By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
I teach in a fifth/sixth grade building in the Midwest. I have my kids use journals to improve their writing skills. They write at the end of the day, after the room is cleaned up and the buses haven’t arrived yet. This usually means they get to write for 5-7 minutes. Sometimes I allow them to write about anything they want. Other times I ask them to write about a specific topic. Like yesterday when an incident happened on the playground that I didn’t fully understand. I asked them to share their opinion about it.
I take their journals home each night and write a message back to them. I don't write as much as they do. They write a paragraph or two. I write a sentence or two. It helps me stay connected to each student and insure that I touch each one of them every day.
My new principal doesn't get it. He thinks journal writing is a waste of time. The other day he asked me, "When do you correct the journals?" That question right there shows you in a nutshell what kind of year we have had so far.
He has no idea that if you red-pencil journals kids stop writing. The minute they feel judged they shut down. Journal writing is not about making errors and fixing them. It is mainly about connecting and building trust and relationship. I build trust by telling my students if they don’t want me to read their entry that night to simply fold the page over and paper clip it shut. When I come to a folded page I do not read what is inside. I write on the folded page. "Thank you for trusting me enough to do this. I appreciate it." That is all. In seven years I have never even been tempted to unfold a page and read the comments.
I remember you saying at one of your workshops I attended that relationship with an adult who cares is the number one reason why students behave in school and work to achieve. I believe that wholeheartedly. Journals are only one of the ways I work to connect emotionally with my students. I do not judge their comments. I do not give advice or tell them what to do. I communicate empathy, encouragement and faith in their ability to handle things. What they write to me and I write back to them is private. Everyone in this room respects others students' right to privacy and using journals is a great way to communicate the importance of that important learning.
I make one exception to the privacy rule and I only chose to use it once. One year a student confided in his journal that he was being hit regularly by his stepfather. I am obligated under law to report that. I did. I had a private meeting with this student before I informed my supervisor and explained what I was going to do and why it was necessary. I impressed upon him that his health and safety was my most important concern. He seemed to understand. And all turned out well in the end.
I notice punctuation, grammar and spelling errors in their journal writing. While I do not correct them in the journals I use that data to drive my curriculum. I add some of the misspelled words to the spelling list. I teach specific lessons on common grammar and punctuation errors. Some of my language arts instruction is based on what these students show me they need to learn rather than on what the materials I am given indicate that all students at this grade level need to learn. Whoever created these materials and standards do not know my students the way I do. The people who designed those materials have never been in my room or seen any of my students' journal entries.
I work hard to help my students develop a love for writing. I would welcome and enjoy more understanding, cooperation and appreciation from my new principal. I am a loss about what to do. Help please.
Frustrated in the Midwest
Dear Frustrated in the Midwest,
We both agree. Show him this communication. Today.
Let him know which words you add to the spelling list each week. Invite him in to see a language arts lesson you crafted based on students’ journal writing. Show him samples of students' writing (not journals) early in the year and samples of their writing now. Let him compare before and after.
Make him his personal journal. Challenge him to write in it at the end of each day for five minutes and give it to you to take home. Reply as you would with students. Use appreciation, affirmation and encouragement in your comments. Communicate your faith in him to handle things.
Check out our new webpage: www.spiritwhisperersanctuary.com
. Designed to affirm, uplift, honor and encourage all you Spirit Whisperers who are out there feeling alone. In this sanctuary you will find ideas, articles, resources, posters, quotes and appreciation. Check it out. Pass it on to your administrator and others. Copy something from this site once a week and give it to him.
We have also created a new Facebook page: Spirit Whisperer Oasis
. For those of you who use Facebook, go to the page and LIKE it. When you do, let your finger hover over LIKE until the "get notifications" choice appears. Click that and you will get daily reminders and ideas about teachers and parents who are working to put Spirit back in that important educational trilogy of mind, body, and spirit.
Best wishes and keep the faith,
Chick and Thomas
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for their newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com