The Responsibility of Mentorship

By Danny Burleigh

Who is your mentor? To whom do you attribute your pivotal development as a professional? As a first year teacher, I was lucky enough to have been offered two fifth grade positions at two schools. I met with friends, colleagues, and administrators weighing in on which offer to accept, and ultimately the decision was made on a single factor. I chose a school where I would be able to teach and grow alongside Patrick Allen.

I was entering the education field after serving as a Marine Officer for four years (talk about culture shock), and I knew that I needed guidance. I had incredible mentors that guided me throughout that career, so I had a deep desire to find strong mentorship as a teacher. I already knew Patrick to be a brilliant educator through his book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop and classroom observations, and he was going to mentor me. 

He just didn’t know it yet.

It is no secret that the long term outlook for new teachers in the field is often bleak. Nearly one third of all new teachers leave the profession within three years. Half leave after five. Statistically, I still have a 50/50 shot of being in my classroom next year (social distancing aside). Most states and districts have mandated induction programs for new teachers and yet these numbers have seen little change over the years (Ingersoll, R., & Merrill, L., 2012).

There are a number of factors that contribute to why induction programs may, or may not, lead to long and productive careers in teaching; but I can only speak from my experience (both in and out of the classroom). As educators, we are deeply compassionate people. We remember the whirlwind that was our first year and, when placed in positions of leadership, do not want to overwhelm our new teachers with the burden of induction programs. Coupled with our responsibilities to our students or other teachers, induction programs begin to degrade into a task that you “get through” rather than something efficacious.

Induction/mentorship programs are the single most important developmental step for any teacher (Rockoff, 2008). It should be a rich and intensive process in order to continue developing strong foundations. It is the benchmark that influences the trajectory of how they interact with children for the rest of their career. Everyone has intense and specific responsibilities to uphold within the mentorship process that are essential for development as a teacher.

Responsibility Starts with Mentees

The responsibility for the effective mentorship rests on the mentee. I was determined to find a mentor who would challenge me professionally. Even though Patrick didn’t initially know that he would be my mentor, I sought him out for his wisdom and guidance. I count my blessings now as I look at our friendship and know that he has been an important part of my development as a professional.

Mentees are responsible for their trajectory within their mentorship. It is their responsibility to express their needs and to pursue a greater understanding of their craft. If the mentee is unwilling to sacrifice time and effort in the pursuit of greater understanding, then the mentorship process is irrelevant. 

When I first approached Patrick, I was seeking help with conferring. I knew that was an area of growth for me and I sought out specific guidance around a concept with which I was struggling in the classroom. I spoke frequently to Patrick over a multitude of topics ranging from instruction with thinking strategies, to discourse in the classroom, to creating a warm environment with my classroom furniture. 

I learned a long time ago that it was better for me to understand why my mentor did things rather than what they actually did. I would certainly mimic some of my mentor’s choices in my own classroom, but I knew the reasoning behind teacher decisions was how I would make instructional decisions for students regardless of the thinking we were tackling. Mentees, whether veteran teachers or fresh out of school, need to understand how great teachers make the decisions they do rather than trying to merely mimic instructional practices.

But how do we find this person? First develop a list in your mind of what qualities you would expect to see from students of great teachers. Would they be engaged? Creative? Love learning? Ask yourself what feelings you get when you walk into an ideal classroom? Once you answer these questions for yourself, start looking for teachers in your building, district, city, or state that foster the kind of learning you your students should be doing.

If your workplace does not provide the mentorship you need, it is your responsibility to be creative. There are a multitude of ways to get involved with other teachers professionally, both in-person and virtually. If you expect your students to seek answers to their questions, I would encourage you to also do the same. 

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Photo Courtesy of Thao Le Hoang at Unsplash

Responsibility of Mentors

Mentorship is a privilege in any profession. To be called a mentor is something that should be received with humble respect. It means sacrificing time and energy to share wisdom with a colleague who holds you in the highest regard. It means staying later and coming earlier. It means giving up breaks and plan times to work with your mentee. It also means influencing a whole generation of educators and the students they are privileged to teach.

Mentors are well read. If mentees are to hold the responsibility of seeking out why mentors make the decisions they do, mentors are responsible for providing the research and reading for the instructional moves they make in the classroom. I know this is a high order, but it is one that will not only benefit the practice of the mentee, but will also challenge the mentor to truly decide if their practice holds up to a research-based standard.

