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Sunday, May 14, 2017

book clubs

Book clubs! Do you use them in your ELA classroom? Here's a down-and-dirty guide to how I pulled them off in the past few weeks, with a freebie to boot. And a chance for a give-away!

All year, students have had one homework assignment: Read 20 pages of their Just Right books. I track this every day with status of the class. I know who is reading what, who is finishing books, who is abandoning books, who is forgetting their books, etc. This assignment really helps build the stamina it takes to get through book clubs - because the reading and note-taking students do for book clubs mirrors the homework they've done all year with me.

In book clubs, first you have to pick your books. We just completed a Holocaust Unit and so my students read Jacob's Rescue, The Diary of Anne Frank, Night, Behind the Bedroom Wall, and Number the Stars. In order to prepare for the discussions, which happened for about 20 minutes each day, they did their reading and note taking at home the night before. They took notes on this Book, Head, Heart (BHH) Organizer I learned about from Beers & Probst's new book - Disrupting Thinking. Then, in class, I gave daily mini-lessons related to book clubs, and then they had their conversations.

But before they had their first conversation, we used the fish bowl strategy, so I could coach one group while others watched. I think this demonstration and coaching is so important. It also turned out that one of the other Literacy Coaches was in my classroom that day, and she gave me such great feedback on Author's Craft - which turned into great mini-lessons!

Once they saw what I expected book clubs to look like, I used my observations to come up with my teaching points each day. Here's the mini-lessons I gave for book clubs this year, one a day over the course of our book clubs, which lasted two weeks:

  • To participate in Book Clubs, students must come prepared. (We watched and evaluated the work of this book club group, and held a conversation about book clubs. Students also filled out a contract that broke down their due dates for chapters in their books together and also gave them more detailed instructions on preparations, which we went over.)
  • Preparation for book club conversations means taking notes on the parts you want to discuss with your group.
  • Accountable Talk Sentence Stems help us take a small idea and grow it bigger.
  • In book club, conversations are not finished until the time runs out. (Discuss strategies to help propel book club conversation: listening to think rather than to respond, completing notes to have more ideas, etc.)
  • When discussing, we pick one topic and stick with it for awhile by all sharing about it.
  • When a reader wants to share a comment about the book, they should ask all to open to the page, then read the part that prompted the comment, then share the comment for all to discuss.
  • Book club participants wonder, "Why did the author do that?" as they read the text. (Author's Craft - We spent a few days on this one.)
  • We read books to understand the world.
  • We read books to understand ourselves.

After mini-lesson, students met with their groups and discussed. I spent my time observing their work and taking anecdotal notes.


I'm currently working on a PD session about Backwards Design Planning and am in the process of rewriting my Holocaust unit with that framework, and in the next few weeks should have that up on TpT with all the documents associated with this project.

Give Away
In the mean time, if you'd like to read more from Beers & Probst and their book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, I have a copy to give away! Please leave a comment or question below about book clubs and I'll enter you in the drawing! You can also read more about that book (which is a book about how students should be reading more than it is a book about book clubs here and here.) Comments on all three of these blog posts will be eligible for the give-away!

Looking forward to hearing your ideas on book clubs! I'm always reminded how much better we are working together than on our own little islands :-)

I will choose a winner for the copy of Disrupting Thinking on Sunday, May 21st, be sure to leave a comment by then!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

after 14 years

It's May and my eighth grade students are at the end of their year and I'm totally feeling the teacher fatigue that comes along with the end of another school year. I've been finding myself becoming less and less patient as the days go by and it just isn't working for me. So when my students came in upset about their end-of-the-year activities (or lack there of because they haven't met expectations) I realized I wasn't going to get anywhere with my plans without letting them be heard.

So I set aside the poem I had in mind for the day and asked them to raise their hands to share.

At first it was just talking over one another, and I had to reiterate a few times that everyone's voice is important, everyone needs to be heard, but then they started listening better, and so could I.

They were upset that their privileges (Six Flags, Dinner Dance, possibly the promotion ceremony) were being taken away. They needed to vent, to let it be heard, so that's what happened.

And then I responded.


Your choices.

Your choices determine your consequences, good or bad.

One student said, "Why couldn't they let us know about the point system earlier in the year? I could have been more prepared." 

To which I replied, "You've got a compliment and then reality check coming your way. Ready?"

