Modeling Writing Workshop

Last week I spent a day at Southbury Elementary School in Illinois. (Hello Southbury!) They had students for half a day and the afternoon was a time for us to come together for professional development. In the morning, though, with students, I modeled writing workshop in a fourth grade classroom and a second grade classroom.

Modeling writing workshop in other teachers’ classrooms is a significant part of my day to day life. I’m constantly in other teachers’ classrooms learning alongside them about teaching writers. Sometimes when something becomes part of your daily grind, you forget how remarkable it really is.

I know it takes a brave spirit to invite another person into your classroom. When I say “I know” it’s not in the sense of I can imagine, but rather I know because I have firsthand experiences. I invited a coach into my classroom thirteen years ago. It was the first year we had access to an instructional coach, and before I even knew what an instructional coach was. Looking back, I could have made it easier for her. I wondered what she was going to do in my classroom. I wondered what she was going to think of me. I was nervous. I asked a ton of questions. I watched her every move. I wrote down things I noticed. I talked her ear off. I listened some.

I don’t really remember much of what she did in the classroom, but I remembered how she made me feel. She made me feel like I was capable. She made me feel like writing workshop was possible in my corner of the world. She pushed me to learn more about teaching writers, and she nudged me along a path of growth.

The following year I opened my classroom again. This time I was even more nervous. Carl Anderson was going to model in my classroom. Gulp. I remember making sure everything was perfect. I talked to my students about Carl, showed them his book, and also explained thirty other teachers would be watching too. More importantly, I shared with students the reason this was happening — so I could grow as a teacher.

In 2004, Carl Anderson modeled writing workshop in my classroom. Here is he conferring with a student, and there I am watching and learning.

Because of these experiences, I’m always honored to be invited into a teacher’s classroom. I also cling to the fact that these experiences shaped me as a teacher of writers more than any other professional development. Seeing writing workshop in action in my classroom (and other classrooms) has been the very best professional development of my career. In addition to watching and learning from colleagues, I’ve observed Carl in many other classrooms, as well as Ellin Keene and Penny Kittle model workshop.

Whenever I consider professional development opportunities, I consider observation first. Next week Deb Gaby (the reading coach in my district) and I are taking two middle school teachers to observe Christy Rush-Levine so they can see the work in action. Deb and I  were considering professional development for ourselves and our first thought was to see if we could observe Patrick Allen in his reading workshop.

The heart of the work lies within classroom walls. Whenever we can see writing workshop in action, we learn. I’m thankful for the reminder of the power of modeling. I’m thankful to remember the powerful opportunities before me each day when I get to work alongside teachers in their classrooms.  And I’m grateful for schools like Southbury Elementary who learn alongside one another as colleagues and have invited me along for a bit of their journey this school year. I feel like I’m part of a bigger circle — getting from others and now giving back. At the end of the day, several teachers told me they feel inspired and empowered. Is there any better compliment?