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A D.E.A.R. kind of day- Happy Birthday Mrs.Cleary!

Dear KEEN Ones,

Today is April 12th, National Drop Everything and Read day and the birthday of Beverly Cleary, noted children’s author. Her books are some of the best classics – Ramona the Great, Henry Huggins, and the list goes on. I remember reading her books as a little girl, so enthralled by the mayhem her characters got into. They seemed so real, it was as if I could go outside and see the same type of madness in my neighborhood. I would sit in my bathtub and read for hours, until my mom beckoned me to get out or my skin was so wrinkly and cold I couldn’t take it anymore. Reading the Cleary books took me straight to Klickitat Street, and not only was my joy for reading becoming more evident, my vocabulary was growing by leaps and bounds. Mrs. Cleary always used vocabulary that made you use context clues to figure out the meaning. Still, that is a skill I treasure, and I can thank Mrs. Cleary and Judy Blume personally for that.  (Judy Blume is my hero!)

From reading the Cleary books I learned what “sustained silent reading” was.  I included D.E.A.R. as part of my classroom environment when I taught sixth grade. Just like Ramona and her classmates, my students  asked me if they had to write a report  after they read. When I told them no, that’s when I found out who my “Jewels” (that was my nickname for them) really were. Those same students who I fought tooth and nail to read a paragraph aloud or turn in a book report on time had taken themselves to the library to participate in my D.E.A.R. time. Some liked books about cars, all of the girls like the Babysitters club, some of the boys wanted to read Goosebumps. My non-non readers even brought in magazines; nevertheless, they were reading. I was blown away. As I wanted to get in tune with a book myself during our D.E.A.R. time, but  I would just observe how the Jewels, just like me, seemed to be in another world. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know all of the words or had never seen the story in real life. They wanted to read and relate in some way to what was happening in their story. For me, this revealed a vulnerability that I think all people share – how can I relate?  Think about it. Your experiences, your friends, those whom you feel connected to – in some way you can relate to them. As a child, your exposure to people, ideas and things helped to develop this in you- what you like, don’t like and so on. Sometimes, it just takes a good read from a good book to gain that exposure. With authors like Mrs. Cleary, they make the characters  easy to relate to and find what you have in common. As adults, you are much more personable, willing to try new things and seemingly get along better in life. Your perspective on life changes. If things aren’t so good, read about someone who may be facing something worse. That always makes what you go through seem a little bit easier, don’t you think?

As educators, it is very important that we are sensitive to this childlike vulnerability and make sure our classrooms are a place of discovery. From age 2-18 children are impressionable, so it is important to build our learning environments around what they should know, what they want to know and what they may want to know. When we started to do D.E.A.R, I allowed my students to discover a world or people who in their wildest dreams they would have never thought they’d experience, let alone read about. Hold on- let me paint the picture of my students and classroom: inner-city Washington D.C. school, “at-risk”population, 65% labeled Special Education, 10 to 15 student ratio boys to girls, grade 6. Now you tell me- how would you react to seeing a student who sees guns and violence daily reading about a Babysitters club? Better yet, a foster child fascinated by the “choose your own adventure” books (remember those?), giving her the chance to make decisions about something when all her life other people made decisions (not family) on where she will live, how she would manage, how  she should “be” in that situation. For the Jewels, books made life better, calmer and “do-able”.  As their teacher I could only influence their perspectives academically, and D.E.A.R was one way to do that. I think that is innovative learning at it’s best. In fact, once I indirectly got to know my students, I knew the analogies I could use to get them to be more expressive. My journal topics became more personable. For my scary story readers, I would ask them to write about how it feels to watch a scary movie. For my adventure seekers, I would ask them to describe the feeling of driving a Herbie the “lovebug” car.  Because they were exposed to some of this through reading, it was much easier for them to express themselves this way and the journals were not consumed with random doodling anymore. The first step in them developing who they would become was happening, all through 20 minutes of D.E.A.R.

I love to celebrate this day, April 12th, as it marks the day that Beverly Cleary was born and the possibility of D.E.A.R. to exist. In her book, “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” she introduces the concept of D.E.A.R., allowing readers like you and me to follow in the footsteps of Ramona’s teacher.  That’s what Professional Development is really all about- teachers learning from other teachers in an effort to make teaching and learning make sense.  Thanks Mrs. Cleary.


— to learn more about Drop Everything and Read, visit their website:

— need some good choices for books? Check out:

— want some info on the best practices to reading? Check out:

Professional Development for parents: They are teachers too!

