Saturday, December 28, 2013

Resolute to Create Spaces to Grow As a Learner

With the New Year soon to approach, there is much talk about resolutions, make-overs, bucket lists, and a new term coined by Colby Sharp of the Nerdy Book Club, nerdlutions. While a little more than 40% of Americans decide to start anew each January with resolutions, only 8% actually achieve their goals according to a research study from the University of Scranton. I am actually one of those who falls in the latter data point. Each year, I make my resolutions but end up not totally following through, so this January I am taking a different angle. Instead of creating a list of resolutions, I will be resolute in my intent, to create spaces to grow as a learner.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary resolute means admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. This is a strong word that forms the basis of what I intend to do this year. I have a plan that is purposeful and I am determined to carve out the hypothetical niche to grow as a learner. Am I unwavering? For now yes, but then I think back on last year's resolution. I unwaveringly committed to knee replacement and all that was associated with the surgery. Through months of very intense workouts with my physical therapist I was able to build muscle to walk so much better than before. Now that I am on my own, I seem to find just the right excuse to not keep up the rigorous routine of exercising nine hours per week.  The right strategy will be to keep everything in perspective, rather than make an endless checklist of things to do. No more empty resolutions for me!  I am resolute to grow as a learner in both my personal and professional life. 

As psychologist, Dr. Lynn Bufka, noted in her post, Making your New Year's resolution stick"...It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time." Fredrich Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idols, Or, How to Philosophize With the Hammer, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." When I found these quotes, I knew that I was on the right path to having a purposeful plan that I will steadfastly adhere to, for goals are only as strong as by what they are measured. 

In the spirit of having and using learning targets, "I can ponder life and next steps of my life journey while taking steps and recording them with my new Fitbit." What an ingenious plan!  Step one will be part of the 50 days of nerdlutions' challenge. I can exercise daily and grow as a learner at the same time. Thought patterns can give rise to starters for blogs and educational trainings. I can measure my progress by taking more steps and writing more. Hopefully, 50 days can develop into 50 more and so on. 

Reading is another tool for me to learn and grow. Dr. Bufka's article has provided tips for me to ponder and act upon.
  • Start small - 50 days is doable.
  • Change one behavior at a time - Record my steps with the Fitbit and write daily for 50 days, even if is only one thought for that can idea develop into another.
  • Talk about it - Sharing my experiences with family and friends will be an easy task.
  • Don't beat yourself up - Recognize that perfection is not what I am trying to attain.
  • Ask for support - To strengthen my plan asking for support when it is needed will be an important step.
With resolve, I take the challenge to explore new paths to grow and learn. I hope you are resolute in your intentions this year. Happy New Year as you search for the best 2014 plan.

Friday, December 27, 2013

In Search of Holiday Magic: Notices and Wonders

When the first week of December arrived, marking the beginning of the holiday season, I noticed towns in my area being transformed into magical sights. They were adorned with sparking lights, seasonal decorations, and soft music. Retail stores decked their halls with an array of bright ornaments and holiday decor while homes began their own transformation, moving from autumn to seasonal Hanukkah and Christmas delights. Later in the month, just before the Christmas holiday, I continued to notice and wonder as I switched hats from consultant to busy holiday homemaker.

In those early days of December, I felt a unique magic in the air and often paused to notice just what it was or what it was not. I decided that it was not changing weather patterns, nor snowflakes dancing in the sky. I reflected on what was before me, noticing a welcoming newness to the landscape and feeling an anticipation that accompanies the holiday season. I watched the quick pace of shoppers actively pursuing the pleasures of gift giving; school children gleefully preparing for holiday concerts and last days before winter break; travelers readying for family get togethers; and Santa helpers greeting those who longed for holiday magic. While amidst all the the hustle and bustle, I felt the urge to suspend reality for a brief interlude, to freeze the setting, and to become totally immersed in a seasonal experience. My senses were awakened as I noticed the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmastide. While continuing to be lulled by all the noticings and wonders, a sudden sense of what was needed to be accomplished before the holidays jostled me. 

