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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Education

Words of Wisdom

graduationI may never be asked to give the commencement speech at my alma mater—or yours for that matter. However, just in case the opportunity presents itself, I am ready. After considerable reflection on my 25 years as an educator, I can sum up my message for aspiring teachers who are about to embark on a career in the classroom with the following words of wisdom.

#1. Practice the “Art of Being”

Being available, being kind, being compassionate, being transparent, being real, being thoughtful, and being ourselves, this is the path that leads to success.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the “doing” when it comes to teaching. Once you jump on that treadmill with your to-do list in hand, it can be difficult to stop and rest. However, it is the art of being that will lay the foundation for building relationships with students, parents and colleagues. It is those relationships that will play the most important role in your success as an educator.

#2. Develop Stamina and Speed

Be prepared to develop a combination of these two contradictory but essential skills. You will quickly realize that some aspects of teaching require you to go the distance (bathroom breaks will be few and far between). At the very same time you will often need to train like you’re competing for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (not everyone can eat an entire lunch and go to the bathroom in 20 minutes or less).

#3. Mistakes Are Okay

Beautiful Oops!The lovely little book Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, offers a profound truth—mistakes are much more than accidents or mishaps. They are opportunities to turn blunders into wonders. Create a classroom climate that embraces trying, failing, and learning from those errors. Set the tone for your students by celebrating those beautiful oops that all of us make so that everyone knows that no one is perfect.

#4. Find a “Marigold”

Several years ago, Jennifer Gonzalez offered this wise advice to those just starting out:

“Just like a young seedling growing in a garden, thriving in your first year depends largely on who you plant yourself next to… Among companion plants, the marigold is one of the best: It protects a wide variety of plants from pests and harmful weeds.”

Seek out someone who will serve as the type of mentor who will support you with positivity. Find a mentor who will not hesitate to show you the ropes, answer questions and offer reassurance—you will never regret spending time with a marigold.

#5.  Words Matter, Choose Them Carefully

Choice Words Opening MindsChoice Words and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston are two of the best books I’ve ever read about the important role that language plays in our efforts to reach students and positively impact their learning. Both books are full of insightful examples of how what we say (or don’t say) can make a dramatic difference in the lives of students. 

#6. Parents Are Our Partners—It Is Not “Us” Versus “Them”

Dear ParentsToo often educators make hasty judgments about what appears to be a lack of interest or involvement on the part of parents. When issues flare with a student, the blame game may surface and the tension mounts. One of the greatest investments any teacher can make is to develop strong communication and rapport with parents. It’s not enough to simply say you value parent input, it is necessary to cultivate a sense of teamwork and mutual respect.  Check out Dear Parents: From Your Child’s Loving Teacher (Handbook for Effective Teamwork) by Dana Arias for a wonderful collection of letters that promote a true alliance between educators and parents.

#7. Network, Connect, or Get “Linked In”

Social media offers an endless nexus of professional groups. Digital natives will have no trouble seeking out and mingling online with other educators who share the same interests and frustrations yet may offer a different perspective or approach. In addition to the virtual world of networking, don’t hesitate to join organizations that meet face to face, offering high quality and ongoing professional development. State and national chapters of the International Literacy Association (ILA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), to name a few, are incredibly valuable resources. 

#8. Expect to Be Overwhelmed

Rose-colored glasses don’t make an attractive fashion accessory for educators. The reality of this challenging career is that it is and might always be overwhelming. The teacher’s job is tough and it is not for the faint of heart. Despite this fact, the rewards most definitely outweigh the demands (take extra notice of #9 and #10 to counteract #8)!

#9. Be Patient with Yourself

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” —Joyce Meyer

You and your craft are a work in progress. It will take time to learn the art and magic of balancing curriculum, technology, classroom management, assessments, and effective teaching strategies. You’ll likely be your own toughest critic. Strive to find the balance between maintaining a sense of urgency and stopping long enough to appreciate the fun and humor that wiggles its way into your classroom thanks to the marvelous little people you will be spending your days with.

#10. Find Joy Every Day 

Be HappyBe Happy! by Monica Sheehan offers excellent suggestions for staying focused on the simplest of things … make friends, dance, dream big, be brave, along with a treasure trove of other ideas. Read this little gem on the first day of school, the last day of school and lots of days in between. It is a masterpiece and might just be the blueprint for a truly satisfying life for all human beings.


