Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet transcript of our #G2Great Chat here


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

I think that we have made writing in schools a task, heavy labor. We need to connect writing with play, with improvisation, pleasure, and friendship.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Tom Newkirk’s response hurts my heart. My teacher heart. My writing heart. My parent heart. My grandmother heart. My literacy being just hurts.

It hurts my heart because I also know it to be true. Writing has become a “chore” in many classrooms, whether it is the kindergarten classroom where students COPY sentences from the board daily, the fourth grade classroom where students respond to daily writing prompts from the teacher, or the middle school classroom where students are engaged in formulaic argument writing day after day. Of course, not all classrooms have reduced writing to tasks and heavy labor. But many classrooms in middle schools and high schools across this country teach “how to write a sentence”, “how to write a five sentence paragraph”, and “how to write a five paragraph essay”. Disheartening. Disillusioning. Deadly for a writer’s heart.

Necessary?

Appropriate?

Well-intentioned?

Expected?

Required?

Where do your writing experiences fit? Consider the stories in this blog post. Do they parallel your experiences? You will see stories of writing from writers, teachers of writing, and wisdom from some writing experts!

And now, back to our regular format. Typical posts begin with our title slide and some background on our author or topic. So let’s resume our regular program!

Our #G2Great chat on Thursday, May 27, 2021 with Thomas Newkirk tackled a variety of issues about writing that all writing teachers need to consider. We were discussing his newest beautiful book, Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers, which is student-centered, qualitative research. Research carefully and respectfully gathered from students and teachers! This was a return visit to #G2Great for Tom who hosted in January of 2018 to discuss Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning. His previous books, Minds Made For Stories and Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones continue to grow our thinking about current fads as well as what we need to hold tightly to in order to realign and reignite our actions, visions, and beliefs about writing instruction.

I love to write. I write best when I have choice in topic/content and organization. I know that’s not always possible. I’m not comfortable writing fiction and stories are still hard. Not fun. Not pleasurable. But in recent years I know that stories cultivate friendships as I have learned through Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life. I have searched for the source of my failure feelings with fiction. One factor: I came from the era when we were taught that our writing should never include “I” or “you”. I and you were consistently “red-inked” by multiple teachers. Consequently it became easier to avoid situations where an “I” or “you” story felt more natural. Avoidance seemed to work. A second factor from my own school days – I don’t remember ever feeling that my teachers were WRITERS so there was little encouragement. And thirdly, writing was often a task or assignment to be completed only by students. Fiction . . . It was never presented as a choice in junior high or high school.

So here are two quick stories from my writing life.

My obsession with improving writing instruction began with a course on writing with Sue Meadows after I had been teaching for a decade or two. Sue was a local district administrator with ELA Curriculum responsibilities. And then I was hooked. Atwell, Graves, Harwayne, Hansen, Murray and Spandel were just a few of the writers that I was studying. I became a sponge. I went to additional training on the “6 Traits” and thoroughly absorbed the notion of aligning instruction with the rubrics used in assessment. Through assessment academies, I also went on to co-lead district-wide writing assessment. Each opportunity led to increased understanding and typical me, I never waited for “someone else to bring the learning to me”. Instead, I continued to search for more information about writing processes and the different genres of writing. My goal: Continue to grow my own understanding of “Quality Writing”!

In November of 2014, I attended and presented at NCTE in Baltimore. One speaker in a panel presentation stood out: Tom Newkirk. I was fortunate to have a seat in the packed room. I chuckled with conference attendees when Tom said that a “hamburger” organizer was an “even bigger insult to a hamburger” besides it often resulted in boring, dull, tired writing. I appreciated his emphasis on student choice writing even as I knew that would be a tough sale for some of the high school teachers in my region. Since that date, my collection of Tom Newkirk’s books has risen exponentially.

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

I felt that there were several “disconnects.” Students are immersed in fictional narratives–movies, video games, books, TV. But they are rarely given the chance to write in these forms. That’s one disconnect. Another is the profusion of fictional writing outside of school (e.g. fanfiction) and its absence in school. I think schools are still operating on an outmoded idea that reading is the dominant form of literacy, and that writing, particularly fiction writing is for the talented few. That’s no longer the case Finally, we praise the benefits of fiction reading as creating empathy and self-understanding. Why can’t the same be said for writing fiction–creating characters? So my goal is to open space for a kind of writing that students are eager to explore.

