If 2nd Graders Bowled Like Legislators Passed Laws

I had the chance to go on my 2nd grade daughter, Embry’s field trip to the bowling alley today. I won’t lie, I had my concerns. Bowling isn’t easy – especially when the balls weigh 25% of your total body weight like Embry but I had the best time watching the kids interact.

I thought there would be upset kids and hurt feelings over gutter balls, low scores and the kids that were way better bowlers than others. Instead I heard a lot of this:

  • You knocked down two pins that is so good!
  • Here I’ll push the ball with you.
  • Let me hand you the ball when it come out.
  • Ms. Powers did you see ______ knock all the pins down? That was so cool!

In fact in the time we were there I didn’t see any hurt feelings or being upset over how bowling was going. They were more concerned about their group as a whole than their individual performance.

Seeing this came at a really good time for me after watching the performance of our government in our special session over the last two days. I started thinking on my way home, what if these 2nd graders bowled like our legislators?

Governor 2nd Grader: I know we are going on a bowling field trip we’ve already paid for in 3 weeks but I am paying lots of extra money so we can go today.

Teacher 2nd Grader: Well we think that’s ridiculous but we will be there to make sure that you don’t cheat.

Governor 2nd Grader: No need to be there I will bowl for you all. You aren’t good enough to bowl. You’ll get more pins this way.

Teacher 2nd Grader: We’ve just seen you all cheat a lot and we’d like to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

House Leader 2nd Grader: Before I roll this ball I am going to give a 10 minute speech about what is wrong with all of you teacher 2nd graders. We’ve cheated at bowling for 55 years and no one has cared. Now that we’ve been caught you all are all worked up about it. I’m here to tell you that we cheated today the same way we cheated last time and the same way we will cheat again next time.

Majority Party 2nd Graders: Yes most of us were here when all the cheating you teachers started to begin with and yes we went along with it but that’s before anyone knew what was going on. Stop asking us hard questions or we will quit. Isn’t there a private room we can bowl in? When is recess?

Minority Party 2nd Graders: They won’t even let us play the game anymore.

Majority Party 2nd Graders: I am not sure we will win the game so we are going to quit. We will come up with a game that those teacher 2nd graders definitely can’t win before we come back here again.

Welcome to the picture of maturity in Kentucky folks! All that was in good fun but not true far from the truth about what is going on here. I highly recommend wherever you are located that you start watching the coverage from your state legislature. You will be shocked at the shenanigans that go on each and every day.

Stay informed and stay active. I vowed to be a voice at the state level for the kids who don’t have one and I don’t take that promise lightly.

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My Mama Says Nothing Good Happens After 10pm…Why Didn’t Anyone Teach the KY House Leaders That?

I had a lot of time to think last night – mainly because I was afraid to go to sleep. In Kentucky our legislators seem determined to only do business behind closed doors and in the dark of night so I am forced to stay awake odd hours, check the Legislative Research Council Website, and social media to stay informed about what is happening in Frankfort.

My mom always told us as kids that nothing good happens after 10pm. I wish my legislators followed that advice.

I was also worried for my kids all night. It was unclear most of the night whether there would be teachers to teach them today. Embry was excited to make gingerbread houses with her beloved 2nd Grade Teacher and Jackson is wrapping up his Colonial Times unit by participating in “Barter Day” where he carefully selected 5 items from home to try and trade with his classmates for other goods like in Colonial Times. It would have broken their hearts to miss school today, as it will if school is cancelled tomorrow and the have to skip their end of the semester bowling trip or “Colonial Day” filled with colonial crafts and activities.

However, as a former teacher I will gladly take on explaining to them why there is no school tomorrow if it comes to that. There was a a different air in the car circle this morning when the kids got out of the car that truly gutted me a bit. I saw, for the first time, a look of defeat on the teacher’s faces. They are tired too. My guess is they also were afraid to go to sleep last night. My guess is they were worried sick about how upset their students would be if they had to miss all the end of semester fun. I bet they worried about who would explain why there was no school to the kids who don’t have a loving home environment.

