A Very Special Place {A Stance for Best Practice Instruction}

Sam and Mrs. Schoof

My kids were away from school for three weeks, having an entire week of school closed because of snow and cold. The day before returning to school, someone said to Sam, “You’ve been out of school for so long your teacher might have forgotten your name.”

His blue eyes grew round with sincerity and the innocence in them made it evident he didn’t get the tease. “No way would Mrs. Schoof ever forget my name. I have a Very Special Place in her heart.” He said it just like that: a Very Special Place. Obviously, he believes it is a proper noun.

I’ve been struggling recently with the tension caused by insisting on best practice instruction. It seems as I nudge and encourage and defend best practices of teaching writers, some teachers feel overwhelmed, burned out, nervous, stressed, or anxious. As they attempt to check-things-off-the-best-practice-list, their writers fall through the cracks and become compliant or lackadaisical or learn to hate writing. Even worse, is when the teacher becomes so overwhelmed, that the students no longer feel valued. Unfortunately this can happen when practices are nudged to grow.

Now Mrs. Schoof is one of those teachers who is the whole package. Not only does she make her students feel valued, but she does so with best practice instruction. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the two go together.

Shouldn’t the indicator of best practice instruction be students are growing as writers and feel they have a Very Special Place in their teachers’ hearts? Perhaps when best practice becomes a part of the core of a teacher, instruction is transformed, rather than a to-do list getting checked. Perhaps it’s not whether the minilesson lasts less than 15 minutes, nor your conferring notes follow a specific structure, nor writing workshop ends with a share session, rather it is the writers in your classroom believe their stories matter…the writers in your classroom believe they matter. At the same time, there is proof — through assessment — that students grew as writers during writing workshop.

Somehow in the midst of curriculum plans and literacy frameworks and advocating for workshop instruction, the message can get misconstrued. It’s not about a format. It’s about empowering students to learn to use their voices to impact the world.

This always begins in a Very Special Place. Because, the truth of the matter is, when children believe they have a Very Special Place in the heart of a single adult, it is not a stretch to believe they have a Very Special Place in the world.

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  1. “..the writers in your classroom believe their stories matter…the writers in your classroom believe they matter.”
    That's the heart of it – for our students and for ourselves. Thank you Sam, and glad that you know you have a Very Special Place.

  2. How I wish every child felt they had a very special place in their teacher's heart. Thanks for the gentle reminder of what is most important.

  3. I wish, I wish, for my grandchildren, for all children Ruth, that they feel this way. As for best practice, we believe at school that there are many kinds of best practice, depends mostly on who the child is, how she learns, etc., but then it depends on the teacher knowing many approaches to learning, best 'fit'. I love that Sam has a teacher that will never forget his name!

  4. amen, amen…we absolutely have to keep our focus squarely in the right place…what do they need next…how can I best serve and love this child in front of me. xo