Sunday, November 1, 2015


Dear Teachers,

Those of you who know me, know that I am passionate about books and libraries. I think good books are the antidote to a number of society's ills, notably the perceived decline in reading and as a means of developing empathy, a trait that would serve just about everyone well. But maybe I'll write more about the books-and-libraries thing another time. This post is about literacies other than just the reading comprehension variety.

We are all literate in a number of ways, and we probably don't even take much note of certain literacies. One example I might call "automobile literacy." Even though most of us do not know exactly how a car works, we know what to do once we turn on the ignition. We know where we have to look, how to behave when roads are less than ideal, how to yield the right-of-way, and the meaning of a wide variety of signs and signals on the road. We learned those things as we were driving and as an incentive to keep our license. Practiced over time, all of these elements lead us to be better drivers.

We probably also possess "shopping literacy." We have a basic understanding of how, say, a grocery store is laid out; even if we walk into a new grocery store for the first time, we know how to scan the signs for cereal or household cleaners and can make our way around. We likely don't go to a grocery store if we're looking for sporting goods, and likewise we don't ask where the fruits and vegetables are when we go to an outdoors store. We understand that each type of store has a purpose, and we adapt to the type of store that we happen to be in at the time. We also know how to find someone who could help us if we should need assistance in locating something, and we know we're going to pay less for items that are on sale.

Most of us also possess at least some degree of "sports literacy." Even those of us who don't follow sports closely have a vague understanding that certain sports are played at certain times of the year, and that some sports require types of equipment that other sports do not. We are all likely aware that practice is involved in becoming more proficient at any sport.

We may have an idea of "arts literacy," even if we don't consider ourselves artistic. Most of us know that a marching band will almost always have a trumpet section and the presence of a cello there would be ridiculous. We know the basic rules of behavior when we attend a play or movie that we and others have paid to see. We expect one type of music if someone gives us tickets to an opera and another type of music if we are out salsa dancing.

Some of us have "travel literacy." We understand that vacations in other countries will require a passport, airline tickets, and some kind of accommodations once we get to our destination. A knowledge of customs and a few phrases in the country's language, as well as some awareness of the monetary exchange rate, is also helpful. Even if we stay within our country, we know that there are dialects and customs unique to different regions, and that finding good Tex-Mex in Wisconsin is probably somewhat unlikely.

Let's stipulate that certain types of literacy are just sort of givens in our society. Some, like driving maybe, we learned because we took lessons when we were a certain age. Maybe we got a little sampling of art or music or sports in classes at school. But some things, like shopping or traveling, we kind of got through osmosis, by going to stores or on vacations with our families or with other people.  We developed the necessary "shopping skills" over time because we needed them to survive in the world. It would not occur to any of us to simply opt out of shopping or driving or enjoying sports or musical events because "it's too complicated."

As teachers, we expect our students to learn every day, and if something is difficult, to try all the harder to master it. How much more then should we as teachers model that very type of learning when it comes to digital literacy? Many of us have learned over time to be very competent computer users, even though for some (like me) those skills did not come without a lot of trial and error. However, I am dismayed at the number of teachers I've met who not only don't know their way around a computer very well, but are also just flat unwilling to try to learn. I don't understand this mentality at all. I get that not everyone has a natural inclination to learning technology, but we would never let our students justify their not learning something by saying, "I'm just not very good at math" or "Books and I don't get along." Yet I still hear very similar comments from teachers: "Computers don't like me" or "I'm always the one with the technology problems."

We just can't keep saying those kinds of things any more. Computers and the Internet are here to stay, and things are only going to get MORE technology-driven in the future. It is no more acceptable to say "I don't like/understand social media, so I'm not going to participate in it" than it is to say, "I don't like/understand traffic, so I'm not going to drive."

Education is the very last profession that should tolerate willful ignorance, on ANY topic. There is truly no excuse for being functionally digitally illiterate. If your digital skills are not what you think they should be, I encourage you to try to learn something new about the digital world this week, whether it's how to use shortcut keys or how to participate in a Twitter chat. Ask someone for help (our department LOVES questions, and if you're not in my district, I'm willing to bet that the Instructional Technology people for your school would be equally happy to hear from you.) Conduct Google searches or watch YouTube videos to help you learn what you don't yet know. Sign up for classes in your school district or at your local library. And after the classes, PRACTICE. You wouldn't expect a person to be an accomplished musician or athlete after just one or two lessons or drills; getting better at something requires some effort and discipline, especially if the task doesn't come easily to you. But just like with any other endeavor, the more you do it, the better you'll become.

Just as citizenship encompasses "digital citizenship," "digital literacy" is an essential and now indelible component of one's overall literacy. I'd love to hear in the comments what your goals are for you own improved literacy - digital or otherwise. Let's all learn something new this week!



Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Should I Remember?

Dear Teachers,

I was paying a visit to my mom in her Assisted Living facility the other day, and as I was waiting for the elevator, I overheard one of the residents (or "inmates," as my mother refers to them) talking with one of the staff members. The elderly resident was asking about an event that had taken place the previous day, and the staff member was trying to be somewhat ginger in her approach. "It was for 9/11," she explained somewhat hesitantly to the resident. "For the firemen and the police officers. Do you remember that?" she asked carefully. The resident replied, "What should I remember?"

Wow. What a question. She was addled, bewildered, childlike. Almost certainly she had long ago forgotten the music they played at her wedding, the subjects about which she and her husband had argued the most, where to find England on a map, or which of her children was the oldest. The question she posed was referring to her aging, faltering, tentative memory about a particular event that was being described to her, but her question has stayed with me, and can't stop thinking about it.

What should I remember?

A recent discovery of an unfortunate leak in a closet unearthed quite a bit of mold developing on a number of boxes containing old pictures and mementos. My own baby book and my brother's were among the relics. Pictures of my parents' childhoods, and my own, unseen for several decades. I found my children's baby books, and a box of their clothes...

