“Composing Our Thoughts: Teachers As Authors”

Yesterday I had the opportunity and privilege to spend the day with Penny Kittle at the University of Maine. Each time I am fortunate enough to be in her presence, I know that I will leave as a more reflective, more intentional practitioner, not to mention having several new titles on my book bucket list! Personally, I’m struggling lately with my writing ‘mojo’. Since my back surgery this winter, I’ve had a difficult time getting back into the flow and routine I’d created for myself. Time with Penny was exactly the catalyst I needed to get back in the game. Just by writing 15 minutes a day, I can strengthen my writing muscles and the next day, guess what?!  15 minutes comes a little easier. For those who will say there is no time in their day to do one more thing, especially writing, I offer you the simple, wise words of Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer…

There is time. Find it.

I strongly believe that in order to be an effective reading teacher, I need to read. And read. And read. Somehow though, for a long time there was disconnect for me in that same regard with writing. In the past year, I’ve come to realize that in order to effectively teach writing, I need to write. And write. And write. I need to make the writing process as transparent for students as I can and a big part of that is talking with them about my own successes and struggles as a writer. Too many students already feel that school is something that is done to them. If they can’t see the people in their lives utilizing the skills that we require them to attempt, motivation and engagement will be minimal at best.

And so I write.

Lately, my most consistent writing has occurred on Monday nights. That’s the night I teach a graduate course on intermediate literacy. Eight teachers join me for three hours, after they have taught all day, to discuss reading and writing instructional practices. Each class begins with time to journal and reflect upon the previous week’s professional reading. They write. I write. And then we share our writing with one another and write feedback for each other. Yesterday during an opportunity to turn and talk, I pulled out my notebook and shared with colleagues how valuable I felt the experience was for me and how much I have learned from these teachers through the use of journaling. One of the people at my table happened to be a teacher in the course. It was thrilling to hear her say how much she appreciated the chance to start our weekly sessions by joining together in reflection through the written word.

Image    Image

Two pages from my notebook from class


Penny often invites her students to write in response to a poem, rather than about a poem. They read and listen to a poem and think about a particular part that speaks to them or that they feel they have something to say about. Or they might try writing in the author’s style to compose a piece of their own.

Yesterday she introduced us to several examples of spoken word poetry, one of which was, “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qDtHdloK44

She then asked us to write, in the style of Anis Mojgani, a poem for those who need someone to stand up for them. Here is mine.

“This Is For The Child”

This is for the child who doesn’t know where he’s sleeping tonight

because he’s forgotten whose day it is to be his parent.

This is for the child who won’t be playing an instrument in the spring concert

because that money had to go to heat the house last month.

This is for you.

This is for the child whose growling, empty tummy can’t be heard 

over the sound of someone’s reprimands about incomplete homework.

This is for the child who sits at the end of the lunch table

because her classmates say her clothes smell bad, holding their noses as they pass.

This is for the child who no longer raises his hand

because it’s easier than being wrong.

This is is for you. 

You are the reason we rise every morning and lose sleep every night.

You are the reason we write notes of encouragement, pack extra snacks,

call home with the good news, and accept hugs that policies say we shouldn’t.

You are the reason we celebrate the handmade card on our desk 

more than the bubble you filled in without going outside the lines.

This is for you.

You are unique. You are valuable. You matter. You are loved.

Write. Write often and much. Write about the good stuff, but write about the sad stuff, too; it’s just as important.

Write with your kids and write for yourself.

Compose your thoughts.

Write On.




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