Friday, August 11, 2017


"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I trust that I really do not need another new planner for the year. Here's the thing - I buy them every year, sometimes super expensive ones from Erin Condren, but then I don't use them. I use my iCal pretty consistently for meetings and appointments and I use a notebook all the time to process my thinking in PD sessions and in meetings. So, even though there was a super cute planner at Home Goods, I resisted. I trust I will not miss it!

Gratitude. Feeling pretty thankful for a great new coteacher. We spent some time yesterday in our room purging a bunch of crap from eons ago and deciding what we will do with the room. It's going to be a great collaboration, and I can't wait for this year with her!

Also feeling thankful for my super thoughtful friend who has sent me not one, but two little polaroid on-the-go printers. This one works really well for pictures, this one is better for text. I used the one that does good text to design my new Writer's Notebook. It's going to be my goal to write every morning before work, and meditate. Now that I've got a beautiful notebook, I can't skip it!

Inspiration. There are so many teachers on Instagram that inspire me; I have been loving following the back to school journeys and seeing all the classrooms. Especially flexible seating options! Sitting on the beach gives me inspiration, too. While I mostly sit on the Fresh Coast where the waves don't roll in as big as on the East of West Coasts, it still feels pretty great to clear my thoughts there. Inspired by the app Calm - did you know they will give educators a free account to use their meditations with students? Check it out! Anyways, I have been meditating now for four days, and it really makes a difference in my day being able to label emotions but not flying off the deep end with them. I've been thinking about how I could use this with my students....

FaithI'm having faith that there's something better out there for me. I'm about to put a final end to a relationship, one that isn't serving me, one that I know I am better off without. It's so hard though, especially when you can see potential. Especially when you can see all the good, and even when you are able to put all the bad stuff over to the side and move forward. But people do not change because anyone wants them to, they only change when they want to. Who knows when or even if that would ever happen? So, it's sad that there's going to be an ending, but I am having faith that something better is just around the corner.

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

writing joy

New chat in town, #TeachWrite. Last Monday was their first twitter chat, and it was awesome. It's specific to a special group of people, us teacher writers! And, they've taken it to the next level, by offering up an invitation to write after the chat. This month the topic of conversation is JOY :-)

There are many reasons writing brings me joy, but here are just a few...

It's cool to create stuff. I didn't consider myself a writer until a few years ago, but to be a part of a group that is creating content is amazing. One of my teacher friends, Kayla just published a post about how to make your desktop look cuter. I watched her video tutorial, and then spiced mine up. All of that happened because of blogs, because of creativity, and I can't tell you how much joy my new desktop, and the conversation around it on Twitter and Instagram, has brought me!

Writing brings me joy because when it's on a blog, it's not this solitary task, it's social! I've made new friends online, and some I've even met in real life! Relationships are so important to me, so to have more friends because of writing is something I definitely treasure.

Writing is joyful because when you are writing in a public format, you see that you are not alone. When others read your work, they sometimes leave comments, and to know that you are not the only one to experience things makes you happy. I am so thankful for the interactions that have come about because of my blog.

Writing and students... My students do a lot of writing. We quick write or journal write almost daily, they publish blog posts, and of course we write more formally, too. Because I do the work with them, I'm better able to coach them at writing. I understand that it takes vulnerability to put your writing in front of someone else, to wait to have them critique it. Mem Fox said it best...

But to the point about students and writing and joy - sometimes, there are a few students who end up loving to write. Without my sharing of it with them in an authentic way, they may have never realized that. If each year even one student considers a writing life, that's enough cause for joy.

Sharing about my writing life with teachers brings me joy, too! Tomorrow I'm teaching a small PD session to a few teachers who are interested in beginning their own blog. To share something you love with others, to inspire them, to be their cheerleaders, all excellent reasons to feel joyous about writing.

How has writing brought you joy?

Be sure to check out Teach Write, their website, their twitter, and tune in the first Monday of every month for a Twitter Chat. They *even set up a remind account for text message reminders for their chat, so smart!

Friday, August 4, 2017


"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I'm trusting that these cool Chicago temps are just a nice break from the heat, but that summer is still upon us. That the universe actually does have my back and is working behind the scenes to create amazing things. That I'll get to see my BFFs all together sometime in the near future. That there is a Goldendoodle puppy in my future, sooner or later.

