 2022). The words, Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions are fixed in my brain and are truly at odds with this beautiful Saturday morning here in Northport, New York.

Today is one of those golden Long Island end-of-summer days; sunny, blue skies, and a cool 67 degrees. The landscape is still a lush green with only hints of orange and brown in some fringe trees that are determined to turn early. Now we are leaning heavily towards autumn, and I am taken aback by how much I am looking forward to the change. My head wanders back to Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions and I am struck by a question, one that I needed to ask others:

These are the words that came back to describe the natural qualities great teachers possess:

This is a great website to make word clouds with your students: Word

As I wrote the answers into this word cloud, it felt like all of these descriptors were refining my own inventory of personal qualities. Then it occurred to me the qualities that so many educators are saying they share are really ways to define what we value most in our teaching. If we are all of these things, and then we juxtapose the words: Mandates Manipulations, and Misconceptions… it is no wonder there is so much tumult in education today.

Exposing Mandates

If you are looking outside of education, it would seem that mandates are based on research that is designed to generate positive educational reform. However, more often than not, mandates are underfunded and misinformed because they are not rooted in reality. It is no wonder at all as to why so many teachers find the word “mandate” repellent. It is an interfering word, imposed by people who do not actually work in schools. How in the world do you take a group of teachers who naturally possess qualities like “flexibility” “curiosity” and “empathy” and try to force feed a disconnected uninformed mandate? The answer is simple you cannot, teachers will resist:

Revealing Manipulations

It’s easy to suss out the underlying manipulation that beats at a mandate’s heart. It is a fixed definition of success based on (you guessed it) test scores. Mandates often rely on on a narrow intepretation of test scores, and a limited view of what “certain” (insert your label of choice here) students will achieve. Yes, students are switfly labeled, then negated, absolving teachers of any responsiblity. This sends an extremely harmful message to teachers: you cannot fix, what you’re not responsible for. As part of the manipulation, mandates push this notion that some children are pre-destined to fail. This is the deficit lens, and it shouts to all who will listen: “The system is broken! This is the reason why! Now it is time to buy this (product) so it (but the subtext is really they) can be fixed:

Dispelling Misconceptions

The debate always goes public and is always fueled by misconceptions, as each side tries to take hold of the narrative. This is how reading wars are born into public discourse. Each person takes a side when really there are no sides to this. There are only children and teachers and we all want the same thing – we want kids to be successful:

Being the Change

I encourage you to get connected. Find your people who help you “think up”. What I mean by this is find that group of people who challenges you to keep learning, to read more, to be brave and say more, and to keep pushing our profession forward. Find your community at work, and push yourself to find it on a bigger scale. If are already reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the #G2Great PLN. If not, come join us on Twitter, #G2Great Thursday nights at 8:30 pm est (a shameless plug). But, there are other communities to keep the conversation going. Here are three other great chats I can recommend:

  1. #Satchat Saturday Mornings 8:00 AM EST
  2. #TCRWP Wednesday Evenings 7:30 PM EST
  3. #CrazyPLN Saturday Morning 10:00 AM EST

En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering Voices & Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students #G2Great 11/11/21

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the chat archive please click here

On November 11, 2021 #G2Great welcomed Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera to continue our conversation about translanguaging, with their new book, En Comunidad Lessons for Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students.

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

We started our teaching journey in NYC public schools with bilingual and multilingual students across monolingual and bilingual programs. Most of the professional development workshops, curricula, and texts for children were in English. There were many professional texts with strategies for “ELLs” and we had a problem with the deficit framing of children who were already navigating multiple languages, cultures, and schooling. Our questions and concerns took us to develop research studies on teaching with bilingual and multilingual students. Our dissertation advisor, Ofelia García recommended we write together and so we did! We were motivated by our own experiences with learning English while developing our Spanish, our teaching, and our research. We were motivated by our families’ resolve and support that were crucial in making sure we had the connections with them and our language practices. consider the problem when we center on white, monolingual, dominant language practices.

We hope this book also opens doors for other bilingual and multilingual educators to write about their teaching experience, with support from publishers.

Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera (11/11/21)

Knowing where you are on your teaching journey is really important for us all. I have had the benefit of years of professional learning and practical experiences that have made me the teacher I am today. I love teaching children to be curious about words, how to read, and how to write. I love making them feel important and wise. I am crystal clear as to why I am a teacher and I actively work at understanding my role in today’s educational landscape. For me, an educator working and living on Long Island NY, the context of that landscape has been shaped by  a recent report from the LEAD Coalition showing that multilanguage learners in New York schools (many of whom live on Long Island) has grown 20 percent over the past 10 years.

