Sunday Reflections: Tuesday Crying

I keep thinking about Tuesday afternoon in my classroom. I feel like I should share it. But it feels strange to centre a blog post around a lot of crying. And it is the crying that is significant. There was a lot of crying on Tuesday afternoon in our room. The crying was full of sadness. Some stemmed from grief. Some was about pain – pain from remembering, pain from missing, pain from past and present hurts. It was about loss. Loss of place. Of people. Of security.

Some of the crying was just because there was so much crying. Because we are connected. We are wired to feel, to care, to absorb the pain and emotions of those around us. At one point, at least half the class was shedding tears. In one child it was a single tear rolling down a cheek. In another, little sniffles. In others, full out sobbing with dripping noses and wails.  We all shared in these tears and it was incredible. Incredible and necessary and full of promise. I continue to be in awe of all of that crying.

How can I begin to explain?

It began with a read aloud.

In the days before Remembrance Day, I planned numerous read alouds about war, peace, voice and hope. Remembrance Day was not what it was in my childhood where war was definitely long ago and maybe far away. Today, many of our lives have very recently been touched by war and conflict. I have refugee children sitting in my classroom. I teach students whose families were forced to flee their home countries because of politics, safety and war. Students in my room have experienced recent loss. They have listened to bombs. They have lived in camps waiting for safe passage. They have been part of making a new home in a new place.

So when I read a book about a child living in a war torn place where peace did not exist, I knew it was an invitation. An invitation to wonder. To talk. To share stories. Those things might happen. It was at least an invitation to listen. I was prepared for any of it as in not really being prepared at all. I was just open. What might happen would not be unexpected but I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I had an important book to share.

A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman (2008) remains one of my favourite titles to share in this context. It is gentle and honest. It doesn’t hide from how hard war is for a child as it portrays a fierce commitment to a hope for a different future.

How do we talk about war and conflict with children? How do we honour peace? Sometimes all we need is a place to start and this book provides that place.

One child broke down in the final pages. She apologized for not holding things in. This book had made her remember her own family’s recent experience with war. We assured her that it was absolutely okay to cry. I had her come and sit beside me and helped her share a little bit of her story with her classmates. By this time, others were also crying. Some children uncovered their own sadness and many tears erupted. Many of us were crying together for many reasons, some with nothing at all to do with the story.

We made space for all of these tears. It is significant in so many ways to sit and cry unabashedly in your classroom surrounded by a class community. The room grew more quiet and still and we honoured all of this crying.

We gathered in a circle and held hands. I asked a child to turn off the overhead lights. We sat together while many children cried. Many watched and absorbed. Nobody needed to tell a specific story. Nobody was told to stop. In letting ourselves be in those emotions, without hushing, consoling and being asked to move on, out little circle of crying became safe and beautiful. Snippets of stories were told. The listening was intense. There was room also not to tell but just to be. Keeping everything in often hurts more than letting it out. A big cry in a quiet room surrounded by others who are present with you is a pretty beautiful thing.

I sat with my students as witness. I looked at each one in the eyes and smiled. I held little hands. I nodded. I knew it was my role to shift the energy eventually, to help us move to what was next. But I didn’t feel the need to rush it. I didn’t let a room full of crying children and contagious tears scare me. I gave it time. I didn’t swoop in to fix or fuss or brush tears away. To stop emotions is to say there is no place for those things here. And there is big space.

Aren’t we lucky?” I said instead.

Aren’t we lucky we can feel so safe? We can cry here and remember sad things together. We are lucky that we care about each other. That we are all here. That we want to know each other’s stories. We are safe here.”

Then I guided.

Stand up.”

“Let’s go.”

“Flick on the lights.”

“Get in line.”

“Open the door.”

We walked down the hall in a large mass. Some still sniffling. Someone brought along our now mostly empty tissue box. We went to the gym and raced around. Did silly stretches. Played a familiar game that let us run and shoot and shout and cheer. And laugh.

Eventually, we headed back upstairs to our room to have ice cream cake. It was somebody’s birthday. What perfect, perfect timing. Apple juice. Cake. Birthday songs and wishes. More giggles.

At the end of the day, many chocolate smeared faces beamed at me. I got a lot of squishy hugs. One child whispered, “Can we read more books like that? It helped me remember my country.”

