Are my eyes bigger than my stomach? That’s a French expression that my mother would say to me whenever I took too much food on my plate and couldn’t finish it. As a teacher, I’ve had several extra dallops of “educational expectations” plopped on my plate this year, so why would I voluntarily ask for anything more?
Because it’s pizza to my hungry palate. And I can make my pizza any way I like, such as veggie supreme with extra basil, feta, and tomatoes. This is how I see joining a study group with my language arts colleagues, whom I rarely get to see, let alone talk pedagogy. I didn’t even know what the book topic was about; all I knew was that every study group that has been empowered by peers, not professors, has been worth its weight in pizza to me.
It all started in 1979 when I participated in the Southeast Iowa Writing Project for two weeks in June with 28 teachers from all disciplines and districts. There was no textbook. The two facilitators wheeled in carts of about 100 books dealing with some aspect of writing. “Read anything you want. Just journal about it and we’ll share your thoughts with others,” Jim Davis said. “Oh, and write something…anything, to share with a small group tomorrow.”
What do I write about? Something professional? Something personal? I loved it! I could write anything that would benefit me as I person. So I wrote a poem about a student who hated school. Then I read the book “Writing Without Teachers” to discover how to motivate students to write. Others wrote about their children, their travels, their divorce. We learned how to respond to other’s writing in authentic ways, thanks to the gentle green ink of Carolyn, our other facilitator. The guiding principle of the writing project was that we could create our own curriculum tailored to our own interests and then share our findings with a supportive group. Putting ideas into action was essential. That’s why we wrote and shared and laughed and cried.
Last year I joined a study group with Marcia Jensen, Alissa Hansen, and Angela Staber. Although we didn’t share personal writings, we did share our attempts to bring technology into the language arts classroom. There was a learning curve, but their input made it so much easier. We even blogged about it on this website.
I look forward to exploring the 62 practical techniques described in “Teach Like a Champion 2.0” by Doug Lemov. I liked him the first time he said he wasn’t an expert, or someone trying to establish a program for my school. I’ve had enough “try this, do that” dished on my plate. Lemov has cataloged the most effective teaching techniques that he has observed in schools that consistently scored high on state assessments despite high poverty rates among students. He also reaffirmed that teaching is an art, that teachers have unique styles, and that teachers should choose what techniques they want to refine. Whew, that sounds somewhat empowering in an age where every course is taught and tested exactly alike. A bonus is our study topic aligns nicely with district and building objectives, such as building a respectful climate. I’ll be paid for my time, too. I am thankful that the Davenport Community School District supports our learning community.
I’m all signed up for the online resources at teachlikeachampion.com. I’ll be sharing my ideas and how I implement them with my language arts colleagues Katie Choate, Lori Duquette, Deb Hall, Jane Kroening, Natalie McDermott, Maggie Rietz and Angela Staber. Hopefully they will share ideas on this blog, too. We also look forward to others joining the online discussion.
Pass the pizza please. I’m hungry.