Working WITH Students, Not AT Them

This year, my classroom has taken the turn toward the writer’s workshop method of teaching.

I couldn’t be happier.

It feels so much better to be working with my students instead of at them. One of the sayings that swirls around the workshop model is this: if you cannot automatically find the teacher in the classroom, you know you’re doing it right. If it weren’t for my receding hairline and established lines at the corner of my eyes, you wouldn’t be able to find me.

For my hour-long class, I’m proud to say that I’m sitting among my students (writing, reading, talking, thinking, re-writing, sharing, and more) for fifty minutes. In previous years, even when I focused on discussion and sharing ideas, it was probably the reverse of that. I mean, over the last nine years, I could check and send emails during class. Now, there is no time for it. We’re just too busy working together.

But “working together” has never quite looked like it did yesterday morning.

Four students and I were working together to create a podcast for the #MichED website (

This idea came from Brad Wilson (Twitter: @dreambition), a connection I made via the MACUL conference in March, who is trying to build up a Michigan Education podcast which focuses on student and teacher voices. When I said we’d be up for taking a session, Brad gave us the freedom to create.

So, with blank page, we started. The students and I were equal as we took on the challenge of creating. All of a sudden, I was working on a process with my students. We started like we start in class–with audience and purpose. Then, the students just let the conversation flow. They talked a bit about the frustrations (and importance) of standardized tests; they talked about the powerful and limiting effect of grades and rubrics; they talked about good teaching and what that looked like.

All the while, I was listening, learning, and taking notes. Then, just as it would with my colleagues, the idea came out–it was born out of conversation. We would talk about change. Because, when a teacher changes, he is not the only one who goes through that change, that transformation. When a teacher changes, the students have to change with him.

So, change it is.

That will be our topic in an upcoming #MichEd podcast and I couldn’t be happier to be working with these students on the project.

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