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Teacher-to-Teacher: Back to School: Beyond Pocket Folders

By Janice Ewing

Do you think of August as a transitional month? For many teachers, June and July have provided time and opportunities to pursue professional learning and have the collegial conversations that broaden their thinking and inspire new avenues of inquiry.  Now, the weather and the calendar tell us that it’s still summer, with the possibilities of travel, family time, and more professional learning, but it’s also a time when many teachers begin thinking more directly about their return to their classrooms.

The TV, print, and online ads tell us that it’s time to start gathering coupons and looking for those great deals on pocket folders and notebooks. (Raise your hand if you’ve gone  Staples-hopping to take advantage of ten-per-customer pocket folder bargains!) More importantly, it’s time to start the transition from summer renewal to fall implementation, regardless of one’s grade level or subject area.

Janice quote sparks

For educators at all levels, returning to school this year might have a different feel from previous years. In addition to new ideas for things like grouping structures, assessment, or authentic writing practices, we are also grappling with questions of how to address issues that are not pedagogical in nature, but directly affect our lives as teachers and students. Issues such as ever-present outbreaks of violence around the world, political campaign rhetoric, police and community relationships, our society’s growing understanding of diversity (and instances of pushback in response). We have always faced serious issues in our classrooms, communities and the larger world. Now, more than ever, the rapid pace of events and reactions to those events, shared as they’re happening on multiple news and social media sites, seem to change the very wiring of our brains. Many teachers are wondering about difficult conversations that might arise in the classroom, and how they’ll address them. Should we initiate discussion of timely events, no matter how controversial? Should we avoid them? Should we only address them if they come up among our students, or are directly linked to the curriculum? Where can we look for guidance in navigating these waters — our colleagues, school policy, professional organization such as National Writing Project (, National Council of Teachers of English (, International Literacy Association ( What is the role of children’s and young adult literature in helping us to navigate difficult subjects?

Here are some resources that might be of interest and assistance as we think through these issues together. Please share your thoughts, concerns, and resources for facing challenging questions and discussions as the new school year approaches.

“Continuing to Study Issues of Race and Diversity,”

Handling Tough Conversations Through YA Lit … @ncte @ILAToday

Resources for Discussing Police Violence, Race, and Racism With Students … via @educationweek #educolor

Empowering Educators With a Model for How to Moderate Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

Back Camera

Janice Ewing is an adjunct professor for Cabrini University and a Co-director for PAWLP. She is actively involved with the Philadelphia Reading Council and serves as an editor of PAReads Journal of the Keystone State Reading Association. Janice is a co-facilitator for the PAWLP Continuity Days throughout the school year and a member of the PAWLPBLOG team.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. ritasorrentino #

    Janice, after spending a few days with a five-year-old, I was reassured how timely and significant your post is. Parents, too, are searching for ways to have conversations with children about these issues. Obtaining the recommended school supplies is the easy part of back-to-school preparation. Building a repertoire of resources for conversations and discussions about troubling issues will be well worth the time and effort when those school bells start ringing.


    August 17, 2016
  2. mbuckelew #

    Janice, Your post is an important reminder for me — to visualize my classroom NOT as an isolated, static ecosystem, but as a permeable ecosystem containing a multitude of values, attitudes, beliefs which transact with the immediate classroom community and the community at large. Since my courses have a writing emphasis this year — I know discussions will arise on the various issues you highlight in your blog post and I am grateful for the resources that you share in this post!
    Many, many thanks!


    August 9, 2016
  3. Janice – thank you for compiling this list of resources. Many of us forget to take the time to prepare for theses conversations as we are usually too busy shopping for penny notebooks and resetting up our classrooms. I will definitely consult these as I continue my mental preparations this month.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 3, 2016

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