Haven’t you heard this before- “the parent is the first teacher”. C’mon teachers, who do we blame for those students who come into our classrooms with— well, you know. In thinking about all of the teachers in a students’ lifetime, I thought about how many of them have to do professional development.  And, wouldn’t that be a great idea for parents? Seriously! Now, I would not dare suggest a PD session on parenting, (not my lane) but on how to be a better teacher- I’m here for it!! My Mama- one of the greatest teachers I know.

Quick story: When I was in grade seven, I hated World History. The teacher was cool, but those timelines, wars, and all that jazz- I couldn’t wrap my mind around it at all.  I earned a D in the first quarter, prompting my mother to intervene. Oh yes, she had much to say. She was very encouraging- not of the grade, but my lack of enthusiasm about World History. She explained history in a way I could really relate. She said that  events or things that we treasure today can be researched and traced back to historic events. She told me to think of it as a sitcom or something I watch on TV how events link onto others. To be honest, she specifically referenced  All my Children and how Erica Kane’s love life was the cause of so much drama in Pine Valley. She explained to me that World History is just the same-as one situation ends, another is created, based from the history of the one prior.  Now, if my fine teacher would have explained it to me this way ( ix-nay All my Children), then I surely would have gotten a better grade. Seasoned educators would call this connecting the skill to the familiar, but my mama, she wanted to make sure that D became a C, or better. History for me became the reason why things exist. Whenever I learned something and wanted to know more about it, I would go home and look it up in encyclopedia (no Google back then). This led to many ‘a night reading encyclopedias. Not only did this help my analytical skills, but it also increased my  sense of discovery. I became the family’s fact finder, and the love of learning new stuff still fulfills me today.  This has also helped me to become a better teacher, especially for breaking the ice with my global students. If I’m able to connect with something they know, I’ve pretty much got them wrapped around my finger.

Think back to your childhood. who taught you how to get dressed, brush your teeth, make up your bed? It was likely your mom or dad, and as children get older, learning from parents will evolve from “how can I know this” to “why should I know this”. How hard is it for us to explain why a noun is a person. place, or thing and a verb is an action word? From our perspective, these are the simple rules to grammar, but from a child’s perspective, the question of why I need to know this is most times unanswered. That’s where the “parent teacher” comes in. Just like making up your bed TEACHES you how to be more responsible and more cleanly, parents should be just as involved in explaining that proper grammar usage will help with properly communicating things desired.  If parents were more active in the “why factor”,  educational programs would be so much easier to implement. That’s what learning is all about- determining who, what, when, where, and why, making sure that it becomes something valued, useful, and applied to production. We can’t always depend on parents to instinctively know what to teach, but I do believe that teachers will have better classroom experiences if “the why factor” is  reinforced at home.

Now, I know in some school settings  it’s a challenge to get parents to come to most school events that don’t involve immediate information about their child- school plays, report cards, etc. My advice- use the time you have. Open House nights, orientations, anytime you know the parents are coming, find the time. Those are the times when you should really set the tone of your interactions with the students  and what ever involvement from the parent for the year. Write down your expectations, do a Parent PD while they are there, and make yourself available for questions anytime.

As it turns out, this is a topic that has some  historical background. Check out these sites that agree with me about PD for parents: – this is actually a PD session for teachers to engage parents in student achievement, BUT a wise school leader can take the information and help their teachers develop a workshop for parents. – this webinar series features discussion from representatives from the National PTA. – This presentation by Dr. Diana Lys pretty much explains to teachers how they can engage parents. this can (should) be converted to a parent workshop.






k.e.e.n. is….

a practical perspective on issues education, beyond the status quo.

What does that mean?

I know I you’ve been wondering, “is there  someone out there who can relate to what’s going on at my school, with my students and with me?” All these Facebook and Twitter seem to under gird motives of the next educational trend- common core, IB, STEM, STEAM, or who knows what.  We get that, but if you are an inquisitive educator like we are, you just need a minute away from the noise, read a few quirky blog posts and get some resources while you’re at it.

If that’s you, welcome.

We are teachers, administrators, consultants, education leaders who like to talk about, vent all things education. We really like to focus on professional development and training, but don’t be surprised to find education policy rants or raves.  While our roots are in Western-based learning environments, we do believe that global education makes perfect sense. that’s why we’re k.e.e.n. international.

We understand that our students have some huge shoes to fill. That’s why it’s important that we get our education systems right, or at least try to. Okay, we can agree that there is no one way to do education, but the more we talk about it, the better equipped we are to prepare our students to fill in those shoes.

So that’s what we’re all about – knowing how to empower and engage our students locally and globally, creating a network of information to help us help our students fill those shoes.