What should I remember?

The smell of my Grandpa's cigar, and my uncle's pipe, and the ocean.
The exact color of the azaleas at the park where I went (not always willingly) on picnics with my mother and my aunt.
Playing ping pong on my screened porch.
Country western dancing.
The sonorous voices of James Earl Jones, Garrison Keillor, and Billy Collins.
Laughing uncontrollably with good friends, at every stage of my life.

The sound of my children's laughter, at every stage of their lives, and the feel of their tiny, soft, trusting, mittened hands in mine.
Every kindness that everyone ever did for me.
The glorious feeling of the warm sun and a cool breeze on my face.
Rocking my babies to sleep, and hugging my grandkids.
The smell of the trees in Oregon on a summer day.
The shade of green of all the flora in Ireland.
The way my husband looks at me with love, every single day.
How imperfectly I loved, despite my best efforts; and yet: I did love.

That Republicans, Democrats, Methodists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims; we are not so different, and I can love people despite our differences.
That everyone I meet is facing a hard battle I don't know anything about.
That most people are doing the best they can, and you can't really know about the choices they make until you've walked a mile or two in their shoes.
That there infinite ways that a person's life can be hard, and you shouldn't make things any harder for others.
That all of us could love a little better, and forgive a little more, and judge a little less.
That that kid in your class will only be that way for about four minutes, and you never know how he or she will turn out, or what your kind word or extra bit of help might mean to him or her.

That life is beautiful, and terrible, sometimes in the same instant, and that it is much too short and more precious than we could ever describe in words, and inestimably fragile, and heartbreakingly poignant and worth celebrating every single day - even though most of us don't realize that until the accident or the diagnosis or the lawsuit or the suicide attempt or the addiction grabs us by the shoulders and makes us face up to the horror and despair and beauty and joy and REALness of it all.

What should I remember?

All of it. I hope I remember all of it.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Be a Digital Culture Change Agent!

Dear Teachers,

Several months ago I was pleased to get my picture taken with a political candidate. I was so pleased, in fact, that I tweeted the picture, and to make sure the candidate knew, I mentioned the candidate's Twitter handle in the tweet. I usually keep to the uncontroversial on Twitter, tweeting about the power of libraries or the next edchat that's coming up, so I didn't give my picture-posting much of a thought. But within an hour or so of my post, I began to get a tiny taste of the nastiness that exists on social media. Some very hateful tweets started showing up on my Twitter feed. I was made fun of for supporting the candidate. I was told I was going to hell. Someone went to the trouble of photoshopping the picture I had posted as though the candidate and I were twin devils. This episode confirmed for me that I could never be a public figure, as I am much too thin-skinned to handle such mean-spiritedness on a daily basis.

In fairness, there probably weren't more than 20 or 25 replies to my tweet. But hear this: I am a pretty well-adjusted fifty-something woman with good self-esteem and lots of friends. I received these hateful tweets over one, say, six-hour period, on ONE DAY. And nine months later, I still remember the icky feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when they started coming in.  I dealt with the anonymous haters by simply blocking them. I don't know them in real life, and I will likely never hear from them again. I try to imagine what it would be like to get those kinds of vitriolic messages on a regular basis from people I know. If I were thirteen. Or gay. Or struggling with mental illness or a physical handicap.

It is beyond me why people think it's okay to be so mean online.

I don't think that we as educators are doing nearly enough towards helping kids know what's okay to post online. They certainly don't always have the best role models, and you don't have to look very hard to find examples of people being ill-mannered - or cruel - to each other online. Many sites have removed the comments option completely because of the general lack of civility that often comes out when the comment-er can be anonymous. Kids in most cases don't get a lot of guidance at school or at home about texting or Tweeting. So when kids see the ugly posts from other people online or hear the hateful rhetoric on news shows, it's just seen as the cultural norm. A cultural norm is tacit approval to go forth and do likewise.

However, cultural norms can change. Allow me to give you an example from, of all places, Mad Men:

I don't know if people really ever just walked away from their picnics, leaving behind all their trash without a thought, but I do remember when I was a child that trash used to be all over the highways. Why don't we see that anymore? When I ask that question in the digital citizenship sessions I lead, someone around my age usually says "Oh! The Indian!" They remember this ad that was such a powerful agent of change in cleaning up the physical world:

Here's example number 2:

It was not that long ago that smoking was so socially acceptable that even cartoon characters did it. What has happened to change that? 30 years ago, who would have predicted that practically every restaurant in America would be smoke-free?

I will concede that some of the reason that people no longer litter and some of the reason that people no longer smoke in public is because of legislation. But that is not the only reason; public opinion has changed. The main reason I don't toss my Sonic cup out my car window is NOT because I might get a ticket for doing so, but because it's just not done: the cultural norm has changed. The change started many years back when someone, somewhere, must have had the thought, "It doesn't have to be like this." And that is what I think about the lack of civility in online conversations: it doesn't have to be like this; it doesn't have to be so mean.

Who, as a group, are the obvious champions of changing the current digital cultural norm? Whose hearts want a better world? Who, as a group, believe that kids can change? Who work their tails off to ensure student success? Who are the most likely champions of positivism, optimism, character, and making the world a better place? Well, that's not a hard question: it's teachers, that's who.

Teachers are uniquely positioned to influence change in the digital world.

Teachers effect change every day - change that by all rights shouldn't happen - because we believe that it can and because we've been taught how to do it. We believe that students can pass that test, so we treat them like they will, do what we know usually works, and they pass. We believe that students will graduate, so we treat them like they will, work with them every day, and they graduate. We believe that students can learn a new language, or use a spoon, or keep up with their homework, or feel bad for the way they treated someone, and time after time, they do it because we believe they will. But those things don't happen because we believe it once; we have to collectively believe it, over and over again. And we have to take collective action, over and over again.

