Text, Tool, and Thought: Come with Me by Holly McGhee

Image result for come with me

Text:

In the necessary and heartwarming story, Come with Me, the reader follows a girl who is fearful of the world surrounding her.  The news inundates her with dark facts, but rather than feeling helpless she asks her father what can be done to make the world a better place?  His simple response, “Come with me.”  Together they go out into the scary world, finding ways to connect with strangers in their city.  But the news does not change.  The world is still dark and evil, so she poses the same question to her mother.

“What can we do?”

“Come with me.”

Together, she helps her daughter face the scary world once again.

Upon returning home the girl decides she wants to do something herself.  Stepping foot outside her door, alone, to walk her dog, the little girl is soon connecting to others on her own.  In turn she learns a powerful lesson–actions don’t have to be big to make a big impact.

Tool:

Craft Moves:

  • Repetition
  • Character Development
  • Character Traits
  • Theme

The repetition in this text can be analyzed from two different levels the text– the phrase “come with me” stated throughout, and the characters’ repetitive actions.  First she goes to the subway with her father who has said, “Come with me,” then she goes to the grocery store with her mother who said the same.  Ultimately, she goes out on her own and as she meets others along the way, she tells them simply, “Come with me.”  Her parents had shown her the world did not have to be scary, and now she was leading others to see the same through her bravery.

Although the text is simple, each character is so layered in who they are and the illustrations do a beautiful job bringing these traits out.  We also see a significant shift in each of one as the book progresses.  Initially, the text starts with the girl being scared and her parents showing her how to be brave out in the world.  As the girl begins to internalize that bravery she wants to go out into the world, and now her parents are the ones who are scared.  The turning points in the text allow for a deep level of analysis from both a reading and writing standpoint.  The reader can analyze how the character is changing through actions and words, but the text is also simple enough to make emulating this work accessible and transferable with our young writers.

Finally, there are so many themes/universal messages that can be gleaned from this text.  Below is one of my favorite tools for tracking theme because it gives students a lens to think through as they read, and also requires them to pay special attention to scenes which are often difficult for them to write in their own work.  By doing this work in reading, we build natural places to go back in our text(s) to analyze it for craft and message as writers.

theme scenes - Copy

Thought:

I had this text selected as my next to share long before the hurricanes and Vegas shooting transpired.  As our nation and world continue to face destructive and unthinkable adversity, we feel lost.  What can one do?  These moments are so big that any action feels insignificant.  This text is a beautiful reminder to us that it’s not.  It shows us that no matter the action, our human calling is to step outside, connect, and do. Living behind closed doors and screens and fear does not exact change.  Uniting in a voice of solidarity does.  Come with me.  Now is the time for change.  Now is the time for bravery.

Now is the time.

 

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When Kids Don’t Care about our Rules

 

 

just the students I'd hoped for

In Pernille Ripp’s latest blog post, Welcome Them All, she displays this sign created for her classroom.  It gave me pause.  We are days into school and only on the surface of learning the many layers underneath each student.  Their stories are just beginning to unfold.  Their identities remain largely unknown to us at this time, yet many of us have already begun to project identities onto them.  We are days in, and the labeling of students has begun.  And that’s where I pause because I wonder, have we even given them a chance?

Don’t get me wrong, labels, in and of themselves, are not bad.  They are how we make sense of our world.  But too often in education the labels we place on students come from a deficit mindset–their incapabilities, their rule-breaking.

In turn, these students become incapable rule-breakers in our minds.

Not a glamorous identity.

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In Kylene Beers new book, Disruptive Thinking, she asks the reader to reflect:

Think of something you don’t do well. (golf).  Think about how it makes you feel when you try it. (hopeful and anxious).  Think about how it makes you feel when you try it repeatedly, and don’t make the progress expected. (frustrated, passive, defeated).

Now imagine doing that thing 7 hours a day for 190 days in front of your peers.  That’s what we ask our struggling readers and writers to do every day.

Damn.

And guess what?

It’s also what we ask our struggling behavior students to do every day.

