No Guts, No Glory
“It is worth emphasizing that the most important single activity to promote reading is reading. It is even better if this is done with a purpose, and if we regularly write about and discuss what we read.” Mike Schmoker
Fair warning, this entry is a rant, and a rant that I hope will resonate with the colleagues out there that share my role as a school principal or vice principal. For me, our field is unique in two aspects; one is the very public nature of our system, any given school hosts hundreds of children and families and requires a great deal of interplay and negotiation, on a daily basis. The other aspect, ironically, is the prevailing cultural norm that limits and inhibits collaboration among teachers with regards to instructional practice.
I’m not interested in publishing a treatise on school change and systems thinking, I only wish to issue a invitation to those of us who work in formal leadership roles at the school level, can we agree to step up on the courage front?
We have no shortage of research on best practice in the area of literacy instruction, we have examples of incredible teachers accomplishing incredible things in classrooms and schools around the corner and around the globe. Often, we have examples of teacher providing this instruction in classrooms right across the hall from classrooms where the instruction is no where near that quality. How can this be?
This is not a rhetorical question, this can only be because we as school administrators allow it to be. Sure, the change process takes time, and relationships are important and there are many structural challenges we face, but none of these forces are sufficient to undermine the reality of the impact that effective, focused instructional leadership can have when it is applied with courage.
We know what the components of good teaching are, and yet there remains examples of stale teaching in too many of our classrooms, why? In school districts we see ineffective, or out-dated practices that amount to busy work, leading to limited student engagement and a tremendous loss of capacity and we wonder why?
Research unequivocally supports the fact that an effective literacy program allows for generous amounts of time for students to engage in independent reading, with the chance to talk and write about what has been read. In middle school years, up to 60 minutes ought to be allocated for this process on a daily basis. Here’s a challenge. Take a walk through your grade 4 to 8 classrooms during the literacy black this week and find out of this is the case.
If you find a classroom in your building where this is not the case, have a courageous conversation about why this is not happening, take a stand as an instructional leader and do something about it (and complaining doesn’t count as doing something about it).
We have a very challenging job as school leaders and we have to support each other to make the changes that need to happen, happen. We have the knowledge and the experience, the question that remains, do we have the guts?