“I’m curious. Tomorrow as you wake up and head out the door to start your day, you are faced with the reality that all educational institutions have been permanently shut down. How does this impact your lives? And, most importantly, what are you going to do about it?”
As I set out to write this piece, I internally chuckle as I reminisce about the beginning of the school year. Three weeks ago, if you had peered into room 382 to see what my Social Justice and Student Voice class was up to, you’d be welcomed by silence and quizzical looks replacing the vibrant and eager-to-learn sparkle in students’ eyes. This off-the-cuff question became the catalyst for an unplanned three week project. Here’s how:
- I happened to be curious about something.
- Students couldn’t stop talking about it.
- All other plans were pushed aside.
- Then, magic!
At that very moment, eleven principals were born.
From Dr. Collins to Principal Senat, students decided the only way to ensure that all human beings are given a fair shot at pursuing their dreams and goals is to reconstruct our educational system. And they were very clear about this – the system needs to be customized to meet the needs of students far and wide. Who better to do so then those most versed on the issue? Vision, passion, and commitment ooze out of these change agents as they take to the process.
As students have welcomed and emerged themselves in taking on this charge, there’s not much room for me in the process! The way in which I sliver my way in is by providing guidance and options regarding organization. Here’s what it looks like:
* Write! Just write! There need not be any organization at first. Students glanced at me through the corners of their eyes, caught each other’s eyes, glanced back, and repeated this eye game various times. When they noticed I was not giving any further guidance they realized “she’s serious”. And they tried it.
* Get dirty! (Again, the eyes.) When I explained that getting dirty means you can tell Principal Gordon “has been here” because he’s ruffled up his thoughts, he’s playing with his words, and he’s continuing to shift around his ideas…they liked the sound of others knowing “they had been there”. Armed with highlighters, post-its, and colored pens. Again, they tried.
* Now, let’s start to organize! I know I know…it feels a little backward, but without students feeling as though they have to write in boxes, this process frees them. They write first, organize next. Yes, the key to the Writer’s Workshop! Write down the main topics in which you have decided to write about. (See loose leaf) Partner a topic with a color. Each topic deserves its own post-it with the same color.
*Once topics are color-coded and placed on post-its, now students have freedom to move their topics around! Literally. Students have a holistic scope on all of the topics they have written about and now move post-its around in the order in which they want to introduce (and discuss) their topics.
*Now, go into your paper using the color you indicated for each topic and underline wherever you find ideas about the topic! Many times students enjoy seeing the same color throughout additional parts of the paper. This visual guide helps them realize that their writing is (while sometimes scattered) valuable, and even though they (unintentionally) drop the topic into various parts of the paper, they have the power to locate it, restructure it, and reorganize it.
*Would you like to take a look? Students, when comfortable, reach out to other students to peer review their work. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to talk practice, content, and work through ideas together. I provide them with guidelines on how to productively, and respectfully, provide feedback. (Pardon the red marker. Students gravitate toward them! Next up: using gentler colors for all revisions!)
*When all of our drafting has landed in a comfortable place, we take to formalizing “Best Drafts”. (Thanks to Penny Kittle for this wonderful and inviting phrase students and I have comfortably adopted). Each principal now makes themselves cozy in their “offices” and takes to their visual presentation. Our principal and assistant principal will be in the audience when students present their projects next week. Students have expressed some nerves, but little do these experts know we’re all here to borrow a few ideas from them!
Eleven principals, three weeks of hard work, and one wildly proud educator makes for quite the beginning-of-the-year journey. While finding the moments in which I can guide students along their writing paths, and support them individually in the way in which they succeed best; I can resort less to asking how to educate, and listen to what they are offering. They are whispering to me through their vision. These educational leaders have invited me to understand their views on what an educational system, derived on justice, looks like. I am now the student.