Student 1: What were you reading?
Me: It’s a book about teaching. Pose, Wobble, Flow. Mrs. Kroon gave it to me.
Student 1: You know it’s almost summer, right? You’ve got to chill.
Student 2: Leave her alone. At least she’s found her people.
Student 2 was referring to Mrs. Kroon as “my people.” But after finishing Pose, Wobble, Flow, I also consider authors Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen my people—or at least my kind of people. Their book provided respite from the inadequate professional development I have been offered this year.
What it means to Pose, Wobble, and Flow
Though Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen offer both practical and theoretical takeaways in Pose, Wobble, Flow, I was most enthralled by the way they discussed vulnerability. In the second chapter, they explain vulnerable teaching as “an inquiry-driven process that engages both intellect and emotion, resulting in an impact on the learning and her or his world” (p. 34) and offer a sort of formula for it. This formula lends its name to the title.
Pose: a word borrowed from yoga, is a stance you hold to increase your physical and mental strength.
Wobble: meaning to falter as you try to hold your pose, “a guaranteed and necessary part of the growth process…may initially cause frustration…signal a commitment to increased discipline and deepened practice” (p. 6).
Flow: a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi, denotes the sense of joy and loss of time you experience during an enjoyable activity.
The Six Teacher “Poses”
To participate in any pose, wobble, flow cycle is to show vulnerability, as you’re opening yourself up to error and even failure. This is true of all six poses Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen describe:
While each of the poses was discussed thoughtfully and had implications for my teaching, I’d like to focus on one chapter. This is my favorite chapter, “Embracing our Inner Writer: What It Means to Teach as a Writer.”
Teacher as Writer
Teacher as Writer is a pose many educators avoid. Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen provide a number of reasons for this. For instance, they explain that writing, unlike reading, “has historically been physically laborious” (p. 76) and is not emphasized in programs for pre-service teachers. Ironically, it seems Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen neglect one other difficulty with writing: Teacher as Writer is one of the most vulnerable poses an educator can take.
It takes a base level of vulnerability to try something new, like a writing method or assignment, in your classroom. Add to this the risk that comes with the act of writing, a process in which rough drafts (read: mistakes) and revision are necessary. Showing this writing to students makes you vulnerable to their criticism—something, in my opinion, many teachers fear too much. If the writing is personal, you’re adding another level of exposure. And, for those Teacher-Writers who are brave enough to submit pieces for publication, the risk of rejection likely feels ubiquitous.
Writing to Transform
And yet this pose is so important. Writing gives often-silenced students a voice. Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen write, “Making writing something that is acceptable, encouraged, and expected of historically marginalized youth is about affecting youth identity and social transformation” (p. 81). This starts in the classroom. Through writing, we get to know our students and they get to know us. Sharing our writing has been a keystone in building community in my classroom.
Examining the stages of our writing is also the clearest way to illustrate that learning is a process. I often show students multiple drafts of something I write to illustrate the importance of rewriting. According to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen, assuming the Teacher as Writer pose “lets students in on the secret that there is no secret to being a writer, although the act of writing is often hard” (p. 82).
Exposing Vulnerability and Engaging in Community
I have a teacher friend, Mr. LaSalle, who embodies this pose perfectly. Mr. LaSalle practices teacher-research (mostly about student motivation), writes about his findings, and submits his pieces to journals and magazines. His students watch him go through this process and see his published articles hanging outside his classroom. His students learn about his interests and they see him struggle through the writing process. Maybe more importantly, they see he has a genuine interest in improving his teaching practice and the education they receive. In this way, Mr. LaSalle is one of the most vulnerable—and, not coincidentally, most effective—teachers in his school.
Mr. LaSalle introduced me to Action Research Group, which has become part of my community of writers, a concept Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen discuss towards the end of the Teacher as Writer chapter. Such communities offer “moral support through the…struggles writers face” and allow for “cross-fertilization of ideas” (p. 83).
Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen suggest heading to Twitter or Facebook to explore the hashtag #engchat, finding a writing group, attempting National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), or participating in the National Writing Project (NWP). To this list, I would add joining National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), listening to their Why I Write podcast, and searching for a local teacher research group. Through these and other outlets, I have been able to dialogue with “my people.”
If you’re looking for some useful professional development, I highly suggest you pick up Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s Pose, Wobble, Flow. And, if you’re ready for a risk, summer is also a great time to assume the Teacher as Writer pose. Start any place you like. It can be as big as a journal article…or as small as a blog post.
Katie Dickerson teaches 11th grade English in North Philadelphia. She studies the connection between independent choice reading and empathy.