Monday, May 21, 2012

Teachers as Readers (and Runners...)

Mary Lee, Me, Meredith and McKenzie --(I learned about Team Sparkle Skirts at 365 Days of Awesome.)

I have always believed that teachers need to be readers. I know for myself, being a reader is important for so many reasons--I can better recommend books to kids. I know what it is like to love a book so much that it is hard to read anything afterwards. I can understand the decision-making that goes into abandoning a book. I teach differently because I am a reader and I read differently because I am a teacher of reading.  Every day, my life as a reader impacts my teaching life.

I was reminded about the importance of Teacher as Reader during my work toward running a 5K over the last few months. If you've been following my slow, but steady progress on my Reading Teachers Running blog, you know this has been a long road.  I don't consider myself a runner but I did run (mostly) a 5K on Saturday.  And, as always happens with me and fitness goals, I learned a lot about my life as a teacher in the process.

I started out wishing I was a runner as I often do when I decided to write about it in  a post for the Nerdy Book Club.  As I was writing it, I realized that I had not really given running my all.  I mean I wanted to run and I read a lot about it but I didn't really set myself up for success in running. So, after writing that post, I realized I needed to get some help. I had tried published Couch to 5K programs but they never seemed quite right. I knew I needed someone who could really help me meet my goal, someone who was a coach and a runner. Someone who could TEACH me how to be a runner.  I hired a running coach that I found online. Tonia at TMB Endurance Training who I found on a blog I love 365 Days of Awesome.  I decided to hire her to write a plan for me and to coach me for the 16 weeks.

My friends who have seen me start and stop many exercise programs over the years, were quite amused at this decision.  No one was quite sure how someone could coach me without being here. How could I learn from someone online? If she was just going to say, "Finish strong!", anyone could do that.  I couldn't really put my finger on it at the beginning but I knew that hiring Tonia was one of the best decisions I'd made.

Tonia helped me in a way that my local non-running friends could not. She did tell me things like "finish strong" but she also helped me through lots of challenges.  And I trusted her because she was a runner herself. I knew when I just needed a pep talk from my friends and I knew when I really needed information about where to go next in my running.  Before Tonia wrote my personalized plan, she sent me an extensive interview and then scheduled a 30 minute phone conference with me. She learned all she could about me and my needs, my lifestyle and my goals. Then she created a plan based on all she knew. Each week, we chatted a few times a week to check in. I asked questions, she sent reminders, etc. And I finished the 16 week training plan and ran the 5K.

I could not have done this without the many cheeerleaders I had along the way-there are too many to name because I am lucky in life to have lots of friends and cheerleaders. But, I could also not have done this without an expert to support me along the way. I have always had cheerleaders to support me, but to run, I needed someone who was a runner and also knew how to coach and how to meet the needs of me, an individual.

I realized early in the training, that Tonia was setting me up for a life of running. She was building things into my week (short runs and long runs) that seemed silly when I was only running 30 seconds at a time. But the habit of knowing there is a long run every week matters.  She knew when to tell me to listen to my body and take the day off and when to push through. She let me know about her bad runs when I had a run that just didn't work. She knew when the thing holding me back was my confidence and not my ability. She knew all of this because she was a runner and she could use her expertise as both a runner and a coach to get me to the next level.

The thing is, the people who run, and share their stories honestly have helped me get through my own challenges.  There were lots of runners who taught me lots along the way. My friend Lynsey told me early on that "the first mile is always hard". It was a hard thing to hear when I couldn't possibly run close to a mile, but her words have helped me ever since I've passed that first mile run. Now I know that the first several minutes are harder and then I get into some kind of flow. Without Lynsey, a serious runner, giving me that piece of advice, I may have just thought running was only hard for me at the beginning. Understanding that the start of runs were hard for her made a difference to me. She was also the one that suggested I get an armband for my iphone because carrying it my hand could throw off my balance and give me one more thing to worry about while running.  I trusted her to help me because she is a runner.

Jen was kind enough to teach me early on that speed doesn't matter so much and that lots of runners start slow.

