Inspiring Leads to Thriving

Inspiring Learners (Pernille Ripp) is one of those books that just makes you want to be a better educator. As I read it, I was constantly highlighting sections I knew I would want to return to as I begin preparing for next year. But my favorite thing about this resource was not necessarily the inspiring message. Instead, it was the questions it left me asking myself by the end. Important questions. BIG questions. Questions made only more relevant as I prepared to proctor the STAAR test this week.

As I observed students taking this state-mandated test, I was struck with what I noticed. There were students you could just tell would do fantastically well. They knew all of the right things to do, had all of the right strategies in their tool belts. There were the students who didn’t care–the ones who sat there drawing on their tests, then quickly scanned the material and haphazardly bubbled in answers. And then there were those students who, no matter how hard they tried, were just going to be defeated by a score assigned to them that has nothing to do with their actual ability.

And this is what students think is the point of school. This test, in which they have no say, and which seems to determine so much.

In April 2015, The Guardian published an article about Ken Robinson and his ideas about the standardization of public schools:


“As a result, we are at risk of inculcating an industrial education system producing compliant, linear pupils. ‘The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.’ “

Rather than nurturing the diverse talents of our students, we are pushing them through a mill of standardization and sameness. Which just doesn’t make sense. In response to this idea, Pernille Ripp begs us to reflect on our own learning. How many of us did well in the public school system? If that answer is very few, then why do we continue to teach in the tradition of those who came before?

Now I want you to ask how many of us thrived. Because there is a major difference in a student who has figured out the system, and one who truly thrives in the academic environment we have created.

One of our jobs as educators is to prepare students for success in life outside of school. And something we should be aware of is that the job markets of the future are rapidly changing. Advances in technology, an era of start-ups, and the rise of importance in entrepreneurship are creating job markets where certain skill sets are valued above others. According to youthpower.org, the top 10 skills for 2020 are as follows:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

Let that list sink in for a moment. These are the skills needed for high school students that will be entering the job market in the next five years. What do you notice?

I notice that students need to be adaptable, creative, team players and problem solvers. Then the big one–cognitive flexibility. I look at these words and I wonder at a system that routinely crushes creativity and curiosity. If we want our students to thrive, we need to reconsider our strategies. We need to create environments that celebrate individuality within the learning process. Environments that challenge, require students to problem solve, include real-life application for the standards being taught. And I, for one, feel like standardized testing weakens this system. We need something in place that helps to foster an infrastructure that empowers students to think on their own, based on their intellectual strengths.

How do we do this? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that it starts in the classroom. It starts with what and how we teach our kids. It starts with us.

I write this to raise this issue for you, but I also write it for myself. As a first year teacher, I have let a lot slide. I am not always proud of the decisions I’ve made or the way I’ve handled certain things. As I prepare to start year two, I know I want something better for my students…and for myself. And by going into planning with all of this information in mind, I’m hoping I can create an atmosphere where students not only succeed, they thrive.

Teachers: Authors of Opportunity

I know it has been a very long couple of weeks for me. I’m sure some of you would agree. Many of you are gearing up for or already knee-deep in state testing, some of you are drowning in the daily demands of education, some are dealing with students who may just not want to be there. Sometimes, in these very long, arduous weeks, it’s important to remember how necessary we are to the future of our students.

In my opinion, teaching is the most important calling on the planet; our daily fight ensures that some kid–somewhere–can get a better job, support his/her family, live a happy/healthy life. Patrick Briggs, AVID State Director, said, “We, as teachers, are affecting the trajectory of the lives of children who have not yet been born.” WOW! Just pause and let that sink in for a moment. “We, as teachers, are affecting the trajectory of the lives of children who have not yet been born.” Think about the chains you have the power to break. The cycle of abuse and neglect and poverty that may end because you were someone’s teacher. Because you cared. Because you came to school even when it was hard. We cannot take that responsibility lightly.

This truth is both wonderful and harrowing. As difficult as it may be, we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged by the daily grind that comes with this profession–something I am sure we are all guilty of at one time or another. No doubt, it is easy to let the hard parts of the job drag us to the depths of frustration and despair–especially in today’s educational world. With so many outside influences seeking to attack our profession, it’s difficult to remember the important things. The feel-good things.

