National Blogging Collaborative

My writing coach through the National Blogging Collaborative is a wonderful woman named Lisa Hollenbach, and I think her getting-to-know-you questionaire is a good tool for thinking about personal and professional goals, so I’m posting my responses here.

What is your story? Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m an elementary school teacher who needs to transition out of the classroom for the time being because of chronic medical issues (recent Bipolar I diagnosis). I’m interested in the big, giant pictures related to education, but I’m also interested in and passionate about day-to-day life in the classroom. Outside of teaching, I’m interested in yoga, math, equity, feminism, video games, space, music, dinosaurs, and both history and futurist thinking.
My current plan for next year (fingers crossed; it changes every day) is to earn what I can from freelance writing unless I’m able to score a fellowship (I’ve been in touch with TNTP and the Bucky Fuller Institute, and I’m contacting my college physics professor because he’d asked me to review a book he’s writing).
I’m also folding Look Great Teach Great into a wider effort for the stuff I’ve been working on for #AnAmericanLessonPlan and #TeachersWhoGame, which would be both CCSS compliant, but also relevant, rigorous, social justice-focused, and FUN. I want to model teaching myself to code through being transparent about how I’m creating my own website because #codeispoetry and I view it as a bit of a think-aloud. I’m also casting weekly on Twitch to show how #TeachersWhoGame relates to video games and virtual reality.
Have you listened to Hamilton the Musical? If you haven’t yet, it might be helpful in understanding me and my brain. I’d also say I relate strongly to characters in Parks and Rec and The West Wing.
Do you have a place where you currently blog / write? If so, paste in the link. I would love to see an example of your writing.
@MsHoughton on The Twitters
Why do you want to blog?
I need to get this ish outta my brain. I want my brain-droppings to maybe be interesting to or helpful to my readers. I want people to read something that makes them feel better by the time they’ve read it, even if it’s a piece on a serious or contentious subject.
Are there particular topics about which you are passionate? Tell me a bit more about Look Great Teach Great.
Social justice and equity, particularly as it relates to math instruction and larger systemic educational issues. I love folk songs and singing, and I’m looking to design lesson plans around songs and other elements of pop culture. I’m looking for a way to tap into the hype around midcentury vintage stuff by designing lessons based on the old crazy books I’ve been showing snippets of on Twitter and Instagram. I like fashion and art and eating good food. Also, just as an FYI, I’ve been in recovery for alcoholism for the past 6 years or so, so I’m also interested in addiction, homelessness, and the schools-to-prison pipeline.
Who do you imagine as the audience for you blog?
I hope it’s a combination of teachers, families, students, and other stakeholders in education, as well as my friends and family who’ve followed my online essays since 1997.
Do you have any questions about blogging or the NBC process in general?
I’m most interested in establishing writing routines that help me keep my brain from revving too hard while still being a productive writer. I also want to help hype the work you folks are doing for other teacher-writers!
That’s about it for now; can’t wait to hear back from you!
In service,

Learning, apprenticeship, study.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s time to make things Internet-official. I’m stepping out of the classroom next year and taking a leave of absence. I’m excited beyond expression, but I’m also scared. Scared that maybe I’ll never come back or that I’ll realize I was doing things wrong the whole time. Scared that I’ll be away from inspiring educators and remarkable kids who keep me going. Scared that I won’t take full advantage of this opportunity.

Who am I when I’m not a teacher? Am I really going to stop being a teacher when I’m out of the classroom? How can I best improve myself and equip myself to return to a vocation of teaching and learning?

I’m fortunate that the district approved my leave (after sending me a very official piece of certified mail that looked SO SERIOUS that Toby texted me asking if I was in trouble). I’m fortunate for the Internet so that I won’t be isolated in this year away. I’m fortunate for the support of remarkable friends who help me become a better person. I’m fortunate for administrators who advocate for the best interests of my students and for the mental health of educators.

Although I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with depression and mania, mental health isn’t the core of why I’m leaving, although I think it does explain why I feel so thoroughly drained and ready for reflection. Teachers leave the profession because they’re burnt out. I hope I’ve caught myself before going over the burnout cliff, and that I will return to my classroom a more thoughtful and proficient educator.

