Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Any time I here the word celebration, it takes me back to my junior year in high school. We were the 1981 boys basketball state champions in Indiana. "Celebrate" by Kool and the Gang was our theme song that we played at every pep session and rally throughout the tournament.
Today is a different kind of celebration.
#TeachWrite Chat will celebrate its one year anniversary next month. Seeing a need for teacher-writers to find a safe place to share their writing, we began our call for guest contributors in December. Since then, we have had over 40 different writers who bravely chose to share their writing with the world. Our writers include published authors and teachers and principals and instructional coaches and doctoral candidates. Our grade levels range from kindergarten to college students, and areas of expertise come from all subjects.
Many writers have found themselves through this process. Many had never "published" outside their own notebooks.
Of the twenty-one posts for the month of July, twelve of those were first time contributors. This tells us that we continue to fill a void for teachers as we continue our mission. Teachers are seeing the need to write and the desire to share. And #TeachWrite Chat Blog is celebrating it all.
We may come from all walks of educational life, but we all have something in common. We are writers.
Today, as we wrap up our month of celebrations, we are honored to celebrate with each of you!
Leigh Anne is about to begin her 12th year of teaching. She has taught 4th, 5th and currently teaches 6th grade ELA at a middle school in Indiana. She is currently working on her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction at Western Governors University with a goal of becoming a literacy coach. Leigh Anne has a passion for connecting kids with books and helping teachers develop a writing life. You can connect with her on Twitter @Teachr4 or on her blog, A Day in the Life.
Monday, July 30, 2018
I’ve considered myself a writer for a long time, but my writing life has its ebb and flows. In 2011, a blogging challenge lit a fire in me and I started filling my blog and notebooks with my stories. I practiced what I taught. I realized as a teacher of writers, I needed to write daily.
I started off great guns. I wrote a lot--not just on certain days, but all the time--
for the first couple of years.
And then things slowed a bit. And then a bit more. Before I knew it, I was hardly writing at all--again.
My blog numbers tell the story. But so do my notebooks. I let other things interfere.
Every year, less and less. I’d feel guilty once in awhile, but not enough to pick up a pen and my notebook. Not enough to open a blog page.
When I retired, I really felt like I had nothing left to contribute, no more stories to tell. Trust me. It was depressing.
I found the Teach Write tribe towards the end of 2017. Jen started her word of day writing habit (#DWHabit). I joined The Teach Write Tribe Facebook group. Checked out a couple of Twitter chats.
And I started writing again.
I haven’t really been keeping track of blog posts. But I have been keeping track of how often I write. Between my notebook and my blog, I write most days. I just feel better when I write. Days that I don’t think I have something to write about, I have backup ideas. I steal the #DWHabit word of the day from Jen. I have blog post ideas and other ideas on my desktop. And there’s always my Pinterest board waiting with inspiration. And sometimes, I do what I used to tell my students to do. I write whatever is in my head, even if it is “I can’t think of anything to write about.”
But no matter how I do it, the blog numbers are on the rise. I’ve now written more blog posts than the last four years and am on track to also beat the count for another. But it’s not the numbers I’m celebrating.
It’s the words.
Deb Day taught many different English classes during her twenty-eight year teaching career. Creative Writing was her favorite class to teach in the last years of her career because she could write and share with her students. She is married, the mother of two and grandmother of six. She is owned by Chloe, seven-year-old Goldendoodle. All of this provides plenty of material for her blog, Coffee With Chloe.
Friday, July 27, 2018
Together, these two words suggest both regularity and reverence, like we might see when we attend birthdays, weddings, and graduations.
We can also use these two words when it comes to our celebrating our own writing habits.
In fact, several questions come to mind when I think of celebrating my own writing with frequency and honor.
Am I writing often?
Am I treating my writing self and process with honor?
Can I still honor my writing when not writing regularly?
To answer these questions we can look at how we celebrate other important occasions. When we celebrate momentous occasions, we do so with preparation, planning, and with a reverence toward the ones we love and toward tradition.
Can’t we celebrate our own writing in the same way?
Of course, we can.
We should first begin with the understanding all of us approach writing and our writing routines differently. The point is to find a routine that works for you.
For some, this means to write daily. For others, it might be writing weekly. And still, for others, it may be word count or amount of lines. Can you see how important it is to celebrate what works for you?
Now this may come to you as either a seismic shock or sign of relief: as a teacher and mother of four, my routine--admittedly--is sloppy.
And guess, what?
I am going to honor that. I am going to honor the fact I was able to sit down and write--regardless of the outcome. I am going to honor the fact writing is a process--regardless of where I start or where I end.
I am going to celebrate my writing, and I invite you to do the same.
Ashley Mayes lives in a tiny town near a big river smack-dab in Central Idaho. This is where she teaches ELA 8th-12th grade and serves as district librarian and library media specialist K-12. She is in love with her family, her students, her profession. She enjoys digging deep into what really matters while appreciated the simplicity of such things as coffee. You can follow her on Twitter @ajmayes1974.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
July is a time I celebrate family. It’s a time I forget the world and focus solely on the ones I love most. Some summers I am almost six thousand miles away in the Middle East making memories with family members I don’t get the chance to see and miss dearly. Other summers I am in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan indulging in what makes me a pure Michigander: lakes, festivals, barbecues, and enjoying the long days and short nights.
