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Friday, April 20, 2018

God Winks and other Serendipitous Moments

Years ago I was handed a little book called, when God winks at you: How the Power of Coincidences Guides Your Life, by Squire Rushnell. I was on an airplane when a lady I had never met handed the book to me and said, "God told me to give this to you." I thought she was weird, at best. Crazy, at worst. But I took the little book (not to be rude) and began reading.The premise of the book is that God speaks to us in small ways called "winks".

God winks are serendipitous in nature. These seemingly random events are signposts that can help you to navigate your career, relationships, and interests. God winks is based on a theory that God uses everyday experiences and chance meetings to improve our lives.

It is quite possible that God organized winks for me because of discouragement I was feeling after a severe injury to my foot. Ten weeks before a national conference, American Educational Research Association (AERA), I tripped and fell in my driveway and suffered a Lisfranc fracture in my middle foot. It was painful and super annoying because I wasn't able to put weight on my injured foot for weeks...and weeks...and weeks. Even after ten weeks my foot and ankle were swollen and painful to touch or move.

I was forced to use crutches or a knee scooter to get from one place to another.  It had been ten long weeks of hobbling around with no end in sight. My orthopedic surgeon believed that surgery would be necessary if my foot didn't heal on its own. I was discouraged that my foot didn't seem to be improving.

Maybe it was being in New York City, sitting in a yellow taxi, that made me think about the cover of the book. Who knows?

Whatever the reason...I guess God thought I needed a few winks.

Here are three unexpected God winks this past week while attending AERA.

God Wink 1: God's wink affirmed that my research interests on teacher blogging and twitter as a community of practice are relevant and have a place in today's research market.

At a conference session titled: Meet Journal Editors: Journal Talks I met, Dr. Guy Merchant, an editor for Early Childhood Literacy. I was confused as to why a speaker wasn't talking, even after the "Journal talk" was to have started. I noticed that people were socializing around tables, and decided to jump in.

I hobbled over to a table and introduced myself, "Hi, my name is Tamra, and I feel like an accidental tourist. I'm not sure what is going on here." Pointing to the microphone at the front of the conference room I explained, "I was expecting someone to speak."

Guy chuckled and explained in a thick English accent that the session was an opportunity to meet editors of peer-reviewed journals. Since it was bothersome to move around, I sat and visited with Guy. He shared early childhood literacy trends in research with me and advised me on ways to get journal articles published.

Our conversation took a turn when I asked him if I could take a picture and tweet it out. Well, it turned out that one of Guy's university students, Ian Guest, was in my Twitter PLN and had completed research on Twitter as professional development. In fact, Guy was a "tweeter" and we began talking about social media in education. He affirmed that social media and digital literacies were a current trend in research and publication.

Now to most people, this may not seem like a wink, of any kind. But to me it was significant. Guy encouraged me that my research about social media in education was needed and relevant.

God Wink 2: God's wink gave me a new outlook on my circumstances. 

On what was to have been my return flight from NYC to Dallas, the flight was canceled do to "bad weather." I was bummed. I needed wheelchair assistance. My phone charger didn't work and my battery was low. I was feeling sorry for myself.

When the announcement was made the flight was canceled, I was frustrated because I would have to rebook my flight. I booked the earliest flight at 6:30AM the following morning. I decided that it was ridiculous for me to get a taxi, find a hotel, only to wake up at 3:00AM and return to the airport..all on crutches. After talking to my husband, Michael, we decided it would be safer for me to spend the night in LaGuradia airport.

I rolled up to the counter with others and noticed an older lady almost in tears. She kept saying, "I have to be in San Antonio today. How can I get there?" Since our wheelchairs were beside one another we struck up a conversation. She explained that she was an author and a guest speaker at a school.

The woman turned out to be, Inge Auerbacher, Holocaust survivor and author of I Am A Star: Child of the Holocaust. I was familiar with her story but had never read her book. I felt foolish for complaining about my situation.

I told Inge about a  book club I was co-leading for English Learners and remarked on the power of her story would be to introduce to our students. Inge asked for my cell phone number and email and said she would get in touch with me.

