Who Do We Want Our Students to Be and Who Do They Need Us to Be: An Invitation to Share Your Thoughts

Young Child Reading Book

In a few days time, I’ll be heading north for ten days worth of cycling in Quebec, and while there’s much that I’m looking forward to—the scenery, the food, the sound of French, the feel of cobblestones beneath my feet—I’m also looking forward to how cycling frees my mind to wander and ruminate. In particular, I’m hoping to ponder the two questions in this post’s title: Who do we want our students to be? and Who do they need us to be? They’re questions I’ve been considering using to frame my next book on reading, where I’m hoping I can deepen, expand and explode what’s become the given language of the day: that we want our students to be career and college ready, with our teaching directed at making even our youngest students mini-academics, scouring complex texts for evidence to plug into tasks that we, as teachers, assign in order to determine if a student has met one or more particular standards.

The Day You Become a TeacherFor me, this nifty graphic from venspired.com captures some of what I think our students need us to be: teachers who are mindful of the fact that we teach students, not curriculum or Standards, and who know that we can meet those other expectations in a deeper and more meaningful way if we listen carefully to what students are saying and build their learning from there in a way that allows them to construct their own understanding, not just take on ours.

I’m quite sure that many of you reading this have ideas about these questions as well, and with summer upon us, you might even have time to share some of your thinking here. If so, please click on the reply link at the bottom of this post and type away. And if you want more food for thought—or just have a little more time on your hands now that it’s July—here’s three links that in different ways explore those same two questions:

Ken Robinson QuoteIf you missed Sir Ken Robinson‘s keynote address at last year’s NCTE Convention, his TED Talk video on “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley” will bring you up to speed. In addition to expressing his deep belief in teaching as a “creative profession,” not “a delivery system,” he makes an impassioned plea for reorganizing schools around the three principles he believes are what allow human beings to flourish: diversity, curiosity and creativity.

A Year at Mission HillIf you’re like me, there may be many articles, blog posts and videos you mean to get to but don’t because of time. Fortunately, though, I’ve finally had time to catch up with A Year at Mission Hill, a series of videos that chronicle a year at a remarkable public school in Boston. All ten chapters are amazing but for the purposes of this post, I invite you to watch the inspiring “Freedom to Teach,” which ends with teachers singing a song that includes these critical words: “You can give them your love/but not your thoughts/They have their own thoughts/ They have their own thoughts.”

Hurt No Living ThingAnd finally there’s this from my colleague and friend Renée Dinnerstein whose early childhood education blog Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play has tons of implications for those of us working in other grades. Her most recent post “Hurt No Living Thing,” for instance, looks at the unintended consequences of well-intentioned behavior management charts, and along the way has lots to say about how to create the kinds of classrooms where students can emotionally, socially and academically develop and grow and thrive.

Here’s hoping you find some inspiration—or affirmation—here then share your thinking below. And now . . . I’ve got to pack!

Quebec Bikes

13 thoughts on “Who Do We Want Our Students to Be and Who Do They Need Us to Be: An Invitation to Share Your Thoughts

  1. Vicki,
    Just yesterday I was watching this fantastic video:

    It is right on target with the topic of your blog. She keeps it real!
    Enjoy Quebec! (We were there this past Christmas. It’s like being in Europe! On the drive up we got waylayed by the biggest blizzard they’d had in 50 years! In Canada! Enough with the exclamation points!) and I will use your blog as an inspiration to write my own email diaries of teaching in Sudan. Would you like to be on my mailing list? Good luck this year! (Oops, there we go again!) If you get to go to the Middle East again, try to stop by Khartoum while you in the neighborhood.
    Hugs,
    Dinah

    • You’re right, this video is perfect! And she is amazing! Who we need to be: “an adult who doesn’t give up on students” and who understands that “no significant learning can happen without a significant relationship.” And as for Sudan, absolutely add me to your mailing list! That week in Jordan gave me a real hankering for working out of the country and I’m really hoping to do more of that in the coming years. So definitely keep me posted about life in a classroom in Khartoum–and perhaps we’ll cross paths and have that cup of tea some place more exotic than Brooklyn!

