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The Big Fresh November 17, 2018 Heat Maps

Brenda Power

Gatherings that are willing to be alienating—which is different from being alienating—have a better chance to dazzle.

                                                                                                         Priya Parker

In her new book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker writes about the importance of sometimes embracing controversy and actively seeking out hard conversations. Not at every gathering, and not just for the joy of being in conflict with your colleagues.  “I love conflict!” said no teacher ever. Yet it’s still wise advice for schools where we tend to avoid conversations that might include speaking hard truths.

Parker says you have the best chance of these tough meetings going well if you construct a “heat map” first. To do this, ask yourself these questions:

What are people avoiding that they don’t think they are avoiding?

What are the sacred cows here?

What goes unsaid?

What are we trying to protect? And why?

After you ask those hard questions of yourself, you begin to see the hot spots in your school that need attention, lest they flare into something you have little control over. This gives you some sense of the issues that might crop up before you ask others the same questions in a gathering. Parker recommends first setting ground rules by delving into these questions:

What do you need to feel safe here?

What do you need from this group to be willing to take a risk in this conversation today?

Figuring out the ground rules and parameters for these types of discussions is like starting a controlled fire. It’s better to work from permits and clear the brush that needs to be cleared than to risk a conflagration that takes out a lot of structures that took many years to build.

The hardest stuff is almost never discussed, because it makes us feel vulnerable. It is tempting to believe change isn’t possible. But with no change, the fires will flare up anyway -- in an ugly confrontation between a teacher and ELL specialist with racist overtones, in a sudden dramatic departure of a colleague from a study group. It’s a gift you give your school community when you try to find ways to respectfully and carefully broach these conflicts before they cause irreparable harm.

This week we look at writing poetry, a companion to last week's theme of reading poetry. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy


Free for All


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Gretchen Schroeder finds creative ways to pique interest in poetry in her high school classroom:


Megan Skogstad explains how the right mentor texts can help her fourth graders move beyond acrostic poems in their own writing:


This poem is so perfect for this time of year. Mary Lee Hahn writes an ode to parent conferences:


Check out our new online courses for teachers and literacy coaches! We're offering 12-day self-paced classes from Katherine Sokolowski on student research projects in grades 3-7, Christy Rush-Levine on quick and meaningful reading conferences in middle school, and Jennifer Schwanke on better outreach to families. Courses include three-month trial memberships to Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy, screencasts, videos, articles, and personal responses from the instructor to your questions. Explore detailed descriptions at this link:



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Poetry writing always has the potential to spark some magic in students. Christy Rush-Levine finds this magic requires a few conditions to be in place first in her middle school classroom:


If you want stronger poetry from students, a good starting point might be to explore how to write a powerful simile. Gretchen Schroeder explains how she helps her high school students play with and create better similes:


Shirl McPhillips shares a poem she's written about her grandmother Eva, and the fragments of memory that inspired it:


In an encore video, Linda Karamatic explores poetry writing with her second graders. She displays poems students have written and teaches them about fresh language using a poem about a pencil sharpener:


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.