Suddenly, my situation wasn't so bad. I was reminded of all the blessings in my life. My attitude took a 180-degree turn and I spent the night at the airport being thankful and not grumbling. I never saw Inge again, and believe she was able to find another flight out that day.

God Wink 3: God's wink reminded me of the importance of being prepared to talk about my research interests when asked and to seek advice from other professionals.

The following morning, I was exhausted and more than ready to get home. Once again, I was lined up beside other wheelchair passengers. A professor at my university was scheduled for another flight but paused to visit with me for a while. She wanted to hear more about the research I was participating in as a graduate research assistant.

I excitedly shared an overview of our research presentation at AERA. (Remember, my attitude changed after meeting Inge).

There's an old adage, "You never know who is listening." TRUE!

After the professor walked away, a gentleman in a wheelchair introduced himself to me and struck up a conversation about the AERA conference. His name was Michael Verdi and was at one of the Meet the Journal Editor Talks. He handed me his business card and explained that he was an executive editor for one of the top research publications called: The Journal of Education Research. 

I picked his brain the entire flight asking him about trends in research, and how to get published. He asked me about my dissertation topic, my career goals, and offered advice. He encouraged me that I was on a strong path to reach my goals. Our conversation unexpectedly turned towards the idea that God has a purpose for our lives.

I believe God winks at everyone in some form or fashion. It may not be noticeable to others, but winks are personalized to our needs. They come at the right time, often when we need them most.

Confession Reflection:

  • Think of a time you have unexpectedly met someone (a stranger) who spoke into your life and helped you to get clarity on your career goals. Describe your experience.
  • Have you been a God wink to someone who needed a professional connection, a career door opened, a word of encouragement? 
  • Why is it important to acknowledge God winks? How do these experiences enrich a person's life?

Remember a coincidence is just God's way of performing a miracle anonymously.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Nobody's Perfect! Teaching Emotional Intelligence using Children's Literature

No-David-L.jpgAre you familiar with the children's semi-autobiographical book by David Shannon featuring his seven-year-old self, David? If not, it's worth a trip to the library! Every teacher at some point in his/her career has taught a David. I will not judge you if you need to take a moment and inhale deeply then count to ten as you exhale slowly counting backward: 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1.

I confess that I've had my share of Davids (and Danielle's) through the years, both at the elementary and secondary levels. Challenging behaviors may manifest in children of ALL genders, ethnicities, ages, shapes, sizes, rich or poor. 

Sidebar: If you are a reading interventionist on your campus, you may have had the same David or Danielle for multiple years! It was like Ground Hog Day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY...
for years
        and years
             and years. 
Or so it may have seemed.

So how do you deal with challenging students? 
Let's begin with what doesn't work.

Being named "Super Star of the Week" lasted, well, one week. Your David or Danielle may seem to enjoy detention. They may have learned to manipulate the detention teacher by emotionally wearing him/her out by endless arguing. A seasoned David or Dannielle may have mastered the "bait and switch" trick and miraculously turned into a well-mannered, sweet dispositioned student, making you look foolish.

So what is emotional intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and helping others do the same.

The good news is that emotional intelligence lessons can be embedded into your ELA/Reading curriculum. You can teach the curriculum, address mandated Common Core standards, and teach
emotional intelligence. It can be done.

Here are three suggestions that I believe will start you off on the road.

1. Emotional intelligence begins with knowing the student.

Students need and deserve to know that their teachers are invested and deeply care about who they are beyond school. Periodically, give students a creative space to invite you into their lives. A writing prompt for the state assessment is NOT a creative space. It is a stressful space that rewards performance over authenticity. 

One suggestion is to create "I Wish My Teacher Knew" forms for students to fill out and give to you. Kyle Schwartz (Twitter: @kylemschwartz) was the genius behind this project. What this does is give you insight into her students. 

If your David or Danielle chooses not to open up, a positive home visit with another member of your team may give you insight into their behavior.

*Don't be surprised to discover that a student who is overly compliant, quiet, and does everything perfectly, may have more challenges that anyone could imagine. Unlike your David or Danielle, this student internalizes rather than acts out.