As the snow softly cascaded to the ground that December morning nine days ago, I realized it was time to transform my home. Living in Long Island suburbia, less than an hour away from the New York City experience, holiday expectations are high. I peered out my window to view the neighborhood sights: adorned houses, welcoming wreaths, Santas and snowmen dancing in the yards. Then, I looked back at what was before me, a chaotic mess inside my home. Clutter was everywhere. Strewn across my dining room table
and floor were individual autumn decorations and a variety of boxes ready to be tucked away for another year. As I started to clean the room, I wondered about the overwhelming amount of work it takes to make a house ready for the Christmas season. 

So what did I do? I slipped away to the computer to have a few moments of quiet time, knowing that an opportunity to reflect and write would give me the energy to move mountains or should I say boxes to the attic. Donning the crown of creativity, I slowly moved from my office to the huge task in front of me. I had to accomplish much in a very short span of time so that clutter would take on a new look, "organized chaos." I began the process by thinking about the steps I needed to take. The first step was to immerse myself in a bath of aromatic scents. Potpourri, cinnamon scented pine cones, fragrant candles, and sweet Christmas confections were laid out to perk my senses. Christmas music poured in from the living room to make me "get into" the spirit of the season. Next, brightly colored wrappings and wired bows were assembled to adorn gifts that were poised for a quick exit from the craft room to the tree. But wait, the living room had to be dusted and primed for a picture perfect entrance of the tree. That meant more work so where were the elves when I needed them?  As I moved forward to prepare for a major family event, the countdown began. I paused, thought, and deeply reflected on whether I would meet my deadline and then, without further ado I worked consistently in search of finding the right blend of holiday magic for my home. 

So, here it is two days after Christmas and all the noticings, wonderings, and getting ready tasks were accomplished at a steady pace to bring structure to organized chaos. I invite you to take a peek at how holiday magic came to my house just in time for Christmas. In those short nine days before Christmas, I joined the ranks of dedicated and committed homemakers who take on the loving task of bringing holiday magic for family and friends to enjoy.
From my house to yours, may the magic of the holidays bring you new noticings and wonderings as you transition to the new year. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

From the Outside of 2013 NCTE Looking Back In

As with every memorable experience, the end quickly comes upon us but the energy remains and the stories reside in our hearts and minds. It is so with the 2013 NCTE Convention in Boston this year. From my little corner of office space, I reflect upon the four days of NCTE varied experiences, chance encounters, and rekindled friendships. Although life's list of to do tasks stares me in the face, I spend quiet moments savoring the NCTE experience that gives breath to my thoughts. 

The journey began last year with the penning of the NCTE '13 proposal for Debbie Diller and I. Since Debbie Diller and I only see each other once a year (Texas to Long Island is a long distance), the NCTE Convention gives us the opportunity to continue the conversation where it left off, an art forged through a decade of friendship.  With purpose, we set our plan in motion a year ago with the submission of the proposal, "Redesigning the Literacy Landscape, Common Core Style." Once at the convention, Debbie and I collaborated, reflected, revised, and enthusiastically presented using the collegial circle model to an engaged audience. Our group, that spanned the United States and reached to Japan, were committed educators who joined our conversation even though it was the last one for the NCTE Convention. Needless to say, we left that session renewed and eager to read the haiku take aways soon to be posted to Twitter.

As for the conference days, they were busy. Hallways buzzed with learners from many walks of life. Often lost amidst the crowd of 7,000, I smiled as I encountered familiar faces, tweeted out memorable lines, and texted friends for meeting places. Although spaces were tight and frustrations mounted due to closed out sessions, the relationships that were renewed or forged were priceless.

Highlights of  the NCTE 2013 Convention included: a powerful opening ceremony with First Wave performers who pushed boundaries through spoken word;  lingering conversations about life and education with dear friend and co-presenter, Debbie Diller; a plethora of sessions that I attended, presented by national presenters, such as Laura Robb, Katherine Bomer, Donalyn Miller, Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Franki Siberson, Ann Marie Corgill, Georgia Heard, Tom Romano, and Linda Rief; the trifecta of annual Scholastic events-Authors' Reception, Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, and Literary Brunch, with literary luminaries-Laura Robb and Ruth Culham, Scholastic friends, David Smith and Ben Woodward, and the gracious and generous host and educational advocate, President Dick Robinson; educational conversations with friends from Long Island, JoEllen McCarthy, Erica Pecorale, and Larry Butti, on the drive up and back; numerous engaging chats with other Long Island educators; hallway conversations with the charming Katherine Bomer and the spirited Chris Lehman and a quick question from Lucy Calkins inquiring if she could look over my shoulder at my notes during a crowded round table discussion. Tech integration was everywhere present in the sessions but connectivity issues frustrated me. Lastly, there was an endearing sight in the Exhibit Hall, a large sign at the Heinemann booth remembering Donald Graves, a gentle man with a heart full of wisdom for us all. 

