Thanks on This Back-To-School-Eve

For all your end-of-summer blues, “why do I have to set my alarm clock again?” shock, and your endless prepping and planning for this first day of school, know that your efforts matter.


In just our home, you have a soon-to-be second grader and a brand-new kindergartner feeling excited for a new year to begin. They are anxious, yet just can’t wait to get to know their teachers.


When you step into your classroom this year, as some of you already have, you will profoundly and forever impact the lives of children.


You are a hero. Really, truly, we should hold a ticker-tape parade in your honor tomorrow. As the sun rises in the morning we should usher you down your nearest main street in an open top cadillac. We should line the streets, waving signs, celebrating the great gifts you will give this year.


This year

you will be someone’s champion

you will forever change someone’s self-esteem

you will touch a family in a profound way

you will help a colleague more than you will know

you will heal a heart

you will grow a mind

you will change another small part of the world for the better.


Here’s to an amazing school year.

Thank you for the gifts you share, the struggles you surmount, and the belief you hold.


Happy 2014-15!

image in public domain





#TeacherPoets – THANK YOU!


Hi TeacherPoets.

Thank you from the very bottoms of my feet up through the top of my head for joining in this fun four weeks of reading, writing, and rejuvenating.  Selfishly, you gave me an excuse to write poetry for a whole month, to laugh, be moved to near tears, and in general marvel at what an amazing community of educators we have.

A huge thanks to our live on-air poets:

Betsy, Michelle, Laurie, Markette, Audra, Crista, and Margaret (and from afar, Jason, who needed to attend to family).  Your generosity of time, risk taking, and collaboration means so much. Plus, you’re pretty great writers to boot!

And a tip of the hat to my friends at Booksource who are donating books of poetry to this great group of educators in thanks to them for giving up Saturday mornings to write together. Booksource has also put together these lists of poetry books (Elementary, Middle, and High School) to support you in filling your classrooms with poetry.

Thanks as well to all of you who have joined our online Community Page or tweeted live, along with us, each week. Your energy and contributions were felt for miles, they certainly reached me.


Watch Old Episodes Anytime

The magic of the internet means all four episodes of the live series are available, in a full Youtube playlist, for viewing anytime (up to nearly 600 views!).

It’s a Poetry DVR:



Recap of Week 4: Concrete the Concept

For our last week we moved from little to big. Instead of aiming to simply retell an experience or explain a feeling, we talked about really taking on an intellectual project – giving ourselves our own writing assignment to attempt to put to paper a larger concept.  Through this we also talked about the essential need in revision to “let go” of a first draft and pick up a whole new one.

Mentor poems:

  •  A Hymn to Childhood by Lee Young-Li – please click the little play button on this link and listen to Lee Young-Li describe his “preoccupation” before he reads his poem.
  • r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r by e.e. cummings – think of the project he has given himself and imagine the decisions he had to make.
  • Last Night I Saw the City Breathing by Andrew Fusek – step into his shoes and consider what goals he may have had as he wrote.

We then workshopped original poems from our final two TeacherPoets, Laurie and Audra.


Thanks again for these fun four weeks.  And thanks for all you do for children and for one another.



Join me 5/8 guest-hosting #IRAchat: Gear Up to #IRA14

I am excited to guest host the International Reading Association‘s twitter chat #IRAchat, this Thursday, May 8, at 8pm EST (7 pm CST).

We are gearing up for the 59th Annual IRA Conference this weekend in New Orleans!  I love the city, the conference and most of all connecting with educators from around the world.

IRA officers and other friends will join our chat–and I hope you will as well. The chat is open to anyone, whether you are attending the conference, following from afar, a New Orleans travel buff, or just have a passion for education.


Let’s Chat

If you are new to twitter chats, you can check out my post So You Think You Want to Tweet Chat: From Lurker to Chatter 101.

If you are like me, you find these huge conferences exciting and totally overwhelming! We’re hoping in this one hour chat you will grab some attendance tips, travel spots to check out while in town, and start your list of sessions to attend.

