Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Relationship Building

The luxury of whimsy (part 1)

Routines of comfort

How do I describe the (odd and inappropriate) envy I feel right now when I read colleagues who teach in other schools/districts about the connections they’ve made with students during the COVID19 crisis? Please don’t misunderstand me: I am joyous that students are reaching out to their teachers at this time, that students want to continue learning and keep connecting with their teachers. At least five of my friends have posted ways their students have connected with them. They instilled a love of learning before the pandemic.

My students this year know I love them, and want the best for them. But they were already on the academic fringes of school, and my concern is that they will be forced to levels of stress that will send them to places, emotionally and physically, where I won’t be able to reach them. I teach in an alternative high school, whose mission is to provide credit recovery as its first priority, and other experiences or creative endeavors may have been a luxury. I love my teaching assignment and district this year –and my colleagues. I am new to the building in many ways, including being the first ELL teacher. They’ve never had a full-time ELL teacher, and it’s difficult to assess how many of my colleagues have delved into SIOP work, but the wonderful part is it doesn’t matter: they are loving, caring, open-minded and seek collaboration. My heart is full. But that is during “normalcy.”

And things are far from normal.*

Time for some magic. And emails. And magical emails.

But now: what to do for my students who many not reach out and connect?

Resources: what my students are currently doing now…


I have a Google Classroom set up, along with other ELA teachers in my building. I sent them all home with books of their choices, notebooks, a letter, pens, pencils, etc. And yes, a consumable workbook. It nearly broke my heart when one girl asked if she had to do the work on paper and not in the workbook. Think about that for a second: we expect our students to learn but as practice don’t give them the resources?

My Youtube Channel:




The US History teacher has a comprehensive Google Classroom set up, with weekly notes and Power Points. I wish we had more time during my ELL Study Skills class to dive into topics more deeply, but alas, we don’t.

Family and Consumer Sciences

Art & Jewelry

There are many artists such as Mo Willems who are providing interactive doodle time and art lessons. I may need to do a separate post about this.

*Except for President Trump’s continued and overt racism.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Reading, Reading Strategies, Relationship Building, Research, Writing

protecting readers

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to read. Her mother read her books. When baby sisters came along she read books to herself. Her dad would take her to the library. Her teacher suggested books to her, including Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret when she was in fourth grade. It became her anthem into adolescence. She read Harriet the Spy three times, long before there was a movie adaptation. She learned that some books were too cold, some too hot, but most just right, all without someone telling her. No context clues. No five fingers. No color-coded levels or reading logs. Nothing was forbidden or taboo. When her great-grandmother gave her The Secret Garden, she used her own judgment to put it aside until she connected with it a year or so later. She would read anything and everything. Stories and information fueled her imagination.

My apologies for using third-person point of view: I needed to get outside my own head for a while and look at the bigger landscape. What a pure joy, to develop and cultivate a reading life before it was a “thing.” Of my current 90 students, I have one girl who tears through my #ProjectLit books as if they’re a bag of Takis. She is a reader. She tested far and away the highest ‘level’ IRLA from the American Reading Company can test. She is proud of her reading and her intelligence, as well she should be. Meeting her mother at conferences I thanked her, and her mother said they read at home.

Now another 8th-grade girl said she doesn’t need to read The Hate U Give because she already saw the movie. She said this in a defensive, snotty tone, challenging me to push back on this notion. I didn’t try. And please don’t misunderstand: I am not critical of her: she’s a teenage girl who doesn’t see the value in spending time with the book, with the author’s prose and structure and doesn’t want to think beyond that. She saw the movie, and that’s enough.



So we’ve had years of reading logs, and accountable talk, and for what? Now I’m in a district that uses a program called IRLA from the American Reading Company that says it doesn’t level readers, only books. When a representative from the company visited my room, she wanted to demonstrate the program with a student, and I chose a young girl who’s been reading anything scary I have in my classroom library. She was reading Through The Woods. The rep look at her computer screen leveled this book, and immediately told the student the book wasn’t at her level, “she was an orange level” and to go get an orange book. My student did what she was told.

