Celebrate This Week: Hope

Saturday is the calm after the week. A time to reflect and celebrate. Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for this place that allows me a space to sit and write.

celebrate link up

This week I’m celebrating those who give hope to children.  Educators and writers who call on us to never give up and to reach out to those in our lives who need hope.

Hope. That was the message Patricia Polacco gave students this week.

Last March I sat in the third row of  Riverside Chapel, surrounded by educators and listened to the magical storyteller Patricia Polacco.  As she lifted up her Keeping Quilt, she lifted us up and moved us to tears.

This week I stood in the back of a crowded school auditorium. Again she lifted up her Keeping Quilt and lifted up an auditorium of students with the power of story and hope.

“I write personal narratives, ” she told us. “How many of you are writers?”

Hands shot up.

“The only difference between you and me is that I’ve been published.”

Then came storytelling.

Stories of family and stories of struggle.

The story of being learning disabled.

The story of being humiliated when she was asked to read in front of the class.

The story of being bullied on the playground.

And stories of hope with a call to never give up and to reach out to those who struggle, to those who need hope. “You know who they are,” she said. “They’re easy to see. They’re the ones sitting alone at lunchtime. It is your job to reach out to them.”

She told the story of the meteor that had fallen in the backyard of her grandparent’s home and then reached into her red bag and pulled out a piece of that meteor. She cupped her hands over it and told of its power to grant wishes.  “You all can hold this meteor. Cup your hand over it. Do you feel it heating up?”

Students quietly cupped their hands over the “meteor” in their laps.

“But wait! Your first wish must be for someone other than yourself. Someone who needs this wish.”

Students quietly made that wish.

As students left, magic swirled around us.

“I almost cried,” said K as she exited the auditorium.

“She’s beautiful,” said D.

J came back late to class beaming. “She gave me a hug!”

“How did you get that?!”

“I just asked.”


The next day, it continued.

In class, I proudly showed off her signature.


“She has beautiful writing,” said S.

“Is that worth a lot of money,” R asked.

“It’s priceless,”  I said.

In an after school conference, a parent mentioned the story of the meteor. Her daughter had told her all about it.

Stories retold; that’s magic.

Patricia Polacco touched our hearts and left hope. Of being a writer, a reader, and a storyteller.

This week I celebrate Patricia and our school’s dear friend Dayna Wells, who sought out and shared the magic that is Patricia Polacco.

Celebrate: Think Time

This week has had it’s ups and downs. The trick is not letting it get to you. The up or the down.  Looking back to find the small moments to celebrate is big. It keeps me moving forward. Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for creating this space that honors the small stuff.

celebrate link up

This week marked the end of our personal narrative writing unit. This week I assessed their growth.  Watching students muscle through their thinking, settling on an idea and then proceeding to execute it in 45 minutes is fascinating and gut-wrenching.

A few jump right to it, hammering out line after line.

A few sketch, then write.

Several flip through their notebooks, filled with stuff.

A few just sit, staring into space.

Some fidget, clearly in pain.

And I watch the time slip by. Silently panicking for those who are playing with their pens or staring into space.

Fifteen minutes pass. By this point, most have gotten their stories going.

E sits with nothing. Nada.

I pace the room and wrap back around eventually circling behind E.

Miraculously, his paper is filled, and he’s on to page two.

I breathe. I’ve seen this happen. The kid who sits and waits and then bam. There it is. He’s the kid who needs to marinate.

This process of assessment is necessary. I hate doing it, but I need to see what they are holding on to and what needs to be worked.

The thing is – I know I would have been the one sitting, staring into space. I wasn’t asked to write in class “on demand” until I was in college, and I remember the shock of it. Now it’s expected of little ones. They get used to it and for the majority of students, it shows what they can do.

But what about kids like E. Like me?

Soon time’s up, and E hands me three filled pages. He looks at me earnestly and says, “This is the just the beginning. Can I have it back to finish next week?”

This week I celebrate kids who need to sit and think. The ones that have a lot to sift through before they commit their words to the page.

This week I celebrate the ones that want their writing back because it means something to them. They have a story to finish.

Celebrate This Week: Small Steps to Build Big

It’s the beginning of the school year, and then all of a sudden, the beginning ends and you start to get worried.

We take small steps toward goals. Sometimes in the wrong direction. We try, self-correct. Then take another step. The pace is slow. You worry. “Will we get there?”

I go through this every year. Every year. I worry for students that need to run not walk, towards learning. They meander and get a little lost.

