Have you ever experienced moments of wonder? To me, it’s a moment when the world stops around you and you are walking towards a path of discovery. It’s that moment when you see or hear something that pauses your heartbeat and stretches your mind. It’s that moment that clouds extraneous noise and magnifies the awe and curiosity within. It’s that moment that causes you to step back, observe, listen, and create roadways and bridges to new learning. Recently, I had been hoping for another moment of wonder. But, I know that life just doesn’t work like that. Through my experience, moments of wonder happen when we least expect them. They happen when we are living our lives with passion and purpose; if we are open, flexible, and willing, we can stumble upon those moments and appreciate their value.
Learning About Liveware Recently, I experienced a moment of wonder when I decided to listen to Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us with special guest David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author. From the moment he started talking, I was captivated by how relatable he is. I was enthralled by the way he eloquently and simply described the human brain and its functions. He has the natural ability to communicate in a way that resonates with people who are not living in his world. He paves a path to do the important work of studying the brain and then shares the information with people who are not in the medical field. He describes the brain as liveware; all of its experiences reshape the brain. “It’s a living, dynamic, electric fabric that is constantly changing.” Every time we take in new information and are evolving as people, our malleable brain is perpetually reconfiguring. While listening to this podcast, I immediately added Eagleman’s new book Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain to my Amazon cart. Another moment of wonder is when I began reading his book. One quote that struck me was, “As we grow, we constantly rewrite our brain’s circuitry to tackle challenges, leverage opportunities, and understand the social structures around us” (p.3).
A Connection to Education
After reading just a few paragraphs of this blog, your brain has already changed. At the end of chapter 1 in Livewired, Eagleman says, “Just a handful of pages into this book, your brain has already changed: these symbols on the page have orchestrated millions of tiny changes across the vast seas of your neural connections, crafting you into someone just slightly different than you were at the beginning of the chapter” (p.16). This moment of wonder catapulted me into a state of reflection about the current state of the educational landscape we are living in. Here is a moment of wonder: If our brains are changing by reading a few paragraphs of a blog, then how much have they metamorphosed since the beginning of a global pandemic? When people ask me if teaching in virtual and physical spaces simultaneously is hard, my answer remains constant: Yes it is hard, yes it is challenging, and yes, the educators who are living this, well their cognitive capacity is being stretched beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. Another moment of wonder … when I realized I have learned more about teaching and learning in the last 9 months than I have learned in my 15 years in education while putting the learner at the heart of decision making, responding to what they need to know, thinking about how they should get there, and figuring out ways to track their learning. And since technology is second to the learner, then I incorporate digital tools to support the process. I have tested my limits in multiple ways and have perseverated over what I can do better. These moments of wonder made me realize that you can learn and achieve anything you want to if you embrace flexible intelligence, the willingness to collect the important details and create experiences that make the learning process worthwhile. Have you ever experienced a moment of wonder? To me, it’s a vessel of curiosity and awe. It’s the way we perceive the world and take in information. It’s that moment when you realize that there is so much more to know and learn. Moments of wonder are spaces and time that question our beliefs, who we are, and push us to places that make us better versions of ourselves.
Stories are windows into the soul. They are hidden treasures that are buried beneath a sea of hopes, wishes, dreams. They are small moments of time that pass you by. They are memories that enrapture your heart and wrap around your spirit. They are the hidden paths to who we are and what we will become. Every piece of who we are, are invisible stories strung together and concealed by our external being. There are moments in time where our masked stories are unearthed amidst the creation of the new versions of ourselves. Stories bind us to people; they are entry points to connection, collaboration, conversation, and contact. Our stories are a learning journey, our core identity, they are a reflection of our values and what we stand for. What if we do not like the way a story is unfolding in our lives? Did you know that we have the divine power to choose our own? What can we intentionally do to shift the narratives we are creating and write the stories we want to be a part of?
Stories are windows into our experiences. They are small moments etched into our memories. They are the ammunition that pushes us down the path of discovery. They live in mind memory boxes waiting to be courageously unwrapped and gifted to people who use them to discover ideas and recognize their own passions. In a recent #InnovatorsMindset podcast, George Couros brilliantly says “Stories are the fuel for innovation, they inspire us, they give us pertinent ideas, they get the work we are doing out to people in a really compelling way that goes beyond what a score could tell people about our students.” Beneath the facade of every human being lies personal, unique collections of stories that reveal reflections of who they are and who they want to be. How can we intentionally create spaces for learners to share how they view the world through stories?
Layering Stories into Learning
Here is a simple and authentic formula to consider following when thinking about how a classroom community can intentionally embed stories into their learning lives:
Personalize – The teacher links a personal story to learning by saying.
I was thinking about…
I remember when…
Let me tell you a story…
Connect- Learners connect their own stories to a learning experience.
This is making me think…
I’m realizing that…
Share: Learners share connections with peers to form new ideas.
Your story is making me think…
Your story is making me wonder…
Stories are lenses that formulate perspectives and cultivate community. They are sound bites, and short episodes of our lives. They are opportunities to personalize classroom experiences, make connections to new learning, and a bridge that connects us with people to form new ideas. In chapter 3 of the book Personal and Authentic, Thomas C. Murray passionately wrote, “Weaving together our experiences creates our story, makes us who we are, and determines the context in which we each learn.” Understanding the stories within our school organizations forges deeper connections that lead to deeper learning. Understanding stories values the uniqueness of each individual and brings purpose to authentic work. Understanding stories helps us shift the narratives we want to create in our classrooms, honors people who live in our world, and nourishes the feeling of empathy in the spaces we choose to create.
On a Mission Educators who are reimagining and implementing the workshop model all over the world are on a mission. They are on a mission to provide powerful literacy instruction to every single student who enters their physical, virtual, hybrid, and/or hyflex spaces. They are on a mission to rally learners, cultivate communities, build partnerships, voluminously read, write, talk about books, and guide learners towards independence. They are on a mission to make learning stick, honor the framework and give effective, impactful, brisk minilessons that will empower learners to effectively and efficiently transfer relevant skills and strategies into their reading and writing lives. In the book Leading Well, Lucy Calkins states, “When teachers lead effective minilessons, those short bursts of instruction will mobilize the whole community to be on fire as readers and writers and will immerse the kids in an understanding of the important work they are doing. Although small group instruction and conferring are critically important, when teachers are skilled at giving minilessons, that teaching can drive a huge amount of progress” (Calkins, Ehrenworth, & Pessah, 2019, p. 69). Workshop educators know what the workshop feels and sounds like; they are committed to making the experience feel like an “all-hands in” group huddle, pulling the learners in close, leaning forward, teaching their hearts out as they demonstrate with brevity, have learners collaborate and share ideas, and then reconvene the class to share some incredible thinking work. With all of that being said, educators were propelled to reimagine the structure and components of the minilesson in new physical and virtual spaces with intention and flexibility. They have constantly asked themselves, “How can I honor the workshop model framework, reach all learners, and provide short bursts of instruction that will ignite passion and an innate yearning to want more?
