No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

John Keating (Dead Poets Society)

Adrienne Gear

I am a teacher from Vancouver, Canada. I am one of the lucky ones who can say, without hesitation, I love my job.

Not many people know what they want to do when they are 6 years old, but I knew always I wanted to be a teacher. I played teacher with my stuffed animals, setting up a classroom on my bedroom floor. I read to them, taught them how to write their names and to do their times tables.

Straight out of high school, I earned my B. from the University of British Columbia. When I graduated, there were no teaching jobs to be had in BC so, rather than waiting and waitressing, at 22 years old, I packed my bags and moved to Japan. I spent 3 years teaching English at a prestigious Japanese Girls school in Tokyo. I travelled around Asia and added many amazing adventure chapters to my life story. 

I returned home and got my first teaching job teaching an ESL district class in the Vancouver School Board. I received my ESL diploma and Masters of Education from UBC. I got married and had two amazing children. 

Over the years, I worked as a District Literacy Mentor, developed Reading Power, wrote 7 books, and have given hundreds of workshops to thousands of teachers across Canada, the US, the UK, Sweden, and Australia. Twenty-five teaching years later, I still love my job.


The Reading Power Journey

It was never my intention to write books and give workshops. All I ever really wanted to do was teach!  Reading Power grew quite organically out of a huge hole I noticed in my own literacy instruction – I didn’t know how to teach reading.

I loved reading and loved books but as an intermediate teacher, I truly believed that the students who came to my class already knowing how to read. It was not my job to teach reading, not to mention the fact that I had no idea how. I “did” reading comprehension in my classroom as I had done it when I was a student: “read this and answer these comprehension questions”.

What I know now is that the majority of comprehension questions being assigned and assessed were literal so I, like many of my students, learned that if you read the question first, you could find the answer in the text and get most of the answers correct without actually having read the passage at all. Reading comprehension without reading. So what I perceived as students understanding text when they got 9/10 on their comprehension questions was completely misconstrued.

Until one day, something happened that changed the course of my teaching practice. A young boy stood beside my desk after reading aloud to me a passage with fluency and expression. I asked him a few questions about the passage but could tell me nothing about what he just read. I was shocked. How could he have just read that passage and not understood any of it?

“Aren’t you thinking about the story when he read?” I asked. After a brief pause, he replied, “What does thinking look like?” This simple yet profound question that, at the time, I could not answer planted a seed that years later, grew into Reading Power.

At its very core, Reading Power took comprehension and the abstract concept of “thinking” and created a concrete visual to show what thinking looks like and a language to show what thinking sounds like. It filled the gap in reading instruction by replacing the “literal question-answer” approach to comprehension with an interactive, meta-cognitive meaning-making one.

Over ten years since I first introduced Reading Power at a staff meeting at my school, it is now being integrated into classrooms around the world. Did I ever think this would happen? Absolutely not. But the very fact that it is tells me that I was not the only teacher who felt their reading program needed an upgrade.

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.

Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Book Love

I love books.  Not just a little, but I’m talking heart-racing, hands-trembling, page- sniffing, all-consuming passion for them!

I grew up loving to read. From The House in the Big Woods to The House at Pooh Corner, I grew up reading.  Winnie the Pooh, Rupert Bear, Paddington Bear, All of a Kind Family, Nancy Drew, B is for Betsy, The Wombles, Teddy Robinson,  Twig, Finn Family Moomintroll, Pippi Longstocking, Homer Price, Encyclopedia Brown, My Naughty Little Sister, The Secret of Spiggy Holes, The Children of Troublemaker Street,  James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Laura Ingles Wilder – these books were my family; these characters, my friends. I knew them intimately and intensely and with a feeling I can only describe as pure “bookjoy”.

 I remember clearly my grade 6 teacher reading aloud “The 21 Balloons” to the class.  I sat, riveted in my desk, hanging onto every word, visualizing every scene. And so it only made sense to me, when I became a teacher, to share this unabashed love of books with my students. 

Children’s literature has always been a huge part of my practice, anchoring my lessons, inviting thinking, stimulating discussions, modelling writing techniques. 

I have shared Edward Tulane tears and Matilda giggles with my students and still feel the same excitement reading aloud to them as I did reading aloud to my stuffed bears a million books ago.

My dream is that every teacher enter their classroom armed with an artillery of amazing literature and spread book joy to their students every chance they get. And while others may be scrolling through recipes, Netflix, and Pinterest, you will always find me scrolling through book lists, searching for a new title to read, to love, and to share with you.  

Thank you, John Keating

In 1989, I sat my grown-up, new-teacher self in a movie theater and watched John Keating (played by the late, great Robin Williams) passionately tell his students to “Seize the day, boys.  Make your lives extraordinary.”   By the time the credits rolled, I was transformed.  That movie changed my life and since that day, I have lived my life by that motto, “seizing the day” every chance I have and striving to inspire my students the way Mr. Keating did his.  

“To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”   John Keating (Dead Poets Society)

Thank you, John Keating, for inspiring me to ‘find my verse’.