Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Teacher: How can you still be so optimistic, idealistic, and passionate about teaching? You are so lucky.

Me:  There is absolutely no luck involved. I make a point of being inspired by kids and teachers. I choose to collect and share stories of the amazing things that happen in our schools every day.

This is a variation on a conversation I have had many times. It doesn’t mean I am naïve. It means that I believe you find what you look for. Take this week for instance. I had lunch with a principal, a vice-principal, and two grade 7/8 teachers from a small school with what many would describe as an at-risk population. They shared a story that moved me as a human being, inspired me as a teacher, and found its way to the top of my All-Time Favourite Inspiring Teacher and Student Chart. The story began with our writing lesson study back in September when the school decided that they were going to explore three questions all year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I from?
  • Why am I here?

In Grade 7/8 we decided that one of our goals was for students to understand that humans write to pursue answers to those very questions, to, as Shelley Harwayne says, “make sense of our green minutes on earth.” At lunch this week I learned how two teachers, supported and encouraged by a principal and vice-principal who lead by walking alongside teachers, could transform a group of adolescents into a community of writers and activists. And how did they do this? For me, the short answer is by dreaming big – by really thinking about what it is they want students to learn about being – a writer, a reader, indeed, a citizen of the world. And then teaching in ways that convey the power of writing in understanding ourselves, others, and the world we live in… the power of writing to really, really communicate what is in our hearts and minds… the power of writing to effect change in the world.

The longer answer is by making a commitment to finding meaningful and authentic reasons to write and real audiences to write for. To knowing your students and their passions, your curriculum inside out, and what is going on in the world, so that when Senator Murray Sinclair publishes a poem about grieving for the country, your students are invited to write about what and whom they grieve for… and the poems are shared with Justice Sinclair and the Prime Minister. So that when your students return to school on the Monday following the Humboldt Broncos devastating bus crash, the first words they say are…

“We have to DO something. What can we write?”

Thank you, Lavallee School, for inspiring me as a teacher, a writer, and a collector of stories.


Harwayne, Shelley. 2000. Lifetime Guarantees. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.