Mentorship is fostered through inquiry. When I expressed to Patrick that I was wanting to work on writing instruction, I came in the next day to a pile of articles by Penny Kittle, Donald Graves, Katy Wood Ray and a myriad of other writers who mentored him. It was long work sifting through those documents finding idea after idea on how I might implement those concepts into our study on the persuasive mode. A few days later he and I met to discuss what I discovered and he helped me bring some lofty ideas down to earth, demonstrating how he has used many of the same ideas in his own instruction. Positive mentorship allows the mentee to formulate their own ideas then refine them instead of offering the refined idea with no understanding of its origin. 

Often mentor and mentee conversations can become debased to a discussion on how to teach to certain programs and resources within the school. However, no program has ever been shown to create high quality teaching on its own accord (Allington, 2013). If this is true, then it is far more beneficial for mentors to help their mentees to understand why they might choose to use certain resources, or not use them. Mentors might help guide mentees to understand how their philosophies on education and students (backed by research of course) can be interwoven into mandatory programs or resources. They might help them to whittle away at the purposeless activities that are ever present.

Observation is key to developing great teachers. Mentors need to be in mentees’ classrooms and vice versa. This is where mentors have the ability to note where their discussions meet children and how their mentees are truly utilizing them.

Patrick once observed a workshop I facilitated with my students. We had just finished our composing time and had transitioned to our reflection. A student began sharing and, when they were finished, the conversation moved to another student. Following the workshop, Patrick said little about my management or instructional prowess. Rather, he made a small note. The first student was not finished with their thinking. He told me to “hold out your silence a little longer; students will continue to dig deeper into their thinking.”

Instructional moves like that cannot be discovered through conversation. They are only seen through the lens of an observer who is focused on perfecting the craft of their mentee. Inversely, mentees need to be afforded the opportunity to observe the mentor’s classroom. This allows them to ask questions about practices that develop into rich dialogue toward instructional decisions in their own classrooms.

Administrators are responsible for vision and implementation. 

Without a clear mission and vision in the school, teachers are at a loss for what is truly important for them to accomplish. The school’s mission needs to be clear, concise, and explicit. Most schools and educator leaders have this mission. What begins to degrade this vision are the implicit, “suggested” missions that we set. 

When I was a young officer in command of a motor transport platoon, I was walking my line of vehicles with my squad leaders. I remember making a careless suggestion that it would be, “awesome if all the tires were polished.” I did not intend for it to be an order, nor did I think it was at all necessary. However, the next day I discovered that my platoon had stayed late and polished all the tires of all 32 vehicles in our platoon. Obviously I was mortified, but I learned a valuable lesson. Implicit missions are just as heard and carried out as explicit ones. Leaders must be cognizant of the implicit missions they direct. 

For example, if we state that our school’s vision is for students to create a lifelong love for reading, but we only discuss student standardized testing scores, there are competing visions. Implicitly, teachers are perceiving that standardized testing is the most important factor in evaluations because it is the only factor discussed. These small, competing visions ultimately cause burnout, especially for teachers who are already unsure of their own visions within the classroom. 

Administrators should not be the source of mentorship for new teachers. They are responsible for providing and supporting mentors by providing them time and resources in order to foster growth in their mentees. Mentors need time to observe and coach the mentee. Mentorship is a difficult and sacrificial task that requires professional development and guidance. Administrators who invest in these leaders must create opportunities for their mentors to grow.

It is imperative to understand that mentorship is not something that ends with a two-year induction program, it evolves to a different form. In my fifth year of teaching I still know that my friend and mentor will continue to coach me, even if we are not in the same building; just like he seeks mentorship from colleagues he respects. I also know that in each new chapter of my career, I will find colleagues who will continually support me professionally, challenge my thinking, and help me strive to understand my vision for students.

Who is my mentor? I know I will continue to add to the answer.

Now I ask who is my mentee?  To whom will I offer support? 

These are also important questions to ask.


Allington, R. L. (2013). What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers. The Reading Teacher, 66(7), 520–530. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1154

Ingersoll, R., & Merrill, L. (2012). Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi: 10.1037/e579212012-001

Rockoff, J. (2008). Does Mentoring Reduce Turnover and Improve Skills of New Employees? Evidence from Teachers in New York City. National Bureau of Economic Research, 12(24). doi: 10.3386/w13868

Danny Burleigh served as a United States Marine Corps Captain before becoming a teacher in Parker, Colorado. He is in his fifth year of teaching and currently teaches fourth grade at Mammoth Heights Elementary. He was fortunate to present at CCIRA 2020 on teacher mentorship with Dana Sorensen from the Public Education and Business Coalition. He is currently a member of the Public Education and Business Coalition Lab Host Fellowship.