I think in many ways teachers are too tired to even be upset about what is in the crazy pension bill at this point. But I do think they are upset and worried for their students.
I think they are worried about how you teach kids to be good losers when our Governor just showed that when you lose instead of accepting it you throw a fit until you get your way.

I think they are worried about teaching kids to follow the rules when our legislators last night voted to “suspend the rules” so they wouldn’t have to follow any in regards to passing this bill in special session.

I think they are worried about teaching kids about democracy and using your voice when I myself have emailed my legislators respectful and solution focused letters nearly daily since the first of November and have yet to get a response.

I think they are worried about teaching kids about the legislative process when only one party has been allowed to see a bill that will effect so many people.

I think they are worried that the public will buy into the rhetoric and drama and not see what is going on behind closed doors.

I think they are worried that all the good they do each and every day will be forgotten and their legacy will be this one moment in time.

I see you worried teacher and this parent supports you.

Nothing good happens after 10pm. Or behind closed doors. Or in secret. Or in expensive special sessions. Remember that Kentucky.

 

Not Alone – How A Math Curriculum Helped Me Finally Belong

I think most of have a driving need to feel like we are a part of something, to have people that understand us, to feel like we belong.

In short we don’t want to be alone.

If you know me you know I don’t do anything just a little bit…so I even take the fear of being alone to a whole new level. I’ve spent most of my life hating to be alone whether it was driving in the car, sleeping at night, or watching tv I’ve had an endless need to have people around. (Now that I have kids I seem to enjoy that whole being alone thing a bit more haha!)  I even remember having a moment of total meltdown after I got divorced while watching the movie “The Intern” and realizing that I might be buried in the cemetery alone one day. (Don’t watch that movie after you get divorced FYI) So as I write this, yes I do realize that I take crazy to new and unprecedented levels every day.

But I think if most of us are honest I think we all hate to be feel alone in this world. I really started reflecting on that this week after I saw this tweet.

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It knocked my socks off a bit. I felt alone a lot as a teacher. I was always the rebel, the one who was never satisfied, the one who thought we could push just a bit harder to improve ourselves, the one who questioned the status quo. That doesn’t always earn you a lot of friends in a school building.

Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing friends when I was teaching that I loved dearly but I also knew I never quite belonged. I knew that when new ideas popped up that were extra work I would take the blame or when I spoke up to share in a meeting that the same people would roll their eyes or otherwise not be thrilled with my rebel rousing ways. I never got to be truly whole there because I never really belonged.

But this isn’t a sad woe is me blog post. It’s a coming of age if you will because now I get to see just how awesome it is when teachers have a safe space and really get to belong. I get this awesome experience of watching teachers from across the country gather around the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math Curriculum and find their belonging. I see teachers sharing everything from teaching tips to posters they made to help strangers they’ve never met, offering words of encouragement, and investing in each other around a curriculum of all things – and it is magical.

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It makes me proud to get to be a part of this group of educators who are more amazing than I can describe. I know they are doing incredible things for kids in the classroom and as a parent I am thankful for that but I am more thankful for what they are doing for each other. They are giving each other a place to belong. They are filling our great human need to not be alone and giving each other a greater purpose. How cool is it that it’s happening around a math curriculum?

 

Kids Deserve Better

 

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Last year we implemented something called “WIN” Time on my 7th Grade team at school. “WIN” stood for “What I Need” and it was big success. It started out with me identifying math concepts that students needed extra help with and providing them with extra time, help, and lessons on those. However, it soon developed into students telling me when they knew they needed WIN time because they weren’t getting something.

 

Do you know what is crazy? When students were able to identify their own needs and then get them met they were more invested and successful in the classroom. I saw a large increase in proficiency in my classroom last year based on my state’s accountability measures and a decrease in our GAP partially because of this WIN time.
I can’t help but wonder if this applies to teachers and education as well. The political climate in Kentucky right now is not pleasant and education seems to be taking the brunt of the cuts, arguments, and political spin. However it never seems to occur to those that are constantly pointing out what is “wrong” with education in the state of Kentucky and who are constantly running their campaigns on how they are going to fix the problems to ask teachers what they really need to be successful.

