Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Be the Learner

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Laura Lee D. Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Superintendents expect principals to learn. Principals expect teachers to learn. Teachers expect students to learn. The field of education sets high standards for our children but do we hold ourselves as educators to the same standard? How often do we engage as learners outside of the classroom ourselves? We want students to ask questions, seek the answers, problem solve and ask more questions, pursue learning; but are we doing the same? Are we pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable, beyond what we know?

Whether you are a principal, an academic coach, specialist, parent, or all of the above—you are a teacher. And someone is learning from you. Watching you to see if you practice what you preach. Watching to see if you are engaging in the types of literate activities you have assigned to them. Stellar leaders, whether classroom teacher leaders or superintendent leaders, are learners. They are stellar because they spend time learning through reading, writing, and discussing their profession in order to be better at their craft. They are stellar because they are action researchers who reflect on their practice. Stellar because they adjust instruction to fit the needs of their learners.

In this day and age, there are shifts in pedagogy that require our attention. Our students have vast amounts of information at their fingertips but need us to structure the environment for collaboration, discussion, critical thinking and relating with their peers in academic discourse. Our learners are different than the learners we were. No longer is it valuable for them to answer our questions and forget theirs. Our world is different. Technology is redefining the way text is processed. So we must do what we can to stay on top of the changes, zone in on our students’ instructional needs, and adjust our instruction to maximize their learning.

With encouragement from Ghandi, I would like to empower educators with this phrase: be the learner you want your students to be. There should be an expectation that educators and students alike continue to push themselves to become the best they can be.

Time, or the lack thereof, is often used as an excuse for limited learning and growing as professionals. Professional development opportunities on a district level often tend to provide one-size fits all learning. On the other hand, each of us is aware of our individual needs as learners. We know where our understandings are solid and in which areas we require growth. We have the ability to tailor make a menu of professional learning for ourselves.  But where to go from there?  How do we get the necessary information to meet our individual needs?

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are groups of educators dedicated to supporting each other in achieving learning goals. So create yours. Ask yourself: where is an opportunity for growth in my practice? And then research, try new ideas, read, write and blog, ask others, take risks, reflect. Just as Ronnie Burt, a participant in the Twitterverse expressed, “…I realised that developing a Personal Learning Network is an empowering, transformational process, which fundamentally transforms your professional learning and teaching approach. And my experience is hardly unique…”

Just like our students, we may need a little inspiration to work harder. Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  1. Find fresh texts for your students to read and discuss based upon their interests. Share the outcomes along with the text with your colleagues. Follow this link to Tcher’s Voice, a blog from that incluldes a wonderful annotated list of sites to find such texts.
  2. Contribute to our profession through writing a blog and reading others. To discover a great way to begin blogging follow this link to Slice of Life Writing Challenge.
  3. Participate in a twitter chat. Need help to understand how to participate? Look at this Edublog site for all you need to get started: Step 3: Participate in Twitter Chats and then click here find a twitter chat relevant to you.
  4. Or, last but not least, read a trade book on literacy practice. Need a suggestion? For elementary practitioners, Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book has teachers raving about the accessible, “implement tommorow” content and format. Although Serravallo’s latest work has strategies for beginning readers, it is appropriate for all levels because of the complexity of comprehension strategies it includes. All grade level teachers can find ways to help their readers slow down and notice author’s purpose through Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

Once you have engaged in one or more of these suggestions, share what you have learned and ask others about their new understandings. Decide what you want to put into action in your practice.  Be a risk-taker and be prepared to reflect on and learn from your mistakes. And repeat. In this way, educators continue to refine and improve our craft.  So, what kind of learner are you going to be?


  1. Burt. (2014, September 23). Step 1: What is a PLN? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Professional Learning by Blog

Monday, April 20th, 2015

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Education Specialist


Click image to be taken to full infographic.

Click image to be taken to full infographic.


Since I started having kids, and again when I started my master’s program, my personal professional reading life has changed drastically. I no longer felt I had the time to keep abreast of all the latest professional publications in our ELAR world. If a particular book kept coming up in conversation or at workshops, I would definitely try to skim through some pages–but invariably, the book would be at best skimmed, maybe a particular chapter read with full attention.

I found I needed professional information that I could access while rocking my babies to sleep. I found I often only had time to read an article or a post—snatching 10 minutes here or 5 minutes there. I found my reading time became super precious, and I needed to be able to pick and choose reading more efficiently and with greater focus. I think we all go through these times in our lives. We still need to feed our brains, but periodically we just don’t have the time to devote to long-form reading.

During the last four years of my life, my professional reading needs have been met through education blogs.

Web 2.0 is all about everyday people’s active online participation and interaction. This web is more personal, more immediate, and somehow also more relatable, because all of us little people who haven’t quite yet reached rock star status can now have a say in our professional world. Bloggers might put themselves out there with trepidation—but they do it within their professional reality. Jessica Lifshitz (2015), a fifth grade literacy teacher, declares in her blog’s masthead: “As I begin a year of transformation, I am attempting to break down the four walls of my classroom to reach out to others and connect about the incredible world of education.”

Many of our teacher colleagues are writing about everything in education and posting to their blogs. According to, the leading free blog platform in the world, their users produce 59.1 million new posts each month. Couple that with 60.3 million new comments on those posts. Imagine all the career teachers, publishing while they wait for students to finish an essay after school, publishing while they scarf down their school cafeteria salad, publishing from their phones on the train in to work. So much content out there—composed for us. With some savvy, a teacher could quickly find blog posts that suggest a new mentor text or a new literature circle process, or that helps him navigate the state’s latest education bills discussed at the capitol.

How to get started? How not to drown in all the content?

I will use a term Donalyn Miller (2014) uses in her book Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Miller recommends widely reading young adult literature to be a mentor reader and resource for students, but she also acknowledges that no one teacher can read everything. And if we can’t read everything, she suggests that we find “epicenter readers” to help round out our knowledge. Epicenter readers “know a lot about books, and feel confident in selecting books to read.” (p.120) These epicenter readers could be your school librarian, your college best friend who just reads a ton of YA, and, of course, students in your classroom. We see here the type of tweet an epicenter reader might share that would benefit teachers looking for new books.

John Schumaker, whose tweet we see here, is a school library director at Brook Forest Elementary in Oak Brook, Illinois. He also happens to be a 2014 Newbery Committee member. His tweets, blog posts, Goodreads reviews, and Pinterest pins provide a plethora of timely, quality resources for educators. He is the consummate “epicenter reader.”




This very same concept applies to our online professional reading lives. Through our use of social media, we can easily find our epicenter readers, and rely on them to suggest must reads for us. In fact, Miller (2014) hypothesizes that:

If I had to start over rebuilding my Twitter friends’ list, Goodreads account, or blog feed, Teri and John [her epicenter readers] would lead me back to hundreds of reading colleagues in less than a month. Savvy about books and publishing trends and generous with their resources and time, they feed a vibrant reading community online and influence many children through their teachers, librarians, and parents. You don’t need a contact list full of names to find a reading community. All you need is one person who shares your love for books. (p.123)


Or blogs.


Thus, blog reading takes many forms. See the graphic below for just a few.




I just learned about Andrea Zellner, a voracious reader who has been functioning as one of my colleague’s, Laura Lee Stroud’s, epicenter readers. I am now following her and found this intriguing share. I’ve often used this six-word story in training,and it always grabs teachers. What new information could I add to this activity?




Epicenter readers do their thing on Facebook, too. Take the following share from my friend and colleague, Sharon Laidlaw-Almaguer. She is a full-release mentor to new teachers at Austin ISD. By posting the relevant and interesting articles she finds, I am learning by leaps and bounds. Together, and with other education and ELAR friends in our Facebook circle, we are building a professional learning community, nestled conveniently in our Facebook feed.




And what about your own blog writing? Have you thought of writing a blog to practice your craft? To identify with students as they process their writing? To sound off on your own particular niche, triumphs, and challenges? Your voice has a place out there! In one case study, researchers found that writing a blog gave one teacher a platform to “tell stories of herself and her classroom, reflect on her practice, work through dilemmas, solicit feedback, and display competence” (Luehmann, 2008). No better time to start than now.





Lifshitz, J. (2015, March 1). Crawling Out of the Classroom. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Luehmann, A. (2008). Using Blogging in Support of Teacher Professional Identity Development: A Case Study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2014). Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers. In Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Zellner, A. (2015, March 31). Epicenter Readers [Telephone interview].