This July will be a new time in my life that I celebrate experiencing the summer through the eyes of a beginner writer. I read an article that described the process of writing as one becoming familiar with their own minds. Finding clarity with our thoughts to be able to put it on paper so we can see and understand them more objectively. That is my goal. Write, even if all motivation has left me.
This July I will be traveling to the east coast to visit family. I’ve driven this trail numerous times but have never quite experienced it through the eyes of the writer. My goal for this trip will be to write about even the smallest of things I encounter along the way.
My inspiration might come from the scenic trails along the Pennsylvania Appalachians. Or perhaps the police officer we met at a small diner who so kindly entertained my daughter’s countless questions about law enforcement.
It’s exciting to have a purpose for my writing. This is something I struggle with many days. Finding a real purpose. However, if I just imagine that one day my great grandchildren will be sitting somewhere reading a slice of my history and how fascinated they may be then, perhaps, THAT is my purpose.
Jowan Nabha is an accountant turned teacher. She is currently studying Early Childhood Education at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. She’s married and has three daughters to whom she devotes all her time to. Jowan can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jowan_nabha.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
When I was a girl, I wrote with abandon.
I wrote about lives I hadn’t lived, places I hadn’t traveled, and people who didn’t exist. I wrote with heart and soul. I wrote so much my third-grade teacher, who knew my strengths and sought to celebrate them rather than squash them, set me up at a computer in the back of the classroom and gave me one assignment: write.
These days, I barely write grocery lists.
What’s the difference between the girl who wrote incessantly, fiercely, and the woman who dumbly stares at a blank page?
Back then, my vocabulary was limited, as were my reading experiences. I literally had a third-grade education. Now, I’m 35, and I’ve been reading nearly all my life. I’ve traveled the world, and I have a master’s degree.
Why is what was once so easy now so painstakingly difficult?
The answer I had been seeking came as I was reading Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. Brown’s book is all about finding your truth and being brave in a world so tossed and torn by divisiveness. Reading this book was serendipitous, as, lately, I have been hesitant to share my voice.
Several weeks ago, I began a blog dedicated to education. I thought this would be a place to share some strategies, but subconsciously, I think my heart just yearned to write again. I posted six entries, and then I couldn’t think of another thing to say.
Or, actually, I could think of a million things to say, but I was afraid to say them.
Somewhere between third grade and now, people began chiseling away at the confidence in my voice. “Don’t put anything in writing,” my well-meaning grandmother used to remark. Those words echo in my mind.
Nowadays, our society is beset by things people say. When the shine wore off my blog, and I began thinking about addressing more serious topics, I found myself wanting to delete my WordPress account for fear of my contributions adding to the world’s discord.
Having a voice, being brave, scared me.
But what example is this setting for the young writers who sit before me each day in the classroom? We all know modeling is one of the most effective strategies in an educator’s toolkit. Let’s use it even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.
My vow to my readers, and more importantly my students, is to bravely share my voice.
I am a woman who writes with abandon.
Rachel Roberts is a 7th grade ELA teacher in Rome, Georgia. This year will be her second year in education. During her previous teaching assignment, she taught 10th grade ELA and theatre. She is passionate about incorporating arts in the classroom and empowering her students as writers. Rachel writes with courage at https://whatjusthappenedorg.wordpress.com.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
A few years ago I added a writing section to my "traditional" vocabulary quizzes. It required students to produce an engaging, logical piece of writing that fulfilled a variety of vocabulary and grammar requirements. Some students had wholeheartedly embraced this idea--some even producing a series focused on a certain storyline or character.
However, that was not the case with a particular junior English class this year, and one day while correcting said quizzes, I found myself penning this ridiculous statement on a student’s writing section: “Write as if you're posting it on a blog.”
Yes, I was asking the student to write as though I would not be the only one reading it--to write as though people would have to choose to read it. And then I faced reality: She knows I'm the ONLY person who's going to read it. AND she knows that I have to read it.
That moment was a catalyst. I investigated student blogging options, retrofitted my colleague’s permission slip, and off we went! I will not claim that every student fell in love with writing, but they did express starting to enjoy writing more than they had. I’m definitely putting it in Win column.
Notably, the same student whose paper received my ridiculous message later wrote this about her blogging experience: “...being required to write short stories or paragraphs about things you were passionate about made me care a lot more about writing .... I also liked that we were challenged to add in vocab words from that unit and grammar formats... It didn't feel like a chore ... it was more of a fun way to talk about what you were interested in without making it into a huge project ... I feel like I have a better understanding of it [grammar] and have a new appreciation for writing that was definitely not there before.”
Remember, this was the same task I had previously required on a quiz--so what changed her attitude and effort wasn’t the task, it was the authenticity of the task. Lesson learned.
Nicole Sheahan just wrapped up her 24th year as an English teacher, and she was recently named the 2018 Distinguished Educator at Dartmouth High School in Dartmouth, MA. Nicole consistently seeks educationally-sound ways to engage her students while also developing their skills. You can connect with Nicole on Twitter (@tri2teach)--a combination of her triathlete and teacher identities.
