Be the Change – Reflections on #NCTE12

I just spent four days in Las Vegas at the NCTE annual conference engaging, learning and sharing with some of the most amazing educators on the planet. My head is spinning, my brain is full, and I cannot wait to get back in my classroom tomorrow. I have many thoughts to reflect on and share in upcoming blog posts, but for now, all I can think of is how lucky I am to be a teacher. The last four days reminded me of how much hope, possibility, passion and love there is in education. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day struggles, the isolation that can occur in our profession, the frustration from policies, standards, inequities, injustices and the overall feeling that teaching is being disrespected as a profession. But spending the last four days with thousands of educators who took time off school, flew across the country, many (if not most) on their own dime, prepared presentations to share the joyful work they are doing with students, and engaged in dialogue about making the world a better place through teaching, reminded me just how committed teachers are.

We can make a difference. And we are. Let’s keep the conversations that began at NCTE going, and let’s invite others in. Twitter is a fabulous place to see what was shared and discussed at NCTE (#NCTE12), and I’m sure there will be many, many blog posts, articles and even books that come out of the networking, conversations and pure possibility that occurred in Las Vegas. There are many teachers all over this country doing amazing work with children – engaging them in pursuing their passions, collaborating all over the globe, supporting them in making sense of struggle and injustices in our world while encouraging them to take action and teaching them that their words are power and that their voices matter.

It’s truly a great time to be a teacher. And as Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What change will YOU be?

Choice

Conferences are always so inspiring. I love attending them and talking with like-minded educators, meeting new people and having time from my busy school life to reflect on my practice. This past weekend, Pat and I attended the Reading Recovery conference in Columbus, Ohio. We enjoyed meeting some of you and sharing our thinking at our sessions. We also enjoyed learning from the many smart people who presented. If you’ve never been, it’s a “must-do” February conference, so mark your calendars for next year!

I attended many fantastic sessions, but I continue thinking about Lucy Calkins’ keynote. She spoke about where education is today, and how we have a choice as to what role we might play in the future of public education. Her words, “as educators standing in this place in our field, we have a choice. We can look out and see problems and despair or possibility and promise,” have echoed in my brain all week as I returned to my school.

If we see our job and schools as sources of problems and despair, do we have the energy to make a difference with the kids we teach every day? Do we wake up full of joy and enthusiasm in our role as educators? No. But some days it’s very hard to look past the testing frenzy, the new mandates made by people who have never set foot in a classroom, the budget cuts, the overcrowded classrooms, the lack of support and so on and so on. It’s easier to see despair and problems over possibility and promise.  Easier? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely. But it sucks the life and energy out of us as teachers.

So what if we focus on the kids?

As Lucy said, “not one of us can be hiding behind someone else’s proclamation of what we need to do as teachers”. We are in this profession because we love kids. We want to make a difference in the world and see teaching as the way to do it. There have been way too many proclamations about what we need to do as teachers. It’s time for us to stand up and bring possibility and promise back to our schools, our teaching and our professional lives. Focusing on the kids, and what we know is best for them, allows us to see possibility for who we are as teachers, professionals and learners. Standing up for best practices and for our students is empowering. When we can be passionate learners and passionate teachers, when “our teaching is alive and powerful”, when “we are doing work that feels big and significant” – it’s hard to see the problems and feel despair. It’s much easier to see possibility and promise.

Lucy ended her keynote with this question, “are we going to be who we say we want to be? We have the choice as educators.” I am taking this opportunity to really think about who I say I want to be as an educator. And then make sure that my actions, thoughts and words reflect that vision. I want to walk into school every day looking towards possibility and promise. I want to rekindle the passion in teaching that called me to this profession 19 years ago. I want to remember that my focus is on the kids, and that my work here is “big and significant”, joyful and passionate.

How about you? What choice are you making?

Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what brings me joy in my teaching life. Joy, by definition, is a source or cause of delight. I think back to my favorite teachers as a child, and it was clear that they found joy in teaching. I’m sure they had many of the same stressors that teachers today have, and yet, they remained joyful in spite of it all. Today, teachers are challenged daily with a zillion things that don’t hold a lot of joy, and in fact, some can be downright spirit crushing. But it’s up to us to create joy in our teaching lives, and share that joy with our kids and our colleagues.

