RRISD CTWP '15-'16 Research Project

Andrea Orluski

Guiding Question: How can teachers help students use their reflective writing as a catalyst for student leadership development?

Why is this question relevant to my experiences as an educator?

  • I am wildly passionate about leadership. I am constantly working to develop my own leadership skills because it is crucial in today's society. I cannot imagine sending my students away at the end of the year without imparting some kind of leadership knowledge.
  • Students need writing skills beyond Short Answer Responses and essays. Reflective writing will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
  • Although reflective writing is not embedded in the TEKS, our students, especially those typically at a lower performance level, would see greater success with other TEKS if they were given an opportunity to reflect. Consider that our writing TEKS include words like, "critique," "evaluate," and "synthesize."
  • Students who develop leadership skills are more likely to ignore from peer pressure, avoid drug and alcohol use, and be more successful in their post-secondary paths.

The Foundations of Writing and Leadership

According to the book, Best Practices in Writing Instruction, there are two main concepts beneath the dozens of writing programs and theories. Teachers must understand that, "Writing is a cognitive task and, as such, is also developmental," and "Writing is a social act and, thus, movies from ego-centrism to larger audiences" (29). These two pillars of writing align with the foundations of leadership. Students' leadership abilities can be developed as they mature and understand new ways of thinking. In addition, leadership is also about moving from an understand of self to an understanding of how groups of people around us work.

The Need For Student Reflection

Nancie Atwell explains the importance of student reflection in her book, In the Middle. She writes, "Minilessons frequently address ways writers can involve readers in the writing. A common problem in beginning writing is a lack of reflection. Students list facts or describe a string of events without discovering or describing the significance of their knowledge or experiences" (166). The ability to reflect and find deep connections between things are crucial skills in leadership.

Building in the Leadership

Stephen Covey, author and leadership guru, has written numerous books about leadership. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People argues that, "Writing is another powerful way to sharpen the mental saw. Keeping a journal of our thoughts, experiences insights, and learnings promotes mental clarity, exactness, and context. Writing good letters- communicating on a deeper level of thoughts feelings, and ideas rather than on the shallow, superficial level of events- also affects our ability to think clearly, to reason accurately, and to be understood effectively" (308). Effective language arts teachers use techniques every day with their students that promote these goals: critical thinking, self-awareness, and effective written communication. Teaching leadership skills, then, is a part of our "hidden curriculum."

How Teachers Can Make It Happen

As with anything else we teach students, we have to model reflective writing and then provide consistent opportunities for students to practice. Reflective writing can be as simple as having students reflect on their academic performance in a six week or semester marking period. Teachers may ask also students to reflect on an individual lesson, a summative assessment, or their participation in a group activity. Many of us already have our students reflecting on their learning. The challenge is to then turn that writing into a platform for leadership training.

Once students write, we need to allow them time to discuss their writing with their peers. It is through discussion and collaboration that much of our learning occurs. Students can pose questions and help guide deeper self-reflection in one another. By becoming more self-aware learners, our students can begin using their strengths to help each other grow and learn.