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A Time to Teach

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee –

the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
from the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, his last before being assassinated.

To some, this is an uneasy thought: How do we address injustice, pain, and hurt with our youngest, smallest, most precious citizens? How do we teach about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Black Historical heroes without the shame, horror and ugly truths of reality? Do we teach such things? How much and in what contexts?

First, educators, you must talk about this among yourselves. If this conversation is silent in your school, organization or lives, you must bring it up. We must bring it up because today is only 50 years from Selma and 20 years from the Million Man March, and solutions are still needed. Problem solvers are still needed and will be.

I thought I’d share resources we’re using in my own school. Here are just a few to help you with the conversation…


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King.Jr


Recently I was chatting with some old friends about the topic of race. One said, “We can’t address that in school. The parents would be in an uproar.” Another said, “I mostly teach math and social studies. How could I fit racial inequality into the demands of the curriculum and the common core?” Both reasons are ones I have heard many times before from teachers. Real valid issues and concerns.

So how do we talk about racial inequality with kids in school?

A year ago Monique and I addressed this in our post Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About

Let’s really talk about how this might go with a class of twenty-five fourth graders.

“The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson is one of the best books that really addresses racial differences, fear, and separation.

Interactive Read Aloud Plan: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Common Core Standards Addressed:


Book Introduction:

The book we are gong to read today is one of my favorites of all time! It is called The Other Side. It is written by Jacqueline Woodson. Let’s look at the cover and really think about the title. Why do you think she titled this “The Other Side” and what might you expect to see in this book? Turn and tell your partner

Read pg. 1: Method of teaching–Teacher think aloud

Reading Skill: questioning with inference

Do a think aloud saying: That’s weird, I wonder why the mother said that? And why would the writer mention white people? Maybe the mother and her family are black and they are afraid of white people. Look at the cover again. The girl by the fence is white and the girl on the tire is black. OR maybe she had heard yelling from an adult and was afraid. Or maybe she is simply concerned about her daughter playing on a fence.

Read pg. 2: Method of teaching—Turn and Talk

Reading Skill: questioning with inference

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Guys, what are you wondering about? I wonder why….how come…? And then prompt: It could be…or maybe it’s because…

Read the next page (3) stopping at maybe yes, maybe no:

Method of teaching—Think Aloud

Reading Skill: Critical reading

Think Aloud saying: Hmm the narrator’s friend Sandra has a lot of power. She makes the decisions without even asking anyone. It’s interesting that the narrator is uncomfortable with that but doesn’t say so.

Read the next page (4):

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Critical reading

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Interesting line Jacqueline Woodson the author included in her writing—“That summer everyone and everything on the other side of that fence seemed far away.” What do you think that means? Turn and tell your partner.

Read the next three pages stopping after reading pg. 7:

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Prediction

Have the kids turn & talk as you listen in. Say: Hmm…she feels brave and free….interesting. Think about the tension that has been happening the text. What do you think is going to happen and think about how the narrator is feeling… Turn and tell your partner.

Read the next three pages stopping after pg 10 after “Neither did mine,” I said.

Method of teaching—Stop & Jot

Reading Skill: Checking on your prediction (correct or should you revise it) and predicting forward

Say: Readers was your prediction correct if not, revise it and add on to what you think might happen next keeping in mind the other characters in the book in their feelings. Stop and Jot on a post it.

Read the next pg. (11) and stop.

Method of teaching—Think Aloud

Reading Skill: Synthesis (character change)

The teacher says: Hmm… Remember earlier where Sandra decided that the group wouldn’t jump rope together and Clover didn’t say anything. Now Clover is ignoring her friends when they are being mean to Annie. Clover is standing up to them in a way. This is making me realize that she is changing because she knows Annie and she likes her and realizes she is a kind and fun person not a scary one like her mother said earlier.

Read the next pg (12) and stop

Method of teaching—Turn & Talk

Reading Skill: Synthesis (secondary character change)

Say: Interesting comment from Mama…Let’s think about this page. What did we learn here? How does this go with earlier and what does it make you think?

You might prompt with: This goes with earlier because or this is making me realize…or this is giving me new ideas…

Read to the last page and stop:

Method of teaching—Stop & Jot

Reading Skill: Theme

Say: Wow, these characters are teaching us so much? What do you think Clover and Annie might be teaching us? What is this story really, Really, REALLY about? Stop & Jot:

Might Prompt: Sometimes in life people…instead they…

When finished have a whole group Grand Conversation about the text. Some provocative ideas to prompt for are:

  • Who has the power in this book?
  • Whose perspective is being heard and why?
  • Whose perspective is not heard and why?
  • What is the theme of this text? Does it go with other themes we have read?
  • What lines struck you? Why do you think the author crafted them in such that way?
  • What is the significance of the title? The ending?
  • Does the main character remind you of other characters we have read and why?


“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s have some faith, actually~

Monique & Christy





















Hang in There Coaches!!

It has been quite a first semester this year for Monique and me.  Monique started teaching Kindergarten.  I visited her:)  What an experience!

gatehering area read aloud and vocabcenters

She is beyond amazing.  You can’t all visit her at once (haha), but consider it one day–so worth your while. What a gift to those kids.

reading workshop reflectionbook shopping

As for me, I’ve started consulting on my own full time on literacy with schools from all over.  This new venture has kept me incredibly, excitedly, and pinch – myself busy.  It has given me the gift of working with magical schools in the Middle East, Europe, and some parts of the U.S where I have never really visited, but now consider home.  Check this photo out that I just received from my friends in Zurich yesterday.


And it has renewed my passion for leadership.  Leadership around teachers and principals, but mostly coaches. In Zurich my new great friend, Keryn, selected literacy leaders from each grade to take charge of writing workshop.  Let me tell you, they have. They are passionate.  They meet often and work closely, and as one of my new favorite literacy leaders, Lucy says, “I am approximating!”  So reflective and open and supportive to her team and her literacy colleagues.  I learned so much from Keryn and her colleagues in that week in Zurich.   She is a leader at that school.  Here’s some things to know about Keryn:

  • She’s a Kiwi (which means she is from New Zealand–not to be confused with Australia!)
  • She has a close knit relationship with her principal
  • She gets things done
  • She is not afraid to do hard things or say hard things
  • She is flexible
  • She is a leader…she guides, she takes charge, and she gives direction

This last point matters.  I arrived and did my thing.  You know, I gave a mini workshop on what matters most around the teaching of writing.  And there was some resistance.  No surprise.  Often behind residence is fear.  Unbeknownst to me, Keryn was emailing the principal and asking her to say something about the work publicly.  Vicki, the principal, who will be forever talked about, stood up when I finished and said:

Thank you Christy for this wonderful session of learning.  This is hard stuff. We all have to take a leap of faith and do this work the way it is intended to be done. We need to listen to Christy and do what she recommends for our kids. Our kids deserve this from us.  So we are all going to take a leap of faith.  Thank you, Christy.

Can you believe it?  So let’s talk about leadership.  We have a curriculum leader in Keryn who supports her principal’s curriculum knowledge, and the principal supports what Keryn is trying do with teachers.  We have literacy leaders who Keryn is nurturing and supporting.  They are spreading the passion for writing throughout the building, and giving Keryn joy in watching these teachers thrive. Everyone is taking the work of writing workshop and everyone is feeling proud and on a journey of long lasting learning.  That’s a GREAT feeling as a teacher–one that everyone should experience.