Change of any kind has to start with a belief that the change is possible. If you don't believe that children's digital citizenship habits can change, they probably won't. If you don't teach your students every day how to be more civil online, they probably won't be - because who else is going to explain it to them?

What would happen if every teacher, in every school, every day talked to their students about the importance of digital citizenship? What if every teacher, in every school, every day showed an example of a constructive online disagreement, one with no name calling or hateful tone? What if every teacher, in every school, every day modeled a positive, productive way of posting anything on the Internet, and discussed with his/her students the reasons for making the post in that particular way?

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I believe we can change the current cultural norm of negativity and hatefulness. I'm going to dare to believe that in 40 years, people will laugh that there was ever a need for the "Block" or "Report" buttons on that quaint little thing called social media. I'm going to dare to believe that people can and will show their better natures, their kinder selves, even when hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. Will you dare to believe that foolish dream with me? More importantly, will you take action to help your students shape a more positive digital landscape?



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reflecting on the Blogging Class

Dear Teachers,

Well, I taught the blogging class today (I had previously written about that here). I think it mostly went well. In the interest of the reflection that most participants noted was a worthy reason to blog, here are my thoughts about the class.

I taught two classes back to back, and I learned from the first class a few things that I should have done instead. Virtually EVERY SINGLE TIME I teach something for the first time, the class does not go anything like what I had imagined. And one of my biggest shortcomings when planning a class of any kind is assuming too much prior knowledge. With some helpful feedback from one of the participants in the first class, I was able to quickly shift things a little bit for the second class.

In the first class, I did not give enough direction, having imagined that the participants would be able to walk themselves through the [somewhat confusing] Blogger/Google Plus maze on their own. I gave a lot more direct instruction in the second class, and that seemed to go a lot better.

A few of our administrators left the classes still puzzled about using Blogger. But on the positive side, several principals got their blogs up and have already published their first posts! In sports terms I would call it definitely not a home run, but maybe at least a double.

On a side note, the third class I taught today was Power Searching in Google. In case you're interested, that list of cool Google operators is here.

Off to prepare for our next Professional Learning sessions - so much to plan for in the next two weeks! I'll be back in touch soon.



Friday, July 17, 2015

Blogging About Blogging, Part 3

Dear Teachers,

By now you may have read my first post with some encouragement on starting a blog, and my second post with some specific how-tos on using Blogger.  In this post, I'll walk you through getting your Twitter feed to appear on your blog.You'll be using three different browser tabs for this project: this one (so you have the directions), your blogger dashboard, and your Twitter account, so go ahead and get those other two tabs ready now.

Locate your blogger tab and (if you're not already logged in), log back in to with your Google credentials. Click the # posts link to get to your blogger dashboard.

Along the left side of the dashboard, you'll see a list of options. Click Layout.

In the Layout area, you can add, move, and remove certain components of your blog. For example, I could choose to move my Twitter feed above my bio area, or I could add a list of other people's blogs. To add your Twitter feed, you will need to get some information from your Twitter account. So now it's time to...

Click that third browser tab, (, and log in to your Twitter account. Click your picture (it will be an egg if you haven't added your picture yet) at the top right of the screen, then click Settings. Toward the bottom of the left column, click Widgets. Click Create new.

You will see a screen that looks like this. Click Create widget.

At the bottom of the screen, you'll see some possibly unfamiliar stuff in a box. Click anywhere in that box and press Ctrl+A to select all (everything in the box will become highlighted in blue), then Ctrl+C to copy that code.

Now return to the Blogger tab and navigate to the Layout page, if you're not already there. Click Add a Gadget in the area where you want your Twitter feed to appear.

Click HTML Java Script (you might have to scroll just a little to see that option).

Remember a few steps back where you pressed Ctrl+C to copy the code from the Twitter widget? That text is still on your clipboard. Click inside the Content area and press Ctrl+V to paste that code into the box. The title that you add will appear at the top of the Twitter feed on your blogger page. Click Save.

On your layout, you will see your newly-added Twitter gadget. You can move the gadget to a new location by clicking and dragging the shaded area on the left side of the gadget.

At the top right of your screen, click Preview to see what your blog will look like to your readers, and then Save Arrangement when you're ready to commit.

Voila! Now your blog readers can easily see what you're tweeting about!

I'll write again soon. Get to work on that blog! I can't wait to read what you have to say!



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blogging About Blogging, Part 1

Dear Teachers,

I've been asked to teach a class about blogging to our district principals, so it seems fitting to write a blog about my thoughts about blogging. A bloggy-blog. A meta-blog, perhaps. It's sometimes a little intimidating to address a room packed full of principals. Without exception, my district's leaders are an incredible bunch of committed, warm, friendly individuals, but they are... well, bosses. You know, authority figures. So whenever I have the job of speaking to them, I tend to obsess prepare really well.

How do you encourage people to start blogging? It's my experience that very few people start out believing that they have anything worthwhile to say; many first blogs I've read are on the apologetic side, noting that the author doesn't know how to start or what in the world they would write about, let alone who would care to read what they have to say. Most people seem to fear being just one more tiny drop in the ocean of opinion that the Internet has become. But knowing that most people find blogging a bit daunting actually helped me to get started. That knowledge normalized my own hesitation, and encouraged me to just try it. So I'll probably tell the principals that the number one thing to remember when getting started is that most people find it difficult to get started.

I thought long and hard about my "gimmick" for  blogging. Some techie people, like Amy Mayer or Alice Keeler, blog regularly with helpful tech tips. Some principals blog about leadership styles or changing their campus cultures. Some teachers blog about discipline tips or lesson ideas. For me, the writing that comes easiest to me is to think in terms of writing a letter to a friend  - hence the "Dear Teachers" blog title here. So my second piece of advice is to come up with the angle that makes the most sense to you.

