Finding (Making) Room to Breathe

It was a near breakdown. I could see it in his crumpled face, the heavy slump of his shoulders. The clock kept ticking up through the minutes, but his To Do list had not yet ticked down near none.

I did things I usually wouldn’t. Emptied the dishwasher. Brought ice cream to his homework. Agreed to make his lunch. These were small things. I couldn’t read 40 pages for his book club or tape whatever needed to (maybe) be in his social studies notebook with a response. I couldn’t skate his hockey practice or run his cross country workout. Last night those were all things he tackled on his own. I could bring ice for his swollen wrist. He couldn’t use it yet, because that’s his writing hand.

I could gently suggest stopping for the night. But I couldn’t call a hard stop while the tension was tight in his body. I could see it. He needed to cross something (anything) else off his list before he could rest. Even a post-practice shower cleared the sweat but not the worry.

Because he’s mine and I know him so well, I could read him, know what would push him closer to the edge or (just possibly) hold him back from it.

He settled onto his bed stiffly at first. Eyes closed before the lights were even off. But it took several minutes before his body relaxed into the sleep it had stumbled upon.

…..

As I was writing the narrative portion of this post I considered several directions the reflections might take. Why are we still giving so much homework? Why is some of it busywork like taping things into notebooks in such and such a way? Are kids overscheduled? Why do we let our kids be overscheduled?

But what I was thinking about most are the teachers and children around us every day at school. My own resolve was worn thin last night because at the same time I was trying to help my son negotiate a difficult day, I was receiving texts (every 15 minutes) from a colleague who was also feeling more than a little frayed around the edges. She was feeling her own pressures, and added to them was the anxiety of the teacher next door to her, of supporting a new team.

We all feel the strain when it begins to impact us, when our own patience thins, when our edges unravel. I’m thinking that the key is to notice each other before it gets that far.

Let’s all look at the world through the lens of looking out for each other. We can’t carry each other’s mountains. Sometimes we aren’t even sure what those mountains are. But for our families, our children (and at school they’re all our children), our colleagues, and even strangers, let’s try to pick up a few loose pebbles so they might avoid stumbling over those hazards. Let’s share a smile and a gentle greeting. If they need it, let’s offer a hug.

Today at school we’re having a Character Trait Parade. I’d struggled with what character trait to represent today. I’d decided to be the Book Fairy–but many words could describe that.

Now, I think I know what I’ll be.

Considerate.

…..

This morning my son’s light popped on earlier than usual, and without a wake up call. I’d anticipated the possibility of a stormy start inside our house as well as the blustery rain outside, but there were only a few clouds. Q resolutely dressed and packed for another long day. He brought his cereal and his remaining homework to the table and got down to business.

And when it was time to head out for school my middle schooler came and hugged me. Then he headed out, headphones in, mood calm if not relaxed. He’ll be fine. As if in solidarity the rain and wind had calmed as well.

Personally, I’m rooting for thunder this afternoon to cancel the cross country meet. We could all use a night off…you know, except for homework and hockey.

Maybe the weather will also be considerate.

 

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#IMWAYR It’s Monday. What are you reading?

Shooting Kabul

In the next two weeks, I’ll be working on writing a Social Action Book Club unit for our 4th grade. Luckily, I’ll have a team to collaborate on this one. But even better, I feel like we’ve hit on a fabulous mentor text and read aloud.

Right now when our sheltered and privileged 4th graders think of “issues”, they typically come up with bullying. But it’s like a one pony show. That’s all they’ve got. It’s like when they started identifying themes and every book was either, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or…well, that was the main one. When I read the headlines or listen to NPR, I hear so many urgent and critical issues facing our world, our country, and even our state and local communities. I don’t wish to bring the weight of these issues down on 9-year-olds, but I do hope to help them become aware of issues beyond the friend zone.

I’ve selected Shooting Kabul as our mentor text for the social issues unit. It’s a book I passed over on the shelf a number of times before I finally tucked it in my bag one weekend. But I was immediately drawn to it. When you talk about books as windows…this one is a roomful of floor to ceiling windows. I’ve yet to finish tallying the number of issues raised in its pages: from refugees, loss, culture shock, to family, belonging, race, honor, and yes, bullying.

