I’ve attended 14 TCRWP summer institutes since I began my teaching career. I’ve learned countless things about becoming a better teacher of writers. Through the years, I’ve also learned which afternoon choice sessions fill up the fastest due to the topic, presenter, or both. For instance, I’ve learned to power-walk to any session Cornelius Minor is leading since nearly every session I’ve attended with Cornelius is standing-room only. While being smushed into a too-small room with lots of people isn’t my thing, I make an exception when I have the opportunity to listen to Cornelius present since he is an energetic, inspirational speaker.
You don’t have to travel to NYC and cram yourself into a room to get a taste of Cornelius’s insight and expertise. His book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, was released from Heinemann a few weeks ago. What you’ll find over the course of his book is the inspiration you need to effectively listen to kids, disrupt the status quo in your classroom, change the way you teach when given a curriculum or mandate doesn’t seem good for kids (without getting written up for insubordination!), and redesigning curriculum so it works for your students. Cornelius packed all of this — and more! — into a book of about 150 pages. It includes graphics, pull-out quotes, and online companion resources (with completed sample templates in the book).
One of the most important messages of Cornelius’s book is the importance of listening to students. In fact, the first and fourth chapters (i.e., “Begin by Listening” and “Show Kids That You Hear Them”, respectively) are devoted to the notion of really listening to kids: what’s important to them, what they’re telling you, what they aren’t saying to you, holding regularly-scheduled class meetings in which power is shared, etc. Cornelius explains how he actually listens to kids:
So much work goes into listening. It does not start at the site of the conversation. It starts when you work toward creating the context for rich dialogue to happen. You need to create and maintain the kind of community that will help kids feel safe enough to be honest with you (2019, 81).
Also important is chapter three, “Do Your Homework and Then Go for It.” Last summer, I took an advanced session, Apps and Tools That Can Add Vigor and Reach to Your Teaching of Writing (K-8), with Cornelius at the Summer Writing Institute. In this section, we spent a great deal of time thinking about the topics presented in chapter three, which helps you understand how to go about changing things that aren’t going well in your classroom. I was delighted to see this in We Got This since this change protocol provides a structure for identifying and changing things that aren’t working. After identifying a problem, Cornelius suggests doing some reading, conducting in-school research with a small sample of students, making a week-long plan for implementing a change, measuring the impact the change has on kids, and — finally — communicating your findings to a principal or department chair. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what if you could do something different in your classroom, then I’d suggest spending ample time with chapter three.
Cornelius opened chapter five, “Make Curriculum Work for Your Kids,” with a story about Mrs. Davenport who was a teacher Cornelius was assigned to coach, but who “spent her days schooling” him. Cornelius summed up their conversation about a curriculum guide by stating that “[A]ny curriculum or program that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us” (2019, 104). The remainder of chapter five provides teachers with ways to use a Universal-Design-for-Learning framework, how to think deeply about what you’re being asked to teach, and how to understand what test prep is asking teachers to do so that doesn’t feel soul-crushing.
I’m certain you’ll find We Got This as inspiring as attending an in-person session with Cornelius himself. (Bonus: You can read from the comfort of your couch!) When you finish reading We Got This, you will be ready to move beyond the status quo so you will feel more confident about the way you are meeting the needs of all of the young people who you have been entrusted to your care for this year and beyond.
PEEK INSIDE OF WE GOT THIS:
The following images are some of my favorite charts and tools from Cornelius’s book. They were provided with permission of Heinemann Publishing, 2019.
For a chance to win this copy of We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Friday, February 1st at 6:00 a.m. EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced at the bottom of this blog post no later than Sunday, February 3rd.
Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – WE GOT THIS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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Thanks to everyone who left a comment about We Got This. MacKay-Logue’s commenter number was selected so she’ll receive a copy of Cornelius’ book.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).