Choice Words, Opening Minds- Peter Johnston Spoke to Me

The Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Challenge ended a few days ago, I am reserving my reflection on that amazing learning experience until I complete this series that I started to reflect on several days of professional learning.

This post is part of the series I planned and explained here in a prior post:

  1. Professional Development with Maggie Beattie Roberts from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project 
  2. Comsewogue School District Google Leadership Symposium
  3. Peter Johnston Conference
  4. Long Island Connected Educators’ Summit #CELI

Peter Johnston Conference

This was the second time I saw Peter Johnston present, the venues were very different.  When he presented at TCRWP it was in a larger, auditorium style room and this time at ES-Boces the room was small, the setting was more personal.  Even better I was with my two closest school friends and favorite reading specialists, Danielle Jacobs and Barbara Marsicano. They were with me when Peter Johnston spoke to me.

His talk related mostly to his more recent book, Opening Minds.  I already read this book but you should know this book, just like his book Choice Words it begs to be read and reread and reread.

Choice Words is a book that changed my life.  This book connects to my life not only as an educator, but also to my life as a mother and wife.  This book gave me time to pause and think about the words I choose when I talk.  I suppose that is just a little obvious from the title Peter Johnston chose for his book, Choice Words.  Funny thing about this though is that it requires constant practice to change my words and make purposeful choices in my words. It requires constant reflection and then thoughtful practice until the words become natural.  I am still working on this each and everyday, especially as a literacy coach—I think about what I will say before a meeting, and I reflect on what I said after the interaction.  Sometimes it works well and other times—I am still learning.

Peter Johnston began his discussion talking about four fundamental needs for humans.  I love how he looks at this as needs for humans, not just mentioning students.  I often think this way in learning, it is not just about how kids learn, it is about how humans learn.  This makes sense to me and although there may be slight differences in adult learners and children learners, essentially we are all human and it turns out our brains work mostly the same—so the generalization works.

Four Fundamental Needs for Humans

  1. A sense of autonomy
  2. A sense of belonging
  3. A sense of competence
  4. A sense of meaningfulness

Of course children and adults need these four fundamental things, it is a great place to begin when thinking about how we establish our reading and writing workshops in our classrooms and how we structure our professional development.

Meeting the Four Needs in Reading and Writing Workshop

1. Students have choice, voice and time in reading and writing workshop.  Students are in control of their own learning and we encourage agency and independence (autonomy).

2. In a reading and writing workshop we establish a community (belonging) where students feel safe to take risks

3. Teachers believe that students are readers and writers (competence).

4.  Students read and write for meaning (meaningfulness), there is a sense of purpose and significance to the way students engage in both reading and writing workshop.


During the day Johnston referred to several quotes from Lev Vygotsky, and when I think about these quotes it makes me realize how critical it is that we are not just good educators, we are called to something greater, we have to be great.  These two quotes are the quotes that I have always carried with me, but seem to weigh heavier on me now, as I heard them spoke by Peter Johnston and as I read them on his slides.  He held these quotes from Vygotsky up and through his words I know it is not enough to just be good, that is not enough when you truly consider the gravity of these quotes.  I know I will always have to do more, more to reflect and move from good to great.

As I plan upcoming professional development in my building, in classrooms, in our professional learning community and with our staff developer I will hold these four fundamental needs for humans close in my mind.  I will have to move from just good in this area to something more.  Peter Johnston has spoke to me on this day.  The call is greater and I need to be greater.  If children grow into the intellectual life around them, as Vygotsky claims, then children are at the heart of it all and it is for them I must answer this call to be better.  I believe we all must answer this call to be better.

labsite with 106 Vygotsky quote

I am grateful to have others around me who can help me become myself, only better.  I am grateful for the work with my friend and staff developer Maggie Beattie Roberts, my friend and colleague Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro and my friend and colleague Jenn Hayhurst and so many others who are part of my PLN.  It is through all these other people that I can become myself, only better.  Mostly in moving from good to great, I lean on Dr. Mary Howard, she is a leader in this domain.  Check out her book, Good to Great Teaching, you will see her passion,reflection and her support for teachers and students.

If you want to join me on this quest to move from good to great, answering Peter Johnston’s call and following Dr. Mary Howard’s lead there is a place for you. Jenn Hayhurst and I gather on Twitter to move from Good to Great with amazing educators who week after week show us how to move from good to great. Dr. Mary Howard joins in the chat and has been an amazing resource for all of us, always guiding us on this path.

Check out the #G2Great chat on Thursday nights where I co-moderate with @Hayhurst3 and @Dr.MaryHoward at 8:30 EST.