Sidelined but Ready to Get Back into the Game

By Cris Tovani

It’s easy to feel sidelined by this pandemic.  Negotiating everyday life is a whole new ballgame.  It’s hard to know what is true, what to believe, and how to act.  Even grocery shopping proves to be an epic adventure. I put on a mask, believing it will protect me from spreading virus germs.  I vacillate on wearing gloves.  I’ve heard they act like as an extra layer of skin that keep germs from one’s face.  But they make my hands sweaty, so I decide to take a calculated risk and not wear them.  Instead of grabbing a cart from the parking lot like I usually do, I decide not to because I’m sure the handle is a virus hotbed.  I limit what I buy so that it fits into my own bags.  Surely, they are cleaner, but who really knows?  Upon entering the store, I head straight for aisle six and notice several packs of toilet paper AND Bounty sitting on the shelves. I fight my urge to grab one of each.   My head reminds me that there is no longer a shortage and I need to leave what’s there for those who aren’t stockpiled.  Still, my heart tells me that while they are available, I should get one of each. After circling back to the produce section, I head to the baking aisle and I see a man without a mask, coughing all over the spices.  I decide to skip this row even though I need garlic powder. My actions are driven by the belief that the man’s cough has infected the aisle and his germs will linger way longer than I want to wait.  I skip the garlic powder deciding to substitute the recipe with another ingredient.

I am feeling vulnerable in this new reality.  Every aspect of my life is changing. I recognize as I work on this blog post that anything I write has the unintended potential to trivialize what others are experiencing.  I feel like a phony because when the pandemic hit, my work stopped.  Teacher workshops were postponed.  Demonstration teaching lessons with kids were canceled and planning with groups of teachers ended.  I was standing on the sidelines.  Unlike classroom teachers, I haven’t been responsible for trying to figure out how to do the heroic job of helping students learn remotely.  This makes me not qualified to tell those who are, how to do it.  So, with humility, I ask that you humor me as I try to figure out how to get back into the game.

When I’m in a classroom, I’m constantly in the “Hey whatcha doing?” mode.  I watch students interact with other kids, I listen to their sidebar conversations, I talk to them during conferences about what makes them tick.  I use these conversations as resources to keep up with their passions and pop culture.  I ask them questions about music, athletics, video games, anything that I think they care about.  In the classroom, I can peek over their shoulder and see their annotations.  I can listen to their discussions in small groups.  Even for kids who aren’t participating, asking them what they need often leads me to another instructional move.  I share with them what makes learning hard for me and then ask them to reciprocate.  If I know who my learners are, I can find text that they will read, targets they will shoot for, and tasks that they care enough about to do.

But now, what? In a remote environment, where I can’t rely on physical proximity to make connections, look over student’s shoulders, or monitor the time they have their eyes on text, I need to make adjustments.  I ask myself, “How do I get back in there and teach?”

I worry about the kids.  I fret about the ones who don’t have books at home or a place to study.  I worry about the ones who struggle even when they were with their teachers.  I think about the students who have given up on school–the kids who don’t show up for class much less for an online lecture.  I worry about the students who won’t graduate because there will be no summer credit recovery.  So, instead of worrying, I need to pull myself together and join those who started working on these problems three months ago.  How can I help? Could I teach an online credit recovery class? What would a pandemic summer school literacy class look like?  How might I engage our most disengaged learners?

Staying connected to my beliefs has always helped me keep kids at the front and center.  They drive my practice and this keeps my instruction anchored in authenticity and purpose. I reread my list of twelve beliefs, ones I’ve shared at workshops to help others flesh out what they think matter most to teaching and learning.  I’ve kept them close to my planning to remind me of what matters most.  But for a pandemic summer school, twelve beliefs are too many.  I pare the list down, knowing that my top three will help me decide what matters most:

  1. The time that students spend behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively engaged in reading, writing, and discussing matters most to their learning. My concrete goal, backed by research is to help students engage for 67 minutes per day of reading, and 60 minutes per day of writing (Guthrie, 2004; Calkins, 2006).
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Photo courtesy of Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash 
  1. I need to learn what students care and wonder about in order to get a variety of texts into their hands and to give them a variety of genres in which to write about.