Here are five things that bring joy to my teaching life.

  1. Sharing a new book with kids. I love books, and I love sharing books with kids. This week I shared a Piggie and Elephant book (We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems) with a class of first graders. Their laughter and excitement as I read the book was fabulous. They had such a hard time staying “criss-cross applesauce” on the rug – they wanted to stand up and get closer to the book.  And when I said they could find more of this series in the library they cheered. Seeing kids this excited about books and familiar authors is truly joyful!
  2. Inquiry. As a learner, I am most engaged when following a topic that I am passionate about and have a personal interest in. Inquiry projects with kids encourage questioning and allow them to pursue learning that directly relates to their lives. There is much joy in seeing a class constantly questioning and experiencing learning by co-constructing an evolving curriculum.
  3. Writing with kids. Teaching within a Writer’s Workshop is an amazing thing. I love how excited kids get when I share a new writer’s technique with them or when we discover something together about an author’s piece. I’m always impressed with how bravely and fearlessly young writers try on a new technique and play with it in their own writing. Sitting side-by-side with a writer gives me an opportunity to connect with that child and his or her writing and see the possibilities that hide within each writer. A child’s writing is something to celebrate and find joy in.
  4. Play. I believe in the importance of play. Through play we can learn so much about each other, the curriculum and ourselves. When we are playful, it is difficult to get upset, stressed out or cynical. Play should infiltrate our teaching lives (as well as our personal lives!).
  5. Kids. Kids bring joy to my life. The hugs, the funny things they say, the way they light up when they figure out a tricky part in a book or publish a story or solve a challenging math problem or discover a spider web on the playground.  My life wouldn’t be complete without a daily dose of kid joy.

What brings joy to your teaching life? 

What’s RIGHT with education?

Lately there has been a lot of talk about education in the news. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot of talk about what’s wrong with education and how we can fix it. We’d like to take a minute to share our list of what’s right with education. What does it look like when things are going well? What are the signs that a school or a classroom doesn’t need to be “fixed?”

Here are a few of our thoughts.

1.  Teachers are smiling.

We’re not just talking about the “nice to meet you smiles,” but the genuine “I love my job” smiles. Those authentic smiles to kids, parents and colleagues in the hallways, classrooms and teacher’s lounges are signs that teachers love what they do. Teachers smile a lot more when they are respected, trusted, encouraged and celebrated.  A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when the teachers are happy.

2.  Kids are smiling.

We want our kids to love learning, love school, enjoy what they are doing, and feel valued as contributing members of the classroom community. It’s our job as teachers to make sure we’ve created the environment for this to happen.  Kids smile when they have choice in what they read and write, when they are listened to and respected, and when they are encouraged to do their best. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when the kids are happy.

3.  Kids are reading and writing daily and growing as literate beings.

A school that is working well has kids engaged in daily, meaningful literacy work. Kids have ownership of their reading and writing and are given sufficient time each day to practice.  Kids aren’t doing mindless worksheets or isolated activities just to have something to turn in to the teacher.  Rather, they are being treated as real readers and writers in the world.  Their teachers are supporting them and helping them grow into proficient readers and writers.  That growth is measured in multiple ways, not just with test scores. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when kids are engaged in meaningful literacy work.

4.  It is noisy.

We’re not talking about just random noise, but purposeful, meaningful literacy talk. Kids should be talking about their reading and writing daily. Literacy is social and kids (and adults) need time to talk in order to construct meaning and see the purpose that literacy has in their lives. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when kids are talking about their thinking, their learning and their literate lives.

5 .  More teaching than testing is going on.

Teachers need to be interacting with and responding to the students in their classrooms.  Time is spent constructing the curriculum, choosing the read alouds, planning instruction, meeting with children to talk about their reading and writing, and assessing students based on their specific needs as learners.  A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when teachers are teaching and not just testing.

What else is happening in schools and classrooms that don’t need to be fixed?  We look forward to your thoughts!