Last Day of National Poetry Month Post #1

It speaks to me, and this is why I will always celebrate this month.

Today, I will share what my learners have worked on throughout the year. My learners are Rookies (freshman to non-NTH@C-savvy folk). They constantly amaze me with their wise-beyond-their-years writing and fresh observations.

Here is a Slam Poetry performance entitled Measuring Change by Kendall Dunn and Amulya Pilla. It discusses the issue of Homelessness in Southeast Asia.



Digital Learning Day? What does it all mean?

Anyone who knows me knows about my fascination and commitment to revisit my practice. They know about my desire to understand the affordances of technology and media-making in literacy instruction. They know about my dedication to helping my learners become global citizens.

Global Issues Summit
Now, make no mistake, I understand “I turned out completely fine” with a more traditional education, but then again, that’s all we really had. And, I was fortunate to love school and have engaging educational experiences throughout my entire life.

As I continue to teach, however, my awareness of the ever-evolving literacy landscape is constantly raised. My eyes are opened to this new world my high school learners are trying so hard to make sense of, and complexity is added when we realize that it’s changing at a mind-boggling pace.

It’s one thing to say, “When I was your age, I had to walk to and from school uphill both ways in the snow and rain and heat and whatever other extreme weather condition that may prove my point.” It’s quite another to say, “When I was your age, we didn’t have the internet.” To my learners, and perhaps even to myself, the second remark seems to be much more of a hardship.

“What?” “How can that be?” “What was that like?” Just some of the inquiries emoting the disbelief of my students.

And truthfully, there are parts of me that cannot remember because I have chosen to examine what these types of changes mean to not only to my students but also to myself. This reflection has put the spotlight on trying to be responsive instead of doing what I know or what’s familiar. I’ve had to distance myself somewhat from that more traditional context. It’s tough to recall bits and pieces of teaching before I had the tools but more importantly, the courage to enter an arena where I am more of a visitor than someone truly at home.

At times, it’s scary. I don’t know how to do half the things I ask my learners to try. And when I begin to learn a program, there’s another skill set to try to sink my teeth into because our learners today like variety. They are bombarded with onslaughts of information, some more useful than others, some more reliable than others, but still, they have a deluge of information presented in various media genres.

But if I don’t help them understand why a piece of media and its content is or is not effective and purposeful, my learners might never understand how such media can manipulate for good or for bad. Furthermore, they may not understand how to design such media to further the causes and purposes they call their own.

Learner-Created Marketing Piece for Romeo and Juliet

Digital Learning Day, March 13, 2015 is fast approaching. Each year, I take time to ask my learners what sense they can make of how technology impacts education, how consumption and creation of media both influences and reflects learning. Unfortunately, this year, Digital Learning Day falls during spring break. I feel like I’ve tried to compensate by asking learners to create more digital artifacts.

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Recently, I’ve asked my students to design marketing pieces where they decide to position Romeo and Juliet either as a “Timeless Love Story” or as a “Cautionary Tale”. They’ve also produced digital Wanted Posters and Sainthood Petitions communicating whether or not they felt Friar Lawrence was a sinner or a saint. Each product required text analysis and evidence from the play. Each piece forced them to wrestle with over simplified decisions, and yes, they were frustrated. Many of them have voiced the desire to create something that reflected both sides, and I see this as a byproduct of other learning we have experienced this year.

All year, my learners participate in KQED Do Now discussions. (Yes, I do understand this is nothing new to those of you who have read previous posts. Indulge me.) KQED’s EdSpace poses civic questions every week with articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that informs on that particular topic. Learners learn about the topic and post on the blog and Tweet their responses to provocative questions. Some recent topics include Vaccinations, Ebola, Ferguson, etc. The challenge for my learners is not only to articulate their informed positions on the topics but to also engage in discourse with other people from all over the country (world). I am constantly asking them, “How can you continue the discussion to deepen understanding— not just try to prove your point?”

I strongly believe in the essential skill of being able to approach tough potentially polarizing concepts in such a way where all opinions are able to be heard, where participants are able to have their own informed opinions but also the understanding that others, too, have the right to their own. Without such discourse, tough discussions do not happen. Topics are avoided. Difficult, seemingly unanswerable questions are not explored. And even more disheartening, if such discourse isn’t taking place, possible necessary and plausible compromises are not being made that could help reform unjust, inhumane practices around the world.

