I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, July 9, 2015



My translation? -->   SHARING

We learn so much from sharing - our own stories and other people's stories. In many aspects of my life, I need to practice this art called "communication" - knowing when to share, and when to listen.

At home...
   We've got it made. My love and I know how to communicate. It's integral to our relationship. We are vulnerable with each other, laying everything on the line. And it WORKS. We have the best line of communication we've ever had with anyone. Ever. With my parents, it's close to the same thing. With my sister and other relatives... I've got some work to do.

In my classroom...
   I teach "LA/LIT" or "English Language Arts" or "reading and writing" in 7th grade. I once saw a post from either David Theriault or Sean Ziebarth (OH how I'd LOVE to teach with these two!!) that said they'd like to call their class "Communications." THIS is what it's all about. This is the place where I feel the next strongest when it comes to sharing and getting my point across. Ever since I read Choice Words by Peter Johnston, I've measured every word that comes out of my mouth in front of children.
   My first day with students, we take the 15 (?) minutes (very shortened periods the first day!) we have to read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I encourage thoughts, and call on students who do not have hands raised. The whole hand-raising idea is nice if you want a quiet room of compliant children. I like to have discussions instead. In "the real world," there isn't a whole lot of hand raising when people want to talk. One of my goals during the school year is to break students of this habit. We practice discussions without hands in the air. We practice how to interrupt, contribute, disagree, and support our opinions - while taking turns. If a class seems to need more support than another, we will take out the sock monkey and toss her for awhile, but then we let go of that security blanket soon enough. I don't know any other situation in which people having a discussion pass around a stuffed toy...
   While reading The Important Book, I also encourage disagreement with authors, and ME, as well. Disagreeing is definitely part of communicating. I, myself, disagree with the author when she writes, "The important thing about an apple is that is is red." Students themselves, before I turn the page, mention the words, "juicy, healthy, crispy, tasty" etc, and then they don't say a peep when I read aloud that it is "red." This is where the learning could stop, if I simply continued to read. Instead, I put the book down, and look out at my new students. I gasp, as I "can't believe you agree with the author - I didn't hear any dissension!" You can imagine how the rest of these few minutes go. My only lesson for the first day is that this class will be about communicating - sharing ideas, asking questions, disagreeing respectfully, using evidence to support our ideas, discovering and mending our misconceptions, and adding to our thoughts.

With parents of my students...
I have learned to be very transparent, and to send home positive notes every so often about their child. Just do it! It makes all the difference. 

At my school with other teachers...
It's when the communication STOPS that my frustration rises.
   When someone on my team says something and then says "End of discussion"... I can feel the steam coming from my ears, so I get up and excuse myself. Both of us are in the wrong here.
   When one person drops the ball on a yearly school-wide tradition and then makes the decision him/herself when it comes down to the deadline and virtually no changes can be made... What good does it do to complain, if it's too late anyway? I tried to offer a solution for NEXT year instead.
   This is the area where I struggle with communication the most.
What are my options?
   - Hide. I have times when I do this. Just shut my trap, don't say anything, and get on with what I need to do - focus on my own students. I'm not sure if this is healthy or not.
   - Keep an open mind. Know when to let things go, and when to keep the discussion open.
   - Ask for help. This is my next step. This is what I need to do.
          "Can we continue this discussion?"
          "Can we keep talking about...?" Perhaps put it off until another day.
          "This makes me think. Can we come back to this discussion on ____?" Get it on the docket.
          "I need to think more about this. Can we each do our own research and get back to it?"

In my district with administration...
   I try not to "bother" our administration. I know they've got far more pressing issues than any I might have! I really only communicate with them to ask how things are going, and to share some ideas I might have. They are busy with student issues, so I deal with the small issues on my own or with other teachers. I was upset at one decision that came down the pike, so I spoke to students (who were also upset, as it impacted them the most), and we came up with reasons to change the decision. I thought including student voice would help. We did not "win" the battle, but we fought a clean fight together, and students' voices were heard in a positive manner.

With my PLN...
   There are quite a few teachers who use Twitter as a platform for learning - basically learning how to become a better teacher, or better yet - how to make our classrooms better places to learn how to learn. I follow many teachers with whom I agree. We help each other by sharing our ideas. One of us will share, another will tweak and try these ideas, and then we share them back - including "upgrades" to these ideas. Sometimes we share what we'd like to do, and others share what they've seen done or what they've tried themselves. This is not just communication; it is also collaboration.

