Reclaiming Thinking for Our Practice

For my May post I have invited friend and colleague Marjorie Larner to share part of the draft introduction of a new book she is working on.  Margie is the author of, Pathways (Heinemann, (2004) and Tools for Leaders (Scholastic, 2007).  Both these books have been invaluable resources in my work and have been core text for CTL’s work with literacy coaches in the field.

marjorie lernerAs I develop Artful Reading, a set of modules linking the arts and literacy, and work on training materials for a cadre of school- based instructional coaches, Margie’s thinking raises some provoking questions for me and sparks my own thinking.

Reclaiming Thinking for Our Practice

“But I don’t believe anybody is going to give us time to think. We have to reclaim it for ourselves.” Margaret Wheatley

I have a friend who says that someday he is going to write a book called, “I just want to tell you…” And the sequel is “Wait! I’m not done.” I’d love to just tell everyone how to teach. I would tell you to use workshop model, gradual release, thinking strategies.  I would tell you how to give your students lots of time to breathe, reflect, think, talk, write, to go beyond the four walls of the classroom for real life experiences. I would say we need to move. I would plead to make sure we have art in our school lives. We need to remember to care about ourselves and each other. Oh. Once I get going I can’t stop. There is so much I wish I could just tell people to do in schools and they would say, “Oh you’re right. I’m going to do that right away.”  And then they would implement my ideas the way I described.

The truth is even when a teacher might believe that I know what I’m talking about; it takes more than that to put something into practice in your classroom.

What is necessary for teachers to take on something new in teaching? It is not just about an action or behavior. For something to work, teachers have to embody it, really get it in our own hearts and brains.  My experience as a new teacher was troubling. I had many mentor teachers giving me sound advice but when I tried to follow their exciting suggestions without really understanding what I was doing, it didn’t work as well for me as it did for them.

The details of teaching are complex. Important learning is layered. Sustaining changes in practice usually happen one step at a time as one element gets set in a place before another can be added.

So, no, I am not going to tell you how to teach. I am not going to give you tips, tricks, structures, strategies, techniques, approaches, frameworks, tools to implement in your classroom. Though I could and I would still like to. I will suggest resources that have been helpful to teachers through the years.

There will be quotes, including some that are provocative, organizers, prompts, structures, stories to help you think about what you do, and in that process of thinking, access the spark inside yourself to find your brilliance. I believe from experience that nearly every person who goes into teaching has that spark. It is a matter of finding your own voice, your own drive, your own way of understanding. It is a matter of finding your way of organizing the physical, emotional and mental environment in your classroom. It is a matter of gathering resources, supportive and challenging relationships, tools to act on what you believe in alignment with what is required.

There are many details to be considered. I will not offer another set of instructional strategies but rather how you come to make whatever you are directed to do, or choose to do, work for you in your practice as a teacher.

If great teaching could be guaranteed through teacher compliance with directives about strategies and structures, we would have seen significant success after all these years of prescriptive programs claiming to promise increased student achievement as measured by continual growth on test scores.  As Saul Alinsky wrote in his rules for community organizing ,”A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

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