Why WE Write: A Department That Writes Together #WhyIWrite

Why WE Write: A Department That Writes Together #WhyIWrite
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By Heather Rocco, @TheEdCollab

To celebrate NCTE’s National Day on Writing we are sharing posts from The Educator Collaborative family today. Follow the official hashtag: #WhyIWrite

“Okay, everyone.  Let’s settle in.”  The din decreases to a whisper as everyone takes a seat in the classroom while I take a quick last minute glance at the day’s agenda and slideshow.  It looks as if we are all set to begin.  

“Can you take out your writer’s notebooks, please?”  Arms stretch down into the backpacks and tote bags, extracting composition notebooks and journals of all different shapes and colors.  Sheepishly, one or two bodies turn to their neighbors and ask to borrow some paper.  They contritely murmur, “Sorry. I forgot my notebook today.”  I smile my “no worries” smile. “Bring it next time.”     

“We’ll write for seven minutes today.  I’ll keep time.  Are we ready?”  Heads nod as everyone seeks an empty page in their notebooks.  “Let’s write.”  The classroom turns into a silent sanctuary as these writers fill their pages with whatever they have in their minds and hearts at 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon.  

Freewriting is common practice in our English classrooms.  However, this scene does not depict my classroom.  This is a scene from our department meeting for secondary English language arts teachers.  Each month, we dedicate a few meeting minutes to write in our writer’s notebooks and feel the energy that writing communities create.

After several years of concentrated study and exploration of reading instruction, our department’s professional development focus has returned to teaching writing this year.  We are reading and discussing professional texts such as Writing with Mentors by Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti and The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M. Colleen Cruz.  We are giving our students more opportunities to write about what interests them.  We are expanding our essay assignments from mostly literary analysis to a better balance of narrative, informational and argumentative texts.  We are exploring ways to provide our students authentic audiences, showing them how powerful their words are and how far they can travel. We are providing our students rich writing lives.

In all of his books on teaching writing, Donald Graves urges teachers to write with their students.  Over the last year or so, I have gently nudged my teachers to do more writing, encouraging them to write the assignments they give their students, to write blog posts on topics of interest to them, and to compose articles about their fantastic teaching.  Some have followed my advice. Others find it difficult to make time for writing in their lives.

As their supervisor, then, I wanted to offer them the time and space to write because I know that writers make better writing teachers.  So on every department meeting agenda, somewhere amongst our typical list that includes book talks, ignite presentations and discussion items, the teachers will find a “Let’s Write” agenda item.  Amidst our busy days and meetings, we will carve out seven to ten minutes to sit in a room and write in our notebooks.  

My hope is to build a true writing community where teachers share their writing, brainstorm ideas, and seek feedback from one another.  My hope is that we will make more time for writing in our lives because of these brief bursts of inspirations each month. For now, I am happy to give teachers the gift of a few minutes to feel the joy and the struggle, the release and the restoration that writing provides.

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