Vintage Ayres {2007}: The Heart of It All

I’m smiling at the phrase Vintage Ayres. It’s a little bit of a smirk because, really, am I old enough to qualify as vintage? Maybe not. But definitely so in blog years. I began blogging in March 2006. My first blog was called Inspiring Readers and Writers and it has since been moved to private status since I don’t update it. However, I’m struck by how much my core has stayed the same over the years. My thinking has grown and I’ve been able to refine my ability to communicate the ideas I’m passionate about, yet the core of who I am as an educator, writer, person is steadfast. I thought it may be fun to post some of these Vintage Ayres posts from time to time.


The Heart of it ALL.

Recently I had ten inches cut off my hair. I grew it to donate to Locks of Love — ten inches of curls, given to a child who doesn’t have hair. Although I was growing it with the intention of cutting it, there was still a bit of anxiety about the drastic change of cutting ten inches off of one’s hair. Still, the nobility of the cause was enough for me to take the plunge (or perhaps I should say, the snip).

So what is the connection to reading and writing? I believe in the past few years we, as teachers, have made substantial changes in our curricular choices. Substantial, like cutting ten inches of curls. I believe we are more focused on standards than ever before. Standards based education is the driving force in most of our classrooms.

This is not a bad change. Standards are important. What I’m wondering though, is what are we giving away? And is it a noble cause?

In Lucy Calkins book, The Art of Teaching Writing, she discusses the need to take carloads of curricular to the dump, to look critically at each minute of our day and remove the junk that is no longer needed. In the face of accountability, many teachers have been doing just this.

What I am afraid is happening, however, is not the removal of curricular garbage, but the removal of community building. As we race through our days trying to jam-pack reading, writing, math, social studies, science, lunch, recess, music, art, and a bathroom break or two we are rushing past opportunity after opportunity to effect the lives of kids. Oh, we are impacting curriculum, but are we impacting students?

Katherine Bomer writes in her book, Writing a Life, “Instead of allowing the standards or the state-mandated test to create a world in which certain children would consistently measure up and others never would, my class created that year, through extraordinarily hard work, a world that invited everyone to participate and included all of us” (18). This is where it begins, with community. Building a community in our classrooms should be the heart of our curriculum.

When we do this – when we make the people in our classrooms matter more than the curriculum, amazing changes begin to happen. First, bonds are formed among everyone in the classroom – often unlikely relationships are established between students and teachers and paraprofessionals and even volunteers. Then academics begin to matter – curriculum matters. Not because the teacher says so, or the state standards say so – but because we’re all here to learn. And we’re going to help each other learn.

Bomer continues, “When children and teachers share their memories, their personal stories resonate with others in the classroom. We can build a community of persons who know how life is for one another as human beings, not merely as test scores, reading levels, competitors, freaks” (18). See, community building is not the icing on the cake. Community building is not the fluff in the curriculum. It is not the garbage that needs to be taken to the dump to make room for the important, academic standards.Community building is the heart of it all. Once we take steps to build strong and safe communities of learners in every classroom, students will “know we care and then care to know” (as Jim Garner says). (And who knows, maybe even test scores will be impacted.)