The Dot is one of my very favorite books, and definitely my favorite picture book. I love the artwork, I love the perspective, and I love that it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I became a teacher because of kids like Vashti. The ones who lack confidence. The ones who see no reason whatsoever to believe in themselves. The ones who are salty to cover up a lack of self-worth. Those children weigh heavily on me. I hate seeing children give up on themselves, especially when we could help them turn it around. And friends, we can! The words and actions we choose can have a profound impact on our students.
This book beautifully celebrates a little girl's journey into risk-taking and belief in herself, but the most beautiful thing about this story (to me) is the quiet but powerful statement it makes about the impact of a caring adult. A simple act of encouragement and faith in a child can change the course of their lives. Vashti was forever changed by her teacher's celebration of her small success. It would have been easy to reprimand her for her attitude. It would have been reasonable to ask her to try harder. Her teacher took the harder path, acknowledging her small but hard-won effort and trusting that it would lead to greater things. That could be us. It should be us. We need to always be open to opportunities to lift children up by celebrating their starting points, their risk-taking, and their possibilities.
Visit Peter H. Reynold's blog, The Stellar Cafe, to read more about how Vashti was brought to life. It's a beautiful story, too. Then, if you have time, meander through his other posts to read some truly inspiring ideas. He's my favorite for a reason, folks!
International Dot Day is on September 15th-ish this year, and it affords us the opportunity to celebrate the potential in us all. This is a perfect chance to embrace the possibilities around us and to help others have "Vashti moments" - perfect storms of willingness to try and the understanding that failure and success both move us forward.
My school is celebrating Dot Day this year by recognizing people in our school and community who have made their mark. We are also including a variety of activities for all grade levels that incorporate the book, the song, the ideas, and most of all - the attitude. To me, the most important part of Dot Day is learning to look outside of yourself to find others to encourage. The next most important thing is learning to look within yourself and be willing to try things that scare you. You may succeed. You may fail. But if you are willing to try, you always fail forward!
I would encourage you, if you are interested in celebrating International Dot Day yourself, to include activities that appeal to all different learning styles. Incorporate art, but also incorporate music, movement, investigation, and discussion. Everyone learns differently, and all the different styles of thought add to a greater whole. We are better together, and everyone brings something valuable to the table. Visit The Dot Club to sign up and to get a free planning guide to get you started!
Be willing to try. Be willing to fail. Have faith in others. Have faith in yourself. We all have amazing potential inside of us!
Change is hard. It can often feel impossible.
One person trying to initiate a change can be all it takes to get the ball rolling, but unless others agree with the vision and jump on board to support the change it may look more like one person rolling a ball uphill. Change is as simple as making up your mind to adjust your behaviors, but creating the conditions for change often take a team. Having a team of people who share your vision can make all the difference.
When you have an idea or a change you would like to implement, share it with a few people who are likely to be open to your vision. Try it out together - does your idea/change have the positive results you hoped for? Great! If not, tweak it and try again. Once you are all convinced in the results, bring your vision to a larger group. Having that team of ambassadors will pay off at this point. Instead of your one voice, you now have others joining in to share your vision and show others how it works.
My school is undergoing some of these vision changes as we speak. It's not easy. There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with things as they are. The challenge is to value them where they are and to show them how things could be better. Making change and the results of change relevant is key. One vision change we are advocating is true collaboration between adults and between students. Just this weekend, our administration took a team of leaders and educators from our school to two days of Kagan training to see what this change could look like at our school. What we saw was incredible - students as young as three or four or as old as 6th and 7th grade collaborating and learning together, engaging everyone in the room. All students were participating, discussing, problem-solving, and learning. Our team will now be able to go back to our school site and plant the seeds of change because we have experienced and witnessed the possibilities. Now our team gets to make this change relevant for others by modeling the results that can be obtained.
School-wide change that leads to positive results is a challenge that is worth taking up. It will likely not be instantly embraced - most change isn't - but it is something our students and our teachers deserve. I am beyond excited to see what our team is able to accomplish!
