Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Open to the Challenge of Change by Erika Victor


Like many other writers this month, I chose an OLW for 2018. My word is CHALLENGE and I definitely considered my writing life when choosing this word. I am a goal-oriented person and I know for me to just say I am going to do something means it may or may not happen, so I had to set myself some parameters within that word.

Some writing goals are those I want to continue, such as slicing each Tuesday, as part of the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life. I will also participate (again- for the fourth time) in the March Slice of Life Challenge (I will invite my third graders to slice with me. Some of my former students are already excited for March, and I am hoping their enthusiasm will spread to my current students.). One thing I especially love about this is the real writing community my students get to be a part of as a result.

I also want to work toward daily writing. I do so much “prewriting” in my head, but do not always get words on the page! What I have done so far in 2018 is set aside a time- 7-7:30PM.  I go through spurts where I write daily and then stretches where I do not and I know I feel better when I write regularly, so I have to make it work.

Reading often fuels my writing- whether it be inspirational (like Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Anne Lamott, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, or any of the amazing teacher-writers who inspire me regularly), so I have to make sure I do plenty of that as well.

I want to expand the types of writing I do. I tend toward journal writing, which is great for helping me process and set goals, but it means that there is lots of writing I do not develop. When we first started with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Units, I was good about doing the writing I was asking my students to do (including the on-demand pre and post assessments). This was a great way for me to really experience what I was asking of my students (and man, is it hard to meet all of the third grade standards!), but since then I have only done this sporadically. I will do more of this variety of writing this year.

I want to continue to make time for “joy writing” (thanks to Ralph Fletcher for the term) in the classroom. We have 15 minutes of quiet time every day after lunch and some students choose to write then, and we also have “Free Choice Friday” time where students can read or write what they choose- regardless of the genre or form. This is something that I definitely want to continue at the next school too.

Just this morning I noticed that within my OLW, CHALLENGE, are the letters that spell 'CHANGE'. I am open to new goals that come up throughout the year!


Erika Victor is currently a third grade teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Most of her career has been international and this summer she will move to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to teach a new crop of third graders. Looking back she has been a writer since childhood (Somehow she has the original compilation of haikus from her fourth grade reading group which she brings out each year to show her poets. Over the course of fifth and part of sixth grade she wrote a looong story Dina and Amy- scarlet fever added some of the drama.). You can find Erika on Twitter at @ErikaMVictor or on her blog at msvictorreads.wordpress.com.
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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Pushing Past Perfection by Elisa Waingort


Several times during the year, I renew my commitment to developing a robust writing habit.

Sometimes I pursue this habit by participating in a writing challenge on social media. My favorite one is the March Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by the Two Writing Teachers. I usually get off to a great start. I blog every day for a month and swear that I will continue to blog every day for the rest of my life. That’s 365 distinct posts worthy of publishing on my blog.

That.
Is.
Daunting.

Which brings me to a major roadblock: feeling pressured to write well each and every single time.

Not possible. I even tell my students this. So, why do I have such a hard time applying it to myself?

Maybe you’re thinking that I don’t have to post every day on my blog.
Agreed.

Or, maybe you’re thinking that any time spent writing is worthy of celebration.
Agreed.

Or, maybe you’re experiencing the same kind of hesitation and insecurity about writing and are having a hard time staying on the straight and narrow path.
Welcome to the tribe!

In my head and in my heart, I know that positive habits are messy and take time to cultivate. So, the first step towards embracing a writing habit is to write every day. It’s as simple as that. Easy? Not by a long shot! But writing every day makes it easier to call yourself a writer, even if you never make your writing public.

Full disclosure: It has taken me a long time to call myself a writer, and still longer to make my writing public. 

In the past, thinking that everything I write has to be brilliant has made it that much harder to keep up the resolve to write daily. Either I got bored with my writing or I ran out of interesting topics to write about. Or, I decided to watch a movie instead of writing. Or, I spent time reading someone else’s writing to effectively ignore my own. And, although reading what others are writing is important, I can’t get stuck there. It has taken all the courage I can muster to confront myself when I write something less than stellar. Well, OK, when I write something that is just plain bad.

So, this year I am coming to terms with my truths:
Truth #1: blogging every day just doesn’t work for me. There! I said it!
Truth #2: although I will write every day, I don’t have to make it public every day.
Just admitting this lifts a heavy weight off my shoulders.

This is my writing contract for 2018 -
Write. Every. Day.
Blog and share my writing as often as I can.
Don’t worry about whether or not what I write measures up to my idea of perfection. 
Because (truth #3) if I don’t write a lot, I will never be able to write anything worth reading. And, after all, that’s what it’s all about.

Will you join me?


Elisa Waingort is a grade 4 Spanish bilingual teacher in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She has been an ESL specialist, classroom teacher, curriculum coordinator, and teacher leader in schools she has taught at in North and South America. Elisa is a writer and a reader. She loves to learn alongside her students. 

