The Fifth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

Can a tradition be a tradition if a year is skipped? I’m hoping so, as it seems that, with the final revisions of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading due at Heinemann last August, I missed celebrating teachers’ thinking last year as a way of also commemorating the start of another new school year.

I’m back, though, this year to share a handful of the many thoughtful, wise, and inspiring comments left on the blog over the last twelve months. These comments, as well as scores of others, reassure me that children across our increasingly divided country, will find in their teacher someone who listens, who cares deeply about their emotional, intellectual and physical well-being, and is willing to take risks on their behalf—including being vulnerable, as true learners must be.

As I’ve done before (as well as here, here, and here), I’ve set each reader’s comment next to an image that links back to the the post they were responding to, so you can have some context for their thoughts as well as see what others think. And if the author of the comment is also a blogger, I’ve embedded a link to their blog in their name; while with others, I’ve embedded their twitter handle, so you have the option to learn more about both their work and their thinking.

And now, without any more words from me are the words of six amazing teachers, all of whom I’m honored to have as readers:

“Clearly, this lesson took forethought and masterful planning for the “unknown” on the part of the teacher. It showed trust of student abilities and high expectations . . . [and] it allowed time for kids to do the “work”. It was apparent that kids’ reasoning was the norm, right answers not a goal, revising thinking an expectation. . . .[But] I’m not sure if others come up against the following as I do: sometimes, even though lessons are thoughtfully and purposely open-ended and designed to get kids to reason, others assume I’m advocating for “not planning” or “not teaching”. Sometimes, when what is deemed to be direct instruction (i.e. “I tell or model and you listen or spit back”) is not seen, others may assume thoughtful teaching and planning isn’t happening.” Claudia Tucci

“The concept of “true teaching” ought to ring true with all educators- just because we taught it doesn’t mean they learned it. I love the four-step process for learning and am planning to share that in future trainings. It’s only when we learn that a “blind spot” even exists that we can actually do something about it (until we know about what we didn’t know we didn’t know about). And the way you discuss how we approach the teaching of punctuation gets at the all-important ‘why’ of humanity. I, like you I think, believe the ‘why’ is what drives all of us.” Lanny Ball

“This post. . . has me thinking again (and worrying) about the long-term consequences of the limitations we impose on our students’ writing. In particular, I worry about the year-long genre restrictions that come along with a set curriculum that must be taught “with fidelity.” New to teaching fourth grade, I have much to learn about that curriculum and about how to nurture passion and choice within it. There has to be a way, right? Your post reminds me that finding this way is work that cannot be postponed until I’m more comfortable and confident within the framework of the curriculum. The idea that a student will leave my class not liking, or even hating, writing horrifies me.”  Molly Hogan

“I couldn’t agree more and am saddened that even at a young age, students are concerned more with making the benchmark (and they know this word) than seeing learning as a journey. In second grade they ask, “will this be on a test?” “Can you test me today so I can read the next level book?” I love the idea of letting students wrestle with figuring “things” out, naming it on their own, and giving it a try. It allows ownership and meaningful understanding. Thank you for this thought provoking post.” Kim Clancey

“More and more I’m realizing that so often what we do doesn’t match up with what we believe, or at least, what we SAY we believe. I think your response to Julieanne’s comment in last week’s post really nailed it: we are focused more on “achievement” (which is really more about teachers and admin) than LEARNING (which is all about the students). And I do think that one reason we don’t do more constructivist-type teaching is that it takes longer. But, the payoff is worth it in the end: if we let kids construct their own understanding with guidance from us. ultimately students’ learning is deeper, plus we don’t have to go back and reteach- which adds it’s own extra time.” Allison Jackson

“While reading this post I thought more about the concept of significance. In the midst of helping my Year 5 classes with a History inquiry, we are building a timeline together. We are finding that agreeing upon significance of events is not easy. I can’t wait to tell them tomorrow that significance and perspective are connected, and as authors of the timeline, we are making choices that will affect the reader. I think I’m on the right track now, and will enable the students to turn a ‘So what?’ task into something richer.” Brette Lockyer

Finally, as I put this post together, I think I noticed a pattern running through the comments as I often do. In one way or another, all these teachers seem to be questioning, challenging and pushing the boundaries of what it means to teach. And once again, this suggests to me that all these teachers are real, authentic learners, which, I believe is incredibly important, because as Writing Workshop founder Don Graves once said:

So may we all go forth in this new school year thinking, learning, questioning and taking risks, just as we want our students to do.




9 thoughts on “The Fifth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

  1. Vicki,
    What a celebration! It is this . . . “In one way or another, all these teachers seem to be questioning, challenging and pushing the boundaries of what it means to teach.” You, your blog, your books all support questioning, challenging and pushing the boundaries of what it means to teach! What a fabulous way to start the year with this great reflection! Thank you!

  2. Vicki, I’m always excited when I see you’ve posted a new blog post. Each one feels like a mini coaching session for me. Thanks for including my comments in this one. I am honored. You write that we teachers “seem to be questioning, challenging and pushing the boundaries of what it means to teach.” For me the challenge and pushing of boundaries means pushing back against practices, mandates, and resources that don’t meet students’ needs and that go against my core beliefs of teaching and learning. It’s a lonely, scary place to be in, and your support means the world to me. Thank you.

    • My heart and thoughts are with you, Allison. Know that at some point I’m going to write a post on cracking open packaged lessons to allow for more thinking and talk – and most of the work I’ll share there comes from a school that’s also using EL. The principal was smart enough to recognize that there wasn’t enough room for that if you’re expected to do the lessons as scripted, but she still wanted to follow the basic outline, focus and goals of the lessons, which was really hard. So . . . I feel your pain! Just remember you’ve created and are a part of an amazing community of like-minded teachers online.

  3. You bring voice, form and practical methods to a philosophy of teaching that can be extremely hard for many of us to explain. Just as you expect kids to think & “spar” you challenge and value teachers in a parallel way. Your readers’ comments are equally thoughtful and thought provoking –so I’m honored to be included in the “celebration” of ideas here. Many best wishes to all for the new school year!

    • I confess I think that I just might have the most thoughtful blog readers out there – and you are definitely one of them, Claudia. I also firmly believe, as I think you do, too, that what’s good for kids is good for teachers, which includes time to think and practice and, perhaps most importantly, to be trusted.

  4. Thank you so much for including my comments along with those of other teachers. I am truly honored. Your thoughtful posts (and the resulting comments and conversations) always push me to think more about what I’m doing in the classroom and why. Your generously shared thoughts and reflections inspire and empower many. Thank you.

    • You’re so very welcome, Molly! I’m a little embarrassed though that I didn’t know your work and website until I tried to find you online. I love your poems and slices & am equally honored to have you as a blog reader.

  5. Pingback: The Sixth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking | To Make a Prairie

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