I have been reading, writing and playing all summer long. I just recently took a trip back east to see my family, taking an entire week hanging out in Boston and on Cape Cod.
What a wonderful break, but even there I was discussing my doctoral work, educational philosophies, and challenged time and time again on what it means to be an educator in today’s America. Yeah, no true rest for the educator and grad student.
In talking with family, I was forced in a way to put my work back into an elevator speech as I tried to answer the question, “what are you doing with the doctorate after you’re done?” I asked myself that question daily this summer when the challenge seems daunting and the process more than I can bear. I find myself growing weary of revision, and doubt what will come of this work. These conversations forced me to go back to my roots, why did I start this process? I came to realize was it really isn’t about what I am going to do when I am done, but rather, how does this work with English learners help teachers and students right now? How does my study of best practices directly impact the students I will be facing in a little over a month from now? In other words, I want to be relevant. I want to create impact beyond the students I work with, and I want to make a difference in the lives of teachers.
I struggle with the writing because writing this book is personal. It isn’t something I am doing to just “get it done” and checked off some arbitrary list, this work matters to me. I don’t want it sitting on a shelf somewhere with thousands of other doctoral thesis papers. I want to make a relevant difference in the daily classroom practices for students in classrooms across the country, starting with my own, but transferring to the work of others in the field.
Right now in my chapter revision, I am focusing on teacher efficacy and the impact that has on student attitude and achievement for English learners. I think it is one of the most important parts of the book, because if you don’t have the core belief that students can and will be successful, then they won’t. Students can smell “fake news” a mile away. If you say you believe everyone can be successful, but water down discussions for some of your students, or set a lower bar, they will see right through your words. In talking with teachers, so many times we start with the litany of things that we cannot control when it comes to making students successful. We start with administrative constraints, budgets, poverty, and lack of family involvement. All of those things impact student achievement, but none of those things do we as educational practitioners have direct control over. I don’t have control over the outside challenges my students face growing up in an urban environment. I do however have control over the space I create when they walk into my school or classroom. I have influence over how I speak to them, how much I try to foster ownership in their own learning. I can provide scaffolds that are inclusive in content rather than supplant rich dialogue and content.
Carol Dweck is a pioneer in the concept of “growth mindset”. She talks about how student mindsets, how they perceive their abilities- played a key role in their motivation and achievement. She says, “A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating a growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is the key to students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches- not just sheer effort- to learn and improve” (Dweck, 2015). I feel this also applies to teachers.
So what is my purpose for the work? It is as simple and complex as this. I am developing a book that empowers teachers to make the best instructional decisions for their English learners to create an inclusive and rigorous learning environment. I want teachers to be able to use research based strategies to provide that “repertoire of approaches” ELs need to be successful in core content classrooms. I want it to be easy to read but challenge their thinking. That it isn’t a book of worksheets or graphic organizers, but rather tools to select to build a specific scaffold that allows our ELs to access the core content with meaning. It isn’t a book to supplant learning, but instead to scaffold and enhance learning. The focus is to have teachers see themselves as facilitators of learning for all their kids, and that they have the skillset to do so. And so it goes.