She nodded.

"We all know how smart you are, there's no question about that."

She smiled, and I continued, "So don't act like 3 or 6 more months of the points system would have made one bit of difference for you. You would still make the choices you continually do. Your attendance would still be what it was. Your choices about how to respond to teachers would still be what it was, because it's not the system, but that your choices are now preventing you from having what you want."


She did not sit there quietly reflecting. She and her classmates had a hundred buts, most of which involved pointing to someone else. To which I found myself continually responding, "point your finger back at yourself."

Worry about yourself.

Take care of yourself.

Your choices.

No, really.... your choices.

I know it's the age, but it's the hard lessons. There aren't a million chances. Each action in our life has a set of consequences, good or bad. You have to live with the choices you make.

So what's the point of all this? It's not like this is some new revelation - middle school kids wound up at the end of the year.

For me, this was the first time I stopped and let them have time to speak their piece. This was the first time I - purposefully - set aside my objectives and gave time to hear them out. It was the first time I  realized that I didn't want to make myself miserable trying to persuade them to do what I wanted when they had too much on their mind to talk about first.

And after 30 minutes of this conversation, they all got to work. They were doing research... on May 12.... and they all got to work. Even my one kiddo who hasn't had the best time in my class lately, came over to my conferring table as he was supposed to. Huge win.

In fourteen years of teaching, I have learned that if you don't let them be heard, you will not get anywhere with your plans. So give them 30 minutes, (including a dose of reality to their objections) and then they will be able to get to work on your plans.

They will even oblige you with a class picture, and the two students who refuse to come over will be prompted - not by their teacher, but by their peers - to be a part of it too, because it's incomplete without everyone.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

disrupting thinking: bhh framework

I just got through the second part of Disrupting Thinking - all about their BHH framework and I'm so excited to share it with you! (Check out part one of my review here.)

But first, something I loved, something I'm taking to heart. (I'm practicing the strategy!)


I really appreciate the teacher researchers, Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst who came up with this strategy and are sharing it with all of us in their new book for a multitude of reasons, but first because they are vulnerable and funny, and it's so refreshing. As they began to share the story of how their BHH framework came to be, they talked about the first instances when they tried - and failed - at it with students. On page 62, they shared how their first lessons went with kids, and how they didn't work.

This was so refreshing to me because it's so teaching. You have this idea, and you want to experiment. You try it out with kids and it totally flops - we've all been there. It takes weeks and months and years to refine our craft, and so it's so nice for me to see that I'm just like them in trying new things out and seeing them fail sometimes. And I'm especially engaged by their writing, as it comes with words from the mouths of babes - responses to their first attempts at sharing these lessons with students: 

Will you be here all week? one student inquired.
Is this for a grade? another asked. 
I  love the vulnerability they show, which translates to me, a teacher thinking, "Hey, Michelle, it's okay to try new things even if they fail. That's how we get to greatness..."

And now that I've shared my heart, we can get on to the framework!

BHH is Book, Head, Heart.

You share with kids that good readers consider what's in the book, this work coming from many teacher researchers, but my faves to the likes of Fountas and Pinnell and Kelly Gallagher:


  • What's this about?
  • Who's telling the story?
  • What does the author want me to know?
Next, you teach students to think about what's in their head, this work coming from Lousie Rosenblatt, Nancie Atwell, and Donald Graves:
  • What surprised me?
  • What does the author thinking I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?
  • What did I notice?

Finally, you add a third component, my favorite part! Penny Kittle, Georgia Heard and others help us look at what's in your heart:
  • What did I learn about me?
  • How will this help me to be better?
  • What life lessons did I learn?
  • What did I take to heart?
  • How did it make me feel?
So part two of the book includes a few chapters that call up past work that led Beers & Probst here, strategies that fit with BHH, samples of student conversations from first, fourth, eighth, and college freshmen, a sample for you to try out on your own with a poem, misconceptions that were revealed as they did the work with students, examples of anchor charts, funny anecdotes... definitely enough to cause me to think about how I can try this out...and I did, yesterday!

The more I read from this book, the more I continue to feel that it's a great framework for helping students think through text, thinking that includes their own feelings and thinking that can make them more compassionate people, which will lead us to create even better citizens.

