Amplify Love with Open Hearts and Minds

She came running across the room and was in my face before I knew it.  Big bright eyes, and a knob of hair twisted up on each side of her head and a smile that forged through her too big Cindy Lou Who teeth  and blurted out,  “Who are you?” “You look like you are nice” she added. I replied, “so do you!” as  she grabbed my hand and led me over to the table where she was working with her 5th grade friends.

Photo from

Kids.  Oh how I have missed kids.  Wednesday of this week, March 30, 2022 was the first day I have been allowed back in schools since the world shut down Friday, March 13th 2020.  Two full years without access to classrooms.  Two freakin’ years without access to the heart and soul of what I do, the bread and butter, the reason for doing it all…these kids.  Soul singing, I sat  and languished in it all.  Kids with noses in books, kids in loud sobbing tears, kids playing games, kids writing, kids in small group instruction, kids working independently, kids working with partners, kids roaming the halls, kids, kids, kids everywhere.  Oh how I have missed those faces, the indescribable thrumb of a classroom in process, the amazing patience of teachers and how intently they listen to their students, face to face listening, deeply listening and responding to every move, disruption and celebration all in one breath. 

I forget just how exhaustingly beautiful this profession is.

And for all of my intentions to remain somewhat invisible as I observed, just wanting to get a sense of where these teachers and their students lived and how they spent their days, I went hardly unnoticed.  In fact, my presence seemed to cause a disruption in just about every room I went into.  I wondered, had I lost my touch of effortlessly slipping into a classroom, sitting myself down in a tiny chair alongside readers and writers or was it something else?

“Is she someone’s mom?”

“No, she is just here to observe for a little bit, I mean she might be someone’s Mom, but not of anyone in this class.”

“What is she doing here?  Can my Mom come in?”

And he wouldn’t quit.  The interrogation into who I was completely disrupted this teacher and her small group work.    I skulked down lower in my blue plastic molded seat and gave the teacher an apologetic look for such a disruption.  And then I realized, this was a novelty not only for me, but for everyone.  They had not HAD visitors in two years either.  I take a breath and acknowledge once again how the pandemic effect reaches out, creating moments that you are just not prepared for. 

Photo Credit: from ZME Science

And this is just on the surface, as I look around at seas of faces and wonder, how has the pandemic effect affected you and you and you and you and you screaming and crying shamelessly out loud for being offended?  What social graces have been lost?  What emotional barriers have been built?  What fears linger for those who still choose to come to school amongst newly naked faces, with your mask still tightly wound around your face?  

And then there are those teachers’ faces.  More weary than I recall as they have to teach as well as manage all of the outside noise, disruption, distrust, disillusion, and downright attacks on their profession, their lives, their livelihood, their very souls from an arena outside that has very little, if anything to do with what these people do and how they perform and keep moving forward each and every day, every hour, every moment.

I can’t help but think how lucky these kids are to have such talented, expert, devoted and dedicated teachers show up each and every day for them. 

Photo Credit: Great Big Canvas

Lift them up.  Ask what they need.  Offer your time or your hands or your resources.  Engage in the community  of real live people with an open heart and open mind.   Take all that time you devote to ripping people apart on social media and get involved with living, breathing people in real spaces, face to face.  We can do that now! Leave the screens, the echo chambers, the talking heads  and your tag lines at the door. Re-engage and reconnect to beating hearts with love.  Someone may just say, “hey, you look like a nice person.”  and you may reply, “so do you”.

Teacher Feature with Mark Holt-Shannon on The Common Core: Getting There Quickly

In an effort to expand the conversation here on this blog,  I would like to introduce “Teacher Feature”, a place where I will post the reflections, thoughts, meanderings, writings and ideas of teachers.  In my work I have the privilege of working with so many amazing talented professionals.  I get the best of the best.  Think about it.  They take their own precious time during and at the end of the day to meet with me.  They attend classes after school to read, write and discuss their own professional development.  They are who you want teaching your child.

