My #Topnine2018 Learning Moments

This year found me recommitting to the work of daily documentation as a writer, a writing teacher, and a professional learning facilitator. This was a challenging and even overwhelming endeavor at times, but so very much worth the effort that I made. In fact, this project was so rewarding that I’ve already created new intentions for my documentation practice in 2019.

These were my greatest moments of professional learning, and I wonder: If you were to create a #Topnine2018 collage of your own, what would it look like? This truly interests me. I hope you will share here or on Twitter or Facebook. 

As I reflect on each of the photos in my top nine and the experiences related to each, I’m reminded of….

the value of my professional learning network. Erin Quinn, in particular, pushed and contributed to my thinking in ways that were deeply rewarding. Over and over again. Erin knows how to craft questions worth pursuing. This year, she inspired me to begin asking the teachers that I support what makes an invitation worth accepting. I did this dozens upon dozens of times, and I documented every answer that I received. Then, I changed the design of every single professional learning program I offered this year in response to what I learned. This mattered.

…the importance of seeking feedback from the right people at the right time. Feedback loops are critical, and when I fail to establish them well, I miss important learning moments. This year, I took the time to schedule hearty pre-planning and post-program debriefs with every administrator whose teachers I support. More importantly, I built pre-, during, and end of session reflections into nearly every day of professional learning that I designed, in order to better assess the interests and needs of the teachers in the room. This year reminded me, once again, that unless I am accessing the voices of the people that I hope to help the most, practicing active listening, and finding a way to respond to the often very diverse needs of the collective, I’m not necessarily facilitating real change.

..my commitment to remaining a facilitator of professional learning instead of pushing any particular program. So many of my experiences in the least year reminded me once again that programs are not inherently bad. In fact, many of them are quite beautiful in their designs, and in many systems, programs are a reasonable way to ensure alignment and build teacher capacity. Each system is very different, though. I work with many resistant young writers and many professionals who struggle to embrace their roles as teachers of writing with any level of comfort. Time and again, I have learned that programs are simply not enough. They do not ensure that powerful practices will take root, and in fact, depending on how programs come to teachers, they can often do more harm than good. As a professional learning facilitator, my job is to facilitate learning and change in ways that serve people well. If programs are accomplishing this, I need to protect rather than undermine them. I also need to remain committed to pursuing research-based best practices while encouraging teachers to test new ones that show great promise, too. Most importantly, I need to listen to teachers when they express their needs, even if I think that I know better–especially when I think that I know better. This is critical to the evolution of expertise inside of our field.

…the benefits of loose parts play at every grade level. Loose parts enable us to remove print barriers long enough to explore and experiment with meaning and structure. This enables even very young or inexperienced writers to produce and develop and protect the complexity of their ideas. Then, interactive writing and careful scaffolding helps these same writers transition to print. Teachers manipulate print barriers with intention as we help children become better readers. I continue to wonder why we aren’t we doing the same in our writing classrooms. Documentation is teaching me much about what happens when we do. I’m excited to continue learning more about this.

…the power of writing and teaching writing bit by bit rather than draft by draft. Structure first. Then, process around each bit. “I wasn’t taught to teach writing this way,” someone I respect very much recently told me, and I wasn’t either. It’s true that I have so much more to learn here, but my work with writers and teachers is showing me that this is a practice worth testing and studying closely.

…the importance of proximity. When I visited Reggio Emilia last year, I was struck by their attitude toward assessment, documentation, and research. It’s important to know research-based best practices and to remain current in that understanding. I do a good job of keeping up here, I believe. It’s also important to document the influence of our practices on the learners that we serve. Proximity matters. Data matter.

…data are not always numbers, and documentation matters.The most important data that I collected this year came in the form of interviews with teachers and students, over the shoulder assessments of their work and the learning they made visible during my lessons, and the photos and videos and artifacts that emerged from our careful, collective lesson studies. Little to none of our findings were reduced to numbers, but the hunches that emerged from these experiences often inspired students to write more, to produce work that was of a far higher quality, and to write far more often, uninvited.

…my willingness to take responsible risks and assess impact. What distinguishes a fad from a promising practice that has not been widely tested? Evidence. What happens when our fear of the former prevents us from pursuing the latter? Stagnation and missed opportunities. When best practices fail to move writers or teachers forward, I must be willing to test a few next practices. I must also take care to document and study the results and invite others to do the same–including and especially those who might challenge me and illuminate my biases.

Happy new year, everyone. I’m so grateful for all you do and share. You keep me curious and so eager to continue questioning, learning, and sharing my own discoveries and works in progress.

I have some ideas for how I might accomplish that this year, and I’ll be sharing them soon.

How about you?

How will you document your learning in 2019?

How will you use that documentation to stay hungry as a learner?

 

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