Thursday, May 6, 2010
Reflection on my time with Samantha Bennett
Well, it's been almost a week since Samantha Bennett visited Dublin, and my classroom. I feel like I've had enough time to decompress, and now it's time to write about my big take-aways from the time I spent with Samantha.
First of all, if you've never seen Samantha in person, she is truly a delight. She is this small bundle of energy who wears the most fun clothes and best accessories I've ever seen. From the moment we met at a dinner last Thursday night until our final day on Saturday, I couldn't wait to see what she was wearing each day. Samantha never disappointed!
But my time with Samantha actually started several months before when one of the board members of the Literacy Connection here in Central Ohio asked if it would be ok to use my classroom as one of the demonstration classrooms when the visiting author they sponsored came to town. I said sure, no problem, relying on years of past experience when authors like Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard, and Lester Laminack came to town and did demonstration lessons in writing workshops. Our writing workshop has been humming along, full of activity this year, so having a guest come in to teach should not be a problem.
Turns out I had gotten the story backward. Yes, Samantha would be in my classroom, but she would be there to observe our workshop, how it works, and what transpires during that time with a focus on the structures, rituals, routines, and systems of our workshop. Gasp! If Samantha is there as an observer, I guess that meant I would be the teacher.
Another piece of the story is that the workshop would be on a live video feed broadcast for participants to see (I think there were somewhere around 70 people there on the actual day). Because all these educators didn't know me, my students, or the structures of our classroom, Samantha asked me to write a letter to them that would include my core beliefs, what guides my instruction, what had happened in our reading workshop prior to this observation, what would be happening in workshop that day, where we were heading after that, and what were some pressing questions I had "that kept me up at night."
I thought about this assignment, typed up a rough draft of my thinking, and sent it Samantha's way. The moment I received my reply from her, I realized Samantha was a coach who would not let me "settle" for anything but my best effort, and she would be pushing my thinking in many areas. I had to re-reflect about the questions listed above, and totally revise my first draft. What happened is something I am very proud of -- a 7 page letter that really got to the heart and soul of my belief system. It was tough work, but it really clarified what is important to me as an educator and to the students who are learners in our classroom. Through coaching, Samantha helped me get to this final product.
Last Friday was the actual day that Samantha came into our classroom and labeled what she saw, and why those things were important. Before she came upstairs, however, she very clearly identified observation skills that the other educators were to use as they watched our classroom. She told them they weren't allowed to "gush" -- it was not to be about how great the lesson was, or how on-task the students were, or how terrific the read aloud was. Instead, they had to label what they saw -- Karen read 14 Cows for America during a mini-lesson on meta-cognition. Then, they had to identify why that had meaning. See what I mean about her being a great coach?! That's a fabulous protocol for all observations we participate in; it protects the teacher and more importantly, forces the observer to dig in deeper to the reasons we make the educational decisions we do.
I'm not going to bore you with all the details of Samantha's time in my classroom, but I will say that my classroom was full of people -- in addition to my students, me, and Samantha, there were also 10 - 15 observers from the group that got to come in for a "close up" view of our classroom, along with the camera person. After the coaching Samantha had done about being respectful, not talking during the lesson, and really working on labeling and thinking about the "why", all those visitors were almost invisible to both my students and me. It was a good workshop, full of the things we do on a normal basis: mini-lesson, independent work time when students are reading books of choice while I confer with individuals or meet with strategy groups to work on specific skills, and debrief. Our 55 minutes flew by!!
When we went downstairs, Samantha then guided the group through a debrief of the workshop they had just seen. During this time, each table was identifying what they saw during the reading workshop, and talking about its importance and its reason. My assignment from Samantha was to go from table to table listening to all these people talk about our reading workshop. It was a very humbling experience. No one gushed, but as they focused on the things they noticed, and why they were important, I was surprised by the depth of things they noticed going on in our classroom. After about ten minutes of eavesdropping on these conversations, I then had to stand in front of the group and share whether their comments accurately reflected what I had actually experienced.
I feel incredibly grateful to have met Samantha, to have her "nudge" me as a coach to share my thinking in a more clear and precise way, to have so many respectful educators label what they saw in my classroom, to have agreed to put make my learning public in a way that definitely helped my learning and hopefully helped someone else as well. More importantly, I realize that we can't do this big thinking alone; to use a quote from one of Samantha's core beliefs, "We are smarter together." We also need to build the all important TIME into our schedules to have these big conversations about why we do what we do in workshop, and to also plan in thoughtful, meaningful ways.
For more on Samantha's visit, check out:
Franki's Top 10 favorite Samantha Bennett quotes (wish I had thought of this!)
Mandy's reflection about the workshop
Katie's reflections about Samantha and sharing her workshop with others (wish I coud get to the point as quickly as Katie does!)