valuing old teachings

This morning I listened to an indigenous Australian speak about how his people have dealt with wildfire for thousands of years. Apparently, the government is looking into this, yet not putting the money and effort behind this time-honored indigenous-based land management. His words reminded me of the chapter I had just finished in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book jacket describes Kimmerer as “a mother, scientist, decorated professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” making her a spokesperson for both the scientist and indigenous person. Each beautifully written essay tells of how our developed and scientifically driven thinking often ignores or devalues the teachings of indigenous peoples. She constructs connections as well as gives commentary on how the two worlds are at odds.

Sad. There value in our human experiences. Yet, we ignore our history in a rush to get to the new, to not miss out on the latest for fear, we will become obsolete. Ironically, we might be destroying ourselves in the process.

I thought of what traditions and teachings have been passed down in my family. What has survived? The teachings of how to live in us as long as we teach it to others. That worries me. Did I pass the lessons on to my kids? So much of how to is contained on YouTube video. Is this the new teacher?  Do our elders feel ignored, replaced, devalued?

Some things can’t be found on YouTube. How to be in the world. How to treat others, animals, our environment. More than ever, teachers carry this load along with instruction in subject areas.

Teachers are given this along with a new something to teach or teach with. It’s not that we don’t grow and evolve as educators, but are there teachings and beliefs that hold constant?

In a recent staff meeting, I chronicled my years of professional development in reading. As each new book or new staff developer entered my world, I’d take on their thinking and bring it into my classroom, often at a cost to previously learned strategies and stances.


Looking back on my wise teachers, I checked in on what teachings I still hold on to and consider the ones I have forgotten. Some strategies have blended into others in my reading instruction. But I still have questions. How effectively am I using these strategies? Am I undervaluing some tools? Overvaluing others? Are there some strategies that I’ve set aside that could benefit individual students?

I am very fortunate to have such rich experiences as a professional. I have been blessed with the teachings of wise educators. Revisiting their lessons is good practice.

Journeying into Historical Fiction

We started our unit on historical fiction today.  In the past, I had students discover the time, setting, and major events, through reading the texts. But this year, I decided to give students a chance to read a few informational articles that might help them discern the setting, and the possible challenges characters might face within various historical contexts.

To demonstrate and practice what students were to do, I started out by reading aloud a few paragraphs on Westward Expansion.

The Oregon Trail was a major route that people took when migrating to the western part of the United States. Between 1841 and 1869, hundreds of thousands of people traveled westward on the trail. Many of them traveled in large wagon trains using covered wagons to carry their belongings.

The Oregon Trail began in Independence, Missouri and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. It stretched for around 2,000 miles and through six different states including Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Along the way, travelers had to cross all sorts of rough terrain such as the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

From this, students sketched in their notebooks what they thought the trail might look like and speculated as to the challenges a character might face in this world, including wild animals, natural disasters, disease, food shortages, and bad weather. With these few paragraphs, they predicted many of the challenges our character will face in our read-aloud Some Kind of Courage.

I sent them off to read articles from other periods, including The Great Depression, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment, the Civil Rights Movement,  Hurricane Katrina, and the 9-11 attacks. Handing them these dark moments in our nation’s history wasn’t easy. Many of my young students are unaware of these events. As always, they astounded me with their thoughts and questions.

“This says that civil rights are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. But that happened in 1776. The Civil Rights Movement was in the 1960s. That doesn’t make sense.”

“How did the Germans know who the Jews were?

” This is sad. Why did they do this?”

“That’s messed up.”

It didn’t take much to get my students thinking and connecting.  Wondering. The fact that they could readily take in information and put it into context was impressive. In the next few days, students will decide what historical period they want to choose for historical fiction reading.

I’m glad we are spending time setting the stage.

I’m curious about what periods they will choose and excited about their upcoming journey into historical fiction





One Little Word for 2020

remove the outer covering or skin;
separate a thin cover or part
from the outside or surface of something

The skin came away in a neat spiral. Most fruits cling to their coat. Refusing to let go without a bit of digging and tugging, mangling of the skin, and sometimes the fruit within.
Looking at the coiled skin on my plate, I thought of what I’d been reading. Bit by bit, I was learning what was unseen, unknown to me. The process of reading was one of deconstruction, chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, and then piecing it together to understand the whole.
Seeing the core, the history of people, places, and ideas fascinate me. It feels necessary. Rather than discarding the differences that exist on the surface, judging too quickly, consider what is beneath the skin. Understanding the composition of the whole provides understanding.
And as much as I like to look outside to understand, ultimately, I need to look inward. What is my history? Peeling away my experiences, what makes me whole, is necessary to process my place in this world. And I realize and am grateful for the privilege to learn.
Learning and teaching is a part of what makes me whole. To do this well, it requires peeling away to see what is underneath. What foundations are present? What is missing? What teaching tools to I have, and what tools do I need to procure to grow this learner?


Most people don’t peel their skin in a neat spiral. Most of us present a resistant exterior that protects our inner workings.   Peeling away the surface to get to what makes up the person, the place, the idea, myself will be my way to see this new year.