Finding Energy, Ideas, and Voice

Last Wednesday ten teachers gathered in my family room. We came together in the spirit of inquiry. We came together around Joy Write. Our principal and I had read the book and were inspired to ask the question, “What happens when a group of teachers reads Joy Write?”

As everyone arrived, the air was light and relaxed. With the freedom that summer brings, we hung out and chatted and lived in the moment. As people made their way to the family room and got comfy on the couch or floor, I thought “This is amazing. These teachers are here voluntarily to talk, write, sketch, and discover.”

Our meeting began with each teacher sharing why they had come. They came for social reasons, they came because they were intrigued, they came because, well, it was a book by none other than Ralph Fletcher, and others came to explore.

“Writing is my least favorite subject to teach. Some units I love, the kids love, but some are just so hard.”

”Moving away from structured dictated way of teaching writing”

“Growing a network of teachers to talk to”

“In my “old” teaching, I was inspired by their writing. Looking to get inspired again.”

“It’s possible to have joy in our current curriculum”

“I do not like writing. It’s my weakest area. So whenever I teach it, I feel like I’m not good at it. Personally, I am not a strong writer.”

“All I know is the units of study. I don’t know any other way.”

“Not as much playing with words/language. I am intrigued yet concerned.”

The voices were filled with questions, concerns, passion, strengths, weaknesses. Their honest voices were heard. Then we stopped to write. We devoted time to writing to think. Each teacher took the time to explore his her own thoughts on writing, on writers.

I believe in writing to think. I believe that children need to spend lots of time in the writing greenbelt. It is where writers discover. I also believe that teachers need time in a greenbelt. Time where they can write to think and discover and problem solve in a safe space of their own. In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher writes about a tweet he made that “struck a chord.” in the twittosphere. He tweeted, “We don’t teach students to write so much s create a safe space where they can teach themselves by doing.”

I believe that teachers need safe space to create, too.

Discovery, Play and Choice

My husband is installing central air conditioning.  “Dawn, can you come down here?”  I hear him yell from the bowels of our basement.  I know he is going to need my help holding or lifting something, so I head down to the basement and follow the sounds of sheet metal clanging.  “I called you a little premature, I’ll need you in a few minutes.” he says as he shifts duct work around.

I find myself waiting in the basement right in front of all my old journals and professional books.  They call me.  Before I open a journal, I take a minute to read the authors names, Hansen, Graves, Routman, Newkirk, Heard, Murray, Fletcher, Anderson, Ernst.  These are the writers that inspired, informed and caused me to question my own work as a teacher, as a reader, as a writer, as a mother.  Then, I fall into a random journal.  My eyes are drawn to the upper right hand corner where I see the date – June 1997.  I wonder curiously and am taken back as I slowly turn the pages and soak in my twenty year old memories and thinking.

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“Ready, honey!”  I am snapped out of my journals and back to the present .  “Let’s move this air handler!” he yells with determined energy.

This journal from twenty years ago has moved from the basement.  For the past week, it has had a home on our coffee table.  “What’s 1335?  Is that your old house?”  Hannah, my 17 year old, asks. “Yes.  That’s the house we brought you home to after you were born.” I reply nostalgically.   “I know,” she says in a 17 year old, snarky, know-it- all tone “we drive by it every now and then.”

My early years of teaching were filled with discovery and play.  My journals were (and still are) where my worlds collide.  I write about teaching, I throw ideas on paper, I record children’s thinking, I observe children in sketches.  I draw my home, the people, the plants, the doors, the trees – the setting and characters.  When I use my journal to capture moments from my teaching world and my home world – the two worlds inform each other.

During the last week of school, my own children were home.  Each night I would gently remind them “Find something to do, please don’t stare at electronics all day. Do something together. ” “AND don’t forget to load your dishes in the dishwasher – you guys know I hate to come home to a pile of dirty dishes!”

This is what I came home to that week.  This is the kind of mess that makes me smile.  These messes are filled with discovery and play.

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In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher writes, “when students or teachers have real choice in writing, you start to see genuine passion.”  Discovery, play, and choice are essential to teaching and learning.  I believe that in order for teachers to truly understand the value of each, we must take time to play in a journal with pictures and words.  It’s summer, take the time to play with sketches and pictures and words.  See what you can discover when you sit and observe in words and pictures. Then, when school is back and you are teaching – share not just what you did or where you went – open up your journal and show them how you played in pictures and words and what you discovered.  I wonder, then, will that lead you to create a space for play and discovery in your own classroom where students have real choice and ownership and passion.

