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Should teachers be readers? A light hearted look with two teachers

Posted by Colin Klupiec on May 26, 2016 at 11:09 AM

Teacher_reading.jpgEffective teaching of reading is a serious issue that deserves attention. But what happens after you’ve learned to read? How much should you read?

Given that schools are such book intensive places, would you expect teachers to be readers? I explored this topic on the Learning Capacity Podcast with music educators Brad Fuller and Peter Orenstein. They both teach at Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney.

It was a light hearted chat about the serious business of reading.

Listen to the podcast.

Topics covered

People & organisations mentioned

  1. Northern Beaches Christian School
  2. MS Readathon
  3. Professor John Hattie
  4. Clayton Christensen
  5. George Lucas
  6. Tina Barseghian
  7. Malcolm Gladwell

Resources/books/articles mentioned

  1. Flipboard
  2. "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. "The Politics of Distraction"
  4. "The Politics of Collaborative Expertise"
  5. MindShift
  6. TechCrunch
  7. Fast Company
  8. "Blended" by Michael B Horn.
  9. Clayton Christensen Institute
  10. "Open" by David Price
  11. Edutopia
  12. "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries
  13. “Nudge” by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

Previous podcast episodes on SoundCloud

If you would like to read the complete podcast transcript, here it is:

 Episode 62 of The Learning Capacity Podcast

Should teachers be readers? A light hearted look with teachers Brad Fuller and Peter Orenstein.

Colin Klupiec: I'm joined again by Brad Fuller and Peter Orenstein, music educators at Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney. The topic for today can be quite controversial depending on how you feel about it: the role of professional reading in professional development. 

I actually take a particular liking to reading although I was not a reader from the beginning. In fact, I was the sort of guy who used to fudge the books on the MS Readathon. But I'm sure that my two guests today would never have ever contemplated something like that.

Peter, if I can start with you, since you have only recently come out of university, this is your fourth year. If I told you that I had an expectation that you should do a lot of reading as part of your professional development outside of class time, outside of school time, that it should just be a normal part of what you do, what would you say to me?

Peter: Great. I love reading.

Colin: Well. Okay. Over to you Brad. Coming back, you like reading but do you like reading newspapers, magazines, or if I said, "Here's a book on some research that's just come out," would you read that to?

Peter: I would. But only if it's relevant to my practice.

Colin: When you say "relevant to your practice," how relevant does it have to be? Specifically to music education? Or if it was generally about how people learned? Or perhaps about how someone perceives language? Because music is a language.

Peter: Yeah, I think right now, if I could give an example of what I'm reading right now it would be to do with education but it could be higher, secondary, primary, but somehow transferable to what I'm doing.

Colin: All right. And do you find that the reading that you do does actually impact what you do on a daily basis? For example, could you be in a classroom situation and something comes to mind that you have read and you think 'Oh I'll just weave that in to how I'm talking to people today'?

Reading & coffee

Peter: Sometimes, but most regularly it would be too big for that and so usually we discuss it over a coffee or lunch break or something and then over time we would implement a strategy that we agree on or that's come out of a professional reading experience.

Colin: I'm glad you mentioned coffee there in the presence of Brad Fuller because coffee is a very important part of your professional development, isn't it Brad?

Brad: It is indeed. It goes together. Reading and coffee.

Colin: I believe that you have a weekly coffee commitment.

Brad: Indeed. Yes.

Colin: Like "put it on my tab" type of commitment.

Brad: Yes. I have several of those actually. 

Colin: All right. Very good. So needless to say then, reading is something you engage in a lot?

Professional reading as well as the cereal box and the shampoo bottle

Brad: Yes. If I didn't have professional reading I would be reading the cereal box, the shampoo bottle. I read the shampoo bottle in the shower because I can't take a book in there. So I can tell you I know a lot about jojoba and various other chemicals in shampoo.

Colin: Actually there's a lot to be said for labels. Let's just pause on that for a second because I find myself reading a lot of food and product labels now just to find out whether or not this product came from Aldi stores.

Brad: Yes. Indeed.

Colin: I think that's very important.

Brad: Yeah. And the answer is at the moment invariably "yes," things seem to come from Aldi at the moment.

Colin: Well let me ask you the controversial question then. If I said to you, "Brad, I'm going to expect that it's normal for you as an educator to read outside of your normal working hours," what would you say to me?

