Sunday, November 27, 2016

Connected Leaders: Tools to Grow Collaborative Conversations

Last week I attended NCTE, and couldn't escape the power of social media in growing my professionalism. As soon as I arrived I was happily catching up with colleagues from across the United States that continually push my thinking.  Gone are the days when we have to feel isolated in our classrooms.  While I still learn so much from my colleagues next door, my professional community has grown exponentially as a result of social media networks, blogs, and connected communities.

What do connected leaders need to consider?

As our district's elementary literacy instructional leader, I have come to also appreciate the power of social media and other digital tools to grow collaborative conversations across our fourteen elementary buildings.  While we are still finding our voice as a collaborative community, here are a few tools I find essential in communicating and growing a collaborative conversation.

Three tools I can't live without:

1.  To Share Our Story:  A Blog.  Every group needs a hub.  A digital hub helps us connect our community, curate resources, and build our narrative. Our literacy coaches are working to grow a literacy website.  On our site we share links, professional development opportunities, resources (still growing), as well as a weekly blog post.  (Need a space?  Try Weebly.)

2.  To Connect Our Community:  Twitter (or some social media outlet).  Our district has a growing number of classrooms on Twitter sharing their stories of learning and connecting with others.  We use Twitter to share professional learning opportunities, tweet blog updates, and pass along information helpful to teachers.  Additionally, we use Twitter to tell the story of literacy in our district by retweeting the celebrations of classrooms across the district.  Twitter allows us to learn from one another and step inside each other's classrooms.  (Our account:  @HCSDElemLit)

3. To Curate Links & Information:  S'more.  S'more works in a way that is similar to a newsletter, pamphlet or brochure.  I find S'more to be perfect for sharing resources around topics or for particular groups.  It is easily shared on social media or via email.  Often I create a S'more for a group conversation and then as others contribute ideas and resources we can easily add them to the original S'more.

More Possibilities:


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Professional Books for New Teachers

I'll never forget my first year of teaching.  I had planned to teach elementary and was given the opportunity to work with six graders.  To say I was unprepared would be an understatement.  There were no supports in place for teachers, but thankfully my husband taught eighth grade and the teachers in our small school were always happy to help.  It's still quite easy to remember how hard that year was for me.  I can remember telling myself that certainly by year three I'd have this teaching thing down to a science.  Of course, that didn't prove to be true as even over twenty years later I find I'm always working to change.

The first years were hard.  Thankfully there were professional books.  It wasn't long after I started teaching that Nancie Atwell wrote, In the Middle:  Writing, Reading and Learning with Adolescents now in its third edition.   To this day, I consider this book to be one of the professional books that helped shape my work as an educator and honestly may have kept me teaching.

Authors of professional books about education continued to improve my work when I moved grade levels, noticed parts of my teaching that I needed to grow, or joined groups of educators hoping to study teaching in greater depth.  Authors like Gay Su Pinnell, Irene Fountas, Debbie Miller, Franki Sibberson, Katie Wood Ray, Ralph Fletcher, Shelley Harwayne, and Troy Hicks all played a part in important shifts in my teaching.

Professional Books for New Teachers
I've been doing a lot of our work with our newest teachers.  I've found their conversations engaging as they work to take what they know and solve new questions they're finding as they work alongside children each day.  In addition to working with new teachers, my son is doing his student teacher this year.  All of these conversations have me thinking about professional books I'd recommend to new teachers.  Here are a few titles I recommend as teachers begin:

Primary Teachers

Guided Reading:  Responsive Teaching Across the Grades
by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell

About the Authors:Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers
by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa Cleveland

Reading with Meaning:Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades
by Debbie Miller

For Intermediate
Still Learning to Read:Teaching Students in Grades 3-6
by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

The Reading Strategies Book:
Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers
by Jennifer Serravallo

Amplify:  Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-8 Classroom
by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke
Teaching with Intention:
Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action K-5

by Debbie Miller

There have been so many books written that it was hard to narrow to these titles.  These seem to be the books that help when thinking about the foundations of our work.  If you have favorite recommendations for new teachers, I hope you'll share them in the comments.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When They're Not Beside Us

As a classroom teacher, one of my favorite questions has been, "Who owns the learning?".  I first heard the question asked by Patrick Allen in Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop when he asked, "If someone walked into our classroom, who s/he say owned it?".  The question was put back in the forefront of my thinking several summers ago after reading:  Who Owns the Learning, Fires in the Mind, and Making Learning Whole.  It's a question that made me look at the walls of my classroom, listen more intently to the voices of our community, pause a little more often in a conference, and be more thoughtful about who was shaping the learning for students.

Lately, I've been thinking about a new question, "What are they doing when they aren't beside us?".

Early in my teaching career, I realized the power of being intentional when students were beside me. Whether in a guided reading lesson, conferring with a reader or writer, or leading some type of small group instruction, I have come to understand the power of sitting beside students to guide their next steps.  To have time to sit beside students, we create structures of learning to allow us more opportunities for targetted support and instruction.  Of course, at their best, these structures allow students to take ownership of their learning giving time to learn new strategies, make discoveries, and work toward new goals.  At their worst, they are elaborate structures that keep students busy so we can do the work we need to beside students.

So what are students doing when they aren't beside us?  I've come to learn that what they're doing when they're not beside us may be more important than what we do when we're sitting beside them.  How do we set students up for meaningful learning as we support learners in our classroom communities?   In my career, I've seen teachers move from sage on the stage to guide on the side to coach on approach (sorry, I just had to continue the rhyme, but you get my point).  As we move toward environments that value student ownership and agency, our role has changed.  This isn't always comfortable for us as we are used to managing and controlling.  It isn't easy to trust children to lead and to learn, to be flexible on our feet.  It's a different kind of planning where we know what we want students to learn, but we allow them to find their own path to get there.

It's messy...and it's powerful.  (Debbie Miller talks more about this here:  Letting Kids "Dig In")

For simplicity sake, let's consider for a moment that a teacher may spend forty-five minutes in small group reading lessons.  During that time a student might be beside the teacher for fifteen minutes.  That means the student spends thirty minutes on her own in the workshop.   Let's say that student is seen three times in a week; that equates to forty-five minutes with the teacher during that block for a week and three hours and forty-five minutes on her own.  Now think about that across the day.  The week.  The month.  The year.

So often we measure student success by the time a teacher is beside a student, but what if it is exactly the opposite.  What if students make the most progress when they drive their own learning?  What if the ways we help build agency in our classroom are more powerful than the time students spend in explicit instruction?

If we're going to send students off on their own, we want to set them up to use their time to learn.   These structures have to allow continued learning and move beyond creating opportunities for us to teach.

Here are a few considerations I've found help set students up for learning opportunities:

  • Allow students opportunities for real work.
  • Have a community learning focus.
  • Be intentional in focus lessons.
  • Create charts that make learning visible.  
  • Take time for a reflective share.
  • Allow students to set their own learning goals.   
  • Be willing to adjust when things get messy.
  • Trust them.