List, Jot, Write Long

We expect students to write every day at school. As teachers we scaffold this process, by helping them come up with ideas, get those ideas down right away, organize their thoughts in a way that makes sense to them and others, and then start to compose a piece of writing that effectively communicates these ideas to an authentic audience.

As a staff, we have an expectation that we write every day, too. Our intended audience is our students. Our purpose is to develop writers in our classroom by modeling this process, then gradually releasing the writing responsibility over to our students.  At the same time, I have encouraged my staff to write for themselves. They could blog and share their great teaching ideas and connect with other educators, or just journal after a day of instruction to reflect on what went well and what to work on for next time. The audience for this type of writing are colleagues and/or themselves.

With the new Educator Effectiveness Initiative in Wisconsin, also known as Act 166, all educators will be expected to write a little bit more. The audience? Their immediate supervisor.

Starting in 2014, teachers and principals will no longer be evaluated once every three years. Superintendents and principals will now be observing schools and classrooms several times annually. What is replacing the long narrative evaluation tool are several pieces of evidence over a three year period. These artifacts can include walkthrough forms, checklists, video observations, peer coaching sessions, and documented informal conversations.  Although this is another thing coming at public educators in the midst of Common Core, Response to Intervention and Smarter Balanced Assessments, the concept of making several observations over a multi-year period of time instead of the one time dog and pony show should be a welcomed change. The writing part for staff comes when they are asked to curate and reflect on their pieces of evidence that has helped them meet their professional goals.

I am all for giving my staff information ahead of time. Not too much that they are overwhelmed; just enough periodically so they have an awareness of what is coming. The process we are using this year to start becoming more reflective practitioners by 2014 is a tool Regie Routman encourages for goal setting: List, Jot, Write Long. It is adapted from an activity developed by Jennifer Allen in her educational resource Becoming a Literacy Leader.  Always trying to model the teaching process in my own communications with staff, I have taken part in this activity myself.


The first of three steps is to list five ideas important to you. I chose to highlight three of our school’s shared beliefs about literacy, along with two recommendations from Richard Allington. I circled one of these ideas (#4) to write more about later.


After listing my initial thoughts, I jotted two more ideas from each main idea. I think the concept is to help flesh out my initial thinking and develop details for the last step.

Write Long

This is the end product, the culmination of a prewriting activity to help develop individual and team goals. As you can see, it is very reflective: I probably ask more questions than answer. That is okay, because this process is designed to help me discover what I want to focus on as a learner for the school year.

The Next Step

With my beliefs and aspirations made visible, I feel like I am in a better position to set some goals for the school year, for my students and for myself. Using building objectives and district initiatives, I wrote my own goals as a staff member in my building. One goal is student-specific; the other encompasses the entire school, from more of the principal perspective.

This process of starting with a simple writing activity and slowly progressing toward a final product has been helpful. Going from an initial idea (“Students should be reading and writing 50% of the school day.”) to a comprehensive objective along with strategies and assessments was made much easier because I started with our beliefs of practice and worked up.

If you think this activity is the type of learning that could work for your building, I highly recommend Jennifer Allen’s resource and Regie Routman’s professional development series. Have you done something similar in your building? How could an activity like this be used with the students in your school? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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