Important Conversations

Last year in March I thought about a project where my students could study what they were interested interested in. We called it #projectspeak. We looked at Prince Ea’s What is School for? We discussed their interests but my students in that moment struggled to identify something that they really felt passionate about. There was the odd student that came in ready to discuss a topic but for the most part they had to dig to find something that really motivated them to explore.

This year I decided that we would spend time each week looking at non-fiction texts. Issues in the news, working to look at the environment, topics around equity and helping my students see outside their bubble. See we live in a rural community. There are less than 3000 people that live in our little town. The other day my wife and I were discussing ways in which I can help my students to understand the issues of the world. A large one being equity. My students don’t, for the most part, understand what racism is. Numbers wise we have a student body K-12 that is 90%+ white. The remaining 10% is largely first nations students. When I talk books that do not reflect my students they have until very recently shown little interest. I am finding the journey at times hard to navigate. I don’t want to tell a single story, I want to break up the narratives that promote stereotypes and work to introduce stories that are new to my students and also build a better view of the world as a whole. I also want my students to see that the world does have issues that, to be prepared to live in it, we need to start learning about and addressing.

In a community a mere 30 minutes away there is an opioid drug crises that has poured gasoline on a fire of homelessness, crime, poverty and racist narratives around first nations people. This is 30 minutes away and we are generally isolated from it. This week we have had a few tough conversations around non-fiction text. The first looked at child poverty in our country. As students read the article I had them focus on a few skills. First we established the idea of “So What?” When something stands out to you, when you notice it and think it is important ponder why you feel that way. Then we practiced some TQE and discussion groups formed around the article.

Coming together students wrote their thinking on the board for a full class discussion. It was the first evidence that discussions we have been having around equity, race and privilege this year have been impacting them. Beyond just the books they have stated reading they are thinking with a more critical lens. Students focused much of their attention on the numbers and stats (thank you Notice and Note) and quickly expressed their concerns around the fact that the communities most impacted by poverty were First Nations (both those who live on reserves and off) and families who had recently arrived to Canada as immigrants and refugees. As some students expressed ideas that held their roots in racist narratives they had learned elsewhere other students corrected them and our conversations were not arguments but thoughtful exchanges. One student asked the question if racism was the cause of this poverty another asked about the connection to residential schools and the trauma that continues to reverberate through those communities. Another student simply wrote on the board “What can we do?” This topic will not be a one and done. Some students are already expressing a desire to further research and look at poverty in our country and specifically regarding children.

This week as we just finished looking in Social Studies at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and started looking at the rebellion of the 13 colonies against the British and events that played out after a student mentioned that “slaves came to Canada because it was better for them” on the same day as part of an online campaign for Black History month I saw an article on the Enslavement of Black people in Canada. I am embarrassed to admit that I held the same beliefs that my student did because of the history classes I had and what I was taught. Canada, as far as I understood, did not have a history of benefiting from the enslaved, there was definitely inequitable treatment mentioned in our text books but this was not emphasized much like Residential Schools are not. In reading the fantastic book This book is Antiracist by Tiffany Jewell I saw how important it was to recognize and know our history. We started looking at this article with that lens. Students were shocked, adults in the halls that I asked had not been taught this piece of our history. They only received the safe haven version. As we finish the the article next week the plan is to look at why the narrative of the safe haven has persisted over the years. The 50+ year old coworker and the 12 year old student held the same myth as fact. As we look at and discuss this new to us information my hope is we can apply it to the questions of our history and what it means that this fact is only briefly addressed in our text books and dialogue.

I momentarily hesitated, concerned that these topics might be too tough for my kids but it was only a moment. If we are going to help change the world we need to understand our histories and the current reality of the world. The world does not end at the border of our wonderful little town. Racism is a problem that we need to address even if we can not see its immediate human impact within the walls of our school or classroom. I am learning and growing as an educator as I consider things with an equity lens.

How can I help my students see the world around them?

How can I help them see the role they have in opposing inequality?

