Own It: Strategies to Transform Our Teaching
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Whether you are a novice teacher or a veteran teacher, Alex Kajitani’s book will be your guide to continuing your passion for teaching by helping you “own it.”
You may think, “I already own all the lesson plans I have to write, the papers I need to grade, the report cards I need to complete. How much more can I own?!”
Owning It: Proven Strategies to Ace and Embrace Teaching is a book that is going to challenge you to reflect, ponder, and change. In his introduction Kajitani asks the reader to “own this great challenge and responsibility—this great opportunity to make a difference.” Are you ready to make a difference? I am.
His words resonate throughout the book, from the ideas he shares to the reflection questions at the end of every chapter. How can I “own my classroom, my school, my district”? How can I change the way the public views educators?
Some of the ideas may not be new to you, and others will be quite novel. But, I can guarantee that you will be inspired.
Kajitani is not new to education. He was determined to find a way to get his students to master math facts when he created The Rappin’ Mathematician, positive hip hop combined with math facts. He was California Teacher of the Year and one of the top four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.
He is also an author and well known educational speaker, and this book, Owning It, is recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Interestingly enough, this book is an updated compilation of columns that Kajitani wrote for the nonprofit organization, Reaching At-Promise Students Association (RAPSA).
The book is divided into four parts:
- Owning It in Your Classroom: being a classroom leader who is responsible and accountable to every student you teach.
- Owning It With Your Most Challenging Students: being responsible for those students who are hard to reach, students who are on the tip top of our “frustration index.”
- Owning It at Your School and District: being responsible for working together with colleagues and administrators as a unified group, recognizing that the school community belongs to everyone.
- Owning It in Your Community: being responsible to represent the teaching profession as who we really are—caring, dedicated professionals who only want the best for our students and school community.
Reexamining your philosophy of teaching
Part one begins with Kajitani reminding us to think about our philosophy of teaching. It is the shortest chapter but the most powerful. Reexamining your philosophy of teaching—your mission statement—is critical. When I was a classroom teacher, I would post my Mission Statement on the wall of my class and send it to the parents and students each year. Your Mission Statement is who you are as a teacher. Powerful words! Powerful chapter!
Responding to the achievement gap
Part Two examines the “achievement gap,” how it affects students, and strategies you can use to help them. Just think about the facts he cites. “A three year old raised in a low income household is typically exposed to as many as 30 million fewer spoken words than a three year old raised in a professional family. (Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 2003)
How can we help? Kajitani guides us through the steps of “Teaching Culturally Relevant Curriculum, Retaining Excellent Teachers, Providing Professional Development, and Connecting with Your Students.”
Communicating within the school and its community
Part Three asks you to reach out to your school and community (i.e. the dreaded team or staff meetings). Staff meetings are important, but lately they have received a “bad rap.” His simple but effective ideas to improve the quality of staff meetings include providing the purpose of the meeting and the intended outcome (“Why are we here? What’s the plan?”), rewarding creative thought, bringing in guest speakers, and turning routines into traditions. After reading his ideas, I was anxious to hold my next staff meeting!
Revising the image of educators
Part Four directs us to change the image of educators and what education should look like. The negativity that teachers receive does affect our retention rate. It does affect the passing of budgets. It does affect parent teacher conferences. So, start spreading the news! Something great is happening in education. Use social media positively to share your classroom and your school! Brag about your successes instead of complaining on social media websites. Offer professional development to parents on how to help their children with the new math program or how to get their child to do his/her homework.
We ask our students to “step up” and own their work. We know that when they own their role as a student that they are beginning to honor themselves and acknowledging their talents, weaknesses, strengths, hopes, and fears. Now it’s time for teachers to “step up to the challenge.”
At the end of each chapter is a summary and reflection questions. Take time to reflect. Take the time to challenge yourself to become the best you can be! When you wake up in the morning, the sun will be brighter and that trip to school, whether five minutes or fifty minutes away, will be a breeze!
A guide to transformation
If you are searching for a book that will transform you as an educator, this book is for you. If your administrators want suggestions of books for the school’s professional library, this book is it.
Listen to the words of The Lion King’s Simba. After he has spoken to his father in the clouds, Simba and Rafiki (the most prominent mandrill who was the chief adviser and close friend of the lion king, Musafa), have an insightful dialogue.
Simba: Looks like the winds are changing.
Rafiki: Ahhh. Change is good.
Simba: Yeah, but it’s not easy. I know what I have to do. But, going back means I’ll have to face my past. I’ve been running from it for so long.
[Rafiki whacks Simba on the head with his staff]
Simba: Oww! Geez! What was that for?
Rafiki: It doesn’t matter—it’s in the past! [Laughs]
Simba: [Rubbing head] Yeah, but it still hurts.
Rafiki: Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.
In the words of Rafiki…Learn from it! Own it!
Now retired from teaching fourth graders, Linda Biondi is supervising preservice and student teachers at The College of New Jersey this year. Last summer she co-facilitated a week-long writing institute in conjunction with the National Writing Project at Rider University. She volunteers for two service organizations: Homefront and Dress for Success of Central New Jersey – both have a mission to end poverty and homelessness. The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve through economic independence.