Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wonder Woman and What it Means for Educators

Today, as our time at the Central Texas Writing Project drew to a close, we chose to go see Wonder Woman in San Marcos. I'm typically not a super-hero-movie kind of girl, but this group of teacher-writers has come to mean so much to me this summer, that I jumped at the opportunity to extend our time together.

Please keep in mind- I know ZERO about Wonder Woman. I think she was in comic books, I know I used to have Wonder Woman Underoos as a small child because I can remember the gold cardboard tiara and arm cuffs. I believe she fits in with a larger picture of super heroes because there was a preview of the Justice League before the movie started and I think she was in it. I don't really know, and it's frankly not relevant to my reflections, but I wanted to make it crystal clear that I am not an authority on Wonder Woman. I looked on Wikipedia for some background on her and my eyes glazed over by paragraph two of 1, 465, 373. It's fine.  Image credit
I kept wishing I could get out my phone and take notes about ideas and quotes that were special to me during the movie. The Writing Project and #BookSnaps have me in such a journaling, annotating mindset that I feel sure I will have to see this movie 100 more times before I feel satisfied that I have expressed all the connections that are in my mind. So, what exactly, does Wonder Woman mean for educators?

1. Wonder Woman had a rag-tag team that had her back. 
Diana and Steve assembled a crew that had unique qualities and varied skill-sets. Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief had special reasons that Steve asked them to join their crusade. This is how the best teachers operate. They find a tribe. They find other educators who will support, challenge, build-up, and do life together. The most effective teachers do not feel like they are in competition with their colleagues, but view these most important people as a community of learners. They joke with each other at lunch, they hold each other's babies, and they talk about standards, students, and finding a better way. They know they can count on each other, just as Wonder Woman knew that her supporters were there for her.
2. Wonder Woman had a small arsenal of highly-effective tools.
She did not need one thousand different weapons; she needed a few that she knew how to use well. She wielded a sword, a shield, powerful bracelets, a tiara, and that interesting light up rope thing. She used them flexibly, confidently brandishing the tool she needed when she knew it would be the most effective. Teachers are bombarded with tools, books, strategies, and images of darling classrooms with near-perfect lighting and precious decorations. It can feel dangerous to walk through the fire, shrapnel, and noise of best practice, innovative ideas, and do not get me started on Pinterest. The most effective teachers do not try to do it all. They may try out the latest thing, but if it does not fit their need and their kids, they will go back to what does. They will brandish what kids need when they need it, and move skillfully back and forth between innovation, reality, and common sense.

3. Wonder Woman saw people.
She saw the people she loved and she saw strangers. She saw babies and children and poor villagers and wounded war veterans. She gave her attention to the people who could help her and the people who could not. She was a voice for the voiceless, a power for the powerless. She felt deeply, was not afraid of her emotions, and channeled brief feelings of fear and uncertainty into a fire that fueled her fight. Instead of needing a hero like Bonnie Tyler, she became the hero, bringing hope and peace to a fallen world. One of my favorite scenes is when she eats ice cream for the first time. Steve is trying to hurry her up, and she looks at the vendor closely and says, "It's wonderful. You should be very proud." The most effective teachers see people. They see students and colleagues and parents and children in the world. They see the power in the role they have chosen. They can turn feelings of sadness and worry into a fire that fuels the work they do with children and young adults. They listen to the WHY that is behind the words, behind the behavior, behind the silence. They notice if a kid is not himself, if a parent needs an explanation, or if a colleague needs a friend.
As an Instructional Coach, my lens of education has broadened a bit. My mind was exactly where it needed to be when I was in the classroom, but coaching brings a new job description, a new focus, and a new clientele. My job as a classroom teacher was to be focused on my students, but my job as a coach requires me to focus on they can focus on students. My ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes, whether those are academic, relational, emotional, or physical.

Wonder Woman has challenged me: I have assembled an eclectic group of educators who are cheering me on. If I need help, I can ask my people: those I know in person and those I know online. I have some highly effective tools that enhance the work I do each day. I write to reflect, I talk to understand, and I utilize technology to enhance and proclaim the messages I want to put out in the world. I try to see people. I see children in the building where I work, I see my family letting me be who I am, I see teachers working themselves to exhaustion to find better ways to reach children.