This work is not easy, and it is most certainly new territory for my kids to explore and me to address. But there are amazing educators around the world doing amazing equity work, the work of not only Antiracists but also advocates and allies for LGTBQ members of our communities, those working to draw attention to economic inequalities and the issues that are woven in with that.

My journey in this work and teaching started with a renewed clarity last May, I am so late to this work and I am learning and making mistakes along the way. But there are so many educators that are brilliantly leading and can be supported through amplifying their messages, pushing to ensure organizers of conferences and speaking opportunities know these folx are the ones that we want to learn from. Book publishers are looking to jump on these topics. We as educators wanting to learn need to make sure we are supporting those who have been doing the work, if books on these topics are to be published let those who have been advocating for it be the ones to write them. I have been blessed to learn from an amazing group on these topics.I try to amplify them whenever possible and honour their work. Some conversations can be tough to have, especially when the issues are not so clearly identified in our communities but that doesn’t mean that are any less important.

We can’t Read what we Can’t Access

I was at work incredibly early this morning and sitting at my computer in the silence. On my desk there was a little pile of books, to my left another behind me some more. The shelves of the classroom library in their typical Friday disarray. I love my classroom library. I love to be able to pick a few books off the shelf to book talk when I see that I have students a little less engaged in the joy of independent reading. Today I picked up The Truth According to Mason Buttle, Endling and Outlaw of Time the Legend of Sam Miracle and talked about them to my class. Within moments of finishing books were in hands being read. This repeated itself when I shared The Graveyard Book, A Tale Dark and Grimm and A Taste for Monsters. The pattern repeated and students had books in hand.

Yesterday I had a student sheepishly return a pile of books that he had collected in his locker and book bag. The same student had done this early in the week and I jokingly asked if he had anymore hiding somewhere. More appeared. I don’t have a lot of rules when it comes to my classroom library.

Class Library Rules

  1. Picture Books stay at school (I have a lot for a junior high teacher and I use them for lessons so I don’t want them going missing)
  2. Turn in the book jacket for hardcovers you want to borrow. (they are expensive and I hang the jackets on a clothesline, it looks cool)

There we go. I started with more rules. Rules like Graphic Novels stay in school, Read at least one “real” book for every Diary of a Wimpy Kid (this rule was idiotic and was eliminated years ago). I was so much more controlling about my books. They cost a lot of money and I wanted to protect them. But I realized these silly rules that have been eliminated where limiting access to my students. The rules left and reading increased. One student this year read Witch Boy and the sequels almost exclusively at home. He couldn’t stop. Now all his friends have read it. My copies of The New Kid and Crossover in Graphic novel are tattered and well loved. These graphic novels would have had limited play if I had not loosened the reigns a bit.

I love my class library and I love that my students will “shop” from it because I can invest in important books that otherwise my students might not see. I also love to have my students go to the library because we offer different experiences. In the end the goal is that my students are reading and have access to books. I never really thought of it as that big of an issue, not having access to books. I always had a library card and remember going but I also remember another experience as a kid and that was the Scholastic Book Fair. I remember going during school and being able to look at all the different books and trinkets. I remember dragging my mom there on parent teacher interview night with the hopes that she would let me pick out a book. We didn’t grow up with a ton of extra money or things but I remember occasionally getting a cool Goosebumps book or some other book like my Dinosaur fact and sticker book from Grade 1. I remember handing those stickers out and reading facts to my friends. The ownership of the book was powerful. It was MY book.

My Dad told me a story once when he went to help someone clean their home before moving. As a life long educator and reader he was struck by an observation he had they entered the home. No books anywhere. Not a newspaper, no magazines. No printed word. The family couldn’t afford extras and in their mind books were extra. In a complete flip in another conversation with a fellow educator they told me about a family in our community that is very well off. They said, as I addressed links to poverty and lack of books in the home and literacy rates, these people could afford all the books and there is not a book in the home. So it seems that beyond just the affordability of building a home library parents need to understand how much having books in the home can help their children thrive in academic settings.

