Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bieber Who? Heroes Are In The Halls

When I saw some tweens throwing love notes over Justin Bieber's secure fence wishing him well in his recovery from bad press (forget his necessary recovery from alcohol and just general bad decision making), I had this weird sensation of anger.

Really? Love notes? For him?

Truth be told, those couple of girls--and tweens/teens/children of all ages--just don't have to look that far to find heroes. They need only look down their school hallways.

In my blog, I tend to focus on the work my students and I are doing in my classroom, but I'm lucky the lucky one because heroes are working all around me. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • My direct colleagues in the English department push for more and more individual reading while working to balance informational texts
  • Other teachers work hard to find innovative ways to deliver material and engage students by using technology, personal experiences, physical lessons, and so much more
  • The office staff is warm in their greeting and is able to communicate well with all people--teens, parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, and more
  • Our administrators look for programs that will challenge our students and push our teachers
  • Our kitchen staff provides us nourishment--and plenty of smiles
  • Our support staff does incredibly important work with individual students showing both passion and compassion
  • Coaches and directors of every kind provide experiences that allow family to form within social groups
There is no doubt, in these bullet points, that I've missed an aspect of the school life, but the idea is that heroes are everywhere in our lives. If you don't want to look at your schools, fine. Look at your churches, at your local government/public services, at your local businesses, at the stay-at-home parent next door.

As my oldest daughters, currently in 4th grade, prepare to move schools--from their elementary to an intermediate and then junior high--it is my responsibility to remind them of the reality of heroism.

And if they're going to write love letters to their heroes, I'm just hoping they can hand deliver them. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I HAET Myself Sometimes

Over the last year, I have spent a bit of every Sunday writting a blog. I've looved it. It's alloweed a lot of self-reflection and general thinking about teaching. It's alos been fun to reach out to an audience, knowing that what I'm writing is at least hitting 70 sets of eyes a week and sometimes much more than that.

So, it really brothers me to know end when I have spelling errors. And it seems that I always dew. AND I even re-reed what I write. I do that I ask my students to do--and their are still errors. AND I'm an English techer in town. Mostly, my few readers are those who live hear in our area, so having there junior-level English teacher making simple mistakes is embarrassing. It doesn't lock good.

But then, I just have to let my hare down and realize exactly what I'm doing here. I have to forgave myself the way I tri to forgive my students. I aks them to have a voice in the community, to dare to make they're work available to others because it makes them work harder in the end.

And I'll take that kind of vulnerability annytime over doing things just write, but never reaching out.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let Them Play! Let Them Play!

Growing up, I loved that scene in The Bad News Bears when the crowd at the Astrodome cheered on that makeshift team with, "Let them play! Let them play!" I loved it because the kids refused to stop doing what they were having fun doing. I loved it because the adults cheered them on--cheered them on to play a sport that they loved so much.

Though the chant is a little different, this is the kind of energy that I'm seeing in my classroom. The new chant? Let them create! Let them create! But I'm cheering them on with the fervor of the Astrodome and they are working because their work has real value. The students' work on early American literature is being passed down to younger students within our district and even shared with my educational networks.

Some are using the early literature as a metaphor (a tree whose roots are in the native myths, whose trunk is the early settlers, and whose buds are the pieces of literature surrounding the revolutionary war). Some are using early literature to make author trading cards. And some are making digital books.

The learning, when genuine (that is, when the students are really pushing themselves), is powerful and widespread. Students (and I'm not even sure they realize this) are going back to their notes and back to the literature and even digging in to new research in order to make something meaningful for our younger students and thereby meaningful to them.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let US Write a Book!

Over the past few months, we in the Tri-Cities Area (Ferrysburg, Fruitport, Grand Haven, and Spring Lake) have had some great conversations about empathy and kindness--and, yes, bullying, too. Not too long ago, the Grand Haven Tribune highlighted our community's work by pointing out the importance of the conversations happening through Rachel's Challenge at Spring Lake Middle School and book studies in Grand Haven Schools and throughout the community. The thing that seems to come out of these conversations is that we can do our best work if it stays on the brain, if it the topic stays on our lips. So how do we do that?

Let's write a book together--about empathy. I'm happy to be the editor, but you are all the authors. 

Why a book? Well, I suppose, it has a lot to do with me being an English teacher. It's simple; I love books. And as an English educator, empathy has always played an important role in books, whether we stand in the shoes of Boo Radley and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or see through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. But I'm not alone in this idea that stories matter. This fall, through Emily Bazelon's book Sticks and Stones, over 200 community members of all ages and backgrounds had some great discussion surrounding the topic. But it was Bazelon's stories (and her incredible research) that made up this powerful book. Through the three stories in her book, we were able to understand multiple perspectives. That's what stories allow us. They allow us to see from other people's perspectives. They provide us with opportunities for empathy.

For this book (the working title is Elevate Empathy: One Community's Effort to Raise the Social Benefit of Kindness), I want us to focus on the positive. If we can change the social benefit to weigh more heavily for kindness by being upstanders instead of bystanders, then we're doing something right. The truth is that negativity will not leave us. Just look in the comments section of any online newspaper or listen closely in our school halls. Negativity is there. But that negativity "works" because it's given social clout (i.e., people pay attention). Now, it's time to give some social clout to the positive by telling our own stories of empathy. Whether to/from peers, parents, teachers/coaches, or total strangers, take this time to tell your story (and possibly get published), all with the purpose to ELEVATE EMPATHY in our community and others.

Follow this link when you're ready to submit your story. 

Story of Empathy Submission Form

Some details

  • We're looking for writers of all ages with a variety of stories. 
  • You do NOT have to be from the Tri-Cities to write. 
  • A book publisher is already lined up; we just need your stories. 
  • There are no promises that your submitted story will be used in the print version.
  • All names in the story may be changed (Authors can use pen names).
  • A group of editors will look for grammar errors, but please do your best to make your copy as clean as possible.
  • Deadline for submissions: April 1, 2014.
  • I will NOT accept profit from this printed book. Any profits from the printed book will go to a local fund to help elevate empathy in our community.
  • Contact:
Finally, this: Don't see yourself as an author? That's the expectation. This isn't about being an author. This is about having a story. Just focus on that. TELL THE STORY.