#7 & #8: Read Aloud and Book Talk Daily

This post covers the seventh and eighth topics in the Building a Reading Community blog series to kick off the 2022-23 school year. All posts in the series can be found here.

Nothing quite ignites the fire within a reading community more than daily read alouds and book talks. These two practices will not only build your classroom community of readers, but they will also work together to ignite a love of reading in your students.

More on Read Alouds

Reading aloud with students is quite possibly my favorite time of our school day. Every read aloud is an opportunity for students build yet another connection with me and each other. Each new read aloud is a shared experience that we all now have in common. While read alouds can be instructional, my absolute favorite for community building are read alouds just for the sake of sharing a story together. Maria Walther offers a reminder that, “First and foremost, a read aloud should be a joyful celebration.” (Ramped Up Read Aloud, pg. 1). I wholeheartedly agree.

click here for live links to learn about children’s books

To read aloud with students, simply choose a book, gather students in the meeting area of the classroom, and read! If you’re interested in planning more in-depth read alouds and interactive/instructional read alouds in the classroom, chapter 3 of Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading has you covered. Additionally, to learn more about which books to read, appendix E, offers a list of great sources to consult when looking for books to read aloud.

One important thing to note that I’ve learned in my 21 years as an elementary school teacher is that some books have staying power while others just don’t. If students are not enjoying it or learning from it, it’s time to let the read aloud go. Additionally, not every book is worthy of reading aloud. Weening books and being mindful of problematic titles is an important part of an elementary teacher’s job. To learn more about weeding books and spotting problematic titles, check out the work of Dr. Laura Jiménez.

More on Book Talks

Books talks are used to introduce students to a book and all that it has to offer. They do not need to be long or complicated. A book talk can be as simple as showing the cover of the book and reading the preview on the back or offering a partial summary to get readers excited about it without giving away any spoilers. I try to give one or two book talks each morning in our morning circle. Sometimes, I book talk an entire book box. I did this a couple days ago after reading aloud Kwame Alexander’s How to Read A Book. After the read aloud, I introduced my students to many of his novels in verse with a book box talk. Now, a few students are reading those books that were book talked! Eventually, the familiar procedure of book talking is turned over to students. If giving book talks is new to you, take a look at the Book Talk Teacher Tool that matches your grade level.

All posts in this blog series can be found linked here. More information and classroom tips about book talks and read alouds can be found in chapter three of Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: The Final Four

It’s real. I’m officially teaching a new group of fifth graders from a distance. My goal was to finish this series two weeks ago, but as many of you know, working as a full-time classroom teacher is time intensive work! Much of the time, things we set out to do take much longer than anticipated. So, I made the choice to abbreviate the final four lessons into one blog post.

Here are the 11 lessons that led up to my first day of school…

And, this now leads me to the final four: The final four lessons learned and applied last week, which was my first week of school. These final four lessons are overarching big ideas. All four lessons are going to get me through the challenges to come, and my hope is that they can help you, too.

Lesson #12: Use Your Time Wisely

Without students physically in front of me, I’ve found that I can easily become distracted. Since my goal is to put a hard stop to my work day at 3pm each day, I know I have to use all of my time wisely. This past week, I’m happy to say I did just that. The biggest time suck for me in these strange times has been social media- Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. So, during the school day, I avoid them.

Additionally, I’m also a fan of lists. I make a list each day and check items off as I complete them. There is nothing quite as satisfying as crossing items off a list and watching the to-do’s shrink. Sounds simplistic, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the ones that work the best.

Lesson #13: Consider Sharing the Work

My fifth grade team and I are sharing all of the work this school year. I let go of control and agreed with my teaching team to departmentalize. So, instead of teaching many lessons a day, I’m now only teaching one reading lesson to 66 students at once on Zoom. While I’m the main teacher, my 5th grade colleagues are also in the Zoom call acting as co-teachers. They handle all the tech issues and behind the scenes questions while I’m teaching. After the lesson is over, we all break into our homeroom classes and even smaller breakout room groups for independent work time based on the lesson. We like to think of it as an expanded and flexible workshop.

