4th of July Picture Books

4th of July is the most perfect holiday. Even though this year might look a little different (#thankscovid), I still plan on making it the most perfect celebration I can for my two kids. For us, a celebration is never complete without some books that we can all enjoy together. With 4th of July coming up rather quickly, I hopped on Amazon and “primed” some patriotic books that we use to help explain the importance of this day.

There are so many amazing board books, picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels out there with 4th of July as the central idea. If you’re like me and needing some books for the holiday, I’ve rounded up 8 of my favorite picture books that I’ll read with my kids.

In addition to reading these to your own children, you could also do a couple other things with them to help stay connected with your students over the summer. Try recording yourself reading one aloud and sending it out to your students. Or you could try recording a message about patriotism on Flipgrid and let your students respond to each other.

Click on the link in the description of each book to go straight to Amazon to purchase the book. Happy reading and Happy (early) 4th of July!! 🇺🇸 🎊

L is for Liberty For more than a century, the Statue of Liberty has stood proudly in New York Harbor, welcoming people from near and far. Perfect for reading together with a young child, L Is for Liberty uses simple language and bold illustrations to celebrate the statue, her history, and the freedom she stands for.

Apple Pie Fourth of July Shocked that her parents are cooking Chinese food to sell in the family store on an all-American holiday, a feisty Chinese American girl tries to tell her mother and father how things really are. But as the parade passes by and fireworks light the sky, she learns a surprising lesson.

O, Say Can You See? There are stars-and-stripes T-shirts. There are Statue of Liberty pencil sharpeners and Uncle Sam Halloween costumes. Patriotic symbols are everywhere…but where do they come from? What do they mean?
Now in paperback, this celebration of twenty of America’s important places, interesting objects, and inspiring words is for the youngest Americans.

America Is… It is fifty states from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean and beyond. It is a flag of stars and stripes. It is farmers, miners, factory workers, bakers, and bankers. It is Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, swamps and desert.
It is the stories of all of us, told together.

The Bald Eagle This strong and beautiful bird is a symbol for an entire country. It is the bald eagle, and Americans made it their national emblem more than 200 years ago. Join Bill the bird keeper to see how this bird lives and how it became a symbol of the United States.

Berenstein Bears: God Bless Our Country The Bear family and their Bear Country neighbors celebrate the Fourth of July with a big parade. But not before the cubs get a lesson about the blessings of freedom for their country.

This Land is Your Land Since its debut in the 1940s, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” has become one of the best-loved and most timely folk songs in America, inspiring activism and patriotism for all. This classic ballad is now brought to life in a richly illustrated edition for the whole family to share. Kathy Jakobsen’s detailed paintings, which invite readers on a journey across the country, create an unforgettable portrait of our diverse land and the people who live it.

Blue Sky, White Stars Wonderfully spare, deceptively simple verses pair with richly evocative paintings to celebrate the iconic imagery of our nation, beginning with the American flag. Each spread, sumptuously illustrated by award-winning artist Kadir Nelson, depicts a stirring tableau, from the view of the Statue of Library at Ellis Island to civil rights marchers shoulder to shoulder, to a spacecraft at Cape Canaveral blasting off.  This book is an ode to America then and now, from sea to shining sea.

The Power of Twitter

How many of you are on Twitter? 🙋🏻‍♀️ How many of you begrudgingly created your account because your district “recommended” it? 🙋🏻‍♀️ How many of you now find yourself checking it an embarrassing amount during the day?……🙋🏻‍♀️

I’ve had my Twitter account now for about 6ish years and I remember exactly where I was when I created it. My district actually had an outside tech consultant come in for some different things and one of them was to show us the power that Twitter could have for us. I happened to be sitting in the last row, in our lounge, for this Twitter training. I remember it so vividly because I thought “why on earth would anyone need a Twitter account and how am I actually going to use this?” I was a naysayer for sure…but I’m also a rule follower. So I created an account, came up with my username (which I then learned was called a “handle”), and sent out my first tweet.