That’s a fact, and speaking anecdotally, I find I am working with more children who are bilingual or are beginners to learning English altogether. What can I do to be responsive to these students? I believe my power is unlocked by becoming unabashedly self-aware. I need to learn more about them and their needs. I am a monolingual teacher who is diving into learning more about translanguaging:

Translanguaging is when a multilingual person’s full linguistic repertoire is used and honored, instead of trying to keep narrowly focused on a single language.

What is Translanguging? Heinemann Blog featuring Dr. Carla España & Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera

It occurs to me that I have a lot in common with many of my students who are new to learning English. When it comes to having an understanding for translanguaging I am a beginner too. In that spirit I write this post adopting a beginner’s mindset.

Following Students to Learn More

Intentional Teaching

Embracing the Process to Grow My Practice

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

We begin our book with a Critical Bilingual Literacies framework that informs the lesson sequences. We hope that teachers will embrace a CBL framework as a way to grow in their planning and teaching.

Constantly self-reflect on language ideologies while engaging with texts, classroom experiences, and research on bilingual practices.

Practice a pedagogy that focuses on all participants’ “unlearning” the notions of linguistic supremacy that uphold Eurocentric notions/ racialized language hierarchies (Alim and Smitherman 2012).

Analyze linguistic practices, literacies, and power.

Celebrate bilingual Latinx linguistic practices and plan content (curriculum, texts) and methods from the perspective of the bilingual learner.

Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera (11/11/21)

After spending an evening with Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera (and all of the #G2Great PLN) I have strengthened my resolve to continuing to learn more about translanguaging and to put that learning to practical use:

  • I am going to learn from my students, by letting them lead the way so I may learn more about them.
  • I am going to continue my work as an intentional teacher who uses what I am reading in professional texts and my classroom experiences to plan for the future
  • I am going to embrace where I am right now in this learning process while continuing to grow my practice for the future.

We at #G2Great believe it is every teacher’s mission to continue to strive for greatness. We believe that our work is never done because when you strive to know more, to be better than you were the day before that means pushing ourselves to look for our blindspots. On that note, I’d like to end this post with Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera words.

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

This is life work. As much as we love supporting teachers with curriculum development, sharing frameworks for teaching and planning lessons that center bilingualism and multilingualism, there is still some deep processing of our own ideas about language learning and minoritized languages that we cannot ignore. There is a lot of unlearning we must confront, especially as many of us are products of systems that have propagated myths and harmful ideas about bilingualism, multilingualism, and the Latine community. Our book is a way for us to welcome teachers to join our conversation and to be in this journey in community with us.

Dr. Carla España and Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera (11/11/21)

To learn more please visit these link:

What is Translanguaging

On the Heinemann Podcast: Translanguaging in Poetry with Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera

Six Essential Practices to Center the Voices and Experiences of Latinx Students in the Classroom

Tapping Into Teacher Empowerment

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

How do we tap into teacher empowerment? This is a question that I have thought about for a long time. It has been my experience that empowered teachers draw on knowing the curriculum, having an understanding for child development, and a knack for setting attainable goals with students that help their students recognize their own inner stores of power, but I wondered what other teachers had to say on the matter. On September 16, 2021 #G2Great began a conversation about tapping into teacher empowerment, and after reading through the Wakelet it became clear to me that GROWING A CULTURE around empowerment is really the next frontier. 

What if we actively created a culture that was built around teacher empowerment in school?  I imagine that it might be like this, teachers come to school believing that their thoughts and decisions will make a positive impact on the collective good. Every faculty member would know that their expertise would be held in the highest esteem.  From where I stand, teaching is already the best career there is and if it were possible to work in a culture that tapped into teacher empowerment, it would be life changing for our profession and our students.  That is something worth fighting for, and here are some ways we can begin to make a shift towards tapping into (a culture) of teacher empowerment.

Listen to Teachers

Building a school wide belief system stems from an ongoing conversation about how students learn best. Once we have that vision, we can begin to align our beliefs and we can promote a shared voice in the materials that we put into the classroom. One way to promote ownership is to let teachers decide what kinds of materials reflect the shared vision.  Teacher autonomy would stem from having a voice and choice about classroom libraries, based on the needs of their classrooms.

