Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Teaching Outside the Box

Teachers today are under pressure to be systemic, to conform to the decisions of the group rather than stand out from the crowd. And while I have no issue with consistency in standards and curricular content, I do feel my soul beating its tiny fists against my insides as this profession tries to fit me into a smaller and smaller box. I can't help but think that in trying to make our classrooms the same, we will only succeed in making the minds within them the same. Who wants that?

Last week was the annual CCIRA Conference (Colorado Council of the International Reading Association), and I was fortunate enough to hear the mighty Katie Wood Ray and Regie Routman speak, among others. After three days of inspiration and new learning, I was left with one overwhelming message: the best way to fight against what is frustrating and just plain wrong in education today is with excellent, authentic, inquiry based instruction.

At a district technology fair last month, educator Karl Fisch said, "We are the system." I found that so empowering. His argument was that instead of complaining about what is wrong with the system, we need to realize that what we do every day in our classrooms IS the system. And if that is true. . .

My intention is to create the highest quality learning environment possible every day. If my kids are engaged, motivated, skilled, high-level thinkers, who will be able to take issue with that?

That means not being afraid to stand up for best practice and the individual needs of kids who are not all the same.

That means (respectfully) saying no sometimes, even when it is difficult, even when colleagues have expectations for "consistency" and "systemic" practices. I shouldn't have to apologize for having a different philosophy or a different style of teaching. Kids need to experience a diversity of learning and teaching styles.

I have a depth of knowledge in teaching primary aged children that legislators do not have. I am proactive about constantly seeking out new opportunities for professional development. If I cannot be trusted to make good decisions in my classroom, then I don't know who should. (I could do a whole other post on who shouldn't. . . .) My teaching speaks for itself, as it should for us all.

We need innovators in education, not just followers. At my core, I want to create and to foster creative thinking in others. As I feel my own creative spirit being squelched by those who strive for "standardization," I fear for the creativity of our students.

So my choice is to stand up. To speak up. I will not be put in a box. And I will not quietly go along with decisions that are not in the best interest of my students. (My bulletin boards will never match my teammates. Ever. That is not my ideal--that is my greatest nightmare.) I will collaborate, I will share and listen with rapt attention as others share and teach me, but I will no sooner blindly follow than I would want anyone to blindly follow me.

I hope one day we can get back to a place where differences are respected and expected in education. Our kids need us to think for ourselves if we will ever be able to teach them to do the same.

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