A Different Kind of PD (AKA Thank you Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman)

I will be honest. It’s been a really long time since I have been inspired by a professional development workshop or session.  It’s been a long time since I walked away from a session and felt inspired. Mostly, I find myself walking away from professional development these days feeling disheartened, defeated and on the worst days, rethinking my choice to be an educator.

That changed today.

Today, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Falling in Love with Close Reading workshop led by the amazing, engaging, and passionate Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman. And. It. Was. Amazing.

If you’ve read the book, you know how great their work is. If you haven’t read the book, you must.  And yes, the information they presented about their strategies for helping kids learn to read texts more closely were amazing. And yes, the lenses that they explained to us were incredible. And yes, the examples of texts and media that we can give to kids to read closesly were engaging. But there was so much more that these two brought to this session.

There was joy. There was hope. There was faith in us as teachers and there was faith in our students.

Over and over again in today’s presentation, I heard two big themes come up.

The first:  As Kate explained, “Be okay with whatever the kids say at first and then trust that the process you are guiding them through is going to bring them to a better place.” I loved that the ritual that they were teaching us had no one right answer and no one right way. Every time that we, as adults, practiced the ritual of close reading today, we came up with a myriad of different answers, different theories, different beliefs about the texts we were reading.  And when we bring this ritual to our students, one of the things that is most exciting to me is that it will allow us to always, always, always start where the students are and not where they are supposed to be or where we wish they were. And if my learning this year has taught me anything, it is that there is nothing more important or nothing that means more to a child than letting that child know that you are going to celebrate and begin your work EXACTLY where he is.  The idea that this ritual is really guided by the students’ thinking itself is so powerful. Knowing that we have the power to take a child from where he is and help them move forward with these rituals for close reading makes me eager to get back to my classroom and put these ideas into action.

The second: We must make sure that our students see the purpose in everything we do in our classrooms.  They should understand that they should read a text closely in order to see something that they did not see before. They do it to gain something new from the text. They are not going through a checklist of steps just because we tell them that these are the steps that they need to take. Instead, as Kate explained, “They begin every reading with the expectation that they are going to arrive at a new idea.”  How powerful is that? There was so much talk of engagment, of making the work relevant, of making the work meaningful. It was so refreshing and inspiring and it made me want to be a better teacher. One of the most powerful moments for me in the entire workshop came at the end when Chris said to us, “Close reading is ONLY important when it is important for the students in front of you.” And I was in awe. And then he said, “What matters most is What does the child need and what is your purpose?” It was just so amazing to hear this said at a professional development workshop.

Too often when I attend PD, I end up leaving feeling like the students themselves were COMPLETELY left out of the sessions. But today. Today was different. Today the students themselves were front and center in everything that was done and everything that was said. And it made such a huge difference for me and for everyone who was sitting in that room.

I once read that the sign of a good professional development session is that you leave feeling like you want to run back to your classroom and try something new. Well, today not only was I was eager to run back to my classroom to try the new strategies that I learned, but I was also eager to run back to my classroom simply to be a better teacher. As Chris suggested in his final words, I am eager to “look through the lens of joy” in order to see the best in the students and teachers and work being done around me. Thank you Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman for the incredible work that you do and for a very different kind of PD.

(If anyone is interested in seeing the many many notes that I took during the workshop, you are welcome to take a look here.)

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