Tom Newkirk, email

Opening space. I wouldn’t have written about video games until my grandson introduced me to Mario Brothers. But I still don’t know enough to write about it. Fiction reading is my absolute favorite. Fiction writing is my absolute least favorite writing. I don’t know the expectations. I haven’t written enough fiction to write it even “passably” well.

What do you know about fanfiction? Here’s an excerpt from fanfiction.net under “Books”.

1,237,100 fanfiction pieces about these 5 books. WOW!

What is the role of fiction in our students’ lives. Are students being asked to READ fiction but NOT write fiction? Isn’t that ironic?

This leads me to the final question that we ask our authors.

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

I hope that they will open their practice to allow fiction writing–not even necessarily requiring it, but making a space for it. I hope that they will listen to students–about what they want to write, and their experiences writing. I hope that teachers themselves try out fictional writing. I hope that teacher prep will make a place for fictional writing as prospective teachers move toward their career. And I hope that our instruction will avoid formulas and instead look inductively to how writers actually write.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Many hopes: allowing fiction writing, listening to students, trying it themselves, teacher prep, avoiding formulas and examining real writing.

Now that we have looked at Tom’s goals for his book and heard two of my stories about writing, let’s get to the heart. What are students saying about their writing? These two quotes were part of the #G2Great chat.

Writing Unbound, Thomas Newkirk

Some people don’t get the “What if?” Some people like the easier what ifs of what if this happened to so-and-so, in modern day. Other people can’t stand that kind of stuff and that is what fantasy is for.

Helen, quoted in Reading Unbound

I can relate to Caroline’s “flow of ideas” as drafting is a messy spot in my head with ideas ping ponging everywhere. As for Ernest’s ideas, I think I would pass on the writing a story and the analysis. Helen speaks of the freedom of “What if?” in fantasy writing. Maybe my niche in writing would be to verify more informational text/ideas that could be added?

What I take away from all three students and Tom’s tweets is that writing stems from many sources and that we must trust students because 1) they do know a lot and

2) there is no one way for writing to go!

And they, the students, know it!

But I don’t see that flexibility for students or even for teachers of writing in many of our schools.

The wakelet contains so much wisdom from Tom Newkirk and the many teachers and #G2Great friends who join us weekly. The remainder of this post is going to focus on just this one question.

Why has fiction writing diminished in the upper grades?

  1. Call for college prep writing and Common Core Standards

College and Career Ready

I call this bias, the cattle-chute vision of preparation. This is why a creative writing elective is often viewed as a kind of indulgence, unrelated to the main mission of high school writing. I think of the advice that the young Dav Pilkey received: that he would never make a living drawing silly cartoons about a principal who thinks he is Captain Underpants. That, of course, was several million book sales ago.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Some folks do not believe that fiction writing has a place in academia; fiction writing is for beginning writers. That leads us to reason two.

2. Fiction is too easy and not rigorous enough.

… narrative is not a discrete type of writing—it is our primary mode of understanding, and it underlies all writing.

(Newkirk 2014)

It simply makes no sense to deny students the opportunity to write in the genres they choose to read.

3. Lack of personal perception of competence and conviction that fiction fits into daily writing instruction

Fiction writing can also offer an experience that I feel is crucial to enjoying writing: the feeling that writing generates writing—that a word suggests the next word or phrase, that we can listen to writing and sense what it suggests. And even for teachers committed to fiction writing, it’s a tough fit in the curriculum. Stories take time and are often far longer than more contained forms of writing—an editorial, for example, which can be held to a few paragraphs.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Not all writing is equal. Writing-like activities are available that may or may not parallel reading activities. Tom calls these peripherals. It may surface in writing prompts, vocabulary or comprehension work.

In Conclusion . . .

As I searched for a way to conclude this post I was drawn back to these questions that Tom Newkirk used to close chapter 2 of Writing Unbound. What are your answers? How would your students answer them? They might be a source of reflection on past instruction or planning for next year’s instruction!

