The Civically Engaged Classroom: Reading, Writing, and Speaking for Change

By Fran McVeigh

The Wakelet artifact is available for your perusal here.

The #G2Great chat world was alive, well, and ROCKING on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The podcasts (link) of their work was a hint of the depth of the work proposed but, WOW! What an amazing, well-orchestrated text and chat.

On one hand, when a book comes from authors like Mary Ehrenworth, Pablo Wolfe, and Marc Todd, it might be easy to say “Oh, great, another book about what kids can do in classrooms with supportive teachers, supportive administrators and supportive communities.” However, the wisdom, wit, and enthusiasm generated in the #G2Great chat merely emphasized that everyone in school communities needs to be thinking about civic engagement. Not just one class period a day. Not just the ELA teacher. Not just teachers. But the entire community. (And more about that later.)

On the other hand, naysayers may have a different view. “Really? More political speak about what teachers should or should not be doing in their classrooms? More brainwashing? Is that really the purview of our school systems?

Like any great performance from an orchestra, the resulting concert is only as good as the score. In this case, the score (written music) begins this post with the wisdom of the authors and their responses to the three questions that we ask and then moves to some specific high notes from the chat and then enthusiasm as a rousing finale for this work.

1) What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

The Civically Engaged Classroom was born out of the idea that as a society we need to think deeply about the purpose of school, especially in times as fraught and divisive as those we are living in. We want teachers to look at their classrooms and see future citizens in front of them, citizens that need to be well-prepared for the hard work of leading and strengthening our democracy.

In our own teaching and staff development, we have met many colleagues who have inspired us with the way they teach with a civic mindset. We have also met countless others who aspire to do this work, but are in communities where they feel unsupported. This book is meant to both highlight the brilliant work we’ve seen, as well as to encourage, inspire and sustain those who feel like they’re teaching into a headwind.

We were also motivated to write this book because it helps to address one of the persistent questions in education: how do we get kids motivated and engaged by school? We think one of the most profound, and overlooked, ways to engage kids is to make sure that the work of school is aimed toward civic ends. When the walls of the classroom come down, kids see that their work has real purpose and impact.

Ultimately, as with everything in education, this is for the kids. We hope that some of what we put in the book helps them seize their power and shape the world they will inherit.

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

We hope that our readers see…

●  …that identity exploration is essential to all curriculum and pedagogy, especially if we are to prepare our children to engage responsibly in our multicultural society.

●  …that schoolwork must be worldwork. That it should include political and historical content that is relevant and contemporary.

●  …that we need to move beyond the single text, everytime, in every situation.

●  …that we can model being active, engaged citizens in front of our students without being partisan.

●  …that when students consume nonfiction, they must teach each other and their parents about what they are learning and why it matters. 

●  …students need frequent opportunities to practice service to a community.

●  …that teachers aren’t alone in this work! There is a thriving, and growing, number of us who are re-envisioning school as a preparation space for citizenship.

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

This book is a call to work. Throughout The Civically Engaged Classroom we’ve included a feature called Practice What You Teach, a regular reminder that the work in these pages is for all of us to take on, not just our kids. We can all do more to be better citizens;  we can all do more to re-envision our democracy. This is not about indoctrinating children, but it is about our duty as educators to help them realize that they have a lot of responsibility in this society and that if they don’t take it, or aren’t adequately prepared for it, they’ll continue to perpetuate grievous harms to themselves and to others.

The work in our classrooms is part of the world. The more we bring the real world in with its injustices as well as its beauty and hope, the better we serve our students, and the better we serve our society.

Ultimate Roles For Teachers and Students

What is needed? Teachers who address identity with honesty and courage, … co-creating with students on a level playing field … to determine a course of action with students … valuing listening and … arguing to listen. Check out the following four tweets that include Mary, Pablo and Marc’s own words.