A third piece of advice is not to put too much pressure on yourself to become a full-time blogger. I am amazed and impressed by people who blog daily, or even weekly. I am not one of those people. I try to write something at least once a week, but I fall far short of that goal, and even if I write that often, I only publish something once a month or so. I have at least twice as many "draft" blog posts as I do published ones. At one time I might have considered that a failure, but I figure even if I'm not publishing everything I write, at least I'm writing. The blog posts that come easily and seem to write themselves are the ones that I usually end up hitting the "Publish" button on.  Sometimes I come back to unfinished attempts later, but often that draft just stays on my list for months until I finally delete it. This blog is a good example: I had the idea to write up something for the class, and I have made only minor touch-ups since the first time I sat down to write.

I also try not to get too hung up on cosmetics. I just used one of the Blogger templates, with some very minor embellishments. Someday I might change it, but for me it's fine for now. I am a little envious of people who have those really cute Canva-created personalized backgrounds, though...

Here are some blogs you might take a look at as you consider starting your own. Do y'all know the acronym WAGOLL? I just read it recently: What a Good One Looks Like.  These are a few WAGOLL blogs that I always enjoy checking out:

Clara Alaniz's blog
Matt Arend's blog
Beth Carter's blog
Kelly Parrish's blog
Leah Pendleton's blog
Kristin Ransom's blog
Ryan Steele's blog

I seriously doubt I will ever make TeachThought's (or anyone else's) list of best educational blogs to follow, but that's not really the point for me. I just kinda get a kick out of writing sometimes. It helps me to reflect on a project, or to try to more closely identify my feelings about something, or to describe a process for a professional endeavor (for example, blogging!) If a few people read what I have to say, then that makes me feel good, and most people are extremely encouraging in their comments.

You can find additional suggestions for getting started on blogging here:

Being a Connected Educator: How to Start Blogging
Blogger Getting Started Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started with Blogging

My next post  contains actual how-to's, along with lots of screen shots, for getting started with Blogger. Blogging Part 3 has directions for adding your Twitter feed to your blog. I hope you'll give blogging a try!



Blogging About Blogging, Part 2

Dear Teachers,

I previously wrote a little about how to get started in blogging and gave you a few examples to read. Now that you've had a chance to look over some blogs and think about the approach you might take, here is how you actually do it. There are several blog hosting sites, but here I'll be explaining Blogger, since that utility is connected to our Google Apps for Education (GAFE) account.

Log in with your Google credentials at Note that Blogger and Blogspot are kind of the same thing. is where YOU go to WRITE your blog (think of it as the "back end" of your blogging), and is where OTHER PEOPLE go to READ your blog.

The first time you log in, you will be asked to create either a Google+ account or a limited blogger account. I would suggest selecting the Google+ option, because that's another interesting social networking site you might want to explore at some point. Your blogger profile populates based on what you enter on Google+.

You may not have everything you need to complete your profile (i.e the profile picture you want to use, or your bio), but you can always go back to fill in those blanks later.

Whatever goes in the Introduction field in Google+ is what will show up on your blog.

Return to and click the New Blog button.

Type your blog title and address in the fields provided. The example below shows that I chose to title my blog Dear Teachers, and I based my blog address (URL) on my Twitter handle: You could theoretically have the same blog title as someone else, but each blog address must be unique; Blogger will tell you if someone else has already snagged the name you selected. Think of your blog as a notebook full of individual posts - so your blog title is going to be the title of the collection of posts. Select your desired theme here, and then click the orange Create blog button. You can change the theme later, too, so don't worry if you can't decide yet how you want it to look.

Click the edit pencil to create your first post.

You should now feel in familiar territory, as the blog editor looks very similar to many word processing programs. When you are in this draft mode, blogger will save your work automatically every few seconds, and you can also click Save at any point. The blog post is not live (visible to others) until you click the Publish button.

To continue working on your blog at a later date, you will log in once again at Click the # posts link.

You will come to a page that has all your posts listed in reverse chronological order. Hover your mouse over the post you want to continue working on, then click the Edit link

When your blog post is ready, click the orange Publish button and you will be returned to the page that lists your blog posts. This time, you will see the additional option to view your post. When you click View, your blog post will open live in a new window.

The URL at the top of that window is what you will share with your readers. For example, the address of the blog you're reading now is 

The next post in this series will show you how to add a Twitter feed to your blog page. I'll also show you how to follow other Blogger users.

Happy blogging! Fondly,


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Universal Language

Dear Teachers,
I just got back from a wonderful vacation. I know; it's probably unkind to brag that I took the last two weeks of school off while you were still trying to maintain some semblance of order in your classroom - but you will be going to lots of interesting destinations this summer while I am stuck in my office. So things even out. Anyway, part of the vacation might be titled "Libraries Across Europe." What? You don't make it a point to visit libraries on your vacations? It's kind of a thing with me, but this probably doesn't come as a huge surprise to those of you who know me.

We dropped in on the British Library, the National Library of Ireland, and the Chester Beatty Library. We even made it to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. We arrived a little too late to take a tour of the Bodleian, but oh my goodness what a gift store they have there; it's a book nerd paradise. Of all the places we visited, however (and honestly, we did see lots of interesting sites OTHER than libraries), my favorite of any of our stops was the Long Room of the Trinity College Library in Dublin.

Prior to entering the Long Room, visitors are treated to an exhibition about the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four New Testament Gospels, believed to have been created around 800 A.D. The exhibit was fascinating and well worth your time, even though it was difficult to see the actual manuscript due to the crushing crowd. But at the end of the Book of Kells displays, visitors are rewarded with the Long Room.

I can't adequately describe how moving I found this room, but I can say that I gasped audibly and tears came to my eyes when I first walked in; even now, I get goosebumps thinking of the splendor of the room. The recesses of books seem to whisper from the past, and I was struck with the thought of all the people who had been influenced by the books within, and by the room itself.

