Friday, December 29, 2017

Celebrating A Tribute to Ruth

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week. I began 2017 celebrating those people who have inspired my writing life.  One of my beliefs for this year was that we RISE when we lift others.  My goal was to lift a person each month.  Sadly, this didn't happen, but you can read my other tribute posts here:

A Writing Gift - A Tribute to Fran
Found Poetry - A Tribute to Terje
The Beginning - A Tribute to Katherine 
Cherishment - A Tribute to Margaret

I want to end the year with a final tribute.  I have waited to write this post because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to capture everything I wanted to say.  I wouldn't be able to get it right.  And I want it to be right because this person has helped me to RISE as a writer, a teacher, and a person. (And yes, I still think it falls short.)

Today I celebrate my friend, Ruth Ayres.

I remember the first time I met Ruth face to face.  It was my first time at the All Write Conference.  I had known Ruth through blogging for almost a year and was looking forward to meeting her.  I walked into the lobby of the hotel and there she was with a a group of fellow bloggers.  She recognized me and came over to hug me. 

What I remember most about that time was how welcoming and down-to-earth Ruth was.  She included me in conversations, in time by the pool, and in lots of laughter.  I quickly learned, that is just Ruth.

In time, I realized that Ruth began influencing my life beyond my blog, and I began a far-away friendship with her.  

As the school year started, I would come from conferences with students from hard places.  My heart would ache for them and the life they were living.  I remember saying to my team, "Every child from a hard place needs a Ruth."  

During my daughter's first year of teaching, I didn't think she was going to make it through the first few months.  I sent a message to Ruth asking for help, and she began praying for Megan.  That is when I told myself, "Everyone needs a Ruth."

I wanted to push myself as a writer and extend it beyond my blog.  Ruth has become my encourager, my nudger. (She's quite good at nudging!)  She helped me to say and mean the words, "I am a writer."  I remember thinking, "Every writer needs a Ruth."

If you are here celebrating today, then I know I am not alone in my admiration for Ruth and the gratefulness for the impact her words have on us.  To celebrate, I have written a found poem from comments from her fellow bloggers and friends.

Your words, 
filled with passion,
connect many
shine brightly
and give us hope.

Your love,
permeates everything you do
and spreads to everyone 
who knows you.

reach out to others
and lean into love.

bring joy and inspiration
make our world beautiful
and make us smile.

are a gift.

Thank you
for nudging,
for sharing, 
for writing, 
and for being a light 
in the darkness.

Deeply grateful for your words
and to have your voice 
in our ears
in our hearts, 
For, we would have never written a word to share  
if it weren't for you.

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2017

Thank you for just being Ruth.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Opening Minds - A Teacher Study

A group of colleagues and I are reading and discussing Opening Minds by Peter Johnston.    This book is about how our words impact our students.  The purpose of this book study is to help us focus on growth mindset, and I am certain that it will.  But this first chapter gave me much to think about not only as a teacher, but also as a learner.

I believe that I have a professional responsibility to be the best teacher I can be.  I try hard not to criticize or judge those who accept the status quo, do not partake in professional development, or become stagnant in their teaching practices. That is their choice, and who am I to judge? (Ok, maybe I did judge a little there.)

Instead, I choose to share my learning and to encourage others to seek out opportunities to learn. Reading this first chapter made me think about opening my own mind as a teacher.

I believe I owe it to my students, my colleagues, and my profession to be a learner and to hone my craft as a teacher.

The book opens with a short vignette about a teacher who admits she has made a mistake. Johnston explains that by admitting mistakes, we level the "power difference between teacher and students" (pg. 3).

Students need to see that we are not perfect, and we should not desire an image of perfection.  But as I read further, my thinking turned inward.  How often are we, as teachers, allowed to make mistakes?  When we have a mark of not meeting expectations or ineffective on our evaluations, do we see this as an opportunity for growth?  Or do we see it as failure?  Do administrators allow us to make mistakes and turn them into learning opportunities?  Or do they see us ineffective?