We didn’t know if this crazy idea would work, but we are finding that it is surpassing all of our expectations! I only have to prep and teach one lesson a day, I get support from my colleagues during that lesson, I have the privilege of acting as a support co-teacher in their lessons, and I get to save most of my energy for small groups and conferences. Most importantly, our students and their families have only given us positive feedback about our new learning system. Sharing the work has truly been a dream.

Lesson #14: Seek Out Feedback, Accept it, and Adjust

This is really hard work. Teaching from a distance is unlike anything I have ever done before. Because of it, I’m a new learner. I’m engaging in something to which I have no experience. Sure, I have two decades of teaching experience. But all of that was done in person and not during a pandemic.

What I know about being a new learner is that feedback is critical to growth. So, I’m seeking out feedback. I’m not seeking it from the experts, nor am I looking to them for advice. After all, there are no experts in this. This is new to all of us. None of us have ever done this before.

So, I’m seeking out feedback and even some advice from those who matter most- my students, my students’ families, and my colleagues. No one else matters. I’ve seen a lot of opinions on teacher social media about what schedules, norms, procedures, etc. should or shouldn’t be. But, all of this is new. No one is an expert here, so no one really knows what’s best. I’ve decided to ignore the opinions that are out there. Some of the experts would probably scoff at some of the things I’m choosing to do- and that’s ok. I’m the one doing it, not them. The only opinions that matter come from those three groups I serve: students, families, colleagues.

Feedback will come in the form of honest frequent conversations and opportunities to offer thoughts and ideas through Google forms, individual meetings, and email. It will not come from those who have never met my students. So, when in doubt, ask your students how it’s going for them. Don’t ask the experts. After all, there are no experts in this. I feel like I’m doing a good job, but I won’t truly know until the people that matter most give their feedback.

Lesson #15: Don’t Forget About #1

Mostly importantly, please take care of yourself this year. None of us can fully serve our children if we are not first serving ourselves. Don’t forget about Lesson #1 in the series: Prioritize Yourself. This is hard work- probably the hardest work any of us will ever face. The only way we can take it on and serve our students in the way they deserve is if we take care of ourselves first. We got this. You got this.

I hope my 15 lessons were helpful. I’d love to hear some of your lessons as well. The catch phrase of the moment is true: We’re all in this together. Good luck, friends! We’re in for quite the adventure!

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #11 Get Books in Their Hands ASAP

Friday, March 13, 2020

7:30 – My grade level team and I met in one of our classrooms for our usual early morning chat. “Think today will be the day?” We knew it was only a matter of time before our school district would make the call to close schools. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to say or think anymore.”

8:00 – I open the door for my fifth graders. Two families had already chosen on their own to keep their kids home from school. I notice only 20 kids were in class that day instead of the expected 22. Two more families must have made the choice to keep their kids home as well. However, the day started as usual. Kids came in, put their backpacks away, then settled in to our morning independent choice reading routine.

8:25 – My class moved into our morning circle, where we gathered shoulder to shoulder in a circle every morning after independent choice reading. The topic of our conversation in morning circle was this new Coronavirus. We heard a handful of people in our community (not our school, but the greater community) had been diagnosed with it. Lots of discussion ensued. Our day then went on as usual until recess time.

10:00 – I excused kids out to recess and immediately headed to my teaching partner’s room to chat. Rumors were spreading that we were going to close. Our county health commissioner was going to make an announcement in the 11:00 hour. Recess ended and the day went on as normal until just before lunch.

11:40 – “Ms. Nosek can we chat for a moment?” My principal popped her head in the door, I stepped in the hall. She asked if we could use my classroom for a mandatory staff meeting at lunch (being a 5th grade classroom, my furniture fits adults better than most. Plus, my room is out of view of the lunch area, so we could safely have a somewhat private staff meeting in there). I knew what was coming.