2. Emotional intelligence can be taught through children's illustrated books.

Look for books to add to your classroom library to teach the names of emotions and how they might look to different people. To prepare for a presentation last fall, I found over fifty books in my public library that taught emotion words! Look for feelings beyond happy, sad, angry, etc.  The Bored Barnicle and The Cranky Ballerina are great choices. 

Also, select books that mirror emotions associated with a feeling of pleasure like Irene's Wish.  During a read-aloud ask students what it means to be "wishful?" Ask, "What is something you've wish would happen?" 

Reading children's picture books like Bear Feels Sick supports building a classroom community and
builds empathy. Everyone who has ever lived has been sick at one time or another. Choosing books with universal themes can help students in recognizing appropriate ways to respond to others who are feeling poorly or having a bad day. Comprehension questions for Bear Feels Sick might be:
  • What are some things Bear's friends do to make him feel better?
  • Is there a time you have felt sick? What made you feel better?
  • What are some things you could do to help a friend feel better?

Yes! Students can (and should) respond in their writer's notebook. This is a wonderful way to teach writing using questions that help students create text-to-self connections. 

IF your David or Danielle pitches a fit and refuses to write...don't escalate by making demands. 

Scaffold by using Language Experience Approach (LEA). Tell your student you will transcribe for them or let them record their answer on a recorder. This is NOT the time to say "This isn't an accommodation on their paperwork so I won't do it." Scaffolding is how we get students to work independently.

3. Emotional Intelligence creates self-awareness associated with actions.

Students like David and Danielle know more about actions and consequences than you can imagine! If I had a dime for every time I've heard, "(the student) needs to understand that there are consequences for their behavior." You are 100% correct. But if he/she continues to act out, the system
is broken for that student.


Books are a way for children (adolescents and adults) to vicariously learn through characters in books they enjoy reading. For example, a lesson teaches there are two sides of a story can be taught and illustrated through the characters in The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf (by A. Wolf). 

The book, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt gives children the opportunity to experience what it is like to harness one's emotions and apply to problem-solving. Create a classroom kindness mission statement and have each student identify with a color. (It's okay if half of the class chooses a shade of blue!) 

crayone1.jpgIt is especially important for your David or Danielle to see and understand they are a part of the classroom community. DO NOT remove their crayon as a "consequence." This is cruel even for a student who is on your last nerve. 

Explicitly teach social skills such as "Rules for Cooperative Solving." In small groups, give students opportunities to practice communicating, learning to listen, to speak up, ask questions. For your David or Danielle, choose a peer in advance to be their partner if working in a group is not working. It is imperative that ALL students feel a part of the classroom community.

In my teaching experience, I had students on the autism spectrum who just simply couldn't handle the noise and lack of structure that may come from cooperative solving. Our Davids and Danielles who are on the spectrum need our empathy to find accommodating ways to ensure they know they are valuable members of the classroom community. 
rules for cooperative problem solving.png

One year, I had a student insist on coloring using "Pyramid Orange" and of course, there were no crayons or color pencils to create the EXACT shade of the pyramids. And so we accommodated. We
worked with the art teacher until we found the closest shade available. 

Community and belonging are more important than the philosophy, "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit."
Co-presenting at TWU Spicola Reading Forum 

Teaching emotional intelligence will require commitment, working with your team during lesson
planning, and getting buy-in from your literacy coach and administration. You will need
teacher autonomy to make on-the-spot decisions and flexibility with the curriculum. 

Remember: Nobody's perfect. Not you. Not your favorite student. No one. Your David or Danielle are no different. 

Sometimes the best thing you can do is breathe! 
Confession Reflection:
  • Why is it important for teachers to know their students beyond school? How does this build empathy?
  • Why does emotional intelligence need to be explicitly taught to challenging students? 
  • Name and describe accommodations to engage and motivate challenging students?  (augmented reality, choice boards, etc)
  • What are some ways illustrated children's books can teach emotional intelligence? How can you find these resources?
  • What are the dangers of giving short-term fixes like giving out candy, or pretending to call a parent to get the desired behavior? How does this damage children in the long-term?
  • Co-presenters, Brittany Mulkey (LSSP) & Tamra Dollar (K-12 Reading Specialist)

Monday, February 26, 2018

#HackLearning Chat Q and A's: Are You an Education Hacker?

