Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Collegial Conversations through an All-Staff Read #SOL17

Every good rowing  coach, in his own way, imparts to his men the kind of self-discipline required to achieve the ultimate from mind, heart, and body. Which is why most ex-oarsmen will tell you they learned more fundamentally important lessons in the racing shell than in the classroom. --George Yeoman Pocock

Our principal at Highland, Brad Wallace, speaks often about grit and persistence. Brad is a reader. Brad lives and breathes the power of words. He reads more than any administrator I've known, and he wants all the teachers in my building to read with him. I get giddy thinking about this reading mission. 

Brad models reading, so I felt a tinge of pride when he called me during the summer to talk about books and get my input about the book he'd choose for our staff to read. In fact, we're reading two books: Formative Assessment and The Boys in the Boat. 

I knew some of my colleagues would not share my excitement about reading and chatting about a book that isn't specifically pedagogical. I shared this with Brad, so when he mentioned TBItB, I mentioned that my husband had read and loved the book. I also know men often prefer nonfiction.

We had our first staff discussion about Part 1 of the narrative this past Friday during our fall inservice. We gathered in the choir room as our building was hosting the state math and science conference. That meant I had to venture to a part of our cavernous building I'd rarely entered. I saw one of my colleagues try a wrong entrance as she mistook the band room for the choir room.

If Brad decides he no longer wants to occupy space in the big office, he should teach English because he knows how to facilitate a book discussion. I'm sure Brad considered the possibility that some teachers would not read. Indeed that was the case. Even so, Brad set up our discussion so that even those nonreaders among us could participate in the discussion.

Since our building growth plan centers on Individual and Collective Efficacy, Brad had us define Efficacy based on passages in the book. We broke into small groups to do this so that our conversations would be more intimate and inclusive.
Our second round moved beyond self-efficacy to collective-efficacy. We were able to examine the relevant passages in the book and fill in the gaps for those who had not caught up with the reading as we focused on the specific lines Brad chose. 

As we neared the end of the discussion, Brad asked us to read a page about developing self-confidence. Self-confidence comes from accountability, initiative, and collaboration. These ideas transported me back to ninth grade and a lesson from my speech class. My teacher, Nydia May Jenkins, taught us that self-confidence comes from learning to do things well rather than vacuous praise. I shared my memory with my group. 

I'm in my 37th year teaching, and this is the first year I've read a book that is not specific to eduction as part of an all-staff read. 

I've worked for many administrators over the years. Most articulate expectations to staff, but with Brad we have authentic conversations about student growth and staff goals, and these conversations are grounded in reading. Brad goes beyond voicing the importance of literacy, he rows with us into the book, and he's not the only one. Three of our four administrators love reading. I'll be writing about my AP Lit and Comp class's discussion of Purple Hibiscus, which our assistant principal Jena Wilcox will be reading with the class.

It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life Story time.
Join the community of slicers at the Two Writing Teachers blog.
Thank you, TWT, for fostering a community of writers.


  1. Nice to hear authentic conversations centered around great books are happening!

  2. Oh, how delightful to share this book with your colleagues. You are fortunate indeed to have administrators who read for pleasure and not just for PD! What an incredible way to approach the themes in the book and to draw everyone into the discussion.