Reality Check: My Desk Doesn’t Look Like That

I will be the first to admit that I spend far too much time on social media. I have Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. If I was honest with myself, I know I could gain at least an hour a day, probably more if I took those apps off my phone. I know for a fact that puppy feeds on my screen, the Facebook surveys predicting my future, and the never-ending Pinterest posts for meals I never have time to cook definitely eat into my work and social time. But that is just one of the problems we face in a time of social media,

A photo of my desk with two laptops and some papers around them.

What my writing life really looks like

The way we constantly barrage ourselves with images of perfection. The perfect diet, the perfect vacation, images transformed to make us think that others have it better than we do. For example, take my latest revision of the header

binders and books

What real research looks like

on this blog space. It is of a clean desk, coffee cup in place and the image of clarity. I chose the image because I liked how it looked in comparison to this one,


my real desk… from each side. And honestly, this was after I got myself reorganized from some chapter work I was doing.

I would like to say my desk space at work is better, but that would be a lie. I am in a new space now, sharing with two other teachers and a host of high school students. Both teachers are incredibly neat and organized. I am currently trying to

When I start a new position, I bring with me comfort supplies.

explain my need for colored pens and post it’s but they still are not quite there with me yet on this one. I have the desire to have my world be more clean cut, less cluttered, as if that reality would bring calm into a somewhat chaotic life. So I post the goal, as a vision of what I hope to achieve, and share the reality here with you because yeah, we all have dreams, and if I have been nothing else over the years in this space, I am honest and true to myself.


The point is, we all to some degree seek connection when posting on and reading through social media feeds. We want to share our world, and be part of a larger community. So think about what you contribute to the social media landscape. Are you creating spaces that provide light and insight, or darkness and negativity? Are you posting truth or fantasy? And when you travel from digital place to place, do you leave them feeling uplifted or insecure?  We can filter through the noise and find places and spaces that actually build us up rather than tear us down.We can create a digital trail of that builds community rather than divides it. The power of how we connect is ours. So dare to be kind, be thoughtful and be honest. Happy Sunday friends, and I am glad to be back.

Those That Did: A Time of Reflection On My Own Journey

This site has been silent because I was hacked. I thought I had lost it all. I spent the past few months trying to figure out what to do. My wonderful partner Ruth who was the original support for this site has retired, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get this space back. Today Ruth and I reconnected just in time. She knew what to do, and I am so grateful for her help. After a few hours on the phone with my partner, the host site, and a cyber protection site, we are back up and running. I am sorry for the silence, and I am looking over the next few months to update this site quite a bit. I have been immersed in my doctoral journey, and I am soon to be finishing this final semester. Hopefully. by this summer I will be Dr. Ilko, a feat that honestly I wasn’t sure until a few months ago would actually happen. It’s funny when I first got this site back today, I started looking at old posts and revisiting where this all began. When you think you have lost something, you tend to cherish it a little more when you are lucky enough to get it back.

Mrs. Ilko Those That Don’t from Janet Ilko on Vimeo.

I created this video almost 4 years ago as a model for my students when working on a piece by Sandra Cisneros “Those That Don’t” a chapter from one of my favorite books, House on Mango Street. It was my message to those who were judging our work as something that was less than when in reality I knew that it was where my students needed to go. What I didn’t realize at the time was this would become the focus of my work today.

I know now, and research shows promising practices that reading and writing for real purpose promotes some academic gains, a stronger connection to the school, and an increase in both student and teacher self-efficacy, in other words, we were on to something.

The students who created this work are seniors now, and I wonder if they remember our writing times together. I wonder if it helped them to enter high school a little more ready to face those changes because they got a chance to clarify their own middle school identities. Not sure I will ever know. But I know looking back at the teacher I was at that time, the passion has grown, and although I am not sure where it will lead, I am 100 percent sure that the road I have taken since creating that video is guided by what I knew to be true.

We all have a story to tell, and it is my job to create space, support, and opportunity for the young adults I work with now to share them. We all must live out loud.



Digital Learning Day February 16th, 2016 A Blast From the Past

A Blast From The Past

Cleaning up my site and discovered this great memory! Looking forward to participating in a small way this year. It is something I miss about leaving a big district, these type of events. It is great to see the work continues even though I have moved on.

