School Shootings: A title I never wanted to write.

I wake yet again, with a heavy heart as I think of all of the children, all of my dear friends, colleagues, young moms, dads and yes, even myself who will walk into a school building today. I have to be honest, each time there is a school shooting I become hyper aware of the brick and mortar I am entering. I look left, I look right, I take a deep breath and hope that you asking for my ID behind the locked doors is enough to keep us all safe. I try to take solace in the fact that so many of YOU are in the building already and that on this day we will all remain safe. It is a risk and one that becomes more and more immediate and, one that is absolutely absurd, one that I will continue to take, as will all of you.

I come from an age where public school buildings were just that, open to the public. You could drive up, walk into the office at any time of the day with no buzzers, no ID, no nothing. The freedom of those times is not lost on me. That freedom is what we must work our way back to, but as my Dad said on 911, “things are forever changed”. Boy was he right. I just never knew it would continue to get worse and worse. As my career shifted and changed and I moved from one school to many I slowly saw this change of “security” as I encountered one locked door after another. My initial and lasting thoughts are of sheer frustration. I hate the idea of kids behind locked doors. I am annoyed at having to “prove” myself every time I wanted to enter as someone who would do no harm. I know I “should” be happy that these procedures are in place, but I am not. At every turn we lose one right after another and all in the name of fear. And my greatest fear is that we will continue to move in this direction, arming teachers, installing metal detectors and officers before we look at and address the root of the problem. It is time to say NO!

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I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted for a TV series from a book that I read in college, a book that remains torn and tattered on my shelf from those days in the 80’s when I read it and reread it, in sheer disbelief. For me it was one of THOSE books that haunts you for life. The TV adaptation is well done as it is put in more modern times, but to be honest, it frightens me because all of the characters are saying what we are saying about what is going on in this world right now. “They can’t DO this” shout the woman as they lose their bank accounts, their jobs, their livelihood as they drink a bottle of wine together after being escorted out of their jobs one after another.

the handmaid's tale

I flash to my book group where we all discuss the absurdity of what is happening in this country and yes, we are drinking our wine and agreeing with each other, but I can’t help but think about what is going on behind closed doors and how, honestly, powerless I feel. When did WE become so powerless? I have done the marches, I have written and sent my postcards, and I will continue to work to get the right people in office …but to what end? It just doesn’t feel like enough. It NEVER feels like enough. We KNOW Russia intervened with the election and still…NOTHING happens….yet.

In walk these amazing kids from Stoneman Douglas High. For the first time since November (you know which November I mean) I have begun to unearth some hope rising inside of me. It has to be THIS generation with fire in their bellies, that (with millions of 18 year olds who will be eligible to vote this year) need to show up. They did not show up at our last election, disenfranchised with the process and rightly so, but ultimately action is more effective than inaction.


At the same time I feel the need to apologize to all of those generations younger than me that we did not do an adequate job at keeping this country united and safe for all of you.

At a local elementary school this week I was about to have class when a 5-minute emergency staff meeting was called. It was to address the upcoming scheduled walk out in March for 17 minutes; one minute for each child gunned down in Florida. As this is an elementary school they were working to make sure that, if teachers wanted to participate then that was their right and they would work to make that happen. What I appreciated even more was the fierce message that we must protect our kids and that although some may know about what is going on, that many others may not and that protecting their innocence is of utmost importance. While I appreciated this open dialogue I was once again saddened that this had to be a topic. Period.


