I am a better teacher–by far–because I learn from my favorite teacher-bloggers. I live and work in an isolated area, and I am pretty much a one-person show as the Teacher Educator in my department. But I never feel isolated in my work. Through reading, commenting, and blogging myself, I am able to participate in a lively community of teachers who reflect upon and share their learning. I share blogs frequently in my courses for pre-service teachers. In fact, most of the readings in the current version of my Methods course come from teacher blogs. I’ve decided to start a regular new feature highlighting and celebrating Blogs I Can’t Do Without. Interestingly, many of the bloggers I learn from most are elementary teachers.
Carrie Gelson at There’s a Book for That writes beautifully and concisely about children’s books–the books she shares with her own children as well as the books she shares in her classroom. Carrie places reading at the center of her classroom because she knows that a love of books and reading has the power to transform lives.
It’s impossible to read one of her short reviews without wanting to read the book. I was recently reading her list of recommended Middle Grade Fiction and found myself wanting to reread books I’ve already read and wasn’t intending to reread–just because Carrie is such a good book salesman. In my Adolescent Literature class, we joke about being #bookpushers4life, and Carrie has become one of the most important book pushers in my reading life.
Every Monday, I look forward to reading Carrie’s words about the books she’s read and shared over the past week. I discover many new titles and add copiously to my TBR list. I also feel encouraged by Carrie’s words to return to books I may have read too quickly or dismissed as “not my kind of book.” When Carrie loves a book that I don’t love, I pause. We don’t always like the same books, but when Carrie loves something that I don’t, I know that I need to think more carefully about my response because there is something there in that book that I missed on a first reading.
Carrie shares a more detailed look at how her students interact with children’s literature on her classroom blog, Curiosity Racers. I shared a post about her students’ responses to Deborah Heiligman’s wonderful picture book biography of mathematician Paul Erdos with my college-level Children’s Literature course after we read Heiligman’s book. We were amazed at the quality of thinking and wonder that happens when a teacher slows down, prioritizes student response, and goes deep with one very rich and wonderful picture book. I learn so much from Carrie about how to think more deeply about texts and how to engage children in rich book discussions.
It’s clear from her two blogs that Carrie knows how to build a supportive, caring community in a classroom. But she is also able to do that in a much less likely space: online. Carrie’s generosity in the online teaching and kidlit community has taught me valuable lessons. When I started commenting on Carrie’s blog, I was so surprised that she responded to my comments–every single time! In fact, I noticed that Carrie responds to each and every comment posted on her blog. And she gets a lot of comments! It may seem fairly obvious to many of you that it’s a good thing to take the time to respond when someone comments on your blog post. But it had never occurred to me! Thanks to Carrie’s example, I now try to respond to every comment I get on my blog. And–no surprise here–I’ve noticed that the more I respond and interact with my readers, the more comments and feedback I get on my work. I also appreciate that Carrie takes time to read and comment on other bloggers’ posts and shares posts she enjoys or finds important with her learning network on Twitter. Through her blog and tweets, I’ve discovered many other teachers, librarians, and readers who now help me learn.
Finally, Carrie reminds me to make my classroom a place of love and joy. These are not qualities we typically associate with the college classroom. They’re increasingly becoming qualities we don’t associate with school at any level. But Carrie lives her values through her work with her students and her work online: compassion, generosity, love, integrity, bravery, passion, joy.