3 Questions When Lesson Planning

by CarbonNYC used under Creative Commons Lic.

While planning with literacy coach Elizabeth Lacy we got to talking about the development of teachers across time. She supports both new and experienced teachers and we noticed that there is often a shift from novice teachers who plan with themselves in mind (Did I follow the template my school has designed? Do I have an objective? Do I have all of my materials together? Do I even know what I’m going to say?!?) to more experienced teachers shifting to plan with students in mind (Will they be engaged? Does this develop their skills more?).

To this end we thought about questions teachers can ask themselves while planning lessons that aides in that transition from planning for myself to really planning for students. We came to these three questions (there are probably others, or better ways to word these. I’d love to hear what questions you have on your own personal “am I meetings their needs” list).

1. Will this lesson lead to a large volume of work that is rigorous for the students?

Sometimes lessons are well articulated, involve multiple demonstrations and steps, sometimes even a lot of materials… but then fall a bit flat when students return to their independent practice only to spend 2 minutes on the work of the lesson and say “I’m done.” When planning ask yourself will this lesson lead to a lot of practice? Shift talking about one way to write a lead to instead suggesting ways of trying out multiple experiments.

Within that, will this lesson be rigorous for the students in front of you? Meaning, does it push their skills appropriately, not so easy that they zip through the work quickly and not so hard that they get very little done from misunderstanding.

2. Is this a strategy that students can come back to/that will live beyond today?

This next one feels especially important. Sometimes lessons seem to fit only the book we are teaching from or the piece of writing we are demonstrating. Ask instead if the lesson you are teaching is something students will be able to use over and over again beyond this moment. Our shared aim as educators is to develop independent thinkers, writers, readers, scientists, mathematicians, artists… Reexamine your lesson and revise so that it feels larger than just today. For instance, instead of having students fill out a graphic organize that compares only these two particular books (with prompts directed to those books), teach students ways of brainstorming comparisons that they could apply to any comparative essay or reading.

3. How does this lesson connect to the end goal/standards/essential questions of the unit?

Lastly, this question often can seem like the throw-away at the end of lesson planning: “Okay, lesson planning done. Oh wait, I forgot to mention the standards… mmmmm, eenie, meenie…” Instead, teachers that plan with students in mind do not just find a standard that matches their lesson just out of compliance, instead they see standards as connected to end products or end learning. Consider how this lesson is moving students towards a larger understanding, be critical and revise as needed.

We’re looking forward to using these planning questions for ourselves and with teachers in the future. What are your own questions that support you in planning with students in mind?

Leave a comment or connect with me on twitter.

 

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Christopher Lehman blog sticker-01Follow Chris on Twitter and his Blog. Learn how to have him work with your school or organization.

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Blog-a-thon Post 13: #CloseReading is not THAT Important

Welcome to the last week of our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading! Each week educators joined in with comments and links to their own posts, you can visit the Contributors page for a record of the highlights of this inspiring experience.  We are still collecting links throughout this final week. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

Also, we look forward to working with many of you in person! My Brookfield, WI workshop “Fall in Love with Close Reading” on December 6 has sold out, however there are still seats available in Amherst, NY on December 9 when Kate and I will be presenting together! Registration can be found here.

close reading button

Close Reading is Not the Answer…

This Thursday our new book, Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Lifeis officially released. So Kate and I thought it important to start off this final week of our blog-a-thon letting you know that we think close reading is actually not that important… …at least not in the way some are describing it to be.

  • We disagree that close reading is a magic equalizer. We find little evidence that students at a “wide range of reading levels” can read and analyze “demanding text” simply because they are doing so while close reading. Yes, close reading is one way to dig further into texts, but one cannot analyze texts independently that they cannot actually read on their own. Sure, we can do some close teaching, but the goal should be students learn to independently apply close reading skills. (link to Publisher’s Criteria, page 4)
  • We do not believe that text dependent questions are teaching. These types of questions may make for good assessment, and we certainly use text-dependent questions at times in our demonstration lessons–after all, we all want students who talk and think through the text. However, lessons built almost entirely around text-dependent questions, without explicit demonstration, do little to pass skills to our students. Especially the students who need it most. Teaching through osmosis is built on chance, not purpose. (link to EngageNY module by Student Achievement Partners)
  • We do not believe that curriculum should be built solely around close reading of complex texts. The diversity of our learners’ interests, needs, and strengths is too great to be put all into one practice. Without time for independent practice, for example, there is little opportunity for the practice, data collection and responsive instruction needed to support the growth of readers. (link to EngageNY module by Expeditionary Learning)

…You are the Answer

We think close reading IS important. We think it is as important as any other piece of student-centered, responsive, soul-filling, reading instruction.

Mary Ann Colbert, a master of primary reading instruction and former colleague, once said something that has stuck with me for years: “it’s important that we not only choose our teaching points to match our students, but that we also choose our methods carefully. It’s not just what we teach that makes a difference to kids, its how we choose to teach it.”

I think this idea is at the core of what Kate and I believe about close reading:

  • It is a method, a set of skills, for digging deeper into texts, into media, and into our daily lives.
  • It is a method, a set of skills, that readers can learn to choose (or not choose) to match their purpose–just as a baker will choose a gentle hand whisk over a powerful electronic mixer at times.
  • It is a method, a set of skills, that a teacher can choose (or not choose) to employ to match the needs and strengths of their students.
by qthomasbower used under Creative Commons lic

As Lucy Calkins wrote in The Art of Teaching Writing and echoed in The Art of Teaching Reading:

If  our teaching is to be an art, we must draw from all we know, feel, and believe in order to create something beautiful. To teacher well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential. It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, and design of those ideas.

We believe close reading is not the sole answer to every need of your students.  Instead, we believe your knowledge of all the multi-facets of expert reading instruction, used in response to your students, is what matters.

You–educator, leader, literacy coach, administrator, library/media specialist, parent–are the answer. You are the answer when you continue to grow your kit of tools, when you continue to connect and dream with other educators, when you make decisions because your students’ new horizons.

Beyond Close Reading

As I’m finishing this post I am leafing through the pages of the “References” section in our book. The references are compiled at the end of writing, during production, just as the book is getting ready for it’s final proofread and off to the presses. They appear at the physical end of the book as a list of citations.

Rereading them, now, I am reminded that these texts, these voices, were very much the beginning.  Our thinking grew from these educators and authors, their ideas about teaching, learning, and life influenced our own.

