Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lessons on Conferring

Sometimes inspiration strikes you when you least expect it. I tell my students about this. How writers live their lives with their eyes wide open – paying attention – waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it comes when you are sitting wrapped in a loosely draped sheet in a doctor’s office.

Yesterday was my annual skin check. I have a great uncle who died from skin cancer. Chris has an aunt who passed away from it far too young as well. Not one to take this lightly, every year I trek to see my dermatologist and have an all body check. There are a lot of freckles on my short frame, so it’s important to get the all clear.

As my doctor came in, talked to me, and asked questions, I was struck with how very similar this interaction was to a conference with my students. When I talk to teachers about conferring, they are often intimidated, nervous even. They ask if I have a list of questions, a list of teaching points. I don’t think they believe me when I say I just listen to the kids, but that is indeed what I do.

My doctor came in the office and greeted me, asking how I was doing. I said something about the summer speeding to a close. He laughed and said he often sees teachers in this last week as they rush to check off their “to do” list before returning to school.

He proceeded to scan my body while I asked a few questions, pointed out some concerns. Although this is a speedy doctor – my appointment was at 7:30 a.m., I arrived at 7:15 and was walking back to my car by 7:30 – I never felt rushed. He made eye contact, would ask follow-up questions to ensure he understood my worry, and give me an answer. His focus was on me the entire time and by the time I left, I felt lighter.

My reading and writing conferences are so similar to this – I greet the kids, often asking how they are doing. There is a quiet give and take. They need to lead the conference, just as I led the appointment. I listen to their questions/concerns/comments and reply as needed. If I see an issue, we will discuss further. They should leave the conference feeling lighter as well – on track to read their book or work on a piece of writing.

My doctor left the room, scribbling a few notes. I smiled as I prepared to go, thinking of my own hastily written notes after conferring with students. Using my iPhone and the Evernote app, I record our discussion and anything I’m wondering about or concerned with. I assume what he wrote was very similar to that.

In just thirteen days I will meet a new group of kids. The numbers this year are, I fear, going to be much higher than I’m used to. I plan on keeping my doctor in mind – to make each child feel like I have all the time in the world for them, that I am there to listen, and that there is no place I’d rather be. I’m grateful for my doctor; he gave me just the reminder I needed. I can’t wait for my first conference this year.