Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.
Our instructional coach was standing by my door as I came back after a round of classroom visits. “Do you have five minutes to chat?” she asked. I did. We typically meet every other week, and I was always happy to connect more when time allowed. This year, we are focused on reading instruction as part of our professional learning goal. I anticipated this would be the topic of our conversation.
So I was surprised when she wanted to talk about writing. Specifically, we discussed the challenges in grade levels trying to determine what practices and resources would best serve our students as writers. “They tried this approach, which was fine but not the best fit, so they explored a resource recommended by another team, but that wasn’t working either.” I let her talk. She eventually got to the root of her concern: that our writing instruction may have stalled.
As a principal, I have a unique perspective of the school. I get to see the whole picture. Not just every classroom every day. My point of view encompasses students from the moment they enter our building to the day they leave for middle school. Their growth is visible for years, not just months. That goes somewhat for the faculty too. For example, past discussions with teachers about the effectiveness of grammar worksheets have given way to present talk around better ways to align the Common Core standard with students’ Genius Hour projects. I can almost take for granted what I see in my position that others cannot.
Having this perspective guided me to share what I said next. “Think back to where we started not that long ago. Writing was a discipline relegated to Fridays for a half hour. It was an obligation we met only on paper. Now, we are debating whether one approach to writing is more beneficial to our students than another. In just two year’s time, our teachers have moved from treating writing as an afterthought to spending a considerable amount of time collaborating on how best to develop our students as writers.”
This statement shifted our principal-coach conversation toward two ideas: gratitude and grace. Gratitude for our growth over time, and the realization that our faculty conversations were related to the topics we should be discussing as professionals. Grace in stepping back and giving ourselves some distance from our current challenges as a learning community. In every school, we live in these bubbles that can sometimes distort reality when others might see it differently. Teachers and specialists are so close to the action that they can often only see the trees. The forest is forgotten until someone reminds us of its existence.
Reflecting on this conversation, I wish I could bottle up these moments of clarity and distribute them more consistently in conversations. And then I reread the previous sentence and realize that I am just as hard on myself as any teacher. “If only I could repeat this experience . . .” we tell ourselves. The experience is there. If we take the time to stop and appreciate what’s before us while at the same time understanding our limitations, we can begin to understand how truly complex and important our work with our students is. These moments are unique; our approach toward ourselves can be universal.
This week we look at how we can all step back with gratitude and grace when we need to pause, reflect, and reset our actions in classrooms. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
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Mary Lee Hahn finds too many of her fifth-grade readers are stuck in ruts by early winter. Her solution involves some radical changes to her classroom library over winter break.
I looked up from my reading conference with Jordan to see that David was building a mighty impressive book fort, Mateo and Tucker were exchanging Lego figures behind books, Jasmine had just returned from her third mid-workshop trip to the bathroom, and Sophia and Lucia were lying across Hokke stools, spinning in circles and giggling with books in hand. Katrina Edwards shares with honesty and good humor why it was time for a reset in her first-grade reading workshop, and how analyzing student behaviors led to practical steps to increase engagement.
Last year Pernille Ripp created the “30-Day Unslump Yourself” challenge and the suggestions still work well as daily pick-me-ups for resetting and revitalizing yourself personally and professionally.
Check out our new online course program. Instructors include Ruth Ayres, Katherine Sokolowski, Jennifer Schwanke and many others. Members receive discounts of 20-40% on course fees, and nonmembers receive three-month trial memberships to the website.
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Christy Rush-Levine finds her students sometimes need to stop and be challenged to think in more positive ways about their reading abilities. She describes how she designs minilessons for impromptu resets in her middle school classroom.
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills explain why short-term writing goals can help students reset expectations for their writing on a daily basis, and how they make these goals an integral part of their writing workshops.
In this week’s video, Andrea Smith confers with fourth grader Ian, who is plowing through a book series. She helps him look at the bigger picture of characters, themes, and how the series might end.
In an encore video, Bitsy Parks guides her first graders in how to pause and do a quick reading reflection before a share session early in the school year.
Our featured contributors this week are the teaching and writing team of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan. Clare and Tammy have worked together for many years, collaborating first in Tammy’s lab school classroom. They now share responsibilities for coaching teachers throughout New England. Their most recent book is It’s All About the Books, available through Heinemann. You can view their latest writing for Choice Literacy at this link.
Lead Literacy now has a new home as the Leaders Lounge at Choice Literacy. We’re retiring the weekly It List newsletter. We’ll be posting the new content updates here in the Leaders Lounge section of the Big Fresh newsletter. Lead Literacy members now have access to all the features in the Leaders Lounge as well as all Choice Literacy Classic Classroom content. Log in and take the new member tour of the site.
Stephanie Affinito reminds us that we all face challenges and discouraging situations when guiding teachers. What happens next when you pause and reset defines who you are as a literacy coach.
Matt Renwick decides to provoke some cognitive dissonance in teachers around the topic of guided reading. He finds his own beliefs are challenged instead.
New PD2Go: Something worth revisiting early in the new year might be writing share structures, which can get rote and tired by January. Here is a professional development workshop for helping primary teachers explore new options, with video from second-grade teacher Sean Moore and alternative structure suggestions from Katrina Edwards.
When creativity meets reality, that’s when leaders really have a chance to shine. David Nino considers how Steven Spielberg paused, brainstormed, and reset expectations throughout the filming of Jaws.
Do you want to improve your coaching cycles? Dana Murphy shares everything from colorful flyers for piquing interest to the best questions for sparking conversations in debriefs in her online course, It’s a Cycle, Not a Hamster Wheel. The self-paced course starts on February 9. Literacy Leadership members receive a 40% discount as part of our new subscription benefits program. A detailed description is available at this link.
To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
That’s all for this week!