Another take-away from this chapter is that if they(we) don't understand that making a mistake does not mean they(we) are "incompetent, stupid, or not a good person" then "they will not be able to risk taking on learning challenges for fear of making mistakes" (pg. 3).  How often do we, as teachers, risk taking on new learning challenges?  How many teachers even see themselves as learners?  How does this view impact our classrooms?  Our teaching?

If we don't see ourselves as learners and risk taking on learning challenges, how can we even begin to project and instill that image to our students?

I look forward to learning more in the chapters ahead.  If you have read Opening Minds, please feel free to share your thoughts.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Rise and Shine - #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday!  Buffy has this week's round up so please join her at Buffy's Blog.

Welcome to my dusty little corner of the poetry world! 

When I added the title of grad student to my already overwhelming list of titles, I knew something(s) would have to go.  Blogging on a regular basis and writing for fun (academic papers are not what I call writing for fun!) seem to be the current targets of my time stealer.

This past year, I cautiously tipped my toes into the Poetry Friday waters.  You all welcomed me with open arms and hearts.  I hosted a round-up for the first time, and I signed up for the Winter Poem Swap which was organized by Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.

Several weeks ago I received my package from Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.  I couldn't wait to share her perfectly-written-for-me poem.  The first Friday went by, and no post.  Then the next Friday.

So, today I publicly apologize to Mary Lee for the delay in acknowledging her beautiful and thoughtful words and publicly share her poem.

Rise and Shine

Like the moon
as she waxes and wanes,

Like the seasons
as they flourish and rest,

Like the cup of tea
as it gathers strength before the sip,

So you rise
reclaiming your reading life,

So you rise
from writing teacher to teacher-writer,

So you rise
leading a whole community to Wonder.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

Thank you, Mary Lee, for capturing my heart in your words. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Needle and Thread

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week. It has been awhile since I have written a celebration post.  This week was one of those weeks where I taught lessons and learned a lesson.  That is always a cause for celebration!

This week my middle school held its second annual door decorating contest.  It is a week a chaos, messiness and a whole lot of fun.  

My students created a Christmas quilt for our door.  It has not been one of my best years, and I was leery about letting my entire class participate in this year's contest.  I tried to make it simple, yet include each one in the process.  I decided the quilt would be just the answer.

Each student had a nine block pattern and created their own design pattern.  The only rule was that it had to be colored with red, green, and yellow crayons.  (Another reason why dandelion should NOT have been retired!)

My students of the week began piecing it together on the door.  We used the words which were suggested by Margaret Simon, 

"Christmas stitches us together 
with JOY!"

Now if any of you quilt, then you know just how important that 1/4 inch seam allowance is!  As the students pieced it together, the more distorted it became.  And the more I had to close my eyes and say, "kid created" because the sashing, borders, and blocks not lining up was driving me crazy.

Our blocks were crooked, our seams didn't meet, and we had gaps where we shouldn't have had gaps.  As I stood back and looked at our finished door, I realized that my classroom was just like this quilt.  

Each block is different with their own little design, just as each one of my students are. They come from different backgrounds, different abilities, and different personalities. But each one is special in their own scrappy way. Their seams don't always meet. They make mistakes which create crooked paths. They have gaps socially, emotionally, and academically which need to be filled.  

As this epiphany hit me, I realized how much they depend on us, as teachers, to "patch" them up.  Teachers help them to realize they are unique designs, and each block has a special place in the quilt.  We help them to realize their seams might not match, so we set them on a straighter path.  We may even have to rip some out and help them realize starting over isn't so bad.  We need to teach them that the seams are what holds the quilt together.  

And the gaps...oh my are there gaps. That is when teachers add a little here and add a little there to help the masterpiece come together.

And so I added the line,
...and teachers patch us up
with LOVE!

Our door was 6th grade runner-up,
but I think it was the emotional appeal of the judges and NOT neatness! 

So yes, my door is a little scrappy, a little crooked, and in need of a little patching.

Just like my students.

What did I learn this week?  I need to look at my students like this quilt and realize they are not perfect, and they have gaps, and they certainly have crooked seams, but they are trusting me and needing me to hold the needle and the thread.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankful to Have My Reading Life Back

I am a middle school ELA teacher.  I believe in the power of books.  I believe in the benefits of independent reading.  I believe in sharing my literacy life with my students.

But do you know how many books I have read this school year?


