Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Making a Difference through Book Studies

I am often asked what makes Chets Creek so special.  "Special" can be defined many ways but when I think about what is special, one of the things I think about is our professional development.

Book Studies - One of the things that has always set Chets apart is the way the administrators and teachers have embraced book study as one arm of professional development. The first school wide book study, Improving Schools from Within by Roland Barth, was completed  before the school even opened.   The school actually pulled students and faculty from three different elementary schools in the area.  In the fall preceding its opening in January, the faculty gathered together each week at one of the schools and began reading and studying Barth's ideas. Barth's book is a foundational "how to" book for administrators and teacher leaders on how to make a difference, a blueprint for school reform.  Barth sets up the steps for how to create change or how to lay the building blocks for a new foundation.  From his work emerged the foundational vision, mission and core values for Chets Creek Elementary that were to become the cornerstone for all that was to follow. As teachers left those meetings and talked about what they were doing, you could see the sparkle in their eyes.  They were inspired!  So, from the very beginning,  Chets was able to dream the impossible dream and then create the type of school culture that is rare in public schools but that was to become the hallmark of its success.    What an appropriate beginning!

The following year was my first year at Chets.  Like all new teachers at CCE, I was given Barth's book at my Chets' orientation.  I had already been teaching for nearly twenty years in seven different elementary schools in four different states, so I recognized immediately how different Barth's ideas were from anything I had ever experienced as a teacher.   For the first fifteen years, Dr. Stahlman and then Mrs. Phillips, started all new teachers at Chets with the gift of that book because they wanted new teachers to understand that they were stepping into a culture that thrived on collegiality.  They wanted the newbies to understand that they were walking into... a family... on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children.  As time went on, the book became unnecessary, because the culture itself provided the lessons.

By the next year, the county had adopted the America's Choice School Reform Design.  How much of the book study agenda in those first years was part of the America's Choice Design and how much of it was Dr. Stahlman is hard to tell.  The Design was based on state-of-the-art research, but its implementation was by a Principal who was innovative, creative and an out-of-the-box thinker, so while America's Choice may have laid the foundation, Dr. Stahlman took their ideas and ran.  Book Studies became a staple in the pantry of professional development ideas. Susan Phillips had carried that same torch as she took over the helm but has added her own torch of flaming red hair, fun and passion.

Lucy Calkins' The Art of Teaching Writing was the first book study that I remember during my first year at Chets.  The Leadership Team, or at least most of it, began meeting as soon as the book came out, with Dr. Stahlman facilitating the conversation and always asking the hard questions. We met at Starbucks and I'm pretty sure it was off the clock. Dr. Stahlman bought the books and gave them to each of the six to eight of us that were interested in meeting (a practice that continues to  this day - if you enroll in a book study, the book is a gift for you to keep and mark up as you like!) I had never had anyone give me a professional book!  I was in awe... and totally hooked on this community of learners!  We were all so anxious to get our hands on this new book and to start reading and studying.  We had so many questions.  As we began reading and meeting, our conversations were full of excitement, curiosity, and... how to embed these practices at Chets.  For me, this discourse about educational issues, reform and design with my colleagues was invigorating.  I couldn't stop my mind from bubbling over.  I could barely wait to share what I was learning through my reading. One of the added benefits of meeting together was that as we met, fellowshipped and shared our questions, fears and dreams,... we also became friends.  I  don't think we finished that entire book (it's a l-o-o-o-n-g book! ) but I do think we were all changed by that experience, because we realized that as we sat together and talked about the ideas of what we were reading, the learning deepened, questions were answered, the fog of misconception cleared and the impossible became possible. As we began to trust each other, we weren't afraid to show our vulnerabilities, confusions, and fears. We were able to argue, debate and we actually learned to listen.  It sounds so cliche now to think that the book study was an "aha" experience... but for me,  it was.

We knew immediately that we wanted to take that same book study experience to the teachers, so we offered an elective book study of that same book.  Dr. Stahlman purchased the books and  we set up a schedule to meet off the clock.  I think about 20 teachers signed up for that first elective book study.  This experience mirrored that first excitement.  We learned so much from each other. You could walk through the hallways and see the implementation of the ideas from the book study - workshop models,conferring,  peer review of writing, partner work, examples of writing everywhere... as those reading and working through the book took the lead.  As for me, going through the book a second time only enhanced my experience and helped me deepen my understanding.  My first time through was about "big picture," but the second time through was about the nuts and bolts.  Dr. Stahlman really wanted to reward those first teachers who took a risk, our early adopters, so instead of a final meeting, she surprised the group  with a half day substitute and had us take the group to a local Book Store with a $20 gift certificate for each teacher to pick out a few books for her classroom.  I don't know if it was the gift certificate or piling into cars and heading for the bookstore with a half day out of the classroom that was the most fun, but it was so unexpected and... thrilling!  Teachers were almost giddy with the suspense and excitement.  For me, I think it was just the idea of being appreciated that meant so much.

