Is it worth it

This morning I was in a funk. I was hitting up my always inspirational twitter after a great workout out but something was off. My dear friend Susan coined a hashtag in our own little #curiositycrew and we laughed about #brentsinafunk. I pondered on what it was that was really bugging me and I think it all boils down to the fact that when I joined the Edu-Twitter world it was for ideas, inspiration and a supportive community.

Over the last little while I have noticed changes. There seems to be less learning popping up in my feed. Aside from the #G2Great chats my feed is filled with a lot of what I think people consider inspirational quotes or feel good stories but primarily my feed is becoming more and more a sales pitch. If it isn’t 7 million tweets a day about the newest book that is going to change my classroom (as long as I change myself) it is the newest conference that is 500 dollars plus travel and lodging and don’t even get me started on #teachersofinstagram and Teachers Pay Teachers. All of these things just keep popping up in my feed. Now I guess I could stop following people that seem to be amplifying this make money message but I followed them for a reason I just hope we find our way back to the why.

I am specifically bothered today by the trends, the room sponsorships, the staged photographs that don’t focus on joyful learning but do focus on company names being displayed for those fancy chairs and tables because flex seating is more important that authentic environments in this new monetized learning environment. I left twitter in a huff this morning for a lot of reasons but they boil down in the end to this new influencer culture. Is that what we got into this for? Did we get into teaching so we could be Rockstars? I didn’t. As I made my rounds through teacher social media I came across another post on a group that is dedicated to Jennifer Serravallo’s work. The post had nothing to do with her work however. The post was drawing attention to Teacher’s Pay Teachers 4th of July sale. Save money, save on planning, eliminate teaching tailored to your students needs. I know there are a lot of people that love Teachers Pay Teachers, they love a good Chevron border and cute Penguin clip art to fill there 40 binders to cover their 180 days. But again what is driving Teachers Pay Teachers? It isn’t authentic joyful learning. It is money, it is that desire to be pInstagram famous as I saw one person point out today on Twitter. Did we get into teaching to become famous?

I have talked about my next big issue before but can someone please explain to me how having your classroom sponsored by companies is not all kind of unethical? We had this discussion as a staff once when a company reached out to help support a school initiative. What conditions do you have to meet to get sponsored? What percentage of your room needs to be their product? I friend told me that she really wanted to get into flex seating and so was looking for ideas on Pintrest and Instagram and came across this great account that had the most amazing room. Tables that were 4000 dollars. A quick show of hands for who can afford 4000 dollars for one table…I will wait. This teacher was an instagram “influencer” all their cute TPT stuff and Pintrest worthy staged pictures got them a ton of followers and so companies started sending them things to showcase. How does the average teacher accomplish this?

I have been expanding my twitter net recently and reading about all this amazing work, amazing learning being done in classrooms all over schools but I have to dig for it. Those stories are not the ones being shared far and wide. They are being lost in a sea of “look at me”

I am not looking to shame anyone that has bought into this celebrity culture of education. I would say to each their own but we are not only responsible to ourselves. We have classrooms of kids depending on us to bring our A-game. To better our practice to meet their needs. All the followers in the world to “influence” will not make me a better teacher. Actually doing the work? That will. In this world of Social Media we can do so much good but what good is 50k followers when you don’t discuss inequity, injustice and the real challenges facing kids and schools today. Trust me kids get along fine without a ball chair and standing desk, they don’t get along fine with books falling apart and not enough chairs to go around. With great power and all that as Uncle Ben says.

Today Penny Kittle tweeted her dismay about how schools can’t “afford” libraries. In Alberta our government is cutting funding to nutritional programs that were getting students breakfasts and lunches when they needed them. The money issue is real, scary and something must be done. But unless all this “influencer” money is making its way back to students, building librairies, funding nutrition programs is it really worth it?

That’s a wrap

Today marks the first Monday of summer holidays. We wrapped up the year last Thursday with our grad ceremony for the grade 12 students. This year has been filled with learning. I was able to try new things, go to the best PD of my teaching life, became a co-moderator of the #g2great chat and continued my own learning journey all while reading some great books. I wanted to take some time to look at the moments that shaped my learning and the year.

