Jennifer Schwanke

Jen Schwanke began her career as a language arts educator and is currently a principal for the Dublin City School District in Dublin, Ohio. A graduate instructor in educational leadership, she has written frequently for literacy and educational leadership publications and blogs about her experiences in learning and leading at jenschwanke.com. Follow Jen on Twitter @Jenschwanke and Instagram @jenschwanke.

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Beyond a Checklist for Teaching and Leading

Jen Schwanke explains why judging a teacher solely on whether they follow literacy workshop tenets may cause us to miss some essential (and elusive) qualities of great teaching . . . and leadership.

Student Files

To read or not read the student file? Some teachers are strong believers in “fresh starts” for all the children in their class, and never look at cumulative records. Jen Schwanke explains how these best of intentions can sometimes do damage.

The Toll of Constant Interruptions

An accomplished teacher is at her wit’s end because of constant interruptions. She seeks help from her principal, Jen Schwanke. They soon discover it’s a schoolwide issue that needs to be addressed.

Read Alouds for Big Kids

Jen Schwanke reflects on the power of read alouds for older students, and how school leaders can help teachers and parents value them too.

Speed Reading

Adolescent learners can face daunting reading loads in high school that they need to tackle at home. Jen Schwanke has tips for how teachers and parents can work together to help teens develop strategies for dealing with a lot of complex reading quickly.

Strategies for Sustaining Student Attention

Jen Schwanke shares some strategies for sustaining student attention, beyond just calling out a student’s name over and over and over again.

Forgetting and Remembering

In the end classroom management often comes down to students valuing the same things we do. Jen Schwanke has tips for how high school teachers can create a culture where there is better communication and more shared values.

Heavy Edits

Jen Schwanke explains why the best way to improve your communication with families may be to use fewer words.

Helping Teachers Write

Teachers often ask a principal or coach to read a draft or help with writing. What do you do when the adult writer needs a lot of guidance? Jennifer Schwanke finds herself in this position, and considers the moves she makes.

Helping Students Develop Conversational Identity

Jen Schwanke writes about the challenges of helping students develop conversational identities, providing prompts to help teachers reflect on their strengths and needs in fostering talk in classrooms.

Stepping Away from the Conversation

Jennifer Schwanke explains why sometimes the best thing teachers can do to foster better conversations in their classrooms is to step away and let the talk unfold among students.

Staff Retreat

The last thing leaders want to do when they are rushing to get everything done at the end of the school year is plan for summer retreats. But Jen Schwanke explains why that’s exactly what needs to happen if the sessions are going to be thoughtfully done and inclusive.

Spring Cleaning

Jennifer Schwanke shares some quick tips for spring cleaning of classrooms and literacy supplies.

Coaching Minute: Principals and Questions

In this quick video, Jen Schwanke explains why the most essential task for a new principal or literacy leader may be to slow down and ask lots of questions.

Coaching Minute: Fostering Team Collaboration

Jen Schwanke talks through the tricky work of making sure literacy specialists, coaches, and classroom teachers have the time and structure they need to collaborate well around students and data.

Defining the Principal’s Role

Jennifer Schwanke talks about the importance of school leaders building a sense among teachers and families of how literacy is the foundation for all learning in classrooms.

An All-School Writing Project: Six-Word Memoirs

If you want to bring everyone in your school together around writing, you can’t beat the simplicity and fun of six-word memoirs. Jennifer Schwanke describes how she sparked enthusiasm for the project in her school.

Conferences Between Middle School Parents and Teachers

Parents of middle school students are often bewildered at how best to deal with their child’s unresponsiveness. Jennifer Schwanke explains how teachers can construct conferences with middle school parents that foster reflection, action, and shared goals.

Classroom Visit Protocols

Jennifer Schwanke shares tips for ensuring your classroom visits aren't unexpected or unwelcome.

Book Study

Jennifer Schwanke creates a more organic, choice-driven process for book study groups in her school.

