Celebrate: Possiblities

celebrate link up

Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers is a ritual that I look forward to and for all week.  This process didn’t come naturally. I am one who tends to focus on the student I don’t reach, rather than the student I do.  So thank you Ruth for making me more attuned to celebrations, big and small. Read more celebrations here.

Today I celebrate possibilities.


“B” loves to read. It’s her passion. Her Genius Hour project is a to find out why do some kids not like to read. She researches, reads and takes notes. With each new finding she reports to me:

Mrs. Harmatz did you know…

…some kids’ brains develop differently and they have learning disabiiities

…40% of students struggle to read

…if a student is not reading on grade level by third grade, they may never catch up.  Mrs. Harmatz my brother is in 3rd grade!

But Mrs. Harmatz there are strategies I’ve found strategies!

…if you read aloud to your child

…if you have them write emails

…if you have them read books they love and then talk about the characters and their motivations

I have strategies Mrs. Harmatz!

Her passion is huge.

She tells me, I love to read about strategies to help kids learn to read.

I tell her, you love to read anything and everything.

I tell her, you need to share your learning.

She tells me, I want to be a teacher, Mrs. Harmatz.

It’s not hard to celebrate this student and her passion and hope she brings.


Kind, hard working, inquisitive, and the ability to do the right thing when it wasn’t an easy choice are the qualities that come to mind when I think of this former student. He was in the 60%, a reader. I was not surprised to hear this week he is applying to college, and seeking a recommendation for his application to Harvard. Regardless of whether or not he gets accepted, this is huge. I celebrate this student who goes big.  Who reaches to places that I would not have dared as a 17-year old. For him there are no limits.


“S” is struggling. His life is difficult. He has failed academically his entire life. He’s in that 40% that “B” is trying to understand. If I was to put a label on his disability I’d say dyslexic. But it’s not just that, there are other things that are in his way. Not sure what exactly, but we keep trying to find a way, “a strategy” to reach him. If I were to label the other part of his problem I’d say fear. Trying is scary. Why try and fail, again. He’s become an expert at trying for a little while and then giving up. Teachers get worn out, they have a whole classroom other than him. He’s learned that. A neat way to get around the painful process of trying. On Thursday we tried again. We created a plan and got what I thought was buy in.  He seemed excited, but the day one results were far less than I’d hoped for. Day two, I prompted a bit more and there was some improvement. While it is still far from what I know he can do, the improvement is there.  I celebrate this student’s tiny step towards trying.


A former student, now a seventh grader, stopped by on Wednesday. In fifth grade she was the poster girl for “YET.” Smart, sensitive, and learning disabled. She is in the 40% who struggle. I remember her saying, “reading is so hard, Mrs. Harmatz.” And it wasn’t just reading. Writing, and math were very hard. But she worked and she improved, but by the end of fifth grade she wasn’t there, yet. She gave one of our culmination speeches that year and in it she said, “reading is like a puzzle — you just have to put the pieces together.” This former student handed us a piece of writing on Wednesday that was shattering in content and form.Those pieces are clearly coming together, beautifully. Her YET is becoming NOW. I celebrate this student who has worked hard, been brave, and beaten the odds. She gives me hope for “S.”

It’s easy to see the bright futures for those in the 60%. But what about the 40%. The ones that might not catch up. There are times when it doesn’t seem possible. The road blocks are too big, too difficult to overcome. But when a former student comes back and shows you that yes it can be done, how can I doubt, or stop believing in possibilities, or stop trying. Today I’m learning from and looking up to my students who take take scary steps, have passion and belief, work hard against the odds, and dream big.

Slice of Life: When Just Opening the Door is Hard

It’s time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers!  Read a few more  or join us with a slice of your own and add it to the comments here11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s summer and time is stretched out.  Teachers are vacationing with family, lazing by the pool. But based on the blogs I read, summertime is also cherished learning time. Some are packing up and taking off for  teaching institutes, spending days away from their families with other passionate learners.  These opportunities give tangible examples of how to teach, but also the experience of being the student. To sit in that chair, to be engaged, to feel times of struggle, to be unsure of your answer, to misunderstand directions, to loose focus.

I certainly had all of these feelings last week at TCRWP’s summer reading institute.  I was energized and engaged. But I had moments when I struggled, when I wasn’t all I wanted to be. I was less than.  I couldn’t help but start to process things through the eyes of struggle.

It was Tuesday morning.  I had planned to run before class, and I knew I had to be out the door running at 6:00 am. This meant I had to get out of bed by 5:45. It was painful.  That morning my “no think, just do it” brain got me out of bed. Sometimes when I struggle, I get through by just doing, without thinking. I trust or believe that things will get better. That it will be worth it, at some point.

