We just came off a phenomenal day of professional development where we planned and implemented a full day of presentations and workshops for just under 90 teachers representing 11 districts across our state.
This group of middle and high school educators attended sessions on how to jump-start Independent Reading in their classroom. We had such positive feedback from individuals that it served as a reaffirmation that what we are doing is truly making a positive impact on students.
I would like to report that the entire experience was a complete love fest – that everyone held hands, swayed, and sang “Kumbaya” – but that would be wildly untruthful. Although we had many teachers and administrators (from our district and others) commend our work and tell us that they felt inspired, there were still teachers in the crowd who were not ready to buy in.
This story is not new to us, and it’s not new to many other teachers who have reached out to tell us that they’re comforted – and saddened – to hear that they are not the only ones dealing with this type of push back. When we first began our journey in 2014, we were “three lone nuts” with a “crazy” reading idea. People looked at us, from a safe distance, with a small dose of curiosity and a large amount of doubt.
So, what do you do when you’re having trouble convincing your peers, in the words of our principal, “that if something is good for kids, everyone should do it?” The simple, and difficult answer: figure out where they’re coming from and meet them there.
First, you have to understand why they think the way they do. There are any number of reasons why an educator would resist or nay-say a program. Here are just a few:
- They feel threatened and see this is a top-down decision they were not involved in.
- They believe that this is another short-lived, fly-by-night education reform.
- They feel they lack the training or support to restructure their classroom.
- They have gotten comfortable and are simply afraid of change. Period.
On a certain level, I can understand where some these teachers are coming from. I have seen my fair share of initiatives come down the line only to be dismissed or completely revamped. It is frustrating to reshape your teaching time and again, only to feel like you are moving in circles. Especially with our current climate of education reform, it’s no surprise that teachers are skeptical and reluctant to embrace something new. However, every good educator should engage in self-reflection and constantly seek out professional texts and opportunities for growth.
Changing attitudes is difficult. Here are a few ways that you can start to make a difference:
- Let your colleagues know that there is a learning curve and that it’s okay to make mistakes.
- Encourage honest reflection. Be a safe sounding board as they embark on their trial and error period. Help them work out the kinks without judgement and with unwavering support.
- Offer teachers a support system. There are a number of groups and networks dedicated to reading and reading strategies. Hearing from the experts is useful for new and veteran teachers alike. Offer them mentors and resources such as Penny Kittle, Three Teachers Talk, Nerdy Book Club, Teacher Learning Sessions, Carol Jago, Kelly Gallagher so that they can find their footing and test out new ideas.
- Finally, and most importantly: ENCOURAGE THEM TO LISTEN TO THE STUDENTS. A portion of our workshop (and a highlight for many who attended) was the lunch panel of eight teens who answered questions about their experience with Independent Reading. They were open and brutally honest as they fielded inquiries from teachers and administrators.
All of these students came to school on their day off to talk about the impact of independent reading on their lives. One of them moved from a remedial class up to honors over the course of three years. One had not read a book cover to cover since fifth grade and went on to read twelve titles last year. One student read 65 books, and she wasn’t even my top performer. What more powerful testimonial could there be?
So, when you find yourself facing naysayers, hang in there and stay strong. Keep doing what is good for students and know that you are not alone. If even one student reads one independent book (but believe me, it will be way more than that), you will have made a difference and that is what really matters.
What is there to lose?