Look After Your Twisted Ankles: Professional Development in Troubled Times

By Kate and Maggie Roberts

Administrators, coaches, consultants, creators: Teachers need us to make their jobs easier right now. 

Of course – many of us are, many of us have. But there is also a feeling lately that we should be back to normal, and everything should be getting back on track. Yes, things have stabilized a bit, but have they normalized? Are there even the same tracks to get back to? 

We have worked inside schools, alongside teachers, across the country for 18 years and we have not seen this level of burnout before. Many teachers are at their limit. The goal feels clear each day we walk into a school building – we need to help make this job easier. We need to show up. We need to listen. We need to serve. 

It’s as if we collectively sprained our teaching ankles during these past few years of teaching – teaching amid a global pandemic – and we are still lurching forward, ignoring the pain of the injury. As any orthopedic specialist would tell us, all this does is create more lasting damage.

Dr. Betina Hsieh @ProfHsieh is an associate professor of teacher education at California State University, Long Beach, and a former K-12 educator. Dr. Hsieh researches the ways people are drawn to teaching and what impacts a teacher’s decision to stay or leave the profession. Her recent study (2022) synthesizes responses from nearly 1,000 US-based educators and former educators; the results disturbingly confirm the kind of lasting damage those orthopedic doctors warn us about when we don’t tend to our injuries. Dr. Hsieh recounts: 

Of the teachers who responded to the question, “Within the last 12 months, have you left or considered leaving K-12 teaching?” nearly one-quarter had already left the classroom; another 53 percent had seriously or at least fleetingly considered leaving teaching. Only 13 percent said that they had not considered leaving K-12 teaching in the previous 12 months.-ASCD Blog: Rehumanizing the Teaching Profession by Dr. Betina Hsieh 3/22/2023

Teachers have sustained injuries on the job, especially over the past three years. 84% of them, in fact. In the study, Dr. Hsieh posed this question: “Have you personally experienced mental or physical health challenges that you attribute to your work in teaching?”

Of the educators who answered this question, 84 percent said yes…I read [the] more than 500 open-ended responses in which educators detailed how they themselves had tried or were trying everything they could to stay in the classroom, despite the mental and physical demands.-ASCD Blog: Rehumanizing the Teaching Profession by Dr. Betina Hsieh 3/22/2023 

Teachers are trying everything to stay teaching, despite their injuries. They are lurching forward, staying in the game, albeit in pain and the known risk of lasting damage. Administrators, coaches, consultants, creators: We need to reimagine and nurture the conditions in our school communities for our MVPs – our teachers – to heal. 

We as school leaders, coaches, and consultants don’t have the power to change the whole educational system – a system notoriously full of obstacles and filled with places to twist ankles! But there is certainly one area in which we do have control: professional development. In the years that we have been doing this work, typically professional development goals are set up by the school or district’s leadership team. Certainly, teachers have (or should have) input, but often the final goals are typically set up by those in charge. Those in leadership can usually see the proverbial forest through the trees; they can look out to the educational horizon for new information, identifying macro issues in instruction and equity, and determine a high yield focus that many of their colleagues can benefit and flourish.  Then, people like us are hired – educators who have spent decades teaching, researching, developing, writing, testing, listening – to help teachers get closer to that goal. 

Makes sense, or at least it did.

Recently, though, we are finding that this model isn’t always working as well as it used to. With all great intentions and visceral historical memory, we are setting goals for teachers and schools in our districts that are not meeting the immediate needs of teachers. With all great intentions, we are adding to their already toppling over plates instead of looking to see what we can take off their plates. With all great intentions, we are too often asking teachers to run faster, put more weight on sprained ankles. 

Professional development should not – and cannot be in these times – feel like a drain, like another thing to do, like a chore. Instead, professional development should and can feel energizing – energizing like it is answering questions, or removing obstacles, or energizing like it is being heard.  

This is an easy-ish fix though: We need to listen to teachers and use what we know about healing strained muscles:

REST: Teachers need time. They need time to plan. They need time to relax. They need time to make jokes with colleagues or make that doctor’s appointment or text their child or go to the bathroom more often. 

