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.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One reason I click "block..."

"Who are those men on your phone?" Hubby asks.

A bunch of men... who can't (or don't) read - and this is just for the month of June.

We've got military men (I was already married to a Marine in my former life),

some who are just "cool"

or "humble..."

"simple and friendly" men who speak french,

"single" dads (some who have typos)...

"doctor" who happens to be sapiosexual (which I had to look up)...

some are already suspended because they violated a Twitter rule...

one who thinks my life should be "easy and soft..."

some who like to take selfies...

one who's from Italy and has got a son in the US...

one who must know me, as he can promise me that my "stomach may hurt from laughing much..."

guys who want me to love them more...

competing with this one with the "strength of a unicorn..."

This one is searching for a "truth and caring partner..." 
oh, and he must also love his job... 
um... and have two different names...

and "simple and honest" men looking for a "good soul mate."

I was going to post them all here, but 45 is quite a lot for one month. I started to, but it was taking too much time out of my summer to format them right, and I don't think these people (or are they bots??) are worth that time and energy. THIS is when I click "block" on Twitter, and these are the followers I think about when my students get so excited about the number of followers I have... I haven't seen them all to be able to block them all.

I wish they'd take the time to read Twitter bios as they're furiously clicking away - I specifically changed mine to say "enjoying my marriage to the fullest." Either way, they kind of make me chuckle, and they make for a different kind of blog post for me!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sharing Star Shine

This post begins with Sharon Hance's words and ideas, and ends with how they affected me.

Sharon's Story:

It began with a visit to my sister and a little shop in North Carolina. The store offered handmade goods and these little stars caught my eye. There was a huge variety with quotes of varying themes inside each star. (See this Etsy page for where you can purchase your own!)

My sister and I bought some and spent the weekend opening them... and trying to figure out how they were made... to no avail!

After scouring the internet and studying tutorials and videos, I was finally able to produce a "non-wonky" star!

Making little paper stars became a way to relax and de-stress after a busy day. I kept a bowl of paper strips on my table and made them anytime I had a spare moment. It was truly calming!

Then the connection came to me! Our school district had launched a major transformation in the fall of 2018 with the following mission:
To empower students to make meaningful contributions to the world by creating learning experiences that include four key elements (S.T.A.R.):
     Skills: Students will work on significant content and skills.
     Tasks: Students will engage with real-world, challenging problems.
     Audience: Students will create public products for an audience beyond the teacher.
     Reach: Students will connect with the world to improve the quality and enhance the impact of their work.
Our Curriculum Instruction Teacher Leaders and Instructional Coaches had done an amazing job on our conference days, working in cross-grade level teams to begin the conversation and our teachers were taking risks and sharing their good work. Teacher Appreciation Week was just around the corner! I knew how I would say, "Thank you," and I printed strips with gratitude quotes. I began folding jars of stars!

Teacher Appreciation Week rolled around and each school building principal got a jar of stars of the team.

Each Curriculum Instruction Teacher Leader and Instructional Coach got a jar, too.

One of the quotes inside the stars reads, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." ~William Arthur Ward. When Joy tweeted about "mindfulness" and self-care for teachers, I thought she might like to give star-folding a try.

Joy's Story:

Sharon Hance shared this gem with me via a direct message. She made teachers and nurses jars of stars for Teacher Appreciation Week!

Of course, I have a hard time NOT trying something like this, so I immediately got down all my fun scrapbooking paper (which I used to use a TON to make greeting cards - some day I'll get back to that)!

I cut a ton of half-inch strips and just started making them (see the first picture). Sharon had shared with me a video tutorial, and it was fairly easy. I did get better the more I practiced. I brought the strips to a meeting and enjoyed fidgeting while I was listening.

When I see these little paper stars, I light up. When I know that there is an inspirational quote in each one, my day is brighter.

Next, I brought the idea to EdCampChicago (this last one was at Lake Park HS in Roselle). We talked about how important gratitude has been for me to get through rough spots at work and home, and we brainstormed how we could spread kindness through the stars at our own schools. Since the end is tough to tuck back in AND I wanted people receiving them to be able to open them up, we figured out a way to add a "tail" of sorts, so they became "shooting stars" with a cut in the tail so the recipient would know where to unravel them.

