Category Archives: Books

pizza slice

Pizza to my hungry palate

Are my eyes bigger than my stomach?  That’s a French expression that my mother would say to me whenever I took too much food on my plate and couldn’t finish it.  As a teacher, I’ve had several extra dallops of “educational expectations” plopped on my plate this year, so why would I voluntarily ask for anything more?

Because it’s pizza to my hungry palate.  And I can make my pizza any way I like, such as veggie supreme with extra basil, feta, and tomatoes. This is how I see joining a study group with my language arts colleagues, whom I rarely get to see, let alone talk pedagogy.  I didn’t even know what the book topic was about; all I knew was that every study group that has been empowered by peers, not professors, has been worth its weight in pizza to me.

It all started in 1979 when I participated in the Southeast Iowa Writing Project for two weeks in June with 28 teachers from all disciplines and districts. There was no textbook. The two facilitators wheeled in carts of about 100 books dealing with some aspect of writing.  “Read anything you want. Just journal about it and we’ll share your thoughts with others,” Jim Davis said. “Oh, and write something…anything, to share with a small group tomorrow.”

What do I write about? Something professional? Something personal?  I loved it! I could write anything that would benefit me as I person. So I wrote a poem about a student who hated school.  Then I read the book “Writing Without Teachers” to discover how to motivate students to write. Others wrote about their children, their travels, their divorce. We learned how to respond to other’s writing in authentic ways, thanks to the gentle green ink of Carolyn, our other facilitator. The guiding principle of the writing project was that we could create our own curriculum tailored to our own interests and then share our findings with a supportive group. Putting ideas into action was essential. That’s why we wrote and shared and laughed and cried.

Last year I joined a study group with Marcia Jensen, Alissa Hansen, and Angela Staber. Although we didn’t share personal writings, we did share our attempts to bring technology into the language arts classroom.  There was a learning curve, but their input made it so much easier. We even blogged about it on this website.

Teach Like a Champion book cover

I look forward to exploring the 62 practical techniques described in “Teach Like a Champion 2.0” by Doug Lemov. I liked him the first time he said he wasn’t an expert, or someone trying to establish a program for my school.  I’ve had enough “try this, do that” dished on my plate. Lemov has cataloged the most effective teaching techniques that he has observed in schools that consistently scored high on state assessments despite high poverty rates among students. He also reaffirmed that teaching is an art,  that teachers have unique styles, and that teachers should choose what techniques they want to refine.  Whew, that sounds somewhat empowering in an age where every course is taught and tested exactly alike.  A bonus is our study topic aligns nicely with district and building objectives, such as building a respectful climate. I’ll be paid for my time, too. I am thankful that the Davenport Community School District supports our learning community.

I’m all signed up for the online resources at I’ll be sharing my ideas and how I implement them with my language arts colleagues Katie Choate, Lori Duquette, Deb Hall, Jane Kroening, Natalie McDermott, Maggie Rietz and Angela Staber. Hopefully they will share ideas on this blog, too.  We also look forward to others joining the online discussion.

Pass the pizza please. I’m hungry.

Video menu

Teacher videos demonstrate various techniques on the “Teach Like a Champion” resources page.



Good advice to improve any relationship

by Steve Lyle, language arts teacher, West High School, Davenport, Iowa

As a child growing up in the 1950s, I knew dad meant business when his hand threatened to unbuckle his belt as if he were a gunslinger ready to draw on “Gunsmoke.” Parents back then saw children as little adults and expected them to behave as such. It was after your spanking and being sent to your room that parents might explain why your behavior was wrong and how you might have handled things differently.

Parenting has improved since then, but it’s an area where parents might still need a bit of help in raising happy and responsible children.


You don’t have to be a parent in order to benefit from the book “Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible and Emotionally Healthy Children.” One of its authors, Paul Bernabei, spoke to my faculty at Davenport West High School about building effective relationships with students, and his principles apply to any relationship. I enjoyed his presentation and found this 130-page book quite valuable. I still see parents who react to a child’s mistake or misbehavior through punishment rather than responding in a more appropriate and teachable way. This book reminds parents to use empathy and to analyze the situation, the child’s development, the child’s temperament, and the parent’s current condition before responding.

Bernabei calls people who have an effective state of mind the “Top 20”– it’s a metaphor, not a statistic, for people who are on top of their game (or as he calls it, feeling “above the line”) when dealing with others. However, they can have their bad days, too, and be “below the line.” Knowing where we are on this “line” is important because it affects how we perceive and treat others. When we are below the line due to worry or anger, for instance, we are more apt to snap at others or react in effective ways when we get another “hit,” such as the kids making a mess.

That’s nothing new, but the book is an important reminder of how personal relationships work. Quite often I found myself reflecting upon my own experiences as a child and as a parent. (Thankfully there’s a chapter on “Mistake Making” and what to do after you made them.) The book also has a great way of explaining these personal dynamics in kid-friendly terms. Here are a few of them:

  • Invitations— experiences that can make us dip below the line, such as a past-due bill
  • Indicators–the feelings or behaviors we display when we are below the line, such as feeling inadequate or yelling
  • Hits–when negative events out of our control try to push us below the line
  • Trampolines— activities that help us bounce back above the line, such as enjoying a hobby or going for a walk
  • Submarines— activities that prevent us from hurting others when we are below the line, such as letting them know when we are worried or upset
  • Framing–we perceive others based upon how we see, feel, act and get feedback from it
  • Trust Fund— our behavior can deposit “trust” or withdraw “trust” like a bank account with a person; for example, keeping a promise is a deposit; blaming someone is a withdrawal
  • Tornadoes–social influences toward negativity; a tornado watch could be bedtime, and a tornado warning could be a critical comment made about a meal

Other gems are the chapters on how to identify your child’s temperament, how to encourage emotional intelligence, how to correct mistakes and how to resolve conflicts. The chapter on the scale of listening engagement might make you feel a bit guilty since it’s so difficult to truly listen to a person. (I can be the Judge or the Know-it-All listener.)

“Top 20 Parents” is a practical book with clear examples and suggested activities for parents and children. Although my children are grown, I can adapt these skills to fit our current situation. Plus, I gave my copy to my daughter, to help her raise her young ones.