Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

I have a friend and relative who is one of the most avid readers I know. He's recommended more books to me than anyone else. He has also been the biggest inspiration for me as a reader. However, in all the years I've known him, he rarely does more than recommend and talk about a book. So when he walked up to me carrying a book in his hand and put it into mine, saying, "You have to read this book," I knew it was something special.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart is truly an extraordinary book, not only because its young main character, Mark, faces a cruel and unforgiving illness, but also because of the bravery he demonstrates and the loyalty he shares with his dog, Beau. Dan wrote this story for his friend, Mark, who also faced this illness courageously but unfortunately lost the battle. The story isn't focused on the illness at all, but on the steadfast courage of this remarkable young man. He is someone you'd really want to know and his story is incredible, yet totally believable.

Once I'd finished reading the book, I couldn't wait to get it into the hands of my kids. Fortunately for me, I was able to acquire a second copy of the ARC at NCTE, so it has been read and fought over by my fourth grade readers. As readers in my classroom read the book, we shared our own perspectives with each other. We all were impressed with Mark's journey, his smarts, and his dog's loyalty.

One aspect about the writing that has been unanimously noted is the "half" chapter following each chapter. The chapters themselves are written in first-person, from Mark's perspective. He is chronicling his own journey that he feels compelled to complete, despite the dangers. He tells of his detailed plans, how he places his trust in his best friend, Jessie, and the details of interactions with people he meets along the way to climbing a mountain that has been a long-time goal of his. He has not told his parent any of this, knowing they would not approve. The half chapter following is written in third person, giving readers an update on what is happening with Mark's frantic family and the struggle Jessie has with keeping Mark's secret.

The Honest Truth is one of those rare books I can put into the hands of every reader in my classroom. It is easy to identify with and admire Mark. Dan has written it in such a way that even reluctant readers are sucked into Mark's mission. The bravery shown by Mark, the loyalty of Beau, and the friendship of Jessie are not missed by kids, and they have been powerfully impacted by these admirable qualities.

My readers are looking forward to January 27, 2015, when Scholastic Press will be releasing the hard cover book. We'll be buying the book, knowing it will be one of those treasures we will want to re-read again and again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A First Date

Do you remember your first date with a special someone? Your heart races; you don't want the date to end; you wish you'd met that person before; you can't wait until the next date. Well, that happened to me November 20 through 23 in Washington D.C. And to be honest, my date wasn't with just one person. It was with hundreds.

Several friends (especially from Twitter) have told me that NCTE is a not-to-be-missed event. I had never attended before this year. My friends were spot on. The National Council for Teachers of English conference was life-changing for me. This annual event is one I've been hoping to attend for several years. This year some last-minute things fell into place so I loaded my suitcases (one of which I left at school), hopped into my car, and drove for about nine hours, not having any idea how incredible this journey would turn out to be.

Once checked in at the hotel and registered (on-site) for the conference, I scoured the program to make plans for sessions to attend. There were plenty that were right up my alley. Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her research and writing about a Honduran boy whose desire to be reunited with his mother in the U.S. took him on a perilous journey. Her story was compelling, raw, and inspiring. Another session reached to the depths of my own journey in reading, as it probed the idea of people who feel a sense of shame in their reading lives. There were joyous sessions which included authors and illustrators sharing their own journeys of creating stories and bringing them to life. There were sessions, too, that pulled out self-reflection of my teaching practices. And, of course, there was the exhibit hall, where I had the fortune of meeting and chatting with so many of the authors my kids (and I) appreciate so deeply. I also left a boat-load of money there, and brought home books for my classroom!

In the process of attending these incredible sessions and exhibits I was fortunate enough to meet not only authors, but some pretty incredible people in other areas of language arts, too. These individuals ranged from researchers to teachers to illustrators, publishers, and book distributors. It was truly a haven for anyone who loves to read, write, and inspire others to do the same. Sometimes just listening in on conversations gave me inspiration; sometimes hearing the words of a person who has been involved for years in the business of helping kids read and write made an indelible impression on me.

From this experience, I returned to my classroom even more determined to honor each child and to nurture his or her love of reading and writing. Some of the tools and resources from NCTE have and will continue to impact my life and the lives of my kids.  I brought back over five shopping bags of books; enough to hand a new book to every reader in my classroom on the first day back. Some of the new friends I have made will challenge me in ways in which they probably aren't remotely aware.

One thing is for sure: I am surrounding myself more and more with people who inspire me so I can inspire my kids.

This first date with NCTE will not be my last, and I look forward to a long-term relationship!

Sunday, November 16, 2014


“Each person’s task in life is to become an increasingly better person.” -Leo Tolstoy 

Really? Really?? Did she really insist that their building scores were "good enough" and there was no reason to change anything they're doing?? Really? Adding that "besides, it would be too hard" took me a while to process. At first, I couldn't believe it had come out of an educator's mind, let alone mouth.

I have to be honest; I was really... irritated. 

For days I wondered why this bothered me so much. I kept rolling it over in my head, but couldn't quite put my finger on what it was about the comment that ruffled my feathers so much. Granted, this building has good scores in the particular area of content we were talking about. In fact, this building is typically at or near the top of the list in the county. Obviously they're doing some great things. 

Still, the comment would not let go of me. The philosophy of it went against my grain and it frustrated me relentlessly. Their scores were "good enough" and change is just "too hard."

I began to wonder what would happen if all (or even most) teachers bought into that kind of thinking. What would happen to those kids who fell into the percentage group that didn't make the grade? Do we just buy the idea there's nothing we can do for them? 

