The Book of Quotes

Once again, I am excited to share a guest blog post written by Tonia McLane, a 5th grade teacher in our district. Here, she shares an idea that came from digging deeply into our EL Education curriculum and how it drastically changed the culture of her classroom. Enjoy!

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I remember playing school with my brothers growing up – grading their papers and helping them learn to read and write. My passion for education continued into college at Trevecca Nazarene University, where I majored in education. As one of the older students in my graduating class, I graduated in 2008 when I was 28 years old, and I began my teaching career at Metro Nashville Public Schools. I spent one year in third grade and the rest of those teaching years in fourth grade. 

In 2015, I started working for the Murfreesboro City Schools District as an ESL teacher, which I adored. It gave me a new appreciation for different cultures and allowed me to meet some fantastic students and their families. In October 2019, my principal asked if I would consider taking over a fifth grade class. After discussing it with those closest to me, I agreed and never looked back. 

I've been teaching professionally for 16 years, and it is my passion. My class this year has had challenges, but we have also overcome so much. In the beginning, I struggled to connect with them. There were some I "clicked" with right away, but others seemed more distant.  My group this year needed a little extra encouragement and to realize they were so much more than a name on my roster. This group is full of big and bold personalities, and they would often add extra stress on themselves when it came to testing and comparing themselves to others. Creating the kind of culture I knew they needed was hard. 

Then I ran across these words from Ron Berger:


“When a student completes her schooling and enters adult life, for the rest of her life she will be judged not by test scores, but rather two things: The quality of her work and the quality of her character.” 

This quote adorns the back of his best-selling book A Culture of Quality, and it changed everything for me. I saw that we needed a daily dose of inspiration tied to the quality of our work and character, not test scores and stress.

Like most teachers, I have a daily message with information for the day. I came across the book There is More in Us Than We Know, A Book of Readings while looking for other books to support my use of our EL curriculum. I quickly fell in love with the words of wisdom it portrayed throughout its pages and decided to add them to my daily messages. "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel," by Carl W. Buehner was the first quote I used. We were having a challenging time in class, so it was a perfect way to start our morning meeting discussion. What a great discussion it was. 

I continued to choose quotes for my daily message until a student brought me a quote they had found and asked if I could use theirs.  The quote from B.B. King read,  “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” It was perfect so I added it. This led to other students looking for quotes to add to our daily message.  One student chose to use, "We can choose to be a character in a story written out by someone else, or we can choose to be the author of our own story," by Ruby Garcia. When I asked the student why they chose that particular quote they told me, “I'm tired of following the crowd, I'm ready to do my own thing.”  As a fun aside, my husband occasionally asks if my students have any excellent weekly quotes. Luckily for him, I have a fellow Star Wars fan, so his favorite comes from Master Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try."


About a week into doing this, several students would come to the carpet for our morning meeting with their quote of the day written on an index card. When I asked them why, one said, "It helps me remember something positive." Another one said, "It was something I wanted to remember forever." I was floored. I was amazed that something so simple, like choosing a quote for my daily message, evolved into something so personal for my students. 


The following week, they asked if they could create our very own Book of Quotes for our class. Of course, I said, "YES!"  We started by having six students take turns writing the quotes in our class book, and I noticed they were adding their own quotes to the pages of our book. Some were ones they found, some were things I said in class, and my favorites were the ones they wrote or created independently.  I was often amazed at how the quote they pulled was something I needed to read at that moment. One in particular that stands out is Nelson Mandela's statement, "It always seems impossible until it's done."  

When state testing rolled around, and we were all feeling the pressure that comes with it, they would look through our Book of Quotes pages before we began testing, and you could almost feel the stress fall off. This book allowed them to reflect on their words of wisdom and affirmations to help ease the stress of state testing. I often find myself grabbing the book and flipping through its pages when I need words of encouragement.  


Last summer, I attended a Literacy Institute created by Dr. Cathy Pressnell, a five-day program where we took the time to dig into the EL curriculum. On day three, I had my big “aha” moment. You see, each module is divided into units. In units one and two, we build our students' knowledge and guide them along the way. When they get to unit three, that is their chance to shine, because at the end of each unit three students have a performance task, which includes a writing piece or a multimedia presentation. So, fellow EL Education teachers, "DON'T SKIP UNIT THREE." The Book of Quotes is now a part of my unit three. I empowered them with words of wisdom; in return, they took it and ran with it.

Our class Book of Quotes has impacted me more now than when we began. They do more than inspire me and my students; they enable me to create a connection with my students that goes beyond just the curriculum, and our book brought our class together in ways I never thought possible. Our morning meetings are more genuine and meaningful, and the relationships we built were more substantial and sincere. This could be your answer if you are looking for a small way to make a significant impact on your classroom community. 

What an amazing example of empowering students to lead their own learning, Tonia!

Here's to simply teaching well,

No comments

Post a Comment