Scout Led Me to Love Reading

On the first day of school in my 14th year as a high school English Language Arts teacher, I was sharing my passion for reading with a group of seniors who had signed up for my book stackCollege Prep Reading class. I was confessing that reading did not come easy to me as a child. I could read words at a spectacular rate, but upon finishing the read, I had struggled with comprehension.

I recalled a moment in fourth grade when my dad sat on the living room floor next to me, our backs resting against the couch.  I was reading the words on the page of the school book I was assigned earlier in the day. When I read the last word on the last page, my dad began asking me questions about the book. I could not recall what I read.

I was silent. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.

Not because of my dad, but because of my confusion and the startling reality that I had a problem, that I was different from my classmates.

Our session ended soon after with my dad commenting, “Boy, you really do a good job reading. It’s just that you have trouble remembering what you read.” I nodded.

I continued sharing my passion for reading with my seniors and how it has been a crescendo ever since that moment.  Even though my dad identified a gap in reading and comprehension, I don’t remember ever learning how to bridge the gap…from anyone. I carried that excuse around with me until I was a senior in high school.

It was then, in Mr. O’Rourke’s American Literature class, when I was introduced to Jem, Scout, and Dill. To Kill a Mockingbird was the first novel I read from the very beginning totkam the very end. I was delighted by each and every character in the story. Somehow, I knew I would fit right into that small town of Maycomb, meandering freely through long, hot summers, running barefoot, climbing trees, looking for treasures, and, of course, desperately hoping to get a glimpse of Boo through the windows of the old Radley house on the corner. I fell in love with Scout’s narrative and couldn’t resist her as she led me by the hand through her summers of adventure.

As I was ending my story and getting ready to present the syllabus for the semester, Rachel, an engaged, intelligent, goal-driven student, commented, “I have never read a book cover-to-cover.”


My life as a professional educator turned on those nine words and has not been the same since.

I made it my personal mission to keep putting books into Rachel’s hands until we found one that she could not put down. I built a classroom library targeted at all high school students; I even went so far as to have a bookshelf built by students mounted on the wall outside my classroom door, my effort at a Little Library in the back hallway.

I became eager to find answers to how and why students lose their love for reading. Children who are exposed to books love them. What happens to the appeal? I wanted to learn more and, soon thereafter, I began pursuing a reading teacher certification along with a reading specialist certification. My passion for reading continues today.

Most recently I have been hired as a Literacy Coach.

kids-who-read-succeedI have been given a tremendous opportunity to pursue my passion for helping students become better readers and writers and fully enjoy all the benefits of being successful in these areas. I am hopeful that all students can claim there was one book they couldn’t resist finishing.

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Education: Time is Abundant

The stack of papers on the corner of your desk is getting higher. You contemplate having a ‘work day’, not for students, but for you to put a dent into those essays your 4th hour class wrote last week Monday.

The Scholarship Committee is meeting after school and you still haven’t looked over the applications. You tell yourself, I will do this over lunch, your duty-free lunch.

Your mom texts you during 5th hour claiming your 18 month old is refusing to take a nap. Really? You consider not responding, when your phone buzzes again, “u need 2 talk 2 her…miss u”.

By 7th period you are exhausted and overwhelmed. The stack is too high, the applications too detailed, and your gut is aching with guilt over your mother and child.

You are convinced there is not enough time.time1

Your principal shows up at the beginning of 8th hour and informs you, “I am hiring a sub for you and a colleague.  Tomorrow, you have the entire day to get yourself caught up.”

Whoa. Wait. What?

Honestly…would you even know where to start or what to do…Honestly?

Beyond the students in our classrooms, the greatest resource professional educators have is time.  Time is a generous gift. Time is free, predictable, and opportunistic. Time is always nearby, faithful, and ageless. Time is Abundant.

Yes, time is Abundant.

Let me provide an analogy.  If I was placed in an ocean, floating upon the surface in a lifeboat, no land in sight, I could say with confidence the water is free, opportunistic, nearby, ageless, loyal, and Abundant. Is the concept of time that much different than the vision of an expanse of ocean?  In fact, time is much more reliable than an ocean because time is predictable, faithful, and limitless.

Yet, as professional educators, we often claim the greatest hindrance to our practice is lack of time. I could list all of the those inconveniences seemingly leaking our time, preventing us from becoming the best version of ourselves. But, therein lies the problem with time. If we choose to focus on the many disruptions that plague our moment in time, we become paralyzed with the overwhelming notion there will never be enough time.