*few other pages from that 20 year old journal, still meaningful and current


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Stop and See: A SOL in Sketches

A glimpse into what I saw this week with a few playful thoughts.

IMG_5980.JPGTowels on a chair.  Washed, dried, folded.  Waiting.  IMG_5981.JPG

Sitting inside. Looking outside.  The slider door frames the growing poolside garden.


Big pot.  Little pot.  Big flowers.  Little flowers.  IMG_5983.JPG

Plants hold stories and memories.

IMG_5984.JPGIt’s all about the hair.

Bunting on the fence.


Towels and trees with a breeze.

If you stop, what will you see?  What words will you play with?

Space for Spontaneity

It’s the last week of school.  I am cutting through the library to get to a kindergarten classroom.  I stop when I see our ITL teacher, Eric, and our Library Media Specialist, Rae Ann on the floor cleaning up tissue paper, tongue depressors, glue, beads, pipe cleaners.  “What are YOU doing?!?  They proceeded to tell me about the library being transformed into a Maker Space.  They explained that the first graders had just finished studying the life cycle of the butterfly with their classroom teachers.  The work they had just done in the Maker Space was an extension of that unit of study.  In the Maker Space, with the guidance of Eric and Rae Ann and the each of the 4 classroom teachers, the first graders, in partners, had to create the four stages of the butterfly with the given materials.  Eric showed me the planning papers and some of the finished products.  I was sucked into the story of their work.  My first thoughts were – this is collaboration at it’s best, this is independent learning, inquiry, problem solving, it’s playful, authentic assessment.  My last thought was – the kids need to sketch their work, write to think and reflect on the whole process.

So, on the last few days of school, I found myself in two first grade classrooms watching pairs of 7 year olds observe, study and reflect on their own work in the Maker Space and even further back to their unit work in the classroom.

I began with each class by giving them the back story as to why I was there.  I told them I was so amazed at their process, from their classroom work, to their work in the computer lab to their work in the Library/Maker Space.  I told them that I thought they deserved time to draw, think, and remember.  It was without hesitation or questions, that each pair of kids went off to work.


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In both Leigh-Ann’s room and Amy’s room.  We watched and listened.  We saw children picking up their own work and studying it.  We saw children labeling, extensively (clearly using what they had learned in WW in K and 1!)  We saw children persevere through mistakes.  We saw children making decisions as to how to organize their paper, their reflection.  We heard children talking “If I did it again, I would have used a tongue depressor for the body because the pipe cleaner isn’t very strong.”  (clearly, their learning is not done, it is ongoing).  We heard children whispering to each other, “What’s that called again.”  We heard children read poems that emerged from their work.  As Caitlin drew and observed her tissue paper egg, she drew the egg on the stick and then she found herself writing a poem about eggs – the kind you eat!  Then she bounced another poem about the caterpillar.  Building Butterfly Life Cycle Reflection 2 (1)

We as teachers are programmed to plan.  We read our units, we craft writing as part of our plans. We plan, sometimes, down to the minute all we will say and do leaving no space for spontaneity.  I think we need strive for balance.  No doubt, planning is an essential part of our work as teachers – however, we must create this space for ourselves and our students – a space for spontaneity.  This whole happening – between Eric, Rae Ann, Leigh-Ann, Amy, 40 first graders and I was spontaneous.  An idea was born through a conversation and we gave time and structure to the idea – all in service of building thinkers, reflective writers.



Celebrating Change and Possibility – This Ones to You, Davia


A friend is moving.

She’s moving to Colorado.

I knew I wanted to be her friend the minute I heard her speak.  I could hear her southern drawl and wanted her to keep talking.

Lucky for me, over the past 17 years, we have become friends, pretty good friends. Lucky me.

I will miss her.

I will miss her smile, her energy, her love for kids, her joy for teaching.



I know, Boulder needs her smile, her energy, her love for kids her joy for teaching.

I know good things are waiting for her in the Rocky Mountain state.

I know that Noah and Liam are at the heart of the move.

I know she is one brave soul.

I know I admire her courage.

I know I wish her nothing but goodness everywhere she goes!

I know she will still be my friend.

I know she has no choice but to join Two Writing Teachers and start slicing!

Here’s to you, Davia, always my friend.

Love, your big calves and belts buddy, Dawn xoxo




Rocky Mountain High, John Denver