Principals (and Superintendents) Must Model Writing
Just as with reading, it is best that the principal (and superintendent) model and lead as a writer. Whether aboard with the Common Core or not, common sense tells us that reading and writing across the curriculum are essential facets of 21st century learning. Just as reading in a literature class requires some of the same and some different skills than a physics class, the same is true of writing. Similarly, no matter the grade level, some different sets of skills are involved when reading instructions and reading a story. Teachers, all teachers can best ignite students as "readers" if they are "readers" themselves. But those who are teaching students to write and evaluating the writing of their students...are they "writers"?
Can someone truly teach writing if they don't practice the art themselves? Just as developing a community of readers is important in the effort to develop students who will continue through their lives as appreciative of the wonder of reading, developing a community of writers will contribute to students' understanding, appreciation, and abilities to be "writers". The belief that critical thinking is linked to writing was highlighted in an Educational Leadership article written by Bryan Goodwin, CEO of McREL in 2014.
Only a few studies to date have actually examined the link between critical thinking and writing (Quitadamo & Kurtz, 2007). In an early study, Langer and Applebee (1987) observed that "process-oriented approaches to writing instruction [such as guiding students through brainstorming, journaling, and reviewing peers' work] have been relatively in effective in helping students to think and write more clearly" (p. 7). However, their small but in-depth study suggested that properly designed writing assignments could support higher-level thinking.
In order for properly designed writing assignments to be developed, along with some formal professional learning experiences, being a writer and modeling writing can have an organizational impact.
Do you know if your teachers are practicing the art of writing themselves? Whether teaching art, science, English, a foreign language, physical education (you get the drift) writing in each subject is important. The five-paragraph essay has been the standard in English classes and has been used in other subjects. But there are many other genres that can and should be used in today's schools. When teaching and evaluating those types of writing teachers are best prepared by having written in those genres themselves.
Blogs, scripts for newscasts, film scripts, editorials, reports, and op-ed pieces have a place in all subjects. In addition to including them in class requirements, teachers can develop themselves as writers as well. This is not a matter of sending some teachers to a writing workshop, although that may become part of the plan. Another case of principal and superintendent being lead learners, how might these two engender the development and value of writing in their teachers who will in turn ignite it in their students?
Leaders must inspire and forge agreement for the direction of the institution, plan and articulate the methods that will be used to get there, and identify the roles each will play along the way, and celebrate the success markers along the journey. Leaders also try to become comfortable on the frontier edge and model reflection and listening as the leader. Whether in primary, middle or high schools, an open discussion about the value of writing across the curriculum has probably already taken. Just as all teachers are not "readers" all teachers are not "writers". So how does one engage the faculty on a path to being active as writers? Talking about it comes first. Talking bring awareness.
Then leaders can begin by purposefully varying their own modes of communication with the faculty, staff, and even the public. Leaders can send messages, give updates, ask for information, and give reports through tweets, blogs, articles, memos, reports, scripts, all varied, with the intention of modeling different writing appropriate to each vehicle.
Journaling is another genre and is most often associated with reflective practices. This is a personal process, not meant to be shared except voluntarily. But, it does invite educators to pursue one's own thoughts and feelings, considering questions offered by a group leader, experiencing quiet time and listening for one's own voice rather than those of others. What if a superintendent began cabinet meetings this way? The energy might be very different.
Leaders are wrestling with countless pressures and are often focused on the immediate. Focusing on instructional leadership through becoming lead writer can be a refreshing return to core of the job...and bring about a change in focus, to the joy of teaching and learning.
*Note: After writing the blog piece entitled Principal as Lead Reader, we read Superintendent Ken Slentz retweet in which he noted superintendents have a role in this as well. As a nod to Mr. Slentz's wisdom, we included superintendents in this piece on writing.
Langer, J. A., & Applebee, A. N. (1987). How writing shapes thinking: A study of teaching and learning. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/books/langer_applebee
Quitadamo, I. J., & Kurtz, M. J. (2007). Learning to improve: Using writing to increase critical thinking performance in general education biology. CBE--Life Sciences Education, 6(2), 140-154.