…Richard Allington, Katherine Applegate, Nancie Atwell, Dorthothy Barnhouse, Kylene Beers, Katherine and Randy Bomer, Lucy Calkins and the Reading and Writing Project, Eric Carle, Sharon Draper, Doug Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Stephanie Harvey, John Hattie, Karin Hess, James Howe, Patricia Kain, Ellin Keene, Penny Kittle, Lois Lowry, Donalyn Miller, Tom Newkirk, R.J. Palacio, P. David Pearson, Katie Wood Ray, Louise Rosenblatt, Donna Santman, Jen Serravallo, Jon Steinbeck, Alfred Tatum, Cris Tovani, Lev Vygotsky… I’ve condensed the list here, there are so many others in between and beyond these names. So, many others who are also not directly cited in those final pages.

We hope that when and if you get to those final pages, when you hit that “References” section, that you not turn close the cover too quickly. Instead, let the end become your next beginning.

Continue to study and grow as you always have. Your students need you. We need you.

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Your Turn

Which educators, authors, artists, people, have influenced your thinking about teaching, learning and life?  When do you find close reading to be necessary and supportive in your instruction and when do you know to bring in another method or skill?  This blog-a-thon is about the sharing ideas, we invite you to read the Contributor Page for more posts and information out how to add your own link.

Look for the final official post of this series on Thursday!

Blog-a-thon Post 3: #CloseReading is A Habit, And Habits Stink

Welcome to the third post in our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading. We invite YOU to join in! Find more on how-to here. Several selected posts have already been linked to on the Contributors page and we are looking forward to your addition. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

close reading button

Being Cautious and Reflective

Last week in our blog-a-thon many contributors wrote thoughtfully about being careful:

Ultimately, what these points are suggesting is that we must be purposeful in our instructional decisions, deciding what to keep out as much as what to keep in.  It also raises the question: how?

As our blog-a-thon rolls on we will think with you about answers to that very question: how can we teach students these skills while still holding onto what matters?

Habits Are The Most Awesome [Horrible] Things

Close reading is a habit, just like any other. I have written about our students habits before and when I do I am generally reminded that habits are horrible.

Just think of the things you are trying to begin doing or stop doing. I, for one, was on a massive exercise kick for months. I had a trainer, was eating right, even went running regularly. Running of all things! Me. Running. I looked better than normal, felt great. Then about five months ago I just stopped altogether. “From this day forward I shall eat pasta and cake,” I declared, “and not exercise for one second.” Why? You and I know there is no good reason why. Other than good habits take work, it’s  hard to keep up, I got so busy, where do I find the time, and apparently I am a big whiney baby.

So what does help us learn and hold onto new habits?

Structures Can Lead to Habits

While my recent fitness plan has been in the pits, I am surprisingly certain that if I went to a sports club tomorrow I would still know the correct squat stance and because I do I could apply it to doing other things I remember like box jumps, kettlebells, even tire flips. I may need a few visits to get back into the full swing, but those exercises are ingrained habits I can return to when needed.

by sanchom Used under Creative Commons lic

How? Because I learned the “squat” structure as a routine and then learned how to apply it in a variety of ways. My trainer broke down each step, helped me understand the purpose behind those steps, and offered a lot of practice time and coaching to get good at them.

In Kristi Mraz’s contributor post last week (building off of thinking started by Fran McVeigh), she shared her hunch that in primary grades an “emergent close reading” may really be about teaching “stances” to students. As in, how you act while reading something to really adore the illustrations, versus how you act while reading something to be surprised by the words, versus how you act while reading something that you can’t wait to laugh through.  We couldn’t agree more.

One Structure: Finding Patterns

In our new book, Kate and I describe structures we, and teachers we have studied with, have found useful for teaching the habit of close reading.  Just as in the gym I learned a few routines I can use in a variety of combinations, so too do we want students to learn a handful of approaches for looking closely at texts (or media or life) and then allow them to use these interchangeably.

One of these routines we explore is looking for patterns in an author’s choices. In our research we found that too often programs or guides created in the name of close reading often require teachers to ask questions of disjointed pieces of text. “Why did the author use the word, ‘snowstorm’ in paragraph three?” This sort of question can lead to a lot of interesting thinking, but also a lot of blind-inferring: Because she doesn’t like rain? Because she wanted a word that started with an ‘s’? Because she prefers words with nine letters?

If instead you look across a section you have reread, and look for patterns in the choices the author has made, your thinking becomes both more specific and more broadly interpretive.  More specific because you are closer to the text–perhaps in this fictitious story you see the author uses many storm related words indirectly, “overcast eyes,” “her finger tips flowed with electricity,” “a hurricane brewed in her stomach,”–and this closeness leads you to have broader interpretations: Maybe because the author is helping us see that the fears this character had inside are really fears the whole world outside shares.

by julia.chapple Used under Creative Commons Lic

In Chapter Five of What Readers Really Do, Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton explore the role of patterns as helping readers move from basic comprehension to deeper understandings. We found ourselves returning to their thinking again and again. In the classrooms we researched, we found that an essential ingredient, a routine or stance, in finding patterns is having the belief that though the details you collect may not seem to fit together at first, with time and reflection you are often surprised by what you find.  In Chapter Three (see page 56) Dorothy and Vicki point out, “our ability to tolerate confusion and be comfortable with postponing clarity is connected to our sense that not knowing is actually very useful. If we knew everything right from the start, there would be no point in reading on.”

To develop a habit, like close reading or going to the gym, we need to learn the routines, steps, or stances of that habit. This is what we keep in mind as we plan instruction to support readers.

Your Turn

As our 7-week blog-a-thon continues we will share more of our current thinking about the hands-on teaching and learning of close reading. Share your thoughts with the community as well: We spoke about the routine of finding patterns, what others routines or stances do you find support close reading? What else is involved in helping a habit stick that you bring to your classroom? Also consider referencing or responding to Contributor Posts.

To date, there have been more than 7,000 views, comments, or posts in our blog-a-thon. So share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together! To join: add the #closereading button to your post and paste the URL in the comments below.

Look for Kate’s blog-a-thon Post 4  on Thursday!

#IRA2013 and not-horrible Close Reading

I’m looking forward to attending the International Reading Association Annual Convention this weekend in San Antonio!  Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or blue about the pressures bearing down on our great profession, I find gatherings like these to be uplifting, energizing, and empowering.  It is always a gift to be amongst thoughtful and engaged minds pouring their time and hearts into making the world better for our students.

I plan to tweet my heart out and look forward to following the action of the convention using #ira2013.

Planning and Cloning

I always go into these things with big plans and an overbooked schedule.  Here are a few sessions I want to attend (and full well know most of these all take place at the same time (if anyone has a cloning device please send ASAP):

I miss amazing pre-institutes on Friday (no direct flight #boo! Chicago airport, we will be seeing a lot of each other.)