Steve tells Wonder Woman, 

'My father told me once, he said, "If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something". And I already tried nothing.'

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


This summer, I am working with the Central Texas Writing Project, a program at Texas State University that is focused on the premise that teachers are better teachers of writing when they are writers themselves.

We focus on strategies and reflection, on pedagogy and educational theory. We work with teachers to strengthen their craft by connecting them with research, writing, and a network of other teacher writers. We work with teachers that are working desperately to reconcile what they know is true about children with what is true about teaching public school. How writing with passion can coexist with writing to a prompt. How informed writing for authentic audiences can accompany writing for a state accountability system.

Something I find over and over as I work with teachers is the unspoken, ever-present idea of FEAR. The fear of not doing enough for our students. The fear of doing so much for our students that we neglect our own families. The fear that high-stakes testing beats the joy out of school, for us and for the students we love. We fear litigation and not being able to provide for our families. We fear what happens to our students when they are not in our care. We fear what might happen to our jobs if we speak up for our kids, for our profession, for each other. We are scared. 

Well said, Lee S. Shulman. Teaching is so technical that it is way more than a profession. It is as much art as it is dance as it is theory and surely adding countless young humans (and their parents) into that equation is terrifying. But, dear friends, identifying the fear is not enough. We are frightened, but as every brilliant teacher knows, it is not enough to sit paralyzed by that monster under the bed. We have to be BRAVE.

B: Be informed. Brave teachers are learners. They know what the issues are, and they know where to find answers. They have studies and articles and professors and other teachers to pull from, count on, and lean-in to. This community is in person and online, it is found in PLNs and podcasts, in classrooms and Voxer groups. This community gives teachers a collective voice to call upon when they need back-up from an educational posse of committed professionals who all want what is best for kids.

R: Reflect: Brave teachers are highly reflective. They are constantly asking themselves what could be improved. They are quick to identify when something does not work and they are committed to finding a better way. They know when a lesson goes haywire. They do not continually search out people to blame: kids, parents, administrators, a flawed system, but instead think about causes and practical solutions. Brave teachers open themselves up for reflection by talking to others: colleagues, coaches, and administrators. They are humbled by the enormity of their power as a teacher, and are continually looking for ways to empower others.

A: Accept reality: Brave teachers understand that there are certain things that cannot be changed. Initiatives, mandates, state curriculum guidelines, your class list- lots of things are just reality and time is wasted when we fret over them. Jim Knight, a research associate in the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and director of the Kansas Coaching Project, talks about the, "current classroom reality." When teachers are open and honest about what the realities are, they are better equipped to take targeted action towards strengthening instructional practices and ultimately, improving learning environments for our students.

V: Voraciously read: Brave teachers are readers. They read blog posts, journals, and Twitter feeds. They read e-mails from parents, administrators, and colleagues. They read children's books and YA books and Bluebonnet books and graphic novels to share with reluctant readers. They continually sift through a never-ending feed of words and phrases and information and research and opinions and must be cognizant of what is worth paying attention to, and what needs to be dismissed. Education is a rollercoaster of a profession, with jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords that are gone as quickly as a teacher's lunch break. Brave teachers consider this reading work necessary to their effectiveness as educators, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of the job!

E: Engage: Brave teachers are engaged. They engage with their students, their colleagues, and the families they affect. They are engaged in the process of teaching and learning. They are engaged in local policy, in weekend soccer games, and in the communities where they teach. They do not get to disengage at the grocery store on the weekend. They do not get to disengage when they do not feel well. They engage in relationships and hard work, in problem solving and celebrations. They stay engaged because they love what they do.

I'm so humbled to work alongside such brave teachers each day. Teachers who believe Haim Ginott's quote and live out the implications of such beautiful and powerful words:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” 

Be brave, teacher friends. We are all standing behind you.

Brave teacher books...


Friday, June 9, 2017

Fusion Take-Aways

The Hays CISD Fusion conference is always a highlight of my summer. Educators across the district gather to explore technology integration and how we can better meet the needs of the 21st century students we serve. George Couros delivered a keynote that inspired educators to innovate, celebrate, and participate in learning with their students.
Photo credit: Ashley Flores

Below are my top take-aways from Fusion 2017:
BookSnaps: Power of Sharing

Tara Martin has created a powerful, relevant way to get kiddos posting their thoughts about reading. I presented on this technique, and likened it to the sticky note teaching I first implemented after reading Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.
Reflective readers are highly metacognitive while reading: questioning, connecting, and talking back to the text. #BookSnaps takes this work and provides a digital way to not only reflect on reading, but to share those reflections with a global audience. Read more about #BookSnaps here.

