Monday, March 17, 2014

Slice of Life - Professional Learning Communities

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!

Maybe five years ago I began hearing about Professional Learning Communities (PLC). It seems it was the new buzzword, or phrase, in education. Surround yourself with others in your field and grow together—it made a lot of sense. Twitter changed the way I viewed PLCs. Yes, they could be with colleagues at your own school, but they could also be colleagues across the country. The possibilities were wide open.

It is no secret to readers of this blog that I am a big proponent of Twitter. It has changed my teaching for the better. Through Twitter my students have “met” authors, tweeted their thoughts, and even had authors Skype in and teach them a mini-lesson. Twitter has helped me to meet educators and authors that I now count as some of my closest friends.

Driving home from MRA’s annual conference, I couldn’t help but reflect on just a little bit of the weekend that had passed. I had the opportunity to see Jeff Anderson present on sentence combining and great ideas for writing workshop. R.J. Palacio shared the story behind Wonder and the impact that has been felt across the country. Donalyn Miller shared the best new books and I wanted to buy them all. Colby Sharp moderated his “dream session” with Linda Urban, Katherine Applegate, and Lisa McMann. Two of his former students came and participated. He was also kind enough to ask me to introduce Linda, and while I was introducing her, I started to cry. Such an honor to speak for my students. And that was just Saturday during the day. It doesn’t include late night dinner with friends, coffee from Starbucks, being read aloud to by Colby and John. Talking late into the night with Donalyn. Seeing so many friends all too briefly because we were running from one thing to another. A weekend of hugs, laughs, and some tears.
The amazing Linda Urban
I could try to summarize what I learned this weekend, but it’s next to impossible. I will say that I left remembering that what we do matters. That choice is critical. That kids need time every day to read and write. But I think I have three favorite quotes that I will be thinking about for some time. The first is from Cris Tovani. I had the awesome opportunity to hear her speak Sunday morning:

If my students can read my content better, I can cover more content.

If my students know what to do when they encounter difficulty, they can read when away from class.

Everything I am doing in reading class is with the goal of making it easier for them to read, for the exact reasons mentioned above. I need to remember that what I am doing matters on those days that I feel that is doesn’t.

The next quote is actually from a conference before MRA began. Colby Sharp tweeted it out and I saw it and yelled, “AMEN!”

I think this is one of the biggest struggles in education right now. We are still going back and forth between what we have done in the past and where we need to go in the future. We need critical thinkers. We need problem solvers. We need kids who can work collaboratively. Yes, we still need knowledge. We need to understand the world we live in. Rote memorization should not be the focus of our curriculum. I’d still like kids to know math facts for number sense – beyond that; I want them to use knowledge to create. This is not something I always do well, but I love thinking about it.

The final quote that I have burned into my memory is this:
I don't think I need to say much, it says it all. I will say that I'm working on this and I hope you are too. This year I have heard Colby Sharp, Penny Kittle, and Kate DiCamilo talk about the power of stories and that we must share ours. I'm working on mine, I hope you share yours. 

Technology is wonderful. I love my PLC in my town, and I love my PLC that is spread across the country. I am so grateful for the chance to see friends this weekend and just wish it could have been longer. Now it’s back to the classroom for one week before spring break. After a weekend away, I’m ready to dive in.