Thursday, April 17, 2014

Outside Voices from the Inside: Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive

Yesterday I posted my review of Meenoo Rami's new book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching and today I'm proud to interview her here on Use Your Outside Voice.

Meenoo teaches high school English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA and is also the organizer of the wildly popular weekly twitter chat, #engchat, which happens every Monday evening at 7 PM ET. She is a teacher leader in every sense of the word, presenting at many national teaching conferences, and is now the author of her first book. I am proud to have her here on the blog today.

How long have you been teaching? 
I have been teaching for 8 years in the School District of Philadelphia.

What initially drew you to a career in education? 
When I entered Philadelphia schools through my work at City Year, I was shocked to see some of the challenges and inequities in schools, instead of just complaining about state of urban education, I wanted to do something. In my own small way, I wanted to make a difference in the world.

What motivates you as a teacher? 
I think my kids motivate me to be better each day. They bring new ways of seeing the world, thinking about the world, and I learn from them and am shaped by my interactions with them. I think this keeps me going.

What has been your best classroom memory thus far? 
I am not sure if I can choose one single memory but yesterday I had a fantastic day, I was able to participate on two different webinars around Connected Learning yesterday and both of these webinars featured my students. Listening to them talk about the ways they have grown as readers, writers, and thinkers was really awesome. I guess I am happy when I see my students grow.

What do you want the future of education to look like? 
Most of all, I want the people who are doing this work everyday to have some say in the policies that shape the future of education. I hope teachers will agree that the factory model of education is outdated and we need to move towards practices that help our students become makers, doers, creators in our classrooms

What makes you stay in the classroom?
The joy and challenge of being with my students everyday. They push me to become the very best version of myself.

What do the words "use your outside voice" mean to you? 
I think it means going public with our work, I think it means that we as teachers need to share the good things that are happening in all our classrooms. I think we need to take an active part in the dialogue around education and education reform.

Order your copy of Thrive today:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami

Meenoo Rami is the creator of the wildly popular weekly educational Twitter chat #engchat. As someone who organizes monthly twitter chats, I can't even imagine how she comes up with all her ideas for her weekly chat. That is a lot of planning and organizing. But I'm glad she does because her drive to create opportunities for herself and other teachers to grow their PLN is not just admirable, but also useful.

So it's no surprise in Thrive, Meenoo has a thing or two to share with new teachers and veterans alike about how to (re)invigorate teachers to take control of a job that often consumes your life to the point of burn out. Rather than waiting for educational policy to turn the tide, Meenoo has taken her career satisfaction into her own hands and has shared with her readers her five steps to making that happen for you as well:

1. Turn to mentors
2. Join and build networks
3. Keep your work intellectually challenging
4. Listen to yourself
5. Empower your students

Thrive is a slim volume of only five chapters, but that's all it needs really. But don't let its slimness fool you into thinking there's not much substance here. If anything, its 97 pages are saying, "I know you're busy. I know you think you don't have time to read me. But I promise you, it will be worth it in the end."

Thrive is not a PD book. It is an inspirational book. It is a book to remind us all why we picked this profession in the first place and how we can make sure it doesn't chew us up and spit us out. It's a book to remind us that despite all the outside forces affecting what we do in the classroom, in the end, it's your classroom and your students and you have the power to be a force for change.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Heinemann Publishing

Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.  

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:

THRIVE Blog Tour Stops
Jen Vincnet at Teach Mentor Texts
Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy
Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.
Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone
Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent
Beth Shaum at Use Your Outside Voice
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Troy Hicks at Hickstro
Joy Kirr at Genius Hour
Tara Smith at The Teaching Life
Antero Garcia at The American Crawl
John Spencer at Education Rethink
Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg at Unleashing Readers

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The human side of our profession

There is a wonderful series of photos that was posted over at The Huffington Post this week that captures a moment in a teacher's day most people don't get to see: the moment after the kids leave and it's just you alone in your room, exhaustion overtakes you, and you're just hoping you made a difference today.

I wish more people could catch a glimpse at the human side of the profession. I applaud photographer Aliza Eliazarov for taking this project on.

Check out to photo series here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The power of poetry - #NatPoMo

Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. His words are so simple but they strike such a chord. I can't pick just one of his poems as my favorite because I love so many, but this one stands out thanks to a student who performed it one year in my class. He was painfully shy and hardly ever spoke, but when it was his turn to perform a poem from memory, he got up and gave a quiet, gentle, yet convincing rendition of this Langston Hughes poem. Despite his shyness, I still remember the courage I felt from him in that performance as he looked every one of his classmates in the eye. I get chills just thinking about it.

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Happy National Poetry Month! Many people consider poetry to be a superfluous, unnecessary endeavor to study in school, but I disagree 100%. Poetry, more than prose, shows us just how powerful words can be and is incredibly empowering when we give students the opportunity to take their own journeys with poetry rather than forcing nothing but close readings and "hidden meaning" analysis. I'll be sharing many of my favorite poems this month with the hope that you'll just enjoy the words. No analysis required. I think Billy Collins would approve.

Introduction to Poetry

By Billy Collins
I ask them to take a poem   
and hold it up to the light   
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem   
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room   
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

#MRA14 in tweets

Last weekend I attended the Michigan Reading Association conference for the third year in a row, and as always it was an inspiring weekend of learning and friendship. Rather than try to put into words what an amazing weekend I had, I'd rather just let my tweets do the talking:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The day the music died

I started out my college career as a music education major. My second semester I encountered a professor who broke me. He told me I had no talent and that I'd never make a career in music.

So one day I left a note on his studio door telling him I hope he is more gentle with students like me in the future, quietly dropped his class, and left the music program.

Before I turned my back on music for good, I decided for my own pride that I was going to prove him wrong. The semester I dropped out of his class, he assigned me Franz Schubert's Moment Musicaux No. 1 in C Major and proceeded to do nothing but tell me what I terrible job I was doing and how I'd never learn the piece. So I decided when I dropped out of the music program that I was going to take that piece to my longtime piano teacher -- who always nurtured my love and passion for the piano rather than tore me down -- and ask her to help me learn it for the upcoming American Guild of Music competition.

Even though I hated the piece (and I was never one who was motivated to learn pieces I hated), I was determined to learn it and prove that professor wrong. Well I did more than learn it. I won 3rd place at the competition that year.

Despite my success at the competition, the damage had already been done. That professor had sullied the one thing in my life that gave me solace and comfort.

Fifteen years later and the scars are still there. They will never fade. They will always be a part of me.

I still own a piano, but I very rarely sit down to play anymore. Every so often I'll hear a piece I used to play, like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata or Chopin's Waltz in C# Minor, and that is a small impetus to make me want to sit down and play for a half hour at a time, but the passion and the drive I once had is completely gone.

So why share this story on my blog? I'll let you make those connections. I'm pretty sure it's fairly obvious. But just in case it isn't, I will leave you with one final question: are we building our students up or tearing them down?