writing workshop

What Now? Pause. Observe. Reflect.

Today will be my first day back to school with my remote class of kindergarten students. The winter break was much needed, and in recent days I’ve been able to begin considering what I hope to accomplish over these next five months of the school year.

Most of my long-term planning attempts have been interrupted by changes out of my control, making my teaching pace slower. However, I continue to adjust to my students’ needs. As this year progresses, I recognize it is important to pause, observe, and reflect. Recently, I was drawn back to a text that has helped me anchor my beliefs and practices in the past, Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action by Debbie Miller. Miller encourages her reader to really interrogate their practices with some guiding questions:

As much as I would like to plan out the next five months and re-pace my past plans to fit a new time frame, I know questions like these will help me more efficiently change the course of my teaching.

For me, taking time to pause, observe, and reflect can be led by prompts like these, helping me dig into what, why, and how I am teaching. No matter what your teaching looks like at this moment (i.e., face-to-face, hybrid, blended, or remote), in this post, I hope to inspire you to pause, observe, and reflect on your practice as a teacher of writers.

So, taking a pause isn’t just about taking a breath. It might be that too, let’s be real. But I’m really talking about creating some space for ourselves to pause and consider.

What principles are guiding my decisions when teaching something new to my kindergarten writers? 

What principles are guiding you and your writers?

I decided to journal a bit on this idea. It allowed me to pause and think. I was also looking forward to using some new markers I got over the holiday break, so it was a win-win!

This helped me begin considering what would guide my next planning decisions. How would I go about teaching new things so students can demonstrate their understanding, not just to me, but themselves and their caregivers?

This week, as my students come together through song, play, and learning, I will attend more closely to what new teaching I am doing. My students are in kindergarten, everything can feel new. However, at this point in the year, some things are definitely not new. As I observe student engagement and interaction with my minilessons, small group modeling, and independent writing work, I’m going to note observations of myself too. The ease of recording myself teaching this year has been one of the best and most eye-opening opportunities I have found. I always wanted to record myself more so I could observe how I was engaging students and how they were truly engaging with the work of writing. Recording, audio sharing, and digital tools have made this even more easily accessible. Even if you are in a face-to-face classroom, you could record audio or begin a video that would pick up bits of both audio and visual of your lesson. 

If you have the ability to do a bit of recording, that can have double duty, for students and for you, even better.

It eventually comes down to the reflection. Was pausing, making a plan, and then observing the plan worth it? Did I observe the outcome I was hoping for, or did I identify something I wasn’t expecting? Was I able to clearly identify whether students independently took on the learning? What’s my next move?

This year has been the most challenging year of my teaching life. There have been times when I have needed to do less, and the results were not what I would normally desire. I have also had some highlights and exhilarating moments in this teaching experience. When I experience success, I give it more weight than I normally would. It feels like a triumph. I wish you all joy and accomplishment as you continue to take hold of the challenges you face. Take time to pause, observe, and reflect–and also to breathe. Happiest new year to you and your community of writers. 

3 thoughts on “What Now? Pause. Observe. Reflect.

  1. Thank you for this timely reminder, Betsy. Tomorrow is my first day back, then we’ll have kids Wednesday. You’ve reminded me to be thoughtful about how I begin with planning for this upcoming semester.


  2. Betsy, this is just the coaching advice we all need right now. In this time, it’s difficult to use our ‘standard’ tools to discern what students know/need. I will be having this conversation with everyone in my coaching cycle this week. Thanks for the tips.


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