Category Archives: Professional Development

Books instead of Bullets

SF StrongIn my short time here as a regular contributor to Three Teachers Talk, this was the latest I’d waited before composing a post.  Though, that’s not really true.  I had a post mostly written last week where I reflected on this year we had and looked forward to a new start next year at a new school.  It would have been similar to this recent and amazing post by Sarah Morris.

Then Friday happened- 10 lives gone and countless others changed forever.

I struggled this weekend with how this post was going to go.  I’m not looking for sympathy here because obviously the 10 families who lost loved ones or the kids who watched their classmates be gunned down in front of them are truly the ones deserving of our hearts.

Like so many not directly affected by this tragedy, though, I struggled.

I struggled to stay composed when a student quietly sat down next to me at 7:55 am and said, “Coach, did you see this?” His phone showed a social media post about students being shot a high school not too far from us.

FullSizeRI struggled because I realized how comfortable I am using the term “active shooter” in a text message to my wife at 8:11 Friday Morning. This was the text message I sent her after I pulled up a local news website to see if it was true or anther false alarm.

I struggled because when my student council president told me she was scared walking down the hall at 1:00 that afternoon, the only response I could muster was, “I am too, and I think its going to feel like this for a while.”

msd

I struggled remembering that I wore my #msdstrong t-shirt to visit the Sequoias at spring break hoping to send a little bit of support to those in Parkland, Florida who lived through this earlier in the semester.

(Side note: I was at exactly this point in writing my post when my student council president called and asked if we can sell t-shirts to help support Santa Fe High School.)

I struggled because when my babies, a 2nd grader and a 5th grader, got off the bus at 3:30, I felt obligated to sit them down and tell them that a boy at a local high school decided he needed to kill his classmates. I couldn’t hold back the tears and my daughter, in her innocence, asked if my school had had to go into a “lock down.” She’s very familiar with what that means.

I struggled early Friday evening when, sitting in a colleague’s living room, myself and several other teachers celebrated the retirement of a woman who gave 44 years of her life to this profession.  I looked at the teachers sharing stories and laughs, at the sleepy dog on the floor, and the nine month old baby that kept stealing everyone’s attention. I wondered how I could balance feeling thankful to have spent the last 11 years working with this amazing person and at the same time think about how thankful I was to be alive.  I felt thankful that my school wasn’t the one to lose lives that morning, and that made me feel horrible.

I struggled when, an hour and a half later I was sitting in a quiet backyard celebrating the upcoming graduation of two of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. They are twins and I got to be the boy’s position coach in football for four years and the girl is my previously mentioned student council president.  Their parents are amazing too and as I sat there visiting with them, I couldn’t wrap my head around how our society can produce these kids and also produce a mass killer less than 13 miles away.  He took the lives of  innocent kids, like these, that morning.  Kids who who had so much to look forward to and didn’t do anything to deserve death.

I struggled because, once again, I had to think about whether or not I would be able to protect my students if bullets flew at my school.  I asked my self the questions: Am I doing the best I can to stop this from happening again? Is there really anything I can do?  Is there anything anyone can do?

I struggled because I knew we can’t take up all the guns and I’m not sure, if asked, that I would give up mine.  We can’t eradicate mental health issues.  We can’t hold schools inside of solid-steel sealed boxes.

I didn’t just struggle. I also hoped.

I hoped that instead of turning inward, we can turn outward.  That maybe we can intervene in these students’ lives in ways that goes beyond dress codes, GPAs and graduation rates. Perhaps we can instill a sense of urgency in our young people, our future, that causes a change in them where instead of acting out their demons on one another, they look to each other for acceptance, love, or even just help. Maybe we can be more like the players and coaches of the Clear Springs Baseball Team who dedicated their game Friday night to Santa Fe.

I hope that even though I’m not sponsoring student council at my next school, I can help build on what we did this year.  I was lucky enough to be chosen to present at our district’s upcoming Character Conference on June 6th. I’m sure there will be presenters at Clear Lake High School that day who can help make change. I won’t technically be presenting, just facilitating what I think might be the only student presenters at the conference.   The student council officers of Clear Springs High School will share their stories of reaching out to our elementary feeder schools in an effort to build leadership and pass on the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation.  Maybe more students like them can make connections that help prevent massacres.

I hope more teachers and administrators realize that our students can do amazing things when we give them the space and the resources they need.  When we keep them free of the burden the adults choose to carry.  But the adults can help too.  I can’t think this would have happened if shooter had more access to books and less access to guns.  I can’t help but wonder if we treat our students with more gravitas then they just might tell us when they think something like this is going to happen and maybe we can have the chance to stop it.

