SLOW CHAT: Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation

by Mary Howard

You can read the Wakelet artifact HERE

#G2Great chat celebrates 7 years on 1/6/22. Your chat co-moderators often contemplate new chat designs for twitter style dialogue. This week, we decided to draw inspiration from the continuing challenges of this pandemic and its impact on our shared love for attending National Literacy Conferences. If COVID-19 had not thwarted our plans, #G2Great chat would have taken a break this week to attend the International Literacy Conference in Indianapolis, IN. Unfortunately, ILA shifted from an in-person conference to varied virtual opportunities. We know that this decision was not taken lightly and we are grateful that ILA chose to put our safety first.

Since we had already planned to take this week off, we decided this afforded us a wonderful opportunity to try something new. We had discussed using a SLOW CHAT format in the past, so we thought that this was the perfect time.

WHAT IS A SLOW CHAT?

For those of you who have never participated in a SLOW CHAT on Twitter before, some background information would be helpful:

In a typical chat, we gather at our #G2great hashtag on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. and share 7 to 8 questions across the night that are answered in real time. If you have ever taken part in our chat, then you know that this format makes for a fast-paced process of reading and responding to questions while engaging in conversations around those ideas.

By contrast, a SLOW CHAT is literally meant to slow down this pace using many variations that may span across one or several days. A few questions are asked at key points during the designated time and educators respond to questions at their own pace rather than during a live chat hour. Our one-day SLOW CHAT began in the morning with initial thoughts from your co moderators I share at the end of this post followed by five questions we posted every ninety-minutes during the day as we checked in across the day. Since we plan to do this again, putting our first SLOW CHAT into action was a wonderful learning venture that we can draw from in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our first SLOW CHAT I give you our first SLOW BLOG with five twitter takeaways that captivated my professional heart.

SLOW BLOG TWITTER TAKEAWAYS

Our deep desire to embrace curious learning in our lives has a much broader purpose. We cannot expect that our children will engage in and beyond our schools as curious learners unless we are willing to model a curious spirit each and every day. Our actions (or lack of) speak volumes.

Engaging in collaborative dialogue with other professionals on a regular basis gives us a lifeline to collegial support. These inspired interactions help us to fine tune, adjust and add to our thinking from both sides as we learn in the company of trusted others.

We make our own learning a priority not just for the sake of learning but in honor of the children that learning is dedicated to. The tipping point is when we carry our learning with us and make professional decisions that will lift learning to the highest heights in their name.

It is admirable for each of us to value professional collaboration, but the goal is to create a culture of collective collaboration that spreads across a school. Every child deserves to experience professional joy in action no matter where that learning takes place or with whom.

We all need a safe space where others support and fuel our learning. While we hope that this comes from within a school, it can also span across great distances. Used thoughtfully, social media can offer a safe haven where ideas, passions and curiosities can flourish.

Last Thoughts

COVID-19 pandemic has altered the landscape of our professional and personal lives in many challenging ways. Yet, there were also many blessings as we have traveled along a meandering path of uncertainty. Conference cancellations have been difficult for those of us who thrive on professional gatherings, but it also nudged us to explore options for learning together. These new learning doors have compounded our unwavering thirst for professional learning in any capacity. Yes, the pandemic altered where, when and in what way our learning happens. But our determination to hold tight to the WHY of professional learning has strengthened our commitment to celebrate our learning through this new lens. Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation was the perfect title for our first SLOW CHAT since it reflects a way of life that we are proud to lead on a daily basis.

We want to thank those of you who joined our first #G2Great SLOW CHAT. We believe deeply in collaborative professional JOY and we know that invitational discourse is possible in any form. Here’s to more SLOW CHAT in the future!

SLOW CHAT reflections from your #G2Great co moderators

 Disrupting the Narrative of “Learning Loss”

by Mary Howard

Revisit our Wakelet chat artifact HERE • Read our “Learning Loss” references HERE

On 9/9/21, your #G2Great co-moderators set our sights on a pervasive educational issue that warrants collective pushback: Disrupting the Narrative of “Learning Loss”. While “learning loss” is certainly not a new phrase, it’s been cavalierly tossed around at an increasing ever-present rate since the COVID 19 pandemic began. I suspect that every educator has been impacted in some way by this disconcerting banter. It was no accident that this week was immediately preceded by a 9/2/21 paired chat eloquently discussed in a post by Fran McVeighTime to Rethink Standardized TestingMore on that later. 

Since the “learning loss” narrative is riddled with problems, it seems fitting to begin by taking a close look at the central theme of those words. My visual reference below was created to do precisely what that phrase does. I wanted to put the mindset of “LOSS” on display, surrounded by synonyms revealed in a simple search. Pause for a moment and contemplate the implications and potential impact this thinking could have on the students in your care during the new 2021-22 school year. 

