Why should reading and writing be authentic? #taketwo

At some point, as the adult in the room, we have to recognize that as long as students are reading and writing for a fabricated purpose, there is only so much energy and time that they will commit to the assignment. Churning out students who hate a subject but can perform in a standardized way isn’t doing anyone any good. While there definitely isn’t a chapter in your teacher’s manual that asks, “Why should reading and writing be authentic?”, it’s something that should be in the back of your mind while planning.  Even in the context of a classroom they can (and should!) be presented and taught as authentically as possible. When we present students with an authentic purpose, and have cultivated a reason for them to read or write that extends beyond an assignment or a classroom, then we will start to see their voice and passion come alive.  It may be an off the cuff assignment or look a little different from what the teacher down the hall is doing, but that is ok too.

As a fourth grade teacher, I had the pleasure of preparing our students for our state writing assessment each year. Have you ever tried to convince a 4th grade boy that writing is FUN? It was always a challenge! Realizing that the goal was to get them to find something they enjoyed writing about, or something that offered them a reprieve from a grammar worksheet became my mission. One year (pre Mrs. Teamann, of course…) we wrote letters to Troy Aikman, ℅ Valley Ranch and the Dallas Cowboys. The topic was “Why Troy Aikman should marry Miss Gattis”. Persuasive essay, check! Letter, check! We pored over and over those essays, edits and clarifications were flying through the room. No one wanted to let a typo get to Troy! (least of all Miss Gattis!)

Any subject that we teach has the opportunity to make an impact.

Motivating students to be critical readers, to read for enjoyment and knowledge, is a gift that we can give them. Reluctant reader? I genuinely believe we just haven’t found the right thing for them to read yet. Everyone has a passion, we just need to find the right book. It’s up to us, as the adults, to help model what it looks like to be a lifelong learner…a lifelong reader. My elementary colleagues, it just gets harder as they get older…it’s up to us to make elementary school not only FUN but also never losing sight of what it means to have academic integrity. Do we make that a priority? Are we giving enough time in their day to read for pleasure? Are read alouds still happening? One of my 4th grade teachers still does a read loud and she is amongst the top in the district for growing students. She wouldn’t give yup that time for anything…and the books she chooses are MEANT to hook kids into reading, it is very intentional. 

We live in an incredible world, where students have the opportunity now to connect with anyone, and I mean anyone. I have teachers who tweet authors, or celebrities, and colleges, all while modeling to their students what it looks like to communicate in a digital way. Students can blog and share their reflections with an authentic audience. George Couros has shared this image with me before.


There are too many opportunities for our students to read and write, and connect globally, to not take advantage of their greatness!
I run into former students all the time…and I can’t tell you how many of them remember those letters we wrote. I bet you they couldn’t tell you one single prompt from an assessment from elementary school…but they all want to know if I ever heard back from Troy!



PS: I didn’t. Which may actually be a good, non-stalkery ending to that story! 🙂


Always a fan,


All about changes? Remember this… #IMMOOC & an @ASCD giveaway

It’s easy to have great ideas, or energy, or a big grand vision. The hard part is remembering  that it is your experiences that led you to a place where those ideas, or big changes you want to make, is your reality. Making changes is not inherently bad, unless it’s at the expense of damaging relationships or sacrificing the integrity of your campus/classroom. All of what you’ve seen or read, or been exposed to is what helped shape who you are today. From things that you remember or feel from when you were in school, from coworkers or administrators that taught you what you didn’t want to be, to the role and mindset you’re currently in…there are a variety of influences that helped create the educator you are, right now.

But that’s not where everyone else is.

You have to be careful in your passion and zeal to make an impact that you don’t leave your people behind. This is one of the reason they say significant change takes such a long time, there has to be a level of trust in place before people can take risks. I met an amazing educator at #EMPOWER17 who took a risk in opening up to a mentor, one who also happened to be his evaluative supervisor. At the end of the year, when his sharing and risk taking led to some evaluative push back, he choose to take a demotion and move to another district. That trust had been shattered and he knew he wouldn’t be able to ever feel safe taking those risks again. That district lost out on someone who wanted and was willing to be innovative and take risks.