I've given a lot of thought to what I want my one word for 2016 to be. Some on the list included innovative, observant, and purposeful. After careful consideration, I eliminated each - not because they aren't qualities I want, but because each felt incomplete. Innovation without purpose doesn't always lead forward. Observation without action leads nowhere. Purpose without observation or innovation can simply be mechanical, moving forward without making necessary course corrections. What I wanted was a word that encompassed all three ideas. The word I chose was responsive.
Here is my definition of responsive - taking purposeful, innovative action following careful observation to bring about a positive change.
I don't simply want to be observant - that only benefits myself.
I don't want to be innovative for innovation's own sake - I want it to be useful.
I don't want to be purposeful at the expense of being sensitive to conditions or changes.
I don't want to respond for the sake of action.
I want to be responsive.
Here's to 2016!
Play is one of the most neglected aspects of learning in our educational world today. In an era of test-centered, rigor-infused, highly structured curriculum, it is easy to feel that play no longer fits into our classrooms. While it may seem frivolous, play is actually one of the best avenues to ignite curiosity, engagement, and perseverance. Students engaged in play exhibit high levels of motivation, stamina, and determination - all things we seek to develop in our learners.
I met up with my bees (aka my Twitter tribe) last night to celebrate the value of play in the classroom at the Crayola Experience in Orlando. When you put like-minded educators determined to have a good time together in a location designed for children, you are guaranteed to have some employees raising their eyebrows. Needless to say, “play” was an understatement! We explored both high-techy-techy toys and low-techy-techy toys and shared ideas about how to incorporate them into the classroom. Here are a few of the highlights:
Play is the work of learning...it opens the doors to creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration. All of these are essential elements in education today, and providing some purposeful play in the classroom is a great way to encourage these mindsets. Play is a fantastic way to encourage conversation and team-building as well. (Clearly, it works for adults as well as children!) Don't be afraid to bring some play into your classroom. Build intentional opportunities for students to play and interact - you won't be disappointed with the results!
I mean that in the most loving way possible. I'm not just saying that because she's a teenager. I'm saying my daughter is a warthog because of this book...
I read this book for the first time yesterday, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mogo is a character I connected with, rooted for (pun intended). It wasn't until I had finished the book and placed it back on the shelf that this realization hit me. I don't even remember what I was doing. I do remember stopping in my tracks as my inner voice shouted "My daughter is a warthog!"
My daughter is living with severe depression and crippling anxiety. She struggles every day to find her inner strength, to be brave, and to face the world. Sometimes she messes up, makes bad decisions...especially when the panic takes over. But she tries every day. She gets out of bed. She gets dressed. She tries. She is Mogo.
Mogo struggles with anxiety and panic as well. He is known as the worrier of his sounder of warthogs. Others laugh at his weaknesses and underestimate him. He underestimates himself. So does my daughter.
Mogo fears change, resisting the need to leave his comfort zone and face unknown risks. As a result of this, he follows others who make poor decisions to avoid having to make his own. He avoids doing what needs to be done because it is intimidating. He fails to trust himself and what he knows deep inside is necessary. So does my daughter.
Mogo is a careful observer, noticing the smallest details and relationships. He proves to be a survivor, learning how to avoid danger by focusing on how to predict or deal with the bad things in his life. This is my daughter, too.
My daughter is a warthog.
Eventually, Mogo begins to trust others. Slowly, carefully. He learns from his mistakes. He learns from the mistakes of others. Survival becomes easier - but somehow not enough. Mogo makes a decision to do more than just survive. He makes a decision to trust in himself and his uniqueness, to use what he has learned for the benefit of others. Mogo finds a reason to live. To thrive.
My daughter is not there - yet. I am thankful, though, to discover that she is a warthog. Like Mogo, she is on the path to conquering the things that hold her down. It took time for Mogo. It will take time for her.
Like Mogo, she is a beautiful, beautiful warthog finding her way.
I love my warthog!
