Tapping Into Teacher Empowerment

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

How do we tap into teacher empowerment? This is a question that I have thought about for a long time. It has been my experience that empowered teachers draw on knowing the curriculum, having an understanding for child development, and a knack for setting attainable goals with students that help their students recognize their own inner stores of power, but I wondered what other teachers had to say on the matter. On September 16, 2021 #G2Great began a conversation about tapping into teacher empowerment, and after reading through the Wakelet it became clear to me that GROWING A CULTURE around empowerment is really the next frontier. 

What if we actively created a culture that was built around teacher empowerment in school?  I imagine that it might be like this, teachers come to school believing that their thoughts and decisions will make a positive impact on the collective good. Every faculty member would know that their expertise would be held in the highest esteem.  From where I stand, teaching is already the best career there is and if it were possible to work in a culture that tapped into teacher empowerment, it would be life changing for our profession and our students.  That is something worth fighting for, and here are some ways we can begin to make a shift towards tapping into (a culture) of teacher empowerment.

Listen to Teachers

Building a school wide belief system stems from an ongoing conversation about how students learn best. Once we have that vision, we can begin to align our beliefs and we can promote a shared voice in the materials that we put into the classroom. One way to promote ownership is to let teachers decide what kinds of materials reflect the shared vision.  Teacher autonomy would stem from having a voice and choice about classroom libraries, based on the needs of their classrooms.

Promote Intellectual Curiosity

It is a goal of many to take a student centered approach to teaching and learning. It is also important  to extend that same stance for professional learning for teachers. Having choice in the kind of professional learning that is received is very empowering.  We need to follow the teacher lead when it comes to learning because each teacher has a different need. Peer facilitated coaching is another way to promote empowerment because having the freedom to visit a colleague and learn collectively is the kind of on the job training that promotes professional growth while tapping into teacher expertise.

Take Action Through Agency

The culture of school does not always jive with the concept of agency. There are so many tasks teachers are asked to complete at school that suck up time and effort. Our focus becomes a checklist of “have to’s” rather than time spent cultivating the craft of teaching. It is hard to feel inspired to take action when obligatory duties take over.  We can strive to make this better. Everyone has to submit lesson plans, but rather than  submitting lesson plans prior to the lesson, submit them after with teacher reflections written in the margins. This encourages deeper reflection while giving administration a better view of what is happening in the classroom.  What went well? What failed? What did you learn? Innovative solutions are out there, let’s devote time and energy to making it happen.

Begin Good Conversations

One tenant of #G2Great is that we believe we move from “good work” to “great work”  in the classroom  (Howard 2012) when we continue to read and act on professional learning. A school culture that embraces a teacher’s desire to learn and try something new is one that is made to tap into teacher empowerment.  Every week, I learn so much from the teachers I work with and the teachers I know through social media. Risk would be a badge of honor, a marker of courageous learners who are trying to outgrow themselves. This would be a culture that would be worthy of the students we teach everyday. 

Never Lose Sight of What is Possible

The culture we live in school is in some part a reflection of ourselves. What if? Two common words that have an uncommon ability to power real change. If you find yourself wanting more, and dream of tapping into your own sense of empowerment; don’t wait, you can make the difference.

Phonics In Perspective: Taking a Closer Look

by, Jenn Hayhurst

To access the archive of the chat please click here.

For as long as I can remember there has been an ongoing public debate for how to teach children to read. The “Reading Wars” asked teachers to take a side – are you pro phonics or whole language? Not even a global pandemic could silence it. If anything, it has only gotten worse. Nowadays it is: are you for the Science of Reading or Balanced Literacy? While that may all be well and good for selling newspapers, or getting “likes” over social media, it does little to elevate teacher knowledge or practice. The best way to do that is to engage in a good conversation rather than rigid one-sided debates.

On August 12, 2021 the #G2Great team hosted a chat to take a closer look at how to keep Phonics in Perspective. Teachers from all over came together to share their knowledge and experiences for phonics instruction. We discussed what we know to be true, we listened with the intent to understand, and aspired to build on our existing knowledge base to grow our instructional practice.

