October 21st, 2016

Truth in Photography? – Teaching with a Social Justice Lens

When I had my own classroom, I couldn’t help but think about ways to help my students make sense of the big events happening in the world around them. Sometimes adults assume teenagers aren’t paying attention to anything outside of themselves, but my 16 years in the classroom taught me that the opposite is true. They care. They are paying attention. And they are hungry for help making sense of what they are hearing.

In our world where news is coming at us from so many different places – social media, 24 hour news stations, radio, etc. – it is even more incumbent upon educators to provide students safe places to make sense of what they are hearing. They need to understand the filter bubble effect online and think deeply about both their sources of information and the context the events occur within.

Our students need to know that talking about race is ok. Most of them know that. Students of color are talking about race all the time. Teachers need to be comfortable letting those conversations into their classrooms. They need to learn and listen and get personal with their own internal bias  and how it might affect their interactions with students. These are issues that shouldn’t be silenced. By not talking about them in schools, that is essentially what we are doing. And these lessons are even more important for our white students who have the privilege to not feel shaken and threatened by all of the very public attacks on black life over the past few years.

Even though I’m not planning lessons for a class right now, I can’t help but think about what I would be doing in my class if I had one. And maybe you are wondering how you could broach these big, hard, topics with students in a way that helps them think through them on their own and doesn’t push an agenda on them.

Over the past 8 or so years, I’ve asked my students the following question and used it to talk about issues of race and marginalization:

To what extent does photography (and video) limit or enhance our understanding of the world?

I’d put the question in answer garden and let students populate the question with their thoughts and then give them time to write their initial thoughts in a quick-write before opening it up for some small group discussions.

If I was doing it today, from there, I’d ask them what they know about what’s happened recently with Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. Have a few articles ready to go in case they don’t know. I would use Newsela to pick a few and if you use Newsela (which you should) regularly, you can go ahead and assign some articles to the class to read. My guess is, however, that students will have more to say than we tend to give them credit for.

Next, I’d ask students how our original question about photography relates to these two killings in Tulsa and Charlotte.

I’d start helping them make connections between these events and our big question with this story from npr: After Fatal Shootings, A Stark Divide Over Whether To Release Police Videos I’d ask them to make some notes and ask some questions on paper as they listen.

Next, I’d look backwards. Context. Ashraf Rushdy’s amazing essay “Exquisite Corpse” is a thought-provoking look at photography and lynching – looking at the case of Emmit Till’s murder and the way that a photo in Jet magazine changed perceptions and motivated a movement. He compares that to the James Byrd lynching in the 90s in Texas and the choice the family made to keep all photos private. You can find a portion of the essay here, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

Lastly, I’d facilitate a Socratic seminar using a backchannel so everyone can add their voice.

Have students research photos that have impacted movements. You can leave it open for them to discover totally on their own (which is what I would do) or you can give them some guidance towards photos. Consider photos of Abu Ghraib, Eddie Adams Vietcong execution video, photos from the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Bath Riots.

My whole unit, including synthesis essay assignment, photo essay assignment and student samples, can be found here. Feel free to use it. I’d really love to hear from you and your students if you do use any/all of it! 

Want to do even more? Look at these ideas from Teaching Tolerance.


Work by student Elora H

Work by student Elora H


September 21st, 2016

Towards Bravery and Kindness and Resilience

He presented his “Me” Poster to his 23 classmates yesterday.

“The teacher told me I had to speak up,” he said.

“Your friends wanted to hear you.”

“I did it. But I was nervous,” he said.

“It’s totally normal to be nervous for that,” I coached. “But you were brave.”

“I was brave,” he concurred.

And then we high-fived and he ran off to do the brave work of climbing on wooden structures that call silently to 5 year-olds.


Earlier that day at work, we had started a meeting with a quick share out of recent moments where we had done something brave or kind or when we had failed, inspired by a colleague having read this post.  After calling out Miles’ brave moment from his day, in true teacher-nerd fashion, as he played and climbed I began to philosophize, as I often do, on the purpose of school and why I am driven to work on creating innovative classrooms.

As a parent, our role in building the character of our kids is obvious.  I can help my child call out those brave moments in his day, to realize that he is braver than he might think he is. I can preach kindness and model it in my own relationships. I can fail in front of them and show them how to move forward with grace.

But as a teacher? And how does technology factor into bravery and kindness and learning from failure?