Avoiding Flat Tires

Jen Schwanke gets berated by a tire shop repair guy for ignoring routine maintenance needs on her bike. That gets her thinking about what needs routine maintenance in elementary classrooms.

Literacy Audit (Part 6): Becoming a Literacy Ambassador

Jennifer Schwanke concludes her literacy audit series with ideas for how you can become the biggest advocate and cheerleader for literacy in your school.

Literacy Audit (Part 4): Building a Strong Team

We continue our series on literacy audits. Jennifer Schwanke explains why it is essential to build a strong team if you want to see real change after completing an audit and deciding on next steps.

Literacy Audit (Part 5): Providing Resources and Support

Jennifer Schwanke continues her series on literacy audits. In this installment, she takes on the challenge of matching limited resources and time to nearly unlimited needs.

Literacy Audit (Part 3): Making a Plan

We continue our series on taking a literacy audit. In this installment, Jennifer Schwanke describes a process for developing a plan to improve literacy practices once you've identified areas of need.

Literacy Audit (Part 2): Taking Your School’s Pulse

Jennifer Schwanke continues her series on literacy audits. In this installment, she provides some key questions for taking the "literacy pulse" in your school.

Literacy Self-Audit (Part 1): Beginning Questions

Jennifer Schwanke shares questions for beginning a reflective analysis of your strengths and needs in literacy.

Auditing Your Literacy Leadership: Introduction

Jennifer Schwanke begins a new summer series on doing a self-audit of your literacy leadership and your school's needs. This is a great tool for reflection and planning for the new school year. In this introduction, Jen explains why this auditing and reflection is essential work.

Coaching Minute: Rethinking Time

Jennifer Schwanke finds that one of the biggest changes in moving from teaching to leadership is control (or lack of it) over her time.

Rethinking Spring Assessments

It's May, and teachers everywhere are preparing for final assessments of students. Jennifer Schwanke explains why it might be time to rethink or even ditch some of those plans.

Talking in Front of Peers

Jennifer Schwanke realizes it is never easy to talk in front of adults. She explains how she helps teachers accept the challenge of speaking to colleagues in professional development settings.

When Email Isn’t Enough

Jennifer Schwanke finds that sometimes email can't take the place of face-to-face interactions. She explains why she doesn't let a quest to save time override consideration of when meetings are needed.

Leadership Shifts

This is the time of year when principals and literacy coaches are weighing which teachers might take on leadership roles next year and which teachers in leadership roles might be relieved of these duties. Jennifer Schwanke shares her process for this delicate work.

To Celebrate or Not

One parent is adamant that Black History Month should be celebrated. Another parent is adamant that observing Black History Month trivializes blacks. What's a literacy leader to do? Jen Schwanke brings up the thorny issues involved during a staff meeting.

Students Watching Teachers

Students are always watching us, whether we realize it or not. Jennifer Schwanke explains how we can capitalize on that interest to build independent reading and writing habits.

Questions for Rereaders

Lifelong readers often have books they love to reread, sometimes more than once. But young readers can also get into ruts. Jennifer Schwanke explores when rereading is fine for students, and when it should be challenged. She includes a series of questions for teachers to use when conferring with children who are rereading favorite books.

Why Bother? Practical Answers to Questions About Close Reading

Why bother with close reading? Jennifer Schwanke finds many teachers asking themselves if close reading is worth the time, when schedules are already overstuffed. She shares some prompts to help assess when close reading makes sense.

Better Team Meetings

Are your team meetings welcoming? Jennifer Schwanke describes how one team leader created a happy, thriving, and safe space for team gatherings.

Better Parent-Teacher Conferences

Jennifer Schwanke explains how she stopped railing against the tradition and learned to appreciate parent-teacher conferences. She shares tips for making them better.

Speech/Language Pathology and Literacy: Making Connections

Jennifer Schwanke explains why she routinely consults with a speech and language specialist for insights into reading and writing difficulties a student may be experiencing.

