#Celebratelu: Celebrating a Smithling tradition: “Beckoning the Lovely”

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

At some point in each school year, most usually when we are nearing the dreaded PARCC or feel that winter will never end, we turn to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Beckoning the Lovely” :

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The invitation to summon up “the lovely” is usually met with bemusement, the sixth grade “huh?”.  But, left to their own devices, my kiddos usually figure out unique and meaningful ways in which to do exactly that:

This one moved all of us to tears:

“Beckoning the lovely”. When I first heard the phrase, I was confused, how do you beckon the lovely? Well, I can now say I understand it. To me, beckoning the lovely means that we need to make the world lovely. And we need to do it step by step. Beckoning the lovely means being selfless and making someone smile. And after they smile, hopefully they will do something lovely too. The world lovely is such a beautiful word. It is the word that rings from people’s voices and sounds just right in people’s ears. But being lovely isn’t just talking, being lovely is doing.

For my act of loveliness, I decided to focus on my home life. Me and my dad had a talk about this project and I asked him if he had any ideas for lovely things I could do, and he told me this “if you want to do something lovely, focus on your home life. There are people all over the world that volunteer in so many places, and leave the people at home behind no matter how hard the life they lead is.” I thought about the people who have it hardest in my life. My brother for instance. His name is Uri, I talk about him a lot because he is the smartest, sweetest, most sensitively charming human on earth. Except, he has ADHD, ODD, and minor epilepsy. Sometimes, people judge him by his not-so-good moments and forget that he doesn’t know how to express his feelings. With Uri, it’s either he expresses his feelings too much, or doesn’t express them at all. He is older in his mind, and understands things that most sixth graders do not. But he has it hard in school, so I decided to take him for a day of “fun” with my babysitting money. We went to the library to read, got ice cream, went to the Francesca’s, and then I took him to the mall and we went to watch a movie. We are typically very close, but it was still an experience for us to talk with each other. He doesn’t hang out with many people, because most people don’t understand him. Even I sometimes have to remind myself that he is, after all, only human. I’m happy to do something lovely for him anyday! Attached is a photo of us at the park😂

This one was met with an ovation;

When I watched to video, I was very inspired to do something like Amy Krouse Rosenthal had done. I found it really interesting how her unique ideas brightened a total stranger’s day. This clip sparked my imagination and gave me the idea to try to brighten someone’s day, someone less fortunate than me. So I decided to make a lunch, write a note and give it to a homeless person (i gave the stuff to my Mom who works in the city to give to the person). I got this idea because I have always wanted to give back to the less fortunate than me and my Mom always tells me about the times she tries to help the homeless people. The bag contained….a peanut butter sandwich, a bottle of water and an inspirational note. When my Mom came home, she told me that the Man said “Thank you” and was very thankful. But I didn’t just stop there, I then made a list of 5 things that I will try to complete this week. Some of them where….Making a wood sculpture with my dad and putting it on display, breakfast in bed for my parents and helping my grandma.

Overall, I am very glad that we got assigned this because it gave me a chance to give back and I strongly urge others to do the same.

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There was so much to love about this one, so many layers of love and meaning, from a student who is rather shy and reserved:

My grandmother has always loved plants. Growing up in the same house as her, we kept rows and rows of plants behind our couch, and there was always something blooming in her garden. We even had cacti in our house. As in more than one. But there was something special about the way my grandmother raised plants. She found flowers that didn’t bloom, plants that should flower but didn’t, and yet she somehow found a way to make the plants that did not show any signs of beauty become even more beautiful than the plants that bloomed on their own.

I think that this origami flower represents the way that my grandmother treated all plants. The flower started of as a plain old cube, but turned into an alluring flower. Many people in the world are like my grandmother. They don’t see what is happening, they see what can happen, and that it what makes my grandmother special. Amy Krouse Rosenthal at the “Beckoning of the Lovely”, along with everyone there, acted similar to how my grandmother always does. They did not look at each other and think, “Wow, this person has no talent and can’t help us.” Instead, they thought, “Okay, we have all these people here, so let’s make something incredible.” My grandmother is like Amy Krouse Rosenthal. They looked at what they had, and made something worthy of being called a “Beckoning of the Lovely.”

Some of my kiddos did chores around the house, made dinner for grateful parents, and two paired up to make something for a very surprised me:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.48.32 AMScreen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.48.06 AMAs usual, I was touched and gratified by the way my kids take any teaching idea I may happen to have and fill it with their very own spirit.  To me, this is the magic of teaching, this is why we need to remember all through the teaching day that it is all about the kids.  This is why we must invest our teaching energies in what inspires and energizes our kids to beckon their own  lovely in their learning lives – meaningful work that engages them, and asks them to stretch their imaginations as well as their souls.

