Celebration of 100

On a quiet Monday last July, we embarked on a journey together.

[Okay, it wasn’t that quiet of a Monday; it was Day One of Nerd Camp]

But on that day, July 10, 2017, we started this blog and planted a flag in it with the banner of community waving for all to see.

Since that day, we have had 98 other posts celebrating the highs and lows of the school year and the communities we are a part of, have helped build, or hope to build. It has been a lot of fun and a lot of learning.

Today, we have another thing to celebrate. Today, the blog runs its 100th post.

So in the spirit of community, I ask you all to join us in a 100s Day Celebration!

In many elementary schools, this day is met with a dress-up day, where many will get in costume and pretend to be 100 years old. There’s lots of laughs and pictures and sharing.

Well, this community is a virtual community, so we’re going to have to get a little creative. And perhaps a little technological.

I ask you to join us in celebrating by uploading an old picture of yourself. Scratch that: a picture of your old self. No, that’s still not quite right.

A picture of old yourself.

(English is tricky)

There are some apps out there that will age your face for you; I’m going to use AgingBooth. But find an app, or dress up and snap a picture, but show us you at 100 years old as we celebrate the community we have here.

Add the picture in the comments to this post, or tag it with #ClassroomCommunities on social media.

A few of us will get you started. Enjoy!

We Don’t Know…Yet

Quiet down
And listen

The kids
Have something
To teach

A few years ago, I invited a friend of mine, who was working as a local television meteorologist, to do a weather presentation for our third graders. He talked about thunderstorms and rainbows, and even did that awesome tornado-in-a-bottle trick to teach them about a twister’s rotating winds. At the end of his presentation, he opened it up for a Q&A. Kids asked questions about his job, and more questions about tornadoes. Then he called on a student who happened to be one of the most brilliantly gifted children anyone on my team had ever taught. Using vocabulary I didn’t even know, she proceeded to ask a complex question about positively and negatively charged lightning.

Needless to say, our weatherman was stunned, the teachers shot the “this-kid-is-smarter-than-I’ll-ever-be” look at each other, and the students sat waiting to know if the expert knew the answer. After a moment of shocked silence, he was able to answer her question, but later shared with me that it made him sweat!

Now, he is an expert in this field. Adept in math, science, and technology, he was well-equipped to respond, even if he didn’t expect such a high level question from an 8 year old.

We, as educators, especially elementary educators who teach across curricular areas, are experts in our field, but I will be the first to admit that my students stump me regularly. And you don’t have to be a child genius to be able to do that to teachers. I don’t always have the answers.

Early in my teaching career, when I was asked a question, I remember scrambling to compose coherent responses, because I was the teacher. Wasn’t I supposed to know and have the answers? I have learned a lot in my journey as an educator, but one of the most valuable realizations was this:

My job as an educator is not to have all the answers. My job as an educator is not to demand that students have all the answers either. My job as an educator is to teach students that questions are worth asking, how to ask questions, and how to seek answers through critical thinking and problem solving.

The most powerfully honest words you can speak to a child who has asked a question you don’t know the answer to are “I don’t know…yet.”

Modeling what it looks like to not know yet, and then sharing how to seek knowledge and understanding is what we are ultimately hoping to teach our children in their pursuit of lifelong learning.

And sometimes, our students come to us, with a bounty of expertise and background knowledge on subjects we have barely dabbled in. If we insist on being the “sage on the stage”, only our experiences and range of knowledge is shared and blessed. But if we create student-centered environments in which learners have opportunities to be teachers, and teachers become learners, we communicate to children that they are worthy and capable of being heard and acknowledged. They see that even teachers are always in the midst of a learning process.