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Monday, January 29, 2018

So What Should We Remember? by Val Jansonius


We’d pile back into the minivan and inevitably my mom, with her journal in hand would cheerily say, “Ok, so, what should we remember about vacation today?”  My brothers, dad, and I would wonder, “Won’t we all remember the same thing?” but nonetheless we would share the adventures we experienced that day.
Of course, I wasn’t aware of it then, but those early experiences impacted my writing life immensely.  In fact, most of these journal are filled with memories of adventures near (biking across Iowa this summer) and far (traveling across Indonesia for three weeks) that I have experienced since I graduated college.
I also didn’t know it as a child, but the concept of shared writing stuck with me.  I began writing in this journal the night I got engaged and continued until the end of our honeymoon.  As I sat at the airport in Mexico, with one final cerveza in hand, I pulled out the journal, turned to my new husband, handed it to him and asked, “So, what should we remember about the honeymoon?”  I’m sure he had the same thoughts my siblings and I did all those years ago.
I will always write about travel adventures and cherish those memories, but recently had an experience that made me more daring as a writer. This past summer, I enrolled in Teacher as a Writer with my colleague and friend Ali Locker. (Check her out here.)   Books from writing giants, Ralph Fletcher and Georgia Heard, served as our mentors those two days.  All of those writing experiences led me to new ways of writing.  In fact, I even published a free verse poem, something I never imagined doing! A few exercises that I experienced over those two days were:

Apostrophe Writing: Often, we can’t speak what we want to say to others, for a variety of reasons.  Apostrophe writing encourages us to write those thoughts and emotions down.  Not for the purpose of sharing it with others, but simply to release those words from our mind.  This experience was powerful and I have done it several times since.

Lifting a Line: This strategy encourages us to notice the beauty of words written by someone else, whether from a book, poem, or song, and then elaborate on our connection to those words.  I’ve made it a new rule for myself that when I’m reading, I will always have a journal next to me. 

My journals continue to collect memories of travel adventures, and I look forward to maintaining my mom’s tradition of sharing the pen with our future children.  This year, though, I want to further step outside my comfort zone as a writer, and I offer the same challenge to my fellow teacher-writers.

 Find a topic you don’t usually write about, share your writing with a new audience, or write in a new style.  As you become more daring as a writer, share this with your students, so they can continually grow and strengthen their own writing muscles.


Val Jansonius has been an educator for 10 years- serving as a 2nd-grade teacher, elementary technology teacher, and a mentor to first-year teachers.  Currently, she is an Instructional Coach at a K-5 building, kids’ yoga teacher, and an adjunct instructor at Drake University.  Connect with her on Twitter @Mrs_Jansonius. 
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Friday, January 26, 2018

Whacking Though the Tangle of Nonsense by Patty McGee


Here is my usual writing process:

I address something specific— a blog post, article, chapter to write, and so on.  (In other words, for now anyway, I’m not one of those journal-jotting daily musers, because the deadlines seem to eclipse that enviable habit.) I sit down to write. Then I get up, usually to top off my mug of tea. Good thing I went into the kitchen, though, just in time to save my family and world civilization by organizing my spice cabinet.  Satisfied, I head back to write. Silence phone, sip tea, and then things kick into high gear: Patty, you’re plum out of good things to write says the voice in my head, that same cassette tape that has played in my head forever.  You are a one-trick pony. Faker. The well is dry.  Patty, what makes you think you can do this? Patty, this writing thing you’re into, it is just too vulnerable a thing to do. Others will read and judge your writing and judge you. Patty, I don’t think your sock drawer is organized well enough. Get to it.

Inevitably, I end up doing what I should have started with: setting two goals for myself.

  1. Create a deadline.
  2. Get anything written down.  Anything at all.

Setting these two goals helps me whack through the tangle of nonsense in my head.  First, I secure a deadline for finishing the piece and make it as if my family’s well being depends on it.  I imagine this deadline has been set by someone else who holds our fate in their hands.  I move all things in my way in order to meet that deadline.  As a matter of fact, when I was writing my book, I had a deadline to write a chapter every two weeks (my editor Wendy never set these deadlines for me).  I lived like this was my reality and turned in virtually every chapter “on time.” The deadline gives me the felt need to get the writing done, like it or not.

The second goal I set is getting anything written down, anything at all.  Utterly inspired by Anne Lamott’s chapter “Shitty First Draft” in her book Bird by Bird, I push myself to write down whatever comes to mind. This may start in a notebook with a few ideas or a simple brain dump in a document.  I intentionally set my fingers and mind free to write, without self-editing, as quickly as I can in order to get those first words down.  This first collection of words is a far distance from the final piece but having written something down makes it so I have hurdled the hardest part of writing for me.

Perhaps your writing process is similar to mine.  Does your mind meander and design pressing, meaningless tasks to complete? Worse yet, does the baggage we all have about our talent sabotage your writing voice?

Perhaps these two goals will help you as well-- deadlines and writing anything.  Try them, see what happens.

It is always, always worth the journey.


Patty McGee is the author of Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing.  Patty is a traveling teacher (AKA literacy consultant) with Gravity Goldberg, LLC. and a recipient of the Milken Educator Award.  She blogs at pattymcgee.org and tweets at @pmgmcgee
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Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Many Ways to Write by Purviben Trivedi-Ziemba

I am a mom, an educator & a lifelong learner in a bibliophile family.  Our daughter will be taking her ACT next month, I will be taking my Praxis in April.  I am planning to go back to the classroom after a long hiatus and will need to network, rebuild my teaching muscles and prove myself to me as well as others. 

There are a couple of things standing between me and the classroom including transferring my teaching license from Georgia to Wisconsin, signing a contract and being prepared to teach tech-savvy kids. Meanwhile, I am fortifying my teacher toolbox, collaborating and learning with my peers. 