Yes! Yes we can. Yes we will. Yes we have. (See the list below for titles that I shared later in the week or have in the pile for next week and moving forward).

“I like how that book was so sad. That’s why it was my favourite,” one child explained to me on Friday as he wrote about the books. I asked him why he loved a such a sad book so much. “It let me remember, ” he explained.

So that is our work for this next while. Remembering. Telling and hearing stories. Feeling all the emotions. We have decided to make our exploration of this question: What is peace? the theme of our year.

The little one who was first so moved by this story shared these words in her Reader Response book on Friday.

I liked A Child’s Garden because I remember my country. And I finally take every thing in my heart and share it. I really liked that everyone was caring about my country. My dream and my wish is to go to my country and see everyone. I hope that war is going to finish.

“I finally take everything in my heart and share it.”

This.

This is everything. All that crying in our classroom on Tuesday allowed for this. A lot of crying changed our room. I feel so absolutely blessed and honoured to do this work. To learn from the children I share my days with. To be a part of a classroom community that is safe. That cares. That can sit in the dark and cry together. That has decided to begin answering one of the most important questions that can ever be asked: What is peace?

This little paper was passed to me Friday. It is the beginning of the thinking and wondering that I hope will fill our room.

Here is a list of more titles we will be reading together as a class. This is a beginning. We will find others as our inquiry, thinking and questions lead us other places.

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

The Journey by Fransesca Sanna 

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelison

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margariet Ruurs Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

Why?  by Nikolai Popov

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

peaceSami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland and illustrated by Ted Lewin

 

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I worry a lot about teaching writing because I want learning to happen without erasing any joy. I want ideas to flow. I want enthusiasm to reign. I want doubts to stay far away. I want little writers to build their skills in a space that is safe. I want the idea of writing to become (or remain) a purely positive experience. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s work. Even if we don’t have it all figured out.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Heck, I think I admit so frequently that I haven’t got a lot figured out that it might be time to really wonder about my credibility! BUT, I like to write about what I notice and sometimes it seems that there is enough great stuff happening right in front of me, that maybe I might have a thing or two to share. Lately, here’s what I have observed. We are growing writers. So far, it has been pretty organic. We aren’t bogged down in details and the “how to of it all” at this point.

We have jumped right in. We are immersing ourselves. We are beginning.

Here’s a peek into how:

There is daily time to read. Writers are readers. We need to give our reading writers time to fall into a story. There is so much learning happening when we let our students have time to read.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I read aloud often! Young writers need to be exposed to many, many read alouds. All different kinds of books shared with their classroom community. Picture books. Nonfiction picture books. Novels. Poetry. Writers definitely blossom in a room that celebrates stories.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

read books that are specifically about writing. Writers need to talk and learn about the process. Picture books invite them to learn from characters who are also figuring it out.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I provide time to reflect and to write about what writing means. My students  acknowledge that the process takes some work.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Writing is honoured.

I often am reminded about how deeply children think about the writing process. I love how bravely my students write. It’s about ideas on a page. We don’t get obsessed about correct spelling or mistakes. We embrace our right to imagine and tell our stories.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I introduce students to authors – if in real life, all the better! Local author Bree Galbraith came and read her latest picture book to our classroom. Milo and Georgie got lots of love! And Bree fielded numerous questions in an engaging discussion about writing books, being a Mom, cat allergies, idea generating and favourite words.Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

After getting some input from the students about some future and in-process stories, Bree got some spontaneous hugs!

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I loved listening in on the stories being shared. Bree gave beautiful space to each child who shared with her.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Our book is now signed!

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I encourage students to write to everyone for all kinds of reasons

A Guest Teacher might be coming? How about some welcome letters?

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Our engineer helped us out with a new Food Waste bin. We all wrote him thank you notes.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

That visiting author? We miss her already and couldn’t wait to write her letters.

Sunday Reflections: Growing WritersSunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

A writing centre and materials for writing are must haves. Ours is a shelf full of paper, notepapers, pens and coloured pencils. We also bring out felt tipped pens to write with so that we can love our mistakes instead of erasing them. We write during Writing Workshop but students also write when they have free time, during choices time and even during the lunch hour. Many are collaborative stories with multiple authors and illustrators.

I was just gifted a The Kind Book co-written by three girls. Each page has one word and an illustration. Check out the rainbow end pages! These kids know books and no detail is missed.

