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4 Ways to Thrive in the New Year


Without Hope we live in desire.
                                                                                                         ---Dante Aligheri

December is the darkest month of the year for me---literally, scientifically, and emotionally.  Whether it's the lack of sunlight, the solstice, or the yearning for loved ones that have passed, December always finds me reflective and melancholy. It's a time of looking back over the year, a time for taking stock of the living I've done.  

This particular December has felt particularly dark.  It is my first December, my first Christmas, without my mom. My mom was the queen of Christmas.  Memories of my childhood converge into grand collages of Christmas pageants, choir rehearsals, mom's soprano voice, cookies, fancy family dinners with her best china and cloth napkins.  And salt and pepper shakers. Who knew that decorative salt and pepper shakers in Target could bring a person to such tears that strangers would offer Kleenex and hugs in the housewares aisle?

Last year at this time, I was thinking and writing about finding balance in my teaching and personal life.  And then, the day before my birthday, January 24th, my bright and brilliant mom died.  I spent the rest of the year teetering on life's balance beam.  And here I am again, another December.  When I look back over this past year, there are four behaviors that I practiced that helped me survive, and yes, even thrive, during my grief and upset with the world at large.  

Grounding


When school, family, and life in general became overwhelming for me, I sought out experiences that I knew would ground me.  What I mean by grounding is this: The feeling one gets when they lose all track of time and space...the times when you are most yourself because you are engaged in something you love.

For me, that means I must move, and it must be outdoors.  I used to train for and run marathons because distance running "cleaned out the attic" of my mind.  I can't do those distances anymore.  But I walk.  And hike. And it must be on a trail in the woods somewhere.  I go to city parks, county parks, and state parks around me.

It also means that I might pick up my Native American flute or sit for hours at the piano.

In the spring or summer, it means that I have my hands and feet in dirt, digging and planting.

Whatever I choose, when I'm done, I can better handle what life is throwing at me.  I can breathe again.

This past year when I felt panicked or anxious, I went into the woods. It works.

Here are some popular grounding activities that many people use:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Hiking
  • Playing an instrument
  • Creating art
  • Crocheting/knitting
  • Playing with pets
  • Bread making
  • Gardening


Here & Now

A second strategy I tried was to focus on the here and now.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is extremely difficult for me.  I think I was born thinking about the future.  I have a mountain climber personality: I always focus on the summit ahead. In my year of grief and other scary "stuff," I learned to center my thoughts on the day...not the week, not the month, not the year, not the decade (yes, when I'm anxious, I go there).  Some days, I found myself self-soothing, "It's okay. Right now in this moment, you are fine. You have everything you need."  

Sound silly? I feel a little silly admitting it to you. But, it worked.  As a very anxious teacher who is greatly concerned about her contract, her job, her country, her family, her pets and friends, her own well-being (this is what my mind was doing on a regular basis), I needed to remember the present moment.  When I did this, I often found that it was pretty wonderful.

Gratitude

I practiced gratitude daily.  This past November, my sewer pipes had to be dug up and replaced with materials that tree roots would not destroy.  On my dime. Big money. And yet, I thought about what could've happened had this happened in the dead of winter in January or February when the ground is frozen solid.  It would've been a small catastrophe for me. Michigan's winter temperatures have been brutal over the last five years.  Gratitude. 

I sound like a self-help guru. A little. But in the past year, writing about my gratitude helped me be less of an Eeyore.  Remember Eeyore?  He is the beloved but depressed donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  I whined less.  I recognized the "good stuff" I have in my life.


Get-To's

This last behavior is my favorite, because it has had the most impact on me.  We all "have-to's" in our lives. I have to take out the garbage. I have to grade 30 writing prompts. But I noticed that when I replaced the words have to with get to, the task and my angst around it, changed.   I get to take out the garbage. I get to grade my students' writing prompts.  The change in language fosters a change in my mindset.  On particularly bad days or weeks, I planned some "get-to's" that helped me get through.  I would soothe myself with, "Just one more hour, and then you get to go home and walk Gracie. "   At those especially stressful times, I noticed that my get-to's were about self care.

