How does the commitment of a teacher to stay current in classroom teaching practices translate to school leadership? Why use precious and scarce time out of school to read more than catchy phrases and quick paragraphs on social media? Who has time for reflection, anyhow?
There was a day when the dreaded Book Report was an expectation of the Language Arts program. The traditional approach was deemed best: read the book, write the summary, present to class, maybe some personal art work to dress it up a bit. My classroom was no different – except that students had much more latitude in presentation strategies, and that helped the rather arduous task of listening to 24 book reports move along in a more interesting fashion. One day I was conferencing with students regarding their draft written book summaries, and had my conference – ee standing nervously beside me as I read his work. It was a well-written piece, summarized the theme of the book quite expertly, used surprisingly descriptive language, and was suspiciously professionally done. I commented to my now really sweating young man that the summary was quite amazing and asked to see the book. When he put the book down in front of me, you could almost hear his heart land on the floor with a thud. He had been busted – copying the back cover of the book word for word, and handing it in as his own work. His explanation: what’s the point of doing all this reading and summarizing when it was all there on the back cover? After all, how could I write a better and more concise summary than that? (Suffice to say, we needed to review the purpose of the assignment, and yes, discussed plagiarism too.) We chatted further about how digging deeply means reading, reflecting, creating personal meaning from the material, and going forward with perhaps a different view. Off he went to try again.
Fast forward to today, where social media capitalizes on a busy teacher’s lack of time by simply writing the back cover of the book for us on every conceivable topic. Actually overwhelming in its breadth, social media compels one to cruise through a few sites, some posts from conferences and talks, latch onto to some catchy phrases, then hope that professional development for the year has been addressed. Will anything really authentically change in the classroom? Will anything change in the school? Relying on this approach means the book still exists largely unread; the missing piece of reflection leading to new paths really cannot occur in an honestly meaningful way. A genuine focus on one area for the year opens up the possibility for new growth as a teacher, excitement in the classroom, and an opportunity for courageous leadership on staff.
Be current, share knowledge, and read the whole book.