Reflecting on the Unintended Outcomes that Boosted My Learning

There are always unintended consequences of the lessons we plan and the learning that occurs, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Students could be working in groups to determine why some materials conduct electricity and some do not.  Sure targetthey may reach the targeted learning goal identifying conductors, but I suspect what they will remember is working as a team, sharing their thinking, trying without guaranteed success, wondering why. Likewise, while I may have intended to offer a well-developed learning series called Inspiring Reluctant Writers, upon reflection, I learned a lot more than how to teach writing. I want to share some of my original intentions along with the unintended outcomes that boosted my learning.

My intention:  to create a space where teachers would write to learn more about teaching writing

Putting yourself in the position of being the learner and stepping out of your comfort zone to do ‘the work’ you ask of students can be an enlightening and energizing pursuit, whether it’s writing, math, science or history.  Not surprisingly,  teachers who write are better writing teachers, but not only because of committing a number of words to the page.  Rather, I think it may be owing to how the act of writing nurtures an emotional connection with your reader.

My learning: Writing accelerates relationships

After years of facilitating a variety of professional learning opportunities, I have come to realize that sharing your writing, especially personal stories, accelerates relationships because it requires vulnerability and authenticity to build connections. img_0110I could not have predicted the power this had. Indeed, I didn’t predict that we would spend the whole series settling into personal narratives as a way of collecting and examining our memories, our stories, while playing with craft. What’s more, once you personally experience this side effect of community, you want to re-create it in your classroom amongst your students, as did the participants.  I imagine, without exception, these teachers will start their next year exploring the stories of students’ names, Where I’m From poems, Exploding a Moment, and writing from a sense of place. Writing is a vehicle to validate and expand what we mean when we think of our identity. Writing helps us wrestle with our sense of self. Writing creates a community where students, and teachers, can get to know each other.

“Writing connects people and makes the journey worthwhile.”

-Jeff Christian, teacher

My intention: Provide a variety of  intentionally chosen texts, prompts, strategies, ideas

In my role as a learning coordinator for literacy, I am privileged to have access to ‘hot’ new books, new strategies, and new ways of improving instructional practice. You name it, I got it! I feel it is my responsibility to be a ‘knowledge sifter’ in funneling some of those great ideas into conversations with teachers.  But I’ve learned, it’s not just about what I bring.

My learning: Share the responsibility

I’ve learned not to own all the learning.  I’ve had to let go of taking the responsibility for all the learning that happens in the room and instead to rely on everyone to impact the other participants.  Every person at every table plays a vital role in what their colleagues will take away, will remember, will try and how they will feel. I launch, spark, introduce, model and ask you to imagine.  Sometimes I cartwheel. But then I pass the baton to the rest of the team – everyone in the room. The onus rests on everyone else to build connections, operationalize how it might look depending on your students, share the unique factors that identify your classroom needs and strengths. That collective interaction improves the potential of the learning landing in the students’ learning environment.  And like a boomerang, teachers return with stories and student samples, which comes back to me as new learning.

“…this has brought some joy back to my practice.”

-Kate Gutmanis

My intention: offer a professional learning series on writing

Looking back on the past few years of our literacy learning, I admit we’ve often focused deeply on reading comprehension. As a result, I intended to offer some learning devoted entirely to writing. But I learned, I can’t teach about writing without connecting to some great mentors, not only nor necessarily about topic, but about craft. That is, not what they write, but how they write.

My learning: to write better, you need to read

The reciprocal benefits of reading and writing are well established. When we initially started with personal narratives, in particular, the story of our name, I might have anticipated we could jump right into the writing.  But we needed mentors to explore the ideas around identity more deeply, to discover how important a name is especially when it’s taken away, to feel comfortable messing around with emotional childhood memories.  In short, we needed to imagine our own names in light of others’ reading-a-book-and-notingperspectives on their names. We scoured excerpts from novels, picturebooks, video clips for points of view and craft. I hope that as a result of this reliance on mentor texts, teachers  will now intentionally notice more while they are reading, anticipating that every book is a potential goldmine of opportunities to support student writing. I want them to be asking themselves, what is the writer doing here? Why do I love that line?

I started every session with these 2 slides to remind us that there’s so much we can do before we even get kids to start writing: loosening up the ground, getting messy, providing the nutrients, and planting some seeds. But most of all, writing ourselves.