Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Saying “NO” to Question Interrogation So We Can Say “YES” to Engaging Dialogue

By Amy Brennan 

“Teaching is listening. Learning is talking.” Deborah Meier’s quote was used to open the December 15, 2016 #G2Great Twitter chat.  This quote speaks to the heart of this chat and places students at the center of the classroom.  When we say “NO” to question interrogation we are able to say “YES” to engaging dialogue so we can keep our students and their learning at the center.  

Whenever I enter a classroom and hear that healthy buzz of a student centered classroom, it gives me a moment to pause and listen closely.  Each time I am amazed at the discussions I listen to, the detailed conversations where students are growing their learning together.  This happened to me just the other day in a second grade classroom.  As the teacher facilitated the student to student discourse through skillful conducting, I watched in awe as I witnessed this maestro. Similar to Rodrigo from  Mozart in the Jungle (an Amazon Prime Original- you must watch!) as he skillfully conducts the New York Symphony Orchestra when you watch as he leads and teaches, he is not playing the music — he is listening to the music.  Of course he plays occasionally during a practice, but it is lean coaching along with very few quick demonstrations and the work or dialogue of the orchestra is done by the musicians.  When the symphony practices he listens, when the symphony performs, he listens.  Individual players or sections receive feedback and at times the entire orchestra will receive feedback.  Always the maestro is listening.  Skillful teachers are maestros and they listen to the discourse and move along as the conversations.  

Drop the Mic

Saying “NO” to question interrogation so we can say “YES” to engaging dialogue was a chat that brought deeper levels of thinking and learning to the conversation.  This of course is the result of the collective learning that happens each week at #G2Great.  Every week I reflect on the power of this PLN and December 15th was no different.  If you want a quick peek into the power of this chat check out this tweet below:  

And this one…

Learning to talk, learning to question and learning to listen are all essential in a classroom that supports engaging dialogue.  This is a practice that takes time to develop as a classroom community.  

Learn to talk

Learning to engage in meaningful dialogue is not developed by questions designed to interrogate.  Learning happens when the learner is “doing” the thing they are learning.  Rodrigo said in episode 3 of the 1st season when he speaks about practice, “I can assure you this (practice) is the only way this music is going to get into our bones.” Students will improve in the depth of their discussions when they effectively practice.  Keith Gavert shared an important point that  students need to have time to think before they turn and talk.  Providing time for in-the-head thinking and rehearsal allows students to practice before they say it to someone else. After individual thinking it is necessary to put our ideas out there to share and then allow them to grow in the company of others.  The insight that students share helps to build on this thinking.  

Learn to Question

Learning to engage in meaningful dialogue requires that students also learn to question.  This is a necessary part of the process of discourse and generating questions facilitates the growth of ideas.  Teachers model effective questions and teach students how to create their own questions to deepen the conversation and level of thinking.  Sharing with students how to generate questions at different levels; literal, inferential and metacognitive can open so many possibilities to create engaging classroom dialogue.  Using tools with students such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Costa’s Levels of Thinking or Questioning can provide students with the language they need to develop and understand different levels of questions.  

Learn to Listen

This comes full circle, just as the maestro and teacher listen to the Symphony Orchestra or the class discussion, we also have to teach students to listen, to listen closely not only to understand but to grow ideas.  The engaging dialogue begs to be listened to, ideas cannot grow alone and without being heard.  Just as Rodrigo from Mozart in the Jungle cues the orchestra to listen to certain sections of the music or orchestra, the teacher cues the class into the dialogue like what to listen for, or who said something in a partnership that needs to be shared with others.  Turn and talk and share are critical elements for teachers to conduct their class discussions.  Students learn to listen closely to become stronger at discourse and to grow deeper ideas through listening, thinking and responding.   


If we listen closely we can be the maestro of our classroom conversations.  Our students talk should be the foundation of classroom learning.  If we are growing ideas together our ideas are better, it is as simple as that!  The next time your class is engaging in meaningful dialogue raise your hands, hold your imaginary baton, close your eyes and listen to cue each section to grow ideas and learn.  Be the maestro.



Saying “NO” to Trivial Stuff So We Can Say “YES” to Rich Substance

by Mary Howardtitle

On December 1, 2016, #G2Great continued our five part series, Saying “No” So We Can Say “Yes” with our sights set squarely on alleviating the trivial stuff that usurps time for the rich substance students deserve. Our willingness to say “no” to the work that doesn’t matter so we can say “yes” to the work that does is the heart and soul of Good to Great Teaching, the book that inspired our #G2Great Twitter chat.

And so in that spirit I look back to reflect on the impact of those two small but professionally monumental words that can have a lasting impact on the quality of our day-to-day practices. This week our amazing #G2Great educators drew a professional line in the sand with enthusiastic collective commitment to pull those words out of their back pockets in just right moments when the choices we make keep children at the center of all we do:

Making a commitment to celebrate time as a limited precious resource

Have you ever really listened intently to the sound of a ticking clock in an empty classroom? Well I have done that every day of my career so as an expert clock listener I can tell you that the sound reverberates loudly across the walls once we acknowledge that time is our most precious commodity. The stark realization that time is a gift that is utterly irreplaceable is a profound thought that should be at the forefront of our every move. Imagine if we were to leave a note in every nook and cranny of our classrooms that said simply, “Each minute is irreplaceable and if you choose to waste even one of them – you owe your students an apology.” (exactly what I wrote to myself). Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance view the wise expenditure of time as a serious responsibility, choosing to focus on what is most likely to have a positive and lingering impact on the lives of students.



