community · writing workshop

The Chicken and the Egg

Last spring, I resigned from the wonderful school district where I had been teaching for the past fourteen years.  Change was in the air, and I accepted a job as an instructional coach in a new district.  As I recently unpacked my boxes and moved into my new space, I thought about all I had learned from my former district.  I learned a lot about teaching and literacy instruction.  A lot.  However, the most important thing I learned was this: relationships matter.

Fortunately, my new school district also knows relationships matter.  As a matter of fact, in an effort to build strong relationships, they instituted a “Significant 72” policy.  Significant 72 refers to the first 72 hours of the school year, or the first three days.  During this time, the focus is on building relationships; there is little to no emphasis on academics.  Instructional time is devoted to building the classroom and school community and getting to know one another.  Isn’t that a lovely way to start the school year?

Relationships matter, and nowhere is this truth more important than in writing workshop.  Writing partnerships, peer feedback groups, one-on-one conferences, share time… relationships are everything in writing workshop.  If I could turn back time to when I was in my own classroom, I would have spent a significant amount of time building relationships before I ever attempted the first unit of study.  If I could have some do-overs as a literacy coach, I would focus first on the relationships within a classroom and then on the components of writing workshop.  You really can’t have a strong writing workshop without strong relationships.


Time and time again I have seen people form relationships by writing together.  I saw it happen during Family Writing Night when our parents and students wrote together.  I saw it happen when over forty teachers from my district joined the Slice of Life Writing Challenge last March.  I saw it happen when we taught students to thoughtfully comment on each other’s writing.

Writing builds relationships.

It’s the old chicken and an egg conundrum.  I don’t know which comes first, but I know you can’t have one without the other.

As you prepare for your first days of writing workshop, think of how you will build relationships with and between your students. Can you insert some team building exercises into your day?  Do you have a favorite picture book to share… just because you love it?  Are you smiling?  Are they?

Writing workshop thrives on relationships and builds them at the same time.  Be intentional as you plan the first days and weeks of your writing workshop.  Make room for relationship building.   Relationships matter.


13 thoughts on “The Chicken and the Egg

  1. Are they still hiring in your new school? Only kidding…I’m retired. But after reading what you’ve written it’s clear that your new school has figured out what a lot of schools don’t have a clue about…teamwork. And what is teamwork based on? Relationships! So lucky you, and lucky them. Enjoy this new phase of your career which sounds very joyful. Yes, I am jealous.


  2. Awesome reminder! Even though I will have my kiddos for the second year (looping first to second) I need to make smiling and enjoyment a priority. The more at ease I am, the more comfortable they will be. I am not going to worry about “what they lost over the summer.” I am going to be focused on how much they have grown and changed and all the experiences they have had.


  3. So thoughtful Dana. This post makes me think. Maybe it’s chicken and egg. Perhaps we edge toward relationships with each word, written and spoken. Excited for your new journey!


  4. Dana, I’ve never heard of the term “Significant 72” before, but I completely agree with it!!! My students are in their first year of middle school and I believe it’s VITAL to build relationships during this time of transition. It makes the rest of the year so much better. I’ve always done something like this, but never knew the name. Thank you for naming this for me and for this amazing post!!! I’m sharing!


  5. I love this post. We (about ten of our teachers) participated in a writing marathon yesterday. It was great to build relationships between the veteran and new teachers. Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  6. Oh, my. Another perfectly timed and beautifully written post. I don’t know how you gals keep coming up with fresh and pertinent ideas to share, but I (and I assume hundreds of others) am mighty grateful that you do. Thank you.


  7. Thanks for the timely reminder! After spending a few days working on professional development recently, my head is already swimming with curriculum. Tendrils of panic nibble at the edges of my relaxed and easy summer mindset. How am I going to do it all???? Once again, I need to remind myself to slow down and focus on my students. Your post inspired me to dig deeper for some fun, new team building activities and also resparked my excitement at getting to know my new class. Sadly, sometimes that excitement dims under the onslaught of …well, everything else! Again, thanks for helping me get my priorities back in line!


  8. I love this idea. While this will be my ninth year teaching, I always look for ways to start the new school year off. I have gone from the typical stand and deliver what the rules are for the classroom, hallway, cafe etc..(before I knew any better), to get to know each other activities. I still don’t have a set plan, just lots of ideas, and school starts in just over a week. This helps to narrow my focus and I will use the concept of developing relationships the first 72 hours. I teach fifth grade in a co-taught class and all subjects, and I can’t wait to get writing workshop going. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful idea. I will be sharing this post with my co-workers.


  9. Last week, I chose “relationships” as my OLW for the new school year so this was the perfect post for me to read! I agree that writing together builds community, yet you need some feeling of belonging and safety to be willing to share. I plan on slowing down the first 72 hours and being more intentional about everything I do. I am working to build relationships before I meet the students by carefully drafting their welcome letter and designing a class webpage that will be helpful to parents. This post has links I will explore and return to! I love the Family Writing Night idea so much!


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