11:55 – I excused my students out to lunch, my colleagues slowly started piling into my classroom, and it happened. My principal announced we would be closed for four weeks. Little did we know we were closing for the remainder of the school year. She said many things to us in that meeting. I don’t remember them all. But, I do remember her saying, Make sure they have books.

12:30-2:30 – is a hazy blur. I remember talking with my students about closing. I remember telling them that I am so excited that we were all reuniting again exactly one month from that day on April 13th, which also happens to be my birthday (again, at the time none of us knew we were saying our final in-person goodbyes on that day). I checked out Chromebooks and chargers to a few. I remember supporting them each in picking 5-10 of my own classroom library books to take home. We said goodbye with hugs at 2:30- yes, I know we shouldn’t have hugged, but I really didn’t care at that point. And, that was that.

We then all engaged in figuring out distance learning for the next two and a half months… you might be wondering what this little timeline has to do with book access. Well, on March 13th, one of the last things I did was check out 183 of my own classroom library books to my kids. Those books were with my students, away from the protection of the classroom library for quite some time!

Did I get my books back? I sure did.

On Thursday, May 28th, I drove around town for five hours to pick up the books I lent out. Every book, except five, came back to me. Some families even donated many other books that were already read, loved, and ready for new readers. So, instead of shrinking, lending out books actually helped me grow my classroom library.

Book access is a huge issue. It was an issue pre-Covid and it remains an issue today. However, it doesn’t have to be. There are some things we can do to ensure that our students have access to books. It will just take a little time, teamwork, and intentionality.

Many have written about book access before me. In fact, some educators have tirelessly made it their mission. I offer these two thoughts from four book access leaders in literacy education:

Children and adolescents need meaningful and consistent access to books at school and home. When they have access to books, they read more and they read better. Period. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s true.” Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp, Game Changer! Book Access For All Kids, pg. 5 (Scholastic, 2018)

Additionally, “Research demonstrates again and again that access to an abundant supply of books in school and classroom libraries increases both motivation and reading achievement.” Clare Landrigan & Tammy Mulligan, It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers, pg. 3, (Heinemann, 2018)

Kids need books. Not only do they need books, but they need continual access to books. They need continual access to a wide range of books by diverse authors in multiple genres over a long period of time.

So, what does this look like in our current, unrecognizable education landscape?

What I Plan to do in the Fall of 2020

Pre-Covid, scenes like these were common place in my classroom…

When thinking about book access, this is what I want to recreate in our new distanced reality. My hope for my students is that they will have consistent access to a large library, choice books for relaxed reading each day, a wide range of books to choose from for book clubs, and a book always at the ready to read anytime. When we were all in class together, I made this happen. Now that I’ll be teaching my students from my home through the internet, I’ll have to be a bit more creative and intentional in my quest to get books in their hands ASAP.

About a month ago, my thought was that I would be able to deliver books to all of my students to get them started for the first couple weeks of school. However, the first day of school for my students is coming up on August 17th. Today is August 7th and I still don’t know who my students will be. I’m guessing I probably won’t know until just a couple days before school starts. So, even if I wanted to deliver books to my students before school starts, I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to.

My goal is to keep a constant stream of physical books in my students hands in addition to the digital resources they will be able to access. Pre-covid, I was able to keep a physical stream of books in students’ hands without much outside help. Now, I am going to rely on others to support me in this work. The visual below shares a few ideas for getting a steady stream of physical books in kids’ hands.

Please note, these ideas are only realistically safe if everyone involved wears a mask covering their nose and mouth 100% of the time- all volunteers, kids, and adults. Additionally, all people involved should always remain at a minimum of 6 ft. apart. Kids can easily browse for books with gloved hands and a mask out of the back of a car with the adult or two present standing at a distance. No need to crowd the kids while they’re choosing books!

