Marathons

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. My father was a distance runner and I was raised on stories of running. “Reeks’s Theorem: In a closed-circuit run, there’s always more uphill than downhill.” “My coach used to say, ‘How tired are you? If a lion was chasing you, could you keep running?”

I ran cross-country in high school, exactly half my life ago. I did well enough for the tiny team at my school, but never competed seriously much beyond our 3 mile races and the odd 5k “Turkey Trot.” But on Sunday, my younger son’s second birthday, I purchased a bib for a half marathon.

No one is more surprised than I am. But, the thing is, I think I can actually do it. I have a training regimen, a gradual build mile after mile, day after day, over the next four months. I can envision it. My husband said the other day, “Well, you can run 3 miles already. It’s just 10 more.”

Marathoning seems to be the theme of my world right now, no less so than this slice of life challenge. I’ve never blogged, never journaled, but here I am, committing to a daily entry. And I have a vision of what it might look like to achieve it. After all, I’ve written 5 posts so far – it’s only 26 more than I’ve written in my life before. But I have a vision. An entry a day. Support from the crowd of Slicers. The possibility of a reward at the end!
This is what I want students and teachers to understand about stamina. That there are tasks that look insurmountable. That there are quests that are nowhere near what you’ve taken on before in your life, or even in your wildest dreams. But you can make a plan, and you can gather support, and then you can go for it.

Stamina is knowing that you’re tired, really tired even, but if the lion was chasing you, you could keep going. And so you do.

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Audience

I’ve been thinking about what it means to write for an audience. Last night as my mind wandered as I cooked, I had some Big Thoughts I wanted to process. An upshot of writing more now is that I really wanted to turn to writing to process them. I really believe that generating language around our ideas allows us to form them more fully, and these were the kind of Big Thoughts I wasn’t interested in talking through.

“Aha!” I thought. “Tomorrow is SOL day! Perfect timing!” And then I froze. There was no way that I wanted these Big Thoughts put before anyone else’s eyes. I already had an audience for this writing after all: me. Of course – this is why blogs and journals are distincitly different forms.

This got me thinking about the students in our classrooms and when they have the opportunity to write just for themselves. Throughout our days, and in our writing workshops, we ask our students to write to process their thinking across content areas – and we make that public. In our writing workshops, sometimes this writing is even deeply personal, as students construct essays and narratives they hold close to their hearts – but the expectation is that this (largely) public. Of course, many teachers allow students to fold over pages or whatnot to flag sometihng as private, but our emphasis during this writing time is still on working on somethign as a writer, on acquiring transferrable writing skills.

How, then, do we tell kids – sometimes, you just need to think through the things that are sitting heavy on your heart? Just write.

Just write.

Words Are Magic

“Mom, I learned something today!” N said, climbing into the car after school.

“What did you learn?”
“I learned that words are magic!” he said.

***

I’ve started this post umpteen times over the past two days (so much for every Tuesday! Attempting to allow myself a little grace on this…) I have this beautiful micromoment on my mind – the highlight of my week, really – and yet I’m stumped when it comes to crafting it into anything longer than a quote for my “N” book.

Before I was a teacher, I worked as ane ditor; I love precise langauge and accuracy. But, just like the kids I see every day, sometimes that editor gets in the way. So I’m setting myself this challenge. For the next ten minutes, I’m just going to freewrite off of this phrase, using some of those heavy handed sentence starters we hand kids as scaffolds. I’m in need of scaffolding… I’ll see you in 10.

***

“Mom, I learned something today!” N said, climbing into the car after school.

“What did you learn?” “I learned that words are magic!” he said.

When we emailed this to his dad, G,┬álater, we got back the most beautiful and thoughtful musing on the Berlin wall (where G is traveling right now). How did G reach to that one phrase and exactly nail why it is that it’s so important that N understand the power of writing. This is just what I want all kids that I work with to understand, that their words have the power to wound or heal. It also reminded me of G’s power to really listen (and, I guess, read) and get to the heart of the matter. What could have been just a cute anecdote, he was able to translate into a real moment of learning for N.

So one thing I’m thinking is that I want to make sure that this undercurrent becomes an overcurrent. I used to say, “Reading is Thinking!” to my kids every day when I taught primary grades – I wanted them to think every time they picked up a book, no matter what, even those kids in boring little readers with not much soul-searching to offer. What kind of similar refrain can we use in writing to remind kids that they are always writing for purpose? They’re not just getting words on a page, they’re not just sharing something cute, but that their words have the power to transform people’s lives. THAT’s why they should be writing.

Another thing I’m thinking about is the “close reading” that G did of N’s email. This wasn’t some fancy complex text – it was an email we dashed off on our way to bedtime. But G as a sophisticated reader didn’t let it just wash over him. He took the time to think about why those words would have stuck for N and to respond to that piece. Again, this is something I want studetns to do all the time – to see that there’s more than just the sentence on the page. The author chose that sentence for a reason and the conversation the author wants to have with you is about the reason the sentence is there, not the words of the sentence themselves. (And there’s another notion! The notion that every word an author puts down is inviting a conversation with a reader.)

***

True story: before I began writing, I checked my email. The notion of freewriting and not editing myself was uncomfortable. But I did it – and I’m pleased with what happened. I felt like I got to what it was I was trying to say. If I was going to exapnd this and develop it, I know the kernel of truth I’m going for now – and I can decide how much of that I want to keep – and it might just be the thinking. At the very least, I practiced writing and thinking during my writing time – and isn’t that really the goal?

 

Trust and Professionalism

Last week, in my coaching, I got to talking with a teacher about the notion of professionalism. We thought about the peculiar duality we have in our paths as teachers. On the one hand, we are treated like hourly employees, with our contracted hours, documentation of professional development across a range of inane categories, recording of clock hours to move up the pay scale. On the other, there is an expectation that we behave like professionals – putting in all the hours necessary to get the job done, managing upwards of 25 separate projects (let’s face it: if we’re taking our jobs seriously, we’re managing each child’s learning trajectory separately), continuously advancing our professional knowledge “outside of the office.”

Today, our district has reminded us, over and over, that they don’t trust our professionalism. Email after email “reminds” us of our commitment to our children, laced with the implication that if we call in sick when we’re not really sick, we’ll be “in trouble.” And though I had no intention of doing so, and so this changes nothing in my actual behavior, it sure undermines my desire to work. Say all the nice words you want to me about my goals – I’m savvy enough to know when I’m being managed, and insulted that you don’t trust me to do my best work. And the more you insult me, the less I want to do good work for you.

This has me thinking about our workshop students, and the importance of building their independence not just so we are free to confer with other children, but because in doing so we trust them to be learning professionals. So often, I see teachers move their students toward independence, but then doubt them (or, perhaps, themselves) at the last minute and tuck in some ham-fisted management. And I’m suspecting that what the kids hear sounds a lot like what I’ve heard this week: “I know you’re capable of doing your best, but I don’t really think you’re going to do it.” I’m asking myself: how do I help teachers see the difference between having independent workers and learning professionals?