They liked them... They really liked them!

They even continued making them in their next session!

And then, using Sharon's idea again, I decided to make a Google Doc (turned into this spreadsheet) of quotes or inspirational sayings I'd like to use. I collect quotes from books, so this part was easy. Making sure they came out as half-inch strips was a bit trickier. On the bottom tabs you can see the focus for each sheet of quotes.

Next, I printed them out - forty different quotes on forty different pieces of patterned paper (cut to 8.5" x 11" size to fit in the printer). Then came the cutting. Phew! I loved having them by my side when I was watching TV or listening to a book or podcast... I'm with Sharon - making them was calming - when they worked right! I purchased 17 jars with cork lids (again - like Sharon's!) from Michael's when they were 50% off. Seventeen due to the fact that I've got one set of 17 quotes on each printed page. I've got my jars ready to go - full of hope and gratitude. I'll be handing them out to stressed teachers when the time is right.

Sharon isn't very "talkative" via Twitter, yet she watches what I share, and she has shared some mood-boosting notes privately with me. I wanted to highlight this interaction and share her idea for one huge reason: Imagine how many teachers - and their students - Sharon has affected by sharing these adorable stars. Imagine how many educators will now take this idea, make changes to it to fit their own needs, and affect many more humans in this fashion.  Sharon - thank you for sharing and for being brave to share your story in this post, as well. I'm excited to know there will be a huge ripple effect of kindness and gratitude thanks to the fact that you shared.

Side note: As my husband read this over (he's my blogging editor!), this song was on in the background... serendipitous? Perhaps.

Friday, July 19, 2019

BLC Brave

#BostonStrong and #BostonBrave are hashtags that reek of resilience of Bostonians in the wake of tragedy.

After attending the BLC (Building Learning Communities) Conference for my sixth (and final) time, I'm thinking of bravery - from Bostonians and others from around the world.

So many educators are much braver than I. Every time I attend, I'm amazed at the travelers that make it here. I'm nervous about making a flight, and they're coming from Australia, South America, and Lebanon...! I met a young lady named "Miracle" and an older gentleman named "Rejoice." Of course, everyone speaks English, and many are fluent in at least one more language. I feel surrounded by educators that are so caring and know so much more than I do.

One instance of my own bravery was the healthy grading session I facilitated. I've done this before (thanks to Matt Miller pushing me out of my tech zone when he asked presenters to do something without tech for his Ditch Conference in 2017), and every time the success of it depends on the participants. This time, teachers were very respectful of each other, played "devil's advocate" with excellent points, and brought up concerns many teachers have. I heard from one participant that "things felt a little hijacked" at one point, so that tells me that I could try to limit participants' responses, as some were using more speaking time than others, for sure. Those that participated were brave - others could disagree with their points at any time. I'm so glad we had as much lively discussion as we had!

Due to Stacey Roshan & Bobby Pollicino's session on staff meetings, I started a Flipgrid of "gems" I've learned at BLC this year. I wanted to do one grand one, but did six smaller ones... If you attended, please add your ideas - adding your two cents not only shows your bravery; your take-aways can affect countless students! If you did not attend, please check out what we've learned.

Caitlin Krause reminded me of my own fears when it comes to being brave once again in her session on storytelling. "The reason sharing is brave is because we must be vulnerable and trusting and open to judgment. Remember this - We each have a voice. We each have a story to tell. Our stories - and those of countless others - matter. When you share a part of your story, you're sharing is a gift. Take the risk, and be interested in others' stories, as well." Yes. Yes. Yes.

She shared these fears...
[adapted from Writing for Your Life]
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Good friend and educator in my own district, Carrie Baughcum came to Boston on her own to share her passion for learning mascots and visual thinking.
Seeing her get comfortable reminded me of her bravery. I don't know if I could travel alone to a place I've never been before... My favorite time with her was connecting and sharing stories from our families, yet it's Sylvia Tolisano's quote she brought up that will stay with me for a long time.

