Mommy Self-Care Tip: Psoas Release

All creative people, all people who read and write, need to take care of their bodies for maximum concentration. Since becoming a mom, and as a person who struggles with bipolar II disorder, it is essential for me to do the best to take care of my body – just to be able to think straight and focus on the essence of my being – creativity expressed through writing, movement, music, and cooking. Working with my hands and brains requires a will to maintain a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

So here’s a tip from me to you:

If you are a mom who is constantly lifting heavy toddlers, this video from Yoga with Adriene is really the best. Somehow it released all the tension from where my body is tight from all the lifting and repetitive motion of pushing my kids on the swings, helping them with monkey bars, carrying two kids at a time on the way back from a walk. I felt truly relaxed for the first time in years – it’s only twenty minutes, but it made a difference in my day, and it inspired me to write a quick blog post without worrying about too much length and perfection.

My Zero-Dollar Designated Creative Space

I wanted to write everyday, but it was impossible to get to a coffee shop or library to do so. It involved a baby-sitter or husband/daddy getting in my scheduling loop. The library has great study carrells, but the hours are limited. And it is just a nerve-shattering act to try to do something uninterrupted at a coffee shop. The general public simply has lots of questions for you once you are seated. Quite frankly, these questions were wearing me to a nub.

“Can I use this chair?”

Obviously! I’m not patrolling the chairs, people – I’m trying to construct a sentence.

“I’m just going to sneak by you.”

Umm…do you even know the meaning of the word “sneak”? It has to do with STEALTH, and you clearly have NONE!

The reality was that I needed to find a way to cope with writing in the house. As the omniscient yet mythological “they” say, necessity is the mother of invention, and thus the Dines Family Designated Creative Space was born. Here are the 2 steps I took to birth the Designated Creative Space:

  1. I made a sign that included the expectation around maintenance of the DESIGNATED CREATIVE SPACE!
  2. I cleared off the table. While the pictures below show the table top in plain view, it was previously covered in high chair trays, junk mail, kids’ clothes, and a myriad of chargers for various devices.
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The Sign – Note the use of the adorable but underused little verb “shall”!

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The Space is prepared for my writing time with my journal, book, and laptops.

I was very careful, deliberate, and strategic about not having The Making of the Designated Creative Space become yet another project. My projects are my written pieces. I don’t need to have 5 kinds of highlighters and different choices of paper. Or a special kind of seat. Or a unique style of seat cushion. Or a Hemingwrite (which I have considered purchasing about 1000 times but never will actually buy).  All I need is a place to put words in print or in a computer document. Simple. Minimal. Clean. Clear.

This space is not just for me. My husband uses it for his reading and graphic design work. My daughters use it as a supply table and drying rack when they are art-making in their high chairs. And we all make sure that the space is spick and span after it is used.

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Right now, my husband is cleaning up. The baby is sleeping, and the twins are watching something on tv. And I’m sitting here, writing, right in my own kitchen. This table is my own little nook of the universe, and I feel perfectly at home.

I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Rise Out: A Professional Learning Community for Teens

Throughout this school year, my husband and I, both musicians and former members of several Boston-based bands, had the honor of mentoring Alex La Rosa, an 18-year-old songwriter and guitarist, through the process of arranging and recording his debut album. Alex connected with us through my long-time friend Laura Fokkena, founder of Rise Out.

 What is Rise Out?

Rise Out is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for teenagers who do not attend high school but rather participate in home school or alternative independent study programs. Teens enroll in Rise Out on an annual basis, and each participant is expected to complete an independent study project.

My husband and I attended Rise Out’s end of the year celebration at the Boston Public Library at Copley two weekends ago, and Laura gave a wonderful introduction to the presentations, explaining that she does not believe that bullying or schooling toughens teenagers, but rather that students grow best when they are respected and listened to.