This week marks the 100th Celebrate This Week link up with Ruth Ayers. Of those 100, I have missed just one. I didn’t start out thinking about a goal. Post number one happened. It was a safe place. I was nurtured and encouraged with gracious comments. Then post number two. And somehow, week after week another small post. Many weeks, I didn’t think I could or would. But somehow I did. And here I am looking back, surprised.

And that’s the thing. What’s possible isn’t apparent at the beginning.  For many, potential is buried and needs to be dug out. Cultivated. That takes patience and time and belief.

This week I conferred. One by one. I started to see a little light.  A pattern of needs. Small groups of students began to align. A few simple teaching points and follow-up conferences happened.

This week, even though the mountain we need to climb is daunting, I keep reminding myself, we can only do it a step at a time.

This week I celebrate small steps toward big goals.

What students say:

“Is there another book in this series? Will you get it?”

“My goal is to read every I Survived book.”

“We’re writing a 200-page picture book. I have a lot of work to do.”

“Where do you get those tiny post-its? They really help me.”

What students do:

Line up to recommend books.

Create waiting lists to get those coveted books.

Leave a notebook with a post-it saying, “Please read this Mrs. Harmatz.”

Write every day in notebooks and on devices. Their stories.

Read every day, books of their choosing.

This week we stepped closer to becoming readers and writers.

This week I celebrate the small that builds to big.

Thank you, Ruth and congratulations on the 100th link up.

Every week celebrating the week builds big. Read more posts here.

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From 365 Days of Wonder

Celebrate this Week: Notebooks and Students Full of Promise

This summer Saturday is slipping by with cleaning and conversations.

Before I get too deep into the afternoon, I need to take a moment to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayres at Discover, Play, Build.



Two boxes full of promise and potential.

Clean. Beautiful.



Color-filled pens.

 Notebooks to match.

Waiting in line.

For thoughts not yet thought.


School mail surprise!

Heartstrings pulled.
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An email.



Dear R…

We would like to publish your poem, “Classroom” in a new poetry book entitled Eloquence.
   We recently sent you a notification letter that the poem you submitted through your teacher at school (Julieanne Harmatz at Park Western Elementary) or online through our website had been officially registered in The America Library of Poetry 2015 Student Poetry Contest. … we wanted to congratulate you on your submission and let you know that the various rounds of grading are continuing through the summer with the winners to be announced on September 30th.
   We’ll be awarding several prizes in each grade division along with random prizes just for entering, things like a Laptop Computer or iPod Touch, School’s Out Shopping Spree, Gift Cards, and of course the $500 U.S. Cash Grand Prize.
   We also had some other exciting news especially for you. The America Library of Poetry would like to publish your poem in a new book entitled Eloquence. This compilation represents a small cross-section of select poetry we have received this year and is scheduled to be released this fall. Again, our congratulations as this is not an offer we make to everyone who sent us a submission.
In fact, it may interest you to know that less than 20 percent of the authors we read will have the honor of seeing their work in print. It is truly something that we hope will encourage you to continue writing creatively and something in which you can take a great deal of pride. Of course,Eloquence will be under copyright only as a compilation. You will retain all rights to your individual work. (italics and bold type added)
Today I celebrate students past and future.
The present is waiting inside those notebooks.
I put the pieces together and realize all that paper, all those pens, all those writing workshops, and everything in between adds up and sometimes we get an email, an award, an honor. And sometimes, we get a shout out and a wave at Target saying, “Hey, Mrs. Harmatz!” Both are gold.  Today, I remember and celebrate all the students.
Past. Present.Future.

Celebrate This Week: Summer Learning Together

Time to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. This practice is rejuvenating and centering. I recommend it. You can fincelebrate link upd this week’s posts and add yours here.

First off, this is my 300th post. And it all started here. Thank you, Ruth, and all who celebrate beside me. You have made me a better writer, reader and teacher.

Sadly, I “taught” writing for years without actually doing any authentic writing of my own.  Writing in this space has opened my eyes and heart not only to what writing might be but also to what needs to be done to teach anything well.

My second celebration is the writing about reading Twitter chat, #WabtR, on Tuesday. We had read Cynthia Lord’s new book A Handful of Stars as a virtual club, writing and sharing our notebook jots on a Google doc. The intent of our chat was to talk mostly about our reactions to the process.  I thought it might be a small group, so I offered to host. I had no idea. Oh my gosh. It was a wild party of reading enthusiasts.  Wild and wonderful. If you missed it check out the Storify here.

