What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

14 Aug

I want to thank the brilliant educator and activist Christopher Lehmann (yes we share nearly the same name – he just has one too many Ns…) for the nudge this afternoon to write about my feelings on this topic.  When tragedies like these happen I sometimes find it hard to find the right words, but he reminded me how important it is to share our perspectives, how it matters for the educators we are lucky to call our community and for the children we serve. So thank you, Chris. I needed to be reminded that my voice matters, just like all of our voices matter.


What Do We Teach About Ferguson, MO?

My first draft of this letter was an angry one. Mostly at myself. While the unarmed Mike Brown’s shooting death by the hands of an armed police officer hit me, I also have started to build a pretty hard callus over the part of my heart that aches for young black men dying in our country. It hurts every time, yet I grow bitter that solutions may never come to this national tragedy. I see the lack of government movement, or even care, and feel hopeless.

What I began writing was that I was angry with myself that it took an utterly outrageous scene of mostly white police using excessive force against a mostly black population to snap me back to reality. Shouldn’t I be as outraged over one young black man’s death by an officer as I am over a scene of neighborhoods be covered with tear gas?

Then I came to this: what I know I want to teach about Ferguson.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless. And there is so much to feel hopeless about.

Mike Brown is one of many young black and minority and poor men who die daily in our country from violence–whether from police or from one another. Our prisons are filled with young black, minority, and poor men and our colleges are not. There is so much bad that it is overwhelming. Our national callus grows because to allow oneself to live with the gravity of this reality can feel so hopeless.

We do need to talk about what is hopeless because to not do so is to act as if it is not there.

What I want to teach about Ferguson, though, is not teargas.

What I want to teach about Ferguson is hope. Hope embodied in the people who chose to line up alone the road every day from the day Mike Brown was killed and make themselves seen. There may be reasons yet unknown for why the police violence and journalist blackout spread last night, but one of them most certainly was the desire to silence people who refused to be silenced. Likely even to silence the voices of the black men, women and children and those who stood beside them on those roads. What I want to teach is their story.

Megaphones came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then arrests came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then riot gear and guns came out to stop their stories from being told. But they stood.

Then teargas and tanks came out to stop their stories from being told. And we all stood.


This to me is an essential lesson. Do not be silenced.


I think we too often feel hopeless because we feel there is little any one of us can say or do to make a difference. So then we stop saying anything at all.

What we must teach our children, and each other, is that standing up to tell the story is the most critical step. Saying the wrong you see or feel is the beginning. When you stand, you invite others to stand, too.

Talk about what feels hopeless. Then, teach towards hope.








A New Way for Coaches to Learn Together

14 Aug

First, a huge thank you for the amazing support and response for my new organization, The Educator Collaborative.  I’ve received tons of emails, tweets, and in-person congratulations.

It reminds me how important compliments are for everyone. I won’t lie – all the hours, meetings, emails, and programming really bogged me down at times. Having someone say “thanks” could change those clouds in an instant.

I have to remember the power of that and make a point to thank others, daily.

Now the News: Coaching Think Tanks

Now the fun to share!

Just yesterday we announced our new Coaching Think Tanks for 2014-15.

We know that Coaches are essential to a school’s growth.  We also know–many of us from personal experience–that it can be a lonely position at times.

We are hoping our Coaching Think Tanks can be a not-too-busy, never-having-to-travel, intimate and rigorous way coaches can learn together across the school year.

They are not webinars, instead they are highly selective, small groups of coaches joining together across the year to collaborate and study.

Only 5-10 literacy and/or technology coaches will be admitted to each group. This is so no one feels lost in the crowd and groups can really become personalized support systems.

For more info here is my video announcement or you can visit our Coaching Think Tanks page.

We have just 16 New to Coaching and Advanced Coaching sessions to offer, led by me, Meenoo Rami, Kristi Mraz, Brian Sweeney, Kristin Ziemke, and more… Lots of options, but also very limited enrollment, so check it out early.