Gratitude. Thankful for the easy summer days where I wake up slowly, coffee in hand, blogging happening at 8:15 in the morning. For my nieces who sent me the cutest cheer up note in the mail after a day I had been feeling pretty sad. For my friends who call, who share, who lunch with me, who listen. For a job I love so much, with kids who are amazing and funny and like coming to ELA, at least most of the time. For Arbonne: products that are toxin-free, but more so, for the community of friends who cheer me on every day.

Inspiration. Inspired by my nephew, Jackman, who is the cutest kid I've see, always cheesin' for the camera. 

By Beers & Probst and their book, Disrupting Thinking. By the teachers and bloggers who keep producing writing and sharing their lives with me. By Brené Brown and her work, that I've been immersed in all summer - so much that the format of this blog post comes from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. By all the teachers on facebook and Instagram, and their beautiful classrooms that are coming together as we speak.

Faith. Faith that this school year will be the best one yet. That I will keep myself balanced with work and personal obligations, and fun! That my single friends and I will find our way in romance, but knowing that we'll have other until then (and after, too!)

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!

Happy Friday!

Friday, July 28, 2017


This week I read Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection... it was so good! I'll save the book review for another day, but loved this idea she had about a gratitude blog she used to write on Fridays, called TGIF:

In her research, she found that she could create joy in her life by practicing gratitude. She uses a metaphor of Christmas lights to explain:

"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."

And so I bring another blogging format you might like to try out for yourself... TGIF: trust, gratitude, inspiration, faith.

I am trusting that Amazon really is going to show up with my next two books, Posted and The Universe Has Your Back.

I'm trusting that my family and friends understand the intent of my choices and behaviors is always positive, even when they could be interpreted another way.

I'm trusting that even though I feel that I've not done enough work for the coming school year (read: any work) I will still get things together in time enough for a great 15th (!!!) year of teaching.

I'm trusting that I'll find the perfect first day picture book to read to my class...any ideas?!

Feeling gratitude for my new mani-pedi. I was so in need, it had been like 6 weeks!

Feeling gratitude for the twinkle lights strung in my living room, that remind me to continually cultivate joy in my life by practicing gratitude.

Feeling gratitude for cool summer days with a breeze through the windows and amazing evening light on the bedroom side of my apartment. (idk my directions in Chicago!) 

Feeling inspired by Brené Brown, today, and always.

Feeling inspired by the amazing teachers I follow on social media, and my bffs who are teachers, too.

Feeling inspired by my friend Rachel who made a pie... from scratch. It was beautiful and smelled delicious and I think she saved me a piece!

Having faith in those I love most, that each one of them will find the things that bring them much happiness.

Having faith that I will make it to another Cubs game before the school year begins!

Having faith that my half sister, who I haven't been in much contact with, will decide that she'd like to build a more solid friendship with me in the coming years.

So, what did you think? I'd love to read your TGIF post! Write one and leave the link in my comments!

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 24, 2017

brought to life

There are so many things in life to be thankful for, and those things that really awaken your spirit - those are my favorite. Today I stopped by school and saw a few kids and felt brought back to life in some strange way, which got me to thinking about other ways I feel like my most happy, authentic self. Here's what I came up with on the fly :-)

Best friends, especially all together in a group
Usually, my friends and I get together for a long weekend every summer. Chicago or Southern California so far (our hometowns) but I'm sure we'll venture out next. (Vegas has been thrown around.) The thing about this is when we're all together, the hilarity always ensues. The friendships are more than a decade old, and the inside jokes and stories of years past are there, and never forgotten. Sitting with them, laughing with them, being silly, seeing new things - that is most certainly enough to make me feel like a pretty powerful version of myself.

I love seeing new places, and one of my friends, Heather, travels every summer with her high school students. This year, on our Spain trip, was the first time I had one of my former students with her and her students. It's awesome to see the Alhambra, but add a former student and his 15 new bffs, you've got a recipe for happiness. Traveling is amazing, and especially with loved ones. I feel so thankful for the opportunities I've been afforded by Heather and her travel group, #nixitravel.

Significant Other
I'm a work in progress in this department, trying to figure things out and do things as right as I know how to do. Like everyone, I screw up sometimes, but I also have boundaries that are meant to protect myself and those I care about. When there's a special guy, and we're doing cool stuff together, and even when we're not... we could just be chilling at home watching TV or reading, but being with my best, favorite person.... nothing. better.

