The same way that we must want for adults what we want for students, we must do as adults what we would like students to do.
Particularly – reading.
In the schools we need, teachers not only encourage literacy and learning, but they participate in it themselves as well.
Every school has one teacher who can point to the filing cabinet drawer when you walk into her room. “That drawer,” she will tell you, “has eighth grade in it.” Pointing to the other drawers, she will explain that the lesson plans and overheads for other years are all stocked away in the even that she be moved to teach another grade the next year.
Sadly, many schools have many versions of this teacher.
The high-tech version of this teacher can point to the flash drives with text files and powerpoints archived across grade levels.
Teachers must seek and engage in reading for the same reason we want our students to read – to find new ideas, challenge old ideas, and build on what they already know.
Admittedly, given the papers that need grading, the lessons that need planning, and the resources that need creating, picking up a book about teaching is not the sexiest of out-of-school activities. The right books, though, could mean finding new practices that alleviate the load of traditional teaching.
While toolkit books that preach this or that newest “best practice” can be helpful for a quick top-off when teachers are struggling to figure out how to make their next units of study interesting, they aren’t the best reading. These books are the paperback romance novels of the education world. They offer quick escapes from the problems of practice and don’t ask their audiences to think too much about what’s happening or why.
The education books worth the time it takes to read them, engage teachers in thinking about why and how they do what they do in their classrooms or other learning spaces. Like the best literature, they are complex, thought-provoking, and devoid of easy answers. Readers must also do the work. Dewey, Friere, Lawrence-Lightfoot, Holt, Dweck and many more present ideas about education and schools that ask us to evaluate our preconceptions and remain open to the new worlds they would have us create through out practice.
Admittedly, the time crunch mentioned above is a barrier to teacher reading in the same way the hyper-scheduled student struggles to find time to read anything other than the chapters assigned by his teachers.
Schools can help here:
- Interested faculty can organize a reading group that meets regularly over a common planning period, after school, or during lunch.
- In spaces where common interest cannot be mustered, teachers can turn to online spaces like goodreads.com for communities of readers, book suggestions, and conversations about what they read.
- School leaders who understand the value of common language in building culture can ask faculties to study texts they’ve selected as speaking to the mission, values, and goals of a school in order for all concerned to build an understanding of the common vision of the space.
- Ten minutes of every faculty meeting could be opened up to faculty members sharing pieces of something they’ve read in the interim since the last time everyone got together.
If we want schools to be temples built to the exchange of ideas, we must create the spaces necessary for those exchanges and we must be constantly working to access, synthesize, and consider new ideas. Reading, though not the only way to access these ideas, can be a strong gateway drug for learning.