  2. A wonderful post, as always, with much to think over. I’m reading What Readers Really Do right now and loving it! I’m going to recommend it to the teachers I work with along with your blog. This past year was my first out of the classroom and into the role of reading/learning specialist and mentoring is part of the role. I will be sure to look at the videos. I never take the time during the school year.

    There are MANY things I’d love to talk more with you about including your itinerary for your bike trip. My husband and I were recently talking about 1) going to Quebec and 2) going on a biking vacation. I am looking forward to hearing how you combined them.

    Have a great time!
    Ellen

    • Hello Ellen! So glad that you’re liking What Readers Really Do! I’m afraid my mind is drawing a blank on the names of the reading specialists back in Keila’s day–Barbara? Pam?–but with mentoring it sounds like you’re getting to do more than the kind of remediation/intervention work that I think they did back then. And know that it would be quite a treat for me to come back to BFS for a day if the school ever felt such a need. But . . . Quebec! This year we’ve rented an apartment in Quebec City where we hoping we’ll have easy access to La Route Verte, which is an amazing province-wide system of bike routes and paths. Their website (http://www.routeverte.com/rv/index.php?page=home) has tons of maps and routes, plus lists of inns, hotels and B&Bs that welcome cyclists–and some of those will even transport your luggage from one place to another, all of which is great for do-it-yourself-ers like us. And I’m happy to share more over coffee or a drink when I get back if you’re around.

      • Thanks for sharing the Quebec information. I would love to get together. Except for Aug 3-10, I am pretty much around the rest of the summer.
        Enjoy!
        Ellen

    • I LOVE this post, Janet, especially the home improvement reality show metaphor and the wonderful clarification and distinguishing of outcomes, curriculum, and resources. And yes, teachers must be both architects and builders, though as you and I have written about, it’s hard to do in a system that doesn’t give you enough time or credit for that. But I do think it’s what our students need us to be, so that classrooms and lessons are places they can both live and grow in–with the decor matching the personality of the occupants. Bravo!

    • And thank you, thank you for passing this on! I love the answer that’s implicit in Donalyn’s post: Our students need teachers who hold the “art” in language arts dear–and know that books belong to their readers, not to a teacher’s or program’s curriculum or the Common Core’s Appendix B.

  3. I read this when you first posted, but saved it to read again. Thanks – it was great! I especially liked the link to “Hurt No Living Thing.” I’ve got to find more time to read ALL these great blogs. There are so many fantastic writers out there.

    • And I, in turn, have to thank you for your posts on Who Owns the Learning, which I’ve been following. I’m going to be joining a twitter book club meeting for What Readers Really Do on Sunday and this made me feel the potential and excitement of that kind of exchange of ideas. And I loved seeing the ideas you shared from the book–about teachers inviting students to contribute to the creation of curriculum and defining a learner as a contributor to the learning community. What a wonderful definition that is! Those two ideas also seem connected to that question I raised about who our students need us to be. And I’m so glad you liked Renee’s blog! It’s hard for me to believe she doesn’t know about Catching Readers Before They Fall, but in case she doesn’t, I just might have to do a little bit of blog reader match-making, as I think your right up her alley.

  4. Are there schools that has this method of teaching in southern California? II’m desperate to find a better education for my kids. I tried presenting Renee Dinnerstein ‘ s article to my son’s teacher and principal and they just blew me off saying that the pbis.org website has proven to work for their kids. Please help.

    • Oh Katherine, I so feel your pain and desperation, but I’m not sure I can help, both because I don’t have that kind of knowledge of California schools and I’m not an early childhood expert. I do, though, know that there are pockets of good teaching out there—as in individual teachers trying to do good, ethical and developmentally appropriate work in a system that doesn’t seem to support it—but I don’t know how to find them beyond connecting to as many people as you can. I am, though, attaching an article that comes from a new book called The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice published by ASCD (The Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development).http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/106044/chapters/Early-Childhood-Education-Programs@-Play.aspx. The article directly speaks to the kinds of practices Renee talks about but backs it up with additional research (including neuroscience), which might make it more persuasive to the powers that be in your kids’ school. Hope this help!

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