In spite of the fact that we’ve been at war in Afghanistan for my children’s entire lives, I know little about the country or the wider region. Like many people, I was amazed by Malala’s grace and commitment to the power of education. Aside from her book, I’ve encountered little and read less.

Once I read Shooting Kabul, I started reading the news about refugees through a different lens. I hope it will be the same for our students. I hope this fictional window will shine light (and foster empathy) on a prickly issue. We’re pairing it strategically with other short texts that feature the same issues but with a different twist.

Right now I’m rereading so I can mine it for all it’s glass-paned-doorknob-unlocking-goodness.

Whatever book is in your bag this week-Happy reading!

Little People Are Doing Big Things!

It dawned on me–I’ve been blogging with Reading Ambassadors in 3-5, hearing insightful plans from third grade book room volunteers, visiting my kinder friends during writing and revisiting my first graders during snack–all over our building, little people are doing BIG things.

……

We’ve turned the calendar page into October and our kindergarten writers are embarking on their very first writing unit. They spent a few weeks acclimating to school and learning how to form letters. When I stopped by yesterday afternoon to say hello and borrow a smile, one friend asked, “Why are you here now?”

Another declared, “You should come when we’re writing! We can write quietly all by ourselves for fifteen minutes.” (I’m not even kidding. Those were his words) And when I suggested that I’d love to come see that in action, he replied, “It’s in the morning, you know.”

So this morning I brought my own smile and arrived just before their teacher sent them off with a mission to write. On her signal, fourteen little bodies leapt up into line for their new booklet. They carried it proudly to their tables, standing tall, backs arched just a little. Most of them settled quickly and quietly into sketching their plan, and I voiced over how impressed I was about that (as a gentle reminder to the few who needed to notice the models around them).

I settled in next to many of those writers across the following minutes, asking what they were writing about, commenting on the story I was seeing in their pictures, occasionally reminding them of a tool in the room for finding the words they wanted. I was simply there to marvel at how much they’ve grown as kindergarteners and writers since I spent the first two weeks with them.

The chime sounded and twenty-eight hands lifted in the air. It sounded again and they folded together in front of proud writers. I took a moment to marvel with and at their teacher as they packed up their writing folders.

…….

Grinning, I headed off to first grade.

I tiptoed in from the back of the room during partner reading and curled up alongside a partnership. Soon their chime sounded and the teacher’s voice called them to the carpet. I stayed to visit as they transitioned to snack time. It was a selfish choice. I hadn’t been standing long when my customary hug came along.

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Generally, snack time hasn’t been a focus for me. As a coach I try to maximize the time I have during instruction–popping from one room to the next while reading and writing are in action. But I’d noticed something about snack time in this room on previous visits.

As each child finished eating, he would walk to the library for an interest book (even though it wasn’t just right), she would pull out scissors to cut the traced hand, they would stage a read aloud in the book nook. All over the room these little people were making big choices. With no visible direction from the teacher, they pursued their own interests. That’s impressive and exciting enough on their own. But what I saw was both contagious and collaborative. When Z opened his book, E wandered over to share in the reading. When A was cutting out her handprint, K decided to trace hers too and make it a note for someone at home. J orchestrated a read aloud that engaged almost half her classmates.

For these children, school is still a place where they use what they know to do the things they care about. My heart grew three sizes today.

….

Contemplating a morning of wonders, I thought back to before school when fifteen students arrived early on a chilly fall morning to write…because they wanted to. The second session in the blogging workshop had many of them completing their first posts and publishing them to kidblog.

Excitement rippled through the entire 3rd grade contingent when I showed one how to share her Google draft with her tablemates. It erupted when I showed her how to share so that they could comment. The de facto boys’ table overheard the girls’ table and came to investigate. Soon, they too, were sharing to the whole group.

It only got better. We shared the Kidblog platform with the group. Suddenly, they can share beyond the table or the room! And they’re hungry for it. For some that meant hitting publish before checking for pesky details like capital letters. For others it meant an agonizing double-rechecking of every punctuation mark. They’re eager for their voices to be heard–for their words to be seen. Some are talking directly to authors. (Imagine their surprise when we tweet it directly to that author!) Others are admonishing the rest of us to be kind to others who may be different.

Good advice.

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……

I got more good advice yesterday. It was most surprising because I wasn’t expecting it.