Our students are counting on us. Their children are counting on us.

When I am feeling particularly down and exhausted, I try to remember what George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, said: “If you gave me the option of seeing the world or changing it, I will take the latter.” Me too, George. Me too. Is it hard? Sure. Is it worth it? You better believe it.

So today, even when it’s tough. Even when you want to throw in the towel…

Be a breaker of chains. Be an agent of change. Be an author of opportunity.

–Bridget

In honor of PeePaw–a true bibliophile

“I know from personal experience that readers lead richer lives, more lives, than those who don’t read.”
― Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

When my husband first brought me to meet his grandparents in 2007, I was obviously nervous. I knew how important PeePaw and Gran were to him, and I knew their opinion of me would matter greatly. But, the worries were unfounded, and we got along famously. They knew I was going to school to be an English teacher, and upon meeting PeePaw, we immediately launched into our list of favorite books ever, The Grapes of Wrath for him and Pride and Prejudice for me. We explored the classics and the contemporary. We extolled the joy in reading thrillers and memoirs and historical fiction. Happily, I had found a fellow bibliophile in PeePaw, and I knew I would always have someone to talk books with if I were to–one day–join this family. Books have been our love language ever since.

“Books are love letters (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”
― Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

When Joe and I moved into Gran and PeePaw’s old house in 2009, he couldn’t bring all of his books with him, so he left his giant library of books for me to enjoy. His only request, “Don’t just let them sit on the shelves. Read them.” And read them I have–some more than once. Because of his generous gift of books, I have had the great opportunity to learn more about myself. And more about him–a man with little formal education but so much knowledge and wisdom, an ever-present reminder that one does not have to have a degree in literature to fall in love with books.

When he received a Kindle as a gift, he was overjoyed at the one-click access to so many books. Already a voracious reader, PeePaw began to move through books even faster, selecting book after book after book. You might have even heard him enter into a debate with Aunt Kye over the validity of electronic reads being equal in superiority to paper books. He was vastly in favor of reading on the Kindle; Aunt Kye was definitely not–a fact he like to nettle regularly.

We’ve exchanged books and book recommendations so many times over the years, I have lost count. Our conversations usually begin with, “Read any good books lately?” Or, “Hey, I read the best book recently!”

Sadly, we lost our sweet PeePaw this week, and it has hit our family especially hard. He’s been a huge part of our lives, and his absence will be dearly felt. I will miss our book talks, but I am comforted by the many books we’ve been able to enjoy together. I will hold them closer to my heart so that I may revisit them when I am feeling sad. I will share them with others and pass them down to my book-loving kiddo. Don’t worry, PeePaw. I will not let them sit on the shelves. I will read them!

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Thanks to books, PeePaw and I have lived a thousand different lives, learned about a ton of different cultures and people, and traveled to various parts of the world we couldn’t physically see. But, more than that, books have given us a better understanding of each other. Books allowed us to see each other with different eyes, and they’ve given us a space to talk about difficult topics. This is why it is so important to help students fall in love with books! Reading gives them the capacity for compassion and understanding. It provides a better perspective of the world around them. And most importantly, it creates a space for critical conversations–a way to truly know the depths of the human condition.

I will be thankful every day that PeePaw and I have shared the love of books. It is that love that ensures he’ll never be further away than the turn of a page.

–Bridget

“Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human being.”
― Donalyn Miller,The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader of Every Child

Activist Projects: Weeks 4-6

This will be my last post for Activist Projects until their culmination. Our schedule for the next couple of weeks is basically the same, and I don’t want to bore you all by being repetitive.

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I think at this point my students have mixed feelings about their projects. Some love it. Some hate it. Most of them are just ready for it to be over. The hard part about long term projects is maintaining momentum. And, with hectic schedules, STAAR tests approaching (which means late arrivals for my seniors), and 7 Mondays until the end of the year (yes, you heard me right!) I count myself lucky if they just show up and pretend to be productive.

