So here we are. It’s the end of November, which means that #nanowrimo is coming to a close, and I didn’t write my novel. Again. But this year, I’m totally okay with that. You see, in the past, I’ve taken a few different approaches to #nanowrimo:
- Are you crazy? Write a novel in a month? Hard nope.
- I’ll pitch it to my kids. It’ll be a fun challenge ….and then we’ll all forget about it by the end of November.
- This is it. This is the year I’ll actually do it. ….and by the time December first rolls around, I’ve got an outline and a couple of kind of crummy chapters – definitely not a novel.
So, this year, I was tempted to avoid it altogether until a friend kindly reminded me that it’s not really about the novel at all. It’s about the challenge – and about being supported in that challenge by a larger community.
Right now, my biggest challenge as an interventionist and a coach isn’t with instruction and student work. I mean, ultimately, it is of course. Everything we do has that endgame in mind. But lately, I’ve found myself tackling the challenge of how to build teachers’ own writing practices.
It’s been kind of a weird and winding journey that’s led me to this current challenge. We’ve spent several years now really focusing our professional learning on lesson design: offering choices, using mentor texts, tightening our mini-lesson structures. But, the closer I get to the work, the more I’ve had the nagging feeling that it isn’t always clicking. Even the best lesson design falls flat if we aren’t connecting as writers. As I started to recognize this pattern emerging, I’d ask teachers about it. How often do they write with their students? Do they share their drafting? Have they tried the genre or assignment they’re asking their kids to tackle?
As teachers reflected with me, I listened. And the same responses echoed over and over again:
There isn’t enough time.
It’s scary to share our writing with our students. It’s personal and vulnerable.
I feel the need to pause there to appreciate the weight of those responses. These aren’t problems that have quick, easy fixes. They are real obstacles that are complex and weighty.
Which brings me to my challenge. I want to help teachers build their writing identities. I know this isn’t work that can happen overnight. Heck, I wonder if that’s anything I can even begin to influence. But this month, I made it my #nanowrimo goal to take the beginning steps toward intentionally building up our community of teacher writers. I started with an hour-long invitation:
Our Teacher Writer Self Care Session
Our district hosts a big day of professional learning in November where we offer over a hundred choices for sessions that teachers can attend on a range of topics. When I first started drafting up the proposal for this session, I found myself feeling guilty. Was it meaty enough? Could we really spend a whole hour-long session without talking about instruction? But after much hemming and hawing and running the idea past some trusted friends, I decided to give it a try and pray people would actually show up. And they did! Our session had 3 pieces:
1. Time to write
One of the biggest obstacles to seeing themselves as writers that teachers reported to me was that they didn’t have time, so I knew it was important to carve out some of that time. I certainly couldn’t give them the kind of time they needed to craft a masterpiece, but I did give them the chance to feel the possibilities of a 15 minute block of uninterrupted writing. I offered them a buffet of different styles of notebooks and pens and a menu of Notebook Time style prompts to choose from if they’d like.
One skeptical teacher asked about the format. “How many paragraphs are you looking for?” she asked.
“Write however feels right to you,” I responded and could tell from the look on her face she didn’t quite know what to make of that. But we started the timer and the room was filled with the quiet energy of ideas on paper.
2. Time to connect
The fear and vulnerability that comes with writing – and sharing our writing! – is real. I thought it was important to get to hear from each other to know that we’re not alone in this endeavor. In three smaller groups, I invited everyone to talk about their own experiences with writing. We don’t spend much time talking about ourselves and our own experiences when it comes to professional learning. So often, the focus of the conversation is on the students, the data, the instruction, that we almost dehumanize the experience. But the conversations were real and heartbreakingly human. People shared stories of success and memories of the moment when they no longer felt like a writer. But the feeling and the message was clear: we’re all writers and we’re here for one another.
3. Commit to a challenge
A few years ago, a friend introduced me to The 30 Day Happy Teacher Challenge. I loved it, so I modified it for writing, and I asked teachers to make a commitment that would challenge them. Sure, they could take on a big one and go for the ultimate #nanowrimo goal of drafting a novel, but they could also choose to commit to three smaller goals a week like journaling or participating in a Twitter chat. We wrote our commitments down and took a picture together of everyone holding their challenges. And the best part: everyone was smiling. If you’d like to try our challenge, you can find it here: 30 Day #TeacherWriter Challenge
By the end of the session, even the teacher who had skeptically asked me about paragraph length had kicked her shoes off under her desk, and she was writing and chatting comfortably with her group.
I know we haven’t arrived yet. I’m not even sure how much of a dent we’ve made, but I hope we’re planting the seeds of a rich writing community.
I’d love your help thinking through building a supportive writing community for teachers. What do you do to carve our time or support? What have you found helps you to feel more confident in your own writing life? Comment below or find me on Twitter @megankortlandt