And look who showed up!

Goosebumps, right?  I’ve read all of her books and met her at NCTE, along with a long line of others waiting to get her autograph.  What a thrill to see her on Twitter at our chat.

Our chat and my reaction to it made me think. And, leads to my third celebration this week, reading professional literature. Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass’s new book, Digital Reading, is a joy.  In the spirit of Donalyn Miller, it authentically recognizes how the digital imgres-1world enhances our reading lives. Franki looks at how she uses digital media personally and then takes that to her students.

Our teacher Google book club, Twitter chat and appearance of the author is just one example of how digital reading could go. It’s not just reading an e-book or doing research on the web or writing about reading electronically or connecting with an author. It’s all of it combined in a purposeful way to get more out of reading.

I’m also devouringimgres-2 Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Bottom line, if you teach reading K through 6, get this book. Serravallo does a beautiful job delineating what students need and how to get them there. I’ve taught reading to 5th graders for 11 years, boy I wish I had this book sooner!

Serravallo’s descriptions of text attributes by level help teachers understand the literacy journey our students travel.

Every year I have kiddos on the edges of that bell curve. This book will help target their needs with straightforward strategies by level and goal.

On deck: Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing teacher and the new Reading Units of Study from Lucy Calkins et. al.

My fourth celebration is for the next round of virtual book club reading. After our reading and chat on A Handful of Stars, many wanted more. So we split off into smaller groups choosing books that fit our learning needs. I choose, what I hope is a “just right” read for me, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Some have taken the work to their schools. My school will reading on Honey by Sarah Weeks.

Finally, I’m celebrating a few more weeks of summer: to enjoy the fruits of the season, stretch out long days filled with sunshine, reading and connecting with others in this digital world of ours.


Learning together as we ask our students to do is the best kind of summer learning. 

Celebrate: Time for Summer Learning

One of the benefits of being a teacher is summertime learning.

This week I celebrate this annual indulgence. Find more celebrations here. Thank you, Ruth, for this weekly opportunity to reflect joyfully.

celebrate link up

First I want to celebrate my blog makeover. When I started blogging, I had no clue. I looked at themes and chose the one with the plainest possible appearance. I wanted to be low key, unnoticed, invisible.  And that was a good place for my insecure self. Now my blog has become a safer place. A notebook of sorts. Friends stop by. I have some extra time, why not remodel.

I played around with some color. For a few minutes, my blog had a bright yellow background. Then green, blue and finally this lovely share of grey-green. Ok, I’m still the gal that wears no makeup, low key. But, the picture at the top can be changed. Allows for a little wild and crazy.

My second celebration is writing about reading A Handful of Stars with my virtual colleagues. The writing has accelerated my thinking and meaning making around this book in ways I didn’t expect. The simple post-it or jot in the journal has exploded on collaborative Google docs. Each participant has offered their thoughts, each reader adding into the discussion and the thinking.  Throughout this, I wonder, how to bring this collective, complex, and engaging thinking about reading to students. Working on that one.

Next I want to celebrate the virtual summer camp program sponsored by the National Writing Project, CLMOOC It’s outside-the-box thinking about teaching and writing: fun and a little scary. I’ve attempted one and done a lot of “stalking” or should I say analyzing mentor text to figure out what might work for me. Yesterday, I saw Margaret Simon’s offering for week #3. It is a simple but beautiful word play game using game cards from Apples to Apples. It accommodates players abilities by allowing them to create sentences or poetry.

Taking cues from Margaret’s example and my virtual book club experience, I came up with this game, Capture the Quote.  In our club work, many found that lifting lines from the text and writing about them was a powerful way to grow thinking. This game attempts to help students explore lines in books as we did.  Students could use this as a game during a club meeting, small group work, to begin, end, or in the middle of reading workshop. The “value” of a quote could then be debated. Some lines, by virtue of the random choice, will be less powerful than others. That’s a lesson in itself. It seems to work for A Handful of Stars. In the spirit of game design, test it out on something you’re reading. Does it work for you?

Finally, I celebrate the power of my future students’ writing notebooks. My incoming fifth graders left their old notebooks with me for the summer. I thought, in my teacher mind, I could find teaching points, group them, put them on a continuum of learning.

But I found more. In every notebook, I see their school persona but also a bit of who they are. What they want and dream. What worries them. What matters. Alongside the lessons of how to find a small moment, write a compound sentence, and stretch your thinking are words filled with the passion and humor of being nine. Those lovely gems shine through and say this is me!