As I am going forward I am playing with doing some research on home libraries in my community and the surrounding ones. Why people do not have books in their homes, if they do how many? What types/titles? I also want to look at poverty because I know that for so many The Scholastic Book Fair is one of their first experiences with realizing they can’t afford what their friends have. I want to look at this idea of home libraries to remove the often heard excuse “kids just don’t want to read” without access they could want until the end of the day but with nothing at arms reach they are without opportunity.

Of course public and classroom libraries can help but for so many those are limitations as well. Distance to the library, teachers serving as gate keepers to limit student choice. Late fees and rules that limit checkouts when a late fine is hanging over head. And we must not forget the ineffective libraries that student have at their finger tips but never touch because they serve as more of a classroom prop than a tool for liberation.

I have seen so many conversations lately around reading instruction. How reading is a human right, a social justice issue. And I agree. It is. But I am not sold on the idea that the instruction is our biggest mountain. Books need to be read, they need to be available, students should not have to hope that their teacher or the librarian will let them read the books they love or worry that because they lost a book they are on hold until they can pay the fees or replace the book.

Providing students with multiple access points to books is the first step in addressing the struggles our striving readers have but we have more work to do. We need to help those who do not understand book access see that they can help.

I am so grateful for the work done by many and in this issue I am shouting out Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp and the amazing attention they bring this issue. Book Access is a complicated issue with many factors but ultimately a simple solution.

Kids will read books if they can choose them and there are not roadblocks to their access.

Once Upon a time

“One upon a time, there was a boy who was invincible,” he whispered, breathing in deeply and filling his lungs with knight superpowers.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast-Samantha M. Clark

I read this line this morning. The “Once upon a time” section appears throughout the story as the main character talks about himself. I am not sure why it struck me but I thought about it all day long.

This year has been especially tough. Not because of any one thing I just am finding it difficult to find my groove. Like I am having some kind of teaching identity crisis. Which is ironic because I just finished talking identity with my students and we were creating webs. I know who I am and who I want to be as a teacher but it is like there is almost a fog that has come in and the path is not quite clear.

I love literacy work, I love to read with and to my students. I love to hear their thoughts and reflections around a text and see the beautiful words they string together. Today they reflected on moments in their lives. Writing beside pictures or items as I take the advice of Kelly Gallagher in “Write Like This”. We reviewed Notice and Note signposts as I took a moment to just sit in the brilliance that Kylene Beers and Bob Probst brought into my life.Students reflected this week on the words of Rudy Francisco and we discussed the Worlds Deadliest animals. Would anyone else have guessed a snail kills more than a shark? The power of media…

This year I have felt like there are moments that I am losing what I think is important chasing after extras.The next big thing, the cool new activities. Following these folks who think good teaching is standing on tables and performing for, instead of working with our students. The pull to be an author over being a teacher. Listening to the noise over noticing the needs.

So I start to reflect, I start to adjust. Back to the basics.

We Read, We Write, We Share

We don’t need a fancy formula. We don’t need a production. Engagement doesn’t come from glitz and glam. It comes from purpose. Authenticity.

I am adding work to our routine that addresses Social Justice and Anti-racism not because I feel students are being missed or disenfranchised because our demographics are pretty slanted one way. I am doing it because the world is diverse and I want my students not just prepared for it but I want them to embrace it. I don’t want them to enter the big beautiful diverse world with only a few experiences they might have gathered from a handful of books. I want them to be curious, inquiry driven minds that want to solve the problems of the world because they see the injustice that is so prevalent. We are going to do this through books and experiences. There are so many already doing this work beautifully and I hope we can add our hands to it.

The fog is clearing.

Once upon a time, there was a teacher, he knew what he wanted and where he was going. He got lost for a minute. But I think he has been found.

