Author: Guest Author

Naming Strengths is Like an Extra Shot of Espresso


By Gravity Goldberg

Let’s face it. By 1:00 pm a third of us are wishing for a diet coke, a third want a Macchiato, and another third want a power nap. Being the kind of teacher who plans purposefully, patiently meets students where they are, and keeps up to date with the latest tips and research can be exhausting. Of course there are also the unplanned events that claim our attention like parent emails, unexpected meetings, and the social interactions that seep into our classrooms and fill it with peer drama and mediation. While that caffeine and sugar boost give us a quick fix it also leaves us jittery, rounder around the waist, and crashing later in the day. This led me in search of other, healthier, and more sustainable ways to get that much needed energy boost.

By looking at the research from positive psychology and sociology I found that one of the best things we can do for us and our students is to focus on building from strengths. It turns out that we train our brains to look for whatever we think matters most. If we believe that focusing on strengths is important we will begin to look for them and then find them everywhere with every student. On the other hand, when we look for what is not working, we can also find that everywhere. The biggest difference is that strengths make us feel good and when we feel good we are happier, more energized and more successful teachers.

Every day I sit with a reader and ask him about his process. I get curious about what this particular reader thinks about, notices, and does as he reads. I really listen. Then I allow myself to be impressed by what he already knows how to do. By focusing on a reader’s strengths I fill up on positivity that can’t help but give me a boost.
After noticing a strength I explain it to the reader so he can also relish in the hard work that is paying off. While giving the feedback I really take in his change in facial expression and demeanor. The toothy grins, the rosy glow, all show me just how much the reader feels his pride. His pride gives me even more of an energy boost. Finally, I sneak peeks at the reader for the rest of the day, and enjoy the energy ripples of communicating to students what they already do so well.

Of course this does not mean I only reinforce strengths when I confer, as I also teach students strategies, but the teaching comes second. At first I had to train myself to look for what the reader could do so I could build from strengths. I put sticky notes on my conferring clipboard to remind myself of my intention. After a few weeks of daily practice it became more natural and now it is automatic.

Think this is all fluff, like whipped cream atop a latte? Think again—
this positivity practice makes a difference. The next day, and the next day after that, you see its impact on the reader. In psychology, they call it the helper’s high. In teaching, I’m thinking of it as a double shot of positive feedback that gives each of us a needed boost.

Click here to learn more about Gravity!

Follow Gravity Goldberg on Twitter @drgravityg

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Carol Varsalona: Professional Wonder


Before July 2013, I was clueless about the wide world of connectivity afforded by Twitter and other social media platforms. True, since childhood, I have been a wonderer who curiously gathered information to expand knowledge and experiences. True, I have attended countless conferences and learned from the some of the best literacy and technology luminaries. But not until I retired from public education, did I realize the potential of Twitter for continuous professional development and deeper wondering. It was then, that I took a leap of faith and became a connected educator, consultant, and  global citizen reaching out to educators across the world. Thanks to guidance from JoEllen McCarthy and Tony  Sinanis, Twitter became my viable channel to express myself, connect, and collaborate on issues of importance with educators beyond my region.


Moving from unconnected to connected has been an expansive journey for me from no exposure, to lurking, to moderating #NYEDChat, to interviewing connected educators, like Tom Whitby live on Google Hangout, to creating fifteen poetry galleries of artistic expressions. I titled my blog, Beyond LiteracyLink, because of the interactive nature of my journey from unconnected to connect. Then, a couple of years ago, I found Wonderopolis, a site “where the wonders of learning never cease…where natural curiosity and imagination lead to exploration and discovery in learners of all ages.” Delving deeper into the resources afforded by this free site, led to being appointed a Wonder Lead Ambassador for Wonderopolis. I now write for Wonderopolis from the Wonder Ground, offering educators ideas on curiosity-powered instruction for today’s interactive classrooms. The steps on my journey opened doors to engage in collaborative conversation, pursue professional wonder, and rank among the thousands of worldwide, connected educators inspired to expand their knowledge base.


For me and other connected educators, wondering is an active practice, a journey toward exploration and discovery from “that is the way we always did it” approach to innovative, vigorous teaching. It is a spark to create change in practice. Through the rise of the connected educator movement, I have watched professional wonder grow in intensity. Twitter chats have globalized the asynchronous collegial circles that I designed over a decade ago. At focused, weekly convos, connected colleagues and I seek to enhance our professional wonder. We converse with other educators, parents, and community members to voice opinions on various topics and chat with students whose voices are strong representations of the younger generation. We support each other; nurture our love of learning, share successes, and review missteps with reflective action as steppingstones to success.


You may ask but why Twitter as a framework for conversation? Is it a viable platform for 21st-century discourse? For connected educators, Twitter is a place to listen, collaborate, share ideas, and gather new knowledge beyond the walls of the classroom, school building, or community. It is easily accessible and opens twenty-four hours for global networking. Recognizing that one-shot professional development is not successful in sustaining change and increasing professional wonder, Twitter provides  21st-century professional wonderers an asynchronous digital platform to explore global approaches to teaching and learning.


Final Thoughts


Professional wonder can be cultivated and sustained through online networking and learning together as connected colleagues. Becoming a unique voice in a diverse world of thought is a positive move. My message is clear: Be a risk taker and continue to wonder about ways to impact teaching and learning.


