Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Connecting through COVID - Admin Edition

I’ve grown into being an administrator.  When I first started the job, I found myself overwhelmed and perhaps regretting the decision to leave the classroom.  (See my last admin-centered post)  Over time, I’ve settled in and gotten more comfortable and confident in the AP role.  So, while I no longer feel like a dog stuck in a tree, there are a few things I still really, really miss about being in the classroom.  And by far the biggest is building relationships with kids.  

The past ten months have been ridiculously challenging in the world of education, and I found myself depressed.  I hated the idea of interacting with kids through screens.  I needed to do something, but my hands were tied in so many ways.  So, I borrowed from Erin and from Penguin Random House’s Instagram page, and I started First Chapter Friday.   

The idea of First Chapter Friday is simple: each Friday you read aloud the first chapter of a different book.  The goal is to introduce your students to new titles and authors, pique their curiosity, get them excited and wanting to read.  

(Authors and publishers have continued to clear our paths, removing legal barriers that once existed when sharing books. Chalk one up in the pandemic PRO column! Click here for guidelines provided by publishing houses - current as of Nov. 2020.)

“Welcome to my office!  No, you’re not in trouble.  I just want to read with you!”  (Note the 6-foot distance measuring stick in the background.)

Since I don’t have a classroom like Erin or a social media following like PRH, I recorded myself reading and shared the videos with  Literacy teachers in my school.  I told them I had no expectation that they would use the videos, but that I was doing it to keep myself sane.  I said I hoped they would find it helpful - 20 minutes of class each week that they didn't have to plan.  I held my breath and crossed my fingers and clicked “share.” 

Best. Decision. Ever. 

At first, it was a trickle.  A student doing a double take when they saw me in the cafeteria, smiling under my mask.  Another one complimenting me on my reading skills.  A student throwing over their shoulder, “I really liked that book you read” while scurrying past in the halls.  Then the emails started coming asking to borrow books.  Then it was kids arguing with each other over who should get to borrow the book first, which book they liked better. 

Teachers shared with me how much their students enjoyed the chapters and asked me to come read to their classes in person.  They politely asked me,  “Please don’t stop,”  the panic of teaching in 2020 creeping into their tone. 

On picture day for our remote students, I staffed the check-in table.  These are students who learn full time at home and don’t see me daily in the halls and cafeteria.  But they *had* seen me on the first chapter Friday videos, and one after another thanked me for reading and asked about borrowing books.  I even had a parent come back into the building after leaving to say, “I had to make sure it was really you.  I thought your cockney accent was EXCELLENT.”  

So, I achieved my selfish goal...I made myself feel better.  And honestly, in terms of making recommendations to administrators, I feel like I could just stop right here.  “Do this and you’ll feel good about yourself” is a damn fine recommendation, I think.  So, please feel free to steal this idea and stop reading here.  

“Hmmmm...five little body icons.  I wonder what that could be?  Maybe the map key will tell us!” Teaching text features and active reading under the guise of First Chapter Friday.

For those of you still with me, let me explain a few other take-aways.  

  1.  It gives students an opportunity to see me in a different light.  The majority of my chapters are recorded in my office.  That means, should a student be sent to my office, they won’t be walking into unfamiliar territory speaking to a scary assistant principal.  They’ll be in Ms. Cotillo’s office talking to the lady who reads in a bad English accent.  It makes me so much more human. 

      1a. Speaking of human - they get to see me with my mask off.  

  1. It gives us something to talk about.  Pre-First-Chapter-Friday I would desperately try to engage in conversation by asking kids what Wordly Wise lesson they’re on. (I’m not kidding...I’m running out of ideas here, folks).  Now, students start talking with me about the chapters they’ve just heard.  I gush over how much I loved it too, and the conversation about books is underway.   

  1. Students are borrowing my books...which means they return my books and we get to talk about whether or not they liked them.  More relationship building!

  1. The teachers are appreciative.  They've sent me emails and thank me in the hallways and tell me how much the kids look forward to the readings and talk about the books.  I’ve had teachers assign listening to a chapter as part of their sub plans.  I mean, any time I can help make sub plans easier, I feel pretty dang supportive.  

To sum up: Administrators, if you’re looking for a relationship building tool, First Chapter Friday is going to pay HUGE dividends with both students and staff.  

A few super quick logistics notes:

Prior to beginning my reading, I shared a list of books with my school librarian, and she ordered copies of anything she didn’t already have.  That way we’re able to meet student demand for books. I’m also comfortable sharing my personal books. 

I recorded four chapters before realizing the audio-only content might not be accessible to all students.  Since then, I’ve recorded 13 more, and I project the book while I read.  I use Kindle books on the Kindle Cloud Reader in one tab and Screencastify in a second tab.  I split my screen and record the desktop.  It works perfectly. 

“Call me Clauuuuudia!”  It’s hard for kids to be scared of me when I make a fool out of myself reading once a week.  

Erin and I have made our thoughts on this super clear -the best way to build relationships with kids is through books - so, you really gotta wonder what took me so long to apply it to administrative life.  SMH.  But, hey, better late than never.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Well, this is unexpected.

We know you're inundated with free trials and online learning ideas and Pinterest-worthy posts by colleagues that make you feel like a failure.  (You're not.  We love you.  You got this.)  We know you probably don't need any more suggestions about what you could be doing or how you should be doing it.  So we'll use this blog post to share with you what we're doing.  And if you feel like copying it - feel free.  And we'll keep it messy and honest and real.  Nothing Pinterest-worthy here!

When in doubt, read aloud.

Yes, even 8th graders love being read to
Kids love being read to.  People naturally gravitate towards that in Elementary school, but they tend to forget about it in Middle School.  We middle school educators are ALL ABOUT the read aloud, even when there isn't a pandemic and we have a full classroom of kids in front of us.  When we have to shift (are you as sick of that word as we are?) to online learning, read alouds are even better!  What a great way to connect with kids, share time with them, share yourself with them.

We know we're preaching to the choir, but - considering you may be experiencing the same information-overload we are and are fried and don't know what day it is and maybe just ran your dryer without clothes in it *raises hand* - we figured it couldn't hurt to reiterate what can be accomplished during a read aloud.

When you read aloud, what you provide your students includes but is not limited to:

  • Vital SEL connections  
  • Awareness of decision making skills (masked as discussion of character choices and behavior)
  • Mini-lessons on figurative language, dialogue, narration, etc.
  • Instruction of writing techniques (point out varying sentence structure, or use of flashbacks or internal dialogue)
  • Extension to history or science (research real-life humans, experiences, and events!)
  • Vocabulary (Who knows what this clairvoyant means?) 
  • Comprehension skills (Stop and ask questions. They won't even know they're learning.) 
  • Author's purpose (Why do you think the author included that scene?)
  • Quote analysis 
  • Theme development (What is the author saying about belonging?)
  • Meta-cognition of the act of reading (Say aloud, "Oh, this must be a new character. Haven't heard of him before. Let's see where he fits in."

Look at all that teaching work you're doing! Put your cape on! You're a superhero! You win at life!

Read alouds have been our salvation - personally and professionally-  these last few weeks. Whether live or pre-recorded, a comfy read aloud allows your kids to see you in messy hair and sweatpants, your cats wandering in the background, your dog playing with toys, your kids making a mess.  It allows you to look human!  That's a good thing!

Before: not even close to six feet apart
Mary has been guest reader for a reading club in her school.  She used Screencastify, a Google extension.  She had a PDF of the text she was reading on her screen and her own messy-haired, makeup free face in a corner.

Erin has been hosting live read-aloud sessions every day (Saturdays, too!) at 9am and noon.  She's using Google Meet to connect with kids live from her couch.  She's got her breakfast crew and her lunch bunch.  She's even attracted younger siblings and parents.

Now, we're not talking massive numbers of kids here, either. There are about 40 students in the book club Mary guest-read for - and most don't use the teacher-read option. Erin regularly has 8-12 kids sit in on her read alouds. But THAT'S OKAY. It's like the starfish story. (Don't know it? Google it. It could make for a cool lesson with your kids.) It doesn't matter if you don't reach ALL the just have to reach one.

These read-alouds may be a life line for a child who needs one. They may be a blessed respite for a parent who is trying to juggle working from home and being an online school coordinator. They may be downtime for a family who is exhausted by anxiety and uncertainty. So if it's only a handful, that's okay.
After: Don't judge.  We warned you it wasn't pretty. 

And here's another thing that shouldn't be overlooked...these read aloud sessions help teachers maintain normalcy. It helps us feel like we're doing something familiar and comforting. That's important, too! We've been tossed into the new world of online teaching with precious little warning and training. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with engaging in something that is simple and familiar.

Erin recently finished her "breakfast book:" a super-popular 295-page middle-grade novel, and it was completed in under two weeks. Hallelujah! FINALLY! We are showing our kids how novels should be read. How many times have we fought to balance our read-alouds amid curriculum requirements and dragged the thing on for six, eight, fourteen weeks?

You've heard us preach before: The books you read may be the only books a child is exposed to all year long. That's why we have to make them good ones.

But here's a new thought: the way you read could be the only model a child sees for how one should experience the gift of reading.

Many authors and publishers have granted their permission for teacher read alouds during this unexpected time. Find a book you want to read (Now is your chance! Pick the good stuff!), Google the publisher (we've linked a list here) and follow the guidelines.

But be prepared for the kids to ask you to read on the weekends or to "Keep going! Pllleeeeeeease!"

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Election Day

There are candidates and in-depth profiles. There are Q&As and fact sheets available to the public. Campaign slogans pepper the halls and signs bearing a name have appeared in doorways. There are promises made and super PACs being formed. There are devotees and undecideds. There are commercials and hashtags and celebrity endorsements. "Who are you voting for?" is the hottest topic of lunchtime conversation.

It's an election year, after all.

But for one week, at our middle school in Massachusetts, it was about a book.

Like so many things in our CRL existence, this started as an accident. We couldn't decide on a book for our annual school-wide read.

Then it dawned on us: it's 2020. Let's have the kids vote!

Three candidates were announced last week, and Monday our middle schoolers will vote for the All In! 2020 title. The reveal is set for Tuesday morning.