As professional educators, we must resist becoming paralyzed by a perceived lack of time. Perhaps we need to do a better job of being present or prioritizing or preparing to maximize this great resource. Perhaps it’s a matter of adjusting our mindset to one of growth; view time as an opportunity rather than a restriction.

Time is a bountiful resource that unlocks our freedom and creativity as professional educators so we might best serve our students and guide them to becoming the best version of themselves.wide-open-ocean

Climb aboard the lifeboat, stop treading water amidst the winds and the waves.  Cut loose the anchor of time and drift with me where time is Abundant, empowering us to thrive as professional educators for the success of all students.

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Expect it? … Model it!

As a father of four children, I find myself in paradoxical situations. I want them to know the ill effects of drinking soda. I crack open a Diet Pepsi, my youngest says, “Dad, why do YOU drink so much soda? You know YOU can get cavities too.” Oh sweet child, do as I say, not as I do.

I want them to value organization. I yank a wrinkled shirt from the bottom of the laundry basketbasket, socks and softener sheets cascading out onto the floor, my oldest comments, “You’re not wearing THAT shirt to school, are you? So, like, why don’t YOU have to put your laundry away? That’s not fair….” Oh, I love you teenage daughter, do as I say, not as I do.

This theory, “do as I say, not as I do”, is an ineffective parenting strategy, isn’t it? My children learn more about hygiene and organization by observing how Desiree and I live. They learn more about relationships – intimate, social, and collegial – by watching Desiree and I interact with each other, friends, and colleagues.

Similarly, this theory doesn’t work in education. Perhaps the more appropriate theory to embrace is, “actions speak louder than words.”

As a professional educator, I find myself in situations incongruent with this theory. During professional development, whether delivered by administrators or the world’s revolutionary educators, we are taught to use best practice in our classrooms, yet the method of professional development is in direct contrast to best practice. We are a profession of collaboration, yet so many of us shut our classroom doors as the school day begins, isolating ourselves, protecting ourselves.

Teaching is challenging, important work. We want our students to succeed, we want them to become the best version of themselves. For this to happen, we must take action and not just deliver words.

If we want students to make eye contact as they discuss Juliet’s forbidden love for Romeo, 6399089089_4c194c9e0c_zthen we must show them exactly what this looks like. With the class observing, sit down, across from a student, and show how this discussion looks.

If we want students to annotate their questions and connections while reading a nonfiction article on ecosystems, we must use our document camera to project a similar article that we read aloud, think aloud, and annotate.

We all know what best practice looks like in education. And, yes, actions DO speak louder than words.

This week, let’s avoid the temptation to just tell our students what to do. Instead, let’s model how to learn; what students perceive as important to us, they will emulate. With modeling and guided practice, students will gain skills to widen their understanding, engage in collaboration, and manage their own learning.

Rather than soda, I will drink more water this week. I will take the time to hang my shirts in the closet and place my socks in the drawer this week. Consequently, I am most certain, this latter goal will bolster my relationship with Desiree this week.

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Welcome to the New

First point: I am making a promise to myself (and anyone who might stumble across my blog and actually read it) to keep each post to 500 words or less. Won’t be easy for me, but I must be more efficient and make a commitment to blogging more often. Naturally, this will force me to edit more as well.

IMG_3487Point number two: Earlier today we were reflecting on our summer. Certainly we have been blessed with time in the presence of friends and family, beautiful weather, and much needed time on the water with the boat. I came to the conclusion, though, that the best night of summer for me was July 7th.  Continue reading

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The Next 20…

IMG_3407I have spent my entire career as a professional educator at one school. In June 1996 I was hired to teach English-Language Arts at Seymour Community High School in Seymour, Wisconsin. During those 20 years I have had the opportunity to meet and work alongside amazing educators, students, and families, taught freshmen through seniors, and coached basketball and football.

As a lifelong learner, I continued to pursue professional development and experience to become better at my craft as a professional educator. Most recently, I have earned my reading teacher certification and will soon (December 2016) earn my literacy specialist certification. I am passionate about helping students become engaged in literacy, particularly reading.

In August I will officially begin a new role as literacy coach at the DePere High School in DePere, Wisconsin. I am extremely grateful for this new opportunity and eagerlyIMG_3566 anticipating the start of school in the Fall. Swirling around this change is excitement, apprehension, and fear of the unknown.

I truly love the extraordinary colleagues, students, and families I leave behind; they have helped shape who I am as a professional educator throughout the first 20.

