Smart Start: Crafting the Opening Days of School

by Regie Routman

“You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.” It turns out that old saying is true. Those first days in our classrooms and school can impact students’ sense of well-being, confidence, and resilience well beyond that first week. So we want to carefully craft those early days to ensure all students feel valued, excited about learning, and eager to participate. Unlocking the potential of every student begins on Day 1.

Here are five ways to create a welcoming, emotionally and socially safe environment, which serves as a foundation for a learning culture that is collaborative, invigorating, equitable, and joyful.

  1. Create a climate of kindness, trust and respect.

Deliberately begin bonding with students by making sure everyone feels welcome—through our choice of words, greetings, body language, eye contact, and inclusive actions. Let students know we will treat them fairly, will support their efforts, and do everything we reasonably can to help them succeed. One crucial first requirement is to pronounce all students’ names correctly, an important sign of respect. Tell students we need their help to ensure we say their names correctly. Two outstanding picture books for reading aloud, honoring students’ names, and helping students come to terms with their names are Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Zeal (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018) and Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, with illustrations by Yuyi Morales. (NY and Boston: Little Brown, 2016.)

Connect with families early on. An early, positive comment about the student via a text message, tweet, Facebook post, email, postcard, and so on goes a long way to establishing trust and is more likely to make a parent respond if/when we contact them with a concern. Such a comment could be as simple as “I’m enjoying getting to know your son. . .”

  1. Set the tone of the classroom as “ours” instead of “mine.”

Share the power; demonstrate inclusiveness even on the first day. For example, consider letting students know that at least some bulletin boards and charts will be co-created, that students will have an opportunity to help organize at least a part of the classroom library with your guidance, and that you/they will be honoring and including their favorite authors and genres. Also, if you are comfortable doing so, at least initially, permit students to sit where they like. As well, you might solicit some suggestions for room design.

Encourage students’ voices to be heard and welcome questions. When students believe it’s safe and, in fact, encouraged to ask questions, raise a concern, or voice their opinions and ideas, they feel more relaxed and can put full energies into learning. With that in mind, consider holding off on establishing “rules” for the first couple of days. Instead, you might demonstrate and talk about what it means to learn in a respectful, trusting classroom. After a few days, co-create norms and expectations through a shared writing, perhaps titled “our norms and expectations”, “respectful actions,” “our rules for optimal learning,” or whatever else students might suggest—subject to your final approval.

  1. Tell stories. Let yourself be known.

Tell a riveting story on Day 1. It could be reading aloud a great picture book, one that lends itself to thoughtful discussion for students of all ages. It could be a personal story, a simple and inclusive one. For example, for younger students, I might tell the story of the tiny spider who has joined my husband and me for breakfast the last couple of days and how we’ve been fascinated watching it rapidly escalate up and down an invisible thread above our kitchen table. Then, after many round trips the spider rests for many hours on the ceiling. I would tell how I used to be afraid of spiders but now am fascinated by their ingenuity, energy, and majesty as web weavers. For older students, I might tell the story of how I recently reconnected with a friend with whom I’d had a painful falling out. Stories are the glue that bond people to memories and to each other. Stories humanize us.

As a way of beginning to get to know students better and have them get to know us, sharing and writing about “What are you good at?” is also a surefire way to acknowledge and celebrate students’ strengths—what they can do well and/or are persisting in learning to do well–for example, fixing breakfast, playing basketball, bargain shopping, telling a joke, researching a topic of interest. See two related stories in Literacy Essentials, “What Is He Good At?” (pp. 30-31) about seeking and using the strengths of a fidgety kindergartner to help him become part of the classroom and “Making Fruit Tarts” (pp. 147-148), my personal story of how making a fruit tart is akin to seamless teaching. Students’ stories on what they are good at can be compiled into a favorite class book that becomes part of the classroom library. 

  1. Demonstrate yourself as a reader and writer.

Share a favorite book or two you read over the summer and why you loved it. Discuss your reading habits, for example, how you choose books, why you might stick with a hard book, abandon a book, or reread a favorite book. Let students know they will have sustained time to read books of their choice and to share and discuss those books with their peers and/or you. Especially at the start of school, use stories and writing to get to know each other.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer do consider publicly writing, thinking out loud as you write, and projecting that writing so all students can see and hear your thinking process, revisions, vulnerability, sense of humor, flexibility, and more. One powerful topic for demonstrating yourself as a writer is: “Here’s what I want you to know about me.” Or “Here are the most important things(s) you need to know about me.” Then, after having students talk about what they noticed you did as a writer, have students write privately to you on the same topic, and use those written pieces to enhance how and what you do to reach and teach your students.

Use personal stories to spur students to write their own. For example, my story about spiders might be used to encourage students to tell and/or write about something small they’ve noticed or something they fear. Or, my story about a lost friend reclaimed might also be used to encourage students of any age to write a story about an important friendship and, perhaps, how it went awry and got repaired–or not.

  1. Incite the intellect.

Set up the classroom for curiosity, passion, and taking risks. Strongly consider adding “Genius Hour” to your schedule so students have a weekly or monthly opportunity to explore their interests and burning questions through designing their own learning. It’s all about priorities. The “must-do’s”—such as establishing rules, test prep, and the non-negotiable items—must not crowd out the “would-love-to-do’s,”  which with our support can give students the energy, determination, and equitable opportunity they need to learn and thrive.

Finally, attempt to “see” and begin to know each student, so many of who feel invisible or inadequate in our classrooms and schools. Above all, try to ensure that at the end of the first days and weeks, students feel hopeful and excited about learning. For many students, what matters most to them is that they know they matter to us. A smart start to the school year can make that possible.

For more ideas for the first days of school, see this 6-minute “Heart Start” video.

Regie Routman is the author of Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for all Learners (2018).

2 comments August 22nd, 2018

A Back-to-School Frame of Mind

We’re all getting primed for the school year! Check out these resources from Stenhouse:

“No matter how many times the pendulum swings in education, we know that focusing on the whole child makes sense. Focusing on the whole teacher makes sense as well.”—Lisa Lucas, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers

Back-to-School Support
Looking for ways to boost learning from the very first day of school? Get tips, take an online refresher course,  and consider live workshops and online seminars.