I personally found it incredible to see what these young people were able to do when given time, resources, and support to pursue their own independent projects, which included historical research, public health and fitness, technology, engineering, and the arts.  Below are a few highlights:

Matthew Allen: Self-Navigating Drone

Although Matthew is only a junior in high school, he is already a collaborator with fellow scientists from Google, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Draper Labs through his internship at Danger! Awesome, a “makerspace”, which Matthew explained is like an artists’ studio for the technologically inclined. For his Rise Out project, Matthew created a hovering robot that can self-navigate through a forest. Matthew explained how the Rise Out program has given him the connections and confidence “to be the person [he] always wanted to be”. Through Rise Out, Matthew had the confidence to pursue (and ultimately gain acceptance to) the VAST (Vermont Academy of Technology and Science) program at Vermont Tech, which will allow him to simultaneously complete his senior year of high school and his freshman year of college.

Matthew powers up his self-navigating drone at BPL – Copley

Kate Mitchell: Learning with the Farmer’s Market

Kate’s project touched on two topics dear to my heart: public health and education. Kate’s project stemmed from her observations of  families at the Medford Farmers’ Market; she noticed that while parents shopped for vegetables, all of the kids ran to the cookie booth.

Kate decided to create a learning booth for young children at the farmer’s market that featured vegetable activities such as vegetable face sculptures and vegetable stamps, and she also published a recipe book for families.  She also published her own Her aim was to create a positive association between young children and vegetables, so that kids are excited about eating vegetables at home.

Already a reflective educator, Kate humorously addressed engagement of young children during her presentation: “When I asked kids if they wanted to learn about vegetables, I didn’t get a huge response, but when I asked, ‘Do you want to play with vegetables?’, kids started coming to my table.’ Kate was proud to announce her program’s sustainability, as the Medford Farmer’s Market plans to continue with Kate’s curricula and recipe booklet next season.

 

Kate shows a slide of a turnip face craft, just one of the activities she designed to connect children and vegetables at the Medford Farmers' Market.

Kate shows a slide of a turnip face craft, just one of the activities she designed to connect children and vegetables at the Medford Farmers’ Market.

 

 Alex La Rosa: Observing from Aphelion EP

Alex La Rosa began playing guitar a little over a year ago, and he has already written hundred of songs. “But only sixty are set to music,” he explained, prior to the performance of “Don’t Believe Them”.  For Alex’s Rise Out project, he recorded his five song debut EP “Observing from Aphelion”. Alex will be attending Berklee College of Music’s Summer Songwriting Workshop in late June.

Alex La Rosa’s deep vocals and rhythmic guitar punctuate his performance of “Don’t Believe Them”

Reflection

After viewing these presentations, I thought about my middle school students in Dorchester, and I felt incredibly inspired. What would my middle schoolers do, given time, support, and resources to pursue individual interests? I would love to create an independent research or independent study group, even as an after-school program, for my students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. If we treat all children as gifted children, then all children will display their gifts. I truly appreciated working with Alex this year, and I’m sure we will be seeing more from the incredible young people involved in Rise Out in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Embodying Literacy: Teaching Reading, Writing, and Public Speaking Through Movement and Drama

As a teacher of reading and writing, I have always required that the scholars in my classes use their eyes, ears, and conversational voices on a daily basis in my classroom. But why have I limited my students access to literacy to only the head when they have whole bodies that can be engaged in learning?

I never questioned myself in this way until the present school year, in which I enrolled in year-long professional development course offered by Very Special Arts of Massachusetts (VSA) and the Boston Public Schools. The course was facilitated by two highly accomplished arts integration specialists, both of whom are faculty members in the Creative Arts in Learning Program at Lesley University: drama pedagogue Marianne Adams and dance therapist Priscilla Harmel.

The program consisted of several components: monthly meetings with our cohort of teachers, online assignments and reflections, curriculum development and implementation, and an on-sight visit from one of the facilitators.

The Teacher Experience

t one point during our very first meeting, a full day session at VSA’s beautiful downtown art gallery and community space, I found myself wrapped in several colorful scarves, dancing and playing drums with a group of teacher-artists I had never met until that day.

