Posted by Ariel Sacks on Sunday, 02/16/2014
I've recently had the opportunity to speak with two different English teacher authors, who've written books about teaching methods. Hearing the perspectives and stories of people who have vastly more experience than I do in territory I'm just entering, as a new teacher-author, is inspiring and intriguing to me. One pattern I noticed in their stories that has my mind turning is that, while they've written books that share ideas and practices about "how to teach" various elements of English Language Arts, they're uncomfortable knowing that in some cases their books are interpreted and presented to teachers as a set of directives for how to teach. In other words, through their writing, they sometimes become a voice in a process in which teacher decision-making is not made welcome. However, none of the teacher authors I know, myself included, intend for their work to be interpreted in a way that suggests teachers should not have authority over their own teaching.
I started to think about this while I was writing my own book and even more when I had finally finished it and started engaging with teachers around the method. Most (maybe all) of the teachers I've talked to about the book have read it of their own volition. They are determining their own professional development paths, and so they come to the conversation with genuine interest, as well as a firm sense of authority over their teaching and learning. I know we are speaking peer to peer, and that their experiences and knowledge are as valuable as mine. I'm certain that many of the teachers or former teachers who write books on curriculum and instruction feel this way too.
The situation could get more complicated, though, if a district mandated its teachers to read my book and adopt the approach I share. I'd be happy about this on the one hand, but cautiously so, because I'd wonder this: would it be clear to teachers that they should feel free to pick and choose what they want to implement and to make adaptations to suit their students' needs and their own teaching styles? I know I make that point generally throughout the book, but can I be sure that it would come through if the book were forced on people? In other words, is my book "big brother-proof"?
One book that is truly "big-brother-proof" is Teaching In High Gear, by science teacher and fellow Collaboratory member, Marsha Ratzel. In it, she shares her process of determining her own professional development path, finding support in a virtual PLC and shifting her teaching dramatically. All teachers, especially science teachers, will learn a ton from her methods, but there is another layer of learning from the example she provides of how she goes about making change. Leading teacher-driven PD by example, her reflections and decision making are transparent at every step. Readers could never misinterpret her book as didactic.
I'm sensing an opportunity for thought leaders in pedagogy, especially those who are or were classroom teachers, to make it much more clear to their readers and to policy makers that teachers must have a voice in any change that is to happen in their classrooms. I know a strong message on the necessity of teacher voice would not lessen the impact of a book on its readers--in fact, I think this would increase the likelihood of teachers thinking seriously about the ideas.
Would experts in pedagogy see a worthwhile endeavor in "big-brother-proofing" their books? Would they be willing to use their wide-reaching voices to speak up about the need for teacher agency in implementing their and other' ideas? Could this be a lever toward seeing not only more student-driven classrooms and teacher-driven schools, but also entire districts that let teachers lead their own learning?