Making a commitment to the beliefs and values that are your internal guide

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance are committed to making choices in the name of children, but this process of assuming professional responsibility does not happen by chance. We begin by identifying our deepest innermost beliefs about teaching and learning that will then form the values that guide those choices. Once we embrace our beliefs and values fully, they become part of who we are – ever present and inseparably intertwined with our words and actions. Regardless of the demands that will always vie for our attention, those beliefs and values are infused into every learning experience and somehow enrich even those we may not have chosen for ourselves. Our beliefs and values elevate our work because we know that it is not what we do that matters, but how we do those things in the most effective ways and always grounded in why we are doing them.

Making a commitment to exploratory discoveries leading to new possibilities

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that great teaching is a process of uncertainty that often leads us in directions we could not possibly have imagined before the learning begins. Purpose guides us on a messy pathway to what is possible but it is the step-by-step journey along the way that has the potential to dramatically impact each of us. If we are willing to set the stage for discovery and trust children to lead the way as we wait in the wings to support their efforts – well it is quite something to behold because those are the lessons we will never forget. When we craft the learning opportunities that are designed to instill a sense of wonder, our role changes as children become our teachers. Within that zone of unknown where discovery resides, meaningful, purposeful, authentic learning fills the air with the low hum of joyful learning. And we are forever changed as a result!

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Making a commitment to prioritize our daily professional non-negotiables

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance hold tight to the practices that deserve a place of honor in every school day. While there will always be some things we cannot control, we can control what we choose to honor and refuse to relinquish regardless of competing demands. We do this by putting our non-negotaibles in the daily calendar, carved in professional stone so that nothing can replace them. We make them the center of our day because we know that we must fill each learning day with reading, writing and talking that will actively engage our students in enthusiastic learning. We don’t make excuses and we don’t covet anything that will force us to abandon those non-negotiables. Why? Because we are not willing to give up what we know matters most!

lesley-scheele valinda-kimmel

Making a commitment to respectful dialogue that has the potential to lift us higher

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that in order to have the joyful experiences our students deserve we must be willing to initiate honest and even difficult conversations. We do this because we know that this respectful discourse has tremendous potential to increase the likelihood that every educator in the building will move closer to saying “yes” to the work that matters. Although many of us suggested closing our doors to do this inspired work, our #G2Great dialogue helped us reconsider the impact of opening our doors to become a model for school wide change. If we believe every child deserves the best we have to offer then we must work together to spread this commitment across the building in any and every way that we can so that every child will have the richest opportunities.

kathleen-smith aaron-thiel

Making a commitment to the opportunities today affords to impact tomorrow

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that we must always keep an eye to the future but that today is where we are needed now. We celebrate each moment as we consider how to provide the opportunities that students need at this point and time, yet knowing that our choices will impact children long after the day is done. We work to ensure that we offer the learning experiences our students need at that moment and time but always with our sights on how that may change on a day to day basis. We accomplish this by knowing each child and using that knowledge to create a learning day to meet their immediate needs while building upon those needs as new opportunities arise. We know each new day is another opportunity to provide the interconnected experiences that will have staying power.

amy-brennan gravity-goldberg

Making a commitment to the children who inspire the work that matters

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance make these hard choices because they know their students depend on them to do so. They have an unwavering dedication to each child and this dedication fills them with a resolute desire to make daily professional promises that know no boundaries. They refuse to be tethered to programs or scripts, willing instead to focus on the learning needs of their students as they hold tight to what matters. They do this because they are present in each learning moment and willing to use those moments as an instructional guide. They view children as a lesson plan waiting to be written, shifting their plans based on the child in front of them while always believing that every child can and will be successful.

courtney-kinney stephanie-ranger

This week, we challenged our #G2Great educators to put their commitment to students in writing:

In closing, I want to express gratitude for incredible #G2Great educators who bring their passion for teaching day after day. Our commitment will forever lift us above the multitude of absurd mandates, directives and questionable programs ever-present on the educational horizon.  Never lose faith that “No” is your stepping stone to “yes” and the antidote of roadblocks that cloud our view if we are willing to choose the one little word that will lead us upwards.

We choose children over mandates. We choose children over directives. We choose children over programs. And we do this by saying “no” to the trivial stuff that alleviates precious time so that we can say “yes” to the rich substance that will leave a lasting imprint on the learning lives of children. In an age of uncertainty, we need more than ever to hold tight to the literacy work that matters!

We are grateful for your unwavering commitment to children #G2great friends!




Assessment That Informs

By Amy Brennan


Sitting at the computer, my jaw tightened and my stomach knotted up.  I felt that uncomfortable feeling, the one that comes when I know it is going to get messy.  When I know it would be easier to step back, rather than lean in and embrace the mess or uncertainty that comes with difficult conversations and ultimately leads to a greater reward – deeper understanding.  This was how I felt when we were planning the questions for the November 10, 2016 #G2Great chat.  This chat was part of a series of chats focused on Saying “NO” So We Can Say “YES” and in particular this chat focused on Saying NO to numerical data so we can say YES to Assessment that Informs.   

My apprehension resulted from knowing what people say in response to hearing the word assessment or data.  Over the past several years the word “assessment” has gained a rather negative connotation for a variety of reasons.  Assessment and data have almost become “bad words” in some circles.  The same implication is often associated with the phrase “data-driven instruction.”   Fortunately, as I reflect on our chat, I do not see evidence that “assessment” and “data” are “bad” things or that educators view them in this light.  I see that there is hope in education, as teachers recognize that data and assessment are pieces of our students, pieces that tell the story of the whole child.  As educators we acknowledge this – we need to know where our students are if we want to advance learning.  One step further, our students need to know where they are if they are to advance their own learning.

