Celebrating Our Learners through a Success Lens: Losing the Labels that Blind Us

by Mary Howard

Your grateful #G2Great co-moderators (Fran, Jenn, Amy and me) are so inspired by the dedicated educators who flash onto our Twitter screen each Thursday at 8:30 EST to engage in passionate warp speed dialogue. You get to experience the joyful conversations we support and celebrate each week, but what you don’t see is the joyful behind the scenes planning that grows into those conversations within a community of #G2Great learners. The four of us gather from across the map to ponder topics worthy of your gracious gift of one hour. Our ideas reflect a professional itch we can’t wait to scratch in the company of amazing educators. Some rise from our own curiosities while others rise from the thinking you’ve inspired us to bring to life on the screen. Our dedicated curiosity-inspired itch scratching sessions reflect the ultimate passionate planning we happily do in your honor.

Our #G2Great chat on 1/15/18, Celebrating Our Learners through a Success Lens: Losing the Labels that Blind Us, was an itch we couldn’t wait to scratch. This topic has come up on several occasions across most of our #G2Great chats and it’s a conversation that I have personally celebrated with Molly Ness, Brent Gilson and my own facebook page.

Any educator would be hard pressed to question the critical importance of putting the topic of labeling on the chopping block discussion table. I am certain that our #G2Great family would agree that it is our responsibility and honor to celebrate each child we are fortunate to have in our professional care. But the only way that we can do this is to truly see the child. If labels are all we see, our vision field is narrowed and will blur our view of the amazing filled-with-potential children in front of us.

Since this topic is particularly near and dear to my heart, this week I’d like to share my personal reflections inspired by our chat using three questions and then share inspired tweets at the end of my post.

What are some of the labels that blind us?

Labels have been a part of the educational universe since I began teaching in a special education classroom in small town Missouri in 1972. Labels come in every shape, size, color, nationality and personality and can be both legitimate terms that could potentially inform (not dictate) instruction when viewed flexibly or simply perceived and ill-conceived. There are far too many labels to mention but I think of them as falling into five categories including Diagnosis-Based that range from medical, psychological, cognitive, and physical diagnoses to grossly unqualified individuals diagnosing without benefit of diagnostic qualifications: autistic, ADHD, handicapped, OCD dyslexic, mentally retarded, depression, gifted; Assessment-Based: test, score, level, lexile, grade (or any number that can be charted on a color-coded spreadsheet); Setting-Based: tier, resource, special education, Title 1, remedial, intervention; Class-Based: poverty, race, parental education, financial position; or the very dangerous Descriptor-based: behavior problem, struggling, noisy, hyper, slow, shy, introvert, extrovert, bully, lazy, cry baby, stubborn, pig-headed, troubled, trouble maker, scatterbrained, handicapped (the most dangerous and degrading list of all because all it takes is a slip of the tongue or prejudicial designation). The terms listed above are only a small sampling of those that are pervasive in our schools. I’m quite certain that if you added to this list, it would double or triple. The one thing they all have in common is that when using any label to define children, we risk blurring the lines between what we know about that child and what is professionally useful. Any term that forces us to turn a blind eye to who this child truly is as a human and learner beneath what we see on the surface will become a label that can last lifetime.

What is the potential impact of these labels?

The potential impact of these labels is immense and can quickly spread like a virus across a building. There is a real danger for labels to formulate and perpetuate the myth that children are in some way flawed – thus leading to flawed thinking that could translate into flawed practices. While a diagnosis from qualified professionals may represent legitimately useful information if viewed in a flexible and open-minded way that draws from other sources of information, there is also a risk for the gross misrepresentation that will alter our view of children. Even a legitimate diagnostic terms can be misinterpreted when viewed narrowly. For example, ten children diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia will reflect ten different sets of needs since there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or solution. This means that we have a responsibility to know the child beyond the diagnosis so that we can explore the most appropriate and timely instructional goals based on the needs of this child rather simply a term of any kind. As a past special education teacher, I was obligated to identify descriptors from a pre-determined list that would then give me computerized goals that were not helpful until I could mentally add may own knowledge about my students into the mix. Sadly, this approach is still prevalent with or without the use of computers in the form of narrow grab-and-go goals that are usually far removed from the child. Legitimate or not, any term must be used in professionally responsive ways since hyper focusing on any term while excluding our understandings about children will muddy the instructional waters and cause us to lose sight of the child. I’m even more concerned about the other categories since they often reflect irresponsible labels educators apply to children without benefit of seeing the child beneath the surface, meaning that behaviors can cause emotional reactions to the behavior itself without any attempt to uncover what that behavior could be telling us about this child. Quite frankly, far too many of the labels I placed on this list are mean-spirited and laden with questionable knowledge or personal biases that have little to do with unique learners that fill our classrooms. Sadly, they can also reflect personal preferences so that a teacher who likes a quiet classroom is more likely to label a child as noisy or disruptive rather than to attempt understand the child or even question our own belief systems.

How do we counteract labels to keep children at the center?

This is certainly the ultimate question we should all be asking across an entire school. In order to counteract labels, we must take the culture of the building into account and build a bridge between the labels that diminish our efforts and the student-centered perspectives that will allow us to view our children in a celebratory rather than critical way. We can begin this shift by thinking in terms of three steps: perception, collaboration, application.

PERCEPTION

Our first step is to increase our own awareness that these terms are often used when we don’t even realize it. We have become so immune to saying or hearing label-inducing language that we may not even recognize that it exists all around us and is far more widespread than we are willing to acknowledge. What if we took it upon ourselves to come together as a school so that we can listen for and capture labeling language that is filling the learning air poisoning our thinking from one side of a building to the next. Considering how quickly these terms can morph into label that limit our view of children, this would be a worthy use of time. Imagine if we gathered terms that are actually being used personally and by others and then listed them for all to see. The goal isn’t to point a finger of blame since we are all guilty of doing this without a second thought. Rather, our goal is to turn the process of creating a visible list into a reflective process. Even better, we could ask teachers to make a personal list of the terms that creep into their own language and add them to the chart anonymously. A concrete visual reference would increase our awareness and lead to meaningful conversations about how we can view our children in more purposeful and productive ways. We can’t tackle the issue of labeling until we acknowledge that it’s an issue in the first place. I suspect that every school might be astonished just how quickly this list grows.