The 3rd grade book room volunteers met for the first time. I was expecting to tell them what sorts of projects I had in mind for the book room and how they could help.

Instead, Adam told me.

Very politely, Adam pointed out several (completely legitimate) things that need to be taken care of.

“Those labels are pretty good,” he comforted, “but it would be even better if they were bigger. You might even decide you want to add pictures of some book covers from that section so readers know what they might find there.”

Yeah. He has a future running conferences.

“What are you planning to do with those clipboards for book sign outs?” he asked. Almost immediately he added, “You could probably hang them on hooks up there over those shelves. That would be out of the way, but kids could still reach.”

You have a point, sir. Noted: add hooks to my Amazon cart.

I imagined these volunteers would be extra hands, but would need careful guidance. Forget that. They have a vision. I’m going to provide the tools they need and get out of the way!

How cool is it that they’ll be here for another two years? If they’re taking ownership of the space at the beginning of 3rd grade…what could they accomplish by the end of 5th?!

These little people are doing big things and it makes my heart happy. 

#IMWAYR It’s Monday What Are You Reading?

 

It’s that time of year again!

No, not fall. Not hockey season, either–though actually it is both of those.

It’s time to select the titles for our school-wide Celebration of Reading.

 

In the past we’ve done a One School One Book celebration for our K-5 building. We’ve shared Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, A Cricket in Times Square, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and most recently A Snicker of Magic. It’s not easy selecting titles that will engage readers from 5 years old through eleven…AND keep families reading for the entire month of March. We had some terrific titles and generous authors (Thank you @_natalielloyd and @CGrabenstein!).

But this year, based on feedback from families and our PTO, we’re changing the celebration.

 

Ready to hear what it will be?

Ta Da

…A month-long #ClassroomBookaday challenge

 

The new celebration will be complete with classroom challenge, family #bookaday challenges, and a Stock Up Celebration for families at our local library after hours (technically just on their late night).

So this Booktober I’m reading scads and scads of picture book #bookaday candidates.

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Hint: We liked these a lot! (Only 2 ½ more weeks of books to choose)

 

Today I’ll be returning the first test batch and scouring the stacks for recommended titles by authors H-Z…or maybe not so far. We’ll see how many I can stack in my arms after my bag is full!

Happy reading!

Clickety clack. Clickety clack. Kicking off our blogging workshop.

You know they’re hooked when the bell rings

and the click clacking of keys doesn’t even slow down. 

Today I greeted a new crop of Reading Ambassadors at the front door before school. There were grins and waves as they piled out of cars at the curb or hustled down the sidewalk from the parking lot. A returning 5th grade Ambassador manned the clipboard and checked everyone in before meeting in the library.

By the time I met them there, Mrs. Mastropietro had everyone logged into our Google Classroom. Then we met at the carpet.

Blogging Ideas:

After reading a book – blog about feelings and connections
Book recommendations after reading a book
Blog about experiences of feeling stuck when trying to find a book to read, etc
Practice reading lessons when blogging
Blog posts about characters – letters to characters
Blog about life lessons
Blog about a series of books
Things that you love to do or things that you love
Comparing books with other books, Like Try Why

We shared what we knew so far about blogs (more than I expected!), brainstormed the kinds of things we might blog about, and shared a mentor blog by theLivBits.

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The group noticed so much about her blogging style. TheLivBits often starts with a question as a hook. She always ends with the same tagline, “Keep reading! Keep thinking!” Her post is full of feeling and shares a kind of life lesson. In addition, they noticed how she recommended the book Now without ever having to say, “Go read it.”

Then came the best part!

Our blogging Ambassadors were off to start their own very first posts.

Heads huddles around laptops. Fingers searched out the next letter. And thoughts emerged on the screens around the library. The clickety clack was interrupted only by a search, here or there, for just the book they were thinking of.

A gentle warning announced the final two minutes. Clickety clack. Clickety clack.

The harsh buzzer of a bell sounded to declare school was starting. Clickety clack. Clickety clack.

Nary a one blinked. Still fingers pecked at keyboards. Still thoughts emerged. Clickety clack. Clickety clack.

Finally, the spell was broken.

One by one writers  closed their computers and gathered their backpacks and lunches. Two by two or in clumps of three they waved and ventured out to meet the day.