Watch as the story unfolds…

Brene Brown, known for her Ted Talk and research that led to her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, has been referred to as a researcher storyteller.  I am reminded of words spoken by Brene Brown, “Stories are data with a soul…”  If we flip this idea we can consider that in using assessment we can derive data that builds the stories of our students — our “whole students” not just one data point, but several.  Several data points that tell us the story of our students as learners.  We can look through all types of data and find patterns, patterns which cause us to dig deeper and support our students’ learning.  

Remember everyone has a story…

On my short lunch break one day I was standing in the local Walgreen’s in the check-out line, tapping my foot, checking and rechecking the time on my phone.  “This line is moving sooooo slow,” was the protruding thought in my head.  There was no clear reason for it that I could see except that it appeared to me that it was moving in super slow motion.  This in no way was conducive to a teacher’s already short lunch break.  My agitation grew.  Finally I was next in line and I looked up from checking the time on my phone to catch the end of the conversation the cashier was having with the customer in front of me.  In my hurried mind I wondered why they were talking so much.  Seriously? I needed to get back to school! As I looked up to the cashier’s face her smile caught my attention.  She was an older women, with short, curly, gray hair.  But her smile was captivating.  Her smile was so deep and genuine, and then I glanced to her eyes they seemed to smile too.  My curiosity set in at that moment as I stepped forward and she asked me, “So dear, what is your story?”  I must have looked confused because then she followed up with, “Aw, honey everyone has a story, tell me yours.”  I hold this moment in my mind so often because it reminds me that each and every one of us has a story.  We just need to make the time to listen for it.  Data tells us the story of our students, but only if we make the time to listen to it.  We cannot just glance at numbers alone and make plans for learning.  We need to take the numbers along with all the other research we gain from informal assessments and build the story of our students’ learning.   

Go deeper into the story…

When we read and go deeper into a story we notice patterns, patterns possibly in how characters might react to differents situations or other characters and then we make inferences about that character based on those patterns.  In studying data,we need to dig deeper to make it meaningful.  We need to find the patterns across different data points and gain a clearer understanding of what our students know, how they learn and how we can advance their learning.  We need to look at formal and informal data, quantitative and qualitative data and then talk to our students, watch as they learn and respond to each iteration in learning.  

Make sure students know their own story…

“It’s not about the data – it’s about interpretation.  What’s the story underlying all these data?”  John Hattie in this video talks about making learning visible and understanding the story of all the data.  Hattie’s mantra, “Know Thy Impact” relies on understanding the impact that one’s own teaching has on students’ learning.  If we want to advance learning in our classroom it requires that we know our impact.  This is formative assessment at its best.  Teachers become evaluators of their own teaching and then help students to become their own teachers.  In this way, we need to teach our students how to understand and evaluate their own learning.  We need to help students to know and understand their own story, and to do this they need to look at the data and interpret the data.  Students need to learn, reflect and revise their learning based on their own story.  

Sitting at my computer, I look up at the Supermoon tonight, I feel a sense of clarity in the ideas that earlier left me feeling uncomfortable.  Before my jaw was tightened, now it feels relaxed.  Before my stomach was in a knot, now it is at ease.  I feel hope and clarity because that discomfort has been resolved with understanding and that understanding puts the numbers in perspective.  I know the numbers are part of each student’s story and the story continues to build day by day through formative assessment — data is powerful when you listen to the story.






Saying “NO” to Compliance So We Can Say “YES” to Professional Responsibility

Guest Blogger Kari Yates


Every time I participate in a #G2Great twitter chat, I’m in awe. What is it about this chat that motivates people in every time zone to juggle dinner arrangements, carpools, bedtime stories and dozens of other daily realities to be part of the conversation on Thursday nights?  For me, it’s the fact that the topics are so relevant.  The questions are so thought-provoking.  The perspectives are so diverse. And the dialogue is simultaneously passionate yet respectful . Every time I participate, I grow. This Thursday’s topic, Saying “No” to Compliance So We Can Say “Yes” to Professional Responsibility was no exception.

But let me start with a confession.  When Dr. Mary Howard asked me to write this week’s guest post I was both incredibly honored and a bit reluctant.  Afterall, I’ve spent the last decade working as a principal and district-level administrator which has meant that  I am often the face and voice of external pressure knocking on the classroom door.  I am often the one in the room that teachers look to when they want to know, “What was the district thinking, anyway?” But of course that’s not news to my #G2Great PLN. They know me well enough to know that I toss and turn many nights wondering, “What is the right mix of external pressure and autonomy?”  “How do we get schools and whole systems headed in the right direction without limiting the teacher decision-making that is so vital to thriving classrooms?”

Thursday night’s chat helped refresh and revitalize my thinking about this crucial topic. Using the collective brilliance of Thursday’s #G2Great chat participants, today’s post contains five considerations for helping us cross that bridge between “us” and “them” while staying focused on our one common and constant mandate: Do right by kids!

1. We’re all on the same team.

Although we have diverse roles within the system, we are all here for one purpose. We’re here to serve children. The children are wise and wonderful. When we keep our eyes and our hearts on them, we are more likely to move in the right direction.  The face of a child can become a source of energy and courage when there’s tough work to do or there are tricky decisions to make.