Example: Embed paid planning time into every PD plan. Real time, like hours. And gift them a copy of The First Five: A Love Letter to Teachers, By Patrick Harris III.

ICE: Teachers need resources and professional development that soothes, mends, and solves. 

Example: Teachers tell us that they want to focus on grammar instruction (even though that isn’t the priority) and so we look at the Patterns of Power series by Jeff Andersen and Whitney LaRocca. 

COMPRESSION: Not the compression that many of us feel right now! Not the stressful compression that builds and builds until we can’t stand it anymore. The kind of compression that is supportive, restorative – the weighted blanket, the brace for your knee so you can keep walking your dog without wincing. 

Example: Teaching writing is hard! Make time for teachers to linger in what’s hard when teaching young students how to write. Then, offer some supportive structures and solutions – compression, if you will – by checking out the work of M. Colleen Cruz, especially the supportive instructional suggestions in The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. 

ELEVATION: Teachers need inspiration that is specific, real, honest, and career-affirming. 

Example: If teachers say that they are deeply struggling with the kids’ attitudes towards school, focus on a professional learning book group around We Got This by Cornelius Minor or Unearthing Joy by Gholdy Muhammed.

Match professional development to what teachers are saying is causing the most friction in their work. Then give them time – real time – to study the causes of the friction, develop and implement a plan, and troubleshoot during the process. 

Like an ice pack to a sore joint, offering teachers exactly what they say they need will help us all heal. (Join us at kateandmaggie.com and tell us what hurts so we can offer some support!) 

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts

Teach Writing with Mentor Texts!

by Carl Anderson

There are two pieces of advice I like to give about teaching students to write well:

Teach with mentor texts!

 Teach with mentor texts!

And I should add one more thing to this list:

Teach with mentor texts!

I’m obsessed with teaching with mentor texts. When I’m teaching students to craft their writing or use a writing convention in a mini-lesson, small group lesson, or a writing conference, I always select a text from my stack of mentor texts, show students the text, and describe what the author is doing in the text to craft their writing.

I think that you, too, should be obsessed with teaching with mentor texts.

Why? What about this teaching move makes it essential to have in your teaching repertoire?

When you teach with mentor texts, you align instruction with an important principle of learning: people usually learn best by watching and studying people who are expert at the things they want to learn to do. Whether you’re learning how to shoot a basketball or make a three-point turn, you’ll probably observe someone who is good at these skills before you try it yourself. You might go out on a basketball court and marvel at the technique of an excellent shooter, or you take a driving lesson and watch your instructor expertly make the turn.

Each time you teach with a mentor text, you put students in the company of a more

experienced writer – the author of the text – and invite them to look at and study what this writer has done in the text and then try it themselves. You invite students to read like writers. That is, you teach them to notice craft moves the author makes in the text, with the intent of trying these moves themselves.

How do you do this?

Teaching Mini-Lessons and Small-Group Lessons with Mentor Texts

Follow these six steps: 

  1. Before teaching a mini-lesson or small-group lesson, select from your “stack” of texts a mentor text that contains the craft technique or convention you want to teach. 
  2. At the start of the lesson, name the craft technique or convention you’re teaching.
  3. Make the text visible to your students. Show students the text on your Smartboard, or the page of a picture book. Students’ visual memory of a craft technique or convention helps them when they try it themselves in their own writing. 
  4. Read aloud the part of the text that contains the technique or convention. Students’ aural memory of the technique or convention also helps them when they write.
  5. Describe how the author used the craft technique or convention clearly and precisely. This is the most challenging part of teaching with a mentor text, as it requires you to draw upon your own ability to read like a writer. For example, let’s say you’re teaching students how to write a lead for a feature article by showing them this lead (from an article I wrote). Study it closely, and ask yourself, “How would you describe what Carl did as a writer?”

Imagine this: You’re in Kenya, taking a nighttime drive on the African savannah.