Go ahead, I’ll wait while you soak that in…

This chart was created using wordclouds.com

Words matter. They have always mattered and can cloud our perceptions in ways that could alter our view without even realizing the inadvertent damage this can have on children. What I find most disturbing are the assumptions that will provoke actions that are likely to accompany a “learning loss” mentality directed at children before we even know who they are as learners and humans. Our actions speak volumes and can alter the beliefs that guide intent and thus what we bring to the instructional process. Even if we do so unintentionally, the potential for harm to students is precisely the same. 

Let’s put this in perspective. I’d like you to imagine the children who will walk through your door every day across this school year. Which of those children will be labeled as unsuspecting victims of “learning loss”? How many of them will we put at an academic and emotional disadvantage from the onset? What is the likelihood that we will dub some children in need of ‘interventions’ and then relegate them to the fix it room to recover what we deem has been lost? What is the long-term cost when we view our children through a lens of loss? If these questions don’t make you uncomfortable, then we have an even bigger problem since each question illuminates lingering inequalities that continue to be perpetuated in our schools even as I type these words. And that is simply inexcusable!

Now let’s contemplate how “learning loss” is determined as children enter our schools. To do this, I’ll turn to our chat topic last week: Time to Rethink Standardized TestingI’ll make this point using three quotes we shared this week as well as a connection to our chat the previous week. These two interrelated topics shared in consecutive weeks are the perfect pairing as one impacts the other:

This summer my email in-box was inundated with disturbing justification of “learning loss” in point-of-sale pleas. Each espoused a “learning loss” narrative in a connective trail leading to standardized tests and varied suspect numerical data as proof of the impending crisis. The vast majority were advertising a program using the lure of test scores in a carefully worded marketing ploy. This is meant to convince educators that their program will rescue them from doom and gloom and magically make “learning loss” a thing of the past in record time. Sadly, many will fall for this sales pitch hook line and sinker and happily write a check sure to “save” them from the embarrassment of declining test scores. How can we not recognize that our chronic obsession with test scores is a tragically low bar to define our so-called success? Where is our concern for the children beneath the test score fallacy and malicious marketing mix? Why aren’t we challenging the status quo that has long plagued us and harmed our children in the process? I think those questions are all worth deeper thought.

Now let’s contrast this disturbing prospect with a quote by Regie Routman from her incredible book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018). As you read this quote, think of the dramatic perspective shift her wise words bring to mind that are a complete contradiction to “learning loss”.

The singular emphasis of Regie’s words is on the learning needs of children based on our professional responsibility to them, not a data-fueled marketing agenda or quick fix one-size-fits-all solutions at every turn. Regie is asking us to put learners first by making responsible instructional decisions grounded in our knowledge of literacy and our knowledge of students while using meaningful assessment informant we collect across every learning day. Teaching with urgency is not about selling a program. Focusing relentlessly is not about promoting standardized test scores. What Regie is asking us to do is the very heart and soul of responsive teaching rather than a flawed product pitch where the end justifies the means.

I actually paused as soon as I finished typing the expression above: “the end justifies then means.” It’s always important to me to I weigh my words carefully so I wondered if it really fit the point that I was trying to make. My desire to be very clear motivated me to check with Merriam-Webster where I found this definition:

“used to say that a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it.”

Yep, that fits my intended meaning to perfection!

Now that we’ve taken a good look at “learning loss” from two contrasting angles, I’d like to turn to #G2Great wisdom in the form of passionate chat tweets this week:

MORE #G2Great TWEET WISDOM

Before I share some advice and closing thoughts, I’ll share one more visual with a different frame of mind. Take a moment and think about the distinction between our initial chart focused on “LOSS” and my new chart highlighting “GAIN” with a new set of synonyms surround it. Consider what impact this shift from LOSS to GAIN could have on how we view children and our professional responsibility to each of them. 

This chart was created using wordclouds.com

How do these GAIN words make you feel? How does this contrast from how our LOSS words made you feel? What would the impact on our children be if GAIN drives your view, your intent, and your actions? What would the impact on our children be if LOSS drives your view, your intent, and your actions? The language we use can enhance or diminish all that we do because our assumptions impact our beliefs and ultimately lead to daily decision-making – for better or for worse.

…and we, my friends, are in a profession where we reach for BETTER (not worse).

Put another way, I’d like to borrow from Brent Gilson’s recent post: Perhaps Radical Change Comes from Radical Hope. His message about radical hope as a way for us to counteract the “learning loss” narrative comes through loud and clear:

“What am I doing to help my students showcase their GENIUS, facilitate JOY, carry ourselves with EXCELLENCE and ignore the noise of those who are looking to profit off a pandemic?”