There are kids in my classroom who fall into that "other" group. Fortunately, though, we also have license in our building to try new things, do what it takes, and to keep working for those kiddos. It's not easy. Sometimes it's an uphill battle and downright frustrating. But we are determined. We are committed to each and every learner, child, or whatever you'd like to call our kids; not just a percentage of them. Those kids who don't get the learning the first, second, third, or tenth time don't just hear adults encouraging them, they see adults sticking with them. They have adults cheering them on. We are committed to not give up on them simply because it's time to move on to the next "thing" in the curriculum or because it's too difficult. We keep on. We keep learning, investigating, and working for our kids. I am so proud and honored to be part of that team.

Guess what? We don't have perfect test scores. But what we do have is worth so much more than that. We have kids who are believing in themselves. They are realizing they ARE important. They CAN learn. They even enjoy learning! They have people who care, who create, think, work, strive - and love - them.

Would we have that if our mindset told us our scores were "good enough"? Definitely not.

We must embrace change. We must. It's crucial for our kids' futures. For the well-being of them and their future families. Will it be chaotic? Probably. Will some attempts flop? Sometimes. Will everything we try work? Of course not. Will some of this be uncomfortable? Most likely. 

Sometimes - no, often - change is hard, but it's still necessary as long as it's impacting our kids' learning positively. And sometimes the hardest changes are the best changes. 

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” -Deepak Chopra

Christopher Emdin: Teach teachers how to create magic

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Return to the Blogosphere

I've been on a type of blogging hiatus. Thinking about why I've blogged, why (or why not) I would continue to write posts, what kind of an impact it has on me and the teaching community around the world, and all sorts of things tied loosely - or closely - to the topic. So I pulled back and took the pressure off myself for a while.

Wrestling with being truthful with myself about what drives me to post was a biggie. Is it to get my name out there? For others to be impressed? It has been a several-month inner conversation that maybe is finally wrapping itself up to a conclusion. There have been times I've started writing; I don't even want to think about how many drafts I have.

The blog-writing process took on an important purpose when I was teaching on a tiny island a few years ago. It kept me connected to my family back home and to friends who were interested in what real life is like somewhere else. Some people found it interesting just because it was different. For me, though, it was a way to reflect back on the day, remember the joys and challenges of it and, perhaps most importantly, to solidify some learning I'd had.

This school year has flown quickly to the end of the fourth week. I have been so busy there's been little time to reflect fully, adjust as effectively as I'd like, and go as deeply in my thinking as I'd want. In fact, though, it has revealed to me how important it is that I learn from this and make some commitments. I certainly don't want to find myself in the same place next year. With that reflection, these are a couple of important things I'm learning from this first month of school.

1. At the beginning of the school year from now on, I will not allow anything to complicate or impinge on the time needed to be available for my classroom and my daughter. The things that are most important to me have not been given the quality time they need to be at the place where I want them to be. My commitment is to say "no" or "let's reschedule for later in the year" to other things, even though they may be great. It's my goal to set my own students and my daughter up for success. That's done by making myself available as much as possible. My standards are my own, I know, and often there are friends who offer reassurance to me that I'm doing a "great job". However, because I know my own standards and know, too, all the things I haven't done, the desire to make next year a different story is gnawing at me. 

2. Blogging is very important for my own growth. Will I ever have thousands of people reading my blog? Highly improbable. But that's not why I do it, and if that ever becomes my motivation, someone please gather up my friends and plan an intervention! I do this for my own growth, and because maybe there are ideas that come out and help or encourage others. There are many people who have put in much time and effort writing their own blogs, and those folks have encouraged, taught, and made an impact on me. It's quite possible what I have to say will do the same for someone else. I hope!

So, in thinking about some of the learnings I've had this year, there are several things in my head that I'm looking forward to writing about. Want a short list of what's coming up? You're getting it, regardless, because it will help my memory!
  • The Move from Desks to Tables: Pros and Cons
  • The Importance and Usage of Up-To-Date Data
  • Would It Help To Have Lit Coaches in Every Grade of Elementary?
  • Ensuring Positive Relationships With Families and Why That's a Big Deal
Okay, so how's YOUR year going? What have you been thinking about? Will you change anything next year?  What are you learning? How are you adjusting?? Let's talk about it!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why We Skype

Today we had the privilege of Skyping with a class of fourth graders in Kenya. There were twenty-two amazing students in the class. Those kids and their teacher made it one of the biggest educational moments of the year for my kids.

It was educational because

  • my kids got to hear people speaking a language they had never even heard of.
  • my kids got to hear other fourth graders express that their favorite thing to do is to sing! Then they sang for us and it was, well, amazing. My kids sang our national anthem and were shocked that the kids from Kenya sang it along with us!
  • my kids got to share their favorite books with kids on the eastern side of Africa, and they did it with enthusiasm, clarity, and respect.
  • my kids became aware of how privileged they are to have the means and the education to read chapter books and novels, while the students in many third world countries only have books that are very similar to "Golden Books." My kids couldn't get over the fact that they had ZERO chapter books.
  • one of my kids realized that not all kids who go to school in Africa live in an orphanage.
  • many of my kids learned that they wanted to share books with their new friends.
  • the entire class was mesmerized throughout the Skype, which was close to an hour. (I thought their attention span was about ten minutes!)
  • my kids gained a new appreciation for their educational opportunities.
  • they thought deeply about what it would be like to live in a place where zebras, giraffe, and lions are indigenous. They were amazed the other kids had no idea what a deer looks like.
  • There are countless other lessons my kids will learn that will serve them for the rest of their sweet lives!