While having a steady stream of physical book access is important, this school year more than ever we are also going to have to heavily rely on both digital print books and digital audiobooks.

All of us in education are extremely fortunate to have access to the work of Clare Landrigan. Over the past few months, Clare has curated a comprehensive digital bookroom using Padlet. I will let her work speak for itself. Check out Clare’s incredible virtual bookroom below!

Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet

In addition to curating this comprehensive site, Clare has also extensively written about creating digital classroom libraries. I’m still in the process of creating my start of year virtual library for our fifth grade classes, so I’m not sharing it quite yet, but I will once it’s ready!

Other digital book access resources include the following:

If you’re interested in getting books in kids’ hands who may not have internet or who may not have easy access to physical books, check out the work of First Book.

One size will not fit all when it comes to book access. Finding the right fit for your own situation may take a lot of trial and error. It will definitely take time, teamwork, and intentionality. The goal is to get and keep kids reading, and they can’t read without a steady stream of reading material. Simply put, we have to make getting books into kids’ hands one of our biggest priorities at the start of the school year.

Posts #12-15 are coming up next week! Next week’s final four posts of this series will discuss four simple but big overarching ideas as we start the school year from a distance.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #10 Keep it Simple- Embrace the Power of Just One!

One Moment in Time– Whitney Houston
Once in a Lifetime– Talking Heads
One Way or Another– Blondie
One Love– Bob Marley
One– Three Dog Night
Once– Pearl Jam
One– Metallica
One– U2

One, Singular Sensation… for years, musicians have embraced the message and power of one. It’s about time educators do as well.

Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020

I did not embrace the idea of the power of just one until recently. This past spring, I wanted to do all the things! I wanted to create three videos a day for my students, share links to multiple sites for them to explore, and send multiple emails a week to caregivers to make sure they were informed. I completely burnt out in trying to achieve this. Plus, this wasn’t what my students or their caregivers even wanted or needed.

I wanted to do all the things and was neither emotionally or even physically equipped to do most of them. I tried to take everything on, so the result was that nothing went as well as I intended or hoped. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely successes this past spring, but for this series, I’m deeply reflecting on the things that weren’t successes in order to turn them around.

So, through reflection and a great deal of discussion with colleagues, students, and their caregivers, I’ve really embraced the idea of just one. Often times, all it takes is just one in life, right… Just one date with the right potential partner. Just one song to spark a love of a musician. Just one conversation to know you’ve found a friend for life. I really should have embraced this idea with distance teaching in the spring, but now I know better. So, I plan to fully embody the idea of just one this fall.

What I Plan to do in the Fall of 2020

In the spirit of this post, this is going to be a short, bullet-pointed section for ease of reading. Here we go…

My motto for the fall is just one! Repeat after me, friends- just one!

  • Just one email to caregivers each week to provide needed information without inducing more overwhelm. As I mentioned in lesson #3 earlier in the series, my team and I are going to choose a predictable time each week to send the email and let caregivers know to expect it then.
  • Just one time to check email in the morning and one time in the afternoon each day. Constantly checking email is just not necessary, and can often be anxiety inducing. Just once in the morning and once in the afternoon is all that’s needed to get the job done.
  • Just one Learning Management System (LMS)- and keep it clean and simple for ease of use. Fancy and cute can be fun, but we have to make sure whatever we create is easy for kids and caregivers to navigate. If it’s not, it’s more for the teacher than the student.
  • Just one supply pick-up or drop-off with all-the-things included for the first month of school. I’m really hoping schools make plans for this to take place for both ease of teachers in their planning and families in acquiring learning materials for their children. For example, my school is planning a supply pick-up over two days. For families who can’t get to school, my team and I plan to drop supplies off for our students.
  • Just one writing notebook– that’s all they need to make their writing their own to start.
  • Just one web based system for digitally producing writing to start- my preference is all that is included in the Google Suite: Docs, Slides, etc. Eventually, once things settle, more can be learned and introduced. Students can even introduce them to us- on their time!
  • Just one paper reading notebook to start.
  • Just one Google doc to create a digital reading notebook of sorts (I plan to describe this in a post bit later in August or early September!).
  • Just one new procedure each day. At the beginning of the school year, we are often tempted to teach all of our procedures in one or two days. Really, there is no need. Our time will better be spent if we focus on building community, getting to know our students, and most importantly, putting supports in place for them to get to know each other. There’s more than enough time to teach that new procedure (or those 10 new procedures) another day.
  • All of the just ones really add up. This list alone is quite a bit for kids and caregivers to manage. As we all know, this is not even close to an exhaustive list. Let’s all make the choice to be intentional in our messaging, lesson delivery, and amount of stuff required for our kids and families as they all embark on their school journeys alongside us this fall.

