Think back to when you made the decision to become a teacher. Is being a teacher what you thought it would be? When I entered into my teaching career, I found it to be quite different than what I thought it would be. In many more ways, it is so much better. So far, I have experienced unexpected and wonderful learning that has developed my teaching in ways I could not have envisioned. My learning on the job has unlocked deep insights into students’ academic growth and social-emotional wellbeing that have changed my whole approach to education. Yet, on the flip side, I have also experienced all forms of struggle. Some days I am worn out to the bone physically. Other days I’m emotionally drained, and still others I am over-saturated intellectually. Sometimes I have a trifecta of struggle and experience all three! I know I am not alone, for so many of us teachers, this is the truth.
It is no wonder, that teachers need to fill their reserves with support. We need to be part of something bigger to celebrate our victories and make strategies for our failures. On September 19, 2019, we, the #G2Great team, dedicated a chat to discuss building and maintaining support systems.
A school is comprised of living environments that are constantly in a state of flux. Classroom needs change, students change, initiatives change, curriculums change. In these ever-changing and dynamic environments, educators need support systems. They need them so they may not only survive but thrive. A supportive community is a key asset for teachers everywhere. Being part of a caring group helps to stave off isolation. Having others to bounce off ideas and to commiserate with makes all the difference. Sometimes the relationships we forge over time have the power to go well beyond our classrooms and make deep and meaningful impacts on our lives.
What might a healthy support network offer? As usual, #G2Great PLN members had some good ideas to share on the subject. When it comes to support networks, some patterns emerged. Teachers are looking for communities that value learning, gratitude, and wonder. Learning together promotes deep bonds. Keeping our sights fixed on our students fills us with a sense of gratitude that may keep us student-centered. I believe a deep appreciation for wonder makes us more authentic and connected to what school ought to be.
I am a much better teacher today than I was when I started out. I am better because I surrounded myself with the brilliance of others. My support systems are comprised of many facets. Sometimes support comes from the generosity of the teachers that work alongside me. Sometimes I find support systems in books, professional journals, and (of course) social media company I keep. What if we all had access to these kinds of support system? I can imagine that there would be far less teacher burn-out and greater satisfaction and productivity. Sometimes we have to imagine these things first in order to make them our reality.
It’s true, I have a soft spot for tools. From my earliest memories, I have loved working with tools. My father would invite me into his garage and would marvel at the hooks and draws and bins full of useful devices that could help a person get any job done. My love for tools has remained constant, just the other day I inventoried my kitchen tools to assess which ones were most useful. I love tools because they help us to perform at higher levels, to be more independent, and to feel empowered to make a change. Tools make my teacher’s heart sing.
Needless to say, when Towanda Harris agreed to join our #G2Great community… I was VERY enthusiastic! On August 15, 2019, Towanda Harris initiated a discussion stemming from her beautiful new book, so aptly named, The Right Tools, that I believe, will be a book teachers will use and love.
Instructional tools offer a pathway towards active learning and aides for assessment for our students. They are mediators engender high levels of engagement and support. So, why aren’t we all using tools on a regular basis? Towanda, spoken like the true teacher puts it simply,
Today, we often find ourselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they be a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher a professional book passed on by a colleague, a unit plan saved from a previous year, a teacher’s manual found in the back of a storage cabinet, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a set of activi- ties discussed on Twitter, a chart found on Pinterest, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure or an email. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful new resources without squandering funding or instructional time?
Towanda Harris, The Right Tools, xii Introduction
How do we begin? This post is dedicated to beginning the process.
Having well-defined criteria for what tools are brought into the classroom is an important first step. When developing a criterion, we begin as Towanda suggests, with clarity for the tool’s “purpose” so they may meet students where they are. While Travis reminds us to consider the appeal of tools, is they “kid-centric” if kids don’t like them they won’t use them. Mollie brings us back to basics as she reminds us to keep tools grounded in authentic opportunities for use. Sonja comes at tools from another perspective, when she tweeted that the best tools are flexible ones that “bend.” So true!
Tools offer teachers opportunities to be responsive to students needs. Faige, adds her voice to the conversation as she explains that criteria for tools cannot be set unless teachers have time to observe the students who are in the room, she invites us to consider students’ “interests, needs, and strengths”. Towanda echos this truth as she perks our attention to knowing “learning styles” so we may avoid that “one size fits all” mentality that becomes a roadblock for a successful transfer to independent use. As always, Mary brings the discussion back home, as she implores us to be “honest” in our estimation of tried and true tools we love as educators. We have to always be reflective to make sure we really do have the right tool for the job. Laura, says it best I think when it comes down to the underpinning for criteria for tools, “Students are criteria” Know your students first, then develop or offer the tools they need to be successful.
This post offers just a snapshot of the conversation we had about tools. I do encourage you to go to the archive if you missed the chat. It is a treasure trove of ideas that could spark a meaningful discourse for any Professional Learning Community, (PLC).
On behalf of my #G2Great team, I’d like to thank Dr. Towanda Harris for joining us for this meaningful discussion. Teachers everywhere are organizing and getting their resources together to kick off the school year. With books like, “The Right Tools” in hand they will get closer to “great practice”, and that is what teaching from a learning stance is really all about.
(and I apologize for any that I missed that you will find in the Wakelet here). Educators, teachers, administrators, coaches, college and university instructors, authors, readers, writers, and consultants. A Twitter chat about social media as a purposeful professional learning tool.
The chat opened with this quote.
Making professional connections, sharing ideas and resources and combating isolation were reasons shared by participants as evidenced in the following tweets from educators in 14 states and two provinces in Canada. These ideas were supported by the original book study chat #G2Great. Reducing teacher isolation is a common recurring theme.
One huge piece of social media is Twitter. Folks on Twitter know that they can find much good with a focus on following those individuals who add to professional expertise. They are enthusiastic. They share resources. They meet regularly and share ideas, suggestions, images and inspiration. But they also don’t live in a land of fairy tales. Dialogue results in sharing opinions and views. Sometimes data supports those opinions and views. Sometimes theoretical information supports the premise of the disagreement. Sharing information doesn’t always change opinions, but open and honest communication is strengthened by on-going dialogue.
