#oneword GRACE

I know that I am super late this party, but to be honest, I have spent so much of my life on a school schedule, August is my New Year’s.  I spend my summer break in reflection about my life as an educator, as well as the other roles I play.  In January I tried to get on board with #oneword.  I read other people’s amazing blogs, tweets and posts.  I made a list of potential words, but I just couldn’t do it.  Now I ready – #oneword GRACE!

Extending GRACE:

As a middle school teacher, my students need grace.  They are full of hormones and don’t know who or what they really want to be.  They are challenging themselves, their parents, school leadership and the world.  They fluctuate in a snap for reasons that neither I nor they can define.  These are all things that I actually LOVE about middle school students.  But, these things can still be exhausting and hurtful to our learning environment.  In the most frustrating of moments, I need to extend grace.  I want to focus on the WHY of the behavior, so I can navigate them to better options.

While I tend to be forgiving with my students, after all – they are just kids.  I’m sometimes not so forgiving with the other adults in my work, social and home life.  “How can adults act that way??” is a fairly constant refrain in my mind any time I watch the news or peruse social media. Our current culture seems to jump on any misstep. (Repeat after me: Everyone is allowed a bad day. Everyone is allowed a different opinion.)   Although I will never be accepting of hateful words or actions, in all other situations, I must presume the best intentions.  I need to model grace to others if I want them to value my views.

Accepting GRACE:

I’m a reflective person, in other words, I tend to beat myself up.  I wake up in the middle of the night, playing situations over and over in my head, criticizing what I did or said.  How did it affect others?  What do they think of me?  Why on earth did I do that??  I want to be a great educator, wife, mother, daughter and friend.  I want to regularly cook healthy meals and keep my house clean.  I want to live out my faith before others.  I want to exercise, well maybe not want to, but do it anyway.  If I am faltering in any of these things, which is ALL THE TIME, then I’m failing at life.  So I need to extend and accept grace with myself.

Asking for GRACE:

I’m gonna screw-up!  So I need to get comfortable admitting my mistakes and asking for grace.  I need grace from my students, when I inevitably lose my cool over something stupid.  I need grace when my fabulous lesson plan falls flat. I need grace when I get so busy that don’t see the needs of others. I need grace from my friends, family and co-workers when I’m negative, lazy or unaware.

Hence, my #oneword for the 2018-19 school year is GRACE.

In a slightly personalized version of Ephesians 4:29:  Let no unwholesome word proceed from my mouth, but only that which is good for building up, according to the need of the moment, that it may give GRACE to those who hear.


The Daily Book Talk: Realities & Next Steps

Although this has been the topic of other blogs, it can’t be said enough:

Book Talks are a powerful way to get students excited about reading!

I recently posted a picture of my less-than-stellar Waiting List system to a Facebook group of Reading teachers.   I wanted to show how daily book talks encouraged my students to try new titles.  Based on comments and questions, I decided to share a bit more.  In the past, I’ve performed book talks randomly; when I finished a particularly intriguing text or a topic seemed popular with my students.  This year I made a commitment to do Daily Book Talks.  

book talk 3

No fancy format needed (enthusiasm is essential!):

First, introduce the title, author, genre & show the book.

Next, read a page or two and/or show a book trailer.

Then, make some connection based on topic, TV show, movie or other books, “If you like _________, then you might want to check this one out!”

Finally, add it to our list.  We keep a running list of our talks on chart paper.  When one fills up, we just lay another on top and keep going.  When a student says, “Hey Miss, I want that book that you talked about. You know, the one that….,” we can always look back to find the title.

book talk 2

I perform the same talk throughout the day with all my classes, taking note of students that show interest.  They give it a quick preview during class, then let me know if they want it or need to be put on the waiting list.


  • You must read & read a lot.  You must read books that fit your students level and interests.  Luckily, there is a multitude of wonderful middle grade & YA literature.
  • Not all students who ask for the book, will actually read it.  If you don’t see them actively reading it over the next couple of days, check in with them.  Maybe suggest another book.  Remind them if others are waiting, “You could let someone else have it for now and try again later.”
  • You must have rich, diverse classroom library and continually add to it.  You need to be able to hand a student the book you are sharing.  I spend a lot on books for my classroom (shhh, don’t tell my husband).  Research and read blogs about MS/YA literature to find the latest and greatest. You could use library books, but I think it would be harder.
  • Plan for a variety of genres each week: Realistic fiction, Historical fiction, Nonfiction, Science fiction, Fantasy, Adventure & more.  Also, try to vary types of text: narrative, books in verse, picture books, graphic novels, etc. 