Promote Intellectual Curiosity

It is a goal of many to take a student centered approach to teaching and learning. It is also important  to extend that same stance for professional learning for teachers. Having choice in the kind of professional learning that is received is very empowering.  We need to follow the teacher lead when it comes to learning because each teacher has a different need. Peer facilitated coaching is another way to promote empowerment because having the freedom to visit a colleague and learn collectively is the kind of on the job training that promotes professional growth while tapping into teacher expertise.

Take Action Through Agency

The culture of school does not always jive with the concept of agency. There are so many tasks teachers are asked to complete at school that suck up time and effort. Our focus becomes a checklist of “have to’s” rather than time spent cultivating the craft of teaching. It is hard to feel inspired to take action when obligatory duties take over.  We can strive to make this better. Everyone has to submit lesson plans, but rather than  submitting lesson plans prior to the lesson, submit them after with teacher reflections written in the margins. This encourages deeper reflection while giving administration a better view of what is happening in the classroom.  What went well? What failed? What did you learn? Innovative solutions are out there, let’s devote time and energy to making it happen.

Begin Good Conversations

One tenant of #G2Great is that we believe we move from “good work” to “great work”  in the classroom  (Howard 2012) when we continue to read and act on professional learning. A school culture that embraces a teacher’s desire to learn and try something new is one that is made to tap into teacher empowerment.  Every week, I learn so much from the teachers I work with and the teachers I know through social media. Risk would be a badge of honor, a marker of courageous learners who are trying to outgrow themselves. This would be a culture that would be worthy of the students we teach everyday. 

Never Lose Sight of What is Possible

The culture we live in school is in some part a reflection of ourselves. What if? Two common words that have an uncommon ability to power real change. If you find yourself wanting more, and dream of tapping into your own sense of empowerment; don’t wait, you can make the difference.

Phonics In Perspective: Taking a Closer Look

by, Jenn Hayhurst

To access the archive of the chat please click here.

For as long as I can remember there has been an ongoing public debate for how to teach children to read. The “Reading Wars” asked teachers to take a side – are you pro phonics or whole language? Not even a global pandemic could silence it. If anything, it has only gotten worse. Nowadays it is: are you for the Science of Reading or Balanced Literacy? While that may all be well and good for selling newspapers, or getting “likes” over social media, it does little to elevate teacher knowledge or practice. The best way to do that is to engage in a good conversation rather than rigid one-sided debates.

On August 12, 2021 the #G2Great team hosted a chat to take a closer look at how to keep Phonics in Perspective. Teachers from all over came together to share their knowledge and experiences for phonics instruction. We discussed what we know to be true, we listened with the intent to understand, and aspired to build on our existing knowledge base to grow our instructional practice.

What we know to be true

Phonics learning is a strategy that helps readers to match spoken sounds to letters in an effort to decode. Phonics knowledge also helps readers identify common patterns embedded within syllables, this is helpful for both reading and spelling. Teachers of young children know that phonics instruction is important. When it comes to teaching children to read, nothing should be off the the table. Reading is a very complex process, one that requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students in front of them. This is a basic truth that many commercial programs fail to acknowledge and I think that is why so many programs fall short:

Listening to learn and grow instructional practice

During the chat I found myself reflecting on what others had shared about how to keep phonics in perspective. I returned to the Wakelet and gathered some tweets that really helped to clarify what I learned to grow my instructional practice. One takeaway I had was the importance to make room for transfer of learning to occur. Making room for transfer can happen when students: participate in word sorting, interactive writing, shared reading, or independent reading of decodable or more authentic texts. Then my thoughts turned to how important it is to bend the curriculum in order to make room for lots of component work. Finding ways to integrate interactive writing, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring to phonics learning will give students so much repeated practice for their learning of phonics as well as many other important strategies. I also though about the reading writing connection and how that promotes opportunities for phonics learning during reading and writing workshop. Again, I found my thoughts returning to the need to differentiate because reading is complex and there is no one simple “right” way to teach children how to read.

Teachers already know what side to take when it comes to the “Reading Wars” debate. There is no alternative but to be on the side of students, and that means integrating phonics instruction and honoring student centered decision making. Throughout this post many smart educators discussed how to embed phonics instruction for their students in meaningful ways. I am truly so grateful to be able to learn from so many talented and experienced teachers.

Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 To Finding The Magic In Literature

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the Wakelet please click here.