Each district I have worked with this year is like Zurich–a true joy to be around. And just like Keryn’s teachers gave a passion for learning back to her, these districts are giving it back to me.  I am working and busy and traveling and have not been home to Florida in a long time, but I have never been more fulfilled in my life and my work.

I am working with coaches in Waterford, CT, who have completed cycles of work and have worked with teachers they never thought would let them in their rooms. They are excited, and I am so proud of them.  I work with coaches in Ocean City, Maryland and recently they taught in front of each other and coached each other and walked away feeling great. I am working with a coach in a CT Middle School who is one of the most beautiful, dedicated coaches I’ve seen. She has tough days, but she is so smart and so willing to do whatever she can for her teachers. I am working only with literacy leaders in Delaware.  They are potential coaches one day.  They are just starting out, and so positive.

Monique and I just presented at NCTE last month. It was amazing. We met lots of new people and reconnected with old friends.  We told the coaches, “Hang in there. It takes at least three years to get good at this.” I think that is one of the biggest things I want you to take away from this post–three years!  Give yourself time.  It is not an easy job and YOU are too good to leave it.  So hang in there!

Below is our power point from our presentation.  Hope that you enjoy it:

coaching for blog

I will end with this final insight, there are so many things to be grateful for, and this is the perfect time of year to do so.  Step back and notice the work that YOU have done in your building or whoever you support, and be proud.  Be proud of how you have affected those you work with.  Because you have.  Thank you to all coaches, literacy leaders, district leaders, and leaders of learning.

Celebrate learning, actually~

Christy & Monique

The First Twenty Days of Confidence & Craft Building

writing workshop parts  gorgeous writing process

When we started the blog we deliberately selected our name “Coach, Actually: Building Teachers’ Confidence and Craft.”     This confidence/craft thing is what I am all about. When you build the confidence of a writer (or reader, teacher, leader), they become willing to take risks in their craft. When you build craft in a writer (reader, teacher or leader), they become confident. These beliefs are critical to being your BEST self. We want people to be motivated intrinsically, however, often a school’s leader doesn’t supply the conditions for a teacher to be her best self. When a leader considers both of these two elements, the leader is creating the very best conditions for leadership, for excellence, and mostly for happiness.

When I began in education, so many of my mentors did this for me. Barbara Frye (a highly regarded professor and my now good friend) and had so much faith in me as a student and gave me many, many, many tools to support my craft. Mary Osborne and Janie Guilbault believed in me before I ever thought it could be possible to believe in someone (as a NEW teacher!) and built me up. My principal Shirley Lorenzo trusted and pushed me to do things that I thought were way out of my reach.

I learned early on, from another mentor Roy Peter Clark, the power of positive by always starting any writing conference with a compliment.  Writing is hard and scary and personal.  If we want our young writers to take risks in their writing we have to help them believe in themselves–complimenting anytime during workshop instantly helps grow confident writers. Lucy Calkins taught me that a compliment should be a paragraph long.  I like to have a little structure to help me grow that paragraph. I start with naming what the writer is doing well –the skill and strategy (supports craft). Use the prompt, “This is important because…” (supports confidence–this is big work you’re doing and here’s why). And finally the third sentence in my paragraph reminds the writer that this can be used on any writing (transference). It helps me to be specific in naming the craft the writer is using, supports transference so that the writer knows this work can be done in any writing, and it helps empower the writer with the WHY.  This compliment conference is a nice focus for the the first month of school.  And will go a long way in helping kids take risks, and building their confidence.

Confidence and craft–you can’t really have one without the other. I can build up my kids’ confidence, but if they don’t have the tools they need, they can’t really learn well. In contrast, I can give them a gazillion tools, but if they feel deflated and discouraged they are unable to hear the tools, see the tools, use the tools. They feel as if they have tried and were unsuccessful, so they give up. We need to make kids feel successful in the journey of writing, along with supporting them with new craft tools to continue their growth and excitement about the work.

Below I have pulled out a sampling of my twenty days of confidence and craft building around writing for third grade. This is the grade I believe can shift a child’s belief in who they are, how they see themselves and others in an instant. This grade is the grade to make sure they see themselves as writers. This is the grade to cement their writing identity and true self as learners. This is the grade to instill empathy and concern for social justice. AND this grade is the grade where the kids get their writer’s notebook for the first time. We really want to emphasize what Fletcher calls “living like a writer,” teaching them to carry their writer’s notebook everywhere. Helping to see things others don’t because they are writers!

The First Twenty Days of Confidence & Craft Building

It Starts in the Teaching of Writing and Spreads and Spreads and Spreads…

my notebook 2

Essentials that can make all the difference:

  • A blank composition book for every student (yes it has to be a black and white composition book!)
  • The teacher has to have decorated her/his black and white composition writer’s notebook (has to look like the kids!) with some entries in it
  • Materials to support personalizing the notebook so that kids begin to really believe they are writers—writing quotes, puffy paint to paint a cool title like a “Writing Changes You” or “Live Like a Writer,” different color construction paper to create a map of your heart and then glue to notebook—make it BIG so it can have many topics inside it and can cover a big portion of the notebook, and finally pictures. If kids don’t bring them in, take a picture of kids playing at recess with their best friend.
  • Mentor texts: Ralph Tells a Story, Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook, I’m in Charge of Celebrations, Kitchen Dance, Love That Dog
  • A gathering area filled with mentor text and a place to hang chart paper to support writing and easel
  • A writing center filled with special pens, papers, books for inspiration, quotes on writing
  • A special place to display student work (preferably outside your classroom for the world to see) with an engaging, inspiring title above…

Here is a sampling of the first twenty days of writing workshop (however, this can happen any time in your year).

Day 1:

5 min. ML

5-10 min. IW

5 min. share

Lesson: Generate ideas by thinking of every day things you DID over the summer.


·       Create a ritual (writing w your writers at their desk, playing music or singing while transition to writing time)

·       Be sure to include the 3 parts of workshop (mini lesson in gathering area, independent writing at desks, and teaching share back at gathering area)

·       Independent writing time MUST be short—maybe only 5-7 min. long. It will feel odd. Here’s why it’s important. When every child writes for a short time on the first week of school everyone can feel successful.   Everyone can do it. And then you are building from that. As a whole class you can emphasize how much they have grown from the first day of school. In addition, when you stop abruptly (well I always give them a minute or two warning) they want more. You will hear things like, “That’s it?” “I’m not done!” “I want to write more.” These are all important things to address to support the writing process.   You can then say things like “A writer is never done!” Or “take your notebook with you to lunch or home.”   This all sparks their passion for writing which in turn builds their confidence.

·       Always highlight the positive!