Monday, July 23, 2018
Recently, I took a poetry workshop from my favorite poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, in which we wrote, shared and praised each other’s writing. The effect was quick -- powerful. After that first nugget of praise, I wanted to write more, to push myself, to keep going! And it carried over in the months to come. Something transformative was birthed in me that day just because of a little celebrating.
In my classroom, with my student writers, I hold that same power. Each small choice I make within my limited 45 minutes makes all the difference. I don’t want them to simply pass the test; I want them to become writers who catch the joy and desire to write ravenously and well. How is this accomplished? Through sharing and honoring our writing ritualistically.
We regularly share and applaud each others’ experiments after notebook time and writers’ workshop and we have poetry cafes and gallery walks, but here are two things we do in room 218 that are simple yet potent:
Peer Review: Weekly we get to share and receive feedback on our writing. As we move around the room, we respond to a draft by:
After having a chance to respond to a few pieces, we share shout outs for the work we loved.
- blessing it (saying specifically what’s good about it)
- addressing it (saying what parts are confusing/unclear)
- pressing it (giving ideas on what could be improved or removed)
Sparkling Sentences: While looking over any student work, I jot down sentences that have strong diction, are dripping with craft, employ a technique learned or that just sound good. I project them, ask what makes the sentence so sparkly, write their comments next to the sentence and permanently post them. Not only are the authors being praised, but they are exposed to craft and new possibilities in writing.
Sharing is often cut because it takes too long or we can’t get students to actually talk about their writing. If it's not about Fortnite or Snapchat, good luck! But in room 218, sharing is valued and it is vital for spreading joy and growing us all into resilient, passionate writers.
When she’s not in her 6th/7th grade English classroom in San Antonio, Texas, you can find Kayla Briseño in a few places: at home with her favorite 4.75-year-old and wonderful husband; in a coffee shop reading, writing, or bullet journaling; or somewhere out in nature. Along with her husband (@stephen_briseno), she leads writing professional developments for teacher/author Gretchen Bernabei’s consulting group, Trail of Breadcrumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @kayla_briseno, on her class website: www.mrsbrisenoin218.weebly.com, and at www.trailofbreadcrumbs.net.
Friday, July 20, 2018
Confession time: I am not a reviser.
I am a one-shot, get-it-done, first-draft-is-good-enough writer. I have enough natural ability with words and language that revision seemed unnecessary.
Unfortunately, that time has passed.
I started incorporating the revision process into my work several years ago when I was transferring all my angst-y poems from my 20s from hand-written journals to word processing. I realized as I was typing that what I said may have captured the “essence” of the moment, but not in a way that was eloquent or even made complete sense.
So as I typed, I revised. Cleaning up the language. Rearranging phrases for clarity and impact. And a strange thing happened. It got better, as most things do with a little tinkering, whether it be an extra dash of spice in a sauce or relooking at 25-year-old poems.
I suppose my personal rejection of revision comes from being trained as a writer in the one-shot, non-workshop era. Write. Turn it in. Move on. That’s how I was taught as a kid.
Luckily, it worked for me. As a student, my first draft was good enough that teachers were generally pleased and “rewarded” my efforts with As. No revisions necessary.
But in re-looking at my old writings, I see how if I had been taught strategies on revising or given time in class to tinker and talk through writing with a peer, I might have produced better, more sophisticated pieces.
And it might not have taken 25 years to value revision.
I have had to make some fundamental changes in my writing life. While I still write very much in the moment, as “inspiration” strikes me, I come back for a second look. And a third. And sometimes more.
I have had to seek out models of writing to gather some strategies and ideas for expanding, clarifying and tightening ideas.
Most of all, I have had to shift my belief that a writer doesn’t get it “right” the first time.
So now I am a tinker-er. A reviser. A re-seer. And that is now good enough for me.
Elizabeth Gaffney teaches 9th and 11th grade ELA in Chandler, Arizona. In her 24 years of education, she has taught in rural and suburban schools at all levels of secondary English, as well as serving as yearbook advisor, peer mentor coach, AP Literature team lead, curriculum writer and drama coach. For the past four years, Gaffney has been a district level academic coach and curriculum specialist, focusing on formative assessment practices, supporting ELL teachers and creating and teaching professional development courses for all high school English teachers. She returns to the classroom this fall to continue her passion for teaching students. She is also pursuing her National Board certification in English Language Arts - Adolescence and Young Adulthood. You can follow her on Twitter @bookcoach68.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
“Awkward and awful run-on!”
That commentary from a college professor destroyed my writing confidence for years. It was a bad sentence. I skipped every step of the writing process and deserved an awful grade on that paper. However, I’ve never forgotten how that comment made me feel.
I couldn't analyze text and write an essay to save my life, but I always loved to tell stories.
When I was a kid, my friends’ parents would take 5-6 of us to a Pittsburgh Pirates game during the summer. On the way home I would weave ridiculous tales from the backseat of their station wagon that left even the adults laughing.
But that snide remark ten years later from Professor Whoever broke my writing soul. Every time I sat to write, those words haunted me. I assumed everything I had to say was awkward and awful.