Although most of my notes floated away in Cyberspace due to those connectivity issues I previously mentioned, I was able to capture a few quotes that were either preserved through Twitter or in the old-fashioned manner via a pen and learning log.   Garnered thoughts from amazing literary luminaries, presenters, and authors follow: 
  •  Stories and books are the heart and soul of the culture. -Laura Robb
  • Censorship grows out of fear. -Judy Blume
  • Reinventing the teaching of English is about who we are-Holding possibilities of what should be taught. -Ernest Morrell
  • Build a world with all you know. -First Wave
  • Your reading life is essential to your teaching life. -Carol Jago
  • Kids are our curriculum. -Chris Lehman
  • Messy allows you to be creative. -Marissa Moss
  • Close reading is a practice we can apply to our lives when we can see the patterns. -Maggie Beattie Roberts
  • Without dreams the world is just dirt and dust. -Ann E. Burg
As with every conference, there is one new presentation that catches my interest. This convention, I was immediately fascinated by Bill Bass' presentation on technology to build community in classrooms so I searched Twitter to follow him. His blog, "Giving Students Ownership through Mashups," resonated with me. Provided below is a glimpse into his thoughts,
  • ...I often say that the media that we have students create is a reflection of their world and by providing them the opportunity to create, we are giving them a voice in which they can share their thinking and viewpoints as well as help them determine what they actually believe about a specific topic.
  • ...Many times, we just need to provide the opportunity for them (students) to make connections and create their world.
With eager anticipation to engage in continued conversations that enrich my learning life, I ponder the next presentation for the 2014 NCTE Convention in Washington, DC. Unfolding the Diller-Varsalona story of redesigning the literacy landscape for information age learners under the umbrella of the convention theme, "Story as the Landscape of Knowing," is my current project that sits between the Christmas holiday and the New Year. This will be a from the inside out to the NCTE Committee task that requires time, so I am writing to Santa to bring me the gift of time? But while I wait for Santa, you can explore available handouts and materials from the NCTE 2013 sessions in the NCTE Connected Community.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Power of Literacy in the Lives of Marginalized Girls

Did you know that one of the most "vulnerable and marginalized groups" in regions where basic rights are denied is the adolescent girl? In 2002, a young girlGulalai, and some friends took a bold stand in an effort to promote the women's rights movement in Pakistan. Then in October 2012, a sixteen year old Pakistani, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating the rights of girls to attend school. Thanks to UNESCO and these young female activists, global awareness regarding the plight of young girls in developing countries who face daily challenges has been brought to light. Because Americans are privileged to have an education, we sometimes forget that there are those who are denied the basic right to learning and that social injustice does exist around the world. 

To promote girls' rights across the continents, the United Nations celebrated the second International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, 2013Center stage was Malala who, as an ardent blogger and charismatic spokesperson against social injustice, continues her fight for education for all. Recognized as one of the most influential voices of this generation and the youngest person to be nominated for a Noble Peace Prize, Malala's message is clear, education is for everyone. But according to the Global Partnership for Education, "women represent nearly two thirds of the world's illiterate and 31 million girls are still out of school around the world." Kofi Anna, former United Nations Secretary General, said, “Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life…” It is unfortunate that ten years after Anna's call for the elimination of worldwide illiteracy, the issue still exists.

Even though going to school remains a security issue for young women in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, young leaders like Gulali and Malala are drawing community and worldwide attention for those who venture to attain a basic education. Their call for equal access to education is reflected in a picture book, Nasreen's Secret School by Jeanette Winter. Although this book was not written to specifically tell Gulali and Malala's stories, Nasreen's tale is based on a true story of courageous young girls and their families who defied the Taliban to attend a secret school. Set in war-torn Afghanistan, the book describes a grandmother's unwavering determination to have her granddaughter receive an education. As a story depicting the power of literacy, Nasreen's Secret School was selected as a text for the NYS 3rd Grade Module 1, Becoming a Close Reader and Writing to Learn. Despite the fact that the story has a global message of hope and courage, illustrations depicting war have caused a stir in some school districts. A group of New York City parents, troubled by some of the images in the book and what they perceive is an introduction of a war perspective to third graders, have raised their voices in protest, leading to the publishing of the New York Post article, New York approves war-oriented reading textbooks for third-grade classrooms on March 18, 2013. 

In reply to the emotional reaction to the utilization of Nasreen's Secret School and The Librarian of Basra, NYC Chancellor Walcott "emphasized that the ultimate decision on using the material rests with principals, but suggested that schools were the right forum for kids to learn about serious topics like conflict." This message has been echoed by the NYSED Education Department through a letter to families that was inserted in the NYS ELA Grade 3 Module 1, Unit 1, Lesson 6 on engageny. The letter notes "the importance of literacy and books, even during times of war" and  hopes to alleviate parental concerns about the introduction of this story in the curriculum. 

While it is true that there are images and references to war and violence in Nasreen's Secret School, the deep seated message is one of hope in the power of education to transform young girls' lives. Jeanette Winter emphasizes this idea towards the end of the book. "Windows opened for Nasreen in that little schoolroom." The author does not make a political statement about war in this book nor in The Librarian of Basra. Rather, the words in the story infer that books and literacy do influence and transform lives.  If still inclined to doubt the validity of this book as a story for young children, one can rest assured students are being directed in structured discussions on the power of literacy by capable and sensitive teachers. But, the ultimate decision about the inclusion or exclusion of Nasreen's Secret School and The Librarian of Basra in the classroom does rest with each district after a thoughtful reading.

As we read these books, it becomes evident of the power of literacy in the lives of marginalized girls in third world countries and the fact that education gives voice against social injustice. Perhaps, you have a commentary on this issue. If so, please share your impressions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Engagement at the Heart of Learning

Peer with me into an active learning environment. You won't find rows of desks familiar to the Industrial Age model of education but rather an interactive classroom, a place buzzing with students who notice, wonder, discover, and construct knowledge. A teacher, as a facilitator, guides the learning of curious minds who engage in multiple approaches to unlocking meaning. Linear thinking is not the norm in this place of learning. Divergent thinking is developed and insights sought after. Various protocols and practices are used to engage these learners in collaborative discussions with diverse partners. Further, students are seen delving deeply into specific topics. Take a second look: see a classroom where the door is open to limitless possibilities and different pathways to learning.  

Step inside; all students have equal opportunities to access knowledge and are found connecting to different pathways to learning through integrated technologies. Students exhibit a passion for learning.  You don't have to blink twice at this vision. This is not a dream scenario. It is the emergence of the active learning classroom where possibilities await students who are provided a thirst for knowledge. It is a real place of learning found in many districts throughout the country. It is the classroom of today, tomorrow, and the future where students are led on a journey of the mind for "Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence." (First Lady Abigail Adams) 

Front and center in this active environment are engaging, learning opportunities that allow for discovery, forward moves, reflection, rediscovery, ah hah moments, and new directions. Active learners navigate through muddy waters guided by their teacher facilitator. The concepts that learning is a messy process and all learners can succeed are the guiding principles. Step back. Notice the pulse beat of learning: student engagement, noted by Marzano in his research on effective classrooms as an essential component. Here, students involve themselves in the process  of learning as they engage in the completion of task. Process over product is valued and inquiry skills developed.

Reflect upon what is seen. Students emerge at various stages of being independent thinkers, collaborators, problem solvers, and meaning makers throughout the day. They interact with diverse partners in focused conversations filled with accountable talk through such groupings as partnerships, triads, and quads. Carefully crafted collaborative and independent activities foster stamina. Students are seen exploring, explaining, analyzing, and presenting. At the end of the lesson, reflection on mastery of the learning target occurs. This is a snapshot of an engaging learning environment where learning is fostered by reflective practitioner who is constantly honing his/her craft. 