Day 2:

5-7 min. ML

5-10 min. IW

5 min. share


Generate ideas by thinking of people and moments


·       Continue with all that you did yesterday

·       Mention the 3 Ss (seated, silent and self-reliant) in a way that feels essential to workshop. For ex. Wasn’t workshop beautiful? I think it was because everyone was working their hardest from their seat, not bothering anyone and kept themselves going—so important…

·       Encourage writers to write on the back and draw a line under the old entry and start new ones. Your writers won’t want to do this. They feel as if they need to “finish” their entry. This is so important emphasize. Last year this is was the writing process. This year, your writers are more mature and we want them to begin to develop their writing. We want to remind them that often the first thing a writer writes, leads to other ideas, and even more ideas. Then when we decide on what to publish we have possibilities in our notebook. These are not yet drafts, they are entries really emphasizing that writers are discovering meaning, discovering what matters to them. Discovering they have LOTS of possibilities in their heart. We want them to believe that… “You have a brain, a heart, a pen, a notebook, then you are writer.” Finally, this emphasis on stopping and starting a new piece helps writers to see that they have so much to write about. One of the biggest struggles I hear teachers say is, “The kids have nothing to write about.” Sometimes that can be because they feel as if they have to fill the page.

·       In the teaching share have writers do a bit of writing identity—answer this in their notebook—when has writing been easy and when has it been hard and why for both?

Day 3:

5-8 min. ML

5-10 min. IW

5 min. share


Writers Generate ideas from the heart (create a heart map that can go on notebook or folder)


·       In teaching share may create a list of my job and your job during WW.   Have the kids turn and talk to help you generate and then record on chart paper. Ask them why has writing worked so well these first three days? This chart may become the “Writers Commitments”

  • ·       Also, mention the importance of using the “magic” pens. Everything we write matters. The pens help us to do a simple single cross out of our word or sentence or section of writing, We want to see our revision work and celebrate it AND we may want to use that work on another piece later on. This simple cross out can help us read that part.
  • Ask writers to hold up their notebooks admiring all of the writing they have done.  Then have them count their words and imagine how many more they might write tomorrow.
  • Remember to compliment.  You might say something today or tomorrow during independent time like, “I am so impressed by the work that Hayden is doing.  He is going back to his list of ideas and starting a new entry today.  Amazing.  He is on his third entry today! Fab!”  Have Hayden hold up his notebook so others can see how you can have a short entry alongside a longer entry.

·       Read Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon ahead of time and discuss some ways in which you want your classroom to look like that writing classroom.

Day 6:

10 min. ML

5-14 min. IW

5 min. share


Writers select and develop their idea by asking what is it really, really, really about? Answer with could it be’s…


·       Writers go off and try to find deeper meaning around their topic—hard.   You will want to scaffold as much as you can. However, you and I might say that our writing is about “In life when we lose someone who matters it changes everything.” Third graders theme may sound more like, “I miss my sister.” Or “My story is about loss or death.” Or even “my sister.” Simply naming the topic. On this first piece (and often second and third) writers are approximating. This is a sophisticated concept. Remember when we teach writing we teach a concept knowing we will revisit it several times throughout the year. You will see growth in your writers as the year progresses. Later you will tie themes from your books into teaching this concept and lessons we learn from characters. For now it is an introduction because they are third graders and have a notebook and are doing sophisticated work. Exciting. This developing piece of the process is not mentioned until third grade. It’s new. It will come but will take time.

·       Some may need to decide on a seed still.

·       You may have them re-see their seed once they know their heart and write with more dialogue—the quality may not be where you hoped—they will be approximating. Celebrate the growth and approximations.  Remember you will teach it again and we are building confidence as well as craft.

·       Emphasize stamina and bring out a “tracking stamina” chart. You may even hang it outside your classroom so everyone can see your goal and help encourage you as you work towards achieving it (getting up to 30-40 min of uninterrupted independent writing time).



Day 9:

10-12 min. ML

5-17 min. IW

5 min. share


Writers understand their role and my role when conferring. Then go off and generate more ideas using any strategy that works for them. (This lesson and many others may seem odd—I am giving you a sampling of lessons—keep in mind that some are missing)


·       Model this with a student

·       Then chart out what the kids notice—Entitle it: Conferring: Teacher’s Role, Writer’s Role

·       Bring out stamina chart and share the goal for today—17 min.

·       Practice conferring with one or two writers. Remember 5-7 min. long, and sit at eye level. Could start with simply a compliment conference. 3 parts: 1. Name what the writer is doing or trying to do. 2. Say WHY that’s important. 3. Remind the writer to use it again and again in any piece

·       Select another seed as a possibility for HW

·       A new set of partners meet to share their writing work for the day.   The teacher goes around coaches around engagement and respect and real listening to each other. Then assesses how well the partners are matched since the teacher will have to decide by the end of the unit the long-term partnerships. Take notes as you do this.   Move fast and get to as many partnerships as you can.

Day 12:

10-12 min. ML

5-20 min. IW

5 min. share


Writers look across both of their drafts (the one from day 7) and decide which one they will bring to publication and revise and edit. Teach how to write in the moment vs. a summary.


·       Confer (You should be up 2-3 writers per day)

·       Have a mid-workshop highlighting someone in a positive light

·       Have a teaching share around “living like a writer.” Use ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. I like the chapter on “Fierce Wonderings” but any will do. You definitely want to read from this from time to time.

·       Invite writers to write at home. Yes we have a piece we a re working on but we are always living like a writer—finding things that matter to write about. Invite your writers to take their notebook home and be sure to check first thing in the AM to see who did. (Also remind before they leave that they MAY want to take their notebook home).   Make a big fuss over anyone who took their WNB home. When you do that it will spread. Others will then want to take their WNB home.

Day 14:

10-12 min. ML

5-22 min. IW

5 min. share


Writers revise by crafting a lead and ending that matches the heart. You might start with setting, internal or external dialogue, or action. You might end full circle repeating place or something from lead. Check out the book Kitchen Dance” by Maurice J. Manning for a circular ending.


·       You might decide this is too much and save teaching the ending for the teaching share or tomorrow’s lesson. Totally fine.

·       Encourage writers to “try on” several leads before committing to one.

·       They can practice leads in their notebook and may even want to practice at home

·       Once they decide their lead it is on draft paper.

·       Highlight any writer who revised. Make a BIG fuss over this. Like this is the GREATEST thing you’ve ever seen. Have writers hold up their drafts

Day 19:

5 min. ML

5-25 min. IW

5 min. share

Writers celebrate! Share how that goes. Possible Chart:

Writers Celebrate!

-Meet partner and thank them for being your partner—shake hand.

-Give literary gift

-Share writer’s notebook and why you included what you did on it

-Interview your partner and take notes!

-Take notebook, draft, and reflection card and meet with another partnership and share one of the items

***Teacher walks around and takes picture of writers with their notebook to later put on bulleting board.

Teacher can also display a copy of the notebook entry, timeline, and the draft in a pocket folder on the bulletin board. The index card and picture of partner somewhere posted near that folder and then a title and short explanation of the goals of the unit posted.

Possible Interview Questions

1.      Where do you like to write?

2.      When do you like to write?

3.      What family rituals do you have?

4.      What do you like to do after school? On the weekends?

5.      Do you have any siblings? What are their ages?


partner chart

A chart from Delores at George De La Torre Elementary in LA.


This is a sample of third grade.  Imagine your kids and how you want to build them up as writers.  What do your first twenty days look like in order to do this?  Much of what I mention above can work in other grades.  Think about what matters  most to YOU and your belief system around building kids who can be the their very BEST self.