  1. I have to see and hear students’ thinking, even if their thinking is “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” Learning what they know and need is the only way I can figure out what their next steps are in terms tasks, texts, and learning targets.If I can see what they get and need, I can do a better job helping them to fulfill their reading and writing minutes. Providing the right “Ts” will enable them to get smarter and more skilled each day.

So, with these beliefs in mind, what would I do first?

From recent conversations with colleagues who are teaching, I learn that kids are over this new norm of school.  They need a better reason than an online Powerpoint to get out of bed in the morning.  Now more than ever before, figuring out what makes each student tick before I plan will be crucial.  If what I’m teaching doesn’t connect to their lives, why should they bother?

My plan is to set up a schedule where I call/video chat individual students before we gather as a group on the first day.  On this call, I will spend a little time getting to know individuals to see what they care about most during this time of disruption.  There are so many things I will want to know about my new students.  How are they currently spending their time? What’s surprising them? What’s frustrating them? What are they feeling good about or wishing for?  What do I need to know about them as learners and people to better meet their needs?  What are they curious about?

To build an initial connection, I will share with them a list of questions that I am currently wondering about and ask that they send me a few of their own.  I have no idea what I will get as a response, but I’m thinking that some kids might be curious about:

  • When will things seem normal again?
  • How does human contact and friendship help us navigate learning?
  • How is propaganda used to manipulate?
  • Who gets sick and why?
  • Is the US losing its place of power in the world?
  • Why is there a rise in racism?
  • Can video games teach us about the world in which we live?
  • What are the effects of cancelled professional sports?
  • How do vaccines work?

I am also prepared for snarky responses like:

  • When will this stupid pandemic be over?
  • Why are my parents so annoying?
  • Who cares about your questions?
  • Do we even need school if we can’t see our friends?

Once I get some information from individuals about what they care about, I can then figure out topics, texts and tasks that are worthy of their time.  I will search for texts that will help them answer their questions, making sure that I have different text structures and levels of reading.  I will consider options for small groups because it will be important for students to stay connected and have accountability to each other. Depending on schedules, I will set up a few whole class meetings and then make the Zoom breakouts more flexible.  I will pop into their small group chat rooms in real time to learn more about students and provide individual instruction.  I also want to empower students to decide how they will use group time.  They will need flexibility to schedule their own meetings so they can connect with their group.  When I can’t be present, they can hold their thinking on a simple google.doc to keep me in the loop. I recognize that initially, students may not meet in their small groups.  This will circle me back to my beliefs that it’s my job to facilitate how students behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively engage in worthy work.

As I notice patterns within the smaller groups, I will use our ten to fifteen-minute Zoom time to do mini-lessons or give kids some input like a short article, to provoke and draw them back to their small groups.  Small groups could be based on questions students have, novels, or topics they care about.  While kids are in their clusters, I can enter different chat rooms to confer or do small group instruction.  Similar to when I’m in the classroom, I will monitor the whole class in between each chat room conference to decide where to go next.  Once I confer with one group, I will pull back and observe the other chat rooms to decide where to go next.  This is just a start.  But thinking about this, has allayed some fears and has made me feel like a participant again.

Last week, I was feeling pretty down.  Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being on a Zoom chat with Cornelius Minor and several other consultants.  We were brainstorming a bit and also bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t be with teachers and kids.  In his patient and wise way, Cornelius very quietly said, “We’ve lost some of our jobs but we haven’t lost our work.”  He’s right.  There is so much work out there to be done.  The trick is figuring out how to do “work” that is helpful to teachers and students.  I’m coming to grips with the fact that I probably won’t ever be able to go back to teaching the way I did in the past.  And maybe that’s a good thing. I readily admit that I am struggling to figure out next steps.  So, I need to get off the sidelines and get back into the game, figuring out with the rest of you, how to do the work of teaching and learning.

This is only a start.  Now, I need to find some takers who I can serve.  Any teachers or kids out there who want a thought partner–I’m all in.

Chris Tovani is the recipient of ILA’s Adolescent Literacy Thought Leader Award in 2017,  a veteran teacher, staff developer, and nationally known consultant on issues of reading, content comprehension and assessment in secondary classrooms. She is the author of  I Read It But I Don’t Get It, Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? and So, What do They Really Know?