 Please share your opinions
We want to make Newslinks as useful to you as possible. Please share your opinions and preferences here, in a six-question survey that takes just 2 minutes.

Teachers as Writers
Lynne Dorfman, author of the bestselling Mentor Texts and co-author of the forthcoming Welcome to Writing Workshop, offers dozens of practical tips on how to cultivate your own writing this school year—and inspire and sustain your writer-students.

Wormeli on Rubrics: “Tread Carefully”
“Both denying their use … and declaring them assessment’s Holy Grail are shortsighted,” says Rick Wormeli, on this Middleweb blog post and author of Fair isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, now in its second edition.

The “Crucial Ingredient”: Active Caring
“Individualized acts of kindness and care are as essential as the task at hand—the routine, the lesson, the problem, or project.” Read more from this new blog post from Geoff Krall, author of Necessary Conditions: Teaching Secondary Math with Academic Safety, Quality Tasks, and Effective Facilitation, coming out next month.

2 comments August 17th, 2018

What Stenhouse Stands For

This is the third a in series of six posts that we’ll feature in the coming months commemorating the 25th anniversary of Stenhouse Publishers.

What Stenhouse Stands For

The headwinds that came in the early 2000s affected everyone in the education marketplace. The federal No Child Left Behind, which went into effect in 2002, made test preparation an urgent focus for school districts, defining curricula and consuming teachers’ time and energy. A recession, meanwhile, meant belt-tightening for schools that bit into their professional development spending. And the market for thoughtful books about teaching for teachers, all but untested waters when Stratton and Seavey began working together, had both grown and matured. Stenhouse now had plenty of competitors.

Yet on the strength of its quality publishing and reputation as a curator of ideas in education, Stenhouse continued to do well. Highlights CEO made that clear in a report to the board of directors: “The real star of this show is Stenhouse. Their results continue to astound me.”

Most publishers do not have a coherent and consistent point of view. They put out what the market demands, hitching their wagons to trends that promise to yield mass sales. This isn’t what Stenhouse does. Stenhouse has not and will not put out books of student worksheets or teacher lesson plans stripped of the ideas that inform them. The company has built its brand on a reputation for publishing deeper books about teaching, books educators will continue to value over time and that apply across curricular trends.

Educators—who are both the creators and the consumers of Stenhouse products—also recognize that Stenhouse stands for something. In 2010 the National Council of Teachers of English honored Philippa Stratton as Outstanding Educator in the English Language Arts, the only non-educator ever to receive the award. And more than one educator has told Stratton that the Stenhouse name on a product is tantamount to a kind of Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

So what is the Stenhouse point of view? After a quarter century in operation, the philosophy inheres in just about everything Stenhouse does. And its essence can be spelled out.

Learning is by its nature active. Learners, whether children or adults, are not mere bins into which educators dump whatever material they choose. To learn anything at all, the learner’s mind has to, if you will, pick it up. So children learn best when their minds are active, when they are encouraged to inquire, explore, discuss, arrive at their own discoveries, and build their own meaning. In its books, videos, and other products, Stenhouse strives to present examples that are both creative and pragmatic.

Learning is both individual and social. When a teacher engages each learner (by letting kids choose a topic to write on, for example) learning accelerates. But learning is also fundamentally an act of collaboration between and among people. Stenhouse publishes books that recognize the diversity of experiences in the classroom and that convey a sense of the lively, real-time, real-world drama that unfolds there every day.

Learning, though hardly automatic, is natural. Children learn best when the teaching environment respects and harnesses important innate impulses—the urge to communicate, for example, or to understand the world of their everyday lives. Kids have number sense—an understanding of the concepts of more and less—before they begin to work with digits on a page. They know how to handle a book and turn its pages from left to right before they can read a word.

Teaching is a human process, not a mechanical one. If kids aren’t bins into which curriculum can be dumped, neither are teacher conveyor belts or winches whose function is simply to transfer a standard package of goods from educators to students. The teacher, the most influential person in the classroom, is a professional and an individual. So a “teacher-proof” curriculum is dead on arrival. “You can’t account for the spontaneous interaction that wonderful teachers have with kids, the adjustments they make in the moment,” says Dan Tobin, Publisher of Stenhouse. “A good teacher seizes the opportunity.”

Teaching involves continual learning. Experienced teachers “go to school” in their own classrooms, studying their students and noting their progress. They want to understand not only what their students are learning but also how they’re learning it. Excellent teachers experiment, trying new techniques as well as ones they know have worked in the past. Stenhouse products bring teachers together in a kind of learning community of their own. The books create a voice, and often it’s the voice of a peer who says, “This is what I tried in my classroom. This worked; this didn’t work so well.”

As Lawrence Stenhouse, the British education thinker wrote, “It is the teachers who in the end will change the world of the school by understanding it.”

(End of Part 3)
Next: The Stenhouse Perspective on Editing and Publishing

2 comments August 3rd, 2018

“Say it Right”: Unpacking the Cultural Significance of Names

Ever since author Matthew Kay read abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech about the scourge of slavery, it’s been stuck in his mind. With its eloquent and unsparing accusation that the United States was betraying its very essence by perpetuating slavery, Douglass called for Americans to confront the country’s “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.” Kay draws on his nearly ten years of teaching high school English and leading discussions on race to write Not Light, but Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. He shares actual classroom discussions on such topics as the N-word, cultural appropriation, and pop-up conversations about sensitive, timely topics. In this excerpt, he talks about how he tackled the thought-provoking topic of names.

“Say it Right”: Unpacking the Cultural Significance of Names
By Matthew Kay

My mother Sherrill Kay taught third- and fourth-graders at Loesche Elementary in Philadelphia for thirty-six years. Each year, she would ask students to bring in a dish that represented their cultural identity and describe it to the class. When it was my class’s turn, it resulted in a feast of revelations. I had my first potato latkes with applesauce, my first curries. It was fascinating that my friends, when they went home to be with their own people, ate these different foods. Everyone lived in their own tasty universe, foreign from mine…and if they ate different things, what else did they do that was different?

