Tag Archives: books

#nf10for10 “Home”

I love this event because as a high school English teacher I work with many students who have keen interests, but low reading ability. I’m always on the look out for great non-fiction texts that fit the desire and the learning, and #nf10for10 definitely inspires me!

This year I want to focus on the ideas of belonging, care, change, and voice. While our young teens are trying to find themselves, they’re also trying to make sense of the world they find themselves in.


When readers explore the world of non-fiction texts, their world can change. Passions are born, discoveries are made, seeds are planted. These texts connect readers to their local place and to the world at large helping them realize how much we all have in common. But to grab our young readers’ attention, the texts must be compelling. I think I have found a stack of non-fiction picture books that fit the bill exactly!

But first, let’s remember where we’re all from, and why together we need to work to protect it and all of its inhabitants.

1. “If the World Were a Village tells us who we are, where we live, how fast we are growing, what languages we speak, what religions we practice and more.”

This is a book that puts into perspective some of the harsh realities of our world that we might not otherwise understand. Of the 100 people who live in the village

30 people in the village do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time

14 people are severely undernourished and are always hungry.

These are numbers we can all relate to, which allows us to have concrete conversations about those very issues that seem beyond us. This book gives us a place to begin to build understanding, tolerance, and empathy.

2. And yet, we know that in this ever-shrinking world, “we can no longer dismiss conflicts on other continents and in other hemispheres as being ‘way over there.’ Whether through family, business, war, or other factors, we are all touched by them.” (Why Do We Fight?)

 This is a fantastic primer (not really a picture book, but graphic) on the issues surrounding conflicts like ‘Why do Conflicts Come Up?’, ‘Cooperation or Combat?’, and ‘Making Sense of Conflicts’.  And scattered throughout the text are inspirational quotes like this one

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. —Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (1917-1984)

Beyond it’s tremendous content, the book offers all of the text features we are looking for when students need to conduct research:

  • Introduction
  • Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Sources
  • Index
  • Maps and timelines

3. And conflict leads to altered lives. Children’s lives around the world can be different in many respects, but one thing should hold true: Play is the work of children. Yet some kids don’t have time for play; their responsibilities to the family or their work leave few opportunities for fun-filled times.

It’s for them, the world’s most disadvantaged children, that Right to Play was started. For over a decade now, this humanitarian organization has been helping to bring laughter and smiles to children all around the world. It uses sports and play to educate, to improve health, and build confident youth who want to give back to their communities.

This is what we want for all of our young people. This book does relate the stories of those impacted directly by the organization, but it goes beyond providing information (although it does that well). The book is a also a call to action!

Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.  —-Margaret Mead, anthropologist and author.

4. Which is a terrific segue to my next pick! There are many ways to make a difference in our lives, schools, communities, and world. This handbook covers issues from your carbon footprint to ethical food shopping to eco fashion. It’s a bright, well-laid out highly visual text. It’s upbeat, positive, and fun!  Like Why do we fight? and When Children Play, Making a Difference offers up suggestions of how the reader can answer the call.

This text is also appropriate for learning about text features and the research process.

5. What’s a cause without a hero! Well Heroes of the Environment is a book about 12 regular folks across North America who do remarkable things to help our environment.

They build farms in the middle of cities. They invent toilet systems that clean flush water with plants. They protect wild habitats or reindeer, sea turtles, alligators, and people. The book offers the reader an annotated map of North America, photographs and illustrations that do a good job of supporting the narratives. Each of the 12 chapters can be read on their own, which is exactly how my students use the book. They gravitate to Chapter 11, “Saving the Porcupine River Caribou”, because its hero is First Nations! We are always excited to find positive stories about indigenous peoples.

6.  Those heroes of the environment are inspiring, but what about the kids?

Down to Earth: How kids help feed the world isn’t so much about changing the world as it is about understanding how it works. This is our home, and kids need to know where their food comes from. The book is chock full of fun farm facts and beautiful photographs of the animals, gardens, farms, and kid farmers. But it’s not all fun and games. Food is a political issue. As If the World were a Village taught us, not everyone gets equal share of the world’s resources.

7. Once our students become passionate about their cause, Political Activism: How you can make a difference, might find its way to the top of their TBR list.

Don’t let the seriousness of the title scare you off! This book is about pre-teens and teens, and it is accessible for grade 4 and up. It’s value is that it explains the process of going from learning about an issue to taking action.

  • Chapter 1: Driven to make a difference
  • Chapter 2: What’s the problem?
  • Chapter 3: Get the facts
  • Chapter 4: Plan of action
  • Chapter 5: Take the action

It also has relevant resources for further research.

8. and 9. Bicycles.