Next Steps:

  • Recognizing that my students need reading role models that look like them, I have encouraged other staff members to create book talks.  I know you can find many online, but feel my kids would benefit most from seeing their favorite Coach or Science teacher enthusiastically share a beloved book.  I’ve created a Flipgrid location for these shares and hope to inspire my colleagues to participate.
  • Student-led Book talks.  Many educators are rockstars at this, but it is an area a growth for me.  I really want to push my students to talk more about their books. That’s what real readers do!  First, have them start sharing in small groups with their classroom peers.  Then, venture out with blogs/vlogs to share with readers beyond our walls.

Daily Book Talks are not the cure-all for fake reading or reading apathy, but it does give students exposure to numerous titles with minimal time and effort.  We still participate in book shopping, speed dating, book tastings and read alouds.  I am convinced the more amazing books my students see & hear about, that they will eventually find a book that will lead to a life-long love of reading!

When did Patriotism override our calling to Love One Another?

I stand, because I choose to, and I have that choice.  I stand, not to honor a symbol, but the men and women who sacrificed so much for me to have that choice.  And yet…my heart hurts at the division in our country, churches, and communities.  We have become so focused on the means of protest, that we aren’t giving credence to the issue.  When did Patriotism override our calling to Love One Another?

In my predominately white Sunday school class many discussed an incident at a private Christian high school in Texas, where the football coach had dismissed two players for kneeling during the national anthem.  Several in our class supported the coach and spoke of the “consequences of disobedience.”

But I had to think, what if the story was flipped?  If players at a public high school were told by the coach that they were not allowed to wear a cross during the game, and they were kicked off the team for defying that rule, would the discussion still have focus on “disobedience?”  I imagine that instead there would be indignation at the coach, school, and lack of freedom of speech/religion.

I don’t even pretend to understand the complexities of race issues in our country.  I do recognize the Take A Knee movement as a peaceful protest to bring awareness to brutality against people of color.  As Christians, we can’t ignore this brutality.  We may choose to protest in different ways, but we must unite in expressing that this brutality needs to end.  If you Love Others, then you want them to be and feel safe.  If you Love Others, then you want their voices heard and valued.

I am a white teacher in a diverse middle school.  I often speak to my students of the power of education and the opportunities it provides.  I encourage them to read and think deeply about issues. I believe that if they learn to write and speak effectively, they can change the world in positive ways.  I want them to believe this.  I need it to be true.

I am proud to be an American.  We are flawed, but fixable.

Above all, I am a Christian…and as such, I am called to Love God and Love Others.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  

There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 ESV)

Celebrate Our Calling

I recently included the following quote from Christian author/speaker, Beth Moore, in a Facebook post:

For my educator friends as we prepare for a new year:

 “None of us will accidentally fulfill our calling. Fulfillment will require focus, stamina, self-discipline, and, as reluctant as we are to accept it, a certain amount of suffering.” – Beth Moore

Perfect description of our calling as educators!

As I looked back on it, I thought, “sounds a little dire, Diane.  Really, you’re going to start the school year with words like suffering?”  It wasn’t intended to sound ominous.

First, the post was intended to be a celebration.  A celebration of the passionate, hard-working educators who are called to show up for students every day.  And yes, I do believe it to be a calling.  Despite your spiritual setting, if you are a dedicated educator, then it is not just a job, or even a career.  Done well, it is too hard for anyone to choose this solely for a paycheck. (and we won’t even get into what an educator’s paycheck looks like!)  I personally could not face each day without God by my side. As much as I love teaching, I don’t have enough stamina or kindness to deal with the angst of middle-school kiddos working entirely out of my own energy.  My faith, and the love & compassion that it provides me, is my only way.

Second, it was intended as a call to action.  We aren’t going to fulfill our calling without intentional and thoughtful effort.  An engaging learning environment doesn’t just happen.  I know some of you are blessed to born entertainers and story-tellers, and that makes it easier for you to capture the kids’ attention.  But long-term focus and progress in learning will require planning, innovation, collaboration, and perseverance.  And sometimes suffering.

Despite your incredible sacrifices of time, energy, and heart, our profession is often misunderstood and maligned.  Yet, you willingly suffer for your students and co-workers, because you recognize the importance of the work we do.  This is your calling.

So celebrate – celebrate your calling as an educator!  I’m blessed to share in this crucial work with you!

Image credit: http://www.livingwellspendingless.com

Journey in Honoring their Voices

Many teachers give an end-of-the-year survey to their students.  I’m sure we all benefit from this feedback as we reflect on changes for the upcoming school year.  But it made me wonder, Why wait?  Why ask students for their opinion when they’re almost out the door? If they’re dissatisfied, why wouldn’t I want to hear their ideas when we could still make improvements?  What is their incentive to share changes for next year’s class?