We were there during the last days of an exhibit titled "Upon the Wild Waves," featuring myths in children's books. I adored seeing that children's literature was seen as a significant part of the library's collection and was given prominent exhibition space.

It was also great fun to see some of my favorite authors and books in the display cases.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Hunger Games

Harry Potter (Gaelic translation)

In the "once a librarian, always a librarian" category, of course I was interested in the cataloging system used at the Long Room. (I was pretty sure it wasn't the Dewey Decimal system.) One of the curators was kind enough to give me an explanation of how they keep track of the roughly 200,000 books in the collection. 

The books are arranged by size, with the largest books on the bottom shelves, and the smallest books on the top shelves. The docent remarked that of course that made sense, since the weight of the larger books would become problematic if they were placed on higher shelves. These pictures should give you an idea of the graduated-sizes system:

To find a book, one would first locate the letter of the bay, then the letter or letters of the shelf, then the number of the book. The books are numbered starting at the shelf and then increasing toward the windows. So, if I understood correctly, a call number might look something like L-dd-14. The curator noted that the system worked really well, unless someone puts something back in the wrong place - which could probably be said of any library!

The curator went on to explain that the books can not leave the library; they are to be read only in the onsite reading room. But he was proud of his parting words, and they have stuck with me. I typed what he said into my phone so I would remember to get it exactly right: "The Trinity College Library is open to anyone from any walk of life, not just to the chosen few." Think about what a powerful statement that is. That is the lower-case-b beauty of libraries everywhere; they are equalizers; they are often life savers. "Books were my salvation growing up," my husband said to me when I told him what the curator had said, and I know he is not alone in that estimation. The Trinity College Library is a capital-B Beautiful reminder of how libraries can inform and inspire and delight and captivate us all - "not just the chosen few." 

In London a day or two later, we were on the tube seated near a family of five: a boy of about 14 or so, who was doing his best to strike the adolescent pose of indifference and mild irritation; a younger boy of maybe age 7 or 8, and a beautiful little girl of about 10 who was chattering away to her mother in Italian. At one point, the girl queried her mother. "Nein?" I understood her to say, clearly confusing my limited knowledge of European languages. "Nine and three-quarters," her mother replied to her. I smiled at them as I realized we shared a common bond. "Harry Potter," I ventured, and the ice was broken. The mother and the girl both smiled broadly back at me, and we had a nice exchange when it turned out the mom spoke nearly flawless English. As we bid them goodbye when we got off the tube at the next stop, I told them, "Nine and three-quarters is the universal language."

May this summer bring each of you wonderful experiences with books and libraries and the universal bonds that reading so often provides.



Monday, May 18, 2015


Dear Teachers,

Several years ago now, the pastor at my church was at the epicenter of a lot of strife. In my humble opinion, this person was (and is) an embodiment of love and peace, and at the time he happened to be the victim of a slander campaign. My opinion is based on the fact that I loved the man, and do to this day. But there was a big hoopla, a brouhaha, a to-do about all of this person's shortcoings; and a big church-wide meeting was called so that all the members  would have an opportunity to come together and share their concerns about whatever it was that people thought was going on. My friend the pastor stood up and spoke to the congregation with love and eloquence. I have no idea what he said, but I remember thinking, "I'm so glad he had the chance to speak his piece. Now people will understand what a wonderful individual he is, and will see that they have been unfair to him."

He excused himself from the room, and the next person who got up to speak said, "See there?! There he goes being divisive again!"

I really couldn't believe it. It was so obvious to me that my friend had exonerated himself, and yet others apparently saw it completely the opposite. Haters gonna hate, I guess, is the moral there.

That story is the one that I come back to every time someone surprises me with an opinion I didn't expect, or judges someone in a way that seems unfair to me. Each of us has our lens, our bias, our prejudgments, our opinions, and those all are formed sometimes without our even being conscious of doing so.  Once we have an opinion of someone, whatever that person does is seen through the lens of our opinion of him or her. Take political candidates, for example. We will tend to view positively the candidates of our preferred party, and will likely ignore anything "good" from the opposing party. Human nature, I suppose.

A personal example is a coworker of mine. I think she is just about perfect: cute, smart, funny, kind beyond measure. Anything she does reinforces my opinion of her. Anything that doesn't quite fit? I write it off as my error, or at the most, she was having a bad day. I am quick to excuse any shortcomings (to be clear: I don't see her as having shortcomings, although she probably does have at least one), and every sweet, cute, funny thing she does reinforces my already positive opinion of her. It's hard for me to imagine that anyone would see her any other way.

Conversely, there is a person in my life right now who seems to have gotten a negative impression of me, and no matter what I do, my actions seem to be viewed negatively. This has been going on for several years now, and I don't quite know what to make of it, as there doesn't seem to be a particular event or action for which I could apologize, or that could be addressed in a conversation. I have tried to make amends to this person, but whereas I could make it up to them for something I've DONE, I can't really figure out a way to make amends for who I AM.   I am at the point where I have to acknowledge that the person is going to find fault with me no matter what I do, and that is very uncomfortable for me. But I am learning to deal with it.

And maybe the most stubborn prejudices of all: those we hold of our family members. I wrote once about my mother, characterizing her as difficult, boring, unfriendly, unlikeable. While she still has the characteristics that made me believe those things, I have had to confront my own deeply held prejudices about her lately. In watching her a little more closely while she's been at the rehab facility for all her broken bones, I've slowly come to see a different mother, if I let myself. She eats in the same place every evening (this confirms my opinion that she is set in her ways and inflexible). She makes the other women at the table laugh, and they joke around together. WHOA.  Eleanor, one of my favorite of my mother's current rehab companions, says to me at every meal for which I am present, "Your mother is so funny. She keeps us all in stitches." Apparently my mother is perceived by others as - dare I say it? - FUN.