For each group, there will be

  • yearlong support
  • 6 live, online, sessions facilitated by one of our team members.
  • Projects to work on between online sessions to extend conversations into practice.
  • Private Forum Groups on our Community.TheEducatorCollaborative.com page.
  • And a professional learning hours Certificate or Digital Badge at the end.


Click the image of the Flyer to download or grab one on our Coaching Think Tanks page.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.14.24 AM

Applications Live (Very) Soon

  • Members of The Educator Collaborative mailing list will have a Priority Application period starting Friday! August 15-19th.
  • The general public can apply starting August 20th.
  • Admittance decisions will be sent starting Sept 2 and rolling through Oct 1st.

I am excited to watch these groups grow. My hope is that we can continue to innovate ways we all learn and connect.


And Lastly…. (Psst…)

Keep Saturday, September 20th open on your calendar. Something great is coming on that day…


Thanks for all you do–for kids, for each other, and for our profession.



The BIG News: I Founded A New Organization!

17 Jul

Thanks to all of you for making the launch day of the “Big News” feel so amazing.

As many of you now know, yesterday I publicly announced the new organization that I founded and direct. We’re called The Educator Collaborative.

The Educator Collaborative New Logo-01


We are a think tank and consulting organization working to innovate the ways educators learn together.

Our motto:

Collaboration Creates Opportunity.


This has really been a hands-on, labor of love for me.  You can read more about this at my Welcome message I posted yesterday.

Our Consultants are my dream team. I nervously asked each one and I was delighted when they said yes. Each is an amazing educator in his/her own right and we are even stronger together. The Educator Collaborative is happy to arrange their, or my, consulting services or speaking engagements with your school or organization.

We have two online homes that I built from scratch (picture me in front of the computer screen for hours learning how to use website plugins and code), I hope you love them as much as I do.

The first is our main professional site.  Here you’ll get to know us, our services – both in person and online, sign-up for our mailing list, and when our online offerings open up you can access registration here as well.


new logo slide educator collaborative-01

The second, sister site, is our exciting new social and networking website for teachers.  Called The Educator Collaborative Community, it is a place to collaborate with teachers from across the world on education topics. Within one day of launching our membership on that site is already nearing 100 and continues to rise.  People are posting questions, sharing answers, and forming discussion groups.

We intend to go beyond a typical online forum… innovation is what we do after all… Part of vision is to help educators use online tools for collaboration in newer, more personal ways.  In this instance, we are launching soon a monthly series where we will take some of the most popular topics, groups, and people from the Community and bring them to a broadcast collaboration space.  Sometimes it will be through a live broadcast hangout, sometimes through a virtual conference call, or other ways we hope to discover.  We will take the hottest topics and bring our experts, experts from the field, and some of you on to discuss them live.

It is our free gift to the education community.


long-The Educator Collaborative Community Logo

Naturally, you can find us on twitter (I mean, it’s me you’re talking about): @TheEdCollab and you can use the hashtag #TheEdCollab.  We’d love to have you follow.

I am so touched by the positive responses over the last 24 hours. I know there are many places you go to learn, connect, and share, and we hope The Educator Collaborative will be one of those places for you.

Thanks for all you do for our profession, for your colleagues, and for your students.

Here’s to great things ahead!


I Have BIG News to Share (tomorrow!)

15 Jul bulb logo-01

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 11AM EST

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


And now for something completely different.



I Have BIG News to Share (in 2 days)

14 Jul

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 11AM EST

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


And now for something completely different.


(note this video is probably PG-13 for a very few instances of language)


I Have BIG News to Share (in 3 days)

13 Jul

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 11AM EST

(1pm was a typo. Sorry.)

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


And now for something completely different.




I Have BIG News to Share (in 4 days)

12 Jul

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 11AM EST

(1pm was a typo!)

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


And now for something completely different.




I Have BIG News to Share (in 5 days)

11 Jul

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 1PM EST

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


And now for something completely different.




I Have BIG News to Share

10 Jul

I am so excited. Excited, nervous, energized, and just waiting to see what you think.