Twitter: Power of a Hashtag
  I have been on Twitter professionally for about three years, and I am excited that more educators in my district are jumping on board!

Image Credit: Sylvia Duckworth

I recently got to present at Tobias Elementary and talk to their teachers about the power of developing a PLN and how to celebrate their school and their students by using Twitter. These teachers have blown up the internet with their positive celebrations! They were out in full force at Fusion and it was great to see!
Image credit: Jim Cullen
Growth Mindset: Power of Resiliency
About a year ago, I read an article by Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that brought to light an issue with the current Growth Mindset movement. She feared that people had misinterpreted the meaning of her research and that we are all running around celebrating failure! George Couros, who keynoted the Fusion event, added weight with the idea that it's not failure we should celebrate, but resiliency after the failed attempt.

Image Credit: Sylvia Duckworth

Laughter: Power of Humor
What is it about laughter? Maybe it's because education is the most fantastically ridiculous arena of hope, learning, growth, and failure and if you don't laugh about it, you may cry. The power of the keynote was that George Couros shared sentiments and challenges that were infused with humor and humanity. Stories of education gone wrong were juxtaposed with hopeful anecdotes of students, parents, and educators that got it right. One of my favorite things he said was, "Teachers don't wake up, go to work and think...I really hope I suck today." It is our job as educators to consistently reflect, constantly learn, and consciously try every single day to innovate for our students and build relationships that will empower life-long learning. I'll leave you with one of my favorite videos of a kiddo that demonstrates the highlights of my Fusion experience: He tries, he's resilient, he celebrates, he laughs, and he connects with a broad audience.

Until next year, Fusion!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Joy Write

Lucky me! I am back working at the Central Texas Writing Project. CTWP is a month-long institute that is dedicated to developing Teacher Consultants through research, writing, and demonstrations. Each summer, teachers from central Texas gather at Texas State University to learn from each other and develop a confidence for teaching writing that can only come from writing themselves.

Each participant gets to choose a book that will help him/her on the path to developing a demonstration. I had the opportunity to share about the book Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has lost that lovin' feeling about teaching writing.
As I read through this book, I was immediately drawn to the motivation aspect of its message. This is not a book about programs, curriculum, or standards, although those certainly can help us reach goals for our students. The premise of this book is to help students and teachers understand the joy that can be found in writing and the idea of play that surrounds the writing process. 

What can we do as educators to ensure our kids discover the joy in writing? How can we capitalize on the enthusiasm and tools of our students to increase motivation, engagement, and creation? How might we infuse our writing instruction with wonder, quirkiness, and passion?

Please read this book, and share success stories below!

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Day in the Life of the Writing Project...

It's almost time for the Central Texas Writing Project! Last weekend, a group of teachers, professors, and authors gathered at Texas State University for our first pre-institute meeting. We gathered to share food, make introductions, and learn a bit about how the Writing Project works.
                                                "my mom holds her accent like a shotgun, 
                                                 with two good hands. 
                                                 her tongue, all brass knuckle 
                                                 slipping in between her lips
                                                 her hips, all laughter and wind clap."

The day began with a poem by Denice Frohman. Her poem, "Accents," set the stage for our journal writing time. After we had several minutes to write, we opened up the floor and got to hear from several brave teachers. Participants used Denice's poem as a springboard that turned into stories about their mothers, words they remember from childhood, stories of pain and strength, and the love of a family. Author's chair is one of the most special parts of any writer's workshop, and especially of the Writing Project.

Next, I got the opportunity to model a demonstration based on the book A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen. I've blogged previously about this gem of a book. We focused on kindergarten writing goals, invented spelling, and how important student ownership is in the writing process. The teachers put themselves in the place of 5 & 6 year old writers and practiced writing from a student point of view.

During lunchtime, the teachers met with their coaches to work on preparing the demonstration lessons that will be presented during the Writing Project. This time allows the future teacher consultants to match their classroom practice with behavior and education theory. They get an alternative viewpoint, a new mentor, and the encouragement of someone who has been through the Writing Project experience before.