After those first experiences, book studies have continued in many different forms through the years.  Now we try really hard to make sure we offer book studies before, after and during school "on the clock" to show our respect for a teacher's time.  I guess we average about two-three book studies a year and have offered them in Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Technology, and Leadership.  Sometimes, grade levels have asked to study a book during their grade level time or sometimes Council Groups (which are vertical subject leadership groups) have requested to study a specific book during their scheduled time together. The Leadership Team selects a book to study every year.  Sometimes we all study the same or different books during our Early Release time.  The money has gotten much tighter over the years to buy books, but basically, if a group is willing to meet, read and work through a book, it is provided... somehow!  Time is also at a premium with so many new mandates, but we have stayed true to what we know works and teachers have continued to respond.  Below is a list of some of the books we have studied over the past few years.  This is not an exhaustive list, but as at look at it, I have to admit it is pretty impressive. It does give you an idea of how professional development has been spiced up by providing what teachers need and what they ask for over time.

Culture/Community Building 
Insidethe Magic Kingdom, Tom Connellan
The End of Molasses Classes, Ron Clark
Revved, Harry Paul & Ross Reck
How Full is Your Bucket, Tom Rath and Donald Clifton
Raving Fans, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
FISH!  and FISH! Sticks, Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen
Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson

Improving Schools from Within, Roland Barth
Results Now, Mike Schmocker
Shaping School Culture, Terrance Deal
Standards for Our Schools, Marc Tucker and Judy Codding
Professional Learning Communities at Work, Richard DuFour
School Leadership That Works, Marzano
The Teaching Gap, Jim Stigler
Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove
Leverage Leadership, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
A WholeNew Mind, Daniel Pink
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
TheDisney Way, Bill Capodagli & Lynn Jackson
The Radical Leap, Steve Farber
New Work Habits For A Radically Changing World, Price Pritchett
The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John Maxwell
The Heart of a Leader, Ken Blanchard
Developing the Leaders Around You, John Maxwell
Good to Great and Great by Choice, Jim Collins
How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins
Mission Possible, Ken Blanchard and Terry Waghorn
Zebra’s and Cheetahs, Michael Burt and Colby Jubenville
Greater Than Yourself, Steve Farber
Shine, Larry Thompson
Blink, Malcom Gladwell
Mindset, Carol Dweck

Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, Li Ping Ma
Young Mathematicians at Work: Addition and Subtraction, Catherine Twomey Fosnot
Young Mathematicians at Work: Multiplication and Division, Catherine Twomey Fosnot
Young Mathematicians at Work: Fractions, Decimals and Percents, Catherine Twomey Fosnot
Teaching Mathematics Developmentally in the Elementary and Middle School Grades, Van de Walle
Number Talks, Sherry Parrish

First Grade Writers, Stephanie Parsons
Second Grade Writers, Stephanie Parsons
Craft Lessons – Teaching Writing, Ralph Fletcher
The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy Calkins
The Art of Teaching Reading, Lucy Calkins
Mosaic of Thought, Ellin Keene
The Fluent Reader, Timothy Rasinski
Growing Readers, Kathy Collins
Classrooms that Work, They Can All Read and Write, Patricia Cunningham
Literature Circles and Response, Bonnie Campbell
Literature Circles Voice and Choice in the Student Centered Classroom, Harvey Daniels
Nonfiction Matters, Stephanie Harvey
Is That a Fact? Tony Stead
I Read It But I Don’t Get It, Chris Tovani
Guiding Readers and Writers, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell
When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do, Kylene Beers
About the Authors, Katie Wood Ray
Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown 
Creating Robust Vocabulary, Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown
Is That a Fact? Tony Stead
On Solid Ground, Sharon Taberski
Reading With Meaning, Debbie Miller
Words, Words, Words, Janet Allen
Words Their Way, Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, Johnson
Wondrous Words, Katie Wood Ray
Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding, Stephanie Harvey
Learning to Learn in a Second Language, Pauline Gibbons
Units of Study for Reading and Writing, Lucy Calkins
Fallingin Love with Close Reading, Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts
Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning, Pauline Gibbons
Pathways to the Common Core, Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, Christopher Lehman
What Really Matters: Response to Invtervetion, Richard Allington

Understanding by Design, Jay McTighe, Grant Wiggins
Inquire Within:  Implementing Inquiry-Based Science Standards, Douglas Lewellyn
Primary Science: Taking the Plunge, Wayne Harlen
Inquiring into Inquiry Learning and Teaching in Science, Jim Minstrell
Nurturing Inquiry:  Real Science for the Elementary Classroom, Charles R. Pearce
Science Workshop:  Reading, Writing and Thinking Like a Scientist, Wendy Saul
Science for All Americans, F. James Rutherford
Active Assessment for Active Science:  A Guide for Elementary School Teachers, George Hein
Teaching Science with Interactive Notebooks, Kellie Marcarelli
Science Notebooks: Writing About Inquiry, Brain Campbell and Lori Fulton

Web 2.0New Tools, New Schools Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum
Web Literacy for Educators Alan November
Integrating Literacy and Technology Susan Taffe & Carolyn Gwinn
Leading 21st Century Schools, Lynne Schrum and Barbara Levin
Connected from the Start, Kathy Cassidy
Teachers meet together over the summer to work
on vocabulary activities after reading Bringing Words to Life.