Thursday will follow a Q1, A1 format and I will break it into main sections:

  • Attending Tips (both sharing and asking for ideas about the conference and New Orleans),
  • Social Media (sharing tips on using it during the conference and who to follow),
  • and Sessions! (sharing topics and promoting your own sessions).

Here’s the link to draft questions. Please tweet me with any other question suggestions.


See you online!



#TeacherPoets – Week 4 “Assignment”


Hi TeacherPoets.

This series has been such fun–uplifting, inspiring, and just great to steal some time from busy schedules to write.  It is also shocking how quickly time flies! It feels like it was just moments ago when our first session was starting online, now we’re already in our fourth and final week together!

If you have missed any of the series or care to catch up, you’ll find the full video playlist here (our sessions have been viewed almost 500 times to date):


Recap of Week 3: Idea are Puzzle Pieces

During this past Saturday’s session we talked about specificity and zooming in, but this time looked at how poets often string together these little moments to tell a larger story or share a bigger idea.  I showed how we can study mentor poems by drawing boxes around moments–to see where their pieces are.  Then shared a draft of a poem piecing together different puzzle pieces (in my case: my daughter chewing the noses off her toys when she was little as one piece and Geppetto and Pinocchio as the other piece).

We read:

We also workshopped three more original poems from the TeacherPoets live group and through that experience touched on a few more tips for ourselves: don’t shy away from telling more of the “who” (our readers seemed to really want to know that each week), and consider how you control time or give more clues about time shifts (another comment that often has come up).

Assignment for Week 4: Concrete the Concept

For our last week we’ll go even larger. Instead of aiming to simply retell an experience or explain a feeling, we will talk about really taking on an intellectual project – giving ourselves our own writing assignment to attempt to put to paper a larger concept: “I want to try and represent…” or “I have been thinking a lot about…”.

Mentor poems:

  •  A Hymn to Childhood by Lee Young-Li – please click the little play button on this link and listen to Lee Young-Li describe his “preoccupation” before he reads his poem.
  • r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r by e.e. cummings – think of the project he has given himself and imagine the decisions he had to make.
  • Last Night I Saw the City Breathing by Andrew Fusek – step into his shoes and consider what goals he may have had as he wrote.

Workshopping This Week:

This Saturday we have our final two TeacherPoet’s original poems! Please download each of these, write all over them, and be ready to share your comments live on Saturday.  These poems are in draft form and ready for your input:

Comments can be given live on Saturday via twitter using our hashtag #TeacherPoets.

And remember:

Kinda like Fight Club: don’t talk about the TeacherPoet poems outside of TeacherPoet workshop. Wait until Saturday to share your feedback!

Session Four Live Stream

Here is the direct link to Session Three’s live streaming session on 5/3 from 11-noon EST.  All you need is an internet connection to view:


Thanks for all you do!  Happy writing!


#TeacherPoets – Week 3 “Assignment”


Hi TeacherPoets.

Thanks for another great Saturday session!  The highlight for me was Betsy and Michelle sharing their poems with us, and the caring, thoughtful responses from all of you. It was inspirational to have we, educators, come together over a love of writing.  Thanks for that gift.

I want to make sure I mention the great contributions many of you are also making to our TeacherPoets community page. Links to original poems, published poets, even whole conversations are popping up even in comments you are leaving each other.

If you haven’t looked around recently, I highly suggest getting lost in there for awhile (shout outs to many of you, including Jennifer’s supportive comments, Catherine and Fran’s recent revisions they both posted, Sheri’s holy-cow-you-took-notes-as-poems(!!), and Kevin’s always-coolness in combining great writing and awesome tools).

Everyone is welcome, no prior poetry writing experience necessary to join in the fun.


Recap of Week 2:

During the second Saturday session we talked about specificity again, this time in descriptions of things. We looked at how evocative poems can actually be quite literal in the way they detail objects. It is the micro-details, the specific ways of calling our attention to bits of these things, that brings them to life. So often the poet’s gift to us is helping us notice details we may too often overlook.