One day I shared this anecdote with some colleagues. I was working in a PLC with teachers from my school and a few professors from a nearby university. Our goal was to identify and bridge the gaps from high school to college writing. We began by sharing our experiences with writing, and I told them my sob story. They all laughed. They had all had an experience like mine. It was reaffirming to me.
Now I know never to write such a mean-spirited comment to a student unless I have feedback on how to fix it. I learned that not everyone is going to like what you write. Instead, I learned to celebrate how writing made ME feel. When I became unconcerned with how others might judge my words, writing once again became fun.
Now I’m 35. I wake up to write almost every morning. I still have awkward and awful run-ons, but I feel like the captain in the back of the station wagon telling stories to a bleary-eyed crew of teenage boys about their favorite WWF wrestler and how he destroyed the city. And farted. Teenagers love when stories include farting. And I’m loving every minute of it.
Mr. O is an 11th grade English teacher. He has been teaching at the high school level for nearly ten years. He has presented at local, state, and national conferences. He challenges his students to become lifelong learners and to always challenge the status quo. He’s a voracious reader and writer. He is part of The Staff at TeachersUncorked.com. You can find his work and theirs on Twitter @TchrsUncorkd.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
But, of all the pieces I’ve written--fiction or nonfiction; long or short; funny, serious, or in between, I have never submitted any of my work for publication. But this year that all changes.
A call was put out by one of my grad school professors for students and former students to submit work to the Thoreau Society journal for a series on Thoreau in the classroom. At first, I balked at the idea. I teach Thoreau to my students, and they learn a lot from him. But, I could never submit something about it for publication. It’s too risky.
What if I’m rejected?
What if I’m not?
It’s just too risky.
Then, just before Christmas break, one of my students came to me with a story she’d written that she wanted me to read. I took time over the break to read it--it was good! I encouraged her to submit it to be considered for publication to several outlets that publish student writing.
She told me that she was scared to do it, and I offered her some words of encouragement and pearls of wisdom. “What have you got to lose?” I asked. “The worst they can do is say no.”
And it dawned on me--what a hypocrite I am.
I encourage my students to write and to be proud of their work, but I am too scared to submit my own for publication. So, I gave in and began working on an article to submit to the Thoreau Society journal.
This year, I’m celebrating this new step in my writing--facing the fear of submission. I am still fearful of what they will say when I submit the work. But, it is (one of many) fears I need to face. And I’m celebrating the fact that this year, I am.
Jason Walker teaches high school English at Forney High School in Forney, Texas. Prior to entering academia, he worked for 20 years in Information Technology in both corporate and academic settings. In 2014, he left his career in IT and came back to his first calling, teaching. Jason is passionate about literacy and encourages his students to expand their worlds through reading and writing. He has also worked as a freelance writer for several local and regional publications and has been keeping a blog for almost ten years. Jason holds a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Texas at Tyler and is currently enrolled as Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Self-criticism is silencing. You silence your thoughts, your emotions, your pride, your bravery and eventually your voice. This can all change by adapting the way you think about mistakes.
As a left-handed elementary student, just beginning to write, my first memories of writing were not happy ones - and that’s putting it mildly. Writing was physically uncomfortable for me. The spiral of my notebook was always getting in my way because spiral notebooks were made for right-handed people. To make matters worse, every time I moved my hand to write a bit further from the spiral, I wound up getting my hand dirty in the led, marker, pen, whatever my writing utensil of choice was. To avoid the mess, I began writing my sentences a bit further away from the margin as I wrote each new sentence.
Well, one day when I was in the fourth grade a classmate noticed my sentences were slanted and each sentence was getting closer and closer toward the margin on the opposite (wrong) side of the paper. Then, the classmate announced to the entire class that I did not know how to write and began making fun of the fact that I was left-handed. Needless to say, all my worries set in. I now knew that everyone else thought the same way about my writing as I did - that it was less-than and not enough.
This was detrimental to the shy, perfectionist, afraid to make mistakes kind of little girl that I was back then.
But then, Mrs. K jumped in and told me it was okay to make mistakes. She told me that I had everything I needed to fix my writing right in front of me, I just needed to learn how to problem solve with the tools already given to me. She was not wrong.
Mrs. K taught me many things, but the simplest of them all was to turn my paper at an angle while I was writing and slow down. Magically, all the pesky annoyances I previously lived through, were gone. So simple, yet life changing!
25 years later I am now an elementary teacher myself. As Mrs. K did for me, I do my best to encourage my students to think outside of the box and to never be afraid of failing because failure just shows you are working toward something phenomenal.
I often hold the picture of my first-grade self in my wallet as a reminder of the scared little girl who could not write, but her entire life was impacted by the grace of a teacher. I hope you can join me in taking a little time to celebrate not only the imperfections of your students but the imperfections that are within you!
Lyndsey is an educator, mentor, and blogger from Washington, D.C. She has a master’s in Educational Leadership from Concordia University and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. She currently teaches elementary school, but also mentors high school girls in underprivileged communities. You can follow Lyndsey on Twitter @Lyndsey_WE and via her blog, learningwithlyndsey.com
Monday, July 16, 2018
With a bit of curiosity, I opened the envelope. Inside held a colorful invitation with balloons and confetti sprinkled on the front. Hmmm, I thought...a birthday party? I honestly thought my days of attending birthday parties had long expired.