CVUSD Creates Impact by Embracing the “Ish” In Us All

Digital Learning Day February 17th, 2016

This year Cajon Valley Middle School will be participating in Digital Learning Day 2016. Since 2012, we have been proud participants of this collaborative event. This year we will be using the book Ish by Peter Reynolds to inspire our work. We are hoping that classrooms across our district will be excited to try something new, take a risk, and share their experiences across our district through Google Classroom and post on Twitter. Over the next few weeks our district community will be posting their plans on a community board and getting ready to try something “techish” or “newish”.  For now, check out this introductory video we posted just today.

We are assisting our families on Digital Learning Day by providing a space and time to learn about how to use Chromebooks at home in our Chrome2Home initiative. Student leaders from room 207 will be sharing their knowledge with our families. There will be a hands on demonstration, translated into English, Arabic and Spanish. So proud of these wonderful kids!

Digital Learning Day 2015

Cajon Valley Middle School will be participating in Digital Learning Day 2015. This national event will spotlight innovative ways teachers and students use digital technology to enhance their lessons. A schedule of CVMS Activities and Cajon Valley Union School District videos and activities will be highlighted here. Here are the first installments as we plan!

This first video is our district invitation to join us on Digital Learning Day March 13th, 2015.

Here is our invitation to teachers and students to plan their activities. I am very proud of the student editors and speakers from Cajon Valley Middle School and our tech teacher Liz Loether who put all these videos together.

Our theme this year is What Do You Do With An Idea?. Here is our superintendent Dr. David Myashiro reading the text aloud to kick off this event. We will be posting lessons and links to the work here in the coming weeks! Stay tuned!

We All Need Caring Adults

I work at with an amazing educational organization. Health Sciences High Middle College began 10 years ago with the mission to help every person on that campus identify their goals and aspirations, and support them to develop action plans to reach those goals. Every student. Every adult. Every day. We serve students from all over the city, from across the border, with most of our local urban neighborhoods.

My journey to Health Sciences began when our son went there when it opened 10 years ago. He had the lofty goal of attending medical school, and he was given the opportunity every day to work toward that goal. But it wasn’t the location or the college studies, or the coursework, or even the internships at the hospital that truly made the difference for him.  It was the adults in his life. Adults like Jeff Bonine who debated climate change for all four years he attended the school, long after he left that freshman science class. It was Heather Anderson who recognized that he was a great student, but he had other struggles, and she gave him a safe place to land when he needed it. It was Dr. P who high fived him every single day and challenged him to become a better person, to question, to debate and to inspire. It was Dr. Fisher and Dr. Frey who coached him how to work as a team member, to lead by empowering others. t was the countless other teachers and staff that saw him, that knew him, and cared about him.  It was the friendships he developed that crossed ethnic, racial, political and economic boundaries that gave him the strength and determination to fly. And when he went on to Berkeley and became an ER tech, and then got into medical school at the University of Iowa, his extended HSHMC family continued to celebrate and support him. But the story isn’t about my son, the story is about every student, with whatever their aspiration, and the fact there was someone on that campus that mentored that student, took a real interest, and never gave up. It was something that I loved as a parent and aspired to be as an educator.

Flash forward to my own experience. HSHMC has grown from a high school campus and middle college to embracing a middle school campus downstairs that is going on its fifth year. I joined the staff last year, proud to be part of this growing campus.

We have the same mission, the same commitment, and I am blessed to be on the staff of an organization the embodies the message that we do whatever it takes, for how ever long it may take to support our students and staff, and we do it like a family. Our students too come from diverse backgrounds, with many challenges. We are growing together, providing a safe and supportive environment for students and adults to become not just scholars, but responsible people. When I saw this video, I knew that it embodied the work we do every day. Our students can be challenging, facing societal and family pressures that can put learning on the back burner. They need caring, passionate, and reflective adults in their lives who are willing to be there day after day, never giving up. That can be exhausting, and I will admit there are days when I think I am not the one who can do this. And then I look around, and I see in the eyes of my colleagues the strength to continue. I feel the support and the comradery as we set new goals, try new things, meet, take action, and try again.

When I saw this video on my feed this morning, I knew it was a sign. I watched it from start to finish, and I hope you take the time to do so as well. I disagree with one thing this young man says, and that is it takes one caring adult. It takes more than one. It takes a group of committed adults to make a change. We all need caring adults. Our campus faces challenges and supports kids with so many diverse needs in a restorative manner, and that cannot be done alone. I don’t want one kid to leave our campus feeling they didn’t have someone in their corner, and to be strong enough for them, we need to be strong enough to admit when we need help, be flexible in how we approach things and be willing to step out of a comfort zone to make the best decision for kids.

