Reclaiming a Seat at the Professional Decision-Making Table

by Mary Howard

You can access our Wakelet chat artifact using this link

Last week, #G2Great celebrated our seventh anniversary with a fitting topic for a twitter chat home: Lifting Our Professional Voices in a Collective Gathering Space. Our commitment to #G2Great chat for six years and counting reflects our deep respect for collaborative conversations where collective voices can ignite in joyful harmony. For week two following our year seven anniversary, we chose a topic that felt like a timely chat transition: Reclaiming a Seat at the Professional Decision-Making Table.

One needs only to look at the state of education to understand why this is an essential topic. At a time when mandates and controlling political initiatives are at an all-time high, educators are being held captive by demands for obligatory acceptance. The ease for companies to tout their suspect wares for a hefty price has burgeoned out of control, exacerbated in a pandemic where the ‘learning loss’ narrative masks a hard core sales pitch. This is complicated in that those with control of the purse strings often have little if any educational background but are motivated by a personal agenda. Add growing self-proclaimed experts with a cause and a rally cry of “The Science of Reading” and we find ourselves caught in a political tsunami. Suddenly our coveted seat at that professional decision-making table has become a dreaded seat at a decision-taking table.

These challenges have put up one roadblock after another for educators who desperately want the freedom to make decisions in honor of children. This freedom can be the difference between a grab and go mindset vs informed choices driven by a responsive view of the teaching/learning process. It would be illogical to argue whether teachers deserve a seat at that decision-making table knowing that our ability to make decisions that are grounded in deep understandings is the tipping point to our success as professionals and to the success of our students’ as learners. Therefore, in this post, I won’t argue our right to have a seat at that table, but why that seat and the freedom to make decisions comes at a price. So let’s pause so that I can approach this topic with a connection to my life experiences.  

I have been a frequent visitor to Honolulu, Hawaii for years, working with schools before lingering awhile to soak in the island beauty. During these visits, I’ve taken countless lessons to become a surfer. I use the word “surfer” loosely since I’m not known for the much-needed grace and balance that actual surfers possess. Since a picture really is worth a thousand words, my visual collage below reflects one of my early surfing excursions. As you can see, my style seems to spread terror across the Waikiki waters, as evidenced by the horrified face of my instructor coaching me from behind the scenes and the ill-fated man ahead of me about to be mowed down by a little old lady perched on a wobbly piece of wood devoid of brakes. In my defense, I failed to notice him because I was too busy celebrating a long awaited prone position but I am very happy to announce that no human was harmed during my early learning attempts.

Video of early surfing lessons with what I learned about teaching link

So why do I share this? After five decades in education and long-time work with schools across the country, I believe that it’s important for us to relive what it feels like to be a novice now and then. Committed learning even when it’s hard illustrates the “price” we pay for the professional freedom we say we desire. I owed it myself and those around me to do all I could to learn how to surf so that I could gain new understandings and skills over time. Although I have definitely improved after countless lessons, I’m not sure that I’d want to be in the same ocean with me given my still shaky status that continues to this day. Without lessons and the patient support of coaches, I suspect that my face may well have appeared on the front page of the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper that day.

Surfers are no different than teachers. A skilled surfer is like a skilled teacher in that both recognize their obligation to their chosen field to respect the rights of those they serve by paying the price of unwavering commitment to learning and the rewards of our efforts: Knowledge. Experience. Dedication. Determination. Practice. Study. Collaboration. Patience. Reflection. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Both surfers and educators dedicated to their profession work for years to hone their skills in a never-ending quest. And just like teachers, surfers understand that each surfing experience and those who share the water with them are unique and different, thus requiring different responses for each situation.

I began teaching in a special education room in small town Missouri in 1972. Nary a resource or wise piece of advice was ever offered to me in that first year. I entered my tiny special education room armed only with my love for children and my determination to become the best teacher I could possibly be. Knowing now what a negative impact rigid adherence to programs can have, I consider it my good fortune not to have been tethered to shallow “stuff”. My enthusiasm, my willingness to learn, and my steadfast desire to do right by my kids kept me in a perpetual state of inspired learning. Yes, I was uncertain often in those early days. Yes, I made many shaky choices. Yes, I had to change direction often. But those early missteps set me on a path to seek better choices. In those early years, I embraced my imperfections and saw this as a gift in the form of a gentle nudge to the new thinking I needed. My success as a teacher was reflected by the success of my learners which earned me the right to sit at the professional decision-making table. I am still joyfully paying that price all these years later when my learning means as much to me now as it did then. If we stop learning, we are doomed to stagnate and our children are doomed to pay that price.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