Cris Tovani is coauthor with Samantha Bennett of the Heinemann Digital Campus course Adolescent Reading RX, which shows a variety of ways to reach reluctant and struggling readers.


Calkins, L. (2006) A Guide to the Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Guthrie, J. T., A. Wigfield, and K. C. Perencevich.  2004.  Motivating Reading Comprehension:  Concept-Orientated Reading Instruction.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

An April (Mostly) Inside

By Tanny McGregor, 2021 CCIRA Conference Presenter

There’s a visual cliché that you’ve likely seen in film, where a calendar is pictured with its pages peeling off one by one. The calendar in motion is an effective way to show time flying, right before our eyes. During the past year, quarantined months notwithstanding, time has rushed past like those pages curling into the wind.

At the time of this writing, I’ve been alive for 640 months. Something inside me has risen up, a new longing to make those fleeting months accountable. What happens to small moments if not captured in a poem, a photo, or quick sketch? I know what happens. The moments fade and the calendar pages fly away.

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Created by Tanny McGregor, April 2020, on an iPad with Paper by WeTransfer (@WeTransfer).


Creating a visual calendar changes the way I think about time. Due to the stay-at-home orders in my state, I have more unstructured time to navigate than I can remember. The memorable moments surface daily, though, same as before. So with five minutes each evening, I pick up my stylus and think about the day behind me. What happened that was important, surprising, or interesting? Maybe it’s none of those, but an ordinary moment instead. 

In each empty calendar square, something is remembered. A simple symbol, accompanied by a word or phrase, preserves a fleeting memory, giving it permanence on the page. A visual calendar clutches the everyday, one tiny square at a time.

In our community of readers and writers, time is noticed and named in a variety of ways, through journals and poems, photographs and videos, audio recordings, sketches, and social media posts. A visual calendar is yet another way to create a thought-filled curio cabinet, a place to stow away the moments and take them out again from time to time. 

Note: Last December, Tanny’s sketchnoted thinking was featured on Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Army blog. Take a look at this visual calendar, created in more typical times:

Tanny McGregor has been teaching and learning for 31 years in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 2007, she has been writing and presenting for teachers near and far. Tanny’s books include Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading (Heinemann, 2007), Comprehension Going Forward: Where We Are & What’s Next (Heinemann, 2011), Genre Connections: Lessons to Launch Literary & Nonfiction Texts (Heinemann, 2013), and her most recent publication, Ink & Ideas: Sketchnotes for Engagement, Comprehension, and Thinking (Heinemann, 2019). Find her on Twitter @TannyMcG.


Ask First, Teach Later

By Julie Wright

Last week, I ordered my daughter a “Zoom University” tee-shirt. She’s gonna get such a kick out of this, I thought, as I put it on the counter where she was fixing her breakfast, getting ready for another day of distance learning.

My daughter smiled a little bit when she glanced at it. 

“You can wear it for your chem lab Zoom this morning!” I said.

“Maybe,” she said, as she headed off to the basement, where she is now finishing out the school year. 

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Then, it hit me. I had made a misstep. And, if you are reading this blog, I bet you have made a few, too. Teachers are blithering, open-hearted rescuers, empaths, cheerleaders on steroids. Combine that with being a parent and the miscalculations are exponential. 

We care so much about the well being of our kids and students, that we want to make it better. This new moonscape of distance teaching and learning has us all hyper and forgetting the basic tenet of effective teaching:  Step back. Take measure of your students. Ask questions.  

Had I asked my daughter directly what she needed right now, her answer would not have been a  pandemic-oriented t-shirt. My gut says that adults are buoyed by social media jokes, but not kids. They don’t have the long stretch of experience. For them, this particular  time is many things, but it’s not funny. 

My misstep is ironic, given I’m an educator, and fortuitous in that, as a literacy coach, I’ve spent the last few weeks supporting administrators, coaches, and teachers in designing distance learning experiences. When I saw the Zoom U. gift land, it confirmed for me that I need to slow down in giving advice, and ask questions first or risk making assumptions.  Assumptions are short cuts, when we fill in the blanks with information from our own past or similar experiences. In short, what we think will work for distance learning based on the hazy memories of our own student psyche, won’t work now. At all. We are all in uncharted territory.  