COLLABORATION

Once we put a zoom lens on the labels we use without thinking, then we need to consider how we will change the way we think about children. To change our culture and avoid the labels that travel with kids indefinitely and lead to a THAT child mentality, we must alter the kind of dialogue we are having about children so that we can literally change the face of those conversations. When I sit in on a team meeting or talk with teachers to explore their instructional goals and practices, I have to ensure that these terms don’t thwart our efforts to keep our sights on the child. One of the first things we can do to accomplish this is to ensure that we are keeping this child in our discussion in a very concrete way. If we placed a photograph of that child in clear view, we would be more cognizant that we are not talking about a number, descriptor or score but a living breathing child who depends on us to keep our conversations grounded. A visible photograph will offer a visible reminder to keep our discussions rooted in what we actually know about that child rather than what we think based on an opinion or a number that rarely reflects the real picture. We can enrich this process by using the child’s name frequently along with specific now noticings that can lead to next step actions. Respectful conversations move us from labels to understanding. To extend this, I ask teachers to use a strengths-based approach by naming three things the child can do before offering even one need. This is an important shift in our thinking because strengths keep our sights on what is amazing about this child at this moment in time and become a stepping stone to next step goals. When  this collaborative process moves us from deficit discourse to success discourse, it ultimately becomes a way of thinking that is worth spreading across our building.

APPLICATION

One of the most important ways that we can counteract these labels is to consider how our decision-making can exacerbate the very things that may have led us to those labels in the first place. This step allows us to hold up a reflective mirror and turn our own thinking inward to consider whether what we do sets up roadblocks to students’ success so that we can relinquish anything that is bringing labels to life in our own minds. We can begin by letting go of the defective notion that one-size-fits-all instruction is a common sense proposition since we do not have one-size-fits-all children. If we could step back from programs, packages and scripts that derail us and flip the word fidelity from publishers to children, I suspect that most of the things we see that lead to labels would begin to dissipate from view. If we omitted computerized tasks that attempt very poorly to do the work only a knowledgeable teacher can do then labels would begin to dissipate from view. If we made student choice a priority across every learning day then labels would begin to dissipate from view. If we created joyful learning experiences that revolve around beautiful books reflective of our children then labels would begin to dissipate from view. If we got rid of level charts, classroom library leveled bins, Accelerated Reader scores, clip up charts and every questionable approach that does little more than beg for the designations of haves and have nots then labels would begin to dissipate from view. This reflective mirror turned inwards forces us to take a long hard look at our own practices so we can question what we do, why we do it and how it impacts children in positive or negative ways. Once we do this, we can then reflect on how to invest our precious time and energy where it matters most – crafting learning opportunities filled with high expectations within a learning environment that celebrates meaningful authentic reading, writing and talking. Combine this purposeful use of time with open-ended flexible experiences and we demonstrate that we embrace the children we have rather than the children we wish we had. In short, we could alleviate the labels that set up instructional roadblocks by assuming professional responsibility for our own professional decision-making so that we can redesign learning environments where every child can and will thrive because we chose to make that our first priority.

In closing, we must be more intentional in our efforts to lose the labels and create a culture of deep respect for our children. I believe that these three questions could be the starting point to that end. At #G2Great, we take labels that blind us to the remarkable children in front of us very seriously. At a time when levels, tests, scores, grades and numbers have come to rule our lives, it is more important than ever that we are aware of the labels that diminish our efforts so that we can open the door to conversations that will lift us to the highest heights of amazing. In her exquisite new book, Literacy Essentials, Regie Routman states:

Instead of thinking, “What’s wrong with the learner?” let’s ask, “What might I offer or do differently to ensure the students is successful?” Sometimes it just takes some compassion, honest, but kind feedback and easy-to-implement ideas to get students started. 

We have a professional responsibility to children and a moral obligation to lose those labels in their honor. In the words of Kylene Beers, A Kid is Not an “H.”  Perhaps we can also agree that a kid is not a diagnosis, assessment, setting, class or descriptor. Any label that is used to define children will blind us to the remarkable child we can only see when we celebrate them in all their bountiful glory from every possible angle.

Look closely my friends and we just might be surprised by the beauty we see when we do!

Some of inspired #G2Great Tweets

 

 

 

 

Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning with Thomas Newkirk

by Amy Brennan

On January 18, 2018 #G2Great was honored to have Thomas Newkirk as the guest host. Thomas Newkirk has long been an eduhero of mine, two of his books, Minds Made For Stories and Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones greatly shaped my thinking and learning. His latest book is the one he joined us on #G2Great to discuss and I could tell as soon as I read the beginning pages it would be another book to impact me deeply.

In the beginning pages of his latest book, Embarassment and The Emotional Underlife of Learning Thomas Newkirk talks about the pages of the book being “the help we need, the voices we need to hear, the barriers we need to overcome.” He explores the “emotional underlife of teaching,” a topic that needs a space for analysis and discourse.  As I read through the pages and reflected on the #G2Great twitter chat I came to realize this is exactly the book we need in education today.  

I watch students and teachers silently struggle, not taking risks, hiding their embarassment by deflecting attention from teaching and learning to trivial topics that are mere distractions from the fear of revealing themselves. All of this because they fear the consequences of what comes by revealing their own struggles.