So we need to ask: Can we inhabit the dizzying worlds that Ernest and his friends create? Can we experience with them the dangers and narrow escapes? Can we even help them think through their plots, imagine their characters? Can we play their game? It’s a challenge worth taking up.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

LInks for Additional Resources:

On the Podcast: Writing Unbound Link

Sample chapter from Writing Unbound Link

A Confession from Tom Newkirk about Writing Unbound Link

Bridging the Divide between Creative Writing and Literary Analysis Link

Added 06.07.2021: “The Power of Writing Collaborative Fiction” by David Lee Finkle LInk

The Civically Engaged Classroom: Reading, Writing, and Speaking for Change

By Fran McVeigh

The Wakelet artifact is available for your perusal here.

The #G2Great chat world was alive, well, and ROCKING on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The podcasts (link) of their work was a hint of the depth of the work proposed but, WOW! What an amazing, well-orchestrated text and chat.

On one hand, when a book comes from authors like Mary Ehrenworth, Pablo Wolfe, and Marc Todd, it might be easy to say “Oh, great, another book about what kids can do in classrooms with supportive teachers, supportive administrators and supportive communities.” However, the wisdom, wit, and enthusiasm generated in the #G2Great chat merely emphasized that everyone in school communities needs to be thinking about civic engagement. Not just one class period a day. Not just the ELA teacher. Not just teachers. But the entire community. (And more about that later.)

On the other hand, naysayers may have a different view. “Really? More political speak about what teachers should or should not be doing in their classrooms? More brainwashing? Is that really the purview of our school systems?

Like any great performance from an orchestra, the resulting concert is only as good as the score. In this case, the score (written music) begins this post with the wisdom of the authors and their responses to the three questions that we ask and then moves to some specific high notes from the chat and then enthusiasm as a rousing finale for this work.

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

The Civically Engaged Classroom was born out of the idea that as a society we need to think deeply about the purpose of school, especially in times as fraught and divisive as those we are living in. We want teachers to look at their classrooms and see future citizens in front of them, citizens that need to be well-prepared for the hard work of leading and strengthening our democracy.

In our own teaching and staff development, we have met many colleagues who have inspired us with the way they teach with a civic mindset. We have also met countless others who aspire to do this work, but are in communities where they feel unsupported. This book is meant to both highlight the brilliant work we’ve seen, as well as to encourage, inspire and sustain those who feel like they’re teaching into a headwind.

We were also motivated to write this book because it helps to address one of the persistent questions in education: how do we get kids motivated and engaged by school? We think one of the most profound, and overlooked, ways to engage kids is to make sure that the work of school is aimed toward civic ends. When the walls of the classroom come down, kids see that their work has real purpose and impact.

Ultimately, as with everything in education, this is for the kids. We hope that some of what we put in the book helps them seize their power and shape the world they will inherit.

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

We hope that our readers see…

●  …that identity exploration is essential to all curriculum and pedagogy, especially if we are to prepare our children to engage responsibly in our multicultural society.

●  …that schoolwork must be worldwork. That it should include political and historical content that is relevant and contemporary.

●  …that we need to move beyond the single text, everytime, in every situation.

●  …that we can model being active, engaged citizens in front of our students without being partisan.

●  …that when students consume nonfiction, they must teach each other and their parents about what they are learning and why it matters. 

●  …students need frequent opportunities to practice service to a community.

●  …that teachers aren’t alone in this work! There is a thriving, and growing, number of us who are re-envisioning school as a preparation space for citizenship.

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

This book is a call to work. Throughout The Civically Engaged Classroom we’ve included a feature called Practice What You Teach, a regular reminder that the work in these pages is for all of us to take on, not just our kids. We can all do more to be better citizens;  we can all do more to re-envision our democracy. This is not about indoctrinating children, but it is about our duty as educators to help them realize that they have a lot of responsibility in this society and that if they don’t take it, or aren’t adequately prepared for it, they’ll continue to perpetuate grievous harms to themselves and to others.

The work in our classrooms is part of the world. The more we bring the real world in with its injustices as well as its beauty and hope, the better we serve our students, and the better we serve our society.

Ultimate Roles For Teachers and Students

What is needed? Teachers who address identity with honesty and courage, … co-creating with students on a level playing field … to determine a course of action with students … valuing listening and … arguing to listen. Check out the following four tweets that include Mary, Pablo and Marc’s own words.

