Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Celebrating the Quiet Mentors: PAWLP

Meeno Rami's Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching uses the term "quiet mentors" and she reminds us that mentors are everywhere in our lives.

In the text, Rami suggests looking for those who are passionate about their work, enjoy their job, whose students trust them, whose students are engaged, who is most willing to share, who is doing something which interests you but you 
know nothing about, who has a quality you would like to develop in yourself...and so on.

And I thought, my gosh, I know those people. To honor them, I having been blogging all this week about all of the quiet mentors in my life.

Photo swiped from the PAWLP Facebook page.
Quiet Mentor #5: PAWLP
PAWLP stands for the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project--our local satellite of the National Writing Project. It took me 15 years to find and join this professional network even though it has always been there--at least since I have been teaching.

I am counting PAWLP as a quiet mentor because unless a teacher knows about it, he/she won't talk about it or connect with it.

I wish more of my colleagues across the curriculum, district-wide, engaged with the writing project.

The writing project was my gateway back into what the research says about adolescents, reading, writing, grammar, collaboration, the brain, the differences between how a boy learns and how a girl learns, and so many evocative topics. It was my gateway back to Nanci Atwell and Don Graves. It was my gateway into Kelly Gallagher, Don Murray, Ralph Fletcher, Penny Kittle, et al.

The list of folks writing, researching, and living education is vast and in my twenty years as a teacher the only times I discussed them has been at the writing project with my writing project colleagues across the county.


Remember when you were in undergraduate school or graduate school and training to become a teacher? We read and discussed so much about how kids learn, approaches to literacy, classroom management, etc. It has been eye-opening to step back 15 years later--read the research--and reconsider my classroom.

Even though the research is still accessible and fresh and illuminating...we rarely discuss it. We rarely build curriculum around it. We rarely make decisions in our state around it.

When was the last time you met as a staff, and before making a decision in a committee, did someone ask, "what does the research say?"

And you actually pulled it out, or pulled out an article or (better yet) a book that carefully walked you through the possibilities?

For example, how many of us has read or even just considered on its most simple level, Maja Wilson's Rethinking Rubrics? Yet, how many of us use rubrics in math, social studies, science...

We roll rubrics out there and trust in them...blindly. I guarantee you--read Wilson's book and you will never look at rubrics the same way again.

Yet, why is the research and why are the writers and thinkers about education more than an arm's length away from most teachers?

When I speak with colleagues across the country, I encounter responses similar to what I heard from a pair of teachers from Toms River, NJ at Penny Kittle's workshop on Monday--"we've learned the research, but our schools don't let us act on it."

It is the same reason why our current generation of teachers writhe in their skin when the statement, "I don't teach curriculum, I teach kids" is trumpeted in a meeting room.

How do we measure that? How do we demonstrate evidence to our school board? How will that bear out in the test scores?

We bow to the numbers, and the truth is the numbers do not tell us a damn thing about our kids. We have a false sense of test scores and what we truly know. The numbers are hollow.

We have to be careful with how much we dance and parade about the numbers.

Short of saying to hell with test scores, my quiet mentors have something in common. They do indeed teach the child. They know that formative assessments beat high-stakes summative assessments in any world.

Among the greatest habits my colleagues at PAWLP have demonstrated is that conferring with kids about their reading and writing is the most important gift we can bring to their lives: teach the writer, not the writing; teach the reader, not the reading.

I'll end with a quick anecdote about the current state of educational leadership in school districts across the nation. I had the good fortune to sit with some leaders at a conference last summer when the topic of becoming affiliated with a local writing project came up. One school leader sneered and said, "I don't know. I've read Lucy Calkins...she's a little too idealistic for real education."

Teaching is a battle. And it isn't a battle against the kids or the families. It is a battle of convenient perception versus immeasurable reality

I thank PAWLP, and more specifically Mary, along with my class of PAWLP Fellows who went through the Writing Workshop with me several years ago: Ben, Tricia, Bobbi, Brittany, et al.

PAWLP opened the doors to my classroom and then it opened my mind. PAWLP made me a better reader and it made think of myself as a writer.

I write because of PAWLP.

I read more because of PAWLP.

I climb in my car and drive to conferences and workshops--to hear other teachers--to learn--to be exposed to new ideas and to be reminded of tried and true methods because of PAWLP.

And, most importantly, I talk to the kids I teach more because of PAWLP.

You can't measure that.

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