I hope the teachers at my new school get used to a man (who’s been mistaken for a grizzly bear) telling other peoples’ babies that he loves them.  I hope I’m not the last person to tell them that.

Charles Moore is a teacher in League City, TX.  He is enjoys welcoming his kids off the bus with a smile and a hug every afternoon and making sure the dishes, laundry and other household needs are met before his wife gets home from work. The student council he sponsors will, hopefully, be selling t-shirts these next two weeks to support the Santa Fe community. Please email him if you are interested in helping and follow his twitter @ctcoach for more information.

 

 

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Do You Have A Date For Tonight?

You do now!

Join Three Teachers Talk tonight as #3TTweets with the incomparable Cornelius Minor. With his boundless enthusiasm, unparalleled generosity of spirit, and passionate drive in promoting equity across our nation’s schools, Mr. Minor will be tweeting with us tonight in an “Ask Me Anything” Twitter Chat!

If you missed our post with Mr. Minor, be sure to check it out!

Then, set a reminder for 8:00 P.M. Eastern tonight, jump on Twitter, search #3TTweets, and follow along, shout out, and/or ask your burning questions. We can’t wait to pick Corn’s beautiful brain and we hope you’ll join us.

3TT Corn Chat

We Cannot Act Alone – Equity For Every Classroom by Cornelius Minor and Lisa Dennis

3TT Corn Chat

Rattling around the dimly lit corners of the teachers’ lounge and shuttered mall locations of Successories nationwide, one can find the oft-quoted sentiment that teaching may well be the greatest act of optimism.

However, I would argue that today’s teacher is far more likely to embody optimism by learning.  

When we stretch, scrutinize, professionally and personally grow, challenge, inquire, and courageously push ourselves to learn for the sake of better understanding and connecting to our students, then we are better educators and better leaders and better agents of change in our classrooms.

Because we need far more than optimism. We need realism.

At the upcoming NCTE conference this November in Houston, Texas, a convention focused around raising student voice, the passionate crew from Three Teachers Talk will be honored to share with a you a talk entitled, “Accomplice”-ing Great Things: An Action Plan for Equity, Inclusivity, and Allied Partnerships in ELA Classrooms.

Additionally, in the realm of hardcore fangirling, I am pinching myself to report that the incredible, incomparable, inimitable Cornelius Minor has agreed to be our Chair for the session. As Lead Staff Developer for Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project, Mr. Minor is a tour de force in the fight for equity in the classroom whose passion and persistence is blessedly catching to all those who yearn to do better and be better for our students.

The crew at Three Teachers Talk has been in love with Cornelius Minor for years. I had the pleasure of first hearing Mr. Minor speak at the 2016 NCTE conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I recall being so struck by his words that I uncharacteristically approached him after the session. My thanks for his message turned into some sort of incoherent blubbering, I’m sure, but Mr. Minor smiled that blazing smile he’s known for and gave me a hug saying, “We’ll talk soon, ok?”

Maybe my teacher universe didn’t really pitch wildly at that moment, forever altering the trajectory of my work with students, but really, it did.

Among countless brilliant insights Cornelius shared that morning in Atlanta, I was particularly struck by his statement that it’s our job as educators to teach children how to “maintain partnerships” in order to “define our culture.” I recalled this statement recently as Amy, Shana, and I brainstormed on ways to best share our ideas at the NCTE’s 2018 Convention – Raising Student Voice.

Thus, our work as accomplices to our students came to the forefront of our planning, and a few things became clear.

Chief among them; We cannot become who students need us to be if we act alone.

This work toward equity is deeply personal, beautifully nuanced, and to many of us, it is brilliantly new. We are in a constant state of knowing that for far too many children, there is a savage gulf between what education promises and what education is.

We know the research. Girls are underrepresented in science and technology. Children of color continue to be suspended at exponential rates compared to their white peers. Poor children are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources. These outcomes are sexist. They are racist. They are classist. School, as an institution, continues to perpetuate them. We can change this, and we are certain that the way forward is together.

In the spirit of moving forward together, we’ve invited Cornelius to join us for a very special Twitter chat.

So that we can share as much as possible, we’ll be using an “Ask Me Anything” chat format. AMAs, as they are commonly called, are a little different from traditional Twitter chats.

Cornelius will be moderating, but he won’t be posing the questions. You will!

For one hour, you will be able to ask Cornelius anything about literacy, education, equity, activism or Fortnite.

We’re looking forward to seeing where this goes! We’ll put a little bit about Cornelius below so you can get to know him before the chat. Feel free to comment below too with any questions that you hope he’ll answer as we Tweet the night away. 