Your driver turns a corner on the dirt road, and right in front of you the searchlight

reveals a pride of lions. Before you jump under your seat to hide, relax. You’re in a special safari van, and you’re perfectly safe, even though you’re so close to such dangerous animals. 

When you go on safari in Kenya, you’re going to see a wide variety of fascinating animals in their natural habitat. Here are a few you’re bound to see.

Here’s how I would describe what I did as a writer in this lead:

There are a lot of interesting ways to write a lead for a feature

article, and I tried one of them – writing a narrative scene that introduces the

topic – in mine. I begin with the phrase, “Imagine this,” to cue readers to get

ready to use their imagination. As I describe the scene, I addressed the reader

using the pronoun “you” because I want them to imagine that they’re the main

character in this scenario! Then I write a series of actions that the characters –

the driver, the lions, and the reader – make. And in the second paragraph, I let

readers know the angle – the focus — that I then develop in the rest of the


If it was difficult for you to read this lead like a writer and describe what I did, don’t worry. I’ve found that with practice, this is a skill you develop over time. And you can accelerate your learning about how to describe texts by discussing them with your colleagues before introducing them to your students. 

  1.  Finally, invite students during that period’s independent writing time to try it themselves in their own writing. 

Conferring with Mentor Texts

During writing conferences with students, there are some special challenges to teaching with mentor texts. Mainly, since you don’t know what the focus of a conferences will be before you sit down to confer with a student, you have to think on your feet and decide which mentor text to teach on the fly, right in the middle of the conference Don’t be alarmed. You can do it! 

Follow these seven steps, (many of which parallel the steps for teaching with mentor texts during mini-lessons and small-group lessons) to navigate these “in the moment” conferring decisions with mentor texts:

1. Carry your “stack” of mentor texts with you from conference to conference. Having several texts with you that you know well – each of which contains many craft techniques and conventions you can teach – is the best way to be prepared for whatever comes up in conferences.

2. Begin conferences by asking students what they’re doing as writers (by asking the classic question, “How’s it going?” or a similarly open-ended question). When students respond by telling you they’re working on using a particular craft technique or convention, you’ll know you’ll soon be teaching with a mentor text.

3. Ask yourself, “Which of the mentor texts in my stack has a good example of this technique or convention that I can show this student?”

4.  Make the text visible by placing it between you and the student so they can see it easily.

5.  Read the part of the text aloud that contains the technique or convention, so they can hear how it sounds.

  6.  Use your skill with reading like a writer to describe the craft technique or convention.  

7.  After you teach with the text, briefly coach the student as they try what you taught.     Ask them to try out the technique or convention with you. Usually, you can do this by having them talk out how they’ll use the technique or convention. As they do this, listen carefully and coach them as needed—in part, by referring back to the mentor text.

Over time, you’ll become more and more confident in teaching with mentor texts, and these steps will become second nature to you. And, as you see how your students respond to this teaching, I bet you’ll become just as obsessed with using mentor texts as I am!

Carl Anderson is an author and literacy consultant who works in schools and districts aroundthe world. His most recent book is A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts K-5.

Re-Imagining RtI / MTSS: Putting Students Back at the Center of Instructional Designs

By Julie Wright and Mark Bazata

When the Individuals with Disabilities Act was reauthorized in 2004, Response to Intervention (RtI) hit the educational landscape like an avalanche. The goal was to move away from a discrepancy model for identifying students and to provide support for students who needed different options to meet their learning needs. Then, in 2015 the Elementary and Secondary Education/Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA), signed into law in December 2015, called for a “for a multi-tier system of supports for literacy services”, aka MTSS.  While well-intentioned at the onset, but, unfortunately, have created a rigid system of canned programs and the potential for creating more policies and procedures by depersonalizing support, over-scaffolding, and placing students in a box by using labels that hurt more than they helped. In the process, it also robbed many teachers of the autonomy and agency they once had to differentiate and meet students’ needs. Many years have passed and the problems of practice continue to increase. So what do we do now?

