April 2023 Reading Update

I started off April in Maui, visiting family for my spring break. Each night we read books to my 4 year old nephew, so pictured below are just some of children’s books we read! I love a good picture book and I want to give an honorable mention to the Telepathic Traveler: A to Z Guide Across the Globe. Each page is dedicated to both a country and an animal that start with a letter of the alphabet, with an interesting description of both. Thanks to JJ and Rocco for sharing reading time with me!

This month I also read some wonderful books and for the first time in a long time I put a book aside that just wasn’t right for me right now.

  • Aurora by David Koepp – I love climate fiction, which I classify as Sci-Fi in my handy spreadsheet tracker. Every time I read a story about the not-to-distant future, after some cataclymic disaster (in this case, all power in the world goes out for a long time!), I am both amazed and horrified by what people do in disasters. The author manages to capture the kindness of sharing food, growing a community garden, and a neighborhood watch for safety, while also capturing what fear and greed can drive people to do. I enjoyed some of the characters and I enjoyed hating other characters in this fast-moving story!
  • Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake – This queer romance is by an author I discovered and loved for a YA book last year (Ivy Aberdeen…). Delilah Green is a queer artist who reluctantly returns to her hometown for her stepsister’s wedding. Delilah doesn’t have happy memories of her childhood with her stepsister and stepmother, nor of the town that never seemed to accept her. As she gets deeper into the two weeks of wedding drama, she learns about herself, her past, and her family, while stumbling into romance and love! This was a sweet story!
  • Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman – My cousin (hi JJ!) loaned me this book because she thought I would enjoy it; her brother also liked and so I was able to speak to two cousins about this book over the month! Klosterman writes a collection of essays about random pop culture items, such as Saved by the Bell, Billy Joel, and reality TV. I loved some of the essays, as they made me feel nostagic. The book was published in 2004 so a lot of the content was outdated, but still funny with his sacastic takes on everything. There were a few essays (Celtivs vs Lakers) that I didn’t care about at all. Overall, I enjoyed his writing style, and have heard it’s fun to read some of his other work.
  • Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman – I love a good thriller to read on a beach vacation and this fit the bill! Erin and Mark are planning their wedding and then enjoying their extravagant honeymoon, trying to avoid the financial stress they will face when they return to reality. Then they find something in the water while scuba diving and everything changes. The rest of the story is a fast-paced race to the end, where I was doubtful of all characters, unsure who and what to believe, and not sure where it would end (despite the beginning of the book strating with a significant detail from the end!). Fun read!
  • Trust Exercises by Susan Choi – I have no idea why I owned this e-book, but I’ve had it for awhile and finally decided to read it. Part way through the very angsty, teen-drama filled first part, I almost quit it! Then I read a review on Goodreads that said there was a big twist, so I kept reading. The twist was a second narrator coming in to narrator the second half, showing us that both narrators were unreliable. Both sections were filled with stories of high school problems faced by a group of kids in an elusive performing arts school. There was a lot of sex, drugs, and theatre, but not a lot of plot. I didn’t like the characters, which made this hard to get through. The styel of the book attempted to cross genres, but it wasn’t enough to get me to enjoy this read.
  • The Family Game by Catherine Steadman – This is a fast-paced thriller about an unlikeable wealthy family with secrets to hide. I just read a book by Steadman earlier this month without realizing that this book had been on my radar (and my library hold) for a while! I loved getting to know the Holbeck family through the eyes of Harriet, who is engaged to marry the eldest son. As Harriet is trying to figure out who to trust, she is also keeping her own secret. The “family games” throughout the book are weird and horrifying, leading up to the ultimate game at the end. This was fast and fun and a real page-turner!
  • All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny (Gamache #16) – This was the first in the Gamache series to take place in Paris, and it was such a fun switch from the usual settings. Reading this made me want to visit Paris again! I love Armand Gamache and love that #16 focused so much on his family – his wife, both of his children and their spouses and their growing families, as well as his godfather. We were given a very different look into Armand’s life as he was thrown into a very personal mystery in a special place.
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz [audiobook] – I LOVED this book! What a beautiful, bittersweet, incredible story about three reguees at three different moments in history. Throughout the book we follow Josef as he and his Jewish family escape Nazi Germany on board a boat bound for Cuba, Isabel, as she and her family escape Cuba on their way to Miama and freedom from Castro, and Mahmoud, as he and his family escape bombs in their home in Syria, through many countries on their way to Germany and freedom. Each of their stories, in different time periods, is perilous and unique, and then the ending just made me sob like a baby! I’ve heard from two teachers in our district who have read this with upper grade students and I can only imagine the discussions that followed.
  • Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in Learning Communities: The author, Devin, became the superintendent in Vista right after I left the district. I wish I had stayed to work with him through the transformation he describes in this book! Vista needed significant transformation, as most of our systems do, to go from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered system. My current district is now working with Devin’s company, Learner-Centered Collaborative, to help facilitate the creation of a new vision, mission, values, and learner outcomes for us, which is so exciting! I appreciate how he outlines the entire process in this book, including examples from the Vista story, some written by other leaders in the system from their perspective. Devin is honest about his own mistakes as well as when they went too fast and when they got it right. This is a great read for any educator ready to prepare our current learners for an unknown future.
  • All That is Mine I Carry with Me by Williams Landay – I loved Defending Jacob by this author, so I was excited to read another mystery by him that involved some courtroom drama. Turns out, the courtroom was a very small part of the larger story of a mother gone missing. In each of the four parts a different family member or friend narrates the story, so we are given different perspectives of this family with mom, after mom disappears, and in the many decades afterwards. With each new narrator we get more information, but are also a little more confused or unsure – did he do it or not?! I enjoyed the entire story right upt to the very end!