What is the end goal? Dr. Mary Howard gives us the “411”straight from the book:

While it may seem “easy” to defer to the authors to use their own words, this post could become quite lengthy if a commentary was included for all their wisdom. So sticking with a personal motto of “less is more” here are three high notes of focus from the chat. These refrains will help you get started on a civically engaged classroom.

Where and How Does a Civically Engaged Classroom Fit?

Where do you position a civically engaged classroom? Do you view it as a solo? As an entire section of the performers? Or embedded in the entire musical performance? Your view impacts your planning. Consider these gems of wisdom.

Where might you begin? What do you value? What are your priorities? And then consider Pablo’s wisdom and his verb choices . . . “cut” . . . “replace” . . . “OR infuse” with the end goals of “application of skills, real-life experience, and communal celebration.”

Students: Identity, Stories, Experiences and Interests

The work of so many “artists/performers/authors” is the foundation for all work with students. Sara Ahmed’s identity work in Being the Change (blog post) has led the way for teachers and students to explore their identity and bring about social change. So too have Jody Carrington in Kids These Days and more recently Matt Kay in Not Light, But Fire as well as many other authors. When we embrace Dr. Rudine Sim Bishop’s, “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors,” we will have a fun-filled concert program as we follow the lead of so many educators when we consider how to engage students by following their interests.

Where can you find the information to get started? What do you already know about your students? Their interests? Their passions? What are the artifacts that they already have about their own thinking beyond what they are reading and writing? How are we inviting students to be a part of this co-construction?

Explicit Instruction: Norms, “Inclusion,” Note-Taking, and Examining Biases

But what do we teach? What’s important? Of course instruction will vary depending on the needs and interests of the students in front of you! Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you wonder about the WHAT that needs to be taught and practiced before the concert is scheduled.

Instruction is all about routines and processes. Routines and processes for civil discourse. Routines and processes for research. Routines and processes for affirming information. Routines and processed for determining biases and collecting additional information. Which ones might be a priority for you and your students?

FINALE

In conclusion, the time for action is NOW. No waiting. Do not pass go. Do NOT collect $200. Move from the audience to the stage, backstage, behind the side curtains, or center stage under the lights.

It’s time to practice. Take action. Consider student identities. Have a discussion. Focus on student choices. To learn more, check out the Wakelet archive and the Additional Resources. Watch the stellar three part video series. Check out the Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators below. Explore the padlet. Find a friend to travel this journey together and have a conversation partner. Make a plan. Get started!

Additional Resources:

Heinemann Video Series for the Civically Engaged Classroom

The Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators

The Civically Engaged Classroom PADLET

Nurturing Truth-Seeking Communities in School (article by Pablo, Mary and Marc)

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.

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.

Yes, They Can Series #4 Empowering Leadership

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click here for the Wakelet

Make no mistake, all teachers have it within them to be leaders. It is a teacher’s work to give students a voice to express their opinions on the world.  When students first discover their identities in society a teacher is usually behind the scenes making that moment count. Teachers lead students to discover their ideas about themselves, and how to exercise their personal power. A teacher shows children how to set meaningful goals, and those goals may be life-changing. Ask any child who learns to read or write if their goals matter. I assure you, they will have lots to say if they have an engaged teacher leading them on their way. Teachers everywhere are deconstructing walls to access and equity so that all their students see themselves in their classrooms. Their students trust they will be treated with fairness because that’s just what good leaders do. Students in these classrooms understand that they are held in the highest regard not for what they can do, but for who they are.

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, the #G2Great community came together to explore ways to empower leadership in the fouth, of a five-part series entitled, Yes They Can! The kinds of teachers who go out of their way to participate in our weekly chats are change agents. These are the leaders who create agentive environments for everyone around them because they bring everyone up with them. They raise the level of discourse in their faculty meetings, they encourage kids to take risks. All of this is the truth, and here is one more truth to consider – most of these extraordinary teachers are the very ones who might be reticent to see themselves as leaders.