Yes, I said zero, and I am not proud of that number.

I started working on my Master's in September, so my reading life has come to a standstill.  Oh, I am reading, just not books with my students.  On Facebook, I commented on this new dilemma I was facing on the Passionate Readers Book Club page.

Donalyn Miller gave me some words of advice, "Our reading lives wax and wane. You are not setting it aside forever."  and then posted a link to a Nerdy Book Club she had written titled:  Guilt Trip:  Accepting My Reading Slump.

In this post, she talks about reading binges and dry spells.  She gives such great advice and offers grace for those of us who have had to set aside our reading lives when real life gets in the way.  But I felt better when I read her words, "I must remember that my reading life belongs to me. I need to reclaim it for myself or I won’t have much to offer my reading community." 

Last Saturday, I reclaimed my reading life.  And it felt good.

My public library had just received a copy of Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.  (Actually the book wasn't even on the shelves yet. The librarian had to go get it from the catalogue department.) 

I had recently shown my students an interview with Jason, and they begged me to purchase the book.  Because I teach 6th graders, I knew I wanted to read it myself first before I put it in my classroom library. 

And I didn't just read it, I devoured about an hour.  

And I couldn't wait to share it with my students. 

I went to school on Monday with a new spark.   I shared this book with other teachers, my assistant principal and anyone else who would listen. I even began to read it aloud in all of my classes. On Tuesday, the day before our Thanksgiving break, we had a reading day.  I read Patina, another wonderful book by Jason Reynolds.  

I am once again living a literate life.

So no, Donalyn, I haven't set my reading life aside forever.  It is back, and on this Thanksgiving Eve, I am thankful for its reappearance.

Friday, November 17, 2017

#EnticingWriters Blog Tour

I am thrilled to be able to share with all of you Ruth Ayres' new book, Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers.  Earlier this week, Tammy and Clare wrote a great review on their blog, Assessment in Perspective. They give you the highlights of each section and share several quotes that are sure to linger in your thoughts.  

On Wednesday, Michelle, at Literacy Learning Zone, shared an interview with Ruth. In her post, Ruth answers questions from teachers about the writing process.

Today, in true Ruth Ayres style, I simply tell a story...or two.

I have always been a believer in "things happen for a reason." The week Ruth asked me to help welcome her book into the world, two situations happened. I believe each was meant to happen for me to fully understand the impact of Ruth's book on my thinking and my teaching.
The first was a conference for a new student who had recently been placed in our foster care system from a nearby county. She lived in deplorable conditions with parents who were drug users.  She bounced from foster home to foster home, and eventually landed with us.
She comes from a hard place.
The second happened during writing workshop in my classroom. We began a narrative unit, and I sat down next to one of my writers as she told me her story. Her mom was a drug user while she was pregnant. She had three other children and was incapable of caring for all of them. My student was later adopted, and she told me being adopted was the best thing that had happened to her.
She comes from a hard place.
Both of these students are still healing. Both situations made me realize that I not only wanted to read Ruth's book, but that I NEEDED to read it.  

I know I am not the only teacher to have children sitting in my classroom who come from hard places. We all have students just like Ruth's children: Hannah, Stephanie, Jay, and Sam.  

But do I understand how trauma alters children's brains? Do I know how to help them heal from their hard pasts? Am I a faithful and fearless teacher who can help them write a happy ending? Am I willing to take a leap of faith to entice all students to write their stories?

Ruth's book, Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers helped me in my struggle to find those answers.


I first heard the introduction of Ruth's book last summer at the All Write Conference in Warsaw, Indiana. Ruth sat down on the floor of the stage with the microphone in her hand. Her voice quivered as she genuinely shared a part of her heart through her children's stories.  As tears were shed in that silent auditorium, she also reminded us that we, as teachers, have the power to change lives.


Ruth teaches us about brain research and how children from hard places can learn to heal. When we take the time to to provide for the needs of the children in our classrooms, "we prove to them they are valuable and worthy" (p. 21). Ruth reminds us that we don't always "see" the trauma students experience, yet their brains begin to heal when they know their needs are going to be met. Many times those needs are met by teachers.