Because of our visit, my kids decided they would each bring in a book to send to our new friends. They're each going to sign the book they bring. They also plan to write a book talk about the book and slip it inside so the students will be able to choose their book just like we do in our classroom. I'm so proud of them.

It would be wonderful if you'd check out the kids' posts and comment on them! Click here to go to our KidBlog!

I love my job.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Things I Love About School

SHOUT OUT!!! We're super excited about nErDcamp MI 2014! Put July 7 and 8 on your calendar NOW so you don't miss out, and click on this link to find registration (and other) information so you can be part of it! nErDcamp MI

This week I (again) realized I have so very much to appreciate about my life. After reading a blog post that was very negative and critical, I realized it left me feeling icky - and a little negative - myself. That's not a feeling I like to hang on to, so I decided a remedy was to focus on and talk about some of the great things going on in education and particularly in our classroom.

As this perspective burrowed its way into my thinking, it occurred to me there are some very important things that happen in our district, our building, and in my classroom I truly love. They are those things I believe, if fostered, will make a significant difference in peoples' lives. There are, of course, endless things I could list, but here's my top-of-the-list things I love about my life at school.

I love it when kids are excited to learn something new.

     I can still hear and picture the students who were totally and completely stoked with a concept we were practicing in math. Some kids have worked on these skills for quite some time, and did not give up. As a result, lights were coming on, kids were finding success through hard work, and it was amazing. These kids were proud, confident and ready - so ready - for their next challenge. I am incredibly proud of my students for hanging in there when sometimes reaching a learning target seemed almost impossible.

I love it when people praise others behind their back.
     This past week I had the opportunity to hear some of my colleagues praising the efforts of several other staff members in our building. These deeds were not necessarily huge (some of them were), but they all added something positive and beneficial to at least one student and/or colleague. When I hear comments like these, I not only admire the person who was given the praise, but also the person who gave it. When we praise someone behind their back the effects can be amazing.

I love it when kids get the love and support they need from their parents.
     Over the past month or so, several parents who have been rather quiet and uninvolved have stepped up and helped their children accomplish an educational goal. Each kiddo was excited about his or her learning and potential, and the parent seemed to have a new breath of life as well. Those parents are seeing some great things happen, and hopefully will have a closer relationship with their child as a result.

I love it when educators work together to help kids rather than complain.
     Most of us are probably aware that we've complained about one thing or another that is totally out of our control. We also know this is a useless (and often draining) endeavor. Yet it happens all too frequently. It is incredibly powerful when educators come together and make a choice to align and speak words that add life and vitality to our students' lives rather than complain about situations that are out of our control.

I love it when kids feel totally accepted and loved.
     There are kids in all of our classrooms who have horrific baggage weighing them down when entering our classrooms every day. Sometimes those kids are easily identified but sometimes they go undetected. It wrenches at my heart to hear some of my kids' stories. It also reinforces how much they need educators who truly accept and love their students. One of my primary goals with my students is that each one will feel known, accepted, and loved by me; that each will know that no matter how old he or she is, each one will always be "my kid."

I love that we have the freedom to be agents of change.
     Change is sometimes very hard. Our world is changing so quickly it's often mind-boggling. Technology natives have a reality far different than the reality I experienced as a youngster. However, as a life-long learner, I've made a commitment to learn - all of my life. That means learning what I need to know in order to foster that same love for learning in my students. That means being okay with being uncomfortable. That means I need others to help me in my journey. When we are committed to being learners that also means being a positive agent of change in the lives of people around us. When we model taking risks in our classroom in order to create a better learning environment, we are showing our kids it is okay to be a risk-taker and that change can be a very good thing.

Our world needs champion encouragers. It needs people who will do far more than badger kids into submission. Our world needs teachers who will seek out the strengths in our students and assist each one in the development of individual interests, even when the interest doesn't match up with our own.

What do you think??

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Best Day Ever

Tonight I took my teen-aged daughter to the mall to pick up some items we had ordered. As we approached the service desk the sales person recognized me, gave us a huge smile, and proceeded to tell me how her daughter came home from school today, proclaiming it to be "the best day ever!" The daughter went on to let her mom know that she now loves social studies!

It just so happens that I have her daughter for social studies.  During our time together, we had a class chat on how they might want to approach our next topic of learning. We've been working diligently on close reading non-fiction text so many can do this effectively and independently. Many, if not most, are ready to dive in and be independent learners, using these close reading skills, with some coaching from me. So today I asked the kids to think hard about how they can best learn this next topic. They were given several ideas and then we brainstormed together. Some wanted to team up with another classmate, some wanted to work independently, and some wanted to work with me. I challenged them to be honest with themselves and told them that truthfully I think some of them still need quite a bit of support from me, but that many could work on their own learning quite effectively. 

To watch their faces as they realized they had a choice in how to learn was priceless. Listening to them brainstorm resources and formats for demonstrating their learning was even cooler. They are thinking of themselves as researchers. They are asking questions and thinking about what is important to learn and know. They are truly embracing their own learning.

Little did I know when we had our chat today that I would hear such positive news about it from a mom the very same day. Nor did I dream that a girl's view of her learning would be so drastically altered. Hearing how enthusiastic and excited she is gives me incredible joy. 

Tonight, I'm thankful I was able to release the reins in my classroom a bit. I'm even more thankful for the life it breathed into my kiddos. I hope today will spark more ideas of ways I can allow my students to have more ownership and flexibility in their approaches to learning and demonstrating their learning. 