I think those who represent us and make policy decisions may be surprised at how communication, trust, and even results could improve if you began to include teachers in the discussion and ask them what they need to “WIN” rather than just making sweeping reform that seems to do everything in the end except improve education.

I taught kids in 7th grade math last year that came in ranging from 1st grade to 8th grade math levels. At the end of the year all learners experienced nearly two years worth of growth, ELL students experienced 2 1/3 years, and SWD experienced 2 1/2 years of growth. That is how we begin to close achievement gaps. My students with disabilities and english language learners made great gains last year on our state math performance assessment and yet no one is asking me how or seems to want to learn from what I or other teachers across the state do to close achievement gaps each and every day.

Last week I reached out to my Representatives and State Commissioner of Education politely and professionally and asked to meet with them to share ideas and work together for kids in the state of Kentucky. Of all the emails I sent, I received zero responses. I think our kids deserve better than that.
I love the kids of Kentucky and sincerely wanted begin a dialogue about how we can begin working together to improve education here.  The kids in Kentucky deserve teachers and legislators working together to decide their future. They deserve to be asked what they need. They deserve answered emails, strong legislation, and funded classrooms. They deserve to WIN.

You Can’t Extinguish Goodness

I love fall so very much but its arrival has been slow to Kentucky. As a result of our 85+ degree days I have forced fall into my home with as many fake leaves, pumpkin decorations, and fall scented candles as I can find. (Plus it has rained for approximately 1 trillion days here so my dogs perpetually smell bad anymore, ick!)

Last night I was blowing out the last of the candles and the flame was at that almost magical point where it looks like it is out but then all of a sudden gets going again before returning to full fire form. The house quiet, a rarity around here, and I thought for a moment about this Nelson Mandela quote that I have always loved so much.

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Maybe this whole goodness thing was on my mind because my town literally was torn apart by a pizza review this week. I realize that probably sounds dramatic but no joke google Barstool review Lexington pizza place and see what comes up and then read all the great comments!

Our local pizza joint had to shut down its phones and social media as well as yelp reviews because they went from over a 4 star rating to a 1 in a matter of hours and people were calling to curse and yell at them non stop. Its not like these were customers it was just strangers that thought it was fun…no joke.

It isn’t like this kind of stuff is uncommon, it happens everyday. People are so quick to get mad and angry, pass judgements, and then spread the word about how terrible you are. Yet at the same time people are slow to have rational discussions, see both sides or try to see the good in people, companies, or organizations.

I won’t lie, sometimes it is hard to see the good anywhere.

And then, I walk into my garage and see books and school supplies and remember all of the beautiful goodness in the world around me. Sometimes that flame of goodness is hidden and sometimes it is almost out but it always makes a comeback. We have been overwhelmed by friends, acquaintances and strangers who have sent books and supplies from across the country to help us achieve our goal of giving every one of these kids a book they can call their own.

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I have gotten to talk to people like Deborah Schaumberg the author of The Tombs one of the books on our list. Deborah not only donated books to our cause but reached out to her own friends and family to ask them to help and make sure that every single child that wanted to read The Tombs could. Today, the last copy of The Tombs was ordered thanks to her help, a complete stranger, who just wanted to get books in kids hands.

We still have a lot of other books left to go but this project has been magical in so many ways.

It isn’t just the book project that has me see all of this goodness, my Open Up Resources 6–8 Math groups are the best. I really can’t tell you how many times at the end of a long day I jump in the Facebook group or on #openupmath to see all the amazing pictures and stories teachers are sharing. They are soul-filling kinds of stories full of the amazing abilities of teachers and the progress we are making in math education. It is the best.