As I grew up, this perspective stuck with me: somewhere, even close to my home, people are doing things differently than I am, and these things are as normal to them as my habits/values/routines are to me. This stance undergirds both the humility and empathy needed to engage in loaded conversations about race.

It instilled in me the importance of making time to actually appreciate our differences.

In my own high school English class, every couple of days, we pick a different element of culture—names, languages, music, art, religion, etc.—and we discuss the contributions made by these elements to our own cultural identities. If properly executed, these exchanges encourage students to thoughtfully challenge any lingering fear of differences.

We started with names, and I asked students to write about their relationship with their name. Did they like it? Not like it? Are they aware of its meaning? How has their name affected their movement through the world?

To spark the discussion, I handed out an elegant poem, “My Namesake,” by Hiwot Adilow, a former mentee:

i am tired of people asking me to smooth my name out for them,
they want me to bury it in the english so they can understand.
i will not accommodate the word for mouth,
i will not break my name so your lazy english can sleep its tongue on top,
fix your lips around it.
no, you can’t give me a stupid nickname to replace this gift of five letters.
try to pronounce it before you write me off as
lil one,
the ethiopian jawn,
or any other poor excuse of a name you’ve baptized me with in your weakness.
my name is insulted that you won’t speak it.
my name is a jealous god–
i kneel my english down everyday and offer my begging and broken amharic
to be accepted by this lord from my parents’ country.
this is my religion.
you are tainting it.
every time you call me something else you break it and kick it—
you think you’re being clever by turning my name into a cackle?
“he when how he what who?”
my name is not a joke!
this is more than wind and the clack of a consonant.
my father handed me this heavy burden of five letters decades before i was born.
with letters, he tried to snatch his ethiopia back from the middle of a red terror.
he tried to overthrow a fascist.
he was thrown into prison,
ran out of his home—
my name is a frantic attempt to save a country.
it is a preserved connection,
the only line i have leading me to a place i’ve never been.
it is a boat,
a plane,
a vessel carrying me to earth i’ve never felt.
i speak myself closer and closer to ethiopia by wrapping myself in this name.
this is my country in ink.
my name is the signature at the end of the last letter before the army comes,
it is the only music left in the midst of torture and fear,
it is the air that filled my father’s lungs when he was released from prison,
the inhale that ushers in beginning.
my name is a poem,
my father wrote it over and over again.
it is the lullaby that sends his homesickness to bed—
i refuse to break myself into dust for people too weak to carry my name in their mouths.
take two syllables of your time to pronounce this song of mine,
it means life,
you shouldn’t treat a breath as carelessly as this.
cradle my name between your lips as delicately as it deserves—
it’s Hiwot,
say it right.

Then I showed a clip of her reading the poem in her viral 2012 YouTube video. We watched the video twice: the first time just to enjoy and absorb, the second time to highlight the lines of her poem that the students related to. I asked them to pair off and share their selected lines with their partners. The hum of conversation was predictable, but after a few seconds, started to rise exponentially. Not quite realizing what was going on because I had turned my back to cue up the next video source, I gently admonished them to keep it down. Then, after a minute, another burst of sound caught my attention. I turned to see my students—every one—engrossed in fifteen of the most focused one-on-one conversations I’d ever seen.

In Not Light, but Fire, you can find out how Kay moves this classroom discussion forward, as students explore ethnic names, nicknames, “passing,” concatenated names, “ghetto” names, and more.

Add comment July 27th, 2018

The Method Takes Shape

This is the second a in series of seven posts that we’ll feature in the coming months commemorating the 25th anniversary of Stenhouse Publishers.

When Stenhouse founders Philippa Stratton and Tom Seavey entered the publishing business, they knew the market to be a furious rat race with very high entry costs. “If we tried to go up against the big boys,” recalled Seavey, “we would be lunch.”

Undercapitalized, they knew they had to find a kind of publishing microclimate, a sheltered place in which to take root. Leading Heinemann’s first foray into the U.S. market would be challenging.

With a few successful titles under their belt, Stratton initiated a method that would help define her publishing at Heinemann U.S. and later at Stenhouse: She got out of the office to talk to the educators who would be authors and readers of the books she published. She visited universities and education conferences, listening and taking notes. Persistence was also part of her modus operandi—a steadfast adherence to her own taste and judgment, along with a willingness to follow up with a potential author. Donald Graves’s research on children’s development as writers caught her attention. His book Writing: Teachers & Children at Work was a breakthrough title for Heinemann U.S. Others soon followed, including the bestseller by Lucy Calkins, Lessons from a Child: On the Teaching and Learning of Writing.

While Stratton worked to develop a list for Heinemann U.S., Seavey energetically plowed his own furrow; his job was to find readers—a market—for a different kind of book about learning and teaching.

The direct mail catalogue was his main device. He created mailing lists of teachers who seemed among the most engaged, forward thinking, and ambitious. An actual name went on every envelope. The catalogues fully explained each book.

By the late 1980s, it was clear that Seavey and Stratton had helped Heinemann U.S. find gold: readable books about teaching.

It was also during this period that they decided to act on their dream to start their own publishing house.

They found the ideal investor and partner in Highlights for Children, whose leaders also believed in the value of active, participatory learning and the powerful benefits it could yield.

Why “Stenhouse”? Lawrence Stenhouse (1926 -1982) was an original, provocative, and influential British educational thinker who profoundly affected Philippa Stratton. He possessed that rare ability to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and to put them together to create something new.

Stratton and Seavey knew that was their task as well.  They assembled a national network of distributors and connected to Canadian readers through Pembroke Publishers, a like-minded publisher of professional literature for teachers. By the fall of 1994, they put out six books and one video.  A year later, distributors were selling Stenhouse books in 25 states. Within five years, the start-up became profitable and would remain robustly and consistently so. Stenhouse continually drew loyal customers through its videos that showed teacher-authors at work with students in their classrooms, an e-newsletter, and virtual community of educators. By 2001, Stenhouse was publishing 20 books a year in its well-defined niche.

Stiff headwinds came in the early 2000s.

Add comment July 27th, 2018

Jambalaya and Stenhouse

The House That Teachers Built

Since its founding 25 years ago, Stenhouse Publishers has brought together teachers—as authors and as readers, as researchers and practitioners—to exchange ideas through books. Join us we recall our roots and celebrate our enduring mission to publish books by teachers.