On May 20, 2021 Stephen Chiger joined #G2Great to lead a joyful discussion about his and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s book, Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 to Finding The Magic In Literature. My first thought about their book was, what a beautiful title. Any time the words: love, literacy, and magic come together, I know it is a place I want to be. Stephen did not disappoint. The chat was filled to the brim of good ideas and positivity, all of which was inspired by his brilliant book. We asked Stephen: “What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?”

Ultimately, we wrote this book because we fell in love with the idea of a better world, one where all of our children receive an engaging, equitable education.  Paul and I are fortunate to have worked at Uncommon Schools for a combined 3 decades, and in that time we have learned from some of the most tenacious, focused, and caring educators out there.  This book is part reportorial in nature – we spend time showing and then analyzing what successful teachers do so that all of us – whether we’re new to the field or seasoned instructors – can make these moves our own.

Above all, I hope this book adds research-based clarity and insight for ELA teachers and coaches.  We’ve filled the book with videos, printables, discussion guides, and other resources to help educators bring these ideas to life in their rooms.  And in every section, we always spend time demonstrating examples of the approaches we advocate, keeping the book as practical as we can make it!

Specifically, I’d love it if this book can disrupt the binary that educators have to choose between instruction kids love and instruction that challenges them.  In our experience, these both go hand in hand.  As we quote from one of my mentors: “kids love what they know how to do.”

Stephen Chiger

Stephen has captured our imaginations because if you teach then you know that so much important learning happens through story. Stephen and Paul have given us a resource that will help us craft instruction that is both appealing and relevant to all our students.

Maximizing Student Voice

If we want to develop student voice then we need to give them access to an audience. Giving students time for self-expression and critical thinking shows them that their voices matter. We are all in to know what they have to share, and now they are part of a larger community – a community built on a culture of literacy that is deeply invested in them and what what they have to say:

Instructional gems such as giving students time to be thoughtful and write their responses first prior to turn and talk ensures that all students have the opportunity to cultivate their voice When teachers minimize the role of “teacher voice” in learning we amplify “student voice”. In doing so, we gain invaluable formative data that helps us to know not only what students may need in an academic sense but how they see themselves in the world. The classroom community learns how to appreciate new and different perspectives that encourage flexible thinking.

A Free Exchange of Ideas

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

We think teachers will find new variations on many things they may have already been wondering about or implementing.  Specifically, we investigate four big questions that middle- and high-school literacy teachers might have (and that we’ve had!):

·        What’s our dream for kids? – What does the curriculum need to reflect and do to serve all children well?  How can teachers go about building or revising the curriculum they have?

·        What will I see when students “get it”? – How can we break down or make visible reading comprehension and analysis?  If students are stuck on a challenging text, what can we do?

·        What will I hear when students “get it”? – What does it take to facilitate equitable, student-centered discourse that doesn’t sacrifice our ambitious goals as teachers? 

·        How do I begin?  — What does it take to build a culture where students love reading and develop a sense of self in the humanities?  And how can educators project plan to make that – and all the ideas in the book – come to life in our classrooms?

Stephen Chiger

There is a common theme of empowerment for all in Stephen’s answers. Teachers have the power of impact on their side to make a difference for our students. The tweets that follow continue to show ways we can elevate our students’ thinking through dynamic instruction:

When teachers pay attention not only to what students say but how they say it, they are showing them that their ideas have value. Giving students feedback using an asset lens shows students that they are not only seen but appreciated by their teachers. All of these instructional moves knit together to make the classroom a safe place where they can continue to grow: intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Just as a diamond has its foil, students have their teachers. Stephen and Paul have reminded us that we are here to make our students dazzle and light up the room. We are here to elevate their voices and celebrate their ideas. We asked Stephen: What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

As an English teacher, you know that the path you’ve chosen won’t always be easy. You’ve seen your way through enough bleary-eyed, late-night grading sessions to understand what Robert Hayden called “love’s austere and lonely offices.”

Loving literacy means loving our vast, luminous world, and teaching literacy means sharing that love with others.

Being an English teacher means you are called to love. And when that call comes, you answer.