The most important work

A few years ago I attended a conference where I was introduced to a speaker named Dr.Jody Carrington. The sessions discussed emotional regulation and another talked about the concept of compassion fatigue and those in fields of work like teaching needing to practice some self care. I was immediately struck by her passion (and the swearing) but she was so dedicated to her message and the importance of helping both the kids and those working with them because our work is so important.

In the years since I have followed her on Social Media including tuning in to her Facebook Live sessions on Sundays and watching her book, “Kids These Days move from an announcement to a tangible accomplishment that I at one point owned 4 copies of and have the audiobook that she narrates.

The book is a wonderful resource when looking at a variety of important topics with actionable steps.

The kids in our care during the school day have so much on their plate that is just school related. Work load, expectations, extra curricular like sports, clubs and other activities all add up. I don’t remember a lot of multi-sport kids when I was younger. I don’t remember kids having to miss out on class because the only time they could fit piano lessons in was during the school day. We have all of these things on their already full plate and then for some they are arriving to school with a plate that is already half full with trauma, income inequalities and other factors FAR outside their control.

The wisdom found in Jody’s book and in her keynote presentations gives educators advice in how to work with, lift up and support all of our students and specifically those who are facing these significant obstacles.

Teachers need support too. Our students are often struggling and we feel powerless to do much when it is happening outside of our walls. The emotional strain is significant. A few years ago I was ready to quit teaching. I was doing everything I could possibly do around the school I worked at. I was invested in my students and burning the candle at both ends, actually the candle was really just one big fire. A single piece of advice from Jody really put it in perspective for me. “We can’t light ourselves on fire to keep others warm.” Now at the time I looked at it like I needed to take care of myself first, the whole put your mask on in an emergency before those around you. But as I looked at the words more I realize for myself it is about looking at what is left in the tank and who gets the reserves.

You can choose the analogy, filling a bucket, drink from an empty glass… whatever the case. As I wrote about a while back for some of our students the world is on fire and we can’t help them if we have nothing left to give. So we need to be mindful. Help our students in need but also help ourselves and those we work with. It is ok to ask for help. Like Jody says we are doing some of the most important work.

Please join use tomorrow (Thursday 8:30 EST, 6:30 MT) for our #G2Great chat with Dr.Jody Carrington as we discuss he book Kids These Days and the powerful topics it addresses.

What a team looks like

This time of year the Gilsons, when not teaching, are at basketball. If not working in the concession, I am sitting on the bench or in the stands cheering the kids on. We love to support the kids, we love visiting with the parents but it is a time commitment and I think often other things suffer because attention and time are spread so thin.

We were at a game the other night and the rival team was perhaps the most vocal and energetic bench I had ever witnessed. They did not stop chanting and cheering on their teammates on the floor the whole game. It was “D-fence” chants on defence and a new one to me “work” on offence and it was not just a few seconds here and there is was rhythmic, they were clapping to a beat and chanting and it was motivating even as someone cheering the opposite team. They, the bench, were like a 6th man on the floor. Working in unison to lift up their teammates. It was something else. But that was not the end to this impressive display of teamwork. At half time while most coaches I know fill the time with coaching, talking to the team pointing out areas they can improve, hopefully offering compliments to what they are doing well, this teams coach stepped away. The players lead their half time discussion. They celebrated each other, they coached each other, they offered feedback constructively. There was no finger pointing, they were lifting each other up. Those of us sitting together all noticed this display of unity, team, family. It was impressive.

Looking at teaching, because it all comes back to that I leave with a few thoughts.

  • How can my classroom reflect this team more?
  • How can my staff support each other more?
  • How can my students take on this lift up versus call down mentality?
  • How do we build this within our own organizations?

We talk a lot in teaching and in coaching. We value a sense of community, we worry more about the kids than the scores, it is about helping develop character and being part of the team that helps develop awesome homes. But what about when the results are down? What about when we forget about the “WORK” what about when the kids do?

These are the moments that really define us. I am grateful I have so many amazing team members with my wife, PLN, coworkers and students. But we have work to do.