Saturday (an incomplete list that is nevertheless impossible to get to and yet I will continue to pretend I can get to all of them and more)

  • 10:30AM The IRA Literacy Research Panel: Big Ideas, Literacy Needs, and National Priorities – Chaired by P. David Person
  • 11AM Scaffolding Students’ Independence and Teachers’ Professional Development through Authentic Reading Communities – Teri Lesesne, Donalyn Miller, Terry Thompson
  • 1PM Reading and Writing WORDshop: Academic Vocabulary and Word Choice – Jeff Anderson and Charles Fuhken
  • 2:30 RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE: Meeting the Challenges of the Changing Demographics: Assessment and Instruction That Makes a Positive Difference in ELs’ Success
  • 2:30 – Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Fountas!  As live really real people talking to me… well and everyone else packed into the room!

(3 PM. Ugh. Too much to see!)

  • 3PM Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing–Recovered Archival Footage of a Turning Point in Literacy Education – Penny Kittle and Thomas Newkirk
  • 3PM Comprehension at the Core: Enhancing Elementary Literacy Instruction with Technology – Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Kati Muhtaris, Kristin Ziemke
  • 3PM Secondary Reading: Teaching the Reading and Composing of Texts to Meet and Exceed the CCSS – Kelly Gallagher, Julie Meltzer, Jeffrey Wilhelm
  • 4:45 – How Do I Fit It All In? The Common Core and Your Literacy Block: Learn a Practical Strategy for Considering the “Big Picture” of Instruction, Considering Balance and the C0mmon Core State Standards – Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris
  • 4:45 – Pages, Pixels, and Promise: Teaching Real Readers With Digital Tools – Sara Kajder

Presenting on Sunday – Close Reading

Sunday at 11AM Kate Roberts (@teachkate) and I will be talking Close Reading (not in the horrible sense, but in the engaging, life affirming, Justin Biebering, teaching towards independence sense) in Lone Star Ballroom A.  Our session “Not Just the Books They Read, But Lives They Lead: Rethink Close Reading as More Than Just Analyzing Words and See it as a Student’s Tool For Leading a More Engaged Life” stems from the research and classroom practice we have been doing while writing our forthcoming Heinemann publication on this topic.

Instead of seeing close reading as a long list of text-dependent, teacher-dependent questions, we find that if you plan with students at the center of your instruction they can take on these challenging skills with power.

Here’s to a great weekend of learning and connecting!

Why We’re Opting Out of Testing

Our oldest is in third grade in New York. This means Littlest Pet Shop and Shopkins have flooded her bedroom; fractions and division have overtaken number lines and addition; and she is growing faster than her pants can keep up. It is joyful (and for this dad, yes a little bitter-sweet) to watch her grow.

There is one thing in New York State that feels decidedly not third grade, however. Decidedly disrespectful of the eight and nine year olds’ developing minds and of the teachers who are guiding them through another year of transition in their mental, emotional, and social growth.

Third grade, like in many parts of the country, is the start of statewide standardized testing, the kind ushered in under NCBL more than a decade ago. The kind that, left unchallenged, will now be a part of her school year, every year, for the remainder of her schooling.

The kind that takes up well more than the smallish sounding “2% cap” the US Department of Education called for last year. Any teacher in a testing grade knows the additional weeks and months spent on test prep lessons, test prep books, practice tests “for stamina,” “Saturday Academy” for test prep for “struggling” test takers, and after school hours. Some schools make all of March a “Test Sophistication Unit.” Others find themselves in test prep on and off all year. I have even see textbooks and programs that added “bubble in the option” test prep questions starting as early as kindergarten.

This testing is the kind that since Race To The Top has been a primary factor in determining a teacher’s worth. Several years ago NYS released this cheerful, pro-Value Added “Growth Scores,” animated video to explain the then-new system and how it “allows every teacher to have a chance to demonstrate effectiveness.”

Of course, effective teachers already know that you do not “demonstrate effectiveness” with standardized testing. Instead, you find it by witnessing the developing relationships, deep thinking, joyful energy, risk-taking, and love of learning we support in our students.

Do Not Lose Hope: Act

There is a glimmer of hope and one we must grab in this moment. In a dramatic turn in policy, this past December the governing education body of New York State, our “Regents,” voted to temporarily remove test scores from teacher’s evaluations (at least through 2018-19). It was the first significant policy shift against testing or its reach.

Where did this shift come from?

Many sources, including The New York Times, draw the line to one major factor: Parents Opting Out. 2015 was the largest, to date, show of students refusing to sit for the test (this graphic from NYT shows the dramatic explosion across just three short years, 2013-2015).

In the months that followed dramatic actions took place at the highest levels:

Once again: where did these dramatic shifts come from? Voices. Voices standing up for children and the teachers who dedicate their lives to raising them.

So, my family has decided to join that chorus. For this first time we are able, we are joining the Opt Out movement and refusing to have our child take the NYS tests.

The word no made from jigsaw puzzle pieces
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan (under Creative Commons)

How to “Opt Out” of Testing

While not a tough decision for us, it was still one that made us feel nervous. How do we do it? How will the school react? Will they understand our reasoning? Luckily, there are communities of active parents across the country to help.

For example, in New York we turned to the NYS Allies for Public Education. Their website, www.nysape.org, contains resources, sample letters, and explanations of how to refuse the test and what to do if you face trouble doing so. I also spoke to other educators, parents, and educators-who-are-parents, for advice. Principals, teachers, and non-educator parents shared the steps they took. Here is what we did:

Steps to Take

  • Set a meeting with your child’s principal. It’s often nice to talk in person about your reasoning and it gives him or her a chance to respond. Be sure to share the ways your decision is intended to support educators and children. We also found it helpful to point out how the school already, without standardized testing, makes us aware of our child’s progress. We feel very clear on both of our kids’ growth because of the many formative assessments teachers give and their continued contact with us.
  • Follow-up with a formal letter detailing your request. This letter not only helps you be clear with your wishes, but in politically-charged districts gives the administrator and teachers “cover.” They can refer back to it if questioned.
  • Check-in shortly before testing. We will follow-up once again a few days before the tests begin and send our child to school with plenty of books to read and activities to do during the hours of testing.
  • Lastly, I would add: be vocal. The movement grows only by the voices of those involved.

 

The conversation with our child’s principal was terrific. She was open and curious about our perspective, gave us time to discuss our reasoning, she raised NYC Department of Education concerns about a child not testing, and then described for us the accommodations already in place to meet what NYC Department of Education, under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, stipulated in the Parent’s Testing Guide: “If a student is in school and refuses to take a State test, the school will make every effort to arrange for another instructional activity, such as reading or completing another project or assignment.

