Tuesday, June 24, 2014



Each day of the CAWP Summer Institute I am privileged to hear the powerful,  always honest, sometimes mournful, perhaps jubilant or angry, and occasionally raw pieces that our teachers are writing and sharing with each other.

Each day I have the opportunity to savor the writing--writing that spans the personal, taking us inside marriages--our own and those we have observed over the years, writing that takes us to meet our parents, siblings, and friends, writing that wrestles with our social consciences, as we examine and analyze our own behavior, writing that looks back, writing that look forward.

Deeper writing...

Each day I have the chance to listen to writing that invites me into classrooms and schools to meet students and co-workers, to trouble the troubling-- or the universally accepted, to ask the hard questions, to imagine the impossible,  to remember and celebrate what we know, and to plan for the unknown.

Deeper writing...

Not only do I have the opportunity to hear powerful and provocative writing,  but also to witness responses to this writing.

What I have noticed in many cases is the respectful, almost contemplative moment of silence that follows such pieces.  One former institute participant referred to the "wonder and wildness in that pause."

We have seen this pause, this space of silence, this sacred waiting and weltering in what we just heard often this summer. The writing has taken us to astronomical heights and stretched our writing chops in titanic ways.

Deeper writing......aaaaah!

Each day of the CAWP Summer Insitute, we are listening to deeper writing.

In a recent article in AdLit In Perspective, an online journal of the Ohio Resource Center, I described deeper writing in the following way:

By deeper writing I mean writing that challenges writers to engage in a thorough search of memory, critical analysis of relationships and situations, and powerful exploration and discovery of themselves and the world.  Deeper writing is writing that digs beneath the surface, underneath
the obvious observations and topics, to reveal that which is in the background, unnoticed and unexamined. It is reflecting with the pen—thinking and writing critically, pushing metaphors to the limit, searching for relationship and relevance where they are not easily detected.  Deeper writing touches both the reader and writer with emotions we have buried or ignored, and it surprises us with fresh perspectives on the familiar. I have found this to be true no matter what the mode of writing—expository or information, argument or academic, narrative or poetry.  In my book Deeper Writing: Quick Writes and Mentor Texts to Illuminate New Possibilities (Holland, 2012), the essence of deeper writing is expressed as follows: Deeper writing and thinking forces us to ask again and again: "What more? What else? Why? And so what?". (p. 2)

How do we respond to such writing?

How do we bring ourselves back from whatever place and space the writing we have just heard has taken us, pushed us, driven us?

What do we say to pain that has been laid bare on the table-- dissected, bleeding, raw?
Band-aids won't work.
Words are initially inadequate-----Silence.

How do we enter in gently to urge the writer in a different direction or an even deeper exploration of an already excavated image?

First the silence.

The silence that meets deeper writing.

How do we enter into that silence to acknowledge the power of the words washing over us?

How do we with words appreciate the work so the author will understand how much their words touched our souls?

How do we make suggestions- big or small -- without tearing apart the fragile threads holding the piece of writing--and its writer's heart --together?

We will....
We will appreciate the work, consider the context and the content, suggest substitutions, additions, revisions.
We will problematize and analyze.
We will reframe and evaluate.

Where are the pauses?  Whose story is it?  How else can it be told?  Who else can tell it?

Would it work better as a poem?  or an essay?

We will do all of that....and more.

We will laugh until our stomachs hurt along with the writer.
We will pass the tissues and cry in concert.

We will learn and question and....all of that... and more
But... first the silence.

First the silence.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a piece of writing to share with a colleague.  You may ask for both general feedback or specify a desired focus.

Notice how your writing partner(s) responds. Is that moment of sacred, listening and waiting silence offered first? How are they phrasing and contextualizing their responses?  Does the response push your writing forward?

As you receive feedback both general and specific feedback to your  writing, notice your own responses to the responses.  What are you thinking and feeling?    Is the response helpful?   Do you feel offended or hurt by the response? Do you agree with the responses?

What can you learn from this sharing experience that will inform your sharing and responding to writing in the future?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


How do you know?
How do you know you know?
How do you know what you know?

Story is one way we negotiate our world and communicate our experiences. In story we can meander around the facts and the details. We may even have forgotten the actual details or stretched the facts. We may have completely changed the names and places and conversations in the original event--- yet we can still tell the story-- the true story.

Truth does not always reside in the facts.

During the CAWP Summer Institute, we have been privileged to hear several powerful stories in which the writers readily confess that the words are based on real events, yet not all the facts are accurate.

We still heard the Truth in their stories.

Sometimes we just know.  We cannot explain why and how we know.  We just know.

Women's Ways Of Knowing: The Development Of Self, Voice, And Mind 10th Anniversary Edition, a landmark book first published in 1986,  explores five powerful ways that women come value and to know what they know.   This book considers the intuitive, sometimes metaphoric ways of knowing that differ from the linear ways of our male counterparts, yet are valid just the same.

Deborah Tannen has looked at ways we speak -- our language may also differ in ways that  modify how we share what we know.

Sometimes what we know gets in our way of understanding something wondrous, marvelous or miraculous.  Such is the case in The MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH  by Julius Lester .  His knowledge of eagles their power, and their potential to kill, led him to not trust the knowledge and Truth that his wife had witnesses or what he saw with his own eyes.  The book ends with a tragedy that results from this clashing knowledge:

And that is how murder came into the world.  The man knew too much, because he thought he knew what he had never seen and never experienced.  
 How do we know what we know?
 Does it allow for new knowing?