 My goal is to read 100 books this year and thoroughly reflect on them. I've already read 6.  I also want to write. These are my writing goals for 2018:


  • Reflecting on the books I read and review these books.  Connecting with authors of these books will be a good idea too. Hmm! 
  • Read everything from textbooks to journals to blogs to comics and take notes.
  • Write successful applications that result in a teaching contract for the 2018-19 school year.
  • Write each day, including weekends, with my kids.  This will be free writing for 7 minutes at the end of the day. We will pull names for who is going to give a prompt for the day. We may compile a jar full of quotes, ideas and such. The sky is the limit here!  Our first prompt was: “In the Beginning”. Would the one on December 31st be “At the end of the year”
  • Write a book of poems. Putting pen to paper is the name of the game here.
  • Share ideas.  Write a guest post each month?  Get a column in the local newspaper or a website such as Middleweb will be a nifty idea too, ya?
  • 365 days of excellence & experiences: write a blog post each day by sharing a slice of my life, a teaching lesson, a thought, reviewing these Saturday-night movies...
  • Snail mail connections: Putting pen to paper will allow me to connect with friends and family via snail mail.
  • Thank you notes. Need I say more?
  • Keep track of expenses. Usually, we dutifully track expenses for a couple of months. Then miss a day which then turns into every day. We may or may not catch up.  This year, a new notebook has been decorated & my goal is not to miss any day.

Now it's your turn:



Purviben K. Trivedi-Ziemba is a mom, an educator & a learner.   She loves cooking and spending time with her family, reading, knitting and gardening.  With a Master’s degree in Middle Grades Education and Gifted Endorsement, while on a hiatus from teaching at the moment, she is mentoring STEM Scouts and getting ready to teach a class of her own.  She writes about her journey, her love of reading and wonder of science at http://trivediziemba.edublogs.org/.  You can also connect with her on twitter at @TrivediZiemba

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

We Must Get on The Court by Melissa Wood-Glusac

Every day, we should hit our journals like the hardwood, with pens ready for freewriting. Sometimes we write to a prompt, but I remind students that if something is begging for attention, they should tend to it immediately. The goal is to play with words enough so that eventually students’ voices show up. The more they write without the pressure of a score, a rubric waiting, the more honest they will be.

So we need to make it count, but not necessarily with the scoreboard, or a letter grade. When it is time to actually turn in a revised entry, to lace up and get out there on the court, we need to focus on successes, and not a point value that judges their mistakes. Winning may feel amazing, but how much more do we learn from our failures?

We used to watch game tapes to see what we should practice to be ready for the next opponent. And by looking at work we do in practice, writing is no different. We use the freedom of writing to explore new ideas, but when we revise our writing, we learn we need details, we need to show not tell.

And that’s when we find mentors.

Like Kobe Bryant emulated Michael Jordan, we read poets, novelists, essayists and analyze the ways of their words, trying the moves out ourselves. From Mary Oliver we learn to show nature in its horrific beauty, from F. Scott Fitzgerald we learn to write dialogue and description to define a decade, and from Ray Bradbury we learn that in characterizing our loves, we invite readers into our stories so they can hide books with Montag.

We also learn from authentic audiences, made up of our peers. First we get brave and sit in the author’s chair,  then we peer edit, finally we gallery walk through each other’s work; basically, we show up for each other like a crowd does for the home team.

Authentic audiences live in the classroom too.

My students write to pen pals and wrote children’s books about overcoming phobias.  Helping my students put their writing out there more has been a goal of mine for years now. Knowing our audience before beginning and then seeing that audience’s interpretation after reading our words is far more powerful than any A+ can relay.

To truly teach, we teacher-writers must also get on the court. We can’t coach from a chair in the corner of the gym, and we can’t teach from a podium in front of the class. Instead, writing coaches must sit with students elbow to elbow, prove to them we can and will do it, even if our shot isn’t quite as accurate anymore. Again, it is all part of the process. That I can admit my words don’t communicate on any given day as I wish they would is inspiring to my students who feel the same way themselves.

But this struggle pushes me to do better next time, to revise, to show my work to others.

Melissa Wood-Glusac been a writer since she can remember. Maybe it was that first diary (with Little Orphan Annie on the cover) at the age of five. Or maybe it was her great-grandmom, who told her she would be. Maybe she has filled enough journals to earn the title, but more than anything she is proud to have been teaching writing at Thousand Oaks High School since 1998, a job she absolutely loves. You can find Melissa on Twitter @meliG43, where I help lead discussions for #aplangchat.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Courage to Tell Your Writing Truth by Andy Schoenborn


My goal for 2018 began on an October commute as I listened to a Heinemann podcast interview with Tom Newkirk discussing his book, Embarrassment.  His talk resonated with me as he opened up about “the emotions of shame, failure, frustration, disappointment, that we all feel as teachers, and all feel as learners,” he added that these feelings have always been a part of his teaching life, and something he really still has to deal with.  In other words, Tom lives with the anxieties all learners face when risking a move into new learning territories. 

Tom’s brave admission surprised me.  As a writer, I related well to this truth, but I imagined my teacher-mentors were lucky enough not experience the same emotions I have when sitting down to write.  Perhaps it should not have surprised me at all.  Every author I know, regardless of success, echoes this universal experience to some degree - the fear is real.  It just so happened that (embarrassment) was the gentle reminder I needed in my teacher-writer life to move me beyond my fear.

I wondered what I could do outside of the classroom to risk more.  With my students, I act as a guide, make my learning visible, and model the process of learning.  My students stretch themselves, reflect on past work, and reach for new growth opportunities. 

It is time for me to do the same.  
Encouraged by Tom, I sought more avenues to learn, grow, and share.  With my mind open to new possibilities and a Voices from the Middle call for manuscripts on the horizon, I decided to go for it.  

Then, true to form, anxiety and doubt began to creep into my mind. 

Writing a manuscript for the NCTE journal presented imagined barriers.  The realities of an audience of smart readers, co-editors I admired, the possibility of rejection, and perhaps acceptance caused my fingers to hover over the keyboard. 

