This year I decided that my personal professional learning and development was going to focus on writing: teaching writing, being a writer, coaching writers, making space in my life for writing, centering my department’s work on studying and discussing writing. To that end, I decided to finally apply for the Hudson Valley Writing Project’s Leadership in the Teaching of Writing year-long institute (insert totally-warranted husband’s “And you’re going to fit that in where, exactly?” side-eye image here). I’m ⅔ of the way through, and I and my students are reaping the rewards of the investment.
In one of our summer “month-long-days” we’d been talking about the distinction between teaching writing vs. teaching writers, and discussing Robert Yagelski’s profound perspective of writing as praxis – writing as a way of being. The contrasts to traditional teaching of writing where the goal is to create specific products designed to satisfy other people – teachers and scorers of standardized tests – are profound. And we were doing some writing about it.
One of the pieces we were invited to write was a letter to our students about our beliefs about writing. When I began playing with this piece, I felt as if the words were flying through my fingers, and the reaction from my cohort was positive enough that I felt perhaps I should, indeed, share this letter with my student writers. I knew I would speak at and with them extensively about what writing is, what it can do, the power of proclaiming one’s voice, the significance of sharing our stories, but I realized that – as I had learned in the past – my students would most likely benefit from feeling as though I was writing directly to and about them. We all want to feel important, right? Receiving letters makes us feel seen.
I printed and distributed the following letter to my students, and read it to them in my own voice, so they would hear my inflection, associating my voice with what I believed about my work and about them.
I believe that writing is our future.
Ok, maybe children are really our future, but writing is our present. Our presence.
The way we navigate from here to there
Work through problems.
It’s a better strategy than fighting through them, or accusing others of creating them since even if they did, we’re the ones who have to figure them out and live with them and hopefully move beyond them.
Writing exercises the mind, and the mind NEEDS to stretch, wants to grow. Inertia is death to the mind as well as to the body.
Writing gives us a way to share, to communicate, to express our faulted selves, to shout to the world that we are here, and we deserve to be seen and heard and remembered.
Writing makes us more sensitive, more empathetic, more open when we gift ourselves with vulnerability.
I believe that in order to be comfortable with writing, we must do A LOT of it, REGULARLY, in LOW – STAKES settings.
In teacher speak, that means I don’t read it all.
And I definitely don’t grade it all.
I believe we must think of writing as a way of being, as practice. Don’t we always practice before performing? We need a lot of practice.
Writing makes us stronger, or weaker, but better nonetheless at being human, feeling our humanity, and navigating the complexity of it.
Writing helps us to learn. Writing then is a tool for learning, not just a way to prove we have learned.
So go ahead – take risks. Explore. Take the other side. Dramatize your understanding. Write back, write to argue, write to empathize, write to expose, write to think, write to play, write to comprehend, write to uncover, write to mimic and discover and process and change and cope and motivate and love and live.
Writing is living. You are a writer, writing.
Writing is transformative. Writing is liberation.
In solidarity with you as a writer, writing,
We’ve been on a transformative journey as writers together this fall, and I like to think that perhaps, this letter has helped to get us started.
Michelle G. Bulla is a high school English teacher and the 9-12 department chair at Monroe-Woodbury High School in southern Orange County, NY. She’s also a Teacher Consultant with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, and a member of the Executive Board for NYSEC where she serves in several capacities. She’d love nothing more than to continue this conversation with you as her favorite topic is her hashtag, #TeachersWhoEvolve. Find her on Twitter @china93doll or via email at email@example.com.