Writing Prompt and an Announcement

Starting on September 23rd if you join my Patreon community you will receive a daily prompt for 100 days like the one above. We have a Slack community as well so you can join other writers.

September 23rd starts a special time period – the last 100 days of 2020! Can you believe it???

The last 100 days is the perfect time to give yourself a challenge. You can join mine or create your own. I would love to hear what you plan to do.

Last year I vowed to do one yoga pose a day for the remaining 100 days of 2019. A friend wrote 100 word essays. The possibilities are endless. You could answer the same morning and evening questions. I follow Karissa Kouchis who is a national trainer for Tony Robbins. She has challenged herself to answer the same morning and evening questions for the next 30+ days for a training. I have been answering them in my journal as well.

What questions would propel you into a new reality if you committed to them for 100 days? One of the exercises in Tony Robbins Personal Power class is to construct questions you ask yourself every day. I have a list in my Google Keep Notes.

Here are the questions I am using right now from KK:

Morning:

  1. What are you most happy about in your life right now? How does that make you feel?
  2. What am I most proud of right now? How does that make me feel?
  3. What am I most committed to right now? How does that make me feel?

Do you see a pattern here?

Evening:

  1. What have I been given today?
  2. What have I given to others?
  3. What have I learned today?
  4. How has today added to the quality of the overall investment in my life?

Happy writing! Happy reflecting!

I would love to hear your ideas for the last 100 days. It is a perfect time for a self imposed challenge!

#IWSG September

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

September 2 question – If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?
The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando,J Lenni Dorner,Deniz Bevan,Kim Lajevardi,Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

The schedule feels new for the month of September. In the Northern Hemisphere it is time for school. Labor Day marks the beginning of time that feels different. Summer days fade and all the color seems different. Nature begins to shift.

The day for me always begins with writing and coffee. Sometimes it is 15 minutes of writing and gulping down hot liquid because now I am bound by the clock more than my natural rhythms. Today it is more than two hours because I am up early. Lots of words and coffee both.

My initial instinct for this question are my go to favorite authors. Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link start the list. I am not sure I could sit with them and talk writing and not be intimidated. I am sure they are lovely people. I have seen them both speak. One of the best times I have seen Neil speak is with a video call with V.E. Schwab. The mutual admiration was adorable.

I have tried to locate all the talks Kelly has given online. I hope one day to travel to her bookstore in the East.

Another author I would like to sit down with is Amber Sparks. In these pandemic times I have been able to hear her speak on several panels about writing. I admire her writing and her style. Sitting across a table talking about how stories get onto the page would be thrilling.

In all honesty, sitting down with any writer who writes and talking about technique and how words get on the page is thrilling to me. I love that conversation almost as much as the writing itself.

For my writing class I have to prepare a short story show and tell. This title is perfect for September, isn’t it? I take a favorite story and examine the craft. How it is put together from my perspective. I am looking forward to this exercise. Taking time to look at a story line by line is like having a conversation with the piece itself. There is no way to know what the exact intent is of the author but I can have this experience with the story. It is a different type of experience I can sink into.

As an educator, one of the reasons I like to hear authors speak is to get the nugget about writing the story no one knows. It is why I love podcasts. I heard David Shannon, the children’s author speak many years ago and learned he always puts his little white Scottie dog somewhere in the illustrations of his books. When I told my students this information there was a “Where’s Waldo?” hunt for the little dog. It is fun and makes you feel like you are in an inner circle of writers.

The inner circle is a great place to be.

Happy Writing!

I would love to hear what your favorite short story is….

Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

Welcome back to the weekend. This week has flown by as the hint of normal schedules looms in the balance. I feel that rush of trying to get errands done and checklists checked before the start of the new school year. My children have gone back to school all virtually. I will be virtual as well (at least for the first 9 weeks) but have to report to the building every day for my normal hours.

I am having black coffee today as usual. What would you like? The temperature is cooler today but I will get the pitcher of ice water anyway. The weather app lies. The humidity plays with the feeling of the air for sure.

