First day of school, 1999ish: “My” third graders have just come back from lunch. Red faced cheeks and sweaty brows greet me. They gather on the rug in front of the easel. Beside me sits a stack of thick, unlined sketch journals – waiting. I introduce the sketch journals by sharing my own sketch journal. I reveal the invitations for the first workshop. Sketch/draw a moment from your summer. Describe the moment. Sketch or write about something you love. Write about why you love. “There is no right or wrong here, just think, draw, write. Explore.” There are no questions, just eager writers. Children scatter the room and begin pouring themselves onto the blank page. Our first workshop together ends with a share. I watch as a community forms on day one, through pictures and words.
A few weeks ago, our writing group – Community of Teachers Learning – Teachers Who Write, met at my house. Jess, fellow slicer, friend, colleague, was not able to make our meeting. Her beloved Grandma had passed away the day before. Jess has been a constant at our meetings over the past five plus years. She brings a belief and energy to our meetings that grows teachers not only as writers but as researchers. The anticipation of her absence left me feeling a bit empty.
Our meeting was about to “officially” begin. There was a pause in the casual kitchen chit chat and we moved to the family room. I sat on the floor and just as I was about to speak, I spotted a cardinal perched on the string of lights. “Oh…look at the cardinal!” All eyes made their way to the window. I jumped up with my phone. “Stay. Stay. Stay.” I muttered as fiddled getting to the camera on my phone. “Success!” I proclaimed. I returned to the floor. Again, a flash of red caught my eye out the window. The cardinal came to rest again. This time on the fence. Peter got up quickly this time and perched himself in front of the window to “capture” the visitor. It was at that moment that Peter and I remembered Jess’s slice about the cardinal and the meaning of it’s appearance, earlier this year. Without much conversation, we all got the feeling that this cardinal was sent to us.
Today, I started my fourth collage of the summer. Creating collage, much like line drawing is way to find and connect with ideas. Working today, it occurred to me how well I know my fellow slicers who are also my colleagues (Jess, Peter, Elena). I know them better because we are connected through our written stories. There’s something raw and revealing when we read our writing out loud or publish it for others to read. It allows us know each other in a way that our day to day work does not offer. We know each other better because we write, read, and share.
As teacher writers, let’s remember the power of journal writing, art and story. As we begin the year, let’s not only teach the curriculum but help children find their voices and passions so their journals and writing creates a stronger classroom community.