Some of the conversations that I have with young writers are inspired by the work of Christopher Johns, whose framework for reflective practice enables them to identify their needs, advocate for themselves, and use what they’ve come to understand to be of service to others. Sounds heavy, but it really isn’t.  Consider this:

Inspiring those you know to do the same can happen when you invite them to think about, discuss, and craft responses to four deceptively simple questions.

Begin by asking writers to look inward and consider their thoughts and feelings. We can gain a lot from pondering them ourselves:

  • How do you feel right now?
  • What do you think you need?
  • What do you feel you need?
  • Ideally, what are the outcomes you hope for most? Why?

Next, writers can be asked to look outward and consider the thoughts and feelings of others.

  • What is larger situation at hand? Who is involved? How? Why? How does this influence your thoughts and feelings?
  • What were you trying to achieve? How did you behave? What happened as a result?
  • What were others trying to achieve? How did they behave? What happened as a result?
  • What knowledge guided you?
  • What do you wish you knew more about?
  • What do you need to know now?
  • What will you do next? What are the potential consequences of handling the situation in the way that you plan to?
  • How do you feel about this situation now?
  • How can you support yourself or other people better as a result?

We have to ask questions that inspire kids to name their needs and get them met.

I’ve learned that this kind of teaching grounds writing practice in experiences, thoughts, and feelings that are very real and sometimes, uncomfortable for all involved. Too often, teachers shy away from this kind of reflective practice because they worry they will get in over their heads. Many question their ability to detect problems and intervene effectively so they avoid journal writing or any other personally expressive form in their classrooms. Serving kids well challenges us to be a witness to their struggles, though. If it’s clear that they aren’t equipped to do this, we have to connect them to the professionals who have been trained to help them best.

If you’re one of those teachers who avoids asking question like this at the risk of uncovering trouble in your own classroom, maybe it helps to know that it may not be your job to save the kids you teach. Do any one of us have the power or even the right to attempt this sort of “rescue” anyway?

I know from experience that asking questions like these can help kids figure out who they are, how they feel, and what they need to do in order to advocate for themselves. When they claim to need help standing up, speaking out, and connecting to a supportive system, I can extend their reach a bit. I can help them help themselves.

Doing anything less, in my opinion, would be neglectful.

Doing anything more? Disempowering.

What do you think?


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