That is why this chat was such an important one. This perception, I’m just a teacher, has to change. Now more than ever we need teachers who see themselves leaders who will advocate for kids. The rest of this post is going to celebrate the teachers who decided to join in the conversation. I let their words stand on their own for your consideration.

Educational Leaders to Follow…

Leaders keep students and their well being at the center of every decision. They also make a point to make personal connections with students every day

@TracyLafreniere

Find student strengths and create opportunities for students to excell….the whole child can and should be able to stretch out of the four core subjects!

@ERobbPrincipal

A better mandate would be a wall of student names and a collection that every adult has of those names until every single one is taken by an adult who knows and has connected with them

@MelanieMeehan

Start with a vision, created thru collaboration, of what learning looks like, feels like and then establish the expectations. Important to remember high expectations are attainable by all students.

@mollienye72

The only way to increase sustainability is to quit chasing one initiative and quick fix after the other and look for real solutions that will breathe new life into the heart and soul of the school. We have to set our sights in lasting change!
@DrMaryHoward

As I read over these quotes, I get a sense of the impact these educators are having on the world. To me, a teacher is the most important kind of leader there is working in public service today. Every time a teacher goes above and beyond they are shaping their students’ perception of what it means to be an adult. Every time they demonstrate having high expectations for themselves they are inspiring a sense of personal excellence that will influence their students. When these remarkable teachers lean in and say, “Tell me more.” when a new piece of research or professional development, they are living a learner’s life. These wonderful people exist in the world and the world is a better place because they exist. This post is dedicated to you readers, and all the teachers just like you, who may never read it. You are leaders to admire, thank you.

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

Game Changer! Book Access For All Kids

By Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, February 21, 2019, Donalynn Miller and Colby Sharp, creators of the #NerdyBookClub and successful authors, were first time guest hosts on the #G2Great chat about their book, Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids.

Interest and excitement was off the charts due to our rock star authors and because of the topic: Books and Access for ALL Kids! Many themes surfaced during the chat, but this post is going to focus on three. Three big themes that apply to ALL students at ALL ages and in ALL communities: Access, Choice, and Equity as well as focus reflection questions to guide future actions.


Book Access in ALL Classrooms
In order to be readers, students need access to books in their classrooms. Access in all classrooms – not just English Language Arts classrooms. How many books? Some authors suggest up to 2,000 books. Take inventory. Consider which books students are actually reading. Then gather books from the school media center, public library or inter-library loan systems during particular curricular studies to supplement your library as a bonus for all students.

Reflection Questions: a) What if every classroom in our school had a class library, whether it was ELA, math, science, art, music or PE, provided and provisioned by the school?

b) What if students had access to a reading class at every grade level in school?

Book Access in the Media Center and to a Librarian
Classroom libraries provide immediate access for books for students, but even the best classroom libraries can be supported with rich media centers and full-time librarians. How extensive is the media center collection? How are new books chosen? Displayed? How does the media center support the curricular needs of all content areas? What policies and routines are in place to maximize student access to books? Are students restricted in the number of books they can have checked out at one time? Are students allowed to go to the media center one day per week or cycle?

Reflection Question:  What policies, procedures and practices increase student access to our media center and which ones do we need to STOP because they are counterproductive?

Book Access at the Public Library
School book access can be supplemented with access to book collections at the approximately 9,000 public libraries across the U.S. Variations exist from community to community in the basic requirements for library cards. This may include forms of identification, proof of residency, or references before a card will be issued. The ability to use public transportation to physically access the library may also be a hinderance. Other access issues may include the hours that the library is open – are those outside the school/work day? Is there a limit on the number of books that can be checked out? Another consideration with public libraries may be the school staff’s normalization of the use of the public library. Do school staff routinely use the public library to extend their collections? Do teachers routinely share their use with students? Is public use of the library seamless and easy to access for all patrons?

Reflection Question:  Have we had whole staff conversations about the complementary services of our public library?