And so, in closing, I’ll leave you with three important guidelines that will support you as you refute the “learning loss” narrative in the coming year so that we may honor the children who enter our schools. These are not meant as broad suggestions but to offer a powerful and purposeful starting point that could have a tremendous impact on how we approach all that follows:

Leave Your Assumptions at the Door

Each day when children walk into your classroom, make it your priority to look for the glimmers of brilliance they carry into our learning spaces with them. We have been blinded to those glimmers for too long that fuel assumptions on preconceived notions of flawed data, skin color, nationality, zip code, school-induced labels, or even past perceptions of other teachers. If we truly put children first, then we celebrate what they bring to the learning experience rather than how we believe that they should fit into a rigid grade level mold. 

Use Student Strengths as a Celebratory Guide

With this in mind, we accentuate those glimmers our children bring to the learning experience on a daily basis with a fervor that drives all we do. The “learning loss” narrative is the epitome of a deficit model that we must steadfastly refute. Rather, we embrace a strength-based model where what children can do when they enter our schools each day becomes the collective stepping stone leading to the new thinking that we support and further strength in a myriad of ways. In other words, we meet children where they are and shift our view to focus on possibilities over limitations.

Acknowledge Children as Our Best Teachers

I have gratefully attended the ‘University of Kids’ for the last five decades where I’ve learned more from children than any other professional learning endeavor. I have long honored action research as way to put children in the learning driver’s seat so that I may learn from them. I recognize that those children who baffle me most have the most to teach me and so I invite that teaching in. As a curious kidwatcher, we capture noticings and use them to make responsive decisions in honor of our children. When we pay close attention and give children an active role in our instruction-assessment merger, they will always gives us signs that point us in the right direction.  

We owe it to children to counter the “learning loss” narrative so that we may instead focus on making our classrooms a place where we believe in and value every child.

It is an educational imperative that we all embrace the belief that our children deserve nothing less!

MORE #G2Great TWEET WISDOM

Recommended References for Disrupting “Learning Loss”

What ‘learning loss’ really means (it’s not a loss of Learning) by Rachael Gabriel: http://wapo.st/3ter54y

Can we stop telling the ‘corona kids’ how little they are learning? by Rachael Gabriel: https://wapo.st/3svnZIu

The concept of “Learning Loss” is Complete BS by Teacher Tom https://bit.ly/31DZk9P

Learning Loss-Myth or Reality (Check) by Kathleen Brown: http://bit.ly/3bYQNEh

My Learning Loss Formula by Russ Walsh https://bit.ly/3thnZ0c

Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap by Yong Zhao https://bit.ly/3drePbW

Learning Loss is Just Educational Halitosis by Peter Greene https://bit.ly/3uYKmrA

The “Learning Loss” Pandemic and it’s Cures by John Merrow (via Diane Ravitch)  This tongue in cheek post is meant to drive a sad reality home https://bit.ly/3fxW1sV

Henny Penny Discovers Learning Loss by Russ Walsh https://bit.ly/3acp01T

Previous #G2Great Article Chat

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? by Alfie Kohn (We spotlighted this article on #G2Great): Article: https://bit.ly/32bgVqw #G2great post: https://bit.ly/3x56oKZ

Webinars

Anti-Testing Activism During a Global Pandemic (Webinar): Panel: Oren Pizmony-Levy, Denisha Jones, Ricardo Rosa, Robert Schaeffer Ceresta Smith, Amy Stuart Wellls http://bit.ly/3vCVk77

The Educator Collaborative Gathering Closing Keynote – Learning Loss or Found: Tools to Move Beyond Deficit Thinking Post-Pandemic with Chris Lehman, Keri Orange-Jones and Elizabeth Lacy-Schoenberger (NOTE: Session starts 33:00) https://bit.ly/3aaJAzX My facebook notes https://bit.ly/2QIYOpd

Towanda Harris podcast with Elizabeth Lacy Shoenberger: Is the Learning Lost or Found and My FB podcast notes: bit.ly/3eEf6aM

Vimeo Video: What Shall We Do?

Blog Posts

Sarah Norsworthy: The Myth of Learning Loss: A Construct of White Dominant Culture

Brent Gilson: Learning Has Not Been Lost

Brent Gilson: Perhaps Radical Change Comes from Radical Hope.

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.

Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet transcript of our #G2Great Chat here


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

I think that we have made writing in schools a task, heavy labor. We need to connect writing with play, with improvisation, pleasure, and friendship.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Tom Newkirk’s response hurts my heart. My teacher heart. My writing heart. My parent heart. My grandmother heart. My literacy being just hurts.