When convening for a workshop minilesson in physical and virtual spaces, learners congregate in spaces that look and feel very different than the traditional rituals that usually include a meeting area with a rug, teacher’s chair, and a purposefully positioned anchor chart. In traditional learning environments, classroom spaces were arranged so that learners could transition from intently listening to the minilesson on the rug to turning and talking with partners, to independent practice in flexible seating or back at desks that were grouped together to encourage peer collaboration. Now, learners in physical spaces and virtual spaces are sitting with their 1:1 devices, logging into Google Meet or Zoom, and congregating in virtual community spaces. The transitions are now from the main room to breakout rooms and are typically used for small group work collaboration or individual breakout rooms for independent practice and 1:1 conferencing. More than ever, educators are proactively organizing social-emotional check-ins during the course of instruction. Learners need to know that educators care about them as humans first. They need to feel safe and connected because the screen can be viewed as a barrier, but only if you let it become one!
There are several ways to do this:
Use the chat feature to ask questions.
Polls: Use Google Meet, Zoom’s poll feature, or a digital tool like Mentimeter for the social-emotional status of the class.
Put students in individual breakout rooms. Have a social-emotional check-in before 1:1 conferencing with learners.
Purposefully embed the check-in during instruction; ask students to answer questions orally or in the chat that relate to the text, but also to their own lives.
Minilesson Although the content of a minilesson will change almost daily, the structure will remain the same. The framework of a minilesson is predictable and usually is completed in 10 minutes or so. If educators are able to master the architecture of the minilesson, learners will know what to expect in both physical and virtual spaces. For the current educational landscape, it is important to consider putting a special emphasis on the “Connection” component of the minilesson. It is going to be worth the investment of time to “hook” learners into the lesson with passion and purpose. Look into those small moments of your life and share those stories with students. In a recent Future Ready virtual conference, Brianna Hodges reminded educators that “The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story. With stories, we find a connection to people and then they have a reason to care. According to A Guide to Reading Workshop: Middle School Grades by Calkins & Ehrenworth (2017), the traditional components of a minilesson can be found on the left side of the chart below. On the right side, the minilesson has been reimagined for new physical and virtual spaces. Many of these ideas overlap.
Whether in physical or virtual spaces, learners will need access to print and digital texts to read in order to deliberately apply the skills and strategies that were explicitly taught during the minilesson. Book access, voice, and choice are more vital than ever before. Learners can do the thinking work by reading a short story, watching a short video clip, and/or reading their independent reading book; they will need whatever it takes to empower and engage them in the process. Students have to feel like they are owning their learning! Once learners make a plan for their independent reading and have an understanding of what goals they are working towards, they will independently read in both spaces. If learners are in the physical space, they will read at their socially distant desks; if working synchronously, virtual learners will be placed into an individual breakout room to independently read. Additionally, teachers may decide to place readers in partnerships to support and guide one another’s reading and thinking work. Here’s the bottom line, since the 1980’s there has been a substantial amount of research that the only way students get better at reading is READING! Also, you may consider embedding “catch up” days when there are no new minilessons taught. These days, will give learners an opportunity to revisit and apply a multitude of skills and strategies they have previously learned during independent reading time. These days will also allow the teacher to catch up on small group instruction and 1:1 conferencing. Providing learners with choice and voice about how they can show their thinking during this time will empower them to take ownership over the experience! Check out this Offline Choice Board inspired by Catlin Tucker that may be utilized during this time.
Here’s a big question…”What is the rest of the class doing while the teacher is conferring? In the workshop model, here’s the answer…READING! In the book A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences, Serravallo says, “Instead of spending time at the Xerox machine running off worksheets or spending countless hours creating materials for centers, get books in students’ hands and let them read” (Serravallo, 2019, p. 4). Understand that you will NOT get to reach EVERY physical and/or virtual student every single day. However, it will be possible to talk to 3-4 learners during independent/collaborative practice time. This gives the teacher an opportunity to join each breakout room, work with a small group or 1:1, and check-in on the learner for accountability and understanding. If the teacher assesses that there are learners who need a double demonstration, it may be decided to keep them in the main virtual room to reteach the necessary skills/strategies. It is crucial for the teacher to also revisit the digital anchor chart and say “When I come to confer with you, I will be asking you how you are applying the strategy we learned today! If you doing other thinking work, such as working on a strategy you previously learned, be ready to share that!” As the virtual learners are working, it is also critical for the teacher to pay attention to the breakout rooms as a reader may press the “help” button for support.
There is absolutely a time and place for a mid-workshop interruption! When conferring with students and/or working with small groups in physical and virtual spaces, look for common trends in strengths and/or areas for growth. Bring all learners back together in the main virtual room. It is best to set the timer in breakout rooms in order to give the students some notice that you will be pulling them back together shortly. This gives them an opportunity to finish up some thinking work. When everyone is back in the main room, you may consider sharing your screen to highlight a strategy a reader was successfully or unsuccessfully using. It may be that you are revisiting the anchor chart, thinking aloud, using a portion of a mentor text to highlight a learner’s success or struggle (if it’s a struggle, this can be done anonymously and in a tactful way). You may use these prompts: “Readers I noticed that….Readers I was listening to…Readers I observed…” Additionally, you may ask a learner is they are comfortable sharing their own screens and briefly have them share their success or struggle if they choose to do so. This enables learners to refocus on the learning task and gives them something new to think about!
Teaching in physical and virtual spaces has made it more challenging to fit in all of the components on the Workshop Model. It is important to note that educators must give themselves grace and not be so hard on themselves if there is a struggle with pacing. There is a whole other layer of complexity that has been added to teaching. Do you know what that might be? It’s the complexity of managing multiple spaces at once while navigating technology. It’s not always easy and things will not always go as planned (just like it happens in traditional classroom spaces). There are times a teacher may not get to “share” the learning because they were busy checking-in with a learner who needed the extra support. There are times the teacher may not get to share because the transitions with technology were taking too long (from the main room to breakout rooms). There are also times when you will find the time to share the learning. Sometimes it will be at the end of the workshop and sometimes it will be the next day. The fact of the matter is that our brains process information by thinking about the new things we’ve learned and how we’ve applied them. The point is that as long as you are giving students opportunities to reflect on their learning and are providing them with the feedback to take their learning a step forward, you are adding power to the work! Students tend to put more cognitive energy into the independent/collaborative practice when they know they could be sharing with an audience. Being prepared, encourages them to share their screens and voices with all of the learners in the classroom. This also empowers other learners to work more productively during future workshop experiences. Making time in physical and virtual spaces to share learning with the classroom community adds value and brings purpose to the work!