My account sat untouched for a couple years. To be honest, I forgot I even had it. But…the conversations about how we should use Twitter to tell our district’s story never stopped. I listened to them, but never actually tweeted.

I don’t know what it was exactly that got me so excited that I just had to share it out, but it happened and I tweeted. As a reading specialist I probably only tweeted like twice, and I never just scrolled through my feed. I definitely never understood the power that Twitter had and what it could offer.

The big shift happened for me when I became an instructional coach in my building. I was now getting the opportunity to be a part of every classroom and work alongside of all of the amazing teachers in my building. After witnessing the incredible things that these teachers do every single day, I finally understood why our superintendent had been so insistent about us sharing our story for others to see. The teachers in our district show up in a big way for every single student. They go above and beyond in everything they do: their teaching, the relationships, the fun, and more. The rest of the world needed to see what I see when I walk into their rooms. I remember what it’s like being in the trenches of the day-to-day routines of the classroom; you tend to feel like you’re not making a difference. Tweeting out the amazingness of what’s happening not only let’s the rest of the world see, but also serves as a reminder to the teachers just what a big impact they make every day.

Not only am I now doing my part in sharing our district’s story (follow #sd113a….you won’t be disappointed), but Twitter has helped me grow immensely as an educator. Over the past few years, I’ve grown my PLN (professional learning network) and collaborated with educators all over the world. I’ve found coaches in so many other areas of the country and constantly reach out to them for ideas and inspiration. Sometimes, I email them for feedback on some of my crazy ideas….and they promptly bring me back down to earth. Even though we’ve never actually met face-to-face, I feel like I’ve known some of them forever!

Another tip…when you start tweeting, don’t be afraid to tag people! Last year, I was tweeting out book reviews and anytime I could, I would tag the author. I didn’t think anything would ever come from it, I just wanted them to see it. One day, Lauren Tarshis sent me a DM thanking me for reviewing her latest I Survived book on Twitter. I fangirled about that one for a while! Anytime I tweeted out about using Words Their Way in our school, I would always tag Pearson in it. Well, after a while, they either got sick of seeing my tweets or they liked what I was doing, and they reached out to me and asked me to be a regular contributor on their blog. It’s been a wild ride!

Twitter chats have also been such a powerful tool for me as I continue to learn. I’m not going to lie, when I first started, these chats would intimidate me like crazy. I was a “lurker”. I followed the hashtag (because I finally figured out how to do that) and just read the questions and answers in my head. I slowly started to feel braver and would answer one question in the whole hour long chat. I continued to join in when I could and when they sounded interesting to me. Finally, I decided to just jump in with both feet and haven’t looked back since. After a year of participating in the #educoach chat (Wednesdays at 8 CST), I was asked to join their moderating team. I know that doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but for someone that was a complete “Twitter non-believer” in the beginning, this is huge.

So…if you haven’t created an account yet, or you’re still in the “lurker” stage, I encourage you to jump in!! Start tweeting, join a chat, DM someone, or just upload a picture to your account! You have no idea what opportunities could happen from connections you make through Twitter. For educators, Twitter has absolutely become professional development anytime you need…get on there and then find me @mrs_janusz, I’d love to chat with you!

5 Things I Learned During Remote Learning

Just a few short months ago no one had ever heard of the term “remote learning”. Now…educators across the world would give anything to forget it…and get back into the classrooms with their students.

Here in Illinois, we’re still waiting on direction for what the opening of school will look like in August. Will we be remote learning again? Back in school six feet apart with masks? Or will it be a hybrid version of both? It’s hard to imagine and plan for it when there’s still so many unknowns.

Whatever school ends up looking like, I will never forget this time of remote learning. There were things that I learned that I continue to hold on to throughout the rest of my career in education.

