We’re all looking for someone who knows who we are and will break it to us gently.
This month I helped my friend Sandy brainstorm ideas for a commencement address. She was trying to come up with something brilliant to say in five minutes or less in front of 10,000 people who would have little interest in listening to her.
So, you know, no presh.
We sat at dinner for a couple of hours with our notepads and talked, thinking of all the cliches people say in graduation speeches. Finally, I asked her to tell me a story of a time when she connected with a student that touched her heart.
Sandy immediately went back over 30 years to her earliest days as a professor. Gary, a freshman at the time, showed up during her office hours and came out to her. Gary had not told anyone else he was gay. This was no small thing in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gary explained that a few weeks before, Sandy had been eating dinner with a bunch of students (including Gary) in a residence hall where she was the faculty mentor. Someone told a homophobic joke, and everyone laughed. Sandy said she didn’t find the joke funny at all, the laughter died immediately, and the conversation moved to another topic. It was in that moment Gary realized that Sandy was an advocate for gay students, and it gave him the courage to share his secret with her (and eventually others).
Here’s the thing. Sandy had no recollection of that dinner conversation and joke when Gary shared it in her office. She was just living her life, doing the mundane things we all do day after day—working, eating, chatting, and speaking out when she disagreed with something.
Her story made me think back to when I was a graduate student. The day I received my first writing rejection I cried, if only because the critique was so vicious. The anonymous reviewer said my writing was smarmy (I had to look up the word before I could understand how insulting it was). That night I went to a seminar with the professor who was my writing mentor, Donald Murray. He was talking about publication and I muttered something about how hard it was to get writing published. He chuckled and said, “Brenda, you’ll write a book someday. You can take that to the bank.” He continued on with the point he was making about working with editors. I sat up straighter and put that awful review behind me.
I’m sure Don forgot that remark as soon as he made it. His words changed my life anyway, just like Sandy’s offhand and instantly forgotten condemnation of homophobia changed Gary’s life. The days we live blur together, most seeming insignificant. It’s easy to forget what power we have to change the lives of others, and the influence those we admire have over us. What those mentors say to us one-on-one, how we observe them live their lives, can make all the difference in whether someone nurtures their talents and passions. Or has the courage to tell others who they are.
In May the flowers appear and the end of the school year rushes up like the ground when a plane is landing. The fears and doubts niggle at you. Have I done enough? Have I reached who I needed to reach? The beauty and curse of it is that you have, and you will also never know. The moments that mattered most to others are rarely the ones we remember. The encouragement and guidance teachers give moment to moment is as unconscious as breathing. And students will go on just living their lives, holding on to a moment or two of encouragement from you that you’ve missed in the midst.
Sandy ended up with a lovely little speech about those moments that matter that we know nothing about. She got over her nerves when she realized that the things we think are the most important markers of our lives, like giving a commencement address, really don’t matter much at all.
This week we look at ways to help students tell the stories they care most about. Enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Gretchen Taylor taps into a cultural phenomenon with her seventh-grade writers to help them deepen their writing and reflection through storytelling.
We are wired for story, and sometimes children living hard lives need to learn how to rewrite their story. Ruth Ayres shares the teacher’s role in the process.
Katherine Sokolowski explains how quick-writes with short videos as prompts can lead to some powerful writing, learning, and storytelling among students.
Close out your coaching year by getting organized for the next one in our Getting Organized for Literacy Coaching online course starting on May 12. Ruth Ayres offers lots of strategies for everything from setting up a calendar to putting your best foot forward in initial meetings. Members receive discounts of 20-40% on course fees, and nonmembers receive three-month trial memberships to the website.
The Lead Learners Consortium is offering a 20% discount to Choice Literacy subscribers to their Summer Institute on June 20 and 21 in Warsaw, Indiana. Use the promo code CHOICE to claim the discount. For more information, visit their ticketing site.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills use prompts and aids to help their youngest learners tell stories and find a writing voice.
Gretchen Schroeder finds her students’ enthusiasm for writing short stories flags quickly without some instruction and guidance.
We continue our video series on options for student annotations during read alouds in Franki Sibberson’s fifth-grade classroom. In this week’s installment, Ben creates a graph in his notebook to record characters and intentions that are emerging in the story.
In an encore video, Christy Rush-Levine shows a group of three students how they can use a storyboard to help track thinking while reading.
Lead Literacy now has a new home as the Leaders Lounge at Choice Literacy. We’ll be posting the new content updates here in the Leaders Lounge section of the Big Fresh newsletter.
Melanie Meehan finds narrative mini-charts are a powerful tool in her coaching arsenal as she works in classrooms with teachers to help students develop storytelling skills.
Melanie Quinn shares a simple professional development activity that helps teachers focus on growth through the year, based on their experiences with one child.
“Snowplow parenting” is in the news these days, as parents do their best to clear all obstacles in their children’s paths. This article from the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich might be a good one to read and talk about in a study group.
If you are not the hero of your own story, then you’re missing the whole point of your humanity.
That’s all for this week!