The Third Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

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I know many teachers and students around the country are already back in their classrooms, but for the third year I’d like to mark what here in New York City is the start of the school year by sharing some of the incredibly inspiring and thoughtful comments that educators have left on this blog over the last twelve months. Those months have been marked with ongoing conflict about the Common Core Standards, the corporatization of public education, standardized testing and certain literacy practices. Yet, if the comments below are any indication, it’s also been a year in which teachers have increasingly found their voices and are using them to speak out with passion, knowledge, and the conviction that comes from experience about what students—and they, themselves—need in order to be successful. And if I see a trend in this year’s comments, one of the things teachers are speaking out about is the need for a vision of education that’s not straight and simple, but messy and complex.

As happened before, it’s been quite a challenge to choose a handful of comments from the nearly two hundred I received. So if you find yourself hungry for more, you can scroll down and click on the comment bubble that appears to the right of each blog post’s title—and/or go to each responder’s blog by clicking on their name. You can also see the post they’re responding to by clicking on the image that goes with the comment. And for those of you who would love to hear and meet other bloggers and To Make a Prairie readers in person, I’ll be chairing a session at NCTE this year with Mary Lee Hahn, Julieanne Harmatz, Fran McVeigh and Steve Peterson called “It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiosity, Openness, Creativity and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading.”

And now, without any more ado and in no particular order, are some words to hold on to as we enter another year that I hope will be exciting for all:

Preparation of Life QuoteYes, it should be about the complexity of thought for our students. This is what they will carry with them into college and career—not a Lexile level. Spending time with a text and analyzing it through all those lenses to get the big picture should be our goal. I think many teachers are stuck on the standards, which to my mind is the old way of teaching. They want to create assessments for standards that they can easily grade and check off as ‘done’. We need to step back and think about how to teach our students to delve into a book and use multiple ways to explore the text, to come up with big ideas and original thinking. It begins with teaching them to love books and reading. We need to expose them to many kinds of texts with lots of opportunities to talk and write about what they’ve read. Not teach a skill, provide a worksheet, give an assessment and call it ‘done’. Annabel Hurlburt

Bernini's fountain of the four rivers, Piazza Navona, Rome, Ital“I too wrestle with how much to scaffold for students, and for adult learners and for how long. It seems the sooner we can remove the scaffold, the better. Sending learners off to inquire and grow their theories and ideas on their own, and to find their own answers is certainly always the goal—independence! . . . Seems that teaching students and adults as well to ask the big questions is also important, letting us grapple with new concepts and ideas grows us as learners. Less scaffolding supports this type of inquiry.” Daywells

Word Choice Matters“Another subtle nuance to a word is when we refer to schools as ‘buildings.’ A school is much more holy than that, because that’s where learning happens that shapes the future of the world. We don’t call houses of worship ‘building.’ We call them by their true names: church, synagogue, temple, mosque. These indicate that something spiritual is happening in them. When we call school a building, unless we’re talking about the physical plan, we’re helping them in the battle in lowering the value in what we do. These word choices seep into our daily work and shape our daily work into something we don’t want it to be!” Tom Marshall

“A point that stood out especially is that the inquiry process is not straight and easy. It isPuzzled Confused Lost Signpost Showing Puzzling Problem messy, and so we must let our students safely enter the muck. It can be difficult to know how much to intervene, especially when students seem to be veering far off course. The questioning you adapted from Jeff Wilhelm’s book seemed like a nice way to gently guide students toward considering more details before drawing conclusions, thus allowing them to arrive to more logical conclusions on their own. Anna Gratz Cockerille

Steering wheel of the ship“I would add that a culture of looking at many viewpoints from the earliest ages can add to the abilities of students when they arrive at the more sophisticated levels like you’ve shared. Even kindergarten students can begin to look at other points of view through mentor text stories and through problem solving in their classroom communities when students bring their own experiences into conversations. Part of this means that teachers must be open to NOT asking for the ‘one right answer,’ [and instead] inviting possibilities.” Linda Baie

Pinky and the Brain Pondering Critical Thinking2“‘Trainings’ operate with a limited vision of the competence and capabilities of teachers—and, in turn, support a model of education that operates with a limited vision of the competence and capabilities of children. Standing against that tendency means living in the tension between people desperately seeking simple answers to complicated questions and messy lived experience. I think that [the Opal School has] been siding with keeping it complicated, which seems to have the combined effect of deeply connecting with the learning of the educators who find us and limiting the number of people who do so. A real paradox! Matt Karlsen

And with these words in mind, let’s get messy! And here’s hoping that I get a chance to see some of you in D.C. this November!