What is the end goal? Dr. Mary Howard gives us the “411”straight from the book:

While it may seem “easy” to defer to the authors to use their own words, this post could become quite lengthy if a commentary was included for all their wisdom. So sticking with a personal motto of “less is more” here are three high notes of focus from the chat. These refrains will help you get started on a civically engaged classroom.

Where and How Does a Civically Engaged Classroom Fit?

Where do you position a civically engaged classroom? Do you view it as a solo? As an entire section of the performers? Or embedded in the entire musical performance? Your view impacts your planning. Consider these gems of wisdom.

Where might you begin? What do you value? What are your priorities? And then consider Pablo’s wisdom and his verb choices . . . “cut” . . . “replace” . . . “OR infuse” with the end goals of “application of skills, real-life experience, and communal celebration.”

Students: Identity, Stories, Experiences and Interests

The work of so many “artists/performers/authors” is the foundation for all work with students. Sara Ahmed’s identity work in Being the Change (blog post) has led the way for teachers and students to explore their identity and bring about social change. So too have Jody Carrington in Kids These Days and more recently Matt Kay in Not Light, But Fire as well as many other authors. When we embrace Dr. Rudine Sim Bishop’s, “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors,” we will have a fun-filled concert program as we follow the lead of so many educators when we consider how to engage students by following their interests.

Where can you find the information to get started? What do you already know about your students? Their interests? Their passions? What are the artifacts that they already have about their own thinking beyond what they are reading and writing? How are we inviting students to be a part of this co-construction?

Explicit Instruction: Norms, “Inclusion,” Note-Taking, and Examining Biases

But what do we teach? What’s important? Of course instruction will vary depending on the needs and interests of the students in front of you! Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you wonder about the WHAT that needs to be taught and practiced before the concert is scheduled.

Instruction is all about routines and processes. Routines and processes for civil discourse. Routines and processes for research. Routines and processes for affirming information. Routines and processed for determining biases and collecting additional information. Which ones might be a priority for you and your students?

FINALE

In conclusion, the time for action is NOW. No waiting. Do not pass go. Do NOT collect $200. Move from the audience to the stage, backstage, behind the side curtains, or center stage under the lights.

It’s time to practice. Take action. Consider student identities. Have a discussion. Focus on student choices. To learn more, check out the Wakelet archive and the Additional Resources. Watch the stellar three part video series. Check out the Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators below. Explore the padlet. Find a friend to travel this journey together and have a conversation partner. Make a plan. Get started!

Additional Resources:

Heinemann Video Series for the Civically Engaged Classroom

The Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators

The Civically Engaged Classroom PADLET

Nurturing Truth-Seeking Communities in School (article by Pablo, Mary and Marc)

Risk. Fail. Rise. A Teacher’s Guide to Learning From Mistakes

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet link of chat artifacts here

Neither the weather or the continuing pandemic was able to dampen spirits and pull folks away from the #G2Great chat with Colleen Cruz on Thursday, February 11, 2021. As we began planning for this chat, I worried about being able to write about both the book and chat in a credible fashion that would do justice to the brilliance shared. As the chat ensued, I realized that I was right to worry with so much greatness packed into a 60 minute chat!

I first met Colleen almost eight years ago when she was my staff developer at my initial Writing Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Eye opening. Jaw dropping. Work. Writing. Learning. And in the interest of full disclosure I have learned from Colleen, live and in person or virtually, every year since as I continue to grow my own literacy knowledge and skills.

Colleen is a teacher, a staff developer, an author, and an editor. She’s witty, fun, and avowedly “pessimistic” as she intertwines stories and research in her work and to help you envision possibilities. Previous #G2Great chats have been discussed in these blog posts: The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom, Writers Read Better: 50+ Paired Lessons That Turn Writing Craft Work into Powerful Genre Reading, and Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Podcast with Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz.

So where to really start with this mutual adoration of Colleen Cruz and her brilliance, this book and the chat? I reread all of my notes about Colleen’s books and presentations. I perused the Wakelet artifact from this chat and liked or retweeted almost a hundred tweets that included every single one from Colleen. How to organize? How to find a manageable set of tasks to meet my purpose: What to share in this post?

A Mistake. Two paired tweets from Colleen from the last question in the chat.