This week is spring break. I’m working with Toby to craft some sort of framework or schedule so I don’t just sink into a fog of ennui in my bed and never emerge. As first-world-problem as it seems, breaks and vacations are really difficult for me, and it often takes a few weeks into the summer before I stop feeling like my skin is crawling. Routines and schedules help my students, and they help me too. One of my tasks is to write something every day. So here’s my work for today.

Learning, apprenticeship, and study. Those are today’s intentions.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?


Trying to get back on track with writing. I’ve been making excuses and getting sucked into my depression, but here we go.

Currently Reading:

The Music of Dolphins, Karen Hesse

I’m reading this with some of my students. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make small group instruction work during my literacy block. It involves using a rubric where I take notes during group meetings, so I can then input all my anecdotal notes into my gradebook. That’s been my biggest challenge — getting my classroom evidence to be reflected in my students’ grades. My students also have a shared Google Doc where they can ask each others questions and seek clarification.

Chomp, Carl Hiassen

I was originally planning on having this as our last read aloud of the year because it’s on next year’s Battle of the Books list, but after reading the first hundred pages, I decided to make a different pick. Actually, my students made the pick and they chose:

The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois

I love this book, and we attempted to read it aloud last year, but we ran out of time before the year ended. Hopefully we’ll be successful this year.

The Bible

I’m 45% of the way through the Bible. I had always thought of Luke as just being the gospel with the Christmas story, but I’m really enjoying JC’s parables in this translation.

Here we go!

Thirstday 02/21/13

Mad props to David Etkin for starting Thirstday!

thirstday022113I do, in fact, drink things other than espresso! Drinking caramel tea from Teacup, brewed in my rad glass teapot and sitting on my tea warmer from Remedy Teas. (Seattle has a bazillion great tea places.)

I’ll admit, I took the above picture and applied the vignette filter before I had read much of Jarrett Krosoczka’s The Frog Who Croaked. I anticipated a pseudo-film-noir book, kind of in the style of Chet Gecko.

Nope! Jarrett’s first chapter book (he wrote all the Lunch Lady books) has more of the tone of a buddy cop film. The urban issues he includes are LEGIT. The book takes place in the fictional Kalamazoo City, but it definitely reminded me of a different troubled city on the opposite side of Michigan. I would honestly include this book in a reading list for the MSU economics course on public policy.

I’m sure every single post about this book will include the following video, but there’s a good reason. It’s definitely one of my top five TED talks. Yesssss.

Thanks to the Walden Pond Press folks for the ARC and for being so kind to the Nerdy Book Club at ALA Midwinter.


It’s Monday! What are you reading?



I’ve been reading quite a bit in the past week, mostly before bed as I’ve been a slacker as far as taking the bus goes. Yesterday my iPad fell on my face while I was reading The Second Siege in bed. Whoops.

Here’s what I’ve been reading.

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I was most thoroughly disappointed in Not My Bag, and most excited by Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.

It’s Monday… What are you reading? 01/21/13



Happy MLK Jr. Day! I’ll be spending today as a day ON in service, not a day OFF. I’ll be serving in a high-needs classroom in Federal Way……. my own classroom. It might seem like a cop-out, but I’m doing what I can.

I gorged myself on Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptations of the Baby-Sitters Club books this week. Olive liked them too:

oliveI also met Kadir Nelson and shared his new I Have a Dream book with my class.

kadirnelsonHe doesn’t look that thrilled to see me, but it’s OK.

Here are the other books I’ve been reading this week!

Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 9.35.23 AM

Have a good week, and an enjoyable day of service!


It’s Monday… What Are You Reading? 01/07/13

This is my new favorite way of contributing to IMWAYR, just by taking a screenshot of recent additions to my GoodReads 2013 book challenge.

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 9.00.22 PM

GUESS WHAT ELSE I’M DOING THIS WEEK? Getting started on winter report cards. I already finished my favorite part, personal student comments. For the third year in a row, I’m running my comments through Wordle. Here’s what I’ve got this time around.

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 8.54.26 PM

Have a fantastic week!

I have all these UNSPOKEN feels.

Ben Folds Five has been rattling around in my brain lately.


A bit melodramatic, but “It often makes no sense, in fact, I never understand these things I feel” has seemed particularly applicable to my feelings on the hyped 2012 picture book Unspoken. (Also, do you see the Bill Clinton-Anderson Cooper-hybrid horn player in the background of that video?)

