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The Big Fresh September 8, 2018 Mothers of the Brides

Brenda Power

Whoever said that money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.  

                                                                    Bo Derek

My friend Franki and I both have daughters who are getting married over the next year. It’s fun to welcome their spouses and expand our families. It’s not so much fun to shop for clothes to wear to the wedding festivities. We live far apart, so we mostly commiserate by email. But when we met up earlier this summer  for a writing retreat in a midwestern town with a famed dress shop, we decided to give it a try together. Our hometown shops just left us feeling out of place, fat, and desperate for a decent looking dress.

We knew Judee's was different the moment we drove up. It was housed in a large brick Victorian with an inviting porch. We were greeted immediately when we came through the door by the one clerk who was working, even though she was already with another customer. While we waited for her, we couldn’t resist exploring. Each room in the shop was distinct and cozy, with walls lined with dresses. The effect wasn’t overwhelming, but as we continued to walk deeper into the shop, we got a sense that there was always one more room to be discovered.

Once the clerk came to assist, Franki explained her wedding was coming up shortly, she had been to many shops, and she had yet to find anything. She reassured the clerk, Aimee, that she wasn’t expecting success now. “I never fail,” declared Aimee. “I promise you will leave here with a dress you love.” She asked Franki about the wedding, her color and style preferences, and the time frame. And then she was a flurry of fabrics flying as she swiftly pulled dresses off racks. Mostly they were styles Franki mentioned she enjoyed, but Aimee threw in a few with the words “This is just for fun -- you might be surprised how good this one looks on you.” We both left an hour or so later with purchases we loved.

A great dress shop is like a great classroom library. You want to linger. You’re surprised at how much interesting stuff you find in the nooks and crannies. The space doesn’t feel cluttered, and it’s only after you’ve finished exploring that you’re stunned at the actual number of items in it.

But mostly, a great dress shop, like a great classroom library, is nothing without a superb guide. Failure is not an option, the guide promises. We’ll find something you love, no matter what happened before you walked through this door. It’s a new day!  And I respect that you know what you like, but I’m gonna nudge you to try something new, too.

I’ve always looked to bookstores for classroom library inspiration. I never expected to find it in a dress shop.

This week we look at how understanding the backgrounds of students and colleagues strengthens and builds literacy learning. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy


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The connections we make with students and families are what we remember most when all is said and done. Trish Prentice has thoughts on what changes a respected teacher into a beloved teacher:


Our new online course with Jennifer Schwanke, We Are Family, includes tools, tips, and strategies for building stronger connections to families during conferences, special events, and when things go wrong:


Stella Villalba rethinks the seemingly innocuous "What did you do last summer?" writing assignment at the start of the year, especially for children who may have more limited experiences than peers:


If your school is welcoming more English language learners, you'll want to enroll in Stella's new online course, a quick-start guide to understanding and assisting ELLs in reading and writing workshops. This self-paced course includes screencasts, videos, print features, and templates:


One way to celebrate the backgrounds of students is to appreciate the skin they are in. Katharine Johnson shares how she uses children's literature to build appreciation for different skin tones:


Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan explain how personal storytelling is a great way into launching a narrative unit early in the year:



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Suzy Kaback is startled to see a picture of her deceased father on the wall when she visits her daughter's seventh-grade classroom. It's the start of learning about the power of ohana in schools:


Ruth Ayres wonders if the pencil still has power, taking readers through a whirlwind history of the writing tool in her life, schools, and the world:


This week's video may make your heart ache. Estelle shares a poem she has written about lost friendship with her teacher, Katherine Sokolowski. She captures the fickle nature of fifth-grade relationships among girls. Katherine connects the cadence of the writing to the style of The Crossover, and helps Estelle find possibilities for more writing:


Shirl McPhillips crafts a message from the moon about tone in poetry and school in her latest poem and companion essay.


In an encore video, Ruth Ayres confers with Bode about the difference between personal narratives and memoirs, and the value of mining the writing journal for topics:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.