#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.


#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!


#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.



#Celebratelu: Celebrating collaboration

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

Looking back on my teaching life, something I am doing more and more of these days, I count myself lucky to have had the chance to fashion Room 202 into a sort of teaching lab for new ideas.  We took Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s ideas for the “3 Big Questions” and nonfiction signposts for a test run, and we tried out their Book-Head-Heart reading strategy as well; when Katherine Bomer wrote her brilliant book on essaying, my sixth graders dived right into their own journeys of thought; my reading workshop would not be what it is without Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse whose student-centered thinking keeps me honest, or Linda Reif whose practices anchor so much of our work.  In lieu of colleagues in my building to work with, it’s been these teaching greats who have been my virtual collaborators, the ones who’ve kept my teaching life intellectually interesting and rich.

So, I was thrilled when Karen Caine asked if she could try out some writing workshop ideas in Room 202.  Karen’s book on persuasive writing has been the foundation of our persuasive writing unit for many years, and I was excited to learn more about her idea for writing clubs.

Karen worked her magic with my eager kiddos, introducing the idea that we would be writing about our persuasive topic research in a different way; rather than going straight for the 5 paragraph format they’ve been used to writing since third grade, we would reach into our narrative writing toolkits and try to aim for emotion and personal investment.

It was such a pleasure to listen in on Karen’s mini-lesson and her back and forth with my kiddos.  They could not wait to get to work, and I could not wait to read what they were able to come up with.  A few days later, once drafts were completed, Karen returned to explain what writing clubs could be and how we could use them to improve our writing, which I tried to chart in the moment:

Table groups of students went to work right away, as we dashed about the room observing and taking notes.  The next day, I gathered my writers to discuss what the process had felt like, and what they had made of the task:
*they liked that they were able to:
– hear lots of different voices instead of just one (Mrs. Smith) which allowed for  lots of varied ideas about how to tweak their writing.
– have the chance to explain their thinking in more ways than just one allowed them to clarify their writer’s thinking 
-listen to others’ read their writing which gave them ideas 
-get affirmation for what was good writing  which was motivational and just felt good
*things we need to work on:
-too many suggestions were sometimes confusing, so we need to find a way to be more specific in asking for writing advice
-some people wanted to read their whole piece and that made it hard to remember where to give -suggestions, so we need to pick and choose one or two places in our writing 
-(my observation) students were resorting to writing cliches – “you needed more details” was the inevitable suggestion, even though students complain that teachers tell them to do this all the time and they don’t know WHICH details or HOW to provide these
-(my observation) we need to work on the language of writing asks and writing gives; there needed to be a consistent language for the club members so that club time is efficiently spent – i.e. that there is time left for students to return to their desks and write.
Writing clubs in the way Karen has imagined its orchestration and function feels so much more authentic and student driven than the partner peer editing I had tried for some time and abandoned.   I learned so much from our first try at this, and look forward to our next round as much as my kids do.  This, I believe, is know-how they can take into their writing work for years to come, whether in a formal setting as a class or as ad hoc groups they organize for themselves.  Fabulous!

#Celebratelu: Joyful writing

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

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Phase one of our nonfiction writing unit concluded with a lovely writing celebration.  My kiddos cleaned out their writing folders, which were jam packed with drafts and notes and research, and happily stuffed everything into their writing portfolios.

What next? they asked.

Freewriting! I answered.

Instant pandemonium. Instant celebration and delight.

Although my students know that their writer’s notebooks are theirs to fill with any kind of writing, they also know that our workshop year moves from unit to unit, and our workshop week follows the predictable routine: mini lessons followed by writing and conferring time.  Free writing time is something else.  Free writing follows every writing unit; it’s a time without mini lessons or mentor texts or any of the other “stuff” we fill our regular writing weeks with.  Free writing is 100% freedom to create whatever my kids want to write about in whichever fashion they choose and about anything they have an itch to scratch.

