I just finished an ugly cry. You know, the kind where you sob until your eyes close so tightly that you wonder if you might hurt yourself? The delicious, exhausting, purge of a cry that leaves you breathless and wholly satisfied at the same time? In my humble opinion, it’s the type of weep-fest that only great writing can deliver, and I am delighted to report that I just slobbered my way through another story’s end that left me wanting to pick up the book and start right over again. On the recommendation of colleague, I picked up A Monster Calls on Friday afternoon during last period and finished it by Sunday afternoon.
Though I could go on for pages about how amazing this book is, and how excited I am to book talk this story tomorrow, and how transformative I think this text could be for some of my kids, it’s what led me to this text that I find really important right now. As a result, approximately eight minutes after finishing that book, seven minutes after shoving a copy of it into my husband’s hands and insisting he “Read this. Read this immediately” (thankfully we’ve been married long enough that he can recognize a literary induced meltdown and not fear for his own safety), five minutes after texting half my department to tell them of my ugly-cry recommendation, and three minutes after blowing my nose one more time and pulling myself together enough to see the screen clearly, here I am. Counting the minutes until school starts, so I can tell students about this text. It’s the best feeling and it’s fueled by what I have deemed A Workshop Whirlwind.
A Workshop Whirlwind. And that’s not just cutesy alliteration either. It’s representative of an urgent and necessary flurry in my teaching career. And I, for one, could not be more excited. You see, it was this past week that Workshop came to knock on the door of the Franklin High School English Department in a real and meaningful way. And this is the story of how we’ve started down a path that I believe will change our practice and lead our students to see themselves as both readers and writers in a way we would not have thought possible.
Our journey with workshop is a unique one. We are going to be moving to this new delivery method as a whole group in one glorious leap. Thankfully, by a bit of divine intervention, we have had the support of the lovely and overwhelmingly talented ladies at Three Teachers Talk. It was TTT that gave us a place to land and see that workshop is not only possible at the high school level, but it can make a world of difference for our kids. And it was a little over a year ago, with the knowledge that my department was being asked to drastically change our day to day practice, that I pored through post after post on this blog searching for guidance. How to plan, how to assess, how to hold kids accountable, and how to organize, but most importantly…how to inspire our students. How to help them see that reading and writing could be so much more than an assignment. That our study of English could be a study of what it means to be. What it means to feel.
Now, change is rarely easy. In fact it sometimes leads to a brand of ugly-crying that is reserved for just these circumstances, where you feel the happy ship you’ve been sailing on has hit something substantial and the band has already started playing “Nearer My God to Thee.” Everyone find a lifeboat! We’re never going to make it out of here alive! I liked this boat a lot better before you put this big hole in the side.” And that, my friends, is what change does to a person. What change can do to an English department. Like the seven stages of grief, change too has its stages, and I’ve both felt these stages and watched my department try to stay afloat as this major shift comes our way. See, we aren’t individual contractors, coming at this move to workshop only out of our own desire to do so. This is a district level move that has led to the following:
|Shock||They want us to do what? I can’t even. I just…can’t.|
|Denial||This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.|
|Anger||Nope. Just nope. You people are crazy. We should just set the place on fire, while we’re at it.|
|Bargaining||I can still teach __________ right? I’ll do this workshop thing, but only if I can still teach ________.|
|Depression||Whatever. It’s fine. More change. Not like we aren’t used to it. What does it matter, anyway? What does any of it matter? I’ll be in my room, reading __________ (please see stage above).|
|Testing||Well, I guess I could give them time to read at the start of class. That makes sense to me. I love books too, so, natural move.|
|Acceptance||I too am a reader and writer. I can do this.|
And now, I am happy to report an eighth and amazing stage to this move – genuine enthusiasm.
In the last week, since Amy and Shana came to lead our department in two incredible days of professional development, I have felt a surge of excitement at everything I want to do in my own classroom and I’ve seen my entire department rally around this initiative in a way I would not have thought possible. In the last week, the halls of Franklin High School have echoed with book talks, students are curled up in corners with texts, and teachers are chatting about trying out new strategies and putting together mini lessons. In the last week, the Wisconsin “Bleak Mid-Winter February” has been anything but.
The teachers I am privileged to work with have been doing phenomenal work for years, since long before I joined their team. Their skill and passion, which has long fueled their sincere desire to help students learn, makes this an incredible place to work. And so, while my team would collectively injure me if I announced that everyone feels totally relaxed and ready to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, I can confidently say that our journey has begun. We are poised and now also excited, to continue learning with and inspiring our students in new ways.
No ugly crying required.
Lisa Dennis is the English Department Manager at Franklin High School in Franklin, WI. Her energetic leadership and insight leads her department into the wonderful world of workshop instruction. TTT appreciates Lisa’s candor and drive to do right by her colleagues — and all their students. We thank God for teachers like Lisa!