I incorporated something new last week, in an effort to boost participation and engagement. It’s actually something I wish I would have incorporated from the beginning. I wanted students to be able to collaborate, even if they had me for different class periods, so I created a class blog with a discussion board. Students will earn extra credit if they check in regularly and work productively with at least one other person. I didn’t want to make it mandatory, because even in a 1:1 school, not all of my students have easy access to technology. I’m really hoping the lure of extra credit will motivate some of them to form collaborative partnerships where truly fantastic learning takes place.

In terms of student successes, I have a second group of kiddos who have really taken to this project. Four of my students, two who are Pro Life and two who are Pro Choice, have agreed to hold a debate for their final product. I’m really excited about this, because they’ve shown me that they are incredibly passionate about this topic, and I think it’s important that I give them a safe space to see both sides of the argument within an academic environment.

As far as losses go, I feel a lot of students simply aren’t utilizing the work days provided. Student-created action plans help, in a sense, because they create a system of accountability. But, what I’m finding is that many (though not all) goof off for four days, then throw something together so they can show me they’ve “made progress” by the end of the week. If any of you have successfully incorporated productive work days in your classroom, I would love to hear what you’re doing!

Below, you will see the schedule I posted on the board for my students this week. It’s short, sweet, and to the point:

  • Monday–Work day
  • Tuesday–Student Conferences
  • Wednesday–Student Conferences
  • Thursday–Work Day
  • Friday–Checkpoint Day

Because of everything that’s going on at this point in the year, this will be our schedule for the next couple of weeks.

I should add, we are actually in Week 5 at this point, and last week looked slightly different. On Monday and Tuesday, I provided students with time to fill in their action plans and figure out what their next 14-15 class days should look like. Because of the diversity of their final products, I needed some kind of accountability system, and I felt this was the best way to do that.

So far, with student conferences, they are being really vague about where they are in their projects. But, I’m hoping after Friday’s checkpoint, I can start taking those students who have something aside to workshop what they have so they’re ready for the deadline next Friday.

And that’s about it! If you’ve been following along, I really hope these weekly updates are helping. I’m super stoked to see what they turn in next Friday…I’ll be sure to check in once we have crossed the finish line.

Until next time!

Feminist Friday: A Tribute to Amy Sherman-Palladino

The time has come for us to honor our last Feminist Friday of women’s history month. We both wanted to provide you with something fresh, something spectacular, something that would celebrate womanhood and feminism in all its glory.

The pressure was on.

And friends, I think we managed to come up with something pretty spectacular…a tribute to Amy Sherman-Palladino and the television shows that have made an indelible impact on countless females.

If you don’t know who Amy Sherman-Palladino is, it’s probably safe to say you’ve been living under a rock. She has inspired so many women and girls through fierce female characters–and she’s done it more than once. First, through Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls, then through Midge in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The thing these two shows have in common? Badass women who let their freak flags fly as they attempt to navigate life, motherhood, and womanhood.

Because we are such huge fans of these two hit series, and because this is a month all about celebrating fierce females, we have decided to each compile a list of things we have learned from Ms. Sherman-Palladino.

We hope you enjoy!


Growing up with only three channels limited my TV-watching experiences to Jeopardy, the nightly news, and Saturday morning cartoons, so it wasn’t until later in life that I found Gilmore Girls. To call it my “happy show” would be an understatement–just ask my hubs; you’ll find him rolling his eyes and saying, “Are you seriously watching this, AGAIN?” During Thanksgiving break, you will find me curled up on my couch watching the Gilmore Girls marathon on UpTV. If I am having trouble sleeping at night, it is my go-to show for relaxation and calm. When I am sad or angry, I find comfort and joy in Lorelai, Rory, Luke, and the cast of other hilarious characters from Stars Hollow. And, in my many reruns of this show, I am reminded of several important lessons we should all carry with us daily.

Drink the coffee; eat the junk food

Certainly, Lorelai and Rory are shameless in their love of coffee and junk food, and I am often jealous of their ability to eat and drink what they want while sharing each other’s tiny clothes. But, I think we could all use a little more of that in our lives, the small moments of enjoying a little junk. Granted, if I were to eat like they do, I wouldn’t fit through my front door. But in a world of organic, no-red-meat, but-eat-only-meat, yes-you-can-drink-milk, no-you-shouldn’t-drink-milk, carbs-are-okay, carbs-are-bad diets and an almost unrealistic body image, we often feel shamed when partaking in yummy-but-bad-for-you food. I have sometimes felt embarrassed when being in a fast food line, worrying that someone might notice me eating junk. While I do get the need to eat healthy (and I mostly do), I also think it’s important to remember balance. That it’s okay to find joy in the little things. That a little coffee and ice cream and pizza never hurt anybody.