RtI / MTSS 2.0

The good news is that we can harness many of the positive aspects of RtI / MTSS while still allowing teachers the ability to utilize their immense knowledge of their students in a positive, asset-based approach to responding to students’ educational needs. We’ve listed three strategies that we’ve used to address some of the challenges teachers and administrators face when working within an RtI / MTSS system.  These new ways of thinking and operationalizing support empower teachers and create opportunities for students to reach their full potential.   

Strategy 1 – Menu of Supports 

Let’s face it.  Whether we are advocates for pre-packed or boxed curricula and resources or not, we know that there isn’t one program or instructional material that meets all students’ needs.  Schools and districts are smart.  We know that there’s no one-stop solution and that the important work is in creating the match — matching what students know, understand, can do and need with the just-in-time support to nudge them forward.  If we aren’t careful, we end up with more login usernames, passwords, teacher manuals, student journals and at-home extra practice booklets than we know what to do with.  On the surface, this will look like we are resource rich, when actually we will be responsive-to-all-students’-unique-needs poor.  This is because many of these resources are focused more on skills and less on students’ individual needs and wants.  Creating a Menu of Supports, with carefully crafted instructional designs and thoughtfully curated materials that are culturally responsive to meet students’ individual and collective needs is a strategy that goes the long distance.  

Take Action

Creating a Menu of Support that teachers will feel comfortable with and empowered to use isn’t as easy as putting together a list of interventions. First, teachers need to understand the vision for how the supports fit into their daily routines. Some teachers may be able to already see it because they use intervention in their classes already. Others may need to see an example schedule or even a video of how it would look in their routine. Next, they need to participate in professional dialogue around ways to get to know students and use that intel into the supports they create. This requires teachers to be able to envision different ways to provide student support, have access to easy-to-use resources, and time for low-risk practice in using them. Finally, there needs to be a follow-up plan. This could include offering scaffolded support in the classroom from a coach or feedback from a principal during the school day. 

We were able to roll out a Menu of Support effectively in one building by taking a faculty meeting and turning it into a “mini conference” around reading supports. We set up three classrooms that teachers could visit. We had three 20-minute sessions where teachers and reading specialists modeled a reading support, explained how teachers could use them, and then gave them time to practice the support with a colleague. Teachers were able to select three supports that they felt would be the most beneficial to them that year, and by the end of the one hour, each teacher had three new reading supports that they felt comfortable trying in their classroom. Through the next four weeks, the principal asked the teachers to try each of the three out with a student or small group during their literacy workshop time, and at their next faculty meeting, the teachers shared how the support worked in their classrooms. 

Strategy 2 – Asset-based Child Study Teams 

When we focus on assets — building upon human, social, and cultural capital — we can identify and utilize individual and collective strengths, rather than focusing on deficits, or weaknesses.  Some may argue that if we name what is not working, we (teachers) can use a fix it approach to making things better.  One way we can shift into an asset-based stance is shining a light on what students can do versus focusing on what they cannot do.  An asset-based response to instruction begins by knowing kids beyond the numbers.  Dr. Towanda Harris (2019) reminds us that, “Knowing our students helps us to choose the most powerful resources for them and to make every moment in our precious instructional time count.”  When we go on a data dig to find out about students’ whole selves — inside and outside of school hours, we disrupt current practices and position ourselves for finding the good in what kids’ know, understand and can do and design learning opportunities that meet students’ collective and individual needs.  Some questions to ask include:

  • What language(s) does the student speak?  Read?  Write?
  • Who are the student’s best buds?  What do they like to do together?
  • Is the student left or right-handed?  Wear glasses?
  • What’s in the “next up to read” book stack for this student?
  • Is this student an only child?  Oldest? Youngest?
  • How would you describe this student from a whole-child perspective?  How would this student describe him/herself?
  • What do we need to figure out about students’ strengths and areas needing a lift that will help us better serve their individual needs and wants?
  • How will our instruction help students learn more about themselves and others?
  • How will we ensure that our instructional practices include criticality, or critical consciousness?

