Muddling through the blogosphere

April 30, 2018
by blogwalker

Making Empathy and Support Visible for All Students – A Shoutout to Sac City USD

Attending Sacramento City USD’s No Time to Lose – A Professional Conference to Activate Change for LGBTQ Youth was a wonderful way to end the work week. This was my second time to participate in this annual event, so I already knew the conference experience would remain in my thoughts over the weekend – and for a long time to come.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar set the tone for the conference with his opening comments. After referencing the district’s commitment to strive for “equity, access, and social justice,” he stated:

“When you treat data with utter respect – as representing a child or family – data can take us into a humane body of work.”

In a time when test scores remain a mandated focus for public schools, it was inspiring, instead, to hear a superintendent raising awareness over the staggering bullying statistics that LGBTQ youth deal with, as shown in this recent infographic from GLSEN:

Infographic fro GLSEN on bullying stats LBGTQ youth deal with.

The power of the No Time to Lose Conference starts from the moment you pull into Sac City USD’s parking lot, where you see not only the Serna Center (district office) but also a second building, the Connect Center:

“The SCUSD Connect Center is a centralized Student Support Center that serves as a “gateway” to critical support services for students and families in our school district.  It offers an innovative solution to addressing the health, wellness and educational needs of SCUSD’s children, youth and families. This central hub is designed to increase coordination of services by providing a single, easily identifiable point of access and assistance to address the social, emotional, and health needs of all students.”

A shoutout to SCUSD for making it so easy for students and parents to find a wide range of much-needed family services. In addition to the Connect Center, SCUSD also supports the work of the Gender Health Center, a short drive from the district office. The Gender Health Center “is a non-profit organization meeting the counseling needs of the WHOLE community in Sacramento and the surrounding areas by making our services accessible to the most under-served communities, including the LGBTQQI community and focusing on the “T” or transgender.”

Throughout the conference, speakers from within and outside of SCUSD drew attention to the needs of our LGBTQ students and invited input from the audience. For example, Sacramento psychiatrist Dr. Swati Rao referenced the GLSEN infographic (above), drawing our attention to the fact that the majority of LGBTQ students feel that “schools are unsafe and unwelcoming.” She also shared that, thankfully, verbal harassment of LGBTQ youth is on the decline, due in large part to GSA clubs, supportive teachers, anti-bullying programs, and the integration of LGBTQ stories into the curriculum (per California Senate Bill 48).

Every speaker deepened my awareness of the need for students, teachers, and community members to understand the importance of being an “ally.”

“An ally is an individual who speaks out and stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against. An ally works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for people who are stigmatized, discriminated against or treated unfairly.” GLSEN Safe Spaces Kit – Guide to Being an Ally to LGBTQ Students

Just like my first No Time to Lose conference, the student speakers and and student panel were the absolute highlight of this year’s event. If you were not in attendance, one of the resources shared, the short video below, will provide a window into the world of daily challenges faced by transgender youth:

I look forward to continuing the conversations started with district colleagues who shared the No Time to Lose day with me – and becoming more actively involved in a variety of support efforts and events sponsored by my district, such as the recent LGBTQ Staff Awareness Training, which sparked conversations across school sites and departments.


November 19, 2011
by blogwalker

Three Things Schools Should not Drop

In a time of continued budget cuts, I would argue that schools should not drop:

Image from http://tattoartistmagazine.files

1. Spelling – Students need to recognize when spelling is important (as the image above illustrates) and to have the confidence to question the spellchecker:

2. Cursive writing – I get that the Common Core State Standard’s technology-based approach calls for students to use

Image licensed for reuse by

Internet-based tools to produce and publish writing, but why is that at the expense of cursive writing? The National Archives director of education, Lee Ann Potter, has captured my thinking on the value of teaching cursive writing in her recent Point/Counterpoint piece. Yes, cursive is about handwriting, but it’s also about reading. I treasure a stack of letters my grandmother saved from my grandfather, who died when my father was only five.  These primary sources provide a window into events in two small California towns prior to World War I.  They also are a direct connection to my heritage and to a grandfather I never met. I can read these time capsules without a translator, and so can my children, who both learned cursive writing in 3rd grade.  But I can already see that the “writing is on the wall,” and that, most likely, the teaching of cursive will disappear from Title I schools (but remain part of private school curriculum – as one more dividing line).