There have been a lot of celebrations lately, milestone celebrations: high school graduations, college graduations, 50th birthday parties, weddings, and anniversaries. In fact, when I think of the word celebration, these are types of events that come to mind ever so quickly.
But in actuality, celebrations are all around us, every.single.day! We just need to slow down and take the time to notice. Yes, notice!
Celebrations, a form of noticing. Noticing and leading me to my journal, my writing journal. A place for me to capture, cherish and relive what it is I want to celebrate, what I want to remember. Big celebrations like the surprise 50th surprise birthday party or small celebrations that I encompass just sitting in the quiet presence of nature.
So it is, writing is an invitation. An invitation to celebrate those noticings. Whether it’s big or small, the reward is in the writing just waiting for the writer in you to celebrate all that life has to offer!
Won’t you join me?
Amy Warntz is a Reading Specialist for striving readers in grades 4-6. She is passionate about creating lifelong readers and writers. When she’s not sharing her love for reading and writing, you’ll more than likely espy her with her sneakers laced running mile after mile training for her next race. She is also a proud mother to her daughter, Madelyn, who just graduated from college. You can find out about all of Amy’s life musings on her blog, Runner, Reader, and Rockin’ Mom, catch up with her on Twitter at iRuniRead, or hop on over to Instagram at my.simple.little.life .
Friday, July 13, 2018
I ended my school year with a huge writing celebration for my students. They were mostly proud of their “This I Believe” essays because it made them think, reflect and write about something very personal. This writing assignment wasn’t quite planned, but my co-teacher and I knew that it would inspire and motivate our students.
So, we went ahead with the assignment and had unbelievable, awesome results. I never did find the time to write my own essay, but I promised myself I’d write it over the summer for the next school year!
Now’s the time to get back into the writing arena.
I’m not going to set unrealistic goals for myself this summer. Let’s be honest, I’m not going to write the next bestseller or an interesting poetry anthology. So I won’t plan on setting my alarm clock to write at 6:00 a.m. every morning, or schedule four hours of writing time, or promise myself I’ll write 10 pages every day.
But I am going to write. I’m enthusiastically jumping back into the writing arena; a place that I love, cherish and look forward to once again enter. I’ll reflect and write my own I Believe essay. Every day, I will bring my notebook wherever I go. I’ll take notes. I’ll write about the things I see, people I meet, and places I visit. I’ll jot down pieces of interesting conversations I have or hear. I’ll wonder and ask questions. I’ll write letters and send postcards. But most importantly, I’ll be writing again and that is something to celebrate!
Trish Roberts has been a special education teacher in the Garden City School District for over twenty years. As a published author and co-teacher, she is passionate about creating, in all of her students, an excitement for living and learning. She strives to foster their curiosity and enthusiasm, both inside and outside the classroom, through her love of reading and writing. As a staff developer, Trish’s goal is to inspire and motivate other teachers by modeling activities and lessons that cultivate independent thinking and increase student engagement. During the summer, Trish enjoys traveling with her friends and family, gardening, bike riding and walking, reading & writing on the beach. You can find her on Twitter @Trishr85.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
This year I surprised myself and became a blogger. What began as an experiment in classroom management turned into a digital scrapbook of the adventures we had in our class this year. Originally I just wanted to record the excitement that I believed would keep my students engaged.
Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop!
If you have been wanting to dip into blogging, this is a wonderful way to start. There are many free platforms that are simple to use. Teachers will always have plenty to write about, and if you share the link with your students’ families, they can celebrate with you.
I organized the posts into segments: an overview, preparations, what we did, and examples of student work. I hoped the posts would be seen by readers as how-tos. I realized I was writing something I would have loved to discover as a teacher. I attempted to make it as user-friendly as possible by including lots of links, and I wanted each post to be about my students, not about me.
Blogging was much easier than I expected. I was drawn to it. I generally wrote on Friday nights because I wanted to write while the events were fresh in my mind. My lesson plans purposely included something extraordinary each week, and I was writing about how these events turned out.
Adding pictures was the best part! They brought the text to life. Action shots were not an issue as our parents had signed releases allowing publication of images of their students. As a safety precaution, I used first names only or no names at all. Most images were of book covers, supplies, and finished products. When I used classroom shots, I tried to take them from a distance rather than zooming in on individuals.
Reading the posts is like looking through a scrapbook of our Best of the Best this year. I am celebrating my students and their wonderful work and enjoying memories of everything we did together.
I am also proudly celebrating a teacher who became a writer.
Jan Hamilton has taught English Language Arts in middle schools in Arkansas and Texas for the past twenty years. Read about her adventures on Just Thinking at www.jjhamilton7.wordpress.com. and follow her on Twitter @JanHamilton7.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
I sit on my back porch, my laptop open but idle in front of me. I’m watching birds peck at the feeder in the yard. My phone pings. It’s my daughter texting me from her bedroom upstairs.
“The writer’s block today is real!”
“TOTALLY!” I text back. “I looked at my manuscript and realized I don’t know where the story is going. If I don’t know where it’s going, how is the reader going to feel?”
My daughter is 20, home from college for the summer. And she’s writing a book.
I’m a school librarian, on summer break. And I’m writing a book.