The initial tweet: research, current connection, a link (https://news.emory.edu/stories/2020/04/esc_covid_19_family_stories/campus.html), and a mistake. How did Colleen respond? Did she ignore her mistake? Did she deny it? Did she embrace it? Did she offer a bit of humor? How we respond to mistakes matters.

Let’s back up. What are mistakes?

The following tweets offer a glimpse into definitions of mistakes. You can learn more from the text excerpt, the audio book or the Heinemann blog listed below in the resources. Mistakes are hard to define unless you spend some time thinking about what they are and what they are not as #g2great team member Val Kimmel offers in the second tweet. Stacey and Nadine add on to the learning properties of mistakes.

What are the different types of mistakes?

Getting beyond mistakes are “good” or “bad” takes some work or study. Not all mistakes are equal. Four kinds of mistakes include: stretch mistakes, aha moment mistakes, sloppy mistakes, and high-stakes mistakes. You can read more about those at Heineman here, “Not All Mistakes are Good”, check out the Facebook Live series here, or read from Eduardo Briceno at either Mind/Shift here or his Ted Talk here.

The goal: to be aware of the types of mistakes, when they happen, why they happen, your response to mistakes, and the effects of those mistakes. This will take study, thoughtful reflection and a bit of self-awareness. The danger is in continuing on the path of sloppy and high-stakes mistakes after knowing that these are harmful. Many sloppy and high-stakes mistakes are avoidable with careful attention to our words and actions. I wondered about characterizing Colleen’s Tweet mistake above as one of the four types . . . and yet, without an edit button in Twitter, mistakes can easily happen from nimble fingers on less than responsive keyboards. I didn’t see the mistake when I first saw the second tweet as I read the word “msitake” as I expected it to be – during the fast pace of the chat – rather than the word as presented on the screen.

My past week and two mistakes …

1. Missed a webinar. I signed in on the last five minutes. Yes, sloppy mistake on the time zone recording on my calendar. I emailed and apologized for missing and will take greater care in recording/checking the times on my calendar. (Self care? Definitely a tired mistake!)

2. Fabric rows on my quilt did not match. Border and final two rows were more than an inch longer than the above 7 rows. At the time, I thought it was a high-stakes mistake, but it was really a stretch mistake as this was my first “pieced” quilt and I had never even thought about the difference in the rows. Future: check and double check connecting rows as the pieces are assembled.

Fran’s notes

Are all mistakes equal? When do we give grace? And to whom?

Jill’s tweet above is the bridge between reflecting and learning and offering ourselves grace. Mistakes are not a cause for self-flagellation. Mistakes vary according to the type as to intent and impact. Even more, our responses vary. Do we automatically offer grace to some students? Do we like to share our magnanimity with the entire class when we bestow grace? Which students have to earn grace? All of these are questions just about grace that stem from Colleen’s tweet below. The most “telling” factor may be “Who do we withhold it (grace) from?”

So now what?

Think of a recent mistake of your own. Which of the types was it? What was your response? What is your plan for next time?

Now think of a recent student mistake. What happened? What type was it? What was your response? What might you say or do differently? Do you know enough? Consider which of the resources below will be helpful?

As Colleen Cruz says in Risk. Fail. Rise. and Val and Mary emphasize above, the value in studying our mistakes is so we “can learn to separate our ego and form a mistake-welcoming culture.” Mistakes as learning experiences. Mistakes as a sign of growth and a source of data to use to ascertain growth.

Where will you begin? And when?

Links and Resources for Further Exploration:

https://blog.heinemann.com/topic/risk-fail-rise – the Heinemann Blog with access to the podcast, audiobook sample, blogposts and FB live events

www.colleencruz.com – my website for upcoming events and to contact me

@colleen_cruz Follow Colleen’s Twitter handle

BLog: Not All Mistakes are Good: Identifying the Types of Mistakes Teachers Make https://blog.heinemann.com/not-all-mistakes-are-good?utm_campaign=Cruz&utm_content=144005030&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&hss_channel=fbp-96011276891

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.

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? (Alfie Kohn)

by Fran McVeigh

Wow! The Twittersphere was on fire on 10/22/2020 when the #G2Great chat discussed Alfie Kohn’s article from the Boston Globe, “Is Learning ‘Lost’ When Kids Are Out of School?” You can check out the article here and the Wakelet for the chat here.