My only exception to the just one idea is with books. Kids need books. They need more than just one to start. In fact, they need a flood of books and other reading material as soon as possible! We can make it happen. I’ll discuss this in depth in lesson #11.

One Day More…

Post #11 is coming up on Friday! Friday’s writing will discuss getting books and reading material in kids hands right away.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!

If you are a music nerd like me, here the songs referenced in this post…
One Moment in Time– Whitney Houston
Once in a Lifetime– Talking Heads
One Way or Another– Blondie
One Love– Bob Marley
One– Three Dog Night
Once– Pearl Jam
One– Metallica
One– U2
One– A Chorus Line
One Day More– Les Miserables

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #5 Continue to Nurture the Most Important Relationships in Your Life

Quote from Misty Copeland. Image is my own of my parents.

This is my absolute favorite picture of my parents. It must be at least 15 years old- it’s the one I cherish most. I snapped this photo in the backyard of the house I grew up in. My parents have since moved a five hour drive away. It’s tough not being physically close to them right now, but we’re trying to make the most of it. I’ll never forget the look on their faces when I first FaceTimed them back in March while I was going for a walk in one of our favorite local places. Even though we are physically apart, we are still working to intentionally support each other during this tough time.

There really isn’t anything more important in our lives than our relationships with those who we love. Whether it be a partner, parents, children, siblings, close extended family, or friends who are like family, our connections with our loved ones are truly everything- especially now. If you’re like me, the majority of your loved ones live far away, and you find yourself feeling the pull of wanting to be closer. If you’re like many of my close friends, you live with the most important people in your life under the same roof and are trying to balance work life and family life. Both positions are so tough to be in right now, so relationship building and maintaining has to be a bit more intentional these days.

Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020

Perhaps the biggest mistake I made in the spring of 2020 was that many of my interactions with my loved ones centered around fear and worry. Understandably, many of our conversations and time spent together focused on the current state of the world. Now, I’m not saying to ignore the state of the world, but I am intentionally working on making my time with loved ones memorable and not always worry-centered.

Also, I just worked way too much and did not leave enough time for myself and my relationships. See post #1 in the series.

What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins

My biggest goal once school starts again is to really compartmentalize my work life and my personal life. This is hard! It’s always something I’ve easily been able to do in the past, but teaching from home is just different. So, when I actually get to safely visit or talk with my family or my close friends I’m going to make the effort to keep work at work, or should I say keep work between the hours of 7:00 and 3:00. After 3:00 will strictly be time for me and my loved ones. Again, see post #1 in the series for more on that.

The one type of relationship I have no business giving advice or reflecting on is that of parent and child. I’m not a parent myself, and I firmly believe in only writing about what I have done or experienced myself. So, I sought out thoughts from some of my trusted friends who proudly have the dual role of parent and teacher.

Some Words from My Teacher-Parent Friends– a huge thank you to the friends who offered their honest thoughts for this piece- I wholeheartedly appreciate you!