Evaluation Season

Jennifer Schwanke shares the challenges of having honest conversations with teachers during evaluative sessions, acknowledging that her performance is being judged as well.

Breathe

Jen Schwanke resists giving time over to a teacher for an unplanned activity before a meeting she knows will be challenging. Afterward, she realizes the value in pausing to remind everyone what matters most in our work.

Making Meetings Purposeful

From identifying intent to setting personal norms, Jen Schwanke shares her key principles for leading meetings that participants won't hate.

Getting Emotional

It happens at least once a year for Jennifer Schwanke: she finds herself on the verge of crying in a professional setting. Here's her best advice for literacy leaders to keep the tears at bay.

Allocating Services

Jennifer Schwanke shares principles for leading those awkward meetings when staff need to decide between too many students who need a finite amount of services.

School-to-Home Journals

Are you considering school-to-home journals in your classroom this year? Jennifer Schwanke describes how these notebooks build community and literacy skills.

The Awkward Chair

Jennifer Schwanke explains how literacy leaders are often in "the awkward chair"—the position of having to explain painful truths to others. She has tips on how to handle the hot seat in meetings and discussions with colleagues and parents.

Professional Reboot

Jennifer Schwanke finds she is jealous of a colleague attending a summer training session, so she attends herself. It's a reminder to her of how powerful professional development can be for school leaders.

The iPad Is 7

Jennifer Schwanke reflects upon how the iPad and other touchscreen devices have changed the way children interact with all texts, even traditional storybooks.

School Leaders and Written Communication

Jen Schwanke is horrified at the quality of writing she receives when teaching a graduate course for school leaders. The experience gets her thinking about what motivates writers of all ages.

Explaining a Workshop Model to Parents (Part 2)

ennifer Schwanke explains how jargon can trip up communication with parents, and lists which terms are worth defining. This is the final installment of her series on talking about literacy workshops with families.

Explaining a Workshop Model to Parents

Jennifer Schwanke explains why parent-teacher conferences can be bewildering for families, and offers advice for better ways to explain a literacy workshop model to them.

Read-Aloud Gone Awry

Jennifer Schwanke shares her experience of having read-aloud go awry in a middle school classroom.

The Failures of a Doughnut

We can celebrate the wonders of what a doughnut can do to improve a bad day. But what it can't do is make children read more. Jen Schwanke takes on reward programs for children that may hinder more than help family relations.

Parent in a Foreign Land

Jennifer Schwanke shares some of the unique struggles parents of English language learners have in making their children's needs known, and how we can help them.

Student-Led Conferences from Many Perspectives

Jennifer Schwanke and Franki Sibberson share four perspectives on student-led conferences — teacher, principal, student, and parent.

Poetry Through Song

Jennifer Schwanke finds song lyrics are one way for students to see the power of poems.

An Unconventional Scavenger Hunt: Finding Errors

Jennifer Schwanke finds that a scavenger hunt for errors to add to a bulletin board is a great way to build editing skills and a writing community all year long in her seventh-grade classroom.

Learning Land

Jennifer Schwanke considers what she and her district learned when they adopted an online digital skill and drill program that promised more than it delivered (don't they all?). The name of the program has been changed to protect the guilty.

Replicating or Deepening?

Jennifer Schwanke finds teachers can get territorial about texts, "claiming" them for their grade level. She explores when it is appropriate to repeat the use of a text in subsequent grades.

No Special Class

A parent is adamant about her child not receiving extra support, and teachers and administrators are frustrated. Jennifer Schwanke works to understand the root of the problem.

Managing the Email Load

Jennifer Schwanke explains how she categorizes her emails and streamlines the time she spends reading them.

Old-Fashioned Resources

Jennifer Schwanke cleans out a school storage area, and with advice from teachers discovers new purposes for old items she was about to discard.

Understanding Josh: The Audio Reader

Jennifer Schwanke tells the story of Josh, a special-needs student who is almost impossible to reach, until one committed teacher unlocks the key to what makes him tick as a learner.

