Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Creating, Nurturing and Sustaining a Community of Learners

By: Donna Klockars

Dear Reader,

I am bubbly with excitement about the new partnership between Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, the Boys and Girls Club, the Mid Island Metis Nation and Vancouver Island West School District!  I worked side by side with the staff and administration at the Boys and Girls Club this Spring and I am a member of the “Working Curriculum Committee” for the Nanaimo Aboriginal Learning Centre and I think this partnership is a marriage made in heaven!  I see exciting opportunities for our youth and their families.
I am tempted to unleash a flood of comments about the Working Committee’s vision for a publicly funded school, where aboriginal ways of being and knowing are woven throughout the curriculum.
 However, I will channel my tendency to be somewhat “wordy”,  and focus on a single topic dear to my heart:

“The Educator as the Chief Learner in the Classroom”.

 I want to chat about this topic because the literature is clear about the importance of the educator as the most important change agent when it comes to improving academic success for all students.

My challenge, Dear Reader, is to back up this statement with so much vim and vigor that you too, become a champion for the educator.  (And by educator, I mean anyone interacting with our children in every setting......daycare, pre-school, elementary, and secondary classrooms)
If I can convince you of this fundamental premise,-that the classroom teacher should be the chief learner in the classroom -we will become fast friends who will change the world, one educator and one student at a time.

I might have mentioned in one of the previous blog entries that I am in the process of moving into a smaller abode and struggling to deal with the ridiculous mountains of “teacher-stuff” I have hoarded over the thirty plus years.
I mention this because I had an “ah haa moment” when I was knee deep in my “Precious, Treasured, Literacy Leadership, Workshop notes and Best of the Best Lesson Plans” (aka PTLLWNBLP).
There was a theme in the quotes that guided my workshop presentations and my teaching practice, but one quote, made it on to almost every planning page, year after year. Here it is:

The chief learner in the classroom should be the educator.
The chief learner in the school should be the principal.
The chief learner in the district should be the superintendent.
(2002 National Reading Panel  “Identifying key skills central to reading achievement”)

 I love this quote because it speaks to the concept that schools should strive to be a community of learners. The quote infers the adults’ learning is as important as the students’ learning.

When a classroom is a place where everyone feels like they are in this “learning thing” together and there is a real sense of community.  Everyone cares and supports each other in their learning journeys. I think that real learning takes place in a loving caring classroom where kids feel safe because their teacher is taking risks along- side and with them.

I believe the educator in the learning centre holds the power to change lives and create a learning community; where not only kids learn but they love to learn. Real learning comes from a place of relationship and personal growth in a caring community of learners. The classroom is a place where the adults demonstrate their conviction that all young people can learn and achieve.

(I know Dear Reader, now I am now redundant, but if we really embrace educators’ learning as the biggest ticket item of all time, then it changes our mindset completely!)

The idea of nurturing and celebrating a community of life-long learning is foundational. It means we routinely have conversations about our practice.

I propose that this BIG IDEA should guide the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre and our partners.  
What might this look like?...Well,professional learning opportunities would be driven by the educators’ particular learning needs and wishes.  If mentoring and coaching is requested, it should be provided.  If the educator presents an inquiry question about cognitive learning strategies, then we must support the educator in every way possible. If the teacher feels supported as a learner, students will benefit.  Students will see their teacher modeling the inquiry process. He/she asks big questions and takes risks to learn new and challenging concepts.
An educator who engages in life-long learning is a powerful educator indeed! A powerful educator results in powerful student learning.

The recurring themes: collegiality (teamwork), collaboration (sharing ideas about teaching), on-going inquiry (asking big and important questions about what matters) matter!
However, the idea of a “community of learners” is rhetoric until the educator’s learning is just as important as the student’s learning.

I know I am not the first to suggest that the Educator as a Learner is key to student success. It seems obvious that the minute to minute decisions a teacher makes, impacts student learning. Unless the educators’ learning is supported; achieving a community of learners remains rhetoric.  My mission now is to focus on moving the rhetoric into reality.

The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre and our wonderful partners are capable of making it all happen.  Like I said, I am bubbly with excitement!

Thank you, Dear Reader, for listening to me bubble.

In friendship,
Donna Klockars,  aka The Literacy Lady

Oh and Happy Aboriginal Day.

Just in case you are interested in my top thirteen quotes, I have included them in tiny print so this blog doesn’t look so wordy.

1.   If you are not “up for it-Get up”…The kids deserve your best… every single moment of the day. DK

2. Educators, let’s teach, talk and reflect together, but if you blame the kids, I won’t play with you.D.K.

3. As the classroom teacher, the decisions you make, minute to minute are what really matters to your students’ learning and loving it.  D.K’s take on all of Allington’s work.
Note to self …All Richard Allington ‘s stuff is very quote worthy.
4. Children’s chances for learning are significantly increased with excellent teachers.  Children from marginalized populations, who often fail, will have the opportunity for success when their teachers are exemplary.
President’s message by Leslie M. Morrow, IRA President September 2003 Note to self: I don’t like the term marginalized populations because I have yet to meet a marginalized individual, nor have I ever met a  family that didn’t want the very best for their beautiful children.

5. Kids get better at reading by READING…so create an envelope of rich language and a bath of easy ,multi-genre, multi-leveled texts for them to read. Your kids should bump into and embrace easy level reading everywhere they turn.DK

5. Don’t forget that kids want to read about real things so load up with fab non-fiction. Always show the cover of the snake book.(snake is eating a small gazelle …This shows teachers what engagement is all about.)

(Everything Faye Brownlie says about engagement is quote-worthy. P.S. actually everything Faye says is quote worthy!)

6. Sixty minutes a day, that’s the minimum-not the maximum for “eye-ball to print, no faking it reading”.
Use the same words but change writing for reading.
You are the boss of creating the structures of the day so make sure these two songs are sung all day, every day. DK

7. Tell the kids about your life and your own learning and your favourite reading choices. Confess that you felt like an idiot at Book Club last night because you completely missed the gist of the story.
Tell them that you follow the advice of Gary Paulson….”Read like a wolf eats. Read what they tell you not to read.”

8. There are no mistakes, only “learning opportunities.”
 So let’s take risks and learn together. (Dear friend and colleague Jan Bruce 1999)

9. Assessment has a powerful effect on learning so here is my mantra I start the day with:
What can they do?
What do I wish they would do?
What do I need to do?
Did what I do to make a difference?
What do I need to do now?
See teaching is just a whole lot of thoughtful DOING. This ditty came to me after Leyton Schnellert’s session on assessment for learning. Everything Leyton says is also tres quote worthy!

10.  Plan for multiple ways to hook and engage, plan multiple ways of learning and connecting new content with prior learning and  plan for offering multiple ways students can “show what you know”.
So good teaching is also a whole lot of multiplying.
 (Note the before, during after sequence tucked into this UDL gem?)
11. If we are going to use the term community meaningfully, we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper and who have developed some significant commitment to rejoice together, mourn together, delight in each other and make others’ condition our own.  (Peck 1987 p.59)These well- ordered words reflect my belief, that if you don’t love your students, they can’t really learn or experience the joy of learning. So if you don’t love one of your students, find someone who does.
12. Quality reading instruction…is the single best defense against reading failure, overcoming even the effects of poverty. (Snow, Burns & Griffin 1998)
13. We have found that persistent work on combining intense purpose, a focus on deep learning, informed evidence-seeking, genuine inquiry-mindedness, and thoughtfully designed professional learning in the context of respectful and trusting relationships, benefits the school as a whole and the young people in it-especially those who have traditionally been underserved and less than successful.  (Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert: Leadership Mindsets)
(I love Judy and Linda because they are as wordy as I am…but much smarter!)

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