So, eat the junk and drink the coffee!

Read the books

Rory is right; there’s nothing that smells better than a book. I’d rank it right above new baby and new car smells. Her passion for books flows throughout the each of the seasons, and it is that love that aids her in attending a premier private high school and later Yale University. Books open the door to so many worlds and opportunities. They help small town girls like Rory (and me) make something of themselves. Better than that, though, Rory makes it cool to be a nerdy girl! I remember the first episode I saw Rory’s love of books, and I immediately felt connected to her. She was me in high school. However, I wasn’t always treated like it was cool to be smart. I sometimes found myself joining extra sports and activities to “make up” for the fact that being smart was my thing. If I also played every sport and cheered and joined, then it was okay to be smart too–as long as I was labeled as something else. A basketball player. A cheerleader. I wish I had been more secure in my intelligence and spent more time cultivating it.

So, smart girls, you read the books! You read all the books!

Every mom is both hot and a hot mess

As a mom, I can tell you that it is so easy to feel like you’re failing. Like you simply don’t have it all together and you never will. I see the moms with their perfectly dressed children, making homemade gluten-free, organic cookies for their kid’s class party, and there I am, flying through the school before work, dropping off my store-bought cupcakes I grabbed that morning, and swiping my kid’s shirt over his snotty nose. It’s easy to feel lacking in the mom department. I know I do. Often. But, Lorelai reminds us that all moms have moments when they are hot and moments when they are just not. And that’s okay. In the end, as long as you love your kids and you wake up and try hard every day, your kiddos will grow up to survive and thrive. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even go to Yale!

So, give yourself grace and give yourself credit.

We all get a little lost sometimes

Even the brilliant, rule-following, Yale attending, knows-exactly-what-she-wants Rory Gilmore gets a little lost sometimes. We all do. Our best laid plans can easily be thwarted by that thing we call life. It’s easy to find ourselves moving in a completely different direction than we thought we would. Whether in a relationship or a job, things sometimes just don’t work out. And that’s okay. Like Rory, we need those moments of confusion and insecurity. Those are the moments we truly find out what we are made of, who we are. If things are always easy, then we have no reason to change or grow. Instability creates growth. More than that, when we do figure things out, we tend to pursue with voracity the things we most want in life.

Let yourself get lost. Only then can you really find yourself.

Take risks

While Logan Huntzberger’s relationship with Rory is one plagued by viewer opinions and debates, there is no doubt that he often helps Rory to step outside her perfectly poised comfort zone. Careful and cautious by nature, Rory takes many leaps of faith (both literal and metaphorical) at Logan’s encouragement. Some of these leaps end in disaster. But others change her to her very core, making her a more well-rounded individual. These moments remind us that taking risks is the first step in personal growth. Some of those risks will leave us flat on our faces in the dust. But others help us to soar. Being afraid to fail ensures we will always stay where we started. “Failing forward” is necessary for success. Thank goodness I have failed! Thank goodness I am not the same scared little girl I was back then.

So, take the chance. It might be the one that makes all the difference.

Be yourself; be different

The best thing about Stars Hollow is the people. Ms. Patty, Babette, Kirk, and the town troubadour are just a few of the lovable crazies in Gilmore Girls. Through Ms. Patty’s recollection of her lurid love encounters, Babette’s screechy descriptions of her Morey, Kirk’s various money-making schemes, and the troubadour’s acoustic soundtrack for life, we are reminded that being different is AWESOME! What fun would this world be if everyone was exactly the same?

Own your weirdness! The world is better because of it.

