As I wrote Take Charge of Your Teaching Evaluation, I was thinking about how I could make it more useful and began reflecting on the professional development experiences that shaped my own growth. One of the best experiences I had was when a group of us would meet regularly on part of our prep period to discuss our students' work and our own planning and feedback to students. This powerful experience, shared across disciplines and grade levels, helped me focus on questions such as “What do good directions to students look like? How can I help my students see what doing their best work looks like?” or even “How can I ask better questions?” We would meet and bring samples of student products along with the assignment itself, with each of us given time to present our artifacts and questions and then listen while others offered their ideas for our consideration. Many others conduct this kind of collegial study, and it helps keep the focus on how we can improve student learning and student work.
How can principals help teachers build energy? It's an enduring question for a reason, with many possible answers. Don Graves once visited a school where each Wednesday morning the faculty met to have a breakfast of rolls, juice, and coffee and then moved into various curriculum focus groups. The faculty had one half hour together before school and then one halof hour after the children arrived on the busses. The staff ran the sessions and discussion groups. “I have but one requirement,” the principal said, “that everyone attend and no one be alone in their room. I make sure the kids are in a good situation for their half hour. Every June we reevaluate the Wednesday morning program and decide what specific interest groups will follow for the next year. In previous years we’ve produced lots of things: parent forums, a new math curriculum; we prepared a language arts presentation for parents.” This particular program had been going on for ten years. There is renewal for the staff in the middle of the week, and above all, keeps the staff in touch with each other and develops new ideas.
Teacher burnout is a growing concern in education. We are being asked to do more than have in the past with fewer resources than we need. The public narrative around teaching is that we should be doing things for the sake of the children, that if we cared about children, we wouldn’t be selfish and put our needs first.
Hogwash. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first or you won’t have the energy or ability to help anyone else. We hear this every time we get an airplane, but we forget to apply it to the rest of our lives.
The following is an excerpt from pages 74-75 of A Guide to the Teachers
College Reading and Writing Project Classroom Libraries, Grades 6–8
by Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth
What is a book club?
Simply put, a book club is a group of readers, usually three or four, who read books roughly in sync with each other. Usually clubs read the same book, but sometimes clubs may read books by the same author, or read a series of books together that share a common genre—mystery, historical fiction, fantasy—or they may read a collection of disparate books with a common lens—thinking about interpretation, learning about shared social issues across the book.
In 2005, I attended a summer teaching institute for the humanities. Over the course of the week, the twenty-five participants grew to learn more not only about the subject matter we were studying but also about the teaching contexts that vary so widely in our state. At the time, I was teaching in one of my state’s neediest districts, and I saw my attendance at the institute as a way to be certain I was doing right by my students. At the end of the week, as we were sharing ways we could use what we had learned to create new units for our students, a woman who was a supervisor at a nearby district said to me, “Wow. I didn’t know your district had teachers like you. I would have hired you.”
This comment stunned me. First, I realized that she assumed I was teaching in my district because I had been turned down by other districts. But I had applied only to the district I was teaching in: I had been looking for a change and a challenge. Second, in that moment I understood how the larger world saw my colleagues and me—because we taught in what was labeled a failing school district, we were failures, also.