Trust Teachers

The first school in which I taught became a Literacy Collaborative school several years into my time there. I co-taught with our upper grade literacy coach (a brilliant, thoughtful educator who is still a close friend) for two years while I participated in the professional development. Then I moved from fifth to first grade and went through the primary literacy collaborative training and opportunities for coaching. It was phenomenal.

That professional development focuses on helping teachers understand how students learn to read and write. The idea is that if teachers understand the learning process for students, they are able to support them as they move through that process. Understanding how students learn to read and write allows teachers to know how to prompt students, what scaffolds to offer them, and generally how to help them.

There’s no script. There’s no day by day set of activities. There’s nothing for a teacher to follow. It respects teachers as professionals. It offers teachers the understanding and the tools to do their job.

When I left that first school I landed in another wonderful school. A school that followed Jan Richardson’s model. I was in kindergarten for the first time in my career and, between working with brand new readers and being in a new building, I tried out Jan’s templates. It felt confining. It felt limiting to my students’ learning.

I realized, at some point (probably far later than I should have), that Jan was giving teachers a structure to follow. Essentially a do this, then this, then this, and kids will learn to read and write. Except it doesn’t work for every kid. Of course not, because nothing works for every kid.

It takes a lot longer for teachers to truly understand how children learn to read and write and the teacher’s role in helping that process move forward. It’s a lot faster to hand teachers a structure to follow. But it’s better for kids, both academically as well as for their sense of themselves as learners, if teachers are knowledgeable and able to adapt and meet kids where they are as readers and writers.

I was reminded of this by a tweet thread from Jess Lifshitz. Her first tweet threw me a little, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.

But I trust Jess and so I assumed there was something there that I wasn’t seeing yet. (An assumption I should make far more often in many different settings.)

Her point, and you can read the entire thread and should, is that giving teachers a list of books doesn’t help them grow the skills to choose books carefully and critically for their classroom libraries. Essentially, giving teachers a list of books, even a phenomenal list, is like giving them a script for teaching. It doesn’t help them actually meet the needs of the kids they’re with every day.

The older I get, the longer I do this job, the more strongly I feel that teachers must be respected and trusted as professionals. When we aren’t, when we’re pushed to follow a script or a program, when we are not allowed to use our professional knowledge and skills, students are deprived of many opportunities.

Give teachers the chance to learn what they need to know. Support them as they learn. Encourage them when they make mistakes. Help them trust themselves. Let them grow and kids will benefit.

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