Twitter Adventures

For those who follow the blog or follow me on Twitter you know I am a fan of the platform. Not only for the learning but also the connecting with individuals that I otherwise would not be able to. Prior to NCTE in Houston Texas I put in Twitter how excited I was to be attending and many educators I respect greatly where so kind to say they would love to meet or say “HI”, Twitter has brought me to different professional resources this year and introduced me to amazing projects like the books suggested by #projectlit and the transformative experience of #31DaysIBPOC which I will talk about more in a minute. I recommend Twitter to all educators. When I first started twitter I was excited about all the cheerleading for teaching going on. Gradually I started naturally moving to more pedagogy focused twitter discussions. #g2great is my favourite. I have contributed regularly to the chat and formed some amazing professional connections and dear friendships. This year I was asked to be a co-moderator and accepted excited to bring a slightly different perspective to the group. I am excited for the opportunity. My twitter evolution has continued through discussions like #disrupttexts and the aforementioned #31DaysIBPOC. I have become more critical of the trends that are light on substance. I question the motivation of posts more because of the opportunity to grow I have been given by critically analyzing the information out there. I think Twitter is like a buffet. There is something for everyone and this year I feel I moved more to the main course section. We all love the dessert table but I am not becoming a better teacher eating ice cream all day.

#31DayIBPOC

Ok, so I was sitting on my Twitter at the end of April and noticed a Tweet about a Project that was organized by Dr.Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) and Tricia Ebarvia (@TriciaEbarvia) titled 31 Days IBPOC which can be found here. A daily post for the month of May by an educator who would identify as Indigenous-Black-Person of Colour. The first post by my Twitter friend Aeriale Johnson (@arcticisleteach) found here had me hooked. As a teacher from a rural area with little diversity I had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of educators from many different backgrounds. I eagerly anticipated the posts dropping each morning. It impacted my workouts because I had to stop and read and learn. These posts made me question my teaching in the best way. They helped me see that I have so much growing to do as I try to best help all my students. As a white teacher I thought I was doing a great job just bringing in books that celebrated or at the least provided diversity. One take away from my reading was that that is not nearly enough. So we started to examine representation more, I learned about the term ant-racism and I feel I left the experience a better teacher for all my students. Through the summer I plan to write a more in-depth series around my reflections and I have a larger post on my #31DaysIBPOC learning journey being published on my new MiddleWeb blog soon (will link here when it is published). I hope you will check out the amazing 31 educators that contributed to this project at #31DaysIBPOC So many amazing posts.

New Things to explore and build on

I am excited about the summer of learning I am about to embark on. I am diving in to Multi-genre work. I am excited to explore Book Clubs more next year. I am going to work on book clubs and integrating not only diverse books but discussions around why they are important and how we can grow as a classroom and community by looking at the world around us through text. I will lean on the experts in the field that help me to grow in the same ways I hope my students will start their learning by leaning on me. The work that needs to be done still is great. I love literacy. I want to continue to build as a teacher on the current practices that amplify my students voices and experiences but also lead them to experience new things, new thinking and build a desire as life long learners. Summer, for me, is about reading at the river and learning new things. So with that I am off to the river for the day, book in hand.

If you need a new book to check out Try The Benefits of Being and Octopus. If you are more looking for some quick thought provoking reads that you can take time to work through check out #31DaysIBPOC. Have a great summer.

Adventures in…

So for the last few weeks (8 give or take) we have been working on various projects in Room 157.

The Grade 7’s have been working on “My Story” a hodgepodge first attempt at a Multi-genre type assignment. They have written narratives, reflective pieces and poetry. They have reflected on the moments in their lives and what have helped to make them them. It has been an interesting journey for them and a great professional one for me. I have spent evenings and weekends reading through drafts, conferencing and doing it all over again. This may come as a shock but the work that is coming out is great. The work isn’t even the best part. The words of my students, the GOLDEN LINES in their poems about lessons learned from their grandparents or just sitting with them at watching the sunset. This project has been fun, to reflect on their books in the Autobiography of a Reader or the music that has influenced their life in the Life Playlists. To laugh with their mostly true memoirs or get those teacher chills as we watch some of the “Where I’m From” poetry pieces. There are people that think we do not have the time in Junior and Senior High to explore in the work of literacy. That we need to be working on essay form and reading classics. I think we should be doing those things as well but not at the expense of joyful literacy. Not at the expense of laughter, not at the expense of applause. We have been watching their poems this week and I thank Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher for the inspiration for these pieces. I have always chickened out when it comes to these big final products. I worry about them not turning out as good as I picture them in my mind, I worry about the kids feeling frustrated with the task. I started to chicken out this time, started to back away from them. Then my kids said, “We can do this Mr.Gilson” and the final products really have been fantastic.