I believe it is a teacher’s  job to create learning experiences where kids feel safe taking risk, where they practice kindness towards each other, where they learn from failures as much as, if not more than, successes.

I also believe that in a connected classroom, these practices are amplified.

The connected world of technology has made me brave. Every time I hit publish, I feel that mix of anxiety and adrenaline. A connected classroom can offer our students these same brave moments. Whether it is hitting publish on a blog post that will be read by those outside of our classroom, giving a speech to an audience about community-based research, or testing a model that they’ve designed and built themselves, students in tech-infused classrooms have countless opportunities to do brave work.

Technology has shown me again and again the kindness of people and the need to do the real work of creating kindness where it might not already exist. Teachers today have the opportunity and responsibility to teach students about fair and kind treatment online. Instead of being so quick to act out of fear and turn off the comment features of so many of the tools we use, let’s teach students what it means to be a part of an online community. We might not teach them how to use snapchat, but we can show them the power of words and meaningful dialogue. From kindergarten classes using seesaw to share work and give each other a thumbs-up, to middle school students having online discussions in google classroom, to high school students learning how to collaborate and critique each others’ work in digital spaces, these opportunities give students a chance to learn what it means to be part of a digital community.

Technology has made me resilient, as I fail and learn and fail and learn in a never-ending cycle always moving towards creating something significant and valuable both in my online space and in my classroom.  Building time to reflect into our lesson cycles ensures that students can take the time to process their failures as well as their successes and plan to grow from them. Students can quickly reflect using a community tool such as answer garden or create a math portfolios using google slides writing in reflections as comments. Each opportunity we give students to think about how they are progressing and not just what they’ve mastered, we give them more and more power as learners.

As a parent, I care that my kids are learning at school. I want them to be able to read and solve math problems, understand history and conduct experiments.

But I care more, really, that their learning pushes them to grow as people, that the knowledge they gain propels them towards bravery and kindness and resilience.

As a teacher (or a coach of teachers) I care about making classrooms safe places for that growth to occur.


August 16th, 2016

Three Things I’d Try In My Classroom This Year

It’s my first year not returning to my own classroom. Today, as all my colleagues returned for their first day of professional development, I was across town collaborating with my new teammates designing learning experiences for teachers and reaching out to the teachers who I’ll be working with to offer support.

Even though I won’t have my own classroom this year, I started thinking about the what if. What if I was returning to the classroom this year? What would I really want to try?


Here are the three things I decided on.

Up My Search Game

I recently listened to Alan November present to new teachers in my district and I realized that while I thought I was presenting my students with enough knowledge of how to use google search operators and enough database alternatives so that they were getting reliable and varied results, I realized that I still have more to learn and therefore more to teach.

If I had my own students this year, I’d make sure that they were finding sources from different countries and from more scholarly sources. What could students gain from looking at perspectives on the US Presidential election from around the world and not just from our US media? What could they learn when they look at coverage of historical events from perspectives other than their own? What if our students from other countries could compare the way their home country presents information with how the US media does? There is a lot to gain here in looking at different perspectives. And maybe it is one small step to combatting the “filter bubble” I always discussed with my students.


Manage Projects More Efficiently

In my new role as Technology Design Coach, we use Trello to organize our team projects. Still in the classroom mindset, I immediately thought of all the ways I could use Trello to make classroom project management easier. This year, I would set up a Trello board for each of my classes and add a card for each student. On that card, students could keep track of their work, link to their completed products, easily share with the rest of the class. I really wish I had known about Trello last year when all my classes were project-based and I was doing most of the work to keep track of student work. Trello would allow me to see what students were doing, all in one place, while leaving much more of the project tracking to the students themselves.

Partner With Community Groups To Amplify Youth Perspectives

This is my passion. Since my first day in the classroom 17 years ago, I like to think that I’ve been a champion of unsung voices in my classroom and an amplifier of these messages outside the walls of my classroom. Technology makes that amplification so much easier and carries it so much further. Last year I spent significant time making sure my students’ ideas were shared publicly on blogs and then I acted as their agent to connect them to audience’s who need to hear their messages. The next step would be to bring in community partners like Austin Film Festival or Media Awareness Project who have even greater capacity to push student perspective even further outside the classroom walls in meaningful ways. Youth have so much to share and can teach us so much. I would work hard to make this happen in as many ways as I possibly could.