What do we do when the world is on fire?

Yesterday I was talking with a teacher in a very small school who has had 3 or 4 students this year attempt suicide or report suicidal ideations to the point of having to enter a monitored treatment program. We are talking 10 year olds. Some friends, some not but all dealing with mental health struggles that I don’t remember having experienced when I was a kid.

Today a student brought up the Iran conflicts and another wanted to talk about the fires in Australia. If it is literal fires burning or just the different conflicts in the world we have significant issues going on that need to be talked about. Our kids have questions.

I think if we took a poll we would see that mental health issues have spiked significantly from when we were young (I say that as a 37 year old, I imagine it becomes more and more rare the older we look back) I wonder if it is reported more now but regardless I do believe we are seeing students with a higher level of frequency having to deal with issues that need significant help.

Of course mental health is not the only issue, we have students having to navigate, sometimes seemingly solo the trials of poverty. Others intolerance for whatever reason. Bullying continues to be an issue in our schools. We add all of these issues together and it is a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

I wrote the first part of this blog yesterday and then this morning I woke up and discovered this tweet by the incredible Tricia Ebarvia on Twitter.

Just an example of the ingrained racism that exists in our school systems. I read this tweet and remembered a conversation where a fellow teacher mentioned their belief that “as a people” first nations don’t value reading and that is why their kids are so much further behind than their white counterparts. I was floored by the racism in the statement and more disgusted by the other heads in the conversation nodding in agreement. How this blatantly racist myth was continuing to be spread was evident to me. I was new to the division and turned to call out the racism and thankfully another teacher who had more years experience also jumped in to call out the racism but the myth still exists and continues to be used to excuse and defend the poor reading results that seem to be coming from those communities. I can’t help but wonder why we as educators are not looking at things like institutional racism, poverty rates among families on the reserve, access to books, access to breakfast and other dynamics instead of just putting the results on their culture. Probably because it is easier and many are not interested in doing the hard work to address these inequities.

Two days ago when I was pushing back on a quote that basically implied kids who work hard and give it their all will achieve their goals it was implied that I was somehow trying to crush the dreams of kids by saying we should not perpetuate that myth. That we should tell kids that trying hard is great but making room that there are factors that society needs to work on, systems in place that require some kids to work so much harder that society needs to address. I was greeted by a white educator (I would normally not point our race but in this instance it provides context) telling me they are sick and tired of white middle class educators talking about the barriers that keep kids from achieving their goals. Saying that the claim bordered on White Supremacy. I feel in some way they must have misunderstood what I was saying. Or they misunderstand white supremacy but regardless they wanted to shut down the conversation, they wanted the nice little fairy tale that hard work pays off for everyone to continue. It doesn’t. Some of our students will need more support than just their hard work and we as a society need to provide that support through challenging and changing this system of inequalities.

These last few weeks I have made clear my distaste for the message that kindness cures all. I am not in any way against kindness. I think it is support important. I do not however find the message around it profound. Kindness is common sense and being unkind is not generally the source of the worlds problems. My bigger issue comes when I see how much EduTwitter, which I am an active participant holds tightly to the one small act of kindness message. This Starfish idea. I read that fable the other day again and thought it was such a nice story, the boy was right, making a difference for that one starfish was a great act for that one starfish and yes if everyone on that beach was chucking starfish back in the ocean maybe we could save all the starfish but they are getting washed back up tomorrow because that is the system. Kids are not starfish and telling a sweet story and doing one small kind act is not going to fix the system.

Our kids worlds are on fire. Racism, bigotry, mental health issues, poverty, opportunity gaps, achievement gaps, bullying, world conflict, social media and the spread of misinformation that contribute to the rise of anxiety not to mention underfunded education programs that disproportionately impact communities of colour are hurdles that require more than simple acts. The other day I made the comment it is like trying to put out a fire with an eye dropper and the more I see the more I know this to be true.