Take Action

Creating meeting structures that use asset-based language is one way to keep team members accountable to positive responses.  Look at the form or documents you use for your student study teams. What are the first things you look at and discuss? Too often we don’t address the strengths of students, and the few times that we do, we give them lip service and don’t actually think about using their strengths in meaningful ways. We skip over that and move to the data (that is mostly measuring their deficiencies) and spend our time talking about what the student CAN’T do. 

What would happen if we swapped our structure around? Yes, we know we want to help students with an academic or behavioral skill or goal.  We wouldn’t be having a study team if that wasn’t the case, but what if we framed the structure of the meeting to ask, “How can we harness the student’s interest, strengths, and dreams to help them improve …?” Let’s take for example a student who was struggling to focus in the beginning of the class period. Then, we held our student study team to brainstorm ways we might provide support, and in a conversation with his mom, we found out that every day after school, he would go over to a neighbor’s house to help them with their pets. He was very focused during that time, and it was something he really enjoyed doing. When asked why he liked that work, he said, “Because I had a job to do, and I felt like I was helping them.” We harnessed his desire for purpose and belonging by giving him a job to do when he first came into the class – making sure everyone had the materials they needed. Once he did his job, he was able to focus on his classwork more effectively.

Strategy 3 – Broaden Who and Where 

The least restrictive environment for students is most often right in their classroom, working, and learning right next to their teachers and peers.  When instructional designs and plans are created to meet all students’ wants and needs in Tier 1, natural interventions are intentionally built in.  Good instruction often results in some of the best interventions.  When support is provided in Tier 1, such as specialists pushing into the classroom, it opens up opportunities for adults to work together to provide on-the-spot instruction that also serves as interventions.  In addition, when teachers work together it can be empowering as they can lift each other up and learn from one another.  

One surefire way to create natural interventions is to get students involved.  When we make decisions with and for students, we open up opportunities for creative and collaborative problem solving.  When asked, “What’s your role?” during a data team meeting or a 1:1 conference, students might respond by telling us what they need and want that will help them succeed.  For example, a student might explain that they need support in creating a book stack reflecting up next to read books or that they want to work in a small, flexible group with peers.  In addition, students might self-identify they need a seat change, an extension for an upcoming due date, or an independent study project to take the learning in a new or different direction.  There’s no doubt that optimizing the Tier 1 classroom through a push-in model and getting students involved to personalize instructional designs yields greater success.  If you are interested in broadening the who and where of instructional designs and plans, consider using the Least Restrictive Environment Protocol.

Take Action

To try the Least Restrictive Environment Protocol, create a four column chart with the following headings: 

  • Supports (Who can support the student?)
  • Inputs (What type of support can be provided?)
  • Student (What is the student’s role?)
  • Output (What are the intended consequences with and for the student?)

With a team of stakeholders who know or support the student, brainstorm ideas for each column. After the brainstorm, highlight what the team sees as the highest leverage supports, share those supports with anyone who works with the student, and set a time to come back and revisit how the supports are working. 

Book stacks are a high-leverage practice to support students in the classroom that can be done by anyone working with that student. We typically think of book stacks for younger students, where they have a bin of high-interest books at various levels that students can choose from and read, but this concept can be used at older grades as well. For example, in eighth grade social studies class, students were asked to present on a figure who contributed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On one of the research days, the Library Media Specialist came to work with one of the groups with some sample articles, videos, and infographics that addressed each of the people students could pick from. The group looked at the texts, and they each picked one the read that matched what they were most interested in. After reading, they shared a summary of the text and what they learned from it. Not only did this give students some autonomy of what they picked to read, they had access to different types of texts, and they were all able to learn the key information they needed to create a successful product and sales pitch. 


The time is now. It’s a perfect time to reset and think forward.  Let’s reimagine the instructional designs and supports that will be put into place to meet students’ individual and collective needs. This is a double win, creating opportunities to increase teacher autonomy and agency while also putting students at the center of our decision-making.  So, let’s do it.  Let’s reimagine RtI / MTSS.  The time really is now!


