Sorting Out Your Edge Pieces

As teachers, we are constantly multitasking. Our hands are holding one piece while our eyes are scanning for the next. This constant motion, this ability to flip and transition instantly is a necessary skill many teachers possess. If not careful, it can cyclone into doing many things without doing anything well. We’ve all been there, likely within nearly every context of our lives.

The ability to multitask is one that comes with time. It builds as we sharpen our skill set. I sometimes find that when I am trying something new in my classroom, my ability to multitask is stifled and I become frustrated. This mode of slowing down while sharpening my skills feels like an expense of time with little production. I must remind myself that with new skills, just like my students, time and understanding are important pieces as well. My ability to multitask all of the morning routines (e.g., attendance, lunch money, library books, conversations, email, announcements, and a parent at the door) did not happen overnight. As a new teacher, I had to filter through these one at a time, and you better believe it took a lot longer than it does now! This was after months and years of practice. 

Writing workshop is no different. We recently wrapped up a blog series on Writing Workshop Fundamentals. Each post walked the reader through steps to position a piece of the workshop puzzle. It reminded me of the many elements that exist within a workshop model and that I somewhat take for granted what years of experience has taught me. It has taught me to turn each piece until it fits the big picture. I know the benefits of wading through the tough challenges a workshop model tends to throw in my path. Watching students mature and grow as writers for several years now has convinced me that this approach is worthwhile.

Often the success of a new idea is linked directly to our desire for it to BE successful. If we truly want to change our practice or implement a change that will positively impact students, it is going to take some maneuvering. We won’t be able to multitask with all the pieces immediately and see a clear picture at the end of each attempt. However, standing back and seeing what parts are clear and building from there is how we frame a functioning writing workshop. Our patience with ourselves and our students is paramount.

I anticipate that many teachers who decide to move from a different style of teaching to a workshop style of teaching have dipped their toe in a few methods and reflected on the result. If you are a teacher of writers and you are ready to fully jump into a workshop model of teaching, I would encourage you to begin with the area you have the most strength. Maybe you already have access to excellent minilessons, or you are a pro when it comes to developing strategy groups for more individualized teaching. Build your workshop from the foundation that will support YOU as you sharpen the rest of your skill set. Find your edge pieces and get those in place.

Constructing these parts of the workshop model is what will propel you toward your next step. You will feel ready to pick up the next piece and much like a puzzle, you will look to what you envision as a guide. Keep reminding yourself of the outcome, the big picture. It takes patience and an eye for reflection on what pieces are fitting and what pieces need more time. Give yourself permission to spread the pieces out, look them over, and decide which one gets placed next. Look to your mentors from textbook resources, online networks, or within your building to help support you as you go. Most of all, trust yourself. Trust that some days many pieces will be put in place and on other days you may have to start a whole section over. Look at your total investment and all the parts of your workshop that are functional. Let these small victories keep you moving from completing the border of your workshop to a visible center.