Share the Struggle

“I’ll go first.” Through the opening line in his book, Newkirk brings us into a story where he offers a narrative we can hold onto when he was young and experienced an embarssing moment in school. As educators, whether we are teachers, administrators or staff developers we need to follow Newkirk’s lead and say, “I’ll go first.” Sharing struggles and modeling how to talk about failure is the first step in suppporting all learners, whether they are adults or children. Too often educators and students do not feel comfortable revealing what they do not know or when they are learning something new that contradicts what they have been doing for so many years. This unfortunately is compouded because in education there is a perception that when you are at a certain point in your career or if you are a student and were always told you were “smart” – even the thought of revealing a weakness can be paralyzing. We tend to avoid situations that we perceive could show us failing, we believe if this does not go well and our weaknesses are revealed it will be a catastrophe. Embarassment silences learners, whether those learners are teachers in a professional learning setting or they are children inside a classroom. By acknowleding this emotional underlife of teaching we can begin share struggles and build safe spaces to be open about our own learning. We can give space to adults and children to try new things by giving time and space for students and teachers to talk – we can no longer allow the silence that comes from embarassment to hinder anyone’s ability to learn, whether they are adults or children.  Model ways to ask for help, provide a sample of the language and be specific in the help you would like. We can start class, a professional development session or a faculty meeting with an “I’ll go first, let me share with you what I struggled with.”

 

Talk with the Team

My husband watches sports, every sport, all the time. I used to watch with him and now I just watch once in a while and with a completely different lens. Athletes and their audiences view mistakes or failures publicly and then move on immediately. Newkirk spoke with athletes and their coaches to better understand how they develop the capacity to face embarassment,move on and try again. In the moment athletes have to recover from setbacks, they have to clear their heads and try again. This is how they continue to take risks to perform their best. They do not let the embarassment lead to cautious and limiting behaviors. Newkirk points out that athletes have coaches and teams that support them and say it is ok, move on. They get past the failure. We need to be more like coaches and teams in order to create supportive environments where we learners can try, fail, try again and find success. We have to acknowledge that learning in education is just like sports, we may experience multiple iterations before we see success and likely we may suceed once in practice but when we are in the game, we might fail. We need to clear our head of that particular failure and try again. We can experience multiple iterations of something before we get it. We have to allow that for our students and we have to allow that for ourselves. Let’s talk with the team, create a safe environment where we can look at how we do something together and then support each other in moving past that to build the capacity to be resilient and not allow embarassment to get in the way of our learning process.

Frame the Fear

As I look at the walls of my family room I notice that they are adorned with frames with pictures of my family. Each one frames a particular moment in time, holding it as a precious memory of a time when… Those pictures capture a particular moment in time.  You cannot tell from that one picture what happened before or after or even what I was thinking before or after. When looking at the word frame in reference to a movie or film which tells a longer story, the frame is a single one still photo that is part of a series that creates the film or video. If we can learn to frame the fear you can see what comes next and it does not have to be catastrophic. The more we push past the fear frame the more we will become reslient to failure and allow ourselves to try again which will ultimately lead to continued growth and learning. As we share the struggle with our colleagues and students and create spaces for ongoing talk with the team we can begin to frame the fear that we have for embarassment. It is then that we will be able to allow ourselves and our students to take risks as learners to grow.

Check out the Tweets below from the #G2Great chat.

 


If you want to explore this topic more or learn and read about Thomas Newkirk follow the links below:

Embarrassment: The Emotional Underlife of Learning by Tom Newkirk (Heinemann)

https://www.heinemann.com/products/e08877.aspx

 

Heinemann Blog: Tom Newkirk: On Writing Embarrassment—An Interview with Myself

https://blog.heinemann.com/on-writing-embarrassment-an-interview-with-myself/

 

Paul Hankins: “From Reflecting and Rejecting to Ringing In and Rallying In”

http://paulwhankins.edublogs.org/2018/01/02/from-reflecting-and-rejecting-to-ringing-in-and-rallying-in/

 

Embarrassment, it’s how we learn (video interview)

http://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/207/embarrassment-its-how-we-grow/506947365

 

 

 

Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners

by Mary Howard

By the time 1/11/18 rolled around, my enthusiasm for what was about to ensue had already reached a record high. On this momentous day, Regie Routman graced our #G2great stage for the first time as we gathered to celebrate her exquisite new book Twitter style, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018). This virtual celebration was the perfect way to follow our 3-year anniversary on 1/4/18 since Regie’s presence reignited our collective curiosity for teaching and learning.

I became a devoted Regie Routman fan when Transitions was published in 1988 (Heinemann). From the first reading, Transitions became my professional battle cry for the “child-centered, literature-based reading and writing” I knew that all children deserved. I was elated to learn that another book was on the horizon and grateful for the opportunity to read her new book pre-publication. Before I could finish the first two pages, I knew that I was holding Regie magic in my hands yet again:

Equal opportunity to learn depends on a culture of engagement and equity, which underlies a relentless pursuit of excellence. (p 1)

I believe we have to love our work if we are to expend the necessary effort teaching requires. To love it, we have to savor the teaching process while leading full and encompassing lives. To love it, we have to be passionate and knowledgeable. If you’ve lost that love, this book is for you, to help you reclaim joyful teaching and pass on to your students an enduring desire for curiosity and a love of learning. (2)

In Literacy Essentials, Regie asks us to move from teacher-as-technician dutifully following scripts, programs, and rigid data to teacher as thinker responsibly keeping children at the center of all we do. (p 3-4) As a reader, I can assure you that Regie’s words will support our efforts to reclaim the joyful teaching that rises from every page of this oh so wise book. I believe so strongly that Literacy Essentials is a Professional Must Have.

In celebration of an amazing #G2Great chat with Regie gently nudging our thinking, I perused her tweets to uncover literacy essentials Twitter style. I thought about how each fit into the three categories: Engagement, Excellence and Equity. For the sake of brevity, I narrowed her tweets to five, using two for the post with three additional tweets provided at the end. My reflections rise directly from Regie’s words with the intent to support and extend the chat while illustrating why a thoughtful read of this professional masterpiece from cover to cover is absolutely indispensable.