Parents in a Foreign Land

Jennifer Schwanke shares the poignant tale of connecting with the parents of English language learners.

New and Improved Nonfiction

Jennifer Schwanke remembers the days when mimeographed nonfiction pieces were rare and not welcome additions to elementary classrooms, and reflects on how much has changed.

The Beauty of Imitation

Jennifer Schwanke explains how concerns about plagiarism can get in the way of recognizing the value of mimicking the styles of other writers to find our own.

Autobiographical Listening

Jennifer Schwanke realizes too often that in attempting to connect with others, we shift the focus away from the person we're listening to. She explains why feedback based on autobiographical listening may be problematic.

Holding a Dictionary

Jennifer Schwanke finds dictionaries (the real, not virtual, variety) are still a potent tool for teaching new vocabulary to children.

Taking a Literacy Temperature

The start of a new year is nearly the midpoint of the academic year, and it may be the perfect time to take the "literacy temperature" of your school. Jennifer Schwanke explains how to assess the health learning climate beyond test scores.

Core Memories and Gotcha Moments

Jennifer Schwanke explains why pop quizzes can be damaging to students by using a pop culture reference.

Cultivating Natural Mentors

Jennifer Schwanke thinks back to her painful first days as a teacher in a "mentor-free" zone and shares how literacy leaders can cultivate and foster natural mentorships for new teachers.

Honesty, Ignorance, and Building Relationships

How are leaders supposed to provide thoughtful insights when they don't know much about what they are observing? Jennifer Schwanke shares how she builds her knowledge base and rapport with teachers when faced with gaps in her expertise.

Doodlebug

What makes a teacher memorable? Recognizing a child's passions from the very first day of school. Jennifer Schwanke recounts how her second-grade teacher did just that.

Bring Back Read Aloud

Jennifer Schwanke interviews older students and discovers their most beloved memories of elementary school involve read alouds.

Math, Literacy, and RTI

Jennifer Schwanke explores connections between content literacy and RTI plans.

An Open Apology

Jennifer Schwanke crafts a letter (never to be sent) to parents of her students from years past, remembering all her early blunders as a middle school teacher. This would be a fun piece to share at a new-teachers orientation, or as a workshop icebreaker for chatting about how teachers have changed over the years.

Advocating for English Language Learners

Of all the skills teachers of English language learners need, knowing how to advocate for students may be the most important. Jennifer Schwanke explains why.

Hiring Teachers for English Language Learners

Jennifer Schwanke shares interview questions and ways to analyze candidate responses when hiring teachers of English language learners.

Best Part of Me

Jennifer Schwanke shares a favorite activity for building community and self-esteem.

Hiring for Literacy: The Big Picture

Jennifer Schwanke explains why leaders need to have a thoughtful hiring process in place when seeking excellent literacy teachers.

Hiring for Literacy: The Interview

These interview questions from Jennifer Schwanke are accompanied by a guide for what to look for in the answers from candidates, as well as potential red flags.

Staying Focused: How Leaders Can Keep Their Passion for Literacy Alive

Jennifer Schwanke shares nine strategies to use in the midst of days, weeks, and months that seem to be nothing but distractions.

Coaching Minute: Read to Every Class

Principal Jennifer Schwanke has a simple strategy for building connections to every reader in her school: she regularly reads to every class.

Literacy Day

Jennifer Schwanke tackles the challenge of developing an inviting curriculum for an "extra day" added to the school calendar because of weather disruptions.

Leadership 101: Knowing When to Step Back

Jennifer Schwanke prepares to lead a book study group among colleagues, and finds teachers are balking at the idea of adding one more responsibility. She asks herself an essential leadership question: Should I pull back or push?

Learning from Students

What makes a great teacher? Jennifer Schwanke asks students, and the provocative responses are wonderful food for thought.

What Kenny Taught Me

Jennifer Schwanke has a student who just won't sit still and behave appropriately in her middle school classroom. She finally gives up. That's where the learning begins.