  1. People step up. Not only did individual teachers step up in a big way, it seems like the whole educational world did, too. Programs and companies that originally charged a lot for use, suddenly we’re giving teachers free access to everything they had. I’m sure they took a financial hit, but they were able to look at the bigger picture for the greater good of our students.
  2. Relationships first, always. I’m convinced the remote learning experience went well in my district because of the relationships that had already been put into place. Just like other schools around the world, we believe that the relationships we build with our students is the thing that helps them become successful in school.
  3. Prioritize what students need to know. It’s not a shock to us that the Common Core Standards has raised the rigor and expectations for our students and teachers. Prior to COVID, teachers were killing themselves to make sure every tiny aspect of the standards were covered. This experience showed us that our kids will be fine if they don’t master every single new skill. Take a deep look at the standards and decide what they have to know and teach those well.
  4. Take care of yourself. I know you’re all reading this and thinking, “Duh, Liz. Of course I’m taking care of myself.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, working and “momming” all day, every day, d-r-a-i-n-e-d me. I’ve always heard people preaching how important self-care is, but I never really listened. During the past few months, I learned just how important it really is. Whatever fall ends up looking like, I’ll be sure to carve out some time for me to relax and unwind.
  5. Put the computers away. I’m sure some of you just gasped out loud. I know how fortunate we are in my district; I don’t take that lightly. We have been 1 to 1 with technology for a couple years now and our students are pros with navigating all the different programs we use. Of course, that helped when we transitioned to remote learning. However, this whole experience reaffirmed for me just how crucial getting actual books and pencils in students’ hands are. When we go back to school, I will continue to work on matching books with readers, in hopes of igniting their passion for reading.

Teaching with Picture Books

1st Edition: Little Excavator

Being quarantined for the past three months with my 5 year old and 3 year old has given me a lot of time to read the books we have at home. We read a lot of books each day and everytime we read one, I find myself thinking, “how could I use this book back in the classroom?” (Hopefully, I’ll be able to find out in the fall).

I strongly believe that picture books have a place in every single classroom….no matter the age of the students. In some cases, picture books are more complex than some novels. Everyone loves having a story read out loud to them, and there are so many picture books that out there that could be linked to any of the Common Core Standards. So…I’ve decided to start a new series on here….Teaching with Picture Books. I’m going to highlight different books and show some of the teaching points that you could use them with. Of course, I’m sure you could find additional things to teach with them, and I hope you do!

The first book is a big favorite in our house: The Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney. (You can click on any picture to purchase the book for yourself!)

One of the first things I would do is point out the author. She is the creator of the ever popular Llama, Llama series. For our older students, this would be a great opportunity for them to read one of the Llama books and then look for her specific author’s craft in both books. What does she do that has become her signature “author moves”?

I think you could easily use this book for two different purposes, depending on the age of your students. First, if you’re learning about the structure of a story and studying plot diagrams, this story offers a very simple plot that follows the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The events in the story remain simple enough where students could easily identify them, or track independently, on a plot diagram.

Alternatively, if you have older students, this book would do well teaching character development or mood. (Right?! In a simple picture book?!) The main character “Little E” experiences many different emotions as the story develops. Readers could use the picture clues and facial expressions to track how his mood changes and why they think it does.

Another favorite of mine is teaching figurative language; and is there anything more fun than teaching onomatopoeia?? (I had to double check that spelling about 8 times) Kids love saying that word and then trying to come up with their own onomatopoeia. This book is filled with different expressions and a conversation could happen about why we think the author included it and what value does it add to the story.

Another great teaching opportunity, that’s very “Common Core”, is comparing this story to another story. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about The Little Engine that Could. The plot is similar and the main characters are very similar. Reading both stories and then engaging in a discussion while comparing and contrasting the two would cover many aspects of the standards. You could choose to use a traditional venn diagram or a t-chart to model how to organize their thinking when comparing two different things.