We left feeling like we were respected and heard, whether she agreed or not, and that we had a partner in raising our children in her and our school community.

Hope

In the years since NCLB, and then more dramatically since Race To The Top, our profession has been under fire and the shape of our children’s education dramatically challenged. Few people would question these initiatives if they delivered what they once promised. However, we have years of testing data without real solutions. Like getting a cholesterol check year after year that shows your levels are dangerously high, and then not investing in exercise and a better diet.

I hope that with further action, and more families committing to end harmful testing practices, we can further reduce the effects of testing on our children and colleagues.

Without the fear of evaluations built on the backs of a single test, schools and teachers can feel free to continue to open (or reopen) their curriculum and school day to arts, making, hands-on science, increased time for physical education, curiosity-driven math, and the kinds of reading and writing practices we know change students lives and skills but in many districts (including much of NYC) are pushed aside for textbooks that had promised “test-alignment.”

I also hope you will join me. Join this movement in progress if you have not yet or continue raising your voice if you have. Voices matter. The pioneers that came before us gave my family the strength and faith to take up this cause and action ourselves.

If you live outside of New York and have other resources to share, please feel free to add them in the comments section, or share your stories as a parent and/or teacher.

Thanks for all you do for children, for colleagues, and for this great profession! Together we build the future.

 

About My Whiteness

I am white.

So are the vast majority of public school educators across the United States.  The National Center for Education Statistics puts us at over 80% of the public school teaching force. While the percentage of projected white public school students has dropped below 50% for the first time, ever.

I grew up in suburban Wisconsin, attended school K-12 with majority white students. I had then and have now diversity within my friends and family, but the majority of my upbringing has been within a suburban white experience.

I began my teaching career in New York City, in a Middle School in the Bronx. One day, during my second year, a name-calling battle broke out amongst my seventh graders. It was more play than fighting.

A few kids starting saying back and forth, “You’re white!”

“No, you’re white!”

“No, you’re white!”

To which I called them all back with an assertive laugh, “Hey, hey, hey. No. Definitely, no. The only white person in this room is me.”

To which, my students almost collectively said, “Wait…. you’re white?”

What seems dangerous is not our hearts. I know a lot of white educators who care a whole damn lot.

What seems dangerous is not our convictions. I know a lot of white educators who work hard to make the world better for everyone.

What seems dangerous is how much we are not aware of. How poorly we listen. How little we see. Even when we think we see the most.

I was reminded of my whiteness over this past month. In the kind of world-shaking way that I have the luxury to not feel if I don’t want to. But I want to. So, I am writing this to you but also as a mile-marker for myself.

The first was shortly after the attacks in Paris.

In a self-righteous way, I noticed the media outcry over the events in Paris compared to the near silence over suicide bombings in Beirut. There was wall to wall coverage of the shaken city in France, but almost none of one father’s act of heroism that likely saved hundreds more in the Middle East.

I was easy for me, at home, on Twitter, to think myself the better person.

Look at this media. They are unaware (or probably not) of their privilege.

But then a brunch happened.

During an impromptu brunch with two of my favorite people, Kristin Ziemke and Sara Ahmed, the topic of Paris came up. Which moved to talk about New York and the United States.

I’ve shared this with Sara’s permission.

Sara spoke of her parents. She said she calls them in situations like this. Here mom and dad are largely loved in their suburban midwest community. A piece of this love is for how outspoken they are about their faith and about all people coming together. They visit churches and speak about being Muslim. They began a mosque with community support. They are great neighbors and many people’s friends.

Sara explained that despite all of this, she worries.

She calls when times like these arise to tell them that she is afraid for them and to ask them to be more vigilant.

In an effort to provide some comfort, one, and in a greater effort to believe the world is better than we fear, I responded to her vulnerability with:

“But you know. After September 11th there was so much hatred against Muslims. But it seems to me, in my limited view, that this time things are different. I’m reading—on Twitter and online and hearing the news and people I talk with—that many are trying to actively separate terrorism from a religion or group. It seems better out here this time. Like things have thankfully evolved.”

She sat for a moment then told Kristin and I the story of the Muslim cab driver in New York who couldn’t pick up passengers for hours after the event in Paris and how his story went viral.

I fumbled through an apology at the time. Blamed my ignorance. Shared my, “I’m so sorry”s. Then, the three of us moved into some other silly, superfluous, unrelated conversation likely about designer rice pudding in New York. (Yes, that is a thing).

That evening I went back to Twitter.

With the cab driver, her family, and Sara’s own experience, in mind, I saw things I had actively missed before.

I stopped looking at who I have chosen to follow and started to look at other conversations and hashtags I was not a part of. Not a part of because my privilege allowed me to decide to ignore them.

The hate was clear. And it was piling on fast. From every day people, to broadcasters, governors, and presidential hopefuls.

I was shaken by my white blindness.

Despite my good heart and good intentions. I was foolish. I was naïve. I was dangerously unaware.

I texted the start of an apology. We began a long conversation that still continues on.

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While I was shaken by my white blindness. I am even more shaken that I can still go blind if I choose to.

Or, perhaps, more accurately, that I am blind. I will never know what it means to be Muslim in a world that questions your motives based on your faith.

I am blind and can continue to be so.

Which scares me more, because there are so many of us that can do the same.

 

Then, Chicago was next. And forgotten Minneapolis.

Release of dash cam video showing an officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, shortly before the announcement of that officer’s indictment—one year after the killing—led to mass protests in Chicago.

As part of my life is lived on social media, I took to the hashtag. Another black, young man whose upbringing, birthdays, laughter, struggles, regrets, challenges, hopes, and stories ended up as a hashtag of his name, after his murder:

#LaquanMcDonald

 

Amidst the activity on Twitter, the video, the outrage, the shots of protests, the outcry;

amidst all of this was another now-too-familiar reality.

What the nation is talking about and what White Educators are talking about.

While evidence of our national legacy of the fear of black, young males reared up in social action on the streets of Chicago and the streets of social media, many of the well-meaning, good hearted educators I follow chatted about technology, books, and Thanksgiving.

Tamara Russell and Jessica Lifshitz drew my attention:

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I flipped off of the hashtag and onto the open feed. I saw what they saw.

What struck me more is that the edtech, turkey, and books, tweets were not from a mass of people I don’t know. Instead, faces of white educators I have eaten with and laughed with and talked about change with.

I was taken back to my conversation over brunch. The danger of not being aware. Not listening.

