Love Letters: 6 Essential Actions That Support Growth

These actions are very important in our work as educators.  Take a look and if you have essential actions that you believe in, I hope you’ll consider sharing your ideas with me.

 

 

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Just Imagine…

Creating & designing something IS how we make meaning…how we transform old into new…how we leave a track in the snow marking where we’ve been… all in service of creating a path forward. That is, I believe, the heartbeat of progressive pedagogy.

I recently read a post by an person who quoted James Baldwin by saying, “the place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” This quote is so meaningful and applicable to education today. Unfortunately, I think schools sometimes put these ideas into action in the wrong way. This is true when organizations believe that a select few can lead the way to create and make the place (classroom design, school culture, ways of being) and the stuff (curriculum, instructional best practices, assessment) for everyone to follow.

I’ve lived and learned a lot over the past 22 years as an educator and what continues to hold true is that what thrusts educators into strong, life-long professionals with a passion for continued learning is when a system invites ALL invested stakeholders to live out Baldwin’s ideas: “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” Teachers, the people we’ve hired to facilitate learning for our children, typically want to be a part of making it so they can fit. When we allow them to do so, they in turn allow their students to make it so they can fit. That is, not just saying that you subscribe to a progressive pedagogy, but actually living it! Without that, you just end up with a leadership team that has a lot invested, feeling good about what they’ve created, and feeling like they can fit…while everyone else is working double time trying to get on their page. Not to mention all the other stakeholders (parents, custodians, students, etc.) who may not be privy, let alone invested, in what is even being built. If, instead, we invite everyone to bring ideas and talents to the table to create and design, just imagine what kind of place we could make where everyone would feel like they fit.

Some things are worth repeating. Creating & designing something IS how we make meaning…how we transform old into new…how we leave a track in the snow marking where we’ve been… all in service of creating a path forward.  Do you believe that is the heartbeat of education today? If so, how are you putting those ideas into action?

Together We Go Far!

Can you imagine walking two hours a day to retrieve fresh water to drink?  Can you imagine what that must feel like?  When I think about that type of hardship, it makes many (if not all) of the challenges I face each day seem so very simple.  So very doable.

It’s funny how sometimes ideas, themes and patterns surround us at just the right time.  If we pay attention, they can “feed” us in new ways.  Here was my path over the last six days.

I was observing a model lesson  where 7th graders were wrestling with a NYT article about Niger children missing school because they were searching for water.  It was interesting to listen to the students process how difficult that would be.  They were surprised to learn that the article was written in 2012, not many years ago. All of the students agreed that they sometimes think their life is hard until they think about other people who (like these children) have it even harder.  The next day, I saddled up to one of my 8th grade lovebugs to listen to her read out loud.  She was working hard to map her way through her independent reading book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.  This bright, thoughtful 8th grader said she had a hard time imagining not being able to go over to her kitchen sink and turn on all of the water she wanted and needed…whenever she wanted and needed it.  She also said she knew there was a boy in the story who also had struggles that she didn’t have in her life and she felt bad for him.  This weekend, my husband and I were flipping through movies and we came upon The Good Lie (2014).  This movie, coupled with the connected learning experiences from last week that I mentioned above,  provided for a reason to pause.  This, especially true, as I literally pushed pause at the end of the movie because it ended with the following quote:

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.19.43 AMIf you want to fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.  I read it several times.  Of course, if you’ve read about or done work with the Lost Boys of Sudan, you know that this African Proverb has deep meaning to the ways in which the thousands of orphaned boys (children) worked to escape the Sudanese Civil War.  They worked together in order to travel unimaginable miles to escape unimaginable pain that most cannot even begin to wrap their heads around.

I started thinking about how this proverb, while not comparable to the importance of the meaning to the Lost Boys of Sudan, can serve as an anchor in the work we do in education.  I asked myself some questions about my work and thought about the results related to going fast or going far.  Some questions I have looming in my mind (I am going to add to this inquiry over time) that I want to ponder include:

  • How does aligning our beliefs about what matters most help us match what we believe to our actions?
  • What practices/actions give us the biggest take-aways to support students who are struggling to read, write, talk, and create?  How do those practices/actions push students to deepen what they know and are able to do?
  • Are we living within content (simmering, developing, making meaning across time) OR pushing our way through it too fast?
  • How does looking at student work guide us to know what to do next with students?
  • How do we know…really know…when students are successful?  How do we create criteria for success that matches what we believe about assessment of and for learning?

I’m in an inquiry that has my mind continually thinking.  One of the ways I live within my inquiry is to use my notebook as a place to hold my thinking.  I started a chart in my notebook that looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 3.21.38 PMDo you have questions or ideas that you are wrestling with that you believe will push you and/ or others to go further as long as you work together?  If so, please consider sharing.  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

 

 

Notebook Noticings

How do you collect your ideas? Your observations? Your wonderings? Where do you do your thinking that pushes you forward? For me, it is in my notebook. My favorite is simple ~ a composition notebook with graph paper. I love it, but I especially love my notebook cover. My Ohio friend and colleague, Erin, made me this wonderful notebook cover about 18 months ago. I adore owls and this notebook cover, and the ideas inside, gives me an anchor each day. It helps me get smarter…smarter about my ways of seeing, doing and being as an instructional coach. It would be interesting to take note of the number of times I grab my notebook. I use it all the time ~ to collect ideas during coaching conversations, observations and leadership team meetings. It holds my thinking about student work, coaching moves with teachers, and topics/plans for professional development opportunities. I also use my notebook to collect ideas that fuel my work.

owl 3To most, my notebook probably looks like a train wreck. It may seem unorganized and discombobbled (I LOVE that word!) But, if you know me you begin to understand it is highly organized. I have a system of colored pens I use that helps me stay focused. I have a post it note marking system that creates a hierarchy of importance and a labeling system (you know…stars, circles, and sometimes hearts as well as numbers) that helps me find my flow and keep my rhythm. I love my notebook and in so many ways, it is a lifeline to my daily work.

My favorite routine, however, is when I sit down and sift through the pages of my notebook. Sometimes with highlighter or felt tip pen in hand, I thumb the pages to look back and reflect…to think about the now…and to look forward as I plan my next moves.

 Let’s take a closer look…

Here are some ideas I pulled out of my notebook in the last week:

  • Going after quality vs. quantity ~ living in a culture of revision
  • What does it really mean…in action…to co-construct?
  • What routines, practices, structures will give us the biggest bang for our buck?
  • How to imbed more small group instruction across the day for our struggling lovebugs?
  • Map out meaningful, work time opportunities that will help increase student independence
  • What are the payoffs of assessment in action?  What is worthy of being collected? Graded? Co-graded? Considered a knowledge check vs. practice?
  • Community ~ bringing the community in and taking the kiddos out
  • Unpacking my thinking (teacher) so that students know how to unpack their own thinking as they read, write, talk, create
  • When we teach reading we need to name what we are doing and why ~ pushes transfer
  • Read like you are burning calories
  • When you read, what questions do you have? What are you sure of? What are you unsure of?

So, how do you collect your thinking?  Your ponderings?  And…what do you do with your ideas once you’ve collected them?  Send me your ideas, wonderings, and/or action steps in making your notebook come to life!