So my message today is this. Be that mentor, Be that person who inspires one person. But also seek out your own mentors, we need to support each other. Times like today seem overwhelming, but we each have the power to make a difference, but to do it for the long haul we need to do it together.

The Fall Challenge: To Post Once A Week

Being part of the  NWP, the National Writing Project gives you a tribe like no other. I am part of the local tribe, SDAWP (San Diego Area Writing Project) that gives me direct access to amazing writing advocates here in town. I am also part of the CWP, the California Writing Project which broadens my tribe to advocates and educators from around the state. It is a wonderful group of people who inspire me to be a better writer myself, and a better teacher of writing to my students. If you want to be inspired, join us on a Sunday morning on Twitter, at the #cwpchat every other Sunday at 9 am Pacific. It is a great group of educators and writers who come together to discuss the issues in education, the world, our classrooms, writing and just life in general. We continually challenge each other to be better. This past week we set the challenge to blog, to recommit to existing work, or start something new.

This past month has been filled with getting ready for the new school year and working on my doctoral work. It is a struggle to do anything else. But what I was reminded of this past week was the importance of writing for a larger audience. As I work on my book and carry words around in my head more than they cross the page at times, I was challenged by this tribe to begin posting again.

These past two weeks I have begun my new school year both as teacher and student, so I am swamped and excited simultaneously. And as we begin our year as writers we are trying to figure out how to address all the news across this nation that impacts the students and families we serve. The political and weather storms and fire that engulfed our nation over these past few weeks serve as a call to action, and I am looking to my writing project tribe to help me find a way to help my students wrap their head around the issues we face. So here we are, inspiring each other to write and to share in more public spaces. We promised each other to post after this chat and to continue to post and comment on various blogs to promote our own writing. So my friends, here I am.

As we move forward with our social action and writing projects I will post them here. I can’t wait to see what this new year brings.

So here we are, inspiring each other to write and to share in more public spaces. We promised each other to post after this chat and to continue to post and comment on various blogs to promote our own writing. My friends, here I am. Join us this Sunday at 9 am on twitter, follow #cwpchat and join the conversation.

Know And Remain True to Your North Star

A morning walk of reflection at CAL Poly Pomona

Everyone should get to get up in the morning and walk and take in views like this. I didn’t realize that Cal Poly Pomona had so much beauty on the campus. This morning I got up and took a walk before the conference. Here are a few photos.

Over the course of the days here I am coming to understand the importance of the work we do each day at HSHMC, and the work my colleagues are doing in schools and classrooms across the nation to make this country, and the world, a better place. I pulled from quotes from the past few days to highlight some of the musings in my mind this evening.


“To some degree, this is about staying in touch with the passion about children’s rights to their language, to an education, to their culture- to rectify the inequities in schools and society. But to some degree, it is also more specific- about realizing what part of that matters to you and why- and always keeping it in your heart.”


I am thinking today how I want our work to transform education for English learners, particularly those students designated as LTELs, that label that defines and most likely confines many of students. In thinking about the work I am doing, it is about sharing the work with all content area teachers in a way that will make curriculum more accessible and meaningful. It is about breaking the academic language barrier, helping students speak and write in academic ways. This is my goal, with three decades in education working with ELs, I want so much to use that experience to better support students in our humanities classes, and then share those strategies out to a bigger audience.

“Advocacy is not what we do for others but what we do with others to transform our community.” 

NEA ELL Advocacy Guide 2015

Forming alliances with like minded people is what makes a difference. Find your tribe, Find the people who can support your goals and aspirations. Together you can do more than going out on your own.

“How important it is as EDUCATORS to stand up- and that you cannot necessarily count on people who SHOULD stand up, to do so.” Rosa Salinas

Find it in your heart to do what is right, when it is needed.Be brave. Be brave enough to have conversations that matter.So many times I find myself looking to see who else will stand up, when in reality if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we each need to take that first step. It isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. It is important to take the time to explore your own thoughts, discover what it is as go after it. Don’t wait for the people who “are supposed to” take action, be the leader. If you do it right, many people will join you. Take the first step, speak up and take thoughtful, purposeful action to bring a positive resolution to a situation.