While some of us may have been opting out of the #LaquanMcDonald conversation. I suspect a great many more were not aware that the conversation was even going on.

Part of the gift of social media, and the current media landscape in general, is that we can hear news that matters to us. This is also the danger. If our “Following” list is limited to only those voices that we most identify with, we run the risk of only hearing what we think we want to hear.

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Again, I found myself somewhat self-righteous. I had not missed this story. I also found myself more understanding. I began to invite others to the unfolding story directly and I retweeted throughout the night.

I felt I had done some small part. I knew there was a limit to what I was able to do, but I felt that I had been a better person that night.

Then, I was reminded.

Over the weekend, prior, thousands of educators spent days in Minneapolis for the NCTE Annual Convention. I was one of them. A miraculous and inspiring weekend of learning and connection. Hours filled with conversations, sessions, and roundtables about issues and ideas in education and the shared belief that we all can do better.

I left exhausted but filled.

It was only later that I learned that there was other news in that city, the one we were in. It took me returning a thousand miles back home to find out that #BlackLivesMatter protests were organized around the death of an unarmed black, young man. Protests and a story not far from the Convention Center.

A story I knew nothing about. I was caught again in my whiteness.

Earlier this week, after my return, those protests that led to white gun fire on the crowd.

Kate Roberts said it best:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 12.07.33 PM.png

What seems dangerous is how much we are not aware of. How poorly we listen. How little we see. Not because we choose to not listen. Because we do not have to.

Then, Chicago again and Colorado Springs. And a book.

Friday, I took my kids out for breakfast in our neighborhood. We sat in a small diner, with amazing pancakes, under a television screen.

There the story of Tyshawn Lee was on full volume.

That evening, Colorado Springs filled the news.

Each hour I found myself wrapped farther into the layers of contradiction: Officers who solve cases and save lives. Those who take them. Violence between gang members. Gang members living in social constructs the majority white culture have promulgated through red-lining and resource starvation. Politicians who cover-up. Politicians who bring perspective. Activists who march. “Terrorist.” “Thug.” “Lone Wolf.”

It only fills me with a deep sadness.

And what feels worse about this sadness is that may largely be self-indulgent.

I am aware that I do not have to feel this way. None of this has to matter to me. I can turn off the news and watch the Twitter stream I want to.

My whiteness means I do not need to fear in these same ways.

 

I have felt at times like an outsider. Moving into my first neighborhood in the Bronx. My travels and work in the Middle East and Asia.

I have been called names because of my perceived race and status.

But I also have come to learn the outsider feeling was often more about my fears than those of others. And, ultimately, I also could easily shut the world out with my privilege.

 *    *    *

I have started and stopped versions of this post too many times to count. I began back after that brunch in New York. Then a new version again after the first night of protests in Chicago. Then again I stopped as these past days’ events unfolded.

Each time I couldn’t find the right words because I didn’t know which words were there.

So, I did what I always do when I try to make sense of a world that has no sense. I read.

Many news accounts. A lot of Twitter. And Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

I am not searching for answers. No source offers that. And Coates’ memoir even more so is unapologetic in its honesty.

Instead, I find myself consuming a diet of reminders and challenges because I want to be challenged. I want to wake up from my simple sleep.

My well-meaning heart ache, but my self-indulgent tears feel thankful for the stories shared and my ability to read them.

This passage, from the memoir, struck a chord:

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 9.17.15 AM.png

I have nodded my head at police cameras. I have also allowed them to absolve my role in the need for them.

I needed to be challenged, otherwise I may not know how.

 

We are dangerous.

These moments, in such a short span, remind me of the danger we hold as white educators.

One that our hearts and hopes and college pennants on the walls and hugs and after school heart-to-hearts cannot solve, alone.

We have the danger of not hearing. Not listening.

We have the danger of trying to tell other people’s stories for them.

We have the danger of assumption.

We have the danger, the greatest danger, of spilling our experience and blinders onto the children we serve.

Whether we teach in a classroom ripe with diversity or one that is unfortunately, characteristically, largely monocultural, we educate not just with our lessons, but with our conversations and our awareness.

There is no Unit of Study on listening in this way.

 

My largely white schooling and upbringing had glimmers of looking beyond ourselves. I can’t recall them exactly, though.

Maybe they were somewhere in our 3rd grade “Save the Rainforest” paper-cut mural. Maybe they were somewhere in the church mission trip to repair houses in the West Virginia Appalachians. Maybe there are others, there must have been. However, they are not all vivid.

Without those moments, however small, of my mostly white teachers looking beyond our whiteness, I would not be as socially minded and (hopefully, increasingly) willing to fail, but learn, in conversations about race.

From these small steps, I think the majority of my seeking stories beyond my own came post high school, by luck of a liberal University and eventually moving to New York.

The world won’t grow on luck, however.

Listen more.

Last year, when Ferguson, MO was burning, I approached my friend and colleague Dana Stachowiak for advice.

I had big dreams of what The Educator Collaborative could and should do. We should have a virtual Town Hall. We should run a blog series. We should, we should, we should.

Dana is Assistant Professor of Diversity/Multicultural Education Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and I know I can count on her learned and blunt advice.

She told me to stop. And listen.

To paraphrase, her advice was something like: “You’re intentions are good, but this is not your experience or your story to tell. If you insert yourself you run the risk of running over the voices of people directly involved, because of your privilege and status. Instead, amplify the voices of others. Help their stories be heard.”

I wish I could say I took her advice clearly and with a full heart. I did not.

I agreed on the part about amplifying, that I had not thought enough about.

I did, though, argue that I should say something, that is was almost my duty to: “But, I’m part of the problem. Not enough white educators are talking. I have to say something.”

She returned with advice then, that she echoed did just a few days ago:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 12.33.10 PM.png

I now see this as a critical part of my diet as a white educator.

I have not figured out the best ways to do this, and I keep failing along the way, but I know it is as much my professional development as any.

I am sadly aware that cannot change the world—as much as I want to—because I am a part of a white world that through purpose or accident or both keeps the value of non-white stories suppressed.

We Need Diverse Books. We Need Diverse Teachers. We Need Diverse Politicians. We Need Diverse Schools.

Or perhaps another way to think about this, is that I cannot change the world alone. And we, white educators, certainly cannot do it alone.

I know I need to wrestle with more experiences and stories that help me see beyond my whiteness. More. Many. Often.

The gift of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in the face of tragedies, is that these stories are in our faces.

As have been the stories of gay rights activists, Muslim activists, and others I know I have yet to connect with.

The stories exist. They always have. I just need to make the point the connect with them.

We are dangerous as white educators because we teach children and young adults.