That sound will be with me all day. Clickety clack. Clickety clack.

Happy writing, everyone!

 

 

 

#BestPartofMyDay Reading Ambassadors Volunteer for the Book Room

“What do we get to do?!”

“Can we put away the books?!”

I gathered a handful of our 4th grade Reading Ambassadors today during our Extended Learning Time, a flex block used for intervention and extensions. When they met me in the hallway between their classrooms I whisper shouted, “I’m so excited! This is our very first Reading Ambassador event of the year!” Around me I was met with a hushed version of a rock concert crowd.

“Let me show you some of the projects I have in mind.” We tiptoed through the 5th grade hall like we were getting away with something while they worked.

I went on to describe some short term-getting organized, ongoing-staying organized, and in between book promotion projects. The first was shelving the returned books. You wouldn’t believe how excited these kids were to push the return cart around to different sections of the book room to return books to their homes. For half an hour they showed each other books and said things like, “Where do you think this should go?” or, “I think I saw this one over there. I’ll take it.” But I also heard, “Oh, I might want to read this one!”

When our half hour was up, they groaned.

“When can we come back?” they chorused.

Oh, my fantasticos, you can come back every week!

…….

The book room houses nearly all the multiple copy sets of books for our K-5 building. The idea was to ensure that we got the most bang for our book budget. Before establishing it sets of books languished dusty and forgotten in back closets, no longer used by that teacher, but unavailable to any others. Needless to say, the ever growing collection is a big job to maintain. And the job has fallen to me as the literacy leader. Between my many hats–intervention, coaching, curriculum, professional development, district projects, etc.–it’s been tough to keep the collection organized and displayed in the way I’d like to see it. I’ve been able to give it periodic, but infrequent bursts of attention. Originally we thought teachers would shop there to augment their class libraries for readers outside the typical range for their grade, or for a different topic, but it has become common for student readers to shop the book room directly. It gets a LOT of traffic.

Although I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to get parent volunteers to maintain the book room. (They do generously donate their time to our school library.) So when we were sending out invitations to a new crop of Reading Ambassadors for this year, I thought it was worth asking if anyone would be willing to occasionally volunteer in the book room.

I was astounded by the response. 75% of our Ambassadors have volunteered–more than opted to be part of our literacy maker space. (That might change when they figure out what it is!) Today was the orientation session for the 4th grade volunteers.

I do appreciate their time and energy to tidy up the book room. More importantly, I hope to build their ownership of the space, resources, and the collection. I want them to feel that at PES we as readers take care of each other.

I hope that they’ll find books they like.

I hope they’ll recommend books to others through their displays, book talks, or even just handing the book they just finished to someone and saying, “Here. I think you might like it.”

I hope that once they know where to find books (and put them away) they’ll share the knowledge with their classmates and other readers. We’ve already talked about needing better labels. Eventually, they may even suggest better ways to categorize or organize the books.

I am beyond thrilled that they feel so lucky to help. That’s more than I hoped.

(Just wait til next week. They get to stamp books!)

 

P.S. One lesson learned already: I’ve organized the historical fiction by time period or theme instead of level. No one else is able to follow my system so far. We’ll either need elaborate labeling…or a new system that works for the readers we want to use the books!

The Haircut Fiasco…or Learning Independence the Long Way

We’re a hockey family. Just turned out that way. So floppy sheepdog hockey hair is something I came to terms with years ago. For a while the boys chose (with some encouragement) to get one haircut a year before school started. Then the season started and as the schedule grew longer so did their hair. Eventually one boy decided to skip even the back-to-school trim and opted for the chin length mop.

It’s that time of year again. We’re back on the ice. Games have started. A tournament looms just days away. So I was startled when Qaiden asked for a haircut.

“Wait, what?” I asked the rearview mirror. I saw him push the damp shaggy fringe out of his eyes. “I mean, of course. Not tonight, but we can definitely get you a haircut.”

I wasn’t about to press and accidentally talk him out of it.

So after a handful of tightly packed evenings and Mondays when the barber is closed, we found ourselves driving up to the barber shop just before 5:00, sweaty from cross country practice but with no more sports for the night.

The waiting area was crammed with men and boys and their accompanying moms and siblings. It looked like standing room only. But there are five or six barbers who keep things moving.

