Are You Functioning or Composing?

in , by Stephanie, January 23, 2015
Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with a group of Pre-K teachers in upstate NY. We spent half of the day together talking about writing in preschool classrooms.

For our session, I shared a philosophy of writing in early childhood based on Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover’s text, Already Ready. In it, Ray and Glover share an important attitude about functional writing versus compositional writing in classrooms. If we only provide our students with functional writing, or writing that is connected to a task of some sort, such as a writing project or a direction given by the teacher, then the writing goes away when the task does and students often do not view themselves as writers. Compositional writing, on the other hand, focuses on young students making books and gives them a chance to write their own story, leave their mark on the world and build their identity as writers.

As I prepared to ask teachers if their writing instruction was primarily functional or compositional, I was struck by how broad that question could be. What if we applied that same question to our professional live in general? Are we functioning and merely completing the myriad of tasks that confront us each day? Or are we composing our own professional stories to connect with others and make our mark with other professionals and our own students?

Sadly, I admitted to myself that I was functioning. I tried to make myself feel better and note all the ways I was functioning quite well: the classes were planned, the papers were graded, the model lessons in the classroom went well and I was connecting with teachers and students. Yet, I was still functioning alone none-the-less. When I started to think about my personal life, I realized I was functioning there too. My family and I get much accomplished each day, but do we compose stories together whose memories sustain the test of time? My answer did not sit well with me.

We all have a story to tell. Our past experiences, understandings and circumstances have made us into the person we are today and brought us to the place we need to be. Our lives are filled with stories that we have the power to compose. Rather than just function, even if at top performance, I hope to compose and seek out others who want to do the same. Let’s tell our stories and share our experiences with others because we all have something to learn. Even in places where composing does seem like a viable option, let’s change our perception and choose to compose instead. We can turn a required change of curriculum into an opportunity to transform it to meet the needs of our students. We can make a small change in our daily routine because we can, not because we have to. On my quest to change my attitude, I found this powerful blog post from Indent on ‘The Grateful Teacher’. Be sure to read it. Then, change your thinking and start composing, grateful for the chances you have to shift your thinking. 

Empower your students to do the same. Encourage them to share their voices and written ideas because they can, not because they are required to and be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to do so. A life full of function might work, but a life full of composition is what sustains us and propels us forward. 

How might you choose to compose your story today? How might we collaborate together?

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