Time to talk about strategies for achievement

Years ago, my mother encouraged me to spend a good deal of time opening doors. I was never sure if she was being literal or figurative. Perhaps connecting that concept to teaching and learning could clarify her message, to a degree. Most schools invite parents to conferences around this time of year to engage in conversations about achievement. It is an opportune time to discuss blended strategies. An example: “We will work on this here at school and at home, it will be helpful if you support learning in this manner.”

It may be an old-school agreement that includes a phone call, or it may be a digital bridge put into place by utilization of texting, Facebook, push notices and more. It is all about opening doors or creating avenues for communicating. During these conferences, the topic of reading will be at hand. It could be the main theme or a subtle side skill working for the achievement of our students.

Recently, I spent about three hours in a book store. The customers in the store were of no particular demographic. A few babies, some toddlers and adults of all ages were gathered in this incredible pool of information. They weren’t all in pursuit of books in print nor were they “all in” on digital. Actually, they were only “all in” toward one goal: opening doors.

The store had about 20 tables available near a coffee shop where people gathered to converse about any number of topics. Some parents relaxed and enjoyed a book while their children shopped for books of their own. Some had computers open and read, researched or browsed. Everyone appeared to be enjoying the process of “opening doors.”

The store was vibrant and relaxed at the same time. I remember wondering, “How could those two words coexist in one sentence?” The answer circles back to parent-teacher conferences. The skills we learn at any age revolve around the ability to read. Although alternative methods of acquiring knowledge exist, few are as liberating as the ability to read. Reading opens doors for virtually every endeavor (no digital pun intended).

Well-read citizens tend to have more avenues available to them. For example, successful writing is a byproduct of the ability to read well. The ability to explore all subject areas through the written word gives unlimited access to possibilities. Learning, gaining knowledge, adventure and fun are all possibilities when the door to literacy is opened.

Assuming literacy is a critical element that leads to success, it would follow that parents, teachers and students need to work as teams to develop reading skills and positive reading habits.

Reading to someone is always worth the time invested. It is the conversation starter that leads to a discussion and consequently increases comprehension. Reading to young children helps them develop vocabulary. Reading to toddlers generates questions. Reading to elementary students helps them develop a knowledge base for reasoning. Reading to middle-school children… Reading to high-school children… At a time when life is showing up in a “wave of choices,” our willingness to read with and to students becomes even more critical. Students – in fact, people of all ages – are fond of interaction, communication and dialogue. Take some time to discuss items of interest because those items are important. Sometimes finding a topic to chat about may be challenging. If so, try my mother’s theory: find a book, open the door and find a reason to communicate through the avenue of learning.

Learning is a full-time endeavor. It would be highly unusual to find a day where learning isn’t a byproduct of our actions. Opening doors is a great activity for all of us. I think I read that somewhere…

Ed Saxton is the superintendent of the St. Francis Independent School District 15.

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