Sometimes, you have to be savage

I have to be honest and say that I have a strong love/hate relationship with Emily Gilmore. But either way, there is no doubt that she is fierce, and she speaks her mind. As someone who has spent the great majority of her life holding back my words or emotions so as not to offend another or cause any conflict, I admire this about her. She is unwilling to settle for or put up with something just to make another feel less uncomfortable or stop an oncoming conflict. As I’ve grown older, my toleration for ignorance and nonsense is ever decreasing, and I’ve found myself more willing to “handle up” on someone who deserves it. And I’m okay with that. I am not a doormat to be used to clean dirty shoes, and I will not be treated as such.

Sometimes, you gotta be savage.

Friendship is everything

Of course, the central friendship in Gilmore Girls is that of Lorelai and Rory. And it’s beautiful. The story of a mother and daughter who raise each other, Rory oftentimes mothering free-spirited Lorelai, each being what the other needs. The heart of the show itself is the overarching theme of friendship and its impact on humans. Within Stars Hollow and throughout Rory’s college experience, we see the value of having other people to share in joy and heartbreak. And with each new friendship, the characters grow into new and better people. My favorite friendship in the story, though, is between Rory and Paris. Two unlikely friends who start out as enemies. Rory’s kindness often softens Paris’s intensity. Paris’s fight often rouses the meek and timid Rory. It is this relationship that shows us that friendship can be found in the most unlikely of places, if only we give each other a chance.

Remember, friendship is necessary and worth it.

Fight for your dreams

For a girl who became a single mother at 16 years of age and who spent the majority of her life doing it totally alone, Lorelai Gilmore is utterly heroic. From working as a maid in an inn to later living her dream by co-owning the Dragonfly Inn with her cooky friend, Sookie, we see Lorelai fight to live her dreams despite the many challenges that stand in her way. In the same way, we see Rory work her tail off to one day go to Harvard. She ultimately chooses to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and attend Yale University instead. Each, through their own forms of adversity, find a way to achieve their goals. And they never give up. NEVER.

Be remarkable. Live your dreams.

Females are fierce

My favorite thing about Gilmore Girls? There are so many fierce females for girls to look up to and love. In this show, we find strong female characters who make their own decisions and live their own lives, with or without the help of a man. They are celebrated for their womanhood! And in life, I hope to find each of the female characters within myself. I want to be free like Lorelai, brilliant like Rory, tough like Emily, silly like Sookie, and aggressive like Paris.

Girl power is the best power.

–Bridget


I spent a large part of my teenage and young adult years watching Gilmore Girls. I found a fellow bibliophile in Rory, fell in love with Jess, admired Lorelai’s free spirit. Then, in my adult years, I encountered The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, where I marveled at Midge’s fearlessness and determination as she tackles life head-on. In these shows, I witnessed what strong women can achieve, no matter what life throws their way.

What I love about these two shows is that they came at times in my life when they were relevant to my experience. As a teenager, I could relate to Rory Gilmore in some ways–though we are very different people, she had some of the same interests and goals that I had. Then, as a woman and a mother, I met Midge who, again though very different, was at a similar stage of life.

Midge is such an amazing woman. She suddenly finds herself divorced and moving back in with her parents, after her husband admits that he is no longer happy with their life. Do you think this keeps her down? NO! Midge puts on her big girl panties and turns heartbreak into hilarity. An unstoppable force, equal parts sass and class, Midge Maisel has a little something we could all learn from.

Life is What You Make It

As cheesy as it sounds, we are in control of our own happiness. Let’s face it, sometimes life sucks. Bills are overdue, kids are sick, we are over-committed at work…We don’t always have a say in the things that happen to us. But, we do have a choice in how we react. Midge is a champion–she takes her trials and channels them into her comedy, using her misfortune to fuel her passion. It would be really easy for Midge to just let her life happen to her. She is not that kind of woman, though. Take a page from Midge–your life shouldn’t be happening to you.