We ended the day much the way it began. We watched a brief video on the What's Your Sentence project by Dan Pink.
After the video, we all reflected on the day, the video, and wrote our sentence. We shared our sentences around a circle, with bold statements about the teachers, men, women, and people we wanted to be. We wrote of how we want to be remembered, who we want to influence, and the children we hope to affect.

If you ever want to be a part of a professional development experience that will change your life, please look into a local Writing Project site. I cannot wait to get started!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Baby, You're a Firework

Our family recently got a dog. We rescued him from a local shelter and he has apparently never lived in a home before. He is skittish and nervous. He is perplexed by our TV. He paces and flinches and cowers at noises despite our constant assurances that we are his people. My husband calls him 50 First Dates because every morning we start over- walking and petting, brushing and reassuring, hoping that today will be the day that he settles down and gets on with the business of being part of our family.

Yesterday was a great day. We even got him in the living room with us as we were watching a movie and the kids had him running around in the backyard before bedtime. And then...somebody started shooting off fireworks.

Suffice it to say that he couldn't get in the house soon enough. He wedged his way under our bed and did not come out until this morning. He whimpered, covered his face, and no promise of treats could assuage him out from under the bed. This morning, as I laid there aware of his presence under us, I kept humming Katy Perry's song, "Firework." I thought about how that song is supposed to be empowering and liberating. My nine year-old daughter belts it out as an anthem. It's a great song...if you like fireworks.

But what if you hate fireworks?

If there's one thing I have learned as an instructional coach, it is that disagreement is just part of life. Some people love flexible seating, some think it's distracting. Some educators are frightened of technology, some embrace every device, app, and extension that is tweeted out. Some teachers lean toward literacy, some math. There are leaders who are outspoken and boisterous, others prefer a more quiet approach.

And what if we pan out past the educators in a school building and look closely at the kids? My daughter and son are as different as two students can be. The needs, preferences, and learning styles of kids in any given classroom are as varied as the adults in the building. Teachers often lament how difficult it is to differentiate for each student. Not just the kiddos with IEPs and 504 plans, or those with a GT label or medical considerations, but all the kids. My son has a GT label, but my daughter does not. Don't I want her teachers to consider her needs just as much as a kid that is identified with a label? Don't all of our children deserve to be planned for, thought of, and honored as we make educational decisions?

As we gear up for another busy end-of-year season, it is my hope that we will all work a little harder to consider the perspectives of the people we encounter each day. It is so hard to look past the bubble of our classroom, our office, our laptop, but may we work towards empathy, understanding, and grace as we work to provide students (and adults) with the best educational experience possible. I want to support those who love technology and those that are frightened by it. I will extend support to the teacher that asks for help and the one who won't ask, but will accept it if I offer it. I will try and anticipate the fears, hopes, and dreams of all of the people with whom I work, and if someone needs to hide under the bed for awhile when things get overwhelming, that's OK.

But, I will be there when they decide to come out.

Friday, March 17, 2017

101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Call me nerdy, but one of my favorite weeks of the year is when the Scholastic Book Fair is at our school! I'm not sure if it brings back memories of when I was a kid, or if it's just the colorful headers and beautiful displays, but I get giddy when the trucks drop off the cases and our librarian gets to work. This year, one of my favorite finds was this gem by Bianca Schulze.

This book is a graphic delight. It is divided into age groups and provides suggestions for picture books, historical and realistic fiction, poetry, and even a few graphic novels. Each page gives a quick summary, fun facts about the author, and (probably my favorite) a What to Read Next feature with four books that you're sure to be interested in if you enjoyed the featured story. There are also insets that highlight powerful quotes from the books, a place for you to rate the story, list your favorite characters, and a few lines for notes.  


As a child and an elementary teacher for the last 19 years, I have already read many of the books included in this resource. I plan to read the stories that I haven't, but also involve my children in this process as a summer project. Once we read the 101 on the list, I'd like to explore the What to Read Next selections, as well as use it to stretch ourselves as readers. My daughter tends to prefer realistic fiction and my son likes fantasy, but I think this format will allow us to have conversations that solidify why we like what we do and connect over stories and shared experiences. Great work, Bianca Schulze

Of course, I have a book fair shirt from The Wright Stuff. Check it out here!