Looking back over this past year, grief has taught me many lessons about myself, my values, and my beliefs. I would be lying if I said that I'm sad to see 2016 end.  I feel an intense relief that this year is coming to an end. My wish for you and yours is that you thrive, and that you find the tools to do so.  I've created a little "somethin'-somethin'" to help you in your new year.  It's free and for the taking.  Simply click the picture below.  

May your new year be prosperous, happy, and full of peace and love.  And if it isn't, my wish for you is that you grow beyond your wildest dreams. 




16

An Existential Tug-of-War: Making Thinking Visible with Tuck Everlasting



I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting-something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world...
                                                                                                           -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

In the midst of the fire-storm that is American politics, one of my heroes died.  Natalie Babbitt died on Halloween this year.  I can't remember the first time I read Tuck Everlasting, probably because I've read it about 20 times over the course of my teaching career.  But I knew from the first read, that this was one of "my books-" a part of my personal text set that defines my life as a reader, writer, teacher, and human being.  I knew, because when I had finished it, I felt so torn, so sad and dissatisfied. I wanted Winnie to choose differently, and yet I knew she had chosen wisely.  And in my heart and mind, I could imagine the Tucks still wandering: Angus, tired of living; Miles, searching for purpose; Jesse, looking out for more good times; Mae, putting one foot in front of the other with acceptance.  Here I am, about 20 years after first reading the book, and the Tucks are still wandering.  I reread it every year, whether or not I share it with my class.

It Had Been A While

I had planned to read a different mentor text with my students, when I read that she had died.  We've been talking about leadership, Civil Rights, and what it means to find a purpose in life. So after reading about her death, it felt right to honor one of my favorite authors in my classroom.  Rereading it with a new class, the first read in five years, felt like coming home.  

I began by reading The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever retold by Selina Hastings.  I love beginning my character study unit on Tuck Everlasting with this book.  It tells the folktale of a man who visits old men and crones to find the secret to living forever.  He loves his life so much, that he wants to prolong it. However, in doing so, he finds that he loses everything that made his life wonderful. At the close of the reading, I ask students to write about immortality, if they would choose it or not, and why.  This time was no different than any other time.  The majority of my students chose immortality.  Many cited that it would be fascinating to learn new things, see into the future, that they would be very wise because they would have so much knowledge of the past, too.  My thrill seekers stated that they'd have a great time going on risky adventures.



What made this novel study different this time around was my inclusion of Making Thinking Visible routines. After reading the first few chapters of Tuck Everlasting,  students re-examined their thoughts on immortality.  I asked them to take a stand. We used the Tug-Of-War routine.  Each student wrote his/her name on a post-it and placed it on our tug-of-war graph. 




Students divided into two discussion teams: Yes and no.  Each team discussed the reasons for their choices, writing them on speech bubbles. 




The teams presented their reasons to each other, and students were allowed to switch sides if the persuasive dialogue changed their thinking.  We practiced the "At first I thought...and now I think..." thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible to frame our changes in thinking.  There were students on both sides that changed their stances. We revisited our tug-of-war after each chapter.  We re-evaluated our stances and changed our post-its accordingly.  However, if a student moved her post-it, then she was required to explain why her thinking had changed.

The Reading Continues...

As we we made our way through the novel, we explored the varying viewpoints of Jesse, Miles, Tuck, and Mae about immortality.  It was my first time implementing  the Viewpoints Thinking Routine with this novel.  As each character came forward to talk with Winnie about immortality, we charted their feelings about immortality on a graphic organizer. This enabled us to compare and contrast the characters' points of view.

When we got to chapter 19, the chapter in which Mae hits the Man in the Yellow Suit to protect Winnie, we used our 4Cs routine to delve more deeply into Mae's character and actions. I previously wrote about using this routine for our grade-level P.I.G. (pretty important goal).   This time, I used it to also teach my students how to paraphrase evidence from the text to support their thinking.

