Have you ever thought, “There must be something more?” I always considered myself a good teacher but I can remember feeling as if something was amiss during much of my teaching experiences. For the most part I had good relationships with my colleagues. My students enjoyed being in my classroom and parents seemed happy their children were there. But I never seemed totally satisfied with my teaching or the progress my students were making—the rich seemed to get richer, while the poor got poorer, or at best held their own. As I reflect back on my classroom years I think that’s the reason I made many grade level changes over time—teaching sixth grade, second grade, third grade, first grade, and kindergarten. I was trying to find that “magic bullet” which would make me a better teacher. During those ping-pong teaching years I was also quick to take on “new” teaching approaches. When my school brought in looping (keeping students for two years) I enthusiastically signed on, and later at another school, I whole-heartily embraced multi-age teaching. Each time thinking, “This will be THE thing that makes the difference!” But that never seemed to happen, until that is, I signed up for Reading Recovery.
I always considered myself a good teacher but I can remember feeling as if something was amiss during much of my teaching experiences.
Anyone who has been through Reading Recovery training will tell you Reading Recovery is the hardest thing you will ever do, but the most rewarding. That was so true. I learned so many lessons about myself, about my teaching during that time. Those lessons were facilitated by my Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Ann Fontaine, whose Reading Recovery class I attended regularly, and who came often to observe my Reading Recovery lessons. One of the biggest lessons I learned was about using data to drive my instruction, especially with regards to students’ strengths; what the student CAN do. I found that piece empowering, almost freeing, as a teacher. Every time I looked at a child’s work and found something new the child had taken on (however slight) I felt successful as a teacher. Before my Reading Recovery days I think I would have spent more time talking, especially with colleagues, about what the child couldn’t do; their deficits. I was my own worst enemy. I was keeping myself from seeing the results of my teaching. I discovered that whatever you seek you’ll find. This was big for me. It shifted the way I taught. I found I wanted to know more about what my students knew. Because of that I incorporated more oral language opportunities into my lessons. As they talked I became more aware of the strategies they were using. As I thought about their strategies, I was more aware of the content I was teaching and why I was teaching it. During that time my classroom became a much better teaching environment for me and a much better learning environment for my students.
Although Reading Recovery had given me some good things to think about as far as my classroom teaching (I taught third grade half-day while working with my Reading Recovery students), the students in my room were not “tangled” readers. I knew I that I needed to know about teaching and learning in order to support them effectively. From a teacher friend of mine I got the name of an organization that was working in her district—The Learning Network. It was through The Learning Network that I got to meet, and eventually study under, some New Zealand educators, Jan Duncan and Peter Duncan. Jan’s expertise was teaching. In addition to attending her in-depth presentations on teaching and learning, I had the opportunity to have Jan in my classroom fairly regularly, giving me feedback in order to develop my understandings about teaching. Peter’s expertise was district work, co-authoring the book, The Reflective Principal: Leading the School Development Process. During that time I was able to hear him talk about his work with principals. When Jan was in my classroom, Peter would be in there talking to the principal. My beginning understandings of school development came from watching him interact with my principal. After Jan and Peter left the United States, an American staff developer Marilyn Herzog Duncan took over, continuing to develop my teaching but also to develop my understandings of coaching. Among other books Marilyn wrote Literacy Coaching: Developing Effective Teachers through Instructional Dialogue. The last few years in the classroom were a huge learning curve for me but at the time I didn’t realize that learning curve was far from over.
Before my Reading Recovery days I think I would have spent more time talking, especially with colleagues, about what the child couldn’t do; their deficits. I was my own worst enemy. I was keeping myself from seeing the results of my teaching.
At a later point in my career, I had the opportunity to work with another New Zealander, Margaret Mooney. Margaret’s expertise was in the area of reading, especially with older students. Margaret, who’s known as the “mother of guided reading”, wrote several books which are widely read across the world—To, With, and By, Developing Life-long Readers, Text Forms and Features: A Resource for Intentional Teaching, Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading: Grades 3 and Beyond, and A Book Is a Present: Selecting Text for Intentional Teaching just to name a few. From my experiences with Margaret I learned a lot about being more intentional in my teaching, especially using text features. It was through understanding text forms and features that I truly understand the connection between reading and writing. Because of Margaret, I understand the “reciprocal-ness” of reading and writing—truly seeing writing as the application of learning. I credit Margaret for bringing all my learning together and seeing the bigger picture of teaching and learning.