No one has proved that more than the brave teenagers of Parkland, Florida who have demanded “never again”. They have taught their peers, and young ones looking up, but especially adults, that they will not be defined by others’ generational marks of criticism: they are addicted to their phones, lazy, and have no attention span. Instead, they started a movement. They leveraged their social media skills to garner international attention for gun reform, organizing a nationwide walkout just a week ago to honor the victims and to make visible their voices. They changed laws. They are unrelenting. Grassroots planning, conducting interviews, giving speeches, organizing a march in the nation’s capital. Every single day since that tragedy, they have been active and vocal. They wondered what could be done to ensure this never happens again, and they have been seeking the answers since then.

No adult told them to initiate this movement. It is of their own creation. Circumstances demanded that the kids become the teachers this time, and if we are wise, we will support and sustain them, because this time, this time, the adults need to listen.

Being the expert in the room doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It means we are experts in teaching children that learning is wondering, thinking, and following their inquiries. We should be expert enough to know that it also means descending from the stage and taking a seat to listen to our next generation of wonderers, thinkers, and doers. What will they learn, accomplish, invent, change, and solve?

We don’t know…yet.


Knowledge Versus Behaviors


I have been struggling with the idea of shifting what we know about empathy into consistent actions that show empathy. After 22 years in education, I consistently observe the knowledge of what empathy means is more developed than consistently acting with empathy. My struggle is not just because I see kids “saying the right thing” but not always “doing the right thing” – it is my struggle, a teacher-in- general struggle, a parent struggle, a human struggle.

Over the course of my first year in a middle school setting, I have witnessed numerous opportunities for students to say and do the right thing. Sometimes the word and actions are very little, like a student saying thank you to another; sometimes they are big, like a group of students voluntarily helping to work with special needs students.

Sometimes I witness the perplexing situation of students being able to say the right thing, but do the wrong thing within the same class period.

About two weeks ago, I read aloud the book Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds to my classes. Nerdy Birdy is a fabulous book. It tells the story of a bird who is invited to a community of birds after he has been excluded by a group of “cool” birds. Nerdy Birdy is later disappointed when his new community excludes a bird that doesn’t fit in with their norms. Both during and after the read aloud the discussions of this book were fabulous. The seventh graders saw some of the humor in the descriptions of the birds and they explored the hypocrisy of the group of birds that welcomed Nerdy Birdy. We also talked about how these moments of inclusion/exclusion happen in the real world. They shared ideas about immigrants, cliques in schools, and the gap between the rich and the poor in our city as well as our country. They said all the right things.

After the read aloud and discussion, the students moved into an individual work time that gave me the chance to work with a small group and confer with some individuals. After about 20 minutes of this individual work time, I asked the students to find a partner to share some thinking about what they accomplished that day. We have a sharing norm, that when I say partners, it means two people in a discussion. If based on attendance, we have an odd number of students in the class, I will ‘claim’ a partner so everyone is involved in a discussion with one other person. In all of my classes that day, I witnessed several students actively avoiding others. There seemed to be a desire to not get ‘stuck’ with a partner who was not perceived as a friend. Even though they could say the right things less than 25 minutes ago, they struggled to do the right thing.

Once I gave a gentle reminder of the expectations of a partner share, everyone eventually found a partner for this two-minute chat, but there were some eye-rolls and tangible sighs before everyone had someone to listen to his/her thinking.

I feel like I put forth a great deal of effort into community building. I believe that the kids I work with could identify characters in stories who show or lack empathy and compassion. I believe that if asked, “What would you do in _______________ situation?” they would all say the right thing. However, I am still troubled when I don’t see them act in a way that shows they understand the right thing to do.

It could be easy to dismiss the ideas I just shared with the notion that my students are 12 or 13 years old and over time they will learn how to control impulses (like actively showing frustration when you are disappointed with an outcome) that could make others feel unwelcome or excluded, but I see the same problems with myself and other adults. I am definitely guilty of not consistently doing the right thing. When I reflect upon my actions, I get frustrated with myself, but I can’t seem to break the cycle. I fail to include colleagues, family members or a neighbor. I cringe when I am expected to work or be around people I have had difficulty with in the past. I struggle to entertain ideas that might challenge long-held beliefs about a variety of topics.