 July 16, 1PM EST

Right here:


Is this a teaser, yes? Are you sufficiently teased? I hope so. ;-) 

I’m grateful for this education community we all share and I can’t wait to share the big, big, BIG news!


P.S. It’s really big.


With Thanks to Walter Dean Myers

2 Jul

I can remember a time, barely more than a decade ago, where the Young Adult market was full of only books about dead dogs from the 1970s. Or the best my students could read of urban life was trying to understand 1960s jargon in The Outsiders… drive-ins were nowhere in site in the Bronx, you see.

That was until Walter Dean Myers.

Scorpions, Slam!, and Monster became required reading. Not because I required them, because my students couldn’t help but pass them around. Walter Dean Myers sat, at least as far as I can tell, at the cusp of what, thankfully, has become an explosion of thoughtful, well written, deeply introspective, Young Adult writing that is aimed at real kids, with real feelings, and respects their real humanity.

One of my favorite’s is Somewhere in the Darkness. Myers’ book about a son reuniting with his recently-out-of-prison father and the cross-country trip they take together. It’s human, dark, and heart wrenching.

I actually teared up at the news of Walter Dean Myers’ passing. Not only for the loss the literary world must now face, but at the enormity of his gift to children and classrooms. I also feel personally indebted. His work has helped me be a better teacher.

I recall, when I was teaching high school, sitting down next to a tough-as-nails ninth grade girl who wore her attitude as armor over the embarrassment I know she felt for having such a poor academic record. She had written only the little bit, about three paragraphs of what was supposed to be a short story.  She hrumphed next to me as I reread some of the lines and the first thing that popped into my mind was: “Do you know who you write dialogue like? Walter Dean Myers. He has that way of making people sound so real. People spend their lives studying how to write dialogue well, how to make movie scripts sound realistic and novels authentic. The dialogue you wrote here sounds much the same way. It’s real people, really talking. You aren’t hiding them, you aren’t faking them, you are writing as if they are in this room.” We ended that conference and she spent the rest of the period writing without lifting her head.

It’s one of my fondest memories from the classroom, and, as with many of my memories, Walter Dean Myers’ work played a starring role.

While the Young Adult industry has a long way to go to realize a breadth of fully inclusive characters, plots, and authors, our classrooms are still much closer to reflecting a multitude of lives and experiences than ever before. Walter Dean Myers has been a cornerstone of this new world. A prolific author. A quiet visionary.

With condolences to his family, friends, and readers — and overwhelming gratitude.


When There’s No White Horse: Being our Best Advocates

25 Jun

A few days ago several people forwarded a blog post to me titled “An Obituary for Close Reading.” They sent it along not because they thought talk of the death of close reading would worry me (life will go on), but because there are some less than glowing comments made about Kate and my book in both that post and a follow up one.

Some close friends felt badly for me, some others wondered if I should respond, still others said to brush it off.  I’ve had my share of good and bad reviews for all sorts of stuff, so it’s nothing new.

I did feel compelled to write a post today because, bruises aside, I actually agree with the author.

Well, okay, I’m human I don’t completely agree. I, like all parents, think my babies are the sweetest, brightest, most beautiful ones on the block.

I more specifically agree with the conceit that we need to be careful of buzz words and advocate for our own learning and practice.

To go a step farther, I think advocating needs to go well beyond shunning buzz words. Once something has become edubabble it is almost too late.

We, as a profession, need to advocate earlier and often for the policies that come our way. We need to shape the decisions that are made in our districts. We need to be active with our administrators. We need to offer our professional expertise so by the time something gets to the babble stage, it’s actually worth babbling about.

That was our hope with our tongue-in-cheek titled, Falling in Love With Close Reading, that we could restore best practices to a term which, at the time, was buzzing with nonsense.


We Can’t Wait for Advocates, We Need to BE Advocates

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that while the teaching profession can hold onto hope that an advocate in government or the public will arrive, we must instead become our own best advocates right now.

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The reality is, when questionable things intended to “help education” trickle down to us — either from the federal, state, or district level — they are questionable to us now because they truly were questionable when they were decided.  Or more accurately, they were questioned during the process of decision making.