These two books take us in a different direction when we think about making a change. Sometimes our young readers think that change is a sudden, immediate happening. These two books look at a favourite past time of many readers through the lens of change. Pedal It! is a beautifully photographed history of the impact that bicycles have had and continue to have in the world. It is a very accessible text, loaded with sidebars, pullout quotes, and historical images.

The Wheels of Change is also an historical text illustrating how bicycles helped change the lives of women.

With an astonishing number of primary source research gems, a lively narrative, and a keen sense of history. Sue Macy will guide you through the evolution of the bicycle, its surprising impact on women’s place in society, and some ill-fated bumps along the way. So, hold on to your handlebars!     Wheels of Change cover

If you have girls who want to learn about women’s history, this is a dynamite book!

If you are teaching critical literacy, this is a dynamite book!

If you are teaching biography writing, this is a dynamite book!

10. For those of you who know me, you know that I work in a First Nations high school. In Canada, right now, there is (finally) a move by the Canadian government and its people towards reconciling the past harms done to First Nations people. There is much work to be done. And one of the first things that we need to begin to do from our hearts and souls is to listen. I think this is true of any society on the journey towards true inclusion. This is change too. And it’s all around us, isn’t it? My collection of books is about how each one of our readers can make a difference in the world by taking care of our home and each other.

The writers and artists in Dreaming in Indian made it home, to ourselves, to our medicines, to our beliefs, to our stories, to our art, and to our music, and we did so with extraordinary alacrity, strength, resilience, and awesome talent. We braided the art of the external to our won. We dug inside the depths of our rage until peace, love, and  struggle were born. We scraped together our music, scrabbled for language that would express our deepest sentiments, our strongest desires, and we expressed them.    Lee Maracle, editor

Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices 

That’s it! 10 titles to frame conversations about how we are in this world together! Have a great day of reading everyone!

Thanks, as always, to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for their dedication to literacy for all!



February 19, 2016 · 6:18 am

What Great Principals Do Differently: An Introduction


What sets great principals apart? Whitaker argues that if we can clarify “what the best leaders do, and then [practice] it ourselves, [we] can move into their ranks” (xi). But he does not argue for a prescribed recipe. In fact, he strives to build a framework within which each principal can continuously work on improving his or her leadership skills. “Think of [this book] as a blueprint. The principals are the architects. The teachers establish the foundation. The students move into the building and fill it with life and meaning” (141).

Let’s begin.

The Best Teacher

One of Whitaker’s key ideas is that of the best teacher. What does “best teacher” mean to you? And why is that person(s) so important to great principals?

 Best teacher 2

 Superstar teachers from Al Burr (1993) are those who

  • former students remember as their best teacher
  • parents regularly request for their children teachers
  • have the respect of their peers

Great teachers are indispensable. They can help a new principal learn the job. They will tell the principal the truth in a way that is acceptable.  They keep the principal’s confidence. They have school wide-vision.  Great principal’s will always base their decision on what the great teacher will think of it.

Todd Whitaker’s voice.

I think it’s important to hear Todd speak because his passion, confidence, and style will remains with you as you read the text.  Here he is speaking to the first of his 18 statements of effectiveness: “It’s people, not programs who determine the quality of the school.”


This is some list. What jumps off the page for you?

Here are my top three picks:

#3 Who is the variable? Great principals make all teachers aware that they are the variables in the classroom. When we talk about high expectations, it’s that teachers need high expectations of themselves. Likewise, effective principals view themselves as responsible for their school. They do not look to factors outside the school as the cause of problems or issues with students or staff. Great principals are problem solvers. They draw upon people from within and from beyond the school community to look for innovative ways to approach problems.

# 7 Hire Great Teachers because you want your school to become like the best teachers you hire. Whitaker argues that many principals will hire who fit into their existing staff, but it’s impossible to improve your school in this way. Hiring teachers who will lead other teachers and who have talent will be teachers who help principals achieve their goals for the school.

#11 Loyalty to whom? Great principals know to keep the students, all students, at the centre of their decisions. Principals are constantly faced with ideas, initiatives, plans, and opportunities for their school, students and staff alike. Great principals will ask the question of any new idea, “What would my best teachers think of this?” But they will also ask, “What is best for the students?” 

Does Whitaker’s thinking align with our conversations in Ontario? I think  it does. Have a look to see where his 18 statements of effectiveness fit into the Ontario Leadership Framework. At least, where they fit for me, today.

Whitaker and OLF 2014 PQP2

The “Building Relationships and Developing People” strand gets the bulk of the effectiveness statements, and that makes sense. As George Couros comments in the beginning of his post exploring the “Setting Directions” strand,

“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people.

There are a lot of books on leadership and being a principal. Whitaker speaks to ways a principal can become more effective that are grounded in his experiences and his work in education. He shares his philosophy through personal anecdotes and vignettes to which all principals, and aspiring principals can relate.