Lastly, picture books are amazing for working on making inferences. The illustrations are usually so rich and full of clues that readers can use to make an inference. In this specific case the text is saying “there’s one last job”. Readers need to look closely at the pictures and think about what they already know to figure out what that job would be.

I’m sure you would be able to find many other teaching opportunities in this specific book. My hope was that this was a start and it can show you the many different things you can teach with using a picture book. Stay tuned as I continue to raid my kids’ bookshelves and share my teaching ideas!

5 Tips for Creating Anchor Charts

A couple years ago my district adopted the Lucy Calkins Writing Units of Study. We didn’t have a cohesive writing program and we were just pulling resources from TPT or somewhere else. So finally having a consistent program from K-8 was huge!

For anyone that’s familiar with Calkins, you understand then when I say that even though it’s an amazing program and the kids will become strong writers, the prep work is A LOT! There is a ton of reading to do for each lesson, making sure you have the model text, having your own writer’s notebook, and getting all the anchor charts prepped. Ahhh….the anchor charts….there’s so many!

I like to think that there’s two main types of anchor charts:

  • Anchor charts that you fully create before the lesson begins and you reference it throughout your teaching
  • Anchor charts that partially create before your lesson and you fill in the rest with student input.

Both kinds of anchor charts can have a huge impact on your teaching and the students’ retention of the lesson being taught. Typically after you teach, the anchor chart becomes a fixture on the wall that you continue to reference throughout the rest of the unit.

I have always loved making anchor charts. Getting to design a chart that was created specifically for my students to help them understand something was so fun! Over my years as a teacher, reading specialist, and now as a coach, I’ve made a lot of different anchor charts. If I could make a living off of creating anchor charts, I would! I mean, you could ask any teacher I work with; I won’t say no when someone asks me to make an anchor chart for them to use!! It especially doesn’t hurt when they follow up with…”I’ll bring Starbucks!”

I like to think I’ve mastered the art of making all sorts of different anchor charts and have 5 tips to share with you all to help make the process a little easier.

  1. Decide what is the main objective of your lesson is going to be and what do you want your students to walk away with. Is the purpose just to create an introduction for an upcoming unit? Maybe the purpose is to teach them step-by-step direction on how to do something. Whatever is, that’s what the focus of your chart becomes!
  2. Turn to Google or Pinterest for inspiration. Chances are if you are needing to make an anchor chart, then someone else already has too. Use those images to inspire you in creating your own!
  3. Ok, this is my biggest secret…use the projector to help you trace the hard parts. Once I have the chart in my mind, I design the headings on my computer and then project the image on the board. Then, I put the paper on the board and trace the headings with a pencil so they turn out how I want!
  4. Invest in a good set of markers. I use regular Crayola markers, both thick and thin. I was fortunate enough to win a grant from our PTO so I got the HUGE variety pack of markers from Amazon! I also have the multicultural markers from Crayola, too. It’s important to me that when I draw people on my charts, to include all different skin colors.
  5. Use post-its. I use post-its for everything. When I make anchor charts that I’m going to finish during the lesson, then I bring post-its. I like to pre-plan how I think the students will respond (or how I want them to respond) to my prompts and have the answers ready to go on post-its. That way I can just stick the post-it up on the chart without wasting time writing their responses word for word during the lesson.

There you go! Five tips that I use almost every time to help create the perfect anchor charts! Have fun!!

Amazon Favorites

I became an educator for the same reason that all of you did…..the school supplies.

Just kidding…I mean, of course I went into education because I absolutely love working with children, but the school supplies helped, too.

Deep down, I think everyone that becomes a teacher has the same obsession with all things school supply related: flair pens, sharpies, folders, the list goes on and on. Now, I probably have enough BIC mechanical pencils to last me well past my retirement age, but you better believe that when Target starts putting out all the school supplies in July, I’ll be there, throwing a couple more packs in my cart. I just can’t help it. And even though I’m not a classroom teacher anymore, I still find myself buying 30 folders and notebooks. Why?? It makes me happy…simple as that. In the world we live in today, when you find something that makes you happy, as trivial as it may be, you do it.

