A Five Day Checklist:
Chancellor visit. (Check!)
Superintendent visit. (Check!)
A posse of outside principals observing. (Check!)
Our CBO (community based organization) pulled out = no counseling…or any other services…for students. Teachers are now ALL of that. (Continual check!)
End of the Cycle (think semester) and the accompanied wildness. (Checking…all week long!)
*THIS WEEK. Yes, in one week. And, it’s Wednesday only.
The above is an email I composed to Amy, Jackie, and Shana in one of our most recent communications. In response, Amy wrote: You’ve got the world on your shoulders this week, E! And, it wasn’t until I was greeted with this affirmation that I realized it most definitely felt that way. I was too busy moving through it to take a moment’s pause and acknowledge the intensity of it all. The. Weight. Of. The. World.
It got me thinking. If I felt this way, I couldn’t imagine how students were feeling as they were the reason for all of the visits. They were the ones ‘on display’. I just kept it business as usual with our Readers Writers Workshop flow; rigorous expectations, Writer’s Notebooks being utilized, Independent Reading occurring, questions being raised; chuckles here and there. Yet, it felt off. As I looked around the room, it occurred to me that students have taken on the weight of the world too.
They’ve been trying to articulate their thoughts wrapped around their chosen literature when the Chancellor asked them about their favorite books. They’ve tried to be loyal to our collective work and answer the Superintendent’s question about rubrics (aside from the thought provoking work they’ve been creating) knowing that we are currently exploring with our pens and ideas sans a rubric. They have tried to find comfort in their movement over the last six months, but these pressures have made them second guess themselves. And the reason I know? They’ve told me.
Yet, their resilience astounds me. So, I dug deep.
We needed a collective breath. With all of the tension and uncertainty swirling about Room 382, we needed a class period full of calming zen. I channelled my extraordinary experience at #UNHLIT13, as I was guided by Penny Kittle in sketching an already created piece of art. Aside from my internal voices loudly telling me that there was no way I was going to be successful at this; I tried. And regardless of how my sketch came out I knew the most important lesson is that I didn’t give up.
Calmly, yet intensely, sketching.
So, today we draw.
The weight lifted immediately and you could feel the energetic life seeping back into 382. Students were riddled with questions: Wait. We’re just going to draw today? You mean, no writing? We can do that?!
And, while some questions made me laugh and others prompted me to reflect, students were back. So, everyone grabbed their newly sharpened pencils, chose the drawing that spoke to them most, and got to it. I mean, really got to it.
Hoodies up. Concentration in full effect.
It was important for me to voice my intention: Folks as we partake in this together, I need you to know that I am wildly uncomfortable with all things drawing! For the last six months I have asked you to find strength and courage in reading and writing that has challenged you to the core. Today, I do the same. (Deep breath) Here I go…
While students zoned in, I followed their lead. I sketched under the document camera so students could watch me struggle…and I mean struggle. Yet, while drawing/sketching isn’t my forte, I needed students to watch me play with a level of discomfort they are not used to observing. Students engaged in non-literacy conversation (as Shana brilliantly suggests here) while honing in on their focus. Students approached me to lend their expertise on how to curve lines or align measurements or see the artist’s sketch with a different perspective. It was exhilarating being the student!
Some of our masterpieces! My attempt at creating a balcony.
All said and done, here’s what I know. The RWW is about so much more than always reading and writing; it allows the space to explore, mess up, build community, redefine rigor, and just enjoy. On this given day, the latter is my favorite.
How do you find ways to calm the tension within your learning environment using the Readers Writers Workshop model?