Making New Partnerships: When Educators Learn Together

Working with new partners broadens your horizons. Holly and I met Randy Depew first in digital spaces working with KQED Letters to the President materials. We had some quick emails but were looking forward to working with him face to face. It is interesting this digital world that can isolate people can also build relationships. I posted our presentation here, check out all the great things available from KQED, all of them FREE, the favorite four letter word of educators. Truly some great stuff.

When we met Randy yesterday morning, I knew right away it was going to be a fun day to present. He was relaxed, and funny and made us all feel at ease.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-7-05-28-am You never know when you are put together with someone to present how it will go, and we had a great time. How can you not like someone who takes notes like this during a long winded speech from a state politician? We talked about it at dinner. I asked how he learned to draw like that, he said he does it to focus his listening in large groups. When he is in that large group lecture environment, he has to draw because he can’t focus otherwise. He would be thinking of ways to keep still, and the sketching allows for movement without being noticed by others. He says he doesn’t plan what he is going to draw, they just appear, how cool is that? And then I think of my students, several I have gotten a sketchbook because they too need to doodle or sketch to focus in class, and I smile because I can now see their future.

Not all conferences are great, but this one truly is a great learning experience. I haven’t done a lot of work with the California Subject Matter Project, but I plan on doing more. It is great to have integrated content people all working together on educational and equity issues for kids. All the presentations have been full of practical ideas and great discussions. I look forward to this morning as well.

Here are a few more glimpses into the day. Happy Wednesday!

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Letters to the Future President: What Are Some of Our Big Ideas?

We have been working hard this week reading the student letters on the Letters to the Future president site and writing our own thesis statements. Here is the presentation we will be using this week to start building our arguments. Click on these padlets for a closer view. screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-12-29-22-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-12-29-34-pm

We created padlets to share our initial draft thesis statements. Here is a peak into what my students are thinking about as topics to share with the candidates.  This will be a busy week and I can’t wait to see where they will go with these topics.

#2020VotersforPresident #WeAreWatching

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.59.48 PMI awoke this morning to a Facebook message from a former student, now a sheriff in Texas. He saw the police shooting images from El Cajon on the national media, and wanted to ask me to stay safe.  I was touched he thought of me, and sad that he had to.

Tonight I am following my Twitter feed, noting the protests are happening blocks from my former campus. I worry about the safety of my students, and tomorrow I worry about the safety of the teachers, staff, and those living in the media, crowd filled blocks near campus. Another shooting, another protest, more angry words, marching, some violence, no answers. It is becoming repetitive. Many are becoming cynical. Me? I’m becoming more determined than ever to empower kids to use reflection, research, and words.

We could live in a dark place. We could demand retribution, we could point fingers, we could pass blame before knowing all the facts. We could take advantage of the situation and end up on television, or take out our anger on strangers. We could let our assumptions grow, and our patience wear thin.  Or, we can empower kids. That’s what I do, I empower kids.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-07-12-pmI have been at HSMS for a little over a month. I work with some amazing staff and students and it is exciting to be there. I have spent the first couple of weeks getting to know my kids, and although we are at the baby steps of a growing relationship, this latest writing project is proving my mantra to be true, student choice inspires student voice. I know to be true about all kids, is that if you ask them to take on real questions, with real purpose, with a real audience they will rise to the challenge and exceed your expectations.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-30-04-pmI am teaching humanities, and although teaching US History usually means starting with the founding fathers, this year, it starts with studying civics and government. We are participating in Letters to the Future President, a partnership with NWP and KQED. Students from all over the country have the opportunity to write argument pieces and post them to a common site. Next week I will be traveling to UCLA to participate in the Lead2Learn conference. We will be sharing our election work, the plans CWP has for National Day on Writing, and the partnership with KQED.

Today kids began their exploration of the site, writing their initial claim statements.screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-12-06-pm Our first step of writing is to answer these questions.

  1. What is the issue that demands your attention?
  2. Why is it important to you?
  3. What do you want the candidates to do, and what are you willing to do to help solve the problem?

Stay tuned as we document this work, and remind the electorate, we are watching.