It's not simply about running. This quote can be applied to ALL of our learning. It can be applied to our bravery, as well. I'm not sure what chapter I'm on when it comes to bravery; I only know many people will be braver than me, and many people won't be as brave as me. And that's perfectly okay. There's no need to compare where we are on our journeys.

Please keep sharing your stories. Please keep listening to other people's stories. Let's learn together.

If you'd like to see other lessons I've learned from this conference, check out the BLC tag I've used through the years. Thanks for the great times, Alan November and all the passionate, caring educators I've been able to learn alongside these six years. I truly appreciate all your conference has done for me and for my students.

I'm using this as my blog post #7 for the #8weeksofsummer blogging challenge - I'm not sure where I am on my "summer learning journey." I do know that I'm moving forward, and that's all I can ask for.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

One Shift for 2019-2020

I've been meaning to write about this, and I'm glad this week's (week 6) prompt in the #8weeksofsummer blog challenge has this fitting question:

How are you planning to implement change next school year?

One of my larger changes to make next year is the "Question of the Day" (QoD). For the last few years, my QoD has looked like this, and has been near the front of the room by the door:
"When you eat dinner with your family, do you exude good manners?" - Yes, Sometimes, No.
One student added - "I don't eat with my family."
This was very telling, as I found out the boy who created the column ate by himself in his bedroom each night.

I reused the paper questions from year to year, and students also created their own questions (some of the best we had). My reason WHY for the QoD is in Shift This was originally for attendance and to provide a place for students to share their opinions. Not everyone answers, however, and I found that I loved hearing the chatter around the questions better than using it for attendance anyway. I loved seeing extra columns (such as the one above) that spoke volumes about the students and got me to head over and talk with those students further.

One shift I made last year was another board with more magnets with student names on them. That one looked like this, and was further in to the classroom (near the far wall):

My reason WHY for this SEL component is that the social-emotional status of my kids is not something else that I put on my plate - it IS the plate. Knowing how my students are doing will help me set the tone for the class. If they're not emotionally ready to learn, it doesn't matter what I do in that 80 minutes of my time with them. So... we talked about how to find where your magnet goes for when they walk in the room, and we started sharing ideas as to how they can self-regulate, depending on where they are in the quadrants. This is a simplified "mood meter," thanks to the ideas from Marc Brackett and his RULER approach.

WHY I'm shifting this aspect once again...
Not everyone was moving their names under the QoD, and it's a royal pain to set up each morning (I know, I know - it's not crazy bad, just enough to really get under my skin by the end of the year). It also has to be "multiple choice," and I'd love to ask students more open-ended questions. I want to move the SEL "mood meter" to the front of the room. I want that to be more prominent and I would like to take it more seriously. Also, I think I can ask more open-ended questions in a different fashion. My co-worker Karen next door would also like to have discussion questions at the start of every class. Therefore, we're going to use questions students created towards the end of last year, and the questions I've been using. I'll house them all on this document HERE, and we'll project a different one each day. (This document will always be under construction. It's kids' ideas, my favorites, and certain ones are day- or content-specific questions. I also have to be aware of the students in my room and make sure to not trigger any traumatic experiences. The questions I've used before are here.)

What I'll do...

1) Move the questions of the day to the projector - to start our day with students discussing the question with each other. After a month, I'll have them use something called a "conversation carousel" of sorts - Everyone gets a list of everyone's names. They cross out their own. They talk with everyone on the list before they talk with them again (there are columns so they can write the date next to the person's name). They can use this to discuss the QoD with lots of different people.

2) Move the SEL mood meter to the front of the room. Some students, I imagine, will not want to be public about this, and I want to respect their privacy. Thank goodness for Tara Mollo who I happened upon on Twitter - she uses cups and popsicle sticks for her students to share where they are on the "Zones of Regulation" scale. Thanks to Tara, I'm going to put colored cups (to correlate with the mood meter colors) below the grid so students can anonymously add their names there. I can then scoop them up and chat with those kids privately without anyone else knowing. I'll also provide coping strategies for students - we'll practice these together, and then students will have tools to use the rest of the year and in all of their classes. Here is a document of what my co-worker Yvette and I have tried so far.

