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"Someone to Watch Over Me"

Given that the new SLCC Student Writing Center(SWC) Peer Writing Advisors have been attending staff education classes for about a month now; have completed their observations and tag-team tutoring; and have started to work on their own with student writers; it has come the time when I stick my big nose into their tutoring reports for assessment purposes.  Ok, I'm casting this "intrusion" rather negatively, but that is simply to flip the notion around on you and explain why this is not intrusion but instruction.

We have a handy-dandy online reporting system here that allows writing advisors to not only collect data about student writers, but also to reflect upon the sessions they conduct.  To me that is the most important element in the report system.  Writing advisors have the opportunity to reflect on their work and to improve upon it.  It is so much ingrained in my notion of writing center work, in fact, that I kind of get the willies when I think about a writing center that wouldn't have its tutors reflect on their work, and/or such reports are only aimed at an external audience (such as instructors.)  To me the reflection is essential to writing center work.  It helps us grow as tutors and respondents to other's writing.

As the supervisor of the reporting system, I can go into any report in the system and read it.  Very rarely am I required to review a report in order to settle some issue that has arisen because of a session gone wrong. Mostly I stay out of the reports and only look at the broad data--unless I am conducting evaluations of the writing advisors' work.  In general I believe the reports are the tutors' and she or he should feel comfortable reflecting on in peace, as it were.  We cannot, however, fool ourselves into thinking these reports are private.  They are not.  They are very much a document of the SWC and should be treated as such.

Ultimately, I don't see this as a huge conflict of interest for me:  yes, indeed, a tutor should have her space to reflect on her work, but she should also be open for feedback from someone else.  This is why I don't see such evaluative/instructive work as "spying on someone."  It is no more spying on a tutor than giving feedback on writing is spying on a student writer.  The new tutors need such feedback, and need develop the sense that they are a part of a community that takes practice seriously and carries on a discussion about it, either in-person or online.

Mike Mattison wrote about this issue in his article "Someone to Watch Over me:  Reflection and Authority in the Writing Center" (Writing Center Journal, Vol. 27, No. 1).   Although Mike's situation was different (his new staff members were actively in the the Boise State Writing Center taking notes about sessions, which, apparently was seen as "spying" by some veteran members of the staff), the notion is the same:  we learn by reflecting on our work and getting feed back on it.

In any case, my concerns about this issue are a tempest in my own teapot, as it were.  The new tutors enjoy getting my feedback, and like talking about what I observe.  They will, in fact, ask why I didn't happen to comment on a particular session they conducted.


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