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: Aurora by David Koepp

Nonfiction:Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in Learning Communities

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Social Media Detox

The last time I took a purposeful social media vacation was during a four-day vacation in 2019. It was just a quick break and what I needed as a reminder to focus on in-person connections and nature. Last week I was on vacation in Maui, visiting family during my spring break (Hi JJ!). On the flight over, I decided that I was going to detox from social media for the entire vacation. Before spring break started, I had found myself “doom scrolling” through endless Instagram stories and reels, past the posts of people I know, past the celebrities I like, and well into the rabbit hole of random content, by total strangers, about something and nothing and who knows what.

Once I hugged my family and got my toes into the white sandy beaches of Kihei, I was in my happy place. At first, I had no problem putting my phone aside to soak in the moments. However, my vacation was 8 days long, and I had plenty of downtime in between family fun and book reading. I soon found that the minute my time was unscheduled, my hands automatically wanted to open up Instagram, Facebook or even Twitter to begin scrolling. When I was waiting to check in for my flight and for my luggage to arrive at the airport, I watched how many people were on their phones around me. I saw families standing together, yet millions of cyber miles apart on different devices. I felt the pull to open up my apps, but I resisted. In fact, I am happy to report that I didn’t cave in to the temptation, but it was noticeable. So much so that when I returned from my vacation, I decided to keep going for a few extra days.

I waited 10 full days before I opened up my social media apps. On the first day, I decided to only get on Instagram, and I consciously looked at the clock before I started. I told myself to set a timer for 10 minutes, but then I just jumped in and began scrolling. Twenty minutes later I caught myself and logged off. That’s when it really hit me how easy it is to get sucked in and loose all sense of time. And even in those twenty minutes I found myself viewing mindless content that had no purpose or meaning to me. That realization made me consider how I want to use social media differently moving forward. The next time I went into Instagram, I unfollowed a LOT of accounts. I love Instagram for the pretty pictures (to see and share) and witty captions. But I whittled down my follow list to the people I know and love in real life, and the creators who post content that is positive and meaningful to me, and the content that uplifts me. I don’t want to be dragged into negativity, internet trends, or mindless ranting by strangers. I’ve also vowed not to just go to the search field or the suggestions for me, because I don’t want the algorithm controlling what I view.