Engagement Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

One of the first things that struck me as I thought about Regie’s words was her reference to heart and mind celebrations from teachers’ and students’ perspective. This elaborated view from both sides illustrates the dual role of professional and instructional endeavors. This role begins when teachers are offered professional opportunities to build knowledge that will engage their mind and heart. These meaningful experiences then lead teachers to adopt a celebratory view of teaching in action. In other words, emotional engagement increases the potential for intellectual engagement while intellectual engagement increases the potential for heightened emotional engagement. This head-heart intellectual-emotional merger then begins to blossom into a persistent quest for classroom practices that become a springboard for student-centered mind and heart engagement. It seems to me that this again plays a dual role since teacher engagement can have a positive impact on student engagement and vice versa. This happens when we focus on meaningful, purposeful, productive and authentic learning opportunities where choice is a central feature. These learning experiences are not limited to the boundaries of our four walls but extend to real-world engaged learning that happens when our children leave those walls. As Regie reminds us, head-heart celebrations leading to high engagement is unlikely when compliant skill and drill is the driving force of our efforts.

Excellence Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

In order to create the classrooms our children deserve, we must first be willing to broaden our frame of reference. In too many classrooms, literacy is relegated to a ninety-minute reading block where all of our literacy efforts live. An intellectual culture extends beyond the clock so that we are able to see opportunities across the learning day that will maximize our literacy efforts. Reading and writing become the invisible thread that tie our day together and dramatically increase the opportunities afforded us to enrich the literacy lives of children within every content area. When clock time is not viewed as an instructional constraint, we also increase the potential for transfer as we are able to offer multiple exposure in varied contexts across time. Regie highlights the role of meaningful reading opportunities where choice is a key feature. But if we have any hope of creating the life-long, comprehending, inquiring readers Regie describes, we must make an unwavering commitment to voluminous reading and writing opportunities our students need. While there are certainly many time constraints in the learning day, many of those are created by the professional choices we make. Regie eloquently reminds us that guided reading can be one of those constraints when it is emphasized to the exclusion of daily authentic reading opportunities such as independent reading and read aloud. When guided reading, or any instructional context becomes over-emphasized and used in excess, we find that there is an instructional tradeoff  that limits the time students need to apply what they are learning in these instructional contexts so they can begin to assume increasing control of their own reading process. Of course, this elevates the value of providing the meaningful professional learning opportunities that will help teachers avoid this hyper focus on one area of instruction to the detriment of another.

Equity Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

While equity is not always part of the collective conversations we have in schools, Regie emphasizes that it certainly should be. She highlights several key areas that can negatively impact our efforts to address equity and in turn the quality of the very learning opportunities we so readily offer some children and not others. Each time we allow labels and numerical values that are based on flawed assessments to define children, we will inevitably lower our expectations and thus increase the likelihood that we will in turn narrow our practices to their lowest counterparts in an isolated skill and drill mentality. Equity means that we afford all children the same authentic experiences that occur through high quality texts and experiences that could entice our children to willingly participate in the engaged reading that will lift them as readers. This does not mean that we do not teach skills and strategies but that we focus on a whole to part to whole approach so that learning context is always rooted in meaning and purpose. In order to ensure equal access to our best instruction for every child we must alter the viewpoint of children as the haves and have nots and shift that view by seeing each child through a success lens rather than one blurred by perceived deficits. Regie’s reminder to celebrate strengths before needs illustrates this point. Equity requires us to assume a new stance as we see children in terms of what they each bring to the learning table and to use this as a support stepping stone to what they cannot yet do. We do this by creating a culture of respect for what every child brings to the learning experience as we expand our view within and beyond our classrooms by building a bridge between home and school.

In an age where scripts, packages, and mandates beckon educators at every turn, Regie gives us the professional antidote to these distractions in 385 pages of wisdom. Literacy Essentials and Regie’s sage Take Action advice expertly woven across the pages of the book will undoubtedly inspire educators to refocus their efforts. When all we do is squarely centered on ensuring that every child will receive the learning opportunities they so richly deserve – well only then can we truly begin to celebrate the children we are fortunate enough to have in our classrooms.

And so we come full circle. In 1988, Regie wrote these words in Transitions:

Genuine literacy implies using reading, writing, thinking, and speaking daily in the real world, with options, appreciation, and meaningful purposes in various setting and with other people. An actively literate person is constantly thinking, learning, and reflecting, and is assuming the responsibility for continued growth in personal literacy.

As I come to the close of this post, my thoughts turn back to Regie’s remarkable book that was penned thirty years after Transitions was published. Literacy Essentials reflects Regie’s unwavering commitment to this spirit as she poses a question worth answering:

How do we rise to the challenge of providing an engaging, excellent, equitable education for all learners–including those from high-poverty, underserved schools? In spite of all the obstacles we face­–politically, professionally, personally–we teachers matter more than ever. (p 1)

Without hesitation, I can answer that question with one imperative. If we put Regie’s book in every school in this country, we could use it to engage teachers in powerful dialogue that has the potential to bring engagement, excellence and equity to life in classrooms everywhere.

Thank you for continuing to inspire us to do this important work Regie!

MORE TWEET ESSENTIALS

Engagement Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Excellence Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Equity Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Regie’s discusses Literacy Lenses on this Stenhouse podcast: https://www.facebook.com/mary.c.howard.79/posts/10211621099507065

“I wrote this book because celebration and joy is missing and that is part of the work that I do, where teachers are joyful, the kids are joyful. Without that culture of joy and celebration of strengths before needs we’re never going to get our students where they need to be and where they want to be.”

Fran McVeigh writes about Literacy Lenses

https://franmcveigh.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/sol18-litessentials/

 

 

 

 

#G2Great 3rd Anniversary Celebration: Embracing a Culture of Collective Curiosity

by Mary Howard (and friends)

#G2Great Three-Year Anniversary…oh my!

My heart just explodes with pride every time I utter those lovely words. #G2Great first opened it’s professional collaboration doors on January 8, 2015 after Amy Brennan and Jenn Hayhurst invited me to join them in a six-week exploration of my book, Good to Great Teaching. Our journey over the past three years as moderators and behind the scenes co-conspirators was recently expanded when Fran McVeigh joined the #G2Great party. We never cease to be amazed at the remarkable way #G2Great has blossomed into an celebratory exploration and yet we know that this is far less about our efforts and far more about dedicated educators who show up each week to share their devotion to this amazing profession and to the children who inspire us to continue our own learning.

