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Please, let them (us) talk!

I spent Friday at the local intermediate school district, meeting with other teacher-leaders trained in Reading Apprenticeship. I long for these days of quality professional development that isn't scripted, is flexible, and meets my needs. The highlight of the day: getting to talk to other teachers.

The power of talk isn't a revolutionary idea. Talk, just like writing, is used for a variety of purposes: to communicate, express, reflect, defend, think, etc. But more often than not, I feel as if academic and collegial conversations are looked down upon in the field. "Talk" and "conversation" have taken on negative connotations to others in a similar way that "test" and "assessment" have with teachers.

More often than not, I've found professional development to limit talking. As a result, I imagine that limits the speaking and listening that needs to take place in our classrooms. If we can't trust our teachers to have meaningful conversations, how will that translate into the trust necessary for student success? Sure, conversations go off on tangents, but so does our thinking! It's at that moment that we have to help each other bring the conversation back to the task at hand. I would also argue that this is a valuable skill to teach students. And if people talk about other things, they are probably things that matter to them. It's then that we have to learn how to connect the things that they see as important to what we see as it important. As a colleague once told me, we all have different questions that need answering. The difficult work is getting everyone to see how each other's answers are valuable--and they all are!

In the end, I left training with a list of new ideas--a list that wouldn't have come about if I hadn't had the opportunity to talk with so many colleagues. And this is what I was promised during my training in college: a chance to enter difficult, but necessary, conversations. When teachers have the opportunity to put their heads together, we all benefit from their collective knowledge--especially when teachers don't agree. There is something magical about cognitive dissonance! Teachers, like students, have knowledge that they can share, and varied experiences that enable them to contribute to a larger conversation that becomes enriched because of said experiences. All we need is the opportunity to talk about what is important to us.

This is also why I'm looking forward to the National Council of Teachers of English's annual convention. I know I'll have conversations with colleagues that will enrich, challenge, and extend my pedagogy.

As I try to make this a year of strategic talking in my classroom and with the group of Reading Apprenticeship teachers I am so excited to work with, I end with this thought: When we limit talk, we limit our growth as teachers. And when we limit our growth as teachers, we limit students' growth, too.

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