Do you have a copy of the book yet? If not, I have a book to give away! If you'd like to be considered for the give away, leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas about this framework, or a response to one of my favorite questions from this part of the book:

Do you think its important for students to think about how a text is changing them? Do you share with students how reading changes you?

Leave your thoughts, let's keep the conversation going!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

review: disrupting thinking part 1

So excited that Stephanie from Scholastic reached out to me to review Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kyleen Beers and Robert E. Probst. I'm only through the first part, but it's coming to you *highly recommended.

So let's start with what I'm loving about this book. First of all, the book is beautifully put together. I love the colored pages, the quotes that are set off in the text, the conversations that are included between Kyleen and Bob and the students, and the funny anecdotes from the authors, like this one...

If I can speak for a moment about the conversations that are included with the text, I have to impress upon you how powerful they are. The Opening Comments to part one include conversations between students and either Kyleen or Bob about how students feel about reading. They begin with a first grader and continue with a child in third, fourth, seventh, eighth, and a college freshman. The change in the children's thinking as they grow... it's disheartening. It will certainly cause you to pause and consider the counterproductive methodologies we are using to instruct children in reading, and lead children to be young adults who can read but choose not to.

Beyond that is the philosophy that this work is grounded in, that of Louise Rosenblatt. She wrote the Transactional Theory of Reading, which states that when any person reads a text, a transaction takes place, one that will be slightly different from the next person's because each reader brings something different to the text. I was thrilled to come upon a heading, "From Extracting to Transacting" and a thorough explanation of efferent vs. aesthetic reading.

I'm only through the first part, which is theory based, but I'm loving it. It discusses the readers we want in our classrooms - responsive, responsible, and compassionate. I was particularly excited to see, in the chapter on responsible readers, that part of that work is responsibility to others, which then gets into fake news and social media's role in perpetuating that. In the chapter about compassionate readers, they lead with the recent political climate of the 2016 election cycle, and after a discussion about what a compassionate reader is, they end the chapter this way:
And perhaps, as adults, they will enter into conversations with one another with more civility, with more generosity, with more kindness toward one another.
Seriously. Swoon. 


I'm so happy we have yet another example of research in the literacy field that reaffirms what I believe about teaching reading - we're not here to teach kids to pass a test. We are here to help children not only see the joy in reading, but also guide them how to use what they have read to become better people and make our world a better place. We want students that are responsive to the texts they read, who are responsible about reading - who do not fall for alternative facts and students who are also compassionate people, who have an emotional reaction to what they are reading, so they can become better people who create a strong democracy here in the United States.

I'm only a third of the way through this book and I'm already in love. I know you will be too, and I have a copy to give away! To be eligible for this giveaway, be sure to comment on this blog, and the other two that will be coming in the next two weeks.

At the end of each chapter is an option to turn and talk about ideas within the text, so share with me you thoughts on one of my favorite questions from chapter one:


In this country, we kept slaves from learning to read. Additionally, for a while in our history, you were adequately literate if you could simply sign you name - or even just make an X. In developing countries today, girls are still educated less than boys. What do these situations suggest about the potential power of reading?

Can't wait to hear what you think and I'll see you back in another week!

Friday, March 31, 2017

sol17 #31: thirty-one


What can 31 days of writing do?

It can allow a window into each other's lives, which helps us develop a better understanding for one another and also see our interests. (I feel a writing walk coming in our future!)

It can show you how wise your middle school students are.

It can help you find ideas a little bit easier.

It can create a space to compose your best work and some not so great posts, too, and the understanding that it's okay to publish stuff that isn't awesome.

It can help a writer find some NEW, FUN ways to craft text.

It can really elicit problem-solving skills, commitment, and creativity.


It can show you how compassionate your students are.

It can give you a voice, with your words on a mic to which others are listening.

It can create an opportunity for one student to inspire another.

It can help students find their writing interests; see one of my kiddo's who loves to write about sports, herehereherehereand here.

It can inspire you to complete next year's challenge (and maybe even create a challenge of your own!) hint, hint :-)

It can create a writer.


We made it! 31 days! I'm so proud of each of you, for writing once, five times, or 31 times. Just got an email from Mrs. Hauer, and she hopes that you will keep on writing, she's loving reading your writing! (So am I!) Cheers to you, writers!


