When I started blogging for Moving Writers, I wrote mostly about my practice in the classroom. Since my role has shifted away from the classroom and toward supporting teachers, I spend a lot more time working on my own practice for adult learning. So most of what I blog about lately is about professional learning for writing teachers. Being the person who loves to think through adult learning theories and professional learning structures to support sustainability doesn’t always make you the coolest kid at the party, but I love thinking about how supporting the adults in the school can create a better system for the kids.
A lot of the requests for professional learning that I’ve gotten lately have been about writing. I’ve blogged before about the importance of reflecting on and developing our own identities as writers, and the more I keep working with professional learning around writing, the more I deeply believe that writing is professional learning.
We all accept reading as professional learning. That almost goes without saying. Reading, whether it’s jigsawing an article or taking on a book study with a PLC, is widely accepted as PD time well spent.
But it seems like that doesn’t always transfer to people’s beliefs about writing. Too often, writing is seen as something outside, something other, something extra. And often something elite rather than a mode for learning.
When I ask teachers I work with about their writing lives, I get a wide range of answers, but the majority of them could be categorized into the following three responses:
- Writing?! Who has time for that!?
- Nobody wants to read anything I’d have to say.
- Yeah I dabble a little, but that doesn’t really count, right?
Aren’t those the same things we hear so many of our students say? If we want to get good at responding to students, at building them up to recognize that the time spent within the process is valuable and that they do have important things to say, we first have to believe it for ourselves.
It’s kind of like that oxygen mask theory. You know, that in an airplane emergency, you’ve got to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you’ll be able to help others. I’ve learned so much about how this applies to important work like SEL and trauma-informed instruction: You’re not going to be able to attend to your classroom’s culture if you don’t first get to know your own biases and triggers. And it’s not much different in writing. A teacher isn’t going to build a culture of students who see themselves as writers if they don’t first see themselves as a writer.
That identity piece is absolutely critical, but it’s not an isolated reason that writing is valuable professional learning. One of my undergrad professors once explained good essay writing as a very public conversation, and the genre opened up for me. Essayists are in conversation with each other just as bloggers are. They respond to each other’s ideas and resources, and they adjust to each other’s style and feedback.
Being part of a wider writing community, no matter what the genre, means that you’re engaging in this process in authentic ways. You’re thinking about who might read your work, what they need to hear, how they need to hear it, and you adjust based on their feedback.
Earlier this week, Stephen wrote about teacher-writers being part of a community of practice, and how important that can be to a classroom community of practice. He makes the important argument that a teacher who is a participating member of a classroom community of practice can better invite their students into that community. That’s in part because of that shared sense of identity as a writer, but also partly because they engage in the process regularly and can transfer that into classroom instruction. For example, when a student asks that age-old question “how many more paragraphs do I need?” a teacher who engages in their own writing process is a lot more likely to respond authentically with something like, “what else does your audience need to know?” A teacher who doesn’t regularly participate in that kind of community of practice is more likely to refer to a checklist.
Now, I’m not arguing that all kinds of writing will automatically improve your instructional practice. A science teacher, for example, who starts writing their own memoir, won’t likely automatically translate their learning from the writing process to their science instruction. (But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen!)
So, what do we do within our writing practice to get the most out of its professional learning potential?
As with any learning, the potential for change in practice doesn’t come from the experience alone, it comes from the reflection that follows. Periodically, throughout your writing process, reflect on yourself and your practice. Ask questions like:
How is my audience or purpose shaping my writing?
How would I explain my process?
How does it change when I’m writing in a different genre? For a different audience?
Honor your practice. Remember that you DO have something worth saying, and your voice is part of a conversation. Enter into that practice however feels right to you: write in a journal or a blog; take on a challenge like Stephen’s, #100daysofnotebooking, or our own 100 Days of Summer Writing; reflect with the #TeachWrite crew; or gather a couple friends and talk about your practice over a cup of coffee. Submit an article to a journal. Above all, remember that your time spent doing this is every bit as valuable as the time you would spend reading a professional book.
Of course, value that time for yourself, but that’s not enough. We all know that time for a teacher is already ridiculously hard to come by. For those of you who plan PD, carve out some of that time for writing, reflecting, and building writing identities and authentic practices. Carve out that time, keep it sacred, and treat it like the valuable learning that it is.
How has a writing life impacted your instructional life? What have you learned from a writing practice of your own? How have you invited others into a writing community of practice? Comment below or find me on twitter @megankortlandt
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