The process of writing Hacking Literacy: 5 Ways to Turn Any Classroom into a Culture of Readers taught me a ton about how educators build a love of reading in their classrooms and schools. But this was not the only set of lessons that I learned from the writing process. The amazing educators who make up the Hack In Action sections of the book taught me about leading others and innovating in the classroom.
Here are some of the lessons they taught me:
Scaling Communication Through Physical Spaces
Amy Gazaleh, who I am proud to call my colleague, is featured in the chapter about spreading a culture of readers throughout an entire school. This is the biggest challenge proposed in the book. It is one thing for a teacher to influence the 20-25 students in front of him over the course of 180 days. It is an entirely different task to move the needle in an entire building and get students, teachers, administrators and other staff to love reading and show their love of reading. This is a challenge of leadership and literacy instruction.
By talking to Amy, I learned that influencing an entire building takes bold moves and physical action. One of Amy’s first tasks as librarian at Hightstown High School was to remove the pharmacy-style barcode detector gates that stood in front of the library doors. It was an assertive, communicative move for Amy to remove the doors. This sent a message in a way that would be hard to spread via email or through in-person, one-on-one conversations. By changing the physical space of the library, she said that this library was a welcoming place, where students should not fear being caught removing books from the room (not that it’s encouraged), but they should instead feel welcome as they come and go.
We have all heard the phrase that “actions speak louder than words,” or something along those lines. Amy shows that maybe your environment speaks loudest of all, and it continues speaking even when you’re not around.
A Counterpoint to the Role of Data in Teaching
Jori Krulder, who I first met through the Talks With Teachers Voxer group, taught me that it is easy to fall into a polarized philosophy of education. This became clear when Jori told me about the way she uses testing data to help build the culture of readers in her classroom. It seems that many teachers who promote student autonomy and more choice-based pedagogy would shy away from the standardization of computer-based assessments and the data they provide. Jori offered a counterpoint to this belief. She has developed a thriving independent reading program in her school, and she uses the results of computer based standardized reading assessments as a way to build motivation in students by empowering the students to understand their test results and use the data to set their own reading goals.
My education views have often led me to turn my back on most things involving the word “data.” Jori’s approach has caused me to moderate my views, though, as she empowers her students and herself with data-informed instruction.
Many of the situations that students find themselves in throughout our K-12 education system are not necessarily about the content learned, but about the struggles, habits and skills developed as students interact with the content and each other. These are the secondary lessons that may not always be measured or even discussed, but are an undeniable important part of education.
Secondary lessons continue into adulthood, too, if we pause and listen for them. These two “secondary lessons,” taught by Amy and Jori, made me glad I paused and listened during the process.