While I’m honestly a bit sad about not having my own classroom full of students this year, I am so excited to coach other teachers towards their own visions and goals. I’m excited about how much I will learn this year pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And hopefully, instead of just pushing myself towards these goals, I can work with teachers who both share my goals and vision and who push me to think in entirely new ways. I’m ready to learn and stretch and hopefully impact many more classroom beyond just my one.

I might not have my own classroom, but I’ll always be a teacher.

Here’s to the start of an awesome new school year!


**Let’s teach students about fair image use too. All images here are from pixabay.com. The top one is edited with pickmonkey.

July 26th, 2016


He ran away from me on the playground on Saturday morning at the kindergarten meet up, no goodbye or hugging my legs or telling me he needs his warm-up time. I’ve been waiting for this moment for months now – for him to feel more independent and comfortable in his own skin. I’ve sat on the outskirts of so many birthday parties and crowded gatherings with both familiar and unfamiliar faces wishing with all my might that I could wave a wand and take away his worries about going off into the world without me right there.

And then, it happened. Suddenly.

He was running off with a new friend and I was alone on the sidelines watching.

And I know that’s how it should be. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. His proud smile and talk of new friends, his huge imagination and his willingness to adventure, his lessening anxiety about kindergarten…

It’s exactly what I hoped for him.


She stood last week in front of her mirror, bedroom door closed, Taylor Swift lyrics blasting. She was practicing for her show at the end of her week of camp. Two dances, two songs, a bit of acting in between.

I stood outside her door, listening, trying to get a glimpse of who she’s becoming behind the door that closes more these days. I heard her voice over the music, heard her self-talk about memorizing the lyrics and adding in the choreography she’d worked on during her day where she was at camp and I was at work.

She’s away from me now more than she’s with me it seems. And while she’s away I wish that I could just watch her in the world. Watch her dance and sing and make friends and tell ridiculous jokes and push herself to do new things while I’m not standing right there with her.

I watched her dance her heart out in the studio that Friday and felt genuinely awed by her bravery and enthusiasm, her confidence and kindness, her hard work and her high kicks.

It’s exactly what I hoped for her.


I teared up in my boss’s office yesterday totally out of the blue. We were in the middle of a great conversation about what drives me and what I value and somehow our conversation led to talking about my writing here and suddenly tears emerged and took me totally by surprise.

As I talked a bit more and thought later about why that happened (I don’t make it a habit of crying in meetings), I realized it’s probably rooted in the shift of our story lately. It’s clearly not mine alone to tell anymore. I knew how to write the story when they needed me all the time. But after so many years of my story being all about them, it feels different to write myself back into it, to find yet another new motherhood point of view.

Lately it feels like their story is becoming so much more theirs and not mine at a pace that seems blinding at times.

Their story unfolds on family vacations and family dinners, snuggled up with me on the couch and in big conversations before they go to bed. But it also happens behind closed doors and at camp. At school and at friends’ houses. On the playground and in the dance studio. And I only admire from the sidelines.

This is exactly how it is supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.


May 6th, 2016

Appreciating Teaching

I’m a teacher.

The classroom is my second home.

For 16 years, my whole adult life, I’ve gone to work each day in a school. I’ve spent my time reading and writing with teenagers. I’ve learned and grown and innovated and changed. I’ve been frustrated and underappreciated and questioned. I’ve chaperoned field trips, helped design new curriculum, felt the weight of standardized testing, celebrated huge successes of so many deserving students. I’ve hoarded student work in my desk drawers, covered bulletin boards with notes from and photos of students I’ll never forget, filled file folders with sacred stories and thoughtful thank-yous, all talismans of what can happen inside a creative classroom.

I’ve always been sure of one thing: I’m a teacher.

Next year, though, I’m not sure what I’ll call myself. I’m leaving my classroom teaching job and embarking on a new challenge, a new adventure. Instead of leading my own students through projects and papers, research and content creation, I’ll be helping other teachers innovate and do the same for their students. I know so many teachers who want to innovate, who want to push their students to think and create and collaborate but simply don’t have the time or support to do it. I am honored to now be entrusted with the task of helping them navigate that sometimes scary new path.

But, I wonder, am I still a teacher if I don’t have my own students listed on a roster? If I am instead a coach for other teachers? If I don’t grade papers and sit in faculty meetings and eat a hurried lunch with hilarious colleagues?