Start every day with professional reading

Brad: Well I'm an outlier. I don't think it should be mandated. I haven't always read professionally. It's only been in later life that I've taken to it. I start my day every day with professional reading over breakfast and I find that I'm motivated to come to work by what I read. 

Colin: And most of that would be electronic in the morning? So like a Flipboard type service?

Brad: Yes. Exclusively Flipboard.

Colin: Exclusively Flipboard. Listen, for those of you who don't know what Flipboard is, it's a...is it on Android as well? I think it is. 

Brad: Yes. Cross platform.

Colin: It's a cross platform app for IoS and Android... 

Brad: And on the web.

Colin: Yes. Indeed. Which just serves up news to you and news that could be of interest to you and you can customise it and read particular feeds, and we've often talked about the use of Flipboard. 

Easy to share Flipboard reading

Brad: Yeah, and so either Pete or myself will, in our reading in the evening or the morning, will invariably, almost every day will say, "You've got to read this," and so we share our reading. And because it's digital, it's really easy to share and so that will frame our conversation for the day. It's really, more often than not I think, most days we will come to school and go, "Wow, that was heavy," and we'll talk about it and digest it and it will change our practice.

Colin: So Pete, are you a Flipboarder as well?

Peter: Yes, but not as regular as Brad. I'm doing my Master's at the moment so that helps.

Colin: Well there's plenty of reading involved in that. 

Brad: Yeah, I think to be fair to Pete, he does proper reading. I just read blogs and Pete reads academic journals. That's really good because the blogosphere is current and it's coal-faced, so I'll often say to Pete, "Have you seen this latest blog?" And he'll say, "Well that's very interesting because I was just reading in the journal about something that extends that." So that's really good. We're kind of reading in different places.

Reading in academic journals

Colin: I'm glad you mentioned journals actually, because years ago I thought the whole idea of reading an academic journal was a bit kind of, "Ugh! Do I have to?" It just sounds really boring. A couple of years ago I also did a Masters degree and I found myself reading a lot of journals. I think that's the expectation as well at university particularly.

They don't want you just to read the textbook and then do a Wikipedia search, they actually ask you to dig deep into the university databases.

Pete, have you had a lot of good feedback from the journals that you've read? Do you get a lot out of them? Is it worthwhile? Or do journals just exist in library databases to fill up hard drives?

Peter: I think they are amazing. I think like so many articles that you see in the blogosphere, I find incredible relevance to my context in the journal articles that I read everyday. 

Colin: I mean to be fair, some journal articles are very dense in the way that they have been written. I mean you think, "Okay, this person  was very academic and obviously highly intelligent. It's almost like they had this incredible desire to get all this information out but it's almost too dense to read." Do you come across that quite a bit?

The executive summary

Peter: Of course. That's why the conclusion is there.

Colin: The executive summary.

Peter: I think if you come across a 60 page article journal on benchmarking, then sometimes you go, "Why? Why would I do this?" However, I think if you go into the journal article with an aim or with a context in mind then I find it helps me. Say, a few years ago when I was in my undergrad, I didn't have a context and I didn't have anything to relate it to and so I didn't find that interesting at all.

Everything I read is relevant, and makes me a better teacher

Brad: Yeah, I think that's the secret for all of us is to find that "what's in it for me" and I find increasingly everything relates. I can't remember the last time I though, "I don't see how that relates to me." I'm finding everything relates to my...everything I read or everything I see, everything I experience I find makes me a better teacher and so I just find everything incredibly relevant. 

Colin: Can I ask you about bandwagons for a minute?

Brad: Sure.

Colin: I mean we love to use those kinds of words. I know that you are a big user of isms in the classroom and so we like to pull out cliches and the words that are often used. Often what happens when we come across educational bandwagons is someone will say, "Here's an author that you must read."

And then suddenly the school says, "We're going to go with this for a year, or two years, or we're going to adopt this." How do you guys feel about that? Pete have you come across that in your few years that you've been here?

Peter: Yes.

Colin: Ugh! Tell me about it.

Peter: I think there's been a range of...I won't go into specific authors or mandates but we've seen different frameworks introduced, different strategies in terms of team teaching, different ways about going about behavioral issues or anything like that. It affects us, but not in a direct way because they put it out there but we have autonomy of what that actually looks like.

Colin: Do you find that that reduces the enjoyment of what you're reading? When you know that someone's really thinking that you should read this? 

Peter: Depends how cool it is.

Brad: I think, generally because we are voracious readers, we're generally ahead anyway.

Colin: So you just chew it up and go, "Well I'll just add that to the list?"

Brad: Well generally we're aware, at least aware of it. Because we're devouring the blogs and the journals there's a good chance that if somebody says, "Have you read this," the answer will be, "Yes."

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Colin: Well you did mention before that you are an outlier and I detected the reference to Gladwell there.

Brad: Correct. Yes. He's a very important author in my life.

Colin: And after having just suggested that someone telling you to read something might reduce your enjoyment of reading it, I would highly encourage everyone to read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and all the other books as well.

Brad: Yeah. It's all useful, isn't it? 

Peter: Yeah. There might be some research into hyper-inflation. I know when I go see a movie... 

Colin: Hypo-inflation?

Peter: Hyper...

Colin: Hyper-inflation? Wow.

Peter: Yeah. So I think that's when you sort of go, "You must see this movie, it's fantastic," and then you go and it's not so crash hot.  So I think there's something to do with that but then again, there's articles and there's movies that defy that rule as well. 

Brad: Yeah. Well I don't think either of us is looking for a silver bullet that's going to fix education. We just take everything as incremental and I think we just incorp-...I think the best approach is to fold it in. Just fold it in like making a good sponge cake. Just fold it in. Just keep the mixer going. Keep the mixer...have a spatula on hand. I think that's my approach. Keep the mixer going on a medium setting...

Colin: Rather than the layer upon layer upon layer approach?

Brad: Yeah. Just fold it in.

Colin: Because otherwise if you use the layer upon layer approach some things will just stay right down the very bottom and might be a little harder to retrieve. Because if you've mixed it in then there's a chance that a small section of that might still be at the top.

We need more "why not's" in education

Brad: Indeed. I think there is an element of usefulness and truth in any of the buzz words that I'm aware of or the buzzy things that have been around in education in the last 30 years. I think they get popular for a reason. I think there's generally some substance in it and I think we need more "why not's" in education.

There's a lot of people every time someone says, "Have you tried this?" "No. Why would I try that? I already got my program and my photocopies are done." Or they give it a half-hearted attempt. I think we should be whole-hearted in embracing new ideas and fold them in.

Colin: The role of reading in professional development. Perhaps let's try and think about it in terms of a proportion of your professional development. Should it be a large proportion? Could you read a book a year? Should you be reading all the time? Should you have something on the go all the time?

Pete, now that you're doing your degree, your Masters degree, you've probably got something on the go all the time anyway. Readings, chapter readings, researching for assignments. This question might be harder for you to answer because of all the reading you have to do now but what do you reckon? What do you think would be a reasonable expectation?

Peter: It's hard to answer, like you said, but I think if somethings quite important and maybe we can draw upon Professor John Hattie for example, and the books that he's released in the last 10 years then I think people should be exposed to that at least somewhat. Maybe not all of it but it should be talked about.

Something that we've done in the past is got together for half an hour every Thursday with other teachers as well from other domains and just chatted over Hattie or someone else. 

Colin: Like a book club?

Peter: Like a book club but it's more relaxed.

Colin: A relaxed bookclub. So lounges not chairs?

Peter: Yes. And coffee maybe.

Colin: I notice you to guys are on the lounge and I'm on a chair but I'm okay with that because I chose the chair.

Brad: You did. We don't really do chairs. It's too formal for musicians.

Colin: Brad can I ask you a controversial question? You're a controversial kind of guy.

Brad: I am. 

Leaders are readers

Colin: If people in management, and I use that term for want of a better term, above you were talking about professional development, would you have an expectation that they would be readers?

Brad: In an ideal world leaders are readers. 

Colin: Well that's beautiful isn't it?

Brad: Leaders are readers. But I think it's as varied as in the general rank and file. Just like anything, there's plenty of people in education who are at rest in their job. They've made it to where they're going and they're quite happy and they are living a rich and full life outside of work as well.

Colin: Here's a theory that I'm working on. We say to the students, most of the time, or let's say not most of the time but there's a lot of language in school that is used that sounds something like this: "Can you get your books out? Can you turn to page...have you got that book with you today? Where have you left...is this your textbook that you left behind in class?"

So we use a very book type or written word heavy language. Do you think therefore by inference that the people who use that kind of language should be reading more? What do you reckon Pete? I'm putting you on the spot.

