First: I just discovered, and I’m pretty sure this is accurate: this is my 25th year of teaching. I think I’ve spent the last five years telling my students I’ve taught for 20, 25, a hundred, a million, 23, and over 22 years. I’m going to try to to be consistent this year about the exact year.
On to the really exiciting news from the past few weeks. When I started a million, I mean, 25 years ago, I was revved up by Nancie Atwells’ “In the Middle.” I started out teaching with the workshop model, and I’ve never looked back.
Then, Ralph Fletcher entered the Writer’s Workshop realm and my sphere with “What a Writer Needs.” His work innovated and pushed my current workshop model.
Nancie Atwell and Ralph Fletcher have been my gurus for the last 25+ years.
I have long fantasized that I would meet Nancie Atwell sometime while I’m back in my homestate, which is her homestate: Maine. My sister lives not far from her school, and I keep hounding my sister to find someone who knows her, who can get me in to meet her.
I don’t have that geographical connection with Ralph Fletcher. I have something better. Twitter. Over the past few years, I’ve built up my online PLNs through Twitter. I’ve built a community and sub-communities of shared colleagiality on Twitter. Some of my communities are all about writer’s workshop models, but all of them are about personalized learning, student agency, and student choice.
I’ve been so lucky to meet and know so many amazing educators who inspire me daily, and usually, minute by minute.
Okay, I need to go back 25 years ago again. When I started my classroom with the writer’s workshop model, there were only a few of us that I knew of in the district who embraced the model. Over time, I had lost any connections with other workshop model teachers.
Over time, I did that cliche teacherly thing, and I “hid” how I taught and avoided being collegial. I couldn’t relate to other teachers because, though so many did (and do!) amazing things that I learned from, I had nothing to give them. I had a model and modality. I did not have “stuff.” I did not have resources or lessons. I had nothing to give them.
Social media: blogs and Twitter have changed me. I am now contributing and learning because I’m connecting with others who use a workshop/constructivist model of teaching, and we’re learning from each other. I’m energized.
I need to back up yet again. This all started when my former student became my teaching partner, and grassphopper became the master. She nudged me like a stubborn mule to elevate the workshop model into a more streamlined approach, leveraging all of our technology.
My philosopy and practice and ideology has not changed. What’s different is using technology to enhance the workshop model. So, though it’s the same, technology allows the true nature of a workshop, the organic nature workshop, to thrive.
A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet from Ralph Fletcher:
My teaching is organic, and many people think that means “winging it.” I’ve had a lot of people ask me the difference, and it’s a good question. Superficially, they seem similar. All good teachers are good at winging it and enjoying it (usually) when it happens. The difference is in intent.
- Winging it is when you have a plan and something goes wrong, so you have to wing it. This is a much needed skill most teachers have.
- Winging it is when you don’t have a plan and need to wing it. All teachers have had to do this for some reason.
- In this scenario, and in the above scenario, there is an organic component, and it’s why when it happens, it’s not a terrible thing. All teachers can do this and feel the success of holding things together and even having teachable moments.
- Organic teaching is a planned approach to reacting and interacting with the dynamic nature of class. It is that “plan-on-the-fly” Ralph Fletcher refers to.
- Organic teaching starts with a goal (daily,weekly, etc.), but allows daily class dynamic to ebb and flow the work and focus.
- It’s individualized. It’s reactive not just to daily feedback, but to class feedback. It informs instruction daily. The teacher needs to change plans “on the fly.”
Conversely, many teachers plan tightly, and understandably, but they say things like, “I can’t do such-and-such on this date because my students will be doing X,Y, or Z (presenting, testing, etc.).” My idea of the organic approach (and yea, Ralph Flettcher for supporting this!), is that the goals of learning flow with the needs of the students. I cannot imagine honing a presentation date for something for all students into a certain time chunk.
I keep using the pronoun “I,” but I speak for Emily too. She reads through all of these blogs and gives me content and editing feedback.
I speak for both of us when I speak of what we do in the classroom and what we believe. Most of our cohort meetings are about philosophy, not minutiae. Most of what we communicate about are stories of what our students share with us.
I started this blog post with my two exciting things. The first was actually pinning down how many years I’ve taught. The second is about how exciting it was to follow Ralph Fletcher on Twitter.
Dorking out here. Following Ralph Fletcher is exciting, but I’m human, and I’m just dorking out about this:
My guru is following me on Twitter! I don’t know how it happened, but it did. The amazing thing is, he is only following a few hundred people, and thousands are following him. I’m just….I’m just...swooning!
And better still, I was enboldened to thank him for his leadership, and I did. I tweeted directly to him. And then this:
Goal: stop the hyperbole about how long I’ve taught. Keep feeling the gratitiude.
Gratitude: the people who push me and lift me up and make me better, the people in my in-person and online communities who lead and encourage and help us all to empathize with the humanity in the classroom.