It hurts my heart because I also know it to be true. Writing has become a “chore” in many classrooms, whether it is the kindergarten classroom where students COPY sentences from the board daily, the fourth grade classroom where students respond to daily writing prompts from the teacher, or the middle school classroom where students are engaged in formulaic argument writing day after day. Of course, not all classrooms have reduced writing to tasks and heavy labor. But many classrooms in middle schools and high schools across this country teach “how to write a sentence”, “how to write a five sentence paragraph”, and “how to write a five paragraph essay”. Disheartening. Disillusioning. Deadly for a writer’s heart.

Necessary?

Appropriate?

Well-intentioned?

Expected?

Required?

Where do your writing experiences fit? Consider the stories in this blog post. Do they parallel your experiences? You will see stories of writing from writers, teachers of writing, and wisdom from some writing experts!

And now, back to our regular format. Typical posts begin with our title slide and some background on our author or topic. So let’s resume our regular program!

Our #G2Great chat on Thursday, May 27, 2021 with Thomas Newkirk tackled a variety of issues about writing that all writing teachers need to consider. We were discussing his newest beautiful book, Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers, which is student-centered, qualitative research. Research carefully and respectfully gathered from students and teachers! This was a return visit to #G2Great for Tom who hosted in January of 2018 to discuss Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning. His previous books, Minds Made For Stories and Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones continue to grow our thinking about current fads as well as what we need to hold tightly to in order to realign and reignite our actions, visions, and beliefs about writing instruction.

I love to write. I write best when I have choice in topic/content and organization. I know that’s not always possible. I’m not comfortable writing fiction and stories are still hard. Not fun. Not pleasurable. But in recent years I know that stories cultivate friendships as I have learned through Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life. I have searched for the source of my failure feelings with fiction. One factor: I came from the era when we were taught that our writing should never include “I” or “you”. I and you were consistently “red-inked” by multiple teachers. Consequently it became easier to avoid situations where an “I” or “you” story felt more natural. Avoidance seemed to work. A second factor from my own school days – I don’t remember ever feeling that my teachers were WRITERS so there was little encouragement. And thirdly, writing was often a task or assignment to be completed only by students. Fiction . . . It was never presented as a choice in junior high or high school.

So here are two quick stories from my writing life.

My obsession with improving writing instruction began with a course on writing with Sue Meadows after I had been teaching for a decade or two. Sue was a local district administrator with ELA Curriculum responsibilities. And then I was hooked. Atwell, Graves, Harwayne, Hansen, Murray and Spandel were just a few of the writers that I was studying. I became a sponge. I went to additional training on the “6 Traits” and thoroughly absorbed the notion of aligning instruction with the rubrics used in assessment. Through assessment academies, I also went on to co-lead district-wide writing assessment. Each opportunity led to increased understanding and typical me, I never waited for “someone else to bring the learning to me”. Instead, I continued to search for more information about writing processes and the different genres of writing. My goal: Continue to grow my own understanding of “Quality Writing”!

In November of 2014, I attended and presented at NCTE in Baltimore. One speaker in a panel presentation stood out: Tom Newkirk. I was fortunate to have a seat in the packed room. I chuckled with conference attendees when Tom said that a “hamburger” organizer was an “even bigger insult to a hamburger” besides it often resulted in boring, dull, tired writing. I appreciated his emphasis on student choice writing even as I knew that would be a tough sale for some of the high school teachers in my region. Since that date, my collection of Tom Newkirk’s books has risen exponentially.

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

I felt that there were several “disconnects.” Students are immersed in fictional narratives–movies, video games, books, TV. But they are rarely given the chance to write in these forms. That’s one disconnect. Another is the profusion of fictional writing outside of school (e.g. fanfiction) and its absence in school. I think schools are still operating on an outmoded idea that reading is the dominant form of literacy, and that writing, particularly fiction writing is for the talented few. That’s no longer the case Finally, we praise the benefits of fiction reading as creating empathy and self-understanding. Why can’t the same be said for writing fiction–creating characters? So my goal is to open space for a kind of writing that students are eager to explore.

Tom Newkirk, email

Opening space. I wouldn’t have written about video games until my grandson introduced me to Mario Brothers. But I still don’t know enough to write about it. Fiction reading is my absolute favorite. Fiction writing is my absolute least favorite writing. I don’t know the expectations. I haven’t written enough fiction to write it even “passably” well.

What do you know about fanfiction? Here’s an excerpt from fanfiction.net under “Books”.

1,237,100 fanfiction pieces about these 5 books. WOW!

What is the role of fiction in our students’ lives. Are students being asked to READ fiction but NOT write fiction? Isn’t that ironic?

This leads me to the final question that we ask our authors.

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

I hope that they will open their practice to allow fiction writing–not even necessarily requiring it, but making a space for it. I hope that they will listen to students–about what they want to write, and their experiences writing. I hope that teachers themselves try out fictional writing. I hope that teacher prep will make a place for fictional writing as prospective teachers move toward their career. And I hope that our instruction will avoid formulas and instead look inductively to how writers actually write.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Many hopes: allowing fiction writing, listening to students, trying it themselves, teacher prep, avoiding formulas and examining real writing.

