This Bears Repeating

Today Jenn Gonzalez posted a guest blog written by Sherri Spelic—Sherri also acknowledges the role that the Slice of Life blogging community fostered and shepherded by Two Writing Teachers plays, important to developing as a writer within any community—entitled “Noticing the Good Stuff.”  The writing is clear and specific and provides terrific ideas for honoring the positive in any classroom and school culture.  Having been retired for almost a full year now, I can say without qualification, that what Sherri advises is 100% true!

It also strikes me that very few educators will actually heed her advice or incorporate her ideas into classroom practice because, well, we are not a very kind-to-ourselves population.  The opening chapter of Hacking School Culture: Designing Compassionate Classrooms by Angela Stockman and Ellen Feig Gray starts with self-compassion as well.  Now that I have an excess of time, I work on this idea, but I know that when I was in the classroom, I did too little of it, as if the practice of noticing joy in the everyday was self-indulgent.

I hope anyone reading this, will read Sherri’s post, and think about how many of her suggestions are grounded in sound pedagogy.  If real learning is about relationships, as much research supports, then the “silver bullet” has been fired.  For example:

  • “When a student gives you a compliment, listen carefully. Which compliments do you hear from students most often? What do your students love about you?”

The idea of assessing patterns and analyzing metadata may be as simple as this.  If a teacher values and invites meta-cognitive practice, self-reflection among students, then looking for what works with students by their admission is a terrific place to start.  Their criticisms are also worth noticing, particularly in the aggregate, but compliments are where the gold is buried.

  • “When you examine student work, notice evidence of growth. List all the things, large and small, that you accomplished, helped along, kept in check, turned around, made happen in the process….”

To feel that you have created something improved is sometimes all it takes to keep going.  No matter what remains to be conquered, writing is always evolving, as are most skills, so celebrate the growth.  This suggestion honors both the writer and the writing mentor.  (Man, I wish I had done more of this!  It is only the best young writers who can slog ahead when all they receive is deficit feedback.  I think about how many times I tried to “fix” writing rather than reveling in the attempt of a writer to challenge herself.)  Writing more for myself now, I thoroughly realize the truth of this.  Someone commenting specifically on a turn of phrase or observation in a blog post makes my day, inspires me to work toward that effect again.  And my appreciation is contagious, I’m thinking, building confidence and engagement in my audience.  Kathleen Bomer, author of Hidden Gems, led a passionate session at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) heralding the same.  I didn’t listen hard enough then, but I wish I had.

When I return to the classroom, this is the one practice I will cultivate.  Perhaps our trying to do too much is at the heart of teaching; there is always so much to do.  But honoring the growth, the good we all are doing as learners together, seems like the foundation of it all.

**I’m adding this today, Tuesday, the actual day for SOL, because I have just completed HACK #4 in Stockman and Gray’s most thought-provoking book  .  Bill Ferriter, author of the blog The Tempered Radical, is quoted in this chapter focusing on equity, our “response ability.”   “‘When I start the day deliberately naming the strengths of my students, their weaknesses don’t leave me frustrated….I’m far more tolerant when the wheels fall off the bus during the course of the day'” (64).

5 thoughts on “This Bears Repeating”

  1. I love this! As I sit here reading your words, I am wearing a shirt that says “always stay humble and kind.” Finding the gems in a student’s writing and all around us is so important. Thank you for this.

  2. I also love Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog and podcast! She always posts thought-provoking things. I know I don’t focus on the good stuff enough in the classroom, and that is something that I am trying to be better about.

    1. It truly will be my focus as I begin anew…too much negativity surrounds us, and while some criticize can motivate us, I am not sure it can do that for students who lack a thick skin and a history of disappointment in the classroom.

  3. Thank you for this reminder:
    “But honoring the growth, the good we all are doing as learners together, seems like the
    foundation of it all.”
    When focusing on what a student is doing well instead of the multitude of things that need work, we see the confidence of our young writers blossom. The rest will come. So true, yet so hard sometimes to heed.

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