We ask them to conform and follow rules and fit in boxes that their bodies and minds were not made for.  Innocently enough our first actions are focused on fixing the behavior, but this often turns to a mentality of needing to fix the child.  In doing this, we frame an identity for this kid that suggests they are broken in some way.  Imagine having to work in that kind of space–where you are seen as broken and in need of fixing?  It doesn’t exactly build a foundation for community or an environment for success, huh?

Furthermore, many times our solution to the behavior comes in the form of isolation–a safe seat, a buddy room, the recovery room.  Again, none of these are bad, and that’s not the intended message. Safety is number one, and each of these have a place in keeping students safe. What I simply want to encourage is thoughtfulness when deferring to isolation as the solution, and here’s why:  we have two types of students in our classroom–rules kids and relationship kids.

Rule kids are just that, they respond to rules.  They have been taught to trust adults because adults want what is best for them, and they are surrounded by adults that live this message.  “Rule kids” thrive on the structure and organization that rules establish.  They’ve learned the system and the system works for them, so they don’t question it.

Relationship kids are the exact opposite–they do not care about the rules.  If they did, they would follow them.  Likely, rules have not played a large part in their existence and in their eyes, they are doing just fine. I’m here, right? Additionally, these students have to trust the adult imparting them, and this trust is not something that comes as naturally as it does for the “rules kids”.  Typically, “relationship kids” are not surrounded by trusting adults, so it has to be earned.  Continuing to remind them of and punish them for rules they don’t care about only creates madness and frustration for both parties.  Your relationship kids respond to humans–they need the connection, they need the trust.  When we send them away, so does our opportunity to create that connection so desperately need to succeed.  We have to keep them close.

It’s also worth stating that the rules kids still need relationships and vice versa. The two are not mutually exclusive.  It’s just understanding that the thought process differs for each kind of kid when walking into a new experience or situation.  One thinks, “What are the rules here? I need to follow them, and then I’ll get to know the people around me.”  While the other kid thinks, “Who are the people here?  Who can I trust, and what do they want from me? Those are the ones I’ll respond to.”

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In the case of identities, we talk endlessly about shaping students’ to see themselves as readers and writers.  What we don’t talk about is how we shape them to see themselves as successful, capable humans, even if the grade card suggests otherwiseDoing this gets buried under the demands of teaching content, yet the implications of doing so are far more lasting because when we do this we honor individuality. Students live under the fallacy that the successful people of the world are those that sat quietly and got good grades in school.  We cannot continue to perpetuate this idea.

Each year teachers think about and  fill their toolbox with many tools related to classroom management and curriculum and instruction.  We are missing a key component.  What tools do we have in place to connect individually with our students?  To let them speak their identity to us, rather than us projecting ours onto them.  What tools do we have for listening, for showing empathy, for focusing on their strengths, not weaknesses?  We’ve got students hanging on by a thread, and we can be the connection that builds that single thread into a rope, pulling them back in and giving them hope through a life-changing relationship.  We must use the power we possess to do just that.

 

 

 

Crashing through Comfort Zones: Trusting in the Unknown and Rallying Relationships

paint

Yesterday got me.  A husband out of town.  A week full of back-to-school presentations. Two kids resisting the alarm clock daily and coming home exhausted each evening.  I had very few thoughts yesterday, and even fewer words prepared to articulate them.  So, today you get a double dose which actually works out perfectly because these two topics are so closely related.

Trusting in the unknown is cliche, I know.  We see it all over the digital landscape through memes and inspirational Pinterest boards.  This is not the “trusting in the unknown” that I’m referencing.  Not really, anyway.    Trusting in the unknown often refers to situations; going to try something new that you’ve never done before.   What I’m referring to is self.  Trusting in yourself to not know, and being vulnerable enough to admit it to others.

Margaret Wheatley says it best in her remarkably honest text, Turning To One Another:

“We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.  We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know.  Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true.  We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers.  But the world now is quite perplexing.  We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.”

