July 27, 2016

Professional Hugs

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I have the good fortune of spending most of my days in the company of great teachers thirsting to reflect and refine their practices. However, many of the conversations that I have with teachers about how to get kids to talk and think deeply and become stronger readers and writers are overshadowed by the current educational climate that places great emphasis on “measuring” progress.  Great teachers know that so much that happens in teaching and learning are things that cannot be measured and reconciling this with our data driven teaching world leaves us feeling a bit beaten and beleaguered.

Today as I talked with teachers, they began to share how it feels to teach in a world which demands things with which we don’t agree.  We talked about how important it is to find ways that help us reconnect with the things that we value as educators.  One teacher shared that one of the things that she does to help her reconnect with her visions of great teaching and learning is to read her all-time favorite book about teaching reading and writing.  When I asked her which book that was, she named Joanne Hindley’s In the Company of Children.

Her mention of this title and her practice of rereading a beloved book made me nostalgic because when I was a classroom teacher, this was my go-to book, too.  I had a ritual of reading this book every August before the new school year began. In a review I wrote several years after reading this book for the first time, I described this book as

…beautifully crafted to reach the practical yearnings of classroom teachers. It has the perfect mix of pictures and student examples and explanations that transport teachers into the classroom and help them envision what a workshop looks and feels like. Every word invigorates—no matter whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran, this book is rich with layers of thinking that inspire new ideas about teaching reading and writing.

This was the book that helped me picture what I wanted my classroom to look and feel like–it reconnected me with my vision for great teaching and learning. When I asked the teacher who reminded me of this lovely book what it was about In the Company of Children that appealed to her, she said, “It gives me the hug I feel I need as a teacher.”

This idea of looking for professional hugs appeals to me, and I suspect different people do this in different ways, which has me wondering what do you do when your teaching batteries need to be recharged? Do you have a go-to book? We’d love to hear what reconnects you with your best vision for teaching and learning!


  1. Sarah Mantegna says:

    Thank you for these ideas – I am definitely going to check out In the Company of Children. I am a teacher support person for my district and a graduate student. Attending the Journal of Language and Literacy Education Conference in Athens on February 22-23 was a fantastic Professional Hug for me. Spending time with like-minded educators and scholars really energized me, and learning about Literacyhead was a highlight of the weekend. Now I can read your blog and re-charge my batteries from time to time.

  2. Cathy Miller says:

    As a reading consultant and literacy coach, I like to reconnect with my vision of great teaching and learning by attending summer institutes, Saturday reunions and workshops at Columbia Teacher’s College. I attended my first institute last summer and left inspired and renewed by Lucy Calkins and her focused staff. There is an indescribable energy which begins to overtake you beginning at the morning convocation at Riverside Church on the first day of the institute. I cannot wait for the Saturday reunion on Saturday, March 9 where I will get another dose of inspiration and a hug professional hug!

    • Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris says:

      Kim will be attending this Saturday, too! Those reunion days are perfect when a “professional hug” is long overdue!

  3. Katrina Daniel says:

    My favorite “go-to” book is Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk. It is a very practical and sensible book and reminds me constantly how important it is to develop relationships with my students. The positive strategies recommended really work and empower teachers to effectively manage their classrooms. Jim Fay says “It’s about setting good limits in a loving way. I discovered — and I wish I had discovered it sooner — that if you get a kid to fall in love with you, he’ll walk through fire for you.” This is a “must-read” for all educators!

    • Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris says:

      We don’t know this book and are eager to check it out! Thanks so much for sharing!

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