That is a true story.

And what is also true is after the rep and group left my room, I went into damage control. I told her to never, ever worry about what level she or a book is in terms of what she wants to read. Read and talk about whatever she wants.

But I am left with my own accountability for using this program with students, and my evaluation is based on how much growth students show over this year. It’s on my TPEP evaluation goals, which my administrator crafted. I didn’t have a say in what my goals were or should be. Okay. This is the reality thousands of teachers face in schools across the country. I have the screenshots. We are required to teach and use instructional time for this program. The research I’ve done is dominated by the American Reading Company, so it’s difficult to find independent data. I am a solution-oriented person: if this is what I am required to use, then I will also tap into my professional expertise (by reading Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, Kelly Gallagher, et al) and make it work. Fortunately, Cult of Pedagogy addressed this issue: What are the best ways to use leveled texts?

And now, for those in the back: READERS ARE NOT LEVELS. BOOKS ARE.


One of the biggest mistakes Serravallo sees is labeling students by text levels. “Levels are meant for books, not for kids,” she explains. “There’s really no point in time when a kid is just a level, just one. There’s a real range, and it depends on a lot of other factors.”

Please: protect your readers. And be transparent about how and why you’re protecting them. You are fighting for their love of reading, but they need to learn how to do this, too, and advocate for their reading lives. 

I’m returning to my Burning Questions unit soon. Not sure I ever stop, actually. Time to flip the script on reading instruction and give authentic and honest hope in our agency.





Classroom Library Tip Jar

Please donate so I can replenish my classroom library.


Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Relationship Building, Uncategorized

Mrs. Love is extra. Happy.

Look! LOOOOOOOK! Students are using my resources about readers’ response journaling! LOOOOOOK!

Needed to take a moment and capture the first two weeks at my new school:

I love teaching ELA/History again!

  • Great and wonderful things:
    • 8th-grade scholars (not students, scholars) who have been through the AVID and IB classes are incredibly prepared. It has been such a boon for teaching students content, and so many of them come prepared with best practices procedures.
    • Their reading program comes with books for every student. Repeat: a book for every student. No chasing down resources or playing a dangerous bartering game to try to scratch together things.
    • They do not use computers every day. This–this has been wonderful.
    • My knowledge and wealth of resources are going to be utilized to the fullest: my AVID training, National Writing Project, National Boards, –everything! I finally feel that I am in a place that not only values my knowledge but is truly collaborative! (This. Is. A. Big. Deal. I didn’t realize how starved I was for this type of collaboration.)
  • Areas for growth: 
    • 8th-grade scholars who are new to Totem are not there yet: I witness the continued lack of hope and engagement in their learning.
    • Their reading program is heavily influenced by leveling, and students tracking their levels. This is not best practice, but I can make it work.
    • They don’t use computers every day, so I’m carefully planning when and how to implement computer use. There is a cart in my room, and I am going to move slowly and intentionally with my technology embedded instruction. And holy smokes do I miss my Smartboard.

The biggest success so far? It would have to be me flying solo on Theory of Theme and using seed ideas. The first whole class novel is Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and I asked my dear friend, Minh Tank, who served in the Vietnamese army, about his experiences and resources, and he provided a rich treasure trove.

The steps of Theory of Theme:

  1. Watch a quick video about theme –informed scholars this is not a one-time deal
  2. THEMES ARE NOT TOPICS (check that box)
  3. Preview several images from the Vietnam War.
  4. For each image, scholars wrote their thoughts/words/phrases
  5. After the image previewing, highlight three words that stand out
  6. Share out as seed ideas
  7. Co-construct a theory about possible themes by looking at the words
  8. Decided to focus on war, and sentence starter: War can be___________________

This was only the second week of school.

One of the best:

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Relationship Building

Building (Relationships) Check-Up

I invite educators and non-educators to comment or add ideas to this document:

I am thinking about making this into a chart for myself–these six areas are important and valuable to keep close and visible each teaching day. Any ideas are welcome!