As my first semester in our writing center ends, I've been reflecting on what have become key points to me. I view each and every interaction in the writing center as an opportunity to enrich lives – that of the student with whom I’m working, and mine – through the work we do around writing. It begins with checking the appointment notes: I want to call the person by name. If they took the time to note anything about the assignment they’re bringing in, I reference it: “So Amanda, you’ve got a personal essay on your experience with writing!” The interaction begins the moment she walks in the door saying “I have an appointment…” I want to demonstrate, right off the block, that “We’re here to work together, I am paying attention, and I’m so glad you came!” A warm, enthusiastic welcome – and acknowledgment of the information she has already provided – can set the tone for our work together. How many times have I called “customer service” and given a complete accounting of the issue I would like to address, only to repeat it six times to people that don’t bother referring to the information I’ve already painstakingly provided? Perhaps it seems like a tiny thing in the larger picture, but I believe it makes all the difference in that crucial first impression.
Knowledge does not occur in a vacuum; it cannot exist without interaction – human communication. The degree and quality of interactions are widely acknowledged to determine both acquisition and transference. This is truly a collaborative effort, though “collaboration”, it must be recognized, exists on a continuum.
I’ve come to understand “collaboration” as having many different degrees of involvement between partners…sometimes with limited focus and scope, and other times strongly connected in a broadly focused, wide scope. Dialogue is the connection factor, and dialogue can be verbal as well as textual. The interactions may be highly collaborative, or may involve a higher degree of direction from one of the partners.
I must be as flexible, intuitive and thoughtful as humanly possible, because each appointment is different in myriad ways. In a nutshell, it means being highly flexible and responding in-the-moment. It means doing my best to elicit the highest level of engagement I can from the student with whom I’m meeting, watching body language, looking into eyes, asking careful, open-ended questions, and responding thoughtfully. It is being an encourager, translator of professorial instructions, sometimes commiserator, and sometimes teacher or director – as opposed to peer – in our collaboration. It is using all of my senses, intuition, and knowledge to gage the support and assistance I can best bring to our work.