As an education consultant, I know all too well how easy it is to stand before teachers and speak to best practices. This is enjoyable work, when I can get it. I meet wonderful people who are hungry to know things that I’m particularly passionate about. And pretending to know things? Well, that’s quite an ego boost.
It’s also delusion.
I’ve been a follower of Steve Shann’s work for many years, and I was thrilled to learn that he was publishing Imagined Worlds and Classroom Realities. Steve is an incredibly reflective teacher, and I’ve gained much from the thinking that he makes transparent on his blog. This book provides a far greater gift, though. Here, Steve gives us a collection of gorgeous, complex stories about teaching and learning that serve as catalysts for our own reflection. They remind us that every best practice must live within an uncommon reality, that every move we make professionally has unintended consequences, and that the more we profess to know, the less likely we are to grow.
I’m a voracious reader, and my work inspires me to consume dozens of education blog posts, a small pile of journal articles, and a book or two about research-based practices every month. Some of these pieces are heady while others are quickly digested. Regardless of complexity though, these texts are typically expository. Steve’s reliance on story is atypical, and the implications for professional learning are profound.
His characters are as multifaceted as the challenges they face, and the use of story enables Steve to illuminate this reality without imposing his own claims directly. This is more than just refreshing—it’s transformative. Rather than relying on the author to do all of the heavy lifting, Steve’s readers soon realize that they have a significant role to play. They are co-authors of this text, and it’s only through their engagement with it that they are able to construct viable claims that inform their own practice.
It’s easy to stand before teachers and speak to best practices that other researchers have uncovered. Lifting those practices from the page and dropping them into our own classrooms often creates an unexpected and all too often uncomfortable reality, though. It’s no small irony that Steve calls upon fiction rather than fact in order to move us closer to this truth.
I think Steve Shann is on to something huge here.
*Disclosure: I received no compensation for my endorsement of Steve Shann’s book.