We chose the title of our anniversary celebration on January 4, 2018 quite intentionally as we believe that Culture of Collective Curiosity defines the very heart and soul of our #G2Great family. Each week as the clock strikes 8:30 EST, #G2Great immediately transforms into a passionately curious community of learners Twitter style. We share. We question. We dialogue. We wonder. We explore. We dream. We imagine. We do all of this based on our collective desire to enrich the learning lives of children and an unwavering determination to do our best work in their honor. We know that our curiosity is the driving force of our efforts and that it can lead us on a joyful quest for excellence. We know this journey is best traveled in the company of others… and so we do.

In celebration of this passionate curiosity inspired collective journey, we decided to turn the #G2Great reins over to some of our friends who have supported our learning endeavors over the years this week. We asked each of them to collaborate with a partner to write one of our questions and then to respond to those questions on this blog. After you finish reading their amazing thinking, be sure to read their reflections along with others about what #G2Great has meant to each of them. aWe hope that you will then add your own thoughts using this link.

This week it’s all about you friends and how much each of you mean to us!

Kitty Donohoe @donohoe_kitty; Brent Gilson @Mrbgilson

Kitty Donohoe

I believe we are all fortunate to be teachers. In my experience, teachers are innately curious. However, it is very easy, in the rush of lesson plans, meetings, and bell driven schedules, to push that instinctive curiosity away.  It is important to be mindful of what is uniquely organic for those of us blessed to be teachers.  To be curious with intention means to stop and reflect about what matters, despite all the distractions. The outside diversions are minor compared to our mission of keeping curiosity and vibrancy alive in ourselves as educators to best support our students in their path of curious adventure.

Brent Gilson

I started this year not purposefully pursuing curiosity in my classroom. I believed that this was an innate skill kids just had. Not knowing that adults and teacher in particular have done much harm to student curiosity. Why do we need to be curious to write exam? Complete essays on main idea? The fact is we don’t but I noticed that students were just going through the motions. Finishing assignments because they had to not because they were passionate about it. Realizing this I started looking more into Voice and Choice and Inquiry. The change has been eye opening. Students are asking to have extra time to work, they are realizing they are in the driver’s seat not just passengers checking off assignments. I wish I had started asking more questions and providing less direct instruction when I first started teaching. I still do lessons on the mechanics, I introduce a writing form we must cover but they get to explore the topics they want (fitting with the outcomes and standards) If they have nothing they wonder about we will dive into Non-fiction look at the world around us. Curiosity is the both the driving force of discovery and the byproduct of it. Learning new things will breed more curiosity. I was always under the impression Inquiry was reserved for Social Studies and Science I have learned the error in my thinking. What greater time is there to explore the world and what we wonder about than with a million books at our fingertips?

Jill and Kim @ShelfieTalk

When our teaching and learning are driven by curiosity, our students become the curriculum.  Our lens shifts to one of uncovering strengths and potentials.  We listen and watch with intention in order to determine where we fit in each students’ path of learning. Our curiosity as educators ignites our own learning.  It keeps us questioning and wondering.  We become investigators and researchers, always asking ourselves, “What are the opportunities for learning here?” Approaching teaching and learning with an air of curiosity means that we see the world as being filled with possibilities.  For curious educators, learning never stops.

Johnny Downey @johnnydowney; Susan Sprout Vincent @ssvincent

Teachers consider many differences in their students as learners, but how well do we honor different dispositions? Introversion and extroversion directly affect students’ development as learners. It’s not about being shy or social. It’s about what drains your energy and what recharges you. It’s about which environments help you think and which shut you down. Knowing about the specific needs of intros and extros can help us orchestrate a learning environment that encompasses the needs of all our learners.

From the Introvert (Susan)

“Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.” This popular quote always makes me feel odd, because it isn’t true for me. I think I’ve learned more in my life by listening and reading than talking — but that’s because that’s how I’m wired. Schools today have placed great value on group work and oral participation in class. But this may be at the expense of those who need quiet solitude to generate thoughts and express themselves through writing more easily than verbally. Are we honoring every way of being and learning in our classrooms?

From the Extrovert (Johnny)

Speaking from very personal experience, I need other humans in order to do my best work. I need to talk and bounce ideas around before I am able to implement a plan. My strength is collaborating with others. When thinking about extroverts in the classroom, these needs can have a very negative appearance to a teacher. It may appear as though we are goofing off or not doing the work because others are involved. In the real world, how many times are we allowed and even expected to work with other professionals? Let’s allow and even expect our extroverted students to work in this way. We are going to better prepare them for the future as well as cultivate their strengths. We can leverage so much out of our students by allowing them to work in the environments that best meet their needs.

Cameron Carter @CRCarter313; Roman Nowak @NowakRo

Cameron Carter

The concept of students expressing curiosity and wonder is very near and dear to my heart. The answer is plain and simple: there is ALWAYS an opportunity to foster creativity. I’ve heard many teachers say they get worried about altering their plans since it may be different than their teammates. First off, you as the teacher know what is BEST for the students that are in YOUR classroom. If you feel something should be altered or changed to allow more creative flow than it is your right to do it! To be honest, some of my best teaching has come from an “off the cuff” discussion with my students. You are the facilitator of learning, and the students are the thinkers. Always allow your students the ability to have a “productive struggle” in which they can think for themselves and create a world of wonder and curiosity! You will be simply amazed at the results!