A great deal of the tweets in this social media chat focused on the good that we the #G2Great users have found on social media. Not all of Twitter is a bed of roses. Many of us have had our share of questionable or even unpleasant social media instances. However, when the goal is civil discourse with responsible sharing of our thoughts and ideas, social media connects a world of ideas and a world of possibilities that reduce isolationism no matter where you live on Earth. Productive use of social media tools allows users to conduct research, reach out to experts, and ask questions. And these tools also allow people to express themselves, share their work, and get feedback and encouragement. Therefore, social media promotes active citizenship and should be encouraged. Productive social media use MUST be modeled, taught and used by students, teachers, and administrators.
Where should you begin?
Choose one . . .
and then to borrow from Andy Schoenborn above . . .”Listen. Dip a toe into the conversation . . .”
Start small. Pick one idea or topic.
What do you want to learn?
What do you want to chat about?
The depth of your learning is set by you, your current knowledge and your goals. This “depth” can also be relative to your social media professional learning. In a 2017 study “Effective Teacher Development” as reported here, Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner, propose that six criteria need to be met in approximately 49 total hours for sustainable, difference-making professional learning that impacts student achievement. Webinars, google docs, twitter chats, and Voxer groups could easily meet these requirements with a planned, cost-effective and efficient delivery system that would also reduce teacher isolation.
Are you ready to rock social media professional learning?
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
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.
Whenever I sit down to write a blog post about one of our #G2Great chats, I spend a good deal of time in the archive. I read over the Wakelet, and reflect on the thinking each tweet reveals. I return again and again because they understand the challenges that teaching brings with it and they are so generous as they share their ideas and thinking freely. With each chat, I find that they have such smart things to say full of insight and wisdom. For these, and so many other reasons, I see my teacher colleagues as leaders, each and every one of them.
I think of them all as leaders, yet if I were to ask if they regarded themselves as leaders, I bet many of them would say, “I’m just a teacher.” On February 7, 2019, #G2Great welcomed leadership guru, Drew Dudley. Drew, is the author of This is Day One A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters. We asked Drew, what his motivation was to write this book:
The book emerged from frustration to be honest. I was frustrated being surrounded by young, dynamic, compassionate and brilliant young people who weren’t comfortable calling themselves leaders. They were raising money to eradicate any number of diseases, dedicating hours upon hours fighting for social justice, sleeping outdoors in sub-zero temperatures to raise awareness of homelessness—yet they didn’t see themselves as leaders because the examples they had been given were all giants. They saw what they were doing as preparation for leadership It came to a head when I asked one of my most remarkable students “why do you matter?” His response? “I don’t yet…that’s why I’m working so hard.” That’s an unacceptable answer from anyone that you care about. However, it was the type of answer echoed by other student, professionals, even CEOs. I was shocked by how many people were living their lives driven by the idea that “I don’t matter yet…that’s why I’m working so hard.” People matter when they engage in acts of leadership, so I wrote the book to highlight a form of leadership to which everyone can and should aspire – one unrelated to money, power and influence. One that urges people to evaluate their leadership not over blocks of time, but on a daily basis. A form of leadership that can give people evidence that they matter every day. Recognizing that in the professional world most people don’t hold executive positions or positions that have traditionally been associated with leadership, I wanted to help people recognize that their leadership wasn’t tied to their salary or title, but to their daily behaviours. A fundamental premise of Day One leadership is that you, your principal, the superintendent, and the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies all woke up this morning having engaged in the exact same number of behaviours that deserve the title of “leadership”: none. That means we all have an opportunity and an obligation to live our own form of leadership every day.
Drew Dudley February 2019
As much as this is a book about leadership, it is a book about self-empowerment. Knowing that leadership is defined more by our actions and values than by our titles and salary. What we do matters, it matters maybe even more than we realize. This was a question that resonated with me, “Why do you matter” is the most difficult self-reflective question for people to answer. Why do you matter? Why should we ask students that question? This is what we said,
Every day is a fresh start. Every day can be “Day One” Day one begins with knowing why we matter. Knowing why we matter gives our lives a sense of meaning and purpose so we may live an authentic meaningful life. Isn’t that what schooling ought to prepare students to do? To live one’s life as their most powerfully authentic self. As I pause and ponder, I begin to wonder, What kind of experience am I creating for students? Am I teaching them to see themselves in this light? There are three important takeaways, Drew wants every teacher to consider:
There are three key things I’ll highlight that I feel are particularly relevant to teachers:
1. The people we choose to use as examples of leaders matter. If we keep our focus on “famous”, we cause our students to devalue the leadership they do demonstrate every day. As much as possible, focus on examples of leadership that aren’t famous, don’t hold positional titles, and. Ask students to identify the most impactful people in their lives, and keep the discussion around examples of leadership behaviours, rather than titles. Students see themselves capable of emulating behaviours, but many don’t see themselves as being able to acquire the positions and titles traditionally associated with leadership.
2. There are a lot of things that are “learned but never taught” in our classrooms that stand in the way of young people embracing their leadership. One of the big ones is that academic achievement is rewarded at a higher level than personal awareness and impact. Whenever possible, reinforce the idea that “I want you to make your grades extraordinary…I want you to work twice as hard to make sure they are the least impressive thing about you.” You can’t just say it though, you have to make sure that the reward structures in your schools actually reinforce that idea.
3. Ask your students, “why do you matter?” Don’t let them wiggle out of answering, and don’t let them claim that they don’t.
Drew Dudley February 2019
Sometimes in life, you get excellent timing. Publishing this post the day before Valentine’s Day gives me an opportunity to send out this message of adoration for every teacher. You matter. You matter because you are shaping a child’s life every day you step into the classroom. You matter. You matter because all of our work and dedication is an investment in the future. You just have to do one important thing: believe it. Only you can make that choice to lean into leadership and get in touch with how powerful you really are. We asked Drew, to share a message about this book that comes from from the heart. A message for every teacher to keep in mind:
I want them all to remember that they drop depth charges. One of the most exciting things about releasing a book is delivering a copy to every single English teacher you’ve ever had. The final one I delivered was to the most influential teacher in my life – a bittersweet meeting as he had been recently diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. During our visit I told him that many of the ideas in the book can be traced back to lessons and insights he had first planted. “Ah yes, the depth charges” he responded. He went on to explain that one of the most rewarding and frustrating things as a teacher was the fact that the most significant impact of his work was often deferred. It was often many years before students truly recognized the value of some of the lessons he tried to impart. “You have to accept that what you’re doing is planting depth-charges in students’ minds,” he explained. “You can’t expect to see the results of your work right away – it could be years before something you said goes off in a student’s mind and helps them in some way. When I was first starting out as a teacher I would get so frustrated that students ‘just weren’t getting it’. I now realize they just weren’t getting it ‘yet’. Their life hadn’t needed that insight yet.” There are very few professions that play a bigger role in how the next generation will understand and engage their leadership. However, the day-to-day reality of the job can often make you feel you’re having little impact. Remember you’re dropping depth-charges – you may never see the way your lessons change the worlds of your students, but they do.