Can’t wait to see you in the Twittersphere!
Thursday, May 10th at 8:00 p.m. (EST) / 7:00 p.m. (CST)!
#3TTweets 


Here’s a sampling of some of Mr. Minor’s recent (brilliant) thinking:

“We Can Do Better” from the March/April publication of ILA’s  Literacy Today. 

“Five Steps to Launching a Schoolwide Social Justice Movement” from Education Week Teacher

A two-part interview conducted with Laura Hancock at Literacy Junkie


What questions do you have for Cornelius Minor? Leave them in the comment section below as we look forward to watching Cornelius’s fingers fly over the keys on May 10th! Please join us and spread the word for this important discussion with one of today’s foremost educational leaders on equity. 

 

Racing to the Finish Line: What Does Your Workshop Practice Need Most Right Now?

My Spring Break brain is still turned on. Fortunately, this means I’ve been very good at sleeping the past few days. Unfortunately, it means my capacity to focus and otherwise try to be brilliant is at an all-time low for April. It would seem my enthusiasm is likewise dormant, as I’m struggling to harness my usual oompah-pah for school, running, parenting, you name it.

What to do? What to?

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The view from my driveway during Spring Break.

 

I could stare at a thermometer and attempt to inch the mercury up with nothing by my sheer will and determination to curtail this never-ending winter.

I could establish a formal countdown of the school days as I’ve noticed several students and colleagues have done. (Ok, ok. I’ve done this already. There are exactly 40 days left of school.)

I could count and recount how many summative writing assessments I have left to grade, even if it’s likely true that I’m spending more time counting than I am actively providing feedback to my students.

So. There. Where does that leave me? Counting a lot, apparently, which is something I don’t particularly enjoy.

Still Thursday. Still 40 days to go. Still staring out the window at the 42-degree rain.

So. There. Where does that leave us?

For that, I look to you, dear readership of Three Teachers Talk.

help me

This is an all call for a bump in creativity, a burgeon to our daily workshop flow, a change of pace. Do you need more book recommendations for your classroom? Workshop friendly prep for an AP test? Ideas for mentor texts in a specific area of study? Blog posts that commiserate your struggles, or successes, or both? What can the writers and contributors at Three Teachers Talk focus on to help you most in the coming weeks? How can the writers at Three Teachers Talk help make these last few weeks of the 2017-2018 school year all kinds of amazing in your classroom?

When your inbox pings with a post from 3TT, what insight would tickle your fancy, make your day, or just help ease the stress of wrapping up the year in a workshop classroom? We’ve got writers who teach from Foundational Freshmen to AP Language/Literature, coach current teachers, prepare pre-service teachers, and everything in between.

We all need a little help now and then, so we’d love to hear from you:

Please take a moment to fill out this quick survey and let Three Teachers Talk help move your workshop practice forward to round out this year and/or get you rolling for the next.

And as always, remember the rich archive of posts on a variety of topics that you can search on the right side of the screen at threeteacherstalk.com. You can search by keyword, contributor, and/or topic. The special sauce for your next few weeks of teaching may already be right here!

As a collaborative community of educators, we look forward to hearing from you and pointedly adding to the amazing wealth of workshop knowledge that Three Teachers Talk readers and writers share. Have a great weekend!


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Also, a friendly reminder, if you would like to write a guest post for Three Teachers Talk, please send your ideas to me at lisadennibaum@gmail.com. We are always looking for fresh voices, ideas, and experiences. Thanks!

An Intervention Change Up and a Plug for Summer Learning

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Photo by Brady Cook on Unsplash

I bet I am more ready for summer than you. No, really. I am SO ready.

It’s not that I don’t like my job. It’s not that I am not having tons of great learning experiences with my students — they are doing beautiful things. It’s not that all things testing come crushing in this time of year (TELPAS, STAAR, AP) and make me daydream of working at a spa folding towels. It’s really none of that. It’s not even that I need a vacation — although I do. Did we already have Spring Break? (Oh, yeah, we did.)

It’s this:  Last summer I had one of the most amazing, awe-inspiring experiences of my teaching life. And I get a do over this summer.

Last summer I got to work with a powerhouse group of ELAR teachers in Clear Creek ISD with my friend and collaborator, Billy Eastman. I met Coach Moore who now writes on this blog and many other true blue educators dedicated to doing the work of workshop instruction and determined to do right by their readers and writers.

I could go on and on and on. But I won’t because Billy and I already did.

We wrote about our planning and implementation of that summer learning in this article “An Intervention Change Up: Investing in Teacher Expertise to Transform Student Learning,” recently published in English Journal.

