Saturday, July 07, 2018

Being the Change -- #cyberPD Week One

The #cyberPD book this year is Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension.

I'm not going to outline the content of the introduction and the first two chapters. You need to read the book and glean your own take-aways. Here are two of mine, and a story.

#1--This is the right book at the right time for me. I wish I'd had it two years ago when racial tensions were high in my classroom. I wish I'd had it last year. I see now that those two boys aren't the ones who needed to change, it who needs to (who can) change.

#2--This book makes me exceedingly grateful that I stood my ground and remained a self-contained classroom this year (and hopefully through to the end of my teaching career). Increasingly, it seems to me that classroom community is the key element in all that I do -- in the art that is my teaching.

Story--One morning several weeks ago, there was a knock at the door. AJ answered it, and stepped out onto the porch to talk with the person. I admire (and defer to) his patience in listening to and engaging with political, religious, and sales people who show up on our doorstep. I was glad he was out there and I could remain in here on the couch reading. The woman was selling some sort of educational materials, he said when he came back in.

She returned later that evening. AJ answered the knock again, but called me to come and talk to her. She had been out knocking on doors all day long. It was hot. She needed to log a certain number of interactions (sales?) each day. Learning from AJ, I offered her a bottle of water, but she was carrying her own. With a thick Eastern European accent, she launched into a description of the product she was selling. It was a text book covering every subject (or maybe a series of text books and I just saw sample pages from each subject). I listened. I saw how the history articles were condensed into just the main points students would need to know to answer the questions at the end of the chapter. I saw how the math pages had the teacher explanation below each example so that when students were working on their homework (and look -- LOTS of practice work for students -- many, many problems for each concept) both they and their parents would know how the problems should be solved. I saw that her product could serve as the be-all and end-all for homeschooling families.

I listened, but in the end I had to tell her that I don't teach from text books. I address the standards and meet the needs of my students with resources and materials that I gather on my own, or that are suggested by my district. I described my teaching as art, rather than as the science of opening a text book to the next page. She was in awe. She had never heard of this way of teaching and learning. She thought that perhaps she would have liked to have learned in a classroom like that.

I had to send her away without a sale (I hope she was able to log a conversation with a teacher, theoretically a potential buyer). I reaped all the benefits. I was left with an even deeper gratitude that I am blessed to teach in a district that does not have mandated textbooks in the elementary school. A district that respects me as a professional and trusts the ART of teaching.


  1. I think that same woman stopped at my house last summer! ;). It reaffirmed to me that teaching is an art. Anybody can follow a textbook. But not just anybody can do what we do.

  2. I am fascinated by all of the different ways people are choosing to present their connections and synthesis of this book. I'm reading it this summer, through the lens of the sixth graders that I will teach in the fall. I know that they had a hard time with social dynamics last year, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that this year goes better. As I read your story, I'm struck by your listening stance. You knew, probably from the first words out of that woman's mouth, or your first look at the book, that you weren't interested. And yet instead of shutting her down, you listened to her, I think Ahmed would call that "Listening with Love." Such a huge gift of your time. Don Graves would always say, "If we could only learn to listen to each other...." Thank you for that gift you put out into the world.

  3. For me, self contained is best. Enjoyed reading your thoughts here.

  4. From your statement of readers needing to clean their own reflections to maintaining self-contained classroom to the art of teaching you had this reader shouting amen.

  5. The work described in the book is important to do with students, but like Sara suggested in the introduction, I think it's equally important to engage in the work with teachers. It can be seem risky to have tense conversations with students, but if we trust in ourselves and students it is possible.

  6. I wish I could say the same for our district, but, in my gifted classroom, I am allowed more freedom because I am not only teaching content area standards, I am also teaching and using gifted strategies, thus creativity is a must. I hope to dig in to Being the Change this week as I am home from vacation. I think I will discover it's a book I've needed for a long time.

  7. Thank you for this introduction. My appetite is whetted!

  8. Thanks for sharing your two big take-aways and story. What a connection. I'm so happy that this book was selected too -- because it's what we need right now (or last year), but we have now to move forward and do better.

  9. Yes! "Increasingly, it seems to me that classroom community is the key element in all that I do -- in the art that is my teaching." I'm reminded of this over and over again. When I first started reading Sara's book I thought, "This is perfect for the first six weeks of school." Then I thought, "This will be great for morning meetings." Then I thought, "This will weave so nicely in my literacy workshops." Then I realized, "Wow, this aligns perfectly for social studies." Then I decided, "I would love to close a day with these conversations." My point is, this needs to happen across the day --- and that happens best when I am beside students all day long.


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