I feel like I’ve been given such an unexpected gift this summer. Writing our books at the same time has wrapped Margot and me in our own little cocoon. We bounce ideas off of one another. We help each other through rough patches, when it feels like we just can’t find another word to put on the page. We cheer for one another when we reach milestones.
“I’m at 80,000 words, Mom!” she tells me, and I tell her how amazing she is. I’m well behind, but she doesn’t let me give up.
We’re teaching one another, too. Margot is teaching me about poetry, which she writes on the side and very well, I might add. I’m teaching her about query letters and obscure points of grammar that only an English teacher cares about. And there’s a peace between us that I can’t remember feeling before. We’ve always been close, but now we have this shared struggle, this common experience that will always bind us. It doesn’t matter if either of us is ever published. We’ve laughed and commiserated and discussed a hundred different books and authors. It’s like the tightest writing group that’s ever met.
Yesterday, Margot texted me at 3:03 in the afternoon: “im done.”
We celebrated with high fives, and then she went to work on her revisions. I’m so proud of her I may burst. I can’t imagine I’ll be any happier when I text her those words myself.
Stacy Nockowitz is a former English teacher turned school librarian. She holds Master’s degrees from Columbia University (M.A.) and Kent State University (M.L.I.S.). Stacy speaks at educational conferences across the country on such topics as information literacy and educational technology. She is currently writing her third novel, and this time, she may actually try to get it published. Stacy has been married for 27 years to her husband, Richard, and they are exceptionally proud of their two grown children. Reading is Stacy’s superpower. Follow her on Twitter @snockowitz, and read her blog at www.MrsNReads.com.
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
I’ve finally ditched the professor-speak and learned to write in my authentic voice!
For a really long time, I thought I had to write in a certain way to be heard.
I thought no one really listens to someone who doesn’t proport themselves as an expert.
Some of this was probably a holdover from all those AP English classes in high school and graduate courses in university.
And I think another large part of it was a deep insecurity I felt about my qualifications to write on my experiences and knowledge in the field of education.
It seemed as though everyone else was more qualified than me, or had more years of service, or knew more jargon.
And I’m not quite sure when the transformation occurred. It may have been when I started saying positive affirmations in the morning. Or writing gratitude lists in my journal.
But I suddenly realized I didn’t care.
I no longer cared about what people thought, or if I was perceived as too young, or if people wondered why I should be able to share my piece and perspective.
What had started as a small defiance has morphed into a personal mission statement of sorts.
I belong here. I belong in education, and I have valuable knowledge to contribute.
Not only that, but I can share my knowledge in the written “speech patterns” and mannerisms that are most comfortable to me.
Now, the writing on my blog flows more freely. And I’m able to share across my social media platforms with ease.
I am comfortable in the knowledge that I will reach the audiences that will most benefit from what I have to share, and it is a disservice NOT to share abundantly.
This new perspective has given me a level of freedom in my writing and teaching practice that I have never felt before.
I’ve been able to write and then teach a program on creating calm classrooms, over the last few months I’ve written and submitted dozens of proposals to present (and three have been accepted so far!), and I’ve started to write a book I’ve been thinking about for years!
I no longer have to prove myself and worth to colleagues or industry thought leaders. I simply have to show up and continually strive to work as my best self for my peers, students, and families.
So, here’s a toast to freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of expectations and the hopes of belonging.
I am here. And I belong.
LaQueshia Jeffries, MS.Ed is a Special Educator and Behavior Intervention teacher with a passion for helping teachers create calm, inclusive, and affirming classroom communities for all learners. She currently teaches and resides in northern Virginia with her husband, 4 boys, granny, and husky. You can visit her website http://www.laqueshiajeffries.com or connect on social media at http://www.facebook.com/MsJeffriesDesk and on Twitter.
Monday, July 9, 2018
I finished reading my short story to the group.
There I sat, waiting for a response, having been asked by the facilitator (also my friend) to share some of my writing with fellow educators in our summer writing institute.
Maybe this was a mistake, I thought. Maybe I should have chosen another piece. This one, after all, is heavy; it’s about a daughter picking up her father’s ashes from a funeral home and deciding not to return them to her mentally ill mother.
After a moment, a colleague near the front said, “I’m just processing. I’m not a fan of most fiction, but I would read this.”
I exhaled. Didn’t even know I was holding my breath.
Another colleague: “I want to know what happens to these characters. Especially the mother.”
A murmur of assent from across the room.
A resonant voice in the back—a high school English teacher—called out: “What you really have here is a novel. You have the opening and closing scenes, of sorts, but there’s so much more story to tell.”
Suddenly my colleagues were chattering about the destiny of my characters. Wanting to know their journey; were they going to be “okay?”
Another breath, not so much an exhale as a sigh: When, and HOW, to go about fleshing this short story into . . . something more?
But I went home and started making notes, thinking about whys, what-ifs, timelines, backstory, realizing that I can write the most vivid scenes in my mind first and string them together later as chapters. I am working on one now. A whole year later, but I’m writing.
Maybe I’ll read it at the teacher writing institute this summer.
While I celebrate the power of feedback, risk-taking, and reaching for what’s just beyond my grasp.
