Teacher-to-Teacher: Transition By Janice Ewing
“Write down three words that come into your mind when you hear the word ‘transition’.” This is how we opened our first PAWLP Continuity session of the fall season. (You might want to list your three words now.) The follow-up suggestion was to simply share the three words with a partner. What naturally emerged, though, were extended and rich conversations about the reasons and feelings behind the words that were listed. We then asked participants to highlight the one word from their list they would be most likely to write more about. This encouraged everyone to reflect on which of the words held the most energy, significance, or tension for them. (If you have written down your three words, you might want to highlight one now.)
In our whole group sharing, people thoughtfully shared a variety of reactions to the idea of transition. One way of looking at the responses is that they could be categorized according to a binary of positive, e.g. exciting, new, opportunities, and negative, e.g. uncertain, overwhelming, scary. I’m wondering how else we might organize them, though.
Some people highlighted the word that seemed to encompass the others on their list. Others chose the one that stood out for one of the reasons mentioned above. Each of the words that was shared, whether it was the highlighted one or not, represented a story, or multiple stories, waiting to be revealed. Within the layers of those stories are questions waiting to be explored. (Look at your highlighted word again. What is the story behind it? What question or questions does it raise?)
After sharing, we talked about what we had experienced, what we had noticed. Some people expressed the realization that they had not known what they were going to write until the words found their way to the paper. Many were struck by commonalities in the responses –the relief of realizing “I’m not the only one who feels this way!”
As we moved into the next phase of our session, some of the stories and questions behind the words from the ‘transition’ activity became the topics that we examined together as collegial group. We often call this type of focused conversation ‘problem-solving.’ I’m now wondering if there’s a different way to look at it…
How can we find the time and space to connect with our feelings and experiences without judgment (including, or especially, self-judgment), reflect on them, share them with others and find validation or common ground? Then, if we can go a step further and turn our concerns into inquiry questions, how can that shift our view of our students and of ourselves as teachers? How does participation in an inquiry community change us?
These are some of my wonderings, as we continue to transition into a new school year and a new season, with all of the accompanying richness and challenges. What are your wonderings? Who can you share them with, and where might they lead?
Janice Ewing is an adjunct professor for Cabrini University and a co-director for PAWLP. She also is a co-editor of the PA Reads Journal of the Keystone State Literacy Association. Janice and West Chester University professor Mary Buckelew’s book, Action Research for ELA Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry, will be published in the spring from Routledge Press.