After evaluating the quality of writing instruction in the regular classroom, what’s next? For teachers who discover that they need to reevaluate how they address writing in their classrooms, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, and uncertain of the steps to take to improve their instructional practices. Teaching writing is intimidating and challenging, but can also be one of the most rewarding experiences for an educator.
One step that teachers can take during the journey to improving their writing instruction is to become a teacher-writer. After all, how can you teach something that you do not do? Would a math teacher avoid working out math problems? No. Would a science teacher never conduct an experiment? No. So why would a writing teacher not write? Again, I think that the answer circles back to the idea that writing is intimidating. I also believe that it is hard for one to identify as a writer. It’s easy to think of writers as those authors with published works instead of anyone who puts pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard. Writers seem almost to be mythical creatures and as a result, identifying one’s self as a writer can be as intimidating as teaching writing.
So, what can a teacher do? First, it’s important to be a teacher who writes. Teachers who write will be able to connect with their students and to better be able to share the writing journey with them. Therefore, it’s important to start putting words onto paper (or onto the screen). The words do not need to be perfect. The idea is to feel what students experience and to share the writing journey with them. Too often, writing instruction becomes about assigning and grading student work. Teachers who write are able to connect with their students in an authentic, meaningful way.
The journey to being a teacher-writer does not need to be a solitary one as there are many other teacher-writers who are also on this odyssey. In particular, there are online groups who provide considerable resources and support for teacher-writers. One such group can be found through twowritingteachers.org. The Slice of Life (SOL) blogging community at twowritingteachers.org is a great place for teacher-writers not only to share their writing, but also to connect with other teachers who write. On Tuesdays, the folks at twowritingteachers.org invite teacher-writers to provide a link to their blog posts and ask that bloggers comment on at least three others posts. Every March, the SOL challenge at twowritingteachers.org encourages teacher-writers to blog for 31 days. Those teacher-writers who complete the challenge not only experience the euphoria of having written for 31 days straight, but also have the opportunity to win some amazing prizes. In addition to the SOL challenge, the teacher-writers who oversee twowritingteachers.org also provide valuable resources on the website that can support classroom writing instruction. In addition, their monthly Twitter chats enable teacher-writers from all over the globe to connect, share ideas, and learn from each other.
Teachwrite.org is another one of my favorite online spaces that supports teacher-writers. Created by Jennifer Laffin, Teach Write supports teacher writers in so many ways, including targeted professional development opportunities. The Teach Write Facebook group is a place to share writing accomplishments and Jennifer’s Writing Round-Up is an incredible resource published on a weekly basis. In addition, the Teach Write twitter chats, using #teachwrite, provide a platform for making connections and for sharing.
Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, and Gae Polisner host Teachers Write, a free online professional development opportunity during the summer that is another excellent opportunity for teacher-writers. Mini-lessons and quick-writes are provided as a part of Teachers Write, including opportunities to connect directly with published writers. Participants can share their works-in-process and receive feedback from their peers, as well as from the authors.
While instructional issues won’t immediately disappear, the process of becoming a teacher who writes can cultivate and support the evolution of classroom writing instruction.