The Sixth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

The summers of my childhood seemed long and slow and languorous to me, with nothing more important to do than round up some of the neighborhood kids for a game of Kick the Can or find a mom to take us to the pool.

Now, though, summers seem to zoom by—and this one was no exception. For better or worse I spent more time at my desk this summer than I did at the pool. And while there were definitely some highlights—some great cycling and hiking, lovely time with my daughter and a personal writing project that’s been challenging but fun—there was also the daily assault of the news, which often left me anxious and drained, along with enough sweltering 90+ degree days to make me long for September.

Of course, it’s September now and the news horrors continue. But my spirits picked up over Labor Day as I reread all the comments blog readers had left from last September in order to share a handful here for my annual celebration of teacher thinking. So many were asking big important questions and fearlessly reflecting on their practice to arrive at new understandings and insights, which I found inspiring. And so, as I’ve done before (see here, here, 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 a blogger or on twitter, I’ve embedded a link in their name to their blog or twitter account, so you can learn more about their work and connect.

“How do teachers find that balance between offering true, authentic choice, alongside the responsibility for the ‘teaching’ of reading? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that building a community of readers and writers begins with a teacher who is passionate and who supports a learning environment where empathy is honored, so that risk taking can occur. I always wanted to structure my 7th grade classroom like Atwell’s, where kids can read or write whatever they want, and community is built through poetry. Maybe that’s why her students win so many writing awards… Less structure + More choice = Abundant Learning!”  Laurie Pandorf

“My students and I were considering endings of short stories and interpreting what the writer might want us to understand about the ending and beyond that, the larger story. When I asked them to pose some theories about why Roald Dahl might have ended “Lambs to the Slaughter” as he did, some of their early responses were ‘because he ran out of things to say’ or ‘because he wanted to wrap it up.’

I wanted students to go further, and they did. With some prompting, they got to saying things like ‘there may be moments that are so devastating, that you can’t hold back your anger’ (yes!) and ‘maybe we are all capable of the kind of crime Mary commits’ (beautiful!). I love where their interpretations ended up, but I wondered about those early responses. Were students thinking about their own reasons for ending a piece of writing? How often have they been asked to write a story, and ended it because they ran out of steam and/or ideas and/or interest? Are students aware that writers make choices in attempt to say something to the reader, not because they’ve run out of things to say? I know where I need to go next.”    Brian Weishar

“I always go back to Donald Graves when I find myself getting mired in nearby talk that reveres units of study packaged programs, rubrics and numbers as a way of determining learning. Our students are not any of those things, which is what makes teaching so challenging and exciting. You never know what’s going to happen in the classroom. What a student will say and do will just make you stop in your tracks to consider something you hadn’t thought about before. It’s what I love about teaching and what I see as important to keep front and center so I don’t lose my way.” Elisa Waingort

“In so many ways, we need to see the interactions with our students and our interactions with text as part of a bigger whole–ways we can live together in our world today. I think we and our students can see the world as a part, not apart, from the wonders and the issues and the insights we have together. Honoring these moments, supporting the ideas of the students, and stretching the ideas beyond the beginnings, to see connections, to value the ways we can get smarter by listening to each other–in our words and deeds.” Kathy Doyle

I used to lament that “kids these days just don’t know how to think! Now I realize, of course, that “I” was the problem: I wasn’t providing a space or opportunities for them to do that. I think I was also not so subtly sending the message that their thinking wasn’t valued. I’m working hard to change all of that now, and am trying to learn to shut my mouth and let them open theirs more, and then to sit back and wonder at all they have to say.”  Allison Jackson

As a classroom teacher who feels surrounded by TPT and Pinterest projects galore, I wonder…where has our respect for ourselves as professionals gone? By blindly following one curriculum, program, cute project after another, we have lost the voices of children. I frequently ponder, what have we “done” to reading? As Beers and Probst offer in Disrupting Thinking, “Skills are important. But if we aren’t reading and writing so that we can grow, so that we can discover, so that we can change—change our thinking, change ourselves, perhaps change the world—then those skills will be for naught.”  Lisa Osterman

“Getting our students to habituate to the idea that interpretation requires opportunities to “revisit, revise and refine” is a deliberate and yet messy process, because there will be many theories as to meaning, many with equal validity. As teachers, we often want some neat “one answer” that can then become the anchor of a thesis statement or PARCC answer, for that is what teachers have come to think of as teaching. In actuality, as you and Dorothy so brilliantly posit in your books, the “answer” to the meaning of any particular book is less important than the intellectual journey there – the habits of thinking that allow us to pause, re-read, wonder, and reframe idea,” Tara Smith

So here’s to a new school year. May yours be filled with big questions, insightful reflection, messiness and the joy of thinking with your students!

12 thoughts on “The Sixth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

  1. This is one of my favorite posts every year. That you take time for reflection, that you review previous writing, sharing your process . . . all characterize your own reading and writing processes! BRAVO! Thanks! ❤

  2. Thank you, Vicki, for the way you always encourage us to reflect upon our practices, and ask questions that will help the work we do: growing the thinking/learning habits of our students. And thank you for including me – honored! This September is turning out to be a muddled one in that a big part of me is still in Room 202, and always will be, writing and sheep farming notwithstanding. Come and visit some day!

    • Oh, Tara, I so hope this finds you well in your lovely farmhouse upstate! As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t managed to blog much this year, partly because I’ve embarked on another writing project that’s taken me away (in good ways). But if you ever leave your country haven for some time in the city, please do let me know. I’d love to catch up in person – and yes, maybe visit you one day!

  3. Your post was just what I needed today, as I embark on a week of particularly challenging conversations with mathematics educators who are not quite sure why we should be talking about making some changes to instruction. Thank you.

  4. How gracious and wise you are, Vicki, to share your readers’ reactions and thinking in this yearly post. Such a great way for all of us to learn together. And, it gives me a reason to revisit some of your posts from the prior year. I always learn so much on a second read.
    Thank you also for including my words- I’m honored more than I can express.
    Sad I haven’t been back to NYC for 2 years now. Miss seeing you, which makes your blog posts even more precious to me.

    • Life has been pretty crazy for me the last few months, Allison, which is why I’m so very late responding to comments. And, as you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been blogging all that much lately, which I do hope to change at some point. But PLEASE do let me know when and if you can get to New York again. I’d truly love to see you!

  5. What a beautiful reflection of the deeper work that I so enjoyed in all my years of teaching, Vicki! Leaving that space and shutting my mouth, so that serendipitous moment of kid thinking could appear! That was the electricity that fired my love for it all! Now, I’m the puppy, with my nose to the screen, wishing I could go back! Love the work, envision what you want to see happen, leave space—and the kids will take you on a better journey than you might have dreamed! Thank you for feeding that part of me today!

    • Afraid I somehow missed this, Gael! But so glad I could bring you back to someplace you loved so much. And here’s a quote from Eleanor Duckworth’s lovely article “Helping Students Get to Where Ideas Can Find Them” that my hunch is you’ll enjoy: “Contributing our own ideas and thoughts about the subject mater almost always short-circuits the students’ thoughts, and decreases their interest. But when we help them to take charge of their own explorations of subject matter, they do remarkable work.”

  6. I am deeply honored to have my thinking included in this celebration post. Thank you Vicki for pushing us to constantly reflect and change. Your words are so powerful to so many.

  7. Vicki – forgive me for posting so late! Although I rarely look at my phone during a meal, I was out to breakfast with my husban and peaked at your post while we were waiting to be served. Thank you for highlighting my thoughts; it’s such an honor to be included in this yearly round-up. You are so good at synthesizing your readers’ thoughts and making it visible for all of us. I particularly appreciated Tara Smith’s reflection on points made by you and Dorothy in reference to purpose of reading, “the answer to the meaning of any particular book is less important than the intellectual journey there – the habits of thinking that allow us to pause, re-read, wonder, and reframe an idea.” Thanks, as always, for taking us through the journey of your thinking, and for sharing your brilliant insights! And, PS – I missed catching up at the Paramus Institute; I hope to get back there next year.

    • Oh, Laurie, I missed you, too, this summer! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you can join me for the day I’ll be doing for Tom in December (complete with a classroom labsite). And if not, perhaps next summer. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye out for your thoughts when I next get back to twitter.

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