We chose a career, many of us out of passion; one that was fascinating to us as we work to learn to understand the inner workings of children: the minds and hearts of these little beings that come into our care each day. The kids we each take home with us, the ones that we mull over as we are in the shower, driving to school, the ones who perplex us, the ones who hug us. We are in the trenches each and every day trying to make a difference but the distractions of the world are slowly taking over keeping us from doing what we need to do. Our schools are far from perfect, but the right to an education is what is at stake here.   We NEED to preserve this institution to ensure a fair and equal education for ALL in SAFE spaces.  2018-01-25-protest-get-up-stand-up-for-your-rights-400-300Not just the rich and the famous and the lucky, but also the poor, the unknown and the not so lucky. We are so much better than what plays out every day on the media. We just are. And fighting for the rights of each individual is just something we have to do. There is no other choice when you sit in a 3rd grade classroom and watch a teacher read aloud to a group of students who are enthralled with the reading of Wonder, as they discuss empathy, caring, understanding and what it means to be an outcast or when you see a kindergartener make her own book that she is dying to share with you or when you see a table of first graders giggling at Captain Underpants together or when you see 6th graders confer with their teacher on the Civil Rights movement giving voice to  how they are personally discriminated against. This all matters. What you do matters. Don’t forget that in the wake of all that tries to undermine that.

Firsts, Lasts, Forevers and Newkirk

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life/ I was a bride married to amazement.” Mary Oliver


Throwback, Emma (4th) and Zachary (1st) first day of school.

So its that time of the year again, where my FB and twitter feeds all fill with accolades, videos, quotes, sayings, jokes, and images of going back to school; whether it is  first grade lunchbox photos or first college drop off dorm rooms everyone seems to be “on their way” somewhere new. Conversations are abuzz with who has what teacher and who is going where.

It is the time of year that I often lament not having my own classroom, but trust me, it is like wanting another baby, and it is gone as quickly as it comes. And while I think about the birth of a new class and all of the excitement that happens on that first day, raising that class has become increasingly daunting since the late 80’s when I started teaching.

So, I finally let my NH State Certification expire. This was a biggie!! I mean I never left the classroom intentionally. It just happened and I believe there was a time when I thought I would always spend all of my days with other people’s kids until my own got sick, so letting this certificate go was the last step in my own process of letting go of a life that wasn’t.


Sample Cairn, many more coming in the mail soon…thank you Heinemann!!

And so I begin my 15th year at UNH as a Field Coordinator and Instructor for Learning Through Teaching. 15 years! How did THAT happen? And although I don’t have the physical space of a classroom I begin reading and planning and plotting places and spaces in my mind even though I SWEAR every year that I am going to take August off, there I am on my deck with a cairn of professional books at my side…seeking the perfect “forever” book for each of the graduate courses I will be teaching in this coming year. I gather books like eggs and read with great hope that I will find exactly what I need to hatch meaningful experiences for my teachers and their kids.


Zach begins is sophomore year in College.

And so at this time of excitement where everyone returns to school with great anticipation, hope and wonder, I have also been at this long enough to know that soon that fervor will calm and that the day to day will begin to wash away the smell of the new clothes, the bulletin boards will begin to fade in the slowing summer light, the shiny new sharp crayons will dull and break and the real school year will begin.

So when I am reading I am asking myself, what professional book can I find that will actually sustain my teachers throughout an entire year? What will help them to think more deeply? How do I find a text that will “speak” to everyone? Can I find a “forever” book for someone?

And so here I have decided to pay homage to those tried and true texts about the teaching of Reading; the ones that have changed me. The ones that are forever on my shelf through yearly discards and endless book drops. I have also decided to limit this list to 5 books and I realize that was much harder than I thought it was going to be!! That is good news.

mosaic-of-thought2Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keen and Susan Zimmerman

In the early 90’s, I was part of a committee in Barrington, NH and Grant Cioffi was on the committee. I had his son in my 3rd grade class and had taken several courses with him at UNH. He was nothing short of brilliant and his death was a loss beyond comprehension.  He is loved and missed by so many.