“ANY steps forward, any brave efforts, baby steps even. Find ways to highlight and share it. Give them recognition. Present and talk about their work. Give them that sense of being valued .” Yee Wan

Finally, be generous with your spirit. Honor those that take risks, teachers who go out on a limb to make a difference for our kids. Honor the small steps students take every day to get better. Value the process, and bring that recognition outward. Celebrate along the way, keeping your eye on the greater goal. Make space to honor others, it is truly one of the most important things we can do to ensure people continue to take risks and work hard. We are stronger and better together.


Changing Hearts and Minds

Bringing these along to discuss and share with all who will listen.

Getting right down to business at the EL Advocacy







This has been quite a week, working on doctoral chapters, traveling with my school team to New Orleans, and now a four-day Institute on EL Advocacy. There isn’t a more crucial time for this work than now with the divisiveness facing our nation on so many issues.

The key idea I took away from today was we look to change hearts and minds regarding the educational issue of English Learners. What does that look like? How do we speak to be understood rather than just be heard? How do we listen to opposing views to look for truths in issues that we may not want to face? Us vs. them mentality gets us nowhere. We need to come together, face the fact we aren’t perfect and look at what can be improved. Most importantly, bring real examples and faces to problems and successes in our work. It can be daunting. It is about equity. It is important, and at times exhausting which is why coming together like this is so important.

I am working with 50 other passionate people who I don’t know, who care about what it means to support English Learner education. Getting together to learn how to advocate for this group of students begins by looking at the history of English learner education.

By learning about our past we can work toward a better future. Here’s to a productive and enlightening few days.

A history of the work.

We All Have Blessings in our Day to Day Lives, We Have to Remember to Count Them

I just took a trip to New Orleans with some colleagues from my site this past weekend. It was a whirlwind trip, there about 48 hours, with a focus on setting an agenda for the coming school year on what it means to be restorative, how can we grow stronger as a site, and how can we encourage relationship building on all levels, admin, staff, students, families. Big ideas, great conversations. It was a time of work and play, both designed to build relationships and understanding. I was nervous about going since I am literally old enough to be the mom of most in attendance, but I learned we all have something to offer, to share, and experience does not always quantify by age. I left knowing that although I view the world with my own distinct lens, that view is valuable, just as the thoughts and views of everyone who was there.

Today I threw myself back into my work, my writing, and the laundry. All of these things demanding more time and attention than I could muster, but muster I did. I ended the day at the gym because I am promising myself that I need to take care of my mind, body, and spirit this summer. I didn’t want to go, but as usual, once you get there, you always feel better

Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 is a world renowned trainer, working with people like me and professional athletes. His attention to people, his motivation and drive are contagious. It isn’t about just working out hard, it is working out well, finding balance. Tonight he said something as we were stretching that stuck with me, “We all have blessings every day, we need to take the time to count them.”  As I lay there stretching, that really hit me. Do we take time every day to truly reflect? So I lay on the mat and counted my blessings, starting with my family, moving to friends, work, my studies (especially my ‘#firestarters”,  having a career I love, and finally, the fact I could even stretch at all.

So here’s to counting blessings, whether you do it in the morning before you head out to face the world, or at the end of the day like I do. Sit in silence, let gratitude envelope you, take notice of the positive things in your life, and the challenges that help you grow. Spread positivity and remember there is more light than darkness in the world It is tough right now, but as my crew always tells me, “We got this.”


Growth Mindset: It Isn’t Just for Students Anymore

I have been reading, writing and playing all summer long. I just recently took a trip back east to see my family, taking an entire week hanging out in Boston and on Cape Cod.

A snapshot in time Summer 2017 Cape Cod.

What a wonderful break, but even there I was discussing my doctoral work, educational philosophies, and challenged time and time again on what it means to be an educator in today’s America. Yeah, no true rest for the educator and grad student.

In talking with family, I  was forced in a way to put my work back into an elevator speech as I tried to answer the question, “what are you doing with the doctorate after you’re done?” I asked myself that question daily this summer when the challenge seems daunting and the process more than I can bear. I find myself growing weary of revision, and doubt what will come of this work. These conversations forced me to go back to my roots, why did I start this process? I came to realize was it really isn’t about what I am going to do when I am done, but rather, how does this work with English learners help teachers and students right now? How does my study of best practices directly impact the students I will be facing in a little over a month from now? In other words, I want to be relevant. I want to create impact beyond the students I work with, and I want to make a difference in the lives of teachers.

