I use to read books while sitting on my favorite chair, a cloud like chaise lounge at the front window under our huge Pecan tree. Now I use that spot to read student work and write notes to them highlighting and acknowledging specific ways their creative writing develops throughout the school year. The first note can be pretty general because the lessons are simple and we’re just getting started.
Writing general notes for over 100 students at a time can get monotonous, unless you treat the precious time as a form of prayer. Last year, my first year in the classroom, I struggled to learn all of the students names. Week by week I would lose a few names and if they were moved across the room to another desk group, all bets were off. This year I decided to take a photo of each of them holding their decorated name plates. I did the same for the 90+ art students I lead. This little exercise helped me learn their names in a few weeks. It completely transformed the experience of reading and responding to their work. Now I look at each child’s picture before I read the student’s work. It allows me to hold their questions, their responses, their personalities, and the insecurities or confidence they show when they read their work to the rest of the class. It turned my note writing into prayers of celebration, connection, compassion, and curiosity. In perfect ‘me’ form, I didn’t realize how much this practice developed until a student responded to my first note.
I was busy passing out folders and papers and preparing to start the week’s lesson when a student walked up to me and tapped my arm. He opened his folder slowly and without saying a word, he pointed to my post-it note on his poem. He looked up at me, tears in his eyes, while repeatedly tapping on the post-it note. He tilted his head and shrugged his shoulders. I broke the silence and said, “I wrote that note for you.” Without saying a word, he closed his folder and went back to his desk. He worked diligently that day, without a single re-direction from his classroom teacher, a noteworthy accomplishment in and of itself. At the end of class, as I packed my bag, he handed me a tiny folded piece of paper. He said he made one of these for his mom and one for me. I told him I would be sure to read it once I got to the next class. I stood outside the classroom and unfolded the note. My heart flooded with joy.
Thanks to his note, I can more clearly see why I jump out of bed to do the work I get to do now. It is funny to me how much more accessible bliss is when I focus on simple connections.
Grace in, peace out