I decided to practice what I teach and found a mentor text for inspiration.  Penny Kittle’s 2001 Voices from the Middle piece,“Writing Giants, Columbine, and the Queen of Route 16”, surprised me in the way Tom’s did and spurred on my confidence. 

Throughout her piece were moments in which she felt inadequate, frustrated, and unsure.  Early in her teaching career, Kittle noted “teaching writing was particularly difficult;” and went on to admit, “there was too much to grade, and I had nothing to say. I didn’t know where to start. I felt I didn’t know enough to lead 23 children with differing strengths and needs.”  Much like Tom’s admission, I was caught off guard to learn that Penny wrestled with similar feelings of a learner-in-progress. 

What a relief to know that, though my classroom struggles often feel isolated, they are indeed challenges we all face.  I felt encouraged as a teacher-writer.  And, in my experience, it is good to know you are not alone.

After submitting my manuscript, I chose to revisit Nancie Atwell’s groundbreaking work, In the Middle.  While reading her teaching story after so many years I was surprised yet again.  Nancie too struggled, had doubts, and resisted some of the same ideas that would bring her world recognition. 

My teacher-writer mentors convinced me that the first step toward a goal rests upon an unsure footing.  The difference is these mentors continue to make strides, however tremulous, by being open to new learning; reading voraciously; writing to learn, and sharing their work. 

Common among these mentors is the need continually improve so they can be of better support and service to their students. 

It is my goal, too.

In 2018 I will read more, write more, risk more, and share more. 

Along with my response to NCTE’s Voices from the Middle call for manuscripts, I have submitted proposals for presentations at the NCTE annual conference and the Michigan Reading Association conference.  I will reflect on my classroom practices on my blog the ELA Field Book and share my experiences on social media with interested audiences. 

Teachers are truly an amazing collection of people.  My personal learning network has supported me in ways I could not have imagined since joining twitter chats like #G2Great and #TeachWrite.  I have grown from a shy lurker to an active participant in the chats and what a difference it has made! 

At our best, teachers inspire, shape, and encourage growth among each of the lives we encounter. 

In our classrooms, we share our gifts and love with students.  Outside of our classrooms, we better our practices by looking to educational mentors. 

Overcoming anxieties and making it a goal to give back to the profession will make a mentor out of you. 

It’s not as scary as it sounds.

Your audience can’t wait to read what you write.


Andy Schoenborn is a high school English teacher in Michigan at Mt. Pleasant Public Schools.  He focuses his work on progressive literacy methods including student-centered critical thinking, digital collaboration, and professional development.  As a past-president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project teacher consultant for Central Michigan University’s Chippewa River Writing Project he frequently conducts workshops related to literacy and technology.  Read his thoughts on literacy in the elafieldbook.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.
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Monday, January 22, 2018

Writing with Honesty by Leah Mermelstein


Isn’t it strange how the advice you give to others is often the very advice you need yourself?

As 2018 approached, I started contemplating what my writing goals for the New Year would be. While doing this, I kept replaying a writing conference I recently had with a 5th grade student.

Jennifer was writing a personal narrative about a time when she was waiting in line to go on a ride at an amusement park.  She wasn’t sure if she was going to be allowed due to her small size.  When she got to the front of the line, she discovered that she was, in fact just tall enough. She wrote well about the excitement she felt in that moment, but something didn’t feel right.

I asked her if excitement was the only emotion she felt.  She paused and then said that although she was in fact excited, she was also nervous because she had barely made the size requirement and was worried about getting hurt. It’s harder, she admitted to write showing both of those feelings.

We had a conversation about writing honestly even when it’s hard. I challenged her to try and write that story describing the mixed emotions that she felt.

The end result was a more thoughtful, more honest piece of writing

It’s time I took my own advice!  For 2018 I am going to try and write with more honesty.  I’m going to question everything I write in the same way I questioned Jennifer:  Did I write what is easy or what is true?  It will be a little scary to put myself out there like that because people may not always agree or like what I have to say.  But I am certain that writing with honesty will bring me to new levels of thinking and pave the way for thoughtful conversations with colleagues.

Happy New Year to all!  May we all write and speak with more honesty!

Leah is literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshops. Leah works with schools, districts, educational organizations, and universities to help teachers, literacy coaches, and principals grow in their understanding of how to teach reading and writing to elementary students. In addition to consulting with schools and institutions to develop Reading and Writing Workshops, Leah is also the author of four books and a DVD. She muses about teaching writing at www.leahmermelstein.com. She tweets @MermelsteinLeah.  You can also connect with her on Facebook at Leah Mermelstein.
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Friday, January 19, 2018

Spellbound by Comic Creation by Shawna Coppola


I’ve always identified as a writer--not so much the kind of writer who actually writes, per say, but rather the kind of writer who revels in the glory of having written--who frequents local coffee shops, noshes on baked goods, stalks social media, keeps up with the Kardashians, and wakes up the following day magically holding a beautifully-bound book in her hand that she herself has written.

This kind of writing identity is difficult to sustain.

It’s not that I dislike writing. I’m actually one of those annoying people who enjoy writing, especially when I’m riled up enough to feel as though I have something important and/or entertaining to say. I even enjoy revising, most of the time. And--not joking--reviewing copy edits is something I actually look forward to.

I KNOW, right? So obnoxious.

The problem is, I’m easily distracted when I’m writing. There’s always an email to answer, a celebrity feud to navigate, a gallon of milk to buy. So if you’re looking to me as a writing mentor along the lines of Donald Murray (Nulla dies sine linea--never a day without a line) or a Stephen King, who once shared that his average daily word count hovered around 2,000...you may want to look elsewhere.