Also, coaches, how can we apply this confidence and craft building to support our teachers? I mentioned earlier how so many people supported my educational growth. This post emphasizes how to do that with our kids in our classroom, however, we also need to do this for our teachers.  Recently I met a coach, Beth Zawatski, who spent much of her first year as a literacy coach complimenting teachers.  That’s a great start for those first twenty days.  Hmm…would love some more ideas.  Be looking for this in a future blog posting.

Mel and her student work

Melanie Levy, 4th grade teacher at P.S 40 in Manhattan, standing next to her students’ work

partnership is cool

Hathaway Brown’s Jennifer Stillson’s display outside her 4th grade classroom

partnership displayed 2-3

Love Jennifer Stillman’s emphasis on the power of writing partnerships

Building confidence & craft, actually~

Christy & Monique

Do All the Stars Have to Align in Order to Do Good Work?

IMG_7363  This school year has had some remarkable moments. I worked in Cairo, I worked with my old district in Florida (a real treat), and for the first time in the ten years since I started this gig, a superintendent sat on the rug beside the kids while I modeled a lesson.IMG_0120 Finishing the school year and upon reflection, I realized there is a district that has changed my life. Support From the Top: I arrived early to the school the morning we met.  There were quick introductions, but I really did not know this Literacy District Leader. Nor did she me. I didn’t know what to expect. She started the first meeting with “I didn’t know how to teach writing when I was in the classroom. I did a lot of assigning. Then after reading Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, I realized how important writing was to our district. After speaking with the administrators, they agreed. Sometimes you get connected with a consultant. Christy Curran is a wonderful fit for writing workshop. I liken it to We are a perfect match, and we had no idea.” This district supervisor did so many smart things. First and foremost—how about that compliment?! Kidding aside, she set a tone that completely supports the work and the consultant with her introduction. By the way, taking the time to introduce your consultant is the professional thing to do.  Often teachers feel as if they are not treated as professionals.  This small act can change that.  Also,  when teachers feel like they are getting greatness, they are more apt to listen.  Secondly, she talked about her faults. She told the teachers that she taught writing by assigning. She admitted what the teachers are probably doing in the name of teaching writing so they don’t feel so bad about their work. HUGE! Teachers have difficulty embracing change when they feel like everything they’ve done before then is wrong. It gives the new work a bad taste. And by the way, it is NEVER wrong! Could it be better? Of course it always can be better.  But for now let’s recognize that change is hard. As the days went on and the work began to unfold, the district supervisor quickly began to trust me. I suggested the coaches and teachers needed foundation for this deep work. She then hired me to lead a week-long institute. She started talking about it to her teachers the day after I suggested it — before we even had dates reserved. She was planting the seed. “Today was great for you, think about spending a week with Christy so we can have the support we need. Be thinking if you would like to attend that.” This was important because she had her audience, they were eager, attentive and ripe for more.  This leader knew it and acted on it immediately.  Not a week later or over email, but person to person while the work was hot. Recently, I did an institute where the teachers were paid to attend and many did not show. And they were being paid! Often when we wait to offer the support it can be easy to forget how beneficial the training was.  We think summer and fun and family–come on, do I really want to work?  However, if we make the commitment immediately following the training when the training is on teachers’ minds and their excited about it, you may get larger participation. Just as teachers sell writing workshop to kids, we as coaches, consultants, and administrators have to be consistently selling it to teachers. I then began to ask how the coaches work? Can we rethink their role so that it becomes more focused, equitable, and purposeful? Done. How do the principals see the work? Can we have a day with the leaders? Can we take them to a classroom where this is happening? Can we discuss non-negotiables for next year? Can we share ideas for the coaches role? My last day was set aside for administration and the supervisor and I planned it together. Everything I suggested — from classroom visits to re-structuring the coaching, the district leader supported and included in the agenda. Done. Done. And done. A dream. Coaches Can Make All the Difference in the World: It didn’t end there, though. Did I mention their coaches? You know the kind of coaches I’m talking about. If you are reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re this kind of coach.   The kind of coach who says everything you want to hear. Who ask authentic questions around their struggles—the exact issues the teachers struggle with. She notices the big and small things you are trying to demonstrate, and shares publicly how wonderful the kids responded to the work modeled. Then, to top it off, she starts emailing you. I hope I don’t embarrass her, but here are some of the emails from my new friend and true gift to the teaching of writing, Michelle: #1 Hi Christy, Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the lesson today and I won’t be able to be there Monday either; I first off wanted to say thank you so much for all of the knowledge and inspiration you have shared with us (it really makes me want to go back in the classroom and teach writing!)  I learned so much during this past week and hope that I can help pass the enthusiasm for writer’s workshop along to other teachers.  In my opinion, there are also many strategies that can be applied in other content areas in the classroom.  Anyway, my question is do you have any recommended “PD Plans” for schools that have not started any writer’s workshop yet..I work with School A, and they have not received kits yet, but will this summer.  Any advice regarding where to start or how much PD to give, etc. I know Dara and Angie planned some PD for the schools that started this year, and worked on developing “lesson snapshots” with the teachers.  I was thinking about recruiting a teacher from “A” and work together with her to plan and teach a Unit for the remainder of this school year….I realize I am rambling a Well any advice about supporting teachers / planning PD /  etc. is Greatly appreciated!  Thanks so very much and look forward to working with you again!! #2 Christy, Thank you so much for your time and suggestions.  I have found a grade 2 teacher to “pilot” a narrative unit for the remainder of the year…since this school has not implemented writer’s workshop yet, I am thinking about using the first grade unit “Small Moments”..  My plan is to dive into the reading this weekend and her and I are going to meet and plan next week…can I contact you with follow-up questions as I proceed?  Thank you so very much and have a great weekend, I hope you can find some time for yoga! #3 Hi Christy, I just wanted to share a quick story with you..I met with a second grade teacher today who started implementing writer’s workshop right after you were here (she is at a school that had not started implementation at all yet)..I was blown away with how much she has done in just 5 lessons…and how much her kids were writing! They made beautiful folders, are using the pens, she has the rituals in place, and shared that it has changed the whole culture in her classroom, the kids are excited and asking when writer’s workshop is and parents have contacted her telling her how much they love the small moments notebooks the kids are using to record ideas.  Starting next week I will be working with her to co-teach the mini-lessons and conference with her.  She is so inspired, its amazing, thank you!!! #4 Hi Christy! Just wanted to take a moment and share a few writers workshop moments from this past week. I have been working with the second grade whose school had not started writers workshop yet or even had their own kits.  Her students are up to 35 minutes of writing after about 7 workshops…they are recording their stamina on a class thermometer anchor chart.  I had my first conferences this week…some replies I heard after asking the kids what they were working on as a writer: “writing across pages” (Spec. ed student who had about 9-10 pages FILLED) “getting the reader to be able to feel what I was feeling” (middle of the road student!) “trying to end my story by taking it full circle” (spec. ed student!) Its very easy to compliment these students and the teacher..they are doing such a great job! I think the teacher worries about “it all coming together” but I just keep encouraging her that we are working on building a writing culture, stamina, volume, and independence.  It is difficult for me to confer with the students, not knowing them very well (I find it hard to gauge where they are so quickly and to give a teaching point that is appropriate for their level) but we will just keep practicing!  We are also in the process of developing our “strategy notebook”. Well thanks again for inspiring us to inspire young writers! #5 Hi Christy, Tomorrow I will be attempting to “replicate” the lesson you taught in Susan’s room at BES with the third graders.  I thought it would be a great follow-up with the class that I have been working with, since the last time we taught this lesson we just focused on “slowing down the heart or the most important part”…my question is after the students try out the strategy “It could be about 3 times”…and think about the problem / tension…how do they actually incorporate this into their writing?  Let’s say they have a great idea, “oh my story could be about how I am sad because my parents are divorced and that is why I wrote about spending time with my mom”….how do they embed that into their writing, or do you have any strategies around this???  I just foresee them adding this piece at the end of their writing and just explicitly stating this instead of embedding it into their writing, does this make sense??  Thanks so much Christy, I am so excited to be a part of this learning!! #6 Hi Christy, Thanks so much for those extra strategies, they really helped.  Although I could tell the lesson was “over most of the kids heads” ..probably 5-6 really got it.  A few highlights: *a little girl who is writing about a gymnastics event realized her story was really about “how hard her team and coach worked together” and not just herself *another little girl who wrote about playing a board game realized she was “making memories out of normal, everyday things like spending time with her family” *another little girl writing about a Birthday party and not getting what she wanted said “you shouldn’t get upset by small things and let them ruin your day” so cool to see them come up with ideas like this!! Granted, other students wrote things like “it could really be about skateboarding”…but we are approximating!  That was the third grade class at school “B”. From there I went to school “A” to work with the second grade teacher, and we did the mini-lesson using the narrative checklist and working with partners.  I will say..I have not been to this school in over a week and I was BLOWN away with the progress they had made (not necessarily in “the writing”) but in the ability to take risks and the confidence and in how PROUD they were of their pieces.  This teacher in particular has set such a positive tone around writer’s workshop and her kids are like little sponges that just soak it up, it is really cool.  They did an incredible job of supporting their partner using the checklist and as I walked around it was really amazing hearing them use “writing language”, like “I think you could say more about this character, like were they nice or annoying”…and I think you should add in what they were saying or doing here.  Really cool!  One little boy loved the lesson suggesting creating an “lol” or “poor me” feeling and chose his moment to be about being stuck in traffic on the way to a baseball game…it was hilarious.  Another boy wrote about fireworks and had used his sketches and labels so well to say more, he was SO PROUD of it, I almost cried.  I think these second graders are “getting it” more than the third, or at least enjoying it more and growing as confident writers. We are moving towards celebrating and probably have to cut out a few lessons in the third grade class since it is so close to the end of the year.  Just to clarify..there is never “re-writing” in the publishing part, just celebrating the revisions and the process?  Thank you so much for all of your time and support, I CANNOT wait to learn more and be a part of the summer training!!! #7 Hi Christy! Today is our last day of school!  Yesterday we celebrated the publication of our narratives with second graders at school “A” (this is the school that just got kits yesterday but the teacher borrowed one to launch the unit after she saw you at school “C”!).  What an amazing time we had…the kids were SO PROUD and genuinely excited to celebrate and share their writing.  We followed the same format as the third grade class..arranged the students into groups of 5-6 and each student shared and wrote a compliment on a post-it; then we had punch and doughnuts and had a reflection discussion and made an anchor chart of what they liked and didn’t like about writers workshop..I was so amazed at how insightful they were…ESP considering we were pushing them to do this during the last few hours on the second to last day of school!  All the kids gave me cards, which of course make me tear up because I miss the classroom so much; but more importantly wrote things like “I never knew I liked writing so much”; “thank you for making me be confident about writing”; “now I am a proud writer”…priceless. I really think we accomplished our goal of building up the “writer” and not focusing on the “writing”. I am confident that when these students enter third grade they will cheer when the teacher announces the start of writers workshop. IMG_4897 IMG_5295 IMG_1346 A few trends I noticed about their “writing”

