This morning marks the first day of my experience in the University of Illinois Writing Project and probably of a new vision for writing instruction in my career. We opened with an activity where we drew out a visualization of a recent writing process that we experienced on a sheet of transparency “paper”. My collage more or less tracked the process of writing responses to application questions — writing that, for me, became associated with the emotional roller coaster that is job searching the past couple years. I don’t remember a time that writing hit an all-time-low for me in my life. Sad, I thought, that this was really the memory of one of the last big pieces of writing that I wrote, revised, revised again and then finally submitted. But, while this blog stands as the depository for many of my reflective thoughts over the course my career, it is not a work that I am measured by. I’ve been proud of posts I’ve had here, etc, but I am still apparently healing from some of the trauma of trying so hard to put best foot first (so the saying goes) and being blind to how, where or when my career would start to bloom. These application responses betrayed much of of the enjoyment of my high school or college writing and soured the writing process that led me to become a teacher in the first place.
After presenting the visualizations, our discussions revolved around the common themes of our interpretations of the writing process. Indeed, we all saw how emotionally-charged the writing experience can be. With so many stages and so much thought, writing is quite an investment. Many of us agreed that, over the years, writing has also become so much more social. Of course, no discussion in a room full of teachers would not be complete without our sidebars of what’s missing in curriculum, textbooks and even students’ perceptions of this so necessary skill in our 21st century world.
What’s been most impressive so far has been that many of our discussions come back to very personal experiences by either us as writers or our students as writers. You know you’re in a writing-friendly environment when your discussion comes back to a call by many of us to re-ignite the joy in writing. [Insert graphics of fellow nodding heads…] Joy, as a single word, seemed to captivate us and encapsulate so much of what probably drew me and my colleagues here to the UIWP. Joy can communicate how we feel as teachers when valuable one-one-one feedback meetings result in growth in future student writing. Or joy can communicate that sense of adventure when a short story takes a turn the writer didn’t see coming. Or, or joy can communicate that student work, that, thought it doesn’t directly address a prompt, would tug at any reader’s heart, whether it be for its deep personal connections or for its growth into a whole new meaning to the assignment itself. Or, or, or joy can communicate that final act of submission or making the deadline. Or, or, or, or…
As an adult, I do have a lot more power than some of my students to reflect and take control of my thoughts. So, I’m glad that I can and have now re-oriented my feelings toward writing back to where they should be — in the joy. But, as I move into the future of my career, I need to stay focused on the joy of writing (and really of learning in general) being my central driving force. Otherwise, what’s left in the quality of my work?
I’m obviously in the midst of some very passionate teachers, many of whom are not English teachers by focus. No doubt, then, that we will have a strong culture from which to expand our knowledge, improve our craft and ultimately deepen literacy for our school communities.