When my learners ask me if they can create products that express both sides of the problem, products that express a third or fourth perspective, I believe it is a result of months of grappling with messy topics such as those offered in KQED’s EdSpace Do Now.

This is the type of analysis and understanding my learners have gained from practices that include participating in civic discourse using social media, deconstructing and producing media, and critically researching online. But we don’t get that from doing this once. We don’t get there from observing Digital Learning Day a single day in a year.

No, this learning must happen every day because this is where our learners are at home. They are awakened by devices. They are informed by feeds they can customize. They are influenced by media that either arrives via their chosen outlets or on demand.

I will say this. What Digital Learning achieves, not only on this day with its powerful reminder but on any other, is the invitation to educators on all levels to question their practice. Digital Learning Day calls upon us to reexamine how we do things and why we might want to try something different.

So what does it all mean? Digital Learning means different things to so many different people, learners and educators alike. But, this day, this day gives us pause to reflect. It is a moment to deliberate on what works, what is needed, what can be transformed, what our learners really need, how we can relinquish some of what is known through careful design to gain a step closer to understanding. Understanding that this process should occur every day, after each interaction with our learners. Digital Learning Day is a chance to learn from other educators’ work. It is a time to revisit some of our biggest disasters in our classroom, taking comfort in the thought that at least, we tried.

Digital Learning DaySo take time. Recognize what it means to teach literacy in today’s world. Question. Always question. And ask a learner, what worked and what didn’t. That’s what Digital Learning Day means to me.

Happy National Day on Writing #WriteMyCommunity

I am an author.
So are you.
Or at the very least, you have it in you.
You have it in you to create, compose, craft.

Think about it.
You have power.
You have the power.

The power to generate a life you want with characters you choose.
Relationships and conflicts that culminate quickly or unfold at a snail’s pace.
Obstacles: some bigger than others,
But let us not forget some obstacles are smaller than others, too.
It is our choice.

I have power?
No. No. No.
That must be a mistake.
Because I certainly do not feel strong.
At times, I feel the exact opposite:
Weak, timid, feeble-minded.
Ready to hide.
Ready to dismiss myself as a follower not a leader.
Ready to accept and resign.

My back to a wall of busy-ness…
Ultimately, senseless time vacuums.
I stay there asleep but not rested.
I stay there, eyes closed.
Truly blind.

What awesome responsibility!
And with that, it becomes heavy, this gift of making.
A weight pushing us down with thoughts of doubt.
With thoughts of uncertainty.
With thoughts of fear.
What a burden!

But you tell me “I have the power.”
So I must. I will believe you.
But still,
Forgive me if I tentatively, gingerly
Place that silver spoon to my lips
For it burns.
It burns, that power.
It stings and it hurts and it curdles my blood.
Because in the end, it means
Me taking responsibility for what happens in my life.
It means me owning up to my mistakes.
It means me allowing myself to feel triumph and joy.
It means giving myself consent
To celebrate and mourn and hurt and be hurt…
and love and be loved.

Sometimes, granting ourselves the space and time to truly feel is the most difficult.
But I also see the possibility as a true blessing.
I see the unwritten story of my life as opportunity.
A vast buffet of tastings and big plates and cocktails and desserts and desserts again.
At times, the menu may offer a hamburger.
Others, a proper soufflé.
Others, a glass of cool water after an especially hot day.

But do not be surprised that I doubt.
Do not be surprised if I question.
If I plan and think and brainstorm and organize.
If I draft again and again.
If I revise and revise and revise… and revise.

I will consciously defy
Linear plotlines
Formulaic hooks
Predictable endings
Two-dimensional personas.
I will avoid, challenge, and rewrite all of that
Because this is my life.

This is my page.
This is my pen I hold in my hand.
This is my story
That you just happen to cameo in
That you just happen to influence
And brandish and repurpose
But with my permission…
With my permission.

Because I am an author.

I am an author.

Twitter as a Connected Learning Tool

I believe in Social Media. I have borrowed some of my best ideas, have been inspired by some of the wonderings of others, and have been infuriated by the injustices shared on Twitter.

