Sunday, December 8, 2013

Celebrations!!! and Welcome December!

Oh how I love joining Ruth Ayres' quest for slowing down and celebrating life...inside our classroom and outside of it as well.
So this week, I have several celebrations.

Celebration #1: A new series!

I was happily surprised to discover this new series of "Favorite Authors"at my local library. A Capstone Press publication now provides different authors' biographies that is written for children in mind. Love the accessible way that this book is written. The chapters are short but concise with great information. Words that are in bold print are explained and defined at the bottom of the page. The combination of photographs and illustrations is also another great layout of the book.  Each nonfiction book in the series is organized with a Table of Content, a timeline, glossary, a "read more"section, internet sites and Index. Biographies in this series include:
Barbara Park
Dav Pilkey
Grace Lin
Jeff Kinney
Mo Willems
Shel Silverstein.

What a wonderful resource to share with our students. It highlights the authors' journey, where they started and how they got to the place they stand. So important for our students to understand there is a life of trial and errors behind each author. So much to share and learn from each of them.

Celebration #2: Part of my #Nerdlution is to try something new each week. And to be honest with you...this is part of who I am...always in search of new things, new places and adventurous. Week #1 of #Nerdlution new thing includres trying a new restaurant in our awesome city of Columbus! Thanks to my adventurous food friends who wanted to join me in this quest. It helps to have great friends like Karen and Julie who are willing to take a chance with you. We were not disappointed. And now we all have something new to share with friends and family. Nerdlution made that happen...share your joys with others.

Celebration # 3
A snow day. On top of it...a Friday Snow Day. Seriously. What a gift. I couldn't have asked for anyting better! What did I do on this Snow Day? Sleep in, watch my favorite Holiday movie: Love Actually, Read, organize a couple of things around the house and more naps. I appreciate when life gives me a mandatory SLOW DOWN. Thank you snow...thank you winter...thank you season. Thank you.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Joining the Twitter Revolution: Nerdlution

The concept for TED is "Ideas Worth Spreading". Many times, that's how I feel about my amazing Twitter friends who come up with these brilliant ideas that are worth spreading. My friends know this about me: I live my life in a constant search for BALANCE. I believe that balance is one of the key ingredients to a happy life. I love the different communities that I belong to. I love my teaching community, my writing community, my Hispanic community and of course, my reading community. I also try to carefully decide to what things I say YES to because we all know that when we say YES to something, we're saying NO to something else.

However, certain YES's are worth saying them because they enhance us, challenge us or strengthen us. That's how I feel about all the brilliant minds that came up with #NERDLUTION.

If you would like to know how this #Nerdlution got started, then you need to head over Franki's blog and read the behind the scene story. I've been reading their tweets, pondering, considering HOW I am going to make this happen. I love the concept and actually BELIEVE in this idea so strongly. My fear? I'm leaving to go to Paraguay and I'll be out of the country for 16 days. Internet is limited...and let's face it: my family time is valuable. I didn't want to commit to anything that would jeopardize my time with them. But then, I started seeing how "flexible and open" people were with their #nerdlution and that's when it clicked! I can make this work, even when I'm away...even when I'm absorbed in a different world, and with limited Internet access. I can still make it happen. #nerdlution include the following:

1. BE present in the moment. Any moment. Big or small. No multitasking...answering texts, or glancing over twitter. Be present. 
2. Document my next 50 days in the form of photos, notecards, memorabilia, journaling, polaroids, etc. I got the tools, I just need to use them. I'm interested to see what develops or emerge from all this documenting. 

3. Each new week between Dec. 2 and January 20th: I'll try something new...whether that is a new app, a new food, a new spot in town, a new genre of book, or a recipe. I'll try something NEW. 

Those are my nerdlutions. Simple but doable as I spend my next 50 days in two countries. Thank you Colby Sharp, Franki Sibberson, and all the other brilliant minds for this brilliant concept. Let the FUN begin. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Celebrating (Friendsgiving and NCTE) in photos and in words!

It's always a highlight to my weekend to be able to press the pause button, look back at my back and share something positive with the rest of the Bloggers out there. I know this week is particularly easy to find something to celebrate since it was Thanksgiving week. However, I still want to highlight it. As I mentioned on my Facebook post recently, I love what this holiday represents here in the States. I love that family come together and just give each other the gift of time. In a country as big as the USA, people are spread all over the place. The fast-paced living style here makes it a challenge sometimes to carve out time to just be. But how beautiful is to just be... whether that's with family or in my case, with friends...I adore moments like this because they keep you grounded and they remind you that celebrations, big or small, are about finding the beauty on our daily routines, in our lives, as simple as they might be.
Here's a picture of my International Friendsgiving in Columbus. It's a beautiful life!