What is an education hacker? In a nutshell, an education hacker is an innovative problem solver who finds solutions to problems in education other people do not see. Education hackers are willing to take risks and to push boundaries. They are leaders.

Educator and entrepreneur, Mark Barnes @markbarnes19, is the brainchild behind the Hacking movement. Yes, it is a movement. Mark has published a slew of books addressing ways to hack everything from assessment to homework. Hacking books are toolkits for teachers with practical steps to guide teachers towards innovative problem-solving.

Every Sunday morning educators from around the world come together for 30 minutes to answer three questions around a topic. A guest moderator leads the #hacklearning chat. The fast pace fuels the positive energy created by educators coming together for the purpose of connecting with others and sharing their thoughts and resources around a common topic. Sunday the "hacky topic" was English Learners (ELs). 

As the guest moderator, I was given the freedom to choose a "hacky topic" and then co-wrote questions with Connie Hamilton @conniehamilton, a.k.a. hacker extraordinaire. 

I chose this topic based on "hacks" I have learned as a graduate research associate with a federal grant, ELLevate! I drew from my experiences co-leading a weekly after school book club for bilingual newcomers and co-teaching a summer literacy institute.

The federal grant is a partnership between the university where I attend and a local school district to support teachers in the instruction of adolescent newcomers.

To learn more about the Hacking Movement go to
Chats are posted weekly on Twitter by Hack Learning @hackmylearning. 

Confession Reflection:
  • What perspectives might English Learners have about school and learning? #HackLearning
  • How can monolingual teachers communicate with newcomers little/no English speaking students?
  • What strategies can teachers use to support the learning of ELs?
In case you missed out on Sunday's chat on English Learners, check out my Q's and A's

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ringing in the New Year with My All-Time Top 10 Favorite Confessions and the Lessons I've Learned

I have posted my top 10 favorite posts and the lessons I've learned. If you want to access the post, simply click the title.

10. Secrets from the Crypt

Henry (not his real name) was obsessed with Egyptian history. So when he purchased a Gregg Shorthand manual at Half-Priced books, I assumed Henry thought it was an instructional manual on how to read and write using hiergriphics. Needless to say, Henry got the last laugh!

I learned the importance of letting go of outdated methods of teaching and embracing new literacies.

9. The Butterfly Effect 

The Butterfly Effect was inspired by Stephen King's novel 11/22/63. I was brainstorming a story for my blog when I remembered the events of what was (at the time) the worst day in my teaching career.

I truly believe had it not been for a mommy mouse and a bag of Cheeze Its, I would not have grown as a leader and become a transitional coach and curriculum writer. The hilarious chain of events that resulted in mayhem breaking out in my social skills classroom, keep me laughing to this day.

I learned to fail forward.

 8. Lost in Translation 

What happens with a lesson plan goes very, very wrong? A jolly rancher, lesson plans gone awry and a tenacious student turned a literacy project on its head.

I learned the value of letting go of my perceived "perfect lesson", the crème de la crème literacy project, and focus on matters of the heart.


7. SpongeBob SquarePants to the Rescue!

The blogposts begins..."I'm standing outside the Pearly Gates confronted by parents of a student I once taught and I thought to myself, SpongeBob, you ruined me." To this day, this post evokes so many emotions inside of me.

I learned to guard my tongue until I've learned all the facts.

6. Alien Matters: Keychains, Bobble Heads, and Refrigerator Magnets

My creativity unleashed on this post. Sometimes I read this one and think, where on Earth did I get that idea from? It's fun to read and highlights the amazingness of Edcamps!

I learned....I'm not sure what I learned. I already knew Edcamps are out of this world!

5. The Future is Calling: Are We Listening?

A personality test inspired this post. It seems
 that "futuristic" is my top leadership attribute. While writing this post I explored my beliefs.

I learned the importance of advocating for today's generation of students.

4.  What's a Lugnut? (And of other Pertinent Questions)

What is a lugnut?

A. A powerful fictional character known as a Decepticon
B. A large, rounded nut that fits over a heavy bolt.
C. An object of scorn and ridicule
D. All of the above

The correct answer is all of the above.  It depends on your perspective!

