I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room.
When I was asked to run for the school board for our tiny local district years ago, I was flattered. I knew my expertise in literacy instruction would come in handy.
Maybe 2% of the time.
The other 98% of the time was an education in how little I really knew about how schools run, even though I’d spent most of my childhood and adult life in them. I learned I had a lot of knowledge in a very, very narrow realm. Knowing the best books to teach inferring strategies in third grade did the board little good when we were dealing with a thorny choice like whether to eliminate a bus route or increase class sizes dramatically in grades four and five.
There seemed to be an inverse ratio—the stuff I felt was most insignificant often set off the most parents. And the things I thought were crucial barely merited a shrug from the community. There was never enough money and no good solutions in many situations. It took every ounce of my problem-solving skills, patience, and ability to collaborate to serve on that board.
It’s humbling when you are put in a situation where you move from unconsciously unskilled to consciously unskilled instantly. I found myself in those situations again and again on the school board. Yet it was probably the best thing I ever did professionally. After 20 years of literacy research, teaching, and practice, I was comfortable with what I knew. It became too easy to make the leap from “I know a lot in my field” to “I know a lot.” Serving on the school board made me smart enough to realize how dumb I am about most things in life. It’s a lesson that has stuck.
Teachers love summer for many reasons, and maybe the best one is having a relaxed environment in which to learn new things. Although teachers get the most attention for spending their own salaries on office supplies and even food for their students, it’s rarely acknowledged how much time, money, and sacrifice goes into summer professional development. Just pop into any teacher’s July Twitter feed. It’s got far more photos of treks to NerdCamps than shots of lounging on the beach.
That professional development over the summer is valuable, essential, and even heroic in some cases. But it may not be the most important for long-term openness to new ideas.
I challenge you to take just a few hours of the many hours you’ll put into professional development this summer to learn something truly new, preferably far outside your classroom expertise and comfort zone. Something that makes you feel awkward or ignorant, something that seems impossible to master. My role model for this kind of learning is a 90-year-old woman I met at a health retreat. A decade earlier she started to learn to play the violin, and mastered it to the point that she could give concerts for friends. When I chatted with her she was three years into learning Mandarin Chinese. “I have at least three years left of daily practice on that one,“ she told me. “It’s so hard.”
It’s that hard learning that lifts you out of the ruts in your thinking (or I guess the brain researchers would say helps you forge new paths of neurons). When you’re smart enough to know how dumb you are, it makes all learning feel a little new, a little tentative, and a little fresh. And isn’t having everything feel a little new, tentative, and fresh exactly what most of us are aiming for when we return to our classrooms?
This week we look at options for student note-taking. Plus more as always—enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
What happens when the notes students leave for each other are all compliments? Pure magic. Tara Barnett and Kate Mills close out the year in their eighth-grade classroom with a compliments activity.
Franki Sibberson finds teaching students to annotate while reading is one of the best ways to promote ongoing reflective response in her fifth-grade classroom. She shares how she teaches annotation skills.
Beth Moore at Two Writing Teachers shares three things to try in writing workshop before the end of the school year.
In The Limits of Levels online course, Cathy Mere demonstrates a range of strategies for understanding and meeting the needs of young learners. The course runs June 18-30. Choice Literacy members receive discounts of 20-40% on the course fee.
The Lead Learners Consortium is offering a 20% discount to Choice Literacy subscribers to their Summer Institute on June 20 and 21 in Warsaw, Indiana. Use the promo code CHOICE to claim the discount. For more information, visit their ticketing site.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Dana Murphy discovers that what works for one student doesn’t work for another when it comes to note-taking. She provides options and then hosts a gallery walk so everyone can discover what works best for them.
In this week’s video, we continue our series from Franki Sibberson’s fifth-grade classroom of students sharing their strategies for annotating the class read-aloud. In this installment, Reagan uses Google Slides to focus her thoughts and analyze different characters.
“What can I do to help my son and daughter stay sharp and not lose momentum during the summer?” When a parent asks this question, Mark Levine offers his Top Six Summer Slide Preventers.
In this encore video from Beth Lawson’s third-grade classroom, the focus is on the skill of determining importance in texts. Beth helps Sephina integrate sticky notes into her independent reading.
Lead Literacy now has a new home as the Leaders Lounge at Choice Literacy. We’ll be posting the new content updates here in the Leaders Lounge section of the Big Fresh newsletter.
Jennifer Allen helps a study group of elementary teachers “tame the voices in their heads” by scheduling a day of yoga and a documentary on rock climbing into the day. Her creative plans might inspire you as you think about agendas for summer retreats with teachers and school leaders.
Tammy Mulligan works with a group of fourth graders to help them build their nonfiction note-taking skills. The demonstration small group includes a prebrief and debrief with the teacher.
Literacy leaders face the challenge of figuring out how to integrate into the school community even as they work to change it. Ed Batista has ideas for how to conform to the culture “just enough.”
The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
Henry Van Dyke
That’s all for this week!