Now that we have looked at Tom’s goals for his book and heard two of my stories about writing, let’s get to the heart. What are students saying about their writing? These two quotes were part of the #G2Great chat.

Writing Unbound, Thomas Newkirk

Some people don’t get the “What if?” Some people like the easier what ifs of what if this happened to so-and-so, in modern day. Other people can’t stand that kind of stuff and that is what fantasy is for.

Helen, quoted in Reading Unbound

I can relate to Caroline’s “flow of ideas” as drafting is a messy spot in my head with ideas ping ponging everywhere. As for Ernest’s ideas, I think I would pass on the writing a story and the analysis. Helen speaks of the freedom of “What if?” in fantasy writing. Maybe my niche in writing would be to verify more informational text/ideas that could be added?

What I take away from all three students and Tom’s tweets is that writing stems from many sources and that we must trust students because 1) they do know a lot and

2) there is no one way for writing to go!

And they, the students, know it!

But I don’t see that flexibility for students or even for teachers of writing in many of our schools.

The wakelet contains so much wisdom from Tom Newkirk and the many teachers and #G2Great friends who join us weekly. The remainder of this post is going to focus on just this one question.

Why has fiction writing diminished in the upper grades?

  1. Call for college prep writing and Common Core Standards

College and Career Ready

I call this bias, the cattle-chute vision of preparation. This is why a creative writing elective is often viewed as a kind of indulgence, unrelated to the main mission of high school writing. I think of the advice that the young Dav Pilkey received: that he would never make a living drawing silly cartoons about a principal who thinks he is Captain Underpants. That, of course, was several million book sales ago.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Some folks do not believe that fiction writing has a place in academia; fiction writing is for beginning writers. That leads us to reason two.

2. Fiction is too easy and not rigorous enough.

… narrative is not a discrete type of writing—it is our primary mode of understanding, and it underlies all writing.

(Newkirk 2014)

It simply makes no sense to deny students the opportunity to write in the genres they choose to read.

3. Lack of personal perception of competence and conviction that fiction fits into daily writing instruction

Fiction writing can also offer an experience that I feel is crucial to enjoying writing: the feeling that writing generates writing—that a word suggests the next word or phrase, that we can listen to writing and sense what it suggests. And even for teachers committed to fiction writing, it’s a tough fit in the curriculum. Stories take time and are often far longer than more contained forms of writing—an editorial, for example, which can be held to a few paragraphs.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Not all writing is equal. Writing-like activities are available that may or may not parallel reading activities. Tom calls these peripherals. It may surface in writing prompts, vocabulary or comprehension work.

In Conclusion . . .

As I searched for a way to conclude this post I was drawn back to these questions that Tom Newkirk used to close chapter 2 of Writing Unbound. What are your answers? How would your students answer them? They might be a source of reflection on past instruction or planning for next year’s instruction!

So we need to ask: Can we inhabit the dizzying worlds that Ernest and his friends create? Can we experience with them the dangers and narrow escapes? Can we even help them think through their plots, imagine their characters? Can we play their game? It’s a challenge worth taking up.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

LInks for Additional Resources:

On the Podcast: Writing Unbound Link

Sample chapter from Writing Unbound Link

A Confession from Tom Newkirk about Writing Unbound Link

Bridging the Divide between Creative Writing and Literary Analysis Link

Added 06.07.2021: “The Power of Writing Collaborative Fiction” by David Lee Finkle LInk

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)

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? (Alfie Kohn)

by Fran McVeigh

Wow! The Twittersphere was on fire on 10/22/2020 when the #G2Great chat discussed Alfie Kohn’s article from the Boston Globe, “Is Learning ‘Lost’ When Kids Are Out of School?” You can check out the article here and the Wakelet for the chat here.

I trust that you will want to check out the article as Alfie Kohn succinctly answers his own question. But that also causes a few more questions for readers which is why the discussion was scheduled with the #G2Great audience. What’s important? What matters?

Here are a few tweets illustrating that point.

Where do we begin? Many government officials and capitalists would have us begin with assessments but if you espouse “student-centered” education then you already know that we must begin at the very beginning. Are there really gaps? How would those be assessed? And how would we really assess learning? And that circles back to student-centered learning. We begin with student assets as identified in the tweets below.

In the Boston Globe article, Alfie Kohn pulls no punches with his beliefs about standardized tests. Do they REALLY measure learning? Well, that then requires us to think about learning. Is learning merely the regurgitation of factoids, examples, and curriculum that could be answered by a Google search? Or is “learning” something else? What do educators believe? How would students respond?

Here are some thoughts on “What is learning?” from the #G2Great community.