So this year I decided to embed Student Voice Surveys throughout the year.  We have 6 grading periods, so at the end of our 1st, 3rd and 5th grading periods, I gave my students a chance to share their voice.  To hold myself accountable, I made this part of my professional goals and shared the results and my reflections with my lead & grade-level principals.  I know this sounds a little scary, but these administrators have proven to be supportive and accepting of my efforts to grow.

I started with example questions from Marzano* and used Google Forms to create the surveys.  Then, I added other questions relevant to my instruction & desired classroom culture.  As an ELA teacher, I questioned their reading habits and interests.  Since starting flexible seating this fall, I added questions to checked student needs and opinions regarding these new seating options.  Later surveys focused on issues of behavior management, tutorials, choice, communication and engagement.

My take-aways:

  1. Ask Them: They have great ideas!  Students are my “target audience.”  If I am not meeting their needs, then I need to know.  Administrators may come through my room and be content with what they see, but if students aren’t feeling it, then we have a problem.  Yes – I got some crazy, silly responses that I can’t or won’t do.  Remember, they are in middle school.  However, most students took the surveys seriously and we all benefited from their voice.
  2. Make changes based on their input: It doesn’t matter if it’s a small change, just change something! Students need to know that their input is valued.  Some of the adjustments made based on their input included: loosened up my “no headphones” rule, tweaking the classroom schedule, project learning, more intentional wait time, and personal check-ins during conferences.
  3. Announce that you are making changes based on their input: Make sure they know you are doing something because of their input.  When I surveyed for ideas about making instruction more engaging, an overwhelming number responded that they wanted more projects.  So in our final weeks together, students created projects to share their learning with an independent reading book.  Before starting, I reminded the students that they had requested projects as an opportunity to show their learning.
  4. Prepare them to share their voice: Many students are not accustomed to being asked for their opinions. In my 1st survey, I got a lot of “IDK” and “nothing” responses to short answer questions.  Students needed more time to develop their ideas.  I began having them consider these questions during QuickWrites and Turn & Talks prior to a survey.  This greatly improved the information I received.

My reflection: I won’t say that these surveys completely rocked my world.  Most importantly it reinforced the mutual respect & trust that I wanted to build.  Students knew that it was OUR classroom and they had a voice in how it functioned.  They knew that I cared about their opinions and that they could share those opinions without negative repercussions.  Surprisingly, I also received significant positive reinforcement through these surveys.  During those dark times when I felt the wheels were coming off, students still responded that they knew I cared about their progress, was willing to provide guidance,  and believed in their ability to be successful.  What more can I ask for?

My desire is to build life-long readers, critical thinkers, and citizens able to share their ideas in a meaningful way.  Honoring their voice in the classroom is one step in preparing my students to do this in the world beyond our walls.

The journey continues: I will continue giving periodic Student Voice Surveys.  Also, I plan to use Community Circles and a Suggestion Box (probably thru QR code) to allow for more timely student input.

If you haven’t already, join us in the Journey to develop more a student-centered learning environment by encouraging students to share their voice!




Learning on a Timeclock

I love structure, organization, goals.  I love being able to cross things off the to-do list and check off completion of a task.  I admittedly enjoy the sense of accomplishment, and recognition of others, for a job well done.  So it seems a little weird to confess my increasing discomfort with grades.

If I look at it as a whole, our curriculum includes important understandings and skills that I want every student to gain.  Our district has worked to create units of learning, based on state requirements, which are reasonably sequenced and organized.  But does learning really work that way?  Do readers sequentially and linearly gain understanding of how to analyze text in a six week grading period?  I am frustrated when I see the reader who is just about to make a connection between multiple themes in their book and the grading period ends.  “Here’s your grade, babe, now we’re on to something different.”  And that learning ends.  Or the student who self-selected a perfect book to explore how cultural and historical setting influences plot, but alas, we’re not teaching that ‘til next semester.   This isn’t the way to cultivate readers!

Reading is organic.  We analyze texts in coffee shops and around the dinner table when we share our thoughts on the latest book, movie or TV show.  We argue why protagonist wouldn’t have done that, or why one character is more fully developed than another, or how this turn of phrase completely changed the mood of the scene.  We do this because we are invested in the text & our chosen point of analysis: theme, character, plot, etc.  How can we limit our learners when they are ready to explore something different than what is in the unit plan?  How do we not give them credit for that progress?

I am lucky to work on a campus that has practices workshop, student choice, conferring, SBL, and proficiency scales.  But it still comes back to the timeclock of learning.  Punch in at the beginning of the grading period – do these things – punch out at the end and pick up your report card.  Unfortunately, I’m not coming to you with an epiphany.  Bigger minds than mine are doing remarkable research and writings on this topic. I’m just joining the fray with my questions and musings.  I am just considering how I can be more respectful and responsible to the learners in front of me each day.  Not there yet, but I’m excited share the journey.