Paul Bambrick Santoyo & Stephen Chiger

We want to thank Stephen and Paul for writing an important book. Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 To Finding The Magic In Literature not only informs best practice but it also inspires us to do the work. It holds true to a value system that honors students completely. If you would like to learn more, and we hope you do, please follow these links:

Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk a #G2Great Chat with Maria Nichols

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click Here to Access the Wakelet

Imagine a little girl with dark curly hair, very thick glasses, and a huge vocabulary. This child came from a family who believed that children had important things to say. A family with a mother, a father, two brothers, and a sister who all shared their views, spoke their minds without hesitation as though their ideas were all important. This same child, who had a big extended family that shared the same values in an even larger social setting. Then, as if that were not enough, another whole layer of family friends also encouraged children to speak their minds and who were genuinely interested in hearing what they had to say. Imagine the benefit of having such a rich social language learning environment to grow up in. Couple those lived experiences with voluminous reading and writing and now the child has, even more, to think about, more to say, and more opportunities for self-expression. That is a child who is being immersed in a language learning process that will help her for the rest of her life. How fortunate would that child be? Very. That is my story. That child was me.

The reason why I specialized in literacy is that I wanted to give as many students as possible the same experiences I had growing up. Believing that a school is a place where teachers may cultivate a social learning environment that holds purposeful talk in the highest esteem is very powerful. If you believe that, as I do, then you know we have the power to reshape a child’s life. So you can understand why, it was a real thrill to welcome author/educator, Maria Nichols, to lead #G2Great in a conversation about how to create a process of growing purposeful talk.

What voices are being valued?

Show students that you believe that they have something important to say. Help them believe that their voices matter the most to us and then there will be boundless growth. Children, who feel as though their words hold weight with teachers will be more likely to share and elaborate on their thinking in deeper more meaningful ways. Part of the work is to create equity and access for purposeful talk, and there is a lot we can do in school to make that a reality. Teachers are setting the table for talk by giving space for feedback and reflection. Don’t be afraid of those quiet moments. Be generous, give space for students to process their thinking. Give them the chance to fill that space with their own words.

What do all students think?

Be curious about what students think. Whenever we start to fill in their words for them just stop. Let them go, find out what they really think. Treating classroom talk as you might an inquiry study will help to cull out what they think through lean questioning and wait time. Then if we teach them how to take a questioning stance, we create other “teachers” in the room. We create more opportunities to uncover the collective thinking that is happening in real time. When we use mentor texts that serve to underscore thoughtful talk we add another layer of support to elevate students’ thinking. It is an amazing process.

How can we raise talk to new levels?

Listen to learn first, not to evaluate. Be strategic when planning spaces in conversation to pause and ponder. This not only fortifies stamina, it also models what thoughtful dialogue looks like. Building a culture of “talk” starts when we take the time to reflect on what went well and when we invite students into that reflective process we raise the quality of purposeful talk over time. Purposeful talk requires a plurality of perspective to inform how it is going. It is not just what teachers think, teachers are one part of a broad community of thinkers. The talk in the classroom mirrors everyone who is part of that community. That is what makes talk so important.

Purposeful talk measures the level of intellectual rigor. It conveys the level of trust and relationships within the community. The words that fill a classroom reflect the learners themselves. Think of it this way, talk paints a picture of students’ culture, beliefs, passions, and even their fears. We are showing students how to communicate in the world, we are teaching them that their words are valuable, that they are important, and every child deserves to know that they have a voice that is worthy of being heard. Thank you, Maria Nichols. Thank you for writing your beautiful book, Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Building Purposeful Talk.

The Power of Student Agency

By Brent Gilson

An archive of this weeks chat with Dr. Anindya Kundu can be found here.

This past week we had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Anindya Kundu about his book The Power of Student Agency. As we look at the hurdles our students face, we very often forget how resilient our students are and see them through a deficit lens.

What motivated you to write this book?

“I was motivated to write TPSA after years of seeing how strapped schools, students, and districts can be when it comes to resources. At the same time, there are so many students overcoming incredible challenges in their lives (homelessness, incarceration, broken families, etc) and schools that still create cultures of success despite limitations, that I felt these stories needed to be shared. This book compiles a couple years of my fieldwork research meeting exceptional people and sharing their stories to make the case that achievement is possible for all students, if we can get behind them and support them holistically.”

The Power of Potential

A few years ago I was touring a potato farm, bear with me I am going somewhere with this, as we walking in one of the building I noticed a drain hole in the floor. I walked towards the drain and found this.

