The Importance of Doing the Laundry: Maintenance Matters

by Kate Roberts, 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

A little while ago, I attended a keynote on the importance of innovation in our schools, classrooms, and nation. It was a rousing speech, and I agreed with all of it. Of course, we need fresh, inspiring ideas to help solve some of our most pernicious problems in education. Of course, we want educators who are able to think in new and creative ways about how to best reach and raise our children. I left energized and rearing to go.

Kate RobertsAs I began to implement these innovative ideas, I hit wall after wall of reality. I didn’t have the resources I needed. I didn’t have the experience to truly teach or guide the new ideas I had, so that when my students had trouble, I was not sure where to go. I still had my old, “un-innovative” curriculum to contend with, plus the assessments that seem unmovable, plus the grading system of my school. My foray into innovation gave me a few days of shiny new practices, but they soon gave way to the gravitational pull of normal.

I was tempted to say, “This just doesn’t work.” (Ok, I did say it.)

I was wrong and, at the same time, right. Many innovative ideas can work – as long as we are able and supported in devoting great amounts of labor to them for the long haul.

Innovation needs maintenance. So does normalcy. In fact, without maintenance, the whole thing (our classrooms, our homes, our world) just falls apart. But there are few keynotes given or books written in praise of the need to carry on and keep things going. There are few PD sessions on the power of grinding away at the same old stuff making sure things are working well enough.

But there should be.

In their Aeon article “Hail the Maintainers,” Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel make a case for the importance of supporting the maintainers in any profession. From the fall of the Iron Curtain to the inequity arising out of Silicon Valley, they point out that while novel ideas are integral to our evolution, these ideas wind up really taking on a very small percentage of the actual work.

Russell and Vinsel argue that the hard (and mundane) work of maintenance opens up the space for innovation to exist:

“…focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going. Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilization is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation.”

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

If innovation requires the essential and mundane work of maintenance, we must carve out ways to support and nurture this unglamorous work. Here are a few ways that we can support the maintenance that takes innovation going:

  1. Consider the systems and structures first.

When an innovative idea comes along, create systems in your classroom to maintain and support that idea, keeping it accountable for you and your students. For example, you go to a workshop on student blogging and expanding their intellectual social network. Great idea. Now, how much class time per week will you devote to this practice and when will that happen? Wednesdays for 20 minutes? Every Friday? Without repetition, innovative ideas will stay flashes in the pan.

Next, ask yourself, where will they do this work? What platform will they use and how will you make sure your kids know how to use it.

Finally, what is the expectation for the outcome? How will you hold them accountable?

When creating a system to maintain innovation, lean on the building blocks of reality:

TIME: When will students practice this innovation and how will they be         reminded?

SPACE: Where will students practice this innovation and how will you know?

MATTER:  (Ok, this is a stretch in the science metaphor) How will the work    take shape, as in, what is the accountable expectation in your classroom.

Without these systems in place, any new idea will be a flash of something promising, yet struggle to take root.

  1. Listen when it feels like too much work.

If you are listening to a speaker or reading a book and begin to feel overwhelmed (like, what is being presented is way too much work for you to actually get up and going), then, honestly, it probably is, at least completely. The answer to innovation cannot be that teachers just take on more and more work into infinity. And yet that is often the implied suggestion behind every professional development session, every new idea, every exhortation to “lift the level of …”

I am not suggesting that you shut down when things feel like too much work. But when you feel like you cannot do it, I am suggesting that you pause, step back, and realize that you will not be able to get everything in place – at least not right now. Ask yourself, “which part of this do I feel like I can tackle right now? Which part feels like it will take some work, but not so much work that my sliver of work/life balance won’t be obliterated?”

This way, you can begin.

  1. Focus on what matters and be willing to let go of the rest.

Innovative ideas can often come packaged in ideals. And yet, as often quoted, perfect is very much the enemy of the good. We can strive to always ask ourselves, “what is truly important about this work? What is the heart of it? Often, when we name what the most important work is, it helps us to set priorities or to simplify the work ahead of us. We can always work on perfecting things, but let’s get the good stuff going first.

When I was in my 20’s, it felt like I was innovating my life. New relationships, new jobs, new cities and friends. But with each new huge life changing experience, I noticed things were falling apart around me. Heaps of dirty clothes piled on the floor. Stacks of bills to be paid. Unreturned phone calls. Before long, the new things  – relationships, jobs and experiences – paled in comparison to the need to maintain. I realized then that the only way I could create this new life for myself was to keep up the day-to-day stuff; this behind-the-scenes maintenance helped me create the headlines in the newspaper of my life.

We can be innovative. But in order to do so we must also maintain.

References

Russell, Andrew and Vinsel, Lee. “Hail the Maintainers.” Aeon.com. https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more. (Accessed August 6th, 2017).

Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons

By Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

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The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching:

  1. Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors.
  2. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do.
  3. Select a text on which the reader can learn how to read better- not too difficult and not too easy.
  4. Teach the reader not the text.
  5. Teach the student to read written language not words.
  6. Teach for the student to initiate effective problem-solving actions.
  7. Use clear precise language that passes the control to the reader.
  8. Only ask the student to do what you know he can do.
  9. Don’t clutter the teaching with too much talk.
  10. Focus on self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors so this reader becomes independent.
  11. Build on examples of successful processing.
  12. Teach for fast responding so the reader can process smoothly and efficiently.

If you’re looking for an introductory course on Guided Reading either online or on-campus, click here!

The Illusion of Change

By Guest blogger, Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Author and Leadership Consultant.  He is the keynote speaker at our Complimentary VIP Leadership Summit event hosted by the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. This event is being held on May 15, 2017. This invitation only event will offer an opportunity for school leadership to discuss transforming school culture to build teacher leadership and improve student outcomes. Please email literacy@lesley.edu for more information.

Anthony MuhammedChange is a very difficult process, but it is the catalyst to continuous improvement.  It tests our ability as professionals at many different levels.  Sometimes, when things get too challenging, we tend to look for short-cuts or we quietly surrender.  We live in a political climate that demands that we change, whether we choose to or not, but I have found that some organizations are good at creating the illusion of change, rather than being fully involved in the process of change.  There are a three key phrases which clearly indicate that an organization is not fully committed to the change process.

Phrase #1: “We are having conversations”

This phrase is a code for; “we have a lot of opposition to this idea and we are afraid to make people too uncomfortable and release an onslaught of political and social opposition.”  I recently worked with a school that has been involved with the implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process for three years.  They have created collaborative teams and they have designated time for those collaborative teams to meet.  They have created district-wide formative assessments that are administered four times per year.  These milestones were reached in the first year of the process.  So, I asked about PLC Questions #3 and #4 which address systems of student intervention and enrichment, and the room got very quiet.  When people finally began to speak, each answer began with the phrase “we are having conversations.”  If your district is “having conversations,” the change process has stalled.

Phrase #2: “We are in different places”

This phrase is code for; “we don’t have a universal system of accountability, and people who understand the intrinsic value of what we propose have embraced it, and those that are averse are allowed to disregard it until they ‘buy-in’.” Schools and systems that use this phrase are engaged in what I call “accountability light.” This is a diet version of universal professional accountability where group expectations and coherence are the norm.  Healthy school cultures make collaborative decisions and they hold each other mutually accountable for full participation.  When shared commitment is not achieved, a tiered-system of commitment emerges where implementation is based upon personal preference.  Partial commitment is the same as no commitment.

Phrase #3: “District initiatives”

This phrase is code for; “there is a huge philosophical divide between school practitioners and central office which has led to a stalemate.”  I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of schools on the change process and whenever practitioners refer to the change process as a “district initiative,” it is never good.  In essence what they are expressing is a feeling of imposition.  In the mind of the school practitioner, they are confronting real world issues and they have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the school; and central office lives a world disconnected from reality and their priorities are unreasonable and unnecessary.   This is a clear indication of poor communication and professional disconnection.  If your district has a lot of “initiatives,” effective change is probably not on the horizon.

Are You Teaching or Testing Comprehension?

irene_fountas_photoby Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

All too often, successful comprehension has been regarded as a student’s ability to answer a teacher’s questions (which is one way of assessing comprehension), but it does not enhance the reader’s self-regulating power for processing a new text with deep understanding. Think about how your teaching moves may be focused on testing when you continually pose questions, or how you can shift to teaching or helping students learn how to comprehend texts for themselves.

Teaching for comprehending means supporting your students’ ability to construct the meaning of the text in a way that expands their reading ability. You can help them learn what to notice in a text and what is important to think about, how to solve problems when meaning is not clear, and provide scaffolds to develop their in-the-head systems for working through the meaning of the text. These abilities are generative, so students will be able to transfer what they learn how to do as readers before, during, or after reading to a variety of increasingly challenging texts in every genre.

Introduce the text to readers

When you introduce a challenging text to your students, be sure to help them notice how the writer constructed the meaning, organized the text, used language and made decisions about the print features. Help them know how the book works and get them started thinking about the writers’ purpose and message and the characteristics of the genre.

Prompt the readers for constructive activity

As students read orally, interact very briefly at points of difficulty to demonstrate, prompt for, or reinforce effective problem-solving actions that they can try out and make their own. Your facilitative language is a call for the reader to engage in problem-solving that expands their reading strengths.

Teach students how to read closely

Take the readers back into the text after reading to notice the writer’s craft more closely. Select a phrase, sentence or paragraph, or focus on helping them notice how the writer organized the whole text. Revisiting the text calls the reader’s attention to particular features.

