A friend and colleague of mine, Val Harth, used to talk to me about being a “critical friend.” I used to chuckle at the term. What kind of friend would criticize someone else? Val knew what she was talking about though. While it’s great to hear that we’re doing a “good job,” we also need people to question our approaches, make suggestions, and offer feedback, so that we can get better at what we do. I’m thrilled that I have wonderful “critical friends” both online and in person. This week reminded me of that.
Earlier this week, I tweeted about some activities I was doing in the classroom, and Chris Wejr, a fantastic K-6 principal in B.C., messaged me some questions about what I was doing. His motives were not to be critical, but to help me see things from a different perspective. His approach worked. Our discussion helped me see why I did what I did, and even make a few changes to my initial work to help clarify my intent. Thank you, Chris!
This online interaction, followed up shortly afterwards with a wonderful face-to-face interaction with our school principal, Paul Clemens. Paul and I were talking about our weekly homework routine, and during the discussion, he asked me if the Grade 6’s had a home reading program. I mentioned that students are expected to read nightly. Paul followed up this question with, do they have a chance to talk about what they’re reading in class? I thought about this. I do ask random students to talk to the class about what they’re reading, and yes this works, but Paul’s questions had me wondering if I should be doing more.
I left his office that day, and kept thinking about what he said. It was then that I thought of Talking Tuesdays and Thinking Thursdays. Here’s the email that I sent to Paul with my initial thoughts:
Paul followed up this discussion with this next email to me:
I loved his idea, so I spoke to my teaching partners, and we modified the plan. Here’s the latest information on Talking Tuesdays and Thinking Thursdays. If Paul hadn’t started asking questions, I never would have thought of making changes.
We need people around us that are going to push our thinking. We need people that are going to question what we do, and support us as we make changes to what we do. We need these “critical friends.” Val, Chris, and Paul are three of many people that do this for me. I know that I continue to become a better teacher because of them. Who are your “critical friends?” How do they help you improve?
It is interesting how the good things we start in primary grades (home reading program) seem to disappear in the older grades. How wonderful that your new critical friend pushed you to think about this. Now that you’ve shared this on your blog I’m going to ask our teachers to reflect on your post and see if they can formalize and deepen what we are asking students to do. When we connect relevance to what we’re asking kids to do we will get more participation.
Thanks for the comment, Susan! I’m so glad that Paul shared what he did. He really made me think! I love how this idea is not just about a “reading log,” but requires students to really think about their reading. I’m hoping that with this follow-up in the classroom, we really can bridge what’s happening between home and school and get more student participation. I can’t wait to begin!
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