Founders Philippa Stratton and Tom Seavey built their careers by creating a new kind of professional book for teachers and creating a market for them. In establishing Stenhouse Publishers, they invited authors—teachers themselves—to build the Stenhouse list, one book at a time.

Stenhouse is a publisher with a mission and a carefully honed point of view. Every book that Stenhouse publishes is grounded in sound theory and research and informed by years of experience in the classroom. Starting in 1993 with two employees and six titles in its first list, Stenhouse has grown to dozens of employees contributing to a catalog of more than 300 books and videos.

This is the first a in series of seven posts that we’ll feature in the coming months.

Jambalaya and Stenhouse

The seeds of Stenhouse were planted in 1967, when Stratton walked into a classroom of six- and seven-year-olds in North London to embark on a teaching career. She was excited to begin. Growing up in a village in southwest England had left her with warm memories of learning and teaching in the context of an extended family. Inspired by the progressive ideas circulating among educators at the time—a reform movement reflecting broader social trends of the 1960s—Stratton hoped to turn a page on the authoritarian teaching and rote learning of the past to accomplish something wonderful with her young pupils.

But she soon discovered that none of the new ideas she’d absorbed during her teacher training had seeded themselves in her small publicly funded school. What would it take to do that?

At the same time across the Atlantic, Maine native Tom Seavey was accruing his own early professional experiences, marketing college texts for the educational books division of a large American publisher. He began to wonder why none of his buyers were teachers. Seavey was curious: Had anyone tried to sell professional books to the millions of teachers out there?

It would be a full decade before either one would revisit their queries.


It was at a home economics conference in 1978 in New Orleans that the paths of Stratton and Seavey, now working in quite different capacities for the same company—Heinemann Education—fatefully crossed. Over a series of fine meals in New Orleans, the two came alive to the appealing qualities of the person across the table. Thy found each other funny and smart. They shared a sense of adventure and an independent streak. The pair parted reluctantly at the end of the week, but before long they were visiting each other whenever they could. By late 1979, they were ready to throw in their lots together. At the same time, Heinemann’s leadership had decided the company was ready to try publishing its own books in the United States. Perhaps the two would like to take that on?

The couple married in Exeter, New Hampshire, and established the two-person office of Heinemann.

They knew the American publishing market to be a furious rat race with very high entry costs. “If we tried to go up against the big boys,” recalled Seavey, “we would be lunch.”

Undercapitalized, they knew they had to find a kind of publishing microclimate, a sheltered place in which to take root.

(End of Part I)

Coming next: The Method Takes Shape

Add comment July 13th, 2018

See you at ILA 2018 in Austin!

Visit the Stenhouse Booth #205 at the ILA Annual Convention in Austin to shop our rich collection of professional books, check out the new Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets, and meet our authors! And join us Friday from 4-5pm for cupcakes and celebrate our 25th Anniversary!

This year we will be holding five mini-sessions in our booth. Stop by for a quick PD session and stay to chat with our authors:

Steph Harvey & Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work, Third Edition
Saturday @ 10:00am: “Strategies That Keep on Working”

Jeff Anderson & Whitney La Rocca, authors of Patterns of Power
Saturday @ 10:45am: “Grammar: When Reading and Writing Collide”

Matthew Kay, author of Not Light, but Fire
Saturday @ 11:30am: “Not Light, but Fire”

Debbie Diller, author of Growing Independent Learners
Saturday @ 12:00pm: “Tips for Independent Learning”

Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris, authors of Who’s Doing the Work? and the new Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets
Saturday @ 2:30pm: “Prompts that Empower Readers”

Get a complete, printable list of conference sessions and in-booth Meet-and-Greets by Stenhouse authors.

1 comment July 13th, 2018

Present-Moment Strategy: A Doorway to a More Mindful Life

Lisa J. Lucas, an author, consultant, and professor in the field of education, knows firsthand how much a mindful approach to the role of teacher can contribute to a positive classroom atmosphere. In this first post in a series on The Stenhosue Blog, Lisa talks about how mindfulness can help teachers during even the most hectic days. Lisa is the author of Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers.

Present-Moment Strategy: A Doorway to a More Mindful Life
By Lisa J. Lucas

Practicing PresenceMindful is the word of the moment, and mindfulness in education has exploded. It sounds so obvious; who doesn’t want to be mindful? The alternative — mindless —certainly isn’t what most of us are striving for. However, mindfulness in education is in the precarious position of being relegated to a programmatic approach. Mindfulness has hit the mainstream, so much so that it is even being coined “McMindfulness.”

We certainly don’t want to mandate mindfulness. To be honest, the word mindful doesn’t accurately depict what I think we, as busy educators, truly need. Our minds are full enough. Instead, we could benefit from some presence.

First, let’s determine what is meant by the word presence. Presence is a secular, informal term, intended to be applicable to daily life. Being present is simplistic, yet difficult. It’s available to us at any moment, and it goes by many names. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone.” For soldiers and first responders, it’s “situational awareness.” Artists see it as “flow,” thinkers consider it “contemplation,” and the mainstream has coined it “mindfulness.”

The name doesn’t matter; it’s the feeling of peace and stillness that is important. I like to think of presence as a cousin of mindfulness. It’s a way of being attentive, curious, empathetic, and compassionate — essentially social emotional intelligence for educators.

Many of us in education feel a bit overwhelmed. My preferred word to describe how we often feel after a day at school is “flattened.” By practicing presence, we can find a way to manage the overwhelm that we feel in connection with the overscheduled, overextended lives we all seem to be leading.

As educators, practicing presence gives us the ability to anchor ourselves so we aren’t carried away by the ever-changing challenges of daily classroom life. Being present means we can observe our own internal state before we react to events so that we can respond thoughtfully. Presence allows us to be more aware and to observe ourselves and others non-judgmentally. If we’re anchored in presence, the drama doesn’t carry us away. The simple act of being present has the power to change how we interact with our students and colleagues.