These are hard times in education folks. Teachers everywhere are being told what to do and how to do it, what not to do and what to do instead, and even how to think (or how not to think even when they know better). But in hard times where politically fueled mandates and directives have taken over our schools, it is more important than ever for us to lead the life of responsible professionals driven by a quest for knowledge and the research and experience that feeds that knowledge. I cannot repeat often enough that this is the price we pay for a seat at the table. We talk about teacher agency, but agency comes with responsibility to the learning that prevents us from mindlessly reaching for a script or shallow activity just because it’s there. We read. We study. We explore. We question. We discuss. We research. And then we do it all again. Seth Godin reminds us that “Nobody dabbles at dentistry” so we refuse to ‘dabble’ as educators and instead work to “be extraordinarily good at whatever it is that we do.” If we truly desire professional freedom, we must first make a commitment to professional knowledge in the name of our own growth process.

Yes, I believe that schools have a clear responsibility to create a culture of professional learning that would help us all to do that, but the ignorance of schools for not doing so does is not a free ride for professional responsibility. Even if we find that our seat at the professional decision-making table is under lock and key, we have options if we so choose to explore them:

• Don’t wait for permission to take your place at the decision-making table; take that seat armed with references that show that you belong there. Become a dedicated action researcher who seeks evidence of learning in action. The seat is there but you may have to show that you deserve the trust of others first.

• Build a mini professional decision-making table and invite some like-minded others who are equally determined to make decisions for students. Explore the real life informants of living breathing humans and what this tells us about next steps decision-making Start a revolution with a team to support you.

• If these things don’t work, then create an intimate table for one where you have a space to use your knowledge to awaken your freedom to make choices. You may be surprised how your determination will inspire and entice others to join you. Change often with begins with one person. Be the one!

WISE ADVICE FROM OUR #G2Great CHAT

In 2012 I wrote the words that continue to guide my thinking in the book that launched #G2Great chat, Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters (Heinemann, 2012). My quote explains why we can never give up our quest to take our rightful seat at the professional decision-making table.

With each tick of the instructional clock, we can lift students to great heights of learning or hold them cognitive hostages in an instructional dead end. Great work doesn’t happen by chance, it’s a conscious choice we make using a new mind-set that forever alters our thinking. (page 93)

As I type these words, many educators are being forced into that instructional dead end and told that that are incapable of making decisions so therefore they need a fail proof fidelity box to follow with a vengeance. For some, this may seem like a blessing but for most of us it is a travesty of injustice to our role as professionals and to children who depend on us to behave like professionals.

There is a dangerous power game in progress in far too many schools and it is forcing teachers to play follow the leader in a mindless version of what teaching is all about. We can play this game and succumb to the pressure of power plays, or we can pick the battles that matter most based on our growing knowledge of research, children and meaningful assessments that help us to make the best possible decisions. Combine this with reflection that turns our teaching inward, and move us from teaching as an act of mindless DOING to teaching as an act of responsive THINKING. When we take time to internally ponder our own choices and how those choices support or hinder learning, we then embrace a higher professional purpose that can lead us to change. I’d say that’s a lofty goal that is well worth the effort.

Yes, professional freedom comes with a price, but the payoff is priceless.

Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet Link for the archive of our twitter chat

On Thursday, November 4th, #G2Great hosted the first of a two part series on translanguaging. This chat featured Dr. Cecilia M Espinosa and Dr. Laura Ascenzi-Moreno and their book, Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers.

Words matter! Within this book you will see these words a lot: whole, grow, multilingual, translanguaging, strength and bilingual. (Word count from preview copy: 37, 39, 141, 220, 326, 695) The authors deliver with their focus on: multilingual, translanguaging, strength, and bilingual when discussing the needs of students at the emergent stage of learning an additional language. It will be important for you, the reader, to deepen your understanding through Cecilia and Laura’s viewpoint.

A translanguaging vision of reading posits that reading starts with the person. In other words, the multilingual person does not read in one language or the other, but rather brings his or her whole linguistic repertoire and social repertoire to the text. Reading cuts across named languages, modalities, and experiences.

Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers ( p.68)

This is a book about teaching for teachers that will help put bilingual students at the center of instruction. “You don’t have bilingual students in your classroom?” you say. Well, it is highly possible that you will eventually have students who identify as bilingual sometime in the future. Start planning now for your response. Your response to the ideas in this book will help you grow and practice seeing the “whole” in the multilingual folks in your own community. This book is bigger than just a “teaching book”. It’s an invitation to continue growing and learning both professionally and personally.

We asked Laura and Cecilia to respond to some questions in order to ensure that we included the author’s view of this text. I feel compelled to begin with this one which is usually the third and last one.

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

Teaching is an intellectual journey that pushes us to confront and renovate our understandings of students and their families.  When we center instruction on emergent bilinguals as whole people, we do just that – we engage in the difficult, but rewarding work, of equity-based teaching.  Every teacher can do this!  It’s about having an open and curious heart and mind. Meaningful change in literacy instruction starts with the recognition that emergent bilinguals need to come to our classroom whole (with their languaging practices & socio-cultural histories). A translanguaging stance challenges us to embrace a radical departure from too long held deficit views about bilingualism. There is great power and potential for innovation and creativity when we build on the strengths of emergent bilingual students.  This book is for all teachers who count emergent bilinguals as part of their classroom communities, those in general education, English as a new language, and bilingual education. 

Many professional books are vying for your attention. Full disclosure, this is an infomercial. If you are seeking more because you have worked on individual skills or mentor texts, this book will give you ideas to consider, implement and reflect on their use as you encounter bigger views of instruction AND assessment for emergent multilingual students. You will be amazed how you can focus on and celebrate what students CAN do with an open and curious mind. The following quote is about writing, but it’s also true of reading. The deficit perspective has got to go!

A second author question that we use at #g2great …

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

This book emerges from our professional and personal experiences as educators of emergent bilinguals. First, we were frustrated that most of the professional literacy texts we read, always kept emergent bilinguals at the margins. We wanted to bring them to the center of all literacy instruction. We also wanted to bring a stance – translanguaging – which has become more known across educational circles – into active dialogue with teachers in a way that would be practical and inspiring. 

We wrote this book knowing that for teachers, one of the greatest pleasures is to see their students deeply engaged in using reading and writing as tools for thinking, expressing, wondering and knowing. As new teachers we always looked for strategies to engage our emergent bilinguals – students who use two or more languages in their daily lives, in rich, thoughtful literacy practices. We also wrote this book with equity in mind – we know from experience that all pedagogy needs to be rooted in the fact that emergent bilinguals’ full participation as readers and writers is fundamental to any classroom where all students deeply engage in literacy.

Our hope with the book is that teachers see themselves as capable and excited to teach emergent bilinguals and that they understand how all students’ language practices are a key element to their success. We also want teachers to feel empowered through translanguaging pedagogy by understanding how they can shape literacy learning experiences through their deep knowledge of children.

Over 20 % of Americans are multilingual and are speaking more than one language at home according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (Link) That compares with 56% of Europeans. Some experts propose that over half of the world’s population is multilingual. To be competitive in the world proficiency in another language or two may be required.

In the past many educators have been led to believe that teaching English as an additional language requires extensive training beyond a classroom teacher’s repertoire. Cecilia and Laura posit that it’s not about the specific skills of a teacher, but more about their own mindset, beliefs and actions.

The third and final question for Cecilia and Laura …

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

First and foremost, literacy instruction for emergent bilinguals must be focused on the whole child. If we are truly committed to literacy instruction that is transformative and equitable the identities and full capacities of emergent bilinguals need to be recognized, incorporated and built upon as essential to all literacy instruction. It matters that we take a stance of strength and that we normalize our students and their families languaging practices. 

Additionally, literacy and literacy instruction are never neutral. As teachers we have the power to privilege certain identities, histories, and language practices, while silencing others as substandard.

The theories we hold regarding how emergent bilingual children develop as readers and writers impact and inform our instruction in powerful ways.  We need to create opportunities to value and to build on each and all of our students bi/multilingual resources.

In Conclusion …

As a result of reviewing Cecilia and Laura’s answers and the post this far, you have had more opportunities to interact with these words: “whole, grow, multilingual, translanguaging, strength and bilingual.” Maybe you are confident in your knowledge and are now at the curious stage. What might be some next steps? Being rooted in strength may be easy for educators with a growth mindset. But let’s shake the cobwebs off and dig, and dig, and dig. You might consider where and how to begin using this list as a guide.