We can accidentally allow our non-white students to be overlooked in ways we do not intend, but allow to happen; we can allow our white students to be as unaware as we are.

This is my story.

My mile-marker on my journey.

My gratitude for the Sara’s, Tamara’s and Jessica’s, #BlackLivesMatter’s, Kate’s, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s and countless others.

My reminder that I have a lot of work to do.

My mission that the students and teachers I serve cannot wait.

I am white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Hosting #Engchat Tonight! Let’s talk Family Involvement

I am looking forward to guest-hosting tonight’s #engchat! It is at 7pm EST.  Simply follow the hashtag “#engchat” and include it within your tweets in order to participate.

I am excited to facilitate the conversation not only because I love this community that my friend and fellow The Educator Collaborative member, Meenoo Rami, founded, but because we will be chatting about a topic that is critical to the growth of our students and our schools.

Tonight’s chat is titled:

Family Involvement: Go Beyond Lip Service & Build a Strong School Community

I have become so interested in this topic for two reasons:

One, my own children are in school.

When my daughter began Pre-K over three years ago, I suddenly saw schooling in a whole new light.  It has led me to reflect a lot on what I did (and did not do) for parents and families while I was in the classroom.

The other reason I am so drawn to this topic is that I have been serving as Special Advisor to the National Center for Families Learning.

They believe that one of the most powerful ways to support a child’s education and development is by supporting the education and development of the entire family.  Yes!

And they have been doing so, and serving as a hub for other organizations large and small, in amazing ways.  I have to say, I fell in love with their work instantly and give a lot of time and energy to their work freely.

So, tonight I invite you to join us as we think about ways that we as English or literacy teachers support family involvement.  Though, you do not only need to teach English or reading and writing to join, everyone is welcome!

Here are draft questions for tonight’s chat: click this link.  Please do take a look and feel free to comment, revise, or add additional suggestions.

 

New to Tweet Chats?  No problem!

If you are new to twitter chats, or have only been a “lurker” (twitter-ease for people who watch chats but don’t tweet responses), you are welcome to this and every #engchat.

There are many guides online for how to engage in a twitter chat, here is one I wrote: “So you think you want to Tweet Chat: From Lurker to Chatter 101”.  And know that everyone in this community is happy to have you and will help you out!

So You Think You Want to Tweet Chat

 

I hope to see you in the twitterverse tonight!

 

Thank for all you do!

Chris

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

The Ray Rice video is a reminder that many people live with the real threat of domestic violence and that we do not know what happens behind closed doors. Domestic violence can happen to anyone.

 

Please share this link and phone number widely.  You may help someone escape danger or even save a life.

 

 

If you are afraid, it is not okay and it is not your fault.

You can get help.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

TheHotline.org

1-800-799-SAFE

1-800-799-7233

From the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

What Does An Abusive Relationship Look Like?

Does your partner ever….

>    Embarrass you with put-downs?
>    Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
>    Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
>    Push you, slap you, choke you or hit you?
>    Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
>    Control the money in the relationship? Take your money or Social Security check, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
>    Make all of the decisions?
>    Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away your children?
>    Prevent you from working or attending school?
>    Act like the abuse is no big deal, deny the abuse or tell you it’s your own fault?
>    Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
>    Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
>    Attempt to force you to drop criminal charges?
>    Threaten to commit suicide, or threaten to kill you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. In this section, you’ll find all sorts of information on different forms of abuse. Don’t hesitate to chat or call [The National Domestic Violence Hotline] (1-800-799-SAFE) if anything you read raises a red flag about your own relationship or that of someone you know.

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Double Ear Infection

I’m writing to you from the Happiest Place on Earth, Place Where Dreams Come True, Memories To Last a Lifetime’s neighbor: the Double Ear Infection Bed of Sorrows.

used under Creative Commons lic. by Matt Wade

You see, one of my greatest strengths is getting sick either just before or just during a vacation. Twice we’ve been in beautiful and sunny Punta Cana and twice I have been locked in a room with a fever. Family water park vacation in Wisconsin Dells? Flu. Hey, here we are in Paris! Hey, here are the chills!

I do think a part of this is that I seem to never stop working. Then, when I do let my guard down, even ever so slightly, the bugs I have willed to stay away begin to creep up.

So, two days before our trip to the Mouse’s House I was, of course, shivering with fever-chills and slowly losing my hearing to a middle ear blockage. It ’twas only one ear at the time.

The plane ride down here was easy and pain-filled as one ear opened and the other closed up with the help of some sort of demonic fire sorcery taking place in my head.

I was determined, however, to keep going. Sinus decongestant. Tylenol. Antihistamine. Moving my head at odd angles. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin this trip for my family. And I firmly and steadfastly do not like to bother others.

I Got This. No Really. It’s Fine.

I come from a long line of do-this-myself-ers. Partially it is pride, for sure. We feel good when we have accomplished something all by our lonesome. A larger part, though, is that we do not want to make anyone else bother over us. I will more often than not do whatever it is that has to be done just to avoid needing to ask someone else.

I’m often inconvenience-phobic.

I assume that asking puts people out. Annoys them. Takes them away from more important things.

Which is why for the past few days, as pressure ebbed and flowed in my ears, as pain came and went, and as Mickey sounded more and more muffled, I simply took care of things myself.  More decongestant, more yawning, more tilting.

Until 12:30AM last night.

When I bolted out of bed with the feeling of explosions in my eardrums.

Now. I did still do-it-all-by-myself at first. I did fumble-tip-toe to the bathroom, got water, took more of I don’t remember what. But finally, in intense pain, I woke up my wife and we figured out how to go to emergency room.

Asking And Being Asked

What followed was a reminder that none of us are in any of this alone.

Not with a double-ear-infection at Disney World, not in our homes, not in our schools. Person after person was reassuring and helpful. From the front-desk, to our cab driver, to everyone at Celebration Hospital (yes. It is called that.).

I know this sounds like the obvious statement of the year, but:

people like to be asked.

I mean, on reflecting, I like to be asked. And when you ask someone to help, and then they do, you both feel great about it.

We each take pride in our expertise, in our ability to create or change or fix.

Now, I’m not talking about being volun-told (the identity of the educators who taught me that one will remain private) or micromanaged. Instead, I am suggesting that I, and perhaps you, can take more opportunities for learning from others and sharing in their strengths.

It is good to do things alone. Even better to do them together.

Starting the Year With Questions

For so many educators, our roles are often assessed as singular: your test scores, your lesson plans, your teacher evaluation, your classroom. While, sure, there may be a place for individual accounting of strengths, we need to be cautious that we do not retreat too much.