Literacy Learning and Parent Teacher Organizations

Jennifer Schwanke changes her collaboration with her school's Parent Teacher Organization when she realizes that many in the group don't have the background knowledge to understand current practices.

Phrasal Verbs and English Language Learners

Jennifer Schwanke writes about the need for teachers to understand how phrasal verbs work and why it is essential to teach them explicitly to English language learners.

Literacy and Technology: Changing Structures

Jennifer Schwanke finds her school's computer lab feels more like a relic from a 1980s typing classroom than an entry point to the digital world for students. Here's what she changed to bring the resources into the current century.

Making Classics Relevant for Middle School Students

Jennifer Schwanke helps middle school students make connections between classics and their current reading.

Slow Down: The Power of Two-Word Goals

Jennifer Schwanke is a minimalist when it comes to setting goals, and her advice may help you focus your expectations in the new year too.

Reluctant Teachers and Nonfiction

How do you work with teachers who refuse to change the quantity or quality of nonfiction reading and writing in their classrooms? Jennifer Schwanke has some suggestions.
 

The View from a Principal’s Window

Jennifer Schwanke writes about professional insecurities, and connects her experiences to building confidence in young readers and writers.

Why I Hate Homework

Tell us how you really feel! Jennifer Schwanke shares her passionate views about homework as a principal and parent. When is the last time you’ve talked with teachers about homework demands? This is an article you might use to open up some lively discussions.

The Worried Parent

Jennifer Schwanke shares a common experience for principals — meeting with parents who are worried about the progress of their child.

Picture It: A Soothing Workspace

Given the stresses of her job as a principal, Jennifer Schwanke makes a commitment to keeping her workspace not only organized and uncluttered, but soothing.

Reading to Students

Jennifer Schwanke finds time in her busy schedule as a principal to read three books in every classroom in her elementary school every year. She explains why it’s worth her time, and how she selects the books.

Improvement Plan

Have you ever had to develop and implement an improvement plan with a struggling teacher? Jennifer Schwanke not only faced this challenge — she had to mentor a teacher who was two decades older and resistant. She explains how her work with the teacher and the plan evolved over two years of collaboration.

Literacy in the Music Room: A Sequence of Lessons

Jennifer Schwanke describes the work of a music teacher who integrates literacy learning into her curriculum.

Book Hooks

Jennifer Schwanke uses the charming "book hook" activity to recommit to keeping reading and classroom visits at the heart of her work as a principal.

Family Literacy Night

Family Literacy Nights have become popular in many schools. Principal Jennifer Schwanke describes the format for a successful event, including a sample program and tips.

Two Teachers and One Kindergartner

Principal Jennifer Schwanke looks at the challenging issue of retention and the power of teamwork.

Evaluating the Literacy Classroom

Jennifer Schwanke remembers the awkward and stressful experience of being evaluated as a young teacher. In her work now as a principal, she’s developed her own criteria for evaluating teachers.

Reading as Reward

Principal Jennifer Schwanke finds herself on a mad dash to buy a baked potato for a struggling reader, and this is the moment that crystallizes for her everything that is wrong with most reading rewards (especially those involving food).

Book Memories

Jennifer Schwanke finds connections between her childhood, teaching, and school leadership in this heartwarming essay.

Literacy, Phys Ed, and Workshops Across the Curriculum

Jen Schwanke is surprised when a terrific language arts teacher switches to physical education, until she realizes that workshop instruction is good teaching in almost any subject area.

Trauma and Literacy

Jen Schwanke remembers her own experiences with trauma as a scared young girl, and how one kind teacher made all the difference in putting her on the path to healing. This makes her ponder the power of literacy in reaching wounded students in our midst.

Student-Led Conferences from Many Perspectives

Jennifer Schwanke and Franki Sibberson share four perspectives on student-led conferences — teacher, principal, student, and parent.

Avoiding Implementation Through Lamination

Jennifer Schwanke questions the routines of how wall displays are used in classrooms.

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