I learned the importance of teaching vocabulary IN context and knowing our students.

3. To My Principal...I Must Confess 

Before posting, I called my principal and confessed to my lie thinking she would be mad. Instead, she started laughing!  I later republished with pictures April 2012. The orginal post was my first and I wasn't sure if anyone would even read it.  Boy, was I wrong!

I learned that I could never work for the CIA. I would break.


There is a tie for #2. I like them both equally.

2A. Summer Slide Is No Walk in the Park

This blogpost tugs at my heart like no other. Summer reading loss (or summer slide) is an epidemic in America. I had spent the summer working alongside a university professor conducting research to help a community center secure donations to keep their program alive.

I learned that there are children in my community who go to bed hungry. Until poverty is addressed in schools, the literacy gap will continue to widen.

2B. The Ghost Plant and other Potentially Fateful Tales

I fear we have created a generation of writers who believe a exemplary rating on a state assessment or perfect score on a rubric define good writing. As a result, creativity is stifled for fear of being wrong. This post exemplifies my experience as a writing teacher.

I learned to look at what a child does right.

And my favorite post of ALL TIME is.....

1. The Importance of Classroom Environment: Lessons from a Colt Named Carl

Carl (the colt) was a stuffed animal I purchased at a Goodwill for a whopping $3.50. But did you know it was a million dollar purchase? More than any pricey curriculum, technology gizmo or gadget, this purchase changed the learning environment of my classroom.

I learned that students learn and thrive when the classroom environment is safe.

Join me as we enter another year of growing and learning from reflection.

Happy New Year!

Tamra Dollar

Confession Reflection:

  • What are the benefits of teacher blogging?

  • Why is it important to reflect on lessons?

  • How can school districts validate the important of teacher blogging? (Credit for PD; documentation on teacher evaluation forms; make time for teachers to blog).


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Heart Maps under Construction: A Lesson on Learning and Relationships

Think about your ideal lesson. Hmmm. What did it look like? Perhaps your lesson became part of your teacher portfolio and put you in the running for Teacher of the Year (TOY) on your campus.

Now think about the lesson that didn't go the way you had planned. How did you feel? Maybe you went home and ate a gallon of your favorite Ben & Jerry's or seriously considered early retirement.

Sadly, I believe teachers often feel shame when a lesson doesn't look like the polished examples on Pinterest. If you think about it, our society thrives on perfection! Student work examples in our curriculum and teacher posts on Twitter are prime examples. To up the ante, district teacher evaluation systems feed into the idea of "product over purpose."

This past summer I helped design and teach a high school summer literacy institute for bilingual newcomers. The class was part of a grant from my university called ELLevate! My co-teacher, Tricia, and I believed the idea of Heart Maps would be a fun and engaging first day lesson. The multimodal design helped level the playing field for students with limited English speaking abilities.

The first day of class, we introduced the Heart Maps by asking "What is special in your life?
Think about the people, places, and memories most important to you."

Next, examples of completed Heart Maps from past classes were shown to students as models. Instructions were clear. Crisp templates and colored pencils were sharpened and ready!

I was surprised when the Heart Maps went unfinished the first day...
         and the second day...
                   and the third day....
                          and the fourth day....
                                                    and on and on and on.

At the end of our summer institute, not ONE Heart Map had been completed!

What happened when a multimodal lesson for newcomers went unfinished? 

1. Relationships were built.

Students in our class were all Latina but came from diverse backgrounds and experiences. I learned that if you were from Venezuela, you spoke a different form of Spanish than if you were from Mexico. Color coding would often be interrupted by a story or memory in a student's heart. Students were engaged in learning and listening to one another.

2. Writers blossomed.

One of the purposes of a Heart Map is to inspire writing. It's so easy to get stuck in this mindset of the "five paragraph essay" or fixated on "writing to the prompt." Instead, students are able to choose a section from their Heart Map when writing reflections.

When students are given voice and choice, writing becomes authentic and relevant to their lives.