We Choose the Things that Define Us

Wealthy. Jewish. Mother. Divorcee. These are all titles attributed to Midge. People expect her to be a prim and proper housewife, meek and mild. Instead, she is fierce, determined, sassy, crass, outspoken, and a woman in a male-dominated profession. She does not let her labels define her…I think, as women, a lot of the time we get lost in our labels. I know that once I became a mother, it was so much a part of who I was that it was hard to describe myself without that identifier. Just to clarify—I am not trying to negate my identity as a mother. But when we allow ourselves to be limited by our identifiers, we do ourselves a disservice. I am so much more than one thing. And so are you, girl. You are more than the labels society places on you.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes, Momma

Making mistakes does not make you a less-than mother. That time you fed your kid nothing but cheese crackers for a week, or forgot to pack a jacket, or yelled at them when you swore you wouldn’t yell anymore—we’ve all been there. Something that has always amazed me (and not in a good way) is the capacity women have for shaming each other, especially when it comes to motherhood. Mommas, we should be standing up for each other! Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have. Midge is no different. I had moments where I wanted to judge her, accuse her of not spending enough time with her children. But then I realized she was doing what she needed to do to take care of herself and her kids. It’s okay to make mistakes, Momma. Just ask Mrs. Maisel.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

One thing about Midge…she hoists that freak flag high. The first time she ever got on stage, she flashed the audience. She makes a fool of herself time and again before finding her stride as a comedian. She embarrasses a friend by telling raunchy stories at her wedding. She talks about her parents’ sex life as part of her bit before realizing her father is in the audience. What I admire about her is that each and every time, she embraces the experience, learns from it, and gets back on stage, stronger than ever. Her candidness and authenticity are what make her so lovable. What can we learn from this? Let that flag fly proudly! People know when you’re being fake and when you’re being genuine. If you embrace that quirky side of you and own who you are, you will be the best version of yourself. And that’s pretty freaking awesome.

Find Your Tribe

It’s hard to find good people. People who will show up for you time and again. People who won’t judge you for your every mistake. People who will support you, because they know you just need someone to have a little faith. Something we learn from Mrs. Maisel (and from the Gilmores) is that a tribe of women is unstoppable. Love interests come and go, but (true) girlfriends last forever.

Pursuing Our Dreams Takes Hard Work and, Sometimes, Sacrifice

If life is easy, it usually means we’ve settled for the comfortable option. Pursuing what you are passionate about is usually accompanied by sleepless nights, strained relationships, too much sugar and caffeine…the list goes on. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it and sometimes getting what we want requires sacrifice. Midge gives up a great many things to pursue her career, because she knows it will all be worth it in the end. Her journey is one of personal growth and freedom, and she’s willing to make sacrifices to get where she wants to be. I hope we all can be brave enough to have the courage Midge possesses.

Find Your Confidence

Time and again, people comment on Midge’s appearance. Her manager, Susie, regularly makes fun of her outfits. Men objectify her more times than I can count. But her appearance is part of who she is. No matter what people say, she owns it. She goes on stage, sometimes in questionable locales, in her LBD, wearing red lipstick and heels, because it gives her confidence. I say take a page out of her book; go out and find your own version of the LBD and rock it, because when you feel good about yourself, you invite positive energy. And we could all use some extra good vibes in our lives.

Be a Boss.

If there is only one lesson you learn from Midge, I hope it’s how to be a boss. To own who you are, go for your dreams, and live life in the best way you know how.

–Cheylyn


This wraps up our Feminist Friday posts…at least for now. We hope you enjoyed this month’s celebration of woman power. Until next time…

Activist Projects: Week 3

So before I outline Week 3 for the activist projects, there are a couple of things I would like to talk about in regards to what’s been going on in my classroom.

First, I would like to take a moment to discuss something I’ve struggled with all year…the dreaded apathetical student. Despite giving abundant opportunities for choice, providing diverse mentor “texts”, and working alongside my students, I continue to struggle with this.

This week, I had a student ask me why we had to work on the projects. Why we couldn’t just have vocabulary tests, worksheets or quizzes. Another refused to do his annotated bibliography and has repeatedly expressed dislike for the project in his journal and in his attitude. These are only two examples, but I take the time to highlight them because, as excited as I am about this project, I don’t want you to think that I have achieved that perfect world scenario in my classroom.

I think so often, people only show the highlight reel on social media, giving us unrealistic expectations for our own lives. Which is why I try to level with you as often as I can…because I can assure you my classroom is FAR from perfect. More often than not, I feel like I am failing my students in multiple ways.

But then something happens, and I think maybe I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This week, I had something pretty incredible happen. A moment where students were doing exactly what I had hoped for when I began planning this project.