Through the concrete, with so little nutrients and the required materials to grow, this little plant was growing. Instead of focusing though on the adversity faced, I think we look at the plant and its potential despite the conditions faced. When we look at our students who face hurdles we (teachers generally) tend to look at the deficits as a starting point instead of the potential. As Dr. Kundu asks in the question, “What happens when we stop looking at the Rose in Concrete and begin looking at our schools as gardens” we see things like this.

I feel like the term “grit” has always been misused and in our current Covid reality of teaching it continues to be. I love the different reflections that came out of this simple question because they look beyond just saying things are not working and offer up hope. As Heather mentioned, schools are in need of some heavy weeding; by focusing on the schools that need to look at their practices, we are taking some of the weight off our students. By not falling back on the analogy of the rose through the concrete or the potato plant and instead looking at the environment we are providing and the potential of our students to succeed, we move away from this “grit” concept and towards a space were students see that where they are planted is fluid and can be adapted to fit their needs.

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

“The whole book is structured around highlighting the social side to grit and resilience. All students have these internal reservoirs of necessary character traits for academic and professional success; however, structural limitations are real and must be acknowledged and addressed because otherwise, we place the onus of achievement on the student alone and absolve ourselves. Instead, when we constantly think about a student in terms of their agency, or potential, we reintroduce that teaching and learning are foremost social practices that require collective responsibility.” 

Shifting the System Requires Change

When Covid-19 first hit there was this call to change the system. To create systems that provided our students with what they needed to succeed in this new normal. The thing was, however, as some made moves to make those changes it was a lot easier to talk about it than do it. Especially when the practices and thinking you have held so near and dear are the ones that are limiting our students. So how do we begin? We let go of power, we question the systems that are in place that have continued to limit the potential of some students and we get uncomfortable. Growing pains are a real thing. I started a new weight lifting plan a few weeks back. On day three EVERYTHING hurt. I started to look at how easy it would be to go back to me tried and true (and easy at this point) routine. Maybe just add a little weight. But I also understood that the hurt was my muscles repairing and growing stronger. If as teachers we are honest in our desire to create a system where all of our students are able to meet their potential we have to be willing to push through the discomfort of change that is required. No more calling for system changes but being unwilling to change our practice.

Just this morning I was talking with a colleague about the needs of a student. We discussed this idea that so often we ask students, especially students with learning needs, that they change to fit our needs and we don’t change to fit theirs. So where do we begin? Always with our students.

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

“I hope that teachers and educators can challenge themselves to see the giftedness in all students, even the ones who can be more difficult. They need our help more than others! If we can learn how to take a child’s existing interests, competencies, and talents and use those as motivational tools, we can create vibrant learning environments where all students thrive. This requires a thorough understanding of who our students are as people. It may sound complicated, but I hope the narratives I share (of how homes and families, educators and schools, and students themselves) can personify actionable, simple, and FREE strategies to inspire student agency.”

Our Students Don’t Need Saving

The hero or saviour narrative that is often applied to teachers of students who learn differently or have obstacles in their lives that potentially disrupt learning needs to be one of those things we put aside. Our students don’t need saving, they need us to be better. These last few months I have often raised the question on social media if our practices are doing more harm than good, especially in this time of Covid-19 where inequity has been under the spotlight. Sadly, it is met by hostility. If we are really interested in shifting and changing practices we have to be willing to change. Our students’ success is not dependnnt on us, because kids will succeed despite us. But we can do more to make room for them to shine. We must purposefully question our practice and explore the gaps we have that limit our students and we can make the moves to be better and help create those opportunities for them to realize their potential.

I am no saviour, hero or gardener. I am a teacher. My students are not statistics. They are amazingly talented human beings who, when provided the space to learn in ways that suit them and display that learning in ways they can shine, they will.

If you are looking for more from Dr. Kundu you can check out these links:

Anindya Kundu Website

The Boost Students Need to Overcome Obstacles

The “opportunity gap: in US public education – and how to close them

HuffPost with Anindya Kundu: Policing Schools and Dividing the Nation

Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap discussion with Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera

Jacob Chastain Teach Me Teacher Podcast with Anindya Kundu

Part 1: Systematic Inequality

Part 2: Teachers Can Begin Fixing the SystemZoom Fireside chat: Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera: Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap

Checking Our Professional and Personal Pulse for the 2020-21 School Year

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

This blog post is dedicated to all of us who are either working in schools or attending schools across our nation and throughout the world. Unless you are going to school right now, it would be difficult to understand the level of stress we are all experiencing. Teachers, administrators, support staff, and especially students are all coping with the impact of COVID-19 and it is not without some cost. This is why #G2Great focused on taking our professional and personal pulse for the 2020 -21 school year. As I think about how to shape this post I can scarcely get through the replies to question one of the Wakelet without my pulse beating like a rabbit.

