A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work alongside a talented colleague, Jodi Coen, who was hosting a reading workshop experience for local teachers with Ellin Keene. During this two-day workshop Jodi’s students were diving into their biography unit and exploring the idea of significance. What does it mean? Why did these individuals have stories written about them? What is a significant contribution? As these questions were explored and discussed in student conferences, we came upon one child who blew us all away. She was reading about Hellen Keller, and pulled this line from her text:
“She would forever remember this day as being the birthday of her soul.”
The author was referring to the moment Keller met Anne Sullivan and finally had hope in being able to understand and learn about the world around her. The student said that seemed “significant.” Yes, child. You’ve got it.
I have no idea how the rest of the conference went. I immediately began wondering, when was the birthday of my soul? As I thought through this I could not land on a single moment. And I realized it’s because souls have so many layers. The mom layer of my soul immediately went to the birth of my kids. My sappy, love soul landed on meeting my husband. Those moments seemed obvious though. I dug deeper, and came upon this:
The summer of 2011 I walked into a charming little home at 3607 Pennsylvania Avenue that is rumored to be haunted, and at one time, a brothel. Now The Writer’s Place, it serves a much different purpose. I sat around a table with 20 strangers. Twenty really smart strangers. We opened books, uncapped pens, spoke in the voices and beliefs we knew, and wrote the ones just starting to emerge. In just three weeks’ time, I received the most important and necessary education of my life. It didn’t come with a flashy degree to hang, framed on a wall. It came with a fire in my belly to spread this knowledge. To empower others. To create change. It set my soul on fire. Indeed, that has to be its birthday.
The Writing Project has had an incredibly profound impact on me. It revolutionized my teaching and personal world. If the summer of 2011 was its first birthday, then last night was its 6th. We celebrated with pizza, soda, chips and chocolate. It was pretty PG, but that only makes sense because my soul is in Kindergarten. It sits on the cusp of possibility, sparkly-eyed with dreams that anything is possible. Eager. Unafraid. Ready to take chances.
Last night we launched a city-wide social justice project that has been my “professional baby” in the making for the past two years. Twelve teachers came together and sat around the table. Twelve really smart teachers. We opened books, uncapped pens, spoke in the voices and beliefs we knew, and wrote the ones just starting to emerge. Over the next three weeks, my hope is that their students receive the greatest and most profound education of their life-to-date. It won’t come with a flashy certificate given at an assembly. It will come with a fire in their belly to spread this knowledge. To empower others. To create change. It will set their soul on fire. Perhaps it will be its birthday.
Over the next month, I’ll be blogging from inside the classrooms as this learning unfolds. On May 9th we will culminate the experience at Johnson County Library where students will meet and participate in a workshop focused on social activism and being community change agents. Souls are on fire! Let’s see where it takes us.