Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller is the focus for this year and the Literacy Connection group here in Central Ohio. My second reflection comes in response to reading Chapter 2, Defining Beliefs and Aligning Practices. I don't know if there are too many professional writers who can be explicit, direct, and stimulating in such a concise way as Debbie Miller. In this five page chapter Debbie makes one reflect and want to think further about the bigger picture, our own philosophy to help children and our teaching. I love these two sentences that are in the opening paragraph. "When teachers have a set of beliefs that guides our work, we know where we're going. There may be twists and turns along the way, but we always know where we're headed." Life is full of twists and turns. Naturally our teaching is going to be full of twists and turns. However, I feel Debbie is telling the reader if you are grounded in what you believe in those twists and turns are manageable.
Debbie shares her own work and a little bit of the process she went through to create her own philosophy of teaching and learning. It was in process for a year. Isn't it comforting knowing this isn't a quick project. This isn't something that's written once and set in stone? She also admits it was the first time she actually thought about her own philosophy and not accepting someone elses. Her encouraging words, "We're the ones in the unique and wonderful position to know where our kids have been, where they are now, and where it makes the most sense to take them next. Real life isn't scripted. Neither in real teaching." I found these sentences quite comforting. She shares more about her journey and reflecting on what was happening in her classroom and matching it to her philosophy. She discovered in her journey she might have forgotten how to listen to what the children were saying and not listening for the thinking she had preconceived.
Debbie encourages teachers to "begin a process of defining your beliefs and aligning your practices." She encourages teachers to write 15 min. a day, three times a week about what they learned. I think of this as a way of collecting data. Looking for patterns and things you noticed then a teacher is ready to write short, clear statements to guide their work. I was blessed to begin my career where this was done school wide. What a wonderful opportunity to work in a building where every staff member had a voice and the time was spent to create a building wide philosophy. Yea, we spent time wordsmithing. Sometimes small groups reflected and revised by in the end we all had to agree. I thought it was a bit corny when we were all presented with our heavily laminated 'The Ten Foundational Principles of the Informal Alternative Program' cards. Our principal, Dr. Fred Burton at the time, wanted our beliefs to be easily accessible so we could talk to people about them. Til this day, 11 years after I switched school districts I still carry my card in my wallet. I have relied heavily on those in my career. I wonder if I would write as Debbie suggests I would tweak those beliefs. Hopefully, I haven't lost those beliefs in a different district and changes in education with assessments and such. As I created the link for the foundational principals above, I was relieved to know they are still the same at Wickliffe Progressive Community School. I do love Debbie's ending advice, "Take the high road. Don't let them defeat you." She encourages us to find our own beliefs and not embrace those of others. Make sure we know how we feel about children and make our interactions count matching our own philosophy.