Building Positive Classroom Culture

(From the beginning of the year, to the end)

The title of this post, along with the above parenthetical, was the title of my very first ever professional speaking session. Mid-March, I was granted the opportunity to present ideas and strategies for creating positive classroom culture at the California Association of Teachers of English. I was, back in October, amazed and ecstatic when my proposal was accepted for the conference, and then as the event neared I was pretty much convinced only 5 people would show up to my session and that they’d probably all politely walk out mid-talk. Having this sort of self-doubt is probably not healthy, but it did probably add to my being overwhelmingly happy with the 25 people that came to my session, did not leave, and even stayed to ask questions afterward. So neat. This event has further convinced me that teachers may be some of the best people in the world (not trying to flatter myself, just the other people I come into contact with all the time). Teachers have the ability to educate masses of smarmy, often careless, de-motivated minors, while keeping the unending optimism that something said, taught, facilitated, is having a positive and life-long affect on those scattered and confused young minds. I met dozens of teachers, sat in sessions with hundreds – all of whom traveled to attend a professional development conference for 2-4 days over a weekend, knowing full well that Monday morning would land them without a proper weekend, rest, or time to grade/lesson plan before jumping right back into the classroom. It was lovely.

My own session went surprisingly well and I only forgot one part of my plan – to hand back anonymous letters of encouragement to the teachers in attendance on their way out the door – I caught the last stragglers and handed them each an affirmation, but I do hope that the ones who left without one, still came away with ideas and encouragement.

For fun, I thought I would go ahead and link here the padlet pages included in the talk.

First – a padlet of resources and ideas:

Second – a wall of gratitude – feel free to add what you are grateful for – It’s actually lovely to see what other people are thankful for.

The specific prompt for this padlet was: Write 3 things that you are grateful for as an educator, about your profession – This could extend to any profession, but the purpose of this was to get teachers thinking about what they love about teaching, and them to challenge them to reflect on how and if their students and/or co-workers know that they are thankful for these things.  Do your students know what you love about teaching? If they do, they may have a little more understanding of you as an actual human being who has their best interest at heart. Do your co-workers know what you’re thankful for? Do you know what they’re thankful for? What would our school culture look like if we actually, vulnerably engaged in sharing, and listened with empathy to, what we’re thankful for, what we struggle with, what our goals and successes look like?

I love the variety of things that people shared, and the willingness with which they shared.  I loved the chance to share my ideas and short lesson plans that maybe someone else could find useful. And so, this final link will take you to the full slide show if you’re interested. Thought it better to share than hold on to. If you have any questions (because I did a whole lot more talking than is clear in the slides or in my notes), let me know. If you have any ideas to add to the resource board, or a classroom strategy that you employ in order to create a positive classroom culture, throw it my way!

Building Positive Classroom Culture – Slideshow :

Happy Easter, Happy Teaching, Happy Spring and people, we are almost to the Summer, hang in there!

ps. the sunsets in San Diego are gorgeous:


Struggling with words

This weekend, I have had the amazing opportunity to attend and present at the California Association of Teachers of English Conference in San Diego, Ca.  It has been a place of networking, sharing brilliant ideas, asking and answering questions, and most of all: connecting with and feeling a new sense of inspired rejuvenation from being near like minded and passionate educators who are struggling and striving to provide classroom spaces that are meaningful and relevant to student’s lives.

Some of the workshops centered around poetry and giving our students space to authentically engage in spoken and written words. Spaces that allow them to continue struggling for answers, not especially designed to find answers, but to provide space for the struggle. As is normal for me, I have to test the waters of struggling before attempting to challenge my students to struggle, and so my struggle with words and life is below. I can’t wait to post about the rest of the conference and my experience as a presenter, but for now this is where I am and where I’m struggling.  Not sad, not worried that I’ll never find an answer, just here.

Finding a space

Loved. Love. Respected. Respect.

Care for other. Forget Self

Work hard. Go to College.

Be better.

Better than what?

Better than this?

What’s wrong with this?

Amazing parents. Working so hard.

High school graduates and then some.

Hard work. College. To work less. To be better.

To be more.

What’s wrong with this?

So happy. But so much work.

What’s better? College.


Get out of small town. Go. Better. Bigger.

More Debt.

I don’t understand.

Moving on. Growing up. Pushing away.