I trust that you will want to check out the article as Alfie Kohn succinctly answers his own question. But that also causes a few more questions for readers which is why the discussion was scheduled with the #G2Great audience. What’s important? What matters?

Here are a few tweets illustrating that point.

Where do we begin? Many government officials and capitalists would have us begin with assessments but if you espouse “student-centered” education then you already know that we must begin at the very beginning. Are there really gaps? How would those be assessed? And how would we really assess learning? And that circles back to student-centered learning. We begin with student assets as identified in the tweets below.

In the Boston Globe article, Alfie Kohn pulls no punches with his beliefs about standardized tests. Do they REALLY measure learning? Well, that then requires us to think about learning. Is learning merely the regurgitation of factoids, examples, and curriculum that could be answered by a Google search? Or is “learning” something else? What do educators believe? How would students respond?

Here are some thoughts on “What is learning?” from the #G2Great community.

So if we are not going to use standardized assessments to measure “Learning”, what can the education community STOP doing now? How can we help “Learning” be the sustained focus and not just the “flavor” for a chat response or a newsletter? How can we make LEARNING the focus of all our future conversations?

In order for instruction to provide opportunities for learning as well as choice, and adding in “student-centered”, what will educators need to be working on expanding? What about: Student agency? Empowerment? Choice?

These four tweets will jump start your thinking about additional actions for your school community.

Is learning lost? There may be some summer slide, but as previously mentioned, students have shared powerful learning from their at-home work that has longer lasting life-time implications for their communities. Where will change come from? What will it look like? It will begin with a belief in the need for change. We can no longer afford to prepare our children for the 20th century. Change has been needed for decades and is evident that we are now in the THIRD decade of the 21st century. The pandemic just made the need for change more visible when schools were shuttered across the U.S. (and Canada) last March.

Where will YOU begin? Who else needs to read and discuss this article with you? When? The time for action is NOW! The students are depending on YOU!

Additional resources:

Alfie Kohn (Books, Blogs, Resources) Link

Alfie Kohn – Standards and Testing – Link

Alfie Kohn – How to Create Nonreaders (Yes, 2010, but read all 7) Link

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

Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie: The Distance Learning Playbook

by Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.

Doug and Nancy are not new to #g2great. Previous chats include: This is Balanced Literacy, December 12, 2019; and All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, August 29, 2019.

This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.

Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book!
Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)

What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!

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

Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.

So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.

One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.

HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!

Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.

All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.

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

The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.

This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.

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

Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.  

“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”

How are you handling your self-care needs?

What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?

Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site

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.

Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach? Vicki Vinton & Aeriale Johnson

By Fran McVeigh

Thursday, August 27th, #G2Great welcomed back familiar guest hosts Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson. It was a night eagerly anticipated by the #G2Great team as we celebrated a blog post written by Vicki on February 23, 2020, that included learning examples from Aeriale’s second grade classroom. That post, “Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?” can be found here.

But more importantly, I was personally eagerly anticipating this conversation with Vicki and Aeriale as a toast to the end of summer 2020, this neverending summer that desperately needed a finale. Vicki Vinton has been a part of my summers in New York City as a group of us typically connect and catch up on life dating back to our first #WRRD chat. I also met Aeriale in NYC at a #TCRWP summer institute while she was a teacher in Alaska and her stories fascinated me. I have also been one of Aeriale’s admirers asking about her “book” as she has so much to say about student learning.

And yet this blog writing task seemed like a mountain to scale after the chat. For the first round of quotes, I pulled 11 pages of tweets from the full Wakelet (here) that I felt would illustrate the brilliance of the chat. If you missed the chat, you really will want to read through the Wakelet as it was impossible to capture all the brilliance of our one hour chat in one mere blog post and 10 tweets.

So let me begin at the beginning.

Do you know Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson?