“OK, do you have a pocket? Here’s the money for your haircut. I’m going to wait out here.”

“How much tip should I give?” Q inquired.

I was impressed he’d thought to ask so I figured this was it, a good chance for independence. He’s going to be the one to say how he wants his hair cut anyway. I’m just the driver and the bank.

I pulled out a book and settled in at the outdoor table to wait. I finished a few chapters. Several people came out. Several more went in. I craned my neck to look for the bright jersey Q was wearing. Yup, still there in the corner with his headphones in. Back to my book.

Well, it started to get chilly. My fleece was now zipped to my chin and I realized I was 70-odd pages into this book. I put my finger between the pages to hold my place and walked inside to the counter with a sign that clearly says:

Please Sign In Here.

I checked the book for his name. I flipped back to the previous page. All those names had been crossed out. His was nowhere to be found. The waiting room still bristled with new people sitting and standing too close together. There he sat, looking mildly bored with his headphones.

I added his name to the list for “First available” barber pressing a little harder with the pen than was strictly necessary.

“Qaiden.” I watched for him to look up, “Qaiden!” When he glanced my way I pointed to the book and he shrugged. I couldn’t help it in that moment, the mom eyes flashed “really?!”

I huffed and puffed my way outside. Too irritated, and chilly, to sit at the table any longer I headed for the relative cocoon  of my car. I continued to read, but fitfully, a couple of pages, crane my neck to get a glimpse of him. Couple more pages, squint to see into the waiting room.

Until I looked up and the shades had been drawn down. Closing.

Again I huffed out of the car and over to the door. As I opened it and peered in there was only one other man remaining in the waiting area and he was watching his son on the barber’s chair. Qaiden remained in his corner.

After a quick conversation with the only barber not currently cutting hair–a conversation in which I really hope my words were less sharp than my eyes felt–he said someone would be with us shortly and proceeded to wrap the cape around the last man standing.

I was left to chit chat with his first grade son and his lollipop.

I was left steaming. Too irritated to talk. Too much a teacher not to respond to an innocent six year old. (Really, who could be mad when someone half your height is showing you his wiggly tooth?)

As the first grader kept pointing out, the clock now read 6:30.

Finally, as the other barbers packed up and walked out to their evening freedom, one young barber called Q to his chair.

I was prepared for the world’s fastest, slap dash haircut so he could get home, too. I almost welcomed it so we could get home for dinner on the one night there was nowhere else to be.

But he took his time. Shave. Shave. “Do you want it shorter over here?” Snip snip snip. Comb. “How’s that?” Comb. “How about some gel? Let’s style it up.” Squirt, rub, toussle, comb. Blow dry. Brush. Blow dry. Brush. Snip snip snip. “How about the warm foam?” The what? “Oh yeah, for a cut like this you have to.” Foam slathers the back of Q’s neck. Out comes the straight razor. Scrape. Scrape. Swish swish swish to brush away the loose hair.

Then off comes the cape.

I swear he looks two years older.

“Thank you for taking your time. He looks great.” And I tip to assuage my irritation and guilt.

I wrap my arm around Q and squeeze his shoulders as we walk out.

“I’m really sorry, Mom,” he says deflated as we sag to the car.

“You know what? Don’t worry about it. Your haircut looks great,” I assure him. “And I bet you’ll never make that same mistake again.”

 

 

A Wisp of Memory from the Mirror

The soft early morning light played through the window. My seven year old self sat on the landing at the turning of the stairs. No one was awake yet. Since we were at my Memére’s I was entertaining myself with my imagination. This early fairies may still be dancing circles in the grass. Ents may be sneaking back to their stillness.

My toes rubbed against the smooth fabric of the carpet on the stairs. In my memory it is a mossy green. A sensation crawled across the back of my neck. I looked back over my shoulder from the window. Dust motes sparkled in the air. The patterned wallpaper drew my gaze up and up and up the stairs.

Hovering there near the top was a figure draped in white. Silver hair streamed down and down and down waist length. I froze. A chill crept over me. Although I didn’t have a word for it at the time I stared wide eyed at the apparition sliding down toward me in the crook of the steps.

Finally regaining control of my legs, I fled through the house.

…..

Another slip of memory always floats close behind this one.

