Struggling with the old brass knob, I finally pulled my front door closed. “I’ve got to get that blasted door fixed,” I muttered to myself in exasperation. Beginning to step across my front lawn, I turned to my right, casting my gaze upon the large front window adorning the front of my Cape Cod style house. Oh my, that window is badly in need of cleaning, I thought to myself. And then there is those rotting windowsills . . . I shook my head. The list was endless. Suddenly from behind me came a friendly voice, “Hey!” I wheeled around and was surprised to find my good friend, Frank walking toward me from my driveway. We shook hands. “Wow, I’ve never been here…beautiful place you’ve got!” he said. Silently, I looked around, taking in my house and tree-filled surroundings. He was right. It really was beautiful– that is, to an eye seeking beauty.
A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting with a small group of teachers studying student writing. Next to me, I heard one of my colleagues make a comment: “So, things are looking pretty good!” I looked up, stunned. Why is this statement ringing so foreign, so unfamiliar, in my ears? I remember wondering. Sometimes our writing workshops can begin to feel a little like a house we live in– always something to improve, always something we haven’t been able to get to, always something we wish we could address, always something we wish we had more time for, etc. But I would venture to argue that, like a house, many things are working. However, since they are going well or at least working properly, we tend to overlook them. In our current educational environment– full of SMART goals, Student Learning Objectives, Teacher Evaluation, Common Core, Test Scores, Rubrics for Teaching– it is easy to lose sight of what might be going well in our classrooms.
At least once in a while, we simply must force ourselves to pause and look at our writing workshops through a lens of strengths. It is certainly easy (and understandable) to, in our quest to be the best educators we can possibly be, look at our work and our students’ work through a lens of deficits (i.e., what is wrong? What do I need to fix?). But this is a perfect time of year to do some brief reflection and celebrating of what is working. Here are a few lenses we might consider:
- Student volume— Many of us know writers who are writing so much more than they did at the beginning of the year. When my colleagues and I were looking at student writing together that day, this is one observation we made. We looked at writing on-demands, both pre and post, and marveled at how much more writing these students were able to generate! One teacher even commented, “I just can’t believe how much he wrote!” No, volume is not everything. But it is something. Volume can reflect stronger writing muscles, increased stamina, more engagement, and/or an ability to generate more thinking about a selected topic. This is definitely something to celebrate. Take the time to notice the increased volume in some of your student writers– they are in your classroom!
- Student creativity— Kids often have a way of saying things differently than adults say them. I am constantly amazed at the creative ways our students express their thoughts in writing. Sometimes the punctuation may not be perfect, and many times either the phrasing or diction departs from conventional or colloquial use; but looking from a lens of strengths, we can commend our students’ abilities to fashion words together in manners we have never thought about or heard. This can be a sign they are seeing themselves as writers.
- Things about our teaching we feel good about— Perhaps most importantly, seek out something about your teaching of writing that is celebration-worthy. Perhaps you turned a student onto writing that never saw himself as a writer before, changing his trajectory for a lifetime? Perhaps you have excellent, tight transitions between the meeting area and independent work space that have created a writing space where time is valued and not wasted? Maybe you wrote more alongside your students this year than in the past, increasing your authenticity as a writing teacher? Maybe your minilessons are just a little more mini this year, which helped make more time for independent writing? Or perhaps you conferred with more students and/or small groups this year than you did last year, helping your writers to feel more seen? Whatever it is you feel good about, notice how these suggestions I just offered are phrased in a cause-effect structure: “I did this, which may have made this possible…” And be generous with yourself. No hard data is required here. What is important is that you take the time to celebrate something you have chosen that matters.
After my friend Frank went home that day, I couldn’t help but think about his comment about my house. I think it is in my nature to constantly view my house, my teaching and literacy work– my life– through a lens that does not always allow for an appreciation for what is working, what is beautiful. Maybe it’s in yours, too? A mentor once told me, “We write to hang onto moments of trouble and moments of beauty.” Let us remember to write our life story this way. Step up the compliment conferences, focus on what is working, invent some positivity in your classroom for these remaining days of the school year. You and your students deserve it.