So if we are not going to use standardized assessments to measure “Learning”, what can the education community STOP doing now? How can we help “Learning” be the sustained focus and not just the “flavor” for a chat response or a newsletter? How can we make LEARNING the focus of all our future conversations?

In order for instruction to provide opportunities for learning as well as choice, and adding in “student-centered”, what will educators need to be working on expanding? What about: Student agency? Empowerment? Choice?

These four tweets will jump start your thinking about additional actions for your school community.

Is learning lost? There may be some summer slide, but as previously mentioned, students have shared powerful learning from their at-home work that has longer lasting life-time implications for their communities. Where will change come from? What will it look like? It will begin with a belief in the need for change. We can no longer afford to prepare our children for the 20th century. Change has been needed for decades and is evident that we are now in the THIRD decade of the 21st century. The pandemic just made the need for change more visible when schools were shuttered across the U.S. (and Canada) last March.

Where will YOU begin? Who else needs to read and discuss this article with you? When? The time for action is NOW! The students are depending on YOU!

Additional resources:

Alfie Kohn (Books, Blogs, Resources) Link

Alfie Kohn – Standards and Testing – Link

Alfie Kohn – How to Create Nonreaders (Yes, 2010, but read all 7) Link

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

Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie: The Distance Learning Playbook

by Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.

Doug and Nancy are not new to #g2great. Previous chats include: This is Balanced Literacy, December 12, 2019; and All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, August 29, 2019.

This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.

Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book!
Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)

What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!

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

Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.

So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.

One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.

HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!

Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.

All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.

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

The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.

This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.

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

Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.  

“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”

How are you handling your self-care needs?

What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?

Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement

by Mary Howard

On 8/13/20, we welcomed first time #G2Great guest host Nancy Steineke to our chat to discuss her incredible new book: Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement (Heinemann). We explored this topic on 2/6/20 in Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Behavior Management and 10/16/16 in Classroom Management with Heart: Facilitating Intrinsic Motivation but it was a distinct honor to have Nancy share her wisdom as an author and educator who brought this topic to life.

I first heard about Classroom Management when Heinemann Publishing shared Nancy’s podcast: Building a Collaborative Classroom. Listening to her words, I was so mesmerized by the message that I immediately began to capture her thinking on my notes I could share. There was so much wisdom but it was these words that lingered with me long after the podcast ended:

“When teachers try to control their students, it makes you a sheriff in the town and everyone else then becomes a potential criminal. That’s not a way for a teacher to teach and it offers kids very little reason to buy into what the sheriff is proposing.” 

This is a stark reality of how classroom management is too often perceived. This disconnect is evidenced by the continued fascination with suspect yet very popular management ploys such as Clip Up/Down Charts and varied tools that elicits the image of an instructional “sheriff” publicly labeling students according to a level of behavioral compliance. This is far removed from the collaborative process Nancy describes in her book and it sets us all up for failure and may have serious consequences for our students. Nancy clearly explains this mismatch on page 5 of Classroom Management:

Through a system of numerous sticks with possibly a few carrots (the most common carrot being “Behave and I, the teacher, will leave you alone”) might induce student compliance in the moment, it does damage in the long run. Our students might learn to be quiet and follow our directions without a question, but do these students’ behaviors prepare them to be independent learners beyond your classroom? Do they reflect deep content learning? No. They simply teach students how to survive in your classroom? 

We asked Nancy to respond to three questions around her book that I’ll share across this post. As we dig deeper into classroom management, it seems as if contemplating her writerly BOOK WHY is a good starting point: 

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope it would have on the professional world?

Classroom management is challenging, often a burden we wrestle with silently because admitting management problems feels like admitting weakness. Compounding the problem, many of us entered our work without positive role models to emulate. When I was a student, my teachers relied on the twin weapons of compliance and punishment in their quest for class control. In moments of desperation early in my career, I fell back on those tools as well. Through trial and error I stumbled along, gradually refining my work with students until finally reaching this conclusion: For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.

But, fostering a supportive classroom community is easier said than done. Depending on grade level, teachers manage 30 to 175 co-workers (students) every day. Plus, we teachers have to cover our content as well! Because of the ever present pressures of limited time for content coverage combined with looming high stakes assessments, it’s easy for teachers to slip back into that rut of compliance and punishment because it seems expedient. Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers thrive under these conditions. Expecting unquestioning compliance often creates a “teacher versus students” atmosphere and the result is untold stress and dissatisfaction for everyone.

So what motivated me to write this book? My hope is that the lessons and insights offered will guide teachers to move towards a more collaborative approach to classroom management that enables teachers and students to work together. Also, this “roadmap” will give teachers direction and help them avoid the time wasting, relationship wasting “trial and error” classroom management learning curve so many of us struggle with.