This week I feature Mark Holt-Shannon, an 8th grade teacher from Dover Middle School in Dover New Hampshire. When I first walked into Mark’s classroom several years ago there was a palpable energy that was inviting and invigorating.    He instructed the kids to get their “nets” (writer’s notebooks where you “catch” ideas) and do some writing about what they had just discussed.  There were all the elements of a Writer’s Workshop up and running like a fine tuned machine.  And  I wanted to stay, be a student and experience what those kids were experiencing.

When I first sat down with Mark I was amazed at just how hard he was on himself as a teacher, constantly questioning and wondering what he could or should be doing better. (A hallmark of brilliance in my book!)   There was a sense of something that was missing for him in his teaching as he wondered, was he doing all that he could?  He talked about feeling disorganized because he never had his entire week planned out or even months for that matter as others around him did.  Sure, he had a sense of the direction he was headed in, but he talked about how that plan changed every day based on the needs, demands and understandings of his students.  In short, he is a reflective, responsive and motivating teacher of reading and writing.  The kids LOVE him!

Today he talks about how his walks to and from school allow him the time to plan in his head how to pick up where he left off the day before, but again there is a sense that he is doing something “not quite right”.  In this piece Mark comments on the current culture in education and what it feels like to be teaching every day with so much other noise going on around him at more than lightning speed with the word “rigor” staring teachers in the face of every turn.  You will also see that he himself is a talented writer who writes and enjoys what words can do on the page.


Mark conferring with student at UNH Writer’s Academy 2013

Common Core: getting there quickly  

By Mark Holt-Shannon

How often on this trip down the road of guiding students toward becoming better thinkers and perceivers and feelers and citizens, do we get to, or think to, stop and look closely at the map?  How often do we pull over in the dark, especially before we get to that point (a crossroads, an exit sign offering choices) where we have to make a decision about the best direction to take?  Where we have to push on the overhead light and consider the options, the routes?  Scenic or quick?  Doesn’t it feel, too often and instead, like we’re just trusting the GPS?  She’s telling us to go a particular way, maybe we agree, maybe we don’t.  Maybe her directions seem logical, maybe they don’t.  But we look at our watches and do the timetable math and just do what she says, hoping for the best.  Gotta be there by morning.  Gotta be there by morning.  Why?  Because come morning, we’re dropping them at the bus station so they can start their journey to the train station.


My problem is that I like to look at the map, put my finger on where I am, put my finger on where I am supposed to go, and look in between to see what is there that would be cool to see.  What historical markers, what natural or physical beauty, what friends do I know, what cultural experiences, food, music, language, ethnicities exist along the way that we can come in contact with?  No, if I am heading north, I don’t want to spend too much time traveling south; though I may need to occasionally.  I can agree that we need to keep moving in an agreed upon direction.  There is merit and necessity in all of us meeting at a similar place.  Why?  Shit, good question.  I don’t want to sound like too much of a hippie here.  Why?  So that we can embrace each other.  Talk about what we’ve seen and how it affected us.  Learn from one another.  Discover places we’d like to travel back to some day.  Decide maybe if we’re ready to move on, to get on the bus—if that’s what we’re doing.

Rigor is not about having to hold your pee and stay in your seat with your seatbelt fastened and not complain and have no say in the direction.  Is it?  Rigor is getting out of the car.  Not just looking at the world through the window and checking it off the list of markers we’ve passed.  Rigor is exposure and reflection.  “Look at this, what do you think?  How does it compare or contrast to something else we saw?”  Rigor is “No, you can’t stay in the car, you have to get out and step in it, speak the language, consider the beauty, consider the poverty, consider your place in it.  Try the food, listen to the music, shake the hands of the people.  Will you ever come back here?  Why?  Speak, write, listen, feel, love, read.  No, you cannot sleep the entire trip.  You have to find a way to be affected by what you are seeing and you have to make that affectation known.”  Rigor.

Why are listening to the GPS?  She wants me to go the fastest most efficient way.  But if I do that, what will I have brought with me?  What experiences and lessons and memories and discoveries will I show up with?

Seriously, what “experiences and lessons and memories and discoveries will” our kids show up with if we continue on this path of the GPS and don’t consider the journey of each child?

Thank you Mark!