 Here are some of the examples from student writing journals:


3. Teachers and students became co-learners.

The Heart Map lesson created a space for students and teachers to become co-learners in the classroom. There is a fixed mindset in classrooms today that the teacher is in control. I've heard it called, "Sage on Stage" which is what many classrooms look like. The teacher lectures, the students take notes, all followed up by a test. 

When a lesson doesn't go as planned, students have a sixth sense and can pick up on teacher insecurity or frustration. Letting go of preconceived ideas of what the lesson should look like invites innovation and creativity into the classroom.

This is when learning begins.

My twitter post! 

Confession Reflection:
  • How would student learning outcomes have been different if a grade was given based on completion of the Heart Map template?
  • Why is it important for campus evaluators to avoid comparisons between teachers based on student work? 
  • Have you ever had a lesson that didn't go as you had planned? How did you feel?
To learn more about the ELLevate! grant visit:

You can learn more about Heart Maps from Georgia Heard

Sunday, November 12, 2017

5 Things Bad Teachers Do Very, Very Well and New Teacher Strategies to Keep Them at Bay!

You are a new teacher and eager to implement the strategies and new literacies you learned as a college student in your education courses. If you're lucky, you have a digital portfolio to show the awesome things you did as a pre-service teacher.

During your interview, you even answer questions to demonstrate your understanding of 21st-century literacies and how important it is for students to be engaged in learning and to have access to technology. But once hired, your dreams and visions are crushed.

It seems that Bad Teachers have mastered the martial art of suffocating your ideas. When you do feel a moment of boldness to speak up during lesson planning, a look or a comment, crush your hopes for being the type of teacher you know you should be.

Do NOT lose heart!

There are teachers (maybe not the vocal ones) who are amazing. Unfortunately, the bad ones are in schools, as well. Bad Teachers are polished and believe what they are doing is right. Sometimes this is affirmed by a "Teacher of the Year (TOY)" nomination or elected as a team leader.

I have listed 5 Bad Teachers and what they do very, very well along with strategies to keep them at bay:

1. Mr. Ima N. Kuntroll: Ultimate Disciplinarian
Bad Teachers run their classrooms with military precision. Desks are in neat rows. You can hear a pin drop. Not only are their classes in perfect order, the Bad Teacher will be quick to point out to the principal (or even a School Board Member or two) how the new, unruly teacher across the hall has let his/her class run amuck.

The Bad Teacher has no tolerance for students talking, moving around, using technology without the constant supervision of the all-seeing eye. Past performance records reflect their "well-run" classroom. Mr. N. Kuntroll prides himself on being the Captain of his Ship!

New teacher strategy: Appeal to Mr. N. Kuntroll by remaining courteous. Ask questions about campus policy. This Bad Teacher will respond to respect and will enjoy talking policy. In the meantime, don't yield to the belief that a "well-run" classroom means students sit quietly in rows. Group desks so that students can collaborate. Stick to your beliefs.

2. Ms. Claire Itty: The Lecturer
The Bad Teacher is able to teach with their eyes closed. Their voice is most often monotone and assumes their students understand every word they're saying.

Strategies, like introducing academic vocabulary before a unit or providing background knowledge, are meaningless endeavors, especially since these tidbits of instruction were part of a prior grades' curriculum.

The Bad Teacher readily accepts the responsibility of teaching the grade-level curriculum. No more. No less. Ms. Claire Itty will be the first to tell you, "It is the student's job to ask questions when they do not understand."

New teacher strategy: During team planning, ask your team to share types of formative assessment to check for understanding. Countering Ms. Clair Itty's belief system with a proactive stance will give you leverage as you plan your lesson. Hopefully, this Bad Teacher will have a change of heart.

3. Mr. Wunsize Fitzall: The Lesson Designer

The Bad Teacher is indubitably gifted in the art of lesson design. He is able to take state standards and seamlessly design a lesson to fit all students regardless of age or ability level.  Special Needs? Gifted and Talented? English Language Learner?

Response to Intervention? No problem! Each of these students will be expected to master the learning material without scaffolding or differentiation.

Mr. Wunsize Fitzall will be the first to tell you, "Our job is to prepare students for the real world. Adults don't get a scaffolded tax return."