Recently, the educational landscape we have always known has been challenged and has shifted faster than we could have ever comprehended…way beyond our imaginations. It’s as if we have instantaneously soared into a virtual learning universe that seems faster than the speed of light. Did you know that the speed of light in a vacuum is 186,282 miles per second, and in theory, nothing travels faster than light? So, if we were actually able to travel at the speed of light, you could go around the Earth 7.5 times in one second. This seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Well, wasn’t there once a time where many of the practices we employed in education seemed light-years away? The fact of the matter is that education has always evolved and changed, yet, those deviations seemed much easier to consume and digest because they happened more gradually. On the other hand, in the spring of 2020, educators were urgently launched into another dimension of teaching and learning. We were left questioning whether or not the instructional practices we have always held close to our hearts would still be significant in virtual and physical spaces. We were left questioning whether we could connect with learners and develop meaningful relationships. We were left questioning whether or not we could honor the teaching frameworks that have historically impacted learners in positive ways. We were left questioning if the resources we have worked so hard to curate throughout our years of teaching would still be compatible virtually. We were left wondering how we could monitor and track learning through meaningful formative and summative assessments.
What I Know Now
For me, the first question that stirred within was whether or not educators would be able to keep the magic of the workshop model alive in our new physical and virtual atmospheres. As I continue to question, reflect, revise, and shift how I approach cultivating relationships, analyze curriculum, deliver instruction, and administer assessments, I know now more than ever that no matter where our learning spaces exist, it is up to us, the educators to embrace it. I know now, it is up to us to own it. I know now, it is up to us to navigate this new territory with open hearts, flexible minds, and positive spirits. I know now that it is up to us to take the instructional practices we know have always worked, and fine-tune our techniques to meet the needs of ALL learners throughout the process. And since I am knee-deep into the experience of Hyflex teaching, the philosophy and implementation of the Workshop Model can be achieved by keeping these 6 non-negotiables at the core of the work.
(Click on the link above for access to the infographic)
Connection Before Content– When you place cultivating relationships and building community front and center, it is likely that you will leave a lasting impact on the learners you encounter throughout your educational career. I am pretty sure that the legacy we choose to leave is not in the time we took to plan and execute a lesson; it is not in the homework or assessments we assigned or graded; I am positive that it is in the time we took to get to know our students as human beings first. If you commit to leading with passion and empathy. If you take the time to find common ground. If you create inviting, safe, nurturing learning spaces for ALL learners, you will see a big return on your investment. In a recent Future Ready podcast titled Universally Designed Connection and Reflection with Brianna Hodges and Dr. Katie Novak, Dr. Novak brilliantly and simply states, “If you can connect with students, then that’s a good enough tool right now.” Learners have an emotional compass and will use social referencing to take cues from adults they admire. With that being said, by connecting and sharing your authenticity and passion, students will believe in and be an integral part of the magic in the important work that lies ahead.
Honor the Architecture– When planning and executing a minilesson, keep in mind that the content, focus, and/or space may change, but the architecture of the minilesson and it’s components don’t! In the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins, (written before the COVID-19 global pandemic, but still remains true) she says, “When teachers lead effective minilessons, these short bursts of instruction will mobilize the whole community to be on fire as readers and writers and will immerse the kids in an understanding of the work they are doing” (p. 69). However, keep in mind that since there are new and different learning spaces to consider (physical and virtual) when delivering a minilesson, educators must be flexible with each component, the pacing, and the way learners are engaged throughout the process. According to the Heinemann article, How the Essentials of Reading and Writing Workshop Do-and Don’t Change with Virtual Teaching, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Honoring the gradual release of responsibility, the effective transfer of skills and strategies, and leading learners towards independence will always remain a constant in any learning environment.
Conferring is a Cornerstone- 1:1 and small group conferencing is a key ingredient to having learners practice, improve, and elevate their literacy skills. This sacred time spent with students can be messy as the learner guides the direction the conference will take. In turn, the teacher should be able to notice and name a learner’s strengths and areas for growth and adjust the direction and goals of the conference accordingly. According to Jennifer Serravallo, in her book A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences K-8, she beautifully conveys, “Conferring is where the magic happens. It’s the heartbeat of the literacy block…. Conferring blurs the lines between teacher and student” (p. 1). In a conference, the teacher and student are both learners, except, the student is doing most of the work while the teacher coaches in and offers thinking prompts to lift the level of the work. Students need to understand the goal(s) of the conference in order to make the necessary progress in their learning and during independent reading. In virtual spaces, these vital interactions take place in Zoom or Meet breakout rooms. This is a more personalized space to connect, interact, and personalize learning. Katie Martin confirms this in her blog titled, To Engage Students, Focus on Connection Over Content, “Scheduling time with each student to connect, learn more about their circumstances, their goals, and ideas, created a different dynamic that built empathy and allowed for more personalization and meaningful connection.” In her blog Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership Dr. Martin states, “5-minute conferences can be a really powerful way to check in with students and provide timely meaningful feedback based on their needs. Teachers who are remote might use breakout rooms to meet with a few different students or small groups each day to check-in. If you are in person you can call students up while others are working or giving each other feedback.”
Curate Relevant Resources
-Print and Digital Texts
In a workshop classroom, readers should have access to a tremendous volume of books in a mutlitude of genres and topics that spark their interest. As a matter of fact, Richard Allington suggests that schools have a minimum of 1,000 books per classroom! Over the last few years, learners have also been introduced to digital readers. Since we are attending to the needs of learners in both physical and virtual spaces, it is important to provide students with access to rich classroom libraries as well as websites and apps that house a plethora of digital texts. I am fortunate that my school district has provided our students with digital texts on Raz-Kids, Epic, Bookflix, and Sora (just to name a few). In the physical classroom, books are checked out when readers go book shopping, and then they are quarantined for 4 days until they can be checked out again! We must continue to keep in mind that maintaining a classroom library is an ongoing process to ensure that there are high-interest, high quality texts that represent various genres, topics, and series that students will embrace.
-Purposeful Anchor Charts
Purposeful anchor charts that are created with students is an essential part of the workshop experience! If you walk into my classroom, you will see that the walls are adorned with meaningful charts that help learners access skills/strategies that are needed to navigate various texts they encounter. These tools are meant to maximize students’ independence, encourage choice and risk-taking, and celebrate the productive struggle along the way. In the book Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, they explicitly state, “Charts help to make our teaching explicit and clear by providing step-by-step directions and key tips and strategies for how to do something” (p. 86). For students in the virtual space, I recreate mini versions of these charts and intentionally attach them to a digital notebook of strategies for learners to access when they need the support.