Yesterday I talked to my kids about the world water crisis, we also talked about Iran and Australia and other things too. We addressed misinformation and the need to examine sources for accuracy. Going forward I am going to focus more on “tough” topics. I am going to work on compassion, empathy, kindness and action. Even a million eye droppers will not put out a fire. The heat would evaporate those little drops before they make a difference. We need educators and communities coming together to address the issues causing our students lives to be in turmoil.

Their Worlds are burning. We need to do more.

Hello Tomorrow

Tomorrow we head back to school. The break has been pretty relaxing. I did less work than I should have, I watched a lot of movies and listened to some awesome podcasts. I should have read more but reading slumps happen and I have a lot of books waiting for me when I am ready. I use to beat myself up about not working very hard on down time. But I am getting better with the concept of GRACE. I am not as hard on myself as I was even two years ago when I thought I needed to spend every minute outside of school…doing school.

I think about this idea of grace when it comes to our students. This week kids are going to be either excited to come back or like many adults mourning the loss of their holiday. Behaviours are going to be on the rise and our ability to handle them with grace will be at a low because we have not had to practice that particular brand of patience for a couple weeks.

Beyond that I think we need to remember that not all of our students had a fabulous break. I think about the kids who have parents that can’t take the time off or can’t afford to do the fun things, get the great gifts that others are so excited to tell everyone about.

In the past I made the absent minded mistake of giving kids time to share how their break was. I never considered that this would be problematic. I thought I was just being the KIND teacher who was giving his students some free time to share and celebrate their fun break. Now instead of kindness I consider empathy.

Tomorrow is a great reset. It is any day not just after a two week break. We are too hard on ourselves and too hard on our kids some times so tomorrow I practice Grace and Empathy. Both will require a little work and patience. I challenge everyone to do the same.

I love the return to school. I also have high anxiety over it. It is ok for teachers to not be excited give yourselves some Grace as well 🙂

A Quick Post

Lately I have been a part of a lot of conversations around equity and antiracist pedagogy and how so much of the work is being left to those who are also unfairly burdened by polices and practices that uphold those inequities.

The conversations lead by amazing educators have been eye opening and I am learning so much in how to be better for my students and colleagues.

Sometimes I get frustrated that not everyone wants to learn about ways they can help.

Sometimes I get frustrated that some are not interested learning ways they can change their pedagogy to be more inclusive, change their language, change their practice.

More than a few times this week I have been told in conversations both in person and online that we need to meet people where they are if we want them to grow.

Today I realized that is less of an expectation than we have for our students.

If a student is being a bully our advice isn’t “well victim, meet them where they are.” If a student is using racist language we do not say well until they are ready to change we all just need to support them.

Instead I suggest we should be raising the bar of our expectations for our colleagues. Educators who are leading the way in Trauma informed practice, LGTBQ and IBPOC equitable practices and antiracist pedagogy should not be expected to take steps backwards. They should be counting on us to put in the effort to meet them where they are. They are living the work and we should not expect them to waste another moment meeting us where we are while some won’t even admit they can do more than send well wishes. This couldn’t fit in a tweet. Sorry.

Words Found

Ok so yesterday I wrote about the questions I have been struggling with and I don’t want anyone to think that I have solved them because I most certainly have not. But as I went to log out last night I stumbled on the wekly live chat with the amazing Dr.Jody Carrington who has an amazing book, “Kids These Days” that you can find on amazon and the audio book is amazing and she will be joining me and the #g2great team to chat in a few weeks over on Twitter so that will be awesome. Jody was doing her last weekly chat of the year and I stumbled on it just as she was talking about her closing notes. One point that really stuck out to me was the need for GRACE. Grace for ourselves and grace for others. I was in a really bad mood this weekend and all because I was not making room for myself or others to have some grace. Just that little word really helped me to get some perspective.