Lean Into Being a Newbie

Ask questions. Start by brainstorming with colleagues questions that we might ask ourselves before we ask students. THEN build learning plans based on what we hear.  Here is a list to get you started; but, by no means is this list “the right list” or a complete list.

  • How are students doing — social-emotionally, academically, physically — and how do we know? 
    • What can we see/hear based on our interactions and what can’t we see/hear?
    • How should we find out what we need to know to better serve our students?
  • Are students “showing up” for the learning opportunities we are providing? 
    • If not, why not? 
    • How can we figure out what’s getting in their way and what can/should we do to support them?
  • Have students figured out how to use or structure their time? 
  • Where are students working at home?  
    • Have they found a quiet, productive place to complete their work? 
  • How have our plans changed from short-term digital plans to longer-term digital plans? 
    • Do students feel and understand the changes? 
    • Where do they / will they need support?
  • Do students know what counts? 
    • Are we grading assignments and if so, have our grading practices changed?
    • Are we providing feedback and if so, can students respond in independent ways to our feedback from a distance?
  • How are parents doing?  
    • What’s going well?  What’s not?
    • What do parents need?

Next, Ask Students

  • How are you doing? 
  • How do you feel?
  • What’s going well? 
  • What’s clunky?
  • What’s agitating you?   
  • What do you need?  
  • What do you wish or want?
  • Have you figured out your schedule?  Your pacing? Tell me about it.
  • Where do you do most of your work at home?  Do you feel productive in that space?
  • What are you doing by yourself?  With others remotely?
  • What are you doing for yourself?

Now, Use Students Responses to Design

So much of the feedback students give will depend on geography, age, socio-economic status, access, connectivity, not to mention the stress associated with these changing times.  The heartbreaking part of course is that the students you want to reach most and who may need us most might not be reachable. I can’t presume to know what your students will say, but I can say it might be helpful to organize the feedback you hear into a kind of assumption/solution format. Here it goes: 

Assumption:  Students can easily type with fluency and accuracy.

Solution:  Investigate and offer voice functions [such as voice typing] so that students have options. 

Assumption:  Students brought home all the needed materials from school.

Solution: Take stock of what ALL students have and what they don’t have.

Assumption:  Students have the hardware and software available at the point of need.

Solution:  Ask students (and possibly family members/caregivers) what they have available and when (what time, how often) they can access it.

Assumption:  Bedtimes are similar to that of face-to-face school days.

Solution: Offer choice and flexibility in timing of assignments, due dates, video conference sessions Reminder–some families / caregivers might need or want kids to sleep in so that they can get their own work started / done.  Additionally, some may not be available to help with school work until evening.

Assumption:  Family members / caregivers understand the current methods students are being taught as well as the intended learning.

Solution:  Be creative in ways to teach / re-teach content and when in doubt, ask students what you can do to make the content more understandable.  Communicate with and family / caregivers.  

Assumption:  Someone is checking in or sizing up students’ social-emotional, academic, and physical well-being and helping to make needed adjustments. 

Solution:  Create reflection-oriented surveys or protocols so that you can learn first-hand how students may or may not be connecting with friends, completing assigned work, and getting enough exercise.

Assumption:  Students are completing their own work.

Solution:  Ask students or family members / caregivers if work is being completed independently or if support from home or peers is needed.

Assumption:  We are providing the “right” level of support for each student we serve.

Solution:  Use student work products and reflections to gauge the students’ needs and, if possible, collaborate with colleagues to brainstorm possible support mechanisms and structures.

Assumption:  Students are able to successfully read all of the digital information coming at them efficiently and effectively.

Solution:  Provide recorded options as a support for anyone who needs or wants it.

Assumption: Students are able to seperate and prioritize the work coming from multiple teachers and content areas.

Solution: Collaborate in teams to coordinate your efforts, making things clear and consistent.

Assumption:  Our digital assignments take into account students’ insecurities and/or experience levels (e.g., recording yourself singing for music class, seeing yourself and sharing ideas via video).

Solution:  Create choices so that students have more than one way to make their knowledge, skills or understandings visible to others.

Assumption:  Content and messaging are being received the way they were intended.

Solution:  Ask students to share back with you in their own words what is being asked (e.g., restate the assignment, explain these directions in your own words)

Assumption:  Students’ eyes can handle (and are not being impacted negatively) by the number of hours spent via digital learning.

