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Turn 'Should' into 'Can': Taking Writer's Workshop One Step at a Time

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When I began my consulting business, I felt ready and eager to coach teachers (although I knew I had a lot to learn!). However, I knew nothing about starting a business. In fact, I tried to ignore the fact that I actually had to be a "businessperson" and wanted to only focus on coaching. It didn't take long for me to realize I would indeed need to pay attention to and learn oh so much about the ins and outs of owning and growing a business.

As I began to do more to promote my work, I saw what colleagues in the field were doing, what they had to offer and the various resources and tools they were using. Then, I did what many of us do...I compared myself to them. And, instead of comparing myself as a business beginner against business veterans and realizing I shouldn't be performing at their level, I would think, "I should be doing that" or "I should have more website visitors" and on and on and on. I ended up placing too much pressure on myself by looking towards expectations that were beyond my reach at the time.

I have a feeling that the amazing teacher reading this post can relate to worrying about the "shoulds" when it comes to writing instruction. Do any of the following statements sound familiar to you?

  • I should know how to do this.

  • These lessons should be better.

  • I should have more of a plan.

  • My lesson should look like that.

  • My students should be doing more.

  • I should know how to support that student.

The teachers with whom I collaborate think and say statements like these all of the time when it comes to teaching writing. Almost all of the teachers I meet with are used to a more traditional way of teaching writing, and therefore have little to no experience with Writer's Workshop or authentic, student-centered writing instruction. YET- almost every one of them feels they should be experts at it right away. They may not say that out loud, but I know that deep down, they are holding on to expectations for themselves that are beyond their currently ability.

Imagine being asked to coach a children's sports team for a sport you have never coached. Even if you have had experience playing the sport, the role of coach is new to you. Do you think you are going to get your team of 8 year olds - most of whom have limited soccer skills - to be little Messi clones in your first season? No! You are going to struggle with finding a practice plan that works, identifying best positions for players and so much more. You will most likely get better as the season goes on, and will definitely see some growth in your players, but you will also have many areas in which to improve as a coach.

As you begin to transform your writing instruction, you have to let go of what you think you SHOULD be doing and begin to realize what you CAN do. You must give yourself grace to begin where you are, knowing that you will improve in a variety of areas in your own time. Some things will come naturally, and you will catch on to them quickly. Other practices will take more time to understand and put into place. You will be taking on a new way of managing students' writing pieces, changing the amount of teacher support you and guidance you provide, and letting go of old ideas and expectations. This will not happen for you overnight!

You also will need to accept that you may not see every student progress in the way you feel they could. This is due to the fact that you are trying to handle so much and do so many new things that you will most likely not be able to individualize your support as much as those who are more experienced with this type of writing instruction. And guess what! That is OK!

I promise you that making these changes and allowing your students to write with autonomy, which will therefore increase their motivation to write as well as their enjoyment of writing, will cause your students to grow and will set them up on a path to becoming the writers they are meant to be!

I know you can do great things as a writing teacher! Just remember to take one step at a time and allow yourself the space and time you need to truly learn this amazing way of teaching writing!

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