I'll wager there are many of you who have found ways to open the floodgates of learning for your kids. What do you do? How do you do it? Would you be willing to share? I would love to hear any ideas you have!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Okay For Now

I just finished reading Gary Schmidt's book Okay For Now. It was amazing. Truly. The main character, Doug, is a kid who has an incredibly awful home life, with a dad who's a total jerk. Dad's abusive and hangs out with another jerk, which only makes matters worse. Most of Doug's teachers think he's a trouble-maker and give him nothing but negativity and judgement. 

The way Gary gives Doug a voice (using first-person narrative) is stunning, and he allowed me to deeply engage with Doug's struggles, fears, anger, and doubts. Doug's story resonated so much with me, I think, because although many of my students have homes with stability, love, support and encouragement, I also have those who are hanging on by a thread. Kids who, like Doug, come to school with so many other issues pressing on them that survival is what is their highest concern.

This year, it seems more of my kids are finding themselves in that awful position. As our relationships have developed, my heart aches for them. One student has repeatedly told me this year that she never wants to leave my classroom. She loves being at school. Apparently her mom has had multiple boyfriends in their home and a former husband who is in and out of the picture. It's her first year at our school, but she missed the last three days before break. Word on the street is that her family is moving. They've been evicted. This girl is smart; she's connected with another student in my classroom who is on the spectrum and that's given her purpose. It's helped her to connect and feel needed. She has grown in every area of the curriculum and as a person, too - by leaps and bounds! She qualified for our district's spelling bee, but no one brought her. 

I so wish I could write the rest of this girl's story and control the ending. Her family would see the light and embrace her unique qualities. They would learn to love and appreciate each other. They would celebrate the good in every member of the family and reach goals together. Mom would be an advocate for her kids in their learning and in their interests. She would get her daughter involved in healthy relationships and never miss an opportunity to allow her to shine. 

What makes this even more disheartening is that there are way too many in my classroom who are in similar circumstances. The time in our classroom is precious because it gives those kids hope. Shows them they are important. And capable. Gives them opportunities to face and overcome challenges in order to grow, knowing they have a community of encouragers believing in them. 

It is especially for those kids that we create classrooms where acceptance, understanding, encouragement, teamwork, and learning opportunities are constants. We expect kids to be challenged and we believe in their abilities to be their best. I want every single one of my kids to always know and remember that no matter how old he or she is I will always be his or her advocate and cheerleader. 

Gary's story of Doug's journey may be fictional, but my hope is that for my kids, whether parents come around or not, they will know their worth and abilities. They will enjoy learning because they will know someone truly cares and believes in them.

An article worth reading: 
Parents Aren't Necessary For Students to Learn by Ben Johnson 

Ted Talk by Rita Pierson

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lily's Crossing

What an incredible story this is, written by Patricia Reilly Giff. I hesitated to write about it, because it's really a book review, but since this is how I spent part of each day this past week, that would be okay, right? Plus, I LOVED the book, so it would be pretty difficult for me to not share it with you!
We get to know Lily in this Newbery Honor winning book initially as a spunky girl who is not afraid to disobey and sneak around, although her grandmother diligently attempts to keep her in line.  She's precocious, yet she loves spending her summers at her grandmother's house on the ocean. She is especially adept at anything having to do with water (swimming and boating, especially) and lying - about anything. Much of her life she has spent those summer days with Margaret, but because of World War II, Margaret's family must move to Detroit where her father will go to work for a company that builds equipment for the war. 
Patricia Reilly Giff tells this story beautifully, weaving in details about how families had to make adjustments due to the wartime situation in such a way that the reader is pulled in completely. I found myself empathizing easily with that generation and appreciating the sacrifices they  made in order to make a stand for world peace.
I loved the way Lily grew throughout the story, especially through the losses of old relationships and new ones that came to be, naturally unfolding much like they do in our own lives. Patricia created genuine people with real problems and answers that were not always black and white. And although the ending was satisfying, I found myself wishing for a sequel. I want to keep up with Lily.
If you have not yet read this wonderful story, please do so as soon as you can! You will be enriched by it


I've missed the last two days of SOL, but seriously, my life has been crazy! It's not that I don't want to write, it's that my schedule this month is non-stop! Today's a snow day, though, and I have a little bit of time...

Yesterday morning I took off for my seven o'clock appointment. I have three of these every week. It takes  about 20 minutes to get there, ten minutes for the treatment, and then another 20 minutes to drive back home or to school. It's one of those annoying non-negotiables that must be squeezed into an already over-taxed schedule. Plus that, I was running late and in my sprint to the car I realized several necessary things I had forgotten to do. That meant rather than going straight to school, I'd have to swing back by the house and get those things wrapped up before going in to my classroom. Arggh!
Fortunately, traffic was calm so my drive in and back were uneventful and efficient. I had the radio on, too, to help my frame of mind and hopefully calm down before the day really kicked into gear. As I pulled back into my garage, the announcers on the radio station declared they were giving away two tickets to see "The Sing-Off" on tour. Being a singer myself, it's one of my favorite shows on television these days and I truly appreciate the work it takes to even make it on to the show. It's totally up my alley! They discussed how they would decide on a winner. Initially the directions were to sing a cappella to them. Cool, I thought! I can do that easily! Then they did the old switcheroo and proclaimed whoever called needed to "beat box." NOT my thing. I decided I'd still give it a try, but since I rarely win anything, the chances of me getting those tickets were pretty slim. It just so happened, though, that I was able to pull into the garage, put my car in park and ready my phone for when they announced the  number. I dialed. I heard the ring tone at the other end. It rang and rang.
Just as I was about to give up on anyone answering my call, I heard, "Hi! Who's this?" My heart skipped a beat or two. I began my own rendition of beat boxing. When I finished, the announcers compared my attempt to the sounds of laser tag! Hmm, don't think that's a good thing. I shot back that I would have been super happy if they'd stuck to their original task of singing a cappella, so they suggested I do that. Making something up off the top of my head, my song was to the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain" from "Wizard of Oz." The lyrics were something like, "Oh, I'd love to see the Sing-Off, it would be a total pleasure, if I only had a ticket."
Both announcers laughed and one even recognized the tune. They proclaimed me the happy recipient of those two tickets! I truly can't imagine winning a better prize (other than maybe a trip to a tropical island.) Even better, my husband is a fan of the show, of music, theater, performances, and all that, so both of us will thoroughly enjoy our date together!
Think of us on Wednesday evening as we make our way over to the Royal Oak Music Theater and enjoy and evening of incredible music!! Thank you, Home.FM!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Special Assignment