Ruth shares her life as a writer and a workshop teacher and how becoming a writer made an impact in her teaching. For me, chapter seven was a power chapter because she states that being a teacher who writes is what eventually enticed her students to write themselves. "Of all things I can do to affect my writing instruction, this is the most important" (p. 48). Ruth reminds us that children who experience trauma, can begin the healing through story. And when teachers understand the impact of having written, we can help them heal.


Ruth gives us seven leaps of faith. She unsurprisingly prefaces the leaps with celebration, "Celebration lives alongside the messiness of learning; we simply must learn to see it" (p.83). The best part of this section is the feeling that Ruth is there holding my hand and saying, "You can do this, and I am going to show you how."

Earlier this week, just when I thought this blog post was finished, I experienced yet another encounter with a student writer. She was writing a narrative about the time her dad left her. She felt unwanted and unloved. We had conferred about the direction she wanted her story to go. I sat down next to her because I saw she wasn't writing. I asked her, "How's it going?"

She lowered her head, avoided my eyes, and reluctantly replied, "I don't want to write."

"Why?" I asked her. And as she shrugged her shoulders, I thought of what I had read and learned in Ruth's book and I told her, "You have a story on your heart, and I am here to help you write it."

I think about these students and their hard place stories. I want them to heal. I want them to be able to write a happy ending. And I want to be a part of that healing process.  I can no longer ignore my students' needs or pretend they do not come from hard places or live in fear. Instead, I can take the stories, ideas, and strategies that Ruth has shared in Enticing Hard-to-Reach Wrriters, and give them hope.

This...this is why I NEEDED to read Ruth's book.

Thank you, Ruth, for reminding me of why I became a teacher. Thank you for writing this much needed book and for sharing your children's stories with us. I know I am a much better teacher, writer, and person for having read it.

I leave you with Ruth's inspiring and empowering words:  

"Take the time to see their stories.  
Remember, you have the power to change the course of lives.  
All children deserve to know 
that they can write a different version of their stories."

Stenhouse Publishers has graciously donated two copies of Ruth's book to be given away at EACH stop on the blog tour. Please leave your thoughts about Ruth's book or share your story of enticing writers in the comment section below. Two lucky winners will be selected using a random generator after November 24th at 11:59 EST.
If you purchase a copy of Ruth's book before November 30, 2017, you are eligible for a free registration to her online Enticing Writers Book Club. Email your receipt to to join the fun in January 2018!

Thank you for stopping by today! Check out the entire Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers blog tour. You won't want to miss any of them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Creating Reading Memories

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?
Today I celebrate One Book, One District, One Community, a project I have been working on since the beginning of the school year.   The project revolved around the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. 

With the help of community sponsors and our school corporation administrators, we were able to purchase over 1,400 books.  Each student in our four elementary schools received their own copy.  Third through fourth grade received the novel, and our pre-school through second grade received the picture book, We Are All Wonders.

Teachers have been reading the book this month and participating in kindness activities.  Today was "Distribution Day," the day the students received their copy of the books.  I had the privilege to be at all four schools and to watch the magic.  

What a day for celebration! 

The smiles on their faces when they carefully held these books in their hands was pure joy.  Many of them sat right down and began turning the pages or tried to find the spot where their teacher was reading.

At one school, I knelt down and talked with a few of the students as their teachers were passing out the books.  Here are some of their reactions:

"Is this book really mine?"

"Do we get to take these home?

"Now I can read ahead of my teacher...but I won't tell what happens."

"I can't wait to take this home and read it to my mom."

The little girl in the pink jacket looked up at me and was the first one to say, "Thank you."  My heart melted because I could tell by her sweet little face that her thank you was so sincere.

As literacy teachers, we spend our days building reading communities, showing our students the importance of having a reading life, and hoping that we somehow provide the spark that ignites their love of reading. 

Our students won't look back and remember our most engaging lesson, or a grammar worksheet they mastered, or a standardized test prep packet.   

Our hope is that for the short time we have them in our classrooms, we create reading memories.  That we read aloud a book that changes them.  That we place a book in their hands that teaches them empathy, or that becomes a mirror where they see themselves, or that gives them hope.  

We want them to look back and say, "Remember that time when we read..."  We want to be memory makers because...

Reading memories trigger reading lives.
(Click to tweet.)

And that is what today was all about. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sifter #poetryFriday

Welcome to Poetry Friday and my little corner of the world!  This is my first time hosting, and I appreciate you stopping by to share your bit of poetry with all of us.

My last Donor's Choose project was a collection of poetry books.  Some were old, some were new, but all revolved around the teenage years.  Today I share with you some thoughts and words from from Naomi Shihab Nye in her book, A Maze Me.

In the introduction to this book, Naomi shares her worry about becoming a teenager and wanting to hang on to childhood just a little bit longer.   In one part she talks about not remembering "the name of a single junior high school teacher."  Yet she could name every elementary teacher and most of her high school teachers.  She asks, "What happened in between?"

Naomi says when she turned seventeen, "I started feeling as if my soul fit my age again, or my body had grown to fit my brain.  When she was in college, she met Nellie Lucas, an eccentric women, who taught Naomi to "slow down and to pay better attention to everything" and to have faith about "growing up."

One of the best pieces of advice I found for want-to-be writers is, "If you write three lines down in a notebook every day (they don't have to be important, they don't have to relate to one another, you don't have to show them to anyone) will find out what you notice.  Uncanny connections will be made visible to you.  That's what I started learning when I was twelve, and I never stopped learning it."

She compares growing up as "Every year unfolds like a petal inside all the years that preceded it.  You will feel your thinking springing up and layering inside your huge mind a little differently.  Your thinking will befriend you.  Words will befriend you.  You will be given more than you could ever dream."

What follows these wise words, is a collection of 72 poems. Below is my favorite.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

When our English teacher gave
our first writing assignment of the year,
become a kitchen implement
in 2 descriptive paragraphs, I did not think
butcher knife or frying pan,
I thought immediately 
of soft flour showering through the little holes
of the sifter and the sifter's pleasing circular
swishing sound, and wrote it down.
Rhoda became a teaspoon,
Roberto a funnel,
Jim a muffin tin
and Forrest a soup pot.
We read our paragraphs out loud.
Abby was a blender.  Everyone laughed
and acted giddy but the more we thought about it, 
we were all everything in the whole kitchen,
drawers and drainers,
singing teapot and and grapefruit spoon
with serrated edges, we were all the 
empty cup, the tray.
This, said our teacher, is the beauty of metaphor.
It opens doors.
What I could not know then was how being a sifter
would help me all year long.
When bad days came
I would close my eyes and feel them passing
through the tiny holes.
When good days came
I would try to contain them gently
the way flour remains
in the sifter until you turn the handle.
Time, time. I was a sweet sifter in time
and no one ever knew.

Shihab Nye, Naomi. "A Maze Me: Poems for Girls." Harper Collins Publishers:  New York, NY. 2005.

May we all become sifters.  
Thank you for visiting today, and please share your link below.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gown of Gold ~ Poetry Friday

It's Poetry Friday, and Irene has the round-up at Live Your Poem.

It is a glorious Poetry Friday, and I am on fall break.  I have spent the last three days trying to finish up a grad course.  I started classes in September and my reading and writing life has taken a downturn.  Today, while sitting outside, I decided I needed a break.  I thought catching up on blog posts from friends was just the thing I needed.

My first stop was Terje's at Just For a Month.  She posted photos from a fall walk, and they are gorgeous.  Next stop was Margaret's at Reflections on the Teche, where I read her Poetry Friday post, a collection of student poems.  

In my comment to her, I said how much I wanted to take time out from studying and just write.  

And so I did.

I went back to Terje's pictures because they always give me inspiration.  Jotted down some thoughts and ideas in my notebook.  Marked many out and tried again.  So instead of writing about learning theories, I wrote about fall and her gown of gold.  

Next week I host the round-up, so I hope to see you here.

Gown of Gold

Photo by Terje Akke, Estonia
I stand tall in my gown of gold,
sleeves stretching endlessly
to cover your bareness.

I pause and ponder
the change which will
become our destiny.

I glance one last time
at my reflection
in the mirror.

I bask in my moment of glory
and hesitantly wait 
for winter’s wardrobe.

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2017