I suspect that every educator reading her words can relate to how our own experiences can shape how we view and approach classroom management – for better or worse. I’d like to highlight words that are especially relevant at a time in our history where we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic induced challenge the likes of which none of us have experienced before:

“For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.”

Nancy acknowledges that there are inherent challenges associated with this lofty goal. Luckily for all of us, she addresses that challenge across the pages of her book as well as within our #G2great chat. And so with her book in my mind, I carefully revisited her twitter inspired wisdom and noticed several important points that can support educators as they begin to maneuver this inevitable shifting view challenge. I’m so grateful for Nancy’s generous chat wisdom that formed the basis of these eight BIG IDEAS:

BIG IDEA #1: Maintain your sights on the ultimate goal  

I open with this tweet since how we approach classroom management can serve as a roadblock or an invitation to “joy, engagement, and investment from students” that surfaces based our guiding purpose. As Nancy reminds us, the contradictory message that accompanies the triplet terms of control, coercion and compliance is likely to have a negative impact on students and can also blur how we interact with students in ways that could make that impact linger for the long haul. 

BIG IDEA #2: Define the term “Classroom Management”

Early in the chat, Nancy distinguished between two opposing meanings of “classroom management.” This is an essential reminder that it’s not the term that is problematic but how we define and interpret that term in the company of children. The key word is “transformational” as it applies to the reach our definition in action can have on its recipients. Control is short lived but often has unwanted consequences. Transformational implies that this reach will change students in positive ways for the long-term.  

BIG IDEA #3: Embrace community as your foundation

Nancy’s point about building community even in the best of times and what that could look like in the worst of times is important. As many schools are transitioning to the new year in a virtual space, we must cannot lose sight that those personal connections are more critical than ever. Relationships, community and connections put us on solid ground regardless of the topic, grade or setting. This should be our first consideration no matter where or what learning takes place.

BIG IDEA #4: Offer clear and explicit instruction

We must acknowledge that the positive classroom learning environment our children need to thrive will not happen by chance. This requires us to explicitly and consistently support these understandings through teacher modeling, teacher and peer supported practice and ongoing independent application. This is not something that can merely be scheduled into the calendar. Rather, it must become integral to what we do across the learning year to ensure student success over time. 

BIG IDEA #5: Create visible paper trail references

To support students as they move from explicit instruction and in-progress learning over time, it is helpful to create concrete visual paper trails. These can offer supportive tools that students can refer to and watch grow along with their growing understandings and shifting perspectives. When these tools are co-created, students take ownership of those written ideas as they engage in problem solving behaviors with peers that will then lead them to increasing collective independence.

BIG IDEA #6: Look beyond your own lens of understanding

It’s human nature to approach our lives by gazing through a personal reflective mirror as a measure for everything around us. Unfortunately this can promote an “all about me” perspective. But when we are willing to turn that reflective lens based on the perspective of students, it will allow us to honor what we do from their viewpoint. In the process, we understand that their behaviors tell us a great deal about who they are and even suggest how we may be inadvertently contributing to those behaviors.

BIG IDEA #7: Celebrate your role as decision-maker

Nancy’s story illustrates the power of choice and how those choices can provoke or empower students. Our day–to-day observations inform those decisions. Thus if we recognize our choices are flawed we can open our minds to use those choices as a springboard to new thinking based on the needs of students. It takes courageous commitment to recognize a mismatch between what we do and the reality of how what we do impacts students. This can be a professional nudge to adjust our choices on their behalf.

BIG IDEA #8: Invite negotiation leading to meaningful shifts

Nancy helps us to understand classroom management based on a spirit of collaboration between teachers and students. Collaborative negotiation invites student voices as we create a partnership in an ongoing process that celebrates shared ownership of the learning process. I see this as the heart and soul of the “classroom management” Nancy so eloquently describes in her book. Her words inspire us to redefine classroom management so that we might redesign what that could look like in action.

With these big ideas in mind, I’d like to turn back to Nancy’s words of wisdom in our next reflective question. Her hopeful takeaways support and extend the eight BIG IDEAS that Nancy inspired:

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

  • The most productive approach for managing a classroom is to do it with our students, collaborating with them to build a classroom community.
  • Expanding responsibility to your students in a thoughtful and scaffolded way isn’t losing control: it is freeing to everyone.
  • A teacher should never try to “go it alone.” When problems occur, it is an opportunity to collaborate and problem solve with the class.
  • Strong relationships are based on mutual respect. True respect comes when teachers deliberately build a bridge between their own perspectives and the realities of their students.

My final thoughts…

As an extension to my BIG IDEAS and Nancy’s takeaways, I’d like to add two final tweets. In these additions, Nancy beautifully integrates our current reality as many educators face a new school year within a virtual space. This is wise advice as the 2020-2021 school year begins anew:

On behalf of our #G2great team, I would like to express deep gratitude to Nancy Steineke. The knowledge she so generously shares in her book and on our #G2great chat is relevant to us all no matter what or where we may teach. Her words renew my hope that educators everywhere can begin to re-envision how they will approach classroom management in the future. I find it comforting to know students will become the fortunate benefactors of this renewed spirit for a familiar term. This is Nancy’s gift to each of us.