I search my purse for the hotel key card. I find my Metro card, my ATM, but no hotel card. I dump my purse’s contents out on the bed. A message pops up on my phone. I check it out. Hit the link. Minutes go by.  I reorganize my purse. More time eaten away. Eventually I find the hotel card, on the bedside table. When I’m fighting with the whole idea of running, getting out the door can be the hardest part. Something, anything can distract me. A phone message, an email, the smell of coffee, a newspaper, something I notice on the way to my keys. All of a sudden time has slipped by and I’m still not running.

Some of you might  applaud my efforts, saying, hey some exercise is better than none. And I can say that; pat myself on the back. But are we setting the bar a bit low?  Would you be thinking the same thing about a student who was starting a book with the same not thinking, just doing attitude, going through the motions so to speak.  How is my struggle any different?

Enter my classroom a few months ago and picture “Andy”  His ripped book baggie is on his desk, and he’s digging deep into his backpack looking for his book, his post its, his notebook, his pen. Book and pen discovered, they land on his desk. He continues to dig for the post its. After a bit, he looks up, looks around, spots the box of post its  on the shelf, and off he goes to retrieve some. Meanwhile his pen has rolled to the floor. Back at  his seat, minutes pass as he looks for that pen. The book is closed. He gets up, walks to where pens are stored in the writing center. Finally back at his desk, the book opens. He’s doing what looks like he’s suppose to do but the lack of desire, the lack of purpose, the just-go-through-the-motions attitude is apparent. Reading is  a painful struggle for him.

I’m thinking you recognize this reader. Do you recognize the process of struggle in yourself? Maybe not as a reader, but in some other place in your life?

When we have to do something that involves struggle, we’d rather do anything else. Not that we don’t want to be great runners or readers, eventually. Just right now, we’re tired.  It hurts.  But we have to do this. So we open the door. We open the book. And go through the motions.

Clearly something is better than nothing, but how much longer will this work continue. Improvement? Not much.  And it just isn’t good enough.

So as I enter my classroom next year, I know that struggle is the norm and overcoming it with purpose, passion and a plan is the goal.  I want to process my students through my own lens of struggle. Remembering how hard it can be and looking for what keeps us getting up and going out the door. Because I believe if we meet our struggles with purpose, passion and a plan we will find moments when we shine.





(Just?!) Focus — Celebrating the Struggle We All Face

celebrate link upThis may seem to be an odd type of celebration post. But, I’m looking to the possibility in celebrating this point of view. Thank you to all who participate in #celebratelu on Saturdays and to Ruth Ayers as creator and host. Join us here.

Picture this: The job isn’t getting done. The paper is blank, the book is open to page two. The only thing happening is time passing. This might look like someone who is lazy or just doesn’t care.

Sound familiar?

Any student you know? But this isn’t a student I’m describing. This is me.

I don’t normally operate like this and I hate it (and myself) when I do. I question my ability and my purpose. Sometimes I get dramatic and question my right to take up space.  Most days aren’t like this.  Most days are so full that they could fill three days. But today is this way. At this moment, I’m extremely uncomfortable and unmotivated.

Strangely I’m treasuring this discomfort. I’m trying to soak it up and not forget it. I’m trying to figure out why I got here and what I do to get out of this messy place. I am the inattentive and/or struggling student right now, confused, distracted and unsuccessful —  I have to (fill in the blank), and  I don’t want to.

This lack of motivation and lack of success happens to us all. And for those periods of unease, life is not good. Life is unfocused and without purpose. You don’t like yourself.

As an adult, I know, based on previous success, that I will get out of this slump. But for a young person who has never found their way out of this kind of feeling, it is a how life goes. They are lost and they have been lost for a long time. What does that do to them?  What do we educators do for them?

Every year I have “those” students. Getting them to succeed takes a lot of work on their part. Their mindset needs a huge shift, and it starts with me. Sitting in their shoes is a good first step. That’s why I am holding on to my uncomfortable lack of progress on assigned tasks and asking myself — what might help me right now so I can help my students.  I’m looking to establish a stance, a mindset that approaches students with some basic assumptions, feedback and modeling. Here are a few ideas I’m holding on to when I work with those who struggle: 

1. Acknowledge the confusion and let students know you face it too.

2. Know and let students know that there is a way to succeed. It just takes time to figure out. Some need more time.

3. Be patient with students and by example, teach them how to be patient with themselves.

4. Model persistence, don’t give up on them just because it is hard and seemingly hopeless. (How must they feel if that’s how you feel?)  

5. Assume students have good intent and want to learn, they have just lost faith. It’s your job to show that you have faith in them.

6. Capitalize on their gifts. Notice and name the gems you see in them. Make sure they know you see their value.

And speaking of gifts check out this TED talk by a student who clearly was/is one of those kids,

Any other thoughts on shifting the discussion from “just focus” to positive feedback and modeling?

Here’s to a embracing the confusion.