Why circles? They are egalitarian and invite participation. They allow everyone to see and hear everyone else, unfettered by furniture or belongings. They allow greater access to our hearts and bodies, not just our heads. Circles are an ancient way to gather and share in a way that supports connection.
I am drawn to circles.
I tend to doodle circles and spirals absentmindedly especially when in a meeting.
The inner circle label came from the idea of being in a wedding party. As an introvert it is often difficult to be in a social situation where I do not know the procedure. I like to know where I am going and who I am sitting with and what the expectations are for my behavior. When you’re in the inner circle you don’t have to feel like you’re on the outside. You feel like you belong.
I’m fascinated by silent circles, talking circles, and restorative circles. The quote above illustrates this point beautifully for me.
Another quote that resonates is :
“You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with,” a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn.
I’ve learned for this to be true in an influential way.
Think about sitting at a round table vs a rectangular table. I much prefer a round table especially for conversation. I must admit it reminds me of baby and wedding showers in a reception halls. The round tables are not coincidence — circles breed connection and conversation. I’m always searching for deep conversation even though at times I find it energy depleting rather than energy giving. I suppose this energy shift depends on the people and the conversation. Luckily, I’ve had deep conversations with one person and up to a small group of eight.
Some circles are implied but not physical like critique circles and writing circles. The element of connection is still there.
One of the newest components of an ELA program we are implementing at work is CREW. The idea of crew is that everyone has a job and no one is a passenger. We are all getting to the same destination but the experience is different if you are crew or just a passenger. It is a meeting with your class that is to foster relationships. All the students and the teacher stand in a circle and start the day with a greeting that involves their name. Every child deserves to have their name spoken in a positive tone every day. Then there is a team building activity or a shared reading so there can be talk. It helps everyone get to know each other.
What are the circles that are most energy giving to you? Do you use circles in your classroom?
Last week I attended a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia where I was able to explore models, critique, and descriptive feedback in the context of education and a new curriculum. While I was grappling with the new information within a new philosophy I was struck with intellectual lightening bolts and I considered my own writing practice talking with my table mates.
I love it when bubbles of my life run into each other — in this case teaching, coaching, and writing.
In the workshop I learned the purpose of the feedback is to motivate, inspire, engage, and to help them become leaders of their own learning. Everyone needs a coach from ballet dancers and basketball players to writers, but there are key components about the feedback that make it more powerful.
In order to produce high quality work you need to know what high quality work looks like so models or exemplars are important. Students need to know what they are striving for in an end product.
I have used this idea for years. My go to example is to think of the last time you wrote your resume. I am certain you Googled at least one or two examples for you to reference before you wrote your own. Many teachers expect students to write pieces with no prior knowledge of the structure when as adults we would not follow the same practice.
Feedback is taught to be given as kind, helpful and specific.
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it specific?
A learner cannot make revisions to their work if they do not know what to change. Students are given feedback from teachers and peers in order to grow and to specifically improve the piece of work no matter what subject area. A fundamental piece of the puzzle is trust between the people giving and receiving feedback.
Following the rules stated above, feedback is intended to be positive so the results are improvement. People can be sensitive — and there is no reason to be unkind anyway. The process helps all parties become better at their craft.
Part of the key aspects of this area my group discussed was that it is essential for students to learn how to do this process well. It is a structured and the specific feedback needs to be given in small chunks so it is not overwhelming and changes can be made. You for instance don’t look for content, facts, statistics, and sensory details at all the same time. You do one at a time and change during each revision pass so it is done well and systematically.
“I liked it” is not helpful feedback to the writer at all.
“The prompt stated we need to provide 3 examples of evidence and you only provided 2,” is specific.
People like various delivery methods of feedback — small groups, written, pair shares, or being directly told.
Quality feedback has the ability to reshape students thinking about quality work and is a mindset shift.
Feedback is differentiated. Some students will need multiple passes of feedback from multiple readers. Other students may need just one reader. It is very individual.
This process promotes a positive culture for students. They learn to lean on each other for help with they need it and everyone becomes better.
Connection to My Writing Life
Considering the components are motivation, inspiration, engagement, and being a leader of your own learning revision is a real life practice in my life.
I find specific feedback motivating to make the story or essay better. It is exciting for me to know a reader’s perspective especially if they read something with a difference angle based on their experiences. I wrote a flash fiction story about a woman in an apartment several years ago and a fellow writer read it for me. She saw it as a woman who had been kidnapped and fell in love with her capture as a subtext because she reads a lot of horror. That was not my intention as I read it but as I reread it through her lens I could see where she was coming from. It was an interesting exercise to be able to read your own writing through someone else’s eyes.
Conversation with other writers about writing about specific pieces or just in general is inspirational to my writing.
Being a writer can be a solitary practice. I have to make an effort to seek out learning opportunities to improve my skills as a writer. One way to do this is to participate in critique circles.