3. Librarians – I stand back in awe of the talent, commitment, and impact of my district’s librarians.  I’ve been joining their monthly after-school meetings, and each time have left inspired by the powerful ways they help teachers and students extend learning through technology integration (Glogster for a history assignment, Animoto for book trailers, QR codes to provide student-read intros to new books, etc.) My long-time hero Jamie McKenzie sums up my observations in his Why We Still Need Libraries and Librarians article.

Crossing my fingers that January does not bring worse news and realities into California schools!

July 3, 2011
by blogwalker

ISTE Day 3: Bringing History Alive – Library of Congress

LOC Dust Bowl collection

LOC Dust Bowl collection

It’s been a while since I’ve revisited the Library of Congress Teachers website, so I’m  attending this session to see what’s new (and as a way to remember my LOC friend and mentor Leni Donlan). Gail Petri is the main presenter and has already uploaded her presentation: Differentiation through the Use of Primary Sources.

Activity – Gail’s starting by asking what kinds of primary sources do you have with you? Pick item – then tell neighbor why you picked it. Point: recognize that what we put together for our students reflects our own biases.

Gail shows bibliographic record when working with students. If you click on the migrant children photograph above (from the Voices of the Dust Bowl collection), that will take you to the bibliographic record for this image. Gail recommends taking advantage of the growing collection of LOC primary sources to engage students, build their critical thinking skills, and help them to construct knowledge. If you open her PowerPoint, you’ll see a sample resources for igniting a conversation around immigration, for instance, via a study of historic newspapers.

Loved the 1916 sheet music piece Don’t Bite the Hand that’s Feeding You, which connects in many ways to 2011 issues. Thanks to the LOC’s National Jukebox, teachers now have access to 10,000 songs, recorded from 1900-1925, for streaming (no downloading).  How often do we have our students listen carefully to the words in a song – across 100 years?!

And I think you’re going to want to click on the image below to watch actual 1903 footage, credited to Thomas Edison, of immigrants debarking on Ellis Island. Great window into our past!

Thank you, LOC, for your incredible collections of our nation’s history.

ellis island

Click on image to access viewing LOC viewing options

July 5, 2010
by blogwalker

Harps for Hope – One teacher making a difference

Imagine hearing the peaceful music of the harp drifting across an elementary school campus at the close of a busy school day. This image might bring to mind enrichment programs typical of more affluent school sites. But if 4th grade teacher Teresa Cheung is awarded a Pepsi Grant, students at David Reese Elementary School, a Title 1/Program Improvement site in my district, will have access to an after-school program that could be life changing.

Life changing? One student’s story inspired Teresa to apply for the grant:

Thanks to an EETT grant, over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of spending time in Teresa’s classroom. She is an exceptional teacher, who cares deeply about her students, and continually strives to inspire a love for learning.

Please, please help Teresa fund a set of harps for her after-school program – Harps for Hope. It will take you less than a minute to login to vote – And you can vote every day up to July 31st.

As of today, Harps for Hope is ranked number 125.  If we (you, me, and anyone you know who cares about leveling the playing field) can bring her proposal into the top 10, Harps for Hope will be funded!!!!

March 9, 2010
by blogwalker

3 Area Schools Told: Reform or close

Are you kidding me… close Oak Ridge Elementary School?! In what is already less than a RPOAKRIDGESTUDENTS.embedded.prod_affiliate.4banner year for education in general, it was painful to start my morning with a local story, the Sac Bee‘s front page story: 3  area schools told: Reform or close.

Oak Ridge Elementary School is part of the Sacramento City Unified School District.  It also where my friend Alice Mercer teaches. Many readers of my blog also know Alice. And if you know Alice, you know that students who enter her computer lab have opportunities to  connect, create, collaborate, and share – and to experience what 21st century teaching, learning, and citizenship is all about. You also know, through conversations with Alice,  how hard the Oak Ridge team works to level the playing field for their students and to provide them with tools and programs that will take them beyond “basic.”

I’m not sure how to interpret Sac City Superintendent Jonathan Raymond’s response: “It’s not a list you want to have a school recognized on. We’re obviously disappointed about that. But looking at the numbers and the data, it’s not a surprise.

For the sake of the  students, parents, teachers, and administrators of Oak Ridge Elementary School, I hope having their school on “the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools” will not lead the site backwards into “the genteel unteaching of America’s poor.”

Hang in there, Oak Ridge Elementary!

February 21, 2010
by blogwalker

Next Stop…20th Century

Image from Library of Congress

How do we bring administrators on board with 21st century possibilities for teaching and learning?

