A Week of Writing and…Beyond

Writing in the Universe

This past week I had the great privilege of sitting at the table amongst some of Kansas City’s best educators during our local Writing Project’s Summer Institute.  I look forward to this week every summer because I know it will be a time of calm and centeredness and conflict and genuine, raw passion for the work that is education. And yet, even as I typed that last sentence none of those descriptors do it justice, which I suppose is often the case for experiences so bare and true they can’t be adequately articulated to those reading it secondhand.  But this week on my blog, I’m going to try, if only through my writing.  Each day I will share writing from the previous week as cultivated by the experience or people in that moment.  It is not polished because that’s not the point.  It can’t be when it’s a piece of you.

And so my first piece of writing came to be through Brian’s TIW burning question, “How do I get my students to value their writing?”  It’s a question we all have, and Brian used this opportunity to delve into research addressing education’s “value gap”.  Brian defined it as follows:

value gap


Until we consider this, the achievement gap will exist.  To achieve one must be bought in.  We must start with engagement and relevance if we hope to gain ground in the academic chasm that covers the current system.  Through the research of Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, Brian led us through a writing activity reflecting on purposeful moments.


My Writing (first five minutes):

I remember…driving through the jungle of Costa Rica.  Initially, we were on a two-lane, paved highway.  The only one in existence on the west coast, and has only been for three years.  Along our drive from airport to resort, our initial frustration was getting behind large box trucks and semis and being unable to pass due to the narrow roads and steep curves of the road through jungle.  First world problems, right?  After about 45 minutes of what we had deemed as slow traffic, it began to slow even further.  Damn trucks!  We were eager to arrive at our destination–we only wanted to hit the gas, but instead we were creeping, crawling, hearing the squeaking of pressed brakes until…stop.  No one was moving, and based upon the number of cars in front of us it had been this way for some time.  We waited, restlessly.  Five, ten, fifteen minutes.  Not a single vehicle budged.  To the left, a roadside merchant selling carved wooden goods from figurines to dinner tables.  Could they help?

  • The highlighted blue words and phrases are those that I could elaborate upon (second part of writing task).  The original task asks the writer to stay in this moment to elaborate, but I chose the sentence, “We were eager to arrive at our destination” and it took me into an entirely different piece.

(Second 5 minutes):

We were eager to arrive at our destination.  Scared, really.  But first times always are, right?  Our bags packed (had been for weeks) full of necessities-clothes, food, movies, a cigar.  We loaded them and then ourselves, looked at each other, held hands, and drove.  Not a single word spoken, but a million thoughts shared through the space between the console.  This moment.  Finally here.  Life.  How had it worked out so magically?  Just hours before I’d been at work, in the office, on the computer, looking through books.  Ordinary.

But now, 5:00 pm on August 19th, after a meager dinner we ride in the car embracing extraordinary.


I plan hope to develop both of these pieces.  Until then, this is how they exist, and that’s just fine.  Our kids have to know that too.  That notebooks are not about the polished and published, but about the small and ordinary or large and extraordinary, the random, the messy, the controversial, the struggles, the attempts at sensemaking when nothing makes sense.  Let it live, let it breath, let the lines and pages give it a place because it is you and you have a voice worth writing, and maybe one day if we’re brave enough, even hearing.  Hopefully hearing.  Because it matters.  Even if it sits quietly for a while it matters.


(Side note: I knew I was in the right place this past week when Gallagher and Kittle had been deitized in the writing group as our Lord and Savior and Mother Mary.  Ask me about being a Kittle fangirl–I’ve got several stories, some more embarrassing than others! But she did leave me this once and it might be framed on my nightstand because I think this was her asking me to work with her.)

Penny Kittle signage