2. Keep working to name the “Why?”

During the chat, Gravity Goldberg reminded us that the best questions are WHY questions. Whether a decision is coming from inside or outside of the classroom, as reflective educators and decision-makers we must keep working to name our “Why?” Whenever a practice comes into question it provides the perfect opportunity to revisit the questions of ‘Why?”  If Simon Sinek had been able to join us on Thursday night, he might have reminded us that great leaders always start with why.

3. Professional decisions are research-informed.

It never feels good to be asked to do things we don’t understand or believe in. But once we understand the “why” we’re  better positioned for critical dialogue about “how” and “what”. As the great Marie Clay reminds us, there are different paths to common outcomes.  These alternate paths, of course, should not  just reflect our personal preferences, or “the way we’ve always done it”. Instead, we must follow the signposts of research, learning theory, and of course the children in front of us.

4. Keep stretching.

If we’re doing our jobs as educators, we’re stretching and growing right alongside our students.  We’re constantly asking ourselves, “How can we make our school even more responsive to the needs of our students?”  And we’re looking for answers through collaborative decision-making, reflective dialogue, and professional learning, not a push for blind cookie-cutter compliance to a program. Programs will never solve our problems. Only better teaching can.

5. Keep the door open.

Yes!  We must learn to ask brave questions when things don’t feel right. We must share our ideas freely. We must stand up for what we believe our students need.  But we must also challenge ourselves to listen wholeheartedly and completely. We must learn to look for common ground and the thread of good that is usually hidden on the other side of the divide.  We must dare to open our doors, rather than close them. Honest, respectful dialogue is our best tool for bridging whatever gap we find ourselves needing to cross.

The journey from compliance to professional responsibility can only happen one brave act of trust, one honest conversation, one research-informed alternative, and one student-centered decision at a time.  And when it comes right down to it, maybe our common mandate and our professional responsibility are one in the same: Do right by kids.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

I’d love to connect and continue the conversation.

Follow me on Twitter @Kari_Yates

Find me on Facebook at Simply Inspired Teaching

Follow my blog where I share ideas, inspiration, and companionship for the journey.

Check out my book, Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom from Heinemann.


Georgia Heard: Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing

by Mary Howard


On October 20, 2016, #G2Great was delighted to welcome guest host Georgia Heard. Georgia is the author of the incredible new book from Heinemann, Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic WritingWithin moments of announcing Georgia would be our guest host, an enthusiastic hum spread across Twitter and grew to a fever pitch throughout the chat.

Every once in a while a book comes along that emanates JOY. “Joy” is custom made for Heart Maps where Georgia takes us on a joyful ‘heart journey’ with student-centered maps in hand to celebrate the inner writer within each child. Page after glorious page is filled with the perfect blend of carefully crafted advice from the heart and illustrated heart maps that bring her sage advice to life. Twenty Heart Map templates in Georgia’s book have already captivated writers by giving their ideas a ‘heart home.’

During the chat, Georgia posed two questions that should give us all pause for thought.  These questions should also remind us why we need Heart Maps in schools everywhere:



Georgia’s questions reflect the spirit of Heart Maps as a flexible process designed to awaken writers’ hearts from the inside out. And so in celebration of our joyful journey with Georgia as our #G2Great guide, I reflect back on our chat through her eyes with six HEART SIGNPOSTS – from her heart to ours!


Writing from the Heart begins with MODELS

Heart Maps allow us to set the stage for student writing as we show children how to unleash their hopes, dreams and wishes from heart to paper. With an array of Heart Maps at our fingertips, we encourage them to use the one that makes most sense as we offer a powerful reflection tool they can use again and again.


Writing from the Heart is fueled by PASSION

Heart Maps celebrate the amazing stories children brings to the learning table. We honor our writers by helping them breathe new life into those stories using words and images lovingly placed on a Heart map of their choice. Passion helps them rediscover stories and relive them on the wings of writing.


Writing from the Heart extends an INVITATION

Heart maps invite children to capture whatever story they want to tell with room to envision what is possible. We do this by creating a visible forum to record thinking, unfettered by mechanics that thwart their efforts so thinking will become a springboard along a wonderful new path to writing.


Writing from the Heart inspires CURIOSITY

Heart Maps allow children to linger a bit longer in their own thinking and use this as a scaffold to writing. We are inspired by our curiosity about student ideas waiting to be awakened which in turn inspires theirs. It is this shared sense of curiosity that leads us on an exciting combined expedition.


Writing from the Heart celebrates EXPLORATION

Heart Maps give students time to explore matters of the heart, joyfully sifting through the ‘experiences that beg to be written’. We believe deeply that life experiences lead to profound writing if we are willing to take the time to let those life experiences blossom into view in personally relevant and meaningful ways.


Writing from the Heart beckons COLLABORATION

Heart Maps give children a visible tool they can hold in their hands. This concrete reference can then be shared with others as they work together to explore the words and images on their hearts collectively. Collaborative dialogue is a powerful way to transform ideas from heart map to heart writing.


Georgia’s words remind us that we must make time for what matters – and writing from the heart matters deeply. Since we started with Georgia’s question, let’s end with a question and a hope that sums up her message…


We respond to Georgia’s question by creating an atmosphere where kids will “ache with caring” and use Heart Maps to inspire children everywhere. We are so grateful for Georgia’s gift of a “metaphoric heart map as a means to discover stories” and we accept her challenge to awaken writers “most secret, true selves” while in the process awakening our most secret, true personal and professional hearts!