Roman Nowak

As schools have traditionally been institutions of learning content/knowledge, it is difficult to break from the status quo and transform what schools should look like today. Although content is readily available to everyone, we still see students struggling in school. Therefore, rather than focusing on concepts and content, as educators, we need to focus on developing skills and competencies. If students knew how to find, reflect, analyze information, if they could formulate ideas, communicate efficiently, create innovative ways to demonstrate their learning and solve problems, content would not be as big of an obstacle. Our most important mission is to inspire and allow for curiosity and fun in learning. We need to give students the gift of time for their learning. Do not expect every student to be at the same level at the same time. Give students the freedom to develop their knowledge at their pace. Let them experiment with knowledge and content and to build their own context. We need more passionate learners, more driven and engaged students, rather than compliant individuals who are only done as they are told. We need students who will question, who will break status quo, who will make this world a better place.

Susie Thompson Rolander @suzrolander; Kara Pranikoff @pranikoff

Susie Rolander and Kara Pranikoff

We are all born with immense curiosity. Life is so much more rich when we engage with ideas shared by other people and our own thinking about our surroundings. We need to tune into the thoughts that fill our heads. Our professional curiosity is sparked in three major ways: observation, conversation and reading. Each one feeds the next in a continual loop. We have the privilege of spending our days watching students and teachers (from elementary school to graduate school) in action. We’re always attending to their moves, the messages they communicate in verbal and nonverbal ways and the way their interactions facilitate learning. This quiet observation and notetaking is endlessly stimulating and it makes us appreciate the power of the relationship between the student and teacher and how effective classroom learning can be at every age. Observation is life-changing. We’re in continual conversation with our colleagues in real life and in our strong digital PLN. (Hooray for #G2G! This conversation is our favorite of each week!) We are so much stronger when we listen to other people’s experiences and consider different points of view. This is true of our conversations with students as well. Hearing their ideas always shifts our teaching and makes us curious about the ways we can connect more deeply. Reading; that’s just a conversation between an author and yourself. So every article, Twitter Feed, and professional book we sit with makes us curious and want to learn more. Professional curiosity is what propels our growth. It’s easy to stay curious, there’s so much to learn!

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Mary Howard @DrMaryHoward

Three years ago my life changed forever when two educators I’d never met, Amy Brennan and Jenn Hayhurst, contacted me about doing a six-week book study chat for my book, Good to Great Teaching. Looking back on the email that gave birth to our #G2Great weekly Twitter chat, I am reminded that I was oblivious to the magnitude of this life altering moment and how its impact would exponentially multiply from that day forward. I have been blessed to collaborate weekly with my amazing co-moderators Amy, Jenn and our most recent addition Fran who are all now treasured friends. We enthusiastically do the behind the scenes work that translates into each chat but there is no question in our minds that it is each of you who give #G2Great life. I have made more friends than I can count, friends I know I’ll hold forever dear in my heart. I sit in front of my computer every Thursday night bursting with pride that so many educators from across the globe spend one hour pondering this remarkable work we all do in the name of kids. Each of you willingly share your professional hopes, dreams and aspirations for education by graciously showing up Twitter style so that we can join joyful forces to explore possibilities in what has become a celebration of children and the teachers who change their lives. We are so grateful for each of you because we know that #G2Great would be little more than a hashtag and what began as a book study would have come to a close at the end of those six weeks without you bringing your heart to the chat experiences. We are inspired by your dedicated commitment to kids and that unwavering devotion is the impetus that keeps #G2Great thriving for three years and counting. Thank you for all you do to enrich the lives of children – and in the process enrich ours!

Fran McVeigh @franmcveigh

I’m a newcomer to the #G2Great team, but not to the #G2Great chats.  I know that I can count on my fingers the number of chats that I have missed over the last three years but the impact of #G2Great is beyond all measures.  Mary Howard’s Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters heralded a pivotal change in my work in professional development.  I had the opportunity to put words (Mary’s of course) into moving teachers from unconscious and/or moderately productive practices to conscious and more productive choices in instruction, environment and use of time.  I was thrilled.  And then I found the book study group, the twitter hashtag #G2Great, storifies of the chat, and the blog posts.  Thursday nights became the inspirational point of the week.  Our chats became the focus for reflecting on our own teaching practices as well as inspiring and aspiring to continue to grow and intentionally be better – each and every day! The book, the chats, and this group consist of dedicated teachers searching to be the best teachers in the world. Seeking out answers to puzzling problems. Pondering behaviors that have been relegated to “less than desirable practices” for several decades but that continue to exist behind closed doors.  Actively growing knowledge and skills to become better, stronger teachers. Together the #G2Great community has grown to include dear friends from across the entire country who are generous in their time, energy, thoughts and wisdom.  I am truly blessed to be a member of this community that convenes on a weekly basis to “be all that we can be” collectively.

Jenn Hayhurst @hayhurst3

The reason why it’s so important to offer choice for our students is because our choices impact the way we live our lives. Sometimes, our everyday choices will change our lives in ways we cannot even imagine. The initial collaboration that began with my hopeful tweet to Amy, and then Mary launched me into a passion project that has lasted three years, and counting. That does not even seem possible! The reason I came to Twitter was because I longed to grow a community of collaborators who shared my love for teaching. So much has changed since then. Now, I am part of a dynamic community of people who offer an incredible wealth of knowledge, humor, and support on a daily basis. Now I have an amazing network of not just colleagues, but friends. Amy, and Mary are no longer just virtual colleagues but are my trusted friends. Their names have been integrated into my home as well as my heart. The circle of admiration, love, and respect grew as we added more members to our #G2Great team with the addition of Fran. I had met Fran over the years at NCTE and Teachers College. Now I have come to know her as a smart, gentile, and steadfast person who has enriched my life in many ways. Again, it is my privilege to call her friend. There are so many lessons that #G2Great has taught me so far – but the most important is when presented with an opportunity to learn unabashedly say YES. Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with others – grow your thinking – build relationships! Just say yes to it all without fear or shame. As a result of my choice to begin this #G2Great adventure I have built a network of friendships that have forever changed me.

With much gratitude and love, I want  to celebrate these friends because they are in many ways the  greater extension of our #G2Great team:

So, the choice is yours, what will you decide to create in 2018? I really can’t wait to see what happens next.