I was watching a documentary on the Cold War recently and I was struck by one meeting in particular.  Russian ships were on their way to Cuba and no one in the US military was certain why. Could they be carrying missiles? Were they empty and only coming to posture? Around the table, most of Kennedy’s advisors were pushing for a preemptive attack against Russia. Striking first, before the ships arrived, could scare them away. There was much debate, a lot of uncertainty, and for whatever reason Kennedy continued to say no, we should wait. Wait to see what they do first. No one knew the “right” move, it was all discussion, it was all conversation.

History revealed that choosing to wait was the right choice. Of course it could have not been.

Watching that documentary, I was so struck by my naiveté regarding history. For me, it always seemed so linear: pilgrims came, then colonies, then the Revolutionary War, and so on. Seeing the people, hearing their perspectives, I was shaken to realize (and embarrassed this had not clicked for me until now) that every decision that has been made and will continue to be is, quite literally, a room full of people talking about possibilities.

The same holds true for decisions that come our way in education. Though textbooks can seem to rain from the sky and standards are zapped into being through bolts of lightening, those initiatives were made by people and their best guesses.

So first, it’s important to realize that in all cases, decisions are drawn from experience and information (or lack thereof). When your district says “this textbook will help our students succeed.” You can be certain that no one who made that decision is 100% sure of that statement.

Which is where we, as professionals, come in. Before edubabble ever gets to the point of edubabble, we can advocate in small and big ways. We can help bring our expertise, experience, and knowledge to the table.

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Small Steps to Advocate

There are small step ways to advocate for our students, our work, and the right improvements to education:

  • Take back edubabble: In some cases the babble may come with a good intentions that may have become muddle in practice or the telephone line of implementation. If what you are hearing doesn’t match what you know to be best practices, change the word or revise the definition.
  • Don’t malign district decisions, get in there are help to make them: Decisions that are made are almost always made to help kids. It is just that often people making those decisions do not read research and work with kids enough to really know what works best. You are the expertise they need. Volunteer for curriculum review committees (even if they don’t exist yet, volunteer yourself!).
  • Connect with other passionate educators: Around your district and across the world there are people as engaged, active, and inspiring as you. Find them. Start a book club or lesson planning circle in your community, join a twitter chat, or sign-up for a summer course.

Dorothy Barnhouse‘s introduction to her new book, Readers Front and Center, is a master class in advocating. Written with passion and practicality, she helps us to rethink some of the edubabble in the Common Core reading standards and the constellation of “aligned” (and often not) initiatives. One highlight is the way she reframes the “Text Complexity Triangle” that every CCSS states’ educators have seen one-thousand-and-one-times (see my tweet for the visual, color added). That graphic, stunning in it’s simplicity, is a whole new way to talk about the same work described in the standards. I can picture school board members having those concentric circles in their hands and school leadership teams posting it on the wall of their meeting room, all saying “did we start with students with this decision?” and consulting the image again.


Big Steps to Advocate

The big step ways involve supporting our colleagues in having the vision, passion, and guts to bring classroom experience to leadership and policy levels:

  • More career educators need to move into policy and government roles: school boards, local, state and federal governments
  • More career educators need to move into school leadership roles: administration and central offices
  • More career educators need to move into research and teacher training roles: higher education, authors, consultants
  • More career educators need to remain in the classroom and also become more politically and socially active: writing, voting, speaking

A piece of this is reflecting on our own careers. Have you ever entertained the thought of an education life beyond your classroom or school building? You do not need to have one, but it’s a question worth considering. Your gifts may be able to impact many students and educators in more positive and purposeful ways then we are often experiencing now.

A larger key is being inspiration for others, for our fellow educators. When I began as a teacher I assumed I would always be in the classroom, I loved my students and found the job both impossibly difficult and incredibly fulfilling. It was a high school literacy coach who said, “maybe you should consider coaching. I think you’d be good at it.” It was my first step out of full time classroom teaching. The rest is history.  You can help shape the future of our profession by inviting a talented colleague to dream: “I think your passion and voice could help a lot of teachers and kids, have you ever thought of applying to policy program? We need more educators out there.”