  • They love to try out dialogue….almost too much!
  • Most students incorporated thoughts and feelings (something they were not doing before)
  • Most students tried to wrap up their stories in a creative way
  • A lot of students struggled with focusing on just a small moment, some of them trailed into the “whole day”
  • Most students need help with descriptive words and phrases

We ended with encouraging them to take home their “tiny moments” notepad and record all of the awesome small moments they will have this summer so that next year they will have plenty of ideas.  As always thank you so much for your on-going support and advice, I appreciate it so very much.  I hope that during the summer week we can discuss how to best “launch” this with teachers…at SES the principal told me yesterday there is about 50% buy in…anyway have a great day, many thanks! Seriously?! Seriously—a gift. So what does Michelle do?

  • She asks for help—true learner. And you better believe she does that in front of her teachers.   It’s genuine. She wants to learn and she is wearing that learning vibe right out in the open for all to see.
  • She takes tips from the expert and does it. I’m sorry, but that also goes with being open to learning and letting your ego go a bit. Not easy. It must be the yogi in her:)  Great model for teachers and a building –especially from a leader.
  • She gives me specifics around the work that’s happening. This shows me how seriously she is taking this, and how important attention to detail matters.
  • Going along with above, she celebrates approximations (“getting the heart”). She is not only trying to learn and embrace the content but also the philosophy around it.
  • She is always positive. You hear it when she talks about the work, the kids, and mostly the teacher she’s working with.
  • She is looking at data—the positive and next steps. And she is having the kids do that as well. What’s working around writer’s workshop? What’s not?


  1. The district leader had a vision and everyone agreed to it
  2. She trusted the consultant and let the consultant do her best work.
  3. The district leader rolled up her sleeves and made sweeping changes immediately. Striking while the fire is HOT!
  4. The district leader was positive about my work before she even knew me (sure she had a referral but she still didn’t’ know me).  Then once she did, she continued to be a vocal and positive support helping with supplies and anything that could get in the way.
  5. Coaches were on board—Michelle emailed me yes,  but ALL of the coaches were passionate, learners, positive, respectful and empowering with teachers and even got on twitter to start tweeting the powerful work happening in the district.

 Many people in education feel as if the only way to influence, the only way to make change, the only way to create excellence is through fear and mandates. I guess that’s where the stars and I scatter. I don’t believe that’s the best way to lead and I will never lead in that way. This is only the beginning. This district is going to teach our nation how to lead and how to lead where educators can feel proud and dignified and passionate about teaching again, actually. Christy & Monique      

Creating a Curriculum of Change


“Books should change you. They should make you think and feel differently.” I told my kids. I told them that, but I am not sure if I really showed them that. I think instead my emphasis was placed on reading goals such as stamina, volume, independence, and skill work.

In our last post Monique and I wrote about race–a huge complicated issue in our world. Maybe it doesn’t need to be so complicated. And when we think of a curriculum centered around change, it does not have to be complicated. Last post, we discussed a difficult issue that we all are seeing and hearing about it. It’s not going away. So teaching a curriculum with change in mind, we are in essence saying “I hope one day we can live in a world where people are kind to one another without judgment, without complication.” In order for this to occur, why can’t we as educators take a fresh look at our year–long literacy curriculum? Why can’t we look at it through the lens of “change”?   In this post, we are attempting to do just that. After all, I believe it is our job as teachers to help kids wrestle with this very complicated world so that it becomes a little less complicated for them.