I don’t even privilege words when it comes to writing. (Gasp!) To me, writing is so much more than composing words. It’s broader than that. In my book Renew! Become a Better--and More Authentic--Writing Teacher (Stenhouse, 2017), I spend all of Chapter 3--close to 5,000 words--trying to convince my readers of this in what can only be characterized as an exercise in irony. But since writing that chapter, I’ve embraced this notion a hundred times over. I’ve practically thrown myself into practicing digital composition, remixing, comics--even emoji stories!

It’s the comic writing, though, that’s ensnared me the most with its novel, razor-sharp hooks. I have never identified as an artist--that is, not until very recently--and yet I am simply spellbound when creating comics. Unlike when writing prose, I am nearly impossible to distract when composing a comic. I have missed appointments; I have neglected to shower; I have failed to feed my children dinner while in the process of writing a comic. And though I still have so, so much to learn, I can already see myself improving as a comic artist, which is like a magical elixir, compelling me to experiment more, fail more, produce more.

This year, I not only want to continue to improve the comics I compose by hand; I want to learn how to create webcomics--yikes!--using a program like Procreate or Medibang Paint. I want to continue to learn from and absorb the brilliance of mentors like Chaz Hutton, Lucy Knisley, Sarah Andersen, and Reza Farazmand. And I want to do it all while remembering to shower and feed my children dinner.

Wish me luck.


Shawna Coppola is a K-6 literacy specialist and the author of Renew! Become a Better--and More Authentic--Writing Teacher from Stenhouse Publishers (2017). When she is not teaching, presenting, or consulting, she writes comics and posts for her blog, My So-Called Literacy Life. You can connect with her on Twitter (@shawnacoppola) or Voxer (ShawnaCoppola) to talk books, education, or the Kardashians.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nine Steps to Guide My Writing Life by Tara Smith


Being a teacher of writing and having a personal writing life, is a constant challenge.  I know that having a writing life of my own is one of the best things I can do for my students, for it is through experiencing the writing process myself that I understand what it means and what it takes.  But, there are only so many hours in the day, and shepherding my 50 or more sixth graders through a year of writing, reading, and history often leaves nothing more than slivers of time to devote to writing of my own.  And, a writing life requires so much more than just time to sit and write; a writing life requires nourishment, too.

A few years ago, I discovered A Hundred White Daffodils, a compilation of poems, essays and interviews by Jane Kenyon.  Tucked into the notes she had kept for a lecture she gave near her home in New Hampshire, was advice for poets and writers ; in them, I saw nine steps I could take, in no particular order or combination, to nourish and guide my writing life:

1. Be a good steward of your gifts: this is such wise advice.  Stewardship is defined as “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving”.  If I cared about my writing life, I would have to take daily responsibility for engaging in the process in a meaningful way.

2. Protect your time:  this involves making choices about where to spend my limited time, it means having to say no to some things even though I really, really, really want to participate.  Wise advice, but ever so hard to have the discipline to follow!

3. Feed your inner life: reading poetry and philosophy, and listening to podcasts in which writers and thinkers share their ideas and process, have helped me to do this.

4. Avoid too much noise: see #6 ;)

5. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears: a rich reading life inspires me to want to write, and to try out new ways to craft my writing.  This is a mantra I repeat every day, in one form or another, to both my students and myself.  It really works!

6. Be by yourself as often as you can: my teaching days are filled with the exuberant noise of twelve year olds, and I find that seeking out  opportunities for solitude and silence to mull over thoughts and ideas is essential to my writing life.

7. Walk: this one goes hand in hand with the above - solitary walks present wonderful opportunities to ruminate, but also to listen and notice.  So often, I will see or hear something while walking that will lead to an interesting writing entry or the beginning of an essay idea.

8. Take the phone off the hook:  my version of this advice is to turn off my iphone and forget about its existence for a period of time every day, and to always have it off when I write. 

9. Work regular hours: I try to set aside a certain amount of time every single day to just write - it may be a blog post, a memory sketch, or a quick narrative; and the time set aside may vary - it  might be during lunch on one school day,  or right after dinner on another.  Each day brings its time challenges, but the important things is to make sure to carve out time for the sole purpose of writing each and every day.

So, there they are: nine practices to choose from, and mix and match every day in order to live a writing life alongside my teaching life, thanks to the wisdom of Jane Kenyon.  They’ve helped me, I hope they help you.

Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Duet of Writing by Adrienne Hoffer


For a recent professional development day, I pulled together a compilation of my favorite quotes to emphasize the importance of writing with our students. While all the quotes are inspiring, Donald Graves’ words stuck with me, “You can't ask someone to sing a duet with you until you know the tune yourself.” If I am to support my colleagues with writing instruction, I need to start writing regularly and be sure to encourage my colleagues to do the same.

Goal #1: I will try out different strategy lessons in my own writing.
I want to grow as a writer and be able to share authentic and personal use of strategies when supporting my colleagues. After all, if I don’t know the melody, how can I teach the song?

Many times when sitting side-by-side with educators, digging through resources like, Ralph Fletcher’s, Craft Lessons or Jennifer Serravallo’s, The Writing Strategies Book, I’ll come across a strategy lesson that makes me want to grab a pen and start writing. Instead of taking the time to do this, I continue with my day. I recently came across “Uh-oh, Uh-oh, Phew!” a strategy to help planning narratives, and thought back to how I have always struggled planning story endings. In the moment, I had a strong urge to stop and use the planning strategy, but the day got away from me, and I never tried it out. I realize I cannot let these moments pass, so in 2018 I promise myself to stop and take the time to try out strategy lessons that motivate me to write.

