teaching, learning and living around the world
For all you English/Language Arts teachers out there… thanks for teaching me that writing is a process. It occurred to me last weekend, as I continued to scribble down notes during the hours leading up to our EduCorps presentation, that it may have appeared that I had waited until the last minute to prepare my thoughts.
I aim really high and plan, plan, plan for any speech. I watch a lot of presentations, looking for inspiration. I want my delivery to be as great as a great Ted Talk, every time. Often this leads to big disappointment, but if I don’t reach the highest bar of greatness, I can usually look back on my preparation process and find my mistakes, hiccups and too much time spent on low priority aspects of the preparation process. For the most part I feel good about my speaking when I do all of the following:
I work on writing the speech everyday, for at least a week. I test out a lot of rough drafts on a lot of people and ask for a lot of feedback. I think about how to make my message more clear. I try to unpack my experiences and focus on little stories that exemplify bigger, broader learning. I think about who’s going to be in my audience and try to figure out which elements of my story they’ll find inspiring. Once I get it all just right, I practice. A lot. Both in my head and out loud.
So here’s an example of my real life writing process. Listen to your ELA teachers, kids- it really IS USEFUL!!
Assignment: Deliver a 3-5 minute speech about EduCorps at our Silent Auction.
Due Date: Saturday, November 2, around 6:45pm.
October 19-23: Every evening after work, I read lots of research about professional development, coaching, and models and measures of teacher effectiveness. I highlighted, annotated and post-it-noted the daylights out of a bulging folder of articles, identifying aspects of previous studies and programs that I thought fit with the mission of EduCorps.
October 24: I had this 6 page EduCorps program description ready to go for feedback session #1. However, the person I met with in Brussels didn’t know the whole back story of Kinshasa and Goma and… I ended up reflecting on my experiences, telling stories and explaining how I arrived at this document rather than getting feedback on the actual program. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would prove to be useful later on.
Sunday, October 27: Met with my two founding partners. I was really pumped that I had narrowed down the above 6 pages to this overview table:
Sure, the program overview is great- but they challenged me to think harder. Main feedback from session #2- How do we START?! What does YEAR 1 look like?! So the greatest outcome after 7 hours, was THIS little scribble:
Tuesday, October 29: Feedback #3 from the research team at Johns Hopkins. We mostly talked about the scribbles above, and we were inspired. So in terms of my 3-5 minute speech, I thought maybe I should focus on that one scribble in particular.
Wednesday, October 30: I worked on a powerpoint, with slides like this one:
Thursday, October 31: Amidst trick or treaters, I showed the powerpoint to my brother, his wife and sister-in-law. I was ready for them to be thrilled as my research team and it was clear by slide 5 that they were UN-IN-SPIRED. Feedback #4. They said, “This looks like it’s useful for you and your partners, but there’s too much jargon. Too much technical stuff.” I thought this was a totally great point- this stuff is for the wrong AUDIENCE! I’m not presenting to my research team at the end of the week, I’m presenting to a broader community, who want to know the basics: what is EduCorps, how is this idea going to change the world and what do we need money for? So I stayed up until 3am writing a blog post based on their advice to keep it simple, stupid.
Friday, November 1: I now, finally had some clarity about the three main parts. Feedback #5. I sent it the outline to my founding partners, who returned it with revisions. Changing the world is too big, but we can talk about how we hope to change the region. We changed the order of the three parts to sandwich asking for money between two more inspiring messages. Feedback #6. I asked my mom, Sally, what she thought of my blog post. She said it was good, that she enjoyed it. I asked if it was clear. She said the main thing that wasn’t clear was it still seemed like American teachers were going to coach Congolese or Rwandan teachers. Aha! This was the element that I needed to make crystal clear. When EduCorps talks about coaching teachers- who is coaching who? I told my mom a story from my time in Goma. Then it became clear. Back to scribbles:
Saturday, November 2: Feedback #7. I tested out scribbled page 1 on my mom again. Nix the I realized I was irrelevant part- that is not inspiring. The rest is good. Feedback #8. I tested it out on my brother, who helped me add a page 2 of scribbles, complete with a recommendation to add a dramatic pause. Lastly, I paced around in the bathroom before the event, listing in my head the main parts of the speech- Thanks for your support, Beatrice and Colette Story, Coney Island Experience, EduCorps is teachers who are masters of teaching in their context, coaching teachers in that same context. By 6:45pm I was fully nervous, but in the end, I felt like I had prepared just the right words.
After writing, writing, writing…
and 8 rounds of feedback…
I had jussssst the right words.
So, listen to your ELA teachers, kids.
The writing process isn’t just for school.
It’s for real life, too.