Georgia’s hope is answered as teachers across the world use Heart Maps to give writers a home for their thoughts and dreams as we release the writer that has always resided inside. May Georgia’s images in Heart Maps and #G2Great examples below inspire you as you continue your own joyful heart journey in the company of children.

In Heart Maps Georgia writes, “My hope is that as you explore heart mapping with your writers, you will fall in love with the stories and poems, truths and courage that will unfold–both theirs and your own” (p. 131).

And so we will Georgia. And so we will!


Bathe your heart in these wonderful images of Heart Maps Georgia posted during our #G2Great chat

Use these links below to get to know Georgia


Heart Maps Facebook Page


Amy Ludwig Vanderwater Heart Maps Post

Heart Maps Book

Two Writing Teachers Heart Maps Review

More books by Georgia Heard

Heinemann Post on #G2Great Chat

Turning Our Schools Around: Moving from Basals to Books

by Amy Brennan


On October 13, 2016 #G2Great welcomed guest Dr. Michael Grimaldi to inspire our conversation around making a critical shift in literacy in our schools.  We were inspired to have this principal join us as we watched him lead his school in the process of moving from basals to books.  Turning a school around is no easy task.  Moving a school from basals to books requires vision, passion, and support for teachers.


When you have a clear vision and can articulate it to others – they want to follow.  When you can explain the why behind your vision others will want to follow.  Articulating the vision of providing our students with authentic literature and real world reading experiences is the beginning of the change process.  Careful and intentional starts like beginning with read-aloud and building classroom libraries allows time to build the energy and opportunity for all stakeholders to watch the excitement of reading begin to build throughout a school.  As teachers, administrators, parents and students begin to see and feel this energy the mental image for the vision begins to formulate in their thinking, creating a shared vision for what could be.

Dr. Michael Grimaldi led his school in creating not only energy and excitement around the vision, but putting the vision into action.   

When you read the tweets below it is clear that Michael has a vision and has shared that vision with all stakeholders in his school.  



People follow you and your vision when they see and believe in your passion.  Once that vision is shared, the energy that is generated by the passion is contagious.  The best part of that is watching kids get excited and passionate about literacy.  Dr. Grimaldi’s energy is evidence of his passion.  He organized efforts with Book Fairies to donate books to his school.  He brought together teachers, staff developers and volunteers for books and pizza, where many hands sharing the vision organized books to be circulated into classroom libraries and directly into students’ hands for reading.  

Those who connect with him on Twitter, Voxer or in-person are sure to see evidence of that passion he has for leading school wide reform that will ensure that all students have access to high quality books and literacy experiences.  



With change and growth comes an uncomfortable feeling that signals that we are on the edge of something great. Unfortunately, that uncomfortable feeling, which can be coupled with a multitude of other demands, can leave educators feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.  Without support this can spread like virus throughout a school system. Visionary leaders with passion know that when educators reach that uncomfortable place they need support more than ever because they recognize that just beyond that uncomfortable stretch is growth.  To sustain this over the long term (because change takes time of course) the support needs to be ongoing.  Setting up collaborative structures where teachers can share in the thinking and learning while they support each other and receive positive support from administrators is critical if change is to begin and take hold.

Teacher resiliency is an important attribute that visionary leaders nurture.  Developing resiliency is critical to surviving and thriving as educators.  Leaders who recognize this and foster this in their educators build healthy learning organizations that continually learn and grow.  Resiliency allows teachers to build capacity over time.  In making the shift from basals to books teachers are building capacity throughout the shift.  Teachers are thinking, growing and learning and this directly correlates to shifts in our students thinking, growing and learning.  When we as educators learn, our students learn.

Leaders like Dr. Michael Grimaldi understand the importance of supporting teachers in way that are resourceful.  Encouraging teachers to share with each other and be resourceful while making space for these practices within the school is an important piece for leaders to plan for.  Being resourceful requires thinking and creativity, skills that we support in the learning process.  Being resourceful requires problem-solving skills, something that was named as a top 21st-century skill for our students.  Receiving resources does not translate into an increase in student learning, however being resourceful can.  Educators who are resourceful model the skills of problem-solving through their actions, these are valuable to students as they prepare for college and careers.  



Sharing your vision and building this into a shared vision is best developed through sharing your passions as you articulate your vision while supporting teachers in the process of change.  Any schoolwide efforts for change and improvement require leadership that has all three ideas that Dr. Michael Grimaldi shares with educators vision, passion, and support.  Join #G2Great and Dr. Michael Grimaldi as we act as “trailblazers” modeling our VISON and PASSION while we SUPPORT fellow educators in building resiliency that will STRETCH and GROW and we build better schools?  

Getting to Know Dr. Michael Grimaldi



Implementing Reading Workshop: Get more books:

Reading Workshop Here We Come

Writing Workshop – A New Approach

Interactive Read Aloud grade 4

Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom

by Amy Brennan


On September 15, 2016 #G2Great welcomed Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris as guest hosts to celebrate their book, Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom. In their book, Kristin and Katie bring their readers on a journey to explore technology as a creative tool for the classroom.  

Throughout the chat I found myself reflecting on my own journey as I have learned about and explored different technologies.  That journey at times was uncomfortable, that uncomfortable feeling that we learn to embrace when we accept the perspective of a learner.  That feeling that has the power to make someone run for the hills or charge the mountain.  As a learner, I might want to run for the hills at times, but because of my curiosity, my choice and my commitment to learning, I choose instead to charge the mountain.  Of course, it helps that I have my #G2Great tribe on that mountain reaching out their hands to me as I begin the upward climb.  It helps all of us on our journey to know that we have Kristin and Katie to walk alongside us and to help us empower our students by maximizing the effective use of technology.