The results of Book Studies have been profound.  For instance, after studying Beck and MeKeown's vocabulary work Bringing Words to Life, a group of six kindergarten teachers spent the summer writing vocabulary activities based on the book to be used with the read aloud stories they would read the following year to their children.  They continue to use these vocabulary activities today and now sell them on Teachers Pay Teachers as "Star Vocabulary" and donate the proceeds to the charity, Promise to Kate.

Another example - After the faculty studied Fish! the Principal opened the Chets Creek Crab Shack in Pike Place's Fish Market-style and served fried fish, gift certificates, laughter and fun to remind teachers in the middle of the year to "choose their attitude, play, make the students' day and to be present in the moment!" This became an annual event and is a much-anticipated stress reliever each year.  It reminds us about the joy every day in teaching!
Welcome to the Chets Creek Crab Shack!
And a final example - Several groups studied Richard Allingtons'  What Really Matters: Response to Intervention when we were trying to figure out the RtI process.  We were able to take the tangled, flawed system that was being imposed on us and to develop a better in-school system that made sense and that got results.  Understanding the research and how all the pieces fit together made a profound difference in our work and we were able to give the system what it mandated but to also really do what was best for our children.

I could go on and on about how different books have made a difference in our quality of life, our decisions, and our teaching at Chets, but you get the picture.  Ask any teacher at the Creek about her own experiences.  They are as individual and unique as the teachers themselves.

So why is this particular form of professional development so powerful?  I am sure there are professional lists of reasons, but these are the benefits that I see from my own personal experience.
1.  Book Studies introduce new knowledge and push learning.  Teachers learn from teachers and through dialog. Teachers teach each other, explore new ideas and noodle new possibilities when they have the time and a vehicle for spending time together.
2. Book Studies offer long term, embedded opportunities for practice.  Each teacher has a room full of children to practice and refine new ideas and if things don't work, a  teacher can always come back next week and share her experience and reflections - and ask for suggestions.
3.  Book Studies promote natural accountability.  If all the participants agree to try something, it's hard to just blow that off, when you continue to see and meet with those same folks!
4. Book Studies naturally help teachers develop collegiality.  After talking together and meeting in each other's rooms, teachers are more likely to visit each other when they have questions at other times, or are looking for someone to bounce off a new idea, or just need a stress reliever. Teachers begin to feel safe - to be risk takers.
5. Book studies offer teachers a way to form professional and personal relationships and friendships.  Teachers share both professional and personal ideas, problems and solutions that lead to conversations and relationships outside of the Book Study.

The biggest deterrent to Book Study is teacher apathy. All teachers have times in their lives when they simply cannot take on one more thing, which is understandable, but every teacher also needs to commit to times that they continue to develop their skills, not just by adding points for re-certification but by making a commitment to engage, learn and improve as a professional. When a teacher thinks they no longer need to learn, in my opinion,  it is time to leave the profession!  That's what Book Study offers - a relevant topic with people that will hold you accountable. If teachers are not signing up for book studies, there is a reason.  Examine the reasons before bashing teachers - maybe it's the presenter, the timing, the topic, crushing paperwork, too much going on...  It's not a teacher problem, it's a culture problem.

My advice for administrators and instructional leaders:
1. Buying the book for each  teacher to participate in a book study is a necessary perk.
2. Listening to what teachers want to study and balancing that with what you think they need to study is just plain common sense if you want engagement.
3. Model your expectations by being an often and enthusiastic participant in any book study.  Never go unprepared.  There's nothing that makes teachers perk up more than when the Principal becomes a learner in the trenches beside them!
4. Make sure teachers can earn re-certification points for doing the study. Unfortunately, it's a rather novel idea to have relevant work for professional development re-certification, so surprise them!   Make sure you do the paperwork to give the teacher maximum benefit for their efforts!
5.  Notice and praise implementation of book study ideas often!  Teachers, just like our students, never get tired of hearing what they are doing something right.

I feel very blessed to have had the experience of working at a school where book studies have always been available.  I have loved the idea of picking and choosing my own course of development.  After all, I do consider myself a professional and having the learning right here, so available, makes it easier for me to realize my personal goal of continuing to improve my practice.  I have learned so much from my colleagues and have grown to respect their time, talent and wisdom. There is nowhere I have learned more than right here with the people who are walking the talk.

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