I was looking forward to Jury Duty last week, for the opportunity to have time to read. At the top of my pile was, Leading Well by Lucy Calkins. As a literacy coach, I’m always striving towards this vision of what I know our school can look like. We are making gains every day, yet I welcome the chance to continue to take in new ideas and methods to consider. Since our schools are immersed in the Teachers College Units of Study, Lucy Calkins seems like a voice that might be able to help us continue to deepen our understanding of the work.
Sitting in the big jury room, I didn’t waste a minute of my reading time. I tried to block out the blaring TVs, showcasing Chip and Joanna Gaines and the ridiculously beautiful homes they were creating. Reading Leading Well felt like sitting in Riverside Church for a keynote with Lucy Calkins. Her voice shines through her writing, beautifully woven together with anecdotes and research.
When I got to page 88, in the chapter entitled “From Good to Great: Supporting Teachers’ Continued Growth”, I was struck with the need to write. I purposefully didn’t bring a device, other than my phone, to Jury Duty because I didn’t want to be distracted from my reading. I reached into my bag and grabbed my journal and rewrote Lucy’s words from a section on prioritizing studying student work:
When teachers engage in an effective child study, you’ll often notice:
Teachers are excited to study a problem that occurs in the work of many of their students, and they welcome the idea that this problem is a reflection of their teaching. One senses that these teachers feel that pinpointing the problem is a big step toward not only helping their students but also improving their own teaching.
Sitting there in the jury room, I could hardly contain my excitement. In that moment, this tiny bullet within nearly 300 pages of text gave me a renewed focus and energy.
This has been something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now, how to shift mindsets. Somehow reading Lucy Calkin’s words validated my thoughts. How many times have we sat in a meeting, talked about a student, vented about a situation with colleagues and been bogged down in the “they can’t,” “I already tried…” and the “nothing works?”
How much more productive and powerful would those moments become if we instead chose too look at these situations as opportunities to research, to study and pinpoint a solution. Of course, the solutions may not always be successful, but trying something feels a whole lot better than throwing our hands up.
A small example. I was working in a classroom, a room I had spent some time in. Each visit left me thinking about a particular student who seemed to spend more time doing everything but reading during reading time. I’d heard, from various people, that “she just can’t focus”-something we had come to expect. As I watched this particular student settle in to read, I saw her try to get into her book. But as soon as someone walked by to talk to the teacher, her eyes followed. She was then busy listening into the conversation. Then again, she tried to get back to her reading. The voices of reading partners whispering near by once again derailed her. In that moment, I stood up, marched out of the room on a mission to find a pair of noise cancelling headphones. A few minutes later, I returned. I asked the student if she wanted to try them and then I sat back and watched her read for 20 minutes straight.
The headphones could have very well failed and maybe they won’t do the trick every day, but the point is, I didn’t settle for distraction. I was determined to find a way to help this child be successful.
I want more of this.
On page 89, Lucy lays another gem when she says, “It is important to embrace those areas for growth and to resist making them invitations to blame. Remember that people grow by embracing the struggle, by tackling things that are hard for them.”
So here’s to that. Let’s work to solve problems. Let’s struggle more and watch what happens…