From the Classroom: The Pressure to Do Versus the Possibilities of Doing
by Tricia Ebarvia
Whenever I blog, especially here for PAWLP, I try to offer fellow teachers some practical strategies to use in the classroom. After all, I know how I much I appreciate picking up ideas that I can try with my own students right away, sometimes even the very next day.
Of course, now that summer is just about here—tomorrow is our last official day with students!—there is no more “very next day.” Instead, as the weather warms and lazy days at the pool run together, the planning for next year begins. Sometimes the planning is purposeful: reading pedagogy texts or writing up lesson ideas. But other times, the planning is a little more serendipitous: stumbling upon the perfect article for class or finding inspiration while on an errand to the store. Summer may be here, but I’ve found that my “teacher brain” never really goes on vacation.
Without the pressure of “the very next day,” the ideas I come across during summer have room to sit, and breathe. There’s no pressure to do—simply the possibilities of doing. The extra time summer offers allows me to think this could work or maybe I’ll try this or what could that look like?
Summer, then, becomes a time to reflect on another year gone by and to gather new ideas for the year ahead. How? Below are just a few of the things I’ll be doing this summer to reflect and re-energize:
First, reflection. On her site, The Cult of Pedagogy, author and former English teacher Jennifer Gonzales offers practical ideas for the classroom (one of my favorites is on various classroom discussion techniques). Although she blogs regularly, I like to listen to her podcast on my drive to and from work, and her most recent podcast on teacher reflection is powerful. In “The Gut-Level Teacher Reflection,” Gonzales asks teachers to consider five questions and then to pay attention to the way our bodies respond to those questions—what gut-level feelings surface? Often, the ways our bodies respond are a symptom of deeper issues and the key for effective reflection is to get at those deeper issues. Gonzales asks teachers to visualize the concrete aspects of our teaching and dig beneath them.
For example, the first question she poses is this: “Look around your classroom (or picture it in your mind). What parts of the room make you feel tense, anxious, or exhausted? What parts make you feel calm, happy, or proud?” When I did this exercise and visualized my own classroom, I found myself tense up when my eyes fell upon my classroom library—and particularly the “return books here” bin that is overflowing with books that have yet to be reshelved. At first glance, my anxiety could simply be about the small mess that’s happening back there. But as I reflect more deeply, I realize that my anxiety is really about my regrets at not being able to do as much independent reading this year as I had done in the past. And I know even after that small physical mess is cleaned up, that this feeling of regret will continue to nag at me a bit. By paying attention to that reaction and better understanding it, I can begin to take steps to address the underlying issues for next year.
As you can see in just the first question, Gonzales’ method for gut-level teacher reflection can compels us to look at the way our bodies respond and why. The rest of the questions work in similar ways by looking at four other aspects of our teaching lives. I know that I will return to these questions during the summer as I rethink my teaching.
“Pedagogy” On-Deck List
Summer is my favorite time to gather ideas for the upcoming school year. Like many teachers, I look forward most to the time I have in the summer to read, and this summer is no exception. If critical-self reflection (above) can provide a diagnosis for issues I might be experiencing in my teaching, the reading I do in the summer can provide the remedy. In no particular order, a few titles I’m reading—
- The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I actually finished Couros’ book a few weeks ago, but he has so much good stuff to say about innovative teaching and learning that I’ll be returning to his ideas this summer. What I appreciate most about Couros’ thinking is his call to distinguish between innovation as technology versus innovation as thinking. As the title of his book indicates, true innovation comes not from the tools we use, but the mindset that puts those tools to use in service of our students.
- PowerUp: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe. Like the previous title, I finished PowerUp several months ago but I’m looking forward to revisiting the many ideas that Roberts and Neebe offer for teaching in a 1:1 environment. Even if your school isn’t 1:1, the authors—current English teachers—provide many ideas on how to use technology to do make what we do in our classroom better. Like Couros, the authors recognize that technology is simply a tool; it’s how we use it that can make the difference.
- The Teacher You Want to Be edited by Ellin Keene and Matt Glover. This title is actually the first shared text of the Heinemann Fellows Program, which I am thrilled and honored to be participating in for the next two years (we meet for the first time next week!). This remarkable collection of essays asks us to consider our beliefs as teachers and how our practices then line up with those beliefs.
Book Study Groups
- The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer
- Visible Learning for Literacy by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fischer, and John Hattie
- In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher
- Book Love by Penny Kittle
Each book focuses on a different aspect of teaching and literacy. While Bomer’s book looks closely at writing, Kittle’s book offers many possibilities for reading. Frey, Fischer, and Hattie’s book examines the research on strategies that work in literacy instruction, while Gallagher shows us the ways in which those strategies can work for students in an environment of Common Core mandates. I’ve read Kittle’s and Gallagher’s books before, so this summer, I’m looking forward to reading the Journey and Visible Learning.
Reading for Pleasure
Beyond all my pedagogy related texts, I am reading for pleasure! This summer, I joined the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club, and our first title is The Round House by Louise Erdrich, which I have always wanted to read. Each month, the group chooses a different book. I’ve never been in an online book club like this, so I’m looking forward to discussing with other teachers all across the country. In addition, I have my own personal and ever-growing list of books to read on my Goodreads account that I hope to tackle this summer. After The Round House, I’m hoping to finally read The Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which was recommended by a friend several months ago, as well as Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Writing to Discover
Finally, last but certainly not least, I will also be writing this summer. I firmly believe that the best teachers of writing are teachers who write. In addition to trying to contribute to the Slice of Life challenge each Tuesday on Two Writing Teachers, I’ve also joined the Teachers Write group this summer. I first came across Teachers Write last year, but it was already too late to join when I discovered this online writing workshop for teachers. During the school year, I spend much of my time as a teacher of writing but I can’t emphasize enough how my teaching was transformed when I began to think of my own writing life.
Although it’s ambitious list of things to read, write, and reflect upon, I know that whatever I can get to this summer will be well-worth the effort. As the summer gets underway, what are you doing to reflect and re-energize? Please share you thoughts below!
Tricia Ebarvia currently teaches 9th grade world literature and AP English Language & Composition at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. This year, she continues her quest to inspire a love for reading in her students by integrating more independent reading and free choice. She admits that her heart skips a beat whenever she sees a student with a book in his hand she’s recommended. She can also be found on Twitter @triciaebarvia or on her website at triciaebarvia.org.