I wonder what people think when they look at me. They don’t know what I’m really like.

I snuck in the kitchen, late at night when everyone was asleep, I ate ice cream, it was delicious.

My brother was the golden boy, he was Mr. Little Prince until the dentist.

Pink is the best. Sometimes soccer teams wear pink…on their shoes like my dad.

I wish people called me the best basketball player ever, the smartest person ever

I got in trouble–accidentally

People who don’t like sports just haven’t learned how to play, yet. I was like that.

Reading student writing always makes me laugh and fall in love just a little bit.

Taking the time to read their writing makes my virtual and often theoretical summer learning more concrete. Real. A notebook or two a day keeps me in touch. Grounded.

Every day my learning expands. And I’m so grateful for it.

Then I read a notebook or two. And try to process that learning through the lens of a soccer player, a little brother, a Minecraft expert, a passionate reader, a comic book writer, a believer in the power of all kinds of sports, a big sister, a video gamer, a cat lover.

This week I celebrate the joy of time that lets me read, think, learn and grow alongside published children’s authors’, trade book writers’, my colleagues’ and students’ words.

Celebrating: My Digital Life

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers! As always, thank you, Ruth. Your link up has led me to so much learning and joy. And thank you to all you add to this weekly celebration. Click here to read others and add your own voice.

celebrate link up


This week’s post is all about my digital life, so it serves as a #digilit post as well! Thank you, Margaret Simon for sending out this weekly call. Find others here.


This week I’ve been organizing. It’s what we teachers do when the summer starts. We sort through all “the stuff” that’s been shoved aside for later.

In the past, that organization was papers, files, books. It’s still papers, files, and books, but now there is more,  and it’s quiet. It doesn’t take up that much space. No one would notice it if they walked into your home. It’s shoved away in a silent, sleek, silver exterior. It’s my laptop. A digital nightmare. That mailbox, those files scattered all over the desktop, those pictures! ACK!!

First my email. I deleted, filed and unsubscribed to emails.

Then, I noticed my photos were everywhere: on my desktop, in the cloud, scattered in various files on my computer. I went down that rabbit hole of click file, delete.  All the while, I obsessively check my email to delete and unsubscribe. By the end of Tuesday, I could claim a managed email inbox and a tidy desktop. Fireworks!! Yeah! Celebrate!

In the process, I found an email from CLMOOC. I had seen Margaret Simon’s work on this here. (To be honest, this was one of the motivating factors behind my digital cleanup. I couldn’t find the email I knew I should have received!)

The call was to “remediate” a story, artifact, picture, blog post, whatever. The word remediate in this project did not mean to “remedy” or fix a problem, as it does in the world of education. This “Make Cycle” task was to take something, an artifact, picture, story, quote, anything and see it through another medium or lens. In this process, the “message” of the media would change. Our mission what to translate, and notice

the… ways in which moving from one medium to another changes what we are able to communicate and how we are able to do so.

I thought of all the pictures I’d sorted. Perhaps I could find a tool that could “remediate” a series of pictures. I’ve used Canva, PicMonkey, and Waterlogue. Each of these digital tools had strengths. I had a little extra time, perhaps I could find another tool.

After a few Google searches and experimentations,  I found befunky. This site allows for photo collages and text like PicMonkey and Canva as well as photo manipulation like Waterlogue.  And it’s free.

BeFunky Collage2


Celebration number two: befunky!

But wait, I have two more things to celebrate with you. Both digital.

Fran McVeigh. Last week TCRWP had their Summer Reading Institute. I was home but enjoyed tweets and Fran McVeigh’s blog posts, every day. This week I celebrate the contribution Fran makes to our learning community. Click here to enjoy.

A Handful of Stars Virtual Book Club. I mentioned this last week. We “officially” start Monday, so tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts on this blog as to how and where to share. Check the link above if you want to join in.

Happy Celebration Saturday!



Celebrating Story

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. This practice helps me notice the little things worth celebrating, the things that might slip past. Read more celebrations (or add your own) here.

celebrate link up

Traveling this week, I saw a lot of things, and I heard stories from people in line, on planes, in restaurants. Some I overheard. Some were offered. All were gifts. All added to my understanding and the richness of being in this world.

On Friday, my daughter and I took a cab to the airport. I climbed in and there at my feet was a football. Immediately, I liked this driver.

“Hey, did someone leave a football?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s my son’s. He wanted to take it to camp. I told him, they’d have all kinda balls at camp! But no, he wanted his ball.”

