Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My wonderful CFG challenged each of us to write our professional creed/belief statement, so this is what I wrote:

My Bottom Lines

Teachers and students deserve respect.
“To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

To work from respect means that my stance is grounded in positive assumptions and that my mission isn’t about fixing anyone. (I’m not a handyman nor do I want to be.) Respect means that I trust that teachers and students are capable, competent, and well intentioned. And how does that translate into practice?
  •      Relationships underpin the risky, challenging work that we do as educators. To the best of my ability, I need to know the teachers, the administrators, and the students.
  •      Instead of rushing right into the work, I need to slow down and say hello, check in, and see how life is.
  •      Agendas need to be built so that all voices are a part of the conversation right at the start.
  •       Kids have stories, and so do their teachers. It’s those stories that shape who they are, and it’s my obligation to seek out those stories.
  •      Peter Johnston’s caution must be kept in mind: “there are hidden costs in telling people things. If a student can figure something out for him- or herself, explicitly providing the information preempts the student’s opportunity to build a sense of agency and independence…”
    Substitute teacher with student and a good share of my work is about asking, listening, probing, and paraphrasing, and then, perhaps, consulting.

All voices, including the dissenting voice, matter. Instead of labeling someone a resister, I owe it to her tobe disturbed, to listen, and to come to understand, but with no obligation to agree. When students say that work is stupid, my job isn’t to correct that perception but to understand if the level of difficulty is out of reach or if something else is at play. When teachers say that students can’t write a counterclaim, my job isn’t to say “yes but.” Instead, my job is to figure out if it’s really about belief in students or doubt about a teacher’s capacity or simply a question about how to do the work.

Students and their teachers deserve to do work that matters. Time is the nemesis of all in education, so it cannot be squandered. The work done within schools must be purposeful, meaningful, and relevant. There’s no reason that students can’t write for authentic audiences, solve problems that reside in the world, or contribute to our society. Likewise, there’s no reason for teachers to collect data that has nothing to do with their instruction but everything to do with a misguided policy or to complete other tasks that take them away from doing the work of planning, teaching, and checking on students’ understanding.

Vision determines future steps. As students grow, they need a vision of what’s possible: to see people like them doing important work, to study models of work that can serve as mentors, and be inspired by people who have achieved despite the odds. Likewise, teachers need a vision of classrooms and schools where students are highly engaged regardless of their home situations. Schools/districts/policy makers need a vision of schools where students thrive regardless of their past. Vision creates possibilities and generates hope.

Engagement is the trump card. Even before standards, before assessments, and before strategies, teachers must plan for student engagement. Thinking about whether the work requires attention, persistence, and commitment is critical. Holding the tenets of Pink and others of autonomy, mastery,
purpose, and belonging is critical. Likewise, teachers need to be engaged in the work that they do. They need to know that their work matters and that it’s work that they can and must do.

  • What does this look like in terms of practice?
  •  Lessons live within a context: a unit of study, a year’s curriculum, a life.
  • Students need to be the workers, the thinkers, the do-ers, and teachers need to be the ones planning for these students at this time.
  • Teachers can create the conditions that nurture engagement (the 6 Cs).
  • Choice, choice, choice.



--- Stevi, December 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015




The Power of Ideas

"Those things you learn without joy, you will forget easily." -- Finnish proverb


When I first started attending NCTE, I stalked the footnotes. I made sure I was up early to claim a front row seat to listen to Nancie Atwell, hoping she’d help me figure out that one part of my workshop that was still rough. I pushed through the crowds to listen to Donald Murray, yearning for that one nugget that would move those reluctant writers. I searched for the specific activity, the practical idea, the thing to do on December 1. I was in search of the tip and trick, the cool activity that would hook my kids.

Times have changed. Now I’m not stalking the footnotes in search of the practical; I’m no longer pushing through crowds to get that last handout.  Yes, I still get up early to listen to the keynoters and make my way through the crowds to listen to Tom Newkirk or Jeff Wilhelm or Vicki Vinton. But the aura surrounding the famous has faded, and I don’t gasp when I see Lucy Calkins. Now I’m stalking for a different purpose: someone who will provoke me, nudge my thinking, make me think in new ways. Now I want to stalk the idea. It’s the idea that lures me back each year to NCTE, ideas swirling around the heads of those most prominent in our field, ideas that are about to – or should be about to – catch on fire, ideas that like the wind force the skyscape of my mind to be a bit brighter, look a little different.

And what were the ideas that most grabbed me this year?

Bring on the joy and the pleasure
No, no one said it exactly like this, but joy was in the air. When Ellin Keene talked about engagement, she was talking about joy. Engagement, Ellin argued, is “born of  emotional response to ideas.” Isn’t that joyfulness? When Jeff Wilhelm challenged us to reflect on whether or not “we would do the crap that we assign students,” he urged us to think about the role of pleasure. Why wouldn’t we think about pleasure as we nurture our readers, our students? Why wouldn’t we remember that pleasure exists in the world of play, work, the intellect, and the social? And when Penny Kittle advocated for students selecting their own books 75% of the time, she too was talking about joy and pleasure. What if, she asked, students didn’t fake read? What if it were otherwise? After all, if our kids don’t love reading, they’re not going to do it when we leave the room.

Oh, yeah, bring on that joy! Invite pleasure into the classroom!

Eliminate the great divide
Tom Newkirk warned us that we are plagued by a category problem. Yep, it’s CCSS’s three categories of writing:  narrative, information, and argument. Good writing, he reminded us, crosses that great divide and blurs the lines between categories. All writing that we want to read is told by a narrator that we want to follow and that kind of writing leads us through surprise after surprise. Yes, the writing might convey information, but it’s the story that carries the day.

Linda Hoyt and Seymour Simon disabused us of the notion that good nonfiction writing is devoid of voice and style. Instead beautifully crafted sentences belong to the both the worlds of fiction and nonfiction. The beauty and power of a well-crafted sentence ushers us into the factual world of the gorillas and nudges us into the fiction of Joseph Conrad.

And, by the way, how is it that we have the categories of fiction and non-fiction? Doesn’t fiction contain truth, and doesn’t non-fiction carry us away through the story?  Perhaps that’s another divide that we need to close.

Get curious
Sessions on inquiry filled the conference docket, and Steph Harvey, Smokey Daniels, and Sara 
Ahmed  did a great job getting us curious. Steph Harvey reminded us of Sir Ken Robinson's statement:  Curiosity is the engine that drives achievement. Inquiry doesn't just lead to a cool project at the end of a unit; instead, it's how we should live our lives. To illustrate the importance of teachers living a curious life, Sara Ahmed showed us images of Syrian ruins in the desert and of beautiful Syrian children, images not often seen in popular media. Smokey nudged us to develop an inquiry question that emerged from studying those provocative images. For about 10 minutes 100 educators or more engaged in inquiry, and when Smokey and Sara tried to call us back, a good share of us tried to ignore them so that we could continue exploring. Inquiry is addicting.

Carol Jago's message at CEL dovetailed Smokey's and Sara's work with visual images and inquiry. After showing us a few images from Gordon Park's A Harlem Argument, she invited us to talk about how those stunning images build a visual argument.  Our job was to figure out that argument and determine who the argument was for. After showing us beautiful and provocative paintings by  Kehinde Wiley, she juxtaposed  Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die”  and invited us to write. Those images promoted curiosity and heightened our response to the literature she had paired with them.

Even though I was ready to head home after the conference -- already I had been away for over a week and a half, I left refreshed and so glad that I had stalked the idea makers. The skyscape of my mind had altered. Already I’m planning for next year, curious about what joy will look like in 2016 and what ideas will dominate.