This is my one small yet important shift for next year that I'm looking forward to trying. I think it could benefit all of us in the room, and it's something I know I can incorporate without added work on my part or the students' part.

What change(s) are YOU planning on implementing next year, and what are your reasons why? Feel free to comment below, or write your own blog post with an explanation and share that link in the comments! I'll share it with others, of course, so we can all learn from each other and keep the conversations going!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


#WeNeedDiverseBooks is a movement that's been going on since 2014.

I've always thought of this from a children's book point of view, and I started looking through my myriad classroom books. I tossed some, gave away some, bought some, and since I've noticed that I do need more diverse books, I've been READING a ton more - so I can share them with my students.

Then my viewpoint shifted this past week when I engaged in a direct message conversation with a teacher I respect about how many of the educator books out there are written by white authors.

This tweet from a different educator I respect - Mike Mohammad - struck a chord with me...

Although I have written one of those, and read six of them, I noticed that a couple of these above are not written by white authors, and that is a good sign. I do believe, however, when we look at the newest educational books that are being published recently, most are written by white men, with white women starting to chime in, as well. Are BIPOC (Black people, Indigenous people and People of Color) not represented enough? (Are they not represented enough in our schools, as well?) I believe they are not. I believe we need more. Since I have not yet read all of them, I don't know if this is true, but are most of these rooted in what we (as authors of these books) know from experience? I know that Jennifer Casa Todd's had references to research, but do any of the others? Mine has links and names of people where I've learned certain things, yet I'm not sure if any of them (except in the homework and grading chapters) are researchers. So I responded to his tweet in a different way...

Are you the next author of a book that will inspire educators to have the courage to address racial inequalities in our lives? Are you the next person future teachers will look up to because you wrote of what needs to be said and done in this newest time of turmoil? Are you the next one to publish a book with research to back it? If not you, who do you think it could be? Please share this post with them.

The author of the blog challenge I'm in asks this question this week - 
I write lots of posts and keep them in "drafts." When I'm finally ready to share my feelings or thoughts, I go back to the post and click "publish." This post was in my drafts for a bit, then I saw the question today for the #8weeksofsummer blogging challenge. Yes. It's not only my goal for this summer, but it has been for a year now, since reading Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed. 
  • Read more books by authors who are not white. 
  • Share more writing in class by authors who are not white. 
  • Talk about it in class - the races of the authors we read - so students know that they're out there, and we need more of them in our classrooms. 
  • Let our students know that THEY can be the ones to write the next book or poem or narrative - and publish it so others hear their stories.

Some (white) people will overlook this post and not share it with the world. I used to understand that; I kind of still do. I am learning that my silence means I'm okay with it. I'm not okay with ALL voices not being heard equally. I try to make sure this happens in my classroom, and I am now trying to make sure this happens in my life outside the classroom. My BHAG? For summer? Nope. For life? Yes. 
Spread kindness. Stand up for equality. Get kids reading. Get kids thinking. 
They're all linked together.

Note: This post does NOT mean that if you ARE white, you should not write. Nonononono. In fact, if you are a teacher and teach writing, you should be writing. We can all be awesome role models for our students through reading and writing - ALL KINDS of books and articles and blog posts. I'm sorry if this post reads otherwise. That was not my intent.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

"She's like I would be in the future had I not met you."

Grocery shopping. Bob (Hubby) and I are walking the aisles, and he ends up next to an elderly woman and starts talking with her about something he'd just seen or heard. She kept walking, either not hearing him or ignoring him. He smiled, said, "Have a nice day," and then we got the butter.