What we know to be true

Phonics learning is a strategy that helps readers to match spoken sounds to letters in an effort to decode. Phonics knowledge also helps readers identify common patterns embedded within syllables, this is helpful for both reading and spelling. Teachers of young children know that phonics instruction is important. When it comes to teaching children to read, nothing should be off the the table. Reading is a very complex process, one that requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students in front of them. This is a basic truth that many commercial programs fail to acknowledge and I think that is why so many programs fall short:

Listening to learn and grow instructional practice

During the chat I found myself reflecting on what others had shared about how to keep phonics in perspective. I returned to the Wakelet and gathered some tweets that really helped to clarify what I learned to grow my instructional practice. One takeaway I had was the importance to make room for transfer of learning to occur. Making room for transfer can happen when students: participate in word sorting, interactive writing, shared reading, or independent reading of decodable or more authentic texts. Then my thoughts turned to how important it is to bend the curriculum in order to make room for lots of component work. Finding ways to integrate interactive writing, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring to phonics learning will give students so much repeated practice for their learning of phonics as well as many other important strategies. I also though about the reading writing connection and how that promotes opportunities for phonics learning during reading and writing workshop. Again, I found my thoughts returning to the need to differentiate because reading is complex and there is no one simple “right” way to teach children how to read.

Teachers already know what side to take when it comes to the “Reading Wars” debate. There is no alternative but to be on the side of students, and that means integrating phonics instruction and honoring student centered decision making. Throughout this post many smart educators discussed how to embed phonics instruction for their students in meaningful ways. I am truly so grateful to be able to learn from so many talented and experienced teachers.

Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 To Finding The Magic In Literature

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the Wakelet please click here.

On May 20, 2021 Stephen Chiger joined #G2Great to lead a joyful discussion about his and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s book, Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 to Finding The Magic In Literature. My first thought about their book was, what a beautiful title. Any time the words: love, literacy, and magic come together, I know it is a place I want to be. Stephen did not disappoint. The chat was filled to the brim of good ideas and positivity, all of which was inspired by his brilliant book. We asked Stephen: “What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?”

Ultimately, we wrote this book because we fell in love with the idea of a better world, one where all of our children receive an engaging, equitable education.  Paul and I are fortunate to have worked at Uncommon Schools for a combined 3 decades, and in that time we have learned from some of the most tenacious, focused, and caring educators out there.  This book is part reportorial in nature – we spend time showing and then analyzing what successful teachers do so that all of us – whether we’re new to the field or seasoned instructors – can make these moves our own.

Above all, I hope this book adds research-based clarity and insight for ELA teachers and coaches.  We’ve filled the book with videos, printables, discussion guides, and other resources to help educators bring these ideas to life in their rooms.  And in every section, we always spend time demonstrating examples of the approaches we advocate, keeping the book as practical as we can make it!

Specifically, I’d love it if this book can disrupt the binary that educators have to choose between instruction kids love and instruction that challenges them.  In our experience, these both go hand in hand.  As we quote from one of my mentors: “kids love what they know how to do.”

Stephen Chiger

Stephen has captured our imaginations because if you teach then you know that so much important learning happens through story. Stephen and Paul have given us a resource that will help us craft instruction that is both appealing and relevant to all our students.

Maximizing Student Voice

If we want to develop student voice then we need to give them access to an audience. Giving students time for self-expression and critical thinking shows them that their voices matter. We are all in to know what they have to share, and now they are part of a larger community – a community built on a culture of literacy that is deeply invested in them and what what they have to say:

Instructional gems such as giving students time to be thoughtful and write their responses first prior to turn and talk ensures that all students have the opportunity to cultivate their voice When teachers minimize the role of “teacher voice” in learning we amplify “student voice”. In doing so, we gain invaluable formative data that helps us to know not only what students may need in an academic sense but how they see themselves in the world. The classroom community learns how to appreciate new and different perspectives that encourage flexible thinking.

A Free Exchange of Ideas

We asked Stephen: What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

We think teachers will find new variations on many things they may have already been wondering about or implementing.  Specifically, we investigate four big questions that middle- and high-school literacy teachers might have (and that we’ve had!):

·        What’s our dream for kids? – What does the curriculum need to reflect and do to serve all children well?  How can teachers go about building or revising the curriculum they have?