If we want to foster healthier learning environments, we can begin by first attending to our own self-care by modeling presence in the classroom. Just as we learn to play the piano or train for a marathon through practice, we practice presence one moment at a time. And it’s not once and done. It’s a lifelong habit. We begin this way of life by being more attentive, curious, empathetic and compassionate.

Many schools are introducing mindfulness meditation to students, which helps cultivate awareness of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. All are great skills for our students to learn. There are now mindfulness curriculums that have step-by-step instructions for teachers to read. However, mindfulness isn’t meant to be a script, much like you wouldn’t ask a teacher who can’t swim to teach a swimming class from a textbook. Shouldn’t we as educators explore and tune in to our own needs before we attempt to guide our students?

My book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care for Teachers, explores practical strategies to practice presence before we layer on the expectation that you’ll teach it to children. A mindful culture could transform the way we live and work, but like any systems change, you can’t mandate what matters. Change is a process, not an event, and I believe this process begins with individuals.

We can begin exploring presence by trying a 1-minute presence pause.

All you have to do is sit without an agenda for one minute. If you don’t have a minute, you don’t have a life. The idea here is to shift from “doing” to “being,” for just a minute.


  1. Sit down, plant your feet flatly on the floor and sit up straight.
  2. Place your hands palms down on your lap and close your eyes.
  3. Set a timer for one minute and begin to tune into your breath; just notice the inhale and exhale. If you get distracted, smile: you’re normal. Refocus your attention on your breath and try not to get hijacked into the drama of your thoughts. Just let them go and keep bringing your attention back to your breath. Think of this as attention training. We begin by noticing how scattered our attention can be.
  4. When the timer sounds, open your eyes gradually, stand up slowly and intentionally transition into the next part of your day.

You may notice that you feel just a slight bit lighter and more centered, or possibly you feel a bit less anxious. Occasionally, you may notice that you are anxious: slowing down can tune you into sensations that were overlooked before you paused. No matter how you feel, acknowledge the feeling without judgement.

And that, my friends, is the beginning of practicing presence. I believe that if we don’t build some type of practice into our work and home lives, the days and nights just blur together and we only pause when we fall into bed at night, exhausted.


More present-moment practices can be found in Lisa J. Lucas’ book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers. Lucas is an associate professor of Early and Middle Grades Education at West Chester (Pa.) University and was previously a school district administrator, an instructional coach and a classroom teacher. She provides workshops, coaching and consulting in classrooms throughout the country.





Add comment May 29th, 2018

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast — Episode III: Effective guided reading groups

This is the third episode of our podcast series with Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola and kindergarten teacher Laura, who is in her first year of teaching.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode III: Effective guided reading groups
By Shawna Coppola

In the last episode of our Mentoring New Teachers podcast, kindergarten teacher Laura talked about the high social-emotional demands of her kindergarten students and that she sometimes felt as though she was “drowning in behavior charts.” This led to a discussion about the importance of integrating social-emotional learning throughout the day, and I shared with her how kidwatching and documentation—even when focused on one or two particular students at a time—can help educators root out some of the causes of student behaviors that frequently derail the development of a healthy classroom community.

In this episode, Laura shares how well her students are adjusting to the routines they’ve established around their classroom literacy centers and how frequent check-ins are helping students develop their ability to reflect on their work in peer partnerships. With literacy centers running more smoothly, Laura talks about wanting to begin facilitating guided reading groups so that she may support her students as they read connected text within their zone of proximal development. I explain to her the original intention of guided reading and share how that intention has become somewhat lost as a result of the nature of many existing guided reading programs, and I offer Laura some advice for how to begin the challenging work of facilitating effective guided reading groups without becoming too overwhelmed.

Check out Episode 1 and Episode 2 of this podcast.


Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Burkins, Jan & Melody M. Croft. (2017.) Preventing Misguided Reading: Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.


Shawna Coppola:

Hey there.




How are you doing?


All right. Plugging through.


Good, so, well, tell me what’s going on with you and your students?


So, we’ve been making adjustments with, we started up our new like center routine right after break. So, they’ve kind of been learning to do that. And we’ve been really making, I’ve been trying to make sure I really establish like our schedule at this point. Um, and that we’re kind of doing the same thing every day now. And more with that comes like the more parts of the day where they’re able to work independently.


What do the routines look like for students or what are their expectations?


Right now, it’s like seven different centers, um, that are the same all the time and I’ll just rotate like themes on some of them for each month. But yeah, they work with a partner and we do two rotations. So usually we kind of group and do a small lesson before they start and then I send them and they’re learning, how to like, find their name and look to see what’s next to it. Um, so which center they have. And then I have a shelf that has boxes that match `the pictures on the chart, um, for like puzzles and writing and different things that they go and they pull them out. My principal actually observed that week and was at least impressed that they knew where everything was and were able to get it. Which is nice. And then I’m not super like strict about where in the room they’re working and stuff, except for ones that are kind of stuck in one place, like listening. But as long as they are able to work quietly and they’re staying in one place.


It sort of reminds me of Daily Five expectations in a sense where like find a good fit spot and stay in one spot the whole time. Is that sort of what you’ve been working off of?


Yeah, I read the Daily Five book at the beginning of the year, actually, and I was like I love a lot of this stuff. But I was finding that having like too many kids doing listening and too many kids reading to a partner, whatever, they just got very like out of control. Um, and, it just was kind of crazy. And when I went to a conference in November, there was a speaker there that was talking about what she does which was like this partner, she has like twelve centers…


Wow, twelve centers?


Yeah.  And so, I was like, oh, I’ll give that a try. And just working in partners, I had known from doing some other things that I was like I think it might be better. And it has been better, where I just have, I have too many kids who, a lot of boys and a lot who need a lot of work on self-regulation. And so,  it’s made it a lot easier to just pair them so that, for the most part they’re able to work with that one person.


And I love that idea of pairing them with a student, a classmate, too, because not only are they working on their routines you set up for centers, but just honing their collaboration skills is so great for them. Are these partners that they have chosen or are they strategically arranged partners?