The archive of our first and second live Hangout on Air is here (the videos have already been viewed more than 300 times!):



As I mentioned at the start, we also workshopped two original poem from TeacherPoets. What I love about these conversations is that we not only help to improve one poem, we also learn more about how readers receive our written words.  It’s a process of helping others while also helping ourselves grow as writers. Betsy and Michelle were our brave first time sharers, and the community – including those of you on twitter – did a terrific job with specific, caring feedback. It was an awesome experience.

Assignment for Week 3: Ideas are Puzzle Pieces

A Writing Invitation:

  • Try on the writing exercise we practiced last Saturday.
    • Pick an object, a photo, or something else to observe.
    • Then, describe the small details. Aim to not be mysterious, instead say exactly what you see (see the video).
    • As you write, try to capture surprising details others might miss. Play with language, but again be clear. Don’t leave your reader confused about what you are describing.
    • Write a new poem (or revise an old one) with this strategy.
  • If you’d like, post a link to your poem (or leave the full text in a comment) on our TeacherPoets Community page, file it under “Session Three”.

Mentor poems to read:

  • Mosquitoes by Aimee Nezukumatathil (second poem on this page), for how she connects a few concrete experiences to tell of a larger experience
  • It Took All My Energy by Tony Wallace, for how he leaves some mystery for us as readers but grounds this in a series of very clearly described events
  • Also, share links to other poems you love that dive deeply into specific descriptions.  Add them to our TeacherPoets Community Page.

Workshopping This Week:

This Saturday we have a three more TeacherPoet’s original poems! Please download each of these, write all over them, and be ready to share your comments live on Saturday.  These poems are in draft form and ready for your input:

Comments can be given live on Saturday via twitter using our hashtag #TeacherPoets.

And remember:

Kinda like Fight Club: don’t talk about the TeacherPoet poems outside of TeacherPoet workshop. Wait until Saturday to share your feedback!

Session Three Live Stream

Here is the direct link to Session Three’s live streaming session on 4/26 from 11-noon EST.  All you need is an internet connection to view:




See you Saturday! Happy writing!



#TeacherPoets – Week 2 “Assignment”


Hi TeacherPoets.

Saturday was a lot of fun! Every moment of our conversation, the tweets coming in, most of all the passion and joy of everyone participating.  Thanks for helping me rise up out of the blues of March into this great new spring. It was much needed inspiration for me and I hope for you, too.

Recap of Week 1:

During this first session we talked about the power of condensing time and emotion into manageable bites. That taking on huge emotions (joy, fear) or giant topics (love, death) can be not only an overwhelming task as a writer, but can also lead to writing that is too broad. Finding the smaller the pieces – almost like finding focus in a research topic – helps our writing become more specific. The more specific our writing the more universal the feelings and ideas really can become.

The archive of our first live Hangout on Air is here:


Assignment for Week 2: The Magical Specifics of Things

During this Saturday’s session we will talk about specificity again, this time in descriptions of things. How deeply evocative poems can actually be quite literal in their descriptions. It is the micro-details, the specific ways of calling our attention to bits of these objects, that brings them to life.

So often the poet’s gift to us is helping us notice details we may too often overlook.

A Writing Invitation:

  • Try on the writing exercise we practiced last Saturday.
    • Think of a big topic or emotion in your life.
    • Then, locate a sliver. You could use the concentric circles exercise or make a timeline or other strategy (see the video).
    • Write a poem about that sliver. Carry your big emotions with you, but write through a small, specific experience.
  • If you’d like, post a link to your poem (or leave the full text in a comment) on our TeacherPoets Community page, file it under “Session Two”.

Mentor poems to read:

Workshopping This Week:

Last week we practiced “workshopping” Dorianne Laux’s On the Back Porch (if you missed it, check out the video to see how).

Starting this Saturday, we will workshop 2-3 of our TeacherPoet’s original poems each week! Please download each of these poems, write all over them, and be ready to share your comments.  These poems are in draft form and ready for your input:

Comments can be given live on Saturday via twitter using our hashtag #TeacherPoets.


Kinda like Fight Club: don’t talk about the TeacherPoet poems outside of TeacherPoet workshop.