I’m not sure if all professions feel the connection between job title and sense of self as teachers do. Deciding to leave the comfort of my classroom has been a heart-wrenching decisions. It has been one where I’ve shed so many tears as I think of who I will become without the title of teacher, without the 150 or more students who keep me wanting to walk into the school building each day, without the lesson plans and student work and constant stream of questions that push me to be a better teacher, a better person.

But I’ve decided to leap. To take a chance outside these walls. To see if the leadership capacity I’ve built in the last few years can perhaps have an even bigger impact than what I have now.

Thus for now, this is my last teacher appreciation week where I know I can call myself a teacher.

So this week, I’m appreciating teaching. I’m appreciating 16 years of learning from students who have challenged me just as much as I’ve challenged them. Students who have pushed me to see the world from a new point of view. Students who have allowed me into their stories and given me the honor of reading their most sacred words. Students who have made school seem like a second home.

I’m appreciating 16 years of the very best colleagues who always put students first. Colleagues who innovate and challenge practices that might be mandated, but might not be right. Colleagues who show compassion to students and to each other, lifting the community during hard times. Colleagues who dance and sing and share and write and laugh and who I know are some of the very best teachers I’ll ever work with.

I’m trying hard to appreciate change. To see that, in the end, I still will be a teacher. My colleagues have assured me that I will be.  I may not have my own classroom or my own students, but I’ll be in schools, pushing for innovation and collaboration, public projects and student-designed learning. I will still hold students at the fore of everything I do.

I know well that a school is made up of the whole community – that each and every working part of the school is essential to a student’s education. I’m going to be a part of that community still, just in a different way.

But being a teacher? I’m know that is what I’ll always value most.  And I’m pretty sure that’s who I’ll always be.


December 15th, 2015

Re-imagining Final Exams in a Connected Classroom

I’ve never really been a fan of exams. I certainly don’t like the standardized kind and I’m not really even a fan of teacher-created tests to show what my students have learned in my class. Have I written and given tests in the last 16 years? Certainly. Have some of those tests helped me to see where students are struggling and where they are excelling? Sure. But most of the time, an exam tells me less than other forms of assessment and, most importantly, it offers little opportunity or enticement for students to reflect on their learning. They take a test, get a score and most of the time move on.

Since I started blogging in my classroom three years ago, I’ve re-imagined what my midterm and final exams look like. If my students are given two un-interrupted hours at the end of each semester to do something meaningful with their learning, I want it to be just that. I don’t want them to take a test and go off to their winter break, never to revisit those questions or ideas again. I want to do something that sticks and that makes them think about what the semester has done for them as learners, as readers and as writers.

So instead of giving my students a test, my classroom turns into a space for sharing and reflecting. I call it a literacy fair and here’s how it works.

First, I team up with a teacher who teaches our freshman study skills course. During the final exam period, he will bring his students to my class. His ninth grade students (my students are juniors) come armed with some questions about what my students have done throughout the year. Some are specific to assignments we’ve done, but most are simple questions asking students to show off their work. They ask my students what they are most proud of writing and why, what they’ve learned as readers and writers this semester, how writing a blog is different than more traditional English assignments. In my classroom, my students set up stations around the room, choosing a spot where they can talk and show off their work on their blog, sometimes opening multiple tabs so that they are ready to speak to the freshman who come to interview them.


Then the chaos ensues. My classroom fills with extra teachers (I also invite the APs, librarians, counselors, other teachers, etc) and 25-30 extra students. But the chaos is magical. I walk around and listen. I listen to my students talk about themselves as writers. I listen to them talk about audience and choices they’ve made with words. I listen to them talk about what they would have done differently and what they mastered. And as they talk, as they focus on all that they’ve read and all that they’ve written, their confidence soars.

When our guests leave after about 20-30 minutes, my students set off to write one more reflection for the semester.  I call it Reflection on a semester of reading and writing (you can download and use the PDF). After the conversations, the writing is easy. They’ve already thought about it and now they are ready to put it all down. To make the learning stick.

Reflection on a semester of reading and writing


The other thing that I added this year is the idea of a word cloud. What better way of visualizing what they have done with words this semester. I have them use Tagxedo to create a word cloud from their blog url. Some of them started with the image to help them think even more about their words, and some of them concluded with it as a sort of extra topping for their reflective post. Once I had them add the word clouds, I was curious what my own would look like. And I’d say it’s a pretty accurate depiction of  my journey here.