And so I close this post with Nancy’s sage advice in our final question:

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

When working with students, do your best to see their perspective and put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you received the feedback you’re tempted to share with a student? Would it make you feel happy and appreciated or resentful, hurt, sad, or angry? No one enjoys humiliation and it is natural for a student to make an effort to save face at the teacher’s expense, escalating a conflict. Instead of offering students negative feedback, be attentive to all the positive contributions students bring to your classroom every day. Celebrate each student by telling them what you’ve noticed, showing that each and every one of them is an appreciated, important member of your class.

Thank you, Nancy!

LINKS

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement by Nancy Steineke (Heinemann, 2020)

Heinemann Podcast with Nancy Steineke: Building a Collaborative Classroom

My notes on Nancy’s Podcast  

Positive Notes from Nancy Steineke

Creating Safe Spaces in a Virtual Community How to Develop Online Classroom Norms from Nancy Steineke

Keeping Students at the Center: Shifting Our Professional Responsibility

by Mary Howard

This week #G2great was delighted to highlight a much-needed topic that has been a recurring theme over the past four plus years of our existence. On 4/18/19, we engaged in enthusiastic collaborative dialogue for Keeping Students at the Center: Shifting Our Professional Responsibility. Your co-moderators (Fran, Val, Jenn, Amy, Mary) are committed to our collective responsibility for ensuring that children are given a seat of honor center stage of our professional priorities. Judging by the #G2great Twitter response, it seems clear that this is a common sentiment expressed by many educators.

I was thrilled to be afforded the opportunity to write this after-chat reflection on a topic near and dear to my heart. Keeping students at the center of all we do is challenged in an age where programs, agendas, mandates or personal desires compete for attention. Too many schools are the poster child for how not to keep children at the center; a model for what happens when actions confiscate values and our unwavering desire to put kids above all collides with reality. When things compete for our focus on children, a professional tug of war invariably thwarts our efforts to awaken a “child first” spirit.

As I perused the inspired tweets following our chat, I kept returning to question 1 that epitomizes this spirit. I realized that in order to put children first so that we can keep them at the center, we must use the language that reverses our sense of priorities with the “YOU” that breathes life into this spirit. When our practices are riddled with a ME-WE mentality of personal or schoolwide agendas, we turn a blind eye to those who should be the central informant for all we do – children.

The more I thought about this idea, the more I realized that this YOU-centered question warranted my reflection focus. I returned to my lengthy collection of tweets and centered my thoughts solely around those based on question 1. In this post, I will spotlight twelve tweets followed by my brief refection.

12 IDEAS TO KEEP STUDENTS AT THE CENTER

Kim highlights the starting gate of YOU. Before we can bring YOU to life, we first build relationships to demonstrate that we value our children.
Kasey reminds us that YOU is a invitational event that connects us both. Through these shared experiences, wonderful realizations come into view.
Laura recognizes that we could learn much about children if we celebrate the daily agenda free writing about reading that illuminates who they are.
Cara emphasizes that giving writing a public audience within a personal blog space offers insight into the thinking that rises from this experience.
Valinda shows us that teaching and learning are a collaborative event. If we are brave enough to changes sides with our children, we gain so much.
Mary Anne continues the student as learner perspective by using their reading and writing as visible references to support instructional choices.
Mollie illustrates that being a learner is about our history of experiences. This history can help us by looking back so that we may ponder next steps.
Jenn points out that our carefully selected learning tools can enhance this learning. Scaffolds offer supportive stepping stones from NOW to NEXT.
Derrick underscores that we teach with our sights on empowering our children. Independence is seen as the ultimate goal of our focus on YOU.
Julie asks us to look squarely at the core of YOU. When we respect that learning is closely linked to confidence, we make that our daily priority.
Fran extends the role confidence building plays by demonstrating that enthusiastic kidwatching with feedback can elevate our focus on YOU.

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

I don’t normally share my own tweets in my posts, but as I came to the close of this reflection, I realized that this is the way it was meant to end. The day after Christmas 2018, I wrote a facebook post on something a wise teacher did for my niece Kendall that brought her YOU to the surface. If we truly want to keep students at the center of all we do, then we must make it our professional imperative to notice the remarkable gifts children carry with them within and beyond our four walls. Once we do, we then let them look into the proverbial mirror every day as we celebrate their YOU from both sides.

In closing, thank you for keeping students at the center as you thoughtfully sharpen your own lens by gazing through the oh so wise eyes of our children.