A Week of Firsts and Lasts

Well today marks the beginning of my 29th year in education. I always thought I would retire in the school district where I began. I have had many different experiences in Cajon Valley, teaching grades 2-8, mentoring new teachers, working as an instructional coach. It has been an amazing ride. I love working with students, and what I love about my career is the ability to continue to grow and learn and hone my craft. Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.28.55 PM

Working on my doctoral studies this past year has allowed me to examine my own educational pedagogy, and I have met some amazing people in my  program. I’ve learned that it is never too late to follow your passions, and live your dream. I am always encouraging my students that they can do anything with work and perseverance, and I need to take my own advice. So when an opportunity came knocking on my door, I have decided to boldly step out of my comfort zone, and take on a new challenge, leaving the security of the only district I have ever known to pursue new adventures. There are some who shake their head, and wonder why at this point in my career I would take on this new challenge, but those that really know me were not surprised, and even celebrated this decision.

Here is part of the letter I sent to the staff

Last week I received a call from my doctoral professors who are creating a new program at Health Sciences High Middle College, a school they have created in partnership with Sharp Hospital and SDSU. I was offered the opportunity to work at the middle school as a half time English/History teacher focusing on English learner strategies and the other half as a teacher coach working with staff and families supporting students. I will have the opportunity to continue my doctoral work and create new programing that supports literacy and academic success for students and create staff development opportunities that highlight strategies to support English learners in the content areas.
Being partnered with SDSU, I will also be able to begin my journey back to working with aspiring teachers,  in hopes of teaching courses in the future that empower new teachers to bring relevance, equity, and high academic standards to all students, but particularly those kids in urban environments.
Change is not easy. After twenty eight years in Cajon Valley, I find it difficult to leave the district where I student taught and spent my entire career. But what I know for sure as an educator is that you must continue to grow and change to meet the ever changing needs of our kids. This opportunity will help me become an even better teacher, and I hope to influence other educators and families in a broader arena.

I have always set career goals since I first began teaching, one being that you don’t stay in the same site for more than seven to eight years, and that every move I make in my career leads to something new and challenging, making me a better educator. I never want to grow complacent or stale. .So today I officially resigned from my school district, and will spend this weekend meeting with my replacement and packing up my classroom. So here’s to year 29 in education, let it be a year full of firsts, and new beginnings.




Sometimes All You Can Do Is Make Matzah Ball Soup…

Today was a myriad of feelings, joy, sorrow, satisfaction, frustration, anger and confusion. I began the day in my classroom, figuring out some lessons, setting up spaces, thinking about the upcoming year. I found a note in my box from a student who missed promotion this past year, with all my best intentions and support, we didn’t make it across our promotion stage. Notice I say we, not the child. Why? Because that journey that we walk in room 207 is together, always, both the high roads, and unfortunately the low.

This summer I have done a tremendous amount of reflection. Too many students struggled last year, too many will be denied opportunities in high school this fall because they didn’t get what they needed to be successful. There are many reasons why they didn’t, as many as there are students. But one thing I know for sure, is that I never gave up, even when it was too late to stop the inevitable, I never gave up. This note I read reminded me the importance of connection. Dear Ilko, (he never called me Mrs.), I just wanted to write to you to tell you thank you for not giving up on me. He went on to talk about how he plans to do things differently next year, and that he was thankful I always told him he could go to college. I worry he won’t ever be on the track that allows that access, but he heard me.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.41.24 PM I put that note in a file that I keep with all those notes from kids or adults that let me know I made a difference in some way. I read them on the days I feel I can’t do this anymore.They remind me of the necessity of connection. Connection was the lesson of today.

Later this afternoon I went to a funeral of  a young lady who made such a difference in people’s lives. I met her when she was a teen, and she had the most sassy personality, and a singing voice that stopped time. Even at that young age, you knew she was amazingly special.  She had a soulful spirit, and judging by the room filled with clergy, family, and friends, she was loved and honored and appreciated for the unique woman she was. The impact she made on the lives throughout the room was obvious. What wasn’t obvious, was why she couldn’t see her bright light herself. There were so many tears today, true grief in our confusion, and anger, and pain. I know her mother both professionally and personally,and I can’t pretend to know her pain. But I can stand beside her, behind her, or wherever I need to be to help her face each day. Today, Tomorrow. Next week, month, and year.

I don’t know what the right things to do or say are in situations like this. So I came home, and I called my kids, held on to my husband, and then made soup. There is something about matzah ball soup that is healing. It is the methodical way it is made, the smells that fill the house, and the warmth you feel sipping a bowl of something made from the heart. It is the act of the making, of being in the moment, that carries strength to those who need it.  I will deliver it tomorrow to a few people in my life who need some strength and healing, both for their bodies, but also their spirit. I wish I could do more, so much more.

