The Learning Journey
As I’ve written before, I’ve dedicated much of the last four years of my life to learning about the Science of Reading. Four years in, I fully recognize that there is much, much more to learn – from the body of research that currently exists, and from the body of research that is a constant work in progress. The day I think I have “arrived” – have learned all that there is to know – is the day I need to exit left. That day of “arrival” does not exist.
The long and winding road that is my Science of Reading learning journey has led me to hold many, many people in high regard. Like, I find myself hanging on their every word. These folks include, but are not limited to: Emily Hanford, Natalie Wexler, Dr. Maria Murray, Laura Stewart, Margaret Goldberg, David Kilpatrick, Mark Seidenberg, Louisa Moats, Lindsay Kemeny, Stacy Hurst, Donell Pons, Susan Lambert, Jan Hasbrouck, Anita Archer, Timothy Shanahan, and David & Meredith Liben.
It was while listening to Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak’s Sold a Story podcast (now on my second round of listening) that a gnawing thought started knocking on my door: Am I idolizing these people that I hold in such high regard in much the same way that educators have idolized Marie Clay, Lucy Calkins, Irene Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell, proponents of a disproven reading theory? In Episode 4, “The Superstar,” when Todd Collins, a Palo Alto school board member said (in reference to Lucy Calkins visit to his school district), “If Beyoncé came and gave a private concert in my district, it would not have been a bigger deal for many of my teachers.” This was the quote that really revved up my wonderings about my tendency to idolize the Science of Reading (SOR) folks. I’m certain that if I met any one of them, I would be starstruck.
But being starstruck is different than idolizing. The definition of idolize, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, is “to worship as a god.” I believe the intent of such worship is reserved for a higher power, not for human beings. I believe the risk of idolizing human beings is that one might lose sight of reality, putting blinders on and limiting one’s perspective. I want to keep myself in check when assessing the work of the SOR folks. Keeping myself in check means: admire, respect, and revere these people and their work while avoiding tipping the scales toward worshipping them and completely dismissing others.
I want to be sure that as I continue on my learning journey, I maintain a firm grip on reality around the hard work of all people in the education field. I was disappointed to see the list of names on the November 10 Hechinger Report, denouncing the Sold a Story podcast, but I must remember that differences of opinion are inevitable and do not make any of us right or wrong. I will not “dismiss” people from the list. I will recognize that hard work is hard work, and all folks on that list engaged in hard work in the spirit of serving our students. I will also recognize that when sufficient evidence points us away from our conclusions from all of that hard work, that we would do well to heed the updated information.
Although I vehemently disagree with many of the principals that balanced literacy is based on, I can absolutely appreciate the hard work and dedication to improving literacy outcomes for our students. As I’ve written before, there is much to appreciate and retain from balanced literacy. As I keep myself in check, some take-aways include: Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, maintain the “forever a learner” mindset, and always, always work to get it it right rather than to be right (thank you for this golden nugget, Brené Brown!)
A New Appreciation for Songwriters
Speaking of being starstruck… I found myself in that very state this past weekend. My sisters and I met in Nashville, part of what has become an annual venture. For the last several years, we have selected a December get-together location for a weekend getaway. Maren Morris’s concert, the last in her Humble Quest tour, was the initial draw to Nashville. She did not disappoint. What a concert!
As marvelous as Maren’s concert was – and not to take anything away from this gem of a star – it was our Saturday evening experience that made this trip one that we will never forget.
Thanks to Katie’s dear friend Tracy Richardson, we were treated to a series of “rounds” at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt Commodore Grille. Tracy wears many hats: songwriter, author, professor, music therapist… just to name a few! Prior to the event, we received a lesson on the song writing process, listening rooms, rounds, and the importance of relationships as artists work to get their creations out into the world. It was this lunch lesson, (which I am fondly dubbing, “A Songwriter’s Life 101) taught by the amazing Tracy, that elevated the appreciation for the songwriters and their sheer, raw talent that we were treated to on Saturday evening. These talented musicians pour their heart and soul into their work. Every song, every lyric, every line, every word holds meaning and has a story. We will likely never hear a song again without a new curiosity – where did that story originate, who is the actual songwriter, what did it take to get that song from the writer’s mind to my ears?
Not only did we get to enjoy phenomenal music and witness extreme talent, we were also treated to the company of Ron Oates, a behind-the-scenes Nashville phenom. At age 82, Ron is still very much a part of supporting, elevating, and appreciating musical talent, while at the same time sharing his own spectacular talent. At one point during the evening, I asked him if he ever gets tired of this scene; before I could finish asking the question, he was shaking his head, “No.”
Music has always had the power to tug at my emotions, but never like Saturday night. I found myself hanging on every word in every song that we heard. We laughed, we cried, we nodded our heads, we tapped our feet, we were fully locked in. When Tracy shared her tribute to George, her husband who passed unexpectedly in the spring of this year, I wasn’t sure we were going to recover. But we did. Because Tracy went on to share a song about friends and wine – making us laugh and tap along, and the other musicians on the stage – Justin Love, Michael Saleta, and Taylor Tuke had their own stories to share through song. So we laughed, we cried, we nodded our heads, and we tapped our feet.
The second round, featuring four more amazingly talented songwriters, had our emotions repeating the loop: we laughed, we cried, we nodded our heads, and we tapped our feet. We were, and continue to be mesmerized by the talent in that room. As one of the musicians said, “Creativity is in the air.”
So even though it is important to keep myself in check when admiring others – avoiding idolizing at the risk of inadvertently throwing up blinders – I will hold on to my deep and sincere appreciation for and admiration of the talent and hard work of others.