By Jorge D. H. Prosperi, 2019
One of my favorite tools for learning is Journaling. This was not always the case. As a second language acquirer, English was my most dreaded and hated enemy. Therefore, anything having to do with language was avoided. Reading always interrupted by having to look up words. Spelling and grammar walls depriving expression, imagination and creativity. Add a minor degree of dyslexia to the mix and it all leads to a web of confusion to be avoided at all cost.
But, I was assured by a fellow college student that upon graduating I would not have to write! Tweet: WRONG! ALTERNATE REALITY, MISINFORMATION! FAKE NEWS! SAD! This should provide you with a hint of the mental giants I hung around with during those college years. What I did not know at the time as a student was that writing was not only about parts of speech and structure but about practice, practice and more practice.
It was like anything else in life. What made professionals professional in their craft was, of course years of formal learning, plus experience and the ongoing practicing of their trade. Most of us get to be really good at something because we diligently practice the skill. We do it over and over, never perfect but we keep on trying. Eventually, for some of us, the skill becomes second nature. It no longer is a chore. Of course we grow and change along the way learning beyond what was not taught in school and at some point even admit that we did not always know what we did not know.
As I entered the teaching profession, I was not a fan of writing. It was a formal affair that had to be assigned and seldom by choice. I kept it beyond KISS – a succinct note to a colleague, a sticky note memo – a paragraph to a department chair about an idea or two. Writing was something that remained at a distance. But I noticed that most people did not write as a habit or choice. They wrote when they had to. When was the last time that you wrote by choice and design?
It was interesting that not long ago as I approached a red light, the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read, “READ!” As an educator I smiled and thought, “Good for you! What a great message for all of us to ponder!” But then thought that I had never seen a sticker urging to, “WRITE!” Why was that? It was not common practice. For many of us it was a punishment. It was the broccoli rather than the ice cream of education. But all of such notions were about to change as I sat listening to Dr. Sarah Levine and Vicki Jacobs begin to paint writing as an addiction.
It was in 1988, at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education Principal Center that writing was presented as conduit to professional and personal growth. But there was the candid proviso that it would not be easy and require some practice. What seemed to be a simple recommendation would become a life-long companion. The session was called, “Writing as a Tool for Personal and Professional Development.”
It was encouraging that the Principal Center did not just ask us to think about it, but they also asked us to journal, and journal, and journal. Each of the sessions were always followed by time dedicated to writing. Journaling – free-writing was not only encouraged, but required.
Quality time was provided to share our writings with others and write about what we had heard, leading to more writing. Day after day, writing – morning, noon and night. I remember being in the Gutman Conference Center with hundreds of colleagues writing in total silence. Some of us would pause, then continue writing, pause, and continue writing. Even after a working lunch exploring ideas about education, we wrote and shared and wrote.
It was not always about what we had just heard, even though listening to Howard Gardner provided enough to write about for a lifetime. But we were urged to go beyond notes, to express curiosity, critically examine thinking, to let go, to free-write and then approach the difficult part – self-examination. It was a time to analyze attitudes, predispositions and biases in my backpack. This was not only about content, mapping curricula, 21st Century Skills, learning styles, brain-based learning, theories and techniques, this was about my identity, integrity and courage as an educator. What was I willing to fight for? This question continues to be answered in real time and space to this very moment.
But lest we forget that writing was, is and will continue to be a personal challenge requiring constant practice and review. In time and with constant practice, journaling became a trusted comrade – always there to listen and respond. A vehicle to continually catapult from one critical question to another – one possible reflection of an answer to another. Along the way I found that journaling became my therapist. It did not ask for much, just a good dosage of veracity. Journaling can be tough on the ego. It can turn awareness into appreciation, the invisible and voiceless into HD acuity and Dolby Surround Sound . . . or not.
I once heard an English teacher respond to a piece of a student’s writing with what I considered to be cruel, abrupt insensitivity. The student had written a poem without knowing formal rules of poetry and wrote the poem by choice – not homework. How cool is that? The student handed the poem to the teacher who scanned the words, pointed out misspelled words and asked, “Who do you think you are – Shakespeare?” A moment in time never to be recouped ever again by either one. The young student not even knowing of Shakespeare or Cervantes took the paper and walked away. The teacher as if he had held the higher ground of academia.
Just an instance in time, among a multitude of moments that all of us in education spend with young minds trying to capture the meaning and essence of school days, months and years.
For that English teacher, whose role was to promote the wonders of language, it was not only a moment in time – but of truth. A time to validate – or not – to recognize sprouting inklings to try – or not. A moment to uplift or debase and squash. Hopefully that English teacher journals, reflecting on his moments in time – rewinds mind and heart in order to address identity and integrity. Perhaps he will remember the look of rejection of a young poet’s moment in time – who dared to believe and wrote from the inside, looked up, handed his skin to the venerated keeper of the language. An instant to inspire… to empower… or not.