We retreat from the help of others when we assume we know it all or not enough, when we fear bothering others, when we think no one understands us, when we becoming unwilling to change, or when we assume no one else will. We can do this to each other as well, we can avoid fellow teachers, assume people’s strengths or limits.

We change this  when, simply, we ask:

  • “Could you listen to this…”
  • “How did you…”
  • “Can you show me…”
  • “Can you help me…”

 

Even though I’m only about 6 hours into my antibiotic treatment and my ears still feel like they are stuffed with cotton — I know my hearing is improving and ready to listen a bit differently during this school year.

Thanks for all you do!

image in public domain

 

 

 

The BIG News: I Founded A New Organization!

Thanks to all of you for making the launch day of the “Big News” feel so amazing.

As many of you now know, yesterday I publicly announced the new organization that I founded and direct. We’re called The Educator Collaborative.

The Educator Collaborative New Logo-01

 

We are a think tank and consulting organization working to innovate the ways educators learn together.

Our motto:

Collaboration Creates Opportunity.

 

This has really been a hands-on, labor of love for me.  You can read more about this at my Welcome message I posted yesterday.

Our Consultants are my dream team. I nervously asked each one and I was delighted when they said yes. Each is an amazing educator in his/her own right and we are even stronger together. The Educator Collaborative is happy to arrange their, or my, consulting services or speaking engagements with your school or organization.

We have two online homes that I built from scratch (picture me in front of the computer screen for hours learning how to use website plugins and code), I hope you love them as much as I do.

The first is our main professional site.  Here you’ll get to know us, our services – both in person and online, sign-up for our mailing list, and when our online offerings open up you can access registration here as well.

TheEducatorCollaborative.com

new logo slide educator collaborative-01

The second, sister site, is our exciting new social and networking website for teachers.  Called The Educator Collaborative Community, it is a place to collaborate with teachers from across the world on education topics. Within one day of launching our membership on that site is already nearing 100 and continues to rise.  People are posting questions, sharing answers, and forming discussion groups.

We intend to go beyond a typical online forum… innovation is what we do after all… Part of vision is to help educators use online tools for collaboration in newer, more personal ways.  In this instance, we are launching soon a monthly series where we will take some of the most popular topics, groups, and people from the Community and bring them to a broadcast collaboration space.  Sometimes it will be through a live broadcast hangout, sometimes through a virtual conference call, or other ways we hope to discover.  We will take the hottest topics and bring our experts, experts from the field, and some of you on to discuss them live.

It is our free gift to the education community.

Community.TheEducatorCollaborative.com

long-The Educator Collaborative Community Logo

Naturally, you can find us on twitter (I mean, it’s me you’re talking about): @TheEdCollab and you can use the hashtag #TheEdCollab.  We’d love to have you follow.

I am so touched by the positive responses over the last 24 hours. I know there are many places you go to learn, connect, and share, and we hope The Educator Collaborative will be one of those places for you.

Thanks for all you do for our profession, for your colleagues, and for your students.

Here’s to great things ahead!

Chris

Guest Post: EdWeek Classroom Q&A – Ways to Develop a Culture of Success in Schools

Larry Ferlazzo gathers questions from educators and then collects both invited responses from experts in our field and comments from readers. It’s a brilliant form of collaboration through his EdWeek “Classroom Q&A” column.

This week, a teacher asked, “How do you create a school culture or even classroom culture in which students strive for success and are expected to strive for success?” My response, along with Jeffrey Benson’s and Barbara Blackburn’s appear in Part One. Now it’s your turn, Larry invites you to leave your own tips or comments at his post, some will be published in the future.

image linked from Classroom Q&A, EdWeek

Thanks for all you do.

Join me 5/8 guest-hosting #IRAchat: Gear Up to #IRA14

I am excited to guest host the International Reading Association‘s twitter chat #IRAchat, this Thursday, May 8, at 8pm EST (7 pm CST).

We are gearing up for the 59th Annual IRA Conference this weekend in New Orleans!  I love the city, the conference and most of all connecting with educators from around the world.

IRA officers and other friends will join our chat–and I hope you will as well. The chat is open to anyone, whether you are attending the conference, following from afar, a New Orleans travel buff, or just have a passion for education.

 

Let’s Chat

If you are new to twitter chats, you can check out my post So You Think You Want to Tweet Chat: From Lurker to Chatter 101.

If you are like me, you find these huge conferences exciting and totally overwhelming! We’re hoping in this one hour chat you will grab some attendance tips, travel spots to check out while in town, and start your list of sessions to attend.

Thursday will follow a Q1, A1 format and I will break it into main sections:

  • Attending Tips (both sharing and asking for ideas about the conference and New Orleans),
  • Social Media (sharing tips on using it during the conference and who to follow),
  • and Sessions! (sharing topics and promoting your own sessions).

Here’s the link to draft questions. Please tweet me with any other question suggestions.

 

See you online!

 

 

#TeacherPoets – Assignment Week 1

teacher-poets Hi TeacherPoets. We’re gearing up for our first live session, this Saturday (4/12) from 11:00-noon EST. Join our community page to join in the conversation that has already started, to catch the live stream from that page (or the direct stream below), and to catch weekly “writing assignments.”

 

Each week on Wednesday, I’ll post a reading and writing “assignment” for the week.  These are invitations to engaging with poetry and our work together.  Take on as much or as little as you’re able.

Assignment for Week 1: Slivers Are Big

During our first live streaming session we will talk about the power of taking on manageable bites.

Our lives often interact with huge emotions (joy, fear) or giant topics (love, death) but trying to take them on can be not only an overwhelming task as a writer, but can also lead to writing that is too broad for a reader.

The smaller the piece – almost like finding focus in a research topic – the more specific our writing becomes. Then, the more specific our writing becomes, the more universal the feelings and ideas can come across to readers of our poems.

 A Writing Invitation:

  • Starting next week these invitations will be specifically about writing poems. For this week your invitation is to respond to this question: “Why Poetry?”  A few sentences, a poem maybe, or a quick comment. Please leave your response on our TeacherPoets Community page.

Mentor poems to read:

  1. The Summer I Was Sixteen by Geraldine Connolly, for the one moment in time she uses to reflect on the huge topic of adolescence and growing older
  2. Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye, who takes a universal fear and packages it in a tiny scene and an even smaller movement of the body
  3. You’re invited to post on our TeacherPoets Community page links to other poems that take on a large topic through a small, specific time or action

Workshopping This Week:

Starting next week, original poem’s from our Live Group educators (the folks on camera with me) will be posted in this section. As practice, this Saturday we will “workshop” this poem by a professional poet.

