Who are we writing for?

In my first year of teaching, in a DC neighborhood encompassed by poverty, a student gave me the most thoughtful gift of my career.  The battery operated window alarms were a mystery to me for years. I finally realized my student just wanted her teacher to be safe.  Her gift sincerely reflected the reality of her life outside of school and a deep connection to me.

This year, among all the generous and thoughtful gifts my students and their families gave me, I received three journals, pens and pencils, a picture book and a gift card to purchase more books.  Of course these are gifts all teachers would like, but I can’t help but wonder if my intentionality of building my own reading and writing life are reflected in these gifts.  While many of my current students come from highly literate families, do these gifts also reflect their connection to me and our shared love of literacy?  I hope so.

A few months ago George Couros wrote “Blogging is your job” to which I replied – that was going to be my next blog post!  In response, my school librarian – who is always pushing me to think at the edge of my learning – asked me who my audience is and how I know what they want to read.  I stopped to think.  As this conversation unfolded over Twitter on a Saturday morning I realized I am writing ultimately for my students.  She showed me my audience is someone who will actually never read my writing and THAT is why it is so powerful.

Writing pushes me into unknown realms as a teacher.  Sometimes I write a blog post before I even teach a unit and revise and publish it afterward.  I envision the learning and articulate it through the blog and social media.  Of course it changes through the reality of the classroom, but writing as a form a professional development helps me define change in my classroom.  A writing professor of mine always said “keep your pencil moving,” a quote my students hear daily as a tool to generate new ideas.  It is true, the more you write, the more you think of to write.  Continual writing can only help us as educators to push beyond the traditional methods of instruction to find new ways to authentically engage our audience – our students.

It is important for us to feel safe – as writers and agents of change.  It matters to our students that we are safe.  It is equally important that we are active participants in literacy.  It matters to our students that we engage in writing to chart, share and most critically, explore our practice.  Maybe those journals and books weren’t a coincidence. Just maybe, it resonates that reading and writing matter so much that they are authentically in my own life and in my teaching.

Hey Teachers, Let’s Talk!

Teachers matter.  Anyone who’s stepped foot into a classroom for longer than 10 minutes clearly recognizes teachers matter, to the classroom culture, to the instructional methods, to the students.  But teachers matter to each other as well.  And we need to matter more.

I recently facilitated a collaborative workshop at the North Carolina English Teachers Conference.  I was possibly the only elementary educator at the conference, engaging with middle and secondary teachers in a quest to develop better practices for independent reading.  This cross pollination of ages, disciplines and even school structures expanded my vision and understandings of independent reading beyond my classroom. One new teacher gained tangible ideas to expand her students ability to select books beyond their assigned texts – which require students to take a test to demonstrate understanding.  A 9th grade English teacher uses strategy groups based on formative assessment just like I do with my 1st graders.  A charter school 6th grade teacher helped me understand that making instructional changes in one grade can filter to the next, as students are empowered to advocate for high quality choices for independent reading.

So what does this one collaboration mean to us as educators?  Let’s stop putting up barriers.

Barriers such as age – often we think of an age group of teachers different than our own to have vastly different ideas.  Maybe they do, but what can we learn from each other?  How does the history of education or the innovation of today inform instructional decisions?

Barriers such as school structure – I trained as a public school teacher. I learned to recognize each individual child as vital to our school community in the private sector.  Within the current debate of charter schools, utilizing resources from our local communities to support education is fundamental to student success.  How can we collaborate across institutional differences to support the one commonality – learning and growth for kids?

Barriers such as location – I am trained in the US and am guilty of comparing schools from my limited perspective of growing up in public US education, pre-Common Core teaching in Virginia, and our current national standards.  Recently, I’ve made efforts to examine other schools, other counties, talk with other educators.  Teaching in Finland, Scotland, Japan is pretty different than ours.  How can we widen our understanding of education in a more global way?

Barriers such as time – if we want to engage, it is on our own backs, after school, outside regular teaching duties.  This is a current reality but I hope that future educational leaders will begin to recognize that professional development, like all good learning, should not happen in isolation.  Advocating for our own passions in education is a way to broaden and deepen our instructional practices.

So teachers, let’s talk.  Even if you are older or younger, work for a school different than mine, in a different time zone, let’s find the time.  The only way to connect our ideas and learn from one another is through conversation.  What is one instructional change you are thinking about, trying out, or needing some encouragement for? Please, reply. 


NCETA Conference 2016

On Saturday, December 3, 2016 I facilitated a collaborative workshop at the North Carolina English Teachers Conference to develop ideas to support the instructional changes of this blog.  We examined how to support students, teachers and school/community stakeholders to provide more authentic independent reading choices for students.  A group of K -12 educators, representing public, charter and private schools brainstormed these ideas.  After examining potential opportunities and obstacles each group might face when giving students reign over independent reading, we developed strategies to support each group.

My best take away: At the end of this year my first graders will make presentations for their future teachers in our school (2nd – 4th) to share what they’ve learned about independent reading.  The best way we can empower instructional change in through empowering students to take ownership over that change.

You can view the presentation slides here, for reference.  Join me at the North Carolina Reading Association Conference, March 2017 for more instructional strategies to support independent reading.