So tonight I sat in silent reflection, the words and emotions racing through my mind and heart. In so many ways of late, I am reminded to be in the moment. To listen intently, to hear beyond the words people say, to focus on what might not be said, but so desperately needs to be heard.

Making soup doesn’t change anything, life is still inexplicably challenging, the pain runs deep, and it is our job on this planet to do all we can to reach out, to hang on, and to strive to make it better.

In Flight: A Time to Reflect

“We all want to change the world, and sometimes we need to learn that it is harder than we think.” Rueben

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I have learned to love to fly. I used to be petrified, saying little mantras to myself at take off and landing, worrying about every bump and jolt. But over time, the adventure of exploring new places, seeing friends and family, and now watching my own kids explore the world beyond our continent, I have learned to fly.Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 3.33.14 PM

Time feels different in the air. It is this quiet little space, where I can read, and think, or meet new people. Today, I chose to read, to finish the book I will be introducing my young leaders to next month. Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde couldn’t have come at a better time.

I spent the flight inhaling the last half of the book, making notes where we can begin discussion, planning open ended questions, writing notes to myself not only to model for my students, but to interact with the text on my own terms.

The story begins with a teacher Rueben, who gives this same assignment every school year.

Think of an idea for world change and put it into action.”

Trevor, a student in the class, is a young man who has these unmistakeable traits of grit and resiliency. “The thing about Trevor was that he was just like everybody else, except for the part of him that wasn’t.”

His idea is to create a better world by each one of us paying it forward. It means looking to do something for someone else with no repayment to yourself, but instead to ask that person to go ahead and do something for three other people, giving them the same direction, to accept no payment except pay it forward to three more people. The things you do for people are more than random acts of kindness, because they are not random, they are purposeful. The question throughout the novel, is will people really pay it forward or will they follow through?ther

So in planning for our year together I am driven this summer to find ways to empower my leaders to see themselves as change agents. There is so much negativity in the world of late, overwhelming for adults, and I can only imagine what it feels like to be a middle school kid right now. I am working to make sure that room 207 is a place where students feel safe, feel challenged and empowered to bring about positive change. This isn’t about just becoming a hashtag, although we will document our work #payitforwardcvms207 this year. It is about reminding my students, and I guess myself, that social discourse can bring about positive change.

This week began the Democratic Convention. It is raucous and loud, and full of passion and unfortunately more negativity. I wasn’t expecting anything different, but yet watching last night I was disappointed. Not that we should all agree when coming to consensus as political parties, as a country, but more discouraged because as a country we have forgotten how to listen. We spend so much time sharing our views we don’t listen to each other. We instead shout over each other, as if the loudest or most fearful message wins. The lack of faith in the leaders of our country is astounding. Most people don’t trust anyone who is running for office,or the political process and look instead to just repeat catch phrases, shout rhetoric, and play the blame game. Anything to avoid looking in the mirror, and realizing if we are going to make it as a nation, we have to get a grip on reality.

So in my own way, I am taking on the system by modeling for my students what it means to be frustrated with the way things are, but work toward solutions. It is ok to be angry, confused, frustrated and even feel hopeless. But then you look around, and you start to work toward what should be, instead of spinning helplessly in what is. The power of the individual cannot be underestimated. Not to be blind to what’s wrong, but to work towards what is right. It will be interesting how we move forward, and what these students will do this year. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary. We are a great country, where anything is possible. But possibilities become realities with work, voice and purpose. And so we begin.

NWP and Room 207:Letters to the Next President: Student Voice, Choice and Action in our Democratic Society

I watched the Republican National Convention this week, on CSPAN, to get the full picture. I will attempt to do the same next week in watching the Democratic National Convention although I will be doing some major work with NWP in Chicago and won’t have as much time as I did this past week. What I know for sure is this, we have to stand up and pay attention. In a world seemingly gone violent and mad, and with ideas of truth, justice, and the “American way” being redefined by our candidates and social media daily, it is more important than ever to support our friends, colleagues, and especially our students in becoming part of the political process.

I have to be honest, I have never read a party platform before. I have never looked in depth at fact checking sites, and I have relied mostly on gut instinct and the news media to shape my political views. In this election cycle, I don’t believe you can simply listen to the news, or scroll your Facebook feed, or listen to talk radio to learn the truth. The “truth” is dependent on the lens in which it is given, and in order to create your own understanding, you must begin to dig deep, deeper than you have possibly ever done before.

