The parent eagles were clearly prepared to welcome their two offspring this past December. Romeo and Juliet, named by AEF members, arrived in early fall to get their nest ready. We watched them build the "rails" of the existing nest with sticks, often wrestling with and moving the small branches from place to place before getting it right. And they didn't let natural disaster deter them from being ready to lay eggs. Hurricane Matthew literally blew through the nest area, wreaking havoc on the nature there. But Romeo and Juliet simply took cover as necessary and then returned to their work as soon as it was clear.
Once the two eggs were laid, both of the parent eagles took turns incubating and rolling them, a 35-or-so-day process that required patience, perseverance, and teamwork. This pair of eagles clearly understood the process, and they pushed through day by day, hour by hour, following what they know to be the procedures that would give each of their babies the best chance of a healthy hatch.
And after the two babies hatched, a long and arduous process completed by the hatchlings with little or no assistance from parents, Romeo and Juliet began the months-long work of training and raising their youngsters to eventually fledge the nest, ready to fly off into their own futures as successful and beautiful raptors. From watching their babies struggle to break through the eggshells to making those eaglets reach for and grab the food from their parents' beaks which strengthens the eaglets' neck muscles, the adult eagles understand what needs to be done to best prepare their offspring to survive. Doing anything less than what is best for their babies is not an option. There are no "best practices". There is only what is best for these young. Period.
I believe there are some parallel lessons for writing teachers in the beautiful story of the eagles' nest. I wish I could write these lessons with the same glorious effect of the eagles vocalizing with each other before dawn from nest to nearby branch. The harmony of their calls is fluent and expressive, and the impact each eagle "voice" has on its mate is powerful. While I continue to work on my own writer's voice, I have promised this year to take the gloves off and speak my mind in a more direct way. So, I'm going to dig my own talons into this promise and suggest three lessons learned from the eagles.
Writing teachers must be prepared. We must come back to our classrooms each year in the early fall and build up our teaching "rails". While the foundation of how we taught writing in previous years may be solid, it is always necessary to strengthen and build on what we've done before. We can't afford to be satisfied with last year's lesson plans. Our students are different and the instruction that moves them forward must be different to meet new needs and levels. Go to professional development opportunities. Read professional literature. Implement innovative pedagogical approaches. Move those sticks!
Writing teachers need patience, perseverance, and teamwork. We have 180 days each year, give or take, to affect our students' growth as writers. We need to make use of each and every one of those days, moving with patience as we help students build their understanding of the writing process and its purpose.
*Effective writing teachers know that clear, concise, and expressive writing takes time, and so they give their students time across days and weeks to compose, revise, edit, and publish their work. Patience.
*Effective writing teachers need to push past scheduling obstacles, instructional interruptions, challenging students, etc. in order to give the children in their classrooms the best chance to find their voices in writing. Perseverance.
*Effective writing teachers have a teammate or two (or more) that support the writing work. Teamwork allows writing teachers to share lessons, plan together, and build curriculum that advances student writers to new heights! Teamwork.
Writing teachers need to employ instructional strategies that best meet their students' needs. It is simply wrong to use teaching methods that are not explicitly aimed at what your students need. Period. And that means that writing teachers need to sit side by side with each and every student every week and listen to the writer talk about the work. And then the teacher needs to offer the instructional nudge that will strengthen those writing muscles, then back off and let the writer fly. Doing anything less diminishes the chances that those writers will ever be strong enough to think and write and create and innovate and change their world using their writing voices when they leave the structure of the classroom.
We need to teach so that every writer in our classroom has the same and equal chance to spread his or her writing wings and soar.
Mother Nature says so.