I loved reading Dorothy's post about the Boston Marathon: Mile by Mile. She is one of my running idols and I knew how much the marathon meant to her because I read her blog religiously. It got me through many weeks of my running.  The thought that she could struggle with any running event and be so honest about it was huge for me.  Her story reminds me not to quit, even when I have to pause and take a breath. That my attitude is really my big problem as it was hers on that day. That I am not struggling because I am not good at this but every runner has good and bad run days, no matter where they are in their journey.  And reading an interview with Dorothy this week, I learned that she didn't love running right away.  I am amazed by this fact and it helped me this week, when I did not love running. Hearing that this runner did not love running at first gave me a bit of hope...  I was just as relieved to read Heather's post on 365 Days of Awesome this week. She has had a bad few weeks of running and she is honest about sharing.  But she isn't quitting because the running isn't going well.  I trusted these stories because these girls are runners.

And there are Sarah and Dimity at Another Mother Runner who willingly share their stories and the stories of others so that we can all find what works for us. I learn from every mother whose story they share and their two books RUN LIKE A MOTHER and TRAIN LIKE A MOTHER helped me through these 16 weeks of running. The constant support of such knowledgable people mattered. They were runners and they know the challenges of fitting running into a full life.  I trust them completely because they run.

And Meredith is just a year or two ahead of me as a runner. She ran her first 5K last year and I was there to cheer her on. But she ran next to me for the full 5K on Saturday.  When she told me to keep going, I knew that it was more than cheering--she knew from experience that I'd be happier if I didn't stop. She knew that it was hard because she had experienced her first race so recently. And my virtual running partner, Katherine, texted me throughout the week. She had worked with Tonia and had run her 5K the week before. She knew what I would experience.  I trusted them because they run.

Mary Lee's husband, A.J. gave me last minute tips on navigating the crowd and the course on the morning of the race. I listened to him and trusted him because he is a runner.

So, back to my lesson about teaching.  It definitely took a village to get me to the 5K. It took cheerleaders and friends, but more importantly, it took runners. Runners who were willing to help me, to teach me and to invite me into the world of runners.  The online bloggers who I do not "know" and probably never will were critical to my learning because they are runners. I trusted my coach because she was a runner. And all of the advice and tips I got along the way mattered because the people who gave them had at one point experienced what I was experiencing. I trusted them because they had the experience and because they understood what I was going through.

How can our students trust us as teachers of reading if we are not readers ourselves? How can we talk authentically with kids about books if we are not truly interested in reading them. How can we help them through challenges and help them move forward if we have never experienced what they are experiencing?  Yes, our kids need cheerleaders--they need people who love and support them in all that they do. But they also need teachers, teachers who read. Teachers who they can trust to teach them about reading because they are readers themselves.

It definitely took a village to get me to the 5K and I imagine the village of support will need to continue as I continue running. I DEFINITELY need cheerleaders. I could not really live my life without them. My friends are amazing people. But as a runner, I need more than cheerleaders, I needed teachers. I needed teachers who not only cheer me on but teach me what it is to be a runner.  I plan to hire Tonia again soon to help me with whatever running goal I come up with next.  I know I will need more than cheerleaders if I want to move forward again.

I stood on the sidelines of the running community for a very long time.  It wasn't until I found experts to learn from, experts who had been through what I was going through, that I could get through those first few weeks successfully.

As I wrote in my Nerdy Book Club post in January, there are so many children standing on the edges of the Nerdy Book Club, wanting to be part of this reading club. These kids deserve teachers who read.


  1. We all need cheerleaders! Learning anything new is so hard to do on your own, whether is's reading or running or anything else. I am so happy to hear you did your first 5k! It is so exciting. It's not always easy but everything I associate with running is happy, no matter what, I have always felt that running made me stronger physically and mentally. I am so excited to get into running again and I owe a lot of that to you, you are a real inspiration and you reminded me of everything I love about running. I hope we get to run a race together soon!

  2. Congrats on the 5K! Good analogy. That's something teachers do well too!

  3. Love, love, love this! And congrats again, Franki! You are a runner.

  4. I will never fit the role of a running teacher, but I most definitely will cheer you along with whatever the next goal is (and my parents never thought I'd be a cheerleader)! :)

    Love the analogy of learning how to read from people who actually do. That authentic part makes all the difference in the world!!

    Great post!

  5. Great post :) TMB is a great person!! SO happy you had her as your coach!!

  6. Congratulations to you and your team members. I was virtually cheering for you! I appreciate the way you connected the race back to teaching.

  7. I LOVED reading this.
    You have inspired me in many ways before...
    And today that inspiration was broadened further.
    Thanks for that... and for sharing your story and your analogy so beautifully.

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade


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