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Teacher Communities

I have been struggling to write this month’s post. I intended on writing about synthesizing multiple texts and color coding as a strategy for middle schoolers. But right now, that no longer seems important or for that matter, relevant.

We are in unprecedented times of online learning and trying to connect and continue to build relationships with our students when we cannot physically be with them. We worry about their health and safety and overall well-being. In struggling to do all of this, we also worry about keeping our own families safe and healthy and for many, providing homeschooling for our own children.

This stress can take its toll on our own mental, physical, and emotional state. One of the things I have found that has helped me the most is keeping and building on-line communities with other teachers. Some days they are my lifeline when I need to talk to other people who are going through the same thing.  Other days it is just a time out of my day to laugh, to encourage and be encouraged, and to share our stories.

Teacher communities come in many different forms, but can be beneficial not only to our growth as teachers but also as humans, especially right now.

Here are a few communities that I am a part of, which you may want to check out.

  1. Teach Write – “The goal of Teach Write is to help give teachers the confidence and support they need to develop their own writing habit so that they can become stronger teachers of writers.” The founder of Teach Write has been hosting pop-up writing sessions where teachers spend 90 minutes writing together virtually. Teach Write not only helps to develop a writing habit, but they are just a lot of fun to be around.
  2. #100DaysofNotebooking – Michelle Haseltine started the #100DaysofNotebooking at the beginning of the year as a way to encourage people to begin a meaningful habit of writing and to discover the power of writing and the joy it can bring. When we started this challenge, none of us knew that by March, we would be in the current situation. As a result, the group has now become #100DaysofNotebooking and BEYOND! We will continue to write and share notebook pages throughout and hopefully, even after this crisis is over.
  3. Slice of Life – The “slicing community” is part of Two Writing Teachers. Each March they sponsor the Slice of Life Story Challenge where writers write a blog post that is a story, or a slice of life. Throughout this month we have shared our stories about life, families, teaching, taking care of ourselves, and struggles with this virus. After March, Two Writing Teachers continues with weekly posts on Tuesdays.
  4. Poetry Friday – The Poetry Friday community is a group of “children’s book aficionados and bloggers” who use their blogs and websites to contribute favorite poems or chat about all things poetry. Writing and sharing poetry has a way of bringing people together, especially in times like these.

Many educators and leaders in the field of literacy have been contributing by creating and sharing videos. Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher are sharing their notebooks, the books they are reading, and their thoughts each day, Monday through Friday. Here is a link to Penny’s Padlet, which houses all of the videos plus many resources. I call it my ELA teacher self-care Padlet.

These are troubling times, but we will get through them by taking care of ourselves, by lifting each other up and by working together. If you are part of a community that is lifting and encouraging you, please share it with us. We would love to hear about it!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay strong.

 

Leigh Anne is a 6th grade ELA teacher from Indiana and doing the best she can at this e-Learning thing. More time at home means more writing and reading and she would love to connect with you in her corner of the world @teachr4 or A Day in the Life.

Being Changed

baby-changing-chest-of-drawers-4518766_1920Before I became a teacher, I was a district manager for a women’s retail chain. One year the company went through a major change in their customer service program that included hours of new training. Our management team was under enormous pressure to perform, and no one was happy about the change. Marilou, our human resource manager, told us, “The only people who like to be changed are babies.” That quote has stuck with me all these years.

As a teacher, I have gone through so many changes. From grade levels to buildings and administrators to teaching partners and new standards to new testing and to the next how-to-get-higher-test-scores program. These changes add additional stress to already stressed-out teachers.

Change is simply a part of education; however, being changed is more accepted by reflective teachers. As I look back at the changes I have made in my classroom, implementing reading and writing workshop has been my most challenging, yet also the most rewarding.

In the early stages of this journey, I read books and blogs and attended conference sessions on reading and writing workshop. I met educators on social media who have been using workshop successfully for years. They made it appear so easy. In their perfect (in my mind) classrooms, independent reading was at the forefront, writing mini-lessons moved seamlessly into work time, and conferring with students was productive. I thought this was how teaching was supposed to look and was how I wanted my classroom to be.

I started my teaching career as an elementary “basal teacher” because that was what I knew and was how the other teachers taught. Prompt writing was our curriculum because that was how writing was tested. After moving to middle school and becoming a mentor teacher, I knew this would be the perfect time to make a change toward the workshop approach.

Independent reading has been the heartbeat of my classroom for many years and was already in place. Once I made the commitment to try the workshop approach, my mini-lessons became focused on the skills and strategies my students needed to become successful readers and writers. Conferring became routine, and reading and writing became engaging and authentic for my students. None of these changes happened overnight, and I am still changing.

If you have decided to make the change to workshop, then I encourage you to think about these three ideas to get you started:

  • Think Big–Start Small  When deciding to implement reading and writing workshop, see the big picture. Have a goal of where you want to be but begin with little steps to get there. Implement small pieces of the workshop model. I began with choice–giving students choice in the topics to write about and the books to read. I slowly began creating mini-units that included a series of mini-lessons with work time and conferences built in. You could begin here, or you might begin with collecting mentor texts or focusing on making your mini-lessons “mini.” The important part is that you take that first small step.
  • Allow Failure and Accept Grace  Many days I wanted to quit and go back to what was easy. I wanted my workshop to look, sound, and feel perfect. Most days it wasn’t. But then I realized I needed to give myself some grace because change takes time. My students were beginning to see the connection between reading and writing and that the work was authentic. It was what real readers and writers do. I knew I was going in the right direction.
  • Make Connections  I come from a district that does not use workshop, so any learning has always been on my own. Making connections with mentors made it easier. Three resources that I read at the beginning of my journey were Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Book Love and Write Beside Them by Penny KittleThese three books gave me the courage to do what I knew in my teacher’s heart was right, and I never turned back.

The Three Teachers Talk blog has a wealth of resources on implementing reading and writing workshop. Penny and Donalyn were the “big picture” and Three Teachers Talk has been the “small steps” I needed for my own professional development. 

My journey is far from over as I continue to learn, reflect, and change every day. I am no expert, but I share with you what I have learned in hopes to make your journey to workshop teaching a little bit easier.

I think I may need to revise Marilou’s quote to: “The only people who like to be changed are babies and reflective teachers.”

Change is hard; being changed is amazing.

As teachers, we are all on a journey, but we don’t have to go it alone. Please share your journey with us in the comments section.

Leigh Anne Eck teaches 6th grade English language arts in Southern Indiana and loves to learn. She recently recieved her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the young age of 55. She loves partnering with her husband in parenting their young adult children. Connect with Leigh Anne on Twitter @teachr4.

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