|Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
A friend of mine provided some great writing therapy a little over a month ago (thanks, Mandy). I knew I wanted to get back to this space, but I was honestly having a bit of difficulty making that happen. When I was in the classroom the writing just found me. I was telling the story of working though my challenges in my classroom. The name of the blog after all is "Reflect and Refine." As I moved into my current role as our district's elementary literacy leader, I began to wrestle with my writing in this space. In talking to my friend, she helped coach me through some of the challenges I was facing. She listened. She provided some thoughtful reflections about my writing. Then she said, "Get busy." Well, she didn't say it like that, but she did affirm what I know: writing only happens if we put our fingers to the keyboard (or get our pen moving in a notebook...it's 2018, you get to decide).
After some encouragement, I developed a plan and began to work toward the goal of posting three days each week. It wasn't long until I found a rhythm. I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I could feel it was getting easier. The more I wrote, the easier it was to write. I came up with a few overarching themes that I knew I wanted to write to and began writing to those. The more I wrote, the more ideas that seemed to come my way.
For this school year, I am leading a deep dive into writing with a small group of teachers in our district. I look forward to our time each month to dig a little into writing with our students. Each time we meet, we begin our class with writing. Usually I begin this writing with some kind of conversation, perhaps share a few mentor texts, or some structure I think everyone might find inspiring - to develop a "spark" (thanks, Kayley). Before teachers write, I always remind them they can write about something they are thinking about as a result of our conversation or write about something else that is on their mind right now.
The first week we did this, I saw the discomfort on the faces of participants. However, as we began our session this week, I noticed most teachers found their way into their writing with greater ease. In a conversation after the class with one of the participants she commented about this ease now that she is writing more. It seems the more we write, the quicker our words find us.
In the beginning weeks of school, I spent a bit of time in a kindergarten classroom during writing workshop. Honestly, I was spellbound. It wasn't that far into the year, yet every student was busy writing. Their writer's workshop was obviously a place where all could enter. While some drew pictures, others added words, and some were writing across pages to give more detail. There was a quiet hum to the room. Every conversation I overheard was about the writing. I was struck by the ease of work, but I was more caught by their sense of story. Every student - yes, every student - was working to tell a story. Each one seemed to understand they had an important story to tell. Each writer was telling a very different story - their story. They, of course, were happy to share it with me as I knelt beside them to learn more about their work. There was also this sense of pride and ownership as they talked, as well as this unspoken understanding that their story mattered.
When I'm in a classroom, I always think about the work that has gone into the moment I'm watching. While I'm observing the learning in this place and time, the conversations that have happened before are often possible to note in the way the community works. In this kindergarten room, it was obvious that students knew that writers have a story to tell. It was obvious that they owned the story and that writing was something they did every day.
Recently, I was at NCTE, in a session where Chad Everett was speaking. Chad was the fourth speaker in the session. He began by asking everyone for 60 seconds. He requested devices - and Moleskin notebooks (ELA jokes, bahahaha) - be put down. He wanted everyone to just find their space in the room and get their mind readied for the conversation we were about to have. Silence hung in the room as everyone complied with his request and settled their mind for the conversation. At the end of sixty seconds, a long sixty seconds, Chad reminded that as educators we often say there isn't time, yet this activity reminded us that sixty seconds is a long time.
Finding time seems to be the eternal struggle of life in education. However, I can't help but wonder if we sometimes don't create our own challenges. I used to coach myself through these time panics by digging hard into my schedule. Five minutes too long to transition at some part of my day was twenty-five minutes in a week. Letting my workshop run 10 minutes over each day was fifty minutes in a week. Yep, I could play this game for days --- and freak myself out, honestly. What I came to realize was that there was more time in my day if I learned to think about it differently (and a bit critically).
On Ralph Fletcher's site he shares Guidelines for Growing Strong Writers. Among his guidelines:
- #2 Establish a predictable routine.
- #4 Give kids sustained time to write.
Having a predictable time to write every day is the first step to easing the challenges of writing.