Sunday Reflections: Growing WritersWe are about to make books to share what we have learned about insects. Once we’ve done a little more research, there will be art, poetry, facts and book love. Everyone is excited.

We can do this!

We are writers!

Sunday Reflections: Dear Blog Readers

Dear Blog Readers:

In the next while you might notice a few changes in some of my posts. While this is still a place I will continue to share a LOT of book love (including reviews, author/illustrator interviews, best of lists, weekly sharing of what I’m reading), you will now be getting a larger peek into my classroom.

Sunday Reflections: Dear Blog Readers

What’s ahead? More student book reviews, more classroom photos interspersed into my #IMWAYR posts, sharing of student writing especially in response to what we are reading and various other classroom celebrations of learning. This fall I considered beginning a second blog for classroom related things which felt a little bit overwhelming in terms of time. I then realized that much of our learning is connected to stories and literature and thus, this blog is the ideal location to share both our adventures in learning and our love of reading. I remembered this again reading my own words in this post: Honest truths, metaphorical whales and the “in between” place

” . . . through books we find most of the answers and all of the questions and that these beloved book makers, when they share, help to illuminate both. ”

“The honest truth? I am a reading teacher. And I have important work to do.”

For those of you new to this blog, I am sharing some posts below (follow the links) that give a flavour of my teaching philosophy, my thoughts about reading and what I celebrate in the realm of teaching and learning.

Our words, after all, tell our stories.

Here is mine.

Classroom communities are pretty incredible places. We spend a LOT of time together.

6 hours x 5 days x 10 months

“But when we experience classrooms – as in, occupy classrooms for those 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months, it is mostly about relationships. Because none of that other stuff happens without them. At least not as deeply, meaningfully and wonderfully as it could. And should.”

I believe in the importance of “kid watching” and talk more about it here: The power of observation

 “I need time to watch and interact and notice. I need to trust that I know what I am looking for and that I can make decisions to best guide the learning based on what I see.”

Some of the best observations happen, when there is time for play.

Capturing Play

“There is more and more research to support the benefits of play on the social emotional well being and cognitive development of our learners. In our quest for the most meaningful learning opportunities for our students, we need to make room for play.”

Every child matters.  Every child belongs. Some children especially need us to be welcoming and patient. I feel blessed to have learned from some pretty incredible children over the years.

The Part that is True

“When I look at Harry learning and laughing and taking more risks every day, I know that my job is not to bask in the happiness of his growth and success. My job is to pave the way for more of the same in his future.”

The Kid on the Piano

“I stand there and watch him for a minute.

Shining in the sunshine coming through the windows.

I see the bright energy return under those stormy eyebrows.”

Be Gentle

“Sometimes with all of the busy and all of the rushing and all of the stuff we have to do in schools, we can forget to be gentle. Sometimes gentle is the most important choice we make.”

The more I do this work, the more I realize that there is so much I don’t know. But every so often, I celebrate what I have learned.

20 years, 20 things

“Value community. We are one of many people teaching the children in our classrooms. Students come from varied, interesting and diverse backgrounds. Honour their parents. The extended families. The community that surrounds the school. Make connections to the key players – community centre staff, public library staff, recreation program staff, community health nurses, etc. We are all in this together.”

All my Secrets

“Know that you are present everyday for the amazing of childhood. Don’t try to chase it away or shake it out. Childhood is sad with snotty sobs. Silly with contagious laughter. Angry with stomps and hiding. Wild with wonder and delight. Full with the magic of the world.”

I also need community. Last March, I wrote about realizing I was beginning to find it in my new school.

Finding Community

” Numerous children are nameless to me but we smile at each other each time we pass in the halls. The names will come. The connections will grow. We will make some shared stories.”

Books are my thing. I love the land of stories, words and worlds I find in them.

I believe passionately in classroom libraries and blog about this frequently.

Books, books, books – everywhere you look

“Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature. They reflect the interests, the questions and the passions of the readers in the room.”

When I packed up and moved schools after 21 years, books grounded me: These Books

“In those times when I look up and remember that it’s all new and not yet home, these books will help me find my balance. Let me place two solid feet in the middle of it all.”

In the month of March, I write every day. Be warned now.