NCTE Convention 2014

15 thoughts on “The Third Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

  1. I love the way you have written this post, drawing together these wonderful comments. I’ll be back to explore each of these in more depth. I get so excited about education when I hear thoughts such as these being expressed, I wish I could be with you at the conference. I’ll just have to wait for the blog posts! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Norah. Getting to work and connect with teachers like these online is what keeps me going. And here’s hoping that at some point it may even lead me to Australia where I know there are other like-minded teachers and kindred spirits!

  2. Your treatment of these comments is consistent with how you always treat readers responses on the blog – with respect and deep consideration – and, in turn, completely consistent with how I imagine you work with children.
    I’m bummed that our limited financial resources mean that no one from Opal School will be able to go to NCTE and attend what is sure to be an excellent panel discussion. We’re all so looking forward to your workshop in Portland in December!

    • Thanks, Matt. One thing that Reggio affirmed for me is that what’s good for children is good for teachers as well and vice versa—whether that’s time, space, listening, appreciating. And I, too, am so excited about finally getting to meet you in person along with Opal’s amazing staff in December!

  3. I love your blog. In the world of education filled with politics and red tape, it is inspiring to read that other teachers, like myself, still hold true and dear to their hearts the philosophy that the CHILD matters. Can’t wait to see you at the conference!

    • Thanks, Nancy. When I first went back to this work after having my daughter, I thought my most important role as a coach was to reconnect teachers to their teaching heart and to help them teach from there. In this day and age that’s often harder to do, as there’s less in the system to keep that heart kicking. But I actually think there are many, many more of like-minded souls out there than we might think. We’re just scattered—and unfortunately, not always supported—but the internet can bring us together in powerful ways. And NCTE, of course, is magic. So hope to see you there too!

  4. Vicki,
    I so much look forward to your posts. They always get me thinking, but also provide some sustenance for the teacher-soul, too. This annual compilation of comments is such a generous way to a build community; it feels very akin to what Peter Johnston talks about when he urges teachers to “notice and name” in our conversations with students and each other. Marvelous.

    Also, I love your noticing and naming the theme of complexity: “one of the things teachers are speaking out about is the need for a vision of education that’s not straight and simple, but messy and complex.” I have certainly felt this messiness, and struggle with how to mesh a vision of complexity of things with a vision of education that seems more linear — input/output. An uncomfortable, but perhaps productive place to be, for sure. I appreciate the table you have set for the discussion, and the generous portions you dish out. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Steve. I’ve been knee-deep in thinking about complexity this summer as the book I’m working on (and fingers-crossed will finish this year) is tentatively titled Embracing Complexity. And it was really interesting to see that that’s been on other teachers’ minds, too, as I looked through the comments from last school years. Feels like a zeitgeist sort of thing—at least in our corner of the teaching worlds. And I’m so very glad that this provides as much sustenance for readers as it does for me!

  5. I agree with Steve, your posts provide a touchstone and sounding board during these very divisive times. I’m always so amazed by the dialogue and connection your writing creates. The trends you have noticed have in fact been nurtured by your blog: a place to meet and follow educators who recognize the same passions in each other. You bind us; we know we’re not crazy or alone for thinking the way we do. Thank you so much honoring the messiness of and quest for real learning. For holding a torch so we can find each other and hold out our own lights of hope.

    By the way, you will get to meet Dayna (daywells) when you are in Los Angeles. I am lucky enough to work with her. Looking forward to seeing you.
    Julieanne

    • I had an ‘aha’ moment at an Institute I worked at this summer when I did a session with Ginny Lockwood, another stupendous thinker & consultant. She shared a list of traits she thought captured the kinds of citizens we’d like our students to be—empathetic, curious, etc.–and I suddenly thought that if we created classrooms built around that meeting the standards would inevitably become the by-product—sort of like how achievement was the by-product of Finland’s commitment to creating equity. I’m sharing this because it suddenly seems to me that I started this whole blogging thing to try to shed light on my own messy thinking, and in ways that continue to marvel me, I created and found a community. So here’s to sharing messy thinking again as we launch—and to meeting new readers, as I had no idea that Dayna/daywells was a colleague of yours!

  6. Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    Every so often I read a post that has me nodding in agreement and leaves me smiling and full of hope for education. This post, by Vicki Vinton of “To Make a Prairie”, is one of those. I hope you enjoy it!

  7. Pingback: A Book Is Born (Well, Almost) | To Make a Prairie

  8. Pingback: The Fifth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking | To Make a Prairie

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