Bob will talk with ANYone. ANYwhere. About ANYthing (except politics and religion). Earlier in this shopping trip, he asked an employee how his fourth of July had been, and they were engaged in a lively discussion for about a minute before they parted ways. Bob and I have been together for about ten years, and he's had this affect on me. I can now conjure up the courage to strike up a quick conversation with someone, whereas I would have hesitated or walked away ten years prior. He's shown me how. He's shown me that people like to talk about themselves - just ask a question.

That was yesterday morning. Today he said something to me about the woman ignoring him, and I replied, "It's okay, Love. She's like I would be in the future had I not met you."

It struck me then. I needed to write this down. How might I be (unwillingly and willingly) affecting the people around me at school, students and peers alike? I've got a fairly new team of teachers to work with this year, so I'm going to think about how I act in the classroom.

Burst out in song (and dance, at times) - I LOVE to sing. When we play music in class (as students are walking in or during some other activity), I'll be singing my heart out if I know the words. I'd love it if, when they left me, they considered bursting out in song when they hear their favorite tunes, too.

Calm - in the face of chaos. I'm not always calm - like when we're celebrating - yet I am calm when there's an emergency, blood, a scream, a spider, etc. I can be calm when I need to be. Most of my seventh graders are working on this; some have no desire yet.

Considerate - of their ideas. I love to ask students what they think, how they would change something we're doing, and then when the tides turn and they simply tell me without even being asked, I love to take the time to take their ideas into consideration in front of the class. I ask, "How would this benefit us? What might be a problem we encounter? Other ideas? What does everyone think?" I actually push this idea and ask my students to practice it when I have an idea I'd like to try. If they poo-poo it early, I ask them to ask the class those questions, as well, to consider the idea before they judge it so quickly.

Honest - I never lie to my students (unless you count lying by omission - for their and my benefit). I tell them that up front, along with a story of how I used to lie all the time from when I was about 12 until maybe 22 or so. (Feel free to judge - I was bad.) This also helps me tell them that I'll spot a lie a mile away, so just be up front and truthful with me. I respect honesty and will be more upset if they lie than if they tell it to me straight. I have no need for lies in my life, and I hope they do respect my honesty.

Kind - Of course. Right? Is this a given? I hope so. And I believe all teachers are trying to help their students be kind to one another, as well. Big time. At every grade level.

Life-long Learner - I am always seeking more information. Reading, blogging with questions for others, YouTube how-to videos, asking my students for more information and their stories...  This summer I'm doing a 30-day challenge (hopefully it will last all 67 days of my summer) so I can learn how to play my banjo. I hope my students see this drive in me to continue learning, no matter how old I get. I hope I can inspire them to follow their own interests and goals IN class, and then take that OUT of class once they leave me.

We don't have a crystal ball to see the future... We do have the choice to be the role model we believe our students need. I will choose my words and actions carefully.

How might your students change a teeny bit after they have met YOU?
What is your hope for them?

Comments welcomed and appreciated, as always. Let's keep the conversation going!

This blog post goes out to all those fabulous educators that constantly influence me... THANK YOU for the kind word, the nudge, the ideas, the conversations, and the kindness you have shown. You are true role models and I have grown because of you. I still have much more growing to do, so thank you for staying near! Hugs!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Optimal Conditions for Learning

I'm taking on an eight-week blogging challenge, and the question this week was...

"What are optimal conditions in which to learn, for you, and for students?"

Immediately I had two students in mind. I'll call them Ava and Alvin.

Ava's optimal conditions for learning would include a quiet space on her own, a pencil and paper, in a typical classroom chair at a desk. Ava seems willing to learn anything, any day.

Alvin's optimal conditions for learning would include his music flowing from his earbuds, his computer, on a rolling chair anywhere in the room. Knowing why the learning is important will help Alvin stay motivated to focus.

My own conditions change based on where I am. Right this instant it's in a favorite chair with a pillow on my lap and laptop on top, drink by my side, fuzzy socks on my feet, and quiet throughout the house. I also need a REASON to learn, as that helps with my motivation to continue learning.

I don't know if this question can be answered, except individually. What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below as to your thoughts and YOUR optimal learning conditions.

This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks Summer Blog Challenge for educators