Since then, I have gotten back on Facebook and Twitter a few times, for very limited amounts of time. Before I open one of these apps, I’m asking myself what my purpose is. If I’m bored, I stop and choose a different activity. As always, this is where I reflect on what I’m learning and trying. We will see how this goes.

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Grounded and Gentle

I love it when my word of the year (gentle) aligns with something I am reading (The Art of Coaching). As I was rereading Chapter 12 of Elena Aguilar’s book, which I have read no less than 5 times over the last decade, this quote jumped out at me:

“When I knock on a client’s classroom or office, I know that a large part of what will make the meeting successful is my disposition: If I’m confident, compassionate, grounded, and present, I know I can create a learning space for someone to explore his beliefs, behavior, and being.” ~ Elena Aguilar, The Art of Coaching, p. 237

To me, this is a reminder of how powerful my attitude and beliefs are in any meeting, whether I mean for them to be or not. As someone who is working hard to be more gentle, to slow down, to not react with no first, this is a critical message to keep in mind. I know that if I’m in a bad mood because I had a bad night’s sleep, I will seem more cranky in a meeting. I also know that when I have back-to-back meetings all day, I am less confident, compassionate, grounded and present as the day goes on. It’s natural that after a meeting I often have follow up work, or items on my mind. However, if there is no break between meetings, my brain and my body are holding onto all of that work and I have a harder time concentrating on being present.

Aguilar shares that she builds into her calendar five minutes of breathing in her car before walking into a school site for a coaching session. She also recommends 5 minutes of journaling just to brain dump what is on your mind before entering a new space. I love these suggestions so much, but I realize that I need to work to put it into practice. Some days I feel like my calendar runs me and other days I feel like I have control of my calendar. I want to work to ensure that after a meeting I have a moment (5 minutes isn’t much in the big picture!) to reflect and prepare for the next event.

There are times when I feel the messages my body is trying to send me: Get up! Take a walk outside! Drink some water! Breathe! Stretch!

However, there are many times when I miss all of those signals and it’s not until I find myself at the end of a long day with hunched up shoulders, tight jaw muscles, and pent up energy that I realized I haven’t stood up in hours, or I haven’t had 2 minutes along all day.

I just made a conscious effort to go into my calendar for the next two weeks to add “5 minute grounding break” in between meetings. In addition, I was sold on an Instagram ad for Calm Strips, one of which you can see on the bottom right of my laptop shown below. These strips have a little texture, so as you trace the design, you are reminded to slow down and breathe. On the left side of my laptop I have a note that says gentle, as another reminder.

I’m not sure how this will go, but I am sure I will report back here, since this is my year of gentle!

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March 2023 Reading Update

After 3 long years, COVID finally got me this month. Despite by vaccines and boosters, it hit me hard and reading was not possible for many days of sickness, which was so sad for me. However, I was able to catch up to my normal speed by the end of the month! This month I read I range of books, many that have been on my TBR pile for a while. After adding Germany to my nation of origin lists I wanted to share my January-March chart, demonstrating how I am reaching my goal to read more books from a wider range of countries.