  1. Be reflective. Take time to pause, to consider, to reflect, to review your status quo. Begin with your own knowledge of these words individually: “whole, grow, multilingual, translanguaging, strength and bilingual”.
  2. Consider the impact of your increased knowledge for students in your classroom, building, district, and community.
  3. Place one student at the center and consider the whole of your knowledge about what that child can do.
  4. Study translanguaging principles (Chapter 1). Collect some translanguaging models with a range of formats. How will translanguaging solidify the strengths of the student from #3 above?
  5. Study the possibilities for a multilingual learning environment (Chapter 2). How will the student from #3 thrive in this environment?
  6. Deepen your understanding of reading and writing assessments that are always double jeopardy for language learners (Chapters 6 and 10). What new information would be available about the student in #3?
  7. Study reading and writing (Chapters 3-5 and 7-9). How is your new learning increasing the effectiveness of the student you are planning for from #3?

Grab a friend as a thought partner and get started! Your students will benefit!

Additional Resources

Scholastic Blog Post about Rooted in Strength: https://oomscholasticblog.com/post/rooted-strength-debut-title-cecilia-m-espinosa-and-laura-ascenzi-moreno-explores-how

Interview with Ernest Morell: http://teacher.scholastic.com/education/reachteach/reachteachlanding_cecilia_m_espinosa_and_laura_ascenzi_moreno.html

Bring me a Book Foundation Toolkits: https://www.bringmeabook.org/advocates/laura-ascenzi-moreno/

Websites:

Cecilia M. Espinosa

ceciliamespinosa.wordpress.com/

Laura Ascenzi-Moreno

https://www.lascenzimoreno.com/

Guided Practice for Reading Growth:  Texts and Lessons to Improve Fluency, Comprehension and Vocabulary

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet LINK

Laura Robb is no stranger to #G2Great. She frequently participates in our weekly chats and has been a guest host with principal son and coauthor, Evan Robb, for Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches and Leaders to Support Students. This link gives you access to the blog post and wakelet for that book. Laura and Evan Robb coauthored this blog post in 2020, “Breaking the Cycle of Professional Compliance: Teachers as Decision-Makers.” (Link) It was truly a pleasure to welcome Laura and her coauthor David Harrison to his first chat this week.

Routines. Habits. As I drove, I hit my turn signal. It was automatic. I had driven this route for years. More years than I can count (or remember). But I had to reach down and turn that signal off because that’s not the route anymore. Change. It requires thought and a conscious effort. Changing habits and routines is hard. What will make this travel change MORE automatic? More practice!

Teaching.

Teaching also requires thought and conscious effort. Teaching requires so many decisions that teachers need to consciously make. Gravity Goldberg and  Renee Houser tell us that teachers make 1500 decisions per day (Edutopia link). It’s exhausting and yet equally stimulating to make decisions that matter for students. We must TRUST teachers to make decisions that will increase student joy AND student learning.

What is the end goal? Here is Laura Robb’s response. 

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

Teach the children in front of you. Get to know them. Watch. Listen. Have conversations with them. Read their notebooks. Increase their reading stamina with daily independent reading of self-selected books. Respond to their needs by knowing and building on their strengths. Become a responsive teacher who can adapt instruction and interventions to students, knowing that their needs change throughout the school year. Remember, that volume in reading is the best intervention and can develop students’ joy in reading, positive reading identities, and create lifelong readers!

Laura Robb, email.

I wrote this book blurb for Corwin Press after the first time I read Guided Practice for Reading Growth and now after the third reading I believe it to be even more true. 

Book Blurb: Guided Practice for Reading Growth

“What is essential for reading growth?  David Harrison and Laura Robb provide guidelines and tips for schedules, routines, instructional practices and lessons that improve students’ reading skill and self-confidence with proven sustained growth by real students in real classrooms. The authors use the research and their classroom work to provide evidence that students working below their grade level do not need pre-made programs or one-size basals but do need knowledgeable teachers who know their students and align and craft guided practice that encourages students to work hard to meet their goals. This book details how guided practice reinforces and enhances independent reading, interactive read-alouds, vocabulary building and writing about texts in a reader’s notebook. The implementation of the ideas in this book will help teachers develop effective and efficient targeted instruction that capitalizes on teacher knowledge and relationships with the students in their classrooms.”

