The Story of Learning, Part 1

The Story of LearningBeginning the school year is incredibly hectic for me and my wife. We are both teachers working in different schools in different systems. We also have four children—in four different schools. Each with its own unique start of school schedule, traditions, and expectations. In addition to this, I’m shifting to a Readers’ Workshop approach to my classes this year, and I’m once again training for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. It’s Friday morning. I’m tired and feeling overwhelmed. My students arrive next Wednesday, and I’m not ready—not even close.

At one of our first-day meetings, my instructional leader asked us to stop and reflect for a moment. She asked, “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” The start of a new school year is an opportunity for a new start. This is my fourth new start teaching sixth grade reading, but Susan reminded me my students only get one sixth grade year. They only get to be a sixth grader one time.

As I sat there trying to reflect on the learning in my room, my mind was blank. What will the story of learning be in my classroom this year? I had no idea. All I could think about was the lists I need to complete, the schedules I need to coordinate, the books I still need to read, the forms I need to make, the files I need to organize, the shelves I need to rearrange, the lessons I need to create, and the planning I need to start. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t picture the story of learning. I wanted to see it, but I couldn’t.

I want to stop all of this craziness. I want to spend some time dreaming and wishing—imagining what our year of learning in sixth grade reading will be like. I really do. I cannot think of anything I’d rather ponder, but I’m overwhelmed by the start of school. There’s too much to do. My checklists runneth over.

I’m not dismissing Susan’s suggestion. I’m holding on to it. I woke up with it early this morning hoping I could  steal a few minutes to sit and reflect—to zoom in on what I truly want for my students. And yet, my lists keep calling to me. Here in the quiet of this morning, I’m still being pulled toward a more visible form of productivity. So for now, I’m just going to keep carrying the question in my heart and mind: What will the story of learning be in your classroom this year?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

10 comments

  1. Diana Williams

    Hey Philip,
    You’ve given me lots to think about in this post. I get really overwhelmed by the start of the year and all of the many lists that I have on the go. The last few years I have really tried to scale back what I want and focus on helping the students tell their story of learning. Once I decided to let the students lead our story it took a lot of the pressure off of me to be the performer and changed my role into facilitator. I’m still trying to work it all out, but at the end of the year it is remarkable how the same curriculum can result in such different years with kids. Moving to Daily5 and CAFE for reader’s workshop has given me the balance between planning for learning and responding to learning. Good luck with your start up, those kids are so lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring teacher.
    Diana

    • Philip

      Thanks, Diana. You’ve given me much to think about, too. So you know, I’ve already approached my principal and another teacher about forming a Kiva Club at our school. I haven’t completely worked it all out yet, but the wheels are in motion! I’m sure I’ll be calling on you and Bill for help as I go. I’m going to have to further investigate CAFE as it’s a new reference for me. It’s going to be a great year. I just wish I felt a little more prepared for it.

  2. Ed

    Hi Philip

    Great post and I love the idea of the ‘story of learning’ and the way it can take us beyond lists, schedules, forms and shelves. Will think about how to incorporate it, even though we are mid year, not at the start.

    • Philip

      Thanks, Edna. I appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment. The start-of-school time can be filled with good things that aren’t truly the best things. Susan’s question really helped me focus on what matters. I plan to hold it closely all year.

  3. Nate M

    I love it. The story of learning. I was asked by my instructional lead to define my classroom procedures and the physical layout of the space (also important, but I’m going to add “the story of learning” to the document).

    My initial thought is, shouldn’t the story of learning belong, be developed by, and pursued by the students? A prefabricated story seems to leave out the most important people, the students. Maybe we should all begin by asking the students to define the story, or the start of the story.

    • Philip

      Thanks, Nate. It’s definitely The Story of THEIR Learning so the students definitely need a say in how it’s developed. My students and I are currently working through what that will be. If you decide to involve your students in the process, I’d love to hear what you do and what they say.