While you may want to strike up a conversation with any of our poets, it is best to wait until we’re all in the safe, sharing space together and collecting feedback as a group.  So keep good notes, but wait to share them until we’re live again on Saturday.

Session Two Live Stream

Here is the direct link to Session Two’s live streaming session on 4/19 from 11-noon EST.  All you need is an internet connection to view:


I’m so grateful to be a part of this amazing profession with all of you.  Happy writing!



Yay #TeacherPoets! (Archived Video of Session One)

teacher-poetsHere’s a quick post to first just thank all of the Live teachers poets and the ton of you viewing online and tweeting along with us. If you could have seen the screen that I saw, it was a rush of tweets and Google Q&A comments.

This experience was the caffeine I needed. I’m leaving today’s session feeling joyful and energized, my hope is that we collectively gave that give to you as well.  Thanks all.

Here is the archived video of our first session.

  • We introduced our group.
  • I led a writing strategy and shared some of my own revision process.
  • We then “workshopped” a published poem.
  • Finally, I set up our work for next week.



Feel free to share the video with your TeacherPoet friends. Then, join us live (or recorded) the next three Saturdays from 11-noon EST.

Until then, join our Google+ TeacherPoets Community to share with fellow educators.

Also, on Wednesdays the new “Assignment” will officially post. I shared this upcoming week’s assignments at the end of our session (see the video), but the official post is Wednesday when the EXCITING addition will be the original work of a few of our TeacherPoets, which you can read and prepare to “workshop” on Saturday along with us.

Thanks for all you do, all you give, and all you believe in.  Happy Writing!

#TeacherPoets – Assignment Week 1

teacher-poets Hi TeacherPoets. We’re gearing up for our first live session, this Saturday (4/12) from 11:00-noon EST. Join our community page to join in the conversation that has already started, to catch the live stream from that page (or the direct stream below), and to catch weekly “writing assignments.”


Each week on Wednesday, I’ll post a reading and writing “assignment” for the week.  These are invitations to engaging with poetry and our work together.  Take on as much or as little as you’re able.

Assignment for Week 1: Slivers Are Big

During our first live streaming session we will talk about the power of taking on manageable bites.

Our lives often interact with huge emotions (joy, fear) or giant topics (love, death) but trying to take them on can be not only an overwhelming task as a writer, but can also lead to writing that is too broad for a reader.

The smaller the piece – almost like finding focus in a research topic – the more specific our writing becomes. Then, the more specific our writing becomes, the more universal the feelings and ideas can come across to readers of our poems.

 A Writing Invitation:

  • Starting next week these invitations will be specifically about writing poems. For this week your invitation is to respond to this question: “Why Poetry?”  A few sentences, a poem maybe, or a quick comment. Please leave your response on our TeacherPoets Community page.

Mentor poems to read:

  1. The Summer I Was Sixteen by Geraldine Connolly, for the one moment in time she uses to reflect on the huge topic of adolescence and growing older
  2. Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye, who takes a universal fear and packages it in a tiny scene and an even smaller movement of the body
  3. You’re invited to post on our TeacherPoets Community page links to other poems that take on a large topic through a small, specific time or action

Workshopping This Week:

Starting next week, original poem’s from our Live Group educators (the folks on camera with me) will be posted in this section. As practice, this Saturday we will “workshop” this poem by a professional poet.

  • Please follow the link and print out this poem (or download a mark-up-able copy to your device):
  • Read and write all over it, prepare comments as if you were talking to this poet:
    • Compliments: Which parts were particularly strong to you? Why? How did it effect you as a reader? Where were you delighted? Happily surprised? Moved? And so on.
    • Questions: Where did you find yourself confused? Lost? Where did your reading become choppy or confused? Which points did you want a little bit more? A little less?
    • ConsiderationsWe can’t write the poem, that is the poet’s task, however we can raise considerations: I wonder if there are actually two poems here…  I wonder if we could hear more from… I wonder if the second stanza could… I wonder…
  • On Saturday we will then practice “workshopping” this poem, so bring your written-all-over copy.