I hope you’ll read it. Think about the intervention routines on your campus. Are they good for all students? Will they increase confidence in the hearts and minds of your readers and writers? Will they help students gain skills — or reinforce their lack of them?

And what about teachers? What’s in that work for you?

I’d love to know your thoughts. And if we can help, please let us know that, too.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language and Composition at a large senior high school in North TX. She is grateful to the North Star of TX Writing Project and Penny Kittle for showing her the benefits of choice and challenge; otherwise, she would probably still be dragging students through Dickens’ novels and pulling her hair our over plagiarized essays. Thank God she learned a better way. Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk. And please join the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page if you haven’t already. Join the conversation and share the good news of your workshop classroom.

Why Workshop? Because Kids Deserve It!

When I first watched the Rita Pierson TED Talk titled Every Kid Needs a Champion, I found myself shouting, “Yes! This lady gets it!”  Our job is to help kids feel connected at school- to ensure that kids feel safe and taken care of while also giving them the best educational experience possible.  This TED Talk catapulted me into thinking- How Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 10.40.19 AMcan we do things even better? How can we reach more kids?  How can we ensure that every student feels connected to their school and their teacher? Don’t misunderstand me- I work with the best teachers around, who love kids and are passionate about the work they are doing in their classrooms.  However, we can always do more and get better, right?

I am a high school administrator, that is lucky enough to work with the English department.  We serve almost 3,000 students on a daily basis. It’s my job to ensure that every kid has a champion, someone they trust and feel has their best interest at heart.  It’s also my job to ensure that we are providing the best educational experience possible for our students because our students deserve that. James Comer said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  That’s where the workshop model comes in. The workshop model provides us with the opportunity to give students choice in what they read and an authentic environment to write about things that hold value to them. It provides an avenue for our teachers to get to know students on a deeper, more personal level because students are ingrained in work that matters to them.  Teachers are able to work one-on-one with students through reading and writing conferences. Teachers are able to have in depth conversations over current events through philosophical chairs and classroom debates. Students talk about what they’re reading on a daily basis. Students improve their writing because they have great mentor texts and a teacher who is writing with them and modeling writing for them.  In short, we know our kids better because we have implemented the workshop model.  We are also able to teach all the skills we need to through choice reading and providing authentic writing opportunities for our students.

I love Amy Rasmussen’s blog post, So You Don’t Think Workshop Works?  5 Reasons You are Wrong, because she makes key points about why the workshop model can and does work in classrooms everywhere.  I found that as we made the shift away from a more traditional classroom structure to the workshop model, we encountered some people that questioned its effectiveness and its validity.  Some questioned how it would impact our state testing scores (they’ve gone up and we are closing the gaps for our students), some questioned whether students would actually be reading and learning the required TEKS in our classes (they definitely do and on an even deeper level than before), some questioned whether or not you could teach a PreAP or AP class through the workshop model (I see it happen on a daily basis).  It’s important to know your why and your purpose. When you know and believe that the workshop model is what is best for students, because of the positive impact it has for them both academically and relationally, it’s easy to defend.

As the workshop model has become more pervasive, and people notice the positive results happening within our department and in our district, we have received lots of requests for campus visits (which we love!), and I get asked quite often about how and why we made the shift to the workshop model in our department.  I thought I’d share my top tips for implementing and sustaining the workshop model in hopes that it helps you carry on the great work.