We Are Our Profession

You are already an advocate. Every day you walk into your school, every child you believe in, every family you connect with, you are advocating.

We need your voice and talents even more. There are many improvements ahead for our profession, if you are not a part of making them then someone else will.

Your voice matters.

Thanks for all you do.


#FILWCloseReading is in its 4th Printing!

11 Jun

Kate Roberts and I are so grateful for all of our readers. Falling in Love with Close Reading is in its fourth printing!

Falling in Love With Close Reading cover


Related Resources

We love learning with all of you and from all of you.  Here are a few ways to connect, study, and share:

  • Kate and I will be leading another 3-session webinar in October on Close Reading, click the image below to be taken to the registration page:

Falling in love w close reading october webinar

  • We wrote a study guide for Falling in Love With Close Reading which you can find here.
  • Join others on twitter using #FILWCloseReading
  • Heinemann designed this beautiful graphic (click to be taken to the main page to download a larger copy for yourself):


  • (And word on the street says we just may be coming to a few cities this next school year… we’ll keep you posted….!)

Thanks for all you do.

Guest Post: EdWeek Classroom Q&A – Ways to Develop a Culture of Success in Schools

9 Jun

Larry Ferlazzo gathers questions from educators and then collects both invited responses from experts in our field and comments from readers. It’s a brilliant form of collaboration through his EdWeek “Classroom Q&A” column.

This week, a teacher asked, “How do you create a school culture or even classroom culture in which students strive for success and are expected to strive for success?” My response, along with Jeffrey Benson’s and Barbara Blackburn’s appear in Part One. Now it’s your turn, Larry invites you to leave your own tips or comments at his post, some will be published in the future.

image linked from Classroom Q&A, EdWeek

Thanks for all you do.

My interview at Two Writing Teachers

19 May

I’m excited to share my interview at Two Writing Teachers: “An Interview with Educator and Author Chris Lehman.”

I was interviewed by TWTs’ Beth Moore, my friend, former colleague at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and TWT regular contributor.

We talked my passion-ish for writing and reading, tips for helping reluctant student writers, standards, heroes and so much more.  It was a blast to do and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed having it!

Here’s the post. Thanks #TWTblog!


Looking forward to #IRA14 this weekend!

8 May

I’m so excited for International Reading Association’s 59th Annual Conference this weekend in New Orleans!

My Events

On Saturday at 4:45pm I’ll be talking Close Reading with Kate Roberts and Mary Ehrenworth (woo-hoo!). Session 1974, Convention Center Room 353.

Earlier that day, Kate Roberts and I will be signing books at the Heinemann Booth. Exhibit Hall, Saturday, 1:30. (Added bonus: Meenoo Rami will be there as well, signing her new book Thrive!)


Looking Forward To

  • Pre-conference twitter chat tonight! I’m guest-hosting #IRAchat at 8pm EST, 7pm CST: More info here.
  • Being back in New Orleans (and the food!)
  • The energy of hundreds of educators all learning, laughing, and sharing together.
  • What will surely be another fun conference twitter stream: #IRA14
  • And the start of my mile long list of sessions I can make it to if I duplicate myself:
    • Jeff Kinney General Session
    • Richard Allington FS01, Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, Sat 11-12
    • Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris, 01557: Student Learning Networks: Building Digital Learning Communities that Ignite Powerful Learning, Sat 11-12
    • Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, 02214: When the Text is Tough
    • Frank Serafini, Sylvia Pantaleo, Suzette Youngs 1445: Reading Picture Books Closely: Developing Strategies for Comprehending Multimodal Texts, Sat 11-1
    • Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle 1863: Building Reading Lives that Last, Sat 11-1
    • Tim Rasinski et al, FS13: The Art of Enging Your School Year Literacy Strong


    • oh my… this is only up until 1PM and I already have too many options…


IRA Program Online


IRA 59th Annual Conference App



On iTunes:



Hope to see you there!  If you do, come say hi!


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