And there are the amazing people I get to work with who I can call ridiculously early West Coast time because I am unsure of something or panicked that I messed something up that will take the time to understand what I need and help me own and fix my mistakes. I didn’t really think there could be people as passionate (or as crazy) as I am about equity in education but my co-workers really are. But beyond that so many of them have helped support us in our book project not just by buying books, but with kind words and sharing our story. My life is filled with good people.  (And seriously everyone there rocks but Karen, Patrick, Gail, and Lincoln, save me, make me laugh, and remind me how amazing humans can be everyday).

I get awfully wrapped up sometimes in all the darkness that sometimes hides all the goodness around me but it is there just like that candle I tried to blow out last night. Thankfully kindness is magical like a flame, just when you think it is gone and just when you need it most it finds a way to bounce right back.

 

 

 

I Am a Teacher and I Have Raised Two Struggling Readers

I want to talk about a personal challenge that I have faced as a parent: I’m a teacher, and I have raised two struggling readers.

By all accounts their dad and I did everything you are “supposed” to do to make sure your kids grow up to be readers.

We read every night. Even before they could walk, talk, or hold their head up I can remember reading to them.

They had two educated parents who worked with them and used a variety of vocabulary with them.

They had access to a variety of books, educational toys, and any other materials a child could ever need.

They had life experiences from children’s museums to zoos. They were wonderers, questioners, and learners.

But yet they were still struggling readers.

When I first learned Jackson had been placed in reading intervention I cried. I thought I had failed him as a mom. I couldn’t figure out how he could know so much and yet couldn’t quite seem to learn how to read.

When I found out Embry was behind in reading I decided it really must just be my fault. I had obviously taught them too much math and not enough reading.

I talked to everyone I knew to find out what was going on with both kids. They didn’t struggle with comprehension. If you read them a passage they could answer questions like a pro. Jackson could usually answer the questions without you reading it to him because he was great at figuring things out. Their reading comprehension was at or well above grade level and yet the couldn’t read simple sentences.

In second grade, Jackson caught up in reading. I was pretty sure (and still am) that his teacher was magical. He is in 5th grade now and reads at an 11th grade level, he is a struggling reader no more. Embry just started 2nd grade and low and behold I think she is slowly but surely catching up in reading. I am pretty sure her teacher is magical too but I think I have finally figured out what those 2nd grade teachers are doing to turn my struggling readers into successful readers..

My ‘Aha’ Moment: Phonics Really Matters.

Both kids 2nd grade teachers forego spelling words for phonic words and go back to the basics of phonetic understanding. For the first time Embry is trying to sound out words and make sense of them rather than use other strategies she was taught like to use the picture to figure out the sentence or skip words she doesn’t know (she just skips all the words).  She is finally gaining confidence that she can learn to read and sound out words and it is making a world of difference.

I’m having my ‘Aha’ moment about all of this because of the articles I have been reading about phonics lately on Twitter. This Emily Hanford article really opened my eyes to how their are Language Arts Wars just like there are Math Wars. The article explains the reasons that phonics instruction isn’t happening in many classrooms, even though the research says it’s needed.

Then my CEO wrote this article this week, and I learned that literacy experts recommend daily phonics instruction. I’m reminded how lucky I am to work for a company that believes in a balanced approach to reading that includes phonics.

It’s all very eye-opening for me. And I wonder how many other teachers would feel the same way once they read the articles I’ve been reading.

Now I know that every student deserves access to balanced materials, and not just because they get lucky and have a 2nd grade team of teachers that believes in it. But we clearly have a long way to go before the research is understood across K–12 education. I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten and whose district adopted a popular textbook reading program that doesn’t include phonics. She saw how much her kids really still needed the phonics portion so she did what any good teacher would do and started supplementing… but she recently got in trouble for not following the book as written and was told to stop. Which hurts my heart.

I am thankful that with time Embry will catch up in reading just like her brother did and that she is getting the phonics help she needs this year. However, I can’t help but wonder how many kids will miss out on this help, and will continue to struggle well past 2nd grade, until they eventually determine they will never be a reader.

