written conversations example

We all know the importance of reflecting on our practice, but it’s difficult to carve out the necessary time for it. We have bus duty to attend to, students who need help on their homework, lessons to plan, papers to grade, parents to call, and trainings to attend. And, allegedly, we’re going to do all of that (and more) in 40 hours per week. AND we’re supposed to spend dedicated time thinking about and adjusting our professional practice. If that’s happening now, it’s almost certainly not a part of the normal workday, but instead something that’s happening intermittently and/or outside of normal work hours. Like in the month of July…

So instead of trying to add one more thing to your plate, how might the plate be rearranged to provide the needed space to reflect and make changes to your practice? The easiest, most cost-efficient opportunity might just be the last item of the earlier list: rethink your trainings.

In a typical training, how much time are you given to reflect upon your learning? How much time is dedicated to planning, so you can integrate the new tool/idea/skill into an upcoming lesson? What percent of training time is dedicated to making sure that internal voice (you know, the one in your head that provides a running commentary of what’s taking place around you) has the space it needs to offer actionable input on your training instead of just making (silent) snarky comments about how unhelpful this training is? Yeah, we’ve been in those trainings too… But there’s always more material to cover than you have time for and so the first thing to be sacrificed? Reflection time. Here at the Friday Institute, we take reflective practice very seriously, making sure we build in not just time but protocol to give teachers the appropriate scaffolding to think about their work and begin creating the kinds of mental models needed to successfully and meaningfully improve our work. One such protocol is called “written conversations,” developed by Harvey Daniels and brought to our team’s repertoire by our own Tavia Clark. Here’s how to do it:

Begin with a text, which can be an article or a series of different texts or other written material that you find important to your audience. If you choose a single text, you’ll want to split it up so that each paragraph is on a separate page. Then, create a poster or piece of chart paper with the article or paragraph in the center of it. Each person starts at a different poster, reads through the article/paragraph, and writes their thoughts somewhere in the blank space of the poster. After a specified amount of time, all participants rotate to the next poster where they reflect both on the text and on the previous person’s thoughts about the text. This process repeats until all participants have had the opportunity to visit each station. The activity concludes with a debrief between participants where they share their key understandings and begin synthesizing their thoughts with the practical implications of their work. The overall structure of the activity gives silent thinking time to those who need it, empowering their voices and allowing their thoughts to expand and coalesce as they move from one reading to the next while giving time to those who need to talk through their thinking to begin making practical application.

We have been using this protocol in a number of professional learning experiences and each time, it is received enthusiastically. One small change you might consider, based on time and space availability is using manila folders for the articles instead of large posters. While the posters are great for incorporating physical movement and multi-color markers, manila folders and ink pens can provide the same experience if you’re tight on space. In our recent NCDLCN kick-off, for example, we provided instructional coaches and teacher-leaders with a single article divided into paragraphs, taping each paragraph into a manila folder and then divided the room into groups of five, each group working through the above protocol as a self-contained unit. At the end, we let the groups debrief about their learning. For more information about written conversations, check out the resources that Tavia has created.

instructional coaches reflecting on an article about coaching   Instructional coaches reflect on an article about coaching

How are you providing time and space for reflection? We’re on a quest to keep learning and we hope you’ll join us! Tweet your ideas to @fridayinstitute using the hashtag #FIPL.