I just got home and immediately put on my flannel pjs. The couch feels great, especially with the snuggly fleece throw over me and only my hands sticking out. The day was full, my tummy is full, and I'm feeling relaxed.
Today was spent shopping in one of my favorite malls at some of my favorite stores with the person I love shopping with most in the world. She's getting ready to go on a pretty amazing trip, so it was my duty to help make sure she had the appropriate clothing. She needed traveling clothes, clothes for warm weather, clothes for a day in the rain forest, clothes for sailing,  clothes for layering, and, of course, a purse! Shoes were pretty much the only thing not on our list. We were up for the challenge and by noon we had several full shopping bags on our shoulders. The sushi lunch gave us the energy we needed to complete this rigorous expedition. It was only when we were making our way to the car that we realized it was dinner time. 
It was sweet to be able to assist my pal and help her get ready for her trip. It was even better to simply spend the day together. 

Friday, March 7, 2014


After a long week, my head needed a break. Truly. It has been a looooooong week. Fortunately, though, we  already had plans for a weekend that exactly fit the bill.
We drove a little over an hour to meet with our financial planner, who also happens to be my best friend's husband. Hope had also wanted some help with picking some new paint colors for her house, so we stopped by to pick up some paint samples. That was followed by a very fun dinner in an excellent Mexican restaurant, complete with an entertaining and talented Mariachi band. We had great food, we got to sing "Margaritaville", and enjoyed plenty of laughs. 
Upon our return to their house, we experimented with the paint colors and stuck them to the walls. It was fun to collaborate together and come up with some beautiful combinations. Tomorrow, we're going shopping for the day to unwind and be together. To be human and find some rejuvenation. 
I am so thankful for this amazing friendship that's really more of a sisterhood. The tension headache and upset tummy I had earlier is gone. I'm completely relaxed, thankful for this 24 hours of escape!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New Printer Cartridges

My ancient school-issued desk-jet printer ran out of ink – again. There were several things that needed high-quality and/or color printing for my kiddos, but I had no time to actually go get the cartridges. No, they’re not supplied (or paid for) by the school system.
Tonight, though, after piano lessons were done, and my hubby was still at his middle-school conferences, it seemed like the perfect time to run that annoying errand. I bribed Hannah into going with me, glad for an opportunity to spend time with her in the car, which is when she usually does the most talking. We hopped in the car to retrieve the expensive but necessary supplies.
For no apparent reason, after I found the needed cartridges, I took a little gander down the printer aisle. (I’ll admit, I was a bit curious about the price of a new printer.) Shock took over when I realized it would cost me approximately ten dollars more to buy a brand spankin’ new wireless printer (with cartridges installed) than it would be to replace the cartridges for my dilapidated one that had to be tethered to my laptop to work. Ten dollars, for cryin’ out loud!! And the one sitting on the shelf was wireless, could scan, and  even print documents from my phone (not that I even know why I would ever want to do that). It took me all of one minute to make my final decision. That pretty baby is now in the back of my car, waiting for installation tomorrow after our staff PD.
We followed up our short-but-sweet shopping spree with a low-key dinner at a local sandwich shop. My daughter chatted about random things. We laughed together. Then we made our way home, where she gloated about not having to go to school while I’ll be involved in a professional development all day. 
She may be relaxing all day tomorrow, but I’m happy as a clam to know I’ll be printing wirelessly with full ink cartridges.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

One and Only Dad

Just as we were sitting down for dinner, my phone rang. It was one of my brothers. We typically talk at least several times a week. I answered, made a smart-aleck remark, and then he asked (in a serious tone) if I had a minute to talk. From the tone in his voice, I hated having to say that I didn't, but let him know I'd call back right after supper.
My imagination was getting the best of me when I returned his call after an expedited meal. We started with small talk and I was beginning to think the concern was unwarranted. That thought was short-lived.
The news was that our Dad had a pretty bad day on Monday. You see, my 83-year-old father lives in a constant state of cardiac arrest. He's had this since he had rheumatic fever as a young teen. Every time he sees a new physician the nurse who checks his vitals practically has a heart attack because he doesn't ever have a steady heart beat. Ever. Despite this, he's lived through brain surgery and other health issues. But on Monday, he could hardly breathe and had to stop his wood chopping (which I hate him doing, anyway), go inside and lay down.  He spent most of the day in bed, was weak, and had chest pains for hours.
Of course, as soon as my brother and I ended our conversation I called my dad and he brought me up to date in his own words. As his words soaked in I felt almost panic that he could be gone forever any day. 
Life ends sometimes without warning, and that jolted me. Tonight I realized again how much I love my dad and  how absolutely horrible it will be when he passes on.  I so hope it's a long time from now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Star Trek - The Final Frontier

Today, my daughter was thrilled to not have to go to school (Only Juniors had school, for testing, of course). She was so overjoyed, in fact, that she even asked if there were any chores for her to do while Stan and I were at school! (I did give her some, so as not to disappoint her!)

