Books for Transformation: Counting by 7s

Last month I shared TED Talks to provide inspiration for transformation.  This month, I draw your attention to published texts that relate directly or indirectly to the Visioning work.  Beyond reading the books highlighted this month, I challenge you to share them with others through conversations rooted in positive, intentional change in classrooms, at schools, and across districts.

To kick off this series of posts, All American Boys and Save Me a Seat were shared with a focus on perspective, the lives of children and adolescents, and the role schools play in their social lives.

Then, I shared Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, highlighting the need for accessibility to content and commitment by educators to see the possibilities within students as individuals.

Last week, I drew your attention to Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, emphasizing the technological device that gave a child’s words a voice, altering the trajectory of her educational experience changes for the better, forever.

Now, I bring you to Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Published in 2013, this book has been named a New York Times Bestseller, has appeared on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List in 2014-2015, and has been recognized for numerous other awards.


Counting by 7s is the story of a child who endures loss, experiences the generosity of others, and positively impacts those close to her through actions and perspective that make her unique.  Oh, and she’s gifted.  She’s highly gifted, that is, with a passion for gardens and medical conditions.  Willow Chance is a character that turns the table of teacher and student.  Willow schools her counselor and is an educator of others in many ways.

Connections between this novel and the Visioning work are most apparent in the structure of  Framework for Vision Driven Leadership.

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The Framework was developed based on three major domains, one of which outlines a seamless connection to the story within Counting by 7s.  The Framework’s Domain 2 reads: Act and Adjust Based on Data, Student Need, and Passion.

We know (Premise IIb) learning should be specified to the “profound level,” that is, students are able to apply their learning to new situations, to synthesize, solve problems, create knowledge, and cultivate and utilize the full range of their capabilities.  When district, school, and classroom decisions are based solely on the results of standardized tests, the opportunity for learning at a profound level is greatly missed.  Early in the story Willow sits for such a test and the events that follow lead her to the guidance counselor that will play a key role in the next few significant months of her life.

“In 17 minutes and 47 seconds I got up from my seat and walked to the front of the room, where I handed the answer form and the booklet to the teacher…I received a perfect score.”

A week after the standardized test, Willow was called to the principal’s office to hear this heartbreaking statement:

“Your file shows that you were identified several years ago as having high aptitude.  Your teachers report no evidence of that.  No one in the state got a perfect test score.”

As an educator my mind is swimming with questions at this point (knowing this is fiction, I still wonder):

  • What does a standardized assessment look like in which no student in the entire state is capable of receiving a perfect score?
  • What does this assessment measure?
  • What evidence do Willow’s teachers report/not report related to her high aptitude?
  • With this assessment given 7 days into the school year, in what ways have the principal and teachers sought means to know Willow and her abilities?
  • Why is it that at no point during the “47-minute-long interrogation” the principal chose to seek input from Willow?

Willow has interests, passions that impact her depth of character in this story.  She continues to learn about medical conditions and gardening in spite of the obvious disconnect between her passions and her educational experience – that educational experience stalls early on, well before it gains any form of traction.  We recognize that our goal related to curiosity and imagination in the academic core is for students to have full access to a broad-based curriculum and to challenge themselves, and make choices based upon high self-interest and in consideration of future trends/skill needs.

“I would live here at Beale Memorial Library, if it were any kind of viable option…Because: books=comfort.”

This is a girl after my own heart!  Willow finds comfort in books and respite in counting by her favorite number: 7.  Following passions in both the liberal arts as well as the hard sciences is a combination that is not often supported.  Frequently, we categorize ourselves and our students by seeking strengths in one of these two areas of study, but not some combination of the two.

Counting by 7s is a lens through which I will consider the role of interest and passion-driven learning as well as the monumental responsibility we, as educators, bear as we pour ourselves into our students who are experiencing loss and subsequent recovery.  Much like the other books highlighted in this series, I will discuss this book with colleagues as often as they will engage in conversation.

I encourage you to read (or re-read) Counting by 7s and talk to someone about this book. Ask questions.  Challenge your thinking.


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