Amy Brennan @brennanamy

Pictures tell a story, and sometimes they tell more than one story –  like the multiple plot lines we learn about when we read great books. Recently a photo popped up on my phone. It was a photo of me with Barbara Marsicano and Danielle Goncalves – two of my closest friends from my former school, reading teacher friends, or as we were often called, “The Lovely Ladies of Literacy.” In that selfie we were capturing the three of us at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project on a day we attended to see Dr. Mary Howard present on RTI. The story that is also tells is the beginning of my collaboration with Mary and Jenn. I did not realize at the time that day would be one that would set me on a pathway to an amazing collaboration that has become the #G2Great Twitter Chat and the Literacy Lenses blog. Working alongside Mary, Jenn and now Fran I am grateful for the connections that have grown into friendships and have helped me to grow both personally and professionally. Each Thursday night as we gather around the #G2Great table to chat I reflect on this pathway that brought us all together.

Brent Gilson @Mrbgilson

Everything. I started the #G2Great chats this spring I think with a focus on my favourite book Disrupting Thinking. It was a wild ride but I was so inspired and truthfully fuelled further by the likes and comments from Kylene. I think the power in these chats for my professional development has been the exposure to so much brilliance. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the opportunity to learn from experts in our field let alone call them my friends. That is what #G2Great has meant to me. It has been an opportunity to extend my PLN to build myself up as a teacher and have the opportunity to share my thoughts with others. Most importantly however it introduced me to Dr.Mary Howard who inspires me every morning when I check my facebook while working out, who is a cheerleader for all educators and I am so honored to call my friend.

Susan Vincent @ssvincent

Have you ever gone to see a movie with no idea what it was about? And then loved the movie and been blown away by what you stumbled into? That describes my first experience with a #G2Great chat. I don’t even know how I happened into the chat, but I knew I’d found a network of my tribe. I also knew I’d be back the next week. I believe as teachers we need to be connected to groups of other teachers who can stretch our thinking, give us new ideas, and keep us thinking.  For 19 years of my career I was part of the Reading Recovery network. The network was my professional home, so when my site closed, I felt very much adrift professionally. Of course I had close connections to wonderful educators in my school, but I honestly think we need to connect beyond the walls of our school in order to really grow. This is what #G2Great provides – a network beyond the walls of our schools, where we can keep our finger on the pulse of our profession. We can learn about the newest professional books, learn from the authors themselves, and best of all, learn from teachers from all over the globe who value literacy and share common philosophical beliefs. Thank you to Mary for creating this network and also to Amy, Jenn, and Fran for being so incredibly welcoming to all who stumble in.

Johnny Downey @johnnydowney

Much like Susan, I had no idea what I was getting into the evening of my first #G2Great chat. I remember it being kind of scary at first. I sat back watching the tweets literally fly by on my phone- before the end of Q1 I told myself it’s now or never, just DO IT! I jumped in and the rest is history. Fast forward almost 2 years and I am part of one of the most inspiring and powerful PLNs in the world. Every Thursday evening in my house is Twitter Night, I sit with my phone and computer ready to interact and learn something. I have always been hungry to learn more and the #G2Great chat feeds my curiosities and need for professional learning. Who knows where I would have been had I not connected with this great group of educators, maybe in the same seat I am today, maybe not, but I wouldn’t have access to such a wonderful PLN. Words cannot express my gratitude and thanks to my personal champion, Dr. Mary Howard, for igniting this fire within me and letting me join the club!

Jill and Kim @shelfietalk

#G2Great was one of the first chats we discovered after we joined Twitter.  We soon realized that this is a community of passionate and dedicated educators who gather on Thursday evenings to celebrate, challenge, and inspire one another.  Thanks to Mary, Amy, Jenn, and Fran we are able to connect with educators who believe in the power of putting children at the center of all we do, of seeing students’ strengths instead of focusing on deficits, and of finding joy in our work.  We are grateful to be in the company of educators who truly live and breathe their love for learning.

Kitty Donohoe @donohoe_kitty

Thoreau went to Walden Pond to find peace and support in the vibrancy and peaceful joy of nature.  Good to Great has been a respite of joy and hope for me during each week, a virtual Walden Pond. It is a miracle to be able to connect with other like-minded educators from all over the world and to truly experience a sense of community.  Teachers understand each other in a way that brings an instant sense of comradery and acceptance.  I am so blessed to continuously learn and make new friends because of this extraordinary chat.  And a very special thank you to Mary, Jenn, Amy, and Fran!

Roman Nowak  @NowakRo

I stumbled upon the #G2Great chat haphazardly this past year and it has changed my outlook on education. The questions, the exchanges, the topics, have allowed me to delve deep into my pedagogical beliefs and create a stronger voice for what what I believe in. In the fast-paced life of education, we usually try to get things done and make things efficient. I have learned and been empowered to constantly act upon my learning beliefs. It is important to stand up for what we believe in, to give the underdogs a bigger voice. We can’t simply accept what is done without questioning it. The leaders and educators on this chat, all keep inspiring me to be better, to keep pushing limits, to collaborate, to make a difference. We can never become complacent, never give up. We must always try to be better, for our students, for their hearts, for their curious and learning minds.  

Cameron Carter @CRCarter313

I was introduced to the #G2Great family through Dr. Mary Howard when we met “virtually” via Twitter. Our conversations of student learning, engagement, and professional development sparked a special connection! I was fortunate enough to meet the #G2Great team at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in November of 2017. It was as if we all had known each other for years! The connections we make with our colleagues, whether virtual or in person, are focused around one goal: building learners. I am so glad I met my “tribe” of professional learners who view learning the same way as I. Thank you for all you do for children and teachers across the world! We must all continue to learn and grow to go from good to great!

