An Honest Reflection: No Ugly Crying Required

I just finished an ugly cry. You know, the kind where you sob until your eyes close so tightly that you wonder if you might hurt yourself? The delicious, exhausting, purge of a cry that leaves you breathless and wholly satisfied at the same time? In my humble opinion, it’s the type of weep-fest that only great writing can deliver, and I am delighted to report that I just slobbered my way through another story’s end that left me wanting to pick up the book and start right over again. On the recommendation of colleague, I picked up A Monster Calls on Friday afternoon during last period and finished it by Sunday afternoon.

Though I could go on for pages about how amazing this book is, and how excited I am to 8621462book talk this story tomorrow, and how transformative I think this text could be for some of my kids, it’s what led me to this text that I find really important right now. As a result,  approximately eight minutes after finishing that book, seven minutes after shoving a copy of it into my husband’s hands and insisting he “Read this. Read this immediately” (thankfully we’ve been married long enough that he can recognize a literary induced meltdown and not fear for his own safety), five minutes after texting half my department to tell them of my ugly-cry recommendation, and three minutes after blowing my nose one more time and pulling myself together enough to see the screen clearly, here I am. Counting the minutes until school starts, so I can tell students about this text. It’s the best feeling and it’s fueled by what I have deemed A Workshop Whirlwind.

A Workshop Whirlwind. And that’s not just cutesy alliteration either. It’s representative of an urgent and necessary flurry in my teaching career. And I, for one, could not be more excited. You see, it was this past week that Workshop came to knock on the door of the Franklin High School English Department in a real and meaningful way. And this is the story of how we’ve started down a path that I believe will change our practice and lead our students to see themselves as both readers and writers in a way we would not have thought possible.

Our journey with workshop is a unique one. We are going to be moving to this new delivery method as a whole group in one glorious leap. Thankfully, by a bit of divine intervention, we have had the support of the lovely and overwhelmingly talented ladies at Three Teachers Talk. It was TTT that gave us a place to land and see that workshop is not only possible at the high school level, but it can make a world of difference for our kids. And it was a little over a year ago, with the knowledge that my department was being asked to drastically change our day to day practice, that I pored through post after post on this blog searching for guidance. How to plan, how to assess, how to hold kids accountable, and how to organize, but most importantly…how to inspire our students. How to help them see that reading and writing could be so much more than an assignment. That our study of English could be a study of what it means to be. What it means to feel.

Now, change is rarely easy. In fact it sometimes leads to a brand of ugly-crying that is reserved for just these circumstances, where you feel the happy ship you’ve been sailing on has hit something substantial and the band has already started playing “Nearer My God to Thee.” Everyone find a lifeboat! We’re never going to make it out of here alive! I liked this boat a lot better before you put this big hole in the side.” And that, my friends, is what change does to a person. What change can do to an English department. Like the seven stages of grief, change too has its stages, and I’ve both felt these stages and watched my department try to stay afloat as this major shift comes our way. See, we aren’t individual contractors, coming at this move to workshop only out of our own desire to do so. This is a district level move that has led to the following:

Shock They want us to do what? I can’t even. I just…can’t.
Denial This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.
Anger Nope. Just nope. You people are crazy. We should just set  the place on fire, while we’re at it.
Bargaining I can still teach __________ right? I’ll do this workshop thing, but only if I can still    teach ________.
Depression Whatever. It’s fine. More change. Not like we aren’t used to it. What does it matter, anyway? What does any of it matter? I’ll be in my room, reading __________ (please see stage above).
Testing Well, I guess I could give them time to read at the start of class. That makes sense to me. I love books too, so, natural move.
Acceptance I too am a reader and writer. I can do this.

And now, I am happy to report an eighth and amazing stage to this move – genuine enthusiasm.

In the last week, since Amy and Shana came to lead our department in two incredible days of professional development, I have felt a surge of excitement at everything I want to do in my own classroom and I’ve seen my entire department rally around this initiative in a way I would not have thought possible. In the last week, the halls of Franklin High School have echoed with book talks, students are curled up in corners with texts, and  teachers are chatting about trying out new strategies and putting together mini lessons. In the last week, the Wisconsin  “Bleak Mid-Winter February” has been anything but.

The teachers I am privileged to work with have been doing phenomenal work for years, since long before I joined their team. Their skill and passion, which has long fueled their sincere desire to help students learn, makes this an incredible place to work. And so, while my team would collectively injure me if I announced that everyone feels totally relaxed and ready to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, I can confidently say that our journey has begun. We are poised and now also excited, to continue learning with and inspiring our students in new ways.

No ugly crying required.

Lisa Dennis is the English Department Manager at Franklin High School in Franklin, WI. Her energetic leadership and insight leads her department into the wonderful world of workshop instruction. TTT appreciates Lisa’s candor and drive to do right by her colleagues — and all their students. We thank God for teachers like Lisa!


