I ‘ve decided that since I seem completely incapable of turning my teacher brain off this summer, I’m going to embrace it. As such, I’ve been doing a lot of professional reading—reading new-to-me titles like Reading Ladders, In the Middle (3rd ed.), Thrive, Worth Writing About, and Whole Novels for the Whole Class, as well as rereading well-loved titles like Deeper Reading, Write Like This, Notice and Note, and Book Love, among others. (Yes, I understand this is a crazy list.)
This open exchange of ideas—sharing, brainstorming, problem-solving—has reminded me of how important it is to have a rich network of support.
It’s been an energizing experience. Every time I turn a page, I find another idea I want to try out. My notebook is filled with all sorts of notes and reminders for next year. My Twitter PLN is growing, and recently, I even joined a few teacher groups on Facebook. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s amazing to see how many wonderful teachers are willing to share ideas and resources freely. This open exchange of ideas—sharing, brainstorming, problem-solving—has reminded me of how important it is to have a rich network of support. The structure and busyness of the school day doesn’t always allow for the types of collaborative relationships teachers need for professional growth. Meeting other like-minded teachers—even virtually—who don’t mind spending their summer talking books and lesson ideas fills a space in my teacher-self that often goes unfed during the school year.
Or, as teacher and author Pernille Ripp said during a recent workshop, finding such like-minded people is a little like “finding out you’re not crazy.”
All that said, of course, it’s also been overwhelming. Too many ideas to fit into the 43-minute periods I’ll face come September. Writing everything down helps: hence, my attempts to blog more often this summer. But it’s still all. so. much.
As I was reading my latest round of PD—Whole Novels for the Whole Class, a book recommended by one of my new Facebook teacher-friends—I felt my brow furrow. How would this work? What about that other thing I wanted to do? How am I going to do all this? I could feel some panic creeping in, yes, but also self-doubt. Why haven’t I been doing this before? Could I do this now? And should I?
Does this pass the ‘real world’ test?
After a deep breath, I remembered something that I read recently that really resonated with me. I wish I could remember exactly who said it or where I read it (I’m 90% sure it was Nancie Atwell, but I can’t find the reference, which is making me all kinds of crazy). It went something like this: when designing instructional experiences, whether it’s an in-class activity or take-home assessment, we have to see if our plans pass the “real world” test. In other words, does this learning experience mirror the real world? Is this what writing looks like in the real world? Is this what reading looks like in the real world?
More specifically: When I ask my students to journal at the end of every chapter of reading, when I ask my students to read and stop reading according to my schedule, when I ask my students to write a 5-paragraph essay about the symbols in Lord of the Flies—are these things real readers and writers do outside of school? As I wondered in a previous post, how much of what we assign in school are authentic reading and writing experiences versus academic exercises?
There are an infinite number of things we could do in our classrooms: there’s no limit to what a simple Google search for lesson ideas will yield, no shortage of corporations all too willing to create curricula for schools. Sometimes I fall into the trap of getting carried away by the novelty of so much of it. At the ISTE conference earlier this month, for example, there were thousands of new gadgets and apps promising to improve learning.
But are they worth the time?
As teachers, we sometimes suffer from FONDE—fear of not doing enough. There are so many resources out there so we try harder to cram it all in. I know I am guilty of this (remember my reading list above?). Instead of trying to do it all, perhaps I need to shift my thinking and do a few things well. Which things? Things that are authentic, with meaningful connections to my students’ experiences outside of and beyond school.
To prepare students as 21st century learners, we often talk about teaching students how to navigate the great and wonderful world wide web to find what is smart and useful. As teachers, we need to be able to do the same for ourselves, and ultimately, in our students’ best interests. What is worth the time? Time, as we know, is in short supply, so we have to be relentless in questioning what we do with it, how we spend it. What is worth doing?
Because how we spend our time in class is how students know what is important.