Right now, they’re arranged. Especially with all of the behavior things going on in here.  we’ve talked about how, what we can show that we know how to do each center responsibly. Then I could start having some days where they get to choose their center. Um, and then same thing, once I’ve seen that they’re able to work with their classmates responsibly then we can have some times that they could choose their partner. So, we’re kind of working towards that and trying to keep track of the work, like how well we’re doing. And right now, they actually have like a little, like a punch card to start off to reinforce like checking on did you do your work? Were you working with your partner? Were you staying in one place? Kind of checking back through those things.


Do they look at that punch card at the end of the whole sort of period?


After each, we do two centers so after each one we check in with that.


What are the centers that you have set up?

Laura has a variety of literacy centers set up around her classroom that help to reinforce students’ developing literacy skills, including their letter-sound correspondence, their sight-word knowledge, and of course their ability to read and write connected texts of their own choosing.


So, with the centers what do you think it’s going really, really well for you and the students?


I think the big part is the, like, organizational, independence part of it. At this point, as long as I’ve moved their cards to where they need to be, pretty much all of them can walk over, know where they need to go and go get what they need. Um, and so that’s been, that didn’t seem to take long, which was awesome. So yeah, that’s definitely the big one. That and just that they’re working well with having partners…


Have you had any major partner arguments or problems that need to be solved?


I have a couple. There’s one boy and he decided like a few days in that he didn’t want to be with his partner, which there is always the option of them working on some things alone. Some of them will take a day and do something and then be like I don’t want to do this by myself. But, but with him I’m trying to have the partners, also that set up so that I could pull them both and they’d be working on something similar with me.  With him it was hard to figure out somebody that would be able to work well with him that would also fall into that category. Otherwise most of the rest of them have done pretty well.


Well, that’s great. And so, there’s a lot that seems like it’s going well.  I remember when we were first talking about the kinds of things you were doing your classroom routines were something that they were, they were sort of taking too pretty well and I remember you saying that you love the independence of those Daily Five choices, um, which is nice to see that’s still sort of continuing.  So, I know that initially you had talked about wanting to discuss group or working in small groups?


I’m just trying to like, anticipate starting those small group…and so making sure that I’m well prepared to use that time well was kind of my thinking. And I’ve done, I mean like from student teaching and stuff we did small group work but it ended up just like we almost always did the exact same like reading a little book from the curriculum that they had. And they did it kind of the same way every time. That was that. So, I didn’t get to see like a whole lot of very individualized instruction.




So, are you anticipating that, so when you say working with small groups, are you looking at doing some guided reaching specifically?




And have you started sort of thinking about what you want to do? Or have you just thought, you know what, this is sort of a missing piece in what I’m doing, and I want to just get some small group guided reading groups started?


I mean to start off I do want to try to make sure we’re just taking a lot of chances to read books that are at their level.  So my plan for now was just that I was going to start off there. But I know there’s a lot of skills that we just have a hard time addressing as a whole group that I would like to be able to also get to during that time.


What kind of skills?


Just like, doing more work on letters and sounds and kind of the building words part of things. And I mean some of the decoding stuff would be through doing those books together. But just more targeted lessons there. And even pull in some more of the writing stuff that we’re working on, pull that into that…


So, what have you, from your, sort of school experience, what do you know about guided reading? Did they talk about that a lot? Did they give you readings to do in relation to guided reading? Or people to follow?


Yeah, I mean I felt like they went over a lot of different stuff. But because we went over a lot some of it just wasn’t very much in depth. And I know my school was big on a lot of our learning being out at other schools and seeing what teachers were using.  Although with that it kind of, some of it depended on who you ended up with. We had a couple classes that we spent a lot of time going through like just the different reading skills and strategies to use for those, not necessarily specified at how to do that with a group but at least how to identify the skills that they needed and find different ways to be teaching those. Some of the stuff, I’m just looking back, and I forget way too much too easily.


Well it’s a lot. I mean if you think about, all the things that you have to keep in your head as a classroom teacher. you know, I’m a literacy specialist, and just focusing on all the literacy components that…you have this person telling you to do all this stuff and then this group of people saying nope, balanced literacy includes these components and it’s really, really overwhelming. And like you said, a lot of times in our university setting, our college setting, we don’t get a lot of in depth practice with them But one of the thing that I know about guided reading…it’s really changed a lot over the years. And so, a lot of times when I talk to teachers about guided reading they’re thinking of certain, you know, particular programs or curriculums that have been really, really popular where guided reading originally was really just meant to be a small group conversation, very sort of I don’t know if informal’s the right word but certainly not a lesson with, you know, we’re going to go over these three skills. Because it’s really meant to be a dynamic sort of session where you’re sort of reading a text together, like you said. It doesn’t even have to be the same text. But sort of reading with the intent to gain meaning from the text. So, of course that means that sometimes you’re working on decoding because you need to understand, or you need to be able to identify those words to gain meaning from the text that sometimes it might be just talking about the text as well. And it’s just really meant to be really dynamic. So one of the things that has worked for me in the past, I know that a lot of programs have, you know these leveled books that they use and that can be useful as well, but I find that using short poems or songs is really useful as a, as sort of a common text can be useful to do during guided reading, particularly because if they’re familiar to the students, especially the songs…you guys sing songs in your class? Do they have those printed out at all?


We’ve done a couple that we’ve, like yeah… or ones that we have as like old posters that we put together and stuff to be able to read.


Yeah, so like maybe starting with something like that where let’s say you start with, I don’t know, three students and you start with a really, really familiar song. And most of your intent for that meeting would be to just see what they do and that’s how you can sort of build your guided reading curriculum off of just seeing what these, three or four children do as you’re going through that song. And so, one of the things you might notice are oh, well, I’m noticing that this child is following the text as he reads with his finger. And so, if that’s something that you’re noticing happening you can sort of stop and just say oh my gosh…look at what he’s doing with his finger when he’s trying to read this song or when he comes to a part that he may be forgot or wasn’t sure what the word says. Let’s try that and see if that helps us while we’re reading. But starting something that they’re pretty familiar with is a nice way to start because you know, they’ll experience that success right away.