My mind has been in overdrive since I started reading these phonics articles. Not only about my own children, but about the best way to address the phonics gaps more broadly, to reach all kids like Jackson and Embry. If you are like me, and want to spread the word about this eye-opening research,I hope you will share Emily Hanford’s article with everyone you can so that they can understand the issue for themselves. I also love this idea I saw on Twitter, encouraging educators to write respectful letters to the Dean of the University they attended explaining why they didn’t feel they were prepared to teach reading, especially to struggling readers.

I would love to hear more teachers sharing their perspectives and stories around teaching phonics in their classrooms. Do teachers feel prepared and supported in teaching phonics? Are folks discussing the research? What solutions exist, beyond phonics-rich curriculum?

What I know: I’m a teacher and even I needed help raising a reader. And like the best teachers, I am happy to admit what I didn’t know and to grow my practice, in service of kids.

Giving Back

I have never made my love for public education and teaching a secret. I even wrote recently about how teaching and my teacher friends in the MTBoS were a sanctuary for me when life got really hard. I have a deep seeded love of helping kids and teachers that I have a hard time putting into words most of the time.

That is one of the reasons I love my new job as Community Manager at Open Up Resources so much. I get to help teachers and connect them with people that will be for them what the MTBoS was for me…a sounding board, a cheering section, and a refuge.

But I also miss helping kids directly so very much. I had to stop myself from buying school supplies all summer and other things I knew kids would need come August. It was so weird knowing I wouldn’t have a classroom or 120 kids waiting for me to support them at the end of the summer that I began to wonder how I would give back. I found a simple solution to fill the void slightly – and began sending books and other supplies to classrooms across the country to kids who needed them most and I loved it. I had so much fun picking out books and writing notes…even the kids and Kevin joined in!

As you know I am marrying a wonderful and giving man on New Year’s Eve this year and we struggled a lot with what we would “register” for as gifts. We are both older, have lived on our own for years, and have more household things than we could ever need. Kevin has supported my love of public education during the craziness of the last year; picking me up in Frankfort after rallies, standing on the side of busy roads with me while we were rallying, and helping me make signs for support so I don’t know why I was surprised when he said yes to my latest crazy idea (his mom was a public school teacher for 30+ years!)…we decided to register for school supplies and books to give away instead of wedding gifts.

We selected a teacher in our town of Lexington, Kentucky, one of my best friends who is a teacher at a school in Cincinnati, Ohio, a teacher from Indianapolis, Indianapolis (where Kevin’s family is from), and Indianola, Iowa (where my dad’s family is from) and let them select anything they thought would help their classroom from flexible seating to traditional supplies to books for the kids to take home. We would love nothing more than our friends, family, acquaintances, and maybe even strangers to help us provide materials for these deserving teachers and students. There is no better way to show us you love us and care about us than to support our mission to provide materials for these public school children.

I knew I was passionate about this project but I didn’t know how passionate I was until my friend from Cincinnati sent me this note from one of her students last week. Erin elected to let her students pick books they would like to have and keep as her registry items (you would be shocked at how many kids have never had a book of their own).

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Erin asks the kids every week what they appreciated that week. This young man is homeless and by all accounts doesn’t have a lot to be thankful for but yet he is most appreciative and excited about the three books he got to ask for from us. Reading this note with teary eyes made me realize that we have to find a way to get all of these books for these kids. I hope you will help us.

It is truly as simple as hopping on our wedding registry and selecting an item (or two or three haha) and sending them to us! We will make sure they get to the right schools and teachers. I hope you all will make us work hard…make us make many trips, fill up our living room with boxes, and make Kevin write lots of thank you notes!

We would also love it if you would share this idea with anyone you know. We want to make these teachers and students feel loved, cared for, and appreciated and getting books and supplies from around the country is sure to do that.

Kevin and I are forever thankful.

With love,

Kevin and Brooke

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