After a whirlwind Thanksgiving break that started out with an inspiring weekend at NCTE in Chicago, I’m back at my desk and back in the swing of another busy week teaching high school language arts.
And I’m exhausted. It’s like I need a vacation from my vacation. It wasn’t a fully relaxing vacation what with the planes, trains, and automobiles adventure I had with work tagging along: 88 senior research paper rough drafts to respond to and 32 creative writing flash fiction stories to grade. (I spent 14.5 hours in total between Thanksgiving activities in Iowa on this work). Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the upcoming holiday break (just two and a half weeks away) where I should have ample time to, well, to do nothing.
But after the initial shock of being dropped back into the frantic schedule that we live each week, Mister S and I have begun to talk in the office about what’s resonating from all the people we met and sessions we attended in Chicago.
Yvonne Siu-Runyan’s presidential address was nothing short of inspirational. Here are a few tidbits that I tweeted while listening to her talk:
“Stories define us and are fundamental to our identities.”
“Stories cross borders.”
“We must tell OUR stories.”
“People cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have boots.”
“First, do no harm.”
“The last thing any student needs is one more thing to be perfect at.”
“When we trust kids, they never let us down.”
Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
“We must counter the tales, which blame the ills of society on teachers.”
“When we tell our stories, we release ourselves from the shackles of mandates.”
I could literally write a dissertation about any one of these thoughts–and in fact, much of my dissertation did focus on the value and importance of story and the need to teach literature through that focus instead of as an exercise in literary analysis. I love that Yvonne’s presidential platform has been about the importance of story and the role that story can play in our test-score obsessed society. Stories from classrooms remind us of the realities behind those numbers. These stories remind us of why mandates don’t work. Our classrooms are complex ecosystems, each different from the next. What works in one may not work in another, but we can share our successes and challenges through the stories of our work and learn from each other. That’s a key to meaningful education reform.
And I dearly love what Yvonne says about boots and bootstraps and how one cannot pull oneself up by the bootstraps if not in possession of boots. This underscores one of the biggest obstacles to educational success for many of American students: poverty. If our society doesn’t work on that, school reform measures will struggle to succeed.
The last session I attended was with Sara Kajder, Troy Hicks, and Bud Hunt (via video conference from his home in Colorado): “Reports from Cyberspace.” I learned that apparently these three have done this session a few times now. They work to update attendees each year about developments in web-based technology that are relevant to our work in the English Language Arts. I definitely picked up some ideas (like making use of cel.ly to turn the cell phones my students already have in their pockets into clickers and to create a backchannel discussion space for my students). But what resonates for me most from here were these ideas:
“Our students are tech comfy but not tech savvy.” –Sara Kajder
Yes, they walk in with great facility with technology, but we need to teach them how to be savvy users of it. I often tell my students that I know they can use Facebook to make plans for the weekend, but I’m not sure they can use a wiki space to manage a collaborative project with people on the other side of the globe. They need more. They need to be more critical and sophisticated users of the technology in their world.
“We get hung up on the stuff sometimes and forget about the humanity needed to do great things with technology.” –Bud Hunt
It’s not so much about the devices, the gadgets, the physical stuff that we end up with in the name of classroom technology. It’s about the connection between us that these devices enable. That’s what we need to focus upon. How is social networking changing literacy? What does that mean for how we teach literacy? Those are the questions we need to be focused upon, not on which gadgets we think we need.
“No one’s coming to tell you what to do. Agency. Have some.” –Bud Hunt
I loved this. It has just become a big banner in my classroom because I want my students to think about what it means to have agency in their lives. But this message is highly important for teachers interested in doing the best by their students. Reform–that is MEANINGFUL reform–comes from the ground up, driven by teachers who know their students and know something about what our students need to manage their future world. We know what the local challenges are. We have ideas about how to move forward, and we don’t need to wait for anyone to tell us to move forward. We just need to take those first steps and figure it out as we go. If we sit around and wait for people to tell us what to do, we’ll be stuck with solutions that come from outside, solutions that don’t work, solutions that constrict what we are able to accomplish.
In case you’re wondering, this blog post took me literally all day to complete. I started it during 1st hour, during my planning period. But then I had a block class, a manic half-hour lunch where I quickly consumed my burrito over impromptu meetings with a few different people, then two more block periods teaching, then three hours after school with my newspaper staff… I wrote in fits and spurts and have only now had a moment to finish things up. And in about a half hour, I have to start prepping for the open house we have here tonight for eighth graders who are contemplating enrolling at our school next year (Colorado offers open enrollment in public schools–you’re guaranteed a spot in your neighborhood school but you can open enroll in any school in the district). It’s one of those very full, very scheduled, very exhausting days. If it weren’t filled with the awesome young people who populate my classroom, energize me, and keep me young, I just might not make it.