As the school year dives into its fourth week, I marvel at the careful implementation of Twitter in classrooms. I tried to understand why this is such a powerful tool in my current practice so I examined Twitter exchanges through a Connected Learning lens. (See previous post on Connected Learning. These principles supported by Twitter are bolded.)

My son’s teacher shares updates and snapshots of student work and activities. It’s a delight to receive snippets of Isaac’s progress. It gives me a better snapshot of his learning than the somewhat sketchy descriptions of a six-year-old. This social media share out makes their work more accessible to a wider audience. And even though I’m busily working at a high school a couple of streets down, I can discover how my child spends his day.

Sumrall's Class Twitter

Selfies with Six Year Olds

We have also restarted our KQED DoNow responses. What an incredible resource enabling our learners to connect to learners across the world. They are able to make their informed opinions transparent to the world. They can monitor how others view the event and take a pulse of which direction we are headed. They can see how their academic tasks can connect to platforms they use in other aspects of their lives. The first civic engagement topic was #DoNowFurguson asking how we could prevent future Michael Browns and the role of social media in activism. These boiled down thoughts are the result of revision of more extended responses to the questions. The effort entailed to crafting these tweets reflect the writing process to reach the wider audience of the Twittersphere. Plus, our learners are focused on the common goal of raising awareness and the importance of discussing such events with other youth on a wider scale.

#DoNowFurguson 1


This year has also been the year of using Twitter to form and shape community. The idea of having support from peers is key in any Connected Learning environment. As we publish our wonderings and Ah-Ha moments via Twitter, we see bonds of trust forming, further encouraging risk-taking and making learning transparent. Here is a Tweet from a couple of current sophomores appreciating work from our current Freshmen, or Rookies as we call them:

NTH@C Sophomores Give Props to Rookies

NTH@C Sophomores Give Props to Rookies

Knowing their work is being seen, knowing it is being retweeted, AND knowing that older learners appreciate their work is a critical piece to sustaining an ecosystem where learning is fostered across grade levels, where learning transcends traditional boundaries.

And we are only at the beginning of week 4. I look forward to seeing how my learners accept the challenge of publishing their media via Twitter. I’m anxious to see if they use it for real transformation as many of them cited this is social media’s potential.

The First Day of School Reviews are in… #hope

The first day of school drop-off went smoothly. Seeing the principal outside to greet eager little minds with smiles and hugs certainly differed from our experience last year. I was giddy with excitement from all the care and nurturing that I sensed.

This is what young minds look like!

This is what young minds look like!

At the end of my school day, I asked learners who were previously in my class and children of other facilitators how their day was. I heard so many wonderful things: “So-and-so seems like he’s going to be cool…,” “I’m so excited to be in her class,” and my personal favorite: “I love my teachers. I love my teachers.”

Wow! Such incredible first impressions. I could only hope to have such positive remarks! It’s what we as educators long for: excited, eager minds ready to learn.

As a mother, I dream of a place that fosters Isaac’s intellect and growth as a learner and as a global citizen. 

Please, oh, please let Isaac have an incredible day!!

Anyone who has a school-aged child knows the nervous butterflies that consume the belly when pick-up time arrives. 

How did it go? Did he make friends? Did he love his teacher? Did he behave? Did he talk too much? Was he still excited?

I pulled up to the gym. I exited my Subaru as quickly as I could rushing to the gym to retrieve my little man from Y after school care. After  a staff member confirming I was authorized to fetch Isaac, I gave him a tight embrace, ravenously asking, “How was it? How was it?”

“It was great,” he replied calmly.

“Great?” I asked.

“It was awesome,” he reconsidered, “It was awesome!”

Yes!!!! He’s excited!!! YES!!!!! Success!!!!

It was AWESOME!!

It was AWESOME!!

A Gentle Reminder to Educators

As the beginning of a new school year approaches, I am compelled to gently remind fellow educators of the huge responsibility entrusted to us.

I know for most of you, this message is unnecessary. We, as teachers, chose this profession, or for many of us, it chose us. This means we painstakingly prepare our classrooms AND our hearts for the precious minds we are about to welcome into our lives.