Book Access at Home
Access to books cannot be limited to the six or seven hours per day that students are at school. Reading is a habit – for life – not just for school.

“Research suggests that children whose parents have lots of books are nearly 20 percent more likely to finish college. Indeed, as a predictor of college graduation, books in the home trump the education of the parents. Even a child who hails from a home with 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than would a child from a home without any books at all. (Evans, M. D., Kelley, J., Sikora, J., & Treiman, D. J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197.)

Access to books in the summer through books from school or public libraries can help prevent “summer slide” and continue to develop life-time reading habits. Year-round book access is critical.

Reflection Question:  Who is coordinating conversations with families so our message is coherent across all grade levels and buildings and also HELPFUL for families?

Book Access in the Community
Students need access to books everywhere and anytime in the community. Access to rich texts that they want to read, that compel them to read, and that result in conversation with peers and adults is vital. Books need to be visible everywhere in the community as well as available year-round in order to fill in summer, school breaks, and holiday access gaps from schools.

Reflection Question:  How have we initiated conversations with our community stakeholders to increase access?


Students deserve to choose what they are reading.  Force-feeding specific texts day after day, year after year equates reading as a chore. Not fun. Not pleasurable. Not enjoyable. And then, of course, not likely to be sustained outside the school day. Nice collections of engaging, relevant books on shelves may look good, but just admiring books is not enough! Books need to be read in order to be savored and thoughtfully digested. And the best books are the books that students choose to read themselves. You have already read about access, but another feature of choice is time . . . Time to read. Not just reading “when your work is done.” But instead, time that is regularly scheduled when students are reading a book of their own choice.

Reflection Question: How do we ensure that students have choice in their book selection as well as time to read?

Equity means several things. One meaning would be ensuring that all the access issues above are “equitable”.  Not equal. Equitable. A second meaning is beyond students “getting what they need” but that students deserve to see themselves in the books that they have available as reading choices. Teachers and librarians need to know the authors and books that represent their students and families in their community. How does one collect the diverse books that are needed?  #diversebooks is one source.

Reflection Question: What do we as a staff know and believe about equity, what sources do all staff use, and then how are those sources communicated?

Another reliable source is diversebooks.org
https://diversebooks.org/resources/where-to-find-diverse-books/

What was the purpose behind Game Changer?

Meaningful and consistent access to books.

Reading . . .
What is it good for?
Absolutely everything!

You may remember this video from Ocoee Middle School in 2009 that has had 883,395 views: Gotta Keep Reading.
How do we keep that passion for reading?
How do we encourage a love of reading?
It truly takes ALL of us working together as a literacy community!

Why was this extra special for #G2Great?
This chat was extra special because you can find both Dr. Mary Howard and our newest team member, Valinda Kimmel, in Game Changer! This book needs to be physically present and discussed in every school building across the country.

Where will you begin?
How will you change the system?




Resources to Explore
Many, many ideas from the chat are available in the Wakelet:
https://wakelet.com/wake/4934fc90-5373-4bb4-87a6-24728186e081

From Scholastic a recap of some highlights from the chat on EDU, Scholastic’s blog about books and the joy of reading: http://edublog.scholastic.com/post/twitter-chat-recap-g2great-donalyn-miller-and-colby-sharp

Video Interview with Rudine Sims Bishop:  http://www.readingrockets.org/teaching/experts/rudine-sims-bishop

Parents:  Why is Reading Important?

Daniel Pennac:  10 Rights of a Reader

ILA:  Children’s Rights to Read

NCTE: A Book is a Precious Thing

Tanny McGregor sketchnote:  “The Secret Power of Children’s Picture Books

Fifty Top Literacy Statistics

Maximizing Our Potential Focusing on the Literacy Work That Matters Student Centered Learning

By, Jenn Hayhurst

On Thursday, September 27, 2018, the #G2Great PLN had a brilliant conversation regarding the importance of student-centered learning. After all, students (and their needs) are what teaching is all about. That sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? It would be a perfect world if that were easily done; although, the reality is that teachers are pulled in many directions throughout the school day. There are pacing guides with curriculum goals. There are standards and grade level expectations. There are report cards, progress reports, and parent meetings. There are so many meetings: RTI, faculty, and data meetings just to name the top three. All of which have a purpose and are designed to keep students and their needs at the forefront. However, it is the day-to-day work that is the grease for that machine. It is the softer formative assessments in the hands of a highly skilled teacher that help children to learn and grow.