Engage students in talk about texts

Talk represents thinking. When students talk about a text, they are processing the vocabulary, language and content aloud. This enables them to articulate their understandings, reactions and wonderings. When they learn to be articulate in their talk, they can then show their ability to communicate their thinking about texts in their writing.

Engage students in writing about texts

Writing about reading is a tool for sharing and thinking about a text. When students articulate their thoughts in writing, they confirm their understandings, reflect on the meaning and explore new understandings.

Testing is a controlled task for measuring what students can do without teacher help. Teaching is the opportunity to make a difference in the self-regulating capacity of the learner. Reflect on your teaching moves and engage in a discussion with your colleagues to shift from testing to teaching. When students focus on meaning-making with every text they read, they will be able to show their competencies on the test.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative’s events and trainings, visit http://www.lesley.edu/crr

Literacy for All: Professional Development for Administrators

by Eva Konstantellou, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

Have you heard Andy Hargreaves talk about how to transform your school into a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility?

3d598a1d2c73ee18837641ad059fbc41_400x400Join Andy Hargreaves to hear his keynote and breakout sessions at the Literacy for All conference, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Professor Hargreaves’s keynote address on “Collective Responsibility for the Success of All Teachers and Students” will present the case for collective professional responsibility as the key to school improvement.  In his first breakout session, “Collective responsibility in action,” Professor Hargreaves will discuss ways of schools working together to improve performance. In his second breakout session, “Collective Responsibility in Business, Sports, and Education,” Professor Hargreaves will highlight school communities in which the role of school leaders is to nurture the teachers’ passions and inspire and uplift their teams’ performance.

Past participants have embraced the Literacy for All Conference as the premier professional development event in the northeast.  This year’s sessions and pre-conference workshops offer a wide range of topics that will support and lift the learning of all participants.  Administrators and school leaders are invited to attend a number of sessions that have been designed with their needs in mind.  

In addition to Andy Hargreaves’s sessions, the sessions listed below explore various powerful themes and will help school leaders think deeply about comprehensive literacy, systemic change, and the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.  Here’s a sample of themes explored in administrators’ sessions:

  • Fostering strong teacher-coach-principal relationships
  • Implementing powerful, research-based models of authentic literacy
  • Helping schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation
  • Building understandings of best practices
  • Sharing the nuts and bolts about making RTI a reality
  • Supporting and sustaining systemic change
  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan paying special attention to the role of interventions
  • Principals and coaches working together to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core Standards

LFA Brochure CoverThe following eight sessions will address the above themes:

PC-2- From Reading Specialist to Literacy Coach: Examining Essential Shifts (Grades K–8) Irene Fountas, Author and Professor, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University and Gay Su Pinnell, Author and Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

In many school districts across the nation, reading teachers are spending increasing amounts of time in the role of coach to support the professional learning of peers and improve whole school achievement. What will it take to grow professionally, from previously providing direct service to students, to supporting collegial learning? Topics in this institute will include: re-envisioning your role, building relationships with colleagues, anticipating challenges, using language that fosters teacher reflection and teamwork, developing systematic observation skills, identifying essential areas of new learning, helping colleagues re-envision their roles as team members, and working with your school principal to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core State Standards.

LCB-11- Triangulated Literacy Coaching: Fostering the Teacher-Coach-Principal Relationship (Grades 3–6)
Jennifer Felt, Literacy Coach, Oxford Hills School District
Margaret Emery, Principal, Oxford Hills School District
Haley Saurman, Classroom Teacher, Oxford Hills School District

Relationships are the foundation of successful literacy coaching; however, for student progress to be accelerated and continual, it’s imperative that the teacher-coach-principal relationship is strong and maintained. In this session, you will learn ways to develop and strengthen the relationship of key stakeholders in their schools through a systematic coaching model. We will provide examples of scheduling, data collection, and staff development, which has led to seamless coaching experiences and increased student achievement.

LCB-15- Improving Student Achievement and Elevating Teacher Expertise through Literacy Collaborative (Grades PreK–8)
Jess Sherman, Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University
Heather Morris, Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University

Learn about a partnership between your school or district to implement a powerful, research-based comprehensive model of authentic literacy that demonstrated 32% improvement in student achievement in three years. Establish coherent instruction through the teamwork of classroom teachers, specialists, content area teachers, the principals, and the training of literacy coaches.

LCD-9- Using Inquiry As a Tool For Continuous Improvement (Grades K–2)
Alice L. Ensley, Primary District Trainer for Literacy Collaborative, Dalton Public Schools
In this session, we will explore a model that can be used to help schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation. You will learn how to propose a hypothesis, gather soft and hard data to examine the hypothesis, set goals based on this data, and design and implement a plan for meeting these goals. We will use an actual case study from a Literacy Collaborative school district as a model for this session. You will have time to explore the needs of your school or district, and receive feedback about the kinds of data you could collect to begin your own inquiry study.