They love it.

Here’s what they created this week:

*joke books complete with illustrations


*new chapters for  epic adventures in worlds of fantasy and in a certain dystopian middle school out in a galaxy far away (whose plot line I have given up understanding)

*short stories that only middle schoolers can invent

*an advice book

*a book of excuses for “lost” homework

*super secret writing projects folded into four and placed in a writing folder marked: PRIVATE! BUTTTT OUTTTTT!

All week, all around me, there was joyful writing.  I celebrate that!





#Celebratelu: Celebrating the Zacks in my classroom

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

A couple of weeks ago, I read Eric Bell’s fabulous middle grade novel, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, and I have been thinking about the main character’s best friend, Zack, ever since.  Zack is twelve, and as equally incapable of sitting still as he is of keeping his every thought to himself.  Zack makes and lives by his own happy rules, he notices everything – especially the stuff his friends and teachers seem always to miss, which often turn out to be (as we discover towards the middle of the book) the important things.  Here’s an excerpt that sums up the Zack’s inimitable “Zackness”:

“It’s funny.” Zack holds his plastic fork to the light like he’s waiting for it to sprout wings and dance the cha-cha. “You know how some things have names that fit them, right? Like, an orange is called an orange because it’s orange. Why is it called a fork?”

I swallow a big bite of the chicken sandwich I got from the cafeteria line. “Maybe the color came second.”

“The color fork?” Zack asks.

“The color orange. Maybe the color orange is called orange because it’s named after the fruit.”

Zack slowly lowers his fork. “Wow,” he whispers.

That should keep him quiet for a few minutes……

“If you want my honest opinion,” Madison Wilson Truman pipes up next to me, interrupting my thoughts again, “a fork is called a fork because it’s forked between the points. Haven’t you ever heard of forks in the road? Those are different paths branching off from the same point. That’s where the term comes from.”

Zack looks down at the plastic fork. “I never knew that. I’ve been using forks my whole life! I’ll never eat the same way agai—” He snaps his head to the left and swivels his neck as he looks up at the ceiling; his spiky hair, jutting out at all angles like an electrocuted porcupine, sways back and forth. “I thought I saw a dragon.”

I read this, and other such Zack moments, over and over again…always with a smile and a chuckle.   And, each time, I remembered the Zacks who have made their way through my teaching life year after year: the girls and boys who march to the tune of their own special kind of music.  These are the kiddos whose restlessness and tendency to blurt out their every thought is enough to drive even the most patient teacher to distraction, and yet…and yet…I know that my Zacks have taught me more about being a good teacher than all the un-Zacks in my teaching life.  They’ve taught me to:

~be patient and to be cautious about being over reactive; sometimes it’s wiser to pretend not to hear and see and just carry on.  Zacks tend to get so much negative reinforcement as it is, that it’s important to carve out some safe space – even if it’s the last thing one is inclined to do in a busy teaching day.

~find ways to capture the important ideas in their flights of thought, they need someone to help them pause and reflect, because they don’t know (yet) quite how to.

~honor so many different ways of arriving at solutions, conclusions, extensions, even ones that are delivered at the speed of light and at inopportune moments.  Zacks have a way of being not-heard and feeling not-heard.

~open my heart to that one kid in my room who seems least likely to get a chance anywhere else, even though it means risking that daily migraine…Zacks are worth it.

~believe, really believe, that I can learn from my Zacks, that in seeking to reach them I become a better teacher, a better person.

Today, as I was prepping for school on Tuesday, I re-read a poetry response from one of my current Zacks which began with a line from the poem we’d read and concluded with some theories about space travel and black holes.  I tried, and failed, to see the connections between the ideas…but something about this question will stay with me for a long, long time: wouldn’t it be cool to spin through the stars like a silver Ferrari, Mrs. Smith? 

What can I do but celebrate the Zacks in my teaching life?  They make each of my teaching days something their very own.