·        What will I see when students “get it”? – How can we break down or make visible reading comprehension and analysis?  If students are stuck on a challenging text, what can we do?

·        What will I hear when students “get it”? – What does it take to facilitate equitable, student-centered discourse that doesn’t sacrifice our ambitious goals as teachers? 

·        How do I begin?  — What does it take to build a culture where students love reading and develop a sense of self in the humanities?  And how can educators project plan to make that – and all the ideas in the book – come to life in our classrooms?

Stephen Chiger

There is a common theme of empowerment for all in Stephen’s answers. Teachers have the power of impact on their side to make a difference for our students. The tweets that follow continue to show ways we can elevate our students’ thinking through dynamic instruction:

When teachers pay attention not only to what students say but how they say it, they are showing them that their ideas have value. Giving students feedback using an asset lens shows students that they are not only seen but appreciated by their teachers. All of these instructional moves knit together to make the classroom a safe place where they can continue to grow: intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Just as a diamond has its foil, students have their teachers. Stephen and Paul have reminded us that we are here to make our students dazzle and light up the room. We are here to elevate their voices and celebrate their ideas. We asked Stephen: What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

As an English teacher, you know that the path you’ve chosen won’t always be easy. You’ve seen your way through enough bleary-eyed, late-night grading sessions to understand what Robert Hayden called “love’s austere and lonely offices.”

Loving literacy means loving our vast, luminous world, and teaching literacy means sharing that love with others.

Being an English teacher means you are called to love. And when that call comes, you answer.

Paul Bambrick Santoyo & Stephen Chiger

We want to thank Stephen and Paul for writing an important book. Love & Literacy A Practical Guide For Grades 5-12 To Finding The Magic In Literature not only informs best practice but it also inspires us to do the work. It holds true to a value system that honors students completely. If you would like to learn more, and we hope you do, please follow these links:

Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk a #G2Great Chat with Maria Nichols

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click Here to Access the Wakelet

Imagine a little girl with dark curly hair, very thick glasses, and a huge vocabulary. This child came from a family who believed that children had important things to say. A family with a mother, a father, two brothers, and a sister who all shared their views, spoke their minds without hesitation as though their ideas were all important. This same child, who had a big extended family that shared the same values in an even larger social setting. Then, as if that were not enough, another whole layer of family friends also encouraged children to speak their minds and who were genuinely interested in hearing what they had to say. Imagine the benefit of having such a rich social language learning environment to grow up in. Couple those lived experiences with voluminous reading and writing and now the child has, even more, to think about, more to say, and more opportunities for self-expression. That is a child who is being immersed in a language learning process that will help her for the rest of her life. How fortunate would that child be? Very. That is my story. That child was me.

The reason why I specialized in literacy is that I wanted to give as many students as possible the same experiences I had growing up. Believing that a school is a place where teachers may cultivate a social learning environment that holds purposeful talk in the highest esteem is very powerful. If you believe that, as I do, then you know we have the power to reshape a child’s life. So you can understand why, it was a real thrill to welcome author/educator, Maria Nichols, to lead #G2Great in a conversation about how to create a process of growing purposeful talk.

What voices are being valued?

Show students that you believe that they have something important to say. Help them believe that their voices matter the most to us and then there will be boundless growth. Children, who feel as though their words hold weight with teachers will be more likely to share and elaborate on their thinking in deeper more meaningful ways. Part of the work is to create equity and access for purposeful talk, and there is a lot we can do in school to make that a reality. Teachers are setting the table for talk by giving space for feedback and reflection. Don’t be afraid of those quiet moments. Be generous, give space for students to process their thinking. Give them the chance to fill that space with their own words.

What do all students think?

Be curious about what students think. Whenever we start to fill in their words for them just stop. Let them go, find out what they really think. Treating classroom talk as you might an inquiry study will help to cull out what they think through lean questioning and wait time. Then if we teach them how to take a questioning stance, we create other “teachers” in the room. We create more opportunities to uncover the collective thinking that is happening in real time. When we use mentor texts that serve to underscore thoughtful talk we add another layer of support to elevate students’ thinking. It is an amazing process.

How can we raise talk to new levels?