Some are 100% virtual. Others are hybrid which may look like this: two cohorts of students attending in person Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays Every Wednesday is a virtual day for all students. Some are attending in-person full time with social distancing and mask-wearing. Others are attending full time within their own class bubble without social distancing. It may be easy to read and conceptualize what these options might be like; a person might say, “I get it, I am informed. I read the the CDC’s Continuum of Risk but school administrators and leaders know what they are doing.” You’d be correct to have confidence in us. We are doing everything we can to make school safe and secure for students and staff. However, we have never done this before, and it is the ongoing emotional strain of working within these systems that is like a silent oppressive force.

This teacher is speaking her truth, and her truth is very much in line with my own. Many of you reading this post today may be feeling the same way. We bring both expertise, empathy to the job regardless of our personal struggle. Whether we are showing up virtually or face to face we are giving it our all. The word that keeps coming back to me is resilience. Teachers are resilient.

Did you know, there are seven essential building blocks for resiliency? According to Kenneth Ginsburg, they are: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It should be no surprise that teachers demonstrate all seven every day.

Competence & Confidence

Val brings up a very important point and good reminder for us all with her tweet. Use an asset lens because we all feel much better about ourselves and our circumstances when we feel competent.

Once you feel competent it is a natural shift to grow confident. Mollie is making another important point, growing confidence comes from putting your professional energy to tried and true professional practice. Emphasize “kidwatching” and relationship building and bring some familiar experiences back no matter what setting you happen to be teaching in right now.

Connection & Character

I got you Julie. Knowing that a caring community is there to give you advice, or just there to listen without judgement is something we all need. Get that any way you can. Maybe your school is not a place that offers that support, but then look for it someplace else. Twitter, and #g2great in particular have become very important to me. I know I belong, I found my people.

I was drawn to Fran’s tweet, because it is just good advice for us all. Living the advice offered in her tweet would be an excellent model of character in action. Especially living in these times where people of good character can be difficult to find. I can do my part, I can try to live up to Fran’s words and that helps to ground me.

Contribution & Coping

While I don’t know this for sure, but I would wager that Kathy Sahagain, paid for those books out of her own pocket. I feel it in my bones, but even if she didn’t, she is a great example of an excellent teacher. Teachers like Kathy contribute towards the wellbeing of students above all else. I have found, that while we teachers may have varied professional beliefs, the one constant is the compassion and dedication we have for students. We care. We do whatever it takes.

No administrators have said these words to me, but it helps me to know that they were said. I can borrow those words, and repeat them in my mind and that is helping me to cope with the strain.

Taking Control

I cannot give you a favorite book. I cannot be the leader who is present in your school to deliver the words that help you to cope with the professional load. I can be the little voice that reminds you to take control in this moment. May I direct your attention to my esteemed colleague and friend, Laura Robb? I say this on Twitter all the time, but I need you to really do it this time, “Listen to Laura…”

Whether you are coping with the pandemic just fine, or if you are drowning, or struggling like me, know that it is all ok. Everything you are feeling is ok, and needs no justification. There is so much that is out of our control, so grab onto what you can. One thing you can do, is to take good care of yourself.

Nurture yourself, treat yourself as you would your students, or a beloved family member, or friend. Take the weekend as a gift to yourself, because you are strong, you are talented, and you are resilient. You are doing the impossible five days a week, so breathe and take a lesson from the incredible Viola Davis and know you are deserving of self-care. You are worth it.

Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading

by Jenn Hayhurst

To view the chat archive click here

A pandemic, an economic crisis, and ubiquitous social unrest are begging us all to wake up and take notice of all that is fundamentally wrong within our society and public systems. Teachers, in particular, are at a crossroads to consider what we value most. What practices do we cling to as we face an uncertain start to school? Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right moment. I think this is one of those times. Sarah Zerwin has written the book, Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading, to help us find a better way forward.

Decreasing the emphasis on numeric grades while creating a classroom culture that embraces risk and celebrates learning is a value that requires action on our part. Any big important work begins with big important questions: Why this book? Why right now? Why is it so important that we move beyond numeric grades alone? How can we begin this shift to a more holistic assessment system in our classrooms? What if we were able to tap into students’ motivation? Just asking these questions makes me feel dizzy with excitement.

