KRLitClub Begins!

How do you get your principal who hates rocking the boat to sign on to controversial YA Lit book clubs? Well, let me tell you a story…

My principal and I have known each other for almost ten years. He knows that I love to try new things, from flexible seating to taking students to hear a Holocaust survivor in the final year of his life. He also knows that he’s gotten parent complaints about the new things I’ve tried, like the year I tried to flip my classroom instruction. And he hates parent complaints with a passion.

So when I heard about Project Lit Community and its philosophy I knew two things up front.

  1. My students desperately need to know what the world outside is like. Their parents and grandparents fled Appalachia for the factory rich town we live in, and those factory jobs have dried up. Even though almost all the staff I work with grew up here, our students can’t stay here. Not and have a high paying, satisfying job, that is.
  2. My principal is worried that exposing them to the outside world, with its diverse cultures, would upset parents.

I did what any rebel teacher would do. I did it anyway. And I held my breath, to see if anyone would push back. They didn’t.

It helped I started small, with five books for my dual enrollment Intro to Literature class to choose from: Beloved, The Other Wes Moore, and three modern, controversial books: Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and Long Way Down. The students got to pick. They discussed their choice in small groups, in the last three weeks of school. I listened in, and when they needed some help making connections, I helped them with comments in their required written reflections.

And then I went to Project Lit Summit 18. And I knew I wanted more for my students.

Today was my first day back. And he asked me how the conference went. The perfect time to ask.

His first comment? “Just be careful which books you pick. You don’t want any controversy.”

Well, if you know anything about Project Lit Community, you’d know that they deal with the lives of kids today. That means there are books about LGBTQ kiddos, Pakastani kiddos, Latinx kiddos, African American kiddos, kiddos in poverty, and all kinds of folks my principal would say is controversial. So I knew I work to do.

Luckily, before the summit we had talked about a book I recently read, The 57 Bus. I had talked to him about how rich the informational text was, mixing a strong narrative with LGBTQ concepts. And thanks to the wonderful advice from Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, I knew what to say.

“John,” I said, “you know some of our students are gender fluid. It’s really important that they see themselves in the books they read. They need to know that their stories are important, too. Remember the book I talked to you about? Project Lit books reflect more than the world they know. Our students need to know what the real world is like.  And besides, if their parents object, they can just skip the book for that month.”

It was enough. He agreed! And now, for the planning, the fundraising, the work. And I don’t have to fly under the radar anymore.


Amplifying Student Voice

Three years ago I started teaching College Composition to juniors at my school. The curriculum was designed to mirror a local college’s expectations, which meant that the genre and number of papers were set ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the papers we write and think they are meaningful and connected to workplace and career after college. The problem is that they limit the voice and choice of my students. Something had to give.

Thanks to my time with the Ohio Writing Project, I knew that voice and choice improves student writing. I also knew that authentic audiences and real world problems help students to see the purpose behind the projects. My solution: blogging.

In this third year of student blogs, I have fine tuned many expectations. Students know how to find and cite Creative Commons licensed works so they don’t plagiarize. They know how to tag and categorize their posts so others can find them. They know how to write meaningful comments so they can interact with other writers. They have followers outside of our school that read and comment on their posts. Some, in fact, even blog when it’s not assigned. By teaching them the ground rules and opening the door to whatever they passionately want to write about, I have solved my conundrum.

If you are interested in teaching your students to blog, below are two playlists I wrote for LRNG, a local nonprofit.

Blogging part 1: media literacy

Blogging part 2: creating your blog

I also highly recommend the Student Blogging Challenge over on Edublogs for some great “how to” challenges to help students learn the skills they need in order to successfully blog.

Shout out to some of my favorite student bloggers: (this one started blogging in Creative Writing in 9th grade w/me)

A previous year’s blog

Blog” by airpix is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Small moments

A full night’s sleep is that icy cold glass of lemonade on a sweltering summer day.
A lip parted smile complete with eye contact is that first sip of merlot on Friday night.
A whispered, sincere conversation while leaning on the drinking fountain is that gulp of coffee, fresh ground and hot.
Clean socks are that steaming hot chocolate with whip cream mounded high above the rim of a heavy ceramic mug.
A heavy lapful of cat is that mulled cider, redolent with cinnamon and clove, its steam curling up to caress your frozen face.

I am grateful for small moments of mindfulness.

