Trying Something a Little Bit Scary #sol21

I’m one of those people who has little bits of inspiration tacked up above her desk…. judge if you must.

Trying Something a Little Bit Scary Every Day. #sol21

I’m a literacy coach. I’ve gone by many titles over the years, but this is the one I’ve settled into, the one I feel in my bones. I coach students and their teachers every day Monday through Friday. I attempt coaching my husband, my sons and my dogs on the weekends and evenings, but honestly, I’m much less successful at that…

Honestly, I’m having a little crisis of faith in my own coaching abilities recently. You see, I’m asking a lot of people big and small to move out of their comfort zone to ‘where the magic happens’. I believe they call them comfort zones for a reason… they are comfortable… and secure. But unfortunately, the times they are changing. As Irene Fountas said in a recent podcast, we still have to look at those students in front of us and figure out what to do next. (I paraphrase). We can blame it on the pandemic, on the changing times, on exposure, learning loss, regardless we desperately need to dig deep and shift.

I’m struck with the difficulty of this for so many as I cajole and prod my way through the day. Everyone is trying to make life easier for themselves and perhaps those around them. It seems like a great cause, but then there’s reality.

Schools and their communities thrive on routines and common commitments. In the past few years, those routines and the fabric of those commitments has honestly frayed. We are in the business of creating a new normal and it’s …. tricky.

The next ‘testing window’ is fast approaching. Usually in January, we give a round of assessments to the students which include a benchmark assessment in reading and math along with an oral reading and comprehension assessment. Here in Massachusetts, we have many new assessment requirements to identify dyslexia, many of which we as a learning community already had in place. Typically, we did an oral reading and comprehension assessment routinely and determined the instructional reading level of each student. That was our routine. It has been my routine for decades.

If you’re an elementary educator, you sensed my sigh after that last sentence. Unless you’ve been in complete media silence, you know the debate that is raging and getting louder and louder.

Here’s what I know… I went to a research university for my undergraduate and another one for my first graduate degree. The science of reading, so to speak, was mostly new then. I’ve read Proust and the Squid. I believe in brain research… and I also believe what Irene Fountas said, there are still students in front of us, that we need to do our own research on, and then plan accordingly. As a coach, I want to help educators in my learning community bridge that thinking.

It’s true, some of old ways don’t work. I don’t know if they always were faulty or a new generation of students has required us to rethink them. Most of these ‘new’ old ideas make sense to me …. and balance literacy still makes sense to me as well. The criticism is strong and it sounds compelling, but one thing I learned at that research university is that research is always a little biased… and people naturally want to be the one others are listening too.

So as I sit down with those teachers, I’m not going to ask them to veer off the road they’ve traveled so to speak. I am going to ask them to think about brain research, consider the students in front of them, and systematically try something scary, something new, something that might just make all the difference.

8 thoughts on “Trying Something a Little Bit Scary #sol21

  1. I felt your sigh.

    As the parent of a kiddo with Dyslexia, I witness the way balanced literacy can work tongue-in-groove with O-G. We do both here. I don’t understand why it’s an either-or proposition for so many people.

    Keep doing what you know is best, Susan. You’re a true pro.

  2. I agree with your sense that some adjustments may be needed and some acts of bravery. I think we are dealing with some different circumstances right now, and we may not be able to do things “as usual.” From what I’ve seen, we may have to some things that are more engaging and slightly less “academic,” to bring some kids back into the “learning is exciting” world. I don’t know if that was what you were driving at, but I’m seeing a bit of pushback from kids as we try to squeeze them into the curriculum that we were using two years ago. It’s different now.I wish we could do a little less measuring right now, too.

  3. Susan…I feel I could write pages in response to your words! First: thank you for your clarity of mind and perspective about the students in front of us and figuring out what to do next. We’ve been working hard on this at my school, and not without growing pains. My mantra is “What makes sense? What do kids need, and how do we make it happen?” I do believe that teachers often feel they need permission to do so. I’m with you that many old ways need to change – but not all; a few actually need to be reinstated. Some of the new is important as well. You remind me of Kelly Gallagher’s words in Write Like This: “What does it matter if we sprint through the standards, if at the end of the year students cannot write well?” – I am adding: Or read well? Most of all you capture the spirit of coaching and “living the coachly life,” as my mentor used to say. all in all, well-said, and well done! Much ongoing strength and presence of mind to you and to your teachers.

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