Monday, February 17, 2014

Inspired by Don Graves (And Kittle, and Newkirk, and...)

At NCTE I had the good fortune to attend a breakfast organized by Heinemann. The early start time made me a bit skeptical, but I am beyond grateful I accepted. Hands down, it was one of the best experiences of my professional career.

I attended not knowing a lot about it, beyond the fact that Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk were going to be sharing stories behind the new book: Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing. When I arrived at the breakfast and sat down, I began looking around the room in awe. So many of my teaching heroes were in that space. I was sitting with my friend Donalyn, one of my heroes. I looked around my table at all of my friends who I admire, I felt at ease. Then I looked around the room and saw Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell, Katie Wood Ray, Ralph Fletcher, Chris Lehman, Maggie Roberts, Kate Roberts, and so many more. I truly found myself staring unabashedly at times.

Penny and Tom began by sharing the amazing work of Don Graves. The book is fabulous, the videos are mind blowing. And as I listened to them talk, share, reminisce, I was struck by a few thoughts. One, I wish I could have met Don, or at least heard him speak. He was brilliant. Two, as Lucy Calkins spoke about her work with Don and the birth of the reading and writing workshop (and mini-lessons!); I was amazed, but also saddened. This philosophy has been around for a while. Don’s work was first published when I was in first or second grade. To say my own education was far from the workshop model would be a colossal understatement. Even thirty some years later, many classrooms have yet to embrace his teachings. We have years of research to back up what he and those who have come after him have taught us, yet it still isn’t common practice. Why?

At the end of the breakfast, Tom spoke. His words vibrated through me. They rocked me to my very core. In fact, I think I am still mulling them over three months later. He called upon the next generation to step forward. He implored us to tell our story. And I think what I really needed to hear was his message that we just need to do it; if we wait we will never be ready.

I know a lot of teachers. I grew up in a house with one. My friends teach. Many teachers know their stuff, but don’t speak up. They do their job, and they do it well, and then they go home. I think Tom was reminding us we have a voice. We know the children in our classrooms and we need to stand up and believe in that voice.

Standing up might manifest itself in a variety of ways. It might be standing up in our own district to what we know is right. It might mean speaking up in team meetings, sharing your knowledge, suggesting a new path, recommending books and articles to study together. It means not sticking with the curriculum, philosophy, methods that you know are ineffective just because that is what you’ve done in the past. Instead, growing, changing, embracing what you find to be best practices.

And for some, it might mean that scary step of moving forward in a public way. Writing, speaking, sharing your classroom with the world. So many of us are here. So many of us are afraid to take the next step. We say we will next year, when we’ve thought more, written more, or come up with a better idea. Tom says that we’re never ready, that diving in is how we will learn.

Jumping in is scary, but we need to. Wherever we are at – speaking up in our team meetings, faculty meetings, online, in books – we are a part of this conversation. We cannot silence our voices. Our stories matter. Don’t stop writing yours, don’t stop sharing yours. Newkirk’s says, “It’s going to be on you.” Share your story, write your story, I’m working on mine now.

Have you been inspired by Don Graves? Know someone who is living his legacy? Share Vicki Boyd’s post with them HERE. On Twitter, use the hashtag #dongraves.