Habitual Dreamers: (Re)visioning the Skyline Writing Center in Year Five
Building on the vision of the first tutoring cohort, this year's consultants will work to chart the course for the Writing Center's next half-decade

Writing Center Presidents, 2016-2017: Anne Boyd ('17) | Christopher Morgan-Martin ('17) | Star Su ('17)

Set Adrift on Memory Bliss: A Brief History of Our Initial Mission
A strategic move from the institutional periphery to the institutional core

In 2012, motivated by a belief that all students in the Skyline community deserve access to consistent, high-quality writing support and a commitment to use peer tutoring to move toward a more student-oriented, learner-centered educational model, a small group of students worked to build the foundations of the Skyline Writing Center. As with many other young writing centers, these students faced significant and consistent challenges to their idea, which made the long-term prospects of the program uncertain at best. Writing the initial mission statement was a hasty process focused almost solely on one-to-one tutoring, and a vision statement seemed aspirational for an organization just trying to survive.

While the Writing Center and its 30 consultants remain focused on providing high-quality writing support to Skyline learners in a student-centered environment, there have been monumental changes to the organization's mission with respect to community engagement, promoting student voice, and being part of our local, national, and international peer tutoring communities.  Since 2012, the Writing Center has won two major grants totaling nearly $3,000, Teen Spirit, the Center's literary magazine, has placed in the top five of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) competition each year it has been published, the Skyline Writing Prize has given away $500 in prizes to support emerging writers, an ongoing collaboration with Literati Bookstore has provided students a public space to present their original work, and a partnership with the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan has broken new ground in secondary-postsecondary partnerships.  In short, the Writing Center is not just about one-to-one tutoring; it has diversified to do so much more.  As our Writing Center--and writing centers across the country and the world--continue to move from the institutional periphery to the core, more strategic thinking is necessary to ensure that our work--which is rooted in research-based best practices--remains at the vital forefront.

Students will utilize the pillars of the Skyline Writing Center's ethos as a foundation for their work: growth mindset, pedagogy of hope, funds of knowledge, shared vulnerability, and community service and engagement.

Through Your Eyes: (Re)visioning as Project-Based Learning
(Re)visioning as a student-led, learner-centered "deep learning" experience for Skyline's consultants

According to the Buck Institute for Education, the following elements are needed for an endeavor to truly be called "project-based learning:"  This process leads students through every facet of project-based learning, ensuring that students are garnering skills from Writing Center work that will be important outside of the Writing Center also.  Indeed, many of the skills learned in the Writing Center, which is a project-based program, are transferrable to other content areas and contexts.  Skills like critical listening, successful collaboration, asking layered, sophisticated questions, sustained inquiry, and writing to learn are some examples of vital life skills consultants learn during their time in our program.
  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills: The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management.  This student-led project to revise our mission and vision requires students to work together to create a new blueprint for our organization while meeting important deadlines and milestones along the way.
  • Challenging Problem or Question: The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge. The work of determining what we believe and value and transforming those abstract ideas into tangible statements that will serve as the foundational future of our program is meaningful and challenging.  Students will need to ask: who are we now?  Who do we want to be in five years time?
  • Sustained Inquiry: Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information. Students will consistently be questioning their theoretical knowledge, asking questions of their practical experience, and locating both theoretical and practical resources to write the best possible mission and vision statements.
  • Authenticity: The project features real-world contexts, tasks, and quality standards; it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.  Consultants will be directly impacting the program's short-term and long-term future with their work.  These are pressing issues to those who care deeply about the work that we do to ensure all students have access to high-quality writing support and a willing audience for their work.
  • Student Voice and Choice: Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.  This process will be student-led and student-oriented at all stages, as the director will take on the role of facilitator.
  • Reflection: Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.  This process will require students to consistently work collaboratively to solve problems, talk through roadblocks, and make meaningful compromises that result in a workable, usable final product.  Offering time and space for reflection also ensures that the (re)visioning process is rooted in Dweck's growth mindset theory, a best-practice for project-based learning
  • Critique and Revision: Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process and products.  The process of devising our mission and vision is a multi-step, multi-month process that will be full of constant, growth-oriented revision among all stakeholders, promoting the idea of writing as a layered, sophisticated process that requires diligence and perseverance.  
  • Public Product: Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.  This page will feature updates on our work, and we will post our finished results on our website.  Moreover, the work being done this year will provide a strategic blueprint for our organization for the next five (5) years.

Ask Me About the Future: Toward a More Reflective Mission and Vision
Engaging in a Strategic, Projected-Oriented Approach to Creating an Organizational Blueprint

Like in the initial year of the Writing Center, students will be doing the important work of constructing statements about our driving philosophies.  This time, however, our consultants will be collaborating using an organized, deliberate process pioneered by the team at the Saginaw Valley State University Writing Center in mid-Michigan that uncovers the values, beliefs, and aspirations held by an organization's membership.  We have modified SVSU's process for our schedule and our particular needs.  The work will unfold in three (3) distinct phases over the course of the 2016-2017 school year with each consultant having an important voice at each juncture.  

Our consultants will be served by a smaller subcommittee who will do the diligent work of organizing and managing the various pieces data collected throughout this year-long process.  The path to our final mission and vision statement mirrors the process-oriented habits of mind we seek to teach all writers who use our services at Skyline, as prewriting and revision are prominently featured.

Trimester 1: The Writing Center Today: Moving Toward a Mission Statement
September 2016-End of November 2016

During the first trimester, consultants will be working to articulate the core values and bedrock beliefs of the Skyline Writing Center through individual reflection, small-group dialogue, and whole-group seminar-style discussions during weekly Skytime sessions.  It is only through a keen understanding of what drives our organization and its membership that we will be able to develop a cogent statement of our current identity and, eventually, our desired future identity.  Dialogue about our purpose and future purpose permit a community of committed individuals to work together to create a shared ethos while avoiding the pitfalls of groupthink.

During this trimester, students will:
  • Work collaboratively to set norms for our dialogue.
  • Define the non-negotiable traits of a writing center from their theoretical knowledge, practice, and experience with other writing centers.
  • Distinguish between values and beliefs, providing a rank-ordered list of each for dialogue.
  • Craft an initial draft of a mission statement by the end of November 2016.

Trimester 2: The Writing Center 2021: Moving Toward a Vision Statement
End of November 2016-Mid-March 2017

In the second trimester, students will clarify the statement of beliefs and values that they produced in the first trimester and the ensuing mission statement.  Using the mission statement as a guide, students will complete a SWOT assessment of the Skyline Writing Center, assessing the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  After completing the SWOT analysis, consultants will have a clearer blueprint for how to consider the future by determining what we, as an organization, can control (internal strengths and weaknesses) and what we cannot (external opportunities and threats) and what can be done with or about each situation.  Having a clearer organizational blueprint will permit consultants to purposefully imagine our growth and expansion over the next five (5) years creating the foundations from Writing Center 2021.

During this trimester, students will:
  • Clarify the beliefs, values, and mission statement from first trimester.
  • Perform a SWOT analysis of the Writing Center to establish an organizational blueprint.
  • Imagine possibilities for the growth and expansion of the Writing Center over the next five (5) years.
  • Craft an initial draft of a vision statement by mid-March 2017.

Trimester 3: Discussions on and Revisions of Our Mission and Vision Statements
Mid-March 2017-May 2017

The final trimester will be about checking and revising the work that completed during the first two trimesters, while also working to establish elements of our work that are non-negotiable and central to our internal and external identities and ferreting out those elements that are ancillary.  Here, consultants will create a "nesting egg" diagram for the Writing Center where the information at the center is more vital than the information at the periphery.  It is expected that there will be significant revisions to both the mission and the vision statement during our small-group and whole-group review of the texts.  When we have completed our work, we will have navigated a consultant-controlled, learner-centered process to set immediate organizational goals and provide the blueprint for future cohorts of tutors to build from.

During this trimester, students will:
  • Prioritize the Writing Center's work through the creation of "nesting egg" visual organizers.
  • Revise the mission and vision statements produced in the first and second trimesters respectively in small and whole-group contexts.
  • Create finalized mission and vision statements by the end of May 2017.