This Writing Thing

“Writing steals time. While you try to capture the world, some of it passes you by. You aren’t where you started. You don’t remember arriving here.”

Happy reading! Happy writing! Happy Sunday!

Sunday Reflections: 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months

Sunday Reflections: There's a Book for That

I have been teaching for more than two decades and I still find the whole concept of school completely fascinating. A number of children who share ages and stages but not necessarily experiences and values coming together to form quite intimate communities where they will spend hours together every day. They will take risks, navigate conflicts and learn beside, from and in spite of each other. The adults involved will teach, guide and facilitate, yes. But they will also take risks, navigate conflicts and do the same deep learning (or at least they should).

Just like we don’t choose our families, in many ways we don’t choose our teachers or our students. We find ourselves together and we muddle through, figuring lots out along the way. Really, we spend more active, awake, engaged time with each other in our classroom communities than we do with our own families at home. 5 days a week. 10 months of the year. 6 or more hours a day.

Yet, when we talk classrooms, we spend LOTS of time talking education and learning. Motivation. Engagement. Challenge. Barriers. Supports. Achievement. Enrichment. Skill building. Independence. Progress. On it goes. Current buzz words and the consistent tried and true vocabulary of education.

But when we experience classrooms – as in, occupy classrooms for those 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months, it is mostly about relationships. Because none of that other stuff happens without them. At least not as deeply, meaningfully and wonderfully as it could. And should.

Talking about relationships is complicated. There is not a curriculum guide, performance standard or professional read that is going to provide the “how to guide” for each particular group of students and teachers. Each year, in September, we begin figuring it out and when we say goodbye in June, those of us that are honest know – there is still much to learn.

If we did spend more time talking about relationships, we might spend more time on questions like:

  • What would be taught in Teacher Education about working with children? Not behaviour management but relationship dynamics and community building.
  • What professional learning opportunities would continue to be offered in districts that focused on social emotional learning and making connections?
  • What are the benefits of multi-age classes?
  • How could we set up a school where every teacher loops classes of children so that we all spend 2 years together? Is this good practice? And is it good for our students?
  • What are the most effective ways of building classroom communities – from the making of the class lists themselves to the way we begin our year together?
  • How do we extend those strong student-teacher connections to student- other adult connections throughout the school?
  • How do we encourage our learners to also be leaders and teachers?
  • How can strong classrooms be enhanced by strong school communities?
  • How can we build connections between classrooms?
  • How do we make it okay to talk about the fact that if the mandate of school is simply to provide an education, we have forgotten that we are educating people? And growing citizens? And making a culture of care the norm, not the exception?
  • What can and should a culture of care really mean?
  • Why is care not as important as standards?
  • How do we connect our communities to neighbourhood? To local and global initiatives?
  • How do we celebrate and make room for happiness?
  • What do we really value when we make decisions about children?

If we shared honestly and easily that building relationships and finding ways to work and learn together is where we really spend much of our time, would it be easier to share the challenges, the triumphs, and the worries?

Would we allow more time to connect throughout each day of the year and stop the mad dash curriculum racing so many feel pressured by?

Would we talk more openly about mental health? About stress? About trauma? About the barriers to learning that have nothing to do with learning itself and everything to do with our students’ capacity to manage in the world?

Would we more freely celebrate the things that we can’t measure on a test or a rubric? Like kindness and generosity. Compassion. Humility. Forgiveness. Trust. Happiness. Joy. And not as part of a token week, a flash mob event or a short lived theme. But anytime and any day that we see it?

Would we grant educators the time to address needs? Time to truly see children for who they are and what they are telling us with some of their unexpected and confusing behaviours? Would we put supports in place to allow us to be more responsive when we do uncover truths and hardships and struggles?

Not as stopping places. Not as excuses. But as starting places. So that we are building capacity, strengthening spirits and finding opportunities for children who need to heal to do just that as we also provide incredible situations where learning can flourish.

Classrooms. Places to be 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months. Classrooms are where we are figuring lots of life out. We’re supposed to be figuring out education. And we are. But, wow, wouldn’t it be great if we were also supported to do what we are already doing – figuring out each other? Who we are and who we want to be?

As people.

With people.

As we work amongst people for life?

Some of us stand tall in the land of relationships and shout about them and celebrate them. We talk about community. We honour it. We feel its weight and are lifted by its joy.