So before the assembly and likely technical difficulties, before any schedule changes and ordering snafus, before the numbers start rolling in and we start paying way too much attention to who is reading and who is not, we're taking a moment to celebrate.

Because for one week, it was about a book.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Books Build Bridges: Using YA Literature to Support SEL in Middle School

Hello again!

We had requests to share our SEL presentation slides, so here they are.  The second presentation is Building a Community of Readers. Please reach out with questions at

Also, if you're in the area, we invite you to join us in building a literacy collaborative.  We'd love to collaborate with you on author visits, literacy initiatives, and school visits.  Send us an email and we'll include you in the planning!

We'll be at MassCue today presenting on a wide variety of literacy initiatives.  We'll be in Red 72 at 2:45.  Join us!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Our SEL shopping list

Well hi, there!

We've been talking a lot lately about the super cool SEL libraries we're creating for HMMS thanks to the Franklin Education Foundation and the pinnacle grant we received.  Lots of folks have asked for the books that we ordered, and we figured this was the easiest way to share it.  Happy shopping!

24 Hours in NowhereBowling9781454929246
42 is Not Just a NumberRappaport9781536206326
A Good Kind of TroubleRamee9780062836687
A Land of Permanent GoodbyesAbawi9780399546853
A Monster CallsNess9780763660659
A Night DividedNielsen9780545682442
A Thunderous WhisperGonzalez9780375873713
After ZeroCollins9781492697350
All American BoysKiely/Reynolds9781481463348
Amal UnboundSaeed9780399544682
An Elephant in the GardenMorpugo9781250034144
As Brave as YouReynolds9781481415910
Born a CrimeNoah9780525582168
Brown Girl DreamingWoodson9780147515827
Can You See Me (2020 pub date)Scott & Wescott9781407195674
Challenger DeepShusterman9780061134142
Counting by 7sSloan9780142422861
Curveball: The Year I Lost My GripSonnenblick9780545320702
Dear MartinStone9781101939529
Enchanted AirEngle9781481435239
Every Last WordStone9781484723647
Extraordinary BirdsStark-McGinnis9781547601004
Fast BreakLupica9781101997833
Fish in a TreeHunt9780142426425
Genesis Begins AgainWilliams9781481465809
Ghost BoysRhodes9780316262262
Girl StolenHenry9780312674755
Golden BoySullivan9780142424506
Good DogGemeinhart9781338528756
Good EnoughPetro-Roy9781250123510
Hey, KiddoKrocozska9780545902489
House ArrestHolt9781452156484
I am Number FourLore9780061969577
I Have a Bad Feeling About ThisStand9781402284557
In the Shadow of the Sun *only in hc*O'Brien9780545905749
Insignificant Events in the Life of a CactusBowling9781454932994
Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the WorldBlake9780316515474
Just MercyStevenson9780525580065
Karma Khullar's MustacheWeintge9781481477710
Life as we Knew ItPfeffer9780152061548
Lifeboat 12 (paperback)Hood9781481468848
Like No OtherLaMarche9781595146755
Lily and DunkinGephart9780553536775
Long Way DownReynolds9781481438261
Losers BracketCrutcher9780062220080
Lost BoysRosenblatt9781250158826
Malice (out of print)Wooding9780545160438
Maybe He Just Likes YouDee9781534432376
More Happy Than NotSilvera9781616956776
Notes from the Midnight DriverSonnenblick9780439757812
Other Words For HomeWarga9780062747808
Out of My MindDraper9781416971719
Prisoner B-3087 *only in hc*Gratz9780545459013
Saving MartyGriffin9780399539084
Slider (paperback)Hautman9781536204322
Tell Me Three ThingsBuxbaum9780553535679
The 57 Bus *only in hc*Slater9780374303235
The Bitter Side of SweetSullivan9780147515094
The Boy in the Black SuitReynolds9781442459519
The Boy in the Striped PajamasBoyne9780385751537
The Boys Who Challenged HitlerPedersen9780374300227
The DeadHigson9781484721452
The EnemyHigson9781484721469
The Faithful SpyHendrix9781419732652
The Glass CastleWalls9780743247542
The Inexplicable Logic of My LifeSaenz9781328498021
The Line TenderAllen9780735231603
The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlMcAnulty9781524767600
The Night Diary (paperback)HIranandai9780735228528
The Night She DisappearedHenry9781250016744
The Opposite of AlwaysReynolds9780062748379
The Rock and The RiverMagoon9781416978039
The Rule of OneSaunders9781503953178
The Thing About JellyfishBejamin9780316380843
The War I Finally WonBradley9780147516817
The War that Saved my LifeBradley9780147510488
The Year I Didn't EatPollen9781499808087
The You I've Never KnownHopkins9781481442916
They Both Die at the EndSilvera9780062457806
Time BombCharbonneau9780544416703
Waiting for NormalConnor9780060890902
Wake Me After the ApocolypseRivet9781725001992
When We CollidedLord9781681192031
When We Were LostWignall9780316417792
Wilder BoysWallace9781481432634
Wolf HollowWolk9781101994849
Words on Bathroom WallsWalton9780399550911