With role models like me, is it any wonder that students in our schools have difficulty doing the right thing? 

The statement above was not written in a state of self-loathing or as an attempt to dismiss the thoughts of anyone who knows that I definitely do not walk through my life as a teacher by yelling at kids, shaming kids, or actively show disrespect to others. That statement is an honest statement. I believe I am a work-in-progress in regards to consistently acting compassionately and with empathy. To be honest, I also believe we all are works-in-progress. However, if we want our students to grow into the future adults we hope them to be, we all need to do better.

For now, I will continue to work at being a better version of who I am. I will also continue to give chances for my students to both say and do the right thing. Maybe next year if I read Nerdy Birdy, I won’t see the eye rolls or hear the audible sighs later in the class period.

photo credit: MTSOfan Legalize Empathy via photopin (license)

Slime and Smiles

About a month ago, one of our other divisional specialists and I started to work with an after-school group. This group, comprised of immigrant students who are at varying stages of learning English, was to be working on incorporating technology to find creative ways to tell stories of important things in their lives. It made sense for myself (the Ed Tech Specialist) and my colleague (the EAL Specialist) to work with them.

It has been a blast. I don’t get to work one-on-one with students much this year, so I jumped at the chance. I get the added bonus of being surrounded by 10-15 students (depending on the day) who speak 5-6 different languages among them, and have a wealth of culture to share. It’s a very positive environment, and I count myself fortunate to be a part of it.

But there is one student–I’ll call her Jasmine for the sake of this post–whom I’ve had a hard time connecting with.

Jasmine speaks Spanish, but very little English. She is also quite shy, and those two things together sometimes become obstacles to engaging her in the activities.

I know some Spanish, but I’m often intimidated when attempting to speak it in front of those more fluent than I am. I realized, though, that Jasmine probably feels the same way about speaking English. So I put my pride aside, and started to do my job.

When she was working on identifying parts of her story, I asked her if I could see what she had. Her work was mostly in Spanish, but I did my best to read and ask her questions about what she had written. My questions were mostly in English, but then there was a question I needed to ask, and I knew the Spanish words. So I used them.

I had not seen Jasmine smile until that point, though the group had been together nearly a dozen times. Her face lit up, just for a second. She answered me, as best as she could, and we had a difficult but doable conversation about her story.

That’s when it really hit me. What her story was about.

It could have been her journey from her home country to Canada.
It could have been about family or foods she misses.
It could have been about how difficult it has been being in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.

It wasn’t.

Her story was about slime. Glitter slime, specifically.

Photo Credit Wikipedia Commons

I couldn’t not ask! I didn’t know the Spanish, and she didn’t know the English, but we talked about slime for 5 minutes. At some point, we both smiled as we didn’t know the words we needed, but we could understand each other.

At that moment, I knew Jasmine felt different. Sometimes, she has a Spanish interpreter who is with her. Sometimes, her friends can act as translator. Translating apps help as well. But in that moment, it was just her and a teacher, having a conversation.

As we packed up to leave that day, Jasmine came up to me with something in her hands. She held it out to me–it was slime! I took it and played with it. It was slimy but clean. Liquid yet solid. It was fun! It’s no wonder kids love the stuff! I thanked her as I handed it back, and for the first time in the 6 weeks I’d been working with this group, she said goodbye as she left.

The next time we met, Jasmine didn’t sit off to the side, nor did she sit super close to one of her Spanish-speaking friends. She was just a member of the group, like any other. She finally felt the truth that we knew all along: she belonged.

Domino Effect

If you haven’t gotten your hands on Carol Ann Tomlinson’s article in Educational Leadership, November 2017 it is a must read! Her article, Citizenship at Its Core, reminds us that if we want to prepare our students to become good citizens of our world we must start in the classroom.

She writes about how complicated our world is and as teachers how we are charged with helping our students navigate heavy issues like conflict, injustice, poverty, and much more. This article reads much like a guide to how we work to create classroom communities where students can be dignified with the heavy task of learning to be a good citizen of our world.

