Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.
For years, I never understood the love some of my friends have for Zappos, an online shoe company. Sure, their customer service is legendary (sort of an Internet version of the Nordstroms of old, with tales of instant responses to tweets and crazy easy returns). Their ads and public image are happy, inviting, and fun. What I couldn’t get around was the fact that their primary product is shoes. How could anyone buy shoes off the web? Feet are like snowflakes, except a whole lot uglier. Each person’s feet are in some ways unique (wide? flat? narrow? bunions?), and I didn’t see any way around people having to trudge to shoe stores and try on multiple pairs of boots or sandals before finding ones that fit right.
Then this spring I noticed all my fit friends who jog were wearing the same brand of running shoes. I wanted my own pair, so I dutifully visited all the local shoe stores, but none of them carried the brand. I checked online and Zappos not only had the brand, but dozens of different styles to choose from within it. Then I faced my dilemma — how could I order a pair of shoes without trying them on? I quickly discovered the true secret of Zappos’s success — their customer reviews. There are dozens of reviews of the most popular shoes. Skimming through them, I found someone with similar feet (and feet issues) as mine. Commenters also frequently share their age, style preferences, and professions.
In effect, I could find a “Brenda” in the comments (someone with similar feet and style preferences) who already did the work of trying on the shoe and seeing if it fit, ran true to size, and still felt comfortable after a long day of being on your feet while teaching. I realized what I like least about shopping for shoes at the mall is making the poor clerk run back and forth to get different sizes and styles for me to try on. I often end up buying something that isn’t exactly what I want or is a less than perfect fit just because I feel a little guilty about taking up so much of the clerk’s time. With Zappos, the other customers do almost all the work of trying on the shoes for you. It’s the laziest shoe shopping I’ve ever done.
Now I am a Zappos fanatic, and their model reminds me of what the best literacy leaders do. They don’t throw out mandates and lessons and tell every teacher in the room, “This is what we’ll be teaching from now on.” It would be like tossing out pairs of size 8 shoes and telling everyone, “This is the average size and I like the style, so it’s what we’ll all be wearing from now on.” That can’t work — the shoes simply won’t fit most people in the room, no matter how much we might wish it were so. Instead, the challenge (and joy) of bringing any standard to life is to provide many many many different options for books, lessons, and resources.
Even more important, the literacy leader is the ultimate book and people maven. She knows the quirks and strengths of every teacher in her care; he automatically is thinking of teachers who would love the new children’s book that he is reading for the first time. And then leaders use that knowledge to connect teachers, so that they can walk in each others’ shoes as they try out new standards and initiatives. There is comfort for any teacher in knowing you are like Kerri from across the building or district, and you trust if the lesson or unit worked for her it will work for you (and she happily shares her tweaks to make it just your style before you take a deep breathe and try it out in your classroom). If there is no teacher quite like you in the school or district, there is likely a teacher blogging who shares your tastes and needs, and is willing to try on a book or unit in advance and let you know what works and what doesn’t.
We all share standards (and a need for shoes). But there are countless ways to fulfill them, and I’m grateful one size doesn’t fit all. What a boring world it would be if it did.
This week we’re looking at holiday reading. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Stella Villalba has suggestions for helping students understand holidays from around the world, including Diwali, Ramadan, and Eid:
Franki Sibberson finds describing holiday reading as “extra time” reading helps students understand and appreciate taking time for books during breaks:
This week we’re finishing our Facebook series on Literate Holiday Traditions, with Choice Literacy Contributors sharing their classroom activities and read alouds from the holiday season. You can scroll down the page to read many different suggestions:
Katherine Sokolowski offers her Top Ten Ways to Encourage Children to Read Over Winter Break at the Nerdy Book Club:
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Gretchen Taylor finds the three little words “tell me more” provide breakthroughs in communication, no matter the age of the listener:
If someone handy in your life wants to give you a holiday gift, ask them to put some reading gutters in your classroom. Katie Doherty explains how this inexpensive design feature dresses up her middle school classroom and builds community at the same time:
We’ve posted a new cluster on Movement and Music in Literacy Workshops, with contributions from Max Brand, Katie DiCesare, Sean Moore, Brenda Power, Heather Rader, and Ann Williams:
Franki Sibberson continues her series on Curating a Nonfiction Classroom Library. This week’s installment is on Rethinking Nonfiction Series Books:
This week’s video from Katie Baydo-Reed is the second part of a series on teaching annotation skills in middle school. A catch-up link to the first video in the series is provided:
That’s all for this week!