I stand hesitantly at the open bathroom door. My Memére L. stands before the mirror, no longer in her long nightgown. Her silver hair neatly brushed and swept around and around until all of it disappears into a tidy bun. Two small hairpins hold the waist-length locks in place.

I don’t know if those memories are of the same day. But they are the only times I ever saw Emma Lucas’ hair out of it’s tidy bun. The first time terrified me. The second fascinates me still. At first I wondered, why hide such silky silver hair? Later when her Alzheimers meant she could no longer manage her own hair, someone cut it short. She looked shorn and unlike herself. More and more days I find myself twisting my own hair into a bun. Simple. Easy to manage. My hair isn’t that long any more, but still I’ve never discovered how to tame it with pins. I’ve hoped for years that I would grow old as she did–still vibrant and full of life, even her hair still strong and beautiful.

 

#IMWAYR The World

Usually when I post to #IMWAYR, I’m writing about a children’s book that I’ve gobbled up. Today, I am reading the news (and hearing and seeing it).

Today I am reading Las Vegas.

Today I am reading Puerto Rico.

Today I am reading about Catalan children defending schools against national riot police.

Thankfully, yesterday I read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. Thankfully, today I also saw a post from Peter Reynolds. Thankfully, today I read the warm faces of children.

But I am left asking, how can we read and write and will a better world into existence?

How can we?

Because we must.

Make More Light

Meltdown

Yesterday when I passed my kindergarten friends in the hall, a spunky little friend at the head of the line asked, “So when are you coming to visit us? You should, you know.”

It’s been a long hot week. This afternoon I headed down to kindergarten. As I approached the door the kinders were on the carpet with the lights out.

“Oh, good. A read aloud,” I thought.

I settled into a teeny chair behind the rug and noticed one boy sitting with the classroom aide and repeatedly calling out, “Volleyball! Volleyball!” in a silly voice. He isn’t one of our learning center friends, just a boy who’s had a rough transition into kindergarten. Already this year he’s become acquainted with our principal.

Looking closer I could see the teacher was wilted. Soon the children packed up and got in line for afternoon recess.

That was the moment when Brady* melted down completely. He flopped to his back on the floor, nearly missing cracking his head on the floor. He started swinging his feet at the children in line. Only the teacher’s quick response prevented him from kicking his classmates as they moved past him and out the door.

I ushered the back of the line out to the hall and watched to be sure there was a second adult outside before I returned to the classroom door to back up the teacher. I paused at the door to take in the situation. Brady picked up the trash can. He banged it up and down, watching her the whole time. When she didn’t react, he turned the can over and slammed it upside down. As he lifted the can he shook it to be sure every piece of drippy snacktime trash fluttered to the floor.

Her only reaction was to take a pair of disposable gloves out of the cabinet. I contemplated closing the door in case Brady decided to bolt. I looked down the hall both ways as I tried to decide.

When I looked back, I couldn’t see the teacher anywhere. There was Brady standing near the wall. It looked like he was talking to himself and pointing. It took a moment to remember that his teacher had told me recently about that mood chart. Each color represents a mood and she’s been using it to help her kinders express how they’re feeling. Brady wasn’t alone at all. From behind the shelves I saw his teacher’s hand reach up to the chart, and heard her disembodied voice.

“If you’re here,” she probed quietly, pointing to the top of the yellow square, “what can we do to get you back down here?” She pointed again, but lower in the yellow box.

I couldn’t hear what Brody said, but he responded to her. No longer was there kicking or upheaval.

Deciding that she had the situation well in hand, and that an audience might do more harm than good, I followed the class outside. Not many minutes had passed when she and Brady came down the hall hand in hand to collect their class for the Mystery Reader.

When I first arrived, Brady’s teacher was worn out from what had been a long week and a difficult day. But it was like she blossomed as he melted down. She appeared to instinctively know how to deescalate the situation. And more than that, she showed that in spite of behavior that would have pushed the buttons of many adults (myself included), she truly cared about this child. She never got angry. She got down on the floor near him and asked him what he needed.

Brady’s teacher is new to our school community–but boy, she’s a keeper! And though I haven’t been looking forward to half a day of state mandated deescalation training for the entire district en masse next week, I would gladly learn alongside this tremendous young teacher any time.

 

*Not student’s actual name.