“We’re all in this together. We need to stop worrying about our kids falling behind. Everyone is home together. Focus on who they are as people. Help them grow emotionally and foster the human connections they are able to have.”
-Katie, 5th grade teacher & parent of an incoming 6th grader

“I was trying to be really strong and not show my kids how anxious I was about the whole situation, but lately I’ve been trying to be open about my worries.  Not to scare them, but my daughter is anxious and I try to talk to her about how it’s okay to be worried, that I feel worried, too, and then we talk about the things I do when I’m worried that help me feel better.  We have talked about taking action, because agency helps with worry. As a result, she started making some digital art with inspirational sayings and having us post them.”
-Angie, reading specialist & parent of an incoming 5th grader and 1st grader

“The thing I’m most worried about as we begin school in the fall, is that we will not be able to do anything really well.  I worry that I will not be able to give my daughter the attention that she needs to help her focus on a second grade curriculum, and I worry that I won’t be able to perform as I’m meant to as a professional. There was a great cost to our family and our health this last spring as we tried to do everything. We were unable to find a balance in which family was valued as much as work. Because this summer has been filled with work preparing for the school year, it has been hard to nurture the relationships we had prior to Covid. I have made a pledge to myself that I will finish my school preparation this week and then spend the next two weeks focusing on our family relationship.  My daughter needs to get out of the house as much as I do, but unfortunately I’ve been tied to a computer.”
-Jenn, 5th grade teacher & parent of an incoming 2nd grader

“I worry about keeping my son out of school because of the pandemic and our high risk family. There is a chance he will be ok and be asymptomatic and never get sick, but it’s not a guarantee and what if his brother, dad or grandma get sick, how will he recover from that? Experiencing Kindergarten is such an important and special time in one’s life, but I know even if he does go, it will not be what it was. Right now, we are spending time together, reading together, baking together… who cares what the house looks like!”
-Stephanie, kindergarten teacher & parent of an incoming kindergartener, two year-old, and four month-old

“My youngest is in high school. Spring was rough because he missed his favorite time of the year—baseball season. He’s a pitcher on the school varsity baseball team. He loves playing but he also loves the social aspect of being on a team. We all don’t want our kiddos to spend too much time playing video games but I was very lenient about that when SIP began because the games are so social. He plays with friends and they’re talking and laughing the whole time. So video games provided a much needed social outlet. He is also spending time working out on his own and with coaches, taking the time to improve his play. Baseball is his passion so he’s putting time and energy into it. All kiddos benefit from having an outlet like he does. Encourage them to find an outlet, whether it’s athletics or art or music or whatever else they love.  This is a hard time for kiddos, they’re missing out on so much. Our family also loves playing board games. Take time to do stuff together!”
-Shawn, 3rd grade teacher & parent of an incoming senior

“I’ve been trying different approaches. At the end of the day, my relationship with my children is more important than any task or academic standard. And I try to recognize that sometimes we all just need a break. Apologize and own mistakes. Kids appreciate it and they are very quick to forgive.”
-Elsa, 4th grade teacher & parent of an incoming 1st grader and 3rd grader.

“This spring, we were just stressed as a family. The summer has been nice to try to recapture some sense of normalcy, whatever that can be right now. Right now, I’m going to work with my son so he can be as independent as possible once school starts up again while I’m teaching. As far as our three year-old goes, I don’t know how we’re going to make it work! We’re not worried about academics. We’re concerned about how our kids are feeling emotionally.”
Andy, 6th grade English teacher & parent of an incoming 3rd grader and a three year-old.