And here's another illustration. I wrote down a name and phone number from the answering machine at Mom's apartment, but I had heard the name wrong. "LYNN Levy? That's not her name - it's ANN Levy," my mother corrected sternly, as though I were quite the dolt. Chalk up a confirmation of my opinion of her as critical and exacting. When she called ANN back, they giggled together like schoolgirls. "I miss you, too," I heard my mother say. "Thank you. I love you too." (Who IS this woman sitting before me?)

I suppose this is the best kind of cognitive dissonance, learning new things about someone we had been convinced was a certain way. Just a tiny alteration in my own attitude - my own heart - that opens up chasms of room for a shift in perspective. Will my mother continue to get on my nerves? I suppose. But I have to tell you I'm kind of enjoying cutting her a little slack, and trying to see her in a different light after so many years.

Which brings me back around to you. You probably have about two or three weeks left with the current crop of kiddos. Do you have an opinion of one of them that you might consider changing? Is there one kid who consistently affirms your somewhat negative opinion of him/her? What could you do to see that student in a different light? How could you end the year surprising yourself and that student with your own acknowledgement that maybe - just maybe - there is more there than meets your eye? And what about that parent? You know: THAT Parent. The next time you cringe when you see That Parent's name in your inbox, stop and take a deep breath. Read the email as though it was from your very best friend. Maybe the words will be far more benign than you imagined them at first.

You may not need to shift your perception, but if you do, I hope you'll let someone surprise you this week.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Making Readers

Dear Teachers,

Since I'm a former librarian, it probably won't come as a big surprise to any of you that I have identified as a reader pretty much my whole life. I can remember walking up to the toy store that was just a few blocks from my house, with birthday or babysitting money in my pocket, trying to decide between the horse book or the Nancy Drew book. Usually the Nancy Drew book won, because I loved that someone with MY NAME could be so intrepid and such a good sleuth. I voraciously read every episode I could get my hands on, numerous times; I was always on the edge of my seat wondering how that Nancy was going to get out of the scrape she found herself in.

And then one day, Mrs. Brubaker, my 5th grade teacher, gave us an assignment. We would have to give a book review to our classmates. "This is great!" I thought. "I'll be able to tell everyone how cool Nancy Drew is. Maybe someone else will want to read about her, too!" I don't remember which installment of the series I chose to present, but I do remember the shame I felt when the teacher I had loved and trusted decided to criticize my choice of book in front of my entire class. "That is not a real book," she chided. "It's just a formula. The same basic thing happens in every book." I was so embarrassed.  The conclusion I came to? Maybe I wasn't a real reader after all, if I hadn't even been reading a real book.

The next reading memory I have is of discovering To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in the 8th grade. There is a passage near the end of the book that I can remember to this day, because I must have read it about 10,000 times. I remember absolutely weeping for the beauty and sadness of the passage. To this day I can walk into a book store and practically turn right to the page that I loved so.
A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention. It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. . . . Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive. Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
I don't know why that passage spoke to me the way it did, but I do know what a profound effect it had on my reading life. Forty years later, I still get a little choked up when I read it, but it's the memory of my 13-year-old reading self, I think, rather than the words themselves.

I've been thinking of my early reading memories because I've been working for a few months now on our district's Secondary Reading Advisory Committee, a group of lovely and committed Reading teachers who are looking at revamping our middle school Reading curriculum. It's been my privilege to work on this committee and to witness the care and thoughtfulness that these dedicated teachers bring to the work  of thinking through and creating a new reading program. The members of the committee have examined numerous research studies on what makes kids become readers; have read several books about what makes kids become readers; have discussed our observations about what makes kids become readers. The clear "winners" include student choice, time to read, and plenty of access to reading materials.

But the other winners, of course, will be the kids who reap the benefits of the hard work that these wonderful teachers have been doing over the past few months; the kids who will very likely become readers because of these teachers and many, many other teachers like them. Once again, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work in this profession. Because of this reading committee - maybe because of YOU - someone, somewhere will likely find his or her Secret of the Old Clock or To Kill a Mockingbird. And that someone, 40 years from now, will remember how you made them feel about that book, and hopefully will thank you.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

EdcampGlobal: Be Part of Something BIG

Dear Teachers,

I'm in on the ground floor of an amazing adventure, and I just have to tell you about it.

Just a little over three weeks ago, I found out that a couple of friends from a neighboring school district had come up with an idea that, frankly, is pretty genius. Jaime Donally and Deb Atchison were doing that talking, imagining, DREAMING thing and came up with the idea to expand the concept of an edcamp. Many of you reading this blog may know already that Edcamps have become quite a thing with educators lately - hundreds of teachers show up to these "unconferences" and learn from each other. There is no keynote speaker, and no particular agenda; the topics are decided on by the group, and are facilitated by members of the group. You can read more about "regular" edcamps here.

What Jaime & Deb came up with is edcampGlobal - working to get educators from ALL OVER THE WORLD to connect and collaborate together. The idea is that the event will take place online over 24 hours (8pm-8pm CDT July 31-August 1), covering all time zones and (hopefully) a large number of countries. We are also hoping to secure a location in the DFW area so that local participants can meet up at a physical location and share the excitement and learning in person. EdcampGlobal has taken off like crazy - in less than a month, over 700 followers on Twitter, over 300 registered participants on Eventbrite, and many of the participants have already signed up to be facilitators of sessions. We also have a few additional collaborators from other states and countries who want to make edcampGlobal a success. I'm not sure any of us could have predicted how this thing has taken off, and once again I am awed and humbled by the opportunities my current job has provided to me. What could be better than getting to work with enthusiastic, knowledgeable people to create something huge and (hopefully) historic? It's incredibly fun and energizing to be part of the planning for this event!

So in case you're wondering, here's how it's going to work. In a face-to-face edcamp, the decisions about who is going to facilitate what are made the morning of the event. As the participants gather, people contribute what they would like to learn about as well as what they would be comfortable facilitating, and the schedule is built based on those preferences during the first hour or so of the edcamp. With edcampGlobal, we have to do a bit more advance planning; it just wouldn't work to try to put together 24 hours worth of learning with hundreds of people at the last minute like that. So we are already getting people to tell us what they are interested in learning about, and encouraging participants to volunteer to facilitate something. That is the edcamp spirit - learning about what you want, from other educators who are passionate enough about the topic to step out and lead a discussion about it! But we need to have the schedule arranged ahead of time so that people will have plenty of time to choose from among the many topics that will be addressed. That’s why we’re starting early to recruit facilitators.

Facilitators will select the platform for their session. So you might see a Twitter chat, a conversation via Google docs (love that translate feature, folks!), a Facebook page, or a Google Hangout. Canvas has agreed to let edcampGlobal use its LMS during the event! We were playing around in the office yesterday with a new app called Periscope that might work, or a facilitator might choose a tool like Nearpod to communicate with participants.   It's completely open! How cool that these global connections are even possible - talk about an "R" on the SAMR ladder!

I hope I have conveyed to you the excitement that is building, and that you'll want to join us for all or part of the event on July 31-August 1. Here are all the details you'll need to keep up with the exciting things going on at EdcampGlobal:

Events like these are successful because of the participants. Judging from the Twitter chatter, this edcamp is going to be phenomenal! I hope you'll take advantage of the opportunity to join us so that you can say, "I was a part of that, and it was BIG." 



Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Mother

Dear Teachers,
My 87-year-old mother had a "spell" about three and a half weeks ago that ended her up in the hospital for a couple of days. I had thought that this episode was the Beginning of the End - the capital-E end: she was extremely confused, couldn't put a coherent sentence together, had no memory for anything, and was so weak she couldn't even get up out her chair without a good deal of assistance.

But in the past ten days, I was happy to see that she had rallied quite a bit. She still had practically no memory, but could carry on a conversation, and with physical therapy and some round-the-clock caregivers was much stronger. She hadn't been out of her retirement community since she came home from the hospital on her birthday on March 7, so I had told her that we would at least go for a ride in the car yesterday because it was such a beautiful day. I wasn't sure where I could take her that didn't have steps or a long walk involved, but she has always loved the Arboretum so I had been considering giving that a try if she would consent to a wheelchair.

But sadly, I didn't get the chance to do that. While I was driving down to see her, I got a call from her caregiver saying that she had fallen. My mother is a somewhat stubborn person, or perhaps this time it was just sheer forgetfulness, but she had come back from lunch in the dining room and walked into her apartment without her walker. Her caregiver was pushing the walker through the door of the apartment when my mother turned and tripped on her own feet, landing on the tile floor and cracking her head on a corner of wall. So instead of going to the Arboretum (perhaps a blessing in disguise), I followed her ambulance to the hospital. She has six staples in the gash in her head, a broken clavicle (with a bruise on her shoulder/chest to beat the band), four fractures in her pelvis, and several small fractures at the lower part of her spine. There was also on the x-rays some evidence of previous spine fractures. We are awaiting a visit from the spine specialist today to see if surgery is in her future. All of this from one fall, and when things had, just 24 hours ago, been looking so much better for her.

I try to imagine how frustrating this fall and general lack of balance must be for my mother, who all her life was an athlete. Although she never taught, she was a P.E. major at SMU. Her reflexes in many instances are still quite good; I remember at the previous hospital stay a nurse whose eyes were wide with astonishment, impressed that my mother was able to grab something in midair that he had dropped.  "She's still in there," I remembered saying to myself at the time.

I haven't always looked forward to spending time with my mother. She can be very unpleasant to be around, and her social skills have never been great; in another time she might have been diagnosed as "on the spectrum." She has said some jaw-droppingly hurtful things to me and to my children (her grandchildren!) - and her attitude has always been, "that's just who I am; take it or leave it." When bad things have happened, I have always weighed carefully how long I can go without telling my mother because I could almost certainly count on her to make me feel WORSE about the situation, at least in the short term. She is not in the least bit what one could reasonably call "emotionally supportive."

But now as she is lying in the hospital bed, none of the unpleasantness of the past 54 years seems to matter all that much any more, as so many people in this situation before me have realized. I am remembering only the ping-pong table on our screened-in porch, and how many times she played with me when she would probably rather have been doing something else. She worked at a small church near our house and would bring me with her sometimes during the summers; it was on that church's pool table that she taught me how to play. (For the record, I played pool for the first time in about 25 years not long ago and was pretty darned smug when I beat my [male] opponent who had previously beaten everyone he'd played. I remember at the time thinking to myself, "Thanks, mom.") I was given tennis lessons, swimming lessons, and horseback riding lessons (and I have long forgiven her for not buying that horse I was so insistent on getting when I was 10).

A daughter of the 1940's and '50's herself, my mother did not encourage me to have a career, did not allow me to spend a semester in Europe, did not understand when I got divorced or had problems with my children. She has lived in the same 7-mile radius her entire life and does not like to travel; consequently her world view is somewhat limited. But I know that she loves her family with all her heart.

I do not have memories of ever being a fun family; our family get-togethers are filled with bland discussions about the weather, and no one wears silly hats, makes music together, or ever EVER laughs till milk comes out their nose. When I hear about other people's raucous holiday celebrations, I've always been a bit envious of that freedom of emotion. On the other hand, I do not have memories of people flying into a rage and throwing things; my family, as far as I know, is completely free of physical or sexual abuse; we have had no financial scandals; we have always gone to church. I try to live within my means, I think manners are important, and I like to think my integrity shows; all of these attributes were instilled in me by my mother, the woman I have so often characterized as boring and difficult, and who is now lying in a bed in ICU down the highway. At this point it's hard for me to imagine that this will end well.

This blog is perhaps not the best avenue for my thoughts, but it's the one I have, and I needed to write this morning. So thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps I will have updates soon.


P.S. If you are going through similar times with aging parents, I can't recommend highly enough Roz Chast's wonderful Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? There's a reason it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Little Walk Down Memory Lane

Dear Teachers,
I got a call a few days ago from someone in another department who was verifying that I am about to celebrate 15 years of service in the district.  I replied that that was true. ("Wow," I thought to myself, "15 years. How can that be?") Would it be okay if they published my name and years of service in various district publications? Yes, I told her; that would be fine. After we hung up, I kept thinking about those fifteen years and how much has changed in the world, and in me.

I was lucky enough to stay home with my kids when they were babies, and for the first four or five years, I loved it. I loved seeing all their firsts, witnessing their precious little discoveries, and taking them on little mommy field trips. My kids were just under 16 months apart, and I used that fact  for a while to justify not working  - "Sorry, my kids are 2 and 1; I could never get out of the house on time in the morning" was a line that made people smile knowingly and immediately understand my decision. Then it became "my kids are 3 and 2..." "my kids are 6 and 5..." It dawned on me one day that I would soon be saying, "My kids are 23 and 22...," which even I realized sounded ridiculous.

So when my son started kindergarten, I began to think about returning to the work world. Fortunately for me, he went to a wonderful public school that had a phenomenal librarian. I signed up to volunteer in the library, as many new kindergarten moms do. I talked to her about her job and her role in the school, and after several months I decided that's what I wanted to do. To this day, I'm grateful for her influence in my decision, because the path I ended up on has been pretty terrific.

Keep in mind that in 1998, I would just barely have been able to search online for information on an MLS program, even if I had known how to and if we had had dial-up back then. The Texas Woman's University website, according to the Wayback Machine, looked like this on February 13, 1998, the earliest snapshot available:

(Image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,*/
I don't remember using the Internet to research my options, so I assume I did things the old-fashioned way, making phone calls and using the U.S. Postal Service. I started pursuing my Master's in Library Science, and it felt as though I was waking up from a long sleep. After being at home talking to young children all day every day for almost seven years, the intellectual stimulation I got from graduate coursework was empowering and rejuvenating.

I had been an early childhood teacher in my life BC (before children), and I'd always expected that I would continue to work with preschoolers. But during the last year that I was in library school, I was told about a job as a library assistant in a junior high not far from where my kids were in school. I did not expect to like that age group, but I accepted the job because it was such a perfect opportunity to make a gentle slide back into the work world: it was in the field I wanted, and part time, just on school days. I remember that I made $8/hour, but the growth in self esteem that came from earning my own money for the first time in several years far outweighed the size of my paychecks. A huge unexpected bonus was that I discovered I LOVED those middle school age kids! And it turned out that it led to my first Real Librarian Job, when in May of 2000, I was offered a position as a middle school librarian in my current school district. I remain grateful to the principal who took a chance on me.

You know in job interviews where they ask, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I remember being asked that by the principal who hired me, and I remember that my answer was something along the lines of "I've never been very good at predicting my future, but I hope to be better at what I do in five years than I am on the first day of the job." You know, a vague non-answer, although I was certainly correct about the "not good at predicting my future" part. I could never have guessed my professional trajectory.

To help you with a frame of reference, Google looked this in mid-2000:

(image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine, 

How in the world did we search for things before Google became a verb? Well, remember Alta Vista?

(Image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,

There was also Yahoo:

(Image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,

And of course, AOL:

(Image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,

Our district's main page looked like this in 2000:

(Image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,

And the district library page looked like this:

(image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,

Just for fun, I also clicked on that "Region X Media Fair - 2000" link you can see in the graphic above:

(image captured 2/23/2015 at the Wayback Machine,
Wow - how innovative! "Powerpoint (sic) and Curriculum Use"! "Word 97"! It all seems almost like another lifetime now, doesn't it?

And for me, in a way, it *was* another lifetime. In 2000, my kids were 9 and 8 so I was still in the middle of daily hands-on parenting. I had a different last name; a different home address; different colleagues; a different work space. The school building I was in at the time was even different because it had not undergone its renovation.

As it turned out, I was beginning my own renovation, too. When I first started library school, I was something of a Luddite but was unabashedly proud of that little flip-style cell phone I had finally gotten. I barely knew how to open a Word document, let alone format it or insert an image. A couple of years later I was still woefully inept at much of the technology that was available to me at the time, but I became unafraid to click things and unafraid of making a mistake; I began to see how much I learned from doing things the wrong way once or twice! AND, I had Clippy for help!
But if you had told me in 2000 that I would one day be working in Instructional Technology, I'm not sure I would have believed you.

When I joined my current department in 2006, I had no clue about all the instructional software that was available to teachers and students at what grade levels. I was unclear as to what my role was in terms of support for these programs, and I had absolutely no idea how to get up in front of a room full of adults and deliver an effective training experience.  I used to get so rattled if, during a presentation, technology would fail or someone would ask me a question to which I did not know the answer. I have learned a lot through my own trial and error, from the gentle coaching of colleagues, and from an active pursuit of my own professional learning, particularly through involvement in Learning Forward and TCEA. I like to think that I was somewhat accurate in my vague non-prediction about being better at my job than I was when I first started.

My job continues to evolve, and most mornings I am eager to get to work and see what the day brings. I imagine it will seem like the blink of an eye when in the not-so-distant future the phone rings (will we still have phones that ring?) and someone says, "I'm calling to confirm that you have 25 years of service to the district."

What do you remember about how the last fifteen years have changed? Write me back in the Comments section below.