LCE-4 In-Depth- What Principals and Literacy Leaders Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Writing (Grades K–8)
Ruth Culham, Author/Consultant, The Culham Writing Company
As we enter the era of the Common Core State Standards, writing has never been more important. Teachers are hungry for leadership and support in making their writing classrooms places where important learning takes place every single day. In order to provide this support, principals and literacy leaders need an understanding of the best writing practices so they can be active participants in discussion about how to improve writing instruction. This workshop will address the four Ws– Writing Process, Writing Traits, Writing Modes, and Writing Workshop– and how to organize the school year around them.  It will provide hands-on experiences with tools to use in collaboration with teachers that promote discussion, track improvement, provide feedback, and inspire the changes that the Common Core State Standards are challenging educators to meet in today’s writing classrooms. This workshop is sponsored by Scholastic, Inc.

LCF-15- Meeting the Needs of All Readers: Making Response to Intervention a Reality (Grades K–6)
Clare Landrigan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tammy Mulligan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tom Morris, Principal, Franklin Public Schools
Jodi Fortuna, Assistant Superintendent, Hudson Public Schools
Marcia Uretsky, Principal, Newton Public Schools

Very few people disagree with the premise of Response to Intervention, but how do we make it work effectively in schools? Join our roundtable discussion as several administrators and staff developers share the nuts and bolts of how they make RTI a reality. Hear ways different schools create effective schedules and coordinate instruction between classrooms and interventionists. Learn more about designing small group and individualized lessons, monitoring student progress, and enhancing professional learning.

LCG-6- Systemic Change: A Literacy Journey in Rural Maine (Grades K–8)
Kelly Burns, PreK–8 Literacy Coach, Regional School District #19, Maine
Mary Graybill, Classroom Teacher, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jan Morse, Director of Instructional Improvement, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jane Stork, Principal, Regional School District #19, Maine

Systemic change occurs when all stakeholders are committed to student learning, student achievement, best practices in Tier 1, and professional growth. We will highlight the benefits of whole school collaboration, instructional coaching, common language, and common practices. We will discuss and explore our literacy journey within the Maine Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy, and each presenter will discuss her role in supporting and sustaining systemic change. Small group activities, video clips, and discussions will be used to engage participants.

LCG-14- Implementing Comprehensive Literacy (Grades K–2)
Wendy Vaulton, Senior Researcher, Lesley University
Carolynne Beless, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools
Michael Buonaiuto, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Cambridge Public Schools
Kevin Depin, Principal, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools

Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan can be challenging. This panel discussion will explore the factors associated with successful implementation of comprehensive literacy, paying special attention to the role of interventions in creating success for all students.

 

Book Review: Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement

By Jill Eurich, Assistant Director of Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

102283bLeadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement by Linda Lambert is a slender book that was published ten years ago but remains for me one of the most accessible, wise, and helpful books for thinking about school change. It combines her own thoughts about elements essential for lasting school improvement, some examples of schools that have attained success and what that looks like, and a variety of ways to analyze your own school or district to develop an action plan to achieve leadership capacity.

In the opening chapter Lambert provides a Leadership Capacity Matrix (Figure 1.3, pg. 5) to begin to set forth essential components for building school capacity. Through her narrative here are some elements she describes:

How we define leadership frames how people will participate in it. Within the context of education, the term “community” has almost come to mean any gathering of people in a social setting. But real communities ask more of us than merely to gather together; they also assume a focus on a shared purpose, mutual regard and caring and an insistence on integrity and truthfulness. By leadership capacity I mean broad based, skillful participation in the work of leadership… (pg. 4). It is only when a school has undertaken skillful work using inquiry, dialogue and reflection to achieve student performance goals that a school can be said to have achieved high leadership capacity (pgs. 4,5).

Lambert provides figures, rubrics, surveys and a series of questions to engage in as principals, faculty, and staff so to assess our own capacity and chart a course for improvement. Here are a few I have found particularly thought provoking and useful:

  • Engaging Reluctant Teachers: Questions to Ask Ourselves
  • Principals of Constructivism
  • How Principals Build and Sustain Leadership Capacity
  • Leadership Capacity Staff Survey
  • School Assessment Questions

The crucial role that the superintendent and district administration plays is also explored. “A shared vision is the touchstone from which district actions flow; for the vision to be meaningful, it should be created by representatives from all school community groups. Because they are derived from core values, school and district visions should be congruent if they are to guide action. This does not mean the vision statements need to be identical, but they do need to be mediated so that participants understand how they are connected ” (pg. 86).

Linda Lambert’s Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement is both visionary and practical. I highly recommend it!