“When we lost my mother-in-law to COVID-19 in early April, crisis schooling was the last thing on my family’s list of priorities. Grandma Abrams’ passing gave me a perspective about schoolwork that I otherwise might not have had. I had to let go of my teacher-mother perfectionism, and I gave both myself and my children permission to fail. Yes, I had the Google Classroom app installed on my phone, and I tracked the progress of my older sons as I was more hands-on with my younger sons. But my youngest two children just never got to doing their P.E. and art assignments. No matter what, every day at 1pm, school was over for them, not just because I needed to do my own school work, but because they needed time outdoors and away from screens. Their report cards said “did not participate” in those categories. For one of my older sons, whose school went to pass/fail grading, he passed all his classes, but there were still some report card comments akin to “has great potential, but not giving maximum effort.” My older sons very clearly communicated to me that they did a lot of work and learned very little, and I believed them. If the work they’re doing is a mile wide and an inch deep, and if they can see through that, I will not take the medicine approach and tell them just to suck it up and get work done. This is a situation that calls us of all to be humane.

The saving grace for me was that in my department at CHS, we worked from the New York Times writing curriculum. I collaborated with my supervisor and some colleagues to construct lessons together. It really anchored me, and working on writing with students made me feel like a much better teacher. I could still confer with my students in Google Meet — office hours were in the evening, which works really well for eleventh and twelfth graders. I did a lot of work on weekends — much more than I would during “regular school.” And there were some days when it felt like all my husband and I did was pass off the caregiving baton and manage to eat dinner as a family. I think that my children got to see the “teacher” side of me, but I did not have much scheduled down time with them at all during remote school. I started waking up early to read and have some quiet time, and that helped me to nip resentments in the bud. It was the only scheduled down time that I could guarantee myself!”
-Oona, high school English teacher & parent of an incoming 3rd, 6th, 7th, and 9th grader.

Regardless of the types of relationships you have- whether it be with a partner, parent, child, sibling, close friend, trusted colleague, or other family member, relationships really are everything in life. Nothing is more important. We need those we love and time with those we love more than ever. Nothing else really matters.

Post #6 is coming up on Monday. Each post next week will explore those ever important first days of school. None of us have ever experienced a first day of school like we will experience in the coming weeks. I’m hoping next week’s posts can offer some ideas for practical ways to plan a strong first week from a distance.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #4 Lean on Colleagues & Professional Networks

Here’s my team. This was the day we went back into school to pack up our classrooms for the summer and now beyond.

If you’ve read the prior posts in this series, you’ll have probably noticed that I mention my fifth grade team quite a bit. Every single day, I think about how fortunate I am to work with a cohesive, collaborative, and supportive team. Not only are we teaching colleagues, but also we are close friends. We have the kind of friendship that feels like we’ve known each other forever. But, we’ve only been together as a team for four years (with a one year necessary grade level move and then move back). We’re the kind of grade level partners who have very different personalities and teaching styles, but who share the same exact educational values and philosophies. My team, Katie and Laura, are not only are my biggest cheerleaders, but also they’re the first people to push back on some of my ideas and challenge me to consider thinking about things in a different way. I appreciate them immensely. I wish everyone could have a Katie and Laura to work with. During our shelter in place, we talked on the phone or Zoomed daily. We laughed, cried, and problem solved together. I could not have done it without them.

This post is a little different than the first three posts in the series…

Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020 Something to Celebrate from the Spring of 2020

See what I did there? One of the things I can look back on about the spring of 2020 and wholeheartedly celebrate is that I heavily relied on my entire school team and they heavily relied on me. We all really worked well together, and we will continue to do so once school starts up again. In my post coming up on August 6th, I plan to share a little bit about how Katie, Laura, and I are planning to work as a grade level team to make the most of distance learning for our students. I’m really looking forward to sharing some of our ideas!

I do have to say, not only am I fortunate to have Katie and Laura, but I am incredibly lucky to have my entire school. My principal, teaching peers, and all of our support staff really leaned on each other, learned from each other, and wholeheartedly supported each other in this incredibly difficult work last spring. I am fortunate to be lead by a thoughtful principal and to work on such a supportive and open teaching staff. Last spring was hard. It would have been much more difficult without Katie, Laura, and the entire team of staff members at my school.