Embrace the journey, even when it is challenging

Technology brings this uncomfortable feeling simply because as it improves, technology is in a perpetual state of changing, and change is really about learning and growing. Take a moment to read the tweets below and be inspired by Kristin and Katie and their passion for the journey.  Bring along your curiosity and wonder and you will begin to envision the possibilities on this amazing learning journey.



Technology should elevate thinking and learning

Instructional choices around incorporating technology must be grounded in meaningful work and providing authentic opportunities for students to learn, create and share.  In this sense, the context and purpose of our technology choices requires thoughtful consideration and must be grounded in ways that will elevate thinking.  Technology or the latest, hottest new app cannot be used just for the sake of using it.  We have to remember to be thoughtful and intentional in our instructional decision making around technology implementation.  Asking questions such as “Is this meaningful?”  “What is the purpose of using this technology?”  “Will using this technology elevate students’ thinking and learning?”  Once we feel confident in these answers we can consider student choice.  Integrating technology adds a layer of responsibility on us to facilitate students making choices around the effective use of technology.  Kristin reminds us that even in the digital age we have to keep Allington’s research around choice, volume and response close by in our instructional planning and decision making.






Technology should amplify student voice

The final tweet from Kristin really exemplifies why all educators should read Kristin and Katie’s book, Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom.  Kristin closed the chat with this tweet, “At the end of the day, tech is about AMPLIFYing students’ stories. When we know a child’s story we can teach them appropriately.” The possibilities are endless when we incorporate technology into the learning environment.  So much is possible when we know our students and where they are in their learning as well as in their lives.  When we allow students to show us what they know, and listen to their stories we are in a better position to engage and motivate students to learn, create and share.  

Whether you are just beginning your journey or you are still on your journey in learning and using technology in your school, I encourage you to join me and charge the mountain and join us on the #G2Great mountaintop. As you look up to the top of the mountain you’ll see hands there to support you to the top of the mountain with Kristen and Katie’s book there to guide our continuing journey. We are grateful to Kristin and Katie for deepening our thinking and empowering us on the journey as we empower students and improve thinking and learning.



If you would like to learn more about Katie and Kristin’s work follow them on Twitter and check out the links below.    

Learn more about Kristin and Katie’s work here:

Kristin Twitter @KristinZiemke  • Katie Twitter @KatieMuhtaris

Link to Amplify

Link to Comprehension and Technology

Kristin’s website:

Amplify Teaching website

Multitouch Books Digital Discourse in Mathematics: Strategies for the Young Learner

Courses: Amplify! Digital Pedagogy for Today & Tomorrow

Literacy in Action: Create to Learn

Inquiry in Action: Africa!

Idea to power up creative practices across grades: free iTunes U course: Create to Learn: Literacy in Action

Kristin’s free iTunes U course Inquiry in Action: Africa! New ideas to bring to WONDER your curriculum.

Kristin’s post on reading digitally for Larry Ferlazo and EdWeek


Dr. Tony Sinanis Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential

by Amy Brennan

Tony Intro

On August 18, 2016 #G2Great welcomed Dr. Tony Sinanis to guest host Part 3 of a 5 Part Series: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential.  Through our leadership series we are exploring the impact of administrators as lead learners.  This blog post was inspired by Tony’s leadership and provides a place for thoughts, reflection and learning.


In the midst of  preparations for the upcoming school year and the beginning of my second year as an administrator I took a moment this morning to sit back, breathe in and remind myself of my “One Little Word” for 2016…grateful.  I am grateful for those before me, who I can look to for inspiration, guidance and hope.  Dr. Tony Sinanis is a leader who inspires through his passion for learning and his passion for doing what is best for kids.  His guidance comes through in so many ways; his one to one conversations, his presentations, his blog and his books.  Dr. Tony Sinanis shows us that there is still hope in education. This hope fills me and lifts my perspective and I remain grateful for the leadership that Tony demonstrates.   I knew that I needed to write these words, and today once again Dr. Tony Sinanis has spread his positive leadership in a way to empower others to be leaders.  Check out his first tweet below to see the energy he brings!

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Connect, Inspire and Support

As I look back and reflect on Tony’s message three things come to my mind CONNECT, INSPIRE and SUPPORT


Connections are essential to the human spirit.  We desire connections and we thrive with connections because relationships are essential.  Through Tony’s leadership he shares the importance of relationships.  Tony values and nourishes relationships because he understands how these shape culture.  As a connected educator Tony values the role of social media and utilizes social media to share the story of his community.  Social media is a tool to extend and build more connections beyond the walls of your own classroom, school or district.  Face to face conversations are even more important to building relationships than ever before.  Connecting with all stakeholders and investing in relationships is the first step to building a positive school culture.

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Tony Quote Hacking leadership


We become inspired when we see someone who cares so deeply and has authentic, strong beliefs that cause us to take action or create something.  Being transparent in our beliefs, goals, as well as our own learning can inspire others.  Keeping kids at the center of their own learning, rather than “teaching” opens doors to inspire everyone in a community to take on the life of a learner.  Living as a learner inspires others and when kids are in the center how can you not be inspired?   Tony inspires educators, parents and students each and every day through his leadership.  

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Providing guidance and support are critically important when facilitating  any kind of learning.  Adults and kids need to feel safe and supported in order to take the necessary risks in order to learn. Empowering others to take risks as we learn and  lead strengthens the overall learning organization in ways that benefit students.  This creates ownership, and when we own our learning that is when we grow.  Tony shares with us the idea of supporting voice and choice for learners.