Like I mentioned before, I’m super impatient. I can’t just wait for the back to school sales in July. That’s where Amazon comes in. All year round, I can order anything I want and have it on my doorstep in 2 days. What a world we live in…

Here are some of my absolute, very favorite supplies that I cannot live without during the school year! Click on the pictures to visit Amazon and treat yourself to something new!

Mildliners Double Ended Highlighters/Markers
BIC 0.5 Mechanical Pencils
Astrobright colored paper
BIC Wite-Out Rollers
Desktop Organizer
Blank cards and envelopes
Post-It variety pack

What’s your very favorite school supply? Leave it in the comments…chances are I’ll probably end up buying it!

Sketchnoting in the Classrooms

To say that I’ve been inspired by Tanny McGregor is an understatement. Ever since my first grad school class when we used her book Comprehension Connections, I’ve been following her work and improving my craft as an educator through her comprehension strategies.

Fast forward to 2018..ish…I was sitting in a meeting helping plan what our winter Institute Day would look like, when the question was asked, “who do we know outside our district that could lead us in some comprehension work?” We threw out a couple ideas, but didn’t love any of them.

Well, that evening I decided to randomly email Tanny, not thinking she would even respond, and ask if she would be able to lead us in some much needed PD around comprehension work. Much to my surprise, she emailed me back within the hour! We worked out the details and in January 2019, she made it out to my district for our first of many PD sessions together!

Me trying to keep my cool as I finally met Tanny McGregor in person

The latest PD we have had with Tanny has been all around sketchnoting. If you’re not familiar, it’s exactly what it sounds like: taking notes through sketching quick pictures. Sketchnoting has been proven to help with the retention of new ideas and hard concepts. Tanny showed us some amazing examples from her latest book, Ink and Ideas and walked us through some ways that we could begin to incorporate this strategy into our classrooms.

One of the biggest reasons that I have fully jumped on the sketchnoting train, is how accessible it is for ALL students. We all have students in our class that struggle with retaining or comprehending a story, writing reading responses, or sequencing the events of a story. Sketchnoting allows these students to draw their ideas, rather than writing them out.

This student is taking an assessment and sketchnoting her understanding of a concept rather than a traditonal multiple choice test.
This sweet friend showed off her sketchnoting from a beginning chapter book that she was reading. She was so happy because she finally felt successful during a book club discussion due to her new understanding of the story!

Here are a couple ways that you could easily begin to incorporate some sketchnoting into your schools and classrooms:

  • Read a story out loud and have students sketch what’s happening in the story. When the story is over, have students pair up and practice retelling their stories using only their sketches as an aid.
  • After introducing a new science or social studies concept, have students draw a quick sketch that shows their understanding of their new knowledge.
  • Students can sketch the major events from a chapter in a novel. During a book club meeting, students can discuss their drawings and understanding with each other.
  • Take time to introduce sketchnoting to your class by showing them different details that they can add to their drawings.

Even as an adult, I find myself resorting to sketchnoting in my latest grad school program. While I listen to the lectures, I realize that rather than traditional notetaking, I am drawing quick sketches that will help me better retain what I heard.

Happy sketching!

Starting a Margin Project in Your School

It all started when I visited my parents over winter break last year and my mom wanted to show me and my kids the newly renovated library in town. I have to admit, the new library was beautiful and kinda made me wish I was still living back home.

As we were walking around in the children’s area, I noticed a shelf labeled “Margin Project”. Hmm…I had never heard of that or seen anything like it, so naturally I wandered over to get a closer look. And what I saw…stopped me in my tracks…

A whole beautiful section of books with the sole purpose of annotating the text IN THE BOOK as children were reading. My mind was blown and I knew right then that I just HAD to get this back into my school. We have been working hard for the past two years on creating “thinkmarks” while reading and I knew our kids would LOVE writing their thoughts inside the actual book. I called my principal right then, sounding like a crazy person, and explained what it was and got her permission to do it. I now just had to wait for break to end and get back to school.

Getting Ready

The first thing I had to do was get our LRC assistant, Jen, on board because without her support in the LRC, the project would fall flat. Lucky for me, she is incredible and always willing to put up with me and my crazy ideas!

We did some rearranging and cleared off an entire shelf close to the circulation desk and the door. I wanted the display to be in a place where there could be no way the kids would miss it. If I could’ve created a billboard with lights and music….I would’ve.

After we had our space, the next step was to gather the books. I walked around the LRC with a cart and pulled books we already had off our shelves. Our LRC is very large and has multiple copies of books so it was easy to find enough books to stock our shelves. I mainly grabbed titles that were popular, but I also grabbed some from authors that weren’t as well-known. I was using this opportunity to be able to possibly hook kids on authors and genres that were unfamiliar to them. I also made sure we had the books from the different award lists; we were already promoting these so I knew they would be a hit. Lastly, I knew I needed to have a wide range of levels. I couldn’t just pick lengthy novels for our older kids; I grabbed some beginning chapter books and even picture books. I was committed on making this accessible and fun for ALL our students.

Materials Needed

As Jen was busy recataloging all the books in our system, I got started on creating the labels that we would put inside the books. I had to create one label where the project would be explained. I knew this was important because I envisioned our students taking the books home and writing in them in front of their parents. I needed the parents to understand that YES, they were allowed to be writing in these books.

The second label I created was a space where each student could write their name down so other students knew who had the books before them and who the thoughts and pictures were connected to. I wanted to make reading social, and by putting a name to the thoughts and ideas in the books, our kids could start interacting with each other.

We also created spine labels so the books would be easily recognized as books that were part of the Margin Project.

Introducing it to Staff and Students

I love a great theatrical reveal, so the whole time Jen and I were working on this, we had the shelf covered in bulletin board paper to gain interest. When we were finally ready, I dramatically ripped off the paper and revealed it at a staff meeting to everyone at once. I brought in some of the books so they had a chance to read the labels and ask questions. One of the main rules we decided on was that they could only have 1 Margin Project book checked out at a time to ensure that everyone had a chance.

The next day I set up my office in the LRC so I would be able to personally introduce it to each class that came in….I have control issues. I’m working on it…

Anyways, as soon as I said the words, “you can write IN the book”, I had them hooked. I’m not even entirely sure they heard anything else I said; I just know that as soon as I was done, every single student checked out a Margin Project book.

What’s Next?

A few weeks in and it’s been crazy successful; the books coming back in have doodles, thoughts, questions, and more. I’m seeing kids respond to one another in the book; reading has become social in my building and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve even had a few teachers start mini Margin Projects in their own rooms with their classroom libraries.

If you are interested in learning more about the Margin Project, please check out Jen Malone’s website. She offers more in depth information. If you would like copies of the resources that I created for my school, please reach out. I am more than happy to share them with you!

6 Books that ALL kids should read

It’s hard to listen and watch what’s happening all over the country, but we need to. We need to be listening and watching in order to bring much needed change.

Change where black mothers and fathers should not live in fear for the children. Change where black people aren’t racially profiled at every turn. Change where non-black people become allies, not bystanders.

I have a 5 and 3 year old and I just started having those hard conversations with them. Just the other day in the Panera drive-thru, they heard the radio and I had to reexplain to them what was talked about so they would understand. That poor high school girl had no idea what to do when she handed me our food and found me weeping in the driver’s seat… #keepingitreal

When we got home, I took a hard look at the books on our shelves and noticed how “un-diverse” they were. I preach about how books need to be “windows and mirrors” for the students in my school, but I was ashamed to see that the books in my home were just “mirrors”. I immediately hopped on Amazon and ordered some new pictures books to add to our collection, and then because I’m even too impatient for two-day shipping, I placed a curbside pickup order from our local library for that afternoon.