Listen to learn first, not to evaluate. Be strategic when planning spaces in conversation to pause and ponder. This not only fortifies stamina, it also models what thoughtful dialogue looks like. Building a culture of “talk” starts when we take the time to reflect on what went well and when we invite students into that reflective process we raise the quality of purposeful talk over time. Purposeful talk requires a plurality of perspective to inform how it is going. It is not just what teachers think, teachers are one part of a broad community of thinkers. The talk in the classroom mirrors everyone who is part of that community. That is what makes talk so important.

Purposeful talk measures the level of intellectual rigor. It conveys the level of trust and relationships within the community. The words that fill a classroom reflect the learners themselves. Think of it this way, talk paints a picture of students’ culture, beliefs, passions, and even their fears. We are showing students how to communicate in the world, we are teaching them that their words are valuable, that they are important, and every child deserves to know that they have a voice that is worthy of being heard. Thank you, Maria Nichols. Thank you for writing your beautiful book, Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Building Purposeful Talk.

The Power of Student Agency

By Brent Gilson

An archive of this weeks chat with Dr. Anindya Kundu can be found here.

This past week we had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Anindya Kundu about his book The Power of Student Agency. As we look at the hurdles our students face, we very often forget how resilient our students are and see them through a deficit lens.

What motivated you to write this book?

“I was motivated to write TPSA after years of seeing how strapped schools, students, and districts can be when it comes to resources. At the same time, there are so many students overcoming incredible challenges in their lives (homelessness, incarceration, broken families, etc) and schools that still create cultures of success despite limitations, that I felt these stories needed to be shared. This book compiles a couple years of my fieldwork research meeting exceptional people and sharing their stories to make the case that achievement is possible for all students, if we can get behind them and support them holistically.”

The Power of Potential

A few years ago I was touring a potato farm, bear with me I am going somewhere with this, as we walking in one of the building I noticed a drain hole in the floor. I walked towards the drain and found this.

Through the concrete, with so little nutrients and the required materials to grow, this little plant was growing. Instead of focusing though on the adversity faced, I think we look at the plant and its potential despite the conditions faced. When we look at our students who face hurdles we (teachers generally) tend to look at the deficits as a starting point instead of the potential. As Dr. Kundu asks in the question, “What happens when we stop looking at the Rose in Concrete and begin looking at our schools as gardens” we see things like this.

I feel like the term “grit” has always been misused and in our current Covid reality of teaching it continues to be. I love the different reflections that came out of this simple question because they look beyond just saying things are not working and offer up hope. As Heather mentioned, schools are in need of some heavy weeding; by focusing on the schools that need to look at their practices, we are taking some of the weight off our students. By not falling back on the analogy of the rose through the concrete or the potato plant and instead looking at the environment we are providing and the potential of our students to succeed, we move away from this “grit” concept and towards a space were students see that where they are planted is fluid and can be adapted to fit their needs.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

“The whole book is structured around highlighting the social side to grit and resilience. All students have these internal reservoirs of necessary character traits for academic and professional success; however, structural limitations are real and must be acknowledged and addressed because otherwise, we place the onus of achievement on the student alone and absolve ourselves. Instead, when we constantly think about a student in terms of their agency, or potential, we reintroduce that teaching and learning are foremost social practices that require collective responsibility.” 

Shifting the System Requires Change

When Covid-19 first hit there was this call to change the system. To create systems that provided our students with what they needed to succeed in this new normal. The thing was, however, as some made moves to make those changes it was a lot easier to talk about it than do it. Especially when the practices and thinking you have held so near and dear are the ones that are limiting our students. So how do we begin? We let go of power, we question the systems that are in place that have continued to limit the potential of some students and we get uncomfortable. Growing pains are a real thing. I started a new weight lifting plan a few weeks back. On day three EVERYTHING hurt. I started to look at how easy it would be to go back to me tried and true (and easy at this point) routine. Maybe just add a little weight. But I also understood that the hurt was my muscles repairing and growing stronger. If as teachers we are honest in our desire to create a system where all of our students are able to meet their potential we have to be willing to push through the discomfort of change that is required. No more calling for system changes but being unwilling to change our practice.

