Where do I begin… The first thing that comes to mind is how much. How could so much growth happen in just one week and a couple of Saturdays. Then I realized, oh… yea, they’re using the “workshop” model on us. This experience has moved me to my core. Inspiration would do little to describe what has begun to occur… it’s life changing.
This past week, I’ve had the opportunity to think back and acknowledge every moment of literacy in my life, as far back as my memory would allow. I remembered my sister reading to me those Disney books, especially her favorite... Cinderella; I remembered my brother John creating bedtime stories for me, impromptu, off the top of his head, with that same sweet character, Freddy. I wonder if he remembers. My memories scanned across my old house to the four shelves full of encyclopedias that came with the house we moved into when I was five… and my exploration of them as a child. Mozart, I remember Mozart and his genius in one of those books. His story fascinated me, even before I could read those enormous words. All of it came in and out of my memory like gushing, powerful tornadoes, moving in all directions. It was like I’d been given the chance to relive my life, my beginning, my middle, and now. There’s so much to reflect on… only now, after some sleep, can I focus on what jumps out of my memory.
I have gained a better understanding of what workshop truly is and what it is not. I am in the process of learning more… and I hope my process comes to no end. When should my process, or anyone else’s process of learning end? Never, I hope. The process of learning should continue indefinitely, much like the process of loving. If you think of it as loving… “When do you stop loving your children?” You don’t. It may grow and grow, but it won’t stop.
My thinking and reflection draws me back to my HTWP interview on March 6th. I remember telling a friend, when she asked what it was like… “it was great… talking in that group… I felt like I could breathe.” I could breathe. I felt a freedom that I had not felt before, and I didn’t want to leave. There is no nut shell for recounting what I’ve learned up to this point. First, the reading… the hours and hours of reading the research that is required is enough to earn a person a new degree I think, but it should be this way. We need to have this background. It is essential to our purpose, our mission. It solidifies what we practice and gives us the research to back our purpose for using this model. It is masterful to do this work. I feel blessed to know that this is something I love. How lucky is one to find what they love to do in life. I feel lucky.
I began my first class on my birthday, March 25th. Doesn’t that say the most. This was my gift. That’s how I see it. It began to unravel for me, like the most beautiful symphony. “A life well lived has writing in the center.” Writers evolve. Engaging one’s own life and learning what’s in the center of it, is where we should begin. How many of us teachers know this, or teach with this concept in mind? Shouldn’t every teacher know this? It feels unjust knowing that so many don’t.
Why should we focus on living a writer’s life? “We teach people how to pay attention to their lives, because their lives matter… we teach them to write, to show them their lives matter.” “Writing is a craft we work on, like an artist works on marble.”
I learned a crazy fact this past week. It was my great big fat bright purple-fuchsia elephant in the room… so big, so obvious, and yet, so hard for me to realize until now. Language arts… it’s an art. An art. Not a curriculum, or a tightly laid out, minute by minute meticulously organized lesson plan. That would be the work for robots. It is an art form taught by humans to allow other humans to grow into their greatest abilities. This is what learning is and should be for every child, every human.
This work is not unicorns and fairytales, and I feel for the students of those who so narrowly believe that it is. This work is deep intellectual work and it is not easy to deliver. In fact, it is the most difficult to deliver. To expect your students to engage in their learning, while holding them at the highest expectations, to guide them by example with respect and dignity, to invite them to learn, to have a curriculum tailored for them, to help build them and their identities, to birth in them a thirst for knowledge within a space of freedom, not a free for all, but a learning sanctuary… a learning community, where humans and their every work is celebrated, where learning is an invitation, not a mandate, where talk is welcomed and practiced every day, where they learn to be thinkers, instead of compliant followers, and where rituals for learning can continue for the rest of their lives... is not easy to accomplish. Workshop is a structured freedom to grow and learn. It is anti-formulaic in form. This is the genius path. Why this and not the other? Well, how much opportunity for genius can you really have by handing over a worksheet to a young child. There were moments I wanted to get up and scream… “Teachers! Be brave!… be masters of your space and guide your students to grow into their own, not into compliance!” But I don’t scream… it’s not professional, well... at least not at school I don’t.
I tried to explain this model to my husband last night. Explaining workshop to some, for me, is almost like trying to explain that unicorns exist. So, I gave him an example, because it’s what you do in a workshop model. I told him to imagine he attended a workshop given by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Then I asked him to imagine that Mozart would probably begin his teaching in tiny pieces, then expect that you would spend most of the time in practice, a lot of practice. He would guide you bit by bit, in small focused lessons, into the intricacies of the piano, talk to you, have you talk with others to sculpt the craft in practice, to discover how to work each note best, how to hold your hands over the keys, how to discover issues that may cause trouble, like your sitting position, which has nothing to do with the piano itself, but important, and only discovered through practice and observation. He wouldn’t teach you his genus of The Piano Sonata No 1, in one sitting or expect that your purpose is to memorize it, to reach genus. He would however, expect that you would develop into your own genus by allowing you the freedom to practice, to live it, feel it, and grow into it. Then I asked my husband, how much could you learn, say, if Mozart handed you a worksheet each day to learn this craft? Do you understand? He did.
My goal is to finish strong this intense learning opportunity that has been gifted to me. My plan is to lead, and teach with the passion of a master of a craft. I want to teach every year like it is the last year I’ll ever teach. We only get one shot to reach students each year. I don’t want to miss my opportunity to change lives.
“Knowledge unfits a child to be a slave.” -Fredrick Douglas.
Marina Rodriguez is a California native, living and teaching in Texas, and a National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project, Teacher Consultant.