Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sensitivity applies to adult learners, too

In August, I was asked by our Superintendent to give a writing workshop to administrators who would be contributing to our school's web site. This assignment was extremely intimidating as the audience members including the superintendent himself, assistant superintendent, high school, middle school, elementary school, and pre-school principals, and the directors of technology and admissions.

He suggested having everyone bring in what they would be writing and that the group would give each other feedback. Although that might be fine, my teaching instinct kicked in and I thought that would be too intimidating. Even though they are all top level educators, critiquing their writing right from the start might not be beneficial to the process. When running writer's workshop, an essential element is trust building. One of the principals was new (she had just started work the week before) and although the administrators knew my name, they didn't necessarily have any kind of in-depth relationship with me.

Instead, we asked them to write an introduction to their school or department to bring to the meeting. The guidelines for writing were as follows:

1. Your piece should be no more than 400 words long, no fewer than 250.
2. Given the brief amount of time that people spend actually reading content, what do you want to get across quickly?
2. Leave an impression of warmth and welcoming.
3. Write in the present tense.
4. Consider the draft language of The Profile of a Learner when writing:
As self-directed  and curious learners, an AIS student is
  • Responsible and Compassionate Citizen
  • Resilient, Persistent, and Adaptable Achiever
  • Critical and Creative Thinker
  • Innovative Problem Solver
  • Effective Collaborator   
  • Skillful Communicator 
  • Insightful and Strategic Researcher

However, we started the session not by critiquing what they wrote, but by looking at other pieces of writing from other school web sites. Here was the "assignment. "

The new web site will serve two functions. The one that we will focus on today is the external site that will serve as a marketing tool for potential students, parents, and teachers.
Directions: In pairs, you will be assigned two or three introductory letters to read. Please analyze the letters using the following questions:
Is the welcome message written in first person, first person plural, or in another voice? Is this an appropriate voice or would you prefer something else?

Given the short time viewers actually read on websites, is what is revealed in the first two paragraphs compelling? Why or why not? Who is the audience?

What do you learn about the school in the first three paragraphs?

Does the writer come off as affable? Professional? Competent? Or are you disconnected from the author?

This provoked much conversation and sparked energy in the room. They wrote their answers on a shared Google Doc which allowed others to see what web sites they could reference when they edited their pieces. 
Next, instead of having everyone look at everyone else's pieces, they peer edited in pairs. There is a difference between exposing your work to one colleague and many. 
The results from this workshop have been tremendous. The pieces are short, warm, and informative. Also, after the workshop the administrators trusted my instruction and were more open to my edits. The feedback was great. 

Dear Sharna,

What a worthwhile hour. I found digging into models with particular criteria in mind for such a relevant task very helpful.


THANK YOU SO MUCH! You kept the essence and gave it a much more professional voice. I couldn't have done it better!
Truly love it.

Mission accomplished! 

Collaborating with 10th grade history teacher to reinforce proper citation methods

Making the transition back from maternity leave as smooth as possible

Probably something very few people discuss is how nerve wracking it can be to re-enter the classroom environment after a maternity leave. The students have just spent, in my case, 14 weeks with another teacher. They have gotten used to her style and her methods. One questions how they can possibly successful after such an absence.

To ease the transition, I decided to spend the first lesson with a balance of introductions and academics. I began reviewing the class rules and expectations. Then I did one  of my favorite (and most appreciated) lessons, "How to Write an Email." This allowed them to get used to my teaching style on a subject that all know and understand.

I explained to students that the purpose of learning how to write an email is to essentially get what they want. I taught them how they should address people in an email, what the email should say, not to use emoticons, and to provide a subject that summarizes the intent. All of the teachers in the school appreciate this lesson as they are addressed more appropriately and can understand what their students want from them quickly. This is a lesson that they will take with them once they graduate high school and it will benefit them in university and the work place.

Then I began the new unit with how I begin each school year, an identity chart. This is a lesson from Facing History. Students evaluate their own identities and then he redo the same for authors that we study. Their identity charts hang in the room. Not only does this provide the basis for a future assignment, but it also shows them that I value who they are.

Then they had write me an email for homework. The email asked the following questions:

  1. What is your favorite subject? Why?
  2. What is your least favorite subject? Why?
  3. What do you hope to achieve in this course before the end of the year?  
  4. Catch me up. What should I know about this class that will help me be a better teacher?
  5. What should I know about you academically to be a more effective instructor?
  6. What should I know about you personally to be a more effective instructor?
  7. Tell me a random fact about you.
  8. Ask me a question, any question. (Within reason)

Between the identity chart and the 8 questions I was able to get to know them without missing a beat. I am sure that there will still be challenges along the way with the transition, but I've done my best to make it as smooth as possible.