Goal #2: I will provide time for colleagues to write during professional development sessions. 
At a recent session, I carved out time for sixty educators to write. The room was first full of excited chatter and then it simmered as we began to press pencils and pens to paper. Everyone was focused on writing, their writing. When the writing time was over, I heard, “Not yet!” and saw the writing pace quicken in an attempt to capture last thoughts. At the end of the session, a principal stopped me and said, “I haven’t written like this is some time. I am so excited about my story I am going home tonight to finish it!” The feeling in the room that day was contagious and all the motivation I need to ensure we write together more often. If we can encourage each other to write, we will create a harmonious community of writers who are able to carry a tune into their own lives and classrooms.

Heading into the new year, I will keep these two goals in tune. Thank you, #TeachWrite, for encouraging me to compose my 2018 theme song!

Adrienne Hoffer is an Instructional Coach and District Writing Committee leader for a K-8 district in Illinois. She can be found on Twitter @AWHoffer.

Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Write About What Fills Your Heart by Cathy Scott Skubik


Writing goals. Hmmmm. Mine? Um. Yes. Okay. Let me get some water. Oh, and the laundry needs to be put into the dryer. Oh, and I haven’t checked Twitter lately.
Yep, my writing goals stink. I don’t even have any right now. 

Everytime I have set some, like, write every morning for ten minutes or journal before you go to sleep, none of those things happen. I write when my head feels like it’s going to explode, usually in response to an educational issue I have been wrestling with. It is cathartic writing. 

But just the practice of writing, just writing, what I preach to my students – not something I myself practice. And I call myself a writing teacher!

But there is one thing I am really really good at: reading. I can read when I am surrounded by noise and trouble, and inspite of any urgent chores that need attention. This proved fortuitous today, as it led me to an article in the NYTimes. It caught my attention right away: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions. The subtitle is even better: Willpower is for chumps. To make a change, you don’t have to feel miserable.

Author David Desteno believes that the importance we place on self-control, willpower and grit in achieving goals is misplaced. And he suggests a better tool: our social emotions. By expressing gratitude and compassion we are naturally inclined to patience and perseverence. This is an interesting idea, and one I want to explore in my writing life.

I have had experience with this idea of gratitude as healer. About twelve years ago I went through an intense, year-long treatment for breast cancer. I was out of my mind with fear. One of the most effective practices I adopted was starting every day with a prayer of gratitude. I shut out the scary, noisy voices, and just gave thanks, and this gave me a path through each day.

What would that look like as part of my writing goals? How can expressing gratitude and compassion fit together with writing? One of the other recommendations he makes in the article is to “Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals.”

I have been thinking about writing about some of the cool things happening in my classroom lately. Notice I said: thinking about… I haven’t actually done any writing -- yet. These are moments where something goes incredibly well. It goes beyond pride. My heart is full. And I would love to write about it.

That sounds like a goal I can stick with.

Goal #1: Pay attention to what works in your classroom. Write about that everyday. Even just a little. It won’t matter, from general reflection to specific lesson that went well, it will count.


Cathy Skubik tweets @cskubik
And blogs (sometimes) at Trench Lessons:    https://csskubik.wordpress.com/
And teaches fourth grade at Park Western Place Elementary in San Pedro, California


Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Gym I'd Join by Heather Calvert


Who made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight?

Gyms are counting on it. It’s crazy how many commercials I see in an evening advertising free joining fees, one free month, etc. These gyms are following a business model that assumes you will fail. They know that if they can convince you to join, you will keep paying for the membership even if you quit going. Many of us start off strong, but losing weight takes a lot of time to see success.

Just like writing.

For me, I frequently use the same reasons I avoid working out to avoid writing.
I’m tired.
I’d rather watch television.
I only have an hour…
The house needs to be picked up.
I don’t know where to start.
I’ll start tomorrow!

However, this year there’s a new gym that just opened up and they have a completely different business model. If you join this gym for $10 a month, you can go as many times as you want each month. Want a cheaper price? If you visit the gym at least 12 times a month, your monthly fee is cut to just $5.

That’s right, a gym that’s actually rewarding you to be consistent! If you want a cheaper price, you have to earn it.

Motivating, right?

To accomplish my 2018 writing goals, I’m switching my motivational plan to one that not only rewards me for consistent time spent writing, but also has consequences for avoidance. Here’s how it works:
Take $50 (it’s got to be worth it, right?)
Put it in a sealed envelope
Label one side with your consistency goal and your reward if you meet it
Label the other side with someone/an organization you will give the money to if you don’t meet your goal (during elections, pick the opposite political party).

Imagine how powerful this will be! You genuinely want to get the $50 reward to treat your spouse to a date night, do something fun with the kids, indulge in some pampering, buy a special treat, etc. Is it the end of the world if you have to donate the money? No, but it’s not as gratifying as treating yourself and/or your family.

So this year, try a new method of motivation. Remember that slow progress is better than no progress. Push yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you.

Heather Calvert is an Elementary Principal at Indian Hills Elementary School in Topeka, KS. She is working to finish her Ed.D. in 2018 in Educational Leadership. When not writing her dissertation, she enjoys reading and spending time with her two kids and husband. You can connect with Heather on Twitter and Facebook @heathercalvert or on her blog at www.hcstretch.com
Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

3 Important Things You Should Do to Get Published Online by Kimberley Moran


You’ll never forget that first time an editor tells you, “your piece is live!” It takes work to get to this thrill, but you can do it.

