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Reigniting a Love of Professional Learning

By Justin Stygles
 | Jan 26, 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-79082922_x600Have you ever had a moment where you felt overwhelmed by professional reading? Or challenged by assigned reading for professional learning communities? Do you feel like the demands of the classroom can be so daunting that time to read about teaching is forsaken for other necessities like Individualized Education Program reports, grading, and meetings?

I know this might sound foreign in a world full of readers, but have you ever faced that moment where you just couldn't deal with professional reading anymore?

When I read professional texts, a sense of vigor, courageousness, and creativity emerges. I recall reading books like Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s Bringing Words to Life, McGregor’s Comprehension Connections, and Fisher and Frey’s Text Complexity and then feeling like I could set my classroom on fire with invigorated instruction. I’d read The Reading Teacher and Reading Research Quarterly almost religiously. Ideas for my classroom would spawn in my head. I’d return to the classroom every day, with more excitement than the day before.

However, I can think of two periods of time when I embraced an extended pause in my professional reading. Over three years, I’ve taken a really hard look at the circumstances behind my choice to divest myself of professional reading and what I’ve needed to do to resurrect my passion.

Have you ever had one of those days where the stress and anxieties of the workplace, classroom, or meeting overpowered your ability to think? I’ve faced many of these days. Somehow, I associated a bad day in a meeting or the classroom as an indication of my teaching. Slowly as I deteriorated as a teacher, I found myself less and less willing to read, to invest in my profession. Thus, as I struggled to find myself as a teacher, I turned away from professional reading to avoid any further self-contempt spawned from my shortcoming. After all, authors are experts; I obviously was not.

After a low period when I did not fill my teacher soul with intellectual nourishment, I reflected on four key areas that aided a recovery of sorts and reignited my passion to read professional texts.

  1. Voice. One of the most beautiful aspects of reading is the incarnation of an inner voice with the reader. If I am truly reading, I can feel a bubble of energy inside my abdomen that boils vigorously until the excitement manifests. The manifestation is voice: my thoughts, opinions, and feelings that come about because of the characters, the nature of writing and, of course, how I resonate with the text. I had to realize my best audience would be with students. I showed them what I read and why. Sure, professional texts are not as gripping to share with students as middle-grade novels, but the maturing readers see my reading life and the purpose of my reading in action.
  2. Notebooks. Like many teachers, I maintain a writer’s notebook (sometimes several). Even if I feel my voice is muted, for whatever reasons, nothing stands between me and my notebook. As I translate my reading into practice, the notebook is where I store my ideas. My notebook allows me to take text from a professional book and create mind maps, idea webs, or scenarios that can play out in the classroom.
  3. Topic of Emphasis. Probably the hardest part of teaching is attaining expertise. Merely selecting a topic or two of emphasis as a passion can be challenging—just look at the possibilities on an ILA conference proposal. I’ve found, however, that by choosing a topic of emphasis, I could guide my own learning. We all know there will be instructional mandates handed down by the state or district in which we work, but even those capacities cannot regulate what we know or our expertise. I may be mandated to teach a reading program, but I’ve found a passion for that teaching by studying the work P. David Pearson and Louise Rosenblatt and strategies from Franki Sibberson and Lori Oczkus.
  4. Devotion. Self-discipline became essential to reestablishing my professional reading interest. I found reading overwhelming, which fueled the desire to stop reading. I established a limit: I would read a single journal article or chapter of a book each night. By defining the amount I read, I could spend time annotating and commenting on the literature, which then allowed me to plan implementation or develop my own ideas.

I am sure every teacher has faced a spell of turmoil in the classroom and reluctance when picking up or reading professional texts. Motivation to read can become stagnant. We can even question our values as teachers. Yet, even in those trying times, reaching out to explore may be just the spark we are looking for to create hope for a fresh start.

Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary school in Norway, ME. He has taught for 13 years at the intermediate level and in various summer program settings. He is currently working on a book with Corwin Literacy about self-conscious emotions.


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