One of my friends retired recently, and while we were out celebrating her new future, she got to thinking about the number of kids she taught during her thirty year career. Her estimated total hovered somewhere around 3500, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she still remembered every student’s name, where they went on to work or learn or play later in life, and what their favorite books were. She was this kind of teacher, and she blushed with joy and nodded her head in agreement when I said as much. She misses her students already, I know.
Then, she asked me to tally up my own numbers. I’d actually never done this before, and it got me thinking a bit. I spent twelve years in the classroom, so I’d put my estimated total somewhere around 1400 students. Over the last eight years, I’ve facilitated pd in over forty different school districts and 120 different schools, I’d guess. That’s maybe….I don’t know……4000 teachers I’ve worked with or more on site, and I wouldn’t know where to begin tallying up the numbers of people who I might have worked with at different events.
“Makes the whole concept of meeting individual needs more than a bit daunting, don’t you think?” she asked me, and I have to admit: it does. It’s something I know I’m continually trying to improve the likelihood of, though. This hasn’t been without its successes and failures.
For instance, when I was in the classroom, I tried to learn as much about my students each fall by talking with them about their interests, their families, the things they loved about learning, and the things that drove them a little bit crazy. Over the course of the year, I think I got to know all of them well of course, but I never wanted to wait this long to begin. Doing so would result in missed opportunities. Most teachers do the same.
The same is actually true now that I work with teachers and administrators every day. Yet, it’s often assumed that professional learning can begin before the facilitator comes to know the audience they will be serving, the culture they will be working in, and what everyone might need. Talk about a recipe for missed opportunities…..and potential disaster. Time is always incredibly tight though, and finding space for this is hard, particularly when everyone is eager to just get started. In an effort to remedy this, I’ve taken some different steps over the last few years whenever I’ve been asked to begin work in a new place: I’ve started taking literacy walks within buildings, I’ve begun talking with kids about their experiences as learners, and I’ve opened dialogue with teachers and administrators prior to creating proposals or strategic plans.
These resources and conversations have been helpful to me as I’ve shaped my pre-pd plans:
- Different leaders have shared their experiences with walk throughs, including building principals and teachers like Bill Ferriter, who poses some thoughtful challenges to these practices.
- Literacy walk throughs often look a bit different and are used for different purposes. Scroll to the Staff Development section of this page to see Ellin Keene’s version of this.
- Chris Unger, a former researcher at Project Zero of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares his thoughts about listening to students here, as well as prompts.
The results from my own walks and talks have been as surprising as they are informative (which inspired a whole new set of questions to consider, of course). Hoping to write more about that tomorrow and share some of the tools I’ve used.