Saying “NO” to Trivial Stuff So We Can Say “YES” to Rich Substance

by Mary Howardtitle

On December 1, 2016, #G2Great continued our five part series, Saying “No” So We Can Say “Yes” with our sights set squarely on alleviating the trivial stuff that usurps time for the rich substance students deserve. Our willingness to say “no” to the work that doesn’t matter so we can say “yes” to the work that does is the heart and soul of Good to Great Teaching, the book that inspired our #G2Great Twitter chat.

And so in that spirit I look back to reflect on the impact of those two small but professionally monumental words that can have a lasting impact on the quality of our day-to-day practices. This week our amazing #G2Great educators drew a professional line in the sand with enthusiastic collective commitment to pull those words out of their back pockets in just right moments when the choices we make keep children at the center of all we do:

Making a commitment to celebrate time as a limited precious resource

Have you ever really listened intently to the sound of a ticking clock in an empty classroom? Well I have done that every day of my career so as an expert clock listener I can tell you that the sound reverberates loudly across the walls once we acknowledge that time is our most precious commodity. The stark realization that time is a gift that is utterly irreplaceable is a profound thought that should be at the forefront of our every move. Imagine if we were to leave a note in every nook and cranny of our classrooms that said simply, “Each minute is irreplaceable and if you choose to waste even one of them – you owe your students an apology.” (exactly what I wrote to myself). Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance view the wise expenditure of time as a serious responsibility, choosing to focus on what is most likely to have a positive and lingering impact on the lives of students.

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Making a commitment to the beliefs and values that are your internal guide

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance are committed to making choices in the name of children, but this process of assuming professional responsibility does not happen by chance. We begin by identifying our deepest innermost beliefs about teaching and learning that will then form the values that guide those choices. Once we embrace our beliefs and values fully, they become part of who we are – ever present and inseparably intertwined with our words and actions. Regardless of the demands that will always vie for our attention, those beliefs and values are infused into every learning experience and somehow enrich even those we may not have chosen for ourselves. Our beliefs and values elevate our work because we know that it is not what we do that matters, but how we do those things in the most effective ways and always grounded in why we are doing them.
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Making a commitment to exploratory discoveries leading to new possibilities

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that great teaching is a process of uncertainty that often leads us in directions we could not possibly have imagined before the learning begins. Purpose guides us on a messy pathway to what is possible but it is the step-by-step journey along the way that has the potential to dramatically impact each of us. If we are willing to set the stage for discovery and trust children to lead the way as we wait in the wings to support their efforts – well it is quite something to behold because those are the lessons we will never forget. When we craft the learning opportunities that are designed to instill a sense of wonder, our role changes as children become our teachers. Within that zone of unknown where discovery resides, meaningful, purposeful, authentic learning fills the air with the low hum of joyful learning. And we are forever changed as a result!

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Making a commitment to prioritize our daily professional non-negotiables

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance hold tight to the practices that deserve a place of honor in every school day. While there will always be some things we cannot control, we can control what we choose to honor and refuse to relinquish regardless of competing demands. We do this by putting our non-negotaibles in the daily calendar, carved in professional stone so that nothing can replace them. We make them the center of our day because we know that we must fill each learning day with reading, writing and talking that will actively engage our students in enthusiastic learning. We don’t make excuses and we don’t covet anything that will force us to abandon those non-negotiables. Why? Because we are not willing to give up what we know matters most!

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Making a commitment to respectful dialogue that has the potential to lift us higher

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that in order to have the joyful experiences our students deserve we must be willing to initiate honest and even difficult conversations. We do this because we know that this respectful discourse has tremendous potential to increase the likelihood that every educator in the building will move closer to saying “yes” to the work that matters. Although many of us suggested closing our doors to do this inspired work, our #G2Great dialogue helped us reconsider the impact of opening our doors to become a model for school wide change. If we believe every child deserves the best we have to offer then we must work together to spread this commitment across the building in any and every way that we can so that every child will have the richest opportunities.

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Making a commitment to the opportunities today affords to impact tomorrow

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that we must always keep an eye to the future but that today is where we are needed now. We celebrate each moment as we consider how to provide the opportunities that students need at this point and time, yet knowing that our choices will impact children long after the day is done. We work to ensure that we offer the learning experiences our students need at that moment and time but always with our sights on how that may change on a day to day basis. We accomplish this by knowing each child and using that knowledge to create a learning day to meet their immediate needs while building upon those needs as new opportunities arise. We know each new day is another opportunity to provide the interconnected experiences that will have staying power.

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Making a commitment to the children who inspire the work that matters

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance make these hard choices because they know their students depend on them to do so. They have an unwavering dedication to each child and this dedication fills them with a resolute desire to make daily professional promises that know no boundaries. They refuse to be tethered to programs or scripts, willing instead to focus on the learning needs of their students as they hold tight to what matters. They do this because they are present in each learning moment and willing to use those moments as an instructional guide. They view children as a lesson plan waiting to be written, shifting their plans based on the child in front of them while always believing that every child can and will be successful.

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This week, we challenged our #G2Great educators to put their commitment to students in writing:

In closing, I want to express gratitude for incredible #G2Great educators who bring their passion for teaching day after day. Our commitment will forever lift us above the multitude of absurd mandates, directives and questionable programs ever-present on the educational horizon.  Never lose faith that “No” is your stepping stone to “yes” and the antidote of roadblocks that cloud our view if we are willing to choose the one little word that will lead us upwards.

We choose children over mandates. We choose children over directives. We choose children over programs. And we do this by saying “no” to the trivial stuff that alleviates precious time so that we can say “yes” to the rich substance that will leave a lasting imprint on the learning lives of children. In an age of uncertainty, we need more than ever to hold tight to the literacy work that matters!

We are grateful for your unwavering commitment to children #G2great friends!

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Saying “NO” to Compliance So We Can Say “YES” to Professional Responsibility

Guest Blogger Kari Yates

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Every time I participate in a #G2Great twitter chat, I’m in awe. What is it about this chat that motivates people in every time zone to juggle dinner arrangements, carpools, bedtime stories and dozens of other daily realities to be part of the conversation on Thursday nights?  For me, it’s the fact that the topics are so relevant.  The questions are so thought-provoking.  The perspectives are so diverse. And the dialogue is simultaneously passionate yet respectful . Every time I participate, I grow. This Thursday’s topic, Saying “No” to Compliance So We Can Say “Yes” to Professional Responsibility was no exception.

But let me start with a confession.  When Dr. Mary Howard asked me to write this week’s guest post I was both incredibly honored and a bit reluctant.  Afterall, I’ve spent the last decade working as a principal and district-level administrator which has meant that  I am often the face and voice of external pressure knocking on the classroom door.  I am often the one in the room that teachers look to when they want to know, “What was the district thinking, anyway?” But of course that’s not news to my #G2Great PLN. They know me well enough to know that I toss and turn many nights wondering, “What is the right mix of external pressure and autonomy?”  “How do we get schools and whole systems headed in the right direction without limiting the teacher decision-making that is so vital to thriving classrooms?”

Thursday night’s chat helped refresh and revitalize my thinking about this crucial topic. Using the collective brilliance of Thursday’s #G2Great chat participants, today’s post contains five considerations for helping us cross that bridge between “us” and “them” while staying focused on our one common and constant mandate: Do right by kids!

1. We’re all on the same team.

Although we have diverse roles within the system, we are all here for one purpose. We’re here to serve children. The children are wise and wonderful. When we keep our eyes and our hearts on them, we are more likely to move in the right direction.  The face of a child can become a source of energy and courage when there’s tough work to do or there are tricky decisions to make.

2. Keep working to name the “Why?”

During the chat, Gravity Goldberg reminded us that the best questions are WHY questions. Whether a decision is coming from inside or outside of the classroom, as reflective educators and decision-makers we must keep working to name our “Why?” Whenever a practice comes into question it provides the perfect opportunity to revisit the questions of ‘Why?”  If Simon Sinek had been able to join us on Thursday night, he might have reminded us that great leaders always start with why.

3. Professional decisions are research-informed.

It never feels good to be asked to do things we don’t understand or believe in. But once we understand the “why” we’re  better positioned for critical dialogue about “how” and “what”. As the great Marie Clay reminds us, there are different paths to common outcomes.  These alternate paths, of course, should not  just reflect our personal preferences, or “the way we’ve always done it”. Instead, we must follow the signposts of research, learning theory, and of course the children in front of us.

4. Keep stretching.

If we’re doing our jobs as educators, we’re stretching and growing right alongside our students.  We’re constantly asking ourselves, “How can we make our school even more responsive to the needs of our students?”  And we’re looking for answers through collaborative decision-making, reflective dialogue, and professional learning, not a push for blind cookie-cutter compliance to a program. Programs will never solve our problems. Only better teaching can.

5. Keep the door open.

Yes!  We must learn to ask brave questions when things don’t feel right. We must share our ideas freely. We must stand up for what we believe our students need.  But we must also challenge ourselves to listen wholeheartedly and completely. We must learn to look for common ground and the thread of good that is usually hidden on the other side of the divide.  We must dare to open our doors, rather than close them. Honest, respectful dialogue is our best tool for bridging whatever gap we find ourselves needing to cross.

The journey from compliance to professional responsibility can only happen one brave act of trust, one honest conversation, one research-informed alternative, and one student-centered decision at a time.  And when it comes right down to it, maybe our common mandate and our professional responsibility are one in the same: Do right by kids.

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I’d love to connect and continue the conversation.

Follow me on Twitter @Kari_Yates

Find me on Facebook at Simply Inspired Teaching

Follow my blog SimplyInspiredTeaching.com where I share ideas, inspiration, and companionship for the journey.

Check out my book, Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom from Heinemann.

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Russ Walsh: A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century

by Mary C. Howard

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On September 29, 2016, #G2Great was fortunate to welcome guest host Russ Walsh, author of the incredible new book, A Parents Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century. Russ’ knowledge and passion for teaching and learning preceded him, so we weren’t surprised when he quickly enrolled as an honorary member of the #G2Great educational joy club.

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I was a Russ Walsh devotee minutes after happening on his amazing blog, Russ on Reading. Russ lives the words on his front page: Discussing sound literacy instruction, supporting teachers and defending public education. He courageously tackles tough topics sure to elicit ripples of discomfort like 9/19/16; 7/26/16; 3/25/16; 3/9/15; 2/3/14; 9/18/13 to mention a few. My head nods in enthusiastic agreement with every post followed by audible cheers and a healthy dose of Russ gratitude.

In his remarkable book, Russ refers to immutable principles for public education in A Bill of Rights for students. After an inspirational walk down twitter memory lane, I realized that our ability to achieve Russ’ Bill of Rights is dependent upon dedicated teachers who bring his words to life in the trenches by transforming beliefs into actions.

And so I propose immutable principles highlighted in A Bill of Professional Responsibility for teachers that will make those rights a reality. #G2Great tweets from Russ and friends inspired seven principles that ask us to look inward to our own practices as we put those beliefs into action. With this introspective spirit in mind, I begin each principle with the words, “I WILL…”

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I WILL create an environment that beckons each child to the learning experience

Our first order of business is to create a warm, nurturing learning environment that is palpable each day our students walk into our rooms. This precursor to learning sets the stage for keeping students at the center of our work. Caring learning spaces demonstrate that we view school as an extension of students’ lives and that we are dedicated to creating a heart home where parents entrust their child into our care each day. As we build this bridge from home to school, we are cognizant that school may well be the only safe haven for some students.

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I WILL celebrate the uniqueness each child brings to the learning table

This nurturing environment supports our instructional efforts on a day-to-day basis. We welcome the children who walk through our doors and are determined to design experiences that will enrich the learning lives of those children. We know that each child is unique so we create flexible opportunities with specific learners in mind. We view the learning process as a journey and recognize that it is often a messy process of risk taking. We demonstrate in our words and actions that the bumpy road is as important as the final destination and celebrate each step along the way.

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I WILL bring my best self to every learning day and ensure high success for all

We know that we can only give children the classrooms they deserve when we see our own professional learning as high priority. We embrace our role as both teacher and learner and seek to understand through the research that will guide us on an exploratory quest leading to success for every child. We reject one-size-fits-all scripts, opting instead for instructional experiences that take the child into account. We trust our growing knowledge of best practices more than publishers because we know that professional decision-making is central to the success of those practices.

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I WILL use day-to-day assessments and on the spot interactions to know each child

We know that the high quality flexible instruction we are committed to will only be possible if we truly know students at that specific instructional moment in time. We use our knowledge of students to continuously craft and adjust our learning goals over time. We refuse to define children as a score or number, rather using daily formative assessment to open a window on children as learners. We are resolute in our commitment to communicate in positive ways with parents and use our understandings to support each child’s ongoing pathway to learning.

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I WILL offer a wide range of opportunities designed to promote meaning-making

We ensure that there is a variety of instructional settings and experiences in place to create a learning day designed to grow our learners. We know that students need differentiated targeted support so we make room in each day for experiences that will intensify learning. We ground these experiences in authentic purposes, making sure that word work will not overshadow our higher purpose of reading as a meaningful pursuit. We honor each of our readers as we offer inviting books and engaging instructional experiences with comprehension always in our sights.

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I WILL coordinate my efforts with others in a collaborative spirit of excellence

We believe that coordination of efforts is a critical factor in achieving success. We build in regular opportunities for thoughtful dialogue to engage in deeper discussions that explore a thoughtfully responsive way to meet students’ needs. Our collaborations energize us because they are driven by our curiosity about children and our determination to collectively support their success. We know that our strength resides in merging our efforts so we are willing to work side-by-side to that end. We continuously work to achieve instructional excellence together because we know that it can quickly spread across an entire school building.

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I WILL create a classroom where joyful reading is a gift we give every day

Words like joy, love of reading and motivation came up time and time again during our #G2Great chat. Making time for independent reading and read-aloud in every day with a focus on intrinsic motivation was a common theme. There were countless tweets about reading for the sake of reading with books as the heart and soul of those events. The passion for these joyful experiences was high – and the energy could be felt across the #G2Great Twittersphere.

#G2Great is grateful for the honor of spending an hour soaking in Russ’ wisdom and dedication to public education and I am particularly grateful to him for inspiring this blog post. His wonderful new book opens a door from school to home and we happily walked through those doors with our own curiosity about teaching and learning leading the way. We know that our work is never done and that the best way to do it is surrounded by curious others.

There is no question in my mind that teachers are and always have been our greatest hope for the future. What we choose to do on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day, and year-to-year basis will always be the difference in our success and ultimately students’. We can say what we believe children deserve but the truth is that until we dig our heels in and do the hard work, those words will remain but an empty promise. In the end, it is only when our actions mirror our beliefs that we can truly demonstrate our deep commitment to children. Thank you for reminding us that dedicated and knowledgeable teachers play the most powerful role of all, Russ!screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-1-57-52-pm

Learn More About Russ Walsh Here

Russ’s Book: A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century

Book: Youtube interview at Garn Press https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qaj8tJ0UxcQ

Book Group Discussion Guide http://russonreading.blogspot.com/p/book-group-discussion-guide-for-parents.html

FaceBook Page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1040234972750361/

Blog http://russonreading.blogspot.com

Twitter @ruswalsh