How do Teachers of Writing Develop thier Skills?

    At a recent training on writing and the Common Core, I shared the writing sample below from my niece, fifth grader Lily Cate (yes, she lives in the South).  I read about ten lines in and asked the K-5 audience, what would you say to this child--how would you honor the voice/celebrate the writer?  One teacher called out, "Do you want to teach the class?"  Another shared, "You write much better than I do."  We all shared a laugh.  The comments speak to the bigger issue of how teachers often feel about themselves as writers:  unsure, uncomfortable; much less skilled than they are as teachers of reading.  If you share these feelings, think back with me for a moment.  How did you learn to teach reading well?  Did it come naturally just because you are a proficient reader yourself?  Or...did it take some reading, thinking, learning and collaboration in classes, in workshops, and in the field?  How did you build your knowledge of what good readers do and what strategies they use?  How have you built your teaching craft?  Are you still "in process?"  Even though we have high self-efficacy as readers, we still had to (and have to) work to learn what readers do and how that translates to classroom practice.  So...take heart, dear, unsure teachers-of-writing.  You may just be embarking on this learning adventure, but, even if you don't fully recognize it, you've been there before.  And, look at you now!  You’ll build your skills as a writing teacher in the same ways, especially if you're willing to take the leap, stick with it, and give yourself permission to learn right alongside students.
    One more note:  Another teacher in the audience asked, "How did she (my niece) learn to write poetry?"  "Funny you should ask," I replied.  "My sister and I just spoke about this last night.  She's passionate about writing poetry because she reads poetry.”  Yep…no big surprise here.  My sister read poetry to Lil since she was young.  She’s been delighting in dabbling in poetry ever since…and, she’s getting pretty good, don’t you think?
The Beauty of Spring        by Lily Cate                     
5th Grade, February, 2011
The buds were sprouting up out of the ground
yawning and stretching their leaves.
The sun was shooting warmth down to the Earth.
The little song that was sung by the soft wind
calmed the stormy clouds to a slight drizzle.
The birds spread their color around the land
and the streams bubbled in response.
I was just a little tree, surprised by all this.
I had never seen the first day of Spring before.
Yet, being a small little stick that would one day touch the sky,
I thought that Spring was just something small.
It is so much more.
The buds in the gardens opened up,
revealing the beauty that was trapped inside.
The birds kept on singing.
The young children and their families played.
And, I grew.
I grew to see the beauty of the season,
and now you should see the amazement in the season, too
because Spring only comes once a year!


  1. So true. I started focusing more on poetry recently. My students carry around poetry books and read them in their spare time. It always surprises me the kind of influence we have over our students.

    We have a "poet of the day" and students love reciting the poetry they are reading. I am hoping this drive will push them to writing more poetry as well.

  2. Hi Rea! Wonderful to hear from you! "Poet of the Day" sounds very motivating. Another idea: "Open Mic" time at lunch. You might see if your colleagues are interested in hosting “Open Mic” even once a month. Students will have a bigger audience and, perhaps, bigger motivation! It's contagious!


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