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Through his enthusiasm you can feel the energy and passion that Dr. Tony Sinanis has for students, parents and teachers.  His commitment to learning is demonstrated as he shows us what it means to truly be a lead learner.  I have been fortunate to connect with Tony on Twitter  and meet him and listen to him share his passion at Long Island Connected Educators, I have read his blog and books.  Tony’s generosity in sharing his passion and ideas is inspirational.  I return to my “One Little Word” for 2016 and I remain grateful that through our leadership series we are exploring the impact of administrators, like Tony who are lead learners leaders who show us the direction and invite us to learn and lead.  It is through this that I find inspiration, guidance and hope.  


Seth Berg: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential

by Mary Howard


On 8/4/16, #G2Great embarked on a new journey with a five-part leadership series. Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential is a virtual “celebration of administrators who model by their actions what is possible when we create a shared role of lead learner.

And celebrate possible we did when Seth Berg, principal of Meadow Brook Elementary in Rochester Hills, MI, launched us on a joyful exploration. I met Seth early in my entry into Twitter when I happened on his remarkable blog and I’ve been professionally smitten ever since. Seth lives and breathes the harmonious merger of administration and instruction in the name of children and his first tweet was a testament to his commitment for this shared role:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.08.58 PMSo as we begin our series, I’d like to reflect on Seth’s inspirational tweets that highlight our Seven BIG IDEAS. Notice that these ideas are not viewed in isolation but through a lens of deep beliefs interwoven into a beautiful patchwork of change:



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It doesn’t take long after entering a school building to get a strong sense that a schoolwide culture has been thoughtfully nurtured within a collective spirit of commitment. Seth emphasizes that our core values, those things we hold dear supported by research, are at the center of this culture. Yes these are challenging times, but if we adhere to the tenets of what matters most in our schools and as we work toward a culture based on a common ground of excellence, that culture is palpable the moment you enter the front door. It is evident that these schools view time as a precious commodity as demonstrated by each minute spent in the most valuable and purposeful ways as positive energy literally emanates from every intentional choice in the service of learning.



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This schoolwide culture where core values are celebrated is rises from respectful relationships that nurture positive interactions. These relationships do not happen by chance or because teachers are expected to become compliant disseminators of top down mandates. Rather, it is an outcome of shared leaderships where each voice is viewed as key decision-maker within a positive environment where educators work together to bring a common vision for what that school can be to life. When this happens, the celebration of possible is always in view as shared ownership reflects collective input. Mutual respect then leads to even more productive efforts as this thoughtfully intentional work has a direct impact on students.



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It is not unusual to see a negative trickle down effect in districts where leadership is seen through a lens of iron fisted directives. This same trickle down effect, however, becomes a positive force when shared leadership flows from a district to building level so administrators are empowered to do this work with support from all sides. Seth’s message of collaboration from a broader culture of leadership can have a significant impact on the collective energy across an entire district. The freedom that comes with this trust affords principals opportunities to promote and support change that is responsive to the unique needs of their individual buildings as schools set their sights on this staff, these students and this community. In other words, the leadership-instruction merger is not a recipe that is merely doled out to schools within the district to dutifully implement, but a collective willingness to address the most pressing needs of the individual school at that moment in time.



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As an educator, I can’t think of anything I would want more than to be in an environment where everyone is present, visible, connected, engaged and above all enthusiastic. When we acknowledge that we are all working toward a common goal focused squarely on meeting the needs of students, great things can happen. Those critical qualities Seth referred to then become the fuel that has the potential to drive all we do. In order to merge leadership and instruction, we must be on the same page, coordinating our efforts through collaboration and an unwavering collective commitment to elevate the craft of teaching so that we can enrich the learning lives of the students we are fortunate to have in our care. Schools that place a high value on being present, visible, connected, engaged and enthusiastic view students as the impetus for every decision on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.



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Schools do not exist on a lonely island in the middle of nowhere. Rather, they exist within a larger community of support where we can maximize our potential within and beyond the four walls of our buildings. This two-way perspective will require us to be cognizant of the needs of our community and willing to initiate invitations to celebrate side by side with us in any way we can. We do this through events at a building level or through social media as we share our efforts with others. When we are proud of what is happening in our schools we want to open our doors to enthusiastically share our successes. If we find that we are unwilling to share our efforts and open our doors, then we may need to take a long hard look at what we are doing and make the changes that will alter our perception of our school and reawaken pride in all that we do because we know our choices matter.



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Those of us who are committed to professional learning respect both our personal and professional efforts as a never-ending process. Our lead learner administrators work to promote a mindset of professional curiosity that enables every member of the staff to reflect on and respond to personal and schoolwide queries about the learning process so that we can meet the learning needs of every child we are blessed to have in front of us. This curiosity inspires us to embrace discovery as we seek to understand this wonderful work we do so that we can do it in the most effective ways. Seth’s reminder to tap everyone and celebrate both the individual and collective progress we make along the way is essential for promoting a growth mindset designed to benefit teachers and in turn the recipients of our every effort – kids.



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Seth’s final message brought us full circle back to celebrating possible. His commitment to his school is so inspiring but it is his obvious belief in his own role as learner that left a lingering impact in my head and heart days after our chat. That sense of joy was then multiplied by a second tweet that elevated my appreciation for Seth as lead learner even more.