My Grade 8’s wanted to try something a little different. They wanted to explore inquiry a bit. Dip our toes in and at least take the temperature of the unknown waters. We looked at Gravity Goldberg’s words in Teach Like Yourself when she speaks about getting students engaged. Is it by irritation (us pushing them) or agitation ( the desire to solve or address an issue)? My students picked a very diverse group of topics to explore from teen mental health to environmental threats like plastic pollution and world water consumption. One student wrote and recorded a podcast about the importance of proper Heifer feed, another about how teachers can be better for their students, spoiler alert it wasn’t tests and worksheets. We researched, gathered data and picked a method for presentation. The work has been incredible. Today we gathered to watch their TED talk-esque presentations or listen to podcasts while students shared their work. We also had a couple meat trays because you can’t have a meeting without meat trays they told me. The video did not do justice to the kids work and I was disappointed. The sound was bad we struggled to hear the first brave student that was willing to share. Then the best thing happened. “Can I just do my TED talk live?” So she got up and talked. Jello brain to demonstrate areas effected by mental illness and she shared. She talked about why this is important, how much it impacts students and how our education system does not do enough. She finished, the kids clapped and another volunteered. We tried different videos and podcast and some went well and others did not and we just rolled with it.

I think at times teachers are so worried about this perfect moment that they miss the beauty in the evolving ones. Today I watched student rise to meet a challenge. Over these last few weeks I work along side my students as we discovered ourselves as learners. Next year we step it up again. We build on the foundations that this years students set out. There is room for exploration in language arts. It needs to be changing, evolving and growing like the amazing Jason Reynolds says. I am so glad for all of our opportunities to learn and grow together this year. I have 6 more days with these awesome students. Finishing strong.

Here are a few pictures from today and a couple video poems to check out. First kick at it and I love them.

31 Days of Awesome

I have spent the last 31 mornings at the gym patiently waiting between sets for the new post for the #31DaysIBPOC blogging challenge organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia, two wonderful educators who I have followed on Twitter and learned from through hashtags like #Disrupttexts. To check out all the amazing post please be sure to check out the site collecting them. Follow those who have written them and allow yourselves to sit in the discomfort as I have.

I always thought I did a great job making all my students feel welcome. I always felt that I was doing my best to provide students with lessons worthy of them. We didn’t make bead work Wampum belts like I saw on pintrest because that is a sacred tradition and not an arts and craft lesson. I didn’t reenact slave trading or play “run away slave” tag like I had seen on other posts as a “great way” to get students engaged in the Underground Railroad. I was aware those things were disrespectful and racist and before reading through these amazing posts I thought I was doing a great job being an ally to those students of colour, to my coworkers who represented a marginalized group. I tried to correct students language and condemn “jokes” that further marginalized group even when no members of those groups were present. Before reading these posts, these 31 heartfelt reflections from brave educators I thought I was doing a great job because I wasn’t a racist. Imagine that as a measure, “I am great because I am not racist” That sounded ridiculous today as I type it and I don’t know if it would have sounded as ridiculous 31 days ago. What this amazing journey for a white educator in predominately white area has taught me is that not being a racist is not enough. We must actively fight racism or as I am “learning the lingo” to really make a difference we as white folks need to be actively anti-racist. I am still earning what that means. I am still working on how to better help my students but because of #31daysIBPOC I have places to start.

  1. I need to get to know all of my students better, especially my students from marginalized communities. This can be IBPOC students but also our students who might be LGTBQ, another group of students who find themselves marginalized in schools and in need of support.
  2. I need to actively turn time over to the IBPOC educators in meetings when they are present. As a white male educator I don’t tend to need someone to give me time to speak. I take it. I need to take it less. I need to let other voices be heard.
  3. I need to not ask IBPOC individuals or groups to do the work for me. Asking people to explain how I offended them or how something I might be doing is racist or how I should fix it takes the work off me and puts it on them. I need to hear what is being said and then do the work to fix it. Our actions should serve as a judge of our character not our words. Talk is cheap.