These conversations about leadership, authenticity, and empowerment are the kinds of conversations educators need to have and need to have often. Thank you, Drew. Thank you for saying “Yes” and for joining us. You made an impact!
Our #G2Great chat family was abuzz with excitement on 12/13/18 when our good friends #BowTieBoys led by teacher Jason Augustowski returned as our guest hosts (excitement that was elevated by a first time visit from our new friends, #HairBowGirls). #BowTieBoys have taken the chat seat of honor on five previous occasions including 4/26/18, 3/8/18, 5/25/17, 3/6/17 and our very first #BowTieBoys event on 6/9/16 with guest Sam Fremin.
Their most recent visit followed their presentations and attendance at NCTE 2018 in Houston last month based on their reflections of the NCTE theme of Student Voice and Choice. These remarkable young men talk, rap and write about education, sharing with educators their belief that teachers are the key to making our schools a more positive and productive place as they offer specific suggestions that would bridge the existing teacher-student gap.
Pause for just a moment and imagine what these young men ranging from grade eight to senior in high school have accomplished. I wonder how many of us could even envision sharing our ideas about teaching at a national conference, YouTube Channel, or blog post. Having experienced their powerful voices in each of these arenas, I am well aware that their collective commitment to education drives them. They are so uniquely accomplished at raising their voice and listening to them is a reminder that students are our future.
Since this was their fifth #G2Great visit and the topic was student voice and choice, I thought it made sense to depart from the usual #BowTieBoys blog post and let their voices lead the way. I posed questions and they graciously breathed new life into each one. We are so proud to share their words of wisdom on our chat and in this post:
What inspired you to form #bowtieboys? What impact did you hope that this group could have on the education world and in what ways has that vision become a reality? (question posed to teacher, Jason Augustowski)
I was originally inspired to create this group when NCTE came to Washington D.C. in 2014 (our backyard). I had already presented in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Boston and was inspired by how many teachers came to these conventions to collaborate – all in the name of doing right by kids. And that’s when I thought – but there isn’t a kid in the joint. How do we know for sure that we are accurately meeting their needs if they aren’t a part of our planning, our assessing, our grading, our environment building, etc.? I had built a really strong rapport with my students and their families not only through teaching, but through directing school and community musicals and coaching travel paintball. Bringing students along to the conference was the next step in my own professional journey and one in which I truly and whole-heartedly believe. We have to ally with students as 50-50 partners. We need to create with them to offer the most authentic choice and experience in their learning. When establishing environments, we must not only work with our colleagues, but with our kids. We need to make rapport central to the classroom (the famous quote: no kid cares what you know until they know that you care). Let’s replace worksheets with inquiry and assigned readings to libraries of inclusive and diverse texts. Let’s stop focusing on the “rules,” “playing school,” and “the way it is/has always been” and become rebels, disruptors – true educators (that are first and foremost informed ourselves). But not informed by state mandated curriculum. Not informed by politicians who have never set foot in a classroom. Informed by the constituents with whom we work each day: the students (and dare I say it, their parents). And I learned all of this from my students (when I sat down long enough to listen). We presented in D.C. with Sara Kajder about shifting the classroom paradigm (both in terms of flexible seating and autonomous instruction). And I was proud. And I thought this magic could never happen again, for NCTE 2015 was scheduled to take place in Minneapolis… and there was no way parents were going to accompany their kids across the country, right? Wrong!
Being a male teacher, I assumed that male students gravitated to me which is why our group was comprised of boys. So, when our then small group presented in Minneapolis (this time with Lester Laminack) we decided to dress in matching outfits and boast bowties. Lester immediately dubbed us “the #bowtieboys” and the name stuck. Traveling around that conference and the following year in Atlanta, the students were able to learn, make connections and networks with our teacher heroes, enjoy the vendors, and experience a professional situation not common for their age. But after Atlanta in 2016, we were in store for another major shift. Our group grew from three to ten and would then grow again in 2018 to fourteen.
At the start of 2017, our then group of ten, took to the interwebs with a commendable force and passion. They established Twitters, blogs, a YouTube channel, began conducting professional research (they have collectively read my entire professional library), and working on a textbook in which they could encapsulate their flowing ideas. They were dedicated to make a change in education by showing teachers what students can do when given the environment and support. They wanted to partner with teachers and promote that partnering all across our nation. And to some extent (at least we like to believe) they have. They have had the opportunity to present multiple times in St. Louis and Houston, guest host five #G2Great chats, and one #NCTE chat. They have led professional development for career switchers and teachers in our home county and they are ready to do more.
Coming in 2019 we are extremely excited to announce our new identity: BOW-TIE (Bringing Our Why because Teachers Include Everyone). This group of now FORTY students of all genders will manage an all new website featuring the following exciting additions: an About Me page (where teachers can get to know the stories behind each of these incredible students), the Blog (the old posts will be there, but newly reformed and re-imagined. Think Newsletter, Podcasts, and beyond), the YouTube (where students will be writing, shooting, editing, and uploading original content every month), links to social media (not only will students maintain their original Twitter accounts, but we now will post on our GROUP Twitter and Instagram – look for the @handles in the new year), and a Contact Us page to aggregate booking requests. BOW-TIE wants to hit the road and come to a school district near you to learn alongside your teachers, administrators, and students. We couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds and couldn’t be more thankful to all of our friends, colleagues, and supporters who have believed in us from the beginning and helped these students make meaningful contributions to our (and their) world. Below are some of their thoughts:
Being a member of #bowtieboys comes with responsibilities beyond your own school demands. What motivated each of you to become a member of this group?
School stopped being fun for most of us in late elementary or early middle school in part due to a loss in curiosity and creativity. Learning and school in general felt like more and more of burden and our natural curiosity was constantly degraded. Part of why many of us joined was because we saw that school degraded our curiosity, not building it, and that needed to be changed. Not only did curiosity degrade over time, but many of us felt that even as we became closer in age to teachers, they would become more and more standoffish. By advocating for change in these regards, many of us also wanted to push outside our limited bubble and interact with the world in a truly impactful manner.
