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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 Coöper­a­tive 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 […]