Celebration # 1: Beautiful Friendsgiving!

A week ago, I was blessed to be able to attend NCTE where so much great thinking, talking and planning occurs. It is the best PD of the year. Hands down. No competition. I save all year. I wait all year for those magical days. But pictures are worth a thousand words. Here's to celebrating learning and growing as a community of thinkers!

 Celebration #2: Great roommates! They are thinkers, readers, writers, they are about living and learning!
 Celebration # 3 Friends from everywhere...all across the USA. Hw blessed to be able to learn from them.

Celebration # 4; meeting Judy Blume. Do I need to say more? Not really.

Celebration #5: Chris Lehman said, "There is no evidence that spending more time on difficult texts help students read any better!". Bravo and Thank you Chris.

 Celebration # 6: I wanted to meet the famous author of the Lunch Lady series, Jarret Krosoczka but the line to meet him was...oh way too long. So, I was going to be satisfied with a simple picture...until he stopped in the middle of signing to smile for my camera. What a great sport!

Celebration # 7 Meeting Jacqueline Woodson. We talked about Each Kindness, about children and of course, about the Buckeyes. :)

Celebration # 8 Having great adventurous friends who are willing to stand in line so we can all try the famous Mike's Pastry. Totally worth it!

Celebration # 9: Meeting Chris Raschka...another talented writer.

And finally...Celebration # 10: Boston! What a gorgeous city. Hope to be back soon. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Celebrating TIME

This week I felt like I ran out of time. I rushed from one parent-teacher conference to the next. I felt there was more I wanted to say to those parents...
yet I ran out of time to say more.
I attended meetings, I listened and friends' listened to me...
yet I ran out of time for others.
I visited a school and had three powerful conversations...
yet I ran out of time to visit other schools.
I felt I disappointed someone because I can't be in more schools
during the week...
Yes, I ran out of days and time.
These feelings felt heavy in my heart by the time Friday came I was exhausted. Why am I fighting time? Why does it feel I'm going against it? And how did it manage to make me feel like I didn't do enough?



I ran out of time to say more.  I had time to say enough positive things. More conversations are yet to come.
I ran out of time for others. I had the chance to listened to others and my friends did listened to me. It's a never ending cycle.
I ran out of time to visit other schools. Quality over quantity Stella. I had meaningful conversations. That's what matters.
I ran out of days and time felt I disappointed someone. All I got is today. Today I chose to celebrate the little or tons of time I did have to make those things happen.

Time: you're a gift. Sorry I felt I was running against you when in fact we are running in parallel ways.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Celebrate! Celebrate Being Alive & Present

I'm joining Ruth Ayres and her invitation to celebrate! My last Celebrate Blog post had to do with teaching. Because teaching is such an important part of my life, these moments are so important to me. But today, I want to simply celebrate being alive and present. Life for me is a precious gift and I try to live a balance life where I make time in my life for my family, my friends, my love for life, my alone time, my thinking and reflecting time. It's not always easy. It's a constant juggling act. However, I take pride in being able to do these things because it means one thing: I'm alive and present. If I had a rough day, it was because I was alive and present. If I enjoyed that Fall sunset, it's because I was alive and present. If had cried because I was homesick was because I was alive and present. When I struggle understanding where to take a student next on his reading journey, it's because I was alive and present. My struggles, my small victories, feeling overwhelmed or inspired, it's all because I am here.

I'm able to write this post. I'm alive and present.

Thank you Ruth for allowing us to celebrate.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Ruth Ayres is an inspiring person whether you get the opportunity to listen to her speak or whether you get to read her careful choice words that transmit passion, reflection, celebration, noticing and listening.
In a world of fast-paced decisions, of long to-do lists, of running from one place to the next, she is asking us to pause and reflect on the celebrations that happen in our everyday educational world. I'm joining Ruth Ayres and all my other blogger friends who decide to take part of this journey. This kind of invitations or projects align to my philosophy in life: carpe diem: seize the day, celebrate, notice.

My celebration this week involves my work with one of my colleagues as an ELL Teacher Leader in the district. I get the wonderful opportunity to work with other ELL teachers in the district in the different elementary schools. In this new role, I get to visit classrooms, observe, participate, help, listen, collaborate, or sometimes just be present. After spending 40 minutes observing my colleague teaching with her two young readers, we debriefed afterwards which includes all the great things she is already doing in the classroom. This was her first coaching session. I know this is a new process for her as it is for me. The next question that she uttered made me jump inside of happiness. She said, "Ok, Stella what can I do differently for these readers?" She initiated our work together, she was the one who extended her hand to me, she was the one whose mind already switched to action plans for these two readers. In this coaching job, we wait and live for moments like this...where the first leaves of trust are starting to sprout and it shows in a simple question.