Physical Space Anchort Chart (left) and Virtual Space Anchor Chart (right)
Preserving Independent Reading-Independent reading is the heart of the workshop model. Within the gradual release of responsibility, it is critical to be able to guide learners towards independence in physical and virtual spaces. This is where they will be able to apply the skills and strategies that are taught during the demonstration portion of the minilesson. Independent reading is a routine and protected practice that transpires across grade levels. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Position Statement on Independent Reading, “Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. Student choice in text is essential because it motivates, engages, and reaches a wide variety of readers. The goal of independent reading as an instructional practice is to build habitual readers with conscious reading identities.” If you are an educator who embraces the workshop model philosophy, it is a professional obligation to model your own reading life and create the time and space for learners to independently read.
Ongoing Assessment & Feedback– Meaningful assessment can propel the teaching and learning process. It is a way to collect information about the learners’ strengths and areas of need. In a workshop model framework, it is important to embed thoughtful assessments that drive daily instruction. Assessments help teachers provide thoughtful feedback, create small groups, create personalized goals for all learners, and structure minilessons accordingly. This includes, but is not limited to formal and informal running records, spelling inventories, checklists, rubrics, and anecdotal notes. When adminstering assessments in physical and virtual spaces, it is vital to plan accordingly. It is beneficial to be transparent with learners and families about the “why” behind each assessment. Learning shouldn’t be a secret! Personally, I always spend time discussing the expectations in rubrics and checklists with learners. We analyze the nuances in language and develop a shared understanding of the goals. In Katie Martin’s blog titled, Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership, she expresses, “When students are clear about the learning goals and criteria for success, they can self assess their work and take ownership of the process. Checklists and rubrics can be really helpful, especially if they are co created and the students have a clear grasp of what is expected of them. Creating time and building the routine for this practice is critical to understand where they are and determine next steps.” Furthermore, it is valuable to provide learners with ongoing, cyclical feedback that clearly paints a picture of where they are in relation to the learning targets, what the next steps are, and what it will take to get there. Katie Martin goes on to say, “Meaningful feedback is not the same as a grade or an evaluation. Feedback is information for the learner about where they are in relationship to the goal or target to help them get there. If we can prioritize the learning goals and only assign meaningful work, we can make the time for students to go deep, get feedback, revise and do something meaningful.”
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 4: Honoring the Workshop Model Framework
Special Note: This is blog post entry 2 of a blog series titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. Blog post 1 in the series can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change. This blog post series is written from my perspective, as I teach face-to-face and virtual cohorts of middle school learners simultaneously.
The Magic of Then
Entering a classroom that embraces the reading and writing workshop model is like walking into a galaxy blanketed in magic. Each learner is like a shooting star that heats up and glows as new learning orbits through the classroom atmosphere. You could feel a sense of wonder, observation, and exploration as teachers and students delve into a new skill and strategy. You could sense a special thrill as students are empowered to move towards independence. It’s the type of teaching framework that builds community, human connection, and cultivates powerful relationships. The workshop model is strongly connected to authentic literature, various genres, and relevant learning experiences. It’s the type of practice that rallies learners together in safe cozy spaces. It is a universe surrounded by accessible stacks of books in colorful bins and bookcases. It is a place you can usually find an easel with chart paper and your favorite markers (my preference is Mr. Sketch). If you are entering a true workshop classroom, be prepared to enter a world where both teachers and students are viewed as learners.
The Magic of Now
Throughout emergency remote learning and up until this very moment, I find myself in a constant state of reflection. I continuously come back to the questions… How can I hold onto my beliefs and recreate the magic of the workshop model in post-COVID-19 learning environments? Will I be able to rally learners together and build community in physical and virtual spaces effectively and seamlessly? Can learners embrace the idea of the gradual release of responsibility and apply skills and strategies being taught in both physical and virtual environments? Now, if you walk into a room that embraces the workshop model, you may notice that aesthetically, this space looks different; now, you will see limited furniture; now, instead of gathering on a community rug, (there are no more rugs for gathering) learners are sitting at desks that are 6 feet apart and in rows; now, you will see some bookcases that house various genres of books and quarantine baskets strategically placed as a holding place for books when they are returned. Now, learners are relying on having more access to digital texts and are book shopping personal devices. Now, learners are wearing masks and are not encouraged to face each other in close proximity to turn and talk during active engagement and independent practice. Now, instead of seeing the teacher sitting on the corner of a rug or right beside learners and calling them over to the community space with anchor charts, Post-its, and Mr. Sketch markers in hand, you will see the anchor chart in the front of the room facing rows of desks, or an anchor chart slide presented on a screen. You will observe little movement and as little to no transitions as possible. And yes, now you will see lots of screens. Personally, I have three screens on as I teach; one to connect with learners and manipulate my document camera, slides, and/or digital tools I am utilizing during synchronous sessions on Google Meet, another screen is the Smartboard; this is where physical learners can look to the screen I am presenting so they don’t have to constantly look at their 1:1 devices and another screen that allows me to see the virtual learners level of engagement as I share my screen to teach. I hope I painted this picture well for you because I had to think of ways to invite change into the new environments we were obligated to adjust to.
What Remains Constant
If you walk into a physical and/or virtual workshop community here is the magic that will always remain familiar and constant; you can still feel the authentic learning in physical and virtual spaces. The structure and components of a workshop minilesson are being delivered with intention and purpose. Learners are invited to connect previous learning to new learning, teaching points are carefully constructed and clearly show the skill and strategy learners will employ. The teacher is explicitly teaching the skill and strategy by using a carefully selected portion of a mentor text, using think-aloud, and the “watch me as I show you” verbiage. Anchor charts are purposefully co-created with learners and are hanging around the room, while mini-anchor charts are recreated for the learners in virtual learning spaces. Learners are being given the opportunity for active engagement in collaborative physical and virtual spaces, the skill and strategy are reinforced throughout the minilesson, workshop interruptions are transpiring, learners are practicing the skill and strategy in partnerships, small groups, and/or independently while the teacher is conferencing with individual students. Furthermore, learners are being given the opportunity to share their thinking and learning work in safe, supportive environments. A recent Heinemann blog post confirms this, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons, we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Stay tuned for specific examples of each component of the minilesson in future blog posts in this series.
Rallying Learners and Building Community
Before sharing more detailed examples about how I am implementing the architecture of the minilesson and giving you strategies for each component, here are some activities I used to get to know and rally learners while building community in physical and virtual workshop atmospheres.