As a writer I participate in several groups and the discussion and readings in the workshop paralleled with the work I do with these groups. To become a more skilled writer this is a necessary part of my process. I have to know how my writing is resonating with the reader. Sometimes as the writer I ask specific questions about things I want the partners to read for. Since I am asking for this help I am not offended when they tell me their opinion.
If there is a lot of work to be done to a certain story, I might have the group read the same piece several times for different things. As a writer I know I change tense often without realizing it. I had some critique friends read for me recently for this purpose. As a short story writer I am cryptic at times for my reader to put the puzzle pieces together in their mind. But I can be too vague and need a reader to tell me what they think happened so I can fill in the appropriate details to convey my intended meaning.
Sometimes readers specifically comment on the story lead or conclusion.
Sitting at that table in Atlanta I thought about how wonderful it is to teach young students how to give feedback in such a meaningful way that aligns with “real writers”. Years ago when I was in the classroom I rarely used writing resources specially written for teachers. The only exception would be Nancy Atwell. Otherwise it was Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard and Judy Reeves.
I am so glad I can share my experience with my students and fellow teachers now that I am back home. I might even talk about it with some writer friends too.
Happy Sunday to you all! I am so glad to be back home after 4 days of being out of the state this week. I am also thrilled you have joined me for coffee today. We have a lot to catch up on and I cannot wait to hear from you.
I am going to have a pumpkin latte today — it is the season for it! I always think it has too many calories but it is a special seasonal item and I feel it is part of the celebration of the time of year. What would you like today?
If we were having coffee I would tell you I flew to Atlanta for an education conference on Tuesday. For air travel it was on the smooth side. I haven’t ridden in a plane for over 5 years. The automation has changed in the airport — let me tell you. You now can tag your own checked baggage and an attendant just double checks it. It actually was quite fast and efficient. Southwest Airlines has always done a nice job with customer service in my experience. I just always wonder about how many people lost their jobs when they put another kiosk in the airport for self service.
How do you feel about flying?
If we were having coffee I would tell you I had great food in Atlanta. The restaurant in the hotel was excellent and we had lunch there a couple times. A memorable place we went was Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint. I had crab cakes and catfish fingers here and fantastic mac and cheese. There was live music which was great but really loud.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I had sweet tea only on Friday. I could not leave Georgia without having it at least once though!
I would love to hear about favorite food you had while you have traveled.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I learned a lot from the conference. There is a lot to process and I am still synthesizing how I am going to present some of the information. The approach to education for the organization that hosted the conference is student centered. The belief is that talk is instrumental for the learning to happen as well. A lot of this approach is how I have taught for years, so I felt like I found my place without knowing I was looking for it. To be in the presence of others educators that truly believe ALL students can learn was energizing in the most wonderful way.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I made several connections to my own writing to the concepts presented at my sessions. I attended a double session on writing by the wonderful ladies who are part of the Vermont Writing Collaborative but the real connections were in a session about feedback. I am working on a specific article about this that will be coming out this week.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I still wrote every day. My sleep schedule craziness continued while I was away so I took advantage of the early morning wake up and wrote. I was still able to write and publish a couple pieces in spite of being separated from my regular routine.
If we were having coffee I would tell you it was awesome to have my husband and kids pick me up from the airport. It was great to see them after time apart and my littlest one spied my bag off the carousel first and even rolled it to the car!
If we were having coffee I would tell you we celebrated my oldest’s 17th birthday this weekend with final soccer games with drama, special birthday dinner, cake, and a new game of balloon volleyball!
The weather finally cooled off in the middle of a rain storm! Here is hoping it stays that way. The fuzzy warm red blanket is on the bed now. It is a great time of year. It was also a full moon last night called Hunter’s Moon! I cannot say I am hunting anything except words for the page.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I made apple slices this weekend from the fruit we picked at the orchard last weekend. They are like flat apple pie with icing and delicious. The house smelled so good when they were baking.
If we were having coffee I would tell you this week was full. There were a couple days at work that got rearranged and not by me. I always handle it better when I am the one changing it but I have to roll with it.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I had a great day Tuesday at a training sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education. It was a day full of math rich tasks and was super fun. I spent the day with a teacher I am working with this year and we were able to chat in a more personal way. We laughed and had a nice lunch too.
There are many practices I engage in daily. I like the deep practice of writing and how it feels when I get into the flow. I enjoy deep conversations. There is deep knowing in the truth of things. There is a depth of peace when I am in yoga, walking or running practice as well.
I have dabbled with meditation practice and am thinking a lot this week about silence practice. Natalie Goldberg’s quote:
It’s good to do ridiculous things. Please, not on a highway.
I am drawn to the idea of deep living as opposed to surface living. I want to savor and enjoy. The synonyms to savor in my life may be the antonyms in yours. That is ok — everyone has their own way.
The barriers to going deep with thinking and writing is interruptions. Interruptions are the devil, the stoppers, the corks in the creative juice. Interruptions derail depth.
