Slice of Life: Grattitude

Billboard by Peter Tunney
Billboard by Peter Tunney

I saw a sign similar to this from my seat on the train as it rumbled into New York City on Sunday afternoon. It went by so quickly I didn’t process the spelling, just the word. Yes, I thought. That is the perfect word for today.

More than twenty-four hours later, it’s still the perfect word. I am full of gratitude to have the opportunity to attend the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s August Reading Institute. After just one day, Lucy Calkins has inspired me to do everything I can to “make reading the best thing it can be” for my students.

In her opening keynote in the soaring nave of Riverside Church, Lucy encouraged the 1300 teachers and administrators present to create classroom and school communities where this can happen. Communities were students feel safe to take risks, where they know their voice will be heard and counted. Communities where they feel connected to something bigger than themselves. These communities are critical, Lucy explained, because “learning to read involves more risk than we often acknowledge.” 

“Embrace the “F” word,” she admonished. We have to be willing to “fail early and fail often.” For it is only through our failures that we grow. “Sharing our work in progress can give us strength.” Lucy continued with Brené Brown‘s wise words: “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” (Which, coincidentally, I wrote about here.)

Lucy went on to share findings that David Brooks reported on his his column in the New York Times a few years ago. Brooks stated that studies done by Google have found the use of words such as patience and compassion in books published over the past fifty years has fallen dramatically. The implications of this are frightening, but sadly are playing out daily on the front pages of newspapers from around the country.

We have the power to change this trend in our classroom communities. Lucy urged us to make our students feel included in this mission by inviting them to “co-create” their classroom. These spaces will be places where students will feel safe “to do their best work” and “role-play their way into being the readers (and people) they want to be.”

Books are tools that help us envision what these communities can look like, Lucy reminded us. Books like The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater and The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes can help us “teach kids how to empathize and make others feel good.” Books like this year’s Newbery Award winner, Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña that help kids sense a “… feeling of magic” in the world around them and gratitude for the communities that nurture them. Books have the power to help us all “grow into the people we want to be.” What a gift. 

I am always grateful to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

11 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Grattitude

  1. Lucy is always so inspirational! I love that her message isn’t just about a way of being in the classroom, but about a way of being in the world. We want all those things for our classroom – students who learn from failures, students who have compassion, etc. These are things students need as citizens in the world. How lucky we are to be a part of shaping this.


  2. Your post was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you, Catherine, for summarizing Lucy’s keynote so succinctly. I especially appreciated the quote you included, “learning to read involves more risk than we often acknowledge.” Although my teaching experience is with 5th and 7th graders, my coaching widens that span to include K-5. My steepest learning curve remains with our youngest students – in finding that delicate balance to maintain joy alongside skill development. If we fail to instill that love of reading from the start, than we’ve lost more than we may realize. Thanks for this important reminder!


  3. Wonderful that you do get to be there, to be inspired with words that you’ll carry into the year, Catherine. Interesting David Brooks article, and The Big Orange Splot has been a favorite for a long time.


  4. You shared great words for each us to be inspired by as the school year begins, “Communities were students feel safe to take risks, where they know their voice will be heard and counted. Communities where they feel connected to something bigger than themselves.” Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gratitude, community, and empathy. Each idea builds on the other. I feel such gratitude knowing you and the TC community. Thanks to teachers like you kids are getting so much . And that benefits us all! Enjoy the week Catherine. Let it fill you up.

    Liked by 1 person

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