Author School Visit: Proctor Elementary (The Order of the Trees)

IMG_1276Oh, do I love visiting schools.

One of my favorite times of day as a teacher was the lively and interactive read aloud time. Some of the best conversations, moments, and connections happened during this time. Books sing. Issues arise. Students gasp, shudder, laugh, and beg you not. to. stop. reading!

Luckily, I had the chance to go visit the 5th grade class at Proctor Elementary School last week. They had been reading The Order of the Trees (Green Writers Press, 2015) and were excited to have me visit and read to them, to talk about books, and writing.

IMG_1278First, I showed them my journal. It’s the place I draw, make lists, ramble, write poems, whatever. But sometimes, a little gem gets dropped in the journal, and it becomes the seed of an idea. The Order of the Trees started this way. My new picture book, out this fall with Green Writers Press, called Salamander Sky, started that way too. They leaned in to look at the pages.

We talked about what they were reading, and about how ideas are important. I told them that the world often tells them NO! That is not a good idea. But if they believe in it– to keep trying. Honor your ideas. They are true and important and matter.


Next, I got to read a juicy scene to them from the book, filled with some classroom drama. I love playing the nasty Mrs. Doneaway, the teacher whose heels click, click, click on the classroom floor as she walks up to you, ready to call you out in front of the whole class.

IMG_1282The class had tremendous ideas about what I should write next. A sequel to The Order of the Trees, where Cedar is all grown up, and the story is about what happens to her daughter. Or, a novel that finally tells the story of how a baby appeared under a giant Cedar tree in the Northern Vermont forest. They were brilliant and I left with my head full of ideas

It’s hard to tell who had more fun.

 

Post election strategies for teachers

post-election-teacher

from @christienold on Twitter

Many teachers have wondered how exactly they would respond to the results of the presidential election. They have wondered how they can both support students feeling vulnerable and unsure, while not appearing partisan in their roles as educators. Teachers hold together the fabric of our society through their interactions during challenging times. Here are some of the ways that teachers around the U.S. are helping students through a changing political and social landscape.

choose-kindPromoting Kindness: The election has been hard on all of us. Students pick up on this and feel when their teachers are stressed and upset. Many students will be confused, tired, and unclear about what the election results mean for their lives. Teachers can meet this by circling back to a focus on kindness, compassion and acceptance for all students in their classrooms and school communities. Here are some resources:

kindness

Choose Kind. This is an online movement based on the book Wonder by RJ Palicio. There are many resources here for inspiring students to show and share kindness.

For younger students who might being feeling vulnerable, #kidltsafetypins on Twitter is featuring kids’ favorite picture books with safety pins to show that illustrators and authors of children’s literature stand for protecting all kids from discrimination and harm.  I love this one from Peter Reynolds.

Turning Apathy into Action: Educator Jason Findley encourages educators to focus on what they can control and encourage students to do the same. He says (via Twitter): Continue reading

Aspirational Audacity with Jonathan Kozol

kozol-speakingAlmost 20 years ago, when I was working at an outdoor education center with student groups from New York City, my brother gave me a book. It was called Amazing Grace, by Jonathon Kozol. In this book I learned what many of my students at the center were experiencing– lives filled with challenges I could have never known. They suffered struggles with poverty, violence, the consequences of the AIDS epidemic , and schools that were crumbling, served by inexperienced teachers. They were in environments where it was almost impossible to prosper. A few miles away, mostly white students were in modern, well lit schools with experienced teachers and plenty of resources. This stunning and outrageous American truth dropped on my shoulders and has never left.

Since reading that book I went on to earn my Master’s in Education and to read his other books, including Savage Inequalities. I became a teacher in Vermont and his words reminded me to look out for students who might not have the same privileges as others in my class and to work to create inclusive communities for students.  I knew that a large part of my job was advocating for students and creating an environment where they could learn and grow no matter what challenges they faced.

When I wrote my first education book, Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus, I dove again into Kozol’s work, which had not lessened in its intensity, power, and compelling nature. I read (and placed about 1,000 sticky notes in) The Shame of a Nation and Letters to a Young Teacher.  His words have been fuel for my work as a teacher and writer.

jonathan-kozolToday, I had the honor to meet him at the Rowland Foundation’s annual conference and hear his thoughts on equity in education. Here are a few:

“The most important factor for success in schools is not something external. It is the creativity and professional autonomy we grant our teachers.”

Continue reading