And it is in moments like this where my faith for our profession gets renewed. Teachers are the among the most humble and caring individuals I know. And it shows.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Balancing Life (and everything else in between)

In July, some of us were blessed to participate in a Writer's Retreat from Choice Literacy. In those days of writing, thinking, thinking aloud, hiking brainstorming and contemplating, we have a chance to push the pause button and rethink important things. As educators, writers, mothers, daughters and other hats we get to wear, our plates are very full. When we find ourselves with time to do some other things that energizes us, that inspires us, we feel we gain enough energy to keep going, to keep on fighting, to keep on challenging us.

But the real challenge is when we find ourselves in the midst of it all....classes are in full swing, the children are ready and their energy reminds us that they are here to learn, the summer days are behind us and soon fall weather with its changes will be here. One of the questions I get asked frequently by my friends is how do I manage to keep things in balance so that it's not all about work, or all about fun, or all about writing and nothing else? The answer is: It's a challenge. You won't like that answer but it's the truth so I believe that the first item on the agenda is acknowledging the fact that living a balanced life is a challenge. Anyone that says otherwise, they're just bragging. Keeping it real here friends.

 Please note: I'm in no way an expert on this topic but so many of you have asked me to write about this experience and so here I'm. I must say though: one of my philosophies in life is to carve out time for you...always...then everything else will be alright. However, having said that, there are still manageable ways and habits that I developed along the way that keep me on my toes.

One of those habits is learning how to look at your calendar/life in terms of chunks (none of this day to day scheduling). Looking at your calendar/days/activities in chunks means looking at a whole week or weeks in advance. This helps me for planning purposes. When I look at my calendar I ask myself a couple of questions:

1. What are the must-do, or non-negotiables commitments after work? Remember that when you say yes to something, you are saying NO to yourself. Choose those commitments carefully. I'm an active member in the Latino community here in my city but I don't have to be at every event. The ones I choose to give my time to are carefully selected.

2. How's time for myself look like this week? "Some ME time" means different things for different people. It all depends on priorities and what makes you happy. For some of us is working out, writing, reading, connecting with our families near or far, networking in our community, etc. I've learned to schedule certain things around certain activities because otherwise someone (that will be) is not a happy camper.

3. Too much going during the week? Then thinking of a small treat/reward for yourself is a must. It'll give you something to look forward and most importantly, you'll still find joy in your  busy life. What does this reward look like for you? For me it can be something as simple as getting ice-cream from Jeni's? or sitting outside on my patio and staying away from electronics for a good 30 minutes? Or it could be cooking that extra-special dish you've been craving.

So tip for today? Think ahead: commitments, time for you and rewards. They're essentials. Life is about living it. Not letting your calendar dominates your life but you controlling your calendar. Try it tonight. See what happens this week.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 books from the last 10 years of teaching that I can't be without....

Who am I kidding? 10 books? yeah...more like 100 books I can't teach without!  But that's not what our friends Mandy from Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy from Reflect and Refine are asking us to do, right? So, I'll play by the rules. This year. Next year, I might break it. :)

As I was moving my books to my new space in a new classroom and in a new district, I kept staring at the books I've decided to pack first. I stopped unloading my suitcase just for a minute to pause and reflect on what was happening at the moment. I was moving to my new space that day. I didn't pack pencils, erasers or crayons. I didn't pack folders or tags. Instead, the first thing I made sure I had were books. Because who I am without books? What kind of teacher would I be without my books? Books are my identity. It's who I am. Reading is my life whether I'm in South America, in the States, in my classroom, or on vacation. I'm a reader. That's who I am.

I'm blessed as a teacher. I know I am. I, not only get to teach children their first words in English but I also get to help them fall in love with reading. Ding Ding Ding!!!! Jackpot! So, as I kept unpacking, I looked at the books on my table that left a mark on me in one way or another. Maybe it was the story, or the author. Or maybe it was the moment in life when I read it. Maybe it was who I shared it with or who was the first one to deliver it to my hands. Regardless of the reasons, here they are. The top 10 books that marked my teaching life in the last 10 years. I'm not describing what the book is about. Instead, I'm explaining WHY they marked my teaching or WHY it's important in my class or my reading life.