So I go from here. Inspired to be better, inspired to act on behalf of all my students. To bridge the gaps that inequity in education creates. To listen to the powerful voices of IBPOC educators like the brilliant minds of #31DaysIBPOC and others. As I plan for next school year I am already questioning the texts that I plan to use. The assignments and the discussions I plan to explore. If you have not read the posts please start. They are all great. Find them all here and be uplifted. I am so grateful to all the posters for this event and am hoping to continue to learn from them all.

Live in the moments

It is nearing in on the end of the year. Today was the three week mark with students and then exam week. I am not counting down I am actually doing everything I can to slow time. This year has gone too fast. I chose to take on a student teacher. I had big plans that sort of materialized but then never got off the ground. I missed time with some of my kids, I have regretted that, not the student teacher but the missed time. The missed time, the late start, it has been a hill to climb to rebuild the relationships and restart that literacy love.

We have tried so many things. Independent reading, book clubs, whole class novels, authentic writing tasks with mentor texts, essay responses, one-pagers, Notice and Note, Articles of the Week… you name it. This year has been a collection of moments that still come back into my mind. The small little spark that lead to Project Speak that is slowly wrapping up as students are finishing off essays and TED Talks and all sorts of ways to represent their choice topics, the conversations around The Danger of a Single story and the adventure we have taken in 7th grade to tell our stories. Literacy work is beautiful and always changing. Jason Reynolds just said today at the end of his short documentary found here that language is always changing, evolving and growing. Our teaching should be doing that as well. We should be looking at what is working at what is not. We need to be so aware in those moments to not lose ourselves in “what we like” but to listen to what is going on around us and to grow and evolve with our students. That is what brought me to more inquiry based work, to explore multi-genre work. To provide my students with a flexible way to show their learning.

These last few weeks as I listen to my students share about why they think we need to teach better, test less, examine what we are eating, discuss gun control , maintain heifer weights (yup you read that right), treat celebrities better, end child poverty, focus on mental health and target the problems of social media I have learned how different my students are. I have learned that their interests are unique and their concerns are real. Things have not always gone smoothly and some of us are VERY behind but sitting beside them I am learning how best to help them. I can encourage them. Those moments where I see that spark of curiosity, that fire that agitation can stir up I am hopeful that we are on the right track with 3 weeks left to finish strong.

My grade 7 class is writing, writing about books, their life, music and poems. We have laughed about my embarrassing stories pf lost loves in High School and drowning my sorrows while belting out Always by Bon Jovi (yeah that happened) and they have shared stories of their own. The most powerful moments have been going through their poetry as they exam Where they are from. Golden Lines about treat nights with family and parties with friends to sitting on the porch with Grandpa to watch the Sunset. As the year ends I am choosing to live in those moments, to savour them because they won’t last long. Next year we get new ones but these ones, these laughs, these lines they will only happen once. As the year ends we need to remember that and celebrate it.

Tomorrow I am at track. I might bring a journal and when not taking pictures maybe I will write my own poem to share but for today I will watch Jason Reynolds speak again, read a little bit and probably go back and watch the little 7th grader on Americas Got Talent that sang about her story and almost brought me to tears. It is the moments that are most important, let’s not rush and miss them.

A view from the top

So this week was full of ups and downs. I had started the week off knowing that I had an interview for a position of Vice Principal at my Junior/Senior High School. I was not telling anyone that I had the interview because I was certain that I would not get the job. As the day arrived people started coming up to wish me luck and tell me I would be great at the position and all these really nice things. The question I had was how people knew that I had the interview in the first place. Turns out someone saw a list and decide to share with everyone.

So now that my future failure was on everyones radar I decided to focus on the task. We all should hopefully have goals. Mine was to use this moment to share my vision. I have spent the last six years really focused on literacy work and trying to transform my teaching. As I reflected on what I would love to see in a school as part of a leadership team I thought about 3 key things.

  1. Pedagogy- How are we as a staff teaching? What message is it sending?
  2. Instructional Leadership- What am I doing to help with part one? How am I helping my fellow teachers to stretch?
  3. The PLAN- What is the big picture? 5 years-10 years where do I see the school and my role in it?