Three Ways I Learn from Communicating with my PLN...
   1) There are some teachers with whom I disagree. I know to not respond with anger. I used to ignore these teachers, unfollow them, or just complain to Hubby about them. Now I either share what I've found that supports my side, organize and write my own ideas, or ask these teachers questions to instigate more communication about the issue. At times, I find that my thoughts need to be challenged in such a way so that I can either grow and adapt my thoughts, or find more support for what I believe. These interactions have made me much more feisty, and also more knowledgeable! They're not my favorite interactions, but I make sure I take away something from each one.
   2) Some interactions with my PLN help me by giving me more resources. I consider these resources "ammunition" for those times I need to support my beliefs. Just yesterday, I saw a tweet about Kate Baker not grading tons of papers at home - and she teaches high school English!! I listened to this short podcast from ISTE2015, and tweeted it out. Kate came back with MORE help, as I wondered how this really looks in her classroom. She then created a new blog post that same day to help others who were wondering the same thing! All of her resources are on her blog, and all free, of course. That's what we expect from passionate teachers on Twitter. Now it's up to ME to put these ideas into action.
   3) My favorite interactions that really show me what "communication" means are those that are positive in nature, and push me to learn. These teachers help me take that next step. They help me put ideas I'd like to implement into practice. They get me off my butt and ACTING. Just today, I received a tweet from Oliver Schinkten, asking a tough question.
He really got me thinking. I didn't have any answer to give him. I put this tweet out of my head as I read more while getting my AM "fix." A few minutes later, I saw a tweet from a teacher I'd never met on Twitter. I read Gerard Dawson's post titled, "The 1st Steps to a Connected Reading Classroom," and was awed at all the ideas he shared. I tweeted it out with the #elachat and #engchat community. Words that I had to read more than once... 
"a connected reading classroom means using communication, collaboration and connecting to let students share thinking"
It was the next tweet from him, however, that made my head spin, and became the catalyst for me to write this post...
He did not ask what I'm going to use from his post, which would've been a tough one for me to answer. All I really thought of using (so far - from the first read-through) was changing the name of my classes to "Communications," and how to communicate that to parents and students! He went a step further in asking, "What were you left wondering after reading?" Does he want the truth? I'm really wondering "HOW IN HECK can I do everything I want to do with students???"

The answer is always there. I can NOT do everything. I don't have the time, resources, or energy to do all I would like to do with my students. As a result of reading Gerard's blog post, listening to Kate's podcast, and knowing what I know about balance in the classroom, my take-away today is to keep the focus on communication. Center everything in the classroom around communication.

In all things I want us to try in ELA - reading, writing, grammar, speaking and listening, Genius Hour, feedback instead of grading... if we continue to practice communicating well, every aspect of ELA will flourish. Let's continue to give students more and more time to practice the art of communicating. Let's share our mistakes and successes, and listen as other people share theirs. Let's learn from each other by learning how to communicate effectively. Maybe that's the purpose of school - to learn how to communicate in order to become lifelong learners.

Please share your ideas as to how you practice communicating in your classrooms, or where it's most difficult for you to communicate - and what you do about it. Let's continue to learn from each other.


  1. The masses communicate via social media, so I'm going to embrace it for school. I plan to use instagram to post pics of what's happening between my 4 walls with captions. Students, teachers, parents, admins will be able to see all the great learning!

    1. Oh, I envy you! Instagram is blocked at our school. I have a personal account, however, and let students follow me - and I follow back if they let me. It's been great to share some school news, but also get to know the kids I teach, too! My post regarding Instgram is here --> http://geniushour.blogspot.com/2015/03/sharing-through-instagram.html

  2. Additionally, I plan to use twitter hash tags for class discussions. Laura Gilchrist #moedchat is inspiring. She has made this work in her classroom. You're inspiring too! Thanks for sharing! I can relate.

    1. Ah, yes! Another great idea - thank you so much for sharing! My students aren't 13 yet, so we have a class Twitter account - @KirrClass. I do most of the tweeting from it at the start of the year, and then the kids use it to share what's going on in class and to ask questions for their Genius Hour projects. I haven't tried a hash tag yet, as they're not on Twitter - yet. ;) (Gotta love Laura Gilchrist, too!) Again, thank you for commenting and keeping the conversation going!

  3. Joy, I feel very connected with teachers in Twitter land and blogville. I have learned from them, I have shared with them, and it is a real learning community for me. It charges me up. Ironically, the communication that I want to work on this year is in my very own school. Sure, we talk about the day to day but we don't further our teacherly learning through communication. These two communities do not intersect.

    1. Oh, I'm with you, Pamela. This hurts my heart. I think it is happening more and more as some teachers become connected - and they stay connected - OUTSIDE of our own schools. I wonder if it is the difference between face-to-face and online discussions? Although I find at EdCamps I can speak up and continue tough discussions... with some strangers. Thank you for sharing - we are in the same boat. We'll keep working on it!

  4. Thank you for sharing. I find Twitter, blog posts, and Edcamps to be great resources for communication. They make me think and reflect on what I do in the classroom and out of it. It is most difficult for me in a larger setting to have true communication. I think people need to take more risks. It's scary sometimes but it is usually beneficial. There are no "stupid" questions and everyone brings value to the conversation.
    I recently went to a training and received a positive collaboration scorecard I love.
    It has: I suggested a new idea related to solving the task, I asked a question about the task that encouraged group discussion, I requested clarification so that I can understand, I encouraged the participation of all members within my group, I redirected the group's attention back to the task, I found and shared resources with my group members, and I treated my group members with respect, even when I disagreed with them.
    I am tempted to carry this card around with me everywhere! I do plan to use it with my students to help them learn about how to communicate. I believe we really all need to be teaching communication and would love to hear what others are doing to help students in this area.

  5. Julia - what a GREAT idea! I love the positive spin that collaboaration scorecard gives the participant! I thought it was SOOOO good, that I typed up a draft of what it could look like for my students - https://goo.gl/lrrLQs - THANK YOU for sharing! Yes, it is a good thing to carry it around with us. I'm wondering how to approach my team members with this to see if they'd be up for trying something like this. Again - thank you for connecting, and sharing this great idea!

  6. Hi Joy,

    So I love that you create an environment where conversations can happen naturally for students. I have also tried (again and again, year after year) to get to a point where we discuss as a group and just learn when to talk, cut in, wait, etc and not use our hands. It is tough and I can't say that we ever really mastered it...but we try.

    Love that I found something new that we have in common from this blog post of yours!

    I can't wait for the day (one day soon...) when we can sit down to coffee in person and chat about EVERYTHING!



Thank you for adding to the conversation!