Just this morning I was talking with a colleague about the needs of a student. We discussed this idea that so often we ask students, especially students with learning needs, that they change to fit our needs and we don’t change to fit theirs. So where do we begin? Always with our students.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

“I hope that teachers and educators can challenge themselves to see the giftedness in all students, even the ones who can be more difficult. They need our help more than others! If we can learn how to take a child’s existing interests, competencies, and talents and use those as motivational tools, we can create vibrant learning environments where all students thrive. This requires a thorough understanding of who our students are as people. It may sound complicated, but I hope the narratives I share (of how homes and families, educators and schools, and students themselves) can personify actionable, simple, and FREE strategies to inspire student agency.”

Our Students Don’t Need Saving

The hero or saviour narrative that is often applied to teachers of students who learn differently or have obstacles in their lives that potentially disrupt learning needs to be one of those things we put aside. Our students don’t need saving, they need us to be better. These last few months I have often raised the question on social media if our practices are doing more harm than good, especially in this time of Covid-19 where inequity has been under the spotlight. Sadly, it is met by hostility. If we are really interested in shifting and changing practices we have to be willing to change. Our students’ success is not dependnnt on us, because kids will succeed despite us. But we can do more to make room for them to shine. We must purposefully question our practice and explore the gaps we have that limit our students and we can make the moves to be better and help create those opportunities for them to realize their potential.

I am no saviour, hero or gardener. I am a teacher. My students are not statistics. They are amazingly talented human beings who, when provided the space to learn in ways that suit them and display that learning in ways they can shine, they will.

If you are looking for more from Dr. Kundu you can check out these links:

Anindya Kundu Website

The Boost Students Need to Overcome Obstacles

The “opportunity gap: in US public education – and how to close them

HuffPost with Anindya Kundu: Policing Schools and Dividing the Nation

Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap discussion with Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera

Jacob Chastain Teach Me Teacher Podcast with Anindya Kundu

Part 1: Systematic Inequality

Part 2: Teachers Can Begin Fixing the SystemZoom Fireside chat: Anindya Kundu, Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera: Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap

Checking Our Professional and Personal Pulse for the 2020-21 School Year

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

This blog post is dedicated to all of us who are either working in schools or attending schools across our nation and throughout the world. Unless you are going to school right now, it would be difficult to understand the level of stress we are all experiencing. Teachers, administrators, support staff, and especially students are all coping with the impact of COVID-19 and it is not without some cost. This is why #G2Great focused on taking our professional and personal pulse for the 2020 -21 school year. As I think about how to shape this post I can scarcely get through the replies to question one of the Wakelet without my pulse beating like a rabbit.

Some are 100% virtual. Others are hybrid which may look like this: two cohorts of students attending in person Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays Every Wednesday is a virtual day for all students. Some are attending in-person full time with social distancing and mask-wearing. Others are attending full time within their own class bubble without social distancing. It may be easy to read and conceptualize what these options might be like; a person might say, “I get it, I am informed. I read the the CDC’s Continuum of Risk but school administrators and leaders know what they are doing.” You’d be correct to have confidence in us. We are doing everything we can to make school safe and secure for students and staff. However, we have never done this before, and it is the ongoing emotional strain of working within these systems that is like a silent oppressive force.

This teacher is speaking her truth, and her truth is very much in line with my own. Many of you reading this post today may be feeling the same way. We bring both expertise, empathy to the job regardless of our personal struggle. Whether we are showing up virtually or face to face we are giving it our all. The word that keeps coming back to me is resilience. Teachers are resilient.

Did you know, there are seven essential building blocks for resiliency? According to Kenneth Ginsburg, they are: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It should be no surprise that teachers demonstrate all seven every day.

Competence & Confidence

Val brings up a very important point and good reminder for us all with her tweet. Use an asset lens because we all feel much better about ourselves and our circumstances when we feel competent.

Once you feel competent it is a natural shift to grow confident. Mollie is making another important point, growing confidence comes from putting your professional energy to tried and true professional practice. Emphasize “kidwatching” and relationship building and bring some familiar experiences back no matter what setting you happen to be teaching in right now.

