Pulling it together.

This summer I participated in a virtual book study organized by the gals at #CyberPD– Cathy Mere at Reflect & Refine, Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion, and Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-A-Lot . The book was Peter H. Johnston’s Opening Minds. Below are my thoughts as the book study came to a close.

My Final Post: August 1, 2012

We are on the edge of something in education, aren’t we? No longer the authority, no longer the sage on the stage, no longer the only thinker in the room. And we will make mistakes, there is no doubt. We do need to figure out what Johnston’s ideas look like for us in our work with kids and teachers and parents. I am currently working as a literacy coach, and so I am thinking about how I speak to teachers, how I listen to teachers, and how I give them feedback. What kind of world do I help construct for my teachers by the words that I use with them? Yesterday, I met with a young teacher to discuss our foray into a global project. We talked, she talked and I listened, or I hope I did. Opening Minds was sitting on the table at my elbow reminding me to be quiet, listen harder, think about the feedback, choose my words carefully, and pushing me to slow down. Breathe girl, breath.

John Hattie’s research published in Visible Learning (2009) provides the evidence that feedback is one of the top ten factors to have the greatest effect size in student achievement. Johnston’s work gives us the ‘why’ of that impact. I need to remember to provide feedback that is positive, not simply praise; on intention, not on getting it right. As a coach, I am always interested in leverage, and Johnston states unequivocally that feedback is “the point of most leverage” (p. 34). And like many of you, I have a son that struggled in high school regardless of my interventions. As parents, we have influence, but teachers should never underestimate the level of influence we have. The idea of ‘yet’ could not penetrate the consciousness of his teachers. He did not fit into the box of the ‘academic student’, and they could not think of him (or any kids like him) in terms of yet. One teacher summed up her response to kids like him in this way, “You can tell what mark a student will get by the way he stands for Oh Canada.” He never heard her say that, but kids don’t have to ‘hear’ our words. They feel them. It is no surprise then that he spent his high school years reflecting back to his teachers what he saw, heard, and felt. This is feedback, too.

My list of quotes and the language that I need to learn to use is similar to the lists that many of my online colleagues have formed. I have posted mine here. I am thinking that I will distill them both down to fit on a ‘bookmark’ that 1) I can have with me and 2) I can reproduce as my colleagues’ interest becomes piqued. (And it will be as they hear me stutter and stammer into this new language!!) I think that this will not happen quickly, rather the language that I need in my work will emerge overtime. I will have to work hard at being patient with myself.

Here are the ideas that surface when I try to talk about Opening Minds in the early days of processing it.

on Opening Minds, first read 

Listen.
Create space and time for dialogue.
This means
—slow down.
No rushing in with the answer,
allow uncertainty to feed wonder and discovery.
Make room for confusion in conversation.
Give it permission to spur dialogue,

to build collaborative thinking
to create knowledge
together.

Remember that teaching changes worlds.

How will I know?
Listen to the students. What are they talking about?

There is the answer.

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