She states…“It’s daunting work to create a classroom world that models what we hope the broader world could be.” –Carol Ann Tomlinson

I was highly encouraged by her piece. Encouraged make time to listen, respond, and make space for children to explore the issues they see in their world. Also to be more intentional about taking instructional leads from their voices.

In late February, Aliza sent me a tweet to check out the kid section in the New York Times. Little did I know the domino effect the tweet would cause. At the end of the kid section there was a page of opinion lines that sparked emotional conversations that lasted for days and left a trail of passionate learning artifacts that looks like this:

IMG_0017These statements led to this…


Which prompted students to create this…

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 9.44.17 PM

That sparked the idea to make this…

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 9.48.51 PM

And excited others to think about this…

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 9.50.25 PM

Which made others want to develop this…

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 9.53.50 PM

My students have been busy creating public service announcements, writing speeches, making signs for our school, and trying to plan field trips to places they can go and make a difference. As Carol Ann Tomlinson reminds us that, creating citizens starts in our classrooms, as a classroom teacher I see everyday how passionate these young citizens are about what happens around them.  This group of second graders, much like most children around them, want to save the world NOW as in TODAY! Exciting times.

The Power of a Smile

We recently had a speaker to our school who was talking about bullying.  As a staff, we were asked to have a follow-up discussion with our students.  I wanted to help my students take preventative action and pulled a few picture books to help us discuss kindness.  We enjoyed each story and I planned to collect our own ideas, Ways We Can Be Kind.


The collection process was filled with good ideas.  They have honest and intentional thinking for showing kindness.  Then the magic happened.  A student shared the idea; give smiles.  I probably commented on how that is a simple thing we can all do.  We were currently doing a morning greeting at our morning meeting where we greet each other nonverbally with a handshake and smile; encouraging eye contact.  The student sharing reminded us about our morning greeting and said, The Power of a Smile.  All of my senses perked up.  I rambled for a bit with the students about her thinking and commented that these words sounded like a book.  I instantly began thinking and wondering what each student would say about the power of a smile.

The students got very excited about making a book.  They were literally begging me to make this into a book.  We discussed the phrase; The Power of a Smile.  We made our first draft.  I looked them over and thought the ideas were okay but I thought they could be bigger and better in a simple way.  The next day we did our morning greeting.  I wanted my students to experience a smile, many smiles and then before revising their writing.  Most of them chose to completely rewrite their ideas.

I consulted my art teacher with our idea to publish a book and that I wanted to look into really publishing it outside of our classroom and she pounced on helping with the art work.  I love to paint and I love to create with my students but her enthusiasm was hard to turn down.  She believed in our project; The Power of a Smile.

Today I can share our some of our text because our illustrations are in process.  I hope next month I can share the visuals and let you know our publishing plans.

-When my mom smiles at me, she encourages me at doing something.

-I think the power of a smile is when someone is feeling lonely.  You go over and smile at them and say do you want to play?

-You take aboard the smile train!  You take a smile and the engine starts to go and the train feels warm!

-I felt like a sign of happiness hit my heart.

-A smile makes me feel better even if  I’m having a good day.

-When somebody gives me a smile, it makes the clouds blow away and makes me fly.

-A smile is super strong.  A smile can make your day.  You should give a smile every day.

-A smile is not just a smile.  A smile can make everybody feel better.  The power of a smile can make everybody’s day better even better than normal.  If you see somebody crying first smile then have a little talk.

-When somebody smiles at me, I know my day is going to be awesome!

-A smile makes me feel like a super hero and like I have kindness magic powers.  It makes me feel like I am welcomed in the world.


I hope you have a moment today where you can give a smile and feel like a super hero.