Creating engaged, interactive classrooms that prepare students to meet the challenges of a fast-paced information age is a challenging charge, but not an impossible one. Be the guide on the side that assists students to achieve the possibilities that learning can afford them. Join #nyedchat tonight to discuss your views on the topic of student engagement, a critical component of effective classrooms.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

One Halloween after Superstorm Sandy: Back to Normalcy

It's Halloween, and so I eagerly ready myself for the ringing of the door bell and the uttering of "Trick or treat" that signals the start of the event. Decorations are strategically placed. Candy is set out in the treasured spooky pumpkin vessel complete with bewitching sounds. New purple and white lights sparkle against an array of seasonal delights as the first Halloween trick or treaters approach. The door bell rings and I am struck with awe at the multitudes of children and parents parading in large groups in front of my eyes.  I can't help but feel elated by the engaging smiles, sounds of friendly families, and excited voices of children of all ages. As I watch the parade of costumed characters, dressed in their ghoulish garb or fairytale princess looks, I realize that the neighborhood is once again alive with children's laughter and the spirit of connectedness, for it was but one year ago when the annual trick or treat event was dimmed by the Long Island disaster, Superstorm Sandy. 

This year, it appears as if there are no remembrances of a menacing storm that darkened the neighborhood last Halloween. There is a clear walkway for the parade of gleeful celebrators of Halloween. As I watch the scene, I sense a spirit of bonding and happiness. There is a feeling of newness that was lost by the events of last October. Halloween is a happening this year in my neighborhood in Rockville Centre.

I keep staring at the scene outside my window because there seems to be a Norman Rockwell spirit that pervades my neighborhood. Watching families join together, sharing the sheer pleasure of togetherness appears to be a throw back to years ago when my own children were walking the streets of the neighborhood with buckets in hand and parents towing in the background. Remembrances of years gone by overrides the memories of last Halloween when the streets were barren, the houses dark, and the general feeling of sadness and exhaustion caused all to be heavy of heart. I take what I see this Halloween as a sign of a new direction. 

As nightfall begins to darken the sky, the after dinner trick and treaters are still coming to the door. Luckily, the candy bowl has been replenished after a mad dash to the supermarket. The doorbell seems to ring every five to ten minutes, but it is with pleasure that my family greets the little children that seem to be having a wonderful Halloween this year. I am truly enjoying this event that is connecting the neighborhood together once again and I hope that this is so all over Long Island. 

From my neighborhood to yours, I wish you the spirit of connectedness.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Reflect, Connect, and Collaborate with NYS Educators

We reflect on past practices. We engage with colleagues. We discuss. We collaborate. We push our thinking. We move to the next level. We become a collective voice of the information age. Gone are the days of the factory model when doors were closed and teachers worked independently of each other. "Technology has taken us to an new level where we can collaborate beyond our wildest imaginations." (Tom Whitby) So, it is time to get connected, build a PLN, and grow as a lifelong learner. Connected Educators is continuing its October campaign to help educators thrive in a connected world. Be part of the movement to connect, collaborate, and build your personal learning network. Be like our students who are asked to notice and wonder. Find a topic, explore your thoughts, and be bold enough to join the conversation. 

Yesterday, I joined the moderating team of Tony Sinanis, Bill Brennan, Blanca Duarte, Vicki Day, and Starr Sackstein to relaunch #NYedchat. The conversation was buzzing about what being connected means and why it is important. Before the conversation started, I read that Twitter has become one of the must-have tools in the educator's toolbox. Stay tuned, stay informed, stay connected slogans to drive conversations are everywhere. So I ask myself, why is Twitter a must have tool? With fast-paced conversation via 140 characters it provides asynchronous professional development. It has opened my doors, impacted my thinking, teaching practices, and learning. Twitter has become a constant source of information and new ideas to examine. Further, it has given me the opportunity to discuss timely topics with educators around the globe. Conversations are fast, articulations well-crafted, and my network is broadened each day. I am humbled by the experience of co-moderating topical conversations that link educator to educator.

If Twitter is a source of information for educators, what is needed is a growing body of educators to become connected. It has been noted by Tony Sinanis that NY educators are under-represented on Twitter. Research did not provide this thought. It is based on his exchanges and connections. Will #nyedchat be able to turn the tide and draw more educators in to the conversation? The moderating team hopes that this will become a reality. As we draw closer to the next NYedchat, please mark November 4, 2013, 8:30 pm on your calendar. Out-of-state educators and parents are welcomed to join the group as was the case with the relaunch event. 

