Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Write On, You'll Find Gold


Two days ago my friend David and I presented to a bunch of teachers about writing across the curriculum. We did it twice. The morning group was into it. I could see them thinking, "hmmm, how can I use this in my classroom?" I like seeing them thinking about how to take the ideas we present and transform them to fit their expertise. It's what good teachers do.

The second session began with a bad vibe. I heard teachers who weren't happy in their jobs, bummed to be in our workshop, and grumpy. David and I went ahead anyway. We didn't want to blow off the teachers, but we blew right past the negativity and all but one of them jumped on board and got happy.

All but one.

Today I found out from David that one teacher broadcast her displeasure about our presentation to everyone in her school district. So it goes. Not everyone is going to love our work or understand it. She came in expecting specific step-by-step plans for her class. She wanted a cookie cutter to get her through her anxiety.

We don't provide lesson plans. Instead, we present ideas. One is that writing generates thinking. Instead of having kids use writing only to prove that they've learned something (on things like essay tests), writing can help students learn. It's a radical idea. This was the sort of thing we discussed at our workshop and it's just what this teacher didn't understand.

I'm not thrilled that she decided to blast out an email to everyone in her district saying that teachers should drop out of our future workshops and presentations. That's not cool. It's shallow thinking from a selfish person. But I'm not terribly upset in the way I would expect to be.

Here's why: I know that we're offering the real gold teachers so seldom get. We respect teachers for their expertise and help them share it with others and with themselves. Writing is the tool. It is the way to get to real learning for teachers, students, and anybody else.

If we were an organization devoted to lesson plans, everyone would come to despise our work, myself included. There's no perfect lesson plan to give out. There are no tricks of the trade. Instead, there is a craft we practice and there is art to what we do. Writing across the curriculum and using writing to help kids learn are both craft and art. The teacher at our workshop wants shortcuts. We gave her something better.

Here, I'll give it to you too:

If you want someone to learn, give paper and a pen, set a timer, suggest a topic, then sit and write with them. To step it up, share when you're done. Do it again. Write and share most every day. Don't worry about grading it. Don't worry about correcting it. Just write to learn.

That teacher who complained so bitterly about us didn't get it, but you know you can strike gold. All it takes is to start writing and to write on.