La Escuela Primaria: A Visit to Cuba

school gardenThis past February, my husband and I traveled to Cuba on an eleven-day tour. Near the end of the trip, we drove from the central city of Camagüey to visit a ranch. After a two-hour drive, our bus bounced down a long dirt road and passed under a wooden sign that resembled a gate in an old western, telling us we had reached “The King Ranch.” Sheep, goats, and cattle grazed on dry, scrubby brush, in fields that lined both sides of the road.

We drew up near the ranch’s main building. The ranch manager who welcomed us was fluent in English. He told us that Mr. King—the same wealthy Texan who once developed a million-acre ranch in the U.S—had bought 40,000 hectares of land in Cuba before the Revolution. At its height, the ranch boasted 20,000 head. When Castro came to power, the ranch passed into government hands, as did all land and private businesses on the island. Now the ranch supports 3,000 animals and a village of about 130 people.

Our visit to the ranch included a small rodeo, where a few vaqueros, riding small cow ponies, competed in calf and bull roping as well as bull riding. One stocky cowboy managed to stay aboard a bucking bull for fifteen seconds before being tossed to the ground. He scrambled to his feet and dusted himself off, unhurt.

After the show ended, we climbed into horse-drawn wagons that carried us to the village. As we approached a circle of small, thatch-roofed cottages, a few kids ran along next to our carriages, calling out to us. Why weren’t they in school?

Before we could ask, our horses drew up in front of a tiny, two-room school building. We gathered in a garden outside, decorated with colorful, handmade sculptures of animals and insects. Our guide explained that the teaching principal had just been selected as Teacher of the Year for all of Cuba. This honor meant that the school would host a local district meeting the next day. School had been cancelled to allow a team of teachers and parents to spruce up the building, set up displays, and sweep out the two small rooms where children in grades K-4 were educated. In a narrow hall, a parent was dusting and arranging a few dozen books on a narrow shelf that made up the school’s entire biblioteca.

Mom with Books

Biblioteca (school library): photo by John Fischer

 An outside observer might think these children were deprived. After all, their homes were small simple structures, with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Except for the main ranch building, none of these homes were built to survive a hurricane. I also wondered how the school managed with so few books and materials. Yet the teaching principal (speaking through a translator) was proud of his school’s success. He spoke of the benefits children gain when different ages learn and work together. He also explained that parents are very involved in their children’s education.

Cuban home

Farm worker’s home: photo by Martin Crossland

Cuba prizes its children. The country boasts one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Children’s health and education are a top priority. Throughout our travels, we saw children who appeared healthy, well-fed, and happy. On school days, children wear uniforms according to grade level: red and white for primary school; yellow and white for middle school; brown and white for high school; and dark and light blue for higher education. Their uniforms are clean, bright, and serviceable.

Health care is free for all, new mothers can take a year’s maternity leave, and the state provides free daycare from six months to age five or six. Education is free, from kindergarten through university or technical school, and graduate school.

La Escuela Primaria

Escuela Primaria: photo by Suzanne Raley

Although this village is twenty-one kilometers from the nearest town, nurses and doctors visit regularly, and ranch children receive the same education and follow the same curriculum as their peers in city classrooms. Twice a week, teachers make the long trip to give lessons in art, music, and computer science. The principal showed us a first grade notebook where a child had written long paragraphs in perfect cursive.

Cursive Writing

Dictado (dictation): photo by Suzanne Raley

Displays on the wall demonstrated science projects and geography. Children leave the ranch in fifth grade to board with families in a larger town, four nights a week. There, their learning continues, through high school and beyond if that is what they choose.

After our tour, I walked back to the main house with our guide and the vaquero who had demonstrated bull riding. I learned that he and his daughter, now 17, were both born in the village and educated at the village school. His daughter was now finishing high school and would enter medical school in the fall. He was proud of her accomplishment, but he spoke as if it wasn’t unusual.

Of course, Cuba has enormous economic problems. Though citizens are well-educated, they work for paltry salaries and may not find jobs that allow them to use their expertise and training. Their lives are constricted in ways that we would find oppressive. But as our bus drove away from the ranch, I thought of the stunning and inspiring art exhibits, concerts, and dance performances we had seen in every city on our tour, which demonstrated the value Cuba places on the arts. This was in sharp contrast to our schools, where the arts often disappear when budgets are tight. I thought of city schools in America with overcrowded classrooms that lack basic materials, and teachers who are poorly paid and disrespected. What if our country valued its children, their health, nutrition, and education, as highly as Cubans do?

