Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Same philosophies extend to instructional coaching. It's about clarity of intention, reflection, and ownership. Working side by side. Building communities of learners (of all ages).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Collaborate? Lessons from SCBWI

I had reason today to contemplate the power of sharing expertise in building community.  Earlier this month I attended the SCBWI conference in LA for the first time, where I was overwhelmed by the generosity of so many experienced writers taking time out of their busy schedules to teach and to mentor new writers.  Instead of clutching knowledge tightly in their hot little hands (to preserve for their own use), these writers opened up the vault and let us take a peek inside.  Writing could easily--and understandably--be a competitive field in which individuals look out for themselves first and foremost.  I found the opposite to be true.  It was clear from the energy at the conference that not only were speakers willing to share, but that sharing seemed to fuel them in the same way that the attendees were fueled with inspiration and new insight. 

Like writing, teaching is a job often done in isolation.  Teachers--like writers--work long hours, seek out new learning about their craft, and have to continuously find ways to refill their creative wells.  However, as we find ourselves with less and less time to do more and more work, teachers seem to make sharing and collaborating a smaller professional priority.  As we close our doors and work in greater isolation, community breaks down.  We become competitive rather than collaborative. 

My lesson from SCBWI is that sharing with colleagues should be energy giving and worth the time required if the end result will be exponentially positive.  There is no substitute for being given a true glimpse into how an expert thinks and works.  And we all have expertise to bring to the conversation.  That was a striking feature of the SCBWI conference as well; even as a first time attendee, I was welcomed and treated like a fellow writer, not a clueless newbie. 

In order to put my money where my mouth is, as they say, I have formulated a plan.  One way I am reaching out to other teachers is through this blog.  The writing community online is incredible, and I have learned so much from Twitter and blogs on writing in the past two months.  I would like to connect with the teaching community online this year as well. 

A colleague and I also started a club of sorts (called SPARKS) intended to bring teachers in our building together regularly to share.  A week from Friday is our first meeting, and we plan to have lunch and showcase innovative ideas we are trying in our rooms this year.  (One key rule:  no complaining!  This time is for building energy and community, not for the wah wah wah.)  We hope this group will faciliate more vertical teaming as teachers at different grade levels discover that they have similar interests--creating new support systems and sources of motivation.  We'll see how it goes. . . I'm excited! 

I'm motivated by people who want to learn--like the amazing community I discovered in LA at SCBWI this summer.  I know it took work and dedication to build the SCBWI community.  Children's book authors embraced the concept that the best teaching would have to come from within.  The Golden Kite Luncheon revealed some of that history, and I found myself feeling honored to be in the room and determined to prove myself worthy.  I feel equally strongly that building community among teachers is a task worth undertaking. 

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