On Sunday of this week she already had planned out what would occupy her day: watching "Star Trek" episodes from season four. She even begged for a bottle of Coke when we went grocery shopping this past weekend to save for the special occasion. It's hilarious, really, because our older daughter, Jessie, bought the set for my hubby for Christmas, yet Hannah has become the one who is obsessed with it!

After school I came home to discover that Hannah had done her due diligence on the chores. I then taught piano lessons, just like every Tuesday (and Thursday), which was followed by the typical conversation revolving around what to have for dinner. We were all in the mood for breakfast food, so Stan made the toast while I scrambled the eggs. 

Once everything was on the plates and ready to go, I noticed Hannah still sprawled out on the couch, remote in-hand, engrossed in an episode. Although dinner is almost always a family gathering at the kitchen island or the dining room table, with proper place settings, I asked to no one in particular if we would rather eat in the living room. Without missing a beat, Hannah gasped, "YES!" So Stan and I smiled at each other, took dinner to our delighted daughter, propped up our feet, and watched one of the most cheezy shows ever. 

It's amazing to me how sometimes the simplest things delight us. Hannah fully engaged in this fifty-year-old rerun was such fun. Stan and I sitting side-by-side, glancing at each other to roll our eyes at the particularly unbelievable scenes, made for a wonderfully relaxing and fun evening!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Love for Linda and Other Authors We Adore

"You can't just get up and walk away every time you mess up. You'd never get anywhere." from A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

I've messed up a lot in my life, and this statement totally resonates with me. While I could go on and on about how it impacts me personally, that's really not what the post is about. It's about how I've hung in there, made some changes in my classroom and found what a huge difference it has made. It is about Linda Urban's impact on readers everywhere. But it's also about how much Linda AND other authors have forever changed the lives of my kids.

Last year was the first year I had a true classroom library. It was the first time I'd ever worked diligently to read middle grade books in order to recommend them to my kids. It was the first time I was digging for new titles, pre-release titles, and "old" titles that would engage my kids and help them to develop a true love for reading. Before that, I had no clue who Jenni Holm (or Matthew Holm), Kate Messner, Clare Vanderpool, Tom Angleberger, Brian Selznick, Rebecca Stead, Kirby Larson, Barbara O'Connor, or a host of other authors were. Once I "met" them and then introduced them to my students, however, their lives - and mine - were forever changed.

I began to read feverishly. My goal was to truly be able to recommend a book from my own reading experience, not simply say someone else had recommended a book on Goodreads or another blog (although thanks to so many of you, especially Nerdy Book Club friends, that's where I got many of those recommendations).

We began reading in class. I read picture books to my kids and for the first time we had dedicated time in our daily schedule for me to read aloud to my kids. I also had kids choose their own books. Currently, we're loving Linda Urban's The Center of Everything. As a class, we fell in love with Auggie from Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and have our own version of a "Choose Kind" painting on our wall. We adored Rump and his adventures with Red in finding his real name and destiny, thanks to Liesl Shurtliff. She even came and visited us and now the kids are debating what her next book will be about! We laughed at the antics of the Herdman tribe in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The kids were totally stumped in Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots and learned to hang in there because the story is so completely mesmerizing and then fulfilling in the end. Plus that, we REALLY enjoyed baking one of the cake recipes when we were done! The list could go on...

Book love wasn't just with our class as a whole, though. To find girls chatting up A Crooked Kind of Perfect (which is one of my all-time favorite books), Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky and others demonstrated my kids were truly becoming book lovers. Boys digging into, and sharing with each other Satch and Me, by Dan Gutman, Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, and a host of non-fiction titles about wars, baseball, or anything else they became interested in has become thrilling. 

It was even better to find girls AND boys sharing with each other so many wonderful titles. BabyMouse by Jenni Holm and Matthew Holm started with Cole, probably the biggest, most athletic kid in my class. Because of Cole's enthusiasm, BabyMouse spread to everyone. Jenni's historical fiction title, Turtle in Paradise, is a big hit with both boys and girls. Just yesterday Josh announced to Raven that she just had to read it because it's  "SO, SO GOOD!"  Kids are completely enthralled with Dwight and his cases that Tom Angleberger's books are rarely on the classroom shelf; kids are typically whispering to each other, "Can I have that when you're done?" They anxiously await for me to put out a new book on the shelf and "fight" about who gets to read the latest new book. Jack has written a persuasive letter to Tom with a suggestion for his next book (along with a strong hint that Tom dedicate the book to Jack). This real life engagement and the conversations that surround books is thrilling.

Sometimes I cringe when I think of the kids who were in my classroom before it was like this. I know they missed out on some amazing opportunities in reading and discovering wonderful characters, settings, themes, and story lines. However, as Linda suggested in Crooked Kind of Perfect, I have gotten somewhere and my kids have benefited because I didn't just give up and walk away. We're getting somewhere now. Authors are becoming (or in some cases, have become) our super-heroes. 

