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Six years ago, I had an epiphany about what my students needed. At that time, I wasn't sure how I was going to help them get to where they needed to go. I simply started to take one small step at a time. I am certain that I had moments of frustration. It was probably hard at times. However, I simply kept my goal in mind and tried to have as much fun along the way that I never really thought about it as being hard.
Initially, my goal was to help students improve their ability to read. Since I never really belonged to a community of readers as a child, I wasn't really thinking about developing a reading community at the time. I knew others who liked to read, and I would tell someone what I was reading if they asked but there wasn't a lot of discussing books together. I was actually sort of private with my reading. Yet, somehow, I did realize that I needed to take my love for reading beyond my comfort zone and share it with others, especially if my students were going to become readers. I had this simple kernel of thought that began to grow inside me. If I am excited about books and I share that enthusiasm then maybe they will be excited about books. And do you know what? It worked.
Of course along the way, I met other kindred spirits who also loved to read and who were further along the journey than I was. By being open to allowing my feet to follow the path wherever it would take me I met some amazing individuals who then connected me to other amazing people, and one of the things we all had in common was our love of books.
And then there are those days when I encounter teachers who say they want to build a reading community, but do not realize that what they are doing may be hindering their ability to do what they say they want. Rather than looking at the journey, they are only looking at how hard the path is. Instead of thinking that if this is something that you love then you will want to make time for it, they simply get caught up in all of the other tasks clamoring for their attention.
When I look back on my journey, I know that I could have as easily wandered down another path rather than the one I ended up on. What if I had not found a few books that re-kindled my love for reading? What if I had not met some of the inspiring teachers on twitter and Facebook that I have since met? What if I had never written an email to an author whose book touched me deeply and in turn received a response back from that author? I probably would be doing something completely different.
Building a reading community in a single classroom certainly is a challenge. Now what does it take to build it school-wide? The challenge grows exponentially when expanding it to multiple campuses within a district. Can it be done? I believe it can. The work is slower and sometimes it really does feel like it is harder. And then I receive an email from a teacher or staff telling me of how they see their school developing into a reading community and I have to rejoice a lot.
Next year, I am setting my sites on a couple of middle schools. This will be a whole new world for me. Though my focus continues to be on elementary school literacy, I am excited to explore a few things with older students. And to take a page from the past...I think I will go one step at a time.