As a collective group of impassioned New York educators, through #nyedchat we can open doors, go beyond the walls of our classrooms/buildings/districts, and bring back fresh ideas. We can engage with a broader range of educators. We can connect with current and new colleagues to learn. In addition, we can join conversations that validate our beliefs and bring about change in daily practice; learn from each other; allow global conversations and perspectives to frame new thinking about education. With one purpose, we can rise like the phoenix, a fire bird igniting the flame that connects us all to the one reason why we came into the profession. 

Join the NYedchat moderators as we soar throughout New York State as one committed body of educators ready to build the next generation of critical thinkers, resolute decision makers, and creative problem solvers. 

Comments are welcomed and can be posted below or on #nyedchat. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ethics-A Torch Bearer for Change

The concept of ethical leadership is one that cuts across all organizations. It is a topic that stands alone in a world fraught with fears, materialism, and intensity. A reflective perspective is needed when speaking about this topic for discussions to be fruitful. The #leadfromwithin PLN posed this topic last night and through a series of well-structured questions elicited thoughtful responses. Being that the exchange was philosophical in nature, I  lurked temporarily while reflecting on the intensity of the questions and the flow of conversation. I jumped in when I felt ready to voice my opinion. Pointed questions encouraged the professional learning community to speak their mind from a lead from within stance. Statements surfaced as quickly as questions were posted. Engrossing, stimulating conversation led me to ponder each thought. Lolly Daskal kept the pace flowing in the hour-long talk that she described as empowering. Not knowing the community of learners, I was truly impressed by the questions put forth and the collegial nature of the respondents. 

In today's multi-modal, fast-paced world, leadership is a fine balancing act. Leaders look to the future while building a foundation of trust. Organizations grow because of such strategically-minded leaders who have vision and an ethical code of conduct, housed in a defined set of beliefs. With toolbox in hand, ethical leaders explore new ground with their stakeholders, using mission and vision statements powered by strategic plans to map the course. Norms to establish a common language are perched on top to be the first handout for step one of the journey. Reflection, assessment, and action, based on commitment to the vision, are the next layer of tools to further a collaborative spirit among participants. Without the resources, commitment, and passion to lay the course, organizations cannot proceed on a success-oriented path. 

Ethical leadership lights the torch to move others along the path, beyond the norm, and onto a new landscape, but as Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "A good leader can't get too far ahead of his followers." The leader must pave the way but with discretion, know when to slow the pace, reevaluate, and then move one step further. It is not about the distance we cover, but the depth of each leg of the journey. Leaders know the value of pacing while on the path.  They model determination, resolutely guiding their organizations from a solid footing rooted in strong values and beliefs. Gathering momentum from the collective conscience of their groups, leaders move their organizations forward.

One bright light in this world, can ignite a fire of change but it takes ethics, passion, and endurance, the marks of a resolute leader. As you move steadfastly on your journey of growth and instructional change, be ever mindful that ethics drives your course. Dream, become a learner, inspire, build momentum, and act in a way that others will willingly follow your path. The road is rocky, but the goal of positively impacting the teaching and learning lives of others is noble. Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage to courageously move forward.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Collaborate, Engage, Stay Connected with NY Educators

Networking is about collaborating, actively engaging, and connecting with colleagues to learn, validate your beliefs, or affect change in daily practice. It is going beyond the day's work to spend time growing as a professional. In today's connected age, real time conversations happen every day in a Twitter environment. There is no face-to-face talk but there is threaded conversation found in 140 characters. Ten years ago, when I founded the Reflective Pathway community of committed district educators, collegial conversations were face to face or with a small circle of critical friends conversing via a listserv. My conversations today have moved to a more global level through blogging and tweeting where there are no boundaries and no limits to the potential of thoughtful conversations. 

I once again give credit to Tony Sinanis and JoEllen McCarthy for introducing me to the world of 140 character conversations. I "lurked" before cautiously committing to tweeting and blogging, knowing that my thoughts would be in the public domain. But due to the trusting environments of various PLNs, I have moved forward as a connected educator with a small network of educators in New York State, across the states, and even across the seas. 

