Beginning Again

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

William Wordsworth

It’s time to start again. As teachers we get a do-over every year, a time to hone, tighten, delete, enhance. How spectacular is that? Just like a phoenix, we rise from the ash and release our scoured summer selves into the turbulence of another school year. The choice is ours for the most part: do we continue on the same path continuing to do business the way we always have or do we change, reinvent, and revision? 

I have a bit of Shiva the Hindu god of destruction in my soul. I like to break things down and reinvent. I’m not suggesting that the baby go out with the bathwater because I am quite aware of how tense that makes seasoned educators. What I am proposing is that it’s worth a moment to think about curriculum as if it were living in a burning house: if you could only save a few things, what would they be? What do you hold sacred? What’s dispensable?

I’ve been throwing this lens on my writing workshop practice this past week as I prepare to ramp up again. Why do I value the workshop model so much? Why do I think writing is so important? What do I want to hold on to? What might need to disperse?

I think that writing is a means of understanding yourself. When I write, I find out more about myself, how I think, what I wonder about. When I read, I enter other author’s worlds, get sucked up in stories that aren’t my own but for the duration of the read, these stories own my heart. As I go into another school year, I want to inspire my students to leave their heart on the page, breath it out in print. Find a shape to their stories and by shaping stories, my hope is they’ll discover a little bit more about themselves.

 This year, I’m running out of the flaming house with the following things:

  1. Writing notebooks. I still believe in a 3-D tangible place to stash your heart. I believe in markers, crayons, scissors and pockets. I still cram my own notebooks with old photos, author interviews, favorite poems, pictures that flame my imagination. These are the bits that bring me back into the creative process when I’m broiling from too many meetings, too much screen time, too much conversation. There is nothing more sacred than the possibility inherent in a cool empty page.
  2. Spaces and places for sharing written work. Authors need to be heard and celebrated. Writing is a vulnerable undertaking, an intense cognitive pursuit. When I write, I want to know what someone else thinks. Every writer needs a support group, readers who recognize what he or she is attempting to do; readers who can applaud the novelty and help bring the fuzzy edges into focus. This year I want to create more opportunities for my young writers to fuel each other, to voice their thoughts in community, to publish and flourish.
  3. My own writing practice. Young writers need teachers to write, to model the process, the challenges, to understand the journey. Last year I started a writing notebook with just my students in mind and I was startled by their positive response; they were interested in how I crafted my ideas, they wanted to explore my thinking, read my written work. By sharing my own writing, I validated their pursuits, became an authentic member of our writing community. They forgave my sloppy drafts, my lack of attention to deadlines, and my tendency to generate more starts that endings. They taught me the necessity of walking my talk.

What are your three things? You don’t have too much time to run into the flames and escape with the goods. What will you grab? Why?