I’ll go eventually. Start a family.

Pull back.

Push away. Care for self to care for others.

Forget to forget self.


Bachelors. Masters. Job.

Education is broken.

In five years I will be….

Education is broken.

Breaking my beautiful kids.

…I will be….

I will fix it.

In five years.


Where did the time go.

My beautiful kids.

Where did my time go?

What will I be?

Who will they be?

In five years.

Hold on.

Don’t let go.

I’m working hard.

You can work hard.

They’re still breaking.

I’ll fix it.

Work hard.

Don’t cry my little loves.

Hold on.

I’ll fix it.

We will make it better.


Working so hard.

Don’t give up.


Don’t forget

In five years.

Love. Loved.

Lenten retreat

Some days I seek silence –

I want to sink into oblivion

Close my eyes and cogitate

Bend into – blend into – become

An escape – quiet and sublime

Lying face up

The Winter sun softly caressing my closed eyelids, sinking deep into my soul

Creating space and time

While the frozen air leaves quick and cold – so I do not forget it’s there.

Community Conversations: Education


This year I have decided to take charge of the plans I’d like to see completed, rather than just talking about how I want them to happen. As an educator and parent I see our current public education as a system which has good intentions but many holes through which many students continually fall. Rather than just continuing to research and plan on my own, however, I’m reaching out to my community.  If you have a moment – consider being part of this conversation – the more perspectives, the better able we will be to move forward toward providing education in effective and meaningful ways. Let’s change the culture of the educational community – maybe change or redirect the focus – and at very least, have a fantastic conversation.

If you received this via email, no need to respond twice, I am posting here to reach people who might be interested, but to whom I might not have talked previously. 🙂

Thank you!

Dear Friends,

   Many of you know that I am interested in the prospect of opening a school. I have begun preliminary research into how to go about starting a school and have also begun to outline what educational goals the school might have, and how it will fulfill needs not currently addressed within public education (as I have experienced it). While all this planning is well and good, I recognize that education systems are not something that one person can plan and change or create, but a system which  – because it should create and support community flourishing, also requires community involvement.
   So, I write to you as a part of my community and as people who care about education as educators, parents, community members, and friends. Using digital communication at this point, because it is the best and fastest way to contact the greatest amount of people, I ask you to please respond by answering the attached poll which will let me know whether this conversation is one in which you would be willing to entertain and engage.
Also, if you know anyone who may be interested in discussing education, please feel free to pass this or my contact information along.
Thanks so much friends!

Sensory overload

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rose colored world where I live.

Daily rhythm


laundry machine

-fingers tapping keys –

And the smooth, vibrato sound of molasses dripping from a muted horn.

A  minor seventh barely resolved

A minor movement of fingers and breath.

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rooms, in the space in my mind

Where I dream and remember and strive and forget

Waking only to dream again.

Words written and removed

pour forth like laughter

like tears

Making sense only to the one who pours

forth life into death and grace into darkenss

And light at the end of the day.

The twilight passes quickly here

rose colored world and rooms aside.

Darkness tinged with too-low lights

stars lost in the artificial glare, moonlit

darkness comfortable and quiet

but the darkness cannot stay.



Mission: Mindset

Discussions in the current education sphere have a huge focus on student mindset as a gauge for student motivation and eventual success. Given the research presented by Carol Dweck about Growth vs. Fixed mindset, and the additional research by Angela Duckworth on mindset and grit as a source of intrinsic motivation for students, teachers of all grade levels have begun to implement growth mindset strategies in their classrooms. These are great strategies that encourage focus on progress rather than perfection, gained understanding rather than perfect scores, and overall learning as a continuous spectrum of possibility rather than a means to an end. In my own classroom, I have engaged growth mindset strategies from the beginning of the year. I have attempted to have students make and gauge progress in various goals set both by myself and by each individual. I have encouraged students to adopt the motto that practice makes progress, not perfect, and I am constantly encouraging students not to compare themselves to each other, but instead to each student’s individual standard – somewhat of a personal record for English class goals. I will say now, however, that I feel that I am failing – losing battle before it is begun because the Education system as it is currently set up, does not recognize progress, but perfection.