Our goal was to explore the immigration experience through enacting Adrienne Rich’s poem: “Breaking through Illusion”. I love poetry on its own, but the joy and engagement of performing works of literature with my classmates was something I needed to share with my middle school ESL classroom. Luckily, the facilitators not only promised but required that I would be doing just that throughout the school year.

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Dramatizing two perspectives of a narrative through movement (from left: Kim Taylor Knight, Dance Teacher at the Curley School; Gregg Bodell, Music Teacher at the P.J. Kennedy; Lisa Yanni, Visual Arts Teacher at the Winship; Logan Cole, Drama Teacher at the Dearborn; Gail Gefteas, Art Teacher at the Roosevelt; Jenn Dines, ESL and Special Needs Teacher at the Frederick)

Our subsequent meetings took place in the evenings at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain. At each three-hour session, we not only discussed our progress in implementing arts-based curricula in our classrooms, but we also spent a large part of the time learning and performing whole body arts integration techniques. I learned so much from the interaction with my co-teachers during these sessions. The class was a mix of arts elective teachers and classroom teachers, and this was a very nice juxtaposition to have in the group. The arts teachers were able to present many creative resources and ideas, while the classroom teachers were able to offer insights on the connection to literacy.

Dramatic Reading – Malcolm X

 This year, I had self-selected a goal of pushing my end of unit project-based learning assessments further to include more performance and presentation skills. I wanted my students to take the next step of not only completing a large assessment task, but I needed to push them to be able to present their learning to those outside of our classroom. This is a huge challenge for students learning a second language. Public presentation is nerve-wracking enough in the primary language, and it is exponentially more anxiety provoking in a second language

During the VSA Saturday session, we learned how to use lines from a text to create a script for ensemble performance. I utilized this “script from text” strategy to create an assessment piece of my intermediate and advanced ESL class’s unit on Civil Rights.

My students had just finished reading Walter Dean Myers’ Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, and we were about to embark on a close reading of the excerpt “Learning to Read” from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reading and discussing “Learning to Read” together, I asked students to pick two or three lines that they thought were most important, explaining that I would use the lines they had selected to develop their parts for a performance piece. After a few rehearsals, our class held a special presentation of our dramatic reading piece for other classes in our middle school.

This performance was witnessed by Boston Public Schools New Teacher Developer Crystal Haynes, who also happens to be one of the hosts of the local television show “Extra Help”. She offered for our students to present the “Learning to Read” dramatic reading piece on television and for them to spend an hour on live television, fielding questions and informing viewers about Malcolm X.

On a cold Tuesday in March, I took a group of students to Roxbury Community College to record the show. It was especially notable that Roxbury Community College is located on Malcolm X Boulevard, not far from the house where Malcolm once lived with his half-sister. The students did incredible work with the performance, and the repeated readings of Malcolm X’s writing also served to build their reading fluency.

VIDEO: 7th and 8th Grade Students Perform “Learning to Read” on the television show “Extra Help” with Dr. Crystal Haynes

Introducing Movement Using the Myths of Heracles

Following our unit on Civil Rights, our class traveled far further back in time to study classical and world mythology. Although I had incorporated drama into the previous unit, our VSA instructor Priscilla Harmel pushed me to think about how to incorporate movement into the mythology unit. Priscilla encouraged me to plan a movement lesson on a day that she was available to come in and support me in teaching.

I adapted a movement lesson from a book recommended to me through the VSA course: Strategies to Integrate the Arts in Langauge Arts by Jennifer M. Bogard and Lisa Donovan, an incredible arts integration resource guide published by Lesley University. The lesson, titled “Moving Statues”, focused on having students identify and then embody action verbs found in a text.

For the text, I chose a selection from D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths in which the epic Greek hero Heracles slays the Nemean Lion as part of his labors that atone for the murder of his wife and sons. Heracles is a muscle man, known more for his brawn then his brain, whose uncontrollable temper often gets the better of his good intentions.

As we read and discussed the selection together, I modeled identifying action verbs in the text. Priscilla assisted me in having the class act out the action verbs using dramatic movements, and she helped me introduce movement vocabulary. Priscilla also encouraged the students to think not only about the verbs and the movements connected to them, but also about Heracles’ intentions as he performed the actions described in the text. She repeatedly asked the students why they thought Heracles was doing what he was doing and how the intention would effect the movement.

Following Priscilla and I’s co-taught lesson, I assigned students to groups and given a text from one of Heracles’ labors. I provided them with a three column graphic organizer: verb, intention, and movement to use as they read through the text and planned a presentation in which they would read the text aloud to the class and act out several of the action verbs.

I provided the students with one class period to prepare the pieces with their groups, and I was truly amazed by the focus and dedication that I observed during the rehearsal period. I did not have to redirect a single student, and I was able to confer with all of the groups and respond to their inquires. The students were 100% focused and engaged on planning their piece. Following the performances, students were given a vocabulary quiz on the selected words, and all students received grades of 90 – 100%.

VIDEO: 8th grade students Francely, Leidhryd, and Vanessa’s performance piece from a selection in which Heracles fights the Amazons

Who’s the REAL Heracles?

I saw a huge pay off with the dramatic performance and action verbs activities as students began writing diary entries from the perspective of Heracles and preparing to present their writing to students in other classes.

Students revised their diary entries after examining several selections from the diaries of Anne Frank and examining how Anne develops her character through sharing her thoughts, feelings, words, and actions with the reader. As students revised, I encouraged them to think about the ways that Heracles moves in order to develop their descriptions of his actions. The combination of embodiment, visualization of movement (through watching their peers’ performances), and deep examinations of the writing techniques used by another diarist engendered sophisticated and unique diary entries from the students.

“SUICIDAL THOUGHTS” by Nicol

Dear Journal

Today is September 19, 0121. Today is also the day of the anniversary that I killed my beloved family. I was about to kill myself too but my friend Theseus saved me. I remember that day like it was yesterday. FLASHBACK

My friend Theseus stood there before me and he stretched out his hands to clasp mine own fresh bloodstained hands. Meaning he would become defiled and have a part of the blame and guilt.

“Do not keep me from sharing all with you. Evil I share with you is not evil to me. Men of great soul can bear the blows of heaven and not flinch.”

I said, “Do you know what I have done?”

” I know this”, Theseus answered. ” your sorrows reach from earth to heaven”.

“So I will die”, I said

“No hero spoke those words”, Theseus said

“What can I do but die?” I cried

Does he not see what I have done. How I should not be forgiven. Not to mention how everyone will look down on me for killing my beloved family.

” Live?” ” A branded man for all to say, look. There is he who killed his wife and sons. everywhere my jailers, the sharp scorpions of the tongue!”

“Even so suffer and be strong.” Theseus answered.”

“You shall come to Athens with me,share my home and all things with me. And you will give to me and to the city a great return, the glory of having helped you.”

I said nothing. A long silenced followed. I decided I will do it for best of my family. At last I spoke, slow , heavy words. “So let it be,” I said,”I will be strong and wait for death”  END OF FLASHBACK

I sat in a chair and cried.

 “Accepting the Twelve Labors” by Francely Clases

When I was in Delphi I went to see the Oracle of Delphi. I really was sad for the loss of my wife and my kids and even though the people of Athen said to me that it wasn’t my fault but the gods, I still feel responsible and I can’t forgive myself. When I got to the priestess and told her what had happened with my wife and kids and she looked at the situation just like I did. She said to me that I needed to be purified for my crime and only a terrible punishment can do that so she sent me to my cousin Eurystheus, the King of Mycenae. I said to myself “I knew it, I knew that I deserved punishment for the killing of my family.” The oracle said that he would give me my punishments. So there I was in Mycenae kneeling before my cousin, ready to become his slave and accepting the punishment he is going to give me.

 “The Lernean Hydra” by Mikel

         My second labor of punishment was to kill the Lernean Hydra, a snake with nine heads, and lived in the swamps of Lerna. Even though I was the strongest and bravest man in the world, I was pretty nervous about this beast, but then I thought, what are the women going to do when they find out that I, the mighty Hercules is nervous about going out to kill the Lernean Hydra? This monster was so poisonous that the fumes from its breath alone were enough to kill whatever came close to it. When I heard these news, I said to my family, “ You better hope that nasty little critter doesn’t kill me with the fumes of its breath.” So I went off. While I was walking through the swamp, I suddenly stopped. I was scared. And, when I turned to my right, there it was, just waiting for me. And, I said to myself, “ Here goes nothing.” So I filled my enormous lungs with air, held my breath, and ran at the Hydra. Swinging my club, I knocked off the Hydra’s heads, and one after the other they rolled to the ground. Here’s what really put me in shock. But no sooner had I knocked off one head then a new one grew in its place. So I half turned around and let out enough air to call to my charioteer to bring a firebrand and sear the necks. Then no new heads could sprout. What really made me mad, was when Hera saw that I was winning over the Hydra, and she sent a giant crab to pinch my heel. So with a mighty kick, I sent the giant crab flying as I knocked off the last of the heads. Then to finish up, I dipped my arrows in the Hydra’s blood, making them so poisonous that a mere scratch from them was deadly. After, I returned to Mycenae and said to myself, “ Thank god it’s over.” My second labor performed.

For the final presentation of the unit, students were instructed to select their best diary entry to perform for students in other classrooms. After two days of preparation, including a session of critical peer feedback, I organized students into small groups and they were sent to my colleagues’ classrooms to perform for their peers. Each student claimed to be the REAL Heracles, but only one students from each group could be chosen by the audience as the REAL or most convincing Heracles.

After the presentations, all students received candy and celebrated together, and the most convincing “Heracleses” received large plastic Easter eggs filled with candy.

8th Grade Guys

Winners of the “Who is the REAL Heracles?” contest hold up their prizes like trophies. A great day of celebration!

 

Reflection

Although participation in the Very Special Arts “Embodying Literacy” course was a lot of work, it was completely worthwhile.

First of all, the monthly meetings provided a wonderful outlet for teachers to get together and embrace their creativity as well as learn easily implemented whole body instructional techniques.

Secondly, completing the projects for the course pushed me to design better curricula for my students that allowed them to use all of their senses to engage in learning. Not only did the results pay off in terms of increasing the job and engagement in my classroom, but students improved their scores on standardized reading examinations, homework completion, and typical schoolwork. Using the arts served to motivate and engage students in our work, and the performances provided students with a huge incentive to make sure that the prerequisite steps were all completed – or else they would risk being unprepared in front of an audience!

Finally, the projects that I required for each unit pushed for students to do open-ended, higher-order thinking tasks. For example, there were no right answers for selecting the most important lines from the “Learning to Read” piece, yet I did require students to explain and justify their choices orally and in writing before I included them in the script. This developed their persuasion skills as well as their attention to the text. Additionally, the embodiment pieces allowed students to explore verbs by creating movements to fit the vocabulary as well as the context or usage of the words. This required for students to synthesize their understanding of the words’ meanings in isolation as well as in context.

I will continue to push myself to embrace drama and whole-body movement in the classroom for future units. The Very Special Arts “Embodying Literacy” course was truly a source of inspiration, and I am sad that it is over!

 

 

To a Thinker: An Original Poem by Jennifer Dines

An original poem by Jennifer Dines.

An original poem by Jennifer Dines.

To a Thinker (PDF download)

Sunday Dialogue: A Talent for Teaching

I am positively giddy over my New York Times 7-Day Home Delivery and Unlimited Digital Access, which I purchased as a gift to myself for all of my hard work this year.

How poignant that today’s Sunday Dialogue discusses what makes a talented teacher! I enjoyed reading the readers’ comments (some of whom are students, some veteran teachers, and some Teach for America “folks”), as they caused me to reflect on my own teaching practice.

This year, my students have shown a great deal of growth in standardized reading test measures. In fact, predictive assessments show that my special education and ESL students have grown by an average of 11% on measures of grade-level reading assessment (moving them from the “Warning/Failing” NCLB category to “Needs Improvement”), with several students showing growth of 20% or more (almost “Proficient”). Additionally, my students have very high attendance (around 95% or so).

I am a sixth year public school teacher, yet I had several years of experience working with children and young adults as an after-school music (piano, voice) instructor as well as experience tutoring college students in ESL. Also, throughout graduate school, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Boston Public Schools, where I currently teach (and plan to teach for a long time).

So, what has shaped me as a teacher and what has made a difference for my students?

1) Mentorship

When I was a student teacher for four months in 2006, I had the great fortune of having Dr. Berta Berriz as my practicum supervisor. This incredible, strong woman possessed a doctoral degree and a NBPTS certification, and she had diligently served for 27 years in the Boston Public Schools as a classroom teacher. How inspiring to work with a veteran teacher who had continued her professional growth and developed her practice over three decades. I worked alongside Dr. Berriz in her classroom, and I found her methods for teaching reader’s and writer’s workshop and building students’ identities as scholars to be positively inspirational. To this day, I incorporate her style of writer’s workshop in my own classroom.

I made up my mind to follow in her footsteps. After becoming an ESL teacher, I pursued my special education degree (just like Dr. Berriz) and I am currently pursuing my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. Six years ago, I also made a promise to myself to stick with teaching for 30 years, by any means necessary. I want to be that teacher in the future who teaches her students’ children and maybe even their children’s children.

For the past three years, I have also had the incredible opportunity to work with Mrs. Deborah O’Shea, a middle school teacher and teacher leader who pursued her Reading Specialist license while serving at our urban public school. Mrs. O’Shea recruited me at a difficult time in my career, after I had been asked to reapply to my position at a highly dysfunctional “Turnaround School” and had refused. Mrs. O’Shea encouraged me to continue my professional development and strongly encouraged my enrollment in the MGH Communication Sciences and Disorders Reading Specialist CAS program. This program has not only developed my knowledge of reading expertise, but it has also provided me with a network of like-minded literacy teachers and speech and language pathologists who value knowledge of phonics, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and oral language development as essential elements of classroom instruction. Mrs. O’Shea has been a continual source of encouragement, and she shares my pride in my students for each and every academic and social achievement that they make.

2) Quality Professional Development

When I say quality, I mean research-based. There is a breadth of educational research literally at our fingertips (http://scholar.google.com – Most articles on this site from leading educational journals are accessible from the Boston Public Library website with a library card number and PIN number).

There is absolutely no reason for professional development of any kind that is not research-based. Be skeptical of what you spend your time on and look for the research to back it up. There are tons of “educational products” available for sale. Be wary of “white papers” and research by corporate entities themselves. Look for the citations of research from universities and esteemed professional organizations (i.e. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, The International Reading Association, etc.) when you attend a presentation or seminar.

The best professional development for me has been self-selected graduate courses and programs, as well as a fantastic training provided by our district and taught over several weekends by Connie Henry and Bruce Kamerer on examining the base-10 number system to develop number sense.

I consider the gold standard of professional development to be the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification in which teachers examine and reflect on their practice through the careful examination of student work and videos of their teaching in the classroom. Teachers completing this certification must submit a dense portfolio, which includes 4 extremely dense 14-page essays that include description, analysis, and reflection, and they also must pass a rigorous three hour examination that consists of six essays about the content and practice of their certificate area.

Basically, the more I know about teaching and research, the better I can teach my students.

3) Rigor

My students have a lot of challenging work, every day of every week.

They are required to read aloud in our classroom, and they are graded on their decoding and prosody. I assign passages from class novels or selection on articles, and they practice at home, using dictionary.com to perfect pronunciation of unknown words.

My students complete essays regularly using process writing. Every day in my class, they are writing at least a page or more, single spaced. Sometimes they are writing answers to comprehension questions. Other times they are reflecting on a class project. Other assignments include writing, revising, and editing drafts of longer assignments.

What is my classroom management strategy? I provide difficult assignments within the students’ zones of proximal development, and I supply a great deal of encouragement and support. (At this time of year, I can be frequently heard saying,”You know how to do this. I have given you the tools you need. So, reach in the toolbox of your brain and use them!”).

4) Celebration, Joy, and Arts Integration

This is my “warm/fuzzy” side. After we work hard, we party hard (but still maintain our academic focus).

I celebrate students’ achievements. This can be as simple as a high five or a small piece of candy. After students performed in a play, they received certificates, and I put a video of their play on YouTube. When students publish a collection of essays in a book, we celebrate with a publishing party at which students read their work aloud and then they have an opportunity to autograph one another’s books.

After the first and third quarter, students who receive passing grades are invited to special field trips to 826 Boston, a local writing center, and then, they are treated to ice cream at McDonald’s (not the healthiest, I know, but it’s a special treat).

Arts Integration brings excitement and joy to my lessons. Again, this can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. For example, when we studied the concepts of compression and tension, we “acted out” the diagrams of an arch bridge and a suspension bridge in our reading by pushing and pulling of hands. We have constructed a tetrahedron with brightly colored paper in order to explore geometric concepts.

I sing out “Hy! Potenuse” in a silly voice, so that my students can remember the word. I teach using evidence in writing through having students “act out” a weight lifter. Evidence bulks up your argument, just like a weight lifters weights make him strong. A visual image of a weight lifter with rippling muscles is posted on an anchor chart in my classroom that reminds students to “bulk up” their argument with evidence.

One student told me,”When we laugh, we laugh hard, but when it’s time to work, we know you’re serious.”

5) Parental Involvement

My students’ parents are urban immigrant families who work. They are also caring and dedicated parents who love their children and want the best for them. We keep in touch regularly through text messages and phone calls in English, Spanish, and my terrible version of Portuguese-Cape Verdean-Criollo mixed with a splash of Spanish and a dash of made-up words.

At the beginning of the year, students are given syllabi that have my picture and contact information on it and their parents must sign the syllabus, so they at least see who I am. After first quarter, students select their best work and write reflections. Parents are then invited to attend Student-Led Conferences to show their work to their families and to set academic goals for the remainder of the school year. I had 15 out of 18 families from my grade 7 and 8 ESL 3 class attend these conferences.

Conclusion

I will close with one of my favorite quotations: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I learned this from working with Patricia Suriel of the Mariposa DR Foundation in the Dominican Republic. For my own practice, I interpret this quotation to mean that I do not need to wait around for an administrator or policy maker to tell me what to do.

I will continue to seek out best practices and apply them to my students and teaching. Teachers do not need to wait around for an official or administrator to approve their work or to tell them which program to use. If teachers collect data on students (notebooks and file folders with dated assignments – make your students write the date on everything!) to show their progress, teachers have evidence to show that students are learning and growing. I have found that if I get good results and act professionally, I will be respected and not micro-managed.

Teachers cannot wait for the government or an organization or even the New York Times to tell us what is best for our students. We all can have a critical eye and examine the research on our own. We can look at data (student work) every day, and see what is working for Angel, what is not working for Clayton, what is working for Natalie…no one else knows the children like we do.

We must become experts on the students we serve and learn practices that serve them well and inspire them to take on difficult assignments and challenge themselves academically. Our students are our future. Will we cloak our future in bureaucracy and petty debates? Or will we forge a path of values, hope, and success? We are the ones we have been waiting for, and we can do this.