You have a secret weapon in your classroom that can help you defeat disengagement. When you recognize its potential and use this weapon to your advantage, you can win over even the most reluctant readers. Your classroom library is an incredible tool, and one that is easily overlooked when searching for ways to reach your struggling or disinterested readers. An outstanding classroom library has the power to engage readers, spark curiosity, and support learning in all content areas. The best classroom libraries have five qualities in common – they are organized, attractive, comfortable, engaging, and inspiring.
Organizing your classroom library is the first, and arguably the most important, task you face when looking to boost its effectiveness with your students. Ultimately, students are going to utilize the library more often and more effectively if they can easily locate what they want. You have lots of options, but all classroom libraries should have a literary (fiction) and an informational (nonfiction) section. You can further organize those large categories into smaller ones by sorting books into genres or themes.
In addition, you may choose to include reference materials, magazines, and even interesting news articles (perhaps in a binder). Whatever system you choose to sort your books, they should be clearly labeled. Nothing is more frustrating than searching through boxes and boxes of books to find a specific book. Labels allow students to go directly to the section they need. Finally, consider the procedures for using and maintaining your library. These need to be organized as well to allow the library to continue operating smoothly. Often, students can contribute by returning books to the proper spaces and by repairing books at a repair station. Whatever system you have in place, make sure it is communicated well and is visible.
Attractiveness seems less important, but consider this – you are more likely to shop from an attractive, well-thought out display in a store than a pile of things tossed onto a shelf. Your classroom library is the same way! Students will naturally be drawn to appealing displays of books. One easy trick is to store your books in a way that allows the covers to be easily visible. Students are often very visual creatures, and as such are much more likely to choose a book based on an interesting cover than one with an interesting title on the spine. Having book bins or containers that are in good condition is a must when creating an attractive space, and matching bins and labels add a very nice, professional touch. Posters and signs can add visual interest as well.
Making your classroom library a comfortable, welcoming place will encourage students to spend more time there. On a basic level, it needs to have plenty of room for several students to read and shop comfortably at the same time. Appealing places to sit add to the comfort factor (think beanbags, fun chairs, etc.), and plants and lighting can make the space feel like home.
There are many ways to make your classroom library exciting and engaging. Incorporating interactive elements is sure to generate interest. For instance, create a treasure hunt by putting quotes or illustrations from a variety of books on a poster for students to find throughout the year. You could also create a quote board – a place where you and your students can showcase interesting, inspiring, or thought-provoking quotes from books in your collection. Book recommendations can be written on shelf cards or bookmarks to be shared with others. Rotating displays with feature authors, content, genres, or students can be a changing centerpiece of your library space. This is a fantastic way to link reading to other content areas! Finally, have a wide selection of books across multiple genres and find creative ways to feature high-interest materials.
Your classroom library is the perfect place to inspire readers and learners to read and learn more! Post interviews and background stories about authors and illustrators your students love. This allows them to connect on a personal level and makes reading and writing approachable. Have a bin somewhere in your library that features student or class published materials. You will often find these are the most sought-after, and writing for a real audience is sure to engage your writers as well as your readers. You may also want to keep a “Books We Love” bin with teacher or class favorites. The contents of this bin will change throughout the year, but it is often a popular shopping spot as well. Finally, inspire learning in other content areas by posting questions in your library. Students can read to find out, then post the answers they find around the questions.
If you love a dog, you know...dogs just know when we need them. When we're sad, they cheer us up. When we hurt, they comfort us. They intuitively know when we need them.
I am very grateful for the dogs I love.
I have given a lot of though lately to beliefs and personal values. This seems to come to the forefront of the culture in election years, and this year is no different. So much nastiness surrounds elections in recent years that it has become disheartening. For the record, this is not a political post. I want to say that right up front. It's more of a personal inventory, an examining of the core ideas I value most. I just feel the need to inject some positivity into the conversations.
based on The Literacy Coach's Survival Guide by Cathy A. Toll
When you think about the reading and writing that you want your students to do and the teaching that you want to do, what gets in the way?