Harris, Towanda. The Right Tools: A Guide to Selecting, Evaluating, and Implementing Classroom Resources and Practices. Heinemann, 2019. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. § 6319 (2008).

Wright, Julie.  What’s Our Response?  Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners.  FIRST Educational Resources, 2021.


Julie Wright is a traveling teacher, instructional coach, educational consultant, author, and a short  texts-of-all-types enthusiast. Whether working alongside students, teachers, or administrators, Julie  believes in bringing out the best in the work by using asset-based approaches. As an educator for  over 25 years, Julie has worked in rural, urban, and suburban settings. Julie is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For?, Grades 3-8: How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers — Not the Book and author of What’s Our Response? Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners and Side-by-Side Instructional Coaching: 10 Asset-Based Habits that Spark Collaboration, Risk-Taking, and Growth.  To learn more visit Julie’s website www.juliewrightconsulting.com or connect with her on Twitter @juliewright4444.

Mark Bazata, PhD (mark.bazata@gmail.com) is the Superintendent for the Kewaskum School District with over 20 years of professional experience in both the US and England. After teaching high school and middle school English for 14 years, he served as an instructional coach, infusing authentic disciplinary literacy practices in science and career classrooms. He also served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for seven years before moving into the Superintendent role. He is passionate about building the leadership capacity of educators, developing  effective professional learning communities, and improving literacy across all grade levels and content areas.

Breathing Life Into the Syllabus: How Teaching Preservice Educators Hones My Practice

By Nawal Qarooni, 2023 Conference Speaker

I have the honor of serving 21 pre-service educators in a children’s literature course this semester at Brooklyn College that covers the art of teaching reading and writing for elementary kids. And it is the best part of my week. 

My students are hungry for information, diligently taking notes and discussing in table groups, co-creating artifacts for their thinking together, and readily asking questions. But what I have found in our few months together so far are a handful of critically important reminders that keep my own teaching pedagogy sharp, relevant and equitable. 

In every session together, I have strived to model validating teaching practices that my students will remember and take back to their own classroom experiences. That they feel part of a warmly-cultivated community with belonging remains at the center of my mind and moves, regardless of what’s written on the syllabus. 

Photos courtesy of the author.

Staying Flexible; Staying Multimodal 

I have been carefully observing the way my undergraduate students learn. About half of them come prepared with analog notebooks and writing utensils. A handful of students solely take notes on electronic devices. One student takes notes on her little iPhone. Another uses a notebook so tiny it would fit in my pocket. Another handful just listen. All of these versions are okay.

After group discussions, I ask that students share their learning with the larger community however they wish. Sometimes we don’t share with the whole group; sometimes they can email me. That could be:

  • a screenshot or a photo of their notebooks. 
  • paragraphs of writing. 
  • a low-pressure recording or video clip of what really stuck with them that day. 
  • a few slides the group co-created during talk time.
  • a drawing, potentially with captions that depicts the content. 

The wide variety of learning artifacts have astounded and impressed me. I’ve been saying aloud, “You are learners with agency. You get to decide how you want to digest and share back what you’ve learned and are still thinking about.” While there is sometimes the tendency to demand that turned in materials for grading or otherwise must be required to look one specific way, I philosophically believe that there are no prescribed musts. I value creativity and individualism. The options I give are meant to serve a wide variety of learners. I want to breed the opposite of fill-in-the-blank thinkers – and future teachers. This openness and leeway is working. 

Revealing My Own, Nuanced Reading Identity 

Each class begins when I shout out a text I recently read and am excited about. I talk about them with equal passion, criticism and wonder. I tell them why I found the text ridiculous, and what questions I had for the author, the characters or our world as a result. I’m honest when my concentration fails. And I am careful to diversify the texts, with an ever-expansive definition of what counts. 

I do this because I know teachers of reading must be readers themselves. But also because the text our students consume are all valid, from new Never Have I Ever episodes to belting aloud and questioning Tems’ Try Me (which I love and sometimes play during writing time) to books they choose on their own, like When We Make It: A Nuyorican novel in verse by Elisabet Velasquez (which my daughter is currently devouring). When I’m modeling in K-8 classrooms, I do this with my own adultish text, too, so the young ones see authentic reading identities too. For every text I ask at least this same, repeated question: what does this text teach us about being human?