We were working on reading interventions and I remember saying, “I wish I could just ‘see’ inside the minds of my kids.’” Grant and I spent overtime batting this idea around but always came up short. Enter Mosaic of Thought. Never had I read a book on reading that actually created a way to begin to make thinking visible. And while I fully admit to my “teacher crush” on Ellin, she remains an icon of change in the teaching world. During that time the PEBC out of Denver was a force to be reckoned with and many other great work came out of this collaboration. (Oh I want to include Cris Tovani here too!)   If you have not read this book and the new edition then you are truly missing out! Read it as a reader, just purely READ it and savor it.

download (2)In The Company of Children by Joanne Hindley

For many years this book was a fall back for me!! Whenever I couldn’t find anything I would seek out this purple, pink and blue gem and find what I needed! Joanne brings both the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop to life in between these covers and allowed me to see that this rewarding work was something that anyone could do. If you don’t know Joanne, she was part of  The Manhatten New School in NYC where Shelley Harwayne (Oh man,  how can I not include a Shelley book?)   was principal. Upon visiting this school it was apparent that EVERYONE was a reader, from the security guard sitting at the door, her stack of books beside her, to the bathrooms that were wallpapered in book jackets. Reading was valued, adored and respected and it was something EVERYONE did! Joanne’s book oozes with this collaboration and connection. Thank you Joanne.

41DAM18YC7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You Gotta Be the Book by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

If you know anything about me then you also know that I have this affinity for dressing people up in hats and props and bringing reading and writing to life using drama. Enter Jeff Wilhelm. He wrote the book that affirmed all of the “silliness and fun” in my teaching. He validated and gave language to what I intuitively knew was good teaching.   We brought him to UNH years ago to our annual Learning Through Teaching One Day Workshop and he had teachers eating out of his hand, playing historical rolls, futuristic rolls and all with great depth and meaning.  Thank you Jeff!

9780325030739_p0_v1_s260x420What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse

Reading this book was a breath of fresh air that I didn’t know I had been craving. Vicki and Dorothy combine the language of writing and the ideas of revising to thinking and distill the strategy work started by Keene and Zimmerman into a holistic approach to thinking. The simplicity of noticing and naming are at the foundation of this brilliant book that again, aims at getting at the thinking of our kids! Thank you Vicki and Dorothy for this masterpiece!  I have already used it with several of my graduate students and it is always a hit!

12099809The Art of Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk

I remember sitting at a Learning Through Teaching meeting and Tom laughing at himself saying, “Who am I to write a book on reading?” And yes, in perfect Tom style then went on to rehearse this book with our group. He “outed” himself on the first page as a slow reader and invited the rest of us who are slow readers into the conversation. When I read this manuscript I sat down with Tom at The Bagelry (and yes it WAS still the Bagelry then!) I told him that what I read felt like his love story with books, it is passionate, heartfelt and brutally honest.   Per usual, Newkirk did not disappoint with this book and his uncanny ability to put into words what so many are thinking, but are afraid to say. In this age where speed is king, Newkirk demands that you stop and think…

newkirk-1And it is no mistake that I end with Tom. You see, Newkirk just retired. Tom has been my mentor, my boss, my friend, and best of all a man who always laughs at my jokes. (Something you don’t want to live without!) I cannot imagine what our Learning Through Teaching group will be without him. (This too is a biggie!)  So I write this out of the deep respect and gratitude as I reflect on my professional life and how forever blessed I have been! You see, I have met many of these authors in some capacity and that is because of Tom. CGbb6piW0AAl2Wx Who knew when I left that classroom so many years ago that I would find myself where I am today.  So Tom Newkirk, I dedicate this blog to you as a Thank You for allowing me the autonomy to teach, the respect to grow and the humor to bookend it all.  My professional life would never have been as rich  had I never met you. (And of course a shout out to the Grand Dame of Education herself, Jean Robbins who started Learning Through Teaching and introduced me to Tom!!)  It is because of you that I have been able to live  “married to amazement” and there is really, no greater gift.  Enjoy your time….  You have not seen the last of me!

Let Them Write!

Good Morning. It’s me again, re-establishing my ritual of waking and writing which went to the wayside in a year of grief.   The get up and go to research and write just came and went and thusly my writing has gotten downright rusty. (Please pass the oil!)

