Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Samantha Bennett: Author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK

If you ever have a chance to hear Samantha Bennett, author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK, speak, take full advantage of it. I attended Samantha's workshop on Friday and Saturday. Both days were filled with lots of thinking and learning.

Her book THAT WORKSHOP BOOK is a powerful one. Through her work with teachers, she has discovered the power of workshop and the power of our planning and our talk with kids.

I can't begin to share all that I learned over the weekend.. Sitting by friends always helps too. So much conversation from our learning. I am sure our talk will continue based on what we learned. Instead of sharing everything I learned, I decided to share my "Top 10 Samantha Bennett Quotes." I could have shared a hundred but decided the Top 10 makes sense. These are my personal highlight quotes of the day. These were the quotes I will continue to use to push my own thinking.


"It's loud. It's messy. It's really, really fun."
Samantha said this when talking about workshop and workshop planning. She makes no claims that workshop teaching is easy or neat. She knows that a good workshop is complex and that it takes huge planning. This quote sums it up well, I think.

"It's not about liking things."
Friday's part of the workshop was spent visiting classrooms and learning from those. We visited via a live feed/camera, Katie DiCesare's 2nd grade classroom and Karen Terlecky's 5th grade classroom. During the prebrief session with Samantha, she was clear in telling us that she did not want to hear what we LIKED at the end of the session. She wanted us to begin to label practice with theory and to ask ourselves "What about this struck me?" She put this right up front and pushed our thinking before we even began. This changed the way we observed the classroom.

"If you only do something for one reason, don't do it. You should be able to label things in multiple ways."
Part of the work we did observing classrooms was labeling what we saw with research. So much of the challenge of teaching has to do with time and Samantha talked a lot about having lots of reasons for everything we do in the classroom. She believes strongly that every minute of every day for students has to be purposeful and there are so many things to accomplish, that we can't accomplish only one at a time.

"Remove the layers of crust to what matter most. You see what matters most to her. My job is to help her get more of that."
In talking about her role as a coach, Samantha shared the importance of helping teachers get to their core beliefs about education--about helping us see what it is that matters to us most when we get rid of the "crust". Then helping us think about how to get more of that. This was a huge piece of thinking for me. How do I get more of what matters into my days? A question that helps us be more purposeful in our work with kids, I think.

"You can always get better, every minute of every day."
This is the reason I am still in education after 20+ years. So much to think about and such interesting work. The fact that as teachers, we will never "get there" and that we can continue to learn and grow is what gives me energy. When I realized early on that I'd never have it all figured out, I started to enjoy the learning journey so much.

"They should not have to defend practice but we do want them to articulate it. Knowing what you are doing and why you are doing it every single minute of the day."
When we were ready to visit classrooms and Samantha was sharing the purpose, she was clear in saying that teachers in these classrooms did not need to defend their practice. We aren't there to judge it, but rather to learn from it. This philosophy would change so much about the way we talk to each other about our work. I think we, as teachers, often feel so under attack, that we get immediately defensive when asked about our practice. But being asked to articulate our practice is key to doing good work with kids. Articulating practice is something I try to get better at because it helps me as a learner. And it is good for the soul, I think. To know you are doing what you believe is right for kids.

"Stop asking what I am going to do tomorrow. Ask what students are going to do tomorrow. That should be the guiding question."
I loved this guiding question. So much of the day on Saturday was about the planning process and the need to teach for understanding. The belief that student work and learning is what we are about was a thread throughout the two days. This guiding question helps me to think a little differently when I plan. Keeping my eye on what kids will be doing is key.

"Kids knowing why they're there, every minute of every day."
Just as we have to make every minute worthwhile, it is critical that kids know the purpose of everything they are doing, everything that we are asking them to do. Kids have to own that learning so that every minute of every day piece is so important. A good measure to hold ourselves accountable to, I think.

"When kids are telling you no, listen. There is a reason they are telling you no. And you better figure it out. Take their reluctance seriously. What does this kid need that he is not getting?"
This was such a powerful thing to think about. When I think about kids who are not willing to do the work, kids who act out rather than take a risk, etc. this is something to remember. What does this kid need that he/she is not getting? Instead of blaming the child, this is about taking ownership that a child's reluctance is something we need to listen closely to.

"Unless you release kids to work, there is zero way to differentiate."
LOVED THIS! A thread through the two days was the need for teacher talk to be minimal. Kids need to be doing the work and if they aren't out there working, there is no way we can meet their diverse needs. I think sometimes we feel guilty if our minilessons are too quick, etc. but by remembering this, we know we are doing the right thing.

As you can tell, it was a great workshop. I hope to get a chance to learn from Samantha Bennett again soon. Very inspiring and powerful.

For other posts on the workshop:


  1. Anonymous8:44 AM

    How excitine! Going to hear Ellin Oliver Keenes today. Ralph Fletcher is visiting in two weeks. Life is good.

  2. Thanks for sharing these quotes mixed with your reflections. What a great way to share your workshop experience with us.

  3. Oh beautifully said, beautifully written. And great pick on those 10 quotes, it really does synthesizes our learning from those days pretty well! I'm still pondering on certain things...


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