I love when teachers share about who their students are as they share about what their students learn. I want to hear it more often. I try to share, just this, in kind.

I am musing. And wondering. On a rainy Sunday.

Please join me and share your thoughts. Your musings. Your brilliance.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes

I just read The Wolf Wilder, the latest middle grade novel written by author Katherine Rundell. There was much I loved in this title: the adventure, the drama, the suspense. Most of all I loved the courage. This book was full of brave children. Heroism in small but mighty packages. I don’t want to give away plot points as this is a must read title, but I will say that children in this book amazed and impressed me. They embraced their fear. They rallied. They acted. They certainly weren’t perfect. There was lots of vulnerability. But the bravery reigned true.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes There's a Book for That

I loved the community of children here. The following of dreams. The simplicity of lessons from wolves. Be true. Protect the pack. Honour loyalty. Run fast. Sleep deep. Be resourceful.

This book made me think about how children often astound me. I witness daily moments of bravery. Moments that surprise me. Actions and wisdom I respect in the daily interactions I have with the students I teach.

Yes, I often worry. Sometimes a lot. I watch a lot of mistakes. I see habits and attitudes that are troubling and unhealthy. I witness trauma and all that is upsetting in its impact.

Feo, the main character in The Wolf Wilder worked to bring the wild back to domesticated wolves captured at birth and forced to lead ridiculous lives -in the homes of wealthy Russians. Wilding is really re-wilding. Bringing back what should not have been lost.

Sometimes, I feel that way about the children that I teach. Some of them need re-childing. I want to – in a sense – return childhood to children who have not had enough of it, who keep losing it to the impacts of poverty and related stress.

But everyday, I celebrate possibility. Brave children. Opportunities for everything that can be good. The joy and happiness of childhood.

It is the eve of return to school after a long winter break. I know many of our students eagerly anticipate the return to their school community. Some have mixed feelings – upset and anxiety related to a break that might not have been so pleasant. For some, the routine of bed times and early starts is challenging. But school means breakfast, lunch and important connections. I have loved my break but I am excited about a term full of rich learning and relationship building.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes There's a Book for That

And I have some wishes. Some wild ones. Wild because they won’t all happen. The big wish of course, is that these would all be in the realm of realistic. Easily possible. Our world is built for that. Yet, here I am. Wishing.

For each of my students, I wish for security.  I hope that they will each find numerous adults at school ready, willing and able to meet them where they are at. I hope that they feel loved, wanted and precious. I want them to experience 24 hours of care and nurturing. 24 hours of every day. I hope that they won’t experience some things we should be able to protect them from. Hunger, for instance. The longing for a warm bed. I wish them freedom from adult worries.

I also wish for some amazing learning. That they will learn something they never believed to be true. That they will learn something they never thought they could learn. That they will learn something not yet imagined. I hope that all of this learning will be inspirational and give them new faith in their own possibilities. And belief in the possibilities the world has for them.

I wish that each child will become more comfortable taking risks. That each child will become better at speaking up and listening closely. I hope that each child will learn something significant from a peer. I wish that each child will deliver a sincere apology and accept one. More than once. These children have much to teach each other.

I wish that each child I teach will feel brave. Know trust. Experience huge joy.

These are my 2016 wishes. Inspired by wildish wolves and brave children.

Here is to the possibility of 2016.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the “in between” place

So if you are a voracious children’s book addict, you often experience the world in relation to images and phrases in children’s books. If you have a blog called There’s a Book for That,  you absolutely do . . . Some of you, I know, are with me. Yes?

“Shhh!” I often exclaim, “I have a plan.” (Full credit to Chris Haughton‘s Shh! We Have a Plan) And the children, they actually stop and listen. Yes, for about 2.5 seconds, but still.

When I do something particularly impressive, I might deem it “skilly” (thank you Bob Shea and Cheetah) The “skilly” descriptor elevates things. And makes us smile.

Holy Bagumba!” once was uttered in my classroom (a classroom besotted with Flora & Ulysses) multiple times a day. For a while, when I was reading one of the Clementine novels (thank you Sara Pennypacker) the children delighted in affectionately calling each other vegetable names. Nowadays, we pretend to have Mrs. Gobble Gracker sightings. (Thank you to Abby Hanlon and the wonderful Dory books) Sometimes, I am almost convinced she is lurking around the corner. Sometimes, in very hopeful ways. I could go have a third cup of coffee and Mrs. Gobble Gracker could take care of everything.