New teacher strategy: This is an easy one. Scaffolding has become a mainstream practice and is supported by research. Remember you learned about Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in your strategies course? Differentiation is also a staple of Response to Intervention (RtI), Individual Education Plans (IEP's) and ways to support English Language Learners (ELLs). Stick to your guns on this one. Unless Mr. WunsizeFitzall changes, he will be "retiring" in the very near future.

Ms. Fave Ortism: The Affirmer
The Bad Teacher is able to recognize the brilliance in her students, in spite, of what other students tell her. She wears the proverbial rose-colored glasses. Be rest assured, when end-of-year award
nominations come out, it will be the student who is: studious, quiet in class, courteous and is able to sit for extended lengths of time without the slightest shift in his/her desk.

On the flip side, The Bad Teacher will be ready, at the drop of a hat, to give zeros in the grade book and points off in an effort to shape the unacceptable behavior of distracted and talkative students. Ms. Fave Ortism recalls with fond memory, "I am able to spot the class pet within the first week of school. It is a pleasure to read and grade every assignment. I never tire of giving this student an A+ +  +."

New teacher strategy: Take my word on this one. Ms. Fave Ortism will never see the error of her ways. Her rose-colored glasses are here to stay. Use this Bad Teacher as a reminder to see the value in EVERY child. A child's ability to sit quietly, or a "reading level" should never define a child. ALL children need and deserve your love and respect.

5. Mr. Smartie: The Know-it-All

Bad Teachers are experts in their subject area. Their students are merely empty containers in need of the teacher's vast expertise to fill their empty minds. Regardless of advancements in technology, the Bad Teacher knows more.

How is this possible? Why they have had more life experience and most likely have a master's or even a doctoral degree in their field of study. This is in no way to trivialize continued education!

However, the Bad Teacher will forever remain the smartest person in the room. Mr. Smartie is quick to raise the point: What will happen when computers break?

New teacher strategy: Mr. Smartie is highly intelligent and has knowledge and insight from years of practice. However, knowledge alone does not make them a good teacher. If that were the case, Google, should replace teachers. No! Excellent teachers relate to and listen to their students. Explore new concepts about teaching and learning such as Understanding by Design, (UBD), Genius Hour, or Project-based learning (PBL). Edcamps will also inspire you!

NEW TEACHERS: Do NOT LOSE HEART! There are Good GREAT TEACHERS like Ms. Cher Moore, Mr. Ed Kamp, and Mr. Yewcan Dewitt in classrooms. Seek them out.

In the meantime, do what you know is BEST for kids. Remember, you were hired for a reason. Stay the course!

I highly recommend Todd Whitaker's book: Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers, and other Slackers.

Confession Reflection:

  • What are some ways instructional coaches and administrators can support new teachers?
  • How can new teachers be empowered to take risks and to implement new and innovative ideas?
  • What are the dangers of rewarding bad teachers (TOY nominations, department chair, service on campus committees)? What message does this send to new teachers?
  • Why is it important for teachers like Mr. Wunsize Fitzall or Mr. Smartie to engage in ongoing professional development?
Clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Anyone, Anyone?

Monday, October 9, 2017

NaNoWriMo: A Teacher's Best Kept Secret to Inspire Young Writers!

I confess to experiencing a slump every October. While I am no longer in the classroom, I don't think I'll ever forget the weariness that set in this time of year. The beginning of year hype, drummed up by the convocation keynote and the "thumbs-up, go-get 'em" attitude from administrators, no longer inspired me.

One year, I secretly downloaded a free "Count Down App" on my Iphone. (I hang my head in shame). I indulged in watching the clock countdown to the last day of school.

In 2011, I was assigned to teach two elective creative writing classes. I looked forward to August and September because of the synergy coursing through my students' veins. New clothes, back-to-school pep rallies, kept learning engaging. October was ripe for writing scary stories and a dead-poet unit.

By November 1st, my students were experiencing sugar withdrawals from eating excessive amounts of Halloween candy. Major store chains began selling Christmas trees; giving my students the illusion that winter break had begun.

As a result, border-line panic hit. How could I hold my students' interests? Afterall, this was an elective!

An ELAR teacher on my campus learned about NaNoWriMo and passed along the word. Seriously, it was like manna from heaven!

