Teachers, Cultivate Your Garden
I love the advice given by Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy: Find your Marigold. She writes that new teachers should find “positive, supportive, energetic teachers” and stick close to them, ask them for help, advice, and support. I couldn’t agree more.
I only recently discovered this particular post, and it resonated. Loudly.
As a veteran teacher, though, the advice to new teachers to find their marigold still applies. Everyone needs a marigold.
I immediately knew who my marigold was when I read that post. It’s the teacher-librarian I’ve been friends with since the day we met. She’s the one whose family my family has shared the last two Christmases with, she’s the one who pushes my thinking when she disagrees with me about some educational theory or practice, and she’s the person I can go to when I need to smile.
I told her right away that she’s my marigold.
She’s also the person who first asked me, oh-so-casually, “Have you thought about trying the readers workshop model this year?”
Jess (@jtlevitt) has been my go-to coworker and friend as we have explored readers workshop in my high school English classes this year. She’s encouraged, pushed, nudged, and challenged at the right times, in the right ways, and has helped our students discover their own personal, healthy reading lives this year.
I couldn’t have, and wouldn’t have tried or found success with this model without her.
Everyone needs this person in their lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same luck and friendship and help from the universe that I have had. Some people work in small schools, or feel isolated, so there are other places we can explore to find encouragement and help.
Three categories, in addition to the marigold you will (hopefully) find in your workplace are: expert/consultant, guiding text, and blog. I think it will vary from person to person, but some combination of these categories will probably serve.
My expert/consultant is literacy consultant Stevi Quate (@steviq). My school had the resources and foresight to invite Stevi to consult with our secondary English Language Arts department, and she provided the encouragement, challenge, and essential information I need in order to start down the workshop journey.
She’s visited our school three times, and is scheduled to return next year. Each time she has modeled the strategies and techniques she expects my department to use with our own students. Together we have analyzed poetry, discussed assessment strategies, and practiced conferring, to name a few. It’s been invaluable to have her as a teacher and mentor.
If you don’t have a consultant or expert you can meet in person, then be creative about finding help online. Twitter and YouTube have great resources, and while watching something online isn’t the same as real-life-experience, there is still great learning that can happen, and something is much better than nothing.
My guiding text has been Book Love by Penny Kittle (@pennykittle). I’ll go back and mention my marigold, Jess, and explain that after she suggested I start the workshop model in my classes this year, she then went on to support and learn with me by reading Book Love with me. We read, annotated, asked questions, experimented, and pushed each other’s thinking through creating our book club of two.
Book Love is the perfect text for this type of small-group (partner?) book study. We read it out of order, skimming the table of contents and choosing chapters that seemed relevant or interesting at the time. We referred to it when wondering about what a daily schedule should look like, how to implement workshop, figuring student reading rates, and looking for answers to who-knows-how-many other questions we’ve had.
If for some reason Book Love isn’t the text you’d choose, or you’ve already read it, there are many other guiding texts out there. One I’m starting to explore now is Notice and Note, and of course Disrupting Thinking is one I’ll pick up over the summer (both are by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst).
The blog I’ve regularly used as a resource is ThreeTeachersTalk (@3TeachersTalk), which is an encouraging source of excellent resources and inspiration. Stevi Quate gave the link to my department last fall, suggesting to us that we should read at least three posts.
I did not stop at three.
It is the best workshop blog out there, as far as I can tell. The individual author voices are reassuring, raw, and realistic. Together, they are a symphony.
Seriously. I dare you to stop at three.
So while I wholeheartedly agree that finding your marigold is essential, makes life more beautiful, and keeps the toxic walnut trees at bay, I also feel that we should all cultivate an entire garden of them.
Seek out your marigolds, but also plant your garden full of diverse marigolds whenever and wherever you possibly can.
Don’t wait for a marigold to show up, but instead, cultivate your garden so that it is exactly what you need and want.
Your garden will be so beautiful.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.