Seth Berg

Seth’s belief in the immense beauty of learning together and embracing these moments is what long-term impact is all about. To illustrate the message that left me smiling for days after our #G2Great chat, Seth shared a blog post that reflected his ponderings when his eyes happened on a weed that had gone unnoticed on his lawn:

“Beauty does seem to be in the eye of the beholder, and I believe that beauty does exist everywhere and in everything. So, it’s up to the beholder to live in such a way that beauty becomes apparent to others. What happens when educators lead in ways that expose beauty to those they serve?   What happens when educators lead in ways that encourage students to appreciate the unique and amazing beauty within themselves?  Take one more moment, look again, behold this weed, this nuisance, this lawn pest.

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So as I look back on our celebration of possible through Seth’s eyes I am once again drawn to his eloquent words that move me to close with a question: When we know that schools like Meadow Brook Elementary with lead learners like Seth exist, why isn’t every school and every administrator celebrating the possible our teachers and students deserve? It occurs to me that anything less cheats teachers and children of the best we have to offer. Our students are an intricate thread that ties each of us together in a glorious joyful merger, and this powerful union of administration and instruction can take schools to new heights.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We obviously know better because we have have seen possible at work in schools like Meadow Brook. Shouldn’t possible then be a professional and personal imperative for schools everywhere? It certainly seems like a question worth asking…

I, along with my #G2Great co-moderators Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan, am so grateful to see a glimpse of lead learning in action at Meadow Brook Elementary. Thank you, Seth, for launching an inspiring journey celebrating possible through your eyes!

Please join #G2Great on 8/11/16 with guest host Matt Renwick, principal of Mineral Point Elementary in Mineral Point, WI.






Next Step Forward in Guided Reading

By Amy Brennan


On July 28, 2016, #G2Great welcomed Jan Richardson as a guest host to chat about her book, Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.  This book brings Jan’s latest thinking to teachers and helps them to identify and target instruction that supports each and every reader.  Jan’s framework, Assess-Decide-Guide gives teachers a roadmap to work with students from PreA to Fluent readers.  In reflecting on the chat there are 4 ideas about guided reading that are worth lingering with for a bit.

Guiding Readers Forward to Independence

Independence is the ultimate goal of guided reading, this is where students can practice alongside their peers while the teacher leans back and observes.  The teacher can lean in only if needed and provide just enough coaching to prompt students to do the thinking work, access their reading toolbox and navigate the text using strategies they have learned.

Guiding Readers Forward Through Assessment

Jan’s framework begins with Assessment.  Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  As we sit beside the learners in guided reading we are watching and listening to understand the strategies that students are using. The assessment is what makes our teaching in a balanced literacy framework intentional.  Planning with intention allows us to be very clear in our teaching goals or objectives.  Jan’s message is supported by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie in their book Visible Learning for Literacy.  The following quote from the book really validates the relationship and importance of assessment informing instruction. “Literacy learning can be enhanced when teachers communicate specific, relevant, and appropriate expectations for students.”  In order to identify learning intentions or objectives we need to know exactly what our students are doing as learners. Teachers can only communicate these expectations when they have used assessment to inform their instructional planning.

Guiding Readers Forward by Opening Space for Thinking Time

During guided reading we are often tempted to lean in too much by talking too much or jumping in too quickly.  The term wait time has traditionally been passed around in conversation especially with administrators and usually in a pre or post observation conference.  Leaving enough wait time for students to process is a crucial part of the learning process.  All learners need time to think.  The connotation of the word wait makes it feel like even longer when we are allowing time for a student to think.  Reframing wait time to thinking time opens up space for students to read, think and take action whether that action is employing a reading strategy or responding to a question or comment from the teacher or a peer or even generating their own questions.  During guided reading we need to remember to keep the focus student centered. We need to allow sufficient thinking time so that students have the space to think and then access strategies from their reading toolbox.  

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Guiding Readers Forward by Advancing our own Professional Growth

Professional growth and learning is critical to improving student achievement.  According to John Hattie’s (2012) research, professional development itself has a large enough effect size to ensure that students will gain a full year’s growth in a year of school.  This is evidence enough to validate educators investing in their own professional growth.  Additionally some other influences include providing formative evaluation, teacher clarity, feedback, self-reported grades, metacognitive strategies, teaching strategies, student-centered teaching, peer tutoring, and quality of teaching.  There are about 60 more influences that are cited by John Hattie as having an effect size great enough to ensure a full year growth.  With this evidence available and knowing how much students’ learning is within a teacher’s control, it is essential that we engage in opportunities for our own professional growth.  Jan and Cindy offered some great suggestions for professional growth in planning and implementing guided reading.  Here are some ideas that may help to expand your professional growth.  

  • Create opportunities to read Jan’s new book and share with others.  Join a professional book club that extends this quick chat to talk deeper about Jan’s book.   
  • Start a Voxer book club where teachers can read and reflect where everyone will grow ideas about guided reading.  
  • Establishing a professional learning network to enhance your professional growth.  
  • In a digital or face to face connection, remember to be open to feedback from colleagues as well as students.  There is much we can learn about our practices from others who watch or more importantly from the learner.  
  • Work with a coach or a colleague this can provide you with an opportunity to videotape your teaching and reflect on the experience together.  

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At #G2Great we are grateful that Jan joined us to share her new book, Next Step Forward in Guided Reading and to share her insight into guided reading.  She also provided some examples of resources that are included in her book such as stage-specific lesson plan templates.  Take a look below to see some of the resources Jan has created for her latest book on Guided Reading.  Lesson plan templates for different levels in guided reading

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More resources Prompts Guided Reading Flip Chart

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