John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” If this is true, many of our classrooms do not provide enough time for or put enough emphasis on the power of reflection. These days, with the opportunities technology offers us to keep learning all in one place, all my students have to do to begin to reflect is scroll through the pages of words they’ve written and shared this semester. Final exams don’t have to be boring tests that do little more than place undue stress on students. They can be opportunities for real reflection and learning.

November 23rd, 2015

Where Do I Start?

Since I presented at the Innovation Summit a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten a few inquiries from teachers who want to start blogging with students but they aren’t sure how to start. Or where to start. Or what they should emphasize first. I’ve written them back with quick answers to their questions about choosing a platform, keeping track of students’ writing, and dealing with communicating this new endeavor to parents.

But mostly I reassure them. This is going to be so much fun!

Starting a new classroom endeavor isn’t easy. We want to always do our best and sometimes, when we aren’t sure how it will go, we put it off even if we suspect it might be in the best interest of students. Rarely are we given to time to try things out in low-pressure situations or even time to process what we learn. Blogging in the classroom happened naturally for me since I was blogging for myself personally. It felt like a way to break down the tension between online and offline life that existed in my classroom. Because I was confident, because I work in an environment supportive of innovation, I just jumped right in to blogging with my students, knowing that if anything we could learn together.

Where Do I Start-

So you want to start blogging with students? Here are five things to think about:

You are not the expert. And that is ok! That is better than ok! You are a learner and throughout this process you won’t pass on knowledge directly, but you will show your students what it looks like to learn. And isn’t that the goal of a good classroom, anyway?

Let the community know what you are doing. Communicate clearly with parents and other teachers – tell them what your students will be writing and sharing. Explain the reasoning behind it and the many benefits of opening your classroom to the outside world. Have your first of many discussions about the lasting power of words online and the way we need to treat each other in the digital space. You can see the letter I send home here: blog letter and send me an email (dille.sarah at gmail) if you want to see my digital citizen contract I use.

Start small and think visually. Students Humans are attracted to the visual. We love photos and images and our world is saturated with them. How can you challenge your students to take some of the more traditional writing they might do and make it visual? How could they create images, videos, infographics, memes, etc out of your usual content. Adding blogs to your classroom doesn’t at all mean shedding the traditional writing and reading we need students to do. It simply means that we can take those traditional ways of thinking and broaden them or represent them in new and maybe more meaningful ways. We aren’t limited to pencils and paper, so don’t make your students’ blogs into things they could just as easily accomplish offline. My students all begin by writing a six word memoir and turning it into a digital project that they can share. They may make a short video like this student; a photo collage like this student; or a simple photo and text like this student. Starting small, with a writing assignment that everyone can do and that asks students to add a visual media component sets students up for success.

qr codes

Make the blogs visible outside of your classroom. The point of blogging is to let the writing leave the writing folder, leave the classroom, to hopefully push students’ words out into the real world. That can’t happen if you’re the only one who knows that these blogs exist. Depending on the age of the student, you might open the blogs up to peers and parents only, or, if you’re like me, teaching older students, you may want your students’ words in front of experts in the field and interested audiences we may have never even met. The first step, no matter how big you go, is to ask students to create a poster and QR code for their blog. My students love this – they’ve always seen QR codes, but have no idea how easy they are to make or how useful they can be. My students make a google slide or doc that has their name, their blog name, the url, their image from their six word memoir and the QR code they made. I then hang these in the hallway and anyone who walks by can quickly get to my students’ writing and they can also quickly get to each others’ writing.

Get students reading each other’s work as fast as possible. The more comments they get, the more the writing feels interactive, the sooner there is buy in. The blog shouldn’t feel like just another place to write, just another folder to keep text in. It needs to feel like a place where students are heard – by their teacher, but more importantly by their peers and any other audiences you can bring them. Students really need help commenting on each other’s work. This was something that took me by surprise my first year blogging with my students. They had no idea how to leave productive comments. This year, for the first time, my students are really leaving meaningful comments for each other. I have given them four guidelines which you can download and use here: Good Comment Guide


November 16th, 2015


I’ve been stuck. You might have noticed that I’ve been missing from this space for over a month – something that hasn’t happened in the last 7 years of blogging. I’m not sure that I’ve missed writing, really. I’ve thought about it. I’ve written snippets here and there that never met the publish button. But there have been many other things filling my time and my thoughts lately, both personal and professional.