  • The Writing Retreat by Juila Bartz – While most of the characters annoyed me throughout the story, I enjoyed the book overall. Alex is chosen to join an elite group at a private writer’s retreat in the home of her favorite author. The retreat includes her ex best friend, which creates some drama that felt like YA even though the characters are in their 20’s and 30’s. The famed author creates some harsh expectations and the retreat goes from fun to weird to creepy to horrifying!
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai – This book has some similarities to The Heart’s Invisible Furies. This was a saga that spanned multiple decades, and covered the AIDS crisis of the 80’s in Chicago and the art world in Paris during WWI. We get to know Yale, working in the art world in Chicago as his friends are slowly dying from AIDS, and Fiona, the sister of Yale’s good friend, who ends up as the caretaker to an entire group of friends. We also follow Fiona’s travels in Paris in 2015 as she searches for her daughter. As the story flashes back and forth, we learn more about found family, friendship, health care, and grief through their eyes. It’s a beautifully bittersweet story about an awful time in our not too distant past.
  • The Life Council: 10 Friends Every Woman Needs by Laura Tremaine – This book publishes on April 4. I preordered this book because I love Laura, but because I’m a member of her Secret Stuff patreon group, I got access to a digital ARC and read it in 2 days. What a joyous read! I just finished and I have happy tears in my eyes! I love everything that Laura Tremaine creates, from her witty Instagram captions to her SM challenges to her podcasts and books! Laura’s outline of the 10 friends every woman needs is great advice for women of all ages. Her personal friendship stories along the way make each Life Council seat real and relevant and filled with love and laughter. I think every woman needs this book and the reflection of who fills the seats in our own Life Councils. I’ve decided a need more Yes Friends in my life so let me know if that is you!
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – I have no idea why I purchsed this e-book (probably an Amazon sale), but it was the exact YA book I needed this weekend! I love a book with two narrators and two timelines! We are following twins Jude and Noah, as Noah gives us the backstory from two years ago and Jude updates us from the present. As we learn more about their family and their passions (art and surfing and nature), we see the web of lies they are each caught up on in and wait to see them untangle themselves. This was a sweet story with some trauma, some LGBTQ support, and lots of love.
  • Have I Told You This Already? Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember by Lauren Graham [audiobook]- I love Lauren Graham as an actress and I like her as an author. I enjoy listening to her books on audio, because she is a good narrator and I’m used to fast talking from watching Gilmore Girls (and listening to myself!). This essay collection was not as good as some of her others. I think she had fewer stories to tell, so these were peppered with a lot of silly language plays-on-words, jokes, and some were very short. Some, however, were poignant and some were very funny, and overall this was a quick fun audiobook!
  • The Lost Man by Jane Harper – This was a mystery, which I love, but so unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. This story takes place in the Outback of Australia, where people live very remote and often lonely lives in very dangerous terrains. When brothers Nathan and Bub meet up over their other brother’s dead body, we follow them on the journey to figure out what happened. We learn about a family full of love and abuse, travels and farmers, and everything in between. I loved each of the flawed characters and I loved the ending! I’ve read one another Jane Harper book and this was my favorite of hers so far!
  • Dear Child by Romy Hausmann – I loved this book, translated from German! It’s a propulsive thriller that has multiple narrators (not all reliable!), telling us the story flasshing back and forward in time. The story starts when a college girl, Lena, goes missing. Years later we meet a woman in the hospital after a car accident and it’s possible this is the missing Lena. However, figuring out who the woman is, where she has been, and what has happened, is a serious mytery that takes time and other people to unravel. Lots of trigger warnings for tough stuff in this book, but a great read!
  • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate [audiobook]- This is a cute middle grades story narrated by a tree. Red is a 200 year old tree who has seen a lot in the neighborhood over the years. Red became the local wishing tree, where everyone comes on May 1 to add something to her limbs to represent their wishes. Red speaks to all of the local animals who live in and near her. She sees the good, the sad, and the ugly, especially when something mean is carved into her bark. We meet the people around the neighborhood as seen through Red’s eye. Red and Bongo, a corvid, partner up to help a new girl whose wish is for a friend, in this sweet story. I loved these characters almost as much as those in The One and Only Ivan, also by this author.
  • The Attic Child by Lola Jaye – This was a beautiful, bittersweet story of two different people living 90 years apart and experiencing similar trauma, and their lives before and after said trauma. In one timeline we meet Dikembe who lives in the Congo with his family, until a British explorer takes him back to live in English as a posh school boy until things go from bizarre to bad. In the more current timeline, we meet Lowra who is a young adult trying to create a life for herself after surviving her own childhood trauma, in the same house were Dikembe, renamed Celestine, was brought decades before. As Lowra digs into the past she learns about Dikembe/ Celestine, she learns about herself as well. This story had me enthralled, sickened, crying tears of sadness and joy, and hopeful! It’s another reminder of the atrocities that Europe committed on the people of African nations, with little to none of the stories people told from multiple perspectives.
  • A Better Man (Armand Gamache #15) by Louise Penny – I can’t believe that I have almost caught up to the current publication in this series. After 15 books, I love Three Pines so much! The place, the people, the friendships, the sarcasm, and whole world created by Louise Penny. This book was bittersweet because it was the last case Jean Guy will work as a police man. I loved seeing him, Armand, and Isabelle all back together again, solving the mystery and trying to save the world.