When I think of learning and growth the word steady comes to mind.  Yet, we are living in a world marked by change: technology, politics, or global demographics are all shifting beneath our feet. For these reasons,  now more than ever, we need to have the conversation as to HOW we can become more student-centered because learning and relevance are two sides to the same coin. 

Defining Purpose: A Passionate Pursuit

I think the reason Twitter is so important to teachers is that it gives us a platform to clarify what we value within a plurality.  It connects us to other professionals who push us to think more deeply and to reflect daily. I know that is what it does for me. As I read these tweets I feel a fire in my heart and I want to call out to anyone who will listen, “Learning and passion are inextricably linked!” Student-centered learning means that children are wide awake and are learning because they are connected to the process:

Authentic Learning: A Serious Shift

Teachers who dare to create authentic learning experiences for children have to believe in themselves. In a world so full of doubt and criticism it can be daunting to be an agent of change. It can be hard to take that first step away from a scripted lesson plan. After all, we are just teachers. No. It is because we are teachers that we must take an informed look at the lesson plan, curriculum goals, and grade level expectations.  Then we can consider who are students are and how we can build momentum. When it comes to learning, experiencing success is essential!  When we see ourselves as the “facilitator”,  when we understand how to use “formative assessment, when we focus on ways for students to “engage in the work,” we are shifting the focus to student-centered learning:

Deconstructing NormsA Shared Structure

The days of reading from a scripted program really need to be over. Our students are coming into our classrooms with a wide range of life experiences, access to languages, and world knowledge.  We cannot assume that what they bring will be familiar to us.  In many ways, this new normal is a gift. We have so much to learn from one another. Educators who practice student centered teaching share the responsiblity for learning with their students. These teachers are keenly aware which studens are ready be more independent. Teachers who embrace student centered learning are open to their own learning process knowing that there is always room to grow.

We are teachers, who value our students and all that they bring into our classrooms. A student-centered classroom is marked by a community voice. It is not about me and what I have to teach you. It is about us and what we have to learn.  Thank you, for learning with me.

What matters most?  Reverence or Relevance?

By Fran McVeigh

In the week leading up to this chat on July 19, 2018, I wondered about the title and where it would take the chat. I consulted the dictionary and the thesaurus. I even discussed the topic with a co-moderator. I wanted an idea or a theme in mind to “jump start” my thinking. A spark.  An angle. A beginning point. After all . . . I was going to be at #ILA18 and my goal was to not spend all weekend writing a blog post. So here’s a small snapshot of what I discovered.

Synonyms for Reverence (Source link)

Synonyms for Relevance  (Source link)

Reverence:  High opinion.

Relevance:  Pertinence.  

The “or” in the title suggests one or the other.

Flip a coin. It’s a high opinion.  

Flip again. It’s pertinent.  

But . . .

I have this queasy feeling in my stomach.

When is high opinion enough?

When the teacher says, “I like it.” ???

When the teacher says, “It has research to support it.” ???

When the administrator says, “This is what I bought.” ???

When is pertinence enough?

When the teacher says, “This is what my kids need.” ???

When the teacher says, “It worked this way for my students last year but I think if I try this one little change, it may work even better.” ???

When the administrator says, “Have you checked with others about this idea? And with whom?” ???

Before you make a decision about what you want (those things you revere) or what is needed (or relevant), let’s review this curated sample of #G2Great community tweets. The link for the entire Wakelet (archive) is at the bottom of this page.