In a time where I find myself feeling like I need to be everyone’s everything, it was an incredibly revealing experience to say to others, “I don’t know.  I need you.  I need you to be my something this time–my guidance, my mentor, my answer to this question, my eyes that haven’t looked this direction before.”  I had to get comfortable saying, “I know I’m supposed to be leading you, but to do that well I need you to lead me. I need you.”  In doing so, two-way dialogue reached new depths and my listening skills sharpened.  More importantly, unlikely relationships formed.  Everyone has a skill set, assets, they feel strongly about.  Many times we are too busy to notice them.  When you stop someone and tell them you are in need of what they can offer, a seed sprouts.  An incredibly profound seed.

Often times as leaders we feel we have to have all the answers.  People look to us for that, and expect it.  What also has to be recognized is that no one person has all the solutions, nor is there a single one to to varying situations we face.  They are complex, layered, and confusing.  They are not simply resolved.  We are always going to be faced with limited time.  But we don’t have to always present ourselves as satisfied to quick, easy answers that don’t truly satisfy us.  Doing so perpetuates passiveness and honors nothing beyond the surface.

I went in to my summer school role as a blank canvas, allowing myself to be newly fashioned.  I let people see beyond my exterior.  What I would become was unknown. Each day,  I was built up and created in new ways.  New strokes were added, and bold colors scattered. Those who held the paintbrushes have forever left their mark.

Thank you.

 

 

Stories: The Untold Data

if-a-story-is-not-about-the-hearer

Today, as educators, we embark on testing season.  For the next 3-4 weeks, daily schedules will implode and the educational routines students have found comfort in during the last 7 months will cease to exist to make room for The Almighty Test.  Likewise, your social media feeds will be inundated with articles and viewpoints regarding the ridiculousness of this practice.  I likely agree with all of those.  It’s barbaric.  It’s asinine.  It’s centered on governmental power to control where state and federal education dollars get funneled.  It’s dehumanizing.  So, this post is not going to be about that.

It’s going to be about changing it.

This is our world, educational and otherwise, right now:

world of numbers

Separate.  Apart.  Number-driven.  Everything is a number– A price, a time, a year.  We want the hottest gadget, now and on sale.   Everyone is a number–literally, by way of social security, but also a birth date, a weight.  You’re too old.  You’re too young.  You’re overweight.  You’re too skinny.  That thigh gap you’ve worked for?  You’ve gone too far.

You’ll never be the right number.  Whatever “right” is.

And our students feel this, too.  They become scores associated with labels that, if allowed, become ingrained in who they believe they are as learners.  This is where action must come in.  It does not matter if your score is high or low or right in the middle.  We cannot allow numbers to dominate a student identity.  Because  numbers and labels can never define us, but our stories do.

Since, I do not have the answers to breaking down entire political systems driven by money and power, I have to go a different route.  I have to think about how to bring stories into the numbers to humanize the data.  I have read Steibeck’s quote, and think,

If this is my ideal world–one connected through stories (real data), how do I bring that into my smaller, educational world?  Who is the hearer?  How can I make my students’ stories matter so it lasts beyond today and this meeting?  How can I make my student’s story about everyone?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Know the stories!                                                                                                                   This one seems obvious, right?  But it is the most important, thus worth the moment to pause and reflect.  Who am I about to be in a room with to talk about this student or group of students?  What’s their story?  How can I connect them with my students and the experience I want to provide to propel them forward?  In my last post I spoke to the power of listening.  Have you done that?  If not, that’s the first step.  We have to connect the people in the room!
  2. Bring your students to the meeting!                                                                                    Hear me out on this one before you roll your eyes or skip over it entirely! I always spent the first part of the year taking pictures of my students as they worked in the classroom.  This helped me get to know them as learners.  As we set up Writer’s Workshop notebooks, students would share (or not share) stories about their families.  They would decorate their notebooks with what mattered to them.  It was always telling if families were or were not present on those.  Then, in  meetings about those students I’d bring a few of those pictures.  If only to set them in the middle of the table to make sure they, too, were present in the meeting about them.  It also told the adults in the room that our charge is to not forget the student–who they are as learners and people, and what their life is outside of school.  What matters to them?  We must know the kid to develop a workable plan.  When they are looking back at you, it’s a much easier thing to do.
  3. Let stories lead, not excuse!                                                                                 Sometimes sharing stories leads to conversations laden with excuses about why students can’t or don’t do x or y. “They’re lazy” or “Their home life is horrible.” If this happens, we’ve missed the mark.  Stories should empower.  They should allow us to see people for all they are, not are not.  Knowing stories should develop empathy, not excuses.  Circumstances, just like labels, cannot define our students. The purpose of knowing circumstances is to provide insight into understanding each other.  And from there, to honor their current place in life with all that has brought them here, and then get to work to build, to grow, to succeed.
  4. Bring student work!  Don’t let the data being looked at in the meeting be the only piece that is considered.  No single piece of data can serve as the point from which to make all decisions.  When we consider multiple pieces of student work we acknowledge all the the work student does, and are more likely to see how they have developed in this content area, therefore not minimizing them to a single score.