The way the driver chuckled and shook his head said a lot. This kid was his joy. He went on to talk about his nephew, his other four grown children, his wife. Love and pride seeped from every word.

Then he’d get back to his boy.

“He’s a Katrina baby, a miracle child. Nine years old and wants to do everything. I tell him he can’t do everything. But he tries. Yep, he’s my treadmill; he keeps me going. He saved me.”

And I wonder how many ways this child saved his dad.

Closing in on the airport we pass Xavier University, and we learn. “My daughter goes there. She’s in pharmacy school. It’s one of the top programs in the country. She’s got it all under control. She doesn’t have a choice, can’t get anything past her momma (she’s a school teacher).”

Did I mention how much I like this guy?

He laughs.

Oh yeah, I say, and smile, looking over at my daughter.

“She’s got a nice boyfriend too; does the right things. You know what I mean? Not just the big stuff. The big things are easy. Birthdays and holidays. It’s the small things that matter. Those are the things I watch for.  Those are the things that tell you about a person.”

They certainly do.

This week I celebrate the little things, like telling a story, sharing a little bit of yourself and with that passing on some joy, some wisdom, when you don’t have to.

Celebrate: The Summertime Migration of a Teacher

Happy weekend! It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. celebrate link upThis week I celebrate cleaning up my classroom and the pleasures of viewing my year in reverse.

Packing up the books we loved is physical and emotional exercise. Those beautiful books that ended the year are tucked away for the time when the new crop of kiddos will be ready for them. Books stacked in carefully marked boxes will be presents to opened next school year.  Slowly, the classroom library disappears inside and on top of cabinets.

Picture books, potential read alouds, and professional texts I can’t part with I put on the things-to-take-home table.


Pulling out the work we did over the year, I’m pleased and surprised with all we did. I stack up genius hour projects, paper blogs, comic strips about Westward Expansion, reading reflections, annotations on poetry as possible mentor texts.

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A handful of student work (high, medium and not so medium) I add to the take home pile.

Charts are piled high on one table.  I repost each one on the whiteboard, snap a picture, and put it in the recycling bin.

iPads need to be stored and cleaned out. Going through the customized screen savers and camera rolls, I see remnants of the students they were. Silly videos, Canva designs they made, word clouds, the histories of their digital lives in 5th grade. It’s better than a yearbook!

Four boxes sit on the carpet. They contain the reading and writing histories of my incoming students. Running records and writing notebooks are my summer homework. They allow me a very privileged peek at the future.  I see what they love, how they doodle, their “one sunny day” stories, their firsts and lasts, their heart maps, and the sentences they crafted over the year.


These treasures are loaded on a cart outside my classroom.

I close the door, hand over the keys, and roll the cart to my car.

As I leave the parking lot, my classroom village is dismantled, and my car is filled. I celebrate the seasonal shift of a teaching life. The pace and the purpose changes. It’s time to look backward and plan forward.

Thank you, Ruth, for your link up and the joyful, reflective practice of weekly celebration. Read more here.

Celebrate: Field Trip Adventures and Homecomings

I spent the last three days and two nights on Catalina lsland with 108 fifth graders and 17 adult chaperones. This fifth grade field trip is something students will always remember. It is a life changer for many. And, it is always very stressful. This week I celebrate those brave parents and students who overcame a lot of fear to reach those rewards. 

The trip was a huge leap for parents who sent their babies off on a boat to an island 20 miles away.

It was an even bigger leap for students who ventured into so many unknowns. From the snorkeling with fish to the foreign bathroom conditions, students had to overcome uncomfortable situations. After tentative attempts and lots of nudging by supportive adults, they ventured into deeper waters, played, and learned in this wondrous environment.

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This week I celebrate all of the adults who took time out of their lives to support all children in this venture. It is a big deal being away from your family, living in different spaces, being asked to do different things. The adult chaperone team made it possible for all students to be successful.  I can’t thank them enough.

This week I celebrate coming home to moms and dads who ran to meet their children wanting to know all about it.

This week I celebrate the children who walked arm in arm with their sibling back to the car.

This week I celebrate coming home to my son picking me up, my daughter giving me hugs, and my husband ever supportive. I celebrate my bed oh so comfortable, my cat sleeping at my feet, a good cup of coffee this morning and two days to recover!

Thank you to Ruth Ayers and this link up to Celebrate this Week. I am forever grateful to her for this opportunity and to those who share their celebrations. Read more here.

celebrate link up