Peter: Yeah, that's good. I think personally I would want to be non-hypocritical in my leadership...

Colin: Good point.

Peter: Yes. I think what Brad was alluding to is that in reality that's not the case. We would expect no, but would we like to have people like that? Yes. Who are on the pulse, who have a wide range of opinions and who have synthesized lots of different arguments, I think that would be great.

Good things to read

Colin: So let's talk about good things to read. Brad, can you think of some good titles, or maybe not titles, but maybe some papers to read? I'll give you an example. Peter just mentioned Hattie before. Hattie wrote two papers last year which are very easily digestible: "The Politics of Distraction" and "The Politics of Collaborative Expertise" referring back to a previous conversation we had about collaboration.

They're the sort of things that you can read in the space of a cup of coffee. You might sit down for half an hour and you've knocked over the paper and I actually found those quite interesting. I'm not necessarily talking about book titles but what have you got for us?

Brad: Well I think getting into the blogosphere is a great...if you're not professionally reading at the moment. If you're not reading to improve your practice at the moment, then start with bite-sized chunks and there's nothing better than the blogosphere for that. From the blogosphere you'll begin to find your people. They'll show you the books.

Colin: Good point.

Brad: As you develop your appetites, they'll show you the books.

Colin: "MindShift" comes to mind.

Brad Fuller: Yes. That's certainly one that all three of us, our good friend Tina Barseghian.

Colin: You got in first. I was dying to use the name Tina Barseghian, but credits go to you.

Brad:  Yeah. And then I think our other good friend George Lucas is not only strong in the force but he's strong in education as well. His foundation sponsors Edutopia which is another fantastic...

Colin: Is that right? I didn't know that.

Brad: So they're my two “go to's”, I think and I would suggest that would be a great place for people to start. Really for a long time the energy has been in Silicon Valley and the startup movement and the whole notion of innovation in entrepreneurship, all of those sorts of things so I think that can be a really exciting space to get your head into as well.

Because then you can come to school thinking like an entrepreneur or thinking like an innovator and just re-framing yourself as somebody who comes to work and makes stuff happen. Creates things.

Colin: Yeah, and it could also help to inject a little bit of excitement into your day as well. Coming back to Flipboard, there are particular feeds that I like to read like TechCrunch and Fast Company. As a teacher you'd think, "What am I reading those for?"

And then you think, "Well why not," coming back to your suggestion before and then suddenly you think, "Well if I'm reading this stuff, I'm reading about really super creative people who are coming up with good ideas all the time. Maybe that what I need to brighten up my day."

Brad: I think the way you brighten up your day starts in your mind so we're talking about mind sets and I think the things that I get excited about is when I'm reading about creative people doing creative things. My reading is all about setting up my mind set for the day. I get really excited about what I read from those techie sort of places because they're solving problems and I think that's the key for us as educators isn't it? It's to solve the problems in our classrooms every day.

Colin: Peter, anything beyond the journals for you?

Peter: Yeah, Brad's introduced me to a few books that we've been reading at the same time. One's been "Blended" by Michael B Horn. I think he's part of the Clayton Christensen Institute. 

Colin: He is. Wow! You've got him onto Clayton Christensen...wow.

Brad: Yeah, he referenced Clayton in a recent publication for university.

Colin: No way. Wow. Good work!

Peter: Got him in there. We try to reference that book pretty much everywhere we go, so it's a pretty big one for us.

Peter: Yeah. Another one is "Open" by David Price.

Brad: I think "The Lean Startup" for both of us as well is something that we come back to every day. "Nudge." Thinking about making small adjustments that have large outcomes.

Colin: Just coming back quickly to "The Lean Startup", the build, measure, learn framework. So simple and so applicable for education don't you think?

Brad: Yeah, I don't understand why we're not all talking about it.

Colin: Build, measure, learn. Do something, measure it's effectiveness, learn from it. Do something else the next time. Or do the same thing better. 

Brad: Let's not talk too much about it because I think we should all write that book and make lots of money first and then let's come back.

Colin: Gentlemen, it's been an inspiration as always. Thanks so much for your time. 


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Leadership Expert John Spence: Reading is the Path to School & Life Success

Music Educators Brad Fuller & Peter Orenstein: Collaborative Teaching

How to Create Successful Readers: 5 Articles from Scientific Learning

Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader: Infographic

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