2018 was the year I became a writer. I had always written but my writing stayed
safely tucked inside of my writer’s notebook. And while I would write pieces to serve as models during my teaching, I rarely took a piece through the writing process and shared it with the world. As the New Year ball was about to drop, I set an intention: This year, I would be brave and put myself out there; sharing my writing, and myself, with the world.
TeachWrite Tribe and Slice of Life Challenge
A few months later, Shelley and I founded Lit Coach Connection and set up our blog. We each wrote our inaugural blog post for TeachWrite and after our first Teachwrite twitter chat, hooked up with the amazing group of educators who became our writing teacher tribe. When Jennifer Laffin, the director of TeachWrite, asked, “Who wants to join a Voxer group?” We enthusiastically exclaimed, “We do!” Soon the voices of teachers from around the US and Canada kept me company each morning as they told about their journeys as writers and teachers of writing. It was through this group that we learned about the Slice of Life Challenge. At first we thought, “No way could we write every day for the month of March!” With encouragement and many testimonials about the power of daily writing and sharing your work, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it!”
During that month, I became a writer. Writing daily made me live a more present and rich life. I connected with so many writers as we read and commented on one another’s posts. By the time April 1st came along, I was a different person.
Plans for Connected Writing Teachers
As Shelley and I reflected on our month of writing, we decided that we wanted to bring this experience to more writing teachers. We believe wholeheartedly that we all have a voice and through support and community, we give each other the courage and confidence to put it out there. We began brainstorming for a virtual writing group to take place over the summer of 2018. Our mission was twofold: to nurture teachers as writers themselves and to consider how being a writer would impact their teaching. We explored many books about writing to guide our writing group and decided upon Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within. The text was the first I read as a new writing teacher nearly 20 years ago. Here is was again, serving as inspiration for Lit Coach Connection’s first summer writing group. We named our group “Connected Writing Teachers”. Shelley created a virtual invitation and within hours, we had close to 10 teachers sign up. We sent an introductory letter with directions on how to join our closed Google Community and launched our group in July.
Our Connected Writing Teacher Tribe
Our group of 17 members included elementary teachers and ELA high school teachers, an ESL teacher, literacy coaches, a former science teacher who was just getting back into teaching writing and a teacher with a mindfulness business on the side. We had members from all over the United States and Canada who recognized that it was unfair to sit back and critique their student writing and not engage in the writing process themselves. They were looking to connect with their students and knew that being writers themselves would foster that connection.
Our Google community was organized by chapters from Fletcher’s book. Each week teacher writers read 2 chapters and tried out Fletcher’s suggested techniques. The writing was low stakes. We invited participants to snap photos of their writing or share a Google Doc. We then commented on each other’s work and supported one another.
We shared photos of our writers’ notebooks and explained our choices. We wrote about small moments, quotes, unforgettable stories, and things that we wonder about. We shared our concerns about the state of the world, stories of our childhoods, places and people who inspire us. We considered parenthood, aging, loss, and letting go. We shared snatches of talk we overheard strangers utter in coffee shops and our children express at home. We all agreed that this writing experience led us to be more present in our lives and savor our sacred quiet and leisurely time of summer. Additionally, we shared resources, recommended podcasts, book titles and teaching techniques. We “met” virtually via a Zoom chat and engaged in a conversation about our experiences with our writers’ notebooks.
By the end of the summer, we had formed a tribe of teacher writers. We were more confident about our writing identities and ability to share our joy around writing with our students. One member shared:
“I was a little nervous about it because I am not really a writer even though I think that I am pretty good at it when I have to. I loved the connections that were made through the community and I liked reading the writing of others. I think that this was really helpful for me as I get back to teaching ELA. I am an aspiring ELA Coach so I may have been watching the way you both helped to guide our book group too. You were great models that always gave helpful feedback and encouraging comments. Thank you so much for all that you do.”
As Shelley and I are in the midst of the Slice of Life Challenge 2019, I am reminded again of the richness that writing and being a part of a community of writers brings to my life. We remain committed to supporting and nurturing teacher writers and, therefore, are making plans for another summer writing group this summer!