Last year, our district leaders determined that this school year would begin a district-wide writing initiative. The leaders in our buildings created a survey which demonstrated our staff was willing and interested to take on this venture. From there, a district committee was formed to work together throughout the summer to create a multi-year plan. This committee actively searched and found training and resources which we hoped would provide a solid foundation of understanding for all committee members. Throughout the summer, we dove into our work. We read specific chapters from Regie Routman’s Read, Write, Lead and met twice to discuss the ideas they sparked. As a team, we also attended UW-Madison’s Literacy by the Lakes conference and loved it! From these experiences, we were able to develop a three year timeline to roll-out to staff. Our year one goals included articulating shared beliefs about writing, exploring what best practices in writing mean for our school district, defining different types of writing by creating shared vocabulary, and conducting environmental writing walk-throughs. We felt good about having a plan, invigorated by our learning, and excited to head into the new school year with a laser like focus on writing.
Cut to five months later and our progress has come to a screeching halt. We have had one meeting since the school year began and that was to plan the one inservice we had available to us as the year’s “writing training.” (Yes, a whole year’s of writing training in a 2 hour afternoon meeting.) We have not read any new chapters, engaged in any further writing discussions, or collected any new writing data. We are all overbooked and frantic and already running on empty with no extra room in our brains or schedules for our wonderfully planned writing focus.
So that’s my reality as I reflect on the first half of the school year and stare the second half right in the face. As a district literacy leader, I’ve spent the last couple of days wondering “Now what?!” Do we drop the team totally and wait for a year or two when the conversation will inevitably come up again and someone will wisely suggest “Hey, we should have a district committee for this!” Do we carve out some precious time and rededicate a second semester to writing even though it might the initiative that breaks the teachers’ backs? Do we gloss it over, say we “pretty much” met our year one goals (you know, because we DID do a 2 hour afternoon inservice on writing), and think about how much better we will do next year?
After drafting the first part of this blog, I spent a few more days reflecting and reading. I picked up Elena Aguilar’s book The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools, which I’ve had for about a year, but haven’t read it as closely as her book The Art of Coaching. Using the quick chart she has in the front of the book, I skipped ahead to Chapter 4 which talked about “defining purpose, process, and product.” As I read the chapter, I felt good about many of the steps we had taken in the summer. We had a common vision; we kept student learning in the forefront of decisions; our team functioned well and did not have conflict. And, as I read the section on writing goals, I realized that while we had the year long goals, maybe we just needed to redefine those goals in smaller chunks. In the last few days, I had been thinking about this writing initiative in absolutes. How could we reach all of these goals? How could I ask all staff members to do all of these things? The ideas in those ten pages wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it helped me take a few steps back and recommit to this writing purpose. Is it worthwhile work? Yes! Will it take time? Yes, but how can that time be spread out manageably in the course of the next sixteen weeks?
The reading and reflecting help me redefine my questions about this writing team. Instead of thinking: “What am I going to do? How will this ever work?” I’m wondering now: “What are the small steps we can take in January and February that might help us reach those large goals at the end of the year?” and “Who can take on different roles and responsibilities with this initiative?” Maybe not everyone, even those of us on the committee, need to be involved in every step or component of the year one goals. I’m hoping that recommitting to my writing team goals by using small steps will help me redefine the overall purpose and outcomes of this team. Now, it’s just taking the next small step!