Reading is My Binky

Reading is my comfort and much more than a hobby. It is part of an innate coping mechanism I seem to possess. As a runner training for a marathon or ultra you run many daily miles for months. When it comes to tapering before the race many runners get cranky, myself included. You get twitchy from so much time and less miles. You feel like you are someone else you don’t like. You have a an itch that has no scratch. Reading is my universal itch scratcher. When I don’t read, much like when I don’t run, I get twitchy and irritable. It is my automatic activity for pleasure, information, general happiness, and escape.

In college I took the most classes I could every semester except for one. That semester was remarkable and memorable to me because I a class was dropped at the last minute, and I decided to just let the universe guide my schedule and take the break of less hours. I realized quickly I had way too much time on my hands that was usually slated for studying and dictated by professors’ syllabus so I went to the library. I loved the library at my college and found the new releases shelf that semester. I had no idea it even existed before then. I read almost everything on the shelf. I wish I had the record. I remember reading a book about how Starbucks was started and how it was created to be a third place. In the back of my Franklin planner I used to keep a running list of the books I read. For some reason I decided to discard this list over a decade ago. I cannot recall why I did this – probably because I felt “I didn’t need it anymore.”

I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and was “caught” reading it in an undergrad linguistics class. I had a classmate come up to me randomly and ask what class I was reading it for. My answer was no class and I remember looking at her incredulously not fathoming why anyone would not read something that wasn’t assigned to them. I was irritated that she assumed I was reading it for a class and not on my own accord. I love that book still and refer to it often.

I am constantly searching for a book that changes me. I have read many books that I have not liked for one reason or another but have been compelled by the same book and find myself thinking about it later. One of these books is 1984. It took me a long time to read it but I enjoyed the story. I didn’t find it difficult to read but had a hard time. The Bone Clocks is another novel that I enjoyed for the concept. I thought it was too long but felt compelled to keep coming back to it. The Course of Love made me angry. I did not like the characters choices but was simultaneously fascinated by the concept of the characters actions being explained by philosophy.

When my life exploded into something I didn’t recognize a couple years ago I went to the library. I looked up the national book award long list and I read the books on that list. I was angry that the books were on the shelves. I figured these books are supposed to be so great why are more people not checking them out? I would leave for work in the morning from my apartment and think about all the activities I would participate in when I got home. I never did any of them. I would stop by the store and decide what to have for dinner based on what protein was on sale and then read. I would get to the point where I would feel like I had absorbed so many words that I needed to talk about the books with someone and then I would consider going to book club but then not go. Reading is a solitary activity for me most of the time.

In middle school I spent my lunch times in the library reading. I was often asked by people how I chose books. I didn’t really have an answer for them. I was picking books for me and the idea that anyone would be concerned with my choices was baffling. I enjoyed this time and it was a good break from the craziness of middle school for me.

Depending on my income determines how many books I buy. The invention of Google Library Extension makes it easy to check on availability and reserve books at the library. It is even easier than Amazon. For many periods I just bought all the books I wanted. I will never figure out how much money that was. The constant is books and reading. No matter where the books come from, I always find a way.

What I Learned from the 2016-2017 School Year

I joyfully started a new position this school year as a curriculum coach. The previous three years I was a teacher coach at a charter school and learned how to be effective through training, practice and coaching. Using that knowledge helped me begin the new school year with practices that served me and my new school well.

1. Relationships Are the Most Important

I intentionally focused on building relationships with my teachers from the moment I walked into the door. I made myself visible. I listened. I did not repeat anything anyone told me. I also made a point to not name drop, and this included with the principal. I was always open for meetings with teachers, and would do my best to meet with people when they needed me rather than what necessarily fit into my schedule. This sometimes meant forgoing lunch which was acceptable.

I tried my best to be positively frame every situation. I tried to solve problems that I could as quickly as possible. Just talking to people and engaging with them is part of the relationship building. I kept having to remind myself of this fact when I would feel like “I wasn’t working.” Thank you notes and genuine appreciation went a long way. Teachers do not get recognized enough for the great things they do everyday in the classroom and their individual strengths and I tried to highlight these behaviors whenever I could.

2. Don’t Show All Your Cards

I have a lot of skills and have had a variety of experiences from the last 21 years in education. I attempt to have my actions show my knowledge base rather than telling people. Lots of knowledge and experience in a variety of areas can alienate people rather than bring them closer, depending on the context. When topics arose I would reference a situation I had been in before and how I solved it as much as possible. I would sometimes use other teachers’ experience I had witnessed if I myself had not been in the situation. I would always answer questions about my experience when asked. I was not trying to be evasive,  but rather not to bombard people with too much information.  I have a variety of skills and experience but I do not know everything. I get obsessed with topics and then conduct my own research and then drop researchers names like we are friends!

3. Until you have to…

There were several points in the year that someone asked me a direct question and then I was very honest about how I handled a situation in the past. Sometimes this sharing was not in a light the teacher liked. During an RTI meeting I had to bring up that in a past corporation I was part of a group that reworked all the forms for our special education co-op. I know the law and how RTI intervention works and why. There is a difference between RTI intervention and intervention groups, which is a practice that good teachers should do anyway. One of the teachers figured out through the questions that I was asking that my experience was more in depth than I had indicated. I appreciated that she took me aside after the meeting to ask about it rather than calling me out in the meeting.

I also have had to be ready to stand my ground and defend research and practice from my own classroom. I use post it notes for kids to encourage academic behavior I desire which also builds the relationship with the student. Sometimes it is a simple, “Thank you for getting right to work.” or “Thank you for following directions perfectly.” Other times it is “You read so fluently!” or “I wish I would have written this sentence myself.” I had a teacher tell me that practice would work for a few days, but it wouldn’t work longer than that. I had to firmly tell her that it worked well for a solid 8 week period and then when I went back into the classroom throughout the year. I use this practice with all the students I have whether they are adults or children. It is motivating and effective.

4. Listen and observe

Listen to teacher and student needs. Really listen. Listen to the questions people ask or what they comment on. Then provide training or resources. Don’t push too hard and FOLLOW-UP! It can be a conversation in the hallway or an email. Paying attention to the little things can make a big difference. My Workshop Wednesdays were a big hit with my teachers because it addressed needs they had expressed to me.

5. Facts NOT Emotion

Use facts as much as possible. One of the conversations I had several times with teachers was about student evidence. As a teacher, we need to focus on high, medium, and low work not high, medium, and low kids. Using the work, teachers can determine many teaching behaviors that affect the student achievement and outcomes.

6. No One Can Take Knowledge Out of Your Brain

I have been through many trials and tribulations throughout my teaching career. There are some fundamental truths I believe :

  1. Reading is the gateway to learning.
  2. True modeling works.
  3. I won’t ask you to do anything that I am not willing to do or have already done myself. (I use this mantra with adults and students.)
  4. All the training you immerse in, the reading you do, and the products you create based on these areas cannot be taken away from you. It is part of who you are and makes you a better individual and educator.

I am looking forward to next year and building on the relationships with the teachers that are returning. The teachers and I are learning what skills we all have to be able to utilize all the experts in the building. Teachers will be more effective and students will achieve more! It will be an exciting year! Summer here we come!