A few days ago, I received an email from a close friend and former mentee in my building with an invitation–she reached out to our principal, our assistant principal, and myself to ask us to briefly stop by her classroom the next day to give a book talk about our favorite books and how we find new books to read. A simple request, yet it was the first of its kind I have ever received in the six years I have been working as a mentor and instructional coach.
So often, even in our connected world, I see that teachers are still teaching with doors closed. Our students may blog, tweet, share photos on Instagram, and connect with others around the world around their learning, but we often still hesitate to connect with others within our own schools to create a culture of literacy.
Physically opening our doors doesn’t have to be difficult. As I’ve reflected on the power of my colleague’s invitation, I have realized that there are several simple and meaningful ways to open the doors of your classroom to connect with others in your school:
- Invite the adults in your building to visit as readers or writers. Each school has so many staff members who do not have classrooms of their own, from administrators to instructional coaches to intervention teachers. Each of these people has a reading and writing identity that they would no doubt love to share with your students.
- Share your students’ writing with real audiences. Invite in buddy classes, the class next door, or other adults in the building to listen to your students share their writing. Allowing outsiders to come into your classroom to share in the celebration of writing promotes students’ ability to see that their work is authentic and meaningful. Likewise, try making it known to colleagues that your students are available as an audience for others, too.
- Engage in book clubs with other classes. We often have several book clubs going on in our upper elementary classrooms at one time. Why not partner up with other classes at your grade level to build a larger reading community? A student who is unable to find someone else interested in the same book out of a group of 24 children may find several peers to read with out of a group of 100.
- Partner read with a buddy class. Pairing students up with older/younger readers allows them to assume a more social reading identity and build relationships around a shared text.
- Welcome former students into your classroom to share their reading or writing. Another former mentee excitedly shared a picture with me this week of one of last year’s first graders proudly sitting in the teacher chair in her classroom, reading aloud a book she wrote over the summer to this year’s group of first graders. The new first graders were hanging onto every word she read, and the older child no doubt had an experience she won’t soon forget. This is not only an excellent way to connect with former students, but is also an incredibly powerful tool for motivating students and giving them an opportunity to see how much they will grow this year.
Opening our doors doesn’t have to be difficult. It is not an inconvenience or a burden to others. Instead, it is an opportunity to connect, to build relationships, and to create a school-wide community of readers and writers.
As I visited my friend’s classroom on Thursday morning, I brought with me two things. One was my worn copy of The One and Only Ivan, a book I couldn’t wait to tell them all about as I identified myself to them as a reader. The other was hope. Hope for a great new school year. Hope that this would be my first step in building a reading relationship with a new group of third graders. And, most importantly, hope for these young readers with a teacher brave enough to open her door.