On October 20th, as part of the National Day on Writing, educators and students across the country will share their motivations for, and beliefs about, writing through the #whyiwrite hashtag. Teaching Channel is partnering with The National Writing Project, The National Council of Teachers of English, and The New York Times Learning Network to promote this campaign. Please add your voice!
“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness” –Brene Brown
“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” –Bill Wheeler
In early July of 2008, I meandered through the maze of a college campus then foreign to me. Eventually, I arrived to a typically institutional classroom cluttered with blocky furniture, stain-camouflaging carpet, and nervous strangers. Over the next month that space would become a life-giving, community-building, trusted hub for personal and professional growth.
Participating in the Maryland Writing Project’ Invitational Summer Institute made me a writer. And it made me understand the importance of not leading that noun, “writer,” with an adjective. It didn’t make me a “better” writer or a “good” writer. It made me see the value of writing for the act itself, for ourselves, apart from judgment or qualification. It also, almost paradoxically, helped me see the value of writing as a gift for others -— to build community, to bring understanding, to provide voice for others.
A Personal Practice
On a personal level, it was at that institute that I first wrote about my mother’s passing away, seven years prior, when I was 17. For the first time, within that trusted community, I found the courage to confront the torrent of feelings I’d left buried. It was writing-as-therapy. It was cathartic. And through that process I was able to frame that experience in a way that helped me own it, and fold it into a larger personal narrative I could control. Others shared their own stories of heartbreak, of victory, coming-of-age, teacher triumph, and parental pride. We were vulnerable, honest, human. It was a gift.
We also transformed as writing teachers across content and age groups. From second grade science to AP English Literature, we created and shared professional development, made teacher resources, planned for our learners. We lived the power of becoming writers and designed paths to deliver that experience for students.
Students as Writers
In my classroom practice, writing serves multiple purposes. As we work to develop a writing community, students often experience writing as sense-making for their own lives. As they tell the stories of their own experience, they, too, can take ownership of their narrative. In doing so, they are empowered with the agency to frame their world and write the next chapter of their lives.
Writing is also a powerful medium for critical thinking. In analyzing and wrestling with issues that they care about, students work to explain and extol their learning, and convince and cajole their audience. In the process, they must clarify their logic, prioritize their evidence, empathize with their audience, and play with language creatively.
Writing for Education
As someone who cares deeply about the teaching profession, I see teachers writing about our work as an opportunity for both development in our practice and activism for the profession. That’s why I was so excited to come and share my growth as a Teacher Laureate this year with Tch, and why I’ve taken to Huffington Post on a few occasions when so moved. But I gain so much when other educators share their thoughts: when Anna Baldwin decided to ungrade, when Tom Rademacher finds the words when I cannot, when Jose Vilson pushes my thinking, when Sarah Brown Wessling pushes my practice, when Chris Lehman builds new ways to do school and shares lessons from the process.
And so I write, and my students write, and my heroes write, and in the process we tackle big, hairy challenges, and we learn that we can push them around. And we each get a little better in the process.
In a time when we write more — not less — than we ever have, it’s vital for us to champion the unique value of writing. Please share your thoughts — and have your students share, too — on Twitter, via your own blog, or on other social media channels as part of a #whyiwrite campaign on October 20th!
Sean McComb teaches students English at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in the Baltimore County Public Schools System. Sean also supports the development of teaching and learning for Baltimore County’s STAT Initiative. He is affiliated with the Maryland Writing Project, NCTE, Learning Forward, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and ISTE. Sean is the 2014 National Teacher of the Year and a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with him on Twitter at @Mr_McComb.