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What Matters Most…and Am I Acting Like It?

This is one of the questions Elizabeth Benton of Primal Potential has posed in her quest to help people become better thinkers. It can apply to any aspect of your life (your relationships, finances, the way you eat, parenting, etc.) When I ask myself, as a teacher of writing, what matters most AND am I acting like it….it is a place for me to start. To recognize the gap between what I believe and what I’ve been practicing. To take small action steps to move towards more alignment between my beliefs and my teaching.

Why is there a gap between my beliefs and my practices? Ah, Elizabeth Benton would say not to give energy to the problem- to put more energy into finding solutions. But…briefly, it feels like teaching writing the way I know it needs to be taught takes more time than I have. With 23 students and every subject to teach, reading and math get most of my focus. With several reading groups to plan for and with math involving concept development, fact fluency, and problem solving, most of my instructional planning goes there. Writing also feels like an uphill battle this year. Several students did not attend school in person for over a year and a half and writing literary essays (my current curricular expectation) feels impossible when some students struggle to understand texts and to compose a simple paragraph. 

Staying with the problem a little longer, as a mom to two elementary school aged children, when I get home from teaching, my “second shift” starts- driving to after school activities and doctor’s appointments, making dinner, assisting with homework, bedtime routine, etc. I don’t have much (if any) time when the school day ends to dedicate to teaching. The amount of work teachers have to do outside of the work day to be ready to teach and to assess student growth is a systemic problem, in my opinion. Angela Watson explores this idea more fully in her book Fewer Things Better. 

I read the beautiful posts my colleagues write on TWT and I long to have useful, practical and inspiring tips to offer this community. To be that kind of teacher who can write from experience what she is trying in her classroom and what works so well. The truth is, right now, I need a reboot. I can’t offer you what I’m not living myself and so I write this post as a reminder of what I know is true and small moves I can make to improve my teaching. 

What matters when teaching writing to students? 

  • The teacher should be a writer. 
  • Students need to believe they are writers.
  • The teacher needs to have a positive relationship with students and know about their lives. 
  • Students need to write for authentic purposes.
  • Students should have opportunities to share their writing with audiences other than the teacher.
  • Students should experience a variety of mentor texts- from published authors, from the teacher, from other students. 
  •  Students need time to write. 
  • Students need to set goals and have support in reaching them.
  • Students need to learn to closely read their writing in order to revise and edit. 

What matters MOST? 

To avoid overwhelm, I’m going to pick the three bullets that I think matter MOST when teaching students to write. In time, I can revisit the whole list to work on action steps for the others.

  • The teacher should be a writer.
  • Students need to believe they are writers.
  • The teacher needs to have a positive relationship with students and know about their lives.

What action steps can I take to move towards my goals?

If you are interested in also being a teacher who writes and taking on the 15th Annual SOLSC, be sure to sign up here.
Have you read Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher? Also check out the TWT Spotlight Author Series.

Don’t miss The Responsive Writing Teacher! Here is a link to my post on my Thoughtful Third Grader routine.

Focusing on all the reasons why teaching writing feels hard and feeling badly about myself for not being the writing teacher I want to be is ultimately energy wasted. Identifying what I believe matters most and then coming up with a plan to do SOMETHING towards those goals make me feel that I am moving in the right direction. 

Do your beliefs about what matters most when teaching writing align with your current practices? What is one small step you can take for alignment and progress?

7 thoughts on “What Matters Most…and Am I Acting Like It? Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for your honesty. I feel the need for a reboot as well. You’re reflection mirrors much of what we’re seeing across our school. We’ve been talking a lot about Joy Write and ways to bring back the joy.

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  2. I appreciate the honesty of this post, Kathleen. It’s has been a hard decade for teachers. (Oh, wait… it’s only been two years!??! Why does it feel like it’s been ten?) Many of us are in need of a reboot. I am so grateful to you for admitting this openly. Not many people would. But that’s what TWT started… talking about our successes when things went well and being open about things that faltered so that we could take actionable steps to make things better going forward.

    I think it’s wise that you have three actionable steps to moving forward. I am looking forward to seeing how this materializes for you.

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  3. This is post seems to be resonating with teachers because I am writing the same words – I needed to hear this. You have given me some things to think about and a new perspective. Thank you.

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    • Thank you Sally! I’m so glad. Let me know how it goes. We have winter break next week and I’m looking forward to it as a chance to reset.

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  4. Thank you so much for writing an honest, reflective and helpful post that I really needed to read. I can relate so much to what you’ve written about feeling a gap between my practices and my beliefs. That time crunch is real and it’s brutal. Honestly, my first approach to solving this situation was to attend 2 1/2 hours of retirement seminars the past two nights after school, but that outlook was pretty bleak. Your post was a positive nudge to think about what else I can do to bring things more into alignment. Thank you.

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    • I really appreciate the comment and I’m sorry you are feeling this way too. Fewer Things Better was a very validating read! Tuning out some of the nonsense and thinking about the heart of teaching (“what matters most”) is helping me start to find my way. Would love to continue the conversation because I think it’s important we are real about what teaching is like right now. ❤️

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