How have you benefited as a member of the #bowtieboys?
Due to the special and groundbreaking path of the #bowtieboys, we have built nearly unparalleled leadership skills. It is also never a bad thing to be part of anything new and innovative, which is the mission of our group. By reaching into new audiences, we have been able to become affluent with networking skills and advocate for ourselves and others. We have reached into a broad scope outside our confined bubble and interacted with teachers and educators across the nation. We have had an incredible audience to communicate with and for the first time for many of us, we our writing for an intrinsic, not extrinsic cause. By truly doing something we are passionate about, which no doubt requires a lot of time and effort, requires significant self-motivation.
More specifically, we’ve:
Developed leadership and networking skills and have seen a dramatic rise in our public speaking ability.
Started to intellectually evaluate more than just the material and have constructive criticism. Speaking off the hip and being able to talk on the spot.
Learned to share our thoughts in constructive ways.
Been able to reach outside my own bubble and look at many other parts of the world and open my eyes.
Been given a chance to thoughtfully voice opinions and open the door for other students.
Gotten more well-spoken and confident.
Become better, more articulate writers.
Started to write for an actual audience and not a grade, but an intrinsic drive.
Received a platform to speak from and advocate for myself and others.
Each of you have presented at NCTE, many of you on several occasions. How has this experience changed you? What contributions do you feel that you have made as a result?
NCTE is a lot of networking, plain and simple. By connecting and interacting with educators across America, we have had to build our networking skills, often in a trial by fire. To effectively network, we have to be not only willing but proactive in talking to others. Often, we develop into our own cliques, which isn’t a bad thing, but NCTE helps us move outside these cliques. Not only does NCTE break down any cliques within the #bowtieboys, but also gives us experience to talk to others outside our groups.
In much of the same trial by fire, we have had to become capable to talk (and rap) in front of hordes of teachers. Many adults have rambled on the importance of public speaking, yet few students participate in public speaking outside of class presentations. NCTE gives us a raw unfiltered experience of public speaking.
Finally NCTE is one of our greatest assets in the regard that it serves as our most valuable platform. We put the idea of student voice and choice on full display, often by intertwining typical classroom experience with other intricacies of our lives, seemingly unrelated to teaching, to construct coherent and constructive feedback for teachers from their clientele: the students. Through the fantastic experience that is NCTE, one remarked that they had smiled in those four days more than they had smiled for years.
Why is it important for educators to keep their minds open to what students have to share with us about our own practices? Give an example of how you think your efforts can change the professional world.
Education is to some degree a business, with teachers as the employees and students as the clientele. In any successful business, the employees must cater their products to their clientele. We are the clients of education, and by no means should we completely control the realm of education, but we must be an integral part of the education field. Students are constantly changing, which makes it all the more vital that education changes. Yet this cannot happen without student input, which is why our group is built on giving constructive student critiques that emphasize student voice and choice. Much like how writers don’t notice some of their mistakes, teachers may not notice some of their mistakes. The students can act as a peer editor for the teacher. It makes any of our days when a teacher either asks us what we think could take their teaching from good to great. Even by opening up educators’ mind to student feedback, we feel we have made a pronounced impact on the professional world.
What is one thing that we can do as educators to listen more openly to our students for the purpose of understanding possible changes that will benefit student learning?
One of the schools in our area has a unique schedule where four days a week, students meet with one of their teachers for about 30 minutes and discuss how things are going in that class. Although it is more than a stretch to implement this, the concept can be used as a quick warm up or exit ticket. Just ask your students to give their constructive thoughts on how you can make learning enjoyable. Although there may be ridiculous comments, many students will take the opportunity seriously. Although this isn’t the best way, it is a subtle one and a way to show that you care about your student’s voice. Overall just embodying a transparent pedagogy and keeping an open mind can drive student voice and change.
We have had members of the #bowtieboys contribute to the #g2great chat five times since Sam Fremin originally participated in the chat in 2016. What have you gained from these twitter chats?
Learning new ideas and being able to voice our own ideas has been a cornerstone of the group since we began. With the chat, we have been able to receive quick input from teachers and students from all around the country. A network is created through NCTE that the #g2great chats recreate. Because of this, participants of the chats have become great friends for some of us that we are able to connect with through twitter or at NCTE each year and continue to learn from. It is truly a pleasure to meet new and amazing people.
I pause to look back at the profound reflections of fourteen amazing young men and a teacher who trusted them to use their voices to have a positive impact on this profession. As I ponder their sage advice, I am reminded how inspiring it is to see them in action. I have had the great pleasure to watch them work their magic on a crowd and even to participate in their sessions. It has been an honor to get to know each of them personally and I am filled with deep pride for all that they stand for. But now I long for the changes they seek.
You see, we talk a good game about keeping students at the center of our professional efforts but I wonder how often we actually bring the term student-centered to life where matters most. How often do we silence our voices long enough to ask our students how we can be better and truly listen to what that means from their eyes? And if we aren’t doing that, how can we make “student-centered” more than a buzz word and turn it into a reality that could lift us higher as professionals and thus transform our learning spaces into memorable experiences that are for and about students?
As I close this post, There is one picture that was captured at #NCTE18 that captivated me personally and speaks volumes. This photo was taken just before #BowTieBoys presented at a roundtable session chaired by Donalyn Miller called Nerdy Book Club: Building Strong, Inclusive Reading Communities (C.58). I think it says it all:
Take a good look at this remarkable image. THIS beautifully reflects the collective spirit that defines this wonderful group of young men and one dedicated teacher. They each believe deeply in what they are doing and have banded together to help us to see our teaching through their ever so wise eyes. I think that we owe it to them and to this profession to pay attention to what they have to teach us.
As I was finishing this post, I took a moment to peruse the chat once again. For the first time, I noticed a tweet from TQ Williamson shared just after the chat ended. I smiled to think that the #BowTieBoys experience will someday beckon an inspired and curious new educator into this profession filled with the hopes and dreams of what COULD be rather than what IS. Let’s not wait to make TQ’s vision a reality!
My eyes were devouring the text. Everything about the author. Everything. It’s been my pleasure to know Dave Stuart professionally, online as a blogger and in person, for several years. He is a teacher, author, speaker and thought-leader. Dave’s work impacted my practices and thinking as an educator when he encouraged teachers (and me) to “not freak out” over the Common Core. Many authors have written books about focus. A search for “focus” at Corwin Press had 827 results. A search of Amazon Books for “focus” resulted in 101 pages with a range of 18-19 entries per page. Focus has been a pretty popular topic.
