As the world becomes a more digital place, we cannot forget about the human connection.
[Now you can listen to the Big Fresh as a podcast!]
Many years ago, my best high school friend—I’ll call her Trisha—was pregnant with her first child. I hosted her baby shower. I knew nothing about children, baby showers, or conversation related to diapers, poo, and breastfeeding, so planning the shower left me deflated. I didn’t even understand the point behind the shower games I’d heard about. I decided to scratch the games and go with what I knew: writing.
The day of the shower, I handed each of the 29 attendees a piece of paper and an envelope with a number on it, “1” through “29.” I gave them their directions. “We will each write a letter to the baby,” I said. “Trisha will open the envelope on the baby’s birthday that corresponds to the number you were given.” In other words, if Trisha’s aunt Connie’s envelope said “4,” the letter would be opened when the baby was 4. Wendy’s envelope said “22,” so the letter would be opened when the baby was a young woman of 22. “Write whatever you want the child to know on that particular birthday.” I suggested they write a favorite memory of Trisha, share hopes for the baby, or offer a few words of wisdom for the time of life designated on that particular birthday.
The room quieted as everyone began to write. When they finished their letters, they sealed them and handed them to me. I handed them to Trisha.
Every February 11 since that day, Trisha has called me when she and her lovely daughter, Rose, open the letters together. Some are funny. Some are prophetic. Some come from a friend she sees often; others are from people she only follows, these days, on Facebook. She cried the day she opened a letter from a friend by now many years gone after a fight with a difficult mental illness. “Hello, Baby Girl. Just know how much you and your mother are loved,” the letter began, the words carrying such affection that Trisha wept with gratitude and peace.
Letters do this to us, particularly letters that come to us from the past. I know a teacher who has his second graders write letters to their senior selves, to be opened upon graduation. Another writes a letter to his sixth graders and gives them to their parents for some point in the future. I’ve heard of teachers who have parents or siblings write letters to be opened at a later time.
As the world buzzes around us, and emails criss-cross the globe with the speed of cyberspace, I suspect there will never be a replacement for written letters, especially ones we keep until we need them, until they surprise us and knock us over with memories and connection to others. How might you consider a letter to a loved one? How might your students catch the power of the written word? Letters are a great way to honor the punch and power of the written word, especially when preserved over time.
This week we look at a variety of connections—plus more, as always.
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jen Schwanke is a principal for the Dublin City School District in Dublin, Ohio. Her latest book is The Principal ReBoot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. Follow Jen on Twitter @Jenschwanke or her website jenschwanke.com.
This month’s Featured Contributor is Stella Villalba. Stella teaches English language learners and coaches teachers across the Dublin, Ohio, school district. She works to bridge understandings regarding teaching English language learners. Stella is a Lead Ambassador for NCTE. She is passionate about languages, literacy, and culture. You can keep up with Stella on Twitter @stellavillalba, Instagram @stellavillalba, or her blog, Listening and Learning: A Teaching and Coaching Life. This month you’ll find her on the Big Fresh podcast and offering Choice Literacy courses. Find all of Stella’s articles and videos on the site by clicking here.
On the podcast, Brain Sepe discusses the importance of mantras.
Join the Choice Literacy Book Club! Dana Murphy selected the May pick. It is My Hero Academia, Volume 1 by Kohei Horikoshi. This new manga book is popular in classrooms and a new reading experience for our book club. Grab a copy, and join the conversation using the hashtag #ChoiceLiteracyBookClub.
On The Black Creators Series, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Sophia Thakur discuss poetry and Somebody Give This Heart a Pen.
Poetry writing always has the potential to spark some magic in students. Christy Rush-Levine finds that this magic requires a few connections to be in place first in her middle school classroom. (This article was first published in 2018.)
Heather Rader makes connections between being a reader and a scientist. (This article was first published in 2012.)
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.
In a video, Christy Rush-Levine confers with Carson about his connections to sports in his reading. (This video was recorded pre-COVID.)
In an encore video, Ruth Ayres meets with Zoey, a quiet writer who is drawn into the conversation through family stories and a mentor text with vivid illustrations. (This video was published in 2015.)
Deep Dive Course: English Language Learners and Literacy Instruction: Stella Villalba provides tools, strategies, and wise advice for literacy instruction for children with native languages other than English. (This course was created in 2019.)
Deep Dive: It’s a Cycle, Not a Hamster Wheel: Getting the Most Out of Coaching Cycles: Dana Murphy takes you into the nitty-gritty of coaching cycles with examples and advice from experienced literacy coaches from across the country. You’ll view videos of an initial meeting of a coach and teacher to plan a cycle and sample demonstration lessons within a cycle, and get quick video tips for getting organized and taking good notes throughout the cycle. (This course was created in 2019.)
Education teaches us compassion and kindness, connection to others.
That’s all for this week!