Permission to Continue Building a Writing Community

Sean Bates is a first-year MFA candidate in Poetry at UMass  Amherst where he also teaches College Writing. He hails from the Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York, and completed his undergraduate studies at Oberlin College in Ohio.

It occurred to me into my second week that I had done ice breakers for two days and still my class felt stagnant when it came to sharing or even speaking in class. When I solicited for their anonymous feedback, the majority said they were enjoying the class. The breakdown appeared to be my assumption that the ice breakers of interviews and names  had been enough to foster a writing community with this particular class.

I was concerned about “giving up a day” to do more community building. I brought this to the table during our course director group meeting, and our director wrote on the board a simple idea that felt like a revelation. She wrote: “Give yourself permission to give your class what they need.”

Our Resource Center mentor followed up by asking me about the classroom space. I explained that although I am thankful for the seminar style table, the room is quite small. He, maybe jokingly, suggested that I have them sit under the tables. In my own experience as a student, I recognized the power of psychology of space and I knew that this would catch my class off guard.

As I walked in, I asked them all to pack up their stuff and move the tables to the side (making sure to not block the door.) We all sat on the floor and I had them rip their papers in half. For the rest of the class, we did one line story exquisite corpse exercise. They were more comfortable in cautious silence, and easily fell back on it. But I forced them to share and we actually had some low stakes fun.

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