On Thursday, I received the following email:

This particular group of students has really impressed me. They have been enthusiastically involved since day 1, and they have shown a passion for the project that makes my heart sing.

A group of three, these students are raising awareness about rape culture. Each is personally invested in this topic, and they have agreed to work collaboratively to make something amazing happen. They are working to create a movement through a Twitter hashtag, and have also met with our principal in an effort to get approval for a school-wide presentation to educate students about rape. Another student has volunteered to work with them, and I have heard talk of their presentation throughout multiple class periods.

I have been so impressed with this group, and I really hope they keep their momentum throughout the six weeks. I’ve noticed that, while their enthusiasm is insane, their actual classwork hasn’t been up to par. I think they are so focused on the end result that they aren’t so invested in the baby steps…So, we will see where it goes. But for now, I am celebrating these students, and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish. They are the victory that makes this project a success, no matter what else may happen.


Now that you’ve had to sit through my rambling, here is the outline for Week 3…I hope you enjoy 🙂

Day 1: Students finished watching “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”– I highly recommend this movie. Overall, I had very positive responses from students about this film.

Day2: I needed a test grade for progress reports, but I still wanted it to be something that tied back to research and project preparation. So, I decided to have students create an annotated bibliography as a formalized record of the research they had done so far. I uploaded an informational link and a sample from Purdue Owl to Google Classroom to show what, exactly, an annotated bibliography was. I also outlined the following criteria:

  • Bibliography must include five sources
  • these sources must be formatted into MLA citations
  • each citation must be accompanied with a 100 word annotation

Overall, I kept it pretty simple. My students had never done one of these before, and I didn’t want to overwhelm them.

Days 3-5: The rest of the week was spent gathering sources and working on the bibliographies, which were due on Day 5.

To show an example of art as activism, on Day 4 I showed students a clip from one of my favorite movies, Across the Universe. The clip I chose is linked here, and the great thing about this clip was that it allowed me to discuss the power of music and film to raise awareness or advocate for a cause.

This week was pretty simple. I want students to have autonomy and to take responsibility, so I am providing guidance and then stepping back and allowing them to work. This is an insane time of year for my students. It’s also “sick season” at the daycare, which means I’ve been out a lot. I mention this because life happens, for me and for my students, and this project is structured so that they can work with or without me.


Next week, we will be moving past research and into the actual project, so stay tuned.

Until then, have a great week!

Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

I saw the stain after they removed my mother, after someone had made the first attempt at cleaning it out of the carpet. Even then it was still dark and wide, oblong and hideous. Barely the shape of a mother.

It’s easier to pretend the stain is acrylic paint. Pigment, emulsion. Water soluble until it dries.

The one part that’s hard to pretend about: Spilled paint is only ever an accident.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan is one of the most beautifully written books, especially within YA Lit, that I’ve read in a very long time. In the beginning, I set out with the intention to capture beautifully crafted sentences I came across, but I soon realized that there were so many beautifully crafted sentences that I would basically be transcribing the entire book.

The story follows Leigh, a young Asian American trying to cope with life after her mother’s suicide. Convinced that her mother has come back to her in the form of a red-plumed bird, Leigh follows a box of trinkets left on her doorstep to Thailand, her mother’s native country. While there, she relives memories, both her own and those of her Thai family. These memories teach her about who she is, who her mother was, and why her family has experienced this tragic loss.

Pan does an amazing job of painting the picture of Leigh’s heartbreaking new reality…reading Pan’s writing is a synesthetic experience, and such a beautiful experience it is! I couldn’t help being continually and pleasantly surprised by the vivid pictures erupting in my mind with each and every scene.

This book is an amazing read for students who have lost a loved one, whether to suicide or some other tragedy. It shows that suicide is an illness, and one that no one experiences alone. It also shows the complexities that lead to such a decision, as well as the ramifications for those left behind.

I give The Astonishing Color of After a full five stars. A debut novel, I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store.

The plane angles and tilts, and I fight the gravitational force, leaning to press my face into the glass. I catch a glimpse of the clouds below, and the edge of our shadow upon them, shaped like a bird.

–Cheylyn