She has read the plot, has studied characters and how they change, has noticed symbols and nuances, all leading to her then creating sophisticated themes that she can argue. This work gets to most of what the Common Core State Standards mandate. However, the CCSS also states that we should read and write with a level of discourse. When we have discourse we are hoping to create change for a better world. In order to meet the rigorous standards around discourse we have to help kids see that this work is much bigger than a standard. A standard doesn’t impassion you. A standard doesn’t empower you. A standard doesn’t change you. That is why if kids are really to meet this standard of respectful discourse, they have to know why. Do we really know why? Do we really believe that helping kids to understand their world so that they can figure it out, break down barriers, find themselves in it, celebrate their uniqueness, and to know they are not alone are the most important reasons to teach? That when doing so it creates a kinder, calmer, more empathetic being? One who is at peace instead of at war with themselves and others? That’s what we believe.

Once we agree that this matters, how do we go about teaching a curriculum centered around “change” ? Here are five tips from the two of us to support a curriculum of change:


Book selection:

Quality of book matters; genre doesn’t. Certainly issues pop up in most any book. One thing to look for is how the author complicates the issue by presenting both sides.

Wilbur is a pig…many of us eat pig…bacon is my favorite scent in the world and one of my favorite foods. However, when we see Wilbur through Charlotte’s eyes, it makes us think twice (and maybe even three or four times) about our favorite smell.

Harry is smart, and sweet, and sensitive….he only reluctantly kills dragons, so we accept his sensitivity…his parents were killed. He has never mourned. Yet he has lots of anger. Whatever, his parents were killed. He’s a young boy growing to be a man. It’s ok for him to fight. What about Hermoine? She doesn’t really fight like Harry. She wants to, though. Does that mean she is tough, and not feminine or pretty? Why does it matter that she is smarter than Harry? How about the fact that she is a “mudblood” (not from a wizarding family)?



Room 105–Miss Stretchberry


September 13


I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.


Girls do.


Pg. 1 of Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

I don’t care what anyone says, this is one of the greatest first pages of any book–right up there with The Great Gatsby in my view. Look, Jack says to Ms. Stretchberry (or writes it at least, but I think the words are spoken…or conveyed through actions). This is my understanding of boys in the world. They are tough, they don’t cry and they definitely don’t write mushy poetry…you need to talk about feelings in poetry, and boys just don’t do that. That first page takes my breath away every time I read it at summer institutes. Gorgeous. So let’s learn how to teach it.


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

 We teach kids how to study books in a way that changes them. We teach empathy.

Ask these questions of books:

  • Who has power and why? Who gave them power? How did they get it?
  • What groups are represented? Groups of race, gender, class…smaller groups such as groups dealing with issues—issues of divorce, death, birth order, job status, intelligence, etc…dig into these groups, developing a deeper more complicated understanding of the character.
  • What perspective is being told? What perspective is left out?


We do that through…

Interactive read aloud:

When we plan for read aloud, we can plan a few skills to interactive with–one skill can be around perspectives, groups, and power.

Might sound like this (let’s use Love That Dog as our anchor text)

Pause after reading the first page and do a think aloud. Say something like:

Wow, Jack has definite feelings about boys (groups). He believes they don’t write poetry. I wonder if he has other beliefs about boys? As we read, let’s look for that and think about whether we agree or disagree with Jacks feelings. (You might say you strongly disagree about this or maybe save it for later as to not influence the kids thinking.)

Continue to read a few pages, and then stop at pg. 5

Say: Hmm. How does this page fit with Jacks feelings of boys? Think about what just happened on this page (he wrote the beginnings of a poem but doesnt want to share it) turn and tell your partner…how does it fit in with Jacks feelings of boys…and do you agree or disagree with Jack?

Continue to read and stop at pg. 19

Say: What new information have you learned and how does that go with what we know about Jack and his feelings about boys or even your feelings about boys–stop and jot on a post it.

The next day…

Have a grand conversation connected to the read aloud:

To start place your kids sit in a circle with a talk partner (I often pair up kids that you know are more introverts and seemingly extroverts—building on each other’s strengths).

When I introduce grand conversation, I let kids know their role…to be a great listener and a great talker. I discuss a bit what that looks like. Then I say, “let’s get started…who wants to get us started on conversation today?”

While they start talking as a class, I transcribe the conversation trying to catch every word and trying to keep my voice out. If they do not bring up Jack’s idea of what it means to be a boy, I might say something like…

Why did Sharon Creech start on the very first page this line…boys don’t write poetry, girls do?

Mini lesson work:

That same read aloud, we can use to refer to in our mini lesson pushing into this particular perspective of boys in the world and how we can try on both sides and see where we fit in it.

It might go…

Sometimes in books authors pose a situation, a spoken word or thought against the norm…what has always been … stereotypes.

For instance women are meant to take care of kids and the home and be pretty. Some women don’t want to have kids, or be home all day cleaning, or care to place a huge amount of time on their appearance

Women can’t play sports as well as boys? Well, there is actually a female wrestler who is beating every man she comes across. And the best pitcher in Little League baseball is a girlMoNe Davis.

When we notice that a character has strong feelings about a topic that feels one sided, we need to pause and ask why? What is that telling me about the character? What motivates them, and how they handle issues? We try to understand them and push ourselves to be changed…if we agree–try to disagree…if we disagree– try to agree.


We make it transferable to independent work.

We can say to our kids during independent reading time, “a big goal for all of us is to be changed by the books we read. Make sure to have at least one post-it showing how YOUR thinking has changed because of a book.”

A possible post it:

I used to think poetry was more of a “girl” thing, but now I realize that poetry is a powerful tool to help anyone who is hurting. Sometimes it can be hard to find help and we need to heal. What if Jack didn’t have poetry? He would have to lock up the sadness forever. Witnessing the death of your dog–how do you deal with that?


We create a kinder world that is in our classroom and beyond.

How to do that? Notice how your kids treat one another. When it’s kind, take notice. When it’s not, take notice. It doesn’t need to be with grand gesture, but it needs to be recognized, celebrated in a way. It says, this is what we value, this is what we honor in this class. Of course, the teacher is always the first and best model for this.

Also, there needs to be a discussion mid- year and throughout on how to keep this going when you’re not in this room. When you are in the harsh hard world. What do you see now? How to adults respond? Once when I went to join a taxi line at the airport, two big guys raced to get in front of me. A teenager was with them. He looked at me like he was sorry for their actions. It was so sweet. So kind. I mentally thanked his teacher, because I’m sure that’s where he learned to be kind.

Let’s look at the teaching of reading as greater than skills and even finding depth. Let’s remind ourselves, and our students of why reading really matters. It gives us a place to find ourselves, and to understand others, so we can be more compassionate people in the world. So we can create a world where ALL are accepted and loved.

