We’ve been fortunate over the last few years in that most of the time we invite someone to speak to our staff virtually, it happens. Yesterday, we had the pleasure of having Dina Strasser from Rochester, NY skype into our Language Arts meetings for both 8th and 6th grades. On many levels, yesterday was a special event.
First, our teachers are being asked to switch their mode of thinking about their classrooms and the way they function. We are moving towards a workshop-based approach to integrated Language Arts. With that comes considerable pushback and anxiety. I understand that and most of my job is to help them manage that stress. Thinking about helping them make this transition, several ideas came about: layout a physical model of what the classroom will look like, take what they already do and transform it into this new modely by breaking it into pieces, and have them work step-by-step in the new model. But what has always served me well, both as a teacher and as an administrator, is to bring someone in who is, for lack of a better term, smarter than me. Why should I try to convince these teachers of something they could easily say I know little about in practice.
Enter Dina. The descriptions, the answers, the ideas, the issues and concerns, and help she was able to give our teachers was monumental. Dina is immersed in this same change that we are asking our teachers to undertake. The reason I found Dina was through her post: “Junking it…Literature Circles,” in which she clearly outlined what the perfect model for literature circles is, what she was trying to do (and failing), and what she would then move to in the hopes of making the change sustainable. What she is modeling is exactly the process we need to spread among our staff. Not just the fact that she is reflecting on her craft in the view of others, but just the fact that there is internal dialogue that assesses her own performance in an objective manner. We need more Dina’s.
Secondly, as Dina stated in her post earlier today, this was another display of PLN in action. We have never met each other, and we may never in the future, but you can be sure that if I have questions, or if someone asks me for a resource on literature circles or anything middle school Language Arts related, I am going to send them Dina’s way. She’s now much more than a node in my network; she’s a person to me, and a generous one at that for giving up two hours on her day off. We need more PLN interaction in front of staff members that have limited exposure to their own networks. More teachers and administrators need to construct these type networks to model how we can leverage “wicked-smart” people that we have access to.
My goals for yesterday’s meetings going in were to help our teachers feel more comfortable in their own skin with this new change. What I left with was just that, and with new goals for what I can do to help them. I need to be present when they are struggling, not for punitive purposes, but to offer instructional support. I need to get them access to materials, because I realize how fortunate we are to have the means to gain that access. I need to let them know that failing is just fine, but refusing to attempt is a poor model.
Thanks again, Dina. You were brilliant.