A recent afternoon consisted of a mini Betty Bunny (thank you Michael B. Kaplan) reading marathon. All of us professed our love for chocolate cake or equally divine lemon tarts, strawberry cupcakes or apple pie. Although none of us wanted to stuff any of these favourite desserts into our socks (Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is a must read), we did certainly identify with Betty’s intense love for delicious sweet treats.

We then read Betty Bunny Didn’t Do it and talked a lot about the honest truth. Betty, has switched her obsession from chocolate cake to honest lies and the “situations” she anticipates them saving her from. Honest truths. Honest lies. In the world of Betty Bunny? Quite hilarious. And of course, perfect inspiration for those important conversations we can have with children about accepting responsibility, “owning up” and dealing with the consequences.

I keep thinking about life right now in these categories. Honest truths. Honest lies. The honest truth? This has been a challenging fall. For some reasons I can share freely and for some reasons I can’t. Unfortunately, much is not in my control. Also the truth? That when lots is hard, we doubt what we know. We get pulled from our confidence. We drift from our strengths. We see clouds over what we trust. We don’t feel all that skilly.

Honest lies? Sometimes I tell them to myself until I can get back to the truth. What are they? That I am fully coping. The truth? Not really. Not always. I have been drifting. I have been waiting to see the metaphorical whale in front of me – the inspiration and the amazing in a class full of children that can and does outweigh the challenges that might be swimming around. But storms have taken me off course. I have been doing it all wrong. I have been looking the wrong way.

In If you want to see a whale, the beautiful book written by Julie Fogaliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, Fogliano writes,

“If you want to see a whale, keep both eyes on the sea and wait . . . and wait . . .  and wait . . .”

I have not had both eyes on the sea. My attention has been pulled. I have been looking at foggy, cloudy skies and missing things. But I have kept faith that one day again soon, I will look out at the right time, in the right way and see. When I see my “whale” I will realize that my boat is strong and steady, that I can row in rough waves and that I can pause and appreciate the wonder and the magic of teaching children. I can recognize that multiple little sightings of amazing lead to something with the promise as enormous as a whale.

I didn’t know that Marla Frazee would point me in the exact direction I needed to look. But she did.

Yesterday, Marla Frazee addressed an audience of picture book lovers and devoted fans at the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable‘s Illustrator breakfast. She began with a gracious acknowledgement of her welcome and introduction. She honoured Vancouver’s torrential rain, calling it beautiful and welcome to a California resident. And then, before she launched into an inspirational talk about her books and her art and her practice, she asked, “Is Carrie here?” Once we figured out that she was actually talking about me, I raised my hand. “I just wanted to see who you were,” she explained.

The honest truth? This simple statement was a gift. It made me teary. Teary beyond being flattered that my “super fan status” and my sharing of how meaningful Marla’s titles have been in my classroom had also meant something to her.

Yesterday, in that room full of picture book love, these words from Marla Frazee brought me back. In my searching for a whale metaphor, they steadied my boat. But really, they planted my feet. Right back where they needed to be. They reminded me of who I am.

I am a teacher. A teacher who believes firmly in the gift of literacy.  I am a conduit between authors and illustrators who have magic to give and the children who need to receive it. And when I can, I reflect it back. I love nothing more than to share how very beloved stories are in a community of little readers. I am blessed to sit “in between“- in the middle of the book makers and the readers and listeners who they make these books for.

How lucky we are – reading teachers – who get to read aloud to children daily. To put amazing books in the hands of children. To witness as all of the creative energies, the stories, the world flows to these students entrusted to us from nine to three each day. To bask in the wow moments as these children shine it back out into the world. And sometimes, to catch bits of that and pass it back to the book makers who shared in the first place . . .  It is a beautiful thing.

The honest truth? I am a reading teacher. And I have important work to do. Marla Frazee, thank you for reminding me of this. What a pleasure it was to listen to your wisdom and meet you yesterday.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

Thank you also to the wonderful Nancy Johnson from Western Washington University who I loved visiting with yesterday. She hears the same words I do when we are in the presence of author/illustrator brilliance and writes them down and holds them close. I love that we both know that through books we find most of the answers and all of the questions and that these beloved book makers, when they share, help to illuminate both. Your students, Nancy, are so blessed to have you shine the light on this.