I was writing when you sent this, Betz, and it made my day, thank you!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

sol17 #30: lots of emotions but mostly pride

WRITE your story.
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I sat on the bus to the Holocaust Museum with my class. They listened to music and talked quietly. I showed them how I left my self tanner on my hands too long and they were now orange and they laughed. I sat there, in the last seat, watching over them, thinking about how much I cared for these kids, and feeling so much

gratitude for this life's work.

And when we got off the bus and went through the entrance and down the stairs, our docent talked to us briefly. The first question she asked the kids had them standing there all quiet, too shy to share. And so I reminded them that they could turn in a ticket every time they participated, and so then they did. After the docent learned of the ticket situation, she remarked that they must have a good teacher and I remarked that I must have good kids and in that moment I was

proud to be with them.

And then we ate lunch - so fast, like in 10 minutes - and a few kids were at vending machines even after I asked them not to be and we didn't have enough time to eat and we were frustrated because of that but they didn't know what they were about to experience. And so even in our discontentment we got ourselves composed and cleaned up and started off on our way and I just felt

excitement for what they were about to encounter.

Our docent began a conversation with my students, sharing about why this museum exists. She asked if they knew what an Upstander was and they all raised their hand to share, and one student also added the definition of a bystander. And in that moment there was that

pride yet again.

We went into the first gallery and looked at all the pictures of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust on the wall. We saw families and birthday parties and business openings and holidays and we learned that this group of people who suffered the first genocide were people who were just like us. And knowing what was coming,

uneasiness began to creep in.

We continued on, learning about how Hitler came to power, watching videos, seeing real artifacts and pictures, walking across a floor meant to symbolize Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Our docent told us how they took away and murdered Jews under 15 years old and over 40 because they were unable to labor. She said, "I would have been done for, I can't pass for 40, I'm a grandma!" and one of my students said, smiling, "Yes you could have!" and we all laughed and he was a cheeseball but in that moment

there was that pride again.

We continued on our way, and saw a model of a ghetto packed with thousands of people inside. Barbed wire surrounded this particular gallery and my kiddos pointed it out to me. We saw a model of the extermination chambers and were told how the Jews were tricked to believe they were taking a shower, but in reality, they were gassed. We stood inside a cattle car - pitch black - and thought about how 100 people or more were crammed into them to move the Jews to the camps. And thankfully we were standing together as we imagined all these atrocities and wondered how it could have ever happened and so being together make the fact that our


stomachs were turning a bit more okay.

Finally we heard a survivor speak. Ruth told her story of how, once resettled in the ghetto, her father bought illegal passports for her and her mother to save their lives. They went on to live on a train for 6 weeks and then tried to find work but lived in a constant fear that they might be found and killed on the spot. About how she finally made it to America only to be called names and made fun of by children in her new class, but finally, after yet another move, she found a place in Chicago that was home where she fit in and could live in peace. And her story will forever be with us, but in the moment she found peace, we found a bit of

relief.

This story reminds me and should remind all of us that we must look out for one another, we must not be silent when we witness injustice. We must stand up for our neighbors and groups of people who are targeted and push back against those who spew "alternative facts" and not just be idle in these moments because silence is

the most tragic problem of all.

Many emotions filled my day yesterday: joy and love for my students, complete bewilderment at the thought of a Holocaust, wondering how events like this continue to still happen, a bit of embarrassment at how our country has not been more welcoming to refugees in need, annoyance at traffic on the way home, but through all of it, there are no other people I'd rather share it with, because watching them learn something that can empower them to make our world a better place brings me

so much pride.



We have one more day, you made it! Congratulations to each of you, I'm so proud! Could you do me a favor for your last post? Could you write about what you think about writing now? Now that you've completed so much in the way writing, what do you think about writing now? Did you find a new hobby? Does it help you relax? Will you keep on writing? Write a post about... writing!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

sol17 #29: pinky promise

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GIVE some love via comments.

Today in my 8th grade exploratory class, my kiddos were using a checklist to put the finishing touches on their reports. As they finished, they came to talk to me about it.

"Are you proud of your work?" I asked A, who finished first.

"Yes," he replied exuberantly.

"Okay, I just printed it, run over and grab it and then bring it back to me to turn in," I told him. He was on his way.

The next kiddo walked up to my table. "I'm done, Ms. Brezek."

"Awesome," I replied. "Are you proud of your work?"