If we were having coffee I would tell you the first round of boat repairs were completed and we launched the boat on Friday. We were doing a test run really. There are still some adjustments that need to be made on the motor as it wasn’t throttling properly. It was the first time I had launched the boat as we usually rent and it is already in the water. It was a beautiful day on the lake anyway and I was glad we were able to take it out no matter how short the trip was. It was logged as a delight in the notebook this morning!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I loaded up my copy of Story Genius which is a writing craft book by Lisa Cron. She has several books and a Ted Talk. This book is unusual as Cron says what we have learned about writing stories is essentially all wrong. People don’t worry about the change of characters which is what a lot of stories are missing. She believes we fall into the trap of writing stories “where a bunch of stuff happens.” I was encouraged by my friend Nicole Rivera of Stop Writing Alone to break out my copy. The second section is full of specific questions to ask yourself about your own story and I am examining my novel I am revising. So far, it has been helpful!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am excited about my Patreon page! I did a soft launch with my newsletter peeps and everything will roll out by the end of the month. I have 4 tiers and the platform works well for all my projects. Check it out here. I have been hosting workshops and now I can contain all the content in one area. September’s workshop is all about Conversation Experiments and I am super excited to share this class with people! My content is for Teachers and Friends of Teachers. Educators and writers make good friends. This was definitely the next right step for me.

If we were having coffee I would tell you Jami Attenberg hosted #1000words of summer this week. Her emails were brilliant and sparked an idea for an essay that is in my notebook now!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I made a 6 hour round trip to pick up some items I left behind this week. I was anxious about going but did it anyway. On the way there I was able to listen to several great podcasts and I collected many notes for writing projects. I thought of it as a story nugget gathering trip and enjoyed it so much more. I was able to have lunch with a great friend and have some amazing flatbread pizza. I also visited my Grandmother who will turn 90 on October. She still lives on her own and is a kick ass independent woman.

Do you need a refill on your coffee?

If we were having coffee I would tell you I have been writing everyday in my notebooks with my fountain pen. I had avoided using it all pandemic but broke it out last week and even ordered new ink refills. I also started the letter writing again and have been using it for that as well. There is something enjoyable about using it to craft words. It is a delight for me!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I went to the eye doctor this week. It has been a minute. Luckily, my prescription hasn’t changed much but I was able to get new glasses. My old glasses had been repaired with a paper clip but since I only use them to drive it wasn’t an issue. I do use them if I go to a conference and have to see speakers or screens but I don’t think I will have to worry about the scenario for a while. For added excitement, the tornado sirens went off and I was trapped there for awhile. The doctor and I had a nice conversation about moving, nature, and Ben Shapiro!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am slowly transitioning back to school mode. There was so much uncertainty about the beginning of the school year (there still is) but at least I know I will be teaching from my classroom. I was a bit surprised I have to be in the building for the contractual hours, but it makes sense. Once I get back into the new schedule it will be fine.

How was your week? Was is inspiring you right now? What was one of your daily delights?

I would love to hear!

Can We Talk?

How Verbalization Can Help Us All Be Better Writers

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Last summer I was honored to attend a literacy conference where Cornelious Minor spoke. I took copious notes and was able to have many conversations with colleagues in the evening. That is the advantage of being at a multiple day conference – you can chat with your tribe about what you learned that day and move forward with plans for the schools.

Over the last 25 years as an educator and attendee of conferences, I have learned to synthesize my notes at the end of the day. I read back through them and fill in the gaps of half written sentences and ideas. I fill out more of the story that was shared I want to remember as an example for teaching later. I also make checklists of action items, things to further research, and people I need to talk to.

I learned Minor also takes notes in a real notebook and carries it around with him all the time when he does workshops. He is full of stories of living in New York and of students and teachers he has worked with. He had to scan all his old notebooks recently because the paper journals were taking too much room in their small NY apartment.

This conference was full of personal connections for me as well. Not only did I have the advantage of having great friends with me to confer with but also a consultant we had worked with for years. I also was able to meet someone in person from Twitter and a connection from a reading board we both had served on at different times. Overall it was three days of connection and learning.

I reflect on this experience this morning and wonder when this will happen again – if ever.

Another way I synthesize info is to skeleton plan a workshop before I even leave. I think about if I were teaching this material to others when I return to where ever I am going what would my spin on this look like. Since the beginning of my career I have paid attention to the nuts and bolts of how presentations are deployed. How did the presenter get everyone engaged? What questions did they ask? Did they do an ice breaker? How did they get people to talk? How did they build relationships? I compare these ideas to my own style and make notes about how it would look for me.

If I am taking a plane I always write and make action plans in my notebooks on the way home. There is something about being away that has a magic spell quality to it. When the wheels touch down at the home airport you have to return to the normal schedule. You fall back into natural tendencies and routine and don’t always use the new learning.

When I started teaching I also made a pact with myself that if I took time to be out of the classroom, I would make sure to use one thing the day I returned.

I do love to give presentations. I have had to move to a virtual world which bring its own complications, but I know how to pivot!

Writing matters.

It gives us tools to deal with struggle. Everyone has experiences and something to say. We have all been broken in some way or another. This applies to us (teachers, or friends of teachers) as writers and our students.

Writing gives us power over our struggle. A way to deal with it and reframe. To try out ways to tell it to other people. It is a powerful device of possibility.

As teachers we create what I call the “greenhouse effect”. We set up all the circumstances for students to have learning experiences with the most amount of obstacles out of the way. This is why we have huge classroom libraries, and over plan. Sometimes we do this too well. The goal is for students to have productive struggle in a balance as to not create frustration and shut down. A certain amount of struggle is needed for learning and retention.

Exercise:

Take out a notebook and a pen or your laptop. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind on the topic of:

Possibility and Power – What do these words conjure up for you?

Do not censor yourself. Just write what comes. Keep your pen moving no matter what comes out.

Ok, the timer went off! You can stop. What did you notice about your thoughts are centered around these two ideas? How does that translate to your classroom?

Verbalization

When we are teaching, one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “What do you think?” and then wait for the answer. When I have asked this question to students I get the blank stare and many times this statement: “No one has ever asked me that before.”

“What do you think?” is a question we need to be posing more often in order to give them writing practice. We ask students to write a genre after giving only one or two models many times. This is simply not fair. Verbalization can allow practice 9-10 times before writing which gives them a much better opportunity to write a higher quality piece with more confidence.

Talking before writing helps students know what they want to write down. It takes practice to figure out what we want to say. (How many drafts of that email to your principal did you write?)

The person who is doing the talking is the one that is doing the learning. Think about the last time you were in your real life classroom. (I know…go WAY back…) who was doing the talking? In my coaching experience, I would venture to guess you will say the teacher unless you teach a curriculum like EL education where student talk is built in. This is a by product of feeling like there is never enough time. Teachers need to “cover” material for students to be exposed. The worst feeling in the world is to not get to a concept which we know is tested on the high stakes exam and feeling like we didn’t even give our students an opportunity to answer even in a minimal way.

A strategy to get them talking is to use what interests them. This can range from Pokemon to zombie ants. Get them excited and engaged and use that talk to your advantage.

Exercise:

Look at your phone and find a picture that is meaningful to you. If you were to share with someone why it was meaningful, what is the story you would tell?

Storyboards

What is a Storyboard? | Storyboard Template | Storyboard Maker

Another way I have encouraged talk before writing in my classroom is to use an idea I learned from Linda Rief. A simple storyboard of 3-6 boxes is a powerful tool for talk. I have students think of an exciting or an embarrassing story to tell their classmates. I set the timer for 5 minutes and have them sketch and stick figure out the story within the 3-6 boxes. Minimal words are used here. There is a limit of 2 words per box.

Then the student tells the story, using their storyboard to a classmate. The listener gives feedback to what they enjoyed about the story and asks questions about where they are confused.

After three rounds of this practice with different partners the students write their story. The amount of detail and flow to the stories after this exercise works wonders.

How could you provide more opportunities for talk before writing in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

How To List Your Way to Better Teaching

What Lists to Keep to Move Your Instruction Forward

7 Reasons to Actually Start Using Google Keep | PCMag

I am a list keeper.

There is satisfacton in making a checklist and completing the list.

I keep lists in my paper planner and also in my Google Keep app. Keep is on my phone and also provides a checkbox option. I can also transfer any note to a Google Doc. New learning from the last two weeks is that I can share a note with another person. This means personal notes I can share with my teacher gmail account so I have access and edit ability for everything.

For teaching , I toggle back and forth between my planner and what I call the “Rose Binder”. The rose binder is the place I put all the important things. It is where I keep student data before it ends up in the spreadsheet, lists, papers I need to not lose in the abyss of my desk, etc. Why rose binder? The binder I use has a clear sleeve for the cover where I add pictures I like. Many years ago I found a picture of a bouquet of roses from Victoria Magazine which I placed in the front. Voila!

Lists calm my mind because I know important actions have been captured and I do not have to use brain power to repeat things to myself. Lists keep me sane.

For me, my teacher lists ensure I do not lose or forget anything. With as many decisions that need to be made moment to moment this simple tool keeps me focused and on track.

Where To Keep Your Lists

  1. In the back of your paper planner (I use the Passion Planner)
  2. Important Paper Binder (My Rose Binder)
  3. Post it notes (that you adhere to the paper planner or the binder)

Teacher Lists I Keep

  1. Favorite quotes
    1. For writing instruction
    2. Motivation
    3. For articles
  2. Education article ideas to write
  3. Things to Remember for the Next School year
    1. I add to this list all year – this is where the lightbulb moments for changes to a lesson get logged, the resources you want to add later to a unit, materials you need to make or find, systems to begin, things to let go of, etc.
  4. Things to Buy for my Classroom
  5. Picture Books I need
    1. I buy a lot from thrift stores and Goodwill
    2. Borrow from Library
  6. DMO for school
  7. Printing jobs
  8. Project Ideas to Do with Students
    1. Current ones for me: mini gardens using toilet paper rolls, Kindness project, Books for me to write for kids, and Books for the World

Other Lists I Keep

  1. Random notes
  2. To do for the day
  3. Topic lists to research
  4. Lists of 10 impressions I have noticed within the day
  5. Short Story ideas
  6. Delights
  7. Articles to read later
  8. Places to publish
  9. Funny phrases the kids say
  10. Anything I want to remember
  11. DMO (see below)

D.M.O

I keep a list called the DMO – Daily Method of Operation. This is the list you keep that is the minimum for you to have a successful day that comes from Tony Robbins. One thing I have learned recently is that success is subjective. I will also tell you I have been thinking a lot about fulfillment vs achievement.

What is my DMO list you ask?

  1. water
  2. walk
  3. mantra
  4. connection
  5. fasting

What are Your Lists?

What are the most important lists you keep? I would love to hear in the comments!

IWSG August

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

August 5 question – Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

I have always been a writer but through my narrow writer experience I thought I had to write a novel. I had tried many times before finally figuring out flash and short stories were my favorite medium. I finally listened to the right podcast and found my tribe!

This summer the phrase, “Truth is always the best story.” keeps coming up. It has surfaced so many times I know to pay attention. As a fiction writer many of the stories I write are based in truth with the reality skewed a little. The characters feel my feelings similar to spaces I have been in. The settings are places I have been with the details changed to bend to my will. Why is it always the places we have been (and not currently in) are so much easier to write?

