Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Won't Ask You To Do Something I Wouldn't Do

I've asked my going to be master teachers to reflect on and write about some aspect of their own literacy learning .  It seems like such as an easy task, and yet they will go through the complex process of selecting a topic, determining a focus, finding a small moment of time, drafting, revising, rewriting, editing and sometimes, even discarding and starting over.  They will do the work they ask their students to do!  I too am writing about some of those who have shaped on my own literacy learning journey.

I worked hard to make sure everything I did for Mrs. Peters was perfect.  At night, she filled boards with impeccably written chalk tasks for us to complete each day.  Then, she sat at her desk and corrected work glaring over her glasses at anyone who dared to disturb the quiet.  I dreaded being called to her desk where certainly, you would be berated for handwriting deficiencies, calculation imperfections, or wrong answers. I dreaded read-around the room.  I dreaded raising my hand and asking the whole class if I could use the bathroom!  Yet, from Mrs. Peters, I began to learn what kind of a teacher I didn't want to be.
There were lots of great models along the way, like Mr. Jackson.  I would have done anything for him!  He always had a "point of praise" and shared a "point of growth" on anything you did.  He shared bits of his own life and modeled (what a novel idea) what he wanted those biology lab write ups to be!  We lived biology that year and I began to wonder if I should be a doctor when I grew up.  I loved that we "turned and talked" during his class!  I learned more than I needed to know about the subject and that I could make mistakes as well as about the kind of a teacher I wanted to be.  
I've taken more courses in person, on video-tape (remember that?) and online than I can count.  I've read more books, attended more workshops, watched more peers, and reflected on the process of literacy teaching and learning for the better part of years of my life.  The more I learn, the more questions I have and the more I realize I will never know it all!  

Yet, it was on the sidelines of a lacrosse (or perhaps it was a football) field, where I began to understand that effective teachers really serve more as coaches of learning.  Have you ever watched an effective coach carefully?  What they do is really hard and yet totally magical at the same time!  They first make certain their players are immersed in the sport, the plays and the options.  They spend time encouraging bonding, film viewing, and building muscle memory.  They demonstrate again and again and yet again through their own modeling and through mentor texts and videos the moves of effective players.    
Effective coaches do not expect their players to go into the game without trying out plays and positions. They make sure their players are fully engaged in playing the sport!  Even if a win is unlikely by most wise spectators' expectations, coaches expect players to give it 100% and maybe, even to win!  Finally, but perhaps most importantly, effective coaches give effective feedback. They pat players on their helmets if they have done their best even if their approximation of the play was far from perfect!  They don't waste time and airspace with empty words of praise like, "That was great." They clearly tell their players what they did right and what they did wrong.  They find words to encourage after defeat and words to celebrate what worked and what didn't.    

Along my own literacy journey, I've realized that reflective life-long learners learn not only what they don't want to be but also what they do want to be!   Effective teachers realize that everything they say and do can impact those they are coaching.  Effective teachers demonstrate, immerse, engage, encourage, and provide feedback as their students engage in real life reading, writing, listening and speaking activities. We know our actions, models, and words matter. 

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