Fran Haley is a K-12 English Language Arts educator currently serving as a K-5 literacy coach. Writing is her favorite thing to do and to teach; she loves helping others of all ages grow to love writing. She facilitates writing workshop training for teachers in her district and authors the blog Lit Bits and Pieces: Snippets of Learning and Life. Connect with her on Twitter: @fahaley.
Friday, July 6, 2018
You’ve only been on this writing journey for a little over a year.
You’re still tweaking your first nonfiction picture book.
And speaking in front of a crowd is way out of your comfort zone.
But, your principal tells you there’s no money in the budget to hire an author to speak during March is Reading Month and asks, “Will you be the author for our assembly?”
You surreptitiously gulp.
You scream “no” in your head knowing your teacher plate is filled beyond capacity.
You start your yoga breathing.
You smile and say,
And then you panic!
Fortunately, that night while you’re supposed to be sleeping, inspiration strikes.
You hobble downstairs to your laptop and title your presentation “Am I Really an Author?”
You work feverishly on your PowerPoint.
You take the most recent revision of your WIP and illustrate it with photos and add it to your presentation.
You don’t care anymore that your teacher plate is overflowing.
Somewhere along the way, this has become fun!
You walk into the multipurpose room where you, participated in so many assemblies—as an audience member.
Your hands tremble as you set up.
As a special ed teacher, you’re used to working with small groups of kids.
250 kids and all those adult teacher faces—ACK!
You hear your name introduced.
You hear massive cheering.
Your fears diminish.
You enter the room, arms pumping in the air like Rocky!
You stumble here and there, but overall, your presentation goes smoothly.
Students are raising their hands to share.
They laugh at all the right spots.
You’ve avoided looking at any adults in the room the entire time.
You read your manuscript.
The students are mesmerized by your story.
And then, the applause.
You had a blast!
A few days later.
You get emails from three other schools.
They heard about your presentation.
They want to PAY you to speak at their March is Reading Month assemblies!
Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is an elementary special education teacher who is passionate about engaging and motivating struggling readers, developing her students’ higher-level thinking and discussion skills, and providing them with leadership opportunities. When she's not dreaming up new teaching projects, you can find her writing children’s books, presenting at author assemblies and teacher conferences, kayaking, hiking, or practicing yoga. Learn more about Suzanne at SuzanneJacobsLipshaw.com or follow her on Twitter @SuzanneLipshaw and on Facebook @SuzanneJacobsLipshaw-Author/Educator.
Thursday, July 5, 2018
Before the sun rises, the chill of the morning invites me to my desk. I snuggle into my blanket wrapped across my lap and sip my sweetened coffee, steaming from my favorite mug, the words live, laugh, love scrawled in purple calligraphy.
I close my eyes as my laptop sings on and consider where my written words might take me.
This quiet routine is a success each time it’s achieved. It’s the first step that allows my favorite writing celebration to appear: Flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) book titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience helped me understand my writer’s life.
There are moments of flow when time passes without my awareness, as I am engrossed in my writing so deeply that the world falls away. I suddenly find myself laughing out loud, or crying, or pounding the keys in anger as my words help me tell my story and the stories of characters that are so alive in my mind they are real.
Have you ever experienced flow as a writer? Times your words have taken you along a journey you did not plan. A journey you did not know awaited your participation. A journey riddled with surprises that awed you and created a hunger in you to continue your writing routine.
I invite you to reflect on moments of flow in your own writing. Moments when a main character shocked not only the other characters but even you. Moments when your word choice impressed you. Moments when you knew you were—you are—not only a writer but an artist of eloquent writer’s craft.
Danielle L. DeFauw, Ph.D., is an associate professor of reading and language arts at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join her blog: Writing Connections. Follow her on Twitter: danielle_defauw.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
As the school year ended, I saw several social media posts and memes from educators and students that proudly proclaimed “We Survived Another Year.”
At the time, I smiled and agreed.
However, after I achieved some distance from my classroom, I began to wonder: Is survival the best we can claim?
“Survival” sounds rather neutral. “Survivors” make it through the battle, and while they are still standing, perhaps even mightily, the term “survive” doesn’t represent all they accomplished in the trenches.
So, what did we accomplish this year?
If, like me, you are an English teacher, you likely accomplished one (or more) of the following:
You helped a student realize he or she was a writer. Perhaps during a writing conference, one of your students had that “aha” moment. Finally. I had several moments when I said to a student, “This sentence, phrase, paragraph,or essay is just beautiful. I love everything about it.” I loved the confidence and smiles that greeted my words. Celebrate: we are molding lifelong writers.
You were able to “gush” with a student over a book. My students read books that I assign to them and self-selected independent texts. Of course, I often have students who love the novels we study as a group, but more often, students find incredible literature all on their own. Our students engage with great writing, great literature without us leading them to it. Celebrate: we are molding lifelong readers.
Finally, because of you, one of your students loves ELA… maybe for the first time. Did anyone receive a note or email from a student this past month that said something like, “I never liked English before your class.” I know I did. These notes are usually from students who have historically struggled in ELA. Celebrate: we made a difference for those students.
Rejoice as you reflect upon the achievements of your students and yourself this past year. Yes, there is much to improve upon and refine next year, but there is so much to celebrate.