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: The Attic Child by Lola Jaye

Nonfiction: The Life Council: 10 Friends Every Woman Needs by Laura Tremaine

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February 2023 Reading Update

February was a busy month, with travel for work and for fun, which meant good plane reading, but no weekend reading for quite a while. This month felt a little random, but I enjoyed my reading. This month I read…

  • The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama [audiobook]- Michelle Obama’s first book, Becoming, was so incredible and a deep and meaningful read! This one didn’t hit me in the same way, but I enjoyed it. This was a short, sweet memoir with some personal stories mixed into a few big life lessons. In this book, Michelle shares her thoughts on the importance of friendship and the challenges she has faced as a woman and a Black woman in professional spaces. We get a glimpse into her relationship with Barack in the chapter about partnerships. We hear more about how devastated she was by the election of 2016, and the fear and joy she felt during the inauguration of 2020. Hearing how she experienced Amanda Gorman’s poem/performance live was amazing! Michelle also has a chapter on fear and how she has overcome it throughout her life. OVerall, it was so postive, including details on how “We go high” has become something she is known for.
  • Violeta by Isabel Allende – This book is the life story of Violeta, from 1920-2020. Violeta was born in Chile during the flu pandemic and the book ends in the corona virus pandemic. In between we follow the stories of her family, from riches to rags, the friends who help them along the way, the people who are not helpful, the friends who become family, and the next generations. This is a beautifully written story, steeped in a lot of history about a century in Chile, with governmental coups and protests and fights for the rights of all. Violeta was a flawed and wonderful character, well ahead of her time in many ways! [Side note, I haven’t read an Allende book in decades, but I read The House of the Spirits by her in Spanish in college!]
  • A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo – This was a cute YA story about complex topics such as relationships, aging, death, artistic freedom, and a “coming of age queer story”, according to the book cover description. Aria is forced to live with her grandmother in the Bay Area for the summer, just as the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage. Aria befriends a group of young women who happen to all be lesbians as she gets settled into her summer life. We follow her adventures and self discoveries along the way. Despite the teen drama of a YA story, I enjoyed the characters and the representation in this book.
  • Girl, Forgotten by Karin Slaughter – I picked this as a Book of the Month choice months ago because I always like their thrillers. While, I liked it, there were some very hard parts that made me dislike the mysogony and horrible treatment of women throughout the entire book. The story flashes back to the 80’s, where we follow Emily a teenager who finds herself pregnant with no memory of what happened, to present day when Andrea, a new US Marshall, is on a security case but really looking into Emily’s murder. We slowly learn more about each woman as we move through their timeline, with everyone they interact with being more despicable than the last. I hated almost all of the men in this book, except for Andrea’s new partner Bible. Andrea being a strong, fierce, independent woman was the saving grace!
  • Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Slyvester [audiobook] – I enjoyed listening to this YA on audio. Veronica is a teenager from Peru who is trying to figure herself out, as she seeks more independence from her controlling parents, struggles to make peace with her hip dysplasia, and dreams of working as a mermaid at a local waterpark. While the teen drama was a little angsty, I appreciated all of the representation in this book and the messages that all people can be whatever they want to be!
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This true crime story was picked as my book club selection this month. However, as I got to know the players, I enjoyed the story. We meet the Clutters, a hard- working farming family in Kansas, beloved by all who know them. We also meet Dick and Perry, the two criminals who morder the family. Along the way, we learn a lot about everyone, and about the crime.

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: Violeta by Isabel Allende

Nonfiction: The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama

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Countdowns to look ahead

Last year I learned of the Countdowns app and it has quickly become one of my favorite things! In this app you can add events that are coming up in the future by naming them, picking a quick image to represent the event, and typing in the date. The app then keeps a running list of all of your countdowns, as you can see in my list below.