Judy Garland, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger Film Set Wizard Of Oz, The (1939) 0032138

I mean it. I have attempted to put together a cohesive blog many times since my last one and what I have put out is not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in churning out crap or what Anne Lamont, in Bird by Bird, refers to as “shitty first drafts”.  It is also what Peter Elbow refers to as low stakes writing in this article.  (Thank you Vicki Vinton for this gem!)

It is just writing for the sake of writing, thinking and learning. I have lived with this knowing I will  get through it and start to find my way back into my writer’s space. It is, after all, part of the process and I honor that over product.  Right?


I preach the holy heck out of getting kids to write everyday, but now I have seen the frazzled fruits of my lazy labor as I struggle to find words and ideas that will come together into a piece that interests me. And yet we have no problem asking kids to write on demand without daily practice. We want them to perform and score perfectly on high stakes test, but we don’t take the time to let them practice.  We don’t allow them the time to write without that pressure and those high stakes.

And it is in the time I take to practice that time becomes timeless.  When caught in the zone of imagining what might be next, in putting words to paper time just simply disappears as we are in the “zone” and don’t bother us when we are there!!.

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Ding!  A text from my son, Zachary, “ I may have just written the best two paragraphs of my life.” What? (Is this REALLY from Zachary? Texting home from college about writing?)

Second text  “We were told that we could write a short story about anything.” End text.

Ding, Third Text, “I am having so much fun with it.”

Let me see this fun!  Yes, in these texts are expressions of sheer joy.  (Who has been trampled by the big bad scary lion named rigor in education)  So I asked him to send it to me and it was honestly one of the darkest things I have ever read of his. In it I could sense the intense sadness he experienced with his recent break up with his first  girlfriend. It was riddled with long, drawn out sentences that were so effective in creating the suspense he was after. And after only 2 paragraphs I wanted to read more. Check it out!


Now mind you this is one of those RARE moments as parents and I was just so happy and excited for him. Even in High School, when given the reigns of choice this kid can just write. And he writes well. (In my humble opinion of course) And he does so without being an avid reader.

Zachary blows that myth of “writers have to be readers” right out of the water. Sometimes we make those sweeping general assumptions  that just don’t hold true for every kid. Zach is one of those kids. I was one of those kids. I was not a reader when I was younger. You could find me out in the woods somewhere creating imaginary houses of sticks and stones or frolicking among the beaver dams or even in my room playing school.  It was my sister  who always had a book with her, preferably a Nancy Drew. In fact my only form of “reading” was my cherished collection of Ranger Ricks, a nature magazine with brilliant photographs that I could fawn over for hours and stop in between to play a hide and seek game. I read short paragraphs, but did not have what we refer to as “reading stamina” today.

I believe there are other kids of “reading”.  Perhaps we are readers of the world.  Could it be that my time spent in my imaginary worlds, pretending to be someone else and creating characters that I would “act out” in my homes made of stick and stone were fodder for future writing?  Or are those acts of imagination a form of writing in their own right?  If writing is about playing with words in worlds then perhaps it can also be done outside the pages of books.  But do we even stop to consider or ask how our kids are thinking anymore?

world globe on a open book

Fast-forward to now and I am always reading several books at a time; one or two for work, a novel and even a dose of daily poetry.   You see we hold all of these beliefs to be true, but never stop to honor what each person IS doing!! And in the midst of all of this it takes so much NOT to get caught up in it.   Walk away from the madness. Walk away!


And of course there is response. Zachary texted because he wanted some kind of feedback. I blog to ignite feedback and start conversations. We write with purpose if we know there is an audience or even a potential audience.


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And in all of this there is a sense of honoring the individual; honoring the process or even more deeply, trusting and enjoying the process.  Believing that it will take us where we want or need to go. One word at a time we discover things we never knew we were thinking or feelings who show up in disguise. Writing, for me, is a joyful and heady experience that is somewhat different every time.. On my shelves are  books “on writing” and while I love reading those, ultimately I enjoy being an observer of my own process and seeing how totally me it really is. There is no one way to BE a writer. It just is. It just means you write. If you write therefore you are a writer.  High Stakes, myths and expectations be damned!  Let them write!