Thursday, March 8, 2018

Inspire Me

I woke up at 4:00 this morning. Of course I did. Lately, there seems to be a conspiracy between inside and outside forces to prevent me from getting a decent night's sleep. If the goal is to drive me crazy, it's working.

I knew I should get up. There was writing to do after all. Instead, I rolled over and continued to lie in the dark, listening to the rattling of the drain pipe announcing that after a couple of beautiful, spring-like days, the rain had returned.

My mind drifted back to yesterday afternoon. It seemed impossible, yet it was true, I had spent an hour in the same room as Donalyn Miller, listening to her speak about that which I am most passionate: literacy. For my non-teacher readers, just imagine spending an afternoon with Oprah. That will give you a little bit of an idea of just how exciting an event this was.

I had heard Donalyn speak before years ago and read both her books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. She was the reason I had moved my read aloud time to first thing in the morning to make sure it never got pushed aside by lessons that ran longer than planned. She was also one of the voices in education that convinced me that Accelerated Reader was not the best way to create lifelong readers and gave me the courage to abandon it. So naturally, when the opportunity presented itself to hear her speak yesterday, I signed up without hesitation.

Frankly, an hour wasn't enough. I could have sat there and listened to her speak all night. Hers is a voice you can trust because it is a voice steeped in reality, the reality of years of experience in the classroom. While she can cite research with the best of them, it is her own personal stories that bring a clarity and authenticity that many presenters are lacking.

I thought how great it would be if all staff development was like this, rather than hours spent poring over data, focused on failures and trying to figure out how to fix it so that next year's data looks better. (Notice that sentence mentions only data, not children. It's all about the numbers, folks, and how they make us look.)

Don't get me wrong; Donalyn's presentation was not absent of data. The room gasped when she mentioned that 25% of adults never read another book after high school. But the data she shared wasn't the kind of data that made us feel the heavy weight of failure. It was data that encouraged, inspired us even, to look at ways we can change the world. 

And that to me is the big difference between what happens all too often in education and what should happen. One of the big buzz words of the last few years is "accountability." Students need to be held accountable. Teachers need to be held accountable. Guess what. I don't need to be held accountable. I am a grown up and a professional. I can hold myself accountable. What do you think those hours lying awake in the middle of the night mentally beating myself up about all things I failed to do and all the things I got wrong are all about? I know how to hold myself accountable.

What I need is to be inspired. I need to be lifted up on the wings of possibility, free of the burden of failure. Show me what's possible and I will work as hard as I can to make it happen. I will show up for my kids every day and do my best to inspire them to fly on their own wings of possibility.

When that happens, accountability takes care of itself. I picture my students yesterday working hard on their Who Would Win projects during Writers Workshop. Heads bent over writer's notebooks or Chromebook screens. Proclamations of "Look how much I wrote!" from students who earlier in the year struggled with and resisted writing. I spent the period roaming the room like I usually do, but it wasn't to put out fires and redirect students to their work. There was no need for that. Because they were inspired by their own work, they held themselves accountable so I didn't have to do it for them. There is a lesson in there for those administrators and officials who know only to demand more "accountability."

Don't hold me accountable. Inspire me.

The results will be greater than you could possibly imagine.


  1. Yes! This is why I love attending NCTE--I always feel so inspired listening to Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and so many more. I love the masterful way you shift at the end here to your own classroom and what happens when we inspire our students. I think so much talk about engagement and accountability in schools is so misguided. Create the conditions for meaningful work, invite meaningful work, INSPIRE meaningful work--and then see what happens. Thanks for this powerful post!

    1. Thank you, Elisabeth! I love going to conferences and workshops because they invariably get me fired up and reignite the passion which drove me into this field in the first place. I think every teacher needs a good shot of inspiration every so often. Admin isn't always too good in that department.

  2. I. Love. Donalyn.

    And Teri Lesene. And Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and Jeff Anderson.

    I love being inspired, and I love reading posts where good PD reflects off the participants and shines sunlight out my computer screen. :)

    Thanks for sharing the enthusiasm! It's always a good booster shot.

    1. No matter how passionate we may be about teaching, we all need a good booster shot every now and then! Donalyn Miller is definitely good at providing that!

  3. I agree! Inspire me! I have had the privilege of hearing Donalyn speak twice, and have read her books and blog. I have learned so much from her.

    1. Right? She's pretty amazing. And definitely inspirational!

  4. The data that always gets me is the 25% of adults who never read another book. Almost all those around me read and read consistently. We pass books around. we talk about them. We ask for recommendations. I just can't fathom not reading.

    And great PD in March is always such a boost to get through to the end of the year

  5. This time of year, it is definitely a necessity. I feel like I'm crawling to the finish line of a marathon right now.

    I'm with you; I can't imagine not reading. Yet there was a time I didn't. It was right after college. I was an English major and I think I was just burned out from analyzing everything to death. Which should serve as a warning to us teachers, I suppose: too much analyzing can kill the love.


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