Why a Mindful Writing Workshop?
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Some soul wisdoms are simple. When we are able to give beauty we get beauty in return—whether it be in the form of planetary health or the blossoming of an individual.
Mindfulness involves making ourselves aware of our surroundings and of the other. And
it involves respecting that awareness by bringing the intention of kindness with us into the room. Mindfulness can be key in healing the trauma of others in our presence. However, today many teachers are traumatized beyond belief for themselves, and are further stressed by the often-online challenge of how to bring their best to students who are also in great need.
It is a good time to remember that in life it is often less about what has happened to us and more about how we respond. As writing teachers we may be more in control than it seems. We can respond to students and to their writing efforts encouragingly and supportively. And when we do this we are establishing a healing way of being together for both students and ourselves.
Research on helpful response asks us to coach the writer in a positive direction not merely to offer our judgment (Dweck, 2008, 2015, Hattie and Timperley, 2007, Johnston, 2012). One type of supportive and yet coaching response to a writer about a piece of writing is the PQS, Positive Response, protocol. In responding to a writer during sharing time, or in a conference, the teacher, or peer, follows this pattern:
(P)raise—What do you like best about the effort or paper?
What seems most interesting or vivid?
What do you remember best after reading?
(I prefer—“What do you remember best?”)
Also: “What craft steps do you see being used?” Or, “What is most
successful in this piece so far?”
(Q)uestion— What are you confused or curious about as a reader?
Ask two or three questions.
(S)uggestion—Make your best one or two suggestions for what you feel would be the most
helpful next steps for the writer and this piece.
Our trauma today is greatly increased by the fact that the pandemic arrives in a time of climate change, widespread poverty, and an unleashing of hate-speech. Two spiritual writers, Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker, argue that it is now as if all of the earth’s citizens are experiencing PTSD. This trauma, of course, needs to be addressed with restorative and healing practices in school for learning to go forward effectively.
Even so, responding to students positively can be a difficult step for teachers not accustomed to doing so. We must remember that error is necessary to learning. At the start of each new learning there is uncertainty about this for the learner—how much error might be necessary to arrive at success? The clearest sign of trauma in a person is an inability to move forward in uncertainty. The PQS protocol is a method that can empower students to work past this hesitance by providing them underlying safety. It helps us to teach in such a way that they know they will be helped instead of judged.
We must set up a classroom understanding in which students realize that struggle is our friend. Struggle is how we learn new things. And, in our classroom when you struggle the teacher will—predictably—respond with encouragement and coaching. Many teachers have developed a teaching approach that features negative-judgment-along-the-way instead of encouragement and coaching. This will not work. Evaluation must wait until the end of a project. Along the way we are coaches and friends. When students know that their errors will be viewed as positive first steps, and worthy of coaching, they become able to struggle. And when they experience the process—of struggle, coaching, and success—a number of times, they become resilient. This resilience unleashes their creativity. And their creativity is our best hope to save the world.