If you would like to read an example of responding to a poem through “workshopping,” then read (or listen to) Workshop by Billy Collins (in which he workshops his own poem as he’s writing/reading it… it’s pretty funny stuff.).

Happy reading, writing, reflecting, and rejuvenating!

Applying for 2014-15 Services

Dear friends,

In April I will begin booking services for the 2014-15 school year. If your school or organization is interested in on-site or on-line professional development or speaking engagements please be sure to join the growing wait list before April 1st for your best chance at being added.

For more information or to apply, use the contact form on the bottom of my Services Page.

This school year has been exciting and such a joy teaching and learning inside of classrooms with teams of teachers, speaking at conferences and workshop days around the world, and connecting with educators online in webinars and interactive sessions.  I’m looking forward to 2014-15.

Also, there are some surprises in store (announced soon!), be sure to follow me on twitter or subscribe to this blog to so you don’t miss the big announcement.

Looking forward to continued collaboration, inspiration, and together becoming our best so students can become their best.

Thanks for all you do,


by Camdiluv used under Creative Commons lic

Falling in Love with #CloseReading Study Guide, Events, Open Video Call

Kate Roberts and I have been so honored that many of you have made Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Life a part of your classrooms and study groups with colleagues.

We hope our ideas spark engagement and interest in looking at close reading not through the lens of a mandate or prescribed program, but instead as one of many methods that can support our students (and ourselves) in looking at texts, media, and even our lives in new ways.

Falling in Love with Close Reading Study Guide!

In honor of your work, Kate and I wrote a Study Guide to accompany the book and support you in your conversations with colleagues.  More than just discussion questions, the free guide is written with the same spirit Kate and I bring to our in-school staff development: one part inspiration, one part conversation, one part hands-on practical… and all parts collaboration.

You can find the study guide housed on Heinemann’s page or click the image below:

Falling in Love With Close Reading cover

Falling in Love with Close Reading Events – Live and Online

ONLINE! Kate and I are leading a 3-part interactive webinar. Three, 75 minute webinar sessions from 4:00pm–5:15pm ESTWednesdays, January 22, 29, February 5. Information and registration for the webinar series is at this link.

LIVE! In addition to our regular work speaking and consulting in schools, Kate and I are presenting on the West Coast in April (yay!). Seattle on April 3 and Portland on April 4.  Seats are limited (our two fall dates sold out early).  Information and registration for the One-Day Workshops are at this link.

Call for Videos!

by Iconshock used under Creative Commons lic

Many of you have been tweeting or telling us in person about the amazing work you and your students are doing around close reading while using strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading.  We would like to celebrate your work and share it with the world.

We are having an open call for 4-minutes or less classroom video clips of you and your students in action.

All submissions require appropriate consent forms, find them and how to submit at the video landing page: (click links on the left sidebar).  Selected videos will be posted with your name and state (unless you request otherwise).

#engchat Archive

We enjoyed guest hosting #engchat last night, the weekly chat for teachers of literacy and English.  You can find the archive here. While there, consider donating to help #engchat‘s founder, Meenoo Rami, defray the cost of web-hosting the chat archives and announcements.

Thanks for all you do for your students and this profession!

Open Letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

image by krispdk used under Creative Commons lic

January 2013

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña,

Welcome to your new roles in our great city.

I need not tell you how excited we are, here in the education community, that Carmen will be taking the helm of our vibrant, diverse, challenging, and promising school system.

Her appointment says to many of us that this new administration believes that education policy must be forged at the intersection of ideas and experience.

It says that education, like all vocations, is a unique field with unique levels of knowing and doing. That those who spend their lives in practice–in classrooms and schools–bring a level of insight that no one from outside of the field can possess.

It says that dedicating your life to building expertise in our field–as she has done–is not just commendable but necessary to developing a world class education for every one of our city’s children.

I have been lucky to have worked with Carmen when I was at the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. This, however, is not a relationship anyone can claim as unique. Her decades of service have put her in touch with generations of educators and children. She has been accessible, personable, and in touch with schools because she is always within them.

