back to school · COVID-19 · notebooks · remote learning · slice of life · Teachers who write · writing workshop

Write the Moments: Documenting a Most Unusual School Year

Consider Mary Oliver‘s advice: “Instructions for Living a Life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

If ever there were a moment in education to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it in our writing, I wager it’s now. This is the season of school evolving and changing. This is the back to school season with words we never imagined before- sneeze guards, Zoom breakouts, synchronous and asynchronous, mask breaks, temperature checks, distance learning, hybrid model. What we always knew is no longer, for the most part. What remains? How do we teach well in a COVID-19 world? What matters? What doesn’t?

This year, we need to write the moments. We need to document the way education is evolving. We need to write all the messy parts that astonish us, surprise us, change us. We need to record this for history, for our own reflection, for making sense of what is happening, for getting to the other side of the difficulties and discovering what does work well and why.  We are the ones in the classrooms (in person or virtual) and we are the ones who need to tell these stories.

How might you go about documenting this year in teaching? Here are a few ideas:

Digital Time Capsule 

This summer, I took an online class, Crafting Digital Time Capsules, offered by the Colorado Writing Project and facilitated by our very own Amy Ellerman. The idea was to help students use Google Sites as a place to store different types of authentic, purposeful writing they were doing to capture this moment in time. Students created memes, vlogs, poetry, narratives and more. Because their work was in Google Sites, it would always stay with them as part of their Google account. Years from now, they could look back on 2020 and the writing they did about what was happening in their personal world and the greater community.

I wanted to try my own digital time capsule to get familiar with Google Sites, which was new to me. My digital time capsule included mostly photographs that I took and captions I wrote to explain why the photo was meaningful at that time. I also included links to my blog posts, memes that I had saved and short videos. My digital time capsule is still a work in progress but you can see what I did here.

Creating this digital time capsule has helped me reflect and process all that happened this past spring. The photos captured the moments that mattered to me and they tell a story of what life was like when New York (and so many other places) shut down in March.

 There are many ways you can try this idea. You can create a digital time capsule for your teaching year. Take pictures and write about what that picture means. Structure it by months, like I did, or by seasons or even by forms of writing (narrative, reflection, informational, letter writing, etc.) You can also try this with your students and together create a class digital time capsule for what matters to them as learners this year. Amy’s vision was for each student to have their own digital time capsule which is an amazing endeavor to try as well.

A digital time capsule of my teaching year for 20-21 would include this picture- my beloved rocking chair being stored to make room for spreading out students for social distancing.

Notebook Writing

Back in 2016, I wrote an apology to my writer’s notebook for abandoning it. The truth is, I haven’t been a great notebook-keeper. But I think this (really) is the year to have a notebook nearby. There will be so many thoughts, questions, worries, and hopefully successes. I plan to keep a notebook at the ready and use it for quick jots, questions I want to come back to and the stories of teaching and learning at this moment in time. I’m hoping these quick writes can help me to grow ideas for more developed pieces of writing. Michelle Haseltine has launched a notebook initiative that you can follow with #100daysofnotebooking. There is a group on Facebook (#100DaysofNotebooking and BEYOND!) which can be a support for keeping your notebook alive and as a useful tool to you as a writer. We have many posts on writer’s notebooks at TWT that you can explore here.

Slice of Life

On Tuesdays here at Two Writing Teachers, we “write, share, give”. All you need is a blog and you can be part of this community of educators who write and share our stories weekly. (March is our month-long challenge where we write and share each day, but in every other month, we share on Tuesdays.) You will have an evolving story of your school year as you share weekly, little bits of your life as an educator in the 20-21 school year. Writing and sharing on Tuesdays helps you live life as a writer- knowing that every week, you have a piece to publish. The Slice of Life community is a kind, generous, smart group of educators who walk the walk of living like a writer as they teach their students to grow as writers. You are always welcome! Check out more information about Slice of Life here. My recent Slice of Life post reflects on how we can model for students how to handle challenging circumstances in this school year, something I’ve been thinking a lot about. This is an example of how you can share your own reflections about teaching as a Slice of Life post.

Padlet for Photos/Poems

In October 2016, I embarked on a passion project. I decided to take a picture each day of something meaningful and write a haiku to match the image. I wrote about it here. Padlet is a versatile digital tool that can be great for quick snapshots of your thinking. You can make it private and have your thoughts be your own digital notebook. You can upload links, videos, photos, etc. You can also make it collaborative if you wanted to share the page with colleagues or other educators. You can also change the settings to make your Padlet public and post your thinking. If you wanted to tell the story of your teaching year in pictures and images, you could choose to do the haiku like I did or even a 6 word memoir for each picture. At the end of a school day (or during a Prep), you might make a quick video of some of your thinking. You can later upload that to Padlet if you want a place to store it. Then, you can reflect on your thinking from the video by adding text. I made a brief video explaining some of the options with Padlet and how to change the privacy.

Contribute to Voices from the Community

As you write the moments this year, and reflect deeply on how education is evolving, consider writing a post to share with us at Two Writing Teachers. We are inviting in Voices from the Community, which we hope will be an on-going feature of our site. I announced this initiative last week in this post. Educators who pay attention to all that is happening in classrooms and schools and reflect on powerful teaching moves that make a difference to students can help all of us to improve our own practice. We hope that as you jot in your notebook, add a video message to your padlet, share a blog post about your teaching day, or look back at a digital time capsule you’ve created, ideas begin to come together that reveal a bigger story or truth about teaching writing in the year 2020. All of the thinking and quick-writing that you take the time to do can be seed ideas for your longer, more thought-out, polished piece (just like we teach the students, right?). This polished piece is the one we would love for you to contribute to Voices from the Community. Where Slice of Life is more narrative, a Voices from the Community post would be similar in style to the posts shared on TWT every other day of the week. There are specific categories we are looking for in regards to submissions: teaching writing with a social justice lens, teaching writing in the time of COVID-19, increasing writing in the content areas, considerations for teaching special education students, considerations for teaching EAL students, and tips/ strategies/ reflections for coaches. Please keep these categories in mind as you write about your experiences teaching this year. We are very excited to read the submissions and share more voices from our community, with our community.

You are invited

You are invited to write the moments. The messy, mask-wearing, computer-crashing moments. The joyful moments that we pray do come. The Aha! moments that you connect theory to practice, where you experience something you planned taking off brilliantly. The Uh-Oh moments where your perfect plans crash-land and the lesson is a complete flop. All of the moments that make up a teaching day inside a teaching year. Write them for yourself. Write them for our community. Write a little of both. To everything, there is a season, and this is the time to pay attention, be astonished, and write about it all.


3 thoughts on “Write the Moments: Documenting a Most Unusual School Year

  1. I am encouraging everyone I know to document these times in which we are living.
    This is a great post to help them think about the different ways they may be able to do that.
    Thanks, Kathleen!! You are such an incredible mentor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Terrific ideas. Great writing. I’m checking out Google Sites! I don’t consider myself a writer (tho, I teach it to 2nd graders who love it!) but this year, yes, I agree with you and think it is a Must Do. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Victoria! If you write, your a writer! I am so excited you feel inspired. Hope we see you on Tuesdays for SOL or maybe a Voices from the Community post! Even if you just keep your writing for yourself, this is such an important time to document what is going on.


Comments are closed.