Here’s a partial list of what I’ve text-talked recently: 

  • An interesting piece in The Atlantic October 2022 magazine about the rise of myopia in young people worldwide. Because my daughter is experiencing a rapid rate of increased near-sightedness, this article felt especially pertinent.  I told my students about my personal connection and they readily made similar parallel ones, quickly tabbing the piece online for their own reading. 
  • The statement art of an Iranian and Black queer artist I admire greatly, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. I shared the pieces she has currently housed all over my alma mater’s campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and asked them to analyze a few pieces with their discussion groups using the questioning stems ‘I see,’ ‘I notice,’ and ‘I wonder.’ Thinking critically about art is no different than thinking critically about alphabetic text, I told them. They were convinced.  
  • Angie Cruz’s recent novel, How to Not Drown in a Glass of Water, which I loved and tore through in a day. One of my students is Dominican and as soon as I read the title, she announced that the author, too must be Dominican, because it’s an idiom she knew well. 
  • A new novel in verse I just read aloud with my young ones, Aida Salazar’s A Seed in the Sun. I told them how reluctant one of my daughter’s was about reading “a whole book of connected poems,” but how, in the end, she thought it was “so fun and easy to understand actually.” 

Naming Aloud My Teaching Moves 

By paying careful attention to my students and what they love, thrive on, and still have questions about, I have been able to tailor each week’s learning to their needs. I go back to the syllabus and jot notes about what else I layered in, and ask them to do the same. I explain that the syllabus- or classroom curriculum they might be handed at their future schools – is solely a guide. We must breathe life into those guides with all of our passions, knowledge about the world, and personal experiences: each valid, valuable, and important. Naturally, the students in my cohort are getting a Professor Q version of this course- a version I have infinite pride in. And it is my specific teaching identity that I bring to the classroom that will positively shape these future educators. I have taken to creating a secondary slide deck – not the actual content, but the teaching behaviors –  that explicitly names the validating pedagogical approaches I have been careful to model each week. That too, is a teaching artifact I am proud of. 

Last week I ended the class with these words. “Remember, your curriculum isn’t meant to be read verbatim. You need to be nimble. You need to know your students. They’ll all be different and perfect. Adjust accordingly.” 

Nawal Qarooni is an educator and writer who works in learning spaces to support a holistic model of literacy instruction. She and her team of coaches at NQC Literacy work with teachers and school leaders to grow a love of reading and composition in ways that exalt the whole child, their cultural capital and their intrinsic curiosities. She is the proud daughter of immigrants, and mothering her four young kids shapes her understanding of teaching and learning. She is a former international newspaper reporter and currently a contributing writer for We Need Diverse Books. Nawal holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan; a master’s degree in newspaper, magazine, and online journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School; and a master’s degree from Brooklyn College via the NYC Teaching Fellows program. In her daily literacy coaching and school-based support, Nawal draws on her years as a middle grades classroom teacher and professional writer, as well as her love of photography and connection to nature. You can find her reading aloud to her kids, running in Liberty State Park, or on Twitter @NQCLiteracy. Learn more about her work at NQCLiteracy.com. 

Growth and Loss: Black Children’s Literature Post-George Floyd 

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, 2023 CCIRA Author/Presenter

Educators… you should know… there have been whispers. In my private messages, in subtweets, in texts, and in quiet conversations amongst children book authors, I am hearing a sad admission: “The ‘George Floyd Effect’ on publishing is fading.” 

The George Floyd Effect. 

What do we do with that phrase? A phrase that comes from the wrongful loss of a life? An internet search would show you two meanings for it: one that speaks to the way that institutions like schools and publishing and even corporate coffee chains scrambled in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder to reflect upon and address their racism and a second meaning focused on blaming the deceased for criminality and lawlessness (we’ll ignore that one). That first usage of the phrasing impacted what books became available for our classrooms and library shelves. It meant that publishers made extra efforts to employ Black talent and publish Black creatives. It meant more Black children’s books were coming and more schools were prioritizing getting them. 