It was during this discussion that the goosebump moments came. One of my students, an English Language Learner, said that  Mae Tuck reminded him of Perloo  from Perloo the Bold by Avi (our last mentor text), because both character begin as quiet and meek. But then, they both become warriors at the end, in their own ways!  I'm not making this up. That was truly what he said.  
A student works to find evidence for his thinking, using the 4Cs thinking routine.
What made his comment so remarkable is that this child began fifth grade reading two levels below grade level!  That is the power of these thinking routines. I'm consistently seeing remarkable changes in my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. That child is now reading at grade level!

As our discussion about Mae continued, my own thinking about her deepened.  Students found her to be the most surprising character of the novel, because out of all the Tucks, she changed the most.  She went from someone who appeared to accept immortality; someone who chided Tuck about his melancholy; someone who mothered her boys.  She became a protective warrior.  I had never thought about Mae this way, until now.  

I was so sad when I heard of Natalie Babbitt's passing.  Tuck Everlasting still lives on in my mind.  The characters make me ache.  This time around, I choked up when Angus stood in the Treegap cemetery reading Winnie's tombstone.  My voice cracked as I read his words, "Good girl."  That was okay.  I think Natalie would've been pleased with us.

You can read my previous post about our P.I.G. with the 4Cs thinking routine here.

Be sure to check out these visible thinking routine resources (some are free). They will change your teaching and your students' learning! Simply click the pictures.


           






 This month, I've linked up with some phenomenal educators. Be sure to stop by their blogs by clicking the pictures below.  You won't be sorry!

















   
   

22

Passion and Purpose: Bravery in a Broken World



Passion and purpose have been on my mind over the last week and a half.  I don't mean the drive-in-movie-theater kind of passion with purposeful hot necking. I mean the kind of passion that propels one through life.  I had two experiences in the past two weeks that brought this to mind. 

Experience #1
I was asked to present on balanced literacy for an undergraduate class at Madonna University. I schlepped a boat load of stuff to share with the class, sharing my leadership/social justice focus I've been developing since August.  We read a fantastic article by Ron Ritchart about the five R's of curriculum design, and engaged in some pretty meaty discussion using the Sentence-Phrase-Word Routine.   For two and a half hours, students thought about visible thinking strategies, curriculum design, concept mapping, and unit planning.  At the end of the night, many stopped to express their appreciation and the impact of our session together. 

What they didn't know and what I wouldn't tell them for fear of contaminating them with my cynicism and exhaustion...was what they gave me: A view into their passion and purpose.  They engaged earnestly and fervently with the content, me, and each other.  There was a light in their eyes.  They smiled.  They asked questions. They thought out loud. They challenged each other.  There was passion and purpose. On the way home that night, I thought about the undergraduate education student I had been. Those Madonna students gave me a great and priceless gift: A glimpse of who I was and still am when I peel back the layers of sadness and stress.

Experience #2
I was out of my classroom, attending a day of Cultures of Thinking learning provided by our county's ISD. I am very excited about these learning days because they are with the author of Making Thinking Visible and Cultures of Thinking, Ron Ritchart. In the afternoon of this particular learning day, we were given the opportunity to tour the fabulous alternative vocational education facilities and classes offered at the session's venue.  While on our tour, I met Mr. Bobbee. Mr. Bobbee teaches Auto Body Shop. 

As we entered the body shop classroom, the smell of barbecue hung in the air.  Two of the students said, "We'll get Mr. Bobbee for you."  We could hear the affection in their voices as they called for him.  Mr. Bobbee came to greet us, explaining that the staff had had a barbecue and that he had brought his grill in for his kids, so they could have one, too.  He proceeded to lead us around his classroom, explaining what and how he teaches his kids.  He called them "his kids."  There was pride in his voice. He beamed when he talked about how they find employment.  Mr. Bobbee had passion and purpose.


'Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do...Maybe it's the same with people,' Hugo continued. 'If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken.'
                                                                                   Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret


This past month has probably been one of the hardest months of my 24 year career in teaching.  In the face of third grade retention legislation, district initiatives, shrinking resources, and the election coverage, I've struggled to maintain my purpose and passion.  I've listened to colleagues across the country talk about how election coverage has impacted their students.  I've heard about a boy who threatened a girl with rape.  They were fourth graders, by the way. I've heard two children talking about what a witch Hillary Clinton is, and that they're glad Donald Trump won.  I've listened to students bully other students for repeating pro-Clinton or pro-Trump sentiments that they've heard at home.  I've watched the nightly news and seen hatred scrawled across school and church walls.  I've wondered if my students are watching.  I wonder if they are scared.  Just recently, I watched  students from a local school district in our state chant, "Build that wall! Build that wall!" at minority students in the school cafeteria. 

It takes my breath away. I feel broken.

But then I remember days like this:


We are sitting on the carpet, reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  And we've come to the part when Hugo talks about people losing their purpose.  I ask my kids, "What is your purpose?"  One by one, students begin to share.  We talk about how when we do something we are meant to do, we often lose all track of time.  One student says that when she dances, she feels outside of herself...that her purpose in that moment is to inspire others.  Another students says he thinks he is meant to take care of animals, because they love him...and he is attracted to all animals. He thinks he has a way with them.  By the end of the session, I was teary-eyed. 



The Day After
The day after the election, I went to work with purpose...a fierce and determined passion.  Together, my students and I revisited Helen Keller, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa.  We revisited their biographies, their words, their lives.  We remembered how they each had a sense of purpose. We read The Other Side by Jaqueline Woodson.  I listened to "my kids" talk about symbolism.  I listened to them talk about theme. I listened to them talk about acceptance.  

In that session, I felt like I'd stepped outside of myself and that my purpose, in that moment, was to teach my kids how to be human.
Until next time,



If you're interested in resources to support social justice and leadership themes. Click on the pictures below:

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Biography-Infographic-Nonfiction-Mats-2698588

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Back-to-School-Desk-Tags-LEADERSHIP-THEMED-2652828

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Nonfiction-Reading-Quotation-Biographies-2697556

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Back-to-School-Student-Bookmarks-LEADERSHIP-THEME-2652917
This one is a freebie!

I've teamed up with some other inspirational educators. Be sure to check out their blog posts below. May you find a renewed sense of purpose and passion.







   
   
9

When PIGS Fly!




Last Wednesday, I sat at my desk during my lunch hour making a list.  This is a strategy my mom, who had also been a teacher, taught me to do when I feel overwhelmed with teaching life.  So in between dabbing my broccoli florets in my hummus and choking down my carrot sticks, I made my list.  Overwhelmed doesn't adequately describe how I was feeling.  I began by listing five things at the top of my list that I had already accomplished.  

You do this.  Admit it.  I do this. I am a goal-setting, need-to-feel-a-sense-of-accomplishment list maker.  I add things that I have already done to lists just so I can check them off.  I know it's not a logical thing to do, but I've never bragged about my logic.  Some people over-drink, over-eat, or over-exercise to cope with stress.  I make lists so I can check things off.  This is how I cope. And then, because I am a classic over-achiever, I tell myself that if I accomplish half of what I list, I'm way far ahead of the game. Last Wednesday was no different.  And at the top of my list, I had written "P.I.G."  

When PIGS Fly
What is "P.I.G?"  P.I.G.  stands for "Pretty Important Goal."  It's the term my school district and school use to identify the year-long goal focus for each grade level.  I did feel a sense of accomplishment that this particular item was checked off on my list.  
.
This year at my school, we are focusing our efforts on reading.  Michigan recently passes a retention law for third graders, and this ups the ante for teachers and students.  There's a desperateness in the air. My fifth grade team began by looking at our Fountas & Pinnell data.  As usual, our students show a need for more advanced comprehension strategies in the "Beyond the Text" and "About the Text" comprehension areas.  After much dialogue and angst about how to best attack this goal, we came up with the following:

Rationale: Students develop advanced reading comprehension when they make connections, critique, and analyze text and their own thinking.


Goal: Students will achieve a grade level average of 80% on a biweekly basis, in reading comprehension, using the 4C's thinking routine in guided reading and strategy groups.


4 Cs: A Rock Star Routine
What is a "4C" routine, you ask?  My school is on its way to becoming a "Cultures of Thinking" organization.  My colleagues and I were looking for an easy peasy way to strengthen our students' ability to infer, make connections, analyze and critique.  This thinking routine popped out at us because  it requires students to do the type of thinking represented by "Beyond the Text" and "About the Text" reading comprehension.
  • The first C stands for Connection.  What connections can you make?
  • The second C stands for Challenge.  What ideas can you challenge?
  • The third C stands for Concepts. What are THE important ideas here?
  • The final C stands for Change. What changes occurred in your thinking?
After playing with it in our own practice, we found that this routine works well with fiction and nonfiction.  For example, let's say that I'm working with a guided reading group that is reading Tuck Everlasting. We might begin by focusing on a chapter and talking about the connections we have to Winnie, describing times when we have experienced frustration, feeling trapped or suffocated by a situation.  We take it a step further in that chapter and challenge some of the decisions that Winnie has made in that particular chapter, maybe even examining what we might have done in her place.  

We would discuss important themes or ideas about life from the chapter.  And finally, how our thinking about Winnie and/or her situation has changed due to the chapter we're discussing.  

Now, apply the same thinking routine to a nonfiction book about soccer.  What connections can you make to the topic?  What prior knowledge might you have?  Is the topic an important one for you?  We could follow that with challenging the writing style or thinking of the author. Did he or she slant the text to portray a certain viewpoint?  Is the depiction of soccer accurate?  What are THE important ideas about soccer?  How do you know they're important?  And finally, what changes in your understanding of soccer occurred because you read this text?

My fifth grade team decided to use this routine as a teaching tool and formative assessment, on a biweekly basis, with each of our guided reading groups.  On the formative assessment, we give a point for each of the C's and find our grade level average, which we track with our students.  Our expectation is that we will see an increase in our students' ability to use more complex reading comprehension skills on our benchmark Fountas & Pinnell assessments.  Just in the teaching alone, we've seen some changes.  In fifth grade, our P.I.G.S. do fly!

To read more about visible thinking strategies you might try this website (click on the pig!):

You can also give some of these thinking routines a whirl by trying them out below.  Not only are they shaking  up our reading comprehension, but our writing skills are growing by leaps and bounds with these routines!   







                     Until next time, 
                             teach on, my friends!


5

Teacher Leadership: Mama NEVER Said There'd Be Days Like This



There's this picture book with which I bet almost all elementary teachers are familiar: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Raise your hand if you know this book.  For those of you who aren't, it's a story about a tree that gives everything it has to a boy that depends on it.  When the boy is young, the tree provides a play space. When the boy is older, it provides shade.  When the boy becomes a man, the tree provides the ultimate sacrifice...its wood for a house for the boy turned man. When the boy is an old man, it provides a place to sit...its stump. Teachers everywhere love this story.  It is THE ultimate story about self-sacrifice and giving. 

Come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy. 
                                                                                    ---Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Indulge me for just a moment.  What if teachers adore this story because it is a noble parable and  metaphor for teachers and public education?  I don't know about you, but lately, I feel like Silverstein's giving tree. 

I wish that I could give you something, but I have nothing left...I am just an old stump.
                                                                                      ---Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Teacher Leadership
Teacher Leadership has been a buzz word in education for the last 10 years or so. But, what is teacher leadership, really?  I asked some colleagues of mine in West Virginia, Arizona, Massachusetts and Michigan.  Here's a snapshot of the varying definitions:

  • Teacher leadership is just code for, "We have something else we want you to tackle, and we'll call you a leader while you do it."
  • Teacher leadership is leading professional development for your school district.
  • Teacher leadership is sitting on school improvement committees.
  • Teacher leadership means doing more work for free.
  • Teacher leadership means implementing district initiatives first, before everyone else tries them.
  • In my district, teacher leadership is synonymous with  saying, "Yes."
  • Teacher leadership is engaging in professional dialogue about best practices.
  • Teacher leaders don't have personal lives.
It was interesting to hear the variety of responses from friends and colleagues, some positive, some negative. 

The whole concept of teacher leadership has been nagging at me over the last month.  Why? I identify myself as a leader.  In current and past districts I've worked for, I think I've been viewed as such.  But what does that mean? 

Recently, I sat in a meeting and listened to an initiative being rolled out.  While I understand the push behind the initiative, I whole-heartedly disagree with how it has been designed.  Everything in me screams, "This is wrong. This is wrong for kids. This is NOT best-practice. Many aspects of this are in direct opposition with what we know about how kids learn."  I was not alone in my beliefs, not by a long shot.  Yet, I was the only one who spoke up.  I spoke up because I feel the need to be respected as a professional, and I feel the need to protect my practice and my students.  In the days that followed this meeting, people came out of the wood work to thank me for saying something, to thank me for "sticking up for us."

Leadership is Lonely
Leadership is lonely.  That has been my experience over 24 years of teaching.  I understand why teachers don't speak up.  I understand fear of reprisals, bullying, exhaustion, and the disempowerment of our profession. I even understand the apathy that comes from feeling like we don't have a voice anymore. I'm not going to lie. I cried that day, on my way home from school.  I cried because I'm working as hard as I can. I cried because my colleagues feel so defeated, they don't have the courage to stand up and say, "Wait a minute! This needs more discussion." I cried because I was scared and nervous to be the only public voice objecting.   I cried because I'm losing faith that anyone is really listening or trying to understand. 

I recently facilitated professional development about Cultures of Thinking: The Eight Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart. I had an epiphany while preparing and reading for my workshop.  Ritchart defines culture as a group of people telling a common story.  If we're part of a culture, that means we influence the story.  We need to reclaim our voices.  Because they matter.  Because we ARE part of the culture. Because it is IMPERATIVE for our well-being as professionals and for the well-being of our students. 

How can we demand and expect others treat us with respect when we don't even treat ourselves with respect? 

In an abusive spousal relationship, often the first step to liberation and safety is to say, "Enough."

If we don't treat ourselves with the respect professionals deserve, then we will not be respected.

The Giving Tree Phenomena
This week in the state of Michigan, our state government has decided to retain all third graders who do not pass the state's reading benchmark.  They did this in the face of research and data that proves that retention is detrimental to students. They do not care about educators or the children we teach


This week in the state of Michigan, legislators have begun plans to dismantle our pension system, in a way that may cause the whole thing to implode  ( https://meamatters.com/2016/10/07/pension-attack-what-is-the-mea-doing-and-what-you-should-do/ ).

Teachers are STILL waiting for the return of the 3% taken from us, illegally. Fire and police have had theirs returned to them.  But Michigan's governor is appealing AGAIN (http://www.mea.org/tell-snyder-and-schuette-return-550-million-stolen-michigan-school-employees ).

And on a national stage, this headline has been making its rounds... "FACT: Donald Trump's Education Plan Would Mass-Fire Teachers And DECIMATE Pell Grants" (http://addictinginfo.org/2016/10/05/fact-donald-trumps-education-plan-would-fire-over-490000-teachers-and-decimate-pell-grants/ ).

I could go on and on.  We have seen an onslaught of scary legislation and attacks on public education and educators.  One day a year, teachers are honored with coffee mugs and Facebook memes, but the other 364 days a year are a different story.  We can all be Wonder Woman or Superman...we can be giving trees.  It's true, being an educator requires a degree of self-sacrifice.  However, should we really think so poorly of ourselves that we don't deserve livable wages, a solvent pension system, or adequate resources with which to teach our kids?  Should we really zip our lips when educational policy and funding promises to educationally maim our students? 

Does being a teacher leader really mean saying "Yes" at all costs or zipping our lips when things aren't right? 

This is what has been burning in  my brain over the last month. I implore you, if you're a Michigan teacher, use the link below to speak up and stand up to your representative, over and over again until you are heard.  If you're not in Michigan, I implore you to speak up in your culture.  Reclaim your voice.  We can't afford to be passive or apathetic any longer.

                                                                                   Until next time, teach on.





Find your Michigan representative here.


To read more thought-provoking posts from other educators around the country, check out the links below.



18

Ten Biographies, One Word, One Powerful Beginning


I took a month off from my online life to make sure my school year was off to a good start.  I must admit, as I sit here flexing my fingers at the keyboard, that I feel a bit rusty.  I've missed writing every week.  I think I wrote about 20 blog posts in my head over the last three weeks.  Even though I haven't flexed my writing muscles lately, I've been very, very busy.  



I decided to focus our year together in fifth grade on a school-year-long theme: Leadership.  I wrote about this choice prior to the beginning of this school year. You can check out that post here.  As I began setting up my classroom, the leadership idea percolated...like that strong cup of coffee you reach for every morning. 


Until it morphed into something bigger, deeper, and more engaging than I could've initially imagined. I began to think about leadership in terms of social justice.  This is how things evolved...

  1. We began our first two weeks, exploring the lives of Nellie Bly, George Washington Carver, Muhammad Ali, Pablo Neruda, and Cesar Chavez.  Then we moved onto the people I call, "The Powerhouse Ten."

        2. We read about Gandhi, Mandela, Sojourner Truth, DiMaggio, Carson, Mother Teresa,
            Einstein, Keller, MLK, Jr., and Owens.  We began drafting a list of leadership traits we
            discovered in each of the individuals we read about.  We ranked those traits in order of
            importance.  This led to a huge amount of discussion and debate.

        3. The we stepped inside those individuals' shoes.  We thought about what they perceived about the world, what their thoughts and beliefs were, and what mattered most to them. All of them changed the world with their words and actions...some spoke and acted for civil rights, some inspired us during wartime, others spoke and worked for human rights.



   



4. We began a thinking routine called "Peel the Fruit."  It's a freebie you can get by clicking the picture above. This routine is great for delving deeply into topics.  In each layer of the graphic organizer, I asked students a question. Layer 1 began with, "What are your hobbies and interests?" This was a pretty surface-level question. The questions got harder and more thought-provoking: What do you do when you make mistake? Who are you when someone is hurt or has hurt feelings? Who do you want to be in that situation.  Until finally, they wrote their word they wanted to be their guiding word for the school year. We created common definitions of their chosen words, to insure that we all had the same understanding. We used all the information and thinking in peeling the fruit to inform our word choice.


When students entered my classroom on the first day, they saw this:


They added their own power words...


          5. We began reading Perloo the Bold by Avi and applying our newfound knowledge of 
             leadership to this fantasy fiction text.   We've begun comparing the characters of 
             Perloo, Lucabara, Berwig, and Senyous to "The Powerhouse Ten."  Currently,  a new
             definition of leadership is beginning to unfold as we discuss how sometimes leaders can 
             lead quietly, without brashness or a take-charge personality.


What's Next?



We're beginning to compare Mogwat the Magpie's (the great teacher in Perloo the Bold) words of wisdom to quotations from "The Powerhouse Ten."  We're looking for similarities. We're contrasting. We're talking about truths.


We're beginning to delve into what Perloo and the many remarkable individuals we've been reading about have in common with each other.  We're beginning to hash out a definition of common good, of servant leadership, of social justice.  

From here, we'll be exploring current events, a new novel for upper elementary that has been  written about the race riots of the 1960s, engaging in a discussion (possibly) with the author, and looking for more leadership examples in our future mentor texts.  Be sure to stay tuned.  I'll be sharing frequently about this journey.    

                                                                                         Until next time, 



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