"Conversations Worth Having"

       On December 3rd, after a relaxing Thanksgiving Holiday, the South High School Literacy Coaches hosted their Literacy Liaison Breakfast—a time to meet with colleagues, reflect on our teaching, and, of course, enjoy a homemade breakfast prepared by the literacy coaching team.  Each year, this seems to be a favorite activity for our second years because they value the conversation that accompanies the reading of the text. 

       The breakfast discussion revolves around an Educational Leadership article from 2011 entitled Too Dumb for Complex Text.  In the article, the author, Mark Bauerlein, argues that students are no longer able to handle the complex reading tasks required of them in college.  Complex texts, Bauerlein says, require readers to probe, think deeply, and devote uninterrupted chunks of time to the reading task, which are skills our students seem to be lacking.

      Teachers at the breakfast began by responding to five Reading for Meaning statements (a strategy discussed in Silver, Dewing, and Perini’s book The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core) that were written in response to the article.  They then read the article and text-marked areas where they found evidence that supported the Reading for Meaning statements.  After these before and during reading activities were completed, the teachers paired up with others outside their disciplines to discuss the statements and their feelings or thoughts about Bauerlein’ s argument.   This activity, while planned to only last a few minutes, lasted longer than the coaching team anticipated.  Good conversations were happening between teachers across disciplines, between teachers and coaches, and between teachers and administrators.  The major take-away our teachers walked out of the breakfast with—besides the fact that their coaches were all wonderful cooks!—was that we all have the same difficulties when it comes to helping our students  address the demands of complex texts.  A realization such as this helped to bring these teachers a little closer together.  No longer was the conversation about what “we do in X discipline,” but, rather, about what we can do as a school to address “X” issues we see our students having with complex text.

      With the implementation of Common Core and then ever-changing world of technology that surrounds us, we—as teachers AND coaches—are going to need to come together more than ever and engage in conversations like the one that happened at our 2nd Year Liaison Breakfast.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”  Imagine the learning and growth that took place on December 3rd as many conversations took place across the table with many wise men and women!  It is through these authentic conversations about teaching that, at least in my experience, growth occurs.  And not just for the liaison, but for the coach as well.  In sharing these things, we can push one another to try new strategies, thus strengthening our crafts.