This is the question Cathy Toll asks in The Literacy Coach's Survival Guide, and it is the heart of all problem solving work that coaches and teachers do together. The bottom line is that all coaching work is intended to increase student success. It’s not about “fixing” teachers. That is a very common misconception about coaching – certainly, teachers improve their practices and their knowledge base through coaching, but ultimately it is a partnership to increase the likelihood of student success. Much of this work happens through planning and conversations with teachers. Simply thinking together in a strategic way can make a very big impact in the classroom.
There are some basic steps in the problem solving process that are common to most coaching conversations and work:
Understand the Problem
This is the first and most important step in the process. Beginning with the question above, coaches and teachers can talk about what gets in the way and drill down to a specific issue that can be addressed. Thinking about all aspects of the problem is important – this can involve asking and discussing more specific questions to get as many details and as much perspective as possible. What has been tried to address the issue? What has worked? What hasn’t? Are you noticing patterns that can be helpful? What is frustrating you or your students most? Sometimes the “problem” is not a problem at all – it can be something you want to try or learn more about. In that case, the discussion may be more about anticipated impact and what might happen “if”.
This is where you set a goal for the coaching work. If the problem were solved, what would it look like? Then spend some time brainstorming options that can help you get there. What might help? What could you try? Are there better ways to use your resources? Come up with a strong list of options, then pick one that seems likely to make an impact.
Try Something New
Once you have decided what to try, create an action plan together to make it happen. Come up with some specific steps to follow as you try out new things. Some may be the responsibility of the teacher, some may be the responsibility of the coach. Thinking strategically through this part will help you be organized and thoughtful in the way you approach things. Think about what you should see and hear if your steps are effective in helping you reach your goal. How will your students and your classroom appear if things are working? Collect data as you go to help determine if your action steps made an impact. This could include anecdotal notes, work samples, or observation notes.
Continue the Cycle
Coaches and teachers can meet again after trying something new to discuss how things went. During this step, you can examine the data that was collected, things that were observed, and can then decide if they should continue with the new action, adapt it, or try something else. This is an incredibly valuable reflection time that allows both partners to think more deeply about the issue and their impact on it. This is also the time where you can make plans for future coaching, look at new problems, or celebrate successes.
Collaborative work with the coach helps you identify and address specific ideas or issues that are impeding student progress AND those that may help to move students forward. The best part of this process is that everyone learns and benefits from it – the students, the teacher, AND the coach!
A literacy coach’s job includes many activities – facilitating assessments, supporting planning and instruction, analyzing and discussing data, and more – but at the heart of it all are just two things: your students and you.
Everything we do is with the intention of helping you and your students to grow and experience success!
Coaching is all about building on strengths. In the current culture, there is a fix-it mentality that relentlessly shifts the focus to weaknesses. While we should always strive to improve areas of weakness, coaches are not here to “fix” you or your students. We are here to help you stand on your strengths and grow as readers, thinkers, and professionals. Coaching is not about finding what’s “right” and “wrong”. It IS about finding what is working well and making it better.
So…who needs to grow? We ALL do! Rule #1 of learning is that it is never finished. When you think of the sports world, it’s not just Little League who needs coaches. In fact, professional athletes need and benefit from coaching as much or more than young, inexperienced athletes. This is true of teachers as well. While new teachers benefit greatly from coaching, experienced teachers can benefit tremendously as well. Seasoned teachers are the professional athletes of the educational world. They have the skills to perform well, and coaching can help them expand their skill set even further.
Coaching is for EVERYONE!
There are many ways to connect with coaching and grow together. Your coach can assist with team or 1-1 goal setting, support team or 1-1 lesson planning, work together in the classroom to collaboratively strengthen teaching practices, collect data and observations about student learning behaviors to identify what is working and to find ways to enhance engagement and student success, and assist with analyzing student work and performance data to identify trends and needs. If there is a teaching skill or topic you want to know more about, you can work with your coach to create a coaching plan designed to help you learn more.
Connect with your literacy coach this year - you won't regret it!
You know the song "No Rain" by Blind Melon? The one with the video where the weird little girl dressed like a bee tap dances through life trying to find kindred spirits and a place to be herself? That's me.