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun, and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool. This is also a way to be inclusive of ALL learners in both physical and virtual spaces while developing your classroom community and holding ALL students accountable for their thinking and learning.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Learners utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves while sharing their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities. I was able to provide learners with specific feedback and use the information they provided to embed into my conversations with individual students. There is such magic that happens when you are able to weave their passions and interests into teaching and learning practices and dialogue. The students light up with excitement when their teacher remembers who they are as a human being and shows they really do care. This investment of time will lead to deeper learning in the future.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn every single day. I was pleasantly surprised by how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Learners explicitly shared that they feel connected to the classroom community using the Flipgrid platform. They love having the back and forth dialogue with their peers and me. Their responses were incredible! I always jot down notes about ideas learners include in their responses. This helps me plan instructional moves that are more targeted to meet the needs of every learner.
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership of the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real-time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
I scheduled five-minute meetings with all of my learners. This idea was inspired by Dr. Mary Hemphill’s book The One Minute Meeting: Creating Student Stakeholders in Schools. I learned about Dr. Hemphill in George Couros’Innovator’s Mindset Podcast. The idea of these meetings is to check-in with my students, learn more about them as human beings, and then utilize the information to elevate their emotional literacy. The responses elicited were powerful! After asking those simple, open-ended questions and having those personal conversations with each learner, I feel even more connected to each one of them. I now have a deeper understanding of what is happening in their world. Some had really cheerful, positive stories to share, while others were expressing that they are going through challenging times. I appreciated every minute with those students. I have always led with empathy, but now I will be able to utilize what I know to personalize instruction in much more meaningful ways. One learner responded to our interaction by saying, “Mrs. Kaufman, it’s really nice to know you care. Your class is more than just turning in assignments.” I plan to use this check-in strategy over the course of the year in order to continuously develop the relationships I have formed. Note that the responses below are from middle school learners in grade 6-8. The responses were collected in Google Forms.
Embedding Meaningful Experiences
I believe that the heart of teaching and learning is rooted in the connections and relationships we develop with the learners we are lucky enough to serve. Cultivating strong relationships, understanding the learners’ strengths and areas for growth, tapping into their passions and interests, and authentic, responsive teaching are the cornerstones of any worthwhile educational journey. Without truly caring about the social-emotional well-being of our students, learning will not be as productive or meaningful. If we want to see the positive, lasting impact we are hoping for, we have to make it our obligation to get to know all learners as human beings first. If we vow to make the commitment to continuously embed rallying our learners and building community into everyday practices and really mean it, I promise you… the magic of the workshop model will magically and naturally come alive!
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 3: Non-Negotiables in Physical & Virtual Spaces
A Special Note: Many months ago, I was encouraged by George Couros to create a digital portfolio in order to highlight and archive my learning. These conversations started before the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged as one of the most challenging and life-changing events in history. During the quarantine, I connected with Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, co-authors of All In: Taking a Gamble on Education in a book study Voxer group. This is when Kristen invited me to co-blog on her website. This was a great opportunity to test drive blogging. The experience was incredible and gave me the confidence to take George’s advice and create my own platform. One of the first blogs I wrote during this time was Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. The purpose of this blog was to keep the workshop model alive during emergency remote learning. I wanted to share my experiences with other educators and show them that what may seem impossible is in fact, possible.
With that being said, as I learn more about implementing the workshop model in physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously, I want to share my process with other educators. So, I welcome you to the beginning of a series of blogs titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. I will break up my learning process and the workshop model framework into various components so that they are easier to digest. Please understand that my learning is constantly evolving and all of these ideas may be revised over the course of time!
There is a certain kind of magic that lives within an educational universe. If you orbit around an organization and open the doors, you will find sparks of light. These sparks of light shine brightly because they are ignited by communities of educators who pour their souls into maximizing and elevating learning experiences for kids. It’s that spark that ignites into flames when curiosity and wonder spread like wildfire. It’s that spark that rallies a community of learners together to support one another through the learning process. It’s that spark that embraces the idea of agency, voice, choice, and productive struggle. It’s that spark that empowers and guides learners towards independence. And just as the flames happily dance and spread around our magical learning hubs, the intensity of the flames can just as easily be disrupted, startled, dimmed, faded. What happened to the magic? I’ll tell you in one word: CHANGE. When change invites itself through our doors, it can be paralyzing. It can be suffocating. It can be stressful. It can be shocking. It can also be eye-opening.
Change is the Epicenter of the Journey
I have been in education for 15 years and I can assure you that change has been the epicenter of my journey. Most of the time, change has been a gradual occurrence that happens over a steady course of time. It’s so slow, that at times, it cannot be recognized until it’s looking you straight in the eyes. However, recently change has looked quite different in the world of education. Across the globe, educators have been pushed to rethink education. Educators have been challenged to question their core values. Educators have been pushed to revisit their philosophical beliefs. Educators have been remixing existing teaching and learning practices that have lived in the nucleus of their daily lives and in the book Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros brilliantly states, “I’ve long believed that change isn’t to be feared; it is an opportunity to do something amazing…Change will come our way. We can “go” through it or “grow” through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting those obstacles hinder us.” This quote resonates even more deeply since the Covid-19 global pandemic has jolted the more traditional educational landscape we have always lived and known. I’ll admit when shifting to emergency remote learning and now teaching in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously, I have paused multiple times and questioned the what and the how. I have questioned whether or not the philosophy of the workshop model can live on in virtual environments. I have questioned if I can make the workshop model come alive for learners the same way I did in physical learning environments. Katie Martin, author of Learner-Centered Innovation confirms how vital developing solutions are to the barriers of change with this astute notion, “If the world is changing, the evidence and research become irrelevant if you don’t consider a new context.” And if we want to reach learners effectively, we MUST consider the new educational contexts that have been thrust upon us. We cannot look back, we must keep moving forward! And then, I came across a tweet from Thomas C. Murray, author of Personal & Authentic that spoke to my core, solidified these ideas, and reminded me of my why. And when I revisited my WHY, I knew it is to continuously cultivate lifelong learners who feel empowered to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. And then, I realized that through the workshop model, I can continue to rally together a community of learners and build community by prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students and keeping “who” we teach at the heart of the learning journey.
Choosing What is Right
I have encountered many people who have embraced different educational philosophies. I have listened to theories and have read multiple books and articles by countless leaders and experts in the field of education. I have indulged in and have digested several perspectives about various topics with the intention of catapulting learners to academic success through multiple kinds of curricula and teaching and learning practices. And every time I have read an article, a book, or listened to a podcast, I used to think, wow, this must be the magic prescription for success. In my earlier years of teaching, when I was handed a curriculum, I followed it to a T. I thought that the curriculum itself was the key driver of developing a learner’s social, emotional, and academic potential. I thought that the people who were responsible for making decisions about the curriculum knew best and I looked to them as the experts. Now I know better. Now I know that the learners are the curriculum. They tell you what they need. I learned that there is not one single curriculum that works best for all learners. I know that every curriculum must be viewed as flexible and should be modified to meet learners’ needs. Knowing this made me realize that I can adapt the Workshop Model in both physical and virtual spaces. Knowing this helped me understand that I can revise the implementation and the process at any time. Knowing this made me feel more comfortable with taking risks, sometimes meet those risks with failure, share and reflect on those experiences with colleagues, and recognize that it’s an opportunity for growth.
The Workshop Model Will Live On
Suddenly, a spark was ignited within me…I knew that by inviting this change, I was still going to continue to honor my belief system and keep the magic of the workshop model alive. I felt committed to implementing what I have known to be best practices in the new context we are living in. It is because I believe that this is the framework that empowers learners to become confident readers and writers. This is the framework that guides them towards independence. On October 17, 2020, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project held their first virtual Saturday Reunion. When I logged in to watch and listen from the comfort of my own home, Lucy Calkins was delivering her opening remarks. She said “We need to be as connected as we can be…Teaching is about holding onto the faith that the work we do matters. This is hard to hold onto right now. Even if it feels that nothing is going well, we need to show up.” These are powerful words that made me ask myself again…How can I rally learners together and build community when we are teaching in both physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously? What can I do to cultivate meaningful connections and develop relationships with face-to-face and virtual learners? What new and existing tools can I utilize to support the execution of the gradual release of responsibility? I know that while navigating this learning journey, I must continue to be patient, I must continue to give myself grace, I must continue to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my PLN, and my students who are living this with me, and I must show up. And as Calkins suggests, I will show up for my students, their families, my community, and my country. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The fact of the matter is that change has already invited itself through our doors. As George Couros says, “You can fight change, adapt to change, embrace change, create change, or lead change. No matter your choice, change is not going away.” And do you know what else I will not let go away? The Magic of the Workshop Model.
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community
As I scrolled through Twitter this week, I stumbled across a new term that defines the new educational landscape I am currently navigating along with many other educators across the country. It’s called HYFLEX TEACHING: Torry Trust, Ph.D. recently created an infographic that includes a clear definition of what the expectation is of educators who are diligently trying to implement this practice:
HYFLEX TEACHING EXPECTATION: Highly-skilled teachers who provide simultaneously in-person and online learning experiences, students and teachers who move seamlessly between in-person and digital interactions, high-quality technology infrastructure for teachers and students, equitable learning experiences for all, and additional support (e.g., teaching assistant) (EduCAUSE, 2020).
I also learned that there IS a difference between HyFlex vs. Hybrid instruction. Torry Trust, Ph.D. also outlines this in her infographic:
HyFlex teaching is NOT the same as Hybrid (or “blended”) teaching. Hybrid teaching combines the benefits of in-person learning (e.g. social knowledge construction, project-based learning) with the benefits of online learning (e.g., flexibility, adaptability, personalized learning). Ideally, it’s the best of both worlds.” K-12 Example: Students work on group projects in-person and then individually complete a HyperDoc or choice board on a computer or on a station at home.
After reading this, I thought “Wow, there is actually a name for the type of instruction my colleagues and I are experiencing…and wow…there is actually a term that was created for an instructional practice that has been stretching my cognitive capacity beyond anything I could have ever imagined… and wow, this is yet another term that will be permanently engrained in my repertoire of educational terminology that I will actually be able to authentically speak to because I am personally living it.”
There are Many Opinions
This week, I have read a lot of different opinions about the current infrastructure many school districts, including my own, have adopted in order to open schools during a global pandemic. What I have learned is that although I have 11 years of post-secondary education under my belt, along with thousands of hours of theoretical and practical professional learning experiences (most of which have been completely voluntary and embraced on my end), none of those experiences had fully prepared me for HyFlex instruction. I literally needed to be thrust into this challenge in order to make learning come alive and create the most authentic learning experiences for students I possibly can. I know that the planning and preparation have been unbelievably time-consuming and the daily reflection about my instructional choices has been draining, to say the least. However, because we are educators, I believe that it is our professional obligation to invest in figuring this all out. Why? We chose to be in education because we care about students; we care about our colleagues, and we care about the communities we serve. I will never wait for professional learning to be provided for me…I HAVE to seek it out because every minute I am with students and colleagues matters. With that being said, I have been embracing these challenges because our learning communities are depending on us to help them through this!
Here’s What I Know
While we are working through these new, exciting, and challenging times, what I know is…you have to be thoughtful, you have to be creative, you have to think of ways to engage the learners in both the physical and virtual environments; you have to create spaces where you can connect with all learners and let them know you are there to support them; you have to plan meaningful, authentic instruction that can move students as learners; you have to reach out to colleagues and have conversations about what’s working, what’s not working, and then be willing to make intentional shifts in your practice when you realize that what you thought was a great idea, actually isn’t; you have to understand that just like the more traditional instruction we were used to, there will be successes to celebrate and failures to work through. I am also feeling the need to say this: Whether you think that HyFlex instruction is right or wrong for teachers and students, many educators are living it and will do the best we can to support our learners, families, and colleagues. With that being said, based on my experiences thus far, I am going to share some tips for HyFlex instruction that are non-negotiable for me. My hope is that these tips can help other educators who are experiencing the same type of process.
5 Quick Tips For HyFlex Instruction
Simple and Authentic: Create meaningful learning experiences by utilizing authentic assessments to collect information about learners (e.g. running records). Connect learning to previous experiences, demonstrate skills/strategies with simple anchor charts/slides, use visuals to link learning (avoid visuals that are too busy and fancy…quality over quantity, break down new learning into multiple lessons, & allow time for independent practice.
Checking In: Check-in with learners synchronously as much as you can. This is an opportunity to greet them personally & connect on a human level. Developing relationships in physical & virtual spaces make all learners feel a part of the classroom community. Set up 1:1 sessions to check on learners’ social, emotional, & academic progress.
Use the Chat and Keep Meet On: Use the chat feature to engage & empower learners throughout the time you are logged in. Ask them questions (i.e. How’s your day going? What is something you learned today? What questions do you have?). Learners also keep each other accountable during instruction! Keep Meet on during independent practice. Learners feel supported when they know you are there and they can pop back in with questions.
Come Back to the Grid: If you are sharing your screen to show a slide show while teaching, pause & come back to the grid to “read the room”. Make eye contact with face-to-face learners & virtual learners. This is a great way to check for understanding & keep the learning interesting. Learners do not want to keep staring at the same screen continuously.
Provide Ongoing Feedback: Feedback drives the learning process. When you invest time in providing learners with ongoing, cyclical, high-quality, specific feedback, you will see a big return on your investment. Benefits: learners are held accountable, you are personalizing instruction to meet individual needs, learners feel supported in physical and virtual learning spaces.