Actually not teaching as much as the kids that bring me to life. It's been like 6 or 8 weeks since I last saw kids, and while I'm thankful for the rest and rejuvenation, I know I will be so happy to get back to school when it's time. Today I had to run into work to open up our doors for kids to come check out summer reading books. A group of 4 upcoming seventh graders came in, with their reading logs and with an amazing summer energy, and I was so brought back to life just being in their presence. Even though teaching is hard as hell, it's so rewarding; I love kids.

This one is kinda like friends, like it's awesome to be with family in little pockets, but when we're all together at once, even better. At Easter we were ALL at my sisters for the holiday and it was so fun to have so many people around.

I guess I'm seeing a trend in all these things - it's the people in my life that I love so much and just want to be with, family included.

What brings you to life? What are your things? Write a post and leave your link in my comments!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

gratitude lately

Sometimes life is a major bummer. And when that happens, you have to find things to help you through. In my case, it's yoga and friends and church, and though it's Sunday I'm not feeling super churchy, so I thought I'd also remember to find gratitude in other areas of my life.

Thankful for my fave yoga teacher and friend, Rachel, who reminded me to practice gratitude as she set the intention for class today. I needed this, which is why I come to my mat. Even better when you love your teach.

Also thankful that the first song in class today was Despacito. Check out my niece and I doing our rendition of it here. (An aside: we can't sing for crap, but everytime I watch, I can't help but laugh!)

Thankful for a filter on my thoughts, like today in Rachel's yoga class when I wanted to light her up with a string of explicatives for the crazy cardio routines she was insisting on. For the record, I did way more in that class than I *ever would have on my own.

Thankful for friends who pick up their phones and spend time with me, especially when I need them most. Pretty Princess Time with Katie, catching up with Anita, hanging out with Liz tonight.

Thankful for a warm (cozy warm, not warm-warm) home that is now almost super clean, too.

Thankful for great books to pass the time.

Thankful for Phytosport to replenish hydration when I haven't been taking the best care of myself.

Thankful for this blog, Canva for cute images, and friends who read and leave comments.

Thankful for forgiveness, like forgiving myself for not writing every day this month like I had planned.

Thankful for the people in my life who are passionate about stuff - their work, their family, their friends or significant others, hobbies. I can't understand people with no passions...

Thankful for tacos.

I think that's all for today. Maybe I will make it to church after all. What are you thankful for? Write your post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to read it!

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, July 22, 2017

won't budge

In my middle school ELA class, I expect two things to happen on an ongoing, daily basis: Independent Reading and Writing.

Independent Reading
I expect my students to read every day. That happens in class and it happens at home. Independent reading is the cornerstone of my middle school ELA classroom, because...

If children are to build vocabulary,
they should read.
If they need to develop fluency,
they should read.
If they need to learn about a topic,
they should read.
If they need to be a person they are not,
they should read.
If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe,
they should read.
-Kyleen Beers by way of Stacey Riedmiller @literacyforbigkids

So in my class, reading is paramount. Kids must read, and they will. There are a few things I do to create readers.

1. My library is full. I spend my classroom money not on anything else but books (well, also some Sketcher markers, composition notebooks, and folders, too). But mostly books. I follow people on Social Media who are reading new titles, and I get my hands on them and get them into my classroom. And I read! I read the books in my library so I can recommend them to my students. I know my library. I learn my readers. I match them up.

2. I provide time in class to read. If kids are to value reading, they have to see that their teacher values it so much that they create time in class for them to do so. Sometimes it's 10 minutes each day for the week. Other times it's 45 minutes once for the week. But every week in my classroom, students are reading.

3. Additionally, students are required to read 20 pages of their book at home each night. My kids do not do reading logs, but instead I take Status of the Class. Each day, I spend 3 minutes asking each child (orally) to tell me where they are with their reading. They might be starting a new book, in which case they will tell me the title, they might be continuing a book, in which case they tell me the page number they are currently on, they might abandon the book, in which case that will cue me to see what's happening via conference, they might be finishing a book, and asking for time to select another. I always know who is reading what, and I do that with Status of the Class.

4. We book talk. During the first quarter, I do the book talks. It's common that many students are not used to reading and completing a lot of books prior to my class. So during the first quarter, I talk about a lot of books with my students. I have them keep a "Books I Want to Read" list, so they can have a list of books going for when they finish. By second quarter, they are ready to start book talks, and so each student will do two book talks during the quarter. The point is that we are constantly talking about books. Check out Penny Kittle's Book Love for more on this.