In case you’re looking for some new books to add to your collection, here are some that I ordered and will now become regulars in our daily reading time. Click on the book to go straight to Amazon, where you can purchase the book.

#blacklivesmatter

Featuring eighteen women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists, this board book adaptation of Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World introduces trailblazing women like Mary Blair, an American modernist painter who had a major influence on how color was used in early animated films, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, and architect Zaha Hadid.

A beautiful picture book for sharing and marking special occasions such as graduation, inspired by the life of the first African American woman to travel in space, Mae Jemison. An Amazon Best Book of the Month!

A great classroom and bedtime read-aloud, Mae Among the Stars is the perfect book for young readers who have big dreams and even bigger hearts.

A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North.

In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

Margot Lee Shetterly and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award winner Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers!

This volume focuses on Harriet Tubman’s brave heroism as part of the movement to abolish slavery. As one of the key players in the Underground Railroad, she helped enslaved African Americans escape and find freedom.

How a Hashtag Made a Better Teacher

Reading has always been a part of who I am. I remember many of my nights as a kid: snuggled up in bed reading the Baby-sitters Club series and the Boxcar Children series. I devoured each book as I just needed to know what happened next for each of the foursomes! As I grew up, my attention turned to the Sweet Valley High books. I felt a connection with Elizabeth and Jessica, like the books were written just for me! 

As an adult, slowly, other things started to take priority and my reading was put on the back burner. My love for books and reading was still there, but now I was living vicariously through others who would read and tell me about it. 

“Oh yeah, that one sounds great! I’ll add it to my list.” I would say. It made it to the ever-growing list in my mind, where it would sit, never being read. 

Over winter break last year, I optimistically brought home two books from our school library and I was determined to start small and read those two books over break! To my surprise, once I started, I just had to finish reading them as soon as I could. The day that I finished my second book, it just so happened to be New Year’s Eve. In true NYE fashion, I made a resolution that evening: I would spend 2019 reading as many books as I could. I also decided to share my journey with others as a way to not only hold myself accountable, but simply for the pleasure of sharing great books with others. I created the hashtag #booktalks2019 and the rest is history. 

Since then, every time I finish a book, I tweet out a picture of the cover with a short book talk and/or my thoughts about it, and use my new hashtag. I’m fortunate enough to work in a district that really utilizes Twitter, so I knew that this would be a natural way to share some great books that teachers could use in their own rooms. 

After finishing those two books over break, I finally felt my joy of reading come back to me after a long hiatus. I was hooked; I continued to seek out a variety of middle grade novels to read and share. I wanted everyone around me to be as excited about reading again as I was. I talked about the books I was reading to anyone who would listen to me! As an instructional coach, my main role is to be in classrooms supporting our teachers. Being in the classroom is continually my favorite part of my job. But now, reading so many middle grade novels has opened up the way that I can connect with students on a whole different level. 

Being able to recommend specific books to students based on what their interests and being able to share with them why they will like it, is such an amazing feeling. I’m telling you… there is absolutely no better feeling for an educator, when a student stops you in the hallway because he just has to thank you for recommending a book for him because he loves it so much! The same student who just the year before would never even think about picking up a book. 


After having enough of those amazing moments happen, I’ve made it my own personal mission to expose ALL students in my building to a diverse selection of books. Books should be windows and mirrors for our students; they should be able to see themselves in the characters but should also show them different ways of living. Since January 1st, I’ve currently read and shared 59 middle grade novels with students and staff in our building and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I truly believe that the more we expose books to students, they will eventually find their book “soulmate” that will leave them hooked: just like Baby-Sitters Club did for me.