5 Quick Tips For HyFlex Instruction: Click HERE for Infographic Link
My first full week of the 2020-2021 school year is in the books! And although I have had 15 first weeks in education… let me tell you something, this particular first week was WILD!!!!!! If you would have told me this time last year, “Lauren, this time next year, you will be teaching reading to middle school learners.” I would have laughed and said, but I have been in the elementary school world for 14 years!” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year you will be teaching three different cohorts of students, face-to-face and virtually simultaneously while social distancing, I would have laughed and asked, “What in the world does social distancing mean and what does virtual teaching look and sound like?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, you will wear a mask for protection and safety while doing it and you can take a mask break if everyone is working independently and not talking.” I would have laughed and asked, “For my protection and safety from what? AND Don’t we want students talking to one another…sharing and connecting is the jewel of learning, isn’t it?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, there will be no flexible seating or any desks and tables arranged in groups so students can work comfortably and collaboratively.” I would have laughed and said, “How are learners going to collaborate, have meaningful social interaction, and learn in purposeful ways?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year all professional learning experiences, conferences, and meetings will only be held virtually.” I would have laughed and asked, “How can I build significant connections and continue to network in virtual learning environments? Oh my goodness… after this week, I KNOW that THIS year is not going to be like the rest. And for this reason, I am happy to share some of my learning from this week!
Starting the Year Off Right I am grateful that my school district started the school year off right with having one of my favorite educators and speakers on the planet, George Couros keynote. I discovered George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset a little over a year ago and used his book as a framework to drive the learning in the new teacher mentor program I facilitate. And although I was looking forward to hearing him in person, he brought down the house virtually! He did! Last year, he was able to influence and inspire the teachers in the mentor program and me by sharing his positive messages, experiences, the importance of developing strong relationships, keeping learners front and center of the decision making process, and finding new and better ways to teach and learn. His philosophy and mindset have permanently latched to my core. And while I was listening to him speak on the morning of September 8, 2020, I could feel my heart smile for 60 minutes straight. To me, EVERYONE in the school organization needed to hear his words and messages of positivity. We owe it to the kids and the community we serve to approach THIS year with hope, promise, grace, determination, and the willingness to invite a #NewandBetterNormal into our lives.
Making Connections to the Heart
As you can see in the tweet above, Couros says, “If you want to inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind.” With that being said, I made a deep commitment to get to know the learners I serve in the physical and virtual environments I am teaching in. I dedicated this entire week to get to know my students as human beings first. I do understand that this is a process that will authentically be embedded into my practice and WILL remain ongoing over the course of the school year and beyond! Relationship building is truly an investment of time that will have a monumental impact and influence over the way students approach and access the learning that transpires in the learning spaces we choose to create. Here are the learning experiences I created for middle school learners. All activities can be adapted for K-12 students. Keep in mind that all of these activities were explicitly modeled as I would never ask learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself:
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Students utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves, their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn. I was pleasantly surprised about how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Their responses were incredible!
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership over the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
Tips for Face-To-Face and Remote Teaching
This week, I have lived the experience of teaching learners who are in the physical environment with me while also teaching students who are learning virtually. I am going to share some tips…but I’d like to be clear; these are strategies that are working for ME. I want to give all of the educators around the country and world all of the recognition and credit for approaching this new educational landscape in ways that work for them and their learners. Also note, that I am constantly in a state of reflection and any of these strategies may be revised over the course of the year to meet the needs of my students in intentional ways.
If You Would Have Told Me
So… if you would have told me that THIS year may actually go down in history as the year that has stretched my cognitive capacity in ways I never thought were possible, I wouldn’t have understood how if I wasn’t living it. THIS year is going to be the year where no matter how many times I check my email, new information will be flying into my inbox faster than Mariano Rivera can throw a fastball right over home plate. THIS year will be the year of troubleshooting, failing, and using that failure to learn and grow. THIS year will be the year of showing vulnerability and sharing successes and failures with colleagues so we can learn from each other and do what’s best for students. I know what you’re thinking…well, no two years have EVER been the same Lauren, and I know…they shouldn’t be. That’s because every year we have new students, new staff, new initiatives, new policies, and new procedures in education. And because this year is different from all of the other years, I am going to commit to continuing to write about my experiences and share my learning with other educators because I’m living it. I’m living this wild ride and I want to pay it forward. The truth is, I want to give recognition to all of the educators in my PLC and PLN for sharing their learning over the years. It has made me better and I truly believe that sharing our process can help others serve their learners in this new educational landscape we are living in!
I have been in education for 15 years and throughout my career, I have served in many roles at the Elementary level. This includes Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach. Throughout the trajectory of my career, I have always worked to challenge myself in every position I have ever served in. Each position has taught me how to fine-tune what I know and do; each position has allowed me to see and focus on my strengths and the strengths of others in order to provide the best opportunities for students to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential; each position has allowed to me stay true to my core beliefs while learning new ways to approach teaching and learning. And because I have been fortunate to travel this path, I recognize the value every role brings to an organization. Over the course of time, I have asked myself, “How can I continue to honor my core belief system as I navigate the different roles I serve in?” At the heart of this journey, it became clear to me that developing relationships, connecting, being human, and leading with empathy and grace, opens doors to creating a community of learners who work together to ambitiously develop solutions to instructional challenges.
Not the Same Educator
Five years ago my school district decided to invest in job-embedded professional learning at the Elementary level. They reached to educators within the organization who had a strong background in literacy to elevate literacy practices and bring shared experiences to four buildings. When I took on the role of Literacy Coach, my school district had already committed to embracing the balanced literacy approach; this is an approach to reading and writing instruction I feel very strongly about to the core as learners can authentically engage in rich literacy experiences including the reading and writing workshop, interactive read alouds, shared reading, small group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and have choice and voice as they get to self-select from diverse texts across a plethora of genres. This was an opportunity to work side-by-side with teachers as I got to collaboratively write curriculum and develop meaningful assessments with teachers, students, administrators, and literacy consultants. Over the course of a few years, we developed 73 Units of Study that were grounded in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project philosophy. I got to work intimately with the other Literacy Coach, a brilliant colleague, and friend as we rallied teachers together to analyze, reflect, and revise a live curriculum to meet the needs of a diverse population. Additionally, we purposefully and intentionally took an audit of all elementary classroom libraries and ordered books and mentor texts to support learners and enhance the curriculum. Furthermore, we vertically aligned the curriculum, so there was a smooth progression of literacy development from K-5 that was aligned to the learning standards. In the last few years, I worked with my other Instructional Coach colleagues to ensure continuity of instruction in the Reading and Writing Workshop model, provided meaningful professional learning experiences during faculty and grade-level meetings, and participated in formal and informal conversations about student learning. All of this heart work has always been grounded in best practice. Best practices and systems are what guided this incredible experience. During this time, my coaching belief system was shaped by Jim Knight’sSeven Partnership Principles (introduced to me by Jessica Gruttola during an Instructional Coaching workshop). These principles influenced conversations, theory, and practice. These are the principles that supported my team as we embarked on the mission of creating positive change. If we modeled the change we wanted to see by consistently using the Partnership Principles as a guide while keeping learners at the heart of the decision-making process, we were off to great things!