Fran McVeigh, email.

Three big ideas form the focus of my thinking and understanding about this book based on Laura and David’s ideas, my previous work with middle school students, and the nature of curriculum/intervention plans and resources for middle school students. Let’s explore.

Instruction that meets the needs of students must be carefully crafted and implemented

No one lock-step, one-size-fits-all curriculum works. I see students in middle school and high school who are “not proficient” in reading. I am over-generalizing, but basically that means they missed a cut-off score on some skill area. Some argue that they must ALL need phonemic awareness or phonological awareness if they are struggling in reading. But what of students who have been a part of explicit phonics instruction who year after year are given another NEW phonics program because the last one was not successful and they are now down to literally TIER 6 in phonics programs and have very little time READING but spend much of their time in drills and isolated word work? Students are frustrated, disheartened and tired of “work that makes them feel stupid.”

Instruction can be so much more for students. The lessons Laura and David provide in Guided Practice for Reading Growth can be used “just in time” for student practice that they need NOW. Not after a data team meeting, but NOW to allow students to make accelerated growth without waiting for the roulette wheel to spin up their name at a pre-designated review.

David’s stories and poems are an excellent catalyst for instruction. The lessons Laura crafted are easily replicable by teachers. There are two sets that teachers are encouraged to make their own. Trusting that teachers know the students best, there is a set for partner discussion and a set for shared reading which lead to student writing. Talk. Writing. Part of the reciprocal action cycle of reading.

And then the finale. Part III in the text is “Next Steps for Guided Practice and Growth in Reading.”  The beauty of adding in fluency practice that is self-selected and performed by students is tantalizing. Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness with teacher data-based decisions about how to structure time and resources to meet student resources is teacher autonomy at its best!

Choice and agency are necessary for students to grow as readers.

Independent reading is a daily expectation in this structure. Students are allowed to choose texts that align with their interests. Teachers are encouraged to choose texts that students will find engaging.

Fluency practice as presented in this text is never reduced to reading rate, but instead, is all about the interpretation and the love of language. Empowering teachers. Empowering students. Empowering student learning. Empowering student progress. Empowering students as leaders. And again, providing practice opportunities for students to do the work themselves and choose their own reading materials!

Student reading identities matter.

Students have to find both the joy and belief in their own ability to read. By middle school and high school this is not easy. Some students have already fake read the same book three or four years in a row. Other students are quite good at shrugging off the “I’m too busy to read. Check out my activities” excuses. We’ve known about the importance of reading and writing identities but often not had the time, energy, resources or support necessary to grow identities. Successful and powerful reading and writing identities that respect their age, emotional maturity, and are worthy of both student and teacher time and attention. Choice and scaffolded instructional times provide opportunities for student identities to grow and mature.

This is further emphasized in the authors’ responses to the remaining questions.

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

The first big takeaway is to use formative assessments and relentless kid watching to identify students’ strengths and build on these strengths with guided practice lessons. Guided practice lessons are short, focus on what students need, and invite them to do the thinking and work that can improve their reading and enlarge vocabulary. The next big takeaway is that volume in reading is an intervention that can bring students reading below grade level into the reading life and develop their reading identities.

Laura and David, email.

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

My work with fifth grade students entering school reading at a kindergarten to early second grade reading level pushed me to rethink reading instruction and intervention.  Besides having them read self-selected books every day for about 20-minutes, I began developing guided practice lessons using short texts to engage them in deep thinking, meaningful discussions, and writing about reading. Another goal was to enlarge their vocabulary and background knowledge, and watching short videos prior to reading worked well. Students loved them, but if a few needed to revisit the video, it was easy for them to watch it a second or third time on their own or with a small group. With award-winning poet, David Harrison, writing the poems and short texts for the guided practice lessons, students can read culturally relevant texts on topics they suggested through surveys conducted in grades five to eight 

         David and I hope that teachers of grades 4 to 8 will integrate guided practice lessons into their instructional reading. Once teachers try the lessons, there are guidelines in the appendix for developing their own guided practice lessons. To support teachers as they get started with developing lessons, David Harrison wrote extra poems and short texts that are in the appendix; there’s also a list of magazines teachers can mine for short tests and lists of poetry collections to investigate. The goal is for teachers to intervene as soon as they observe students require extra practice and gradually release responsibility for learning to students.

Laura Robb, email.

In conclusion, just as students need carefully crafted instruction, with choice and agency as well as support for reader and writer identities – so do teachers! Guided practice is a simple, yet practical way to provide students with opportunities to joyfully develop into lifelong readers who can and do read.

The Last Word: What would you like teachers to know?  David’s response


Tapping Into Teacher Empowerment

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

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

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

Listen to Teachers

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

Promote Intellectual Curiosity

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

Take Action Through Agency

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

Begin Good Conversations

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

Never Lose Sight of What is Possible

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

WIRE FOR AGENCY: Four Simple Moves that Transfer Learning

by Mary Howard

 You can revisit our #G2Great chat Wakelet artifact HERE

On 6/17/21, we welcomed first-time authors Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa to our #G2Great chat to discuss their new book; WIRE FOR AGENCY: Four Simple Moves that Transfer Learning (2021, Benchmark PD Essentials). This week was a unique chat experience since Jenn Hayhurst has an added connection as one of three co-creators who launched #G2Great on 1/8/15 as well as our team os dedicated co-moderators who show up every Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET to engage in twitter style dialogue. 

Given that Jenn and Jill write about agency in their book, they wisely begin chapter 1 by spotlighting agency. On page 7, they beautifully open their book by reflecting on the chapter title question: “What is Student Agency?” with these first words: 

“There is something wonderful going on in schools. When given the opportunity, students are taking greater ownership of their work. Students are talking, thinking, collaborating, and making change happen.”

This thoughtful opening views agency from a lens of our professional responsibility that acknowledges the combined role of opportunity and ownership. The factors of agency that Jenn and Jill emphasize invite children to actively engage in the very things that real life readers and writers do when engrossed in talking, thinking and collaborating in purposeful and meaningful ways. They illustrate agency as a process that embraces learning experiences that are not narrowly defined in the context of instruction alone but within a spirit of internal and external engagement that moves children to action designed for making change happen beyond those experiences. 

This visual was created using www.wordclouds.com

Using agency as a platform for action-driven change both for our learners and as professionals, Jenn and Jill offer us a front row seat to see “something wonderful” in action using images, quotes, descriptions, mini lessons, reflective questions and thoughtful advice for supporting and nurturing agency. They generously give us a peek into their learning spaces so that we may translate those experiences into our own. Through these thingswe learn to question, inquire, invite, and advocate for children. We do this by giving them freedom and choice with time and space to follow their passions just as we do naturally without questioning our right to do so. In our opening chat quote, Jenn and Jill remind us why this commitment is imperative:

Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that students’ conviction that their work matters will not happen by chance. Rather it happens when we in turn possess the conviction that our work matters when our knowledge of literacy research and the children in front of us becomes our guide. This dual knowledge inspires and motivates us to make the best possible day-to-day decisions for children as we create a two-way bridge that will keep conviction alive from our side and from theirs.

We invite guest authors to respond to three reflective questions that offer insight into their book and the thinking that led to it. Jenn and Jill reflect on our first question:

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

Peter Johnston’s book, Choice Words, was a seminal book for us. It named the practices we were using in the classroom that made teaching so much more powerful. We had rebelled against heavily scripted programs, giving kids busy work like worksheets, and one-size fits all teaching. We were not interested in compliant students, we wanted a more authentic approach for teaching and learning. A way of teaching that would bring a sense of agency into the classroom every day. We want to empower teachers and students so they can take ownership over their teaching and learning and feel a sense of agency and control over their own destiny. We want learning to be joyful and celebrated by all involved.

Since our first quote from Jenn and Jill compelled me to connect to key ideas in visual form, I was again drawn to ideas in their reflection and motivated to create a second visual representation of key words: Powerful. Authentic. Empower. Ownership. Joyful. Celebrated. When we keep these features in our sight, we are able to lean into the instructional choices that are most likely to promote agency on a daily basis.

This visual was created using www.wordclouds.com

Across the pages of their book, Jenn and Jill use the acronym W. I. R. E. to reflect four components: Watch. Intend. Reflect. Engage. This supportive guidepost comes with their reminder that all children are wired for agency, but it is our beliefs that inspire us to make crucial day-to-day choices that lead to increasing agency. To encourage us to maintain a student-centered stance, they highlight accesslanguage and choice while asking us to step outside of our comfort zones as we create a spirit of agency in the name of kids. Across their book, they show us what agency looks, sounds and feels both from our eyes as professionals and from the eyes of our learners so that we may build a foundation for learning that honors a ‘wired for agency’ perspective. 

With these ideas above in mind, I turned to our #G2Great chat to peruse additional agency insight from Jenn and Jill. Their collective Twitter words of wisdom from the chat speak volumes and helps us to contemplate how we can create our own learning spaces driven by a sense of agency:

Before I share some final words, let’s pause for a moment to see how Jenn and Jill responded to our second author reflection question:

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

  1. Naming the learning process (WATCH, INTEND, REFLECT, ENGAGE) so that students and their teachers could have a shared language about learning.
  2. The importance of understanding yourself and your students as learners first and empowering students through the understanding of the WIRE framework.
  3. Being responsive requires flexibility from both teachers and learners.
  4. It is so important to advocate for a student centered approach that is open-minded and supportive of students’ goals and interests first and not as an afterthought. 
  5. Looking at what students do well, and sharing that with them, changes everything. It lifts them up and raises their efforts to a new level. Agency stems from a positive belief system about what students can do. 

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

AS I come to the end of this chat post, I was drawn to another quote we shared during the chat. This quote further illustrates my earlier point that agency happens when we create a two-way bridge to ensure that conviction is alive and well from both the sides (ours and theirs). Jenn and Jill remind us that when our instruction is compelling, our children are able to see the fruits of their labor as we use this to inform our next steps.

I began this post with the opening words of Jenn and Jill, so I’d like to add their closing words on page 155 that reflect their trust in teachers for the decisions they make and how strong currents of trust, thinking and content impact students:

“This is the pulse students carry with them to live a life of purpose, action, and joy. An agentic life.” 

It seems fitting to end with final insight from Jenn and Jill in our third question: 

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

You have everything you need to make schooling a powerful and positive experience for your kids. An agentic learning experience begins with the word, “Yes.” Yes, you can follow your interests, yes you can have this book, yes you can write that story. When students understand that their teachers believe in them, and when teachers believe in themselves agency is within reach.  We believe in the talents and perseverance of teachers and students. We hope you will take the time to watch, intend, reflect and engage fully so agency can flourish.

Thank you Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa for showing us how to make that a reality!


Learning Celebrations Showcasing Reflection on Process & Product

By, Jenn Hayhurst

On June 27, 2019 #G2Great hosted the chat, Learning Celebrations Showcasing Reflection on Process and Product. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about celebrations, and I think there is more to this topic than meets the eye. I mean on the surface, a celebration is a good time and that is certainly a motivator. Dig a little deeper, examine what is being celebrated, and we get a sense of collective identity, what is believed, what is valued within a community.

What if schools cultivated a day-to-day celebratory spirit when it comes to learning? That would mean, celebrations that were not just reserved for special occasions, but were present in students’ learning every day.

Imagine how joyful it would be to embrace a celebratory culture! A whole faculty dedicated to finding the “good” and putting their collective energy towards student growth and learning in a very public and meaningful way. As I read through #G2Great PLN members’ comments, I could get a sense of what that would be:

These tweets were so revealing, and I found myself feeling completely inspired. These teachers are all celebrating their students in profound ways. Each tweet honors and celebrates students’ efforts by elevating their participation, their work, and their process. Each time students are celebrated, their identity as learners becomes a little more formed. With each acknowledgment, the message is sent, “Yes, you belong here. You are worthy of attention and praise.”

Once students believe that they are valued, that they are seen and understood; then, they can begin to learn with a sense of agency. Part of this work is to teach children the language of reflection so they may set meaningful goals. When students are setting their own goals, and are motivated to achieve them, learning in and of itself becomes the main event:

If celebrations reveal beliefs, I have to wonder, how do my beliefs promote a celebratory culture? I believe in kids. Not just some kids, or those kids, but all kids. I vow to celebrate that belief in the upcoming school year. I will celebrate each student’s brilliance, and this will be my number one priority. Every day I am with my students I will be a celebration – of them.

This is Day One #G2Great with Drew Dudley

By, Jenn Hayhurst

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.

What values define leadership for you? If you had that power, which value would you choose? When it comes to leadership, these are the words our #G2Great PLN valued most.

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.

Drew Dudley

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!