I struggle with the writing because writing this book is personal. It isn’t something I am doing to just “get it done” and checked off some arbitrary list, this work matters to me. I don’t want it sitting on a shelf somewhere with thousands of other doctoral thesis papers. I want to make a relevant difference in the daily classroom practices for students in classrooms across the country, starting with my own, but transferring to the work of others in the field.

Right now in my chapter revision,  I am focusing on teacher efficacy and the impact that has on student attitude and achievement for English learners. I think it is one of the most important parts of the book, because if you don’t have the core belief that students can and will be successful, then they won’t. Students can smell “fake news” a mile away. If you say you believe everyone can be successful, but water down discussions for some of your students, or set a lower bar, they will see right through your words. In talking with teachers, so many times we start with the litany of things that we cannot control when it comes to making students successful. We start with administrative constraints, budgets, poverty, and lack of family involvement. All of those things impact student achievement, but none of those things do we as educational practitioners have direct control over. I don’t have control over the outside challenges my students face growing up in an urban environment. I do however have control over the space I create when they walk into my school or classroom. I have influence over how I speak to them, how much I try to foster ownership in their own learning. I can provide scaffolds that are inclusive in content rather than supplant rich dialogue and content.

Carol Dweck is a pioneer in the concept of “growth mindset”. She talks about how student mindsets, how they perceive their abilities- played a key role in their motivation and achievement.  She says, “A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating a growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is the key to students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches- not just sheer effort- to learn and improve”  (Dweck, 2015). I feel this also applies to teachers.

So what is my purpose for the work? It is as simple and complex as this. I am developing a book that empowers teachers to make the best instructional decisions for their English learners to create an inclusive and rigorous learning environment. I want teachers to be able to use research based strategies to provide that “repertoire of approaches” ELs need to be successful in core content classrooms. I want it to be easy to read but challenge their thinking. That it isn’t a book of worksheets or graphic organizers, but rather tools to select to build a specific scaffold that allows our ELs to access the core content with meaning. It isn’t a book to supplant learning, but instead to scaffold and enhance learning. The focus is to have teachers see themselves as facilitators of learning for all their kids, and that they have the skillset to do so. And so it goes.


Scheduling Time for Fun, Make It Happen People!!

First of all, I am blessed to have summer breaks. I know that, I accept it, and I embrace it. So this summer I am more scheduled than I have been in a long time, but I am also more relaxed than ever. So how is that possible? Because I finally learned that to make the most of the time I have this summer, I have to be purposeful in how I spend it. I have big dreams, huge goals and I need this time to get some serious things done. That means filling my summer with big chunks of writing time if I expect to graduate on time, and I do!

Balancing Act, even in summer

It helps to have the days to write. It is hard to write after a long day at work, and I am making the most of it. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I really do, but I also know that in order to be the best teacher and student I can be, I need to take breaks. Even if the breaks would not seem like breaks to any other sane person.

Best. Advice. Ever.

How big chunks of my weekdays look…










In order to follow my doctoral dream, I have to set large amounts of time out of my summer days to work on it. I am an all or nothing writer, and I am learning that doesn’t work when writing a book. You are not done, not ever. The revision just flows from one day to the next. I have spent a year on the research for this book, and it is time to quit reading other books and articles and write what I know to be true myself. This blog space is helping me do that. It is the place I found my voice, and just playing around in this space helps shape my thoughts and warm up the brain before I go back to the place where I need to cite and document just about everything I am thinking. (APA may kill me yet!) This is my play space, and we all need one.

So this calendaring thing I have also turned into a play space. I am purposefully scheduling downtime. I know all the great

Yeah, those are socks, and we only have 2 in the house at the moment…

gurus in time management talk about the importance of that, but I have never really done it. I have put it on the calendar, but I didn’t follow through. It started with calendaring big chunks of time to write. And then it was filled with the normal teacher things like doctors and dentist appointments that we put off all year, and a few critical home projects because seriously the laundry doesn’t put away itself.  (as pictured here).


But summer needs to be more than work and catching up on all those things you didn’t do while going to work and school. It also is time to have some fun!! So I went back to the calendar and found spaces to put in fun things. It started with my mom coming to visit next week, and thinking about things we can do together. I found this cool thing on my Facebook feed that listed 15 things to do in San Diego, and since I hadn’t done well… any of them, I decided this was a great place to start.  Last night I went to the pier with my hubby and best friends. Check number 10 off the list, now 14 more to go. What are you doing to make the most of your summer?

Take time for fun.