A sweet smile emerged and she softly replied, "Yes."

"Okay," I told her, "go grab your paper from the copier and bring it back to turn in."

Class continued in this fashion for about thirty minutes. One of my kiddos (who sits in earshot of my table) was also finishing up a presentation with her group when I called out, "M, is your paper done?"

"Yes. But I need to resolve the comments on it, can you show me?"

"Ask the kids in your presentation group so I can finish conferring with J."

"Okay," she said, already interrupting the conversation to find out.

Five minutes later, J and I finished up and I called out again, "Okay, M, you done?"

"Yes. But....well, I'm not proud of it," she said as her eyes took another one-over on the checklist.

"So, if you don't print today, will you work on it tonight?" I have to ask this. Many times kids say they will, but it comes back the same.

"Yes, I will."

"Pinky promise?"


She smiled and stretched out her pinky towards me, but didn't walk up to me.

I said, "For real, pinky promise?" She nodded. "Well come over here and make it official then!"

She took her paper home. I'm hoping for eyes and a smile beaming with pride on Thursday.


Ideas on the padlet! Leave a comment for another student blogger!

Or maybe you would like another idea for a blog post? Write about your experience on the field trip!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

life is beautiful post

I hope you loved Life is Beautiful! It's one of my favorite movies to share when we study the Holocaust.

Life is Beautiful is just one way that one director thought to portray the Holocaust. How is this version similar to and different from the pictures, videos, poems and other articles we have read about the Holocaust?

Write a blog post that compares and contrasts Life is Beautiful and the other things we've read (pictures we read, videos we have already seen, Butterfly Poems, and the Rise of Hitler Article).

Be sure to say what was similar about Life is Beautiful and the other sources.


Then, tell how Life is Beautiful and the other sources are different.

Organize your blog post into four parts, using these sentence frames to guide your work:

Part 1: In the movie Life is Beautiful, there were many examples of a beautiful life. They include... (give at least three examples and elaborate on each.)

Part 2:  Life is Beautiful and ___ (another source) are similar in ___ way because they both... (Give at least three examples of similarities and elaborate on each.)

Part 3: Life is Beautiful and ___ are different in these ways...
Life is Beautiful portrays ___ in this way....
____ (the other source) portrays ___ in this way...
(Tell at least two differences and elaborate on each.)

Each paragraph needs evidence and elaboration! Be sure to read your work and make sure it makes sense.

sol17 #28: growing weary

WRITE your story.
SHARE your link.
GIVE some love via comments.

I'm too tired to write, but I'm here.
I have no ideas to share, but I'm here.
My computer has 5% battery left, but I'm here.
All I *really want to do is watch The Mindy Project, but I'm here.
I need a break for a bit, but for today, for these five lines at least, I'm here.


Grab an idea on the padlet and leave a comment for another blogger!

Monday, March 27, 2017

sol17 #27: hey, it's okay

Hey, it's okay...if you really are at a loss for ideas on the blog post today. Publish something that is just okay anyways.


Hey, it's okay.... if you slept almost all of Saturday. Waking up at 7:45 to get somewhere by 9 had your pretty tired, so it's cool that you took a 3 hour nap.

Hey, it's okay....if you haven't really cleaned your apartment in about 5 months. (Don't judge me!) I mean that I haven't washed floors and windows. Spring break is coming, spring cleaning is coming!

Hey, it's okay...if you've listened to Ed Sheeran on repeat for at least two weeks.

Hey, it's okay if you like Snapchat and Bitmojis and you're in the second half of your 30's. Your students think you're 26, after all.



Hey, it's okay...if you write a blog that comes off like it's kinda boastful, but really, you just don't want to forget all the nice things people said to you one day.

Hey, it's okay...if you mess up sometimes. Just say you're sorry and make it better next time.

Hey, it's okay....if you didn't send your bff her Christmas present until March. She understands.



Did you read my post above? The idea is to give yourself permission to mess things up, start with "Hey, it's okay..." and then fill in all the things you wish you had done better. Give it a try or check out another idea onthe padlet. Or leave a comment for some other bloggers!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

sol17 #26: three sizes

If you're a teacher like me, you've had more than your fair share of bad days. But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about those moments when, like the Grinch, your heart grows three sizes.