What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins What You Can Do if You’re on Your Own

See what I did there again? In talking with other colleagues from across the country, I fully recognize that not everyone has a collaborative or cohesive teaching team or supportive school leadership to lean on. I would have been lost this past spring without my team. But, I also have other networks in education who I seek out for support from as well. Educators need support and camaraderie right now more than ever before. Going it alone is terribly lonely and difficult- I know, I’ve been there in the past. So, if you do not have a Katie and Laura like I do, or even if you do and are looking to expand your professional network during these isolating times, you might consider one of these other options.

  • Join a professional network. I’ve been a member of NCTE (The National Council of Teachers of English) for seven years now. Throughout our shelter in place, NCTE has offered numerous online member gatherings, webinars, social hours, and so much more (learn more about NCTE’s events here). Plus, NCTE has many different caucuses, assemblies, and affiliate groups around different interests and missions in education. NCTE has been as much of a support to me as Laura and Katie have been. I’ve made so many professional connections and friendships over the years through NCTE. If you’re not a member yet, I cannot recommend membership enough! If you’re looking for support, you’ll find it with NCTE. Plus, the annual convention is my favorite weekend each year. It takes place every November, and is virtual this year (obviously).
  • Join a Twitter Chat. Twitter is much more than a hot bed of celebrity musings and government blunders. Believe it or not, I actually met my coauthor of To Know and Nurture a Reader, Kari Yates, in a Twitter chat- the G2Great Twitter chat to be exact! Eventually, we met in person- at one of the NCTE annual conventions no less! But, our writing partnership and friendship started online in a Twitter chat. So, I’m proof that the potential for creating valuable professional connections online is alive and very real. A Twitter chat is just what it sounds like- it’s a chat on Twitter around a common topic. Anyone with a Twitter account can join a Twitter chat (click here to learn how to get started with Twitter if it is new to you or here if you have a Twitter account, but need help using it). In addition to meeting my coauthor on a Twitter chat, I have learned a great deal about literacy education that I might not have learned otherwise. If Twitter chats are new to you, you can learn the ins and outs with this step by step resource or with this video. As a literacy teacher, there are three chats in particular that I highly recommend:

    #TCRWP chat led by the minds at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Wednesdays, 4:30pst

    #G2Great chat led by Dr. Mary Howard & team, Thursdays, 5:30pst. The #G2Great chat archives can be found here.

    #NCTEchat (of course!) led by different members of NCTE the third Sunday of each month, 5:00pst. An archive of NCTE chats can be found here.

    You can also seek out other educational chats by consulting this list. It’s a massive list! So, no matter your educational interest, there is a chat for you.

Until we can sit around the table to chat, laugh, and plan again in person, we’ll have phone calls, text messages, FaceTimes, and Zooms. When that won’t work out or if it’s not possible one day, I’ll have those extended professional networks that I’ve created for myself- especially through my membership with NCTE and connecting with other educators through Twitter. These are trying times for educators- probably the most trying we’ll ever experience. I think I can safely say that. It’s not the time to go it alone. It’s ok to lean on others right now. We all need each other more than ever before. And, if you aren’t sure where to start. Feel free to reach out. I’m here for you!

Post #5 is coming up tomorrow! Tomorrow’s writing will discuss the importance making time for family and friends once the school year starts.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!

Journaling With Kids via Screencastify

Online teaching is hard. It’s really hard. To my fellow classroom teachers trying to navigate this without much to go on or follow, hang in there!

Today, my fifth grade teaching team and I talked about using the Chrome extension, Screencastify, to start journaling with our students from afar. We’re going to give it a try.

This morning, I watched a tutorial from Screencastify, put together a Google Slides presentation to share my examples, and just went for it!

Here’s my first attempt with it- it’s not perfect, and it’s not mass made for all. It’s from my heart, for my students, at this moment in time. Maybe it can give you some ideas for journaling with your students at this time. I encourage you to try making one on your own. You can do this! We all can. Good luck, friends!