Super Hero Linda Urban is coming to visit us in March and we could not be more excited. I wonder if she'll come with a cape. :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living Up To Your Reputation

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.
William Shakespeare (Found on brainyquotes)

Reputation. We all have one. Sometimes it is well-deserved and sometimes it's because of how we're perceived. And sometimes it's just because everything is relative.

I think I'm viewed in my building as a "go-to" person when someone is looking for a book recommendation. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me for a recommendation or a book loan just this school year! Students from last year have asked me, teachers from other grades, and parents, too. And they're asking for all ages; from early reading to high school and even adults! 

Here's the weird thing. I don't see myself as an individual who knows enough about what's out there to have "earned" this reputation. I could name many folks who definitely are "that person", but it's not me. As a matter of fact, I know there are so many exceptional books of which I am totally unaware that sometimes it completely overwhelms me. Puts me almost in a panic mode.

On the other hand, I DO have to say that in the last couple of years my reading had increased exponentially. I thoroughly enjoy reading these wonderful stories and passing them on to my kiddos and to cohorts. And pretty much to anyone who will listen. I know especially about new titles somehow, which I love!

With this growth in reading, I often wonder what it would be like if I had started avidly reading at a much earlier point in my life. What would my life be like now? How would my two daughters view reading differently?

So I asked myself this question: "If I could have a "do-over" in order to have truly earned and actually live up to the reputation that somehow came my way (in my building, anyway), what are some things things that would have happen?" Here are some of the answers:

  • My parents would read to me daily, and I would read to my daughters daily. So much could be said about this. However, suffice it to say that often times people TALK about reading to their kids but don't actually READ to their kids. 
  • I would value reading as being a worthy end to itself. When values are higher for being productive than for reading, a person's life is going to move in accordingly unless (or until) something jars things aright. Unfortunately, I still struggle with this. Fortunately, the struggle is much easier now than even a year ago.
  • I would use what I read to spur me to write. I have found a kind of joy or therapy or something in writing; that has sprung from reading. Often the lyrical prose made by an author have lit something in me much the same as wonderfully performed music.
  • There would be more contact with authors and publishers. Somehow books and authors and publishers had this non-personal or academic persona. It finally hit me that books are written by people and published by people. Since I'm a "people," that should shift my perspective. Yeah, sometimes I wonder how I could miss the obvious.
  • My daughters would be exposed to more great books. No explanation needed, I suppose.
  • My house would be even messier. That would be okay. 
  • People who work at the library would know me by name. That would be cool. They'd probably break into song, like in "Cheers."
  • I would be a better person. My daughters would be better people, too. We're not awful or anything, but since this reading bug has taken hold, my empathy meter has risen considerably.
We obviously can't go back and have "do-overs." We can, however, keep striving to reach our best selves. We are never too old to stretch ourselves, to learn, and to grow. Hopefully, one day I will actually feel like a person worthy of being perceived as a great source for any kind of book recommendations. For now, though, I'll enjoy the journey and keep reading!

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Is there something you'd have a "do-over" on if you could? 

@benjamingilpin latest post:

@carmel_mcdonald post on homework!

Wasn't sure I was an Ashton Kutcher fan until this! I love what he has to say about "sexy."

Kid Snippets is the best! Especially with Josh Groban!!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You Did What?

On Wednesday of this week I got up late and had a hard time getting ready for school. You know, one of those mornings when you're feeling a bit ADHD, doing things out of order, not finding "anything" to wear, and remembering things you should have done the night before.

I finally pulled into the school parking lot and guessed at where "my" spot was (under the frozen tundra), dragged my school bag into the building and hustled to my classroom, still untidy from the day before. At that point I reminded myself that today was an "early release" day, which means my kids get out an hour early so teachers can meet and collaborate. I was looking forward to the colllaboration time and working very hard at keeping my self-talk positive.

The day flew by, as Wednesdays typically do. About an hour before dismissal, one of my sweet girls walked over and asked, "Mrs. Gibbs, do you have your shirt on inside-out? Your seams are on the outside."

Without missing a beat, I confidently replied, "Oh, no, it's meant to look like this! Isn't it cool?"

As my student walked away, satisfied that she has the most hip teacher in the universe, I snuck a peek down. The pleats were on the inside, the buttons for the cuffs were on the inside, and the tag was definitely on the outside. Yeah, pretty smooth move on my part, right? My student was totally right and I had completely lied to her.

It was one of those moments I wanted to laugh out loud. Yep, there I was, all educated, stylish and together. Right! I can't tell you how many times since that moment on Wednesday I've relived our encounter and enjoyed another laugh (which, I might add, I need quite a bit these days, given our weather).

Now, normally, I would keep this kind of information to myself. After all, I think some people see me as being fairly put together and on top of things. I like to look my best and it boosts my outlook on life when I do. However, I was so humored by the downright silliness of the whole thing I had to share it or I would burst. I shared it with my kindergarten teacher friend when we went to reading buddies. Then I shared it with my principal and then my fellow fourth grade teacher and friend.

It was wonderful to laugh together at this unbelievably silly thing. It brightened my whole day. It helped me remember that life needs to have lightness and silliness, joy and transparency in our flaws. Life should not be all seriousness. We need to laugh - sometimes at ourselves.

Since we have, according to the groundhog, several weeks of cold winter weather ahead of us, I want to strive for looking for those moments every day that will keep me a bit more light-hearted. Maybe I'll make it a #nerdlution to find at least one thing in each day that makes me laugh - or at least chuckle - and pass it on. I'm thinking it will be a great strategy for making it through these next several weeks.

