The Tuesday Slice of Life Writing Community is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at
I must be some kind of nut. What kind of person catches the 5:50 a.m. train to Manhattan on their “summer holiday” just to get to the first day of a week long workshop in time? A teacher, that’s who. And there were over a thousand teachers from all over the country (and the world) getting up much too early to do the exact same thing. So there we were, marching up Claremont Avenue just as the sun rose (or so it felt) hurrying along as fast as we could so that we could claim a good seat at Riverside Cathedral to hear Lucy Calkins deliver the keynote address. This is what that looked like:
To say that Lucy was inspirational is to understate the impact she had on all of us this morning. Teachers are a tired bunch of people these days – and I know that because I am tired, too. The politics of education has become a toxic mess, and we keep having new directives, new tests, new standards, and new evaluations with less funding, less professional development, and less agency in the implementation of any of it . It is a hard time in which to do this job we love, my friends.
And yet, there we were, and there was Lucy, acknowledging us for being there, and rallying us to be the best teachers that we could be – because teaching matters. We matter. Lucy spoke of the need for teachers and schools to decide their teaching priorities, to “teach what matters, no matter what”- not just because the CCSS says we “need” to teach it. Lucy asked us to consider three ways in which to make writing matter in our classrooms, and in our schools:
- “don’t waffle, go for it”: rather than stick in our toes into writing workshop and dabble in it when we can fit it into our school days, we need to commit to teaching the writing process -“if you want to get results, go for it.” “Writing is not something you do – but what you become,” in that writing becomes a way in which we, and our students, seek connections and make meanings of our life experiences. Lucy read a powerful excerpt from a student’s notebook entry in which she comes to recognize that “my saran wrap is writing” – it is a means to capture important life moments and reflections and hold on to them, value them.
- work deliberately with challenging goals. She noted that student achievement rests on two factors: how teachers relate to students and whether students have clear goals and concrete feedback. She used the way in which a diving coach prepares his student to illustrate a model of deliberate practice: visual modelling, repetition with concrete suggestions and informational compliments, continual practice with deliberate, constructive feedback. This is the same cycle we must put into consistent practice in our writing workshops.
- we need to build our writing curriculum from year to year within our schools. This is a touchy subject in our school, where teachers tend to be territorial and disinclined to share and work together to form common goals, so this point resonated quite a bit. The game changer, Lucy felt, was collegiality, the desire to “wish each other well as teachers” and to form supportive communities for each other. After all, “we are working together on a cause that matters.”
It was a powerful keynote, and effective because it addressed so many of the issues that weigh on us in such a positive but realistic way. I love the way Lucy crafts her keynotes – amid all the moving, funny anecdotes and classroom examples, there is the evidence and research. You are moved , you are inspired, you are persuaded, you are ready to go back into your classroom and work all the harder. Because what we do matters.