What is NaNoWriMo YWP? NaNoWriMo YWP stands for National Novel Writer's Month Young Writer's Project. The goal for students is to plan and write a novel between November 1st and 11:59 PM on the last day of November.

This short video will allow you to see the benefits of the NaNoWriMo project.

I can tell you first-hand how the NaNoWriMo experience transformed my classroom and created pathways to authentic student learning and engagement.

In addition to the benefits expressed in the posted video, here are three additional ways this project transformed my classroom.

1. NaNoWriMo became a path to student engagement and creative written expression.

I always looked forward to introducing the lesson: "You are going to write a novel." Some students looked terrified at the novel-writing challenge, but by the time November 1st arrived, they were anxious to start their stories.

This is because NaNoWriMo has abundant resources to support students and teachers. For example, mid-October, I began integrating the Writer's Notebook into daily lessons. (See NaNoWriMo resource link here: Using a class account, my students were able to download and save a user-friendly file to a flashdrive or to their student document file. Students could complete self-paced lessons on plot mapping, character development, etc.

Students used Google docs to draft and write their stories. This allowed me to watch their novels in progress! I discovered Twilight fanfiction, zombie apocalypse stories, tragic romance dramas, adolescent underdog sagas, and coming-of-age stories. My students begged to keep writing to the last minute of class!

8th grade students write their novels using Google docs

6th grade students brainstorm topics for their novel
2. NaNoWriMo became a path to collaborative learning.

Collaboration is a future-ready skill our students will need to succeed in their careers. If you doubt this, think of ONE job where collaboration is not needed. Hmmm.

However, our educational system is designed to privilege isolated learning often under the guise of "individualization."  Walk down the halls of your school. Are desks in rows? Are students required to finish their homework alone? Would these student supporting student interactions outside of school be considered a form of cheating?

NaNoWriMo breaks down invisible barriers and allows students to become resources to one another.

For example, my students became collaborators in their writing. They would share their drafts with each other to find ways to develop a character or to resolve a problem in their story. Some students were natural born editors and helped others with the conventions of writing. Some students were especially creative and saw places where a plot twist could enhance a scene.

As my role shifted from being a "sage on stage" to a facilitator of student learning, natural relationships developed.

6th graders share drafts and get feedback from peers

3. NaNoWriMo became a path to authentic publication.

What if students could submit and have a completed novel published AND receive free copies of their book? I know. I didn't believe it either...until Melanie.

Melanie was a newcomer and her first language was Mandarin. She was also an avid reader. Think about the student who sits alone at lunch and reads or walks down the hall with their nose in a book, well, that was Melanie.

Melanie with her published novel
When I introduced my students to the  NaNoWriMo writing project, Melanie seemed relieved. Her writer's notebook replaced her nose-in-book lunch periods. She began coming to my room after school to talk about her NaNoWriMo draft.  Melanie shared her ideas and I was able to affirm her. She didn't need my ideas, Melanie needed to know that the answers were inside of her.

When the NaNoWriMo window closed, Melanie continued editing her novel. She had read the fine print on the NaNoWriMo YWP site. Little did I know that she had spent the winter break polishing and submitted a fifteen chapter novel, until she handed me an autographed copy! Inside the cover she had written:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't say that enough. And, please, please, please wherever you read this, remember that you made half of it.
My heart felt thanks,

Melanie (last name omitted)

I recently reconnected with Melanie this fall. She is now a student at a Texas University on a full scholarship. While I am not able to say with conviction NaNoWriMo was the turning point in her life, I do believe she was given the confidence boost she needed.

Make this November part of your classroom success story by taking the first flying leap today!

Confession Reflection:

  • What are some contributing factors to teacher post-convocation stress? How might unconventional projects like NaNoWriMo alleviate stress?
  • What ELAR/English Common Core or state standards (TEKS)  are supported by projects like NaNoWriMo?
  • How would projects like NaNoWriMo support student agency?
  • Do you know of an educator who would benefit from the NaNoWriMo project? If so, spread the word!
To learn more about NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Project visit their website at:

This link will connect you to step-by-step instructions on how to sign up, set up your virtual classroom,  how to enroll your students, and resources to get your students started: