Always listen deeply to children, to their precious stories.
The most important voices, the crucial voices, the voices of children themselves, are most often left out when we speak of matters of education and best practice. I have learned that the more I can ask children questions I don't already know the answers to, I learn so much about life, about literature, about the world. The minds of children are full of magic and reality and the worlds between the two. Their lives are full of complex navigation between where they want to spend most of their time, in that land of childhood we adults have mostly forgotten, and the world they live in every day. They may still believe in fairies and angels and magic swords in stones. Yet, at the same time, they are seeing the world with new eyes, fresh on the scene. Their perspective should be essential to how we think about education.
I once asked a class of students to write what the secret message of their stories was, on a turned down corner of a page. And do you know what? Out of twenty children, seventeen wrote this word: "Love." We need to listen to the messages the children are trying to tell us or we will never educate them well. It is that urgent.
Cherish and tell your own story to empower those around you.
Teaching in any subject, in any field, is about leadership. And leaders learn how and practice how to tell their own stories. We need the stories of people who lead and who teach and who cultivate ideas. We need to know how not to leave ourselves out, and how not to leave others out. "I was the shy child," a teacher said to me recently. "I was the child who never spoke up. Until I was thirteen, when a great teacher encouraged me and saw I had potential." This is a story worth telling. It inspires others, and it shapes how that teacher thinks about herself. Her story matters so much. The shy child in that room sees himself in her. By sharing her story, the teacher shapes her own retelling to signal empowerment and understanding, empathy and an understanding that the past informs the present, and the future, but it does not dictate it. And while a good teacher cannot dictate the future, she can have a remarkably dramatic impact on all areas of her students' future lives, including earnings, health and overall happiness.
The writer E.M. Forster said "Only connect" and this is the essence to all great teaching and learning.
In Rwanda, there is a memorial for those who died in the genocide, and there is a quote on it from Felicien Ntagengwa, a survivor, which reads: "If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me." I really do believe that I am not overstating it when I say that by connecting with people most fully, we can end wars and poverty and achieve the fullest human rights, and that this is the secret of teaching and learning, and education overall. Education should provide us all with ways to "only connect." And literacy is the tool we use as humans to find one another, so it must belong to everyone. If we can teach reading and writing and history and science through the lens of people's own stories, we forge understandings that help us seal our trust in one another and make new commitments to improving the world. Education becomes the supreme tool we can give every child to best ensure that they improve this broken world and make it whole.
Everything we do well, we first must love.
Think about it. If you love to cook, there was perhaps a grandmother in your past who touched your hand as she helped you roll out the dough. And you loved that. If you love to read, there was someone who read to you, or at some point in your life, showed you what it felt to fall through the pages of a book and into the story itself. Sometimes, as educators, we forget this. We are so busy rushing and doing and making sure our students have what they need, we forget the most essential thing. For them to become independent readers, writers and learners they have to first love those things so they hunger for them. We have to give them the opportunity to have the passion for whatever it is we hope for them. The child who is a struggling reader and who is jammed in by a book that feels hard and overwhelming will not soon begin to understand what the hunger is all about. He will not be compelled by his desire to do more and to practice until the sun goes down. We have to provide all children with the way to fall in love.
Learning and teaching should be open source, generous and fearless.
Share your ideas. Just want to give them away. To your colleagues, to your students, to the world. The worldwide web community has taught us to share. That sharing feels good and sharing brings rewards. Be your best self. Live abundantly and expansively, as if you could say, "If tomorrow were my last day here on earth, I was as complete as I could be with everyone I met today. I held nothing back." And for our students, we teach them courage and boldness with new ideas. We do not fear information or the unknown because we are going to give them tools to explore that information and to make sense of it. We are going to give them tools to be able to read and write fearlessly, fluently, in search of their own big ideas. For as educators, as teachers, as lifelong learners, if we give all we have, we will get back more than we could ever imagine.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Pam Allyn is the Executive Director and founder of LitWorld, a global organization advocating for children’s rights as readers, writers and learners. She is also the Executive Director and founder of LitLife, a national organization dedicated to school improvement. She is the author of the acclaimed and award-winning What To Read When: The Books and Stories To Read With Your Child—And All The Best Times To Read Them (Penguin Avery). Her most recent books are Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys: How To Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives (Scholastic) and Your Child’s Writing Life (Penguin Avery).
Pam is widely known as a motivational speaker advocating for reading and writing as human rights that belong to all people. Her personal quest to bring literacy to every child stems from a deeper desire to bring dignity to every child, and to empower children to read and write powerfully, effectively and with passion in ways that will change their worlds and the worlds of others. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Oprah Radio, The Huffington Post and in The New York Times.
Pam is on the the Advisory Boards of the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead, Penguin Publishing’s We Give Books and the Millennium Cities Initiative Social Sector.
LitWorld's mission is to use the power of story to cultivate literacy skills in the world's most vulnerable children through Education, Advocacy and Innovation.
LitLife is a local, flexible partner with school systems to build Common Core environments. LitLife is a national organization dedicated to school improvement in Common Core literacy. LitLife is a global network of teachers, school leaders and students striving for high standards in reading and writing.
PamAllyn.com is the official Website for Pam Allyn, Children's Rights and Literacy Advocate.