Even as I get ready to leave my classroom for good, I  know that every teaching day has been all about the beckoning of lovely: my beloved, always eager to try something new, students.  Today, I celebrate that.



Poetry Friday: Two Set Out on Their Journey Galway Kinnell, 1927 – 2014

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When my children were young, it was rare to see them apart wherever we went and whatever we did.  No matter where we moved (and we moved a lot), or where we traveled (and we traveled a lot, too), the three of them kept themselves amused and happy with elaborate games and story lines of the “to be continued” variety.

Even in the throes of cranky adolescence, they turned more often to each other than away from each other – allies, always, against unreasonable and unimaginative parents.

These days, they have each other on speed dial, and since they all live in various parts of Brooklyn, they see each other with some frequency.

Of the many blessings my husband and I count ourselves lucky for having, is this: the bond between our three, on a journey of “ten thousand acts” :

Two Set Out on Their Journey  –   Galway Kinnell

We sit side by side,
brother and sister, and read
the book of what will be, while a breeze
blows the pages over—
desolate odd, cheerful even,
and otherwise. When we come
to our own story, the happy beginning,
the ending we don’t know yet,
the ten thousand acts
encumbering the days between,
we will read every page of it.
If an ancestor has pressed
a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden
between pages of the slow going,
where only those who adore the story
ever read. When the time comes
to shut the book and set out,
we will take childhood’s laughter
as far as we can into the days to come,
until another laughter sounds back
from the place where our next bodies
will have risen and will be telling
tales of what seemed deadly serious once,
offering to us oldening wayfarers
the light heart, now made of time
and sorrow, that we started with.



It’s Monday! And Here’s What I’m Reading: Comics Confidential & Let Your Voice Be Heard


My  sixth graders love graphic novels, so it has been a pleasure and a relief to find so many wonderful new examples of this genre being published all the time.  Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the  Box, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, interviews thirteen graphic novelists to discover their creative journeys and inspirations in this particular genre, which makes for fascinating reading.

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Each of these author-artists shares childhood stories, as well as their experimentations with different types of visual mediums, to trace the way they arrive at both a story to tell and how to best to use their art form to tell it.  Danica Novgorodoff, author of The Undertaking of Lily Chen,  offers this insight into what drew her to her craft, which is echoed in one way or another by  the other  writers included in the collection:

I love the potential for experimentation, all the different ways you can combine words and images.  I like the different types of pacing you can have: the expanses of space and time, and the moments of silence and great action that you can fit into a single page.It’s a very versatile form.  The text and images can be paired to tell the same story in two completely different ways, or they can tell two different stories simultaneously.

This would be a wonderful book to share with students at the very beginning of the school year, when students explore genres even as they explore  their classroom libraries.  I also loved the rich insights these authors shared about how other aspects of their lives (race, culture, etc.) influenced their artistic directions.

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Pete Seeger was a national treasure, both for his music as well as for the spirit of social justice which infused all his songs.  In Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, Anita Silvey tells his remarkable story in a  well researched  and engaging way.  I was always  impressed with the way Seeger looked past his family’s economic and social privileges to identify, instead, with those who were in need.  Many photographs and interviews help to place Seeger at the crossroads of   every civil and environmental movement over the course of the many decades of his life, movements that fueled and gave purpose to his songwriting.

I love that Silvey included Seeger’s work  in cleaning up the Hudson River, because I have spent many a memorable June at the Clearwater Festival, contributing to and rejoicing in the work of  restoring health to the Hudson River again.  Reading this book brought back so many wonderful memories of activism and music that all seemed to feature, somewhere, the tall and smiling figure of Pete Seeger and his equally memorable banjo.   

#Celebratelu: Celebrating a culture of hope in the classroom

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

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My teaching hero, Kylene Beers, captured the very essence of my teaching life when she said the above.

I think about this as I drive to school, as I plan my school days, and as I live my school days.  I especially think about this at 7:30 each school day morning, when the doors to our school open and the footsteps of hope make its way up the stairway, into the hallways, and then my classroom.

I hope that the plans I’ve made speak to what makes my kids curious, that what we read and talk about awakens their interest, and that they feel that each moment of their time in our room is worthy of their time.

In their own way, my kids are thinking in terms of hope, too.  They start the day hoping that kindness greets them, that they can count on patience and a sense humor to ease the way through the day, and that they are listened to just as much as they are asked to listen.

