Tag Archives: structures


I treated myself to a walk on the beach today after a writing project meeting at the university.  So instead of walking on the beach near where I live, I walked on the beach down the hill from the university.  It was foggy and cool, a perfect day for thinking and reflecting.

As I was walking I was thinking about the meeting…a follow up to the Invitational Summer Institute (a 4-week intensive leadership institute in the teaching of writing)…and the structures that we need as learners to move along the continuum from novice to expert (with the endpoint constantly moving) and from follower to leader.

The structure of the Summer Institute (SI) is designed to immerse teachers in writing, researching, reflecting on their practice, and critical conversations about teaching and learning.  The structure is strong and well built, based on the 40-year-old model developed by National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray.


This pier is also a carefully designed, well built structure made to withstand the battering waves of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless wind and sun.  I love the way when you look through the pier it narrows and provides a window through the corridor of surf out to sea just like the SI helps teachers look carefully at policy and practice and then focus on instruction that best supports the students in front of them.

And some of the structures we depend on are organic like these cliffs.


They are shaped by the natural environment.  I watched our SI participants create their own structures as well.  They gathered this morning, organically, catching up with each other as we, as facilitators, finalized our last minute plans.

And then there are structures that are light and flexible, like this feather on the beach.


It makes me think of our Twitter Fellow of the Week.  This playful use of social media supports more weight than you might imagine.  While we originally saw this program as a way to connect to one another within our project by giving each other a glimpse into a week in the life of an SDAWP educator, it has proven to do more.  When teachers use Twitter as a professional learning network, their interactions begin to impact their practice.  Suddenly they are reading more professional articles about education, “listening in” to debates about policy and practice, getting and sharing ideas from others (within our site and beyond our site), and making their own classroom practice more visible.

Today we asked our SI 2013 cohort to sign up as Twitter Fellows…and starting tomorrow we will begin to get a glimpse into their lives.  (You can follow @SDAWP_Fellow on Twitter) Those who are more confident on Twitter signed up first…but others are willing to dip a toe into this unfamiliar world of tweets and hashtags and mentions.  And they have the rest of the SDAWP community who are happy to help…and the others in their cohort will also be “listening” on Twitter, ready to respond and retweet and favorite…so they won’t be hollering into the dark.

My beach walk today was quiet and introspective as I thought about all the structures I noticed…and those we use to support learners.  Structures can help us stretch and reach and connect as we learn and grow.  What structures support you?  What structures support your students?

Boys and Bears

Today was a perfect July day at the zoo, sunny and warm with gently ocean breezes to keep things tolerable.  The animals were active and playful.  We watched the polar bears frolic in the cool water of their enclosure—so close you could almost touch them through the clear Plexiglas barrier.


I watched the animals, thinking about how the zoo personnel was careful to point out the ways they put the animals’ well being and health ahead of the visitors’ desires to take the perfect picture and get that close-up look.  I heard a similar message from the tour bus driver, the panda keeper, and the sea lion show trainer: these are wild animals, they are in this zoo so we can learn to take better care of them to ensure their continued existence.  The zoo is a place for learning.

I also did a lot of kid watching today.  And while there were usual instances of whining and demanding, there were also many kids fascinated and engaged watching the animals.  I observed some little boys near the polar bears for quite a while.  They stayed right up next to the glass where a polar bear was enjoying chewing on a bone right on the other side.  As the bear dunked under the water against the glass, the boys would run their hands against their side of the glass as though they were petting the bear.  As the bear emerged from the water, the boys reached their faces up alongside the bear’s.  A crowd formed with many adults attempting to get a close-up portrait of that bear—or line their own child alongside the bear for that illusion photo of their child with the bear.  You could feel and hear the frustration of those adults, wanting the kids to move out of the way.  After ten minutes or so, the parents of the boys seemed to catch on to the frustration of the crowd and urged the boys away from the glass so others could have a turn.

I understand the frustration of the adults waiting for the boys to move away.  And I understand the boys’ fascination with the bears.  I find myself thinking about how their physical interaction supported their appreciation of the bears…and how that may impact their future actions in the world.  If they had to stand back and watch quietly from afar, would they still find polar bears interesting and want to know more about them?  I’m also fascinated by the physical structure of the zoo and how that structure creates intimacy and relationships with the animals.

How can I think more carefully about the structures in my classroom to invite engagement and interaction rather than passive compliance?  Zoos and classrooms—I have a lot to think about!