Kara Pranikoff @pranikoff

I will admit it, I was hesitant to connect on Twitter. The thought of all those voices coming at me at once was overwhelming and I could not begin to imagine how I would be able to tune in. I really like to listen, intently and think with depth. I could not imagine how that could happen online. However, I trusted Susie and when she introduced me to Dr. Mary Howard at NCTE 2016 and the rest of the  #G2Great family, I could not resist. I waded in and now I’m hooked. (Susan talked about the overwhelming pleasure of stumbling into an unknown and delightful movie. That is a powerful description for me, too.) The amount of information that is shared each week is incredible. I always feel like you can see the lightbulbs of professional learning link across the map. These #G2Great chats each week are an instant injection of inspiration. I’m pushed in my own thinking by what others have to share. I get off the chats each week with a list of authors to seek out and strategies to try on my own. All of this is because of the community that has been built through these chats. Learning is social and in a digital world Mary, Fran, Amy and Jenn have figured out how to connect a tribe of kind, thoughtful, supportive and engaging teachers from around the world. My #G2Great family reminds me each week why I’m proud to be a teacher and honored to have such deep and grounded colleagues.

Susie Rolander @suzrolander

I stumbled into the #G2Great chat a few years ago as I was in traffic along the FDR after teaching at Bank Street.  (I was not driving!)  I remember being a newbie to Twitter but wanting the traffic to continue because I wanted to stay on the chat!  I felt like for the first time, the walls of the school where I was teaching disappeared and ask Kara describes, there was a glow around the US (and Canada) with the amazing ideas that were flying across the screen!  I was hooked!  Never in my teaching career have I felt so inspired and excited to be a teacher than after I started tuning into #G2Great every week.  The depth of knowledge, breadth of experience and passion for teaching that the #G2Great community exudes lifts me up each week.  In addition, the friendships I have forged with Mary Howard, Justin Dolci and many others in the #G2Great family are life changing.  Lastly, it has provided such an incredible link for many of the new teachers that Kara and I teach at BankStreet to such a rich PLN.  To see their faces light up when an author of one of our readings is featured on #G2Great and they can actually ask them questions is priceless.  This chat has not only changed my life but continues to enrich the lives of new teachers in their process of establishing their own PLN. #lifechanging.

Carol Varsalona @cvarsalona

The #G2Great community has impacted my literacy practices since I first joined. It has been a go-to place to discuss the best of literacy trends and chat with amazing, passion-filled educators. I not only have made virtual edufriends but lifelong, face-to-face ones. The moderators are open, collegial educators who support and honor all voices. No matter how much time might be between my visits to the PLN, I am always greeted with enthusiasm, thus, making the hour of engaging chatting a worthwhile experience. May my experience be so for all.

Cornelius Minor @MisterMinor

Growing up, I was a lucky kid. I had a friend whose family treated me like a brother. Every time I showed up, his parents shared their wisdom. They were happy for me whenever I did well, and if I were ever in trouble, their firm scoldings mirrored what my own parents would say. There was always food on the table if I was hungry, and encouragement to go around if I needed a boost.

The #G2Great community is like that. Like any friend, I don’t get to stop by as often as I would like, but every time I show up at the #G2Great “house”, there is plenty of practical wisdom, sage advice, thoughtful research and love to go around. I am a better educator because of them.

JoAnne Duncan @joanneduncanjo

#G2great has become an important part of my life. It has been an unbelievable three years of connecting, building friendships, reflecting, sharing,questioning and growing.Gathering on Thursday nights has energized me when I’m feeling drained, inspired me when I need it most, and always fills me with hope, possibility and courage to take action.  I’m grateful for the time, energy and love that  Mary, Jenn, Amy and Fran give to make these chats happen every Thursday. You are changing the world one chat, one classroom, one school, one community at a time. Thank you #G2great!

Patty Palmer @MrsPalmer23 

I am what Jason Reynolds would call a “newbie” – to Twitter and to #G2great.  You have provided a welcoming platform as a dress rehearsal for floating and validating my ideas.  In the process, you’ve also offered a treasure trove of wonderful educators to follow and emulate.  I am super curious about what 2018 will bring with all of you paving the way for greatness!  Thank you, #G2great leaders, for your continued passion for curiosity and commitment to improving the practice of teaching, one educator at a time!

Dani Burtsfield @girlworld4

When a friend told me about Mary Howard’s #G2Great Twitter chat, I nervously showed up on a Thursday night in February, 2014. A complete novice to Twitter, I found myself in the company of the most amazing group of educators. They made me feel safe to share my thoughts, secure in holding tight to my literacy teaching values, and empowered in my role as an educator as they warmly welcomed me into the fold. Sharing in the study of Mary’s book, Good To Great was just the beginning of a transformational experience for me. The friendships that ensued in the 3 years that followed have been some of the most impactful both personally and professionally in my life. Thursday nights I can count on being challenged to be intentionally reflective in everything I do as an educator.

Laura Robb @LRobbTeacher

I have been a regular on #g2great for a year and it has made a huge difference in my learning and building my professional learning community. Mary has been accessible to me and all members because her HEART reaches out to us, to teachers she learns with and to children. #g2great has introduced me to books I might have not read and I have made friends with teachers all over the country! To be able to contact others for help with a problem or question means do much! Mary, by example, shows the importance of listening to and supporting each other. Each week is an opportunity to learn, reflect, share, and be uplifted by the #g2great community! It is also heartening to know there are so many educators who fight for children and want to help them learn and love Reading. Thanks to everyone for making the #g2great such a fabulous community of learners! And Mary, thanks for giving all of us so much to reflect on and share!

Faige Meller @dubioseducator

#G2Great has become a Thursday night mainstay for me. The dedication of the moderators, Mary, Jenn, Amy and Fran, instill empowerment to those of us whose heart lies in doing what’s best for our students. Sharing views and practices to help us understand the literacy needs of our students, using best practices, has been a powerful learning tool for me. Many times I go from the chat to a reflective post on my blog. Thanks to all for this platform.

We’ll include your thoughts here if you add them to this link 

Thank you for everything you do for children my friends. On a personal note, thank you for breathing new life in my book and keeping the Ten Lesson of Good to Great Teaching at the center of your practices. #G2Great is in your honor and it has become a force of good because of each of you. We know that this anniversary celebration would not be possible without you….

So here’s to many more #G2Great anniversaries ahead