It has been so much fun to not only have fun things to look forward to, but to be able to see at a glance how many days away each event is. Before I traveled to Namibia last year, my travel friend and I would text each other the numbers of days we had left before our trip every few weeks. If I got a text from her that just said, “57!!!!!” I knew exactly what it meant. And now I know I will be traveling with her again in 158 more days!

This year is shaping up to be full of concerts and travel adventures all over America, with different friends and family members. I think the Countdown app has made me not only excited about my trips, but it has motivated me to keep planning the next adventure. In fact, I had a unique experience with a friend just last week, that was two months in the making, and I regret that I never even added it to my Countdowns. Darn!

What are you looking forward to this year?

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How gentle was January?

My word of 2023 is gentle. I have told everyone in my life that this is my word, because I knew I was going to need help and reminders coming from lots of people! Gentle is not my natural state. By that, I mean that I know I am often too fast, sometimes too loud, and way to quick to judge [in my head]. I also know that I can be calm and professional and a good listener who can slow down and tap into empathy. So, how gentle was January?

Let’s just say I am grateful to my friends who helped remind me about gentle when I was having a rough day. For instance, I texted a good friend something about a frustration with another person in my life and her response was, “Remember to be gentle”. I wanted to throw my phone across the room and simultaneously hug her for this necessary reminder! Recently I received a hand written note at work and my friend and boss thanked me for my gentle leadership in a challenging meeting. I appreciated that she knows I am working on gentle and she helped me remember this by pointing it out in a positive way.

One month in and I am also reminding myself. I, like most of us, will vent to friends and family about my day-to-day annoyances. Lately I have heard myself say, after a venting session, “But I’m reminding myself to be gentle. I’m venting to you so that I can be more gentle with this person in our next interaction”. This post is a reminder to myself to keep working on it all and a huge thank you to my family, friends, and colleagues who are helping remind me what gentle can look and sound like for me in 2023.

How is your word of the year going so far?

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January 2023 Reading Update

The start of a new month, especially the first of a new year, always excites me. I’m so pleased that the very first book I finished this year was a 5 star read for me. I’m also glad that I’ve already read books with authors from Canada, El Salvador, Nigeria, Denmark and Uganda, as well as the Navajo Nation, since reading outside of my regular few countries was a goal this year! This month I read:

  • The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton – I loved this book – what a great way to start a new year of reading! This story was told in very distinct parts, all ruled by impending storms. In the first part, a huge hurricane called Wanda tears apart a young family. While Kirby searches for his boys, his new wife gives birth to their daughter alone at home during the storm, naming her Wanda. In the next part, we are with Wanda and Kirby and their post-storm life. With each new era, life as we know it disappears a little more and people have to change or adapt. This climate-change, sci-fi storytelling always makes me question humanity and wonder what I would do. I’m not a natural survavlist, so I’m in trouble!
  • Reading Above the Fray: Reliable, Research-Based Routines for Developing Decoding Skills by Julia B. Lindsey – I read this based on a recommendation from a Kindergarten teacher, as part of my diving deeper into the science of reading. What I appreciated about this book is that the author did not attack any other forms of reading instruction/ programs, but rather she shared the current research in easy to understand ways. She outlined the elements of decoding, one chapter at a time, with specific information, examples, and routines that could be immediately implemented in a classroom to help students learn to read more effectively.
  • Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help you Make-and Keep-Friends by Marisa G. Franco – This was a book club book I was supposed to read back in the fall. I started it, but once I couldn’t make the meeting it got bumped in favor of faster-paced fiction. However, every time I jumped back into reading this I enjyoed it. This was a fascinating look at the value and importance of platonic friendhips- why we need them, how to foster them, how to show affect and care for friends, and why we should prioritize good meaningful connections in our lives. This made me think about past and current friendhips I’ve had and what I love about my friends.
  • Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny [Gamache #14] – I love the village of Three Pines and all of the characters Louise Penny has created! I love Gamache and Jean Guy and their relationship. I appreciate that we never know all of the details of the mystery, and that there will always be lies, secrets, and hidden details to discover along the way. I’m so glad that Gamache’s necessary mistakes from the last book were corrected in this book, though I don’t know what will happen now that he and Jean Guy won’t be working for the police anymore.
  • Lightseekers by Femi Kayode – Wow! I loved this book! Kaytee from Currently Reading recommended this and I’m so happy I checked it out of the library. Phillip Taiwo is a Nigerian man who trained as a criminal psychologist in America before returning to Nigeria. He is hired to investigate the murder of three boys by an angry mob in a small town. As he gets to know the history of these university students and the town, he reveals Nigerian culture to us, which was fascinating to me. The more fiction I read from African countries, the more I want to learn about the real history of each unique country. This was hard content, but a fascinating story that I absolutely loved.
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen [Department Q #1] -I love finding a new mystery series! This was part of a new-to-me genre, Nordic Noir, that was recommended by Currently Reading and I enjoyed reading the translation from the Danish original. Carl is a curmudgeon of a dectective, struggling after a bust gone wrong where his partners were killed and/or hurt badly while he survived. When he is made head of a new department, Q, and asked to investigate unsolved cold cases, he thinks he can sit in the basement and avoid work. We soon get sucked into one of the cold cases, as we get to know him, the victim from the case, and his new assistant Assad. I loved the way all the stories wrapped up by the end and I will read more in this series!
  • Orange is for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide – I loved this middle grades historical fiction! The story takes place in 1972 Uganda, after Idi Amin has taken over the country and decided to evict all Indians living there. We follow alternating chapters narrated by Asha and Yesofu, two best friends living different lives. Asha is from a wealthy Indian family and Yesofu is from a poor Uganda family whose mother works for Asha’s family. Asha doesn’t know her privildege or the differences in their lifestyle until the 90 day countdown begins for all Indians to leave the country. This is a beautiful story of friendship and reslience and a hard story about bias and racism.
  • Solito by Javier Zamora – This was a beautiful, bittersweet memoir about a nine year old boy’s harrowing journey from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, to reach his parents in the United States. Javier was living with his aunt and grandparents in El Salvador ever since his father and then his mother immigrated to the US. The plan was for him to follow them. They saved up money, bought the support of a coyote to help him, and his grandfather brought him to the first stop on the long journey. Throughout the rest of the story, this young boy is on his own, with strangers who become friends and enemies and family. We experience each step of the dangerous hikes in the desert, boat trips, lack of water, limited sleep, yelling coyotes, and ICE treatment that follows. I know immigration is a complex problem in the US, but this story demonstrates the unimaginable steps a family will take to reunite, and to create a better life for themselves and their child. Javier is now a talented poet and this memoir shows his writing talent as well as his resilience.
  • Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett – This book felt like a warm hug, or a day spent with the people you love! Emma returns home after being away at college for years, knowing that her father is dying and she has secrets to share. Little does she know that everyone in her family has secrets, her childhood best friend is missing, and her family needs her more than ever. As Emma grapples with everything, we get to know her parents and her brother, and the unique characters that make up their odd town, both living and dead, animal and human.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – I read this book for a book club. I had never read anything by Toni Morrison, and though I know she is a well loved author, I know that I am not a fan of classics. The writing style usually bothers me too much to appreciate anything, and that was true with this. The is a long, convoluted story about a former enslaved woman, Sethe, and the trauma she endured. The story jumps timelines and narrators without warning, and there are no clear chapters or breaks to help a reader out. The characters, from Denver to Baby Suggs to Paul D, are all interesting and burdened in their own way. I wasn’t going to finish this, as I was at about the 70% mark when I attended my book club meeting. However, the discussion moved me enough to finish it, so I could complete it and see the Denver character’s redemption. As always, I’m glad I read a classic, but didn’t enjoy the process.
  • Shutter by Ramona Emerson – I really enjoyed this mystery! We follow Rita as the timeline jumps from her childhood to teen years to college to adult, though not in order. Rita spends a lot of her childhood living with her grandmother on the Navajo Reservation, exploring her love of photography. As an adult, we meet Rita as a photographer for crime scenes for the police, and able to see and hear ghosts. As she struggles with the ghosts whose murdered are unresolved, she tries to help the police find the culprits and gets herself into quite a mess. This was so propulsive at the end I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – I loved Station Eleven by this author, so I figured I would enjoy this as well, even though I didn’t know what it was about. This is a wild around through time (way past to way into the future), with time travel and glitches and a little suspension of disbelief, to create an adventurous ride. We meet different characters at different timelines, and only later in the book do you know why we travel with the narrators across these times and places. I love how the story wrapped up. This was a fun read, with beautiful story telling!