You’ve been writing in your journal or on your blog for a while now. Your ideas are good and the more you write about them, the better your teaching gets and the richer your writing becomes. You read other people’s articles on sites like WeAreTeachers, Two Writing Teachers, and Teach Write and think to yourself, “I can do that.” You’ve decided you want to try getting an article published on one of these or any of the hundreds of other sites out there.

What’s next?

I’ve been down this road. In fact, I wrote so many articles while I was teaching, that I left teaching in March of 2017 to become a full-time writer and editor at WeAreTeachers. So, I know exactly what you’re going through.

Believe me, I didn’t think I could do it at first either.

Here’s What I Learned:

1. Read and Deconstruct Published Posts

Find a place you want to write for and read at least 25 of their posts. Then, find a particularly engaging article, and copy and paste into a document. Now deconstruct it.

  • How many words are in the article? 
  • How many sentences? 
  • What do you like about the first sentence?
  • How many subheads are there?
  • How are the subheads written?

The more you take it apart, the better you’ll understand what you have to do. You’ll create your own roadmap or structure to follow. This isn’t cheating! This is smart work. The site already published the piece. The editor liked it enough to put it out there to readers who, like you, engaged with it.

2. Generate a Headline

With online writing, the headline (or Hed, if you’re in the biz) is where it’s at. Research shows that many readers only read a headline, so the better yours is, the more likely an editor will want to read what you’ve written. There is no shortage of great headlines out there. Find ones you like and imitate them. Are you seeing a theme here? The world is your classroom. Look around.

3. Write a Short Pitch

Once you have a good headline, you pretty much know what you plan to write. Don’t write the article! Most editors would prefer that you share the headline and a short pitch that show what you plan to write about, what angle you’re thinking of taking, and why you think their readers will love it. Here’s a good example of a pitch one of my writers sent to me for our School Leaders Now site:

I’m a school administrator in Maryland, who’s been writing about my reflections for years. The more I write about the work I do as a principal, the more I think about how many principals need to simplify their lives. I loved the articles you have published on School Leaders Now. I think your readers need a post about how to simplify their lives by building a capsule wardrobe. The headline could be: Principal Life Hack: Build a Capsule Wardrobe. I’d like to share how by curating 18 or so items from your closet and storing the rest, you can be more productive and efficient. I’ll use images that show how to use different pieces together and help principals look pulled together without taking too much time. I look forward to hearing from you.

I loved this pitch. I knew just what she wanted to write. I knew she’d taken the time to review our site and knew what our readers would like. I accepted her pitch and gave her the parameters for writing for us. She wrote and submitted this: https://schoolleadersnow.weareteachers.com/principal-capsule-wardrobe/

Start with these tips and you’ll find that with each piece, accepted or rejected, you’ll learn more.

But you won’t know unless you try.

Kimberley Moran is an Editor at WeAreTeachers. She holds a masters degree in literacy and was a teacher in the Maine public school system for ten years. She is also the author of Hacking Parenthood. Follow her on Twitter @kimberleygmoran or on FaceBook.



Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers for January who would like to blog on topics related to our January theme -- GOALS.  Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Be a Daring VIsionary by Brian Kelley

Digging through bins for holiday decorations, I unburied college essays from twenty-six years ago. Curious, I fanned through professors’ feedback. One of my favorite comments resonates with me:
It is hard to mark the paper: in some respects it deserves an “F,” and in others, an “A.” But I like the daring visionary element, and I won’t give it less than B+.
                                                                                                                           
I pulled another essay from the pile: What type of teacher do I want to be? I wanted to read it, but I was hesitant to revisit what I may have believed twenty-six years ago. Not the act of a “daring visionary,” is it?

I brought the short stack of essays upstairs to the dining room. The essays sat untouched throughout most of December. Each time I settled in to read, I found new reasons to procrastinate: the dog needs his medicine, the firewood stack looks low, ...I could use a drink.
Eventually, I read the essay.

The ideas surprise me. I had forgotten that I set the goal of being a teacher who got out of the way of his students’ imaginations. In 1991, I wrote:

For the great and creative teachers know what is best for every student is his own freedom so that his imagination can grow in its own way, even if that way, to you or to me, or to policemen, or to churchgoers, seems very bad indeed. I can only hope I am given the freedom teach this way.

In setting goals, I still find little space to be pragmatic. I still reach for the glinting stars. I still have the goal to be the teacher I imagined in 1991. I am still that idealist. And in many ways, I never left the path of this very specific journey. I just forgot how far behind me my path stretches!

I think I stay motivated because that goal of being the teacher who gets out of his students’ way is truly me. It is truly what I stand for.

How often, in education, do we get asked what we believe in? Even though I haven’t been asked “What type of teacher do you want to be?” since I wrote the essay so long ago, I also never let go of the question. In some weird way, encouraging adolescents to fall in love with their imaginations has permeated my teaching soul because that ideal is the best version of me that I can offer. How can I not stay motivated when what I am giving of myself in the classroom is maybe the truest part of my humanity?

And so I wonder, can you remember what idealistic goals you set when you began your career? Are you still on that journey? Please take a turn to be the “daring visionary” and share your goals here or on social media--and tag me! I would love to read and share in your goals.


Brian Kelley is in his twenty-fourth year of teaching middle school. He is happily married in rural Pennsylvania with a menagerie of rescue cats and dogs, but continues to hold firm on not bringing in the chickens, pygmy goats, and pigs that his wife wants. A co-director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, Brian can be found on Twitter (@_briank_) or on his website, brianjkelley.org, where he shares his notebooks (and his love of all notebooks).
Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers for January who would like to blog on topics related to our January theme -- GOALS.  Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Lovely Clean Slate by Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

A new year beckons all my best intentions. A lovely clean slate. The opportunity to stop for a while, reflect on where I am and consider where I might want to go. In all aspects of my life, I’m thinking about ways to be productive, joyful, appreciative, positive, and accomplished.