Connection & Character

I got you Julie. Knowing that a caring community is there to give you advice, or just there to listen without judgement is something we all need. Get that any way you can. Maybe your school is not a place that offers that support, but then look for it someplace else. Twitter, and #g2great in particular have become very important to me. I know I belong, I found my people.

I was drawn to Fran’s tweet, because it is just good advice for us all. Living the advice offered in her tweet would be an excellent model of character in action. Especially living in these times where people of good character can be difficult to find. I can do my part, I can try to live up to Fran’s words and that helps to ground me.

Contribution & Coping

While I don’t know this for sure, but I would wager that Kathy Sahagain, paid for those books out of her own pocket. I feel it in my bones, but even if she didn’t, she is a great example of an excellent teacher. Teachers like Kathy contribute towards the wellbeing of students above all else. I have found, that while we teachers may have varied professional beliefs, the one constant is the compassion and dedication we have for students. We care. We do whatever it takes.

No administrators have said these words to me, but it helps me to know that they were said. I can borrow those words, and repeat them in my mind and that is helping me to cope with the strain.

Taking Control

I cannot give you a favorite book. I cannot be the leader who is present in your school to deliver the words that help you to cope with the professional load. I can be the little voice that reminds you to take control in this moment. May I direct your attention to my esteemed colleague and friend, Laura Robb? I say this on Twitter all the time, but I need you to really do it this time, “Listen to Laura…”

Whether you are coping with the pandemic just fine, or if you are drowning, or struggling like me, know that it is all ok. Everything you are feeling is ok, and needs no justification. There is so much that is out of our control, so grab onto what you can. One thing you can do, is to take good care of yourself.

Nurture yourself, treat yourself as you would your students, or a beloved family member, or friend. Take the weekend as a gift to yourself, because you are strong, you are talented, and you are resilient. You are doing the impossible five days a week, so breathe and take a lesson from the incredible Viola Davis and know you are deserving of self-care. You are worth it.

Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading

by Jenn Hayhurst

To view the chat archive click here

A pandemic, an economic crisis, and ubiquitous social unrest are begging us all to wake up and take notice of all that is fundamentally wrong within our society and public systems. Teachers, in particular, are at a crossroads to consider what we value most. What practices do we cling to as we face an uncertain start to school? Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right moment. I think this is one of those times. Sarah Zerwin has written the book, Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading, to help us find a better way forward.

Decreasing the emphasis on numeric grades while creating a classroom culture that embraces risk and celebrates learning is a value that requires action on our part. Any big important work begins with big important questions: Why this book? Why right now? Why is it so important that we move beyond numeric grades alone? How can we begin this shift to a more holistic assessment system in our classrooms? What if we were able to tap into students’ motivation? Just asking these questions makes me feel dizzy with excitement.

Why this book, why now?

Sarah recalls her initial motivation for writing her book:

I got to the point several years ago where I could finally see clearly how the focus on points and grades in my classroom was getting in the way of my students doing authentic work as readers and writers, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. The book captures a process I landed on after quite a bit of trial and error, and I hope that process helps my readers to think through how they might grade more meaningfully in their classrooms, in ways that work for their particular teaching contexts. I want my students to read and write so they can make sense of our complex world and use their voices to impact it; when they were focused on grades and points, they weren’t doing this important work.

Sarah M. Zerwin

When the Numbers Don’t Add Up…

Becoming a literate citizen of the world requires more than just a passing grade. A numeric grade is just one part of a bigger picture. Sarah inspires us to consider how we can grow our instructional practice to be more inclusive of our students.

Just because our districts or schools provide us with numbers-based grade books to keep track of our students’ work doesn’t mean that’s how we must get to our students’ final grades. We can design a different path that invites our students to read and write in ways that matter to their lives rather than focusing on collecting points. We can put learning solidly at the center of our classrooms so they orbit around that rather than the points-based exchange that centers the traditional grading system.

Sarah M. Zerwin

Intrinsic Motivation Leads to Realizing Potential!

Believing that students will embrace learning for learning’s sake is easier than you’d think. To make this a reality it requires a little time, a little trust, and lots of relationship building.

Our students want to do work that matters to them. They know exactly how a traditional grading focus gets in the way. Talk to them honestly about this and listen carefully–they’ll tell you what they need. It’s definitely a leap of faith to leave the traditional grading system behind, but once your students trust that you are really, truly stepping out of the grading game, they’ll follow you.