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: The Light Pirate and Lightseekers

Nonfiction: Solito

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Explorations in Instructional Leadership: Scope and Sequence

A scope and sequence document in education outlines the content to be taught and an approximate timeline for learning. A document like this typically includes the standards to be addressed and key outcomes. Throughout my educational career I have worked in places where we were expected to use and follow a scope and sequence with no deviation, with everyone on the same page on the same day. I have also worked in places where we had to develop our own scope and sequence with no guidance or expectations or resources provided. In fact, for the majority of my teaching career I had no access to teachers’ edition textbooks and had nothing but the state standards and my professional learning to guide my planning. I have been a leader in systems across this continuum as well.

There are pros and cons to all of these systems. When there is no scope and sequence in place teachers have autonomy to do what they feel is right for their students. You often see great enthusiasm, passion, and creativity come out. You may also see widely different results in terms of student learning. You may see less professional collaboration. You could walk into three classrooms of the same grade level in the same school and see significantly different examples of student learning. Teams in these situations often struggle to have a true Professional Learning Community (PLC) as they are not working towards common outcomes.

When there is a scope and sequence and everyone is following it, a system can measure student learning by shared outcomes. A child’s success is less likely to depend on the interests of the teacher and more likely to align to the grade level expectations. A well designed scope and sequence can lead to common assessments, a targeted approach to instruction, and quick support for students who might struggle. All of these structures can build a stronger Tier 1 system of instruction, lessening the need for interventions and services at higher levels.

I entered a system with no scope and sequences in any content area and wide variations in teaching and learning, with teachers proud of their autonomy and freedom. Incredible things are happening in some classrooms, but a system made up of pockets of excellence is not cohesive and not equitable. We are not serving all students. Over the last year and half we have implemented a robust Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) which has led to teachers recognizing that more coherence would help serve all students better. We have hit a tipping point in our system where teachers are identifying the challenges of not having a scope and sequence and are now seeking out resources and structures that will provide greater support for all students and more opportunities for collaboration. It is so powerful to have a grass-roots movement building because the end product will be designed by and for teachers, with ownership and understanding built in the development process. I can’t wait to see where this work takes us!

This post is part of a series called Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

Introduction to Explorations in Instructional Leadership

The Science of Reading

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Notes of Gratitude and Appreciation

I was raised to write handwritten thank you notes after every Christmas and birthday. I exchanged snail mail letters with my grandparents all throughout my childhood, and with friends who moved away. While most of my snail mail has been replaced by email and texting, there is still nothing quite like receiving a handwritten note.

One of the best things I’ve ever seen implemented by a leader is the idea of writing notes of gratitude and appreciation. In our monthly management meetings, my amazing boss brings a stack of district notecards and envelopes. These notecards change annually along with our theme for the year. The last 5 minutes of each meeting is dedicated to writing notes. Imagine an entire room of leaders quietly writing handwritten notes that will be delivered through district mail, or dropped off in front of someone’s spot at the end of the meeting. I get just as much joy out of writing these messages as I do when I receive one. It is so nice to take an intentional moment to pause, think of someone you work with, and consider how you might thank them.

I make it a point to keep a list of the people I have written notes to during the year, so that I reach as many as possible, and so I don’t forget! Sometimes the occasion comes up naturally, for instance after one of my staff members completes a project or does a presentation. Other times I am seeking a way to connect with an individual and I go out of my way to find something to notice and appreciate. Similar to the gratitude circle activity, these notes can be a bridge to deepen a relationship. As we move into the second half of the school year, and a new calendar year, I am committed to writing more notes of gratitude and appreciation.

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