Attending the Conference on English Leadership Convention in Washington, D.C. provided me a needed retreat. I was encouraged, challenged, and, most of all, inspired by those around me. In an effort to navigate my thoughts and hopefully take the next step, I want to briefly identify fourteen takeaways from CEL ’14. I must give credit to the presenters responsible for the thoughts. I learned from Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Sarah Wessling, Matt Marone, Oona Marie Abrams, Jim Burke, Heather Rocco, Chris Bronke, and more. Some of my thoughts were simply inhaled in the rich atmosphere of the convention, or ideas that blended and connected among multiple sessions. I very much enjoyed connecting more with colleagues from the North Jersey area and beyond.
Here are 14 from CEL14:
1. Students have a fundamental right to know what they are learning each day, why they are learning it, and how it will help them. We need to be clear about our purposes….and my purpose should never be to prepare them for another class or for college or for a test. (Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey)
2. As we guide students, we must guard against cultivating learned helplessness. Are we making students dependent upon us as teachers? A good question to ask each day: How did I prompt students to think for themselves and find answers to my questions and theirs? (Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey)
3. The ones working the hardest in the room are the ones learning. Make sure I’m not the only one learning. (Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey)
4. Am I simply performing texts or am I assisting students as they contend with a complex text? I want to put them in a position of tension with a text and help them work through it. (Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey)
5. Rigor doesn’t just mean difficulty. Rigor is better understood as complexity. Complexity is a measure of the thinking, action, or knowledge needed to complete a task. How many ways can a task be accomplished? Does it require multiple steps, multiple modes of thought and action? (Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey)
6. Precluding failure means teachers are doing all the work. We must give students permission to fail, to learn from failure. Students should be more afraid of mediocrity than they are of failure. The same applies to us as teachers! (Sarah Wessling)
7. Matt Marone provided an excellent example of students studying non-fiction in a way that matters. An earlier session spoke to the belief that a text, closely studied, should prompt action; it should want to make us want to DO something. Matt’s work with his students was an amazing example of truly authentic outcome of his students’ research and study. Though there is not space here to go into all the details, I was reminded of the importance and the potential rewards of having students read, write, listen, and speak with real purpose. No “letters to the board of education” here. (Matt Marone)
8. As we teach writing, we should often ask students, “Are you a better writer after having written this essay?” We should ask this question early and often. In what ways are they improving? Are they aware of their weaknesses and their areas of growth? Does our feedback about one essay inform their approach to the next? (Oona Marie Abrams)
9. Students should lead writing conferences. Based upon their own reflections about their progress, they should identify the things that are working and the things they are struggling with. (Oona Marie Abrams)
10. Effective leaders and teachers disrupt embedded (ineffective) practices. Disruption or interruptions is difficult and sometimes painful, but it leads to growth. (Jim Burke)
11. I am proud to be in a profession where I feel like I’ll never get it completely right. We are always revising, always growing, always learning. (Jim Burke)
12. Being positive in a negative situation is not naiviete–it’s leadership. (Heather Rocco and Chris Bronke)
13. We need to embrace fear and encourage others to embrace fear. Stepping outside our comfort zone is the only path to growth. (Heather Rocco and Chris Bronke)
14. My final takeaway is the lasting knowledge that I am surrounded by inspiring colleagues who are doing brave things for all the right reasons. I am encouraged and challenged to continue to collaborate and build professional relationships that will benefit my students and teachers. Thank you to all who played a role in CEL14 and I look forward to collaborating in the future.
Supervisor of English
Mountain Lakes High School, NJ
*This blog was reblogged with permission by the writer. Thank you, Paul!