“Hot Chocolate” by Renee McGurk is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Daily revels

Lately, I’ve surrounded my classroom with poetry and gratitude. I’ve found that which surrounds often slips into the cracks of your soul, peeks out from under the covers, whispers behind your left ear as you go about your day.

It slides down your throat like honey, soothing a throat sore with complaining. It cushions the hard wooden seat, cracked with fidgets. It is a belt loop bigger or elastic waistbands after a Thanksgiving feast. Or flannel pajama pants after a long day of hose and heels. It is triumphant music that swells overtop the daily grind of what we must do.

February is normally a month of gray mornings and empty evenings. By cuddling up to some silent poetry reading and journaling about gratitude every day, I have renewed my passion to be here, in the moment, with my students. Revel in the everyday.

Person” by geralt is shared under a CC.0 license


If I were to choose a skill that I am grateful I possess, it would be my ability to be enthusiastic. This is not a skill I developed; it is a skill gifted to me since birth. I am the lightning strike, the cloudburst, the wild crying jag you get after seeing that ASPCA commercial. My internal volume is always set at 85 decibels. I’m the beaming good morning on the first day after Christmas Break, the beatnik snaps after you recite your poem, the smiley face sticker on your paper.

Like many a confused extrovert, I am more than wild intensity. I am the peppermint essential oil to banish your migraine, the band-aid for your knee, the box of tissues for your breakup. I am long anticipated books, bought the day they are published, charge cords and power strips when your battery is about to die, and sharpened pencils with new erasers.

For all these traits, for my students and the supporting staff with which I work, I am grateful.

“Lightning” by One Day Closer is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Grateful Leadership

Yesterday, all I could think about was myself. My enjoyment, my free time, my worries. How could I have forgotten Cub Scouts? Let me tell you about our Cub Master, Marc Quick.

Imagine that your children are all grown up, as are your grandchildren. You served your country in the Army. You have a full-time job. And yet, you are still willing to sleep overnight on your church’s hard floor, just to let a group of elementary age boys and their reluctant parents experience camping out. You willing sit through two kid movies, pass out popcorn and pop, clean up the inevitable spills. When you realize our space rockets are all missing the bracket, you shrug and plan how your third grade den will build the launcher next week.

Marc is the first one at the church to open it up. He listens with a kind ear to any crazy scheme we newbie Scout leaders want to try. Hold the fishing derby at Camp Birch? Sure! Send the whole pack to the Spook-o-ree and camp all weekend? Why not? You want to take your den to the Wittenberg Observatory? He’s there, with a smile and a Scout shirt, neatly pressed.

Marc is our calm male role model. He is the one with the wooden mallets he made by hand, and hand drills to make Christmas presents. He brings the hammers and nails, to build a brag board with all the knots my son knows how to tie.

Thank you, Marc, for all that you do for us.

“Marc Quick & Lions” by Jackie O’Connor is shared under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International and is not free to be reused except with permission.

Gratitude Day 2

This weekend, I spent a lot of time playing video games. It is a great escape for me, and I am grateful that my husband bought the game for me during Christmas break. I like the thrill of saving digital people, even though I know when I log off, they are not really still in danger. It can be addicting to play, to finish that next quest, to plan how that settlement can thrive without my intervention.

It would be wonderful if life were that simple. If only I could quit and save while my 1st period is typing about gratitude, knowing they are diligently working without my direct observation. But alas, real life is not a video game.

In the process of playing this weekend, I entertained the idea of playing Minecraft with my son, although playing with him is often a long tutorial about how to play. He watches YouTube videos about Minecraft, so even at 8 he knows more than I do about strategy.

I just read an article on NPR about parenting styles, and I’m a little concerned about our screen usage. Turns out I’m a permissive screen parent. Although this doesn’t totally surprise me, it was a bit of a downer. To top it off, my son complained that he struggles to fall asleep. Could his Minecraft till bedime obsession be part of the problem?

Luckily, I have a potential solution. He’s already busy on Mondays till 7 pm at Cub Scouts. If I can hold firm, we can go “offline” for an hour before bedtime with no problems. But it’ll be a challenge since I have quizzes to grade.

This post was supposed to be about gratitude but veered off into an anxious rant about parenting. Is this my life now?

“3 Things You Could Do To Kill the Time Until Fallout 4 Comes Out” by BagoGames is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.