Before you can learn to write in a new context, it’s helpful to explore how you got to this point. Every one of us arrives in the workplace (and the classroom) with our own beliefs and assumptions about communication. Sometimes, these beliefs are helpful. Sometimes, however, our beliefs can hold us back. So, before we dive in, let’s take a moment to reflect.
Read the following questions and think them over. It may be helpful for you to write some notes in a journal.
- How did you learn to read and write? Who influenced you?
- What do people in your culture and/or your family believe about reading, writing and telling stories?
- What are some of your most positive reading and writing memories?
- Describe some moments when you struggled with reading or writing. How did you react?
- Have you ever changed a belief around reading and writing?
- Do you believe that you are a good writer? Why or why not?
- What is the most frustrating part of reading or writing for you?
- Describe your writing process. How do you tackle writing tasks?
- What do you think the role of your writing teacher should be?
Now, reflect on your answers. Do you notice any patterns? Can you identify any beliefs that might hold you back? Let’s take a look at how other students answered.
Simran’s earliest memories of reading involve being snuggled up with her grandma, siblings and cousins. She loved being read to. Before she was old enough to go to school, she often sat with her older siblings as they did their homework and pretended to write. Unfortunately, when Simran was in Grade 4, she had a teacher who criticized her writing. She began to believe that she was a bad writer. By the time she reached Grade 12, English was Simran’s worst subject.
Today, Simran likes to read for fun, but hates to read for school. When she gets a writing assignment, she often starts and stops and procrastinates. She writes a sentence then gets caught up in grammar details, deletes it, starts over, then checks social media. In the end, she pulls an all-nighter and hands in her assignment with just minutes to spare. Simran likes to write fan fiction based on her favourite T.V. show, and she doesn’t understand why the words come so easily when she’s writing for fun, but so painfully when she’s writing for school. She isn’t looking forward to taking a business communication course because she thinks completing the assignments will be stressful.
Jian Yi began his education in China. He was an excellent student and enjoyed writing. His teachers often praised his beautiful cursive. When Jian Yi was 12, his family moved to Canada. He was placed for a short time in an EAL class, but quickly was integrated into a Grade 7 classroom. He understood very little and felt embarrassed whenever he was asked to speak in class. Though Jian Yi’s English skills improved dramatically, he never again enjoyed school.
Jian Yi doesn’t enjoy reading or writing. He majored in Accounting because he believed there wouldn’t be much reading and writing, and he’s disappointed that he has to take a communications class. He is taking a full course load and he wants to get through this course as quickly as possible.
Both Simran and Jian Yi are good writers; Simran can write short stories and Jian Yi can write in multiple languages. Neither, however, expects to do well in this course. That’s the power of unhelpful beliefs. They can set us up for failure before we’ve even started. By talking about our reading and writing beliefs and figuring our where they came from, we can challenge unhelpful beliefs and be more successful.
Thinking about our reading and writing beliefs is also a great way to celebrate the communication strengths you already have. For example, if you’ve learned Traditional Stories from elders in your community, you already know a story can be used as a powerful teaching tool when tailored to the right audience at the right time. Your ability to play music or sing will help you write sentences that people will enjoy reading. If you can shift between multiple languages or dialects, you can adapt to a new workplace environment. Our goal is not to erase what’s unique about your writing voice to make it “appropriate” for the workplace, but to build on your existing skills so that you can be successful in whatever workplace you enter.