The Cubans we met were warm, welcoming, and informed. They asked knowledgeable questions about our upcoming elections. Cubans hope—as we do—that the rapprochement begun by President Obama will continue to grow and heal the rift between our two countries. Many Americans like to boast that our nation is the wealthiest in the world. Still, we have much to learn from this fascinating, crocodile-shaped island.


Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Animal Shenanigans, Rob Reid’s latest resource book for teachers, parents, and librarians.

I am fortunate to teach three sections of children’s literature each semester to future elementary teachers, future special education teachers, and future librarians. It’s truly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookology folks to share those books and topics I teach to these budding professionals.

I open each semester by introducing myself and reading my current favorite interactive picture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tullet and the students are delighted to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their responses on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss—the usual suspects. All good choices but no surprises and nothing recently published. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: combine history of children’s literature with the best of the newer stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at current trends in children’s publishing: trends I pick up from Publishers Weekly, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the American Library Association, and my own observations. We also look at the current NY Times bestseller lists for picture books, middle grade books, and series. I read a few of those bestselling picture books to the class as well as selections of the chapter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my college students pretty much every class session.)

I contrast what sells with what wins the numerous awards: quantity vs. quality (and luckily, the two go together with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semester, my students learn what the following awards are for, who are the most recent winners, and many of the notable past winners: Newbery (and I share my own experience being on that committee), Caldecott, Geisel, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, American Indian Youth Literature, Scott O’Dell, Sibert, Orbis Pictus, and the Schneider Family Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award originated at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many special education students, we put special emphasis on this award that recognizes portrayals of people with disabilities. As a class, we all read Wonder by R.J. Palacio (before that it was Rules by Cynthia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcoming year as a required read to represent graphic novels (I have been using the first Babymouse and the first Lunch Lady as examples of elementary school graphic novels).

The other required read is Love That Dog, and I introduce the other works of Sharon Creech and Walter Dean Myers (who is a fictionalized character of himself in the book). We look at dozens of poetry books not written by Shel Silverstein (and I have some good Silverstein anecdotes to share) and learn ways to make poetry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStudents pick an elective chapter book from a list I provide (which includes Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Coraline, Tale of Despereaux, Princess Academy, Elijah of Buxton, and several more) and they create a literature activity guide to go with their novel.

Students draw the name of a children’s illustrator and put together a PowerPoint to share with the class what they learned about the various artistic elements present in the picture books.

We also look at the timeline of diversity in children’s literature, traditional folklore from around the world, fantasy and science fiction, controversial books, informational books and biographies, easy readers and bridge books, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and Minnesota and Wisconsin book creators (since most of my students are from these two states and we have so many talented, published, award-winning authors and illustrators here).

Each student also has to tell an oral story to the class based on a folktale. They are sent to the 398 section of the library to look through both the picture book editions and anthologies of folktales, learn one, and share it without notes.

We finish the semester with competitive rounds of Kiddie Lit Jeopardy, they fill out their student evaluations that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remaining 99% of the wonderful children’s books we didn’t have time to cover in class.



Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s: Games and Activities for Big Kids, Little Kids, and Medium-Size Kids edited by Mac Barnett and Brian McMullen featuring Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, and more Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2013 For your holiday gift-giving consideration … An oversized book filled with every imaginable distraction, this should be […]


What’s got my dander up?

I can’t decide whether I’m angry or sad. When Steve and I travel around the country, we stop in at bookstores and public libraries and schools, observing the state of children’s books in those environments. We talk with booksellers, librarians, and teachers. Some people are aware of our connection to children’s books … some are […]


Monday Morning Roundup

A CLN welcome to author Cynthia Cotten, our newest member. Cyndy lives in Virginia. Her books include Rain Play (illus by Javaka Steptoe, Holt), Abbie in Stitches (illus by Beth Peck, FS&G), and Snow Ponies (illus by Jason Cockcroft, Holt). I’m looking forward to the Ramona and Beezus movie due to release on July 23rd. […]


Everything We Know

Synchronicity. We mark its occurrence by saying the word out loud, not fully grasping its power but understanding that we are honoring a confluence in our lives. There are three contributors to my confluence: Anita Silvey, Wendell Minor, and Katherine House. Last fall, Anita Silvey‘s book Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a […]