What are our beliefs?

Meaningful, purposeful work:  What are we in awe of?

Goals:  What are we in awe of?  What do we believe is best for students?

Collaboration and Goal-Setting:  How do we keep students at the center?

Time:  How do we allocate and use time to reflect what we revere and what is relevant?

Talk:  How do we ensure that students talk more in the service of learning than the teacher?

Eureka . . .

What if, instead of trying to decide whether we need to start, continue, or stop doing something because of its reverence or relevance, we decided that both factors would be part of the same lens or filter? What if reverence AND relevance became a double simultaneous filter for reviewing and reflecting on our teaching needs and desires?

And as I participated in the chat in the midst of a group of #G2Great dear friends,

Quietly

Concentrating

Reading

Writing

Giggling occasionally

Greeting passer-bys

Reverence and relevance both merged together in Brent’s Canva of a quote from Dr. Mary Howard here.

. . . amazing child . . . notice and nurture . . . incredible potential . . . that resides in each child . . . without exception!

If that’s our vision and our goal how can we not use our understanding of reverence and relevance together?

And now that you have read through a curated set of tweets, just think about what learning in our classrooms could be if we asked students to “curate their learning daily.”  What possibilities do you envision?

Copy of Wakelet here

 

Taking a Fresh Look at Our Practices: Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out

By Fran McVeigh

The fact that we were trending in the opening moments of our #G2Great chat “Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out”, on June 28, 2018, was not a surprise.  Services for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been a hot topic since the first federal law, PL 94-142 (1975) which guaranteed: a free, appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Every reauthorization since that initial law has involved change, but the requirement for educating students in the least restrictive environment remains a topic that requires ongoing discussion in every school across the country.

A walk down memory lane in special education would also shine some light on “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” as other terms used to describe student services. Mainstreaming brought special-needs students who were being served in separate classrooms back into general education classes. It was assumed that these students would be able to find success once mainstreamed, but access alone was not the issue. Many students still struggled because specialized assistance within the regular education classes was not provided. To remedy this, inclusion was the next wave of reform. Students with special needs were placed in general education classes but were also supported by specialists in those classes. Co-teaching became one form of support that still exists because IDEA continues to require students to be educated in the least restrictive placement.

As a former special education teacher who has taught in both push in and pull out programs, I eagerly anticipated this chat about services for ALL students including those who are striving, whether they have an IEP or they are Gifted and Talented. In reality this topic has huge implications because it can also include any student ever pulled out for any services:  a Tier 2 or 3 Intervention, English Learner instruction, band lessons or even speech services.

Let’s begin with what was revealed in our conversations during the #G2Great chat. This quote of Johnny Downey’s sums up much of the thinking and also matched Amy’s quote about many factors being involved. It’s complicated!

When is the location or the content of instruction an equity issue?  

The presumption is that each child will first receive quality core or Tier 1 instruction in the same classroom as their peers. Removal to another location through a Pull Out program during core instruction would be an equity issue because those students could be denied basic instruction.  It depends what they would be “missing” in the classroom. However, this could also happen with Push In instruction if the student had small group instruction during a whole class Read Aloud time. The very elements of literacy instruction that are most needed by students, especially independent reading time, are often assigned as time for additional instruction. This does become an equity issue because the student may actually have access to less time for reading than his or her peers.

What is the primary focus for decision-making?

The student must be at the heart of all decisions made about where and when extra instruction will be provided. This seems simpler for students with IEPs because federal legislation, IDEA, guarantees parental rights:  

each public agency must ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.” Source Link

But this is also true for all students whether they are missing class for an intervention, speech instruction, or any of the other myriad of reasons that students are pulled out of classrooms. Parents should be part of the decision-making process.  No parent of a fifth grader should be blindsided by this statement, “Well, she is not doing well in social studies because she missed it for the last two years because of her intervention time.

What issues must be considered?

Quality Tier 1 instruction is critical and must be provided by expert teachers.