More recently, as Deputy Chancellor under Joel Klein she continually toured schools, met with educators, and–most important in my eyes–spoke with students. Every interaction I have observed her in, from classrooms, to staff meetings, to intimate conversations with school leaders about the needs of their school, always at the forefront of her thoughts and actions is this: our children.

This is why I am writing to you both today. Our city’s children need you. I am asking for your leadership and your continued partnership with educators, families, and students.

I do not need to numerate the hardships our field is facing, they are in news reports, television advertisements, and the voices of schools.  The number of educators, new and veteran, that say to me almost weekly, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep teaching,” is heart-breaking and alarming. Their frustrations are always political,while their reasons for holding on remain the same–they deeply love and believe in the potential of every child.

We need your leadership in a number of specific ways:

  • Just as great teachers do in classrooms with students, observe the effects of your policies on educators’ practice and lives. Data that takes more time to collect than use is as useless as no data at all. A high teacher “value-added” score coupled with teacher or administrator burn-out does little to bring real long-term value to our classrooms. Losing hope in our system is a hopeless path for our system.
  • Just as great teachers do in classrooms with students, look at the effects of your policies not simply as a reflections of educator work, but as a reflections of your work. As teachers, we know that if many students fail a quiz, it is the test, not the takers that needs support. The problems that plague our highest need schools are larger than any one solution; no policy will be perfect, no implementation will be without fail. See your policies as works in progress and revise from feedback, versus pressing harder for compliance.
  • Like the best principals (of which Carmen, you have been one), engage educators in your decision making process. In NYC, as across the United States, the greatest distrust has grown from being disenfranchised within our own profession. The greatest administrators, the most effective leaders, authentically involve their constituents – students, parents, teachers, staff. As Hargreaves and Fullan write, collaboration is one of the keys to leading our profession into the future (2013), we need to trust in you by seeing and feeling your trust in us.
  • Like the best principals, shield your staff from forces that can disrupt their connection with students. When New York State or the US Department of Education does right by children, guide us in that direction.  Equally, when they–or other forces–do not, stand with us as we say no. I have been inspired by the stories of NYC administrators who say no for the sake of their children: saying no to using test scores in high school entrance decisions, saying no to untested textbook adoptions, saying no to initiatives imposed solely for initiatives’ sake. Stand with us when we stand for our students.

So many of us are excited by the possibilities ahead. Thank you for what feels like a new day in our schools. I hope, through your leadership for and with educators and families, we can create a new day for all children of New York City and be an inspiration to other cities and schools. That shared leadership and shared problem solving, with dedicated professionals, can bring about positive results.

Lead with us. The world is watching. Our children need us. We are ready.

Most sincerely,

Christopher Lehman

Educator, Parent

Video: My Talk at UW-Madison

My talk from November at UW-Madison is now available on their YouTube page.  Close to 400 of you attended in person and online and the School of Education wanted to make the talk available to you to share.

In it I discuss two diverging decisions we can make in our schools about how to approach the ELA Common Core Standards, we can take the route of initiatives simply for initiative’s sake or we can take the route of our students, seeing their needs and responding to them.

I also take on the topic of CCSS “aligned” products, including exemplar modules and rubrics found online.  I discuss where the creation of those modules began and how they miss the mark of both good classroom practice and the standards themselves.

I then describe promises we must make to our students and ways of aligning your instruction to their strengths and needs.  Throughout I include the comments of our fellow educators and how they are navigating these challenging waters.

My sincerest hope is that you feel empowered to make the decisions that are best for you and your students.   I hope you enjoy it and look forward to your insights and ideas.

Guest Post: My New “Talks With Teachers” Interview

I find Brian Sztabnik‘s mission with his new “Talks with Teachers” series to be so inspiring.

Brian set out to capture the voices of our profession through interviewing inspiring educators. Now in the form of a a weekly podcast (ranking continuously in the “Top 5” iTunes K-12 podcasts), Brian’s “Talks with Teachers” interviews a wide range of educators.  In an engaging format he digs into educators’ stories of becoming teachers, their professional struggles, and their practical advice for all of us.