Tagged: ,

16 thoughts on “An Honest Reflection: No Ugly Crying Required

  1. […] I was feeling, what I was reading, how my writing was going.  I was vulnerable.  I cried.  I accepted their gifts.  I met them for coffee to talk about books.  I laughed with my […]


  2. […] email below made me cry. Like, A Monster Calls, breathless sobbing (not because I’m tired, or not only because I’m tired), but because this is what we […]


  3. […] on the table next to Maddie was a copy of A Monster Calls (Since I sobbed over this book and poured myself into sharing it  with students in a book talk a few weeks back,  I’ve […]


  4. Brittany.Jane February 13, 2016 at 2:28 am Reply

    This book is brilliant, and if you didn’t know – being released as a film this year!

    Liked by 2 people

    • nuzzyanne February 13, 2016 at 6:45 am Reply

      I saw that! They had me at Liam Neeson 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. shanakarnes February 12, 2016 at 8:31 am Reply

    Lisa — This book has been stolen from my library 94 times, so I still haven’t gotten to read it–but I just ordered ANOTHER copy, and I’m going to selfishly read it before I bring it to school!!!

    (Another book I read that was very similar to this one was Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK…it’s a good place to go next. Or if you just want another gut-wrenching sob, read ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven or ANATOMY OF A MISFIT by Andrea Portes, or MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga. Your husband will fear for his life.)

    Thank you so much for sharing this great story about your workshop journey. We are so fortunate to have met you and your amazing colleagues…so excited to continue this work together!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • nuzzyanne February 13, 2016 at 6:43 am Reply

      My ‘To Read List’ is getting longer and longer. I love it! I may need to take some time off a la Thoreau and head to a pond to read! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. nuzzyanne February 12, 2016 at 7:34 am Reply

    Colleen! My book talk was a lot of the emotion I conveyed in this post. How quickly I read the book (I may or may not have read at a few stoplights on my way home on Friday!), the awards that it has won, the basic story line of telling stories and truth, the ugly cry element (real emotion!) and how I think everyone can find something in this text. It’s about a boy struggling. Kids know struggles. It’s about that same boy dealing with these struggles through story and honest emotions and, occasionally, his inability to contain those emotions. I bought two extra copies on Amazon and both went out the day I book talked…BOTH came back the NEXT day from students who said they hadn’t intended to read it right away, but once they picked it up, they couldn’t put it down. In terms of working it into a workshop, I was thinking the dialogue between Conor (main character) and the Monster would make an excellent mentor for conveyance of raw emotion. It’s also told in the third person. I thought it might be interesting to explore the depth of Conor’s struggles by taking a section and turning it from third person into first person to have kids take a look at the implications there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Colleen February 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm Reply

      Thank you for your reply! I was so excited by your post that I just wanted more more more. But then I realized, I just needed to pick up the book! I borrowed it from the school library yesterday, and plan to read it this week over my February school break. Upon picking up the book I immediately recognized the uniqueness of this book and that I better just read it and stop asking so many questions about it 🙂

      Thanks again for your fabulous & inspirational post!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Colleen February 11, 2016 at 8:26 pm Reply

    but, wait, wait! I need the book talk! Why is this so amazing? How will you use it in your workshop model? Tell more!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. gstevens1021 February 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm Reply

    As soon as I saw your title said “ugly cry” I immediately thought “I bet she’s talking about A Monster Calls! Never cried so hard after reading a book as this one. When I shared it with my students, they all wanted to read it to see “what made Mrs. Stevens cry so hard?!” Thanks for reminding me that I need to get another classroom copy (mine “walked off”)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. cmadeleine0816 February 11, 2016 at 2:06 pm Reply

    Can I ugly cry if I want to? 😀 Patrick Ness is a genius and it is my mission to expose as many kids to his excellent writing as possible. P.S. When will we get Patrick Ness to talk about his own book with our students. Thank you for your passion Lisa. You make work a wonderful place to be.

    Liked by 3 people

    • nuzzyanne February 12, 2016 at 7:36 am Reply

      Catherine – this workshop journey is made easier by the enthusiasm you have shown! Even before this was going to be a district move, you were exploring Penny Kittle’s work and making the move in your classroom. Ugly cry away! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • shanakarnes February 12, 2016 at 8:29 am Reply

      Preach–Patrick Ness LOVES coming to schools to visit. Invite him in!!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. rlkurstedt February 11, 2016 at 6:22 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Rosanne L. Kurstedt's and commented:
    Just had to reblog this. It’s honest and exciting and I’m so thrilled that high school teachers are embracing Writing Workshop. Thank you THREE TEACHERS TALK for taking risks and for inspiring others.

    Liked by 3 people

    • nuzzyanne February 12, 2016 at 7:38 am Reply

      Thank you, Rosanne! Three Teachers becomes thousands!!

      Liked by 1 person

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: