Slice of Life Tuesday: Notes from Lucy Calkins’ keynote at the TC Summer Writing Institute

 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.


16 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday: Notes from Lucy Calkins’ keynote at the TC Summer Writing Institute

  1. Oh Tara-such fun you are having, despite the fatigue! I saw her this year too at our state conference. I love that you focused on those three points. I am working hard on number three in our school. We too still do not share enough! I wish they could all see Lucy! continue having fun (& sharing)!

  2. I am a bit envious! I have heard so much about Lucy Calkins, read some of writings, but never had a chance to meet her in person. After reading what you wrote, I will definitely put meeting Lucy Calkins on my list. I will be keeping an eye and ear on possible workshops near me! Thank you Tara for sharing an encouraging message with us!

  3. It is such a quagmire these days. I'm so glad that you heard Lucy's strong and valiant voice today. Your post bolstered me. I'm ready to engage in what really matters in this world. Thank you for sharing, thank you opening your heart and standing strong as a leader today. xo

  4. This sounds amazing! I would have gotten up that early, too! It definitely sounds inspirational and I wasn't even there. When I reflect on how much I have changed and grown as a person since I have been writing regularly, it just makes sense that we help students have these same experiences. I so believe in the writing process but there is definitely a learning curve and a leaning into discomfort to get to truly trusting the process. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Lucky you! I would do this…get up early to go see Lucy. What wonderful words! Thanks for sharing them. I am reading at the end of our first day. While it was fun to get back and see my teacher-friends, some of the new stuff is just overkill. I will keep these words in mind as I move through this beginning of school. What we do matters!

  6. Lucy Calkins is always so inspiring! The points you share are all so critical. How wonderful that you'll be spending the week at TC learning with Lucy and all the incredible staff developers. Thanks for sharing!Catherine

  7. I am lucky to travel to foreign lands, but you are also lucky to be able to travel to see Lucy. What an absolutely inspired keynote this was. You have inspired me with your reflections. I am grateful you share your learning and thinking. PS: I met a couple of teachers on the cruise from Monroe Township. Is that close to you?

  8. Important messages–from both Lucy Calkins and from you! I especially love your voice at the start of this slice. It is a powerful reminder of how validating and fortifying it is to be part of this TWT community of educators. Voices and messages like this don't often come from within a school district.

  9. Thank you for sharing these timely words and reflections. Lucy Calkins is so amazing – a friend and I heard her again last February. She herself spoke all day – so inspiring! She is amazing with her knowledge, insight, and practical work ideas. Sadly, because the "politics of education has become a toxic mess," we never reference her work in our district anymore. Thank you for keeping her voice alive for me!

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