Right now, public education means testing.  If we are a part of that system we have to find ways to rise above it, for the sanity of ourselves and the self worth of our kids.  I will keep seeking ways to do that until this is my data shelf.  Will you?  ideal data room 2

The Demise of a Dismissive Mentality, Part 2: Resisting vs. Dismissing

resist

The other day a trusted friend said to me, “I really struggled with your last post. It spoke heavily to white privilege for me.”

I was taken aback.  I tend to be hyper aware of how my words and actions impact others.  My automatic response was, “Really?!  How so?”   Her words were this:

It’s easy to tell others not to be dismissive when you haven’t had real and scary shit happen to you.  People actually burning crosses in your yard.  People actually spewing hate at you in public and school.  People actually wishing and carrying out ill will against you and your family just because of your skin color.  When that shit happens to you, you dismiss.  You dismiss out of anger.  You dismiss out of safety.  You dismiss to honor and protect your individuality.

As she said these words my stomach hurt.  Yes, of course.  My white-washed privileged world had dominated the message I’d hoped to send.  I understood her reasoning only as much someone who has not lived through those experiences can, and I felt such immense pain for it.  I couldn’t even begin to comprehend her pain.

So, I want to that this time to clarify a couple points.  

One, I am in no way supporting the work of Trump or DeVos, and even hesitated in using them as examples.  But the point I wanted to make through their examples was that they are, in fact, leaders for our country and will be making decisions for us now and in the future.  We cannot dismiss them.  They have been given power, and if we are going to be in tune with our country and community we must be informed on how they plan to exact that power.

The second, we must listen to one another for two reasons at the very least-healing and being informed. In reflection I can certainly see how my post was perceived as this: If we just listen to Trump and DeVos we’ll be enlightened and refreshed by what they have to say.  Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.  I don’t know. Regardless, that was not what I wanted to convey.

This is the message I’d hoped for:

If we ever hope to get back to honoring humanity we have to listen to one another.  Slow down and really listen, face-to-face.  Maybe we’ll be refreshed by what we hear and happy for giving the moment to listen to another.  Maybe we’ll be pissed.  And if we’re pissed, we resist.  But we don’t dismiss without ever trying to understand.  We don’t become single-minded individuals that can only see others and ideas a certain way. This is what minimizes people to a single story, or no story at all.  And it’s happening all around us.

I have been writing this blog in my head for several days, hoping to be more articulate this time to get my message right.  Then this appeared in my inbox saying all the things I needed it to.

https://pernillesripp.com/2017/03/23/small-steps-to-become-a-better-advocate-for-social-change/

I recognize, too, that I am not an expert, nor will I ever be.  No matter how much reading, and listening, and learning I do, I know I will simply never understand what it is like to be marginalized in the way that so many groups in our country feel every day.  I recognize my limited scope, and I work diligently to educate myself on what it’s like to be cast as an “other” so my scope can be enlarged.  More importantly, an enlarged scope allows me to advocate intentionally for the “others.” Not in a let-me-be-your-hero kind of way, but rather a let’s-build-a-community-and-do-this-right kind of way.   This will always be an ever-evolving process.

And so I want to close reflecting on the beauty of this moment.  Often times a blog is one-way dialogue.  You read it, agree or disagree, and move on.  But this wasn’t. My friend felt angst against it and shared her resistance to it with me.  She did not dismiss me.  She took that moment to educate me, to help me see another side. I saw a new layer to her story and she added to mine.

Yes.  That was my message.  And it came back to me in the most perfect of ways.  Thank you, Ashley.

Why I Write

I spent much of December 2016 thinking about my “one little word” for 2017.  And as much as I tried, I could not get it down to one.  Presence and Radical rang in my ears during the busyness of December, and every time I tried to leave one for the other they barked at me.  I’d decide to go with Presence, and Radical would get pissed, screaming in my ear, “You gonna leave me just like that?  Ain’t that some ish.”  (Yes, Radical is my gangster alter ego).  So, then I’d pick up Radical again, apologizing and thinking, “Yes, this world needs more Radical, but in a good way.  What is Radical goodness?  Let’s find out!  Until…”Psst…,” Presence began to call. “It seems a bit oxymoron-ic that you leave me behind.  Kinda goes against everything we believe in.”   Ugh.  Yes.  I’m sorry to you, too.

And so I let the dual die and adopted them both as my two little words for 2017.  Radical and Presence.  Radical Presence.  This is a tall order.

I decided to lead with Presence (less screens, more actual voice; less FB groups, more community activism with my neighbors) then follow with the idea of Radical.  What is Radical about this moment?  Why am I here?  Does this moment need change, a voice, an advocate, or just Presence.  And then, I write.  I take George Orwell’s advice, and I give these ideas a hearing.  A space.  An existence that is real.

All this mulling of words and moments got me thinking about why I write.  When I give these moments their permanent space in my notebook, what do I really want my words to do?  Blackout poetry with Terry Tempest Williams’, “Why I Write” gave me my answer.black-out-poetry

4:00 A.M.
I cannot control a world that often appears black.
I meet my ghosts.
Begin a dialogue.
Nightmares shatter my sleep.
I forget the pain.
Language allows me to confront that which I do not know.
Death.
Anger.
Passion.
I soothe the words shouting inside me, outside me.

I believe in words; a dance.
A bow to the wilderness.
A path in darkness.
Grace and grit.
I am starving. I am full.
I write for the children,
for the love of ideas,
for the surprise of a sentence.

I will always fail.
I can be killed by my own words.
Embarrassment.
Exposure.
Indulgence.
Madness.
Doubt and humiliation threaten.

Pick up the paper.
It doesn’t matter.
Words are always a gamble.
Dangerous; a risk.
Form the words, say the words,
touch the source.
Be vulnerable.
I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.

And so my year of Radical and Presence and Radical Presence begins.  My #paperandpassion movement has begun.  Stay tuned.

#pb10for10-Social Justice + Young Learners

 

I have been working diligently over the past year to develop a social justice curriculum for elementary students that uses reading and writing as a process for interpreting this information.  Last year was our first year of implementation, and as I work to refine what we have put into place I find my mind buzzing with ideas to raise an awareness that will make our students activists in their communities. We often find it difficult and intimidating to bring these issues into the classroom, especially when the minds are so young and the life experiences so limited.  These books have made issues accessible in a way that allows our kids to learn and grow in a safe place, and they have been pivotal in my brainstorming sessions.  I’m excited for what’s being developed, and want to thank these authors for putting their words and ideas in the hands of our youngest learners.  Now, we just have to make sure they are heard and ignite fires in their little bellies!

 

the-other-sideThe Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

The Other Side tells the story of Clover and Annie, two young girls who live next to each other but are separated by the literal and figurative fence between them.  In an era of racial divide both girls have been warned by their mothers to “not cross the fence to play.”  As the story unfolds each girl watches the other from a distance, longing to connect.  Annie watches as Clover jumps rope with her friend, and Clover watches as Annie dances alone in the rain.  When Annie finally comes to the fence and asks Clover her name, a friendship forms and they find a way to overcome the “fences” that separate them.