Jody continued to talk about the year to come and the resolutions and goals and all that fun stuff that we do every year and issued a challenge. Go Big. Set amazing goals and go for it. But she added another piece, start small. As I type this I think about those gigantic steak dinner competitions some restaurants have and how you get the meal free if you can eat it. We get all excited and order that thing because, well, free food. Then it hits the table and we just try to eat it as fast as we can because maybe just maybe we can finish this massive challenge if we do it fast enough. Inevitably we fail and are paying for it in more than one way. But what if we didn’t have a time limit that was unreachable. What if we could take a break when we needed to and come back to it? What if we could start small?

I am not a resolutions person, I set achievable goals and work towards them. Stuff like go to the gym every day but Sunday. Check. Or try something new in the classroom. Check. Read a pile of books. Check. Small realistic goals and complete them. This has been how I do New Years goals. But this idea of going big and start small sounds like it could be fun so here goes.

Goal 1- Get Healthy

This might seem like it is not a BIG Goal for people that know I work out 6 days a week but I also eat a ridiculous amount of junk. I love to go to the gym to start my day, I also love to spend my weekends sitting on the coach watching movies and eating junk food. Food has always been the issue. I get sick when I give up sugar. I imagine I am addicted to it if I was to get serious about analyzing the behaviour. SO my get healthy goal is going to be around my diet, not some restrictive weight loss measure but the actual foods I am taking in. I want to lose 40 pounds by May. That works out to about 10 pounds a month if I start January 1st. Now before anyone comes in and is like Brent that is not healthy weight loss. I have a lot to lose I will be fine. The trick will be making sure my weight loss does not impact my weight lifting because that has been the typical pattern and I can’t have that. I also want to join the 1000 pound club so we can add that here.

Goal 2- Get a reputable publisher for my book

I have this book idea that I like to tinker with but right now it is just a document on Pages. I would love it to be more. There are so many books in the field of education but nothing like what I want to do so I think it would have legs. I don’t know how to go about getting interest or even seeing if there is any but I feel like I have a voice and would like to share it beyond my blogging opportunities here, with Literacy Lenses and MiddleWeb. As part of this goal I would also need to finish the book so that really amplifies this to a BIG goal as I am struggling with imposter syndrome so badly this year I think everything I write in the book is self indulgent garbage and if that is the case I really could just stick the blog and my number 1 rated (no it really isn’t) education podcast (I should record another one of those).

Goal 3- Over come the fear, present at an international conference.

This is by far my biggest goal because I have crippling stage fright. I have had a lot of folxs ask me if I would ever consider presenting and until this year the answer has always been a big old NO. Beyond not being completely sure I have something to add that another speaker couldn’t cover, I don’t know if my fears would let me. Cut to earlier this year and getting a message in my Twitter DMs. The message asked if I would consider sharing my work as a breakout session at our English Language Arts Council Convention in May. I laughingly wrote a proposal with no assumptions that I would be selected. Then I was… I am excited about the opportunity and it is a great “start small” because the big game goal is the present one day and even this year at NCTE.

Ok so there I have laid them out and I am going for it. 3 BIG goals that I plan to chip away at is small digestible steps. I feel good about these goals and the mindset behind them. I can do hard things, I can tackle big goals and I can succeed.

The other part of my New Years tradition is picking my #oneword to guide me. This weekend my convictions on pushing for what is important in education were shaken a bit. I backed off of my point as accusations that I was unkind were hurled. I have spent the day consider this along with these BIG GOALS and I have settled on my word for the year.

Nothing big gets accomplished when we back down if challenged. The year of 2020 will be the year of Resolve. I am resolved to demand more of my fellow teachers, I am resolved in the fact that I will not stand by and not speak up when I see injustice. I am resolved in the fact that I will no leave the heavy lifting work to those who are oppressed by the weight of it all. I am resolved to provide my students with learning experiences that will not only build their intellect but also their humanity. In 2020 I will more than just look like a mountain ( a fluffy one at times) I will be one. Unflinching in the criticisms that come when others are made to feel uncomfortable because I am asking questions they do not like. I am resolved to be the best teacher I can be for my students and that means fighting for better instructional practices for all kids. It means standing up and calling out bad practice, it means questioning all of the things going on in EduTwitter in the name of creating a brand, selling books and building followings.