So what’s different? “Focus on What Matters Most” is the conundrum. Who decides what matters the most? Each teacher? Each grade level? Each building? Each department? Each district? Each state? Do you see the problem? Dave proposes that we “focus on what we already know” as we work “Smarter, not Harder” and he gives us “permission to simplify.” No fancy language. No slick new strategy. No magic silver bullet. We learn from and with a trusted colleague, as literally, Dave shares how to streamline literacy instruction while increasing student achievement.
There’s a no-nonsense attitude. A bit of a “git-r-done” response. Time spent, yes. Time wasted, no. And that was the core of the #G2Great chat with first-time guest, Dave Stuart, Jr. on Thursday, October 25, 2018, as folks gathered around the #G2Great hashtag to converse and share ways to focus teaching.
But let me give you one last piece of advice . . . this book will not solve all your problems. This book will not help you work eight hour days or less. If that’s what you are looking for, please stop reading now. Instead, this book will help you use a decision-making framework that focuses your values, your goals for your students, and some key content areas to work on improving. YES, improving. Growing your skills in a few key areas to maximize learning for students. A laser-like focus that will help your students grow into the life-long learners that you know they can be. Your reward will be in knowing that you have done the best that you can! Let’s get started!This was our opening quote. I’m going to invite you to take about 30 seconds now to pause and reflect. Pauses will be inserted at several points for some brief processing time. Pauses like speed bumps. Slow down, pause and think.
What are your thoughts about this opening quote?
What would it change for students in your district?
Dave argues that teachers need coherence of purpose, or an “Everest Statement” that encapsulates all that they hope to accomplish in a given year. What is the range of expectations for students? Academic? Life-long? Work-related? How broadly do folks think? During our chat, discussion of “Everest Statements” ranged from readers, writers, thinkers, talkers to building relationships with students and teachers and moving striving students to more successful behaviors and habits.
What is your “Everest Statement”?
Did you co-create it with your students?
Relationships with Students Matter
Students need to do the work of learning. In order to do quality work, students must see some value in that work in order to complete it with “care, attention, effort and focus.” Otherwise, the work remains undone or of such poor quality that it is difficult to ascertain if students are learning. Teachers don’t have to be master entertainers with cute gimmicks and gadgets for students to learn. Instead, students need to know that teachers care and that teachers are asking them to do relevant work.
How do you connect with students?
How do the students know that you are credible?
Learning does not happen in a vacuum. So many facts can be googled but there is still a basic layer of knowledge that precedes talk about a topic. This aligns with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. The key is not staying in the low recall level very long. What’s the implication for focus? Reading, writing, speaking and listening have to move to higher levels routinely and often. Analysis and synthesis require students to participate and think. Classroom routines and procedures need to nurture and lift up the complexity of student responses.
How often are students moving beyond recall?
What structures do you have in place for discussion?
Being able to disagree with someone without being disagreeable is a learned skill that takes practice and involves both listening and speaking. An argument can be as simple as rehearsing two sides to a question to determine the next course of action or as involved and complicated as a formal debate. Arguments in content area classes can be about which examples best define a vocabulary term or which traits represent historical figures or about which tool has the best consumer product rating in an applied science course. Dave uses “pop-up debates” to practice arguments. This is another example of a way to begin with some basic knowledge through reading, writing, or other media and then build up to evidence of the use of critical thinking.
What role does argument play in your classroom?
How might you use oral practice (pop-up debates) to build student skills before writing?
Public Speaking. One of the biggest fears of most adults. If the speaking and listening standards at your school still resemble the Common Core standards, then speech is no longer relegated to a one semester high school course. Speaking and listening are required of every grade level and every content area PK – 12. That’s not just wishful thinking. Speaking or discussing is an easy formative assessment. Speaking is a quick check for understanding after reading. It’s an important rehearsal skill. And it’s also complex because spoken responses also run the gamut of Bloom’s or DOK skills. There’s also a delicate balance between the level of comfort in sharing ideas and disagreements that is dependent on the level of respect, trust and community in the classroom.
What are my expectations of myself for public speaking?
What are the expectations for my students?
Does this apply to me?
An elementary teacher friend texted, “Should I check out the chat? Dave’s a high school teacher.” And of course, I said, “YES! You must!” I believe this is a book that will frame conversations so all teachers can figure out what matters most. It will be incredibly helpful for content area teachers in all secondary classrooms. But I also believe that it’s helpful from the winter holiday on for teachers in second grade and all teachers in grades 3-6 (or any teachers on a PK-12 vertical team) who have ever asked any of these questions:
“How do I focus when planning curricula?”
“How do I focus when planning instruction?”
“How do I focus when preparing school or building wide policies and procedures?”
“How do I focus when feeling stressed or defeated?”
The role of focus in a teacher’s life is undeniable. Being as productive as possible during the teaching day frees up time for families and life outside of school. Time that is necessary to be the best teacher possible for every minute of the school day. Dave’s book won’t make all the decisions for you, but it will give you a framework for self-reflection and conversations with co-workers. That will put you on the path to a focus on WHAT REALLY MATTERS!
What actions will move you forward?
Where will you begin?
This post reflects some of the ideas from the #G2Great chat with a little background from the book. You will need to check out the book to get the full picture.
You can simplify your teaching, teach all the standards and have a life. Dave Stuart Jr and these 6 things will start you on that journey. Grab a couple friends, read the free first chapter online, and get the learning started!
This is not the first time that we have put a broader perspective of assessment under the #G2Great microscope and I can assure you it won’t be the last. Like each of you, we are concerned about the lingering impact of the data-driven culture that has permeated our schools and clouded our view of the amazing learners beneath that data. We’ve made many missteps along the meandering pathway that wavers between assessment that informs and assessment that labels. Until we address this mismatch, we are destined to lose our way somewhere between these two contrasting viewpoints.
I looked up “label” and found the tagline “tests labeled him” with synonyms like classify, brand, pigeonhole and typecast:
Then I looked up “inform” and found a very different stance that reflects the heart and soul of our #G2Great dialogue:
I cannot imagine that any knowledgeable educator would opt for categorizing children over using information that would enlighten our understanding and thus elevate instruction. Numerical data is our reality as grades, scores, levels and color-coded spreadsheets have become the norm. To be clear, the danger does not reside in numbers but in the source of numbers and how we choose to use or misuse them through interpretation and decision-making that can naturally rise from the use, purpose and intent of numbers for better or for worse. To clarify this, let’s look at reading levels.