And so, on Monday, I will do what I do. I will let books do what they do. Yesterday, I found the perspective and the emotion I had been missing. Hard things wear us down. It would be an honest lie to say all is well, but honestly, truthfully, I feel like I have renewed energy to focus on what I need to be doing each day.

For me, yes. But more importantly, for my students.

For the children who want to be readers and who aren’t yet . . . For each child, no matter how they express this – through quiet admissions, through masking behaviours, through various emotions, through smiles of pride as progress happens. For these children, I will continue searching for books that each one can read at every stage so that we all get to feel like the books in our room are for all of us. I made a pit stop at Vancouver Kidsbooks yesterday, to fuel up. Yes, there are over a thousand books in my classroom library but each new group of readers has new needs and so I will always be book shopping.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

For Joey in my class who just wants to read all day and is on #2 of Stone Rabbit and our classroom library has only #1 to #3, I purchased these. Because nothing makes me happier than hearing a child tell me, “I just want to read all day. Can I?” Oh, reading bug, I hope the contagion factor is very high. Go forth and infect!

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

For the children who comment, “Look at all of those books we have read,” I will continue to read aloud. Every day. Multiple times. For those who ask me to read more books like “this” of “that” I will find them and I will read them so that all of us are hearing the stories we need to hear.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

For the Elephant and Piggie devotion, we will celebrate and read and read and read. And giggle, of course.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

For the buddy reading pride. Such an amazing thing to watch these moments between my students and the little ones who come to visit each Wednesday afternoon. As Marla Frazee said yesterday, anything an illustrator puts in a picture, the children will see. They naturally know how to read pictures. I want to give them multiple opportunities to do just this.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

Because I have readers to support. Because I have learners to celebrate. Because this is what I believe in. All the World shines through when I know this.

Sunday Reflections: Honest Truths, Metaphorical whales, and the

And yes, for those who have been asking, more blog posts should be happening. Soon. Maybe not quite as often but they are coming.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider

This is not a comprehensive “how to” list because it has been my experience that when people begin with, “I need to work on my classroom library . . . ” they have, at the most, a twenty minute attention span before they can’t absorb any more. There is a lot to consider and time to process is necessary.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

*I am often asked to share a photo of my classroom library. The thing is . . . my classroom is a library. Where is the library within the classroom? Where is the classroom within the library? Who knows? Throughout this post, I will share various photos from my classroom library. Will I capture every part? Probably not.

Thinking classroom libraries? Have 20 minutes? 20 points to consider

#1 Read the books in your classroom library for pleasure, just like you want your students to read them. Appreciate the illustrations. Giggle. Reread amazing lines. Fall in love with the stories. Don’t just read with lessons and themes in mind.

#2 If you haven’t read the books or you don’t know about the books (familiar with the author, series, have read detailed reviews, etc.) you won’t be able to talk about the books. Unless your students are familiar with particular titles already, they won’t read them. They need your blessing, your expertise and eventually, your guidance in cultivating their own ability to be each other’s reading community.

#3 Book talk, book talk, book talk. And then book talk some more. Read an excerpt. Rave. Show a book trailer. Have students or guests share what they love.

#4 Organize your library like you love it (and don’t you?). All of those special books need special places to be.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#5 Weed your collection. If it’s old and falling apart, it needs to go. If it is never read and you wouldn’t want to read it, pass it on. If it is well loved, falling apart and still circulating, try and replace it.

#6 Reflect your readers. Their interaction and use of the books is what makes it a functioning library. It can be beautiful. It can be organized. If nobody is reading the books, none of that matters. This year, I will have a younger group so I spent some time moving some titles more suited to intermediate readers into temporary storage bins. If I notice that my new readers are crazy for a particular genre, author or series, I will try and add more of those titles into our collection. The library is not fixed, it’s fluid.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#7 Give a library orientation. Make sure your students know how to find the books they are looking for. They won’t know by osmosis. Bring out the bins, do mini tours, give them time to explore and then lots of time to read what they find.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#8 Systems matter. The labels, the bins, how to put books back, how to borrow books (if they go home) how long you can have one particular book, etc. All of it matters so everyone has access and the library runs smoothly. A few of my “tricks”: stickers on the back that correspond to stickers on the bins, lots of review with how to use the system and a “chapter book return” and “picture book return” bin in case the students don’t remember where to put the books. There is no one way to do it. Figure out what works for you and your readers.

