Monthly Archives: September 2015

What’s Your True North?

There are so many resources out there – so many theories – so many ways to teach. What is best? Teachers have to craft their own lens for what they value. Think about this as we consider the process for reading and writing. What map will you use? What route will you take? With understanding comes cohesion and vision. We have to have vision, it’s our true north, if we want our teaching to have direction and purpose.

We know that education is not static – there are undulating currents that pull and push us through reforms and initiatives. We are told to say goodbye to one idea and hello to the next. For us, we are guided by Fountas & Pinnell, The Reading & Writing Project, and Jennifer Serravallo. Growth can only happen with meaningful reflection and for that the voice we hear is Dr. Mary Howard. Their works inform and inspire us, and that’s how new ideas are born.

The truth is we are guiding the ship, and for us, these giants are helping us to set our course for this school year. We spent the day combing through the new Reading Pathways book. With analytical eyes we examined the Informational, and Narrative Learning Progressions. How can we blend this new work with our current beliefs? We are holding on tight to Fountas and Pinnell’s Wheel of Strategic Actions and have a deep appreciation for Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategy Book. We are always looking to take our good practices and make them great by informing them through research (Thank you Dr. Howard).

All of this work can be put into action through goal setting. The kind of goal setting that is steeped in the process and runs on a child’s perception. As we blend these works and ideas we looked for patterns that could fit together and work in a real classroom. To create structures that make sense to an eight year old and would allow our teaching to filter in, so we can construct a course for the long voyage ahead.


Meet the Teacher The Vision, The Planning, & The Reality

A Vision for Meet The Teacher / The Work  to Get Ready:

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values, RTI, Shared Writing, readers workshop, TCRWP

Anticipating Meet the Teacher Night is like getting ready for an important moment that we just can’t get back.  We really want to motivate parent engagement! This is the one night, our big chance to have the majority of  parents in one room.   Our work is to get them excited and motivated to be real partners for the school year ahead of us.  So here’s a breakdown of the plans we made:

  • We prepared the classroom structures we have in place (pictures) for readers and writers workshop.
  • We displayed anchor charts and student work that relates to the structure of workshop: lists of the read alouds, graffiti walls, students work, photographs, student writing as mentors, future work, so many visuals that connected to the work that is going on in the classroom.  All of it there so they could see and transfer the all important structure of workshop teaching.   
  • We wanted to make the theory come alive in the real work of their children.  
  • We intended to have parents experiencing the structure first hand through active engagement prompts and hoped that they would embrace the experience.

In short, we wanted to engender real parent/teacher partnerships that would encourage open lines of communication that would be respectful and positive.  We really wanted to hear them – to give them a voice and work their views into the teaching.  We really wanted them to love Jill’s classroom.  To appreciate and honor the work.

The Experience & The Reflection:

Meet the Teacher is a marathon day.  With a lot of sweat and perseverance (literally it’s been unseasonably hot!) the room was set.  It was so inviting and all our plans were realized.  Kids work adorned the room, photographs of children reading were displayed, graffiti walls were set up, materials were organized, and apple magnets with the happy faces of students marked each desk.  There was even an inspirational poem and peppermints to greet each parent – so glad you’re here!

Basicly the parents arrived and sat down at their child’s desk.  They looked excitedly about the room, and were interested in what was prepared.  They were attentive and encouraging, there were many nods of agreement as the presentation progressed.  It seemed as though they were taking it all in – the room came alive once the presentation was over.  Many parents were trying to grab a private moment to ask questions, or discuss their child specifically.   As we do the hard work of reflection here is what we noticed, what we think, and our new thinking to inform the future:

Intention Reflection
  • Getting parents involved
  • Not so much teacher talk
  • True partnerships Opening the lines communication
  • Understanding structure of teaching (not just curriculum)
  • Hopes: Informed about school day; parent voice; to appreciate the work going into the teaching
  • Yes – emails, letters, notes, phone calls
  • No – still a lot of teacher talk (parents wanted privacy)
  • So/So – Dealing with real input & next steps
  • Not sure: asking about reading curriculum, spelling, comprehension passages Q&A
  • Hopes: noticed that it’s different – but now they’re trying to link it to what they’re used to.

What this All Means & Future


Next year we plan to send home a request for parent expectations ahead of time.  Our thinking is that if parents have samples they can  look at beforehand this will allow them to prepare questions in advance. This will make them familiar with how the structures in the classroom work.  We think this because of the discussion around the Twitter books.  These books were introduced as homework first, so parents already had a working knowledge of what they were before this evening. This gave parents time to engage with them so they were able to ask more targeted questions.
While it’s important to plan for big events like Meet the Teacher, it is equally as important to acknowledge real input from parents.  It may not be what was planned for but it is what’s necessary for a successful year. It’s all about the relationship.  If the goal is  to open up a dialogue for parent reflection and input, it is important to be flexible and meet them where they are. and do the work to define what the classroom is in the 21st Century.   

Moving From Right Now to What’s Next

Everything looks good – like a lovely spread in some  teacher’s catalog. Desks are clean,  the floor is swept, the books are shelved perfectly in their bins. It’s no wonder that the beginning of the year is daunting to teachers. Let’s get real.  As we move past the beautiful pictures of the pristine classroom setup to the already lived in look of a classroom where children do the work not the teacher. This is a year of reflection for us so we can elevate our work to new levels.  We want to reflect on our practice and make room for student reflections in their day-to-day work. Ownership is essential and the buy in has to come from seven and eight year olds.

Student work begins with a value statement.  Right now, this is the driving force that cements teacher expectations as defined by her students.  It creates the world that we are going to be working in, living in – it is what makes the classroom hum.  What is valued is what will drive classroom motivation to do the work.  It’s about being invested in the challenging work that lays ahead of them.  This is a shared understanding that empowers students’ voices to define a classroom culture for agentive learners.  

This isn’t perfection – to quote Barb Golub “Every child needs everything everyday.”  It is not about starting with the perfect goal; it’s about setting the mindset.  Right now, our mission is to empower children to be reflective; and it begins with an expectation for setting goals.  It’s not the goal – it’s the idea that children can reflect and respond to their own learning – even if it’s not necessarily the goal that would be selected for them. Embrace the mess, an emphasis on process means that the final product may not look like anything that was envisioned. Eventually goal setting will be taken to a different level, but for today goal setting remains focused on empowering their roles as learners and our getting to know who those learners are.

From chaos to cultivating purpose.  Right now, we see kids sprawled across the floor reading with with partners laughing and discussing their books.  How do we build the academic muscle without taking away the fun of reading?   We redefine “fun” through inquiry – we perk their curiosity and set them free to ask questions and find answers. We encourage them to take a stance so that they have real purpose for their learning.  This is the secret for building stamina.  It’s so much more than a quantitative number of minutes; the real measure of stamina is in the qualitative work that is marked by focused motivated learning. The litmus test is when time is up and you hear the collective: “Awe! A few more minutes.”

It’s not just me, it’s also we: building a collaborative culture takes time.  Right now, we are happy to see students sitting in groups listening to each other and maybe connecting ideas. Real collaboration comes in time, and is informed by the goals we will be setting together.  Being prepared, informed, and motivated to collaborate around problem solving is a way to push their thinking as readers and writers.  They do this, as they become collectively more aware of their own learning, and how their actions make them accountable to their groups.    

Getting real doesn’t mean compromising.  Right now – we can have our professional goals and hold onto our values and still get real.  Let’s all make a promise not to be too hard on ourselves.  Teaching is not easy – it’s not something that can be served up according to some script.  It’s about building relationships, setting high expectations, and meeting students where they are – but most importantly taking them where they need to go next.