Message From Dr. Reilly
Dear Teachers and Instructional Staff,
I had occasion this weekend to visit several high schools as they welcomed and began teaching junior year students at Saturday Academies. What struck me as being most profound was the community among students, administrators, teachers, and security guards that fueled interest and attendance. The familiarity and friendliness shown by students in cafeterias, hallways, and classrooms reminded me that the sum of teaching is always greater than what we might initially calculate. Since the report, “A Nation at Risk” was penned nearly 40 years ago, generations of students have learned that performance on high-stakes reading and math state and national tests constitutes what it means to be academically successful. Such thinking though would be faulty. Conflating passing tests with the development of intellectual life is an error.
Lev Vygotsky wrote, “Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them” (1978, p. 88). That is the main work of teachers: to emulate intellectual life and apprentice students. Beyond the caring I saw at our high schools last Saturday, our work also is to immerse children into a life of robust learning by leading intellectual lives ourselves in our classrooms, schools, SLTs, and offices. It means apprenticing thinking. To embrace Vygotsky’s quote, we must ask ourselves what kind of intellectual life are we modeling every day?
I saw student thinking on Saturday exemplified in the rich problems being discussed and solved. I saw it in the need to reread sections of dense text. I heard it in the theory making students trued in as they grappled with making meaning. At one high school, I asked students who were well into a Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, to consider instances when our behaviors might resemble the enchainment to the shadows that Plato depicted. How is it that we fail to see beyond the limitations we think define us? What is it that affords some to seek the sun?
In a previous Teacher Talk, I referenced Building Thinking Classrooms in Math by Peter Liljedahl. His research emphasizes the need for us to perform less schooling and instead engage students in more thinking. Today I want to challenge you to consider what you do each day with students that apprentices them to be deep thinkers—to not merely be good at school, but rather to develop profound knowledge and truth. When knowledge and truth building repeatedly happens across classrooms, grade levels, schools, SLTs, and central offices every day—the academic successes we are seeking will be known.