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Three Prescriptions for Thinking More Clearly about Teaching, Part 3: Write More

By Dave Stuart Jr.

All right, here's the ground we've covered so far:

  • Clear thinking yields better teaching and better living and wiser choices. We want to be clear thinkers. But it doesn't come automatically. It's not the kind of thing that a degree confers. It's won through practice, and we can always improve it.
  • To start, we can improve our thinking by consuming fewer urgent things. I wrote about that here.
  • To replace the consumption of the urgent, we can consume what's costly — things like books and journals and whole blogs. I wrote about that here.

And there's one last prescription I'd make for the colleague who wishes to think better: balance your consumption with creation. To put it simply: write.

Few things clarify thinking the way that writing does. When I think something about teaching, it's a vague and nebulous thing in my mind. When I discuss that something with a colleague, it's a rough draft, back-and-forth mishmash. Certainly better than only thinking it, but still — the thinking can be pretty fuzzy. But when I sit down to write the thing, then I'm forced to turn the abstract into the concrete. I have to order things. I'm forced to transition and connect and define and explain. I'm also required to slow down.

So here are three ideas for writing more this year.

  • Start a blog. An obvious and easy place to start from a guy that's been blogging for seven years. But don't take my word for the benefits of this approach — read California educator Jeff Frieden's recent article, “Why More Teachers Should (Re)Start Blogging.” You don't need to have any grand aspirations for your blog — just the goal of consistent writing. Jeff's tips (second half of the post) are especially wise.
  • Write in a journal. There's a box of spiral notebooks I scrawled in during my first few years as a teacher. I've been going back through them recently, and I'm amazed at how instrumental the act of writing was on my development as a thinker. In 2019, I'm going to try out this journal — feel free to join me.
  • Write a memo or proposal on an issue that currently faces your school. I'm working on one right now about how our school might better guide students through the transition to high school. It's pushing me to read, research, and revise. It's forcing me to think more clearly. It's humbling me with what I don't know and how far I have to go before I'm an apt explainer. All good things.

Now you might be thinking, “Geez, Dave — you're doing all three of these things? How do you have time — on top of teaching 120 kids and having a wife and family?”

And my answer is that writing and reading are the single most critical things that I do as a professional. Why? Because they make me a clearer thinker. That clear thinking makes it so that I'm way better at satisficing the unimportant and investing in the six things that matter most.

And since I'm not even close to thinking as well as I'd like, the work continues. And it's a reason that I can say, joyfully, that the work is never finished.

2 Responses to Three Prescriptions for Thinking More Clearly about Teaching, Part 3: Write More

  1. Gerard Dawson January 8, 2019 at 7:52 am #

    Dave – I remember when I realized that I don’t think and then write, but I think *because* I write.

    Semester of student teaching, fall of 2010, basement library computer lab at The College of New Jersey, Friday evening after rugby practice, I found myself pounding away at the keyboard, reflecting on the just finished week of student teaching.

    This happened over and over again through the semester, me writing incessantly about the small wins and big mistakes of the five days of teaching, and feeling like the words were flowing from my fingertips through divine inspiration. I’d re-read the reflections, and they were largely incoherent, but the process of writing them was priceless for figuring out what it mean to do this job.

    I remember my supervisor and still-today mentor Mr. Sowder responding to one of my emailed reflections with “You like writing these, it seems.”

    This post just pulled that story to the front of my mind, so I had to share. Thanks for being a great role model of teacher as writer.

  2. kristymlouden January 8, 2019 at 9:43 am #

    Thanks, as usual, Dave! I love the journal you suggested. I’m going to write those guiding questions in the front of a journal I already have. I’ve been needing something to guide my reflections.

    Also, I sent out the invite to join my T6T book study at school yesterday and 12 people have already expressed interest. I am SOOO excited! Thanks for everything you do!! 🙂

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