"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

...and neither was building a learning community in our library.

This was our second full week of school and our second conversation around creating a community of learners.

My message to students looked like this:

Welcome Library Learners,
Today we continue our conversation about community.  My question is still, "How can you help make our library a learning community?"  We will review, read, and reflect. Happy Reading and Learning, Mrs. Reed

If you read last week's post, you have a gist of what went on during our first conversation.  Without boring you with the details, I will tell you that we reviewed last week's book (Tea Party Rules!) and last week's discussion.  I then showed the students the poster splashes they contributed to and brought their attention to the new signs.  Under the question, "How can you help make our library a learning community?"  I had written four things:

*Raise your hand

*Listen to others
*Contribute your ideas
*Take risks

As I was typing up the sign, I realized that the behaviors were somewhat hierarchical. Raising one's hand, leads to others listening, which means students are contributing their ideas and that this all involves taking a certain amount of risk. Cool beans.

We interrupt this post for a tangential note, something I know is not an effective teaching strategy, but which sometimes engages the students (or hopefully, readers). On Monday, I was driving home from work when Fresh Air came on my local NPR affiliate.  Terry Gross was speaking with Debora Spar about her new book, Wonder Women.  During this interview, Spar and Gross discuss an article about a Harvard University case study.  One aspect they discussed was that the study had found that women in the Harvard Business School lagged in class participation compared to male counterparts.  They discovered that it had to do with breaking down women's ideas that they had to have the right answer and should not say things that would please the professor.  I used this example (with some broad brush strokes and a bit of background about the rigorous nature of be accepted to HBS) as a vignette for the students.  We talked about contributing ideas and taking risks. I hope it encourages them to be active members of this community. I also hope they were able to hear how cool it was that something I was thinking about - taking risks and contributing to a conversation - was also being talked about during the same week!

After discussion about this part of our conversation, I introduced Each Kindness written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. This book is incredible, but don't take my word for it.  This book was recognized with a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 2013 Jane Addams Peace Award, 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award, Best Book of 2012 – School Library Journal. Here's a synopsis from Jacqueline Woodson's Website, "A new girl comes to school and tries to make friends. When Chloe, the narrator, is unkind, the girl keeps trying. And then the girl is gone and Chloe is left only with the memory of her unkindness."  

I read Each Kindness. 

After I finished the last page, I closed the cover and let it stand upright on my lap. My library was silent. After a minute, I asked for reflection, comments, concerns, reactions. The floodgates opened. My students wanted to talk about this book.  

There are a few specific reasons why I think this book is so powerful, but before I share mine, here is what some of my students had to say:

"I didn't like the ending."

"I wanted Maya's reflection to appear in the pond water and tell the girl it was okay."

"I wanted Maya to come back."

"It was sad."

" I wanted the girl to be able to right a letter to Maya."

"I think it was very powerful and interesting but it could have ended a little more happy.  It was very sad, but I liked that Chloe reflected on her actions."

"I loved the illustrations, they made it look real."

"When Maya comes to the school, Chloe judges her on how she looks, that's not right. it only mentions Chloe's name once, so at the end I felt like I was Chloe. I always try to be nice, but now I am going to try harder because each stone ripples into the water and I want to have a place with that stone."

Right. It's that powerful.

After dropping a stone into a bowl of water, the teacher tells the students, "This is what kindness does," Ms. Albert said. "Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world."

Why I love this book:

This book encourages readers to choose kindness the first time. 
This story is powerful because there is no happy ending. There is hope, but not a happy ending.  We do children a disservice when they think they can always make things right and that everyone leaves happy. The students all understood and felt Chloe's remorse. Most of the students felt Chloe had changed and would be a different person the next time someone new came to her classroom. We all make mistakes and are unkind, either purposefully or inadvertently and hopefully we grow and become better human beings from these experiences.

This book demonstrates the power of naming things.
The name that stays with the reader and stayed with my students was the name of the victim, Maya, not the unkind child, Chloe. Jacqueline Woodson only mentions Chloe's name twice and it is on the same page in adjacent sentences.  I would like to think she did this purposefully because it makes Chloe's character and that role more universal.  Instead of vilifying a character in a story, it allows the reader to place him or herself in her shoes.

This book empowers children.
It is not clear whether the teacher chose to bring in the kindness lesson because of what was happening in the classroom, but Chloe takes on the journey of reflection on her own.

This book allows for a shift in perspective.
This is an authentic story that gives the reader the perspective of the person who was unkind.  The honesty with which Chloe is recounting her story and insight into her reflecting on the moments of kindness slipping past her is not often see in a picture book.

The illustrations make the story timeless yet real.
The illustrations by E.B. Lewis match the power of the text. They create mood and tone. They help bring authenticity. 
There is so much more to say about this book, but you should experience it for yourself.

How did I end this lesson?

I asked the children to Choose Kindness. I spoke about the things they had just mentioned.  I spoke about being an inclusive and supportive learning community. I explained that I wanted to change my original question to this:

"How can you help make our library a SAFE learning community for ALL LEARNERS?"

The answer?

Be the person 
whose kindness ripples out into the world.

We won't build community in two weeks, but we've started the journey, we are traveling the Via Appia.

**I carry Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Kindness, with me always.


  1. Hello Jennifer,

    My name is Jamie Coffey and I am the Special Assistant to the President of Barnard College, Debora Spar. I noticed you have featured Debora's new book on your blog - we were simply wondering if you could provide a link to our website, http://wonderwomenthebook.com, somewhere in the post so your audience can easily find not only where to buy the book, but also where to find more information on Debora, the book tour, our video trailer, exclusive blog posts, other press coverage, etc.

    The ultimate goal of Debora’s work is to reach audiences just like yours with her message, so we thank you for sparking this important conversation that needs to be had for the benefit of all women everywhere.


    1. Hi Jamie,

      I have changed the links. I moved the one that links to NPR and added the one you requested. I am so glad you found my post!

      best regards,