It’s sincerely my pleasure to introduce my friends, Vicki and Aeriale. (See if you learn something new about either of them.) Vicki is a writer. She is co-author of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, (with Mary Ehrenworth); and a novel, The Jungle Law as well as a blogger at “To Make a Prairie.” Aeriale is an avid learner. This quote about Ellin Keene’s Engaging Children personifies my view of Aeriale: “I finished the book on a Tuesday; I integrated the four pillars of engagement she illustrates into my instruction on Wednesday.” Aeriale is a third grade teacher in San Jose, CA. in San Jose, CA, a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow who blogs at Heinemann.com with posts such as “To Tiana, With Love,” as well as Kinderbender.com, the site of “Kinderbender: Drinking daily from the glass of tiny human giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life.” Both Vicki and Aeriale write extensively about all the brilliant learning that occurs when teachers are knowledgeable, build community and have high expectations.

Where do we begin?

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” – Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

This quote came from Cultivating Genius and our June 18, 2020 chat (Literacy Lenses blog post here) just a little over two months ago. This book was also the #BookLove professional development book for elementary and secondary teachers this summer with two weeks spent on studying, reflecting, and listening to Dr. Muhammad twice.

How does this connect to the topic of “Underestimating Our Students?

Education is complicated. How we measure its effects is quite controversial and often very limiting. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on values, beliefs, expectations, intellectualism, instruction, assessment and listening. I had to have some criteria in mind as I narrowed down tweets to use in this blog. The tweets that I immediately moved to the MUST use page were those that included statements about those topics and also matched my own beliefs and values.

Hmmm. Confirmation bias at work.

How do we focus on students without underestimating them and yet include their stories, their identities and their excellence?

Expectations … “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating” (dictionary.com)

John Hattie has teacher expectations at the top of his list of factors that impact student achievement with an effect size of 1.62. Other researchers have long documented the fact that a growth mindset allows teachers to focus on student assets instead of deficiencies. Research has shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from low income families and/or for persons of color. It is a tragedy to set low bars of expectation for any students! As Vicki and Aeriale explain in the following tweets, “expectations” in the classroom need to be linked with learning opportunities.

To Think About: What are your expections? How do you communicate your expectations to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Intellectualism … “the exercise of the intellect” (dictionary.com)

This emphasis on intellectualism builds an even higher target for students and their excellence. This is the call to thinking, to making thinking visible, and to applying learning as evidence of those higher pursuits by students. Students who are going to meet their potential are going to be challenged to grow every day. Low level tasks, worksheets, and activities will simply not exist in classrooms where intellectualism is the standard. Teachers in these classrooms will always be amazed by the challenging work that students do.

To Think About: How do you define intellectualism in your classroom and then communicate that value to students, caregivers, families, and the community? (Or are your children stuck being “students”?)

Instruction … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Instruction that values student stories, identities and excellence is rooted in a culture of belief that students can construct knowledge as they read and write. Right answers are not the norm. Inquiry is a focus and questioning is a routine expectation for students and not an inquisition by the teacher. Students need time and space to be curious and to build the relevance that matches their lives and leads to deeper curiosity and wonder.

To Think About: How do our basic beliefs about instruction emphasize curiosity and inquiry as well as nurturing genius?

Assessment … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  If we truly value meaningful assessments then we will consider the ones that allow us to sit beside students. We can share assessment results that are qualitative and rich in descriptions of all that students “can do” instead of lists of skills that may not YET be under the reader’s/writer’s control.

To Think About: How do you communicate what you value about assessments to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Listening … “paying attention; heeding, obeying” (dictionary.com)

One of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbox is the power of listening which is often underestimated. Wait time is seldom mentioned in new educational research but it still is a free attached, accessible resource. Time and how we allocate it is critical. It’s also an observable way of checking for alignment of values, beliefs and resources when matched with the priorities in the daily lesson plan/schedule.

To Think About: How do we ensure that students have enough time to make sure their invisible thinking is deeply understood?

In conclusion . . .

We all have different but yet equally challenging roles in education. Whether we are beginning to plan for school or we have already planned and executed the first week(s) of school, how will we continue to reflect on our expectations for our students? How will we be responsive to the students in front of us? What will show up in our time allocations? Our reflective blog posts? Our Twitter conversations? How will we use what we know to make this the best learning year possible for our students? Your values and beliefs will show in many visible ways as the year progresses. Prioritize based on intellectualism, instruction, assessment, and listening to your students and your families.

What are your expectations for your students? How will we know?