Sarah M. Zerwin

Thank you, for guest hosting #G2Great and for your leadership by writing this insightful and practical book, Sarah. If you believe that your students are more than a number, then here are some links to help you get this work started in your own classrooms:

Keeping Curiosity Close

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the full archive for this chat please click here

At the start of this school year, not one of us could have imagined how strange and unfamiliar the educational landscape would appear to us today. A pandemic has changed our educational speak to include words and phrases like: distance learning, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, mute your mic, remember to sign in, turn on your camera, and virtual… well just fill-in-the-blank on that one. Our classrooms are no longer physical spaces, they are virtual, and filling those spaces, is very different from what was before.

How do we make the most of our “new normal”? As we use the eye of our cameras to enter into students’ homes we can embrace their interests, encourage their questions, and find lots of ways to celebrate them and all that they are. We are also inviting them into our homes. With curious eyes, they are learning about our interests, and this experience, I believe is helping them to get to know their teachers in new and powerful ways. We can use this distance from our students to help them see their world through curious eyes. So as we close out the 2019/2020 school year, #G2Great educators came together to discuss curiosity and what we really want for our students.

We Want More Happiness!

As we dug a little deeper into curiosity we found that it glistens as a bright light for happiness. Curiosity is the thing that feeds our hearts and motivates us all to live more satisfying lives. This is true for us and it’s true for our students. How do we do make the most of it? We can embed curiosity into all aspects of the gradual release: the “to” “with” and “by” for instruction:

TO
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WITH
BY

We Want More Creativity!

In my mind’s eye, I imagine looking at curiosity as a gemologist may examine a precious stone through a jeweler’s eye. How do we estimate its value when it comes to creativity? One way would be to celebrate the high levels of engagement creativity generates. Another would be to consider the high levels of critical thinking that goes hand-in-hand with a curious mind. Writing, building, and brainstorming ideas are all products of creativity that is unearthed through curiosity:

We Want More Self Reliance!

Teachers are able to sift through the silt of the academic day and find nuggets of curiosity. They find them, they shine them up and put them on display for all to admire. This is how they build a culture of curiosity, one with a strong foundation of self-reliance. These classrooms are not hard to identify, just look to the students

https://twitter.com/arjundawar01/status/1266172504202268672?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwakelet.com%2F%40DrMaryHoward
https://twitter.com/lucas_brodsky/status/1266172580844748803?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwakelet.com%2F%40DrMaryHoward

To see the world through the eyes of a curious learner is perhaps the best perspective we may offer our students. I for one have been reminded of how important it is to keep curiosity close to inform my teaching. Let’s make a pact just as we might have when we were kids. Say it with me: I promise to try to look for ways to increase curiosity and happiness! I promise to find ways to be creative and find curiosity in everyday life! I promise to celebrate self-reliance and curiosity every step of the way! Indeed curiosity is a hidden gem that we may take with us for having gone through this experience. Use it well.

The Right Tools, Towanda Harris #G2Great

By, Jenn Hayhurst

Access to Wakelet by clicking here.

Disclaimer Alert: I Love Tools!

It’s true, I have a soft spot for tools. From my earliest memories, I have loved working with tools. My father would invite me into his garage and would marvel at the hooks and draws and bins full of useful devices that could help a person get any job done. My love for tools has remained constant, just the other day I inventoried my kitchen tools to assess which ones were most useful. I love tools because they help us to perform at higher levels, to be more independent, and to feel empowered to make a change. Tools make my teacher’s heart sing.

Needless to say, when Towanda Harris agreed to join our #G2Great community… I was VERY enthusiastic! On August 15, 2019, Towanda Harris initiated a discussion stemming from her beautiful new book, so aptly named, The Right Tools, that I believe, will be a book teachers will use and love.

Instructional tools offer a pathway towards active learning and aides for assessment for our students. They are mediators engender high levels of engagement and support. So, why aren’t we all using tools on a regular basis? Towanda, spoken like the true teacher puts it simply,

Today, we often find ourselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they be a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher a professional book passed on by a colleague, a unit plan saved from a previous year, a teacher’s manual found in the back of a storage cabinet, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a set of activi- ties discussed on Twitter, a chart found on Pinterest, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure or an email. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful new resources without squandering funding or instructional time?