Working with depth then leads to the fear revealed. What happens if I truly heal? Will I still be able to write from the dark and shadow then? There is light but it is tainted currently.
The real me comes out in spurts and I am attractive in new ways to people who have not seen me in this light before. This is how I become the Accidental Inspirationalist. I inspired someone this week to write again just because she saw me do it and talk about it briefly.
Day by day on the edge of curiosity I will continue to collect words on the page. I will continue to dig deep and see where it takes me.
Yesterday I spent time on a video call with some of my creative companions. We were discussing how we can get overwhelmed by fear. One of the other people said we just have to remember to not look at the big picture all the time and we just need to focus on the next right thing. It reminded me Emily P. Freeman’s book and podcast of the same name.
Yesterday was a frustrating day of work. It was the day of unhappy morning meetings, lost orders, wrong orders, and classroom visits being cancelled. It was one of those days where you wonder why you got into your profession. It’s the day you fantasize about a job where you don’t have to think. I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with a job like that, but my mind went there.
Yesterday I had to assist with a standardized test given to a young third grade class. A group that had never seen scan-tron and didn’t understand the importance of filling in a bubble.
Words came back to me from my years of giving ISTEP+: Fill in the circle completely and make your mark dark. If you need to change an answer, erase your mark completely and make your new mark .
In between each of these 10-minute tests I led them in a breathing exercise as a brain drainer. I had them inhale, fill their lungs and hold the breath. Then we exhaled without any sound. We did three rounds and were all calmer. I’m a yoga teacher and I used to say many times “I need my own yoga today” at the beginning of class.
Yesterday was a day I needed my own breathing exercise. It took a group of young third graders help me along the way. It was the next right thing I needed to do to heal myself.
Welcome to October! I am so excited the temperatures have finally cooled. It was still HOT at the beginning of the week and I hope that phase of Mother Nature’s tantrum is complete.
I am having my normal dark black coffee but am thinking I may have some pumpkin spice added in there! Hot apple cider is an option for you as well.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I participated in an online writing class this week. I was able to do some study with flash fiction and get some great feedback from the instructor and the other writers. I enjoy having more prompts in my data bank. Reading the other writing was amazing as always. There is much to learn from reading other’s writing to the same prompt.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I taught my own class on writing on Monday to fellow teachers. I based most of it on a Cornelius Minor workshop I went to this summer. I told everyone it was going to be more of a conversation about writing and interactive. I had some anxiety about teaching it on Sunday and decided to let that go. People had signed up for the class on purpose-they weren’t being forced. I wanted to make it sure the time was not boring and that they were able to walk away with some writing ideas to use with their students. We laughed, we wrote, and we were able to talk about writing. It was a quality 2 hours.
If we were having coffee I would tell you my Artist’s Way call on Sunday went well but I had to cut it short. I always enjoy these people . There is a normal crew that joins on Monday though and I missed their faces! Always valuable time spent.
If we were having coffee I would tell you the family played virtual reality on Friday night and it was super fun. There is music and you have light sabers where you strike blue and red boxes to the beat of the song. There are various levels. My favorite song is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I have been revising but I have been unable to locate my notes from my novel. I believe they might be in my office at work…we will see on Monday. I thought I knew where they were at home. I was wrong. I have my first chapter ready to go to send Monday to my critique group so we will see what they say next weekend.
If we were having coffee I would tell you I wrote every day and revised bits and pieces of the novel. I have some submission pieces I am getting ready to send out next week as well. I also have been participating in OCTPOWRIMO which is poetry writing month. There is a wonderful website that is sharing prompts and a place to network with poets. I have posted several poems on Medium this week you can read here.
I have always been a poet and have been enjoying writing them. It feels like breathing to me. I have been doodling as well for Inktober which has been funny and an exercise in imperfection! I have been posted them on Instagram which is out of my comfort zone.
If we were having coffee I would tell you have I come back to classical music this week. I played the violin for years and love classical music, especially harp music so have been listening to it in the mornings. It has been good for my creativity and writing!
What have you been doing to take care of yourself this week? I would love to hear in the responses.
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog.
October 2 question — It’s been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don’t enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?
On my business cards it says writer and reading advocate. Personally, I do not feel you can be a writer and not be a reader too. There is only so much time in a day but reading fuels your creativity.
When this idea is raised I think of this quote:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King
One of the best things I did for my writing is to do the Bradbury Trio challenge. As a Do It Yourself MFA you read one poem, one essay, and one short story a day according to Ray Bradbury. This fuels my ideas for stories through memories that come up as I read or just a spark. It is the same way with podcasts for me.
Reading stories allows me to see how other writers have structured their stories as well.
Zadie Smith has been quoted as saying that all you need to learn about writing can be learning through reading. I believe her.
Why would you want to write if you don’t like reading? Does that mean you would not read your own work then? It is an interesting thought.
Reading is the gateway to everything in life — writing included.