The next 20 begins with learning from my new colleagues, students, and families in DePere. I truly look forward to this new venture where I will become a part of a new school community and where I get the opportunity every day to share my passion for literacy.

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My Heart’s Delight

I have been working on more education…yes, I am a life-long learner and have discovered that my life is driven by learning. I will soon be a certified Reading Teacher and Literacy Specialist.

The crescendo slowly rising in my heart for the past decade I finally recognized as this increscendocredible symphony; I longed for a part in this amazing orchestra.  I was disappointed in myself as an English language arts teacher when a senior once told me, “I have never read a book.”, or “Never have I had the experience where I didn’t want to put a book down.”


That was the turning point for me. I began questioning other students with similar results. Those who enjoyed reading were not always willing to admit it, and, without a doubt were in the minority.

My questions led to more questions which led me to where I am today. I still have more questions, but have now surrounded myself with people who have felt a similar crescendo in their professional lives. I want to help children read to comprehend. I want to help children read to enjoy. I want to help children write for themsstudents readingelves and write to move people. Literacy is the key that unlocks every opportunity. With it, literacy brings competence, confidence, and collaboration. Mostly, though, literacy fills our lives with goodness.





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Coming Back

So, I need to make a comeback of sorts. Without going into too much garbage about where I have been or what I have doing, I need to get back to writing and sharing in this space.

For those of you who have been following this blog, SURPRISE, you just received a notification!

It’s not a mistake. It’s time for a comeback.

John, The Comeback Kid (for today).

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Students Create Instagram of Hamlet – #MaximumShakespeare

The New York Times sponsored a Hamlet Instagram contest (a 15 second video using lines from Hamlet) this fall.  An ELA colleague of mine at Seymour Community High School had her College Credit seniors enter the contest.  Authentic, 21st Century, editing, revising, and publishing learning opportunity!  Indeed, a fantastic example of best practice in education.

One of the student groups was recently declared a finalist and the video and an interview appeared in The New York Times.  Ryan Krahn, Clayton Skogman (in the pool as Ophelia) and Phil Michaelson are mentioned in the article and Ryan is quoted!

I am honored and blessed to work with amazing, compassionate educators and driven, creative students.

Take a look at the 15 second video and, if you feel so inclined, leave a comment on their Instagram.

Young Souls Portray the Wit of ‘Hamlet’, With Brevity, NYTimes-December 20, 2013

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The Lightning Thief As Difficult As The Odyssey…#Truth

Conducted an interesting experiment in my advance English 9 class recently.

We are currently reading The Odyssey, Robert Fagles translation.  When asked after the first eight books of the epic, The most confusing part of The Odyssey so far is ______ because _______, the most common response is the vocabulary is too difficult and/or the names are impossible.


As part of a 1-minute read I was doing in class one day, I used Rick Riordan’s Lighting Thief.  Middle school and high school students have been highly engaged in Riordan’s books, The Lightning Thief being Book One of the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series.  I read the first page and a half.  As I was reading, I suddenly wondered, What about this book attracts so many young adult readers?  Why is this text so much more approachable than Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey?

Finally, I asked these questions out loud to my group of ninth graders.  One student said he liked Riordan’s first person narrative.  Another student said the idea of a ‘half-blood’ hooked her.  Finally, another student said the vocabulary in Riordan’s book was much easier to understand and more recognizable.


So, I fired up the doc camera and we examined the first 193 words of The Lightning Thief and the first 201 words of Book Eight of The Odyssey.  First, we looked at Riordan’s novel.  We went word for word to identify which words, if any, caused confusion and which words were recognizable.  Of the first 193 words of this book, we identified six unrecognizable words.  Therefore, we understood 97% of the words we read.  This should result in deeper reading and comprehension.

We then did the same examination with The Odyssey.  Of the first 201 words of Book Eight, we identified 11 unrecognizable words or names.  Therefore, we understood 95% of the words we read.  Whoa…only 2% less than The Lightning Thief.  This should result in deeper reading and comprehension.

However, the students still felt more attracted to The Lightning Thief rather than The Odyssey.  We did acknowledge that word order and more sophisticated literary elements used in The Odyssey has a strong impact on student engagement and comfort level.

Because of this little examination, I do believe students may not so readily say the most confusing part of The Odyssey is the vocabulary.  They may say word choice, line structure, or use of extended metaphors cause them confusion, but at least now my students have a better idea of how to articulate what exactly causes discomfort as they read The Odyssey and other complex texts.

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