I was talking with Ellen yesterday about which writing project teacher consultant we thought best represented that difficult balance between leading and listening that I touched on in my last entry. Our conclusion was quick and unanimous: "Jay Richards," we both said at once.
Jay begins his Guest Teacher Consultant workshop presentation today, the last workshop day of the institute, by telling us that, as an 8th grade language arts teacher, he does not really know "how to read a book" (the title of his presentation), but that he has some questions he thinks will help us consider our own thinking of this fundamentally important issue. But first a little personal background, he continues, flashing photos of his wife and three daughters up on the screen. "My wife Marianne is a kindergarten teacher; we're a couple that loves reading so much we named our first daughter Paige." A ripple of laughter. "Then we had two more girls and decided to call them 'Chapter' and 'Footnotes.'" Roars of laughter.
Jay has a way of talking the most vexing part of our English Language Arts curriculum head on--how we teach and measure reading--and making this aspect of our teaching life engaging and thought-provoking. He does this by presenting participants in the institute with activities that help them clarify their thinking about these questions, then listening very, very attentively as participant after participant holds forth on their often highly emotional experiences with school-based reading assessment. He reminds me a lot of my now deceased father. When you introduce an opinion or observation before the sometimes intimidating audience of your fellow institute participants, there is no question that Jay is treating your opinion or observation absolutely seriously. He tilts his head forward, hair falling slightly over his brow, and sits very quietly while you speak. "You are important," his body language tells you. "Your opinion matters."
As a workshop presenter of many years in settings identical with or similar to this one, I am in awe of Jay's ability in this area. And I'm not quite sure how he does it, quite frankly, since this seemingly open-ended approach to 'questions from the floor' would throw me hopelessly off my carefully worked out 'clock-time agenda.' This never seems to happen with Jay. He brings us back to our 'central questions' easily and effortlessly, and we return to these questions with an enhanced respect for the diversity of the experiences and opinions our fellow institute members bring to our collective understanding of these issues.