I find that, if I’m focusing on noticing what kids are doing or what they’re not doing that helps me build my curriculum. So, I maybe would have an idea of what I might do, but that often changes when I see what they actually do. So that actually happened to me the other day. I had a group of three girls who I was working with and my intent was to read a particular poem but like, we had a booklet full of poetry that I had created for them with poems that I’d thought they’d enjoy and that I kind of could sense that it was at a good instructional level for them, that most of the words they would know and some they’d have to figure out. And of course, my intention was to start with this particular poem. and they didn’t, you know, they were like oh, can we do this one? And I was like sure, that sounds fine, let’s start with that. Because of course for me engagement makes everything easier for readers. You know, if you’re more engaged in something you’re more likely to want to try to figure it out.

 So, it was actually a great poem to do because there were several tricky words. So, we talked about well, how do you know? How do you figure out what, you know, how do you figure out that word? And they could really help each other out. I mean at one point I sort of sat back and was like, they’re literally teaching each other right now. I mean I don’t even need to…it was so great.

I was just sort of facilitating the conversation. And originally that’s sort of what guided reading was about, was really just facilitating conversation about a text. And really focusing on strategies, but what it sort of transformed into is more of everybody at the same level, and we go in with a lot more preconceived notions of what we’re going to talk about. So, it’s just interesting how it’s evolved. I think some of the intent of guided reading has gotten lost along the way. But I find it really fun. However, I will say that I think a lot of teachers become very overwhelmed with guided reading. So, my question for you is when you’re thinking of working with small groups are you thinking of rotating through so that eventually you get to all the kids in your class? Or are you just thinking of a targeted group of students who could use an extra little boost at this point in time?


At least to start out I was just going to rotate more through.


Yeah. Well, being a first-year teacher and sort of having this feeling of being overwhelmed by what you’d learned about guided reading and knowing there’s so much to sort of think about and there are so many resources to go back to, my suggestion to you would be to really give yourself the gift of identifying a particular small group that really just want to work with that could maybe use an extra boost but maybe aren’t, aren’t the biggest challenge for you, just to hone your guided reading sort of skills.  And sort of think about what is working and what’s not working. Because I think what happens is that a lot of teachers, veteran teachers included, they feel this pressure to say, well every child must get guided reading. And that’s not the case. It’s a good tool in our tool box of when we’re thinking of balanced literacy. But it’s not something that I believe is necessary for everybody. Of course, you want to offer something that seems to be beneficial to every child. But I also think that as teachers we expect too much of ourselves. And so especially, like I said, this being your first year, and you feeling a little unfamiliar with guided reading, I would definitely suggest that you just, you know, if you leave here and say I can’t just do one group, at the very least two groups. And just work with those two groups and really sort of reflect on how guided reading is going, what’s working well, what’s not, what’s not working well, where do you need some extra support? And then not feeling so overwhelmed because you have now five guided reading groups that you’re feeling overwhelmed with but rather you might have one or two. So that’s my best advice to you.  What do you think about that?


I think it’s worth a try.


I mean I’m still in my infancy stage of teaching, being here almost for two decades. You know, you think about how long many teachers stay in the profession, but I have not once met a teacher who feels like she does everything well. And I think part of the reason for that is because we’re constantly just piling on, especially with literacy.


You know, there’s so much you could be doing. But you don’t have to do everything. And you don’t have to do everything for every child either. So, I definitely feel strongly that it would be in your best benefit and for your students too to say, you know, I’m going to work with one group.  I’m going to work with one group and really try to, you know, just do a little bit of catching up on some guided reading sources that you might have from your, your year in school, the years that you had in school and some of the readings you had and looking online at what people are doing and sort of picking and choosing things that you think would work for your kids who you know best.

And I actually, I just have to tell you about this amazing source that helped me so much. It’s not overwhelming and it’s one of those books that you can dip in and out. And it’s called Preventing Misguided Readings. Have you heard of that?


I don’t think so.


What’s really interesting, I did not plan this, I swear. But they have a brand-new version out. So, it’s a book, let me try and find it right now so I can tell you…it really helped me so much. So, it’s called Preventing Misguided Reading and the subtitle is Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies.  You get sort of the history of guided reading and what its intent is. Which I think is really useful because with so many things in education over time it tends to get lost. And then it talks about all of these different ways that you can stay true to that intent and also give kids what they need.


I just find it really useful. And like I said it’s one of those that you can dip in and out. It’s not one that you have to read from front to back cover.  If you look at it you’ll notice a lot of similarities to Daily Five as well, in terms of talk about strategies and grouping based on, not on level but on what strategy do you want to teach that day or what strategy do you think these students need.  But as you’re thinking about who you think would benefit most from guided reading, working in a small group with you.  Start, start jotting down as you’re, as they’re in stations or as they’re working at that read to self station, what are some of the things that you’re noticing that they are doing. And build off of those. Because as you know, if they experience success first then they’re more likely to try something new and unfamiliar.


Oh, when it started today I was reading a little book to the class before we started, and I let them choose that to go back through if they wanted to and look over. And two of them were sitting there trying to tell the whole story over again.


Aw, I love that. And that’s even something, you know, even if you had the small group and you said, and you noticed that…let’s say you had a group, a group of students who you just noticed that one of the things that they don’t do is they don’t pay much attention the pictures, that they’re so focused on learning the words even though it’s really hard for them. That they’re not enjoying the reading experience because they’re not sort of practicing that idea that you can read pictures, or that you can retell a story you already know. That could be a guided reading session. It’s just retelling a story they already know. And just talking about how do we do that.

You know it doesn’t’ have to be super formal. And with my guided reason…I shouldn’t call them lessons ‘cause they’re really just sort of conversations…but you know, let’s say I’ll set aside twenty minutes to work with this group. And sometimes after ten minutes we’re like all right, great. You know, it’s just very dynamic. And based on what I’m noticing, where they’re engaged and when we’re sort of done with the conversation. And it’s like there’s no reason to keep going just ‘cause I think it should last twenty minutes. So, you know, sort of being flexible about that is, you know, taking that pressure off of what things have to be like is something that I think we can always practice as teachers.


Mm hmm, yeah.


