Lee Ann Lyons, Consultant, Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leadership
This summer the Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leadership partnered with Santa Fe School District by offering a summer institute on the teaching of writing. Twenty teachers and two facilitators came together in a single meeting room that was transformed from a non-descript meeting room into a small community that included a coffee shop, library, study and conference room. The room was filled with art and the aesthetics that make creating something new flow a little easier. Entering the room, teachers immediately saw evidence of the transformation that would happen here. They knew they were in for an intense experience.
It was a cool July Santa Fe morning, where the crisp azure sky demonstrates the promise of a new day. Along with the promise, for many, there was a sense of dread that first days often bring. For some, the dread was of an interruption to summer where one could finally relax enough to sleep a whole night through. For others the sense of dread came from the fact that they would be put in a vulnerable position and be expected to write when they did not see themselves as writers. Not only would they be asked to write, but they would also be asked to share their writing with others. The question loomed in the recreated room – what will we create together?
All teacher understood they would spend an intense nine days focusing on the teaching of writing in the elementary and middle school using the Lucy Calkins Units of Study curriculum. Indirectly, they had agreed to become a part of a collaborative culture we would build together. By showing up, all of us were making a promise to each other to learn and grow and create together. This is how transformation begins.
Some teachers had begun using the Units of Study curriculum, and some were thinking about using it for the upcoming year. They understood that as strong as the curriculum is, it can not stand by itself. Those who had been using the curriculum knew that Units of Study presuppose that teachers are writers, and yet few teachers see themselves as writers. As one participant stated, “I think I was a little hesitant about being a writer during this workshop…that I didn’t really identify myself as one. But you guys were right! If you write, it will come. And boy did it ever! It was awesome to see my VOICE on paper and to hear it out of another’s mouth. It gave my words power, in turn, giving me power.”
Those familiar with the Calkins curriculum understood that almost one third of the mini-lessons in Units of Study require the teacher to use his/her own writing as the basis for instruction with the students. They knew they needed a powerful professional development experience that would allow them to achieve maximum benefit of the curriculum. This must include an opportunity to build relationships with other teachers to form a strong collaborative cohort committed to peer-to-peer professional growth and high quality writing instruction. Another participant shared, “After experiencing people’s response to my writing and exploring others’ writing, I began to believe in myself as a writer. I felt a connection to fellow writers that experienced difficulty in the process as well. This is exactly what I want my students to experience, empowerment through experiential growth.” Another shared, “Linda and Lee Ann provided very focused, inspiring, direct feedback on all we wrote and said. Invaluable! We have also formed a community of writers to support each other throughout the year and in our next two meetings.”
On the afternoon of the ninth day, the art and books started disappearing from the room, turning it back into the drab meeting room. Yet, something remained in the circle of teachers. Teachers shared hugs, good-byes, and promises to stay in touch, clear evidence of what we created together. A community of writers was born. These Santa Fe teachers were forever changed into committed, confident writers.