My One Little Word for 2018 is DO. This year will be about actions- lighting candles instead of cursing darkness. It’s about focusing less on the obstacles and the reasons why I can’t and doing more of what I can.

I’m grateful to the #TeachWrite team for inviting me to post here about my writing goals for 2018. Since this is my year to DO, there are four specific goals I have when it comes to myself as a writer. Without further ado, here are my writing goals for 2018:

Use my writer’s notebook

I know a writer’s notebook can be a great source of inspiration. Like a playground, the notebook can capture ideas, words, phrases, moments, memories. I’ve stopped using one and I regret it. My mind is always so full. I need a place to put the thoughts and make space for new ones! I think if I use my notebook more authentically, I’ll be able to inspire my students to see their notebook that way, too. I bought this notebook in the summer and my goal is to fill it this year.

Write more poetry. 

In October 2016, I worked on a Passion Project. I took a picture every day and then wrote a haiku to match it. A haiku a day felt do-able. I’d like to try this again during another month this year- maybe in July when summer is in full swing. Amy Ludwig Vanderwater’s new book Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres has inspired me to try out different techniques when crafting poems. I also recently bought Mary Oliver’s collection of poems, entitled Devotions. Reading more poetry will hopefully help me to write better poetry too!

Take on the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March!

Each March, the Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Bloggers, who are often teachers or educators, pledge to write a blog post each day in March. Bloggers also read and comment on 3 other posts daily. 2015 was my first year taking the challenge. Blogging every single day for 31 days is HARD but also really rewarding.

When I look back at my posts from 2015, 2016, and 2017, I can see snippets of my life and remember what was happening then, the way I was feeling, the way I’ve grown. March is my daughter’s birthday and report card time for my 3rd-grade class. I also challenge my students to participate in the Classroom SOLSC too, which leads to March being like a writing marathon! Crossing the finish line feels so good. This year, I plan to take part again…..seeing it through each day is my goal!

Be a Teacher-Writer Ambassador!

I’m one of the co-directors of the Long Island Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project. Being a Writing Project teacher means you believe in the power that comes when you are a writer yourself.

Through my involvement in the Long Island Writing Project and the Two Writing Teachers, I have looked for opportunities to preach the teacher-as-writer gospel! This year, I want to find more ways to help educators see the power and possibilities that come from being a writer yourself. I hope to offer an in-service for teachers in my district that will help them start their own teacher blog! (Hopefully just in time for the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March!) When you write often and value the role writing plays in your life, you bring that to your students. I’m looking to find ways to inspire more teachers to write and so this is another goal of mine in 2018.

I look forward to connecting with teachers online through Two Writing Teachers and joining here with the #TeachWrite community for chats throughout the year. I also am excited to connect face to face with my colleagues and Long Island educators through my work with the Long Island Writing Project.

Here’s to setting new goals and writing new chapters in 2018!


Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is a third-grade teacher in Farmingdale, NY. She is also one of the co-authors of the Two Writing Teachers blog and the co-director of the Long Island Writing Project. Kathleen would love it if you connect with her on Twitter @MrsSokolowski and follow her personal blog, Courage Doesn’t Always Roar
Write for Us!

The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers for January who would like to blog on topics related to our January theme -- GOALS.  Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

In Love With the Process by Carol Gordon Ekster

I taught 4th grade for 35 years and consistently shared with my classes my views on the power of goal setting. In my retired life, my now full-time writing life, I don't have the school bells telling me what to do. I write because I want to write. I write because I love the process.

My goal setting is quiet. I visualize more books in my future. Seeing yourself achieve your goal will have positive outcomes for your future. I believe it! I set goals to do my best, work the craft, share my manuscripts with as many critique groups and buddies as will view my work. I want to open myself to all the universe offers in getting each manuscript right.

I continue to write, despite the ups and downs of this life, without the main goal being published, but certainly with that hope for some of my stories.

My goal is not to be lazy. I need to carefully look at each sentence. (The genre of picture books, with its low word count, allows for this.) Can I reword the sentence or spiff up a verb? I have a document for each of my manuscripts, close to 80 right now, that simply has most sentences with many variations. I choose the one that sounds the best, is lyrical, perhaps has alliteration.

It was always the message I tried to relate when I taught. “Can you do better?” In art – can you add more detail, outline with a marker? In math – did you check each problem? Care enough to do so! Use a calculator. In writing – did you revise, did you use beautiful language, is it your best work?

With writing, revision is how you get to that polished piece. I tried hard to set an example for this excellence with my students. I modeled the process when I shared my work with my students. I encouraged their feedback to my own writing and I’d read my revisions to them.

If you model your writing and encourage students’ best work, we will have a future generation of amazing writers and caring citizens. May we all be better goal-getters in 2018 and encourage students to do the same.



When Carol Gordon Ekster is not thinking about writing or teaching, you can find her doing yoga, biking, involved with critique groups or working on her books. The English version of her newest book, You Know What? with Clavis Books, was released on September 1, 2017. The Chinese and Korean versions are in the works. Carol is now retired from a 35-year teaching career. She is grateful that her writing gives her another way to continue working with children. You can find out more about Carol and her other books at www.carolgordonekster.com or connect with her on Twitter at @cekster. 


Write for Us!
The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing.  We are looking for guest bloggers for January who would like to blog on topics related to our January theme -- GOALS.  Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.

Write for Us!

The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing. We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.