Abraham Lincoln wrote the most inspiring letter to his son’s headmaster, and I do not pretend to possess his talent or eloquence. Still, mine is a story of truth, and I share it because even almost a year later, it weighs heavy on my heart.

1st day of Kindergarten 1

Ready to head to school!

My son, Isaac, had a rough beginning. He was born at 28 weeks. I had him later in life than many. He fought for his life in the NICU for months. He has proven to be a survivor. A fighter. And you can bet that with his unexpected early arrival and him being the first grandchild on both sides of the family, he is perceived as a special child.

I approach this story as both a mother and an educator. Building relationships of trust with learners is crucial to my practice. Having worked in both urban and suburban settings, I know one thing that can make or break a learner’s experience in education: his or her relationship with the adults at school.

Isaac and Mama---please excuse the gum.

Isaac and Mama—please excuse the gum.

I am proud to be an educator. For the most part, I have faith in other teachers, administrators, and other equally important adults in school. My husband and I chose to live in a suburb with a reputable school district.

Isaac’s experience at the Primrose School had been incredible. It was a balanced curriculum that recognized his intellect but still allowed him to be a kid. He consistently scored highest on tests. He was interested in reading and math and science. And playing. He’s still a kid for goodness sake.

When my Isaac went to kindergarten in the local public school, I had no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of excellent education. The kindergarten orientation left my husband wary. He felt the principal was heavy handed and felt she thought it was her job to parent. I walked away still feeling optimistic— resigned to the idea that my Isaac would thrive. I should have listened to my husband’s instinct.

When the momentous occasion arrived of Isaac’s first day at school, of course, we accompanied him to his classroom. We found his seat. He completed the directions at his table.

There was a very nervous little girl to his left. He stood up, put his hand on her shoulder, and consoled, “Don’t worry. We are going to be friends. We are going to have a great day.”

That is the type of child he is. Empathetic. Kind.

His teacher asked him what he would like for lunch. She quickly announced the options. Isaac had never had choices for lunch. He was a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities. He apologetically responded, “I am so sorry. I really can’t tell you what I want right now.” His teacher snapped, “Then, I will just write the chicken down for you.”

I wrote her behavior off as first day of school jitters. Too many kids at once. Too many parents asking questions. I still believed Isaac would have a great day… a great year.

I know Isaac isn’t perfect. He’s young for his grade. He’s the only child. He’s spoiled… not a brat… just spoiled. So when he wasn’t getting blue stars on his behavior folder, it came as no surprise. I don’t expect him to be the perfect child.

But on Friday morning of that same week… yes, the first week of school, when I received a telephone call from Isaac’s school counselor, I knew something was wrong. Apparently, the principal asked her to call.

What? The school counselor and now the principal is involved? My mind was racing.

“We are calling because this morning in line to go to his classroom, Isaac could not keep his hands to himself,” the counselor announced.

Oh my God! Did he hit someone? Bite someone?

Apparently before school when Isaac was in line behind a Primrose friend, Isaac was poking at his backpack. His friend was laughing. Isaac continued to poke it. The principal told him to stop. His friend was still laughing. Isaac continued to poke. His principal pulled him out of line and sent him to the counselor’s office.

Wait… you’re calling because Isaac was touching someone’s backpack that got him sent to the counselor’s office by the principal? Wait… Really?

“You know… kindergarten is very different from pre-K. They need routines. Many of our students know how to read by the end of kindergarten,“ the counselor proudly relayed.

My child, he has been reading for well over a year. If you would get to know him, you would know that already.

“Oh, his teacher also says he uses the word ‘butt’ too much,” the counselor added. She was not done, “And yesterday, he was trying to cut his shirt with scissors. The only reason he didn’t succeed was because they were safety scissors.”

Isaac was probably trying to figure out why in the world the scissors didn’t work. He has used regular scissors for over a year.

“Kindergarten is a tough transition for some kids, especially those who attend Montessori,” the counselor attempted to comfort me.

He did not attend Montessori school. You would know that if you checked his file, and even if he had, do you really think it’s a good thing to make such generalities?

“Please discuss this with your child when he gets home today,” she said judgingly.

No. Really?

“If his behavior continues, he will have to be sent to In School Suspension (ISS),” she warned.

What? He is in kindergarten! This is the first week of school. Why in the world would an elementary school have ISS?????