5. Finally, when students are reading independently, I am conferring with my readers. I set up a schedule so that I make sure I see all my readers over the course of a week or two... my point is that my conferring is not random. When I confer with my readers, I ask them to briefly tell me about their book (summarize in 3 sentences) and then I have them read the page they were on to me. I then ask them to summarize that page, and while they are reading to me, I am on the lookout for a teaching point. This is not easy work and it takes time to master (I'm still not awesome at it, but I keep trying!) But the idea is that in my classroom, kids are reading, and I'm talking to them about their books in more ways than just one.

My students do independent reading in an ongoing way, but sometimes we do a novel together. In that case, they will set their Just Right books aside and we'll do the novel. I will lead the novel and do more in the beginning with them, but then once I've set purpose, I will require them to read more on their own, so we can then discuss when we are together.

We also do book clubs at the end of the year, after they have built their stamina with independent reading. You can read more about that here.

Writing and Blogging
In addition to reading, my kids are writing, lots. We are lucky to be a 1:1 district, so we blog. But, we also Quick Write, Journal, and publish papers. For this post, I'm going to focus on Quick Writing and Journaling, which leads me to blogging.

Quick Writing
In the beginning of the year, as we are getting to know one another and the routines of the classroom, we begin writing with Quick Writing (Penny Kittle, Write Beside Them). 

This is how I prompt kids to quick write:

1. Write for the entire three minutes, as fast as you can. I prompt them for quick writing, but I also tell them to follow the thoughts in their head. So if my prompt is, "Something I like about school...." and they start that and then go off on a tangent about shopping or a friend, that's totally fine. The goal is to write, and write fast.

2. I tell them to ignore the critic speaking in their head. Writing is hard! You totally judge yourself. You worry about punctuation and spelling and yet there are so many ideas you need to get out. When you quick write, the goal is to write a lot, and it can be messy, it can be unpunctuated, it can be disorganized. Just write.

3. Relax, have fun, and play! This is meant to be a playground for writers. To play around with ideas and words and meanings and anything else. No judgement, just write.

So with that, I then give them a prompt which I do as a sentence stem (with a sentence stem, EVERY kid can get started writing, because they copy the stem and then keep going. Using a question is a little trickier!) We practice Quick Writing for a few days and I observe behaviors, like looking around the room, kids playing with their pen or pencil, avoiding the writing, etc. Then I roll out success criteria:

Last year I notice I had a handful of kids that wouldn't just get to business, so this helped most of that group focus shoot for success. There were still a couple after this that had a hard time, but then it was time to confer :-)

I did not add this component in last year, but I will this year. My philosophy is is line with Reading and Writing Workshop, so I know kids must have choice. The prompting in quick writing isn't a lot in the choice field, so this year, I'm planning to add in journaling - eventually I'd like to quick write one day and then journal (you pick your topic) the next. It will take time to build to that but I'm hoping to create some choice writing "play" time for kids this year.

All of this leads to blogging! Kids have to have some experience with writing before you go to the tech - they have to know how writers find ideas (my kids are expected to publish two blogs a week, it's always at least two free choice blogs, but sometimes I assign something for one of them. Kids HAVE TO HAVE free choice. Writers are not prompted. Kids shouldn't always be prompted, either!) Then, my blogging mini-lessons teach them everything I do with blogs:
  • Dashboard vs. Blog
  • How to publish a post
  • How to use the tools in the blog post (add a link, a picture, a video, bullets, change font, etc)
  • How to publish a page (and the difference between the post and the page
  • How to write a Slice of Life (see Two Writing Teachers)
  • How to comment appropriately and in an engaging fashion
  • How to use labels to organize your posts
If you want to blog with kids, the first thing you have to do is write your own blog. As with anything else, you should be doing all the work you ask your students to do, which will give you so much insight into what you are asking them to do.

Not going to budge on these things. Of course there are other components to my ELA classroom - poetry, and reading and writing instruction, publishing papers, discussion, book clubs, etc, but these two components create readers and writers. They will *always* be at the heart of the work I do with teens.

What about your middle school ELA classroom? Please share what works for you in your classroom!

Happy Saturday!
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