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.

Same philosophies extend to instructional coaching. It's about clarity of intention, reflection, and ownership. Working side by side. Building communities of learners (of all ages).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Transformational Professional Reading

What are those professional books that have rocked your pedagogical world? The ones that made you stop, think, and shift in some significant way? Here are my top three:

3. Awakening the Heart, by Georgia Heard

This is the book that changed me from a teacher who feared poetry to a teacher who cannot imagine a teaching (or a reading or a writing) life without poetry. Georgia Heard makes poetry so accessible, so connected to who we are as human beings. Her strategies support the most reluctant writer (and teacher) in taking creative risks and in beginning to "resee" the world through a poet's eyes.

I have relied on this book as a classroom teacher, and I have used it as a tool as an instructional coach. Years later, it is my go-to resource for supporting teachers (and students) who may be hesitant about their own efficacy around poetry. Georgia Heard makes poetry safe, and she connects it to the writing work we do throughout the year (not just in April).

2. The Comprehension Toolkits, by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

You may be familiar with Stephanie and Anne's book, Strategies that Work, a comprehensive work on the how-tos of teaching reading comprehension. The Comprehension Toolkits (K-2 and 3-6), take the same content and break it apart into practical units, including non-fiction texts for instruction. Each lesson contains examples of teacher talk, student talk, and student work. I think of the toolkits as teaching resources; they are practical, yes, but through their use, the teacher learns so much. They are not intended to be "scripts," but examples of the level of thinking and talk that supports deep comprehension.

Stephanie Harvey is just so clear when she writes about comprehension. Her strategies make the thinking we do as readers visible--to kids and to us as we assess where kids are with their comprehension. The how and the why are completely transparent and transferable. She teaches us how to teach reading comprehension (not just practice doing it).

1. About the Authors, by Katie Wood Ray

It's hard to pick just one Katie Wood Ray book (I've read them ALL). . . but this is the one that changed everything for me as a writing teacher (long, long, ago). This is the book that gave me a vision for the writing our youngest writers can do if we get out of their way and build a writing community that mirrors what writers do in the real world. Katie Wood Ray proves in this book the high level of thinking writers are capable of when they are taught to "read like writers" and have vision for the possibilities of their own work.

Katie Wood Ray taught me to adjust my stance--from teacher/student to writer/writer. As we began to notice and inquire together, my students developed their own writer identities. They became empowered, engaged, and motivated. They had purpose and audience for their writing. They could talk about their intentions as writers and refer to the mentor texts that inspired their thinking. Their growth mindset around writing inspired my own.

I have been an unapologetic groupie every since.

What does this say about me? 

I could go on and on with professional books that have helped to shape the teacher I am today. But my purpose today was to reflect, and perhaps to challenge you to reflect as well.

As I look over my list, I see a trend. All three of my transformational books share the idea that in order to teach, we must model--with our own writing lives, with the way we make our own thinking as a reader or writer visible. A walking the walk situation. All of these authors project that same authenticity that I aspire to live with my students and with the teachers I work beside. It's not about having all the answers. It's about having genuine curiosity for figuring it out together. It's about trusting that everyone (everyone) you learn beside has the capacity for greatness. As teachers, we must be vulnerable (and patient) enough to reflect on the process of figuring it out.

What are your transformational professional books? What do they say about your beliefs as an educator? 


  1. I was told by a pre-service professor that the best way to keep up with our profession was to 1) Join professional organizations 2) Subscribe to educational journals and magazines 3) Read professional books that enhance your practice. I have used Georgia Heard's Awakening the Heart and the Comprehension Toolkit to fine tune my work in the classrooms.

    1. I agree! Thank you for bringing up professional organizations--that would be a great idea for another post. . .


  2. I LOVE your three books! I don't think I could narrow my list down! The books that impacted me as a teacher and a coach include: The Art of Reading and The Art of Writing by Lucy Calkins, and How's it Going by Carl Anderson. As a supporter of coaches I love The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar. As a leader I love the work of Michael Fullan, Karin Chenoweth, Doug Fisher, and Carol Dweck, and the book Instructional Rounds. Thank you for participating in the educoach challenge!

    1. Awesome list! Karin Chenoweth is a new name for me--I'll have to check her out. Thank you!

  3. The first book that changed me as a teacher was In the Middle by Nancie Atwell (the FIRST edition). I was brand new when I discovered Nancie, and she made me see that there was a better way. It took me several more years to develop the confidence to make the full switch to the workshop model, but once I did, I never looked back.

    1. It does take years to feel like you have your feet under you with workshop, doesn't it? For me, it's that complexity and that challenge that makes it such a worthy pursuit. My bookshelves (and my budget) might disagree, but I can never have too many books about teaching writing--there is so much to learn!

  4. Without a doubt, Mindset by Carol Dweck has been and continues to be hugely influential in all that I do in teaching & learning. As a classroom teacher and now as a coach, and even as a parent, the power of a growth mindset drives my practice.

    As a coach, I've also been hugely influenced by The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar. Got Data, Now What? by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman is a regularly used resource as I plan for working with teaching teams.


  5. Thank you for sharing your transformational books! I agree that Dweck's work around mindset has greatly influenced the way that we think about learning (with kids and with adults).