It was Friday. My colleagues and I sat down to a lunch of fresh paella and melon in our principal’s office, to debrief our weeks at the Teacher’s College Writing Institute. After sharing our take-aways, our principal shared his.
¨The way Mary chooses her words so thoughtfully is powerful,¨he said. ¨She draws students in and inspires them to write. That type of word choice, it takes time and care, but it is so, so worth it.¨
We had spent the morning with Mary Ehrenworth, one of the leaders of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. With Mary, we studied what teachers could learn from coaches. The way we speak to students, compared to the way coaches speak with students, stuck with me.
As Mary analyzed, so often, coaches give one quick compliment, and move right into the feedback. Their feedback is timely, direct, and during the work their athlete is doing. She pointed out, coaches choose one thing to focus on with their athlete. One thing. The thing that will make the biggest difference in the athlete’s performance. Not a million things. Not nit-picky things. Not the easiest thing. The one thing that is really, truly, worth working on.
This got me thinking, how often do I talk to my students this way? How often do I spend too much time on compliments, on fluff, before moving into the true heart of the work?
This year, I want to give my students tougher feedback in conferences. When I speak with them, first, I want to give them a compliment, an authentic comment about what I notice that is going well in their work. And then, an honest piece of feedback. One that comes from a place of knowing they can and want to do the work. One that is supported and followed up with by tools, materials, and examples to help students meet their goal.
But even more than improving student conferences and feedback, I want to give feedback to myself in this way. If I can talk to myself like this, if I can grow my practice using a coaching framework, a readiness framework, my words will naturally extend to my students.
As a teacher, what can I solidly say I am doing well? And, what can I identify as the one way I want to grow? What is the one thing I can do better that will make the biggest impact on my students’ writing this year? What is the one thing I am most ready for next?
As a writing teacher, I am clear when teaching the teaching point. I get to the heart of the lesson and stay focused. Now, I am ready to work on my own writing more.
My take-away from Mary was, ¨Don’t take the kids’ writing home. Take your writing home.¨
I need to develop a repertoire of my own writing, with the intended audience of my eighth grade students, that I can use and tailor and modify to authentically demonstrate the teaching point of the day. Just as through reading, it is the content that builds community in writing. We connect over shared text, and in writing, we have the opportunity to share our stories. To take risks. To find our voice. And through this, we have material to grow in our craft.
Alright. I have the goal: work on my writing for lessons. I will report back on my progress.