Resisting Professional Band-aids: Responsible Solutions for Real Issues

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to access the Wakelet

The time between the end of summer and the startup of a new school year is a period of great transition for teachers. There is always a sense of urgency that interrupts our thoughts throughout the day no matter where we are or what we are doing. This urgency comes to call in the middle of the night, rousing us awake with never-ending mental lists and we mumble, “Oh yeah… I almost forgot… I need…” This is all true in an ordinary year, but 2020 has been anything BUT ordinary!

Everything is strange, daunting, and is supercharged with a current of risk. The solid ground beneath our feet that has been laid by years of experience for some, or preconceived expectations for others, is now wavy and uneven. This is going to be really hard, and it seems like everyone feels like a “first-year” teacher. We are a little over our heads (to say the least).

So when I was asked to write this post about resisting the urge to turn to quick fixes in the face of big problems in the form of these “professional band-aids” it couldn’t have come at a better time. I started this post as I often do, reading the Wakelet, and reflecting on the many words of wisdom shared by the #G2Great Professional Learning Network (PLN). As I followed the questions and answers of the chat, I found the calm that has been lacking these past few weeks. I felt gratefully reassured. I was reminded that although this is not a typical year, the shared wisdom of my community was going to be enough to get me through.

We Got This…

Believe that you have the skills to be completely responsive to what your students need this year. Believe that your students are coming into your classrooms, no matter if it is a virtual space, physical space, or a bit of both, with life experiences that are going to help them grow. Assume an asset lens and come at teaching and learning from a position of strength. We got this.

Follow @franmcveigh

We are Safe Here…

We can construct a safe place for teaching and learning. Feeling safe comes from knowing you have what you need. When thinking about this year, having what you need might be a Chromebook, extra broadband, or a consistent community meeting to check-in and find out how everyone is doing. Safety comes from everyone taking extra time to reflect on our thoughts and feelings. Talk collectively about what is going on with the students in front of you. See them. Hear them. Be with them. This is how we let the whole classroom community know we are safe here.

Follow: @LRobbTeacher

Make a Plan to Teach Them…

Resist the allure of skill and drill programs. In the short term, it may feel like you are giving kids what they need with one of these programs. On the surface, students seem engaged as they recite a frozen script, but believe this; not every child needs the same thing. That is the one constant, and that is why there is no one best way to teach them. Instead, put your faith in formative assessments, think about what they need, and make a plan to teach them.

Follow: @DrMaryHoward

Look for the Bright Spots…

This school year is not going to be like any other year – ever. It is going to require solutions to problems you may never have encountered before. This kind of situation requires a deep commitment to doing everything you can to think “outside the box.” Be an advocate for putting students’ needs first and make sure you celebrate every moment of success. In other words, look for the bright spots.

Follow: @vrkimmel

Put Our Faith in Each Other…

Work smarter by having a strategic plan. Knowledge is a great comfort during uncertain times. Knowing what needs to be taught and when helps a lot! Gather all your assets meaning your colleagues and come together as a group to prioritize what is most important. Then repeat this cycle: teach, reflect, and collaborate to make a new plan. We don’t have to do this alone, let’s put our faith in each other.

Follow: @Lau7210

Believe in the Power of Story…

Now more than ever we need to feel connected. Our humanity stems from the stories we share with each other. Stories that come from books, stories we write, and stories that come from the mouths of our students. A story is a mighty thing: it teaches students about each other, it honors who students are, what they believe, who they may aspire to become. Children need to be known, they need to tell their stories so listen to them. Lift those classroom moments up with markers of joy and teach them how to believe in the power of story.

Follow: @dubioseducator

Keep the Conversation Going…

Now is the time to rally, now is the time to come together and fight for what is in the best interest of our students. Having the benefit of multiple perspectives is not a luxury but a necessity. Talk to teachers in your school who you might not ordinarily seek out. Gather all the information you can and make some decisions on how to proceed. I am reminded of something a friend once told me, “I think better in the company of others.” Me too, so let’s all promise to collaborate and keep the conversation going.

Follow: @ElisaW5

As I close out this post I (mercifully) realize I have flipped this narrative of the impossible year to one that is full of potential. It could be that in the face of great adversity I might gain some real clarity for what matters most in school. I would not have gotten to this place without the collective wisdom of all of you. I am very grateful to be a teacher among you. Have a great year.