My One Piece of Advice

My one piece of advice

“If you were going to give just one piece of advice to a colleague who is just starting out with writing workshop, what would it be?”

As a literacy coach and consultant, this is a question that I have been asked again and again… and again.

And each time my answer is the same.

But before I tell you what that advice is, let me back up a step.

I wish I could tell you that my advice is something lovely and inspiring, like “Find the joy in everything you do!” or “Follow the kids’ lead and you can’t go wrong.” While these bits of advice are absolutely true and I say them both often, I know that when people ask me this question, that is not really what they are looking for.

If you’re looking for only one, super practical, high priority piece of advice for starting out with writing workshop, here’s what I think.

Set publishing dates, share them with your colleagues, and do your best to stick to them.

I know, it doesn’t sound lofty or exciting. It’s not the stuff of motivational speeches or inspirational quotes. But it’s practical advice, and setting tentative publishing dates ahead of time is probably the most important thing you can do if you are new to writing workshop.

Here’s why:

  1. By setting publishing dates, you are thinking across your whole school year. In turn, you are predicting and envisioning that you’ll not only launch a writing workshop but that you’ll keep teaching it, all year long. You’re making a type of promise to yourself and your students.
  2. Sharing publishing dates with your colleagues makes it possible for you to plan publishing parties together, and to coordinate which units you might be able to plan and teach together. Ask a trusted colleague or coach to check in with you periodically to talk about how it’s going so far, so you have a sounding board if you find yourself struggling with pacing.
  3. Aiming for your publishing dates is something you will not regret. Especially if you are new to writing workshop (and even if you are a seasoned veteran), pacing yourself throughout the year makes it possible to teach a reasonable number of units or genres. TCRWP, for example, recommends six to seven units. This allows you five to six weeks per unit – plenty of time to move through the writing process with your students without engagement dwindling. Nobody wants to be stuck in a unit of study forever, and you won’t want to miss out on crucial teaching or a favorite genre because you ran out of time.

It’s impossible to know exactly how your school year will unfold, and it’s impossible to predict exactly what this year’s group of students will need. It’s important to stay flexible with your plan and to proceed with an open mind – ready to change the plan if necessary. Here are a few concerns I always have about publishing dates:

  1. Will setting dates cause us to rush through a unit too quickly?
  2. Will having deadlines sap some of the joy out of children’s experience?
  3. If we map out a tentative plan for the year, does that mean we can’t change the plan according to our students’ interests or needs?

When I was new to coaching, I hesitated to encourage my colleagues to set publishing dates, and here’s what happened: Everybody was stuck in Unit 1, the “Small Moments” unit, until New Year’s. That was not a good thing. Everybody was so tired of it that even the mention of a “small moment” caused an eye roll or cringe. And if that is how teachers felt about it, just imagine how the kids felt!

To some, setting dates may sound rigid, strict, or old school. But, truly, if you are new to this work, having a vision for the school year and mapping it out in a very practical way is incredibly supportive.

There you have it. My one piece of advice.