My students will return to class in a little less than four weeks. I am looking to focus on my home room and leadership classes to conduct a civics project. We will begin with a study of what it means to #payitforward (more on that in coming blog posts). We will then be working in cooperation with KQED and the National Writing Project to voice our questions and opinions to those who are running for the office of the President of the United States. Here is a link to the project announcement from NWP here

“Young people don’t want to wait till they are voting age to have a voice in their future,” said Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, executive director of National Writing Project. “Letters to the Next President provides resources, learning opportunities, and curriculum ideas for educators to engage youth in writing about issues central to their future as citizens and community members.”

Letters to the Next President is a national non-partisan, civic learning project. Throughout the Spring and Summer, L2P 2.0 partners share resources and opportunities for teachers to help young people hone research, writing, and media making skills. By getting young people to explore questions like, “From your perspective, what are the issues the next president should pay attention to, and why?,” Letters to the Next President 2.0 gives teachers and parents tools to help teenagers become more engaged citizens and, eventually, voters.

You can begin by exploring the work already begun on the site here:  Room 207 will begin our work defining what the electoral process is all about, and more importantly, learning how to vet fact from fiction, opinion vs. propaganda. We will start with resources from PBS Election site and this video pretty much sums up as an introduction what we all need to know about how the election process works.

I am also attaching links to the Republican and Democratic Platforms. I for one am focusing on education at the moment, but seeing the ideals of both parties in print will lead to many interesting close reading and discussion activities with my leaders.

So please join us, comment below and let me know how you will be part of this process.

Have the Strength to Be That Somebody

In a world that feels somewhat scary and hopeless, let’s be the light in the darkness, the calm in the storm.

My daughter flies off to Europe today to travel with the love of her life. They have been planning this trip for months. He has traveled often, this is her first flight off the continent. They are traveling through Italy, France and England. One of the places they will stay is Nice, France. In light of yesterdays senseless terror attack, my husband sat on the couch with her as they watched the news reports, and talked about how to stay safe, to locate embassies in case of emergency, if there was gunfire, or trucks, or bombs, how to navigate through a crowd and where to go. Instead of talking about the beauty of the trip, the wonderful adventures they have planned, he felt the need being a father and an ex-police officer to give some words of advice to keep her safe. It is apparently our new normal.

Our children are grown, 23 and 25. Both of them will travel this summer, and although they are young adults, they will always be our children. Am I nervous? Sure. I still want to wrap them up in a virtual bubble wrap to protect them from harm. But there is no protection from the craziness of the world. No, the only way to stop the madness is to reach out with love in your heart, a strong will, and a fearless but savvy way of being a positive force in our world. And that for my children it means venturing out into the world to see new places, meet new people, and learn from each other.

People want to close the door and hide, both in our homes and our borders. But I believe, now is the time to open doors, not with reckless abandon, because there are things seriously wrong in our world that need to be healed. In some cases, it means rising up and taking back our safety in whatever means necessary, as there are people who are bent on creating chaos and hate. To deny that would be foolish. But to close your mind, your heart, and let those that mean destruction the power to break your spirit, that would be the real tragedy.Be that somebody

So today, when you hear the hate speak, from our politicians, the media, even our friends and neighbors, be the light. Me, I am supporting my own children to go out into the world and spread their wonderful spirit. I will pray for safe travels for my kids, pray for those who lost their lives, their families, and for wisdom of our leaders to work together, not divide ourselves further.

I will pay close attention to the political rhetoric this week from both parties, because the next leader of the United States will have a prominent place and voice on the world stage, and we as citizens have the responsibility and the privilege to ask tough questions. I will be exploring a site to find a way to incorporate my students in the political process. Now is the time to listen, to speak, to act.


Whatever You Do, Do What Matters

It is nice to know people read from this space. Blogging is a lonely writing place at times. I know that I read many posts daily and make no response, so I am not surprised to have so few comments. But every once in awhile you get a comment, or make a connection. A NWP friend of mine quoted from my blogpost the other day, and made this. Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.13.44 AM
It is interesting to see your words quoted on other spaces. I personally am a collector of quotes, I have more quote pins on my Pinterest board than any other category. So to see my quote like this made me smile today.
I am feeling a little more hopeful this morning. No real reason to feel this way, the chaos continues, but there is a new quiet resolve forming in my soul, and as I write and read, and write some more,  I am creating a new vision for what I want to do next. I am looking to take our social justice curriculum to a new level.