Yeah, and as you’re thinking, too, about who you might want to work with or kind of practice this guided reading with and you’re trying to brainstorm possible sessions, you know, possible focuses for a session or you know, these are the things I’m noticing. What do I do with it. Feel free to send those along or take a picture of it if you need someone to sort of bounce ideas off of, too. Cause another thing with teaching is it’s really isolating. And if you don’t have people to bounce ideas off of it can be, it can feel really defeating. And I know you have a great support system in your school, but if you need an outside view I’m happy to take a look or just talk. I have, you know, we can set up just another conversation to kind of troubleshoot. So, does that sound okay?




Okay, all right. Well, it was great to talk to you. And I’m excited for your kids to sort of get started with the small groups.




It was good to see you.


You too.

Add comment May 10th, 2018

See you at NCSM/NCTM!

We are excited to head to Washington, D.C., where you will find us at both NCSM and NCTM conferences. Be sure to stop by to browse our books, meet our authors, and more! At both conferences we will be offering a 25% educator discount and you will have a chance to pick up one of our free tote bags.


We will be at Booth #206 and for the first time, we will be able to sell books in the exhibit hall! Stop by to meet with:
Lucy West: Monday @ 1:45
Tracy Zager: Tuesday @ 9:15
Mike Flynn: Wednesday @ 9:45 (at Salon G/H immediately following his session there)

And be sure to attend our authors’ conference sessions:
Nancy Anderson: How to Talk Mathematics So Students Learn, Mon 11:15-12:15, Room 145B
Mike Flynn: Understanding the Resistant Teacher–Why Change Is Harder for Some People and How We Can Support Them, Mon 12:30-1:15, Hall A
Mike Flynn: Understanding the Resistant Teacher–Changing Our Narrative to Foster Stronger Relationships, Wed 8:45-9:45, Salon G/H
Cathy Humphreys: Cultivating Students’ Mathematical Ability, Tue 8:15-9:15, Room 146A
Ruth Parker: Transforming Teaching and Learning Through Number Talks, Mon 1:45-2:45, Room 152A
Lucy West & Antonia Cameron: Content Coaching: It Transforms Instruction, Mon 12:30-1:30, Salon I
Antonia Cameron: Start with Heart: Transforming Teacher Practice by Exploring Our Own Beliefs, Mon 3:00-4:00, Room 144A
Tracy Zager: Teachers First–Everything Else Follows, Mon 11:15-12:15, Salon G/H
Megan Franke: How and Why Attention to Student Thinking Supports Teacher and Student Learning, Mon 12:30-1:30, Salon G/H
Megan Franke: Research-Practice Partnerships to Support Continuity in Mathematics Curricula, Tue 11:15-12:15, Room 150A
Amanda Jansen: What Is Rough Draft Thinking and How Can It Be Integrated into Mathematics Classrooms? Tue 8:15-9:15, Room 145A
Robert Kaplinsky: Challenging Problems Worth Solving, Mon 9:30-10:30, Salon I
Robert Kaplinsky: Supporting and Inspiring Mathematics Specialists, Leaders, and Coaches, Mon 4:15-5:15, Salon G/H
Robert Kaplinsky: What’s the Deal with Honors and Acceleration? Tue 10:00-10:45, Hall A
Nicora Placa: Mathematics Coaching: A Beginning Playbook, Wed 8:45-9:45, Room 145A


We have an exciting lineup of mini-sessions at booth #153. Stop by, have a seat, and listen to some great teacher/authors present for 10 minutes or so before getting your book signed.

8:45 a.m.: Tracy Zager: “How Will We Know What They’re Thinking?”
9:30 am.: Christopher Danielson: “What Is the Plural of Grapefruit? Adventures in #unitchat”
12:45 p.m.: Linda Dacey: “Make Writing About Math as Successful as Talking About It”
1:30 p.m.: Lucy West: “Let’s Talk About Math Talk”
2:30 p.m.: Mike Flynn: “Supporting Active Engagement in Elementary Math Classrooms”

Noon: Karen Gartland & Jayne Bamford Lynch: “Partnering with Students Through Games”
1:00 p.m.: Alison Hintz & Elham Kazemi: “What’s The Difference Between Classroom Talk and Classroom Discussion?”
3:00 p.m.: Lucy West (signing)

And be sure to attend our authors’ conference sessions:
Nancy Anderson: Keep Calm and Use Talk Moves, Fri 1:30-2:30, Marriott Marquis, Independence Ballroom F-H
Linda Dacey: The Power of Writing about Mathematical Thinking, Fri 4:30-5:30, Room 151 A
Karen Gartland: Meeting the Instructional Needs of Struggling Learners, Sat 9:45-11:00, Room 150 B
Christopher Danielson: From Counting to Calculus: All Students Are Mathematicians, Fri 4:30-5:30, Ballroom A
Mike Flynn: Engaging Students in the Standards for Mathematical Practice through Robotics and Planning, Thu 11:00-12:00, Room 152 A
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz: Creating Equitable Mathematics Classrooms: Listening to What Children Have to Teach Us, Fri 3:00-4:00, Ballroom B
Allison Hintz: Supporting Early Mathematics through Children’s Literature, Fri 9:45-11:00, Room 202 B
Lucy West: Enticing All Students to Contribute to Rich Math Discussions, Fri 1:30-2:30, Marriott Marquis, Marquic Ballroom Salon 6
Lucy West: Ignite! We’ll Enlighten You and We’ll Make It Quick (with 7 other educators), Fri 6:00-7:00pm, Ballroom B
Tracy Zager: Not Just Answering Someone Else’s Questions: Making Math Class More Like Mathematics, Fri 9:30-10:30, Ballroom A
Antonia Cameron: Routines to Grow Problem-Solving Strategies in Early Childhood, Fri 8:00-9:15, Room 144 ABC
Antonia Cameron: Interactive Early Algebra Puzzles for Young Learners: Free Web-Based Activities for Your Classroom, Fri 9:45-11:00, Marriott Marquis, Independence Ballroom E
Antonia Cameron: Harnessing the Power of Mathematical Models to Re-Envision Early Childhood Routines, Fri 3:15-4:30, Marriott Marquis, Marquic Ballroom Salon 9-10
Robert Kaplinsky: Challenging Math Problems Worth Solving, Thu 11:00-12:00, Ballroom B

Add comment April 20th, 2018

Next Posts Previous Posts

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs