Critical Connections with Ourselves, Our Students, and Each Other

Recently, my friend’s 10 year old son asked: “How is retirement going?” First reaction: ummm…say what now?! But he explained himself: “You are no longer going to teach kids in a classroom, so you are retiring from that.” And he is right…the teaching that I have been doing for the past 15 years is over (at least for now). Nothing like the innocence of a 10 year old to give you some perspective.

However, the pattern of having anxiety dreams the week before school starts didn’t stop. And I found myself thinking about the following…

How would I begin this school year?!

If I was heading back into the classroom this fall it would be either a fully remote or hybrid context and the factor that would cause me the most anxiety would be TIME. I give 20-30 minutes of reading and writing time (combined) at the beginning of EVERY class.

Q: How could I still provide and nurture reading and writing habits consistently while teaching remotely?

As in a F2F context, what we give time for is what we show has value. I would definitely use synchronous time to read and write together as a class and then share in breakout rooms. This wouldn’t change in concept, just in execution.

Another source of tension would be:

Q: How to use synchronous and asynchronous time most effectively?

In his HBP article, Dan Levy, states that…

Synchronous learning is better when you think it is important to have the following:

  • Exchanges of perspectives among your students.
  • Students learning from each other.
  • Interactions in which you’re playing the role of facilitator or mediator.
  • Opportunities to build community.

Asynchronous learning is better when you think it is important to have the following:

  • Students developing a common foundation before class
  • An assessment of your students’ perspectives or background on the subject
  • Students being able to engage with the material at their own pace/gain prior knowledge.
  • Students spending a substantial amount of time pondering and reflecting.”

The whole point of meeting synchronously is should be to connect with our students. I would try to not start a synchronous class with an actual lesson, and I would definitely provide many opportunities for writing our thoughts down.

I see each class beginning with a digital moment (coined by my former Professor Wendy Barber): an opportunity to connect and share something personal. Using Padlet or a simple table in a Google Doc are easy tools for this…but I would also encourage still using a writer’s notebook—there is just something about writing my hand that changes the thinking that I do.

Feeling Disconnected

The reality is…I am not heading back into the classroom. And so all those musings above will remain conceptual. I am in a major transition phase—I feel like I reached a career peak (of sorts) and when I got to the top, I could only see more peaks in the distance and I realized that I wanted to climb them, too. This current phase is definitely uncomfortable (Brené Brown calls it the “Day 2” phase and she has a new podcast episode about it, too). “Day 2” is like climbing down a mountain in the dark…you are not quite sure where you are going, but you know that you can’t turn back. And within this place of uncertainty, I have also realized (thanks to my friend’s 10 year old) that I am grieving—grieving the loss of my life in Abu Dhabi, the fact that I will mostly likely not have my own classroom again, and the collegiality of working alongside other teachers who want to learn and be better.

And it was that last part (around collegiality) that got me thinking about what I could offer this year for my theme: I could still talk to my colleagues about teaching and learning …and mostly about how they are incorporating writing in their curriculum. So, yes, this is (selfishly) partly about me…providing a space where I can still have conversations that get me excited about education with my people, where my musings can go beyond this page. But this is also about all of us…about being inspired to continue to make shifts in our thinking about what and how we are teaching in order to create even more joyful writing experiences for our students. So instead of retreating into my own mountain range (and I am currently living in a beautiful one), I am going to connect with a few friends/colleagues from various schools around the world to see what they are thinking about writing this year—how it is the same…and (hopefully, more so) how it is different.

Because, let’s face it, the majority of teachers are heading back to the fall academic year in an unfamiliar learning topography. But this unfamiliarity, this making our way through the dark, allows for new trails to be discovered—the way forward is no longer a clear worn, comfortable path in front of us. And thank goodness for that!

So what exactly am I going to do?

I hope to have 2-3 conversations throughout the year (beginning, middle, and end of the year ideally) with a group of teachers from a variety of grade levels and subject areas (although most will be English based). I will record the conversations and post the videos as well as have a written component reflecting on the conversation, linking any resources discussed, and asking questions to continue our thinking.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • How do you see yourself as a writer?
  • What types of writing do you focus on in your class?
  • Are there changes to how you will incorporate writing this year?
  • Are there any constraints on your curriculum in relation to writing?
  • What is your goal for students in connection to their writing lives?
  • What are your favourite resources for teaching writing?

Who are these teachers?

It is my intention that these will be authentic conversations between educators who are just trying to be a little better at their craft, and I cannot wait to get started! But first…let me introduce you to a few of the beautiful humans who agreed to add a little bit more to their plate this year:

  1. Caitlin Wingers. Grade 3. International Schools Group District; Jubail, Saudi Arabia.
  2. Matthew Foss. HL Language and Literature (IB). American Community School; UAE.
  3. Laura Manker. Grade 9 World History & IB Psychology. American Embassy School; New Delhi, India.
  4. Elizabeth Nunan. Grade 3. International School of Beijing; Beijing, China.
  5. Jordan Moog. Grade 9 Social Studies & Grade 10/11 AP US History. American Community School of Abu Dhabi; UAE.
  6. Kendra Kuti. Grade 6 & 8 Language Arts. TAISM; Muscat, Oman.
  7. Amanda Kennedy. Grade 8, 10, 11 English. Vancouver, Canada.
  8. Jason Charles. Grade 9 Integrated Science & SL/HL Biology (IB). American Community School of Abu Dhabi; UAE

Oh…hello. *smirk*

Here is a video where a few of them introduce themselves:

You will notice that I am not just talking to HS English teachers (my comfort zone)…I am extending into ES and MS as well as into Humanities, Science, and Mathematics. Why?? (1) Moving Writers has expanded its base, so why shouldn’t I, right?! (2) In my humble opinion…writing should be taught across the curriculum.

I am so thankful for this opportunity to stay connected with my teacher friends from around the world… to talk to them about teaching and learning and writing and just being better. It is easier to navigate unfamiliar territory collectively—forging paths forward through this uncertain, yet opportunistic, context.

Do you have any pressing questions for writing in your subject area/grade level? Are you making any intentional changes to your writing curriculum this year? What is an area of writing that you would like to work on this year? I’d love to hear your comments below or on Twitter @ReadWriteMore and you can follow my blog at, too!

At Moving Writers, we love sharing our materials with you, and we work hard to ensure we are posting high-quality work that is both innovative and practical. Please help us continue to make this possible by refraining from selling our intellectual property or presenting it as your own. Thanks!