  • Please follow the link and print out this poem (or download a mark-up-able copy to your device):
  • Read and write all over it, prepare comments as if you were talking to this poet:
    • Compliments: Which parts were particularly strong to you? Why? How did it effect you as a reader? Where were you delighted? Happily surprised? Moved? And so on.
    • Questions: Where did you find yourself confused? Lost? Where did your reading become choppy or confused? Which points did you want a little bit more? A little less?
    • ConsiderationsWe can’t write the poem, that is the poet’s task, however we can raise considerations: I wonder if there are actually two poems here…  I wonder if we could hear more from… I wonder if the second stanza could… I wonder…
  • On Saturday we will then practice “workshopping” this poem, so bring your written-all-over copy.

If you would like to read an example of responding to a poem through “workshopping,” then read (or listen to) Workshop by Billy Collins (in which he workshops his own poem as he’s writing/reading it… it’s pretty funny stuff.).

Happy reading, writing, reflecting, and rejuvenating!

Join Us Live! Session One of #TeacherPoets this Week!

Here we are – yes in the midst of standardized testing season, yes in still pretty rainy and still somewhat cool April, but also yes in Poetry Month!

To pull ourselves out of the doldrums and return to our enthusiasm and passion for teaching and learning, join me and some fellow educators for #TeacherPoets! We’re an online community/course/experience/cheering-crowd-of-enthusiasm that is joining together for four weeks this month to write, reflect and rejuvenate.

teacher-poets

Each week for 4 weeks we will meet online on Saturdays from 11-noon EST to do a little poetry reading, writing, and then work together in a poetry workshop, giving feedback to our fellow TeacherPoets.  April 12, 19, 26, May 3.

 

How to Join

Super simple!  We will stream live on YouTube. (I told you it was simple.)

Grab your pen, paper then watch and write along with us. On Saturday you can come back to this post and click the little play button on the video down there (try it now!):

 

 

During the broadcast tweet us at #TeacherPoets to share your insights and ideas.

Want to Get More Involved?

You can join our TeacherPoets community page.  There you can join in on posted “writing assignments” and interact with fellow educators. Each Wednesday the new “assignment” will be posted.

You can also ask questions and leave comments each week before live broadcasts, by going to the Session announcement and clicking the little “Q&A” on the video screen: here’s Session One.

If you applied to the Live Writing Group (on camera!) those confirmations have started going out, you will receive an email today or tomorrow at the latest.

If you registered for the streaming video (or didn’t but still want to attend) you are all welcome! Just join the TeacherPoets community page or simply watch the live stream on Saturday.

 

Looking forward to joining together! Happy Poetry Month! Happy Writing!

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve (and Walls and Actions and)

As I work with schools and districts across the country, I find one question becomes essential above all else:

Is your heart visible?

by Amada44 used under Creative Commons lic

Michael Fullan describes that when organizations and schools falter it is not because there is a resistance to change, but because too many initiatives are taken on all at once with little time to get good at any of them.

The more scattered our focus, the less focused we truly are.

I find the question–is your heart visible–is an important one.  What we make visible in our classrooms, in our schools, even in our lives, shows what we value, what is important, and what we feel and believe.

At my home, for instance, if you walk into my daughter’s bedroom you’ll find mountains of art supplies and in-progress projects of all kinds. Paper, glue, crayons, scissors, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and mountains of little characters she has created. In my son’s room puzzles rule, as well as maps (oh so many maps. Seriously, if anyone needs a globe or map we have extra), and his illustrated dictionary is always open on the floor.

From the time each of us are young, we gather what is important, keep it close at hand, curate it, and sometimes even display it for others to see. In our schools and classrooms, when we make our hearts visible we not only own a deeper sense of our mission, we also invite our students and our community to share it with us.

Show Off Your Love

At New Milford High School, for example Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and his team display a belief in technology as a tool for collaboration, innovative, and risk-taking.

The first striking feature is that New Milford HS looks like nearly every other building in the US. It’s stately, yet aging, and locker filled hallways lead to linoleum-green classroom floors. The heart is not held up, or held back, by the physical plant. It is in the vision of the staff and students.

Take Laura Fleming‘s Library/Media Center. A MakerBot 3-D printer, lego robotics, a little circuit station, and more. She has devoted part of her space for experimentation.  “No one signs up, they just come when they want to come and try what they want to try. Not just the students, staff come to play around, too,” Laura pointed out during my visit.

It’s easy to be dazzled by the cool stuff. The message is bigger, though. There is a keen sense that learning is about doing, making attempts, rethinking things, trying again.

This is carried throughout the building, students and teachers see learning as a blend of online and off, and as risk-taking. One teacher we ran into in the hallway I said, “I’m not technology phobic like I used to be, because I’ve learned that it’s all about trying something out.”

As the building leader, Eric  believes in making his beliefs visible but then also stepping back to allow his staff to experiment and grow.

At another school, Cantiague Elementary, principal Tony Sinanis wears an incredible love of his community all over everything – his office walls, his blog and my favorite, his twitter account.  He regularly tweets and retweets images of students and teachers at work with captions celebrating their work.

Recently I was able to visit his school, one focused on supporting students’ growth in literacy. His belief in literacy meant he has made room in his budget for a terrific literacy coach and together the school has been spending a good amount of time on best-practices in reading instruction.  As with all things, what you focus on often grows and what you don’t can sometimes stagnate. Together we wondered if students were writing enough each day, to really practice the skills they were learning.

In another example of making your heart visible, his school, in what felt like less than day after my visit, looked at students’ current writing and made a decision to make the time and celebrate the time students would spend writing.

[tweet https://twitter.com/talithirdgrade/status/431794353477271552]

A big shift happened, and so quickly, because a focus was placed on making a school value more visible.

Reflecting on Your Heart

These are two of the many examples of schools and organizations who are striving to unite their communities in the best interest of learners.  In the busy, sometimes scattered, often frantic pace of the school year, it is important to stop at times and reflect. Is your heart visible in your classroom? In your school?

Step back and take a look:

  • When you look around your classroom, what do you see the most of?  Is it what you value?
  • When you look through your students notebook and folders, what does their work say to you? Do you see evidence of why you are an educator? Evidence of why you love what you teach?
  • When you walk through the hallways of your school, what do classrooms and displays have in common? Can you see the heart of your community or is it unclear?
  • If you talk with your colleagues, is your community’s heart visible in conversations?

Sometimes these questions reveal the lack or erosion of a shared belief system, other times they reveal qualities you may have forgotten were there.

The best news is that showing your heart only takes a little bit of bravery–once you begin an incredible path lies before you.

by Gian Cayetano used under Creative Commons lic