The Feels

The * Feels /thə feelz/  n. shorthand for the word “feelings” that is used to describe an intense emotional response about something that has deeply affected the speaker.  (source: knowyourmeme.com)

The past week in my classroom has been hitting me right in the feels. I’m so blessed to have a job passion that allows me to get this intense emotional responses every so often. These past five days have been a roller coaster of emotion in Room 27. Here is why…

Feels #1 – March Book Madness

After months of build-up, Tony and I are launching the voting rounds for the March Book Madness book tournament. For the next four weeks, schools all over the US (and some in Asia) will be reading, discussing and voting for books in our brackets trying to determine the TOP book for “Compelling Characters.”

The response to this year’s MBM is unprecedented. Tony and I receive tweets daily from teachers and librarians showing us how much MBM is inspiring the love of books and reading in their schools. Nothing brings me more joy than to see photos of kids examining and pointing at the bulletin board in their classroom with the MBM bracket. I’ve seen Flipgrids, Padlets and iMovies with students sharing their love of a particular book and persuading their peers to pick it to advance to the next round.

Tony and I text regularly about how we can’t believe how this small idea we hatched during a twitter chat in 2014 could give thousands of young readers such excitement and joy about books.

Feels #2 – Refugee

Last Friday, we finished reading Refugee by Alan Gratz for our read aloud. (If you have not read this book, you must, after reading this post of course, go straight to your local independent bookstore or reserve this book from your library.) This particular read aloud with my fifth graders has been like no other. Not only did I have students begging to miss recess to keep reading another chapter, I had students getting copies from the library so they could start reading it again during their free time. But, the suspense and action-packed plot was only part of what made this book truly magical.

Refugee is not just a book. It’s an experience. An experience that allowed me to connect to my students’ lives unlike any other book has. I teach in a school that is almost 30% English language learners and 25-30 students have refugee status. One of them is in my class. He is old enough to remember his journey, yet comfortable enough to pull me aside and tell me that this book made him sad.

Throughout the book, I would show videos about refugees from Nazi Germany in 1940, Cuba in 1994 and Syria in 2015 to provide context to the characters. I will never forget hearing students say “That’s not fair!” or “Why are they doing that?” as they watched Hungarian border patrol aggressively deny entrance to a group of refugees. Forever etched in my mind is the image of three girls huddled together, arm in arm, as we read the author’s note. I’ll always remember watching Mason wipe away a single tear from his cheek as we listened to the final chapter. And perhaps he will always remember watching Mr. Jones wipe away a single tear at the same time.

This book is powerful. Students have talked about it every day since finishing it.

Feels #3 – Letters of Thanks

Each planning period, I walk to my staff mailbox and look to see what annoying professional development pamphlet I’m going to recycle that day. But, this week, I didn’t get any. Instead, I received three envelopes all addressed to me in “not-adult” handwriting. I opened each envelope to find handwritten thank you cards from former students. I took them back to my classroom and began to read. Here are a few samples of their words that are the epitome of right in the feels.

“Thank you for making school fun and making me glad to actually come to school.”
“In your class, school became a happier place that I used to think about it.”
“Thank you for teaching me things that I can pass on to other people to help them too.”
“Thank you for kickstarting my confidence. I’m taking high school math classes in 8th grade.”
“You have made me see what is worth seeing.”
“Thank you so much for boosting my confidence to keep going and never give up.”
“After your class, I feel like I see the value of education.”


IMG_0848My intention is sharing these is not to be self-congratulatory. Rather, it is to show how their thank-yous are not directed towards the assessments, daily lessons or academic standards we provide for our students. Instead, their appreciation is rooted in how our classroom community made them feel.

Most teachers get into this profession to make a difference in the lives of children. It is often a thankless job, and we don’t always get the recognition from our students or the community. Yet, our jobs as teachers is unlike any other job.

We get to see the excitement on our students’ faces first hand when they finally solve that math problem.



We get to experience a great book with our students every day.

We get to provide safe spaces for our students to ask, wonder and notice.

We get to kick start a child’s confidence.

We get to see learning take place first hand!

What makes our job so special is that we actually get to feel the feels.

Did you allow yourself to feel the feels this week? I invite you to share the source of your feels in the comments section.