I am losing the freedom in some of my classes to “do what you do” with my English learners. It is important to have consistency across our classes, so things will look different in room 207 this fall, and I am wrapping my head around it all this summer.Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.14.07 AM I have been asked to teach to a program, and to document the work for a year to see if test scores improve both on state testing and language testing. That does not mean I won’t be able to infuse some of the work, but it will be more challenging to do so. I can’t imagine a classroom that doesn’t reflect student voice and choice, so given these new parameters, I will just have to work through it. No one will ever accuse me of sitting back and letting things happen, I have the power to make this a worthwhile project and I intend to do so.Change the statistics

But my leadership class, that program is created through my own experiences and the interests of my students. This year we have a new theme #payitforward. I have the book to share with each of the students through Donor’s Choose, and we are going to set the stage together on how we will give back to our community in a variety of ways. To do what matters means to inspire others to explore what matters in their world, then give them the time, the tools, and the opportunity to make a difference.  Our new leaders will continue some of our ongoing work, like tutorials and campus ambassadors, but they will also get a chance to explore some of their own passions and interests, and create community projects I haven’t even thought of yet. We need to be game changers in our community as well as our campus. Our country desperately needs people who take responsibility for their words and actions, as well as step forward with solutions. I found this video this morning on my crowded Facebook feed. Take the time to watch it. Find your passion, set your vision, and make it a reality. What will you do to change the game?



The World Just Keeps Crashing In… But We Stand Up, Speak Up, and Believe in What Matters

I have looked back on my blog over the past year, and sadly, this isn’t the first time when I sit and wonder how I am going to explain senseless anger and violence to my students. They are on summer break now, and so am I, yet I sit here and try to make sense out of a political world gone crazy. And anger, so much hate and anger that is spilling over the media, my Facebook feed, Twitter, and at just about every discussion with friends and colleagues.

There were shootings again this week. Two black men, killed at the hands of police officers in different parts of the country. Again, the cries of so many, the marches, the rhetoric. We have become a nation of soundbites. The larger issues of racism, poverty, education, health care issues, too difficult to manage, so we resort to hashtags and Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.53.38 PMslogans. Candidates for the highest office in the land are fighting against each other, with neither offering real leadership or focus on the issues facing this country. Too busy trying to get elected,  I guess in an election where most of us feel we are choosing between the lesser of two evils, not with true support in the candidate or their message.

I too have been part of the hashtags and slogans.  I  posted this on my page this week, reaching back 50 years to find something to remind us we are better than what I see and hear before me now.  He wasn’t perfect, but he believed in something greater than himself, Then he was shot and killed, and we remember, but have we learned?

This past week, 10 police officers were shot by a sniper during a peaceful protest  in Dallas protesting the shootings earlier Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.24.54 PMin the week. Five were killed, the others still hospitalized. Three other police officers have been shot this week since then. More posts, more hashtags, more mourning, more anger and no answers. I thought President Obama summarized it well,  Keep talking, racial tension won’t end over night, keep talking.

But there is a deafening silence from those of us who don’t know what to say that will make a difference. Those of us afraid to say the wrong thing, to be shouted down, to be dismissed as naive, to ask the more difficult questions.

I have been relatively quiet this week. My husband was a police officer for a short time. I know the fear a wife feels when the person they love goes to work each day.  I know there are good cops and bad cops, and to say that there is justice for all would be a lie. This post showed up on my feed this week, and I found myself needing to speak.Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.43.03 PM  I know that I am a middle aged, middle class white woman, and that my lens, my privilege give me a view of the world that is  different from others. I have learned that to work to be culturally proficient means to recognize your own bias, your own lens, and then listen to a variety of perspectives to better understand what’s going on.  I have learned to check myself, to listen more and speak more carefully. So I need to push back on this post, and say, the operative word to me is matter.

I can recognize the injustice, and use my voice, my platform to continue to ask the tough questions. I can recognize that there are systems broken, and work to fix them. I can teach my students to see more than one story. We do not live in a color blind society, nor should we. Every person, every life, deserves to be respected. I can say black lives matter and mean it. I can recognize there are issues with our judicial system and speak up about it can still respect those men and women who choose to be police officers in this nation. I can hold them accountable when they abuse their position, and mourn their death and fear for their safety. So when I look at these hashtags, the words lives and matter are what I choose to focus on. Quality of life, honoring diversity and speaking up for those who do not have the power or the privilege in our system to do so matters. Do what matters, because all our lives, and the lives of our children, depend on it.