Does celebration matter? Is celebration essential to the business of developing meaningful, conventional, and powerful writers? When there is more to teach and meeting all the needs of students as writers is nearly impossible, is it responsible to take time for celebration?
I struggled with these questions for years. The truth is, on some days I still struggle with them. I always find the answer by participating in a writing community with students.
Celebrating Process and Products
On most days in writing workshop, we celebrated as a community of writers, valuing the process and the learning. Yet, when it was time for a formal writing celebration, things changed. Everyone fancied up their writing and made it perfect. It reminded me of the way pioneers would get gussied up for church on Sunday. It wasn’t reality; it was just the thing we presented to the world.
It made me feel fake. Most of the time I focused on teaching the writer, not the writing (a classic mantra for writing workshop). Then a formal celebration rolled around, and it was all about perfecting the writing.
Questions about celebration sliced at my heart. Am I sending untrue messages about the importance of products? Is the celebration fake and pointless rather than genuine and powerful? Does celebration even matter?
I made up my mind that it was the process that matters most and should be the focus of formal celebration rather than the products. This seemed more humane to students who weren’t as sophisticated at working with words, and it also took away the issues surrounding fixing conventions for formal publication.
I was so sure that process ought to trump products that I planned an entire presentation around the idea. I was armed with research and classroom stories. I spent hours talking with my writing partner and shaping my upcoming book around the idea of celebrating process. I made a good case for ignoring products.
Thank goodness I was seated at a table with Bill Bass for dinner. We were both presenting at a conference the next day, and we were talking about our latest thinking. I shared my thoughts about celebrating the process rather than products.
Bill, in his bold and kind way that I’ve come to admire, said, “Writers have a process to produce a product. It doesn’t really matter how they get to the product, but what is celebrated is the product. Celebrations need to be about products.”
I was stunned. How could we have polar opposite views on writing celebrations?
It turns out Bill and I were both right. Process and products matter. Both are necessary for students to grow as writers. Students need to have a solid writing process to produce products. Published products have power in the world. If we want our voices to affect the world, then we must produce products. Process and products are equally important and therefore must be celebrated.
I spent the rest of the night pushing hard to find an answer to my questions about celebration. I returned to what I knew: writing alongside students and being in community as writers. I considered the formal celebrations that I participated in alongside my students.
It took me too long to add my own published projects to our class writing celebrations. This was part of the reason why I was landing on the importance of celebrating process over celebrating products. I didn’t have as much experience celebrating products alongside students. Just because we celebrated the process more often didn’t mean it was more important than celebrating products.
Tips for Using Teacher Writing in Formal Celebrations
Most teachers become comfortable using their writing during writing workshop to help explain teaching points. Teachers also understand the importance of having empathy for students as writers. However, when we make the jump to creating a published product, there are some things I wish I had known before I shared my writing in a class celebration.
There is a much wider audience. We become comfortable as a writing community. The students know my stories, and I don’t worry about being embarrassed by my mishaps and silliness. There are things that aren’t a big deal to share with students that I wouldn’t necessarily share with adults. I mentally prepare for the fact that administrators, parents, and community members will have access to my writing in a formal celebration. Ultimately it is good for others to see the human side of a teacher, but, at least for me, I must prepare for the vulnerability that comes with sharing my writing.
Be all in. People are going to want you to share your writing. If everyone is reading aloud, then you need to plan to read aloud. If you have comment sheets for people to leave feedback, then make sure there is a comment sheet for your writing too. Participate wholeheartedly.
Get a proofreader. Practice what you preach and ask someone to proofread your writing. Conventions matter and have power. Take this opportunity to be true to the publication process and ask someone who knows a lot about conventions to take a look at your writing. This is a great opportunity to reach out to someone outside your comfort zone. It is likely you know who has an eye for Standard English.
Write what you ask students to write. Make sure that the project you have selected for the celebration meets the same standards you expect from students. If everyone is expected to have a nonfiction article, then it isn’t right for you to bring a free verse poem. Hold yourself to the same high standards you expect of your students.
Silent celebrations are comfortable. For a silent celebration, everyone puts their writing and a comment sheet out for viewing. Participants move around the classroom, sliding into seats and reading the writing silently, then leaving a comment. They continue reading different projects until the time is over. Then everyone returns to their own writing and reads the comments. It is nice to close this celebration with people sharing meaningful comments they received. This celebration doesn’t require the teacher (or anyone) to be in the spotlight, making it more satisfying.
Celebration Is Essential
When we participate with our students as members of a writing community, it is clear: Celebration is essential. Working as a writer is not glamorous. Persevering and growing as a writer is challenging. Celebrating provides proof that we are developing into meaningful, conventional, and powerful writers. The moment we begin questioning whether celebration matters is the precise moment that we, as teachers, must dive unabashed into the writing community with our students. It is here that we find all the answers and proof that we need.