If the source of levels are Accelerated Reader tests used to narrow student text choices, determine who attends AR celebrations, or post AR scores publicly in conflict with privacy laws then we abuse the use, purpose and intent of levels. By contrast, if the source of levels is running records analyzed by knowledgeable educators used as a flexible text selection tool for forming temporary small groups that change over time, then the use, purpose and intent of levels keeps kids at the center. In other words, the quality of our assessment is WHAT we do, WHY we do it and HOW we use this in the most professionally responsible and responsive ways.
With this critical shift in thinking reflective of assessment that informs, I set out to take a closer look at tweets from our amazing #G2great family to find key points of discussion. During my joyful twitter perusal, Ten Assessment Heart Guides began to emerge that support our quest for assessment that maximizes rather than restricts our potential. To highlight the heart guides, I’ll share a few of the tweets that inspired my thinking at the end of this post.
TEN ASSESSMENT HEART GUIDES
Heart Guide #1: Stand up to assessment nonsense
I put this point first because you may as well stop reading unless you take this one to “heart.” The reality is that you all be forced to use data that goes against the grain of research. Acknowledge this reality but refuse to allow it to taint the formative assessment that happens in the confines of your “heart home.” Stop complaining and draw a line in the proverbial assessment sand knowing that no one can rob you of assessment that matters unless you give them permission. So don’t!
Heart Guide #2: Don’t lose sight of your assessment WHY
Now that you’ve broken through the data ties that bind, honor your real assessment purpose: WHY: K-I-D-S. Irrespective of school-based data goals, the ultimate goal of assessment is to understand our learners so that we can design the instructional opportunities they deserve. When we shift our WHY we can shine a spotlight on the whole child and all that entails. When we can do this, the assessment process then highlights the teaching-learning process. This will broaden our WHY which in turn broadens the understandings that we can glean from those assessments.
Heart Guide #3: Let your beliefs guide your assessment actions
Before we can possibly design the assessment that will help us bring our WHY to life, we must be able to verbalize what we value. Ask, “What do I believe?” and then assess that. Heart data is not about gathering numbers to display on a spreadsheet. It’s about assessing the learning experiences that you value so that you can redesign experiences in more effective ways. If we value student engagement in reading, then we put worksheets and grade books away and amp up kidwatching as we observe our values in action.
Heart Guide #4: Create a two-way assessment pathway
Assessment that informs has two distinctive but equally powerful purposes. Obviously the first purpose is to understand each of our learners. But more than that, it is also to understand ourselves. As you assess, don’t just think about what you see and hear as you assess students but also what this says about your professional choices. Quick fix answers are not welcome so dig deeper as you look into the reflective mirror. What responsibility do you have in what students were or were not able to do? Own it and take it to heart by your actions.
Heart Guide #5: Sharpen your success-based assessment lens
Formative assessment is not a deficit model that reflects a ‘gotcha’ mentality. Rather it is a success-based model where we seek to find out what our children already know, do or understand or are on the cusp of knowing, doing or understanding. When we start there, we create a stepping stone to where we might go from here. And don’t keep this success knowledge a secret. Shout it from the highest rooftops so your colleagues, parents and children will be able to celebrate alongside you. A heart-based view is much more beautiful when we all get to join in the festivities.
Heart Guide #6: Stretch your assessment mindset
By nature, assessment is confined to one moment in time. While these moments are powerful informants, they are too narrow to give us the kind of information that will have the greatest impact on our practices. But when we stretch our perspective over time, we would begin to notice the patterns that could strengthen our understandings. If we gathered assessments across our learning days in varied contexts, settings and experiences over time, we will have references that confirm, refute and deepen what we know.
Heart Guide #7: Infuse transformative life into assessment
Assessment is not a process of gathering but one of intentional decision-making. Knowing what children know is only the starting point since we must then consider the next step actions that will gently nudge them from where they are to where they need to be in a timely fashion. The clock is always ticking but for some children it ticks even louder. Honor the discoveries you have made in the assessment process but turn those NOW discoveries into NEXT STEP possibilities and then hit the ground running to put them into place.
Heart Guide #8: Embrace the gift of in-the-moment assessment
Some of the best assessment opportunities occur when we don’t even plan for them. Few assessment shifts are more powerful than taking it on the road armed with nothing more than a clipboard, a pencil, and your curiosities about children. Engage your children in on-the-spot conversations by rotating as you transform from teacher to fly on the wall observer. Acknowledge the impact of closing your mouth so they can open theirs since the more they are doing the talking, the more you aren’t. These talk moments where we listen in on student conversations are an assessment goldmine.
Heart Guide #9: Create your own ‘behind the lens’ assessment
No matter how skilled you are at the observational process of assessment, it is simply not possible to notice everything. When we assess, we attempt to pay attention to all that children say and do but in the process you will inevitably miss some of the most informative knowings of all. Video tape a lesson and use this to capture the noticings that may reside just beneath the surface. To make this process even more powerful, invite a colleague to help you capture important details you are sure to have missed.
Heart Guide #10: Make assessment personal by turning the tables
I would be remiss if I didn’t return full circle to heart guide #1 and the most questionable district mandated assessment of all – those dastardly data discussions. I wonder if we would be proud of our dialogue if we imagined that our children were sitting in that room with us. What would they hear? What would they think? How would they feel? Although we can’t invite them to data meetings, we can display their photograph in full view to give those numbers a face. We must never forget that regardless of designated data, we are talking about living, breathing children and the decisions that we make will have a lingering impact on their success or failure.
Last week, my friend and co-moderator, Fran McVeigh, eloquently opened her blog post on independent application by reviewing the first three topics of our series. So in celebration of the completion of our wonderful series, I’d like to return to the idea I posed at the beginning of this post describing assessment that informs as the thread that interweaves each topic together.
The image above visually reflects this interweaving of topics. Notice that our thread, assessment that informs, is intentionally placed at the center of those four topics. This reflects that we use assessment to inform our professional decisions by considering the best instructional options based on the learning needs of our children:
We allocate instructional time based on assessment that informs
We create a classroom design based on assessment that informs
We identify student-centered learning based on assessment that informs
We build in independent application based on assessment that informs
In other words, assessment that informs is always in the service of each instructional topic
The red outer arrows reflect this ongoing cyclical process where instruction and assessment are inseparably connected. This is not based on scripted instruction using scripted assessments out of obligatory compliance to a scripted program. Rather, it is based on knowledgeable teachers who use assessment informants to design research-based literacy practices that interweave assessment and instruction based on the unique learning needs of students. These informants can change our thinking and thus our instruction as new informants support or refute new thinking. Publisher-driven directives could never accomplish this dynamic process.
As I pause for a moment to soak in these heart guides inspired by our #G2Great family, I want to express “heartfelt” appreciation for each of you who are willing to call your own teaching to task. We may live in a politically fueled data driven culture, but we do not need to park our hats there my friends. My ten assessment heart guides are critical and each of them are all feasible when you let your heart lead the way. Never lose sight of the role you play and what can happen when you take ownership of all that you do.
From the bottom of our collective hearts, we are forever grateful to you for bringing your heart to #G2great each week!
Some #G2great tweets that inspired this post
Revisit the chats in this series using the links below
Maximizing Our Potential part 5: Assessment That Informs
On September 6, 2018, the stars aligned, the chorus appeared from heaven, and the #G2Great chat was literally almost trending from the first minute because Independent Reading is huge, hot, and hard to say “no” to. It would have been easy for teachers and edu-friends to say, “I’m busy. I will catch this topic later.” For many attendees, it was the first week with students back in school. For others, school has been in session for two, three or even four weeks. But our crowd was splendiferous and the learning was off the charts. It was inevitable. The quotes for this chat included words of wisdom from such literacy greats as: Donalyn Miller, Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Ellin Keene, Nancy Atwell, and Richard Allington.
But just as I was narrowing down my final selection of tweets for this blog post, ILA issued their “Children’s Rights to Read” (link) and I was captivated.
Ten rights. Ten simple rights. Ten rights that highlight the need for access and equity. Ten rights that don’t use the word “Independent” but wouldn’t that just be a redundancy? The “Children’s Rights to Read” are, in truth, aimed at the 750 million people across the world that cannot read and write at a basic level. This notion of “Rights” inspired me to think about whether these ten rights are in place in ALL schools in the U.S. and I am saddened by the knowledge that we have no evidence that they are firmly established in every school building.
The positives in our chat were that I found the following concepts: value, access, love, ubiquitous, equity and sustenance. In the explanations for each concept, please note the crosswalk for the match to the “Children’s Rights to Read” as well.
When we value something, in our personal or professional lives, we make time for it. It gets priority scheduling. It’s not left to chance. It’s never, “Well, if there is time left, we will do independent reading.” Or my most hated because it also speaks to access, “When you get your work done, you can read independently.” (GRRR!) The old Mathew Principle: The rich keep getting richer while the poor continue to get poorer! When independent reading is a priority, I often see it as a “settling in routine” where students enter the classroom and are expected to have their book out and be reading when the bell rings. When independent reading is valued, it’s woven into the schedules and routines so tightly that students will beg for “just two more minutes so I can finish this chapter, PLEEEEASE!”
Value = establishing priorities for what matters
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Access is so multi-faceted that is difficult to pick a starting point. The number one criteria for access is often touted as time. Is it perceived as a necessity for all students or a luxury? That depends on the value of that time. Would any teacher say that Independent Reading was not important? Then schedule it first. In ink. Boldly. Confidently. After time, the next issue is texts (physical books, magazines, and digital resources including video and art). Where does a teacher develop that classroom library? What about the new teacher with an empty room? But broader than that: is there a classroom library in the science lab, math classroom, economics classroom, and more importantly in the office waiting area? Location of texts could be access, value or equity. Other aspects of access to consider may be more subtle. Access to time to talk about books. Access to a knowledgeable adult/teacher to conference with. Access to that next book on the To Be Read (TBR) stack or that long awaited book that just arrived from the publisher when there are NINE names ahead of yours on the waiting list. Access to books about people like you, your community, and your background. Access to books that interest you. Access to new books that have recently been published. Access to conversations about the books with other kids in your class, your school, your state, or your country.
Access = choice of the right texts at the right time!
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
A love or passion for reading begins at an early age. It is supported when we read aloud, read along with children, and listen to them read. That takes time and texts. It may begin at home or at school. How do we continually grow and nurture book love in our students? As parents, teachers, librarians, or administrators – those many roles that we have – what is our end goal for students? Will their score on a summative state assessment be what the student takes away from their time in the classroom? Or will it be the fact that you helped them fall into love with reading? You helped them explore their interests. You helped them find books and authors that opened whole new worlds. They grew. They changed. They lived their lives differently because of that new found love or passion for reading.
Love = an opportunity to change lives
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8
When something is ubiquitous, it is pervasive, worldwide or universal. The belief that Independent Reading is a mainstay of reading instruction is ubiquitous for teachers who have a goal of helping students get lost in that “just right” book. Teachers who are readers. Teachers who love books. Teachers who know which titles are being published. Those are the teachers who can connect students with books that will change their lives and put them on a path to continued reading.
Ubiquitous = a need to build lifelong, independent reading habits
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Equity in reading means that all students have the opportunity for Independent Reading. It’s not “what you do when your work is done” because some students never do get their work done. It’s not “pull-out intervention” time. It’s not “pull-out for special education service minutes.” Equity also means that everyone has access to texts at school and at home. Lack of wifi does not limit access to digital texts. Students and parents are not expected to personally buy the books on the summer reading lists. Students who are primary caregivers in their homes are not judged when reading logs or notes to parents working multiple jobs simply forget! When equity and Independent Reading are both priorities, then it is a part of Tier 1 for every student. All students. Every Student!
Equity = zip codes do not determine learning
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
How important is reading? That seems to go back to the value of reading. Is your view of reading that it is necessary for life? Does reading nourish your mind, thinking and soul? Do you agree with Rudine Sims Bishop that texts are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors? If yes, than having a reading life is a part of your required sustenance plan. Not a luxury. Something that must be prioritized into a daily routine or schedule.
Sustenance = the power of “flow” to hook readers for life
Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
So if you remember how an acronym works, these characteristics detailed above, Value, Access, Love, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance spell out
Yes, it was a bit cheesy to use “Value” as the first concept. But it’s important, critical, imperative! It all comes down to our professional values. What do we hold near and dear? What do we know is vital for our students? What does it take to create readers? What does it take to create literate beings who continue to grow and learn once they leave our school halls?
If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, it will be a priority every day in every classroom. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, time and money will be allocated to support it. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, resources from discontinuing old antiquated bribes like AR can be re-purposed to support it (Thanks, Brent for that idea!). If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, students will love to read, will be able to read and will choose to be readers all their lives.
Just a quick reprise for “Children’s Rights to Read.” Those 10 Rights above are huge. Note that Value, Access, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance connected to all 10. ALL 10! And there were a total of 55 connections out of a possible 60! 92% means Independent Reading as a way to support Children’s Rights to Read is a Professional Imperative!
The Sparks in the Dark chat with authors Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney was trending on August 16, 2018 by the second question. No doubt about it. A chat based on a book with a foreword by Penny Kittle captured many minds and hearts and then exploded across the Twitterverse for one hour. The wakelet was collected. I was carefully perusing the conversations, seeking out tweets to curate while capturing additional sparks. What tweets would garner my attention and showcase the chat? What ideas would continue to fan the sparks and create a blaze across the #G2Great community? I kept returning to the book subtitle. Book subtitles say so much about a book. “Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us.” What to collect? What to display? What to hold tightly to? How to write a blog post to capture the chat and the text, the words and ideas of the authors, the passion of Sparks in the Dark?
In order to rise to this challenge, I resorted to the dictionary for guidance in understanding the subtitle. Definitions are a common beginning for me. So what does “illuminate” mean? “To light up” And what about “ALL”? From my own reading: Teachers, Administrators, Students, Families, and Communities … Everyone. Wow! Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in ALL of Us. What an important goal!
How could this text be used?
A study group could use this book to assess their current status in literacy. Personally. Collectively. Each of the chapters offers “Things to Think About and Tweet” that include #SparksInTheDark so the conversations could be out in the world on Twitter. Internal and external conversations could spark additional applications.
No, this book does not offer fancy surveys to give you data that makes you feel good and affirms that “Yes, you are doing the right thing.” Instead, Sparks in the Dark will provide you with conversation starting points to grow the strength and fortitude of all readers and writers in your building. Rich conversations that will encourage you to dig into personal and collective values, attitudes, beliefs and habits. Or after conversations you might develop your own questions that you want to answer with a survey or some other form of data collection. Administrators will grow as they explore Todd’s leadership stories across multiple campuses and teachers will grow as they unravel the threads in Travis’s path to creating lifelong readers and writers. It’s not a book for the faint of heart.
Do you read on a regular basis? Do you write on a regular basis? If you don’t like to read or write, stop right now. This book is not for you. But if you don’t like to read or write, I would encourage you to examine why you are teaching students. Why are you working with our most precious resource, the children of our world, if you don’t have a passion for reading and writing? (Chapter 2 Disturbing the Universe and/or Chapter 7 Critical Conversations)
Why did Travis and Todd write this book?
“In writing this book, we sought to encourage, challenge, inspire, question and shift your thinking when it comes to reading and writing and instruction overall. We hope we have shown you glimpses of our hearts and our classrooms and schools as examples of what is truly possible when you start to believe in what was once thought as improbable.” Sparks in the Dark, 2018
Conversations, tweets, and quotes from the book fell under several important concepts: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy.
What is one book that you have read recently that touched you deeply in some way? That opening question was answered in many ways that you can see for yourself in the wakelet. “Touched you deeply” means not just a book to complete a task, or to record on a log, but a book that evoked a powerful personal response. Is that a priority for you? How would we know? What would be the evidence? Todd posted this example of public posts in a school building for students or teachers.
Books need to be present in every classroom, in every hallway, in every nook and cranny. Free up the space and the resources to make ALL books easily accessible and important-not just the books in the ELA classrooms or the library. Building staff might decide on a long-range goal and plan to increase classroom libraries and access for students and families.
Readers and Writers change because of their literacy responses. Those “personal” responses above can become even more powerful when we collaboratively celebrate by sharing the initial difficulties, the continuing struggle, the messiness and back and forth nature of seeking meaning that ends in the ultimate joy of our reading and writing. Building staff might choose to study their own reading and writing journeys.
Time will be both your friend and your enemy. Staff meetings need to include literacy work that moves teacher understanding forward. Whether you try Todd’s “choose a read aloud with another staff member” or you deepen your work with students and make sure they are all included in the texts in the classrooms! Naysayers will need more positive interactions in order to see the necessity for change, but your persistence will eventually pay off. Similarly, students are not all necessarily going to be overjoyed to take on more work that is required of them when they learn and think deeply about topics that that they choose. Change takes time at all levels.
Find others in your building to join your literacy group or seek out like-minded individuals on Twitter, Voxer, or Facebook to continue to grow collaboratively. Enlist the aid of your students. Advocate for student needs. Give students voice and choice so they are empowered to think and advocate for themselves as well. Building staff might identify and discuss the “beacons of light” that illuminate and sustain your learning.
Opening our minds and our hearts to new situations in books and in the world brings us closer together and increases our own understanding. This also helps us more easily grapple with change and find similarities in current work and desired states. Change is not easy but it’s within our grasp if we build a solid base. Honoring beginning steps with “I used to …, but now I …” can be a rich faculty discussion.
Teachers improve their craft by reading and exploring new resources. You might want to review some titles under A2 in the wakelet to see what others are reading. But a deep understanding of reading and writing comes from those who work to improve their knowledge and skills in order to outgrow their own reader and writer selves. This means lifelong learning for all as a professional responsibility. A common building expectation to constantly share faculty reader and/or writer notebooks. That’s more than just one tiny spark. That should be a blaze visible from miles away without Google Earth!
What begins as a spark, fueled by passion becomes a flame. Perhaps a beacon. Reading is important. Writing is important. Education is important. Many other factors can and are part of those flames as previously included: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy. In Sparks in the Dark, Travis and Todd say
“…my role as an educator – no matter my subject specialty – is to use the tools of reading and writing to develop all of my students and staff.” (Sparks in the Dark, 2018)
Travis also says that “Quality reading instruction does not begin with literature, it begins with students.” Students, not standards, assessments, or programs. Students, books, and the subsequent reading and writing that calls them to be better human beings.
How do you begin with students to fuel your sparks and continuously fan your own flames?
What other resources do you employ – books, professional resources, or communities of learners?
How do you prevent “book deserts” on your campuses?
Blogs – Travis Crowder link Todd Nesloney link