I loved hearing how Carol Jago started out and Grant Wiggins’ early career bought of laryngitis–these are stories we have not hear before and love the feeling as if we’re sitting down for a cup of coffee with teachers from across the country.

You can follow the link here to my new interview or click the image below.

click to go to my interview (image from

This is a podcast series you’ll want to subscribe to (subscribe via iTunes at this link) and a website you’ll want to bookmark. I found myself falling down the internet rabbit hole and listening to every episode!

Hats off to Talks With Teachers for sharing the joy and inspiration of educators for educators. Our profession is full of powerful stories. I’m thankful for the amazing community we all form.

Why I Like the Edublog Awards #eddies13

It is the tenth season of the Edublog Awards, awards created in 2004 to promote the educational uses of social media and to influence schools in offering–not blocking–access to educational resources (read more about their history here).

Nominations closed a little over a week ago and now voting has begun. I am honored to be nominated for three categories: individual blog, individual tweeter, and most influential blog post for “On Broken Door Handles and Butter Knives,” the company in each is amazing.

What I Like: Celebrating

by Billy Hicks used under Creative Commons lic

The best part of the Edublog Awards, I think, is the nomination process. To take a moment to reflect on the people and ideas that have made an impact on your over the year is such a gift.

Not only do you feel good sending a little virtual “thank you” out to those you admire, but it also helps you remember why this profession is so great. It reminds you of the countless educators who tell their stories, share their hopes, offer their help to the rest of us.

It reminds you that none of us are in this alone, and if you seek out open arms you will find them.

What I Like: Connecting

If nominating people is the best part, the close-second best is connecting with new people, blogs, tweets, and apps. I love how the awards don’t just have a handful for nominees in each category, instead there are many.  Each category is made up of a list of recommended-by-our-peers suggestions of people to follow, apps to check out, or posts to read. I caution you that it’s a perfect way to get lost in internet induced procrastination, but assure you that on the other side you’ll be happier for it.

Here is what I am doing this year:

  • I am making sure I vote. It is very easy, go to the Edublog Awards website and click into any category that interests you. This year when you attempt to vote for someone a little pop-up box will walk you through signing up for a, a free service the awards are using this year to ensure each person only casts one vote per category.
  • I am clicking through to visit as many nominees as I can. I love these lists because I know every click will take me somewhere or to someone others have found useful.

Everyone Likes to Feel Honored

This award season will come and go. What I am most aware of is that it’s not the award that matters, it is the the huge role saying thanks plays in all of our lives.

Think of the last time you were given a directive, one mostly likely “due yesterday.” Now think of the last time you were given a specific compliment about your practice.

Those moments of thanks propel us forward. They give us faith in ourselves (and also faith in those who gave us the compliment). Think of ways you can bring these feelings to your community and your classroom:

  • “Nominate” others: think of those around you as if you were creating voting categories (most likely to make you smile; most creative use of chart paper; the mess-fixer). Then, go tell them, either simply by paying a compliment (I really admire how you…) or go further and create= a bulletin board or part of your school webpage to celebrate the special roles your colleagues and students play.
  • “Give out awards”: you and your school could organize actual awards or instead think of surprise good deeds as awards (offer to cover another teacher’s class for a few minutes, bring in fresh flowers for someone’s desk, pick up coffee, leave a sticky note message). 
  • Say thank you. Often.

On that note. Thank YOU for all you do, every day.

On Broken Door Handles and Butter Knives

A day or two before leaving for a long stint away from home, speaking at UW-Madison and then on to Boston for NCTE and CEL, it was a typical afternoon. Right around 2:40 my mother-in-law and I were getting ready to leave to go pick up my kids.  It is often a two person job–she was heading to our preschooler several blocks to the west and I to the bus stop for our first grader several blocks to the east. Shoes on, coats on. Routine.

She reached for our apartment door and it wouldn’t open.

Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock, lock, unlock. Nothing.  I ran over. Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock, lock, unlock.

“Está cerrado!” I said, not able to find the word “broken” in my mental Spanish dictionary.