With these in mind I felt ready. I had my answers, I knew what I wanted to talk about and set out for destiny haha (fully knowing it was a one in a million shot)

The interview came and the questions reflected, for the most part the work I am doing. The interview ended with 3 questions.

What is your biggest failure?

What is your biggest success?

Why do you want to be VP?

I was not ready for these questions and as I reflected on the first one I remembered something that really hit an emotional nerve. A student I felt I had failed, a victim of bullying I could not save, despite my efforts and I broke down as I tried to talk about it. Recovery did not come in the next two questions as I continued to reflect on success being those connections with my students and the all important why…to protect them, to help them because I love my community and the school.

I left the interview, during it I quoted a piece from Gravity Goldbergs “Teach Like Yourself” in which she discusses her fears.

I was not afraid going high, I was afraid of falling.

Paraphrased as I don’t have the book sitting beside me 🙂

I realized leaving that interview that I felt the same way. I had no fear of the interview, I was ready, I love the school, community and students and I know that every day I do my best for them. I knew that I would continue to do that regardless of the position but I had been brave, I put it all out on the table and now was the time to wait.

I received a call later telling me that I was not the successful candidate. Two other teachers of whom I respect got the positions. I am happy for them, sad for me, but that is how it goes. It is tough reflecting and second guessing the why when you are not the successful candidate. Could I have answered something better, was my emotional reaction to a question that hit me “right in the feels” too much? Did I not present myself as the leader I feel I am? Did I buy into my hype too much?

These thoughts are going to be with me for a while. I don’t know if I will take this chance again. The fall is seemingly too far this week. The view from the top, all the possibilities were exciting. That vision for a plan may be on hold. But what I do know is the work continues, I have had amazing days in my classroom with my students because they are my focus.

Change happens. But constants remain true. We do the work for the kids, we climb new mountains and we learn not to be so afraid of the fall.

Total side note if you are not following the #31DaysIBPOC on Twitter do yourselves a favour and check it out. It is the lift we need right now.

Core Beliefs Revisited

Reflections bringing me back to the beginning

I was reading We Got This by Cornelius Minor today while my students were reading a little independently. I love the initial ideas presented on listening to our students to help guide our planning. It reminded me of the work of Gravity Goldberg in Teach Like Yourself and the idea of students wanting to work more for what agitates them than what irritates them. Being driven by a need to solve something versus being told what to solve.

As I reflected on these rather complimentary thoughts in two great books I wondered back to another idea from Teach Like Yourself, Core Beliefs. What drives our practice? How are we going to achieve our goals? Why are we doing the things we do? As we look at these questions the idea of authenticity starts to come through. I don’t imagine there are a lot of educators, who when ask the question, “Why do you teach?” they answer, “For summers off” Teachers are teachers because they see a higher purpose to the work. As I thought about my current Core Beliefs I landed on these three things.

  1. All Students have the right to be both heard and seen.
  2. Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from our students.
  3. Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive our instruction.

1. All Students have the right to be both seen and heard

I have come back around on this a lot lately. Of course all of our students should be seen and heard in our schools but too often many do not feel this is their reality. I have had many students express feelings of not being a part of the community because they don’t play sports or because they are not a certain religion. I have had many students share their interests and then not see them reflected in the instruction being offered. Last year as I was new to my current school I wanted to get to know all the students. I wanted to visit with them about their interests, their joys and their struggles. I learned about the anime artists, I learned about the parkour athletes who would defy gravity on their lunch breaks, I learned about the ukulele playing song writers and the fantasy novel writers. I also learned about the desire of all of my students to have a voice their own own learning and so I began a new piece in my learning journey.

2. Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from out students.

I have utilized project based learning for the last 6 years in some form or another in my classroom. I loved the idea of a driving question to promote curiosity. I loved the idea of different products and options to display learning, I loved the idea of a class approach around a unifying idea. When I was first introduced to PBL it came with the advertisement that it would engage ALL students and I feel like many still try to sell it that way. Talk to your students and you will get a different story. What really drives students is their interests, their lives and how their learning ties into it. This year I took to the time to really listen, to ask my students how I could best address them as learners with the content I had to cover based on the curriculum. Through those conversations Project Speak was born. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing and some times the waves of frustrations over this “new” way of doing things take some time to ride out but I do see students more engage, more willing to work through the choppy waters and less likely to give up when the rowing gets tough. My instruction is changing more as I listen to my students, as I tailor what I do to better meet them where they are. As we explore how the learning really impacts their life.

3. Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive instruction.

I circle back often to the power of unanswered questions. It has always pushed me to learn more. I can be described as impatient but when it comes to looking for answers we should all be impatient because impatience leads to action. Agitation, the need to solve a problem, leads to action. Students being provided with authentic real life learning tasks, that matter to them, leads to that agitation. When we allow the voices of our students, their questions, their wonderings to guide our instruction our students see we value their words, their feelings. When we allow ourselves as teachers to follow ours questions and wonderings, our practice improves. We search for the answers to better serve our students.

Closing

Teaching is not easy. There is no “one size fits all” Through listening to our students and providing them with authentic opportunities to explore what matters to them, framed with what we are responsible to teach we have the opportunity to tailor our instruction to the individual like never before. The question is are we willing to do the work?

A Post-A Quote-A Thought

So I am sitting at the gym this morning between sets and I check my twitter feed to see the daily post under the #31daysIBPOC hashtag. You can learn more about it here https://31daysibpoc.wordpress.com/about/ Each morning this week there have been amazing posts that have helped me learn and grow as an educator. I do not live in a diverse area, it is hard to know how to best serve the students of colour in our school without being that “white teacher”. I think to the story A Very Large Expanse of Sea and the scene where the lead character is upset because her teacher tries to include her by making her a the spokesperson for all Muslin people. I have worried that I have done that myself, unintentionally, but done it all the same. I wonder often what I can do to help my students, to be more aware of the privileges I have, that my students unknowingly wield and how I can prepare them for the diverse world that awaits them. This is all just background for where I found an amazing post and a quote that led to so many thoughts.

Chad Everett, an educator and blogger who posted todays #31daysIBPOC post which is here http://www.imaginelit.com/news/2019/5/3/dearmsrayford writes a letter to his first black teacher. As he reflected on this experience a quote quite literally made me gasp in the gym and has been playing on repeat all day.

How often do we try to make a student fit our unrealistic expectations and then blame them when they do not meet those expectations? How often do we set our students up for failure? All day I have looked at the work I am doing in the class, the work I want my students to be able to complete and I have wondered if I am overloading them.

I continue to build my capacity as a teacher to see all my students as the individuals they are. To provide them with as many different opportunities for success as I can. I am grateful for the educators that continue to share their stories and struggles. So that, while not my experience, I can still try to learn, to be an advocate for those who do not enjoy the same privileges I do. I am grateful for my 100 Watt bulbs in the classroom who have had patience with me as I work to find them the lamps that fit.

Learning is one of the best parts of teaching and I am grateful today for the lessons I am learning. Thank you Chad Everett and the teachers of #31daysIBPOC for sharing your stories.

The need to write

“When you are writing your stories, write for yourself”

-Katherine Applegate.

I have had a bit of a writers block this week. A lot going on and trying to narrow my focus into a single topic seemed impossible. Then two night ago we went to listen to Katherine Applegate speak. She spoke about hope, she spoke about the need to have empathy for others and to leave the world a better place than we are in right now. She also spoke about the importance of writing. Not writing for an audience like we hear about so much, but to write for ourselves, to write about what we like. To write OUR stories.

This has stuck with me. I have worked so hard the last few years to learn, to better my practice. I try to spread that enthusiasm among my students and colleagues. To me discovering something new (maybe only to me) is a thrill. The possibilities of new learning for my students, new ways to engage them and new ways to help support my coworkers is exciting.

I started #ProjectSpeak 4 weeks ago now. Most students are finishing up their opinion essays, one decided they would rather write from an informative stance. Some have started curating research links, videos and documents on their Padlets to serve as a form of text sets to help inform others on their topics, this week we will be looking at creating our own visuals to help present our topics. Some will create infographics, others might make collages or other multimedia pieces and then in a few short weeks we create Ted Talks or Podcasts to spread their message and share their voice. I am happy about how things are going and the kids seem to be engaged more than the traditional lessons in writing that we were doing. Again we are writing for ourselves, about what we care about.

My grade 7 class is working on personal narratives and so we are working on “My story” different elements in a first attempt at a multi genre project. We are reflecting in different ways, working with poetry and creating visual elements. Again our writing is focusing on us and the success continues to grow. Less time trying to convince kids to write and more time conferencing, more time laughing about their stories, their reflections. The real words of their life. Writing their stories.