Have you found humor in your week? Are you able to laugh at yourself? Please share! You'll help us all have a brighter day!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Power of a Picture Book

Today in fourth grade we read This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen.

I'm telling you this because I just read Beth Shaum's Nerdy Book Club post citing her "Top 10" list of things picture books taught her.  You see, I was ignorant of the value of a well-written picture book until after I had given away far too many of them when I moved from first grade to fifth. Regret is always the emotion I feel when recalling those wonderful books.

In our classroom we have been discussing and investigating ways to make inferences as we read. During our read-aloud time, I'll often stop and ask questions that lead to inferences, and we've had several mini-lessons on the topic, with charts to help sort out direct information from prior knowledge in order to arrive at an inference. As much as I appreciate organizational charts, sometimes they just don't quite get to the heart of a thing, though.

This morning's experience was sheer delight. It was my goal to make it absolutely, positively obvious to my kids that they are more than capable of making inferences every single time they read. Up to today, there has been a cloud of doubt in their minds, which has bothered me more than a little. I wondered how to shake it off; how to wrap them instead in a cloak of confidence. Today's reading of Jon Klassen's amazingly told story did the trick!

As I relive the reading of the book, what stands out to me is the kids' absolute immersion in the story. But just as important is their confidence in making their own inferences throughout the entire tale. Some kids thought the little fish was going to return the hat; some thought he had "found" it. They all were audibly (gasps, laughter, and various comments) moved when the big fish narrowed his eyes. They INFERRED that the big fish knew exactly who (or whom?) had taken his too-small hat. They were one-hundred percent engrossed, underwater, as the little fish swam confidently into the tall grass that was "close together," convinced he was completely safe. There were inferences flying all over the place!

Today my kids experienced an exquisitely told story of stealing and... (no, I'm not going to spoil the ending). But mostly, they enjoyed themselves completely while they gained confidence in learning that they CAN do something they thought was out of their reach. Every one of them felt success, engagement, and love for a well-told story.

Thank you to Jon Klassen for this incredibly illustrated tale! You rocked our world today!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

One Little Word

I don't know how many of these I've read or heard about. At least 20. At first I didn't really pay attention - until one of them got stuck. Hung on. Wouldn't let go. I found myself brining up the topic in a conversation at home. Then with a friend, then with a friend and colleague. 'm not really a "New Year's Resolution" kind of person but do find it important to set goals for myself. Over our holiday break the idea of one little word kept nagging away at me. In the middle of the night (like right now) when I suddenly found (or find) myself wide awake for apparently no reason, often my thinking has been about someone's one little word. Fighting the urge to jump on another bandwagon with the rationale that it would only add something else to my already overflowing plate didn't seem to help.
Gradually I allowed myself to at least be open to THINKING about a possible word that would be my focus for this year. That open door ushered in a host of possible words. It wasn't a long and it was relatively simple to eliminate certain words. Most importantly, it was impossible to shake the idea of needing one for myself.
Wanting to see if this was just going to pass, I stalled on writing about it. Then I got the flu and was out of commission for over a week. My mind was a fog and there was pretty much nothing else I could do but drag myself from the bed to the couch or vice-versa. I vaguely remember reading a few emails, blog posts, and twitter feeds, but that took way more effort than I was really capable of putting forth. Yet the OLW kept sitting there in the shadows of my brain, keeping a quiet but determined presence through it all.
So here's my one little word: ENCOURAGE.
Encourage my students. This isn't really a huge stretch for me. That's my tendency anyway. Sometimes, though, I find myself going down a path that's taking me in the wrong (negative) direction. I want to be careful not to do that, so my word will be a reminder to stay true to the best parts of myself.
Encourage my students' parents. There have been times when parents make me want to pull my hair out (not THIS year, of course!) for this or that reason. I could list them, but that's the whole point. I'm a parent, too, and nothing helps me more than to hear a word of encouragement in the midst of  one of my own kids making some bone-headed choice. Just this week some friends  empowered me through their encouragement of me as a parent. At school this past week there were a few difficult conversations I needed to have with parent, and because I made it a point to encourage them, to help them see good and hope, to speak words that would "bring courage" to them, every one of the conversations ended on a positive note. The parents felt better, which in turn, helps kids, too.
Encourage other teammates. There are so many people who make up our daily "world" and each one is an important person both in terms of being a team member and in terms of them being a human. It's easy to overlook some people. But every person in our building has an important role. Making it a point to encourage each of these amazing people helps maintain a community of caring individuals who make school a welcoming, positive, safe place to be.
Encourage my family. I have a really great family. I am so proud to be part of my family. My spouse is a man of honor and integrity, my daughters both teach me so much about myself and life, my parents, brothers, and nieces and nephews are loving, thoughtful people. Spending time with my extended family is a boost for everyone involved. So many people today can't say that. I'm very fortunate, I know. Investing in them, even if it's with simple encouragement is what I want to be known for.
Encourage myself. This one might be the hardest. But it's important, I know. While it's often easy to encourage others, it's pretty easy for me to be my own worst critic. Of course that's counter-productive. I know this and yet so often I'm down on myself for this or that. So this year, one of my tasks will be to encourage myself. Several years ago I heard or read someone's advice to "build on islands of strength." We all have many of those islands. Things we do, skill sets we possess,  personality traits, and more, that comprise our strengths. This year I will remind myself of those and build on them with more intention.
Okay, there's my one little word. Thank you to the many bloggers who have shared theirs, ( is one) and to the people who allowed me to to dialogue through this ( ). You have all encouraged me and I'm so very grateful.