Hope is what we’re all counting on…hope eases one day, and makes us look forward to the next.  Teacher and student, we lean on hope…it’s what gives that “hello” its lilt and its smile.  I celebrate that!


It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Midnight Teacher and Confucius


I have two fabulous picture books to share with the #IMWAYR community:

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It was against the law for slaves to have any path towards literacy in the American South; it was not only forbidden for any slave caught trying to learn to read and write, but it was also a crime for others to teach them.  Punishment for all involved was swift, certain, and brutal.  In spite of all these dangers, African Americans organized secret midnight schools where they could create access to what they were denied: an education.  One of these courageous individuals was Lilly Ann Granderson, and her story is told in Janet Halmann’s wonderful new picture book, Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School.

Over the course of many years, Lilly taught hundreds of people whose bodies may have been enslaved but whose minds and spirits yearned to be free. Beautifully illustrated by London Ladd,  Midnight Teacher  is a picture book that is sure to inspire and engage readers.  

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Any book by Demi is sure to be exquisitely written and Illustrated, and that is the case for her most recent book Confucius: Great Teacher of China.  This book is a wonderful way in which to introduce children to the life of philosophical ideas of China’s great teacher,  ideas which are still valued and practiced two thousand years after his death.

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#Celebratelu: Celebrating magic of the classroom

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

I’m not, generally, much a fan of the month of March. The weather is dreary. The children and I are weary.  March just feels as though it will never end.  This March, however, I have been gifted with a ray of sunshine and hope every morning thanks to Mary Lee Hahn and her March posts of 31 Teaching Truths.

Mary Lee ended her series in the best possible way, with magic:

Believe in magic. Don’t ever stop. So much depends on the work you do every minute of every day.

We were not in school on Friday, but Mary Lee’s post gave me reason to remember, and therefore delight in, the many “strong threads of magic” in my teaching life, all of them woven with so many children…


How lucky we are to work through and with the magic of children, to be there in the room when their thinking blossoms, when a story creeps into their hearts and souls to shift them towards greater kindness and wisdom, when they turn to you and speak a just-discovered truth.

How blessed we are to be invested in work with children, work that matters “every minute of every day”.

This Easter Sunday, I celebrate that…

#Celebratelu: Celebrating my first (accidental) mentor

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

In my first year of teaching, I would cross paths with the Kindergarteners in my building and think to myself: I can never do that!  Please, gods of teacher placement, don’t ever make me do that!  When I found a permanent position the following year as a sixth grade teacher, I sent those gods fervent prayers of thanks.  Kindergarten teachers, in my estimation, are a special breed of super teachers requiring reverence and thanks from the rest of us…especially Kindergarten teachers like Kristine Mraz, whose books and Twitter feed are a constant source of teaching inspiration.  Last week, Kristine Tweeted this:

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The thinking within these Tweets resonated with me, because this has been my teaching journey as well. I became a much better teacher when I stepped back and focused on what I would need to do to help my kids develop the strengths and skills they would  need long after they had left my classroom –  strengths and skills built on a foundation of relationships and care.  Giving genuine eye contact, being able to sit knee to knee and really listen, waiting to be invited into their thinking instead of jumping in to offer my own, allowing my own voice to be in the background instead of the foreground…these are quiet teaching moves, not the bells and whistles and teacher-centric sort of teaching that we think we need for student engagement.

Kristine’s Tweet took me back to my first teaching mentor – an accidental mentor.  She is Marcia Kaiser, my children’s kindergarten teacher.  The year my son was lucky enough to be in her class, I had signed on as a reading volunteer.  Twice a week, I popped into Ben’s classroom to read to anyone who wished to be read to.  Three years later, when Olivia entered Mrs. Kaiser’s Kindergarten, I signed on again.  But this time was different, because I had decided to get my certification and become a teacher, too.

I took note of how the kids were always purposeful and engaged, how her 25 little ones knew their routines and looked forward to them with quiet anticipation, how there was always a steady hum of activity with Marcia in the background providing a steady and supportive presence.  I took note of the warmth of  her interactions with her students, the respect with which she answered questions no matter how big or small.  And I took note of how different her classroom looked and sounded from the kindergarten next door; you could always tell which kids had come through a year with Mrs. Kaiser.

It took me a long time to figure out how to recreate in Room 202 what I’d seen in Marcia’s teaching; to understand the hard work, deep thinking, and discipline it took to teach like that, and to choreograph a classroom like that.  She was my first mentor, my accidental mentor because my purpose in her classroom was to simply read to a few children, but the one whose lessons were the richest and most lasting.  This week, I celebrate Marcia Kaiser.