CAPTA Connects Tutor Presentation Recap: “I Wish I Had the Courage To …’: How Courage Boards Empower High Schools”

Over the next several weeks, we will be featuring Tutor Presentation Recaps from our 2015 Conference, CAPTA Connects. This recap is by Katie Wolfteich, a Senior tutor from the Edison Writing Center.

Tutoring is intimate. Many tutees are reluctant to come to the writing center because they are hesitant to share something so personal – their writing – with strangers. While writing centers seek to proffer a welcoming, collaborative space, there will inevitably be tutees with fears of vulnerability and criticism that can make a session more painful than it ought to be. But how can writing centers address this problem, which is more closely correlated with the individual than with the writing center itself?

In her TED Talk on her “Before I Die” wall, Candy Chang describes how her project to promote contemplative space in urban areas opened up her New Orleans community to each other (Chang’s board has engendered similar boards worldwide, including a “Courage” board in Alexandria, Virginia, with similar results). Boards like these allow individuals to reveal their secrets while remaining anonymous, and thus become more comfortable with a degree of vulnerability – perhaps even to the point of embracing it. My presentation sought to examine how writing centers can implement a Courage Board in their high school, and its potential effects on community tolerance of vulnerability.

I began my presentation by asking audience members to write down one thing they wished they had the courage to do, switch papers twice, and then read aloud from the paper they’d received. Through this exercise, which demonstrates in a microcosm the vulnerability and ensuing sense of community this project inspires, I showed rather than told my audience about my theory. Some of my favorite quotes from the room included, “I wish I had the courage to be my own personal cheerleader” and “I wish I had the courage to tell others the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it” – and I know that I, personally, felt more connected with my audience after that exercise.

Then, of course, I did tell them a little more. I explained my inspiration for the Courage Board, citing research on the psychology of sharing personal information and how it facilitates connection, and the procedural steps one might take to implement the project in a high school. In this vein, I also discussed its limitations.

Since the presentation, I have been in contact with people who have done similar projects at their schools, and I hope to move ahead with my own at Edison.

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