What a special treat I have for you today! Where does writing begin? With a voice. With ideas. With lines or letters. AND usually, with an encourager. How many of us trace our love of writing back to a teacher or multiple teachers? I know I do! In the beginning of February, Tina Barrett sent me an email and shared that her Kindergarten students had published a book entitled “How to Help the World” through Student Treasures. She invited me, as a fellow author, to send a short congratulations video for their launch party. Well, I don’t know how she found me, but somehow she must have known that one of my very favorite activities as a teacher was making books with kids. So…I sent a video. And I invited Tina to my blog! Thank you, Tina for sharing this special experience!
Last summer, I laid in the golden sun on my deck, swaying in the wind in my hammock. The air was warm, yet not hot and the breeze caused my skin to tingle in a way that put a smile on my face. My kids were riding their bikes, their beautiful laughter filled the air and I was enjoying a nice smooth glass of sweet tea. My world was good. As I lay there, I couldn’t help but think about my students. So many of them were probably also enjoying this beautiful sunny weather on this lovely summer day. But also, as I lay there I could see clouds forming in the sky. The clouds began to cover the sun and the wind that once brought a smile to my face began to blow hard and fast. One by one tiny raindrops fell from the sky and I got a feeling that something was not quite right. You see this was a day when I heard news of riots and protests in many cities around the nation. For me, life seemed great. My world seemed to be ideal. However, after seeing so many people angry, hurting, and feeling marginalized, I realized that truly my ideal is not the case for all. In fact, my ideal is not the case for many of my students. As I pondered the reality of an inequitable society I realized that as a teacher I hold a key to bridging the gap of equity. The key is literacy.
Literacy is the key that can open the door to equity in society. Writing is the path for the voice to be carried as far and wide as the ocean. I used to think that writers must possess a talent for writing that somehow would allow them to inspire the world. What I have learned from teaching my students, is that anyone, even a 5 year old, can be a great and inspiring writer.
I am a Kindergarten teacher in a small city in the midwest. Our town has a vast socio economic landscape. As a teacher, I can see inequalities magnified. Last summer, as the clouds began to close in and what seemed like a storm descended, I was inspired to change my teaching to include more voices and inspire my students to use their voice as an instrument for change.
“My words are powerful. My writing is gold.” This is a mantra that my students learn from the beginning of the year in writing. The key to inspiring young writers and really any writer is to let them know that their writing is valued, safe, and meaningful. Good writing is cultivated in a trusting environment, one that provides many opportunities to make mistakes, to grow, and to celebrate all of the small milestones along the way. As students learn that their words are powerful and worth more than gold, they are inspired to put in the effort that it takes to become a good writer. Good writing happens because the author feels like an audience wants to hear and learn the gold nugget that their hard work, time, and effort will create. Good writing is inspired when a student feels that they absolutely must, without a doubt share their story, because no one else in the entire world has that story to tell. Once students feel inspired and safe, they will begin writing books upon books. They do this because they feel valued and powerful. The beauty of writing is that it doesn’t matter how much money you have or who you are or where you live, everyone has a story to tell. As a teacher, I try to get down to those good juicy stories with my students as early as possible so that they can inspire one another.
This year, when I began my unit on persuasive writing it coincided with our unit on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a class we learned that Dr. King spoke out for things that weren’t fair. We brainstormed a list of things that the kids found unfair in the world. I was absolutely floored by their responses. I fully expected them to say things that were egocentric like I don’t have enough toys or I wish I had a better car. Rather than egocentric responses their responses were filled with insight and grace. During our class discussion one student spoke up and said it isn’t fair that the coronavirus is taking over the world. Another quietly said, I don’t think it is fair that some moms and dads don’t have good jobs. Yet another said, I don’t think it is fair that not everyone has a mom and dad to love them. Wow. I was floored. My students know all of the weight of the world at five years old. As a class we sorted our unfair responses into categories and the students began writing their own piece about how to help the world. As we went through the process, there were many times I questioned whether I bit off more than I could chew with this one. However, we continued to recite another dear motto…I can do hard things if I try and I just have to struggle through.
After much hard work and a few tears, we pulled it off. The students pulled it off! They wrote about their own chosen topic independently and with finesse! They created beautiful illustrations and in the end they have created a book that is not only beautiful but so meaningful. In a world that sometimes seems filled with hopelessness their little hearts show that truly there is hope for a brighter future in this world.
If you’d like to hear the kids read their book, click HERE.
If you’d like to see the kids share their poem, click HERE. [This poem began with Wikihow to Write Poetry.]
If you’d like to see Ms. Barrett’s congratulations video for their book launch, click HERE.
If you’d like to reach out to Ms. Barrett and her authors—Twitter @Barrettsbusybee.
All photographs are shared with permissions.
The winner of last week’s giveaway for LET LIBERTY RISE! from Chana Stiefel is Ellen Leventhal! Congratulations!