This question has been on my mind since Wednesday, when a colleague shared with me that her principal came to her classroom while she was embarking on a movie making project with her class.  In front of the students, he asked her to explain what standards she was addressing and to justify how filmmaking fit into the 4th grade curriculum.

She called me to ask what resources she might share to help him understand the rationale for filmmaking and other forms of digital composing as part of the core curriculum.

Here are my recommendations:

Technology integration in general:

Movie making in particular:

How are you helping administrators bypass all those 20th century bus stops and keep moving forward? I invite you share any resources you think might help this wonderful, wonderful teacher help her principal!

longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular

August 1, 2009
by blogwalker

On Promoting a Love of Reading

I finally bought a copy of Kelly Gallagher‘s Readicide.  I wish I had read it sooner so that I could have joined in the VoiceThread and the English Companion Ning discussions. However, I have it now and want to promote it to anyone working with K-12 students! In less than 150 pages, the author clearly explains “how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it.”

If you are at a site that does not support a minimum of 15 minutes per day of silent sustained reading – read this book.

If you are at a site that mandates AR (Accelerated Reader) – read this book.

If you are at a site that mandates a reading anthology exclusively, at the cost of removing novels – read this book.

If you are looking for strategies to engage students in literature and promote a life-long love of reading – read this book.

With so many thought-provoking ideas, powerful strategies, and even links to the supporting research that are applicable to elementary through high school readers, Readicide would make for a great faculty book club read.  I’ll leave you with Kelly’s closing words:

If we are to find our way again – if students are to become avid readers again – we, as language arts teachers, must find our courage to recognize the difference between the political worlds and the authentic worlds in which we teacher, to swim against those current educational practices that are killing young readers, and to step up and do what is right for our students.

We need to find this courage. Today. Nothing less than a generation of readers hangs in the balance.”

August 24, 2008
by blogwalker

A Plea to BTSA Mentors

Ok, this is more a rant than plea, but someone needs to speak up for the many first or second-year, non-tenured teachers, who are obviously not really in a position to register a formal complaint regarding the amount of their valuable time and energy that is being siphoned off by BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) requirements. BTSA is a California thing, but I imagine other states and countries have similar programs. I visited the website, but had trouble getting past the logo, which visually suggests to me that the program is all about assessment, but allows for slipping in a sliver of support.

Fortunately there are BTSA mentors who are absolute heroes to their assignees. Take, for example, Edna Shoemaker, a high school English teacher who mentored…..high school English teachers at her school site. My Area 3 Writing Project colleague Bee Foster described her sessions with Edna as “So worthwhile!” Edna was her thinking partner and number one supporter. During their sessions, Bee could rethink and rework her lesson plans, and walk into class the next day ready to engage her students in powerful, well-crafted literacy activities.

So if you are a BTSA mentor and you suspect that your assignees are less than thrilled with their program, I would like to make a few recommendations:

  1. Travel to your new teacher – By saving them the travel time of coming to your site, you’ve already gifted the 1st/2nd year teacher a little much-needed time.
  2. Help build your new teacher’s network – If you are an elementary teacher, for instance, mentoring a high school history teacher, use your district connections to find the “just in time” link to a veteran teacher who would be happy to share his/her unit of, for example, the Neremberg Trials.
  3. Work to redefine your district’s definition of the “required weekly meeting” so that your Tuesday 4:00-7:00 session, for instance, does not prevent your new teacher from attending a Tuesday 4:00-7:00 session at a nearby university with a guest lecturer/educator in his/her discipline.
  4. Allow your new teacher to be a hero at his/her site. If, for instance, he/she is ready and able to step into an assistant coaching position – that would keep that particular sport going at the site, providing a group of students with equity of access – adjust your weekly meeting time.
  5. If you value the program, then encourage outstanding teaching colleagues to sign on as mentors.
  6. If you question the value of the program or feel it needs some revisting, speak out!

It is my goal to revisit the BTSA topic throughout the school year and add to the list of mentor heroes. If you know a BTSA hero or would like to add to or discuss items on the suggestions list, I welcome your comments!

March 22, 2008
by blogwalker

One More Voice in Support of Al Upton

alupton.pngI would like to show my support of edublogger Al Upton by pointing readers to Sue Water‘s wiki, which includes a link to Rob Darrow‘s recent post, in which I found Miguel‘s link to Graham Hughes’s badge and a link to Steve Hargadon‘s interview with Al.

I looked through my categories, but couldn’t find one that fit Al and his Minilegends. So I’ve added a new one: In Support of…

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