Tips from Jim Lehrer

I’ve been reading a lot about the journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and debate moderator Jim Lehrer since his death last week.  To say this man led a big, impressive, and meaningful life seems to be an understatement. I mean how in the world do you have a schedule like Mr. Lehrer’s and turn out a novel every year?  I can barely get out my weekly blog post!

According to Lehrer’s peers and colleagues, he was a man of high professional standards (harder and harder to find in the world of journalism these days).  These standards include the following:

Do nothing I cannot defend.

Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.

There are more, but I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how these three standards might apply to my life and work as a Literacy Coach.

Do nothing I cannot defend:  My work has to be grounded in research and be solidly focused on the child/children I am working with. My work with children, teachers, faculty, and families must be ethical, moral, and kind.

Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story:  It is important for me to listen well to adults and children to try to understand all sides of a conversation.  This will help me to determine strengths and needs, which will help me focus teaching and learning. Although I do have strong beliefs about what literacy approach works best for children, it’s important for me to be open to the hearing about other stories and approaches (There are a lot of different opinions swirling around at there at the moment.)

Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am: I’m lucky to work with smart, caring, and good people.  I have studied literacy for many years, but I am a learner, not an expert, and I like it that way.

I wish I had spent more time listening to Jim Lehrer’s reporting.  I can see that he has a lot to teach me.



Pause to Be Inspired

Reading is a powerful act.

We tell kids this all day long.  We tell teachers too, and parents, and administrators, and anyone who will listen to us as we shout from the rooftops, “Read!  It will change you!”  Reading (and listening) to books changes us in profound, and often unexpected, ways.  I’ve experienced this, yet again, while reading (and listening to) Cornelius Minor’s book, We Got This!

I walked away from this book inspired to become the kind of thoughtful, caring, super smart, strong, inclusive, sometimes rebellious, child-centered, “all in” teacher that Cornelius exemplifies.  As I listened to and read this book, I found myself constantly yelling out, “Yes!” or “Of course!” or “That’s SO right!” And then I’d pause and think,
“Do I do that? Would I do that? Can I do that?”

This book has re-energized me to be a better teacher and a better human. It’s just what I needed during these winter months when, half-way through the school year, I sometimes start to lose energy, and I sometimes start to lose hope.    I sometimes feel that the systems we work within create limitations that keep us from doing our best work and reaching all of our students, but when Cornelius says things like, “It is possible to take the parameters that we’ve been given and, within those parameters, create art that is both beautiful and proudly defiant.” I am energized to keep going. When he reminds us that, “We do not teach for what is.  We teach for what can be.” I’m back at it, full guns!

Thank you, Cornelius Minor, for helping me through the mid-year doldrums, and catapulting me forward to be a better teacher, a better human, and to work harder to make the world a better place for all, especially our children.

Pause to Celebrate

There are so many ways to pause (my OLW for 2020).  This week I’m pausing to celebrate.  I’m a pretty positive, optimistic person by most standards, but when it comes to my work, I tend to be critical of myself.  I want to see positive change, and I often want to see it happen faster, and more completely, than it does.  I tend to look ahead to all that still needs to be done.  My lists are long, and I’m often frustrated at myself for not accomplishing all that I set out to do.  I want to do more.  I want to be more. These qualities can be positive.  They drive me forward. They push me to outgrow myself over and over. But they can also cause frustration and disappointment. So this week I’ve decided to push pause and celebrate all that is going well.

I’ve recently finished reading the book Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow.  There is a strategy these authors mention in their section on listening called Study the Strengths. Shana and Katy encourage students (and adults) to listen for what we might consider (instead of for what we might disagree with). This idea made me stop and think about myself.  Am I studying the strengths, or am I always listening for what still needs to be better?

So this week I’m leaning in and I’m pausing to study the strengths.  Here are some I’ve seen already (and it’s only Tuesday morning):

Teachers talk about children in such thoughtful ways.

Teachers talk about the reading and writing process in ways they didn’t a few years ago, with deeper knowledge of how readers and writers develop.

Teachers are teaching reading and writing in ways that are responsive to student needs.

Classroom teachers, special educators, and reading interventionists are working together to figure out what instruction is best for students.

Classroom teachers are working with me on studying student work and finding ways to accelerate progress for all students.

Students are growing in amazing ways as readers, writers, thinkers, and people!

I can talk hard with one of my administrators about teaching and learning.  She listens, gives hard feedback, and works to support the literacy work.

Teachers are trying out new ideas, taking risks, and working hard for their students.

Teachers want to outgrow themselves.

This is just the beginning of my celebration.  I’m going to keep a list all week of our strengths. After just one day of this, I already feel more optimistic and energized about the day ahead.  I think I’ll make pausing to celebrate a habit.



Use Continuers to Improve Listening

The year 2020 has begun, and I’ve chosen pause as my OLW (One Little Word) for the year.  Part of working on pausing for me is going to be working on listening.  I am a person who leans in to what people are saying, and I’m a person who wants to listen well, but I’m a person who often jumps in before people are really finished talking.  It’s a very, very bad habit.  I’m going to try to break this habit in 2020. I’m going to try to push pause when I feel myself starting to jump in (and often over) what people are saying.

I’ve been reading up on listening.  Not surprisingly, I found some tips in a book on student talk.  If we want people to talk well, it certainly makes sense that we have to listen well!  The book I’m studying is Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk, written by Katy Wischow and Shana Frazin (I’m lucky to have Shana as our school’s TC Staff Developer this year!). In this text, the authors write about strategies to help students use talk to clarify.  One of the strategies is to teach kids to say, “Say more about that.”  In explaining how and why this strategy works, Katy and Shana discuss a research study that was done to improve doctor/patient relationships.  Some of the surveys in this study showed that patients are often dissatisfied with doctors’ ability to listen. The suggestion (referred to as a “surefire method”) from Dr. Howard Beckman, medical director of the Rochester Independent Practice Association, was to use what he called continuers. Beckman encouraged doctors to say “uh huh” three times while listening to a patient.  In an example given in the text, a doctor tried this, and each time he said “uh huh” the patient gave more (and very important) information about his symptoms.

I plan to push pause and use a few continuers with students and adults. I’ll see if this helps me to listen more and talk less.  I’ll try saying “uh huh” or “hmmmm” or “Tell me more” three times and see if people say more.  I think it’s more realistic for me than trying to stay completely silent while people talk.  I think it will feel more authentic and show that I am listening and that I am interested, but I’m hoping it will keep me from jumping in too quickly.

Here’s to pushing pause in an effort to be a better listener in 2020. Wish me luck!