Solution:  Ask students and family members / caregivers to take stock of device-related eye fatigue (e.g., blurred vision, double vision, dry or irritated eyes, redness, eyestrain, headache, neck pain, stiff neck).

Two Takeaways

  1. Explain changes to students and families / caregivers.  Explaining the WHAT and WHY is important.
  2. When we make a misstep, which will certainly happen, let’s apologize.  “I’m sorry”goes a long way. Everyone will understand because everyone is making missteps right now.

Each week brings about new celebrations and new challenges.  We are bound to make missteps. It is not about the misstep but how quickly we recover.  We can ask important questions about the assumptions we might be making so that we can reflect and make adjustments. 

On behalf of all students and the caregivers and educators we serve, thanks for all you do!

JULIE WRIGHT is a teacher, instructional coach, and educational consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in rural, suburban, and urban education settings.  She holds National Board Certification as well as a B.S. in Education, M.A. in Language Arts and Reading, a K-12 Reading Endorsement, and extensive school leadership post-graduate work, including a pre-K through grade 9 principal license from The Ohio State University. Julie serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Ashland University and is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book (Wright & Hoonan, 2019). Follow Julie on Twitter @juliewright4444 or for more information on how she can support your efforts, visit


All For the Love of Books

By Jennifer Allen

We often don’t know the ripple effect that occurs when we share our passions and loves with others.

A year ago, I wrote to author Andrew Clements asking if he would like to be a guest at our bi-annual Writer’s Day.  Mr. Clements responded with a beautiful letter that he would be honored to be part of the event. In his letter he stated that he did not want to take a speaking fee, but asked that we take the money that we would use for his fee and put it towards books for classroom libraries. He also asked that we use an independent bookstore for the purchases. 

At the start of school this year,  I shared with staff the news that Andrew Clements would be coming to our school.  He held star power for staff and students. I shared his proposition of not taking a speaking fee but that we use the money for our classroom libraries.  It was because of him that each teacher would get money to spend on their classroom libraries.

The next part of Mr. Clements’s request was that we use an independent bookstore. This part was easy since we have an amazing bookstore right in town, walking distance from the school. I called Ellen, the owner, asking if we could do grade level teacher field trips to the store. Ellen was beyond grateful.  She shared that January is her slowest month and that this support would help her get through the tougher winter months.

Teacher field trips were set up. Instead of after school grade level meetings, teachers rotated through the store as grade level teams on two different Monday afternoons. Teachers spent their meeting time in the bookstore talking about books with one another, finding books to match their students’ interests, and discovering new authors and titles. The conversations were rich and meaningful.  I watched as books were handed off from one teacher to the next. If one teacher ran out of money, another often scooped up the books into their own piles to purchase. The experience was one of sharing and collaboration. It was a reminder to me the importance of getting into bookstores and physically browsing through the stacks. 

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Photo courtesy of Johnathan Kalifat at Unsplash

Unfortunately, Mr. Clements passed away last November.

He won’t be a part of our school Writer’s Day, or get to see all the books we purchased in his honor for our classroom libraries, or get his personal  thank you from Ellen who still says when I see her,” I wish I could have thanked Andrew for what he did.”  

He also won’t know that because of those field trips, we extended the idea to two other grade levels at our K-3 elementary school and that we were able to get even more teachers into our local bookstore, and even more books into our classrooms.

Mr. Clements won’t know that we have already budgeted for field trips to take place next year for all K-5 teachers at our two elementary schools (about 40 teachers).  The trips are planned for next January when teachers know their students as readers and can find the just right books for them with school funds to support their purchases. The trips are also intentionally planned for January so that the winter months won’t be so hard on our local bookstore.

What started as a simple gesture of an author payment, has turned into a reminder of the importance of books to our schools, students, and teachers. I suppose that Mr. Clements knew that when he sat down and penned his letter to me last year.

I am grateful for the ripple effects of Mr. Clements love of books and his wishes to support our classroom libraries. Ultimately, our classrooms, our schools, and our professional collaboration were enhanced and renewed.

Thank you Mr. Clements.

Jennifer Allen is a literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine. She has worked in education for the last twenty-five years.  Jennifer started as a classroom teacher in the primary grades and has been working in this position as a literacy/specialist coach for the last sixteen years. She is the author of Becoming a Literacy Leader and A Sense of Belonging, both published by Stenhouse.