Let’s create change, actually~

Christy & Monique





Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About


Christy’s Perspective/Thoughts:

I recently worked in the suburbs outside of New York City. The reading lesson we were working on was around social issues. Something like…Let’s study the character Rachel in the short story Eleven, asking ourselves what groups (like class, race and gender) does she belong in and how does that make life easier or hard for her.  After the work with the kids, we gathered and debriefed the classroom work. The teachers all said that they loved the lesson, especially opening up the groups—groups like only-child, single-moms, and teenagers. I said something like “yes, it helps to understand and really feel for the character once you study them in a more complex way.” I continued: “I have been wanting to have more conversations with kids around race, since there has been so much tension lately in the news.”

One teacher quickly replied “Oh our kids can’t see that. They don’t live in New York City, where there is so much diversity.”

“And the parents would be upset and confront us if we did that,” another replied.

I had a rough day. It was 2:30, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to end my day by pushing into this topic. But I knew I needed to. So I did.

“It’s about acceptance really.” I said. “Whether it’s about race, class, or gender.”

“Oh, they definitely can relate to class differences!” one said.

And so the conversation continued along in that manner, and ended on a peaceful note. Those white teachers left feeling fine about teaching their white children about tension around class instead of race.  They felt fine about staying in their privileged suburban comfort zone.

I left, too, but I didn’t feel fine. I felt stunned and disappointed in myself, but at least no one was telling me to get lost or to never come back. Whew. I was relieved and went back to my privileged life, too.

I know exactly how the teachers felt. I grew up in a community very similar to theirs. There was no diversity in my neighborhood, and barely any at my school. My dad is pretty much a racist, and my mom never had any black friends that I know of. And she occasionally catches herself using the word “colored.” I lived in a world of privilege and everyone around me was perfectly happy to stay in that world.

It wasn’t until I finished college and started teaching that I became really aware of the tension around race. It was when I met my good friend Jozelle my first year teaching that I began to understand. Once I bought her daughter some outfits as a gift for a birthday or something, and I gave her the receipt in case the clothes didn’t fit. She laughed a little, and told me that would make no difference–Dillard’s wouldn’t let her return the outfit, and if it had to be returned, I would have to go with her to the store. At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. I was completely naive to that experience. However, if I dig enough and really am honest with myself, even then I knew things like that existed. It just wasn’t until my friend, this person I cared so deeply for, shared her horrific experience that I really acknowledged that this is a serious issue. And when I read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh for a literacy class in graduate school at Teachers College, I finally had a term for my experience.

Racial tension is high right now, and some people are doing something about it. Even judges are trying to reform the system that led to no indictments in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Educators need to start doing something, too. After all, we are mostly white people teaching mostly white children (see this amazing post from “Crawling Out of the Classroom,” a great blog written by a classroom teacher). I am a white educator teaching mostly white educators. What is my responsibility? I started the conversation in that suburb, but I didn’t finish it. I should have.

How can I finish it? It is my job to help teachers see how they can help kids see their privilege, begin to really understand the tension, and to fight for change.

They can do that by reading books that bring up these tensions:

The Other Side

Each Kindness

Fly Away Home

Your Move

Those Shoes

And by having class discussions… Say things to kids like:

  • Who has the power in this book and why?
  • How does race or racism show up in these characters lives?
  • Why did Jacqueline Woodson decide to have her main characters black?
  • Why did Eve Bunting do the same in Your Move?
  • A white author and a black author both depicted blacks in a derogatory way—why?
  • In the short story Those Shoes, the main character is poor and black. However, the secondary character is white and poor. Could author Maribeth Boelts have switched them?

When parents ask us why we are having discussions about race in school, we can respond by saying things like “there are amazing children’s books that discuss race, and the Common Core Standards ask students to explore author’s purpose across text through a discussion with discourse. That’s what we are doing in this lesson.” And then we can also say something like “things need to change, and it needs to start with the youngest members of our community. We care about kindness to all in this class. We can’t be kind to others if we don’t have a clue about their lives.”

Maybe we all need to step back and take hard looks at how race has impacted our lives—looking at our own race identity. Maybe we don’t know, or maybe we do know and we don’t want to. After all, it’s pretty nice living in privilege. But we can’t deliberately keep closing our eyes and pretending that we don’t see what’s out there.


Monique’s Perspective/Thoughts:

Just last month, my 13 year old daughter came home from school with exciting news. She was going to be interviewed by a local news station about her participation in a basketball program at her school and the interview was to be aired on television! As with most 13 year olds, she was already dreaming up the names of people she needed to tell to watch her rise into stardom. Text messages started flying everywhere, her phone ‘binging’ almost every other second. She was going to be a star! Big deal, right?!? So the day finally came, she was interviewed and then a few days after, our family huddled together in the living room, holding our breaths for the interview to air.

Before we even saw the part with my daughter and her friends, a reporter introduced the segment, “…this nonprofit brings sports and exercise to under-served communities…” “Wait, what?” I thought. The words under-served communities gave me pause. They somehow erased all the excitement off my face and when I glanced over to my husband, I saw him looking back at me with the same irritated look. Yup, we both heard right, “under-served”. What does that really mean?

I watched the rest of the report with the interviews held in the school gymnasium and the teenaged girls playing basketball in the background. They looked beautiful on the screen, running up and down the court, warming up for their game. They were ‘under-served’. I looked over at my daughter as she watched the segment in awe, pointing and giggling with her siblings. Did they get the memo – “Kids, you know, just letting you know, you’re actually under-served”. I pictured all the other parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles watching this segment in their own homes with their children and being forcibly labeled as under-served. I thought about my under-served community, a majority African American community in West Harlem, the most vibrant place I’ve ever lived (compared to growing up in the north shore suburbs of Long Island).

There are so many places I could go with this notion of being “under-served”. I could define what that actually means. We’ve gotten pretty good, as a people, of making up phrases for communities that we just want to call ‘abnormal’ or ‘different’. Or, I could write about the history of it. Just why are these communities under-served? Where did it all begin, actually? What was the exact moment when the communities changed from being ‘well-served’ to ‘under-served’? Were they always under-served? I could even talk about who is now trying to serve these malnourished communities. Yes, there are hundreds and hundreds of groups scrambling to get the opportunity for their organizations to serve my under-served schools, housing agencies, parks, museums, you name it. Remarkably, get this, there’s a lot of money to be made in under-served communities.

But I won’t go there. I’m actually going to briefly give you a picture of what an “under-served” community looks like. In this case, I’m going to interpret under-served as meaning predominantly African-American. That’s what West Harlem looks like. I’m an African American woman, with an African husband and we have four children- two girls and two boys.

But I mostly just want to reject this title of being under-served. I reject being defined as ‘victim’. It’s a title that prevents one from growing. It’s a label that strips power away. There is no suggestion of overcoming the prejudice, violence, or wrong that was done to you. What’s so irritating about the news reporter’s description, which is actually part of the basketball organization’s mission statement, is that we’re constantly labeling a significant population of our American children and their families as victims. This “victim” population is disproportionately African American. Have our people in the African American community been victims of systematic racism and hate? Absolutely. Should we ignore that? No, we cannot- unfortunately, it’s still a very toxic part of today’s reality. Who needs to fix it? The people that are infected with the disease of hate. They are the actual ones living in ‘under-served’ communities if no one helps them see beyond skin color and stereotypes to rid them of hate.