I also think I’ve been a bit confused about what exactly this space is for these days. My children’s stories feel more and more their own with each passing day and my motherhood story seems, for now, one that I tell in private or one that bursts forth in moments I struggle to catch before I forget them, logged mostly in photos on instagram. And for now, that feels right.

This weekend I gave a mini-keynote at my district’s innovation summit. They asked me, as an early-adopter of transformational technology practices, to speak to fellow educators about my journey. I began by saying the following:

Almost 7 years ago, after 8 years of teaching and one year of motherhood, I made the best professional development decision I could have ever made: I started a “mom” blog. 

And it’s true. This space has afforded me more growth, as a writer and mother and teacher than I ever imagined it would. I would never have the connections to other amazing writers, the confidence in my own power to write and convey a message, the bravery to usher my own students onto the web to begin their own writing journeys. I thought hitting publish for the very first time 7 years ago would help me focus my writing energy, help me clarify the cloudy thinking of new motherhood.

Instead, it did that and so much more. It changed me as a teacher.

At first, I kept this space secret, hid it from my students and most colleagues because I was worried that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, worried that I’d write something one day that would be skewed and used against me. But then I realized that was silly. That keeping my online presence and teaching life separate meant that I couldn’t show my students that I practice what I preach, that I couldn’t use what I was learning outside the classroom to influence what was happening inside it.

So I stopped hiding it. I showed my students my writing when I asked them to write too. I let them know that writing isn’t always easy, even for those of us who love it oh so much. I merged my online writing with my offline classroom and that’s when I really started to innovate. That’s when I changed how I teach.


Lately there is so much tension in classrooms centered around exactly what I went through. We ask students to remove themselves from their online worlds when they enter the sacred school buildings. We ask them to separate out the reality of how they live life outside of our classrooms from the reality of how we assume they should live inside them. This isn’t what I believe education should do. Education should, at the very least, help kids navigate the many complexities that exist outside the classroom, education should build bridges, not put up (fire)walls.

If we expect our students turn off their phones and only search the Internet on our firewalled computers we are doing them a disservice. We aren’t teaching them how to read and interact with the world around them. We aren’t teaching them to sift through the Internet junk to find the gems. We aren’t teaching them to use these platforms to teach the world that teenagers care about much more than selfies and viral videos.

So in my class, students keep their phones on. They research and share and ask questions. They write more than they ever thought they would and they hone ideas in a public space that holds them accountable.

And me, I’m still there, learning right along with them. This is new to all of us and I just know it feels wrong to me to cut my classroom off from the new way of learning and sharing and discovering.

So I guess this is a really long-winded post to say that over the last month of not writing I’ve realized that  I’m not here anymore to write about parenting. We talk so much about what it’s like to parent kids in this digital age. But this weekend I realized what I really want to be writing and thinking about here: What is it like to teach in this digital age? How do teachers confront so many of the same questions that parents face about screen time and curated content and creating safe spaces that still encourage curiosity.

As my students work on their projects, I’m going to work on mine. I’m going to continue to practice what I preach – writing and stretching and trying new things.

October 1st, 2015

What Happens When Students Write Publicly

“Someone in another state really read my blog?”

“I got a comment from a real expert! How’d you do that?”

“You’re like our agent, Miss. You’re my number one promoter.”

For the last five weeks, my students have been working towards publishing an op-ed. We read examples that I provided by writers who I admire. They found more samples on topics that interested them. I teach in the workshop style, studying the hallmarks of a genre and then asking students to write in the genre on a topic that they choose.

My model looks like this:


This doesn’t look that different from traditional writing workshop classrooms. But there are a few important differences that make the cycle even more meaningful to me and to my students.

We brainstorm and ideate in a pretty traditional way, except that they publish their ideas on their blog as they think and explore. Instead of traditional writer’s notebooks (which I’ve also had great success with), my students participate in a series of small writing tasks to explore ideas – these tasks can take the form of poetry, listing, group brainstorming, short pieces, all published and open for feedback from peers, teachers and other readers. This takes the notebook that used to be the sole possession of the writer and opens up the thinking process to the community. The feedback loop opens the writer’s eyes to new ideas as they both receive feedback on their own thinking and look at and examine the thinking of others.