It was this work that led me to deeply understand what teaching and learning practices would best support learners in order to move them to higher levels, guide them towards independence, and create lifelong learners.
Coaching work I facilitated in faculty, grade level, and one-on-one meetings.
Taking A Leap of Faith
This year I am taking a leap of faith as I enthusiastically join the Middle School team where I will serve as a Literacy Specialist. Although I will always keep my years of elementary experience close to my heart, I am incredibly excited to continue to collaborate, connect, network, reflect, and share all I have learned in every role I have ever had the privilege of serving in with colleagues and learners. I am also inviting the learning curve that will come with acclimating to a new culture and climate. I will learn for, about, and with new leadership, colleagues, and learners. In making the transition from Elementary to Middle School, I believe that there is great strength in knowing and understanding the building blocks of learning, where the students are coming from, and what skills they should have mastered. If we work together towards building a bridge that will reinforce what they know while making new connections to learning, there will be a strong vertical progression of literacy development. As I make this transformation to the middle level, there is one thing I know for sure… I will continue to honor my own core belief system and the teaching and learning practices I am so insanely passionate about. As I continue on my educational journey, I will never forget the experiences I have been a part of and the people who have impacted my growth along the way. They are all a part of who I am, and that will never change!
Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core
I created the infographic below to demonstrate how Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Partnership Principles translate to working with learners using a balanced literacy approach. I believe that belief systems in education can be applied to any learning environment, if they are in fact, best practices!
Summers… they are usually a time to exhale, a time to rejuvenate, a time to focus on self-care, a time to engage in meaningful professional learning, a time to reunite, and spend quality time with people you hold dear. In my family, summers are for birthday celebrations, attending sporting events, gathering with friends on the beach, and taking annual trips to Hershey Park or another fun crowd filled destination. And then there is the summer of 2020. A very different summer than any other. Actually, at times, it has been difficult for me to see when summer actually began. Since March 13th, the days have blended together and my learning and hunger for professional growth during these unprecedented times in history has only intensified. I have been relentlessly seeking meaningful opportunities to stretch my capacity for learning in ways I could have never imagined. And believe me, I did not think this was even possible, as historically I already live and breathe literacy and education. Since the organization and flow of a typical year have been interrupted by a global pandemic, I recognize that I may not be fully aware of what day or time it is, but I do know that I will continue to view these challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles. I will also continue to passionately pay attention to anything and everything that will benefit learners as we take a leap of faith into the upcoming school year. As George Couros says in his new #InnovatorsMindset self-paced course Developing the Innovator’s Mindset Through Remote, Face-to-Face, and Blended Learning with regards to being an observant learner (1/8 characteristics of The Innovator’s Mindset) “When you look for things you start to find them… We must learn to make connections with the things we’re doing.” He goes on to ask this question, “How do we look for opportunities and how do we develop that in ourselves?” This is the mindset I am observing in great educators across the world. We are proactively seeking professional growth in pursuit of getting better. There is just no other choice, even if it is summer.
What Exactly are Educators Doing this Summer?
Despite my blurred sense of time,I can communicate with conviction and certainty what exactly it is that educators have been doing. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are consumed with thinking about the unknowns and the what-ifs and are doing their best to plan accordingly with that in mind. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are committed to thinking about ways to continue to connect with other educators and forge powerful relationships with students in unconventional learning environments. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been lifting the level of their technology literacy, taking classes, and self-paced courses to prepare for the unknown school year. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are familiarizing themselves with various learning management systems so that they can seamlessly deliver effective instruction and meet the needs of all learners. This summer, do you know whateducators are doing? They are participating in book clubs and are discussing innovative ways to honor traditional practices that have worked while bringing fresh ideas into physical and virtual learning spaces. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been spending hours upon hours, meticulously curating relevant resources in digital spaces that are saturated with them. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been leaning on colleagues, their PLN, and other go-to educators for ideas and inspiration for how to implement effective face-to-face, distance learning, and/or hybrid learning plans. There’s more: This summer educators are honing their craft and sharing their learning with others. This summer educators arerelentlessly listening to go-to podcasts, reading articles, Elementary, Middle Level, and Young Adult books so that they can recommend new titles to colleagues and students. Do you know what educators are doing? This summer educators are trying to prioritize time for self-care so they can approach the school year with renewed energy. This summer educators are deeply reflecting on what they should start, what they should stop, and what they should continue, all while keeping the students at the heart of the process.
What Exactly are School Leaders Doing this Summer?
Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer school leaders have been tirelessly working with committees involving various stakeholders in their educational communities to create plans for an unprecedented school year while keeping the students’ health, safety, and learning at the forefront of all decision making. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they have been glued to computer screens, are in Zoom meetings, and in-person socially distant meetings while wearing masks. Do you know what are school leaders doing? This summer they are figuring out ways to get devices into the hands of every single student… they are making sure that ALL students have proper connectivity so they can have equitable access to learning. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are measuring classrooms…yes, they are! They are making sure that there is enough space for students to learn in socially distant compliant, safe spaces. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are fielding phone calls and questions from community members and families who are concerned about school reopening plans, safety, and the learning that will take place for their children. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they are making sure that teachers and staff feel safe to return to work and are busy providing resources and meaningful learning experiences that will support learning in physical and virtual environments. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they have been trying to fit in self-care and squeeze in time to spend with loved ones.
Future Ready Schools has shared powerful podcasts titled Leading Through Unprecedented Times that highlight various school leaders from across the country. Each podcast is facilitated by Thomas C. Murray (Director of Innovation) and features school leaders who share their insight, knowledge, and experiences with leading during this challenging time in history.
Some Other Thoughts About What Educators are Doing
This summer educators are agonizing over the hurtful and mean spirited comments chastising educators all over social media. This summer educators are concerned about the misinformation and the virtual pounding they have received from people who are not in education and cannot comprehend that education is a calling (an extension of who you are vs. a job you do). This summer educators are thinking that they want families to know that they will do the very best they can because they deeply care about all learners. This summer, educators are thinking about how important it will be to continue to cultivate strong relationships and continuous communication between school districts and families because there is nothing more important than working together, especially during challenging times! This summer, educators are hopeful. They are hopeful because they know that when the dust settles, we will be better for it. We will have learned new teaching and learning practices, more effective ways to communicate, connect, and collaborate within the educational communities we serve.
Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement