Must Listen! Lift Every Voice Podcast



Last week, on the heels of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the President’s “shithole” comments, New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker did something important.  He gave an impassioned speech denouncing the “amnesia” and “silence” of his fellow government officials.  His words were pointed, speaking truth and transparency, and imploring others to do the same.

His words matched my thoughts and feelings so precisely.  His words were igniting, elevating.  I needed more of them.  I started to seek him out on Twitter and Instagram and his Senate page.  Through this search I discovered his podcast, Lift Every Voice.  I listened to the first episode.  I became hooked.

The premise of his podcast is to highlight overlooked issues of injustice and inequality, and provide an outlet for voices to share their inspiring stories of change and action.  The first episode featured Civil Rights icon, Representative John Lewis.  He is the only living member of the “Big Six”, the group of leaders who organized the March on Washington in 1963, in which Martin Luther King paid his way to help get this movement in motion.

There are so many moments in this podcast I could quote, but I’m simply going to leave these words on the page and let you discover the rest.  I hope you will.

“You gotta cause some good trouble.  I believe in stirring things up to make it right. To help educate people, inform people, sensitize people.  Because you, too, can do something.  You cannot sit on the sideline and be silent.” 

Representative John Lewis


“Love is work.  Love is struggle. Love is hard.  I’m working to try to live your example, and King’s example, and Christ’s example of radical love.  Love that is risky.  Love that is dangerous.  Love that is hard.  Love that gets mocked.  Love that gets heckled.  Love that gets beaten.  But to continue in the way that you do every single day.  I witness it and I watch it.  That you live with that humility and love of all, and that strident activism to cause good trouble.” 

Senator Cory Booker

Radical love.  Good trouble.  Words to live by.



In Honor of Martin Luther King: Teach Us All Documentary



Our lives are ending because of silence.

If you think that statement is overly dramatic, it’s not.



  • For black students, the US is back at school segregation levels not seen since a year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and 1 in 7 black and Latino children attend “hyper-segregated” schools.
  • Nationally, we spend more money incarcerating minority youth than educating them.  It costs $90,000 to house individuals in a juvenile detention center. It costs $10,000 to educate them.
  • Students of color make up 75% of the student population at the lowest performing high schools in the United States.
  • Children in segregated schools earn an average of 25% less income in their lifetime.
  • If you’re poor and not reading at grade level by 3rd grade you are 13 times more likely to not graduate high school.
  • If you are an African American you are 4 times more likely to not graduate high school.

Think about those last two facts.  Combined they paint the reality that our African American poor students not reading at grade level by the age of 8 are doomed to incarceration.  Their path in life has been determined by age 8.  They will likely fall victim to double segregation: race + income, and the political systems at play will ensure they never become productive citizens of society.


On Saturday I attended a showing of the Teach Us All documentary that is currently touring nationally on many college campuses and it also now available on Netflix.  An African American man with two Masters degrees stood before us to tell his story.  During the 1950’s-1970’s as Kansas City was immersed in unprecedented racial migration due to White flight imposed by J.C. Nichols and Co. and their racially charged real estate practices, schools at the city’s core began to get shut down.  With all the white people moving out to the suburbs they were no longer needed.  Simultaneously, prisons were taking their place in the areas African American families were moving into.  Coincidence?  No.  From that time African American females became 6 times more likely to get suspended or expelled from school than her white counterparts.  Essentially, an action that communicated the message that just because the courts say we have to let you in, we’ll still find a way to keep you out.  African American males were not overlooked either.  They became 4 times more likely to be recommended for Special Education services.  The man standing before us telling his story had spent his entire elementary experience in Special Education, and ultimately obtained two Masters.

To this day Missouri remains the #1 state for out-of-school suspensions.  Not Texas.  Not California.  Not Florida.  Not New York.  Missouri.  How can we bring up a community and a nation when the next generation is being denied their education?


Today is about action. About voice.  About getting loud and using your place of privilege to stand up and be heard on behalf of those who are continually ignored and dismissed.

Our silence–our inaction–is killing us.

Just ask Jordan Russell Davis, or Eric Garner, or John Crawford, or Michael Brown, or Laquan McDonald, or Akai Gurley, or Tamir Rice, or Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray, or Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, or Cynthia Hurd, or Susie Jackson, or Ethel Lee Lance, or DePayne Middleton Doctor, or Clementa Pickney, or Tywanza Sanders, or Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. or Myra Thompson, or Sandra Bland, or Jamar Clark, or Alton Sterling, or Philando Castille or Jordan Edwards, or Trayvon Martin, or…

Oh, wait.  We can’t.

_Unity is the only plausible path to justice.

Ways to get involved:

The most impactful way to get involved to speak out on policy.  Who we put in power politically matters!  So, whether it’s Trump’s latest remarks or this post or something else altogether–find the fire the belly, the passion in your heart, and get involved.  There is no time to waste.  People are dying while we sit in silence.  GO!

One (or four) Little Words for 2018


Sunset chaser

Last year at this same time I reflected on on my one little word for 2017.  This is an idea I learned about through Two Writing Teachers and have loved its impact on focusing my year.  Last year I broke the rules and chose two words–radical presence.  This year I’m breaking them even more, and choosing four words:

small moments/no filter.

A trifecta of realizations in 2017 have led me to this.   

One, sadly, being inexplicable tragedy that surrounded so many in 2017.  Whether in our world or the lives of  those close to me, I learned a more profound level of love and gratitude as so many in my inner circle were faced with adversity beyond comprehension.  Some were expected, foreseen.  Others not.  Regardless, you were at a loss.  No words could fill the space.  So love had to.  They say life happens in seasons, and I know this is true.  2017 was that season that deepened roots with so many friendships where love was all that could be given.  However, that also meant recognizing others were dying.  Sad, yes.  But recognition demands we look through new lenses, and you suddenly see so clearly how your lives’ paths have diverged.  No one person’s is wrong, the puzzle just doesn’t fit anymore.  As I grappled to find peace with this I wondered what attributed to the difference.  The answer:  small moments/no filter. 

Those friendships that found new roots were real.  There was no show.  No expectations.  No trying to fit in boxes that didn’t fit.  This authenticity jarred me from time to time.  It was not something that had been common in many of my previous female relationships.  That’s when I began to recognize, to see more clearly, to know it was time to walk.  Liberation.  What’s left standing is one hell of a group of women that I would walk to the ends of the Earth for.  And they’d do the same for me.  You know who you are.  I love you and our unfiltered small moments.


The second and third reasons occurred simultaneously.  I was going through all the pictures of the kids in 2017 and I noticed that most of them were big moments with filters.  I got itchy.   If what I valued so much in my friendships was authenticity this wasn’t it.  This was staged–“smile for mommy” and then let me ignore you for the next ten minutes as I post to 8 different social media outlets and make sure to get the right filter on there so we look good.  Nope.  In the words of Lillian, “That’s not right!”

I remembered their journals from their first years of life and how I intentionally took weekly pictures of our little moments together.  I pulled them back out and cried.  I had lost complete sight of this in 2017.  Shame on me.  They change so much every day and I am missing it.  So, I am recommitting myself to our weekly small moments/no filter Life as we are living it and loving it or hating it or struggling with it.  But life.  Life as it exists from day to day.  Because as so many of my friends learned (and taught me) this year, it can be gone or challenged in an instant.

While looking through pictures of these big moments a word that kept entering my brain was “conventional.” They looked like carbon copies of everyone else’s pictures.  Go here, get the big cake, overspend, over plan, over stress, shove yourself into an overcrowded space.  Frankly, I’m over it!  When I look back at our pictures I do not want these words connected to our memories.  I have always been the person who wants to do it all right now–I’m very impulsive in that way.  Kyle has helped me immensely in this area, but I’ve still got a lot of growing to do.  I’m stepping back this year.  I want my family to have our own traditions–the small unfiltered kind, not the big, over-hyped kind.

This year we’re minimizing, which is in turn, unconventional.  That feels right.  In a world that needs so much, it feels wrong to keep serving ourselves.  This year will be about small unfiltered moments of serving others.  Maybe they’ll show up here.  Maybe they won’t.  But my small moments/no filter focus will also be the theme of the blog this year.  That’s all I can manage, and I’m finding that’s where the power and meaning lie anyhow.


Stay tuned.  I have no idea what will show up here.  I’m letting life take the lead.  The possibilities are thrilling!


The Power of our Native Tongue: Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr

Imagine, if you can, this scenario:

A childhood synonymous with freedom and comfort–a breakfast of yogurt, bread and vegetables, playfully running barefoot over rocks, an evening of papa’s stories about family.  A life of schooling, city markets, laughing and chatting in public.

Pretty easy, right?

Now this one:

A childhood synonymous with confusion and limitations.  Limitations of food that required shared bowls of soup and confusion at the exodus of your community, just a few at first, but then many.  Where are they going?  Why? The falling bombs answer your question, so your family joins.  Now your playful barefoot running is treacherous barefoot walking for miles and miles and miles, tears marking the ground for each one completed.  Land then water then boats then drowning, but you come full circle, reaching land once again.  Land that symbolized hope.  Your family categorized as “the lucky ones” and you know that’s true because you’re here, but it’s still so confusing.

Stepping Stones CoverStepping Stones pages

This is the experience Margriet Ruurs documents in her bilingual text, written in English and Arabic.  In yesterday’s post, I spoke to using images to tell a story when the (English) words weren’t yet an access point for our ELL students.  This book beautifully adds the next layer–allowing students to tell stories in their native tongue while also working together to write the English equivalent.  The strongest research in ELL education tells us that a bilingual immersion experience is the most effective when learning a new language.  By and large, public schools do not do this.  Our ELL students arrive in our classrooms and everything becomes centered around learning English, speaking our way.  Ultimately communicating to students, leave what you know behind here and let us tell you what you need to know.  Save your native tongue for homeThe two worlds your living in right now will be kept separate.  They oblige, because really, what choice do they have?  Our words, sharp and clunky in their mouth begin to form.  Before they are spoken they sit in the throat like elixir, thick and bitter tasting.  They come out all wrong.  People listen with intense faces trying to make them out.  What did you say?  Repeat it.  Try again.  Can you imagine the level of frustration when your days repeatedly consist of these moments?

As a new language is acquired there is a trajectory that is followed.  The first level learned is the social language–playground and lunchroom talk, and then academic language.  Once these oral skills are strengthened students apply them first to reading and finally writing.  So, even as we work tirelessly teaching them this new language, we will not see reflected in their writing for quite some time.

Unless… Unless, we allow them to write in the language they know.  The irony is it’s a craft move we teach all other kids to use in their writing.  We see authors do it all the time–pull in words from their culture to enhance the tone and setting of a book.  We would be wise to capitalize on this with our most vulnerable language learners as well.

With the many translation tools available today educators can make this work.  Or, better yet, invite in their families.  Many times there is someone in the home that serves as the translator.  Invite them into your classrooms.  How thrilled they would be to see what their child is writing and be the invaluable link between home and school.  Think of how they could help add on to the story.  Think about how this small gesture gives them a voice in their new land–one connected to their child’s education.  Can you imagine the impact of this powerful and lasting moment?

I recently listened to a Truth for Teachers podcast that was a two-part series on focus points for teachers of high poverty classrooms to get results.  As I listened to part two, which centered around parent involvement, I couldn’t help but think that the truth they were speaking would be to the benefit of every single kid in the public education system. Their message was this:

“Parents are our greatest advocate with our children.  They know their kids better that we do.  No one is going to love my students more than their parents do.  And so when I bring them in, and I bring them to the table, I say, ‘I want to hear your voice.  I want to add your voice to whatever I am doing with my students.

As teachers we have got to stop judging families regardless of how they look.  We have to start acting as if they are the critical link to success for our children because they are!  And then we have to tell them that.” 

It’s true that we are likely the person in the classroom that knows the best, researched instructional practices.  The parents, however, are the ones that know the individual to a depth we never will.

Can you imagine the level of success we could obtain if we all started working together?




Honoring Immigrant and Refugee Stories through Mirror By Jeannie Baker


In January 2010 one of the deadliest earthquakes in recent history hit Haiti, killing nearly 316,000 people.  In its aftermath school districts across the United States felt a shift in their population as refugees sought safety in states surrounded by land.  My classroom was not exception.  For the second part of that year I had eight ELL students ranging from nearly proficient and ready to test out of services to those who did not know a single word.  The ELL teacher and myself had a great relationship and worked tirelessly to help these students access their education through images, objects, and when possible, a translator.  But at the end of the day (and year), I locked my classroom doors harboring a lot of guilt at not doing more.  It just felt like they were under-served on so many levels.

I took this ache inside me into the Greater Kansas City Writing Project Summer Institute, researching it further as my burning question to my teacher inquiry project.  During this transformative time my eyes were opened to the unending ways we can tell our stories.  Yes.  That’s where I had failed them.  I was too focused on objectives and assessments, not their humanity or their voyage or their words in their native tongue.

So, when you know better you do better, and the next year I did.  It was far from perfect, but our classroom embraced wordless picture books and created many ourselves to broaden our horizons on what authoring a text and sharing information really means.

If Mirror had been published in 2010 it would have led this classroom work.  Jeannie Baker effortlessly compares the life a family in Australia to that of one who lives in Morocco, North Africa.  The spines of the book are on the left and right side of the cover.  The middle remains open, so the reader can flip each page, looking side-by-side to make connections and observations about family and daily life in these two vastly different cultures.


Naturally, as you read this text you connect these two cultures to your own.  Synthesis in an incredibly rich and profound way.

As I continue to navigate ways in which we can reach our ELL students more humanly to give a voice to their experiences, rather than sitting in the corners of classrooms silent and confused, I know literature is the answer.  Because literature is more than being able to read and comprehend the words on a page.  Literature is stories, information, knowledge.  We all have that to share.  We just have to find a way.

The Refugee Experience

Even as I write the title I know it’s inadequate.  I’m preparing to write about the refugee experience from my woefully narrow vantage point.  It is something no human can fully comprehend unless you’ve lived it.  That point itself underlies the purpose of this post.  It’s not about comprehending fully, it’s about learning and growing empathy toward a people and their experience. It’s about connecting more deeply with those who have lived a thousand years beyond my own, because they’re here.  They made it.  And now, more than ever, they need us.  They need us to let them share their voice because, damn, do they have a story to tell.

James Mollison is a photo journalist I recently learned about through his book, Where Children Sleep.  In this particular text James takes pictures of 56 children (and their sleeping quarters) from all over the world, including a brief overview of their life.  It is riveting and eye-opening and stereotype-breaking.  He did similar work with refugees for a photo series in Time Magazine titled, “What Refugees Carry With Them”.


Refugee 1Refugee 2Refugee 3Refugee 4

Choices.  One can only imagine what was left behind, if anything.  See?  Incomprehensible.


Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a book in verse that follows her life for a single year–the year the Vietnam War forced her family from their home in Saigon.  They would first land in Guam and ultimately Alabama. Fatherless and frightened, Ha spends her time in Alabama trying to assimilate to a culture that wants nothing of her.  On her darkest days, she sits in her classroom listening to horrors of the Vietnam War being told in her history lessons, longing to go back. The horrors of the Vietnam War pale in comparison to the horrors she is facing here.  And what do they know about Vietnam anyway? They don’t know the beauty, the papaya trees.  They don’t talk about Tet or her dad.  Is he alive?  Is he still there?

Ha, too, must make choices as she prepares to leave her native country.


Into each pack:

one pair of pants,

one pair of shorts,

three pairs of underwear,

two shirts,


toothbrush and paste,


ten palms of rice grains,

three clumps of cooked rice,

one choice.


I choose my doll,

once lent to a neighbor

who left it outside,

where mice bit

her left cheek

and right thumb.


I love her more

for her scars.

More choices.  Choices many of us will likely never have to make.  What would we carry?  Or better yet, what could we carry that privilege has afforded us?  Cash, credit cards, cell phones with chargers, fine jewelry to be pawned if needed, clothes, shoes, high school diplomas and college degrees, our whiteness.

I could travel looking like Mohammed in the last picture, looking as if I had nothing, when in truth I’d have more than I’ll ever need.  All the items listed above can be worn or fit in pockets.  My whiteness gives me access and my culture has prioritized smallness.  The things I could carry fit in the palm of my hand.  More importantly, I have favorable odds of surviving.  White privilege.

As I sit with the word “choices” I consider mine.  What would I carry in addition to what the world has already given me that I have not earned?  I land on only option, so it’s not a choice at all.  Rather it’s a responsibility.


I’ll carry my voice,

once kept silent toward my neighbor

out of ignorance

and fear.


It cracked once,


“That’s not right!”

Then closed quickly,

surprised and embarrassed.


Later, the whispers,

“Thank you for speaking up.

Keep going.”

I do. I will.  I will not stop.

In the words of Jimmy Baca from NCTE, “The only way to fight ignorance is with knowledge.  There’s a destructive ignorance and a benign one.  We have to address the benign one–it’s unintended and connects people to reading and writing.”

I would add, “It helps us find our voice, and in turn, our way in this complex world.”


Fists up.  Voices up.  Let’s go.



NCTE 2017 + Blog Mini Series Launch

Many of you know I just returned from NCTE last week.  As a first time attendee I had high hopes, and it did not disappoint.  It was all the things I needed it to be–revitalizing, soul-lifting, necessary, true.

Let me recap a few highlights.

In the Nerdy Book Club session, I was fortunate to enough to sit at a table that Jason Reynolds spoke to.  In his all-too-short 12 minutes with us, his words became a sermon, worthy of a pulpit and place of worship.

“My books are love letters to kids.  In each of them you will see characters who actualize an element of humility through moments of heightened emotions.  We all want an opportunity to cry.  Growing up I did not get that because of stereotypes placed on boys.  When we strip kids of humanity we also strip them of humility.  Labels and stereotypes do this.  As adults we have to be humble too.  Kids want to teach us.  It’s time to let them.”

I don’t know who talked after that.  It seemed there was nothing left to say.  He’d said it all.  In 12 minutes.

Okay, I do know who talked.  It was Colby Sharp, and he’s also awesome.  And you should buy his book, The Creativity Project, coming out in March 2018.


The next morning, Jacqueline Woodson set my mental state for the remainder of the conference with these words,

“Resistance has never been more important.  Teaching resistance.  Writing resistance.  Acting resistance.  You can choose right or choose kind.  Kindness lets the relationship last another day.  Enacting resistance does not mean letting go of kindness.  In fact it’s the opposite.  It’s demanding it, for all.”

Jeff Anderson shed light and laughter to the often daunting topic of grammar and punctuation.  He expressed that when we teach grammar and punctuation through worksheets we perpetuate that there is one correct answer, which is incorrect.  Punctuation is about creating patterns that bring power to the writing.  He emphasized,

“It’s not an extra thing–its the meaning making of reading and writing.  Therefore it must be analyzed in context for students to understand exactly how that works.”

So remember,

Punctuation in a corner

Anderson speaks to this topic more extensively in his new text, Patterns of Power, written specifically for elementary writers


Sunday morning I only had time to attend one session before leaving, and I undoubtedly picked the right one.

This panel of women brought the damn house down.

NCTE Donalyn Miller Panel

Their session was on the power of storytelling and each shared deeply personal moments to a room of strangers.  Their strength was palpable and unified the room in 75 minute in a way that only storytelling can.

Pernille Ripp began, sharing a moment of getting pulled over by the police and being terrified because she did not have her green card on her.  She just knew she was going to get deported.

Now, look back at the picture.  Which one is Pernille?  The one on the far right?  No, that’s Sara K. Ahmed.  Oh, okay.  It must be the one next to her? Nope. Not her either–that’s Katharine Hale.  Both of these women are American, born in the United States, yet face situations each day in which they are treated as an ‘other’.

So, which one is she?  Let me tell you.  She’s the third one from the left, standing in the back.  Her story speaks to the ultimate reason she was not deported that night–white privilege.  You can read it at the link below, and I strongly urge you to do so.

On My Own White Immigrant Privilige


Through the power of her story and work I’ve been doing in the arena of immigration and refugees, I’ll be doing a blog series this week that explores texts and ideas connected to these topics.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Tuesday: Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai
  • Wednesday: Mirror by Jeannie Baker
  • Thursday: Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs
  • Friday: “White Haze” and the Difference Between Equalization and Marginalization

All Children on Shelves