“Oh no,” she said.

Both children are picked up at 3:00, we had fifteen minutes to get this door open.

So, we did what any reasonable human being would do, we completely freaked out in this order:

  • Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock
  • Shake the door handle violently.
  • Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock–with more conviction.
  • Imagining how to jump out of a third floor window to the street.
  • Get angry.
  • Call my wife’s cell phone, who was teaching and clearly not in ear shot of her phone how dare she HOW DARE SHE.
  • Call again.
  • Both of us call her at same time on different phones.
  • Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock
  • Butter knife, right? Thieves do that or something.
  • Call wife’s school in a panic and frighten the secretary.
  • Call my daughter’s school in a panic. (They were calming, they know how to handle this).
  • TOOLS!
  • Hammer, pliers, large and small screw drivers.
  • Dismantle door plate and begin to remove door knob.
  • Stop, bad idea.
  • Reassemble door knob and door plate.

By this point my wife had gotten the message, had left school early, was rushing home, by this point it was clear it was too late to get to the bus stop on time and (as her school calmly told me) my daughter was most likely on her way back to school at the end of the route, by this point my son’s teachers knew we were running late.

Everything was arranged on the outside, we were basically not needed.


by MichaelDiederich used under Creative Commons lic

I wedged the butter knife back inside the little open space on the side of the door, near the latch, and paid attention.  While the flat side didn’t grab the latch, the teeth did. The slightest movement! TWO KNIVES! I grabbed a second and like two little hands inch-wormed the latch open. Freedom.

Caution: broken doors

The NCTE and CEL conventions this past weekend in Boston were incredible, as they always are.  Joyful, exciting, like a homecoming.  There was also, just below the surface, a sadness.

At the end of my session with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts on Saturday, I told the crowd that now, more than ever, at speaking engagements people seem to come up at the end and cry.

They cry because while filled with a deep joy for the art of educating, they are feeling crushed by the state of education. The many people in my life, dear friends or friendly acquaintances who have a gift for teaching that shines through their children’s eye, those people who are pillars in our world are all asking, “how much more of this can I take?”.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m seeing their faces now as I write this and am trying very hard not to cry myself.

I see you, my friend, the Curriculum Coordinator, and you Literacy Coach, you ESL teacher, you Amazing Principal and you brand new Science teacher, and I see you teacher I just met and hugged after that session, a big bear hug as we cried together.

Teacher evaluations,

student testing,

scripted curricula,

slashed budgets,

initiative overload.

This was not our routine. This was not in our plans.

Know this: there are always butter knives.

For me those butter knives are connecting.  At NCTE (as with twitter, conferences, and working in schools), I get to remind myself why I fell in love with teaching in the first place.  This weekend I shook Nancie Atwell’s hand (and tried not to embarass myself with gushing), I met Donna Santman… I mean, I have been in rooms listening to her for years and carry Shades of Meaning like it’s a map… but we met each other for real. I had the incredible pleasure of speaking on the same stage as Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. I spoke in hallways, turned and talked in sessions, toured a museum, sat at lunches and dinners, all with old friends and new. I stood back and saw the sea of faces in those sessions, hallways, hotel lobbies, and was reminded that we have the collective power to do amazing things.

Butter knives are different for each of us, but those butter knives are there.

My friend Paul Thomas won the George Orwell Award at this past convention, his butter knife is writing and speaking out for the lives of teachers and educators.

Jillian Heise received her National Board certification this past weekend, her butter knife is learning and belief in learners.

Penny Kittle passed out envelopes at a session to raise money to support more classrooms having books, her butter knife is supporting readers.

Heather Rocco spent two years organizing the CEL convention, her butter knife was bringing leaders together to refuel their own passions.

The list continues: listening to children, talking with a colleague, taking on a study, joining a twitter chat, writing a blog post, leading an organization, waking up in the morning and deciding to go to work.

You know your butter knives. Use them.


Once we got that door opened it was amazing how all of the stress left. Nothing seemed hard anymore.

We replaced the door handle.

It works now.

door handle