I am resolved to refocus on what is important. The 90 sets of eyes I am blessed to work with each day, my personal learning and the realtionships that make me better.

I am resolved that the rest just doesn’t matter.

Not yet the word

The last few years I have taken part and had my students take part in the whole #oneword project. Pick a word to frame your year around versus resolutions. My first year was Creativity and last year I chose Valiant. It was fun to think about ways I could frame the year around the word. To wrap up my Valiant year I took a risk and applied to do a breakout session at a conference later this year. I was accepted for it and some days I am really excited haha. Other days I am a little bit worried to full blown panicked but I will be talking about what I love so I am sure I will survive. As I have had this last week to ponder I thought I had come to my word for this next year but I am not feeling it as a guiding word for my work so I am not using it but the thoughts that brought it to the front of my mind still are pushing to be shared so without further delay, my almost #oneword2020

The almost #oneword2020

I have been talking to a lot of very talented and some would even say famous (they do not make that claim) teachers and so many are struggling with the idea of imposter syndrome. I have shared that struggle this year. I can’t help but wonder if the more people praise you the more this anti-praise thought of imposter status creeps in. As I was stuck in a bit of a loop on this thinking the other day I kept having a few thoughts.

  1. Am I having my students do enough? Am I challenging them? Holding them to high enough expectations?
  2. Am I enough?

So lets tackle these one at a time.

Am I enough?

I have these moments of self doubt often. I love what I do. I want to teach forever. But the idea of if I am good at it is always creeping around. People can tell me that I am amazing all they want, they can tell me their kids are so excited to be in my class or hoping I move up with them. This is always nice to hear but the follow up thought inevitably is why? Will I be able to help their child succeed academically? Perhaps socially? Can I get them to love reading this year? Can I help them finding their writing and reading selves? The thoughts are always there. Maybe it fuels me to be better to try harder? A lot of questions and no answers…

Are we doing enough?

I tell my kids I would go gradeless if it was up to me. It isn’t so I have to grade things. I despise marking. I have some beautiful writing that is a few sentences long and another piece of writing that is pages long but has the same amount of beauty as the short piece, a rubric doesn’t really help there. I could read one page of Rudy Francisco poetry or Nikki Grimes and find more stunning imagery than in an entire short story. SO grading has always caused me issues, I do it because I must. The attached problem though is that at times I do not know if my students are being as stretched as I know they can be. They are writing they are reading they are discussing. They are doing everything required of them. I just wonder if I am raising the bar enough. Am I accepting good when I should help them push them to great? Am I letting them say that a 75% is good enough when I know they are capable of so much more? A lot of questions and no answers.

Now here comes the exclamation

I am questioning myself and my practice because that is how we grow. I look at the Twitter education world and really question how many of us do that. There is a lot of sharing of ideas but it seems to be that there is not a lot of questioning them. When I do question I tend to get responses like, Well if you don’t like it don’t use it? But I have had enough of sitting around and watching bad practice happen because people think it is cute or because it is easy. I have had enough of activities without clear purpose. I have had enough of people making instructional decisions without being able to answer clear questions around those decisions. As teachers we often complain that we are not respected as the professionals that we feel we are. I can’t help but think if the refusal of some in our profession to exam their practices critically has something to do with the public perception. There are big issues impacting education. Poverty, Racism, Funding inequities, Book Accessibility just to name a few and I I don’t think we are doing enough to solve them. It is really easy to look at where I work and where I stand and say, ” Yup I am doing great so I have done my part” but what about down the highway? What about across the country? What about down the hall?

Are we really doing enough? Teaching is hard work, support from everyone to lift this load will be needed if we are going to address the heavier issues facing us all. By saying we just need to worry about ourselves we are putting way to much of the load on teachers who are already over burdened.

Are we doing enough? Let’s lend a hand.