Does your practice reflect your beliefs?

Lately I’ve been involved in a lot of professional development where I’m providing space and time for teachers to consider their teaching beliefs. I’ve been nudging teachers to consider:

1. What makes you stick with tough stuff?
2. What does it look like and sound like when we honor students?
3. How can we empower students to write in meaningful ways?
4. What do people need in order to learn to write?
5. What do you believe about teaching/learning conventions?

I’ve come to believe it is essential we know what we believe when it comes to teaching. It’s not enough to have schools mandate writing workshop. Instead, we need teachers who are confident in their beliefs and those beliefs reflect best practice instruction. Solid workshops are built upon research based belief systems.

So often we teach according to how we were taught; therefore if we want to change our practice, we must know what we believe. It is easy to fall into the trap of traditional teaching. This is what we experienced. In some communities it is what is expected. Sometimes we don’t know what else to do. So we line up the desks and pass out the worksheets because, by golly, kids need to learn proper capitalization!

Here’s the thing, though. Just having the beliefs is not enough. They have to be used. First they must be put through the test to make sure they are accurate and true. I’m constantly checking my beliefs against the latest research, as well as current experiences. I’m constantly asking myself if my beliefs are true. Do they withstand my new learning? Do the things happening in classrooms support them?

Next, and this is critical, I consider whether my beliefs are reflected in my practice. People should know what I believe about teaching writers from my actions. Students should know what I believe about teaching writers based on their experiences. For example, if I believe students’ stories matter, then I’ll make time for share sessions. If I believe errors are a sign of growth, then I won’t demand precise perfection in conventions. If I believe time to write makes the biggest difference in learning to write well, then there will be more writing time than teacher talking time. If I believe feedback helps writers the most, then I’ll have more conference notes than letter grades.

I’d like to challenge each of us to make a list of the experiences our students are having as writers. Then compare these experiences to your beliefs about teaching writers. Are your beliefs reflected in the writing experiences?