Authenticity is the key to success in literacy. If we want students to enjoy reading we need to treat them like authentic readers. Give them time to read, give them choice in their reading and give them authentic opportunities to share. Spoiler alert that isn’t a book report including a title page and author biography (yup I can still remember my days in Junior High). If we want them to be writers we should respect them the same way. Less convoluted narratives based on some picture prompt and more choice. Less structure. There are times, of course, that required writing is necessary . But authenticity can still be the goal. Writing with authentic purpose is the key to working in the writing forms that students will encounter in their life outside the creative writing unit. Project proposals, grant applications, business letters, instructional essays, How-to guides. All of these options can be utilized in projects that are based on student interests and meet the objectives and outcomes presented in curriculum.

Choice should not be a buzz word. I imagine a school when choice is exactly that. A place where students can decide what their educational experience looks like. A student who loves reading and creative writing can choose that LA class, one that is more interested in technical writing to go along with their interests in PBL and related topics have that option to attend. Logistically I am not sure where we go. However, as I have continued to explore voice and choice this year, as I have shared ideas with coworkers on how we can tie literacy work into their Social Studies, and Science classes I have realized at times we are just exchanging one model for another and slapping a choice label on it.

I wonder what would happen if we really let our students write their own stories in our school. If choice really meant choice and it wasn’t a practice in simply providing a second option. As I begin breaking in to “We Got This” by Cornelius Minor the idea of truly listening to our students is already coming through.

Are we listening to their stories or are we writing them?

Ok to walk

I started out my teaching career at a run. I wanted to change the world, I wanted my students to change the world. I had just spent a few years learning about “best practice” (more on that later) and I was ready to roll. I grew frustrated with coworkers and school leaders who kept telling me to slow down, kept voicing concern that I was trying to push others too fast, that people “need to crawl before they walk and walk before they run” and that I should just accept that. I did not want to accept that so I powered on alone and felt like my students where doing fine at my pace with my teaching style. I still look back on my early conversations and feedback that I scoffed at that I was just going “too fast”. In retrospect I see the advice and when applied to the world of education I can’t help but agree. I was going too fast. I think about the gym, too fast causes injury, unexpected change causes injury. We do things slowly, new lifts, new weights, gradual change and yet at times we expect education to change over night.

This year I have approached things differently. Scaffolded more, taken time for the feedback that matters, from my students. We have made gradual changes that require small adjustments along the way. Change is measured not immediate.

In Education we see a lot of calls for change. It is either “we need to focus on inquiry and voice and choice because kids hate the current system” or “we need to go back to the basics because kids are not learning anything”. Over the years I have learned that the single most damaging thing to a classroom, to instruction or to a school culture is extremes. Very few people in the grand scheme lie in the extremes. I think the same can be said for our students. A small portion need the full freedom of inquiry or project based learning to fully realize their potential. Others do need that traditional structure. The bulk lie somewhere in-between. When we only teach to the edges, when we allow our own preferences to guide our practice, instead of looking at the individual needs of our students, we might be missing out on success for the majority of them.

Choice is a term thrown around a lot. As I reflect on projects I have done in the past, with all these different options I have given myself a pat on the back because “WOW look at all the choice I have offered” or in book clubs and the piles of titles I have available. So much choice. But what I am leaving out it seems at times is the traditional and the transition from set parameters to open exploration. I think about those videos of the Beagles that have been in a lab and never touched grass. When freed the handlers open up their kennels but at first the dogs won’t step out, they tentatively measure the risk. They slowly step out and still slowly explore these new surroundings.

I think teaching needs to be a bit more focused on that piece of the journey. Less on the dramatic change and more on the progress. I was talking to Julie (my awesome New Principal of her elementary wife) today who said to focus on positive steps forward rather than the time it is taking. It was a moment to reflect, going too fast, trying to run before we walk.

Not all of our students are ready for dramatic changes to how things are taught. If we power through and drag them along the way we are doing the opposite of our intentions.

Some are not ready to run. It is ok to walk. Best practices are always developed from learning and building on previous “best practices” Innovation takes time to accomplish but also time to get use to. Balance is key and respecting the journey of all learners should be our focus.