The One and Only Ivan The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I know this is not a picture book. But it's a book I LOVE, ADORE & will continue to read aloud for the next 10 years!
Who didn't read this book and just fell in love with the characters? Who didn't drop tears with Stella? Who didn't feel optimistic and yet defeated at times? Katherine Applegate did it again. She brought a story that stay with readers of any age long after you read the last page. What I loved about this book? It made my students and I look forward to our read aloud time. It made us groan when we HAD to stop reading it for the day. It made us smile and feel sad at the same time. But we did it together. Because no matter how many times I've read this book, I felt it every time. Oh, Ivan...the One and Only Ivan.

I know you'll agree. All it takes is one read. All it takes is absorbing the story in one sitting and it leaves a mark. Henry and the Freedom Box is one of those books that have it all: descriptive, touching words and unforgettable pictures. The 5th graders in my last school would go to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati every year and every year they can't wait to see the replica of Henry's box. Another beautiful thing that happens once we get to the last page of this book is that children want to know MORE. They ask questions, they wonder about his wife, the children, how he started life again, how did he get over losing his family. Oh the questions...the burning questions. That's a sign of a story so well written-audience wants more.

Even though this book was published more than 10 years ago, I started using in my teaching about 7 years ago. I read Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Krauss every year  at the beginning of every school year. Why? Because we all have a Leo inside. We're all trying to get better at something. As teachers, as learners, as readers, as writers, we all have something we would like to get really good at. Regardless of our personal journey, Leo the Late Bloomer celebrates the Leo inside of us, knowing that with time, practice (and without being watched all the time), we'll bloom. Even if it takes time, even if we wish we could go faster. It'll happen. Eventually. This book is my reminder that every student in my class is on his own personal journey.

Ish by Peter Reynolds is a perfect companion to Leo the Late Bloomer. Both books are so optimistic in nature. Both books celebrate approximations and embrace imperfections. It celebrates "trying" versus just getting it accomplished. It emphasizes process instead of concentrating on product. It's a great story and one that I use to remind my students that as they learn the language, figure out the new culture and try to grow as learners, their "ish" is sometimes their best A game.

 As I'm writing this post, I realized how many of the books I'm choosing has a lot to do with building community, friendships, respect and growing. This book celebrates individualism at its best. In my opinion, every book Todd Parr writes is a winner. The children adore his books, his illustrations, his great messages and his beautiful language. Many young artists are born in my class because they want to draw just like him, and give their work colorful background "just like Todd Parr." Any of his books are great! You really can't go wrong.

Do I see myself spending a whole year in my classroom and not read a Piggie and Gerald book? NO WAY JOSE! I mean, come on! Mo Willems is a complete genius. He understands children's sense of humor. He creates lovable and totally unforgettable characters. He makes us fall in love with words, repetitions and silly rhymes. Regardless of my students' age, they all ask me for a Piggie and Gerald book. And of course, they all wish for a friendship like theirs.

 Everyone knows I'm a Lincoln fan. My friends, family and students all know I have great admiration for this US President. I often wonder if we'll ever have again a president whose values and beliefs are so grounded that nothing could shake them. This kind of loyalty to his own words, his actions and goals is an amazing characteristics found in few leaders. Even though there are many "kids biographies" out there about Lincoln, I never really found one that I thought children could connect, get intrigued and enjoy. Until....famous painter Maira Kalman published this book. And the crowd says, "Amen!" Amazing addition to the library.

  I've introduced Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst to several teacher friends because it's so good to keep it all to myself. There are so many things I love about Lulu:
She is wild, crazy, funny, and just spoiled.
She has a caring heart but you don't see it that often.
She loves to sing.
She thinks she can sing.
She has an amazing wild imagination.
I'd love to meet a Lulu in real life. It would provide hours of free entertainment.
Contrary to popular believes, she does learn (eventually).

You got to introduce Lulu to your students. That's all I can say. :)

 I love poetry. I'd like to believe that because I love poetry (we read tons during the year) that my students love it too. I love languages, words, patterns and rhythm. I love poems. Short and small. Long and detailed. Sincere and funny ones. In Spanish and in English. I just love them. So you can imagine my excitement when this book was published in 2011. Thank you Laura Purdie Salas for writing a poetry book about my favorite topic: books! This book illuminates my classroom every year as we talk about our identity as readers and writers. Like Dr. Seuss would say, "I can read it here. I can read it there. I can read it anywhere."

 The main character in this book is Jorge. And Jorge is actually every student in my class. You see, I teach English language learners, these hard working children who got to learn how to read, write, speak, be proficient and academically up to speed all while learning a foreign language. I have mad respect for all the Jorges in this world. We all have them in our classroom.  This book provides the voice to so many silent voices. Jane Medina does a beautiful work with language in this book! These voices are silent often because they lack the words to express themselves. It's so hard to be far away from home. I know that. I understand that feeling. Because of this and many other reasons, I admire all the Jorges out there who show up every day.