Next comes the pitch. When it comes time to settle on an idea to write about, I ask my students to both put that idea down in writing and to verbalize it to others. Sometimes we do it speed dating style, sometimes as whole class presentations, sometimes as small groups. But however the pitch day looks in my class, the main idea is to have to talk through the idea with an audience. To listen to how it sounds outside of their own heads. Sometimes they realize they have a great plan. Sometimes they realize it doesn’t sound fully fleshed out, or they aren’t as passionate as they first thought. Talking about it makes the idea real.

What follows is reading in the genre and writing drafts. The more reading and writing they do, the better their product. My class composes in google docs so that I can see the progress and offer feedback as they work. In the end, this saves me time on grading since I am constantly reading their work, I get to know it well, and it also leads to much better products.

Here’s where it really gets fun, though. When I was in school and when I first started teaching, “publishing” in the writing process meant handing your final draft in to the teacher and waiting for a grade. Today, for my students, publishing means hitting the publish button on their blogs and waiting for readers, comments and shares. This changes everything.

This week, our first publishing week, was one of the best of my career. My students hit publish on their amazing work, I took to social media to share it (with their permission) and the readers came. I am lucky to have an amazing group of colleagues, friends, an online PLN that always comes through and fellow bloggers who understand what a comment can mean to a writer. My students came in later in the week and were beyond excited to tell me that they had gotten comments from people they’d never met, from experts in the fields they’d written about, from other teachers, from students they’ve never met. Good comments pushed their thinking and made them feel like writers, not simply students.

One student’s piece resonated so much with her audience – teachers – that a school in Kansas shared it with all of their first year teachers. As I discussed that with the student, we both got chills and were nearly in tears. What does that validation mean to a young writer? So much more than the good grade I gave her. She won’t remember what score her writing received, but she sure will remember the time she shared a message about racism in education and people she’d never met read it and shared it and started talking because of it.

While my classroom might look in some ways like a traditional writing workshop classroom, hitting the publish button throughout the process – and especially at the end – makes all the difference.


September 10th, 2015

The Teacher Is Not The Audience



Six years ago, when I sat down to type my very first blog post, I had no idea how much that decision would shape me. How much I’d grow as a writer and a member of a community. How much I’d come to rely on this space to figure myself out. How much writing here would make me a better mother for the moments it forces me to see.

It should be no surprise that blogging has made me a better teacher too.

I started a blog because I needed an outlet. Because journaling wasn’t enough for me anymore. Because I wanted an audience and connections and a reason to put words on a page.

I started blogging with my students three years ago for the same reasons, really. They needed an audience bigger than just me. In this age of technology, for many of them journaling seemed superficial or forced – something to do only in school. Because my students deserve a reason to put words on a page aside from “I assign you an essay,” or “You have to pass a test.”

Last year was the first year I rolled out blogs to all my students. I wrote at the end of the year about that experience and how inspired I was by the growth and dedication I saw in my students.

And they saw it too. They told me again and again that they couldn’t believe how much they had grown as writers. That they were so happy to see what others were saying and have a chance to respond. They loved looking at their statistics and reading comments that didn’t only come from a teacher.

A few weeks ago, as we began another school year, my department decided they want in on this blogging journey too. None of them are bloggers themselves. They all have varying levels of comfort with technology and experience in the classroom. But after hearing me talk about it so passionately for so long now, they all jumped in to blogging with their students.

We’ve already learned a few lessons and I know there will be many more as the year goes on. We’ve tackled communicating our intentions to parents, setting up blogs with over 1000 teenagers, logistical ways of keeping track of each students’ individual blog, helping students to comment productively on each others’ work. And we are only 3 weeks in to school!

This morning eight teachers met in my room for a PLC no one directed us to create. We weren’t there because of any mandate or paperwork we were required to fill out. We were there because this year we are all learning together how to build a classroom writing community using blogs. We are encouraging each other to step out of our comfort-zone and encouraging our students to do the same.

The teacher isn’t the audience. I don’t want my students to write for me. I want them to write for themselves and for the people who need to hear the important things they have to say. I want them to know that their voices matter outside the walls of a classroom. That their words are powerful tools.

I will be sharing my department’s blogging journey here most Thursdays. I hope you’ll follow along.



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