“Let’s do a a sentence ladder on our dry erase boards.” I watched as Thomas and Mary readied themselves. They were ready to use all we had been working on.
I dictated. They wrote. They thought. I watched. I watched them independently apply the word work from the past few days.
When they finished, I handed them a blank sheet of paper. “Pictures are important to readers and writers. Sketch the picture you had in your mind from your sentence.” I watched again for a few minutes as Mary sketched a picture similar to the one I might have drawn. Then, I glanced over the plexiglass to see Thomas’ sketch. I was taken by what I saw….two hands holding an open book. Not exactly what I thought he would sketch. “Tell me about what you were thinking about the sentence.” I needed to know more. “Well, the sentence was in a book and here’s the sketch that went with it.” “Wow, Thomas, what a cool idea! I would have drawn something like Mary’s.” At that Mary’s head popped up to see Thomas’ work. She chimed in saying, “Wow, that is cool Thomas.”
Last week, there were a few days where Chaos made its’ presence known. It was frustrating. It was annoying. The Chaos had nothing to do with kids but it had everything to do with kids. I had to remind myself that teaching in a hybrid model in the midst of a pandemic can fuel Chaos, but it does not mean that Chaos can rule the work we get to do together.
Watching Thomas and Mary work, reminded me that being with kids, watching kids, learning from and about kids will always win over Chaos.
I came into teaching thinking writing was something you were taught to do. It was not something that could simply be experienced. It was through a collaborative inquiry group, The Community of Teachers Learning (COTL) that I not only began writing, but I began to experience what it felt like to be a writer. No one was telling me what to do, I was drawn to write and discover. Every meeting had a dedicated time for quiet writing with invitations that lured you to write. For me, it was awkward at first, but slowly, I began to feel the allure of the experience. With each monthly meeting, and new invitations, I began to feel like a writer. Being invited to write felt different than being taught to write, so I wrote. So began my belief in teacher as writer.
That experience meandered its’ way into my both my second and third grade classrooms. Every day, children were given invitations to write and sketch. I noticed, all those years ago, that children, like me at the COTL meetings, rarely had difficulty getting to work. There was something about an invitation that was less intimidating than being taught to write. I felt it and I saw it in the children.
Fast forward twenty something years, and in 2017, Teachers Who Write, a summer writing group was born. It was Ralph Fletcher’s, Joy Write, that inspired the original question “What happens when a group of teachers comes together to write and research?” This group has met for three years. Each year, the summer “work” we do as teacher-writers has found its’ way to children in our schools.
This summer, thanks to The Covid. We found ourselves in a virtual world of Teachers who Write. What happened this summer was unexpected yet incredibly welcome – my colleagues’ children began to write with us. The invitations we offered at each meeting welcomed writers of all ages. The choice embedded in the invitations was inspiring exploration, play and discovery. Each meeting, of course, would end with a share. There, in our virtual world, feedback went from 50 year olds to 5 year olds, from one generation to another. I was in awe after every meeting.
And then we found ourselves in school – in a hybrid model, and just this week, I was struck with awe again.
I learned that our fifth grade team, Peter, Denia, Emily, and Val had taken it upon themselves to bring an experience, similar to our summer “work”, to their 5th grade classes.
Together, over time, my colleagues and I have given space and time to grow confidence and creativity for ourselves and the children we teach. What a gift it is to explore alongside them and to see them explore with their children. Reflecting on where we started leaves me wondering where we will go…
*I can’t thank Jess Carey, Peter vonEuler, Jess Marino, Denia D’Alessandro, Erika Griffin, Elena Wetmore for their shared belief in growing writers, starting with themselves.And one more special thank you to Jennifer Laffin for her inspiring WOTD #DWHabit (Twitter).
It’s 11:03, Ashley and I scoot scoot out of our room and head to our respective morning dismissal duties. As we boogie down the hall, we pass Al and Ted and a yellow cart loaded with cleaning supplies. We share a hallway hello. They are ready, they are waiting for empty rooms so the cleaning sprint can begin on the first floor. Far down the hall, I spy Rafael organizing for the morning dismissal. Upstairs, on the way to Emily’s room, I pass John and Chris and another yellow cart spilling over with cleaning supplies. More hallway hellos. They, too, are ready for their cleaning sprint. Al, Rafael, Ted, Chris and John, attack the midday cleaning of every desk, every chair, every piece of plexiglass in every classroom…every day.
In early August, I stopped by school to pick up books. I remember clearly the scene before me. All our custodians, gloved and masked moving furniture in and out of rooms, in and out of storage. I remember their sweaty brows and determined way. Al, always friendly Al, took the time to chat, telling me we’d definitely open. He proudly showed me the cafeteria turned faculty room. Socially distant tables for staff, mailboxes on the far wall and way in the corner, the lonely copier. When I left that day, I was really in awe of the herculean work Al and his team were doing so we could have a chance to be with kids in our building.
Al, Rafael, Ted, Chris and John are all-important members of our school community. They have given us the chance to get back to in person teaching and learning. Every day, their presence and their work is applauded. Their work is essential, they are essential. Thanks to them, we get to be in the company of children.