As a teacher, I remember the month of February to be a challenging one. So many holidays (I’m not a fan of holidays), so many projects, and for the entire month, my school celebrated Black History Month. We had assemblies (those- I actually loved!) and my class often took part in the Black History Month Assembly. My school was predominantly ‘black’. Specifically, we had mostly African American families, and families from the West Indies, like Haiti and Jamaica. Because of the historical context, my students and I would study our country’s past and the people who made significant contributions to the present world we lived in. I also taught them about the historical heroes from the countries they came from. I remember reading and listening to information on some historical heroes with my young students. The children’s conversations moved me the most- we’d have whole class discussions about the great people of the Americas and what they did to rise above any hardships. Growth-mindset wasn’t a ‘hot topic’ back then, but boy, were we talking, living and breathing it! I vividly remember one subject that blew my 1st graders’ minds: Frederick Douglass taught himself how to read! Imagine that!

The photo below is from 2001 right before my first grade class went into the assembly to teach about African, West Indian and African American heroes like Nelson Mandela, Fannie Lou Hamer, Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman, and Marcus Garvey. I remember the energy and excitement in the room was so high.  I don’t know how they stood still long enough for me to take this picture!

photo 1

Fourteen years later, I’m still teaching the ideas of resilience, persistence, embracing challenges, giving effort. These are all the words I would use to describe the African American community I live in. I choose any of those words, rather than, under-served. The message we need to give to African American children is, “you are so much more than the label, victim. You, my children, matter.”  #blacklivesmatter

So let’s all talk, actually — ok?

Monique & Christy


Teaching Tori the Power of Reflection

“What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?”

Tori Amos

“To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.”

John Dewey

It’s that time of year again – the New Year – a time for resolution, goal setting, and change. We search everywhere to find that one thing, that one answer to help us change.

Recently, I (Christy) have been doing the thing I have loved to do since I first realized the great value of it at the ripe old age of thirteen – walking on the beach. I’m a Florida Girl. In order to really be a Florida Girl (or a Florida Guy, I suppose), it is my belief that you have to love the beach. I realized in my thirteenth year of life that walking on the beach gave me time to myself. It helped me think about the things I wanted in life. It helped me to think about what I wanted in a partner, the things I was passionate about, and, perhaps most importantly, it helped me to dream. My dreams often seemed just that – dreams, unattainable and unfathomable, but the beach gave me that space to get into my head and think.

The last eight years I have lived in New York City and I have loved most everything about it. Everything, that is, other than the fact that there is no real beach nearby for me to walk and think and dream. I come home several times a year mostly to visit family, but sometimes I think the real reason I come home is to visit me.

This past holiday was no exception. My first real beach encounter came right before Christmas. I was frazzled from work, frazzled from shopping, and frazzled with all of  the things that most people deal with. I woke up one day and decided this day can only get better if I take an early morning walk on the beach.

I stepped on the sand and just walked. I walked and walked and walked. I stared out into the calm stillness of the Gulf of Mexico, getting lost in the ripples splashing onto the shoreline. Music to my thoughts. I noticed the houses I passed, wondering who lived in them or which house had the best views for parties and family gatherings or which could be mine someday. Ahh … just like my dreaming in high school … unattainable, but yet I kept dreaming.

I continued my walk, lost in my thoughts, when I realized all of the beauties about this walk. I was exercising, although it didn’t feel like it; I was thinking, although thoughts just appeared without me really knowing how they got there; and I was happy – happy to be outside in the fresh air away from life. I realized then that my New Year needs to be all about feeding my mind, body, and soul. That is the work for me, for now. I didn’t know that before my walk, and I loved how I felt about it after my walk. It made so much sense to me.

I came home and discussed it with my husband, and everything around me seemed to be helping me with this goal. I read an article by Eric Barker called Things the Happiest People Have in Common.

It mentions that happy people have habits, a routine, things they do everyday to deliberately support happiness. So I asked myself, what can I put in place that becomes a habit to support my goal of living the balance of feeding my mind, body and soul? When I discussed it with my husband, I realized that some habits were in place already for both of us – especially feeding our minds. We are avid readers, we listen to NPR and other news programs, and we frequently discuss the political and social issues of the day. We realized that we both needed to maybe work on body or soul. For him, it was body and exercise; for me, body and food; and both of us needed to work on feeding the soul.

“If I allowed fear to overtake me my journey was doomed. Fear to a great extent is born of a story we tell ourselves, so I choose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked… Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power and it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

Cheryl Strayed Wild


Cheryl’s words and this video really spoke to us. Our brains have the super power to help us see similar things a little (or a lot) differently, if needed.  A couple of mornings ago, I (Monique) was taking a walk with my family here in our neighborhood here in Harlem, NY.  It’s our usual Saturday morning ritual to walk and talk together- sometimes, it’s easier to catch up with what’s going on in my children’s lives while walking.  There’s something about allowing your brain to wander as you physically wander.  On this particular walk last Saturday, one of my daughters complained, “I can’t believe vacation is over! Ugh – I don’t want to go to school on Monday!”  Initially, I wanted to wallow in self pity with her and complain.  Thankfully, my brain stopped me.  My brain knew I needed to look at Monday differently.  I knew I had to help her think differently about all the Mondays she has yet to face in her life. We both needed to work on our brains.  I talked some long ‘mom-like’ cheesy rant like, “You know, I’m actually looking forward to this week.  I can’t wait to tackle the new things that are waiting for me.  I’ve relaxed and rejuvenated myself this entire vacation, and it really must be for a reason.  It’s like, I’ll be doing the same things, going to the same places, interacting with the same people, but now, it’s a different me.  It’s like I get to start over but I already know everyone, everything and everyplace.  I think it will be an amazing week! What do you think?”  Surprisingly, my 12 year old daughter was listening.  And I think she bought it.  She nodded and reflected, “You’re right, mom.  I think I need to think differently.”  Her brain was fired up.  That’s our resolution as a family.  Feed the brain and the brain will nourish your body and soul.

This week, as many of us head back to our jobs and responsibilities, wakening up from vacation slumber, there maybe a sense of anxiety wrapped around us. The work we do as educators is so emotionally involved and multi-leveled. Recently a follower and friend of the blog asked this question: What is the next step for me? The biggest thing is to do just that, ask those questions, and then reflect.

“Reflection is a complex, rigorous, intellectual and emotional enterprise.”

John Dewey

Considerations to deep, empowering, motivating reflection:

  1. Reflection is complex and rigorous. It takes time to think and decide and study what Dewey calls as a “dilemma” (goal) that you are having. For some you may come to this on the beach, others a walk in the woods, maybe enjoying the peaceful silence after a fresh snow fall, or having a conversation with a colleague.
  2. Reflection needs to be ok with your brain – or maybe your brain needs convincing, like Cheryl’s did.
  3. Reflection needs to be embraced. You are on about it. Excited and learning as much as you can about it. You are passionate about this thing you are trying to get better at. And you are not judging it.
  4. Reflection needs habits in place to help you on your journey as you near a closer resolution around your dilemma (goal.)

“Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful… To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.” 

John Dewey

So, reflection is the key for us – in our view, it leads to everything else. So, Tori, that’s what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts, actually.

Monique & Christy