Beyond these steps, I have now journeyed to become one of five co-moderators of NYedchat. Tonight at the kick off brainstorming session, high energy was felt and a structured approach to developing collaborative talk was discussed. The launch of the 2013-14 edition of #NYedchat is now ready to air on Twitter on October 21, 2013 from 8:30-9:30. I invite you to join Tony Sinanis, Bill Brennan, Blanca Duarte, Vicki Day, and me twice a month to discuss timely topics of interest for New York State educators. With the goal of connecting educators across New York State, NYedchat hopes to build a culture of open conversations, collaboration, and purposeful talk to grow connections and push educators thinking. 

As a group of committed educators, 
we can make a difference. 

All you need to do is tune in to Twitter twice a month on Monday nights to be connected to #NYedchat and share the vision. 

If you are new to Twitter, get a handle (mine is @lady1890) and tweet out replies to various questions posed by moderators.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Books Change Lives

Reading is one of my passions but it is not a universal one shared by all. Sometimes, I think how sad it is to not have developed a love for reading; not to have grown up feeling the weight of a book in your hand or the thrill of reading late into the night. 

Books are a uniquely portable magic. 
Stephen King

Indeed, books have magic. They helped me create my own private space and took me to places that I would never have been able to visit. They were the sights and sounds that I might never have heard other than in between the pages. As a child, books provided me with a feeling that I stored in the recesses of my mind for years and then, transferred to my own children. 

Growing up in a house of readers is a different picture than the one painted for many children in America. I remember the cries of children coming to elementary school with no gloves and little warm clothing during very cold snowstorms in upstate New York. There were the junior high students who did not own books and were not passionate about reading; the adolescent boys in the juvenile detention center that longed to know how to read despite their challenging situations. Thinking back on a career filled with struggling readers makes me reflect on the influences teachers have on children's lives. Passion for reading and learning is infectious. 

On Thursday night, in a lovely living room space at Scholastic headquarters in New York City, Laura Robb, nationally known teacher/author, and her son, Evan Robb, principal and author, greeted guests at an evening get together devoted to the power of books and how literacy changes lives. They passionately showcased their philanthropic foundation, Educator2Educator (E2E), whose mission it is to:
  • Provide print and e-books to high poverty school and class libraries from preschool to high school.
  • Develop a professional library for teachers with suggestions for collaborating to learn and improve instruction so teachers can prepare students to meet 21st century needs by developing problem solvers, expert readers and writers, expert users of technology, collaborators, and creative thinkers.

The Robbs spoke of the opportunities reading provides for struggling learners and why they feel so strongly about the place of books in children's hands.  Evan recounted a recent story of a middle school child who desperately wanted a book he saw at the Scholastic Book Fair in his middle school but did not have $7.99 to pay for it. Laura read student letters speaking of the power of reading and learning. Supported by UBS Financial Services and an Advisory Board of notable figures, the night offered pleasant conversations and reflecting time in an environment that highlighted a print-rich environment and the power that reading brings. 

There are so many students living in poverty who have not had the privilege of a book rich home environment.  There are those who have not even been exposed to the public library or if they have do not have opportunities to frequent it. Books change lives. That is a clear message that we heard. "I hated reading in middle school and most of high school. I couldn't read the books. I couldn't write essays or stories. Reading gave me a headache. I was going to drop out, but my tenth grade teacher for my special help class told me I was smart. He helped with reading every day. He got other teachers to help me. I graduated high school. I'm starting college next year." This real voice from the classroom is one heard by many teachers across America. Laura Robb made the voice public. As a dedicated teacher for over 40 years, she has passionately prepared students for their roles in society and continues to provide teachers with guidance, research in the field of literacy, and modeled examples of strategic reading. Her love for reading and what it offers was felt by all in the room on Thursday night. 

With the Common Core rigorous expectations, voluminous reading is a priority. Developing children's passion for reading is a combined call to action for both parents and educators. Did you know???
  • 10% of American public schools don't have a central library where students can check out books.
  • Each year 1.3 million high school students drop out due to poor reading and writing skills; more than half are students of color (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010).
If inclined, you may wish to visit the Educator2Educator website to find out more about the noble cause of bringing books and ebooks to high poverty schools. Also, part of the initiative is to develop professional libraries for teachers to meet the challenges of creating learners who read like detectives and write like conscientious, investigative reports. Teachers may wish to apply for grants from the foundation.  Information is noted on the website.

United voices are heard across the globe today as we celebrate World Teacher's Day. Educator2Educator is but one voice speaking to the cause of the power of books to change lives.