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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.23.13Post-Workshop Meditation on Getting Better

Reflecting this afternoon on a great workshop Monday on Close Reading and Embedding Non-fiction with ELA teachers at Bethlehem Central School District, one of the top performing districts in Upstate New York.  Despite their track record and reputation and despite their having every justification for being a bit skeptical of me and my co-presenter Colleen Driggs–we help run, egad, charter schools; we work with high poverty schools, we do crazy things like ask teachers to practice during workshops–the folks at the workshop were either incredibly receptive to new ideas, incredibly gracious to the purveyors of bizarre ideas, or both.

In all seriousness, I am continually humbled by the receptiveness of teachers of every stripe and style and background to useful ideas, particularly the ones I find myself describing from the front of the room. Of course they adapt the ideas in application; of course they take the useful ones and drop those that don’t resonate, but despite what (some) people say about teachers being reluctant participants in changes and reforms, I find them overwhelmingly self-reflective and open to ideas that can make them better.

It’s been one of the biggest surprises of my post-TLaC life.  Public or private, suburban or rural or urban, teachers don’t really care who you are–if you can help them solve what Deborah Ball calls the Endemic Problems of teaching–the challenges implicit in the work, that we know will be there and need to learn to manage–the challenges of not enough time and skeptical 14-year-olds and the like–they will listen.  The profession is full of people who, when given the opportunity, will do everything they can to get better and more importantly won’t take a conversation about how to get better as a judgment on the quality of what they do now.

It’s one of the ironies of people development that while it’s objectively obvious that whether you are good at something and whether you like to get better are probably positively correlated–not only is deciding to get better NOT a sign that you’re not good at something, but likely a sign that you are; you got good because you like to get better–it’s easy to forget and take a discussion about improvement as a judgment.  But somehow the great majority of teachers never do.  It’s great to be reminded that that’s who we (as a profession) are, and that stories about gripers and arm folders and refuse-nicks are just as often exaggerations and distortions.

Ok, back to work.


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