In my first year of teaching, in a DC neighborhood encompassed by poverty, a student gave me the most thoughtful gift of my career. The battery operated window alarms were a mystery to me for years. I finally realized my student just wanted her teacher to be safe. Her gift sincerely reflected the reality of her life outside of school and a deep connection to me.
This year, among all the generous and thoughtful gifts my students and their families gave me, I received three journals, pens and pencils, a picture book and a gift card to purchase more books. Of course these are gifts all teachers would like, but I can’t help but wonder if my intentionality of building my own reading and writing life are reflected in these gifts. While many of my current students come from highly literate families, do these gifts also reflect their connection to me and our shared love of literacy? I hope so.
A few months ago George Couros wrote “Blogging is your job” to which I replied – that was going to be my next blog post! In response, my school librarian – who is always pushing me to think at the edge of my learning – asked me who my audience is and how I know what they want to read. I stopped to think. As this conversation unfolded over Twitter on a Saturday morning I realized I am writing ultimately for my students. She showed me my audience is someone who will actually never read my writing and THAT is why it is so powerful.
Writing pushes me into unknown realms as a teacher. Sometimes I write a blog post before I even teach a unit and revise and publish it afterward. I envision the learning and articulate it through the blog and social media. Of course it changes through the reality of the classroom, but writing as a form a professional development helps me define change in my classroom. A writing professor of mine always said “keep your pencil moving,” a quote my students hear daily as a tool to generate new ideas. It is true, the more you write, the more you think of to write. Continual writing can only help us as educators to push beyond the traditional methods of instruction to find new ways to authentically engage our audience – our students.
It is important for us to feel safe – as writers and agents of change. It matters to our students that we are safe. It is equally important that we are active participants in literacy. It matters to our students that we engage in writing to chart, share and most critically, explore our practice. Maybe those journals and books weren’t a coincidence. Just maybe, it resonates that reading and writing matter so much that they are authentically in my own life and in my teaching.