Case in point #1:
I was sitting and conferring with a writer when I looked up and across the room. I saw two of the girls in my class working together. This was a few weeks ago, and so I don't remember what we were working on exactly, but what I saw was one of them coaching another one on the thing. It may have been introductions or conclusions for our Argument paper. Even from a distance, I could tell that one was most certainly teaching the other how to do it better.

And my heart grew.

Case in point #2:
There I was, again, sitting at my conferring table, and I looked up and saw this:


The one was just this week. We're in our Holocaust unit, and the kids were reading picture books together to review plot and theme, and also identify the bystanders, upstanders, perpetrators, and victims in the mess.

On one hand, it's not that special, since I told them to do it, but on the other it so is. They are reading a book, read aloud style, as if I were to the whole class. Totally engaged, helping each other, participating. And enjoying their work.

And my heart grew.

Case in point #3:
Yesterday, I handed back a third draft of reports to my 8th graders. I do not write on final copies, but I totally do on their drafts, it's a written way to do feedback with kids, plus, I never want to wait until the final draft to be the first time I look through their work.

And so, when I looked up, I saw a few kids talking about the revisions and edits they were going to make, showing their drafts to one another, marking them up with tracks of their learning.

And my heart grew.

When did your heart grow this last week?


Check out the padlet for ideas or leave a comment for another blogger!

Want another idea? How about a color poem? Check out this link for an example!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

sol17 #25: love and understanding, positivity



Have you got your hands on Ed Sheeran's new album yet? It's so good. My favorite song on the record is What do I know? If you have a few minutes, take a listen:


But if not, here are my favorite lyrics:

We could change this whole world with a piano,
add a base, a guitar grab a beat and away we go
I'm just a boy with a one-man show
No university, no degree but lord knows
Everybody's talking 'bout exponential growth
And the stock market crashing in their portfolios
While I'll be sitting here with a song that I wrote
Sing, love could change the world in a moment,
But what do I know?

This got me to thinking about voice. Ed is talking about it with his music - he's got a mic and a stage and some songs, he can create love with those things. But isn't it the same for us writers? How much power do we have from putting out a blog post a day for a whole month? Even if they are not commenting, people are reading.

And so this got me thinking about how we give our students voice. If our kids are writing, if they are publishing work out to a larger audience, they definitely have a certain amount of power, in their ideas, in the sharing with others, in learning, too, when they read the work of others.

When we listen to each other's stories, it creates connections. When we understand one another better, we're more likely to help them out when they need it. Writing does this because stories do this.


Writing stories and sharing them with others creates understanding. Spending a lot of time together doing this (like maybe a whole school year) creates the circumstances for a certain amount of love to flourish. and when we stay positive with all the understanding and love, I think we've got a perfect medley for taking care of one another.

And so close with another part of Ed's song... because teh last paragraph was definitely mentored from this song:

I'll paint the picture, let me set the scene
I know, I'm all for people following their dreams
Just remember life is more than fittin' in your jeans
It's love and understanding, positivity



What do you trust in? How about that for a blog post?

Or, take a peek at the padlet for some other ideas or leave a comment for other bloggers!

Friday, March 24, 2017

sol17 #24: bloomed from the mud

In the few minutes I've had today to myself so far, I've been consumed with the story of the Lotus flower. I noticed it on the cover of a book I'm reading (The Art of Coaching) and so when I was making my sketchnotes for my book club, I decided to look up this stunning creation of nature and find the story behind it so I could investigate the meaning of this cover art. What I found stopped me dead in my tracks.
"The lotus flower is one of the most remarkable creations of nature. Its beauty lies in its purity, because this magnificent flower emerges from the dirty and muddy bottom of a pond, yet still remains untouched and unstained by its soiled surroundings." source
Which got me to thinking, what a muddy week I've been having:

  • Got blown off for a first date.
  • Was stressed about my observation.
  • Was short-tempered when I should've been more compassionate.
  • Was overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done at school.
  • Carried around some negativity I should have let go.
But also, there was so much beauty this week. Namely, this morning when I got to spend some time with some of my favorite peeps, the Literacy Coaches. We had just finished doing a few Quick Writes to share our ideas about coaching when one of them came over with donuts and said, "Oh, how could I have forgotten? We're going to toast you now."

"Toast me? Why? Because I shared that modification for quick writing with you guys?"