  1. Teammates.  You need a team of people who “get it” and believe that building student relationships is the key to success in education.  You need a team that understands workshop and why it’s essential in the English classroom, or at least a team that is willing to learn.  Hiring and retaining the best teachers around will help make your workshop thrive.  If you have an administrator, or teachers, that don’t understand the value, send them the Three Teachers Talk blog!  Point them towards professional authors such as Kyleen Beers, Penny Kittle, Jeff Anderson, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, etc.  Have them attend conferences so that they are able to immerse themselves in the work.  Take them on learning walks so they can see it in action, or utilize technology to view workshop from afar.  It has been my experience that you have to see it in action to truly understand the work.  You need to talk to students to understand the impact it is having on their educational experience.
  2. Professional Learning Communities.  Whether you have a team of 6, 3 or 1, PLCs play an essential role in getting the workshop up and running and then also sustaining the workshop model.  Teachers need to collaborate with others. We need to talk about the work we are doing, how our students are doing, what engages them, and even what frustrates them.  We have to learn from each other.  At my school, we team within our school, our district, and even with teachers in other districts.  Additionally, I love blogs and Twitter and consider them a vital part of my learning community. I strongly encourage you to connect with as many people as you can while you are navigating the wonderful world of workshop.
  3. Conferring. Andrea Coachman, a Three Teachers Talk guest blogger and also the English Content Coordinator in my district, wrote a post about Accountability Through Conversation which details our district’s journey of implementing the workshop through one of the most Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 5.47.07 PMimportant aspects- talking with our students.  This area was a big learning curve for us.  The tendency is to think that having a teacher table or holding daily student conferences is an elementary concept, but in reality it’s what’s best for students at all levels.  The teachers I work with would say that conferencing with students has been a game changer.  They know their students strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing better than before, and they are able to target specific skills that each student needs.
  4. Money. Every school allots a certain amount of budget money to each department.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s a lot or a little, but you need to commit to spending your budget money on professional development for teachers and also books!  Teachers must have the training they need to run the workshop. It’s always a good idea to send them to professional development where they can learn from the experts. My teachers always come back and share with the department, so we all benefit from their learning.   If money is an issue, apply for grants and scholarships to help teachers attend professional development. There are also a plethora of professional books written to help teachers with workshop- check out 10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers.  Another important component of the workshop is having classroom libraries; they are a key component because our students must have a selection of books to choose from.  We have been lucky that our Media Resource Specialist has purchased many of our classroom libraries.  However, our teachers are also great about adding to their own libraries as well.
  5. GRIT.  Angela Duckworth wrote Grit which examines why some people fail and others succeed.  She defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.  It takes a lot of work to get the workshop up and running because the teacher is creating mini lessons based on their students needs, helping students find choice books, modeling writing with mentor texts, and conferencing with students.  We are in year 3 of implementation and are still learning and adjusting each day.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

Workshop works and it’s worth it.  At 7:30 AM this morning, I was on hall duty, and a group of students came walking by, and said, “I love starting my day with English class.  It’s so fun- we read, we write, and we talk about it all. My teacher is the best! It’s the best way to start the day.”

 

TCTELA 2018: Professional Learning in Style on the Isle

I like to think I know about teaching.  Then I go hang out with hundreds of brilliant educators and I realize how much I have to learn.

(I hope Helen and Megan see what I did there)

Teachers

I just got home from the TCTELA Conference.  The 30 minute ride north on I-45 allowed me a brief opportunity to reflect on this weekend and think about the experiences that I encountered and the people I had the pleasure of meeting.

Collaborative Conversations:

Spending time in different sessions with different people from our District rejuvenated me. I enjoyed sitting with Adam Glasgow and taking in a presentation on curriculum development from two teachers from our district: Helen Becker and Megan Thompson.  I loved hearing them speak the workshop language.  It’s nice to take in a lunch with teachers from other schools in our district and really get to know them. There were also impromptu twitter education sessions and conversations about snacks.

Mary Margaret

Super Star Speakers:

Alfred Tatum is brilliant.  His presentation was first thing in the morning on Friday and was a perfect start to the conference.  His ideas about texts belonging to all students perfectly echo the words of Atwell, Kittle, and Gallagher.  Here is a video of Dr. Tatum talking about self-selected reading.

Pernille Ripp is inspiring and passionate.  She is one of the most ardent speakers I’ve ever heard and when she said, “Our fidelity should be to the students, not the programs. See the children and hear their voices,” I knew I had a new teacher-crush (Sorry Kelly Gallagher).

Donalyn Miller made me continue to think about my role in the classroom and as an advocate for literacy.

Chris Lehman closed out the conference this morning and his ideas about close reading should be standard practice for all of our reading teachers.

Chris Lehman

Looks like I’ll be spending money on more teacher books soon.

Harvey Panel:

Diane Miller of U of H Downtown set up this panel of amazing educators.  Unfortunately, our time slot worked against us and more people sat on the stage than in the crowd.  In that aspect, it kind of reminded me of the JV soccer game the night before.  That wasn’t really the point though.  The point was that these educators shared their uplifting stories and shared some of their emotional baggage.  It’s important to give a voice to those who are thinking and acting outside the box to help kids.

Call to Action:

Get involved.  Connect with innovative people on social media!!!  NCTE is in Houston this year.  Meet up with us!!!! If you are a Texan, Join us at TCTELA next year in San Antonio!!!

Charles Moore’s students sometimes revolt when he tells them to quiet down and all they want to talk about is their writing.  He can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that he can enjoy craw fish and his pool and maybe even devour craw fish while in the pool.  You can find his frequent thought bursts and his passive aggressive treatment of trolls by checking out @ctcoach on twitter.  His poorly executed instapoem collection can be seen @mooreliteracy1 on Instagram.

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