I think we did more than survive. We conquered.
Jennifer Swisher-Carroll teaches AP Literature and English 11 at Edwardsburg High School in Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University and a Master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend. She is honored to be a Past President of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. Jennifer resides with her husband and daughter in Granger, Indiana.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
This year was a good one. But it was also hard. Really hard. It is one that has been defined by struggle, disappointment, fear, anxiety, heart-wrenching loss, and, most importantly, celebration.
I started the year with the goal of fostering and empowering voice and choice in my students, students whose stories are as varied as those that sit on the shelves in my classroom library. We told our stories more this year than ever before.
This year I didn’t just assign academic writing, and our work wasn’t just about figuring out the formula for formal literary analysis and argument. This year, the writing that was front and center was the type of writing that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in our schools.
We told our stories. We wrote about the people, places, things, and ideas that matter to us. We argued passionately and we told our stories honestly. As amazing as this sounds, it was also hard. Sometimes my students wanted to quit. Sometimes I wanted to quit because there just wasn’t enough time or enough of me to go around to help every one of them in the moments they needed feedback.
You see, asking students to open their hearts and tell the stories that matter to them is not for the faint of heart. It can run the gamut from joy to heartache in a matter of moments, and you have to be prepared for that. You also have to model that range, and that takes a level of vulnerability that, at times, feels impossible.
I shared more of my writing this year than ever before, and my students made me brave because they always handled my writing with the care I modeled for them. Sure, at first they doubted whether or not I really wanted their feedback, but then they started to ask tough questions and pushed me to clarify things I thought were perfectly clear. They asked me to dig deeper to help them understand not just what I meant, but who I am at my core. It is because of the work we did together this year that I was finally brave enough to add my voice to this blog.
My favorite moments this year were the moments when we shared our writing, when students proudly read either a favorite line or a whole piece after working hard to get their words just right. They were proud and respectful, and so supportive of the work, thinking, and bravery of their peers. There were spontaneous rounds of applause, high fives, and lots of WOW! moments.
I cried more than once at the beauty of these words and the care my students displayed for one another. We celebrated everyone’s voices, voices who don’t get heard nearly enough in these places that are supposed to be all about fostering and empowering our students to go out into the world and share their voices.
This year, even though it was nowhere near perfect or pretty, it was nothing short of amazing. I received an unexpected thank you note from a student on my last day that said, “Thank you! I appreciate you helping me this year no matter what. You’re a great teacher and I’m glad I could help you even if it’s not nearly as much as you helped me.” I spent a lot of time this year wondering whether the work we were doing was really giving my students the tools and practice they needed to become more effective, insightful, and focused writers.
That unexpected thank you was just what I needed. It reminded me that celebration often comes after the struggle. We may have struggled to find our way, but we found and used our voices to say what matters to us. I celebrate the strides we made individually, and the leaps we made together.
Erin Vogler has just finished her 18th year of teaching at Keshequa Middle/High School in the Genesee Valley in Western New York. She has taught grades 7-12, and has loved spending this year reading and writing beside her wise and witty 8th and 10th graders. She will be spending her summer reading, writing, doing yoga, and relaxing with her two Boston Terriers and a rambunctious Boxer who are excited for her to be home everyday. Erin shares her thoughts on teaching, reading, and writing at https://fosteringvoicesandchoices.wordpress.com/, a place where she is not quite as consistent as she’d like to be (yet). You can also find her on Twitter @vogler3024 and Instagram @mrsvogler3024.
Monday, July 2, 2018
Sitting in my basement is a plastic storage container filled with about a dozen finished manuscripts.
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time writing novels. I remember the hours and hours spent in front of my computer, furiously typing away. Sometimes it felt like I would never get to the end of the story, but that moment always came.
Relief would fill me (along with a twinge of sadness) to complete such a large task.
After placing that last period, I took time to celebrate what I had accomplished.
The manuscript was nowhere close to being ready for publication, but it was finished. That’s all I wanted.
I’ve heard it said many times that you can’t revise a blank page.
Even though there was a mess staring back at me, it was contained. It was complete.
A little bit of myself (okay, a lot of myself) was placed into the words on those pages, and I needed to celebrate that.
Fast forward almost seven years.
I haven’t finished a novel-length manuscript since 2011. My younger self would be appalled by that, but life has changed, responsibilities have been added, and I haven’t been able to carve out the time for a novel-length project in recent years.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.
I write blog posts.
I write poetry.
I write devotions.
I write articles for Teach Write.
That’s what matters.
And that’s what I’m going to celebrate.
Although my writing looks different than it did in the past, I’m still growing. I’m still moving forward.
And that’s worth celebrating.
Maybe you’ve felt like you don’t have anything to celebrate because you haven’t written a novel.
Did you write today?
Did you put your butt in that chair?
Did you capture a fleeting moment on your phone?
Did you scribble something on a scrap piece of paper?
Did you write?
Don’t wait to celebrate the big project. Celebrate the journey. Celebrate the small projects, the small accomplishments.
Each step of the journey is worth celebrating because it’s bringing us closer to our goal. When we are active, we have something to celebrate because we are continuing to grow.
Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program or working for Family Friend Poems, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis or on her blog at tynealewis.com.
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