Towanda Harris, The Right Tools, xii Introduction

How do we begin? This post is dedicated to beginning the process.

I feel so privileged to share the voices of the #G2Great community. Thank you for sharing your expertise so that we may grow our understandings of this important topic.

Having well-defined criteria for what tools are brought into the classroom is an important first step. When developing a criterion, we begin as Towanda suggests, with clarity for the tool’s “purpose” so they may meet students where they are. While Travis reminds us to consider the appeal of tools, is they “kid-centric” if kids don’t like them they won’t use them. Mollie brings us back to basics as she reminds us to keep tools grounded in authentic opportunities for use. Sonja comes at tools from another perspective, when she tweeted that the best tools are flexible ones that “bend.” So true!

Tools offer teachers opportunities to be responsive to students needs. Faige, adds her voice to the conversation as she explains that criteria for tools cannot be set unless teachers have time to observe the students who are in the room, she invites us to consider students’ “interests, needs, and strengths”. Towanda echos this truth as she perks our attention to knowing “learning styles” so we may avoid that “one size fits all” mentality that becomes a roadblock for a successful transfer to independent use. As always, Mary brings the discussion back home, as she implores us to be “honest” in our estimation of tried and true tools we love as educators. We have to always be reflective to make sure we really do have the right tool for the job. Laura, says it best I think when it comes down to the underpinning for criteria for tools, “Students are criteria” Know your students first, then develop or offer the tools they need to be successful.

This post offers just a snapshot of the conversation we had about tools. I do encourage you to go to the archive if you missed the chat. It is a treasure trove of ideas that could spark a meaningful discourse for any Professional Learning Community, (PLC).

On behalf of my #G2Great team, I’d like to thank Dr. Towanda Harris for joining us for this meaningful discussion. Teachers everywhere are organizing and getting their resources together to kick off the school year. With books like, “The Right Tools” in hand they will get closer to “great practice”, and that is what teaching from a learning stance is really all about.

Reading to Make a Difference

By Jenn Hayhurst

On March 21, 2019, Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly joined #G2Great to begin a conversation around their book, Reading to Make a Difference. I have to say, I just love that title, Reading to Make a Difference. There are so many ways that reading can make a difference that it boggles my mind and stirs my soul. It makes me dizzy to think about the endless potential for positive change that is possible when teachers view reading as a call to action. The chat began with meaningful reflections as teachers celebrated book choice, writing, and the sheer joy that comes with intentional learning:

As I read these tweets I am struck by the varied perspectives and I kept thinking about how Lester and Katie’s work was inspired by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s piece, Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors.

Mirrors

We look to books to help us understand ourselves and the world. Books are indeed a mirror, they reflect a reader’s own story back to them as they read to find clarity and validation. These are the important moments for readers, this process is part of forming a secure identity. As they journey down this path to self-discovery, it is only natural that they begin to question: How am I different? How am I the same? What can I learn from all of this?

Windows

The windows we shape in our classrooms are constructed by the libraries we keep. It is time that we all ask ourselves, am I willing to take a stand for equity? Will I expand my classroom library to greet and embrace all my students? There are so many stories to tell and it is vital that we provide access to them. Children are broadening their understanding of the world as they look to find new possibilities and greater awareness for the complexities of life. Trust that the books we offer them can help with this work.

Sliding Glass Doors

Books are here to inspire us. They are foundational for opportunities to grow. They can unlock the potential for new experiences. We can teach our students to seize these opportunities through the relevant work that can come with reading a great book. What can I do with my learning? If we live the life of an authentic learner we can show them how to slide that glass door open, to step through and create something substantial. This is how we lift the words off the page and into our hearts and minds. Literacy is transformative.

Thank you, Lester and Katie for your beautiful book. It is a great resource for teachers to read, reflect, and create. I hope you will all continue to dig deeper into this work and continue grow your practice. Here are some helpful links that can keep the learning going:

Heinemann Podcast: Reading to Make a Difference

A First Look Inside Reading to Make a Difference