Tips for Harnessing Professional Wonder:

  • Read continuously.
  • Explore the possibilities of connected educator conversations.
  • Listen and learn alongside passionate educators on Twitter.
  • Build your circle of connected educators, your professional learning network.
  • When ready, let your voice rise on Twitter.
  • Start a blog exploring your professional or personal passions.
  • Share your wonders.
  • Celebrate learning.
  • Let the wonders of being a connected educator impact your professional life.




Follow Carol on Twitter @cvarsalona

Informational Writing in the Primary Grades: Linda Hoyt!

Guest Robb Review Author: Linda Hoyt!

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms.  Now, it is exciting to see primary teachers actively helping children understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write.  Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers.  I celebrate as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, sentences and multiple page books!  These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing!  (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I applaud the increasing number of teachers who are clearly understand that their role is not to transmit information, but rather to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life.  In classrooms that are driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Informational writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals.  But, evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—too late!  We now know that forward-thinking educators weave explicit scaffolds for nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, making sure that children write for a wide variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types in every subject area—every day.

Some teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But, extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers.  They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing and presenting their work.  They WILL learn as they go.  With each successive writing experience, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key:  Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Modeled writing is a critical element of accelerating the development of informational writing. Take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students.  Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog.  Help them to notice that sketches carry information and support the message, and that even adult writers pause frequently and experiment with different ways to craft a sentence.  When young children see you write, they have a powerful window into meaning, grammar, word construction, and use of space on the page.  So, dive in and “Just do it!”

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past.  It is early in the year and my kindergarteners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write.  We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students.  Thank you for helping me to believe… They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.  

 Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher, Hudson, Ohio

Learn more about Linda! Check out her website!

Follow Linda on Twitter:  @lindavhoyt 

Dennis Schug: Learning, Leadership, and Lists

Enjoy this great post by our guest author, middle school principal, Dennis Schug!  Dennis shares some wisdom to make us all more effective at what we do!

Ask any educator to share a memory of working with a student, a family, or a colleague, and you’ll likely be inspired. These become learning and leadership milestones, cornerstones to how we define ourselves as educators, and marks of our legacy and the reputation of our profession.

But when was the last time you made time to notice when you evolved as a professional learner?

For me, becoming a Connected Educator has been a personal-professional tipping point. But it wasn’t Twitter, Edcamps, or experimenting with instructional technology that has had the greatest impact. It’s been my renewed approach why I lead, how I learn best, and what I can do to maximize my impact as a school leader.

One such practical meeting place, quite simply, lies in my use of lists.

Who among us, hasn’t (or doesn’t) use lists? To-do lists. Grocery lists. “Honeydew” lists.

Lists have withstood the test of time, in getting us on-track, and keeping us on-track with personal and professional productivity. And lists are precisely where we can keep learning forward.

Here’s how.

“To-Learn” lists

We should all be keeping a list of “professional to-do’s”. You likely have developed this on your own, with your school or district team, and as part of any external professional organizations to which you belong. When you attend a traditional professional development workshop, an Edcamp, or a national conference, you will encounter new ideas, new concepts, and others, willing to share their success, so it becomes your success. Here’s one way to avoid what’s commonly known as “drinking from the fire hose”:

TOMORROW: What is one new practice, tool, or protocol that I will try in my classroom/school/district?
THIS WEEK: What is one learning conversation I will initiate with a professional colleague?
THIS MONTH: What is one resource I will share with someone in a different professional position than the one I hold?
THIS YEAR: What is one project or initiative I will explore, for gradual future implementation with my colleagues?

Use your tool of choice and organize and maintain this list in the way that works best for your learning style. Revisit it and monitor it often. Keep it updated. And invite others to help you stay accountable to what you’ve set out to do.

Twitter lists

As someone who has been using Twitter as a professional learning tool for the last four years, it just isn’t humanly possible to keep up with all the learning, the people, and the resources that are available 24/7/365. To remain productive, purposeful, and focused, consider establishing and using Twitter lists that will support your goals. For example, I keep Twitter lists to curate resources for my weekly Monday Memo for Faculty. I refer often to a list of personal-professional mentors who I can count on for modeling, support, and feedback. And I use lists to keep up with what my friends with whom I collaborate on all things educational leadership. And for fun and in an attempt to be part of something else larger than myself, I maintain a Twitter list of over 2,000 NY Connected Educators. While each of these can be used for professional enrichment, using lists in this way accomplishes something else vitally important in our field and in our schools, they make the world a smaller place. They help us to realize, we’re all more alike than different. And they encourage learning in and across communities.

To-Be-Read lists

This idea of lists is not a new one. In fact, this very idea was re-framed for me at my first Edcamp by one of my leading personal-professional mentors who has since become a dear friend. The session I had attended was about…a book, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. To this day, I continue to recommend this title, since it offers such low-input, high-output strategy work for being more efficient and effective, in work and in life.

As an avid reader of content both in and out of the education field, I keep a running list of books, authors, and series that I refer to often and update regularly. A To-Be-Read list can keep us in touch with what our students are excited to be reading, it can fuel us professionally, and it can allow us to cross-pollinate our ideas, our dialogue, and our perspective. But maybe most importantly, to-be-read lists remind us that in order to be high-impact leaders, we must first commit to being readers and learners.

Ready to evolve? What’s on your professional learning list?

Follow Dennis on Twitter @schug_dennis

We encourage our readers to check out Dennis’s blog!