In true EdCamp Style, Nerdcamp yesterday was all about the collaborative sessions. I, alongside Donalyn Miller (!) ended up facilitating one of my all-time favorite sessions ever “How to Break the Rules Gently – Creating Experiences that Protect the Love of Reading.” I tried to tweet as much of the advice shared as I could but thought a follow up post would be in order as well.
Let’s face it, we have all worked within systems that went against our beliefs in some way. Whether we were told to follow curriculum we didn’t believe in, follow rules that broke our hearts, or even just compromise in a way we never thought were would. Being an educator often means we are wondering how to protect the love of reading in our classroom, the love of school. And not because people intentionally set out to destroy either of these things but sometimes decisions are made that have unintended consequences. So do you work within a system that has rules or curriculum that you want to change or break? How do you create change when it’s just you fighting?
You know your research. One of the quickest ways to keep a teacher quiet is to say something is research-based. So you have to know your own research says Donalyn Miller. You have to be willing to ask to see the research, and then counter with your own. Stay current, stay knowledgable and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Donalyn recommends the book Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss & Terrell Young as a great place to start. I ordered it yesterday. You also don’t say that you are “just” a teacher said Leah Whitford. You are a teacher, you have power.
You inform parents. Most parents think that what we choose to do in school is always in the best interest of the child, but this is not necessarily true. So have a classroom website where you describe what you are doing in class, what students have do, and also the requirements you are faced with. this is not to complain but rather to inform, because parents cannot speak up if they don’t know what is going on.
You speak kindly. I used to think change would happen with a sledgehammer approach but ow know that just stops people from listening to you. It is not that you should be quiet, or not be passionate, but you will get much further with a kind approach where you validate others in the process in furthering real change.
You compromise. We all think what we are doing is in the best interest of our students, so connect with others and share ideas. Withhold judgment when you can, but always share what is happening in your room and offer resources. Don’t claim for it to be the best, but simply share. Be willing to use others’ ideas as well and compromise on your team. That doesn’t mean you have given up your ideals, it means you are an adult working with other people.
You find your tribe. If you cannot find someone in your school that shares your same ideas, look to other schools in your district, look in your county, and obviously look online. The Nerdy Book Club is a great place to start. However, having local connections to keep you sane and invested is a must as well. It is important that you know you are not alone in your corner of the world, but you have to search these people out. They may be scared to speak up like you.
You work within the system. When I was told I had to do reading logs, I had students do them right in class right after independent reading. I was still doing what I was told but not sending them home. So find ways to work within the rules that may be imposed on you if you cannot break them completely.
You find your core beliefs. Figure out what your core beliefs are or values within the classroom, write them up, hang them up and then make every decision based on those. I think the visual reminder of what you are fighting for will help you pick your battles as well as lead the way.
You are willing to let go. Sometimes something we love does not fit the purpose anymore, so if you are asking others to change you have to be willing to change yourself. Even if you spent money on it. Because money doesn’t equal qulity or great ides or passionate students.
You find out the reason why. Often when new things are imposed on us, such as leveling a library or doing a reading log, there is a bigger reason behind it. Find out what that is so that you can try to find other ways to reach that same goal. So for example if you are told to level your library, if it is for students to be able to self-select “just right” books then explore other ways to achieve that. Present these ideas and be ready to discuss why these may be a better fit. As Donalyn said, “Everything we do is a scaffold toward independence – that’s the end game.”
You stop assuming. We are terribly good at assuming why rules are made or how administrators will react to us. And yet, often our assumptions are wrong. So have courageous conversations. Ask gentle questions and try to broach the subject. You may be surprised when you find an ally rather than an enemy.
You involve your students. The biggest advocates for independent reading time in my 7th grade classroom are my student, hands down. So offer them ways such as on blogs, vide, Twitter, newsletters or whatever else you can think of to spread the message about the things they love in your classroom. If you want parents onboard, get their kid excited about school!
You work together. Invite others in to see the classroom environment you have created. Ask other teachers to come in and observe if they want, admin even though you don’t have, get the special ed teacher to be a part of the movement or any other special teacher you can. Involve your librarian, they are a reading warrior if I ever met one. Bring in parents, have family nights. Find a way to spread the positive image of your class so that others will fight for it as well.
You stay persistent and passionate. Don’t confuse passion with anger, although it is okay to get angry sometimes. But stay passionate and persistent in your goal to protect students, stay on top of your reasons for doing things, stay up-to-date on research, and stay down to earth. No one wants to listen to anyone who thinks they are better than others. Don’t give up, real change can take a long time, but we must stay at it. Even if it seems like you are totally alone and no one is listening. As Jen Vincent said; “You never know what will come of a conversation you have.”