#9 Match bins (if you use bins) for a visually less busy look. Some people have all uniform size and colour for bins. Others have one kind for picture books and another for novels. I ended up with numerous bins – some with multiple sections that are quite expensive so I don’t want to toss them all out and start new. In my library, colour is connected to genre. Red is fiction (picture books). Yellow is for buddy reading and beginning titles. Blue is for series. Green is for comics and graphics. Clear is nonfiction. There is no reason for this other than it worked for the books and the bins I had.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#10 The importance of outward display can never, ever, be over stated. The covers can be seen? Those books will be read more often. Guaranteed. If possible, have multiple book shelves where you can display the covers. Ledges, mounted rain gutters, tops of white boards – all of these things work too!

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#11 Keep track of what books in a series you have. When you are in the bookstore and there is a sale, you will not remember if it is Baby Mouse #14 or #15 that you still need. You really won’t. I have a little notebook where I keep lists of titles I have and titles I need and throw that notebook in my bag whenever I go book shopping.

#12 Sometimes when a reader finds a series, it is meant to be. While they are hooked, make sure they can find what they are looking for. Keep series together where they can easily be accessed.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#13 Students don’t have to have access to all the books all the time. It’s okay to have a read aloud collection.  Just don’t store those books and forget about them. Share them. Keep them circulating.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#14 Know books – not just the books in your collection, but the books that could be a part of it in the future. Keep current! Read blogs that book lovers keep. The #IMWAYR and #nfpb2015 community (follow those twitter hashtags) will keep you in the know. The Nerdy Book club blog (you are following this blog right?) also has a list of blogs on its site.

#15 Add to your collection. Everyone loves new books! It is always exciting to share them. New titles bring renewed life to your library. Unveil them and bring them in with some kind of ceremony and lots of gushing and students will be rushing to read them.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#16 A classroom library requires ongoing upkeep. It’s like a garden. You can’t plant it and expect it to flourish all on its own. It will take time both during the year and possibly on some school breaks to keep things running smoothly and to make necessary changes.

#17 Spend the time being reflective and thinking about organization – as your library grows, you want to still be able to lay hands on a title you are looking for. If your organizational systems makes sense (to you) this will always be possible.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

#18 A library is an investment. It takes time. It takes money. If it takes less money (outright spending), it will take more time (sourcing titles, dealing with donations, writing wish lists, visiting garage sales, etc.) There is no way around this.

#19 You will never be done. Creating a classroom library is a labour of love. Enjoy it. Tinker. Fiddle. Sit in the middle of the floor and read a book. Make new favourites. Revisit old favourites. Move things around. Watch your readers to see what’s working. Get back in there and change some things again.

#20 Whenever you feel a little bit of book shopping guilt, think about the number of readers who will love each title. Each book, really, is priceless.

How to organize a classroom library: 20 points to consider There's a Book for That

There are some things I didn’t touch on here that I often get asked so let’s make it 25 things 🙂

  • No, I don’t level the books in my library but yes, I know how to find the right books for the right readers when difficulty level is an issue. Students are readers and they need to feel like there are lots of possibilities, not lots of limits.
  • Yes, I do spend a lot of my own money. When I can, I access donations, gifts, books passed on. Sometimes, I am blessed to receive books for my room from a variety of generous people. There can never be too many books and I do my best to pass on books to other classroom or school libraries when I can. But I believe in very big ways in having a room full of books for students to access and I don’t ever regret investing in making this happen for the children I teach.
  • Yes, I do make changes to my classroom library every summer. Sometimes, minor, sometimes more extreme. I do have it all figured out for about five minutes every year and then I get some new ideas or learn something new and . . .
  • No, there is no perfect book purchasing list out there for you. It does exist, but you have to make it and realize that it will change over time to reflect your readers and their interests.
  • Yes, I would love to hear from you! Anything to add? Your own helpful hints? Please share in the comments so that we can continue the conversation.

You may also enjoy:

My Classroom Library: Beyond the books, ten important features

Celebration: Talking Classroom Libraries

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A room full of nonfiction

Literary Nest Building 101