This site’s central theme is building relationships, empowering learners. Long before this site and tagline were created, I worked diligently to build relationships with students. I also attempted to facilitate conditions to empower students. But, if I am truly honest, the conditions in my room were engaging, but not necessarily empowering. This was especially true inside the reading communities we were creating. We engaged in reading our books, we engaged in discussing and sharing our books, we engaged when reflecting about what we read, but far too often I’d hear stories about how the passionate readers I let go of each summer fell out-of-love with reading by the following year. I was sad. However, I eventually learned to cope with the fact that I was creating a dependent-on-me reading community. When you realize your passion to do something might not translate to the results you want to see, it is quite a humbling experience. I was not playing the long game.
So, for the last few years, I have worked hard to empower my students with the tools to find their own books and build their own reading communities. By the end of each year my students have lengthy “I want to read” lists stored in multiple places. They have go-to reader friends (kids with similar reading interests), and they know how to use various features on different websites to find books that may interest them. While I still work a great deal to build a reading relationship with each of my students, I now work equally hard at them not becoming dependent on me to give them their next book fix. I will be there until June, but I won’t be there in the summer or the following years.
The idea for this post came from a question I received from an observer to my room this past week. The observer was carefully watching the reading conferences I had with students. In one conference I asked a student, “What are you planning on reading next?” When she shrugged, we talked more about her current book, Allegiant by Veronica Roth. The student shared several reasons why she has loved the Divergent trilogy so far (side note: it will be interesting if this student becomes as righteously indignant as I was about the ‘twist’ Veronica Roth threw into the end of this series). Then I showed her how to use a few websites to find books that may have similar elements to the Divergent series. I shared with her how much I liked one of books we found and she looked delighted and said something like, “Thanks, I will check that out!” Then she started to walk away from the conference. I didn’t let her go, we talked some more and she left with several titles to consider and to write down into her reader’s notebook.
After class the observer shared some thinking about this conference then asked “What made you continue on, even though she liked the first book?” My response was, “Future planning for all the readers I work with, I am in it for the long game. I want to run into a kid like her four years from now and hear her joyfully share what book she is currently reading. I am a big fan of driving home the importance of being a planful reader. I want to empower the students I spend a year with to be readers years from now.” We continued to talk and share more thinking around the idea of how we measure success as a teacher. My thinking over the last few years has shifted monumentally. I still want my kids to have a great day, week, or even a year. However, it is becoming more important to me to see them flourish several years down the road.
If educators truly want to impact change in our kids and empower learners, we need to think beyond the 180 days the kids spend with us in one year. We need to help them learn the tools that will not only help them this year, but next year, the year after that, and hopefully for many years into the future. Yes, our goal should be creating amazing learning communities for our children this year, but we need to keep the ‘long game’ in mind. We need to embrace the idea that success is running into a former student four or five years into the future that you remember. Then seeing the spark in her eyes when we ask, “What are you reading now?”, “Are you still into judo?”, or “I remember your writing so well, do you still love writing now?”
When you are planning for your next lesson or unit, keep the long game in mind. Celebrate if your students are successful tomorrow or next week, but also reflect. Are you empowering them in a way that will help their long-term success, or are you just engaging them for the short-term? For me, I am thinking a great deal about the tools my readers are developing now that will help them for many miles down the road instead of a drive around the block.