Unspoken is a gorgeous wordless book by Henry Cole. My kids said they loved it because the pencil drawings reminded them of Wonderstruck. It’s pretty lovely, but something keeps hitting a nerve.

It’s a nerve that I suppose SHOULD be struck whenever I read any book about the Underground Railroad. It’s the white people savior business. The idea that we should all be soooooo grateful for the white people who helped the poor minority out. What I’m struggling to understand is why I’m so grouchy at Unspoken while I’m fine with other books that address a similar theme.

I CANNOT STOP THINKING OF THIS SKETCH whenever I see/read/think about Unspoken.


As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s in a suburb of Detroit, I was sharply aware of racial tension/awkwardness/sensitivity and how touchy people got when white folks wanted to meddle in the city’s affairs. I heard things like how Mayor Coleman Young told white people to get out of Detroit and let black people take care of things. Or how Dennis Archer wasn’t a successful mayor because he was “too white.”

In researching this blog post, though, I found some evidence that the legend of Coleman Young telling white people quit meddling with Detroit might be just that — a legend. Which is cool, but I still feel awkward when I think about how all the hipsters are coming back into town… I just hope that things just don’t re-gentrify and that residents can work together. Lofty, naive goals, I know. But the Christian Science Monitor observed that it just might happen.

I’ve dealt plenty with my own white privilege and white guilt, so I don’t know how much that plays into ALL THESE FEELS. (I love Macklemore’s song addressing it. LOTS OF NAUGHTY NAUGHTY WORDS, BE WARNED)



Anyway. Yargh. I thought writing this post would help me, but I still can’t seem to articulate why Unbroken rubs me the wrong way. I mean no offense to Mr. Cole, nor to the scads of readers who love his story. I just think this angle deserves to be explored. What do you think?

Seeking Bookroom Advice

Our school guided reading leveled bookroom needs some love. And I need some advice on where to start. How do we make the bookroom work for our teachers, rather than making our teachers work for the bookroom?

We began a major overhaul of our bookroom in 2009 as we began our schoolwide transition from SFA. We were asked not to get rid of the SFA resources we had at our advantage, so we kept everything. (SFA sets usually include 30 copies of a book and a teacher’s guide)

Here’s a (novice) video I put together to give staff a tour of the resources available.


So that was good. But then it became apparent that having 30 copies of each SFA text was a little excessive. Because if six boxes were full of Level M texts, we might not suspect that we actually only have 20 different titles.

We’re trying to weed out extra copies we have, but we’re starting from a rough starting point. This month, when I entered the bookroom, there were six paper boxes of donated book sets (woot woot) stacked up inside the doorway.

Items donated to the school bookroom; transferred to the “bookroom annex” to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.

PISH POSH, you say. USE SKILL GROUPS, then you won’t need all these pesky sets of texts! Yes, perhaps one day. Sometimes. But for now, we’re meeting teachers where they are, and where we are is at guided reading groups.


Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn't realize until months(?) later...
Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn’t realize until months(?) later…
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.

What should we do? I understand that people are busy, so I know why things might not be left in fantastic condition. But WAT DO?

Notable Books I Read In 2012

The BEST BOOKS of 2012 have already been covered extensively. Mr. Schu has a great roundup of Best of 2012 lists if you’d like to peruse the bulk of them. ERMAHGERD BERKS!!!

All I can really add to the conversation is to humbly provide recommendations for books I connected with this year. I’ve tried to filter out some of the great books you probably know about (Wonder, Green, etc.), unless they particularly resonated with me. Some months have more books than others, because some months I read more than others. You can tell when I was finishing my National Boards.

I didn’t consciously chose to include more nonfiction than most lists I’ve seen, but I do want to point out how important I think it is to highlight more traditional expository writing. YES, lyrical nonfiction books are fantastic, but we do a disservice to our kids when we aren’t seeking out good books of the type they’ll encounter when they’re doing research, even if they’re not as thrilling for us to read.

I owe a lot to the book recommendations from Nerdy Book Club folks who I’ve given shout-outs below.

I’ve included children’s books and adult books, and not all of them were published this year. Images were either created by me or swiped from GoodReads.





TRUTH TIME. I actually like the trailer for C. R. Mudgeon better than the book itself. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) Julian Hector’s work:





Watch me pimp out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place on Mr. Sharp’s Nerdbery video:









Phew! What a year! I eagerly await your input on these selections.