A silver bullet. Maybe that's all I need. You know what I'm talking about-- that one, clear cut, sleek yet simple solution to teach whatever difficulties stand in the way of my students' reading and writing success. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. After all, that's how so much is marketed in the world of education, leaving us fearful that somehow we've failed if we don't buy it, believe it, or do it.
I think it's safe to say that there is never just one way--but rather thousands of ways--to approach every aspect of literacy instruction. And yet, I have spent most of my teaching career wrestling with the faulty ideal that the silver bullet exists and would rid me of all my instructional problems. I believed it would help me to cut clear through the complexities and hard issues that come with being an ELA teacher. I was wrong, and I am not afraid to admit it.
This blog is an invitation. I will humbly offer you one way--that you can adapt, question, refine, or reject--to teach some of the most challenging situations we face in literacy teaching today. And I certainly don't pretend that my one way is the only way.
Here's some of my backstory.
Unfortunately, many of my precious weekends and evenings were being sucked away (along with some of my hard-earned money to Teachers Pay Teachers) all because I was fearfully and zealously doing my best to patch up gaps left behind by boxed curriculum, or try my darnedest to make seamless lessons from a bunch of random resources on a pacing guide I was given. All of this left me feeling bewildered and defeated for long stretches of time. While I knew I wasn't completely ineffective as a teacher, I knew in my heart of hearts I could do so much better.
Fortunately, when I was researching for my final project at the Pennsylvania Writing and Literacy Project in West Chester, PA, my attention was focused on the work of Donald Graves when two simple words grabbed my attention.
One way you can do this…
One way you can approach this…
One way you can think about this…
He said it not once, not twice, but often.
With his calm, gentle, humble tone, Donald Graves gave me a gift in a phrase, and I received it. I felt something shift in my soul like heavy clouds moving away to reveal a patch of calm blue sky. I felt relief.
Then, I asked myself these important questions:
What if I shift away from a one way, singular, this-is-the-way-the-only-way to-do-it approach?
What if I drown out the dogmatic (and sometimes arrogant) voices I hear and read that imply, "My way is the only, and best way?"
What if I begin to tag information and approaches with, "One way to approach this," or "A way to think about that could be..."
And, so I did. I made a shift in my wording and thinking. The short phrase, one way, became an essential part of an inner dialogue. It was and is key in helping me to declutter my mind and minimize my fears.
One Way to Think About It was birthed from my personal journey in teaching that only another teacher who has traveled a similar stony, potholed road can understand. I don't pretend to know it all. I surely don't have a perfect classroom, and I make plenty of mistakes. But, I am sure-footed now and enter my classroom with more joy, ease, and purpose than ever before.
I have no silver bullets, but I'll be happy to give you one way to make your teaching more effective and inspired. You deserve it.