"No, for your Golden Apple. Donuts are sweeter, so we picked these up and we all want to tell you what we love about you, and how you are golden to all of us."

I started crying before they even began. And continued all through out. They told me things like,
  • You made me a writer.
  • Not only am I so happy to work with you, you have been a dear friend.
  • You've told me you appreciate me and enjoy working with me; I can't remember another person who has said that to me recently.
  • I try and remember how you did things. I've learned so much from you.
  • You have taught me so much, I'm always learning when I am around you, there's always something to take away.
  • You're awesome.
  • You have such a warmth and a glow about you.
And so just when I was thinking about how muddy my week had been, how I was feeling overwhelmed and wishing I could have responded differently in a few situations, and how there were too many meetings, too much information to share and too many lessons to plan, beauty blossomed.

And I'm reminded of all the beauty in this life we live. It's everywhere. Sometimes you have to look for it a little harder but sometimes it sprouts and grows right in front of you as if you were the sun and rain giving it just the right amount of everything it needed.

Today in our meeting, we talked about why we want to be a coach, and more particularly, why coach in district 100. For me, it all begins with relationships. To the coaches: you have created a space for me to be myself, to be annoying in asking everyone to talk quieter, to be funny with jokes, to make mistakes and screw things up, to just be me, in my muddiness and in my moments of beauty, too. The relationships I have with you are a part of a wider community I feel here in Berwyn. There are so many teachers around the district who are some of my best friends, who have become almost family to me. These relationships and this community is why I coach and teach in District 100, striving to live at ease in the muddy water, knowing beauty is just beyond the surface.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

sol17 #23: math autobiography

WRITE your story.
SHARE your link.
GIVE some love via comments.


Thanks for the idea, Leah, who got it from Terierrol!

One...cup of coffee each day, although I really want three.
Two...scoops of vanilla protein in my shake for breakfast every morning.
Three...weeks till I see all of my family in Charlotte!
Four...years that I have participated with Slice of Life.
Five...more minutes till my bedtime.
Six...of my students have blogged every day this month!
Seven...the number of get-ups until spring break.
Eight...the number of hours I prefer to sleep, or more!
Nine...lights out at this time.
Ten...the number of days I'll spend in Spain this June!

Clearly I'm ready for bed! Good night!


Did you see my blog...a math autobiography? Try one out for yourself!

Check out the padlet for another idea or leave a comment for another student blogger!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

sol17 #22: gratitude lately


So many reasons to celebrate the blessings in our lives. Here are a few of mine so far this week.

Thankful for freshly squeezed OJ that goes into my protein shakes each morning. And blueberries. I love blueberries.



Thankful for the kiddo in my ELA class who walks into class every day, and whether I'm looking or not, says, "Hi, Ms. Brezek," all full of smiles.


Right back atcha, LF!

Thankful for my principal, who, during my evaluation, made it a point to talk to most, if not all of my students about what they were learning.




Thankful for my awesome friend who does yoga with us after school. It's the perfect community to be a part of 




Thankful for online shopping. Need a confirmation gift? Shop online. New leggings? Shop online. Your skin care line? Shop online. All delivered to my school, too!



Thankful for longer days and sunshine. Summer is on the horizon, friends!


What are you thankful for?


An idea for writing today...what about one like my post? Make a list of the things you are thankful for, especially better if you include pictures, too!

Check the padlet for ideas! Leave a comment for someone else!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

sol17 #21: a letter to the birds

WRITE your story.
SHARE your link.
GIVE some love via comments.

Dear birds who reside outside my bedroom window,

I'm so happy you're back, and on the first day of spring! What perfect timing! I was happy to hear you cheeping and chirping outside my window this morning, but, I wish you could have waited a little longer before the songs commenced. You see, I woke up in a start to an alarm of bird tunes, thinking I was late for work, but then as my eyes adjusted to the light, I could tell it was still dark out. I checked my watch, and to my surprise it was only 4:30. I was excited to have another 45 minutes to sleep, but kind of upset that I was disturbed in the first place.

I dozed back into dream land, and then was awoken once again, but this time to my alarm. I perked up my ears to listen for your songs, but you must have decided 4:30 am was too early to be awake and so you went back to sleep. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't afforded that luxury.