Because these books were “needed.”

In July 2020, my second book Your Name is a Song had unexpectedly sold out its first printing on the first day of release. I was told books like mine were needed in the aftermath of brutality. And I watched many books about race become bestsellers. Meanwhile, at the request of my editor, I had been working for days on end to add back matter for Hold Them Close, a book that seeks to help Black kids make sense of racism. I sat in a hotel room in Center City Philadelphia when protests broke out in the streets, working to mold historical facts of racial violence into short and accessible sentences for youth. I pushed through  when I wanted to run into the streets too. To scream, to cry, to mourn. To stop and reflect even on my feelings about  senseless death being necessary for people to see the worthiness of our books. But I pushed through because of the repeated refrain that these books were so needed in that moment.

They’ve always been needed though. They continue to be.

There is article upon article about the importance of Black representation for Black children in developing their self worth. Many of us are aware of Rudine Sims Bishop’s work of describing books as “mirrors” or  stories where we see ourselves and are affirmed therein; and as “windows” when we see others and truly empathize with them and possibly even enter the “sliding glass doors” of their worlds. Additionally, in our context where racism persists, we know sources that teach about racism and its history honestly are necessary for change. In the aftermath of George Floyd, Black authors ploughed on as we always do to create texts of joy and of pain, of fun and of importance, of our authentic stories. However, I believe many of us hoped that this moment for change would be something more. We understood it required more than a moment. Our kids needed it to be longer than a moment.

But the George Floyd effect is fading.

Recent research by WordsRated has suggested that the boom in bestselling children’s books with Black characters was fleeting. By 2021, the number of bestselling children’s books with Black characters had decreased by 23%. Gone is that brief moment in time when Black character books and their authors were in demand. Gone are big publishing’s promises as they now dismantle Black imprints and rid themselves of staff unceremoniously. Gone are the promises of big bookstore retailers to support diverse books. As such, educators are now  left to contend not only with the old status quo of options for their students but also a new pressure…


 The backlash to antiracism, the backlash to more stories giving our kids new perspectives and opportunities for empathy, and the backlash to people simply caring about Black life has been book banning. The response has been to stamp out the literary existence of Black people and their history from schools. I watched books like mine–ones that were “so needed” the year before– get banned in a few districts while Black bestsellers of 2020  became banned in countless U.S.  school districts and library systems. Additionally, because anti-Blackness seems to be the gateway to all kinds of bigotry in our societal context it meant that the bans then extended to literature about indigenous peoples, POC,  and in particular, LGBTQ communities. At the root, yet and still, is this nation’s historical commitment to denying the humanity of Black people. 

So what do we do?

How do we  ensure that our kids have access to diverse stories at all times, not just in tragic moments and also in spite of those who see that access is threatening. I suggest:

  • Audit your bookshelves for diverse and equitable representation every year. Do a deeper dive after the audit.
  • Discuss  representation in books with students and what books get banned. Spark conversations and new ways of thinking.
  • Proactively develop the language to argue against  bans. Here are talking points.
  • Develop an awareness of lesser known Black book creators (and those from other marginalized communities). Request their books in your schools and libraries to continue communicating the demand to the industry that we need many voices.
  • Organize at the local level. Get to know who makes these decisions and organize around their elections.
  • If you experience a ban, organize on social media and reach out to authors who are banned. They and others may amplify your efforts as in the case of this campaign.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is  is a Philadelphia-based, award-winning children’s book author. A former English teacher, she educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for more than 15 years. Her picture books and middle grade fiction, which feature young Black and Muslim protagonists, have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, Read Across America, NCTE, and NPR, and she is a 2021 Irma Black Award Honor author. In addition to producing children’s literature, she invests her time in the mentorship of aspiring children’s book authors through multiple programs including We Need Diverse Books and the Muslim Storytellers Fellowship of the Highlights Foundation where she is also a program committee member.