I also think that it’s hard to drill holes in the boat, if you’re busy paddling. If you’re the only person moving your ship forward, for whatever reason, means there’s going to be plenty of time & room for people to be drilling. Keeping your team involved and feeling that they have a voice or say in what is happening will help keep them invested and feel as if they are a part of the change, instead of change being done to them.


What do you do to ensure your whole ship is helping you paddle? I have a copy of “Bold Moves for Schools” to give to some fabulous reader who comments below. I would love to hear how YOU are keeping your ship afloat!


Captain Amber

Reflection is personal power… & other people might grow too! #LeadLAP #IMMOOC, week 5

I started blogging in 2005. It was something new, something different to engage my 4th graders. I didn’t even contemplate the power that using it for reflection would do later in my career. Permission from my parents was the easy part. More difficult was convincing the technology powers that be that it was safe and also purposeful. I had to present the whats and whys to the district’s technology department and convince them….awkward is an understatement.  At the time, literally, they told me, “We don’t think anyone will actually read it, but as long as you don’t mention our district/your school, it should be fine.”

Can you even?

Thankfully, I did it anyway. And whether anyone read it then or not, is irrelevant. I used my blog with my students, through David Warlick’s hosting tool, and it was amazing. I had to upload pictures to separate hosting site, and then code the HTML to get the picture to share to the blog. My fourth graders loved it…we used it for our version of homework and I tricked them into writing the best lab reports ever by promising to share the best ones with the whole wide world.

While much has changed, including the transition of my blog to being a tool used to teach/guide teachers while I was in the tech department, or administratively through my leadership roles, I still use it to share, to reflect, and to connect. The ability to chronicle my growth through the posts and experiences is irreplaceable. The comments and people I have met through this space has made me better.

 It’s what I want for our staff, and our students. Of course I should expect no less for myself. By putting it out there, in a space that allows for feedback, and or criticism, it allows me to process in a completely different way than just talking to my peers when we have time. (ha!) Life is busy, and the days are long…I don’t see many of the people who push my thinking on a regular basis, but through blogging, I can definitely feel more connected, and vice versa. It’s where I genuinely hold fast to that the things I tweet or share, are aligned to my true thoughts. I never want to share something that isn’t aligned with my philosophy or vision…and my experiences via my blog back that all up. That matters to me. It’s why I don’t mind writing as casually as I do, because my favorite thing ever is when I interact with someone and they say that I am just like they thought I would be from reading my blog…(hopefully, that’s a good thing!)

How does that connect to #LeadLAP? I bought “Lead like a Pirate”  while at #EMPOWER17 last week. (To say I read it quickly is an understatement. I devoured it.) I so wish I’d had it my first year as an administrator and think there were so many valuable nuggets that resonated with me on a professional level. I highlighted and tabbed so many places…again makes me wish I could figure out the darn #booksnap wave! How this connects to this blog are the powerful words Burgess and Houf used in talking about reflection,  “…as leaders, we often rob ourselves of this much-needed time to stop, slow down, and improve our own practice.”

If I want our teachers to move past “proficient” in TTESS (our state evaluative system), my word, shouldn’t I also have growth expectations for myself? I use my blog to set those goals, and to hold my self accountable. It’s the only way I know how to do this thing we call leadership, and I am thankful that there are others out there that are doing the same.


Blog writeN & accountability seekN,


Sometimes leading means…get out of the way. #IMMOOC

While walking around the week before spring break, I had the opportunity to visit a 3rd grade teacher’s classroom. As I watched her model and talk through the writing of an expository composition with our Wolves, and saw the energy in which her students attacked it, I had to stop and ask what the secret was. She passionately went on to explain how easy this graphic organizer was, how it simplified the process, and really set the stage for our 4th graders who would be assessed on expository writing on their STAAR exam.

I asked if she thought her students could come up with a handout “or something” that could explain what an expository paper looked like and how she was teaching it, so that parents could see what we were doing to prepare our students for this assessment.

Challenge accepted. 

I could have made a detailed flyer. Or I could have not engaged in her a conversation. Or I could have assumed the same trickle down way of learning could take place and I didn’t need to get involved. But really, I just needed to ask the right questions and then get out of her way.


I hope you are surrounded by innovative teachers like I am, and that you know when to get out of the way!