Shell shocked, I hung up the phone. I left my classroom, walked into the hallway, and cried. Who in their right mind thinks it is okay to be so stern with a kindergartner? On what planet is this exchange building trust between parents, students, admin, teacher, and counselor?????

In a couple of minutes, I also received a short email from the counselor, “By the way, I forgot to let you know that the principal says Isaac needs his haircut according to student code of conduct. His bangs should not be in his eyes.”

Really? Well, by the way, I find the list of nonsensical, overly harsh, judgmental, inconsequential “offenses” that my 5-year-old committed to be ridiculous! All of this on the first week of school!!!

I called my husband and asked him what he thought about putting Isaac back at Primrose for the year. He agreed to do whatever was best for Isaac. We had him reenrolled by the end of the day were set to complete the paperwork for his exit of the other so-called school on Monday morning.

When I picked up Isaac that afternoon, all I wanted to do was hold him. He rushed into my arms. I thought he would be sad because of his visits to the various offices and discussions with strange adults, but he was in surprisingly good spirits for someone who had been threatened with ISS and seen the principal and counselor.

He excitedly pulled out his daily folder and yelped, “Mama, look! Mama, look! I got a blue star today. Those are really difficult to get. My teacher said I got it for my good behavior?”

What in the world???!!! Now, that’s mixed messages.

This was not the place for my Isaac. That’s not the kind of start any parent wants his or her child to have.

Please. Please remember the privilege we have of spending a year with these children, of being trusted not only with their minds but also with their hearts.

1st Day of Kindergarten 3

Ready to learn!

It’s the beginning of a new school year. Let’s make it great. Let’s make our learners want to return everyday with a love to learn, an enthusiasm to take risks, and the passion to help their community.

And thank you. Thank you for everything you do… for everything you do makes a difference to your learners.

Connected Learning… Global Learning for All!

I am reminded daily of the importance of personal learning networks to be introduced to a variety of resources. Let’s face it. We don’t have time to discover all the goodness that is out there on our own.

This link to Flat Connections was shared with me by Edna Phythian. Flat Connections is dedicated to Global Learning. Julie Lindsay, recipient of ISTE’s 2013 Making IT Happen Award and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, is at the helm of Flat Connections.

What is Flat Learning? According the site, “‘Flat’ learning is a multi-modal approach to learning with and from others in a global capacity. There is no hierarchy of learning as such – all voices are equal, there is no one dominant group delivering the information to another group. All learners, through the use of emerging technologies including Web 2.0 and mobile computing, develop a personal learning network, bring the world into their everyday teaching and learning, and learn about the world, with the world.”

This sounds to me a lot like Connected Learning, which is an approach that’s anchored on Six Principles. Learning is:

  • interest-driven
  • peer-supported
  • academically oriented
  • openly networked
  • production-centered
  • it has a shared purpose

Connected Learning

I have been interested in Connected Learning for over a year now, and not only does it remind me to refocus my practice on what really matters, it also affirms my natural instincts as an Educator Innovator with the National Writing Project. As an educator, more specifically an educator passionate about transforming education as a whole in order to grant access to ALL learners to relevant, meaningful learning experiences, I understand the importance of being able to state my beliefs, my values, and most importantly, discuss my practice in an open manner to help facilitate change.

So whatever you name it: Flat Learning, Global Learning, or my personal favorite, Connected Learning, just name it! Own your practice. Be informed. Find networks that constantly nurture your teaching. Discuss how education has evolved. Challenge others to advocate for necessary change in education.

Psychologists Find a Surprising Thing Happens to Kids Who Read Harry Potter – Mic

I love Harry Potter. I love what this series has done for literacy for kids around the world. And I love the message. Love, acceptance, forgiveness. Who couldn’t use a gentle reminder?

Great quick read here on more reasons to read, share, and revisit Hogwarts. Psychologists Find a Surprising Thing Happens to Kids Who Read Harry Potter – Mic.

Here’s my son as a mini-Harry Potter. I couldn’t resist.



If anyone knows me at all, they know I am a National Writing Project (NWP)  teacher leader. I owe much of my inspiration and motivation from this amazing network. This year is NWP’s 40th Anniversary. Here is what NWP means to me and my praxis.