Neither push in or pull out is ever perfect for all children.
We must consider effectiveness of instruction and collect results to see if our students are really “learning” and if the support is increasing student success and joyfulness.

Decisions cannot EVER be about time, the schedule or the adults.  It’s not their education on the line.

Sometimes, pull out instruction can be more efficient and more effective.
Thoughtful discussions should always be a part of the process for EACH and EVERY student.

And FINALLY, the biggest concern with Push In or Pull Out is the feelings and perceptions of the students involved. When do we include students in the decision-making process and what do they tell us?

Access to quality instruction is the right of all students. Access in the least restrictive environment is also a legal mandate for many students as parents consider just where that instruction should take place. An arbitrary requirement for ONLY “Pull Out” or “Push In” services must be rejected because the needs of the students should be a central focus of all decision-making. Student responses to their education, as well as their attitudes and perceptions, need to be considered as the focus of staff must be to accelerate learning in order to decrease learning gaps and develop a love of learning. Team Teaching or Co-Teaching is one current popular way of meeting students’ needs in a less intrusive setting and you can read more about that in the Wakelet archive. Data on the successes of Push In / Pull Out settings is inconclusive but more students are successful in life after learning in Push In settings. Other positive benefits from Push In settings include: more positive interactions with peers, improvement on standardized tests, and increased social and communication skills. Decisions about instruction must occur on a student by student basis in order for ALL students to have access to the highest quality education available in the least restrictive environment.  

Wakelet Link  

This Series:

Reclaiming the Principalship with Tom Marshall

by Jenn Hayhurst On April 19, 2018, #G2Great’s PLN welcomed Tom Marshall to the fold. We had an inspired conversation about his new book, Reclaiming the Principalship Instructional Leadership Strategies to Engage Your School Community and Focus on Learning   In Tom’s book he extends a beautiful invitation to “Make the word principal an adjective again. Join me, Head Learner, on the journey of reclaiming the principalship in the name of learning!” This is a powerful challenge. He is asking us to consider a richer more meaningful definition of what it means to teach and lead. How would school be different if we were learners first?

This left me wondering, what if…

What if we were learners who fostered collaboration and coaching?

Collaboration is alive and well. There are so many ways to learn with colleagues. We can learn with teachers in our schools and we can learn with teachers from around the world. Learning can be scheduled and it can be spontaneous. When we decide to raise the bar on our learning lives and open ourselves up to coaching we create a whole new dynamic. Coaching offers the benefit of a shared learning experience. The more we learn together the more informed that learning becomes because everyone has something important to offer:

What if we were learners who were responsive leaders within a learning culture?

Being responsive to needs requires us to think deeply about what is happening so we can plan a course of action. Leaders who make this an inclusive process, one that encourages us all to think of creative solutions, promote a learning culture. Tom reminds us that this relevant work, whether it is at the building level or classroom level, should pass a litmus test – does this benefit student learning? All of it – our evaluations, school improvement plans all of it can be swayed by a learning stance:

 

What if we were learners who honored each other’s values while growing professional discourse?

Classrooms are dripping with formative data and it tells a story. It reveals what we value and where we may need to go next. Every time we push ourselves to be honest and authentic about instructional practice we invite growth. This is the first step, the beginning of more substantial conversations that build upon strengths and reflection.

What if we were learners who built on community and momentum if we nurtured inner curiosity? 

Leaders who set clear goals and pair them to a metaphor make it take root within a faculty.  Teachers who come together around a goal build community and that is powerful. Whenever we tap into our personal power and harness it supports a shared vision we are making a huge impact on the lives of our students. Writing plays an important and meaningful role in this process. Taking time to stop and reflect is a game changer:

What begins with a “What if…” can lead to powerful changes and important discoveries. Tom’s wonderful book was written to encourage us all to adopt a learning leadership stance.  Thank you Tom. Your wisdom and passion are exactly the right next step forward in education.