One of the reasons I love short stories is because I am able to play with the form. I have written stories in the form of job postings, mad libs, and recipes. I have written Twitter length stories and ones comprised of random sentences over time. No writing is wasted I have learned and many lines I have come back to that have marinated over time.

I never get bored writing or reading short stories.

There is magic in an author taking a story and weaving magic in a few 100 words. I have many models of great writing and I study them. I do not read in the same way anymore. There is pleasure but always intention to learn something new now.

One of my favorite things about writing is that it surprises me. I swear by freewriting for everything. If I do not know what I am thinking about a situation in my life I freewrite. It opens my eyes and helps me get out of my own way. I have learned to write and let it flow without censoring. Often a line or a word will appear on the page without conscious thought and it is a delight! When a description comes out in a unique way or a memory is triggered it is a delightful writing sessions. There are also those moments where I write a short piece and know I have another one that will go with it perfectly in the drive.

Short stories have a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Kelly Link is the master of short stories that do not answer all your questions. You are left wondering. A great short story is the one that stays with me and I keep wrangling with it to figure it out in a satisfying way.

As a writer this is part of my service to my readers – to make them think and feel something different than before they read my piece. I am always striving to do it better.

Can I Ask You A Question?

An Examination of Interrogatives

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Have you signed up for my newsletter yet?

Questions and ideas should be the ax that breaks open the frozen sea within us.  -Kafka

How much thought do you put into the questions that come out of your mouth? Do you write out questions to ask in your classroom? Your journal? Are you on automatic pilot?

I love great questions personally and professionally. As an introvert I like to have an ice breaker question ready when in a social situation. I do not mind silence, but I have noticed people around me do not. I am not a fan of the typical, “What do you do for a living?” question. One of my favorites comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which is, “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I have found this question leads to all kinds of interesting conversations.

Another conversation question I like is: What is inspiring you lately?

In the classroom, I often plan out higher order questions I want to be sure to ask. The lower level questions come to mind more easily but lessons need to contain more than just surface level content. According to research, teacher questions should be varied and from several category types according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order for them to be effective. These categories are familiar to every teacher I know: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

I always love the questions that show how students make connections I would never think of. Connection to other subjects and the world in my experience yield the most interesting conversations. The more questions they students ask, especially the ones that the teacher cannot answer, show students how to research and inquire deeper about their curiosities.

I have found the most effective questions can come from students by having them write questions for each other. I have a space on my board where I pose interesting questions to my students. I love when they suggest one for the next day.

With the high stakes testing becoming the norm, DOK or Depth of Knowledge has been my go-to sentence stems for teaching and coaching. A simple overall breakdown looks like this: DOK 1 have only one answer. DOK 2 you must use information or a concept and usually there are two steps. DOK 3 requires reasoning and usually a more complete answer requiring steps DOK 4 requires synthesis and making a judgment -it requires investigation.

Another simpler method to help teachers if the DOK levels are overwhelming, is “thick and thin question stems” seen below. This is also a great way to teach students to write more robust questions.

Life is better when you ask better questions to others and yourself.

Let’s Talk About Cold Calling

If cold calling is done correctly, it is not a punishment. Many teachers and adults in workshops use it as a tactic to try to control the room by shaming someone who is not paying attention. Don’t do this. It does not motivate anyone to answer you moving forward.

The culture you create in your classroom feeds how your students ask and answer questions. If risk and curiosity is nurtured in the learning environment then they will ask and answer. If you have to shame students into answering your questions, I would examine the engagement and interest level of your lessons.

As a coach I have said many times: Sometimes it is a teacher problem, sometimes it is a student problem and sometimes it is both. Own the areas where you need to improve in order to reach your students.

Cold calling is designed to be a positive technique. You can read more here about it used effectively from Doug Lemov.

***

What are your favorite questions to ask? What is inspiring you lately? I would love to hear in the comments!

Life Experiments

How Trying Something New Can Help You Be A Better Teacher

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

Someone who follows their curiosities is far more interesting than someone who does not. Life experiments are fun challenges that allow you to play with an idea.

I love to read life experiment memoirs. A.J. Jacobs has made a writing career out of this idea. He tried different skills or lifestyles and writes about it. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell is also one of these books. Another is The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders. I find these books inspiring to try something new.

Several years ago I went to a conference (will these even happen anymore in real life? Jury is still out…) and the speaker talked about an experiment with questions.

I love great questions. They lead to fantastic conversations and insights. Questions are great ice breakers and I have used ,”What music are you listening to in your car right now?” and “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I even did a question and answer experiment and wrote about it using the 36 questions that lead to deep connection.

Inspired by the conference, at the next workshop I taught I only asked questions. I made no statements at all. i answered all questions with a question. In theory, this seems like a simple task. Humans like validation I learned. I wanted to see how my teachers would react if I turned everything back on them. Part of my personality is to be the person who gives a direct answer and my teachers know this. It isn’t always the answer people want, but it is the honest one. Many teachers come to me as a coach wanting me to give them permission to do something. In this meeting, I answered every question with a question and it drove them a little nuts. There was some anger in spurts as well. Some questions I asked were simple, “Well, what do you think?” and “How would that look in your classroom?” Finally at the end I told them what I had done. They were relieved and then we discussed how much we rely on validation and feeling seen with answers in workshops and even conversation. They talked about how they felt during the meeting and couldn’t pinpoint what it was that was making them uncomfortable. The questions made them feel unsure about what they were contributing. It was exhausting and I haven’t tried it again. Some of the teachers turned the tables on their students and asked only questions within the next week. It allowed focus on asking great questions in the classroom too.

Following your own self imposed challenges can lead to some fun. I have done challenges like eating vegan for two weeks. I learned I love cheese on my pizza and don’t want to give that up. I also learned how much dairy is in processed food that shouldn’t be – like lentil soup. I read labels much more carefully now.

Summer break allows me to experiment with time. Every summer there is always a reading project. One year, I read books only in one genre and another a whole author’s backlist. I have written many times about my Bradbury Trio challenge. Ray Bradbury, the famous brilliant author, said to be a better writer a short story, a poem, and an essay before bed. This experiment has changed the way I write. The input of wonderful writing and structure has shaped my owns words on the page and I am grateful to all the writers who are my models.

Last summer I imposed “The Writer Schedule”. I imagined what my schedule would look like as a full-time writer and followed it. My first thoughts are about creation in the morning. I wrote short stories and submitted them. I revised my novel. I entered contests. I also observed the world, created experiences, wrote at the coffee shop, made trips to the library and used bookstore, read, listened to podcasts and wrote down these impressions. There was also time for writing conversation with other writers I know. I recorded my wild life as Mary Oliver would have wanted me to. There were also naps. Many details made it into stories and some were just for me in my notebooks.

What experiment will you try?

Ideas to Try to See What Happens

  1. Copy a poem every day in your notebook
  2. Declutter one item per day for 30 days
  3. Perform a random act of kindness for 30 days
  4. Journal every day
  5. No social media for a week
  6. No reading for a week
  7. Walk in the forest
  8. No coffee for a week
  9. A news fast
  10. Cold shower for 3 minutes to start your day
  11. Buy nothing new for a month
  12. Go ziplining
  13. Rent a canoe
  14. Try a weird fruit you never have (you may have to YouTube it to figure out how to eat it!)
  15. Compliment a stranger every day

Growing and sharing these stories with your students is fun. Seeing their reactions to something they didn’t expect you would do is a glorious feeling. Even if the experiment doesn’t go well, you will always get a great story out of it!

I would love to hear which experiments resonate with you. Do you have one I haven’t thought of? Let me know in the comments.

Six Ways To Be A Better Writing Teacher

Have you signed up for my newsletter? Do that here.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

I have been able to attend several writing conferences through my work over the years. One that had profound impact on me was the writers at work hosted by Ruth Culham in Sun Valley Idaho. I did not know the landscape could be so beautiful in a place I associate with potatoes. This education celebrity met with her small circle of authors every year to plan workshops for the year. Then she opened it up to other educators. The travel there had been adventurous for me with a small plane flying through a thunderstorm. It reminded me of the first time I was on a plane when I was 6 years old.

One of the speakers was Ralph Fletcher. He talked about how all teacher needed to be a writer with a lowercase w. The only difference between a writer with a capital and lowercase w is that capital w writers get paid. If you write, you are a writer.

As teachers, we need our students to learn to write in order to express themselves. I have found through my coaching and my own education experience that writing scares the hell out of most people. There is not a lot of instruction in writing in teacher prep courses. Why would you expect your students to do something that you are unwilling to do?

My Action List:

  1. Bradbury Challenge
  2. Unpack the Text
  3. Learn Through Your Ears
  4. Write in the Edges
  5. Challenges
  6. Join a group of creatives or writers

Bradbury Challenge

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1*jKJz9ioUILFbYSx0K6w1ig.png

Ray Bradbury said read one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.

This is his formula for an MFA. It works.

It is impossible to not be a better writer if you follow this formula. Read what you like from authors you like. It does not have to be any way connected to the grade level you teach.

recommendations:

Essays: Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay

Short stories: Nancy Stohlman, Kathy Fish, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link

Poems: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye

Unpack The Text

When you read a piece you particularly write then study it. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What works in this piece and how does it make me feel?
  2. How did the author achieve this feeling in me?
  3. What are my favorite lines?
  4. What can I try in my own writing that the author does?

Action: Write something inspired by the text you studied.

Learn Through Your Ears

One of the ways I take advantage of extra time is to listen to podcasts. I love writing podcasts in particular. I listen to podcasts mostly in the car and during workouts. There is a rotation but I always learn something.

Favorite Podcasts:

  1. Why is This Good? Naples Writers’ Workshop
  2. How Do You Write? Rachael Herron
  3. The Writers Well Podcast J Thorn and Rachael Herron
  4. How Writers Write
  5. Stop Writing Alone Nicole Rivera
  6. Qwerty Marion Roach Smith
  7. Fierce Womxn Writing
  8. Good Life Project
  9. Any podcast with Karissa Kouchis as a guest.

I also like audio courses. I have been listening to Tony Robbins and his Personal Power 30 day program and his Beautiful State training.

Listen to what fuels you and write down the memories and stories that come to mind as you listen. Write about those ideas.

Write in the Edges

I learned a long time ago that if I want to make sure I do something, I have to schedule it.

Write now, open your planner/schedule and plan a 10 minute writing time for the next 7 days.

During that time write:

  1. A memory
  2. Whatever comes to mind
  3. The story about one of your notes
  4. A reflection of a favorite line from something you read
  5. A new story based on a title of something you have read
  6. Morning Pages
  7. Anything in response to a journal prompt
  8. How you are feeling in that moment

My advice is also to carry a notebook and write down ideas that strike you, an overhead conversation, an interesting detail, a 5 senses description of where you are throughout the day. I strive for at least 10 snippets a day.

If you don’t like the notebook use a note taking app on your phone. I am partial to Google Keep. It backs itself up (I lost a whole note app full of gems I can never get back – a whole other story.) You can share notes and also easily make it a Google Doc. You can also use voice to text in this app which works for me when walking or driving. If you run and try to talk there are weird connections of words the device will pick up!

Challenges

Challenges give me a structure and a schedule. There are small challenges and large ones but I gravitate to 30 day or 100 challenges. Some examples are: Storyaday May and September, NANOWRIMO, #the100dayproject, Five Minute Friday (FMF), and Two Writing Teachers blogging.

Storyaday: This challenge is hosted by Julie Duffy and it is just what it sounds like: one story a day for the month of May and/or September. I have challneged my middle school students to do this challenge as well.

NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing month. This challenge is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

#the100dayproject: A creative challenge that starts at the beginning of April. The artist creates something every day. In 2020, I wrote a random sentence every day and am creating a short story based on these sentences. Some people do post it note drawings, or doodles, or paintings, or 100 word essays, or poems. It is up to you!

FMF: Hosted by Kate Motaung Kate posts a word on Friday with a great visual. You write with this word for five minutes.

Two Writing Teachers Blog: Every Tuesday, teacher writers post on their own blogs and link up on the TWT blog. In March there is a daily blog challenge where there is support and lots of comments.

Join A Group

There are lots of groups to choose from. Lots of time if you take a class or workshop you can find people you want to continue to talk to after the course is over. There are many writing groups online that are more public like Twitter and Instagram.

There are communities you can join such as Storyaday Superstars, Ninja Writers, Sarah Selecky Writing School, Teachwrite, and Jackie Aston. Almost every author you follow has a connection to a community somewhere. I found Storyaday by Googling several years ago. Find your people!

The point is you want to find a group that is nourishing to you. Some are paid, some are free but you may have to try a few before you find the one where you fit.

Connection

After you try one or all six of these ideas, your brain will start to make connections to how this translates to your classroom. It can even be one of the things you write about during your scheduled 10 minutes.

If you write, you are a writer.

Your students will listen to you more as a model of being a writer rather than being someone who just talks about writing. There must be action.

Next Right Step

Make a change in your writing life today. Write something. Buy a notebook and a pen you like.

Your students will thank you.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

What Story Are You Telling Yourself? #SOL20

I write every Tuesday and share on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Join other teachers that share their writing and thoughts.

Think about a time you were teaching and you CRUSHED it! It was one of those lessons that went so perfect you wish you would have taped it or that your principal was in the back of the room frantically writing the notes of how brilliant your classroom is.

What were you doing? What had you done before the lesson began? What are your students doing? What were you saying to yourself?

What were you wearing? Where were you standing? Did you have a Powerpoint? What materials were out?

Get yourself back into that moment. See it in your mind’s eye and feel what it felt to be in that moment.

***

I have several moments that I like to come back to from my 25 years as an educator. One is from early in my teaching career when I was teaching first grade. We had gathered on the floor in a circle to share our writing journals. I had established a clear rhythm of family meeting that ended with a read aloud and then we wrote a group chart and then students wrote independently. I sat in the circle with everyone and had given the directions that someone would read and then we would ask questions about what was not clear and then also tell the writer what we loved about the writing.

I started the activity and guided the first couple of writers and the comments. Then my kids took over. They asked each other questions and took turns like expert writer workshop participants. I was awed. I slowly backed out of the circle because they didn’t need me. I watched as my students gave helpful feedback and suggestions. The writers knew the piece was still theirs and if they didn’t like the feedback they didn’t have to use it. I was so proud of my little students. My heart was so full that day.

I can literally tap into this experience because I have associated it within my physiology by my right hand tapping on my upper chest, right under my neck. I can get back to this moment by triggering the memory with the hand motion. I know young students are capable of doing great things because I have seen it. Even if I haven’t seen it with my own eyes I know I can find studies and stories from other teachers who have with their students. I can piggy back off their experience to fuel my own.

Over the next few weeks, I am creating a teacher identity that exemplifies what I want to accomplish this school year no matter what it looks like.

Here are some of the questions I am asking myself:

What adjectives would you use to describe yourself as a level 10 teacher?

What outcomes do you want to consistently create over the school year?

What actions do you need to take to ensure those outcomes are reached?

What mantras do you need to remember to bring you back to your goals? I wrote about this one here.

What three things if I do every day at school will guarantee I have a successful day?

What gives me energy during the school day and what depletes it?

What beliefs do I have about school, my students, and my teaching? Are they limiting or empowering?

I would love to hear about your teaching moment that you brought to the forefront of your memories!

Sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already! I would love to connect!