Our Reading and Writing Lives

This morning, I was lucky enough to begin my day with a few quiet moments of reflection. Having just wrapped up the last of the cycle of Grade Level meetings (6 in all) over a 2 week period of time, I appreciated having time to reflect on the diverse conversations, strengths and desires of each group. I realized that the most meaningful and enjoyable part of each meeting came from taking Stephanie Affinito’s advice: “Leave the title of coach and teacher behind and simply engage as readers and writers.”

To be honest, this wasn’t my first intention. In New York State, we are in the process of rolling out revised learning standards called “Next Generation Standards.” Rather than diving into the standards, I followed some valuable advice and began by asking teachers to reflect on themselves as readers and writers. We captured our thoughts on paper (or laptop) and then I opened the floor to share. Suddenly we were sharing titles, passing books across the table, and confessing our likes and dislikes of certain text types. Sure we shared children’s book titles but we also discussed the latest book by Kristin Hannah and the empowering books by Brene Brown. We even shared favorite podcasts featuring interviews with favorite authors. The most exciting outcome of this discussion came from a display in my office inspired by Pernille Ripp, where I post color copies of book covers that I have read. Not only did these titles fuel conversation, but they also lead a teacher to suggest that we create a bulletin board in the hallways where all staff can share what they are reading! After the meeting I ran to the librarian and we made a plan to facilitate the creation of this board we’re calling: “We are all readers.”

The initial phases of our new bulletin board.

When it came time to reflect on our writing lives, the level of engagement varied from group to group. Some teachers shared that they journal to help process life’s challenges, another revealed that he has dabbled in writing a science fiction novel, and a grandmother said that she captures the funny things her granddaughter says in a notebook. The moment that brought the biggest smile to my face was one when teacher bravely admitted, “I think I have a hard time teaching writing because I don’t write myself.” Wow! What insightful honesty! That sparked a conversation about how intimidating the blank page can be and how much courage it takes to share your writing. So many of us carry memories of the punitive red pen covering our writing as students. These experiences communicate that writing is something to be criticized not celebrated. We discussed the courage it takes to write and the benefits of being a teacher writer. I passed out copies of Ralph Fletcher’s seminal piece, A Writer’s Notebook, and we made a commitment to write alongside our students.

Most teacher meetings focus on curriculum, instruction and data. Launching that work by reflecting on our own reading and writing identities enables us to consider how those identities impact our teaching and the students in front of us. As I put my literacy coach hat back on, I realize that these conversations led to stronger relationships, new and exciting revelations about my colleagues and some exciting new steps to help all community members celebrate their reading and writing lives.