Every principal has an impact. Great principals make a difference.

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The Transformative Power of Reading and Talking Literature

031/365 - The Reader

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Antoine Robiez via Compfight

Why stories?

If we ever need to be reminded about the importance of stories in our lives, the month of March does the job with World Read Aloud Day on the 5th, World Storytelling Day on the 20th, and Canada Reads 2014 from March 3 – 6.

And we do need reminding.

Take Stephen Lewis, Canadian philanthropist and activist, who acknowledges during Canada Reads 2014 that he has not been a reader of fiction, but through his participation in Canada Reads he claims “I am determined to start serious reading…[the conversation about books] engages you in the literature.” (7:00 mark)

I needed reminding too.

For too long, I have been reading professional education texts by the likes of Dweck, Hattie, Katz, Kittle, Boushey and Moser, Routman, Allington-you get the idea.  As a new literacy coach, the gaps in my knowledge about K-6 literacy, in particular, were unavoidable; I was after all a high school English teacher. But one needs to respond to challenges, right? One way I cope with the queasiness that high levels of risk creates in me is to work really hard.

Head down and go.

The thing about learning is that it is all-absorbing. It’s not  that I didn’t have time for literature (both fiction and creative non-fiction); it’s that I only had time for reading that supported my learning. It’s a matter of perceived value.

Don’t get me wrong, I did read–there were all the incredible primary stories that reminded me of the absolute joy that illustrators offer, Giraffe and Bird  (what attitude expressed on the page!!) being one of my favourites . And the middle school stories that grab your heart and punch & hug & hold onto you like Wonder does.  And the YA stories that push the dark corners of possibility closer to the centre of our consciousness-magic, fantasy, science fiction, crime, war, and love-there’s wonder here, but there’s pain too: The Fault in Our StarsThe  Hunger GamesAmy & Roger’s Epic DetourThe Maze RunnerLittle BrotherFor the Win, Into the Wild. And lastly, I did read the odd adult story like State of Wonder and Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. 

But, with my return to the classroom and to reading with and along side my students, I am once again immersed in those conversations about life that emerge from the perspective of literature. This is so satisfying. Stories, after all, are the lens through which I have grappled with all of life’s complexities, and helping my students create that lens for themselves is a goal to be sure. So, the students of Room 121 have begun thinking about stories or ways of knowing. We are reading biographies or autobiographies of one sort or another at the moment. Our list of titles includes The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianA Beautiful MindMetallicaJ.K. RowlingInto Thin AirAmelia EarhartA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusSteve Jobs: The Man who Thought DifferentHer Last Death: A MemoirSix Months in SudanSteven Tyler A Long Way Gone.

I love the diversity of these titles and I love that in each case the reader can think about the story as a legitimate way to understand his or her life.

But, but, but…..what titles can you suggest for us?

And, and, and…..check back to see what we are thinking about our reading.


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Professional Reading: Summer of 2013

Here is my potential list of reads for this summer. It is long, but I am an optimist. And these titles cover a range of topics. Diversity is the key here.


I will be focusing on thinking in all of my teaching next year and I have heard great things about Making Thinking Visible.

Next up, Notice & Note. I absolutely love annotation strategies that help students dive more deeply into texts. But there are always some students I don’t seem to reach, and they continue to struggle to create meaning with the text. Notice & Note promises to support that during reading stage for grades 4 to 12 students, and of course, Kylene Beers’ reputation in her previous work on reading precedes her.

Harvey and Daniel’s Comprehension and Collaboration is a must read for anyone thinking about student inquiry.
I am intrigued by the maker space movement that is emerging across the globe. I belong to a family of makers (long before it was chic). We build, bake, grow, construct, assemble, sew, and create , and I have in the past brought my predilection for making into my classroom. I am looking forward to adding to my repertoire with Invent to Learn.

This book has been on my TBR list since in came out last spring.  I have been inspired by November’s videos and his latest book will, I am sure, support my thinking about learning in the modern world.

I teach adolescents, many who struggle with the learning process. How can I resist giving Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain a go?
Love Dan Pink’s interdisciplinary approach to life. I know he is a business writer by trade, but his ideas do crossover to education and our personal lives. As my children are growing up and moving away, I have looked for ways to keep us involved in each other’s lives. Having a family book club is one thing that we do. To Sell is Human might be next on our list. I know educators are reading it, and I am hopeful that it will also appeal to the mechanic, the solider, the dancer, and the musician in the family.



These two books by Peter H. Johnston are on my list every summer as re-reads. Changing the way we speak to our kids and each other, and re-configuring our approach to learning takes time and it takes support. Each summer I take some time to reflect on Johnston’s words and on how I am faring.

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