So one request, my neighbors in the trees outside my second floor apartment: can you keep your music quiet until 5:15? Then, I can sleep soundly until the ringing of my alarm. And you can enjoy a longer evening of peaceful sleep, too.


Warm regards,
Your neighbor


An idea: Did you see my post? Try and write a letter to someone or something! Check out my example above.

Check out more ideas on our padlet and don't forget to leave a comment for a blogging friend!


Monday, March 20, 2017

sol17 #20: ode to the Shamrock Shake



Oh Shamrock Shake how I
love thee, minty green goodness
topped with fluffy whipped cream and
sprinkled with sparkly sweet crystals
so cool and refreshing
available for a limited time only.

Lucky for you, Shamrock Shake, I
gave up drinking for Lent and so I
indulged in you - the toxic cocktail - 
on just one occasion this season: St. Patrick's day
I celebrated
with an American tradition
also know as
the tasty green goodness that is
deliciously minty,
festively green,
dazzlingly delightful;
the one and only
Shamrock Shake


Kiddos! Do you look forward to holidays for any special food-related reasons? Share about those today!
And you can check out more ideas on the padlet or leave comments for other bloggers at Two Writing Teachers.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

sol17 #19: silver lining

I found out last fall that I was nominated for a pretty special award, the Golden Apple, which is from a foundation local to Chicago. Even though I wasn't sure who nominated me, I applied, and found out in February that I had been named a finalist. Such an honor, I felt so thankful for that nomination, especially when I found out it was a former coteacher who I just adore. Those days teaching with her were some of my fondest memories of teaching. Thank you, Julia, for thinking of me this year!

On March 1st, two colleagues of Golden Apple visited my school. They met with my principal and assistant principal, and also panels of teachers, students, and parents. They spent over an hour in my classroom observing. As nervous as I was the night before (didn't sleep much) I was set right at ease when I met them. I had a great day, and so did all the people who participated on my behalf!

Following that, there was a brunch to honor the 33 finalists, a group selected from 600 nominations.


I heard from the founder that day, and really liked what he had to say about education. My big takeaway was that it's relationships that drives all the work we do, and I couldn't agree more. That's the best thing I love most about the work I am privileged to do each day.

For the past six months, I have been only sending positive energy at this possibility. I remember telling a friend a few months ago, "I don't want to get too excited, there's a bunch of amazing teachers in the running for this award," to which she responded, "No, Michelle. Envision it happening. Only think positive thoughts about it. Manifest this award that you are very deserving of!" Since that conversation, I have only been thinking that I would win, that Golden Apple would visit my classroom, a visit without my knowing, to tell me that I had become one of the ten fellows of their foundation.

So, when I got the call last week that I had not been named a Golden Apple Fellow, you can imagine the disappointment I felt. I thought back over the past few months, and really, until that moment, I hadn't thought that I wouldn't receive this prestigious opportunity.

That being said, I can't forget what an honor all of it is anyways. I was nominated - one of my peers thought I was good enough to be named golden. Then, my application essays created the opportunity for me to be part of a small group of finalists. People from the foundation spent a whole day with me and the people at Heritage. How amazing!

And so, even though I did not become a Golden Apple Fellow, I am still proud of the work I've done, not only this year, but in the 13 years prior. Work that led me to amazing relationships with awesome teachers, students, and parents, people who have taught me about myself and how to be a great teacher, peers who taught me to how live the most positive life, friends who shared an office with me or had a classroom down the hall who taught me ways to teach a child to read and love to write, colleagues who taught me the importance of consistency and compassion. Students who made me slow down, laugh, and have fun. Administrators who pushed me to be better today than I was yesterday.

All of that has brought me to be named me a Teacher of Distinction by Golden Apple, and will offer me an opportunity to collaborate with them in the future. I can't wait to find out more about this, and hope they don't mind if I continue to tweet to them, since they had me at their #teachgolden hashtag.

And just one last note to all those who cheered me on the past few months... the teachers who embraced me in the teacher's lounge, who high-fived me in the hallway or just shared a bright-eyed congrats... and to those teachers, students, and parents who showed up for me on March 1st, I continue to grow with all of you by my side. Thank you. xo.



Hey there kiddos! Here's an idea for Sunday:
A time I was really disappointed was.... but then I realized that something good came from my disappointment...

And if you don't like that idea, check out the padlet. And don't forget to leave some comments for others!

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