First, I would like to define that I am not talking about my school not being supportive, nor individual classroom spaces nor other schools nor districts, but the entire system as it moves forward from Elementary to Secondary to Collegiate level study and the process by which students are passed through the various levels of this system. My school and district actually encourage growth mindset and attempt to instill the idea of lifelong learning and knowledge seeking in each student as he/she grows up in the district. However, as Educators, we are hamstrung by the need to grade students. Not only at quarter or progress report, not only on big exams and higher level work, but on everything that they do in a classroom. Grades are a symbol of success and not progress for most students, and for many students entering Middle and High School, they have never received an A-F grade and do not attach any progress related value to these symbols, but instead recognize a D or F as their inability to understand something (for some, a C), and an A, B, or C as a symbol for their success in a subject. Could a student start out receiving a D and move forward throughout the year to gain an A within the same subject – theoretically yes, however, most grading systems are cumulative and so, rather than receiving an at the end of a quarter because they’ve made progress in a particular subject, students receive a lower grade that has been averaged with their original scores in that class. The end grades in a specific subject, then, reflect not what the student knows at the end and is therefore not a real reflection of how they’ve progressed or their abilities in that subject when those grades are passed along to the next grade, school, or college.

So, this is my struggle and my question to you friends –  If you ever get the chance to speak with an educator who values growth mindset as a strategy in his/her classroom – or maybe you are one of these educators, I would like to know this: How do you balance growth mindset with grades and reporting grades not only to the student, but to his/her parents and other teachers?

I have a vague idea that perhaps we are beginning to better understand how the young mind works and grows and how mindset affects students academics as well as lifelong learning, perhaps we need to adopt a system of grading and goal setting that aligns with those ideas. If, for example, we replace grades rather than have a cumulative system of reporting, wouldn’t that give a better picture of how far students have progressed rather than averaging their not-knowing with their knowing?  Anyway – Saturday musings, I’d love your thoughts.

November Darkness

Well, it finally happened.  I guess it was bound to happen at some point in my blogging life. I finished a post. I kind of loved it, and when I hit published, all words disappeared and seem un-bring-back-able. I’m a little sad, so this may not be nearly as clear as what I had hoped, but here goes:


November’s darkness is comforting. I awake each morning to darkness and enjoy the feel of my the cold floor as my feet touch ground. I enjoy the quiet darkness. It gives the morning a feeling of stability, a blanketed world, safe and serene. It is a little unnerving since daylights savings time, however, to leave the house as the light is fully out. Low but brilliant, it lights up the damp greens and yellows, the orange and rusts. All of the light mixing beautifully in the wintering sun that seems so close sometimes, but feels so far away. The insane similarity of standing still on a cold morning, peering through a stained glass window and expecting the yellow light to be warm when it kisses my face.

November feels like insanity. Not a negative madness that is unstable, but more of an unrequited optimism which is never negated, but never fulfilled. Not the definition you might find in a dictionary, but more of an insanity often attributed to Einstein, and sometimes Mark Twain – that insanity that is a doing something over and over again and always expecting a different outcome. The world of November feels cold and steady, as if each attempt at something new is met with the dirge of day to day, and any expectation of momentum is lost on seemingly unchanging, frustratingly solid work, school, education, and life in general. Like beating repeatedly on a granite wall with a soft ad pliable mallet meant for bells. The granite, as expected, doesn’t give to such a weak, albeit steady, attempt at change. The mallet may break before the rock does.

This sounds as though I’m discomforted or depressed in the darkness of November, but in reality, I find it comforting. Instead of being frustrated and losing hope that change will ever happen, I feel as though November is a darkness meant for building strength and stability – for providing a safe place to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail again, without ever losing hope. I’m comforted by the closeness of the dark, the softness of the sun, and the beauty of the colors. I have hope in the repetition.

So, as I return to my November: A month for me of writing a novel (#nanowrimo) in which I am desperately behind word count, of beginning to plan for speaking to adults as well as students, of attempting stability at home and at work, of planning for the quickly arriving holiday season, of reflection and refocus in the midst of failure and hope, I’m just going to keep swinging this mallet. A mallet meant to evoke long lasting tones that fill the darkness and space inside our souls. Perhaps somewhere in the granite, I’ll strike that bell and the ground beneath my mallet will initiate the earth quaking ring that resounds in my soul, and the dark world will reverberate with the change.

Keep swinging friends, and take comfort in the waiting and foundations being built in the darkness.