Why this book, why now?

Sarah recalls her initial motivation for writing her book:

I got to the point several years ago where I could finally see clearly how the focus on points and grades in my classroom was getting in the way of my students doing authentic work as readers and writers, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. The book captures a process I landed on after quite a bit of trial and error, and I hope that process helps my readers to think through how they might grade more meaningfully in their classrooms, in ways that work for their particular teaching contexts. I want my students to read and write so they can make sense of our complex world and use their voices to impact it; when they were focused on grades and points, they weren’t doing this important work.

Sarah M. Zerwin

When the Numbers Don’t Add Up…

Becoming a literate citizen of the world requires more than just a passing grade. A numeric grade is just one part of a bigger picture. Sarah inspires us to consider how we can grow our instructional practice to be more inclusive of our students.

Just because our districts or schools provide us with numbers-based grade books to keep track of our students’ work doesn’t mean that’s how we must get to our students’ final grades. We can design a different path that invites our students to read and write in ways that matter to their lives rather than focusing on collecting points. We can put learning solidly at the center of our classrooms so they orbit around that rather than the points-based exchange that centers the traditional grading system.

Sarah M. Zerwin

Intrinsic Motivation Leads to Realizing Potential!

Believing that students will embrace learning for learning’s sake is easier than you’d think. To make this a reality it requires a little time, a little trust, and lots of relationship building.

Our students want to do work that matters to them. They know exactly how a traditional grading focus gets in the way. Talk to them honestly about this and listen carefully–they’ll tell you what they need. It’s definitely a leap of faith to leave the traditional grading system behind, but once your students trust that you are really, truly stepping out of the grading game, they’ll follow you.

Sarah M. Zerwin

Thank you, for guest hosting #G2Great and for your leadership by writing this insightful and practical book, Sarah. If you believe that your students are more than a number, then here are some links to help you get this work started in your own classrooms:

Keeping Curiosity Close

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the full archive for this chat please click here

At the start of this school year, not one of us could have imagined how strange and unfamiliar the educational landscape would appear to us today. A pandemic has changed our educational speak to include words and phrases like: distance learning, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, mute your mic, remember to sign in, turn on your camera, and virtual… well just fill-in-the-blank on that one. Our classrooms are no longer physical spaces, they are virtual, and filling those spaces, is very different from what was before.

How do we make the most of our “new normal”? As we use the eye of our cameras to enter into students’ homes we can embrace their interests, encourage their questions, and find lots of ways to celebrate them and all that they are. We are also inviting them into our homes. With curious eyes, they are learning about our interests, and this experience, I believe is helping them to get to know their teachers in new and powerful ways. We can use this distance from our students to help them see their world through curious eyes. So as we close out the 2019/2020 school year, #G2Great educators came together to discuss curiosity and what we really want for our students.

We Want More Happiness!

As we dug a little deeper into curiosity we found that it glistens as a bright light for happiness. Curiosity is the thing that feeds our hearts and motivates us all to live more satisfying lives. This is true for us and it’s true for our students. How do we do make the most of it? We can embed curiosity into all aspects of the gradual release: the “to” “with” and “by” for instruction:


We Want More Creativity!

In my mind’s eye, I imagine looking at curiosity as a gemologist may examine a precious stone through a jeweler’s eye. How do we estimate its value when it comes to creativity? One way would be to celebrate the high levels of engagement creativity generates. Another would be to consider the high levels of critical thinking that goes hand-in-hand with a curious mind. Writing, building, and brainstorming ideas are all products of creativity that is unearthed through curiosity:

We Want More Self Reliance!

Teachers are able to sift through the silt of the academic day and find nuggets of curiosity. They find them, they shine them up and put them on display for all to admire. This is how they build a culture of curiosity, one with a strong foundation of self-reliance. These classrooms are not hard to identify, just look to the students

To see the world through the eyes of a curious learner is perhaps the best perspective we may offer our students. I for one have been reminded of how important it is to keep curiosity close to inform my teaching. Let’s make a pact just as we might have when we were kids. Say it with me: I promise to try to look for ways to increase curiosity and happiness! I promise to find ways to be creative and find curiosity in everyday life! I promise to celebrate self-reliance and curiosity every step of the way! Indeed curiosity is a hidden gem that we may take with us for having gone through this experience. Use it well.