 

blue-boy

Courage of the Blue Boy by Robert Neubecker

This colorful tale follows the blue boy and his blue cow, Polly, on an adventure to find other lands that aren’t just blue.  Along the way they come across a purple village, orange hills, and a great green ocean until they land in a place so vibrant the blue boy can hardly believe his eyes!  The streets are checkered, he hears maroon sounds, sniffs olive scents, and stumbles upon lavendar mosques.  But, he notices, there is no blue.  Frightened, he runs home and wonders how to put himself in this world where it seems he shouldn’t exist.  He finds a way, and realizes that no matter where he goes he belongs, and that place belongs to him, too.

 

Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs

Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! help readers learn about stereotypes that face people of color and multi-racial families.  From funny names, to “dirty” skin, big hair and wide noses, the boys in these two books have to learn to love themselves for who they are and help their friends to do the same.

 

the-skin-im-inThe Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism by Pat Thomas

This book introduces the terms ‘racism’ and ‘racist’ in a way that helps students to see that people’s differences should be embraced, not as a judgement against them.  While these heavy issues can be difficult to discuss, this nonfiction text addresses them in a way that students can understand and think differently about the their world by considering their words and actions.  The ultimate message is that of understanding and honoring differences to create a world of peaceful humanity.  Getting to know each other is really what it’s all about!

 

the-skin-you-live-inThe Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

This playful, poetic story dances through each page as the reader considers all the things activities and shades our skin is accustomed to.  Your skin has nothing to do with being rich or poor, smart or dumb, weak or strong.  “It’s not any of this, ‘cause you’re more than you seem.  You are all that you think and you hope and you dream.”  Our skin holds inside the true people we are each day.  That’s all that matters, and we should each be grateful for this.

 

one-family

One Family by George Shannon

If one ideal has changed the most over the past generation it is certainly that of which makes a family.  One Family, a book of numbers and so much more, depicts families of one all the way to ten, and how wonderfully unique each one is.  Who’s a part of your family does not matter. We are still one–one individual, one family, one world.

 

 

real-sisters-pretend

Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert

This endearing tale reminds us all that even though we may not be blood related we are still family, still “real sisters.”  Tayja and Mia love to play pretend and when Mia mentions they have to pretend to be sisters too, her older sibling Tayja tells her there is nothing pretend about being sisters.  “We are sisters.  Real sisters.”  As the book plays out the girls recall all the things they do and say to one another just like real sisters and families do.  Even though others from the outside might not see them this way, they know in their hearts this is true.  The two girls are adopted by two mothers, also of different races, one again reminding us that families come in different shapes and sizes.

 

shades-of-peopel

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner

This nonfiction text shows pictures of children with skin color of all shades.  The shade of their skin is described using food items and hue adjectives.  From “almond, pink, and rose, copper, bronze, or brown, the skin we are in is just like wrapping on a candy’–it’s what’s inside that counts.  We see new and different shades everywhere we go because that is the beautiful world we live in.

 

lets-talk-about-race

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

This book reminds the reader that each of us is a story waiting to be told and there are many aspects of life that make up our story.  It’s not just about race.  Our stories overlap and connect in innumerable ways. But some people think their story is better than someone else’s because of their hair, the color of their skin, or their gender.  Let’s Talk About Race helps us remember that beneath all of those external characteristics we have bones, and my bones look like your bones.  When we imagine a world where all of us exist just as our bones we must decide which story we want to believe–the one that says I’m better than you or the one we just discovered beneath our skin, the one where we see we all look the same.

 

 

colors-of-us

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Karen Katz does a beautiful job correlating the many shades and colors of our skin to yummy, delicious foods. As you read The Colors of Us you wonder how could anyone think that any skin color is ugly or less than?  Each of us represents a wonderful, rich color that brightens the world.  We are wise to notice the different hues of color that surround us each day.