In Writing and Being: Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language, G. Lynn Nelson uses a river as an analogy for all of our life experiences.  He suggests two ways to know the river. We can observe and measure and number. We can calculate and analyze. We can record the facts and details.

...Or we can jump into the river.  We can submerge ourselves in the wet. We can  immerse ourselves in the ripples, the swirl, the sounds, the floating, the buoyancy.

Earlier this month, READ WAVE posted on  Facebook, a related quote by Dave Barry about the ocean:

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.
Submersion and immersion give us ways to jump into knowing-- knowing by experience, knowing by doing, knowing with your hands and feet and skin.

Like Nelson, Jallaludin Rumi, the renowned Sufi poet, also recognized two ways of knowing, in his poem, Two Kinds of Intelligence.  He distinguishes between the child who "memorized facts and concept from books and what the teacher says" and  the other kind of knowing that is "fluid and flows from within you."

Oliver Wendell Holmes measures are knowing and intellects in stories---not the ones from above but floors in a building. Heather Rader opened a Choice Literacy article on Intellect with his words:
There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors with no aim beyond their facts are one-story people. Two-story people compare reason and generalize, using labors of the fact collectors as well as their own. Three-story people idealize, imagine, and predict. Their best illuminations come from above through the skylight.
How many stories are you?

Context forms and informs our knowing. Context creates the potential for exposure, encounters, and possibilities. Context also limits the same.  We all know the folktale about the blind men who encounter an elephant. Each touches only part of the animal and believe it to be the whole of it. So they come away variously believing that an elephant is a pillar, a snake, spear, a cliff, a fan or a rope. Only the last man moves around and over the animal, encountering more aspects of  the elephant-- enough to sufficiently discover its totality.

Ed Young has created a beautifully vivid version of this traditional folktale,Seven Blind Mice.

What do we know?
How do we know ?
How do we know what we know?
Where do we know? and When?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Write about a time when you knew something that you just knew. You may not have be able to explain why and how you knew. How did your knowing affect other people?  Did your knowledge conflict with someone else's knowledge?

Write a poem about several different ways of knowing or intellects that you use.

Write about a time when context limited or enhanced your knowledge.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Poetry is my default.

When I am
wrestling with ideas,
reasoning through concepts
sizing up situations
weeping in my tea
celebrating an accomplishment
processing a failure
or savoring a surprising joy
poetry is
my genre of choice
to read
to write.

When I am analyzing
the day
the classroom
the plan
the lesson
the child
the possibilities
poetry is...
the only way
to see
the drop of water
in the ocean
...and the ocean
the molecule
in the air
...and the air
the one voice
in a chorus
...and the chorus
the path
in the forest
through the trees
...and the forest.

Poetry is my default.

And I am not alone.

Every day, everywhere, in classrooms, teachers are rereading a favorite poem to gain strength for the day--to remember why they began teaching.

Every day, somewhere in some classroom , a teacher is discovering a  new poem --a poem that  reads her mind and her heart.

An essential poem is pinned to the corkboard beside the desk, taped to a file cabinet at the back of the room, hanging in front of the classroom on a colorful poster, or tucked into a plan book, or journal or book of teacher devotions.

Teachers in all sorts of situations and settings read poetry, need poetry, breathe poetry.
Poetry enables them to continue to teach with fire, to teach with courage.

Sam Intrator, Megan Scribner and Parker J. Palmer understand this-- and  promote and celebrate this essentialness of poetry in our teaching lives.

Ten years ago, they edited and published Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach.

In this volume, teachers submitted poems that sustain them as they teach.  Each teacher has also submitted a brief reflection on the poem and its importance in  her teaching life.

I have given many copies of this volume as gifts to teachers, as they received higher degrees or moved to a literacy coordinator job... or just because they are my teacher friends.

 I return to this "devotional" again and again.  The poems submitted by my fellow teachers echo my thoughts, mirror my feelings, and give me the courage to teach from my heart.

This is the one essential tool in my writing teacher's toolbox.  I could not teach writing without this book.

As I provide writing possibilities and opportunities for teachers in the CAWP Summer Institute, this anthology, consistently and miraculously offers the perfect mentor text, the appropriate commentary or note to supplement my ideas... the extra dollop of inspiration to create a writing task leading to powerful  writing.

This summer is no different.  With  this book in hand, as we remember classrooms, and brainstorm ideas around our theme this year ( Talk, Texts, and Thoughts:  Teachers as Intellectuals and Agents of Change), I will share Sonia Nieto's submission, I Remember,  written her sister, Lydia Cortes.
To read  this poem see page 39 of the text in Google Books.

As we talk about the varieties and kinds of silences and the uses of silences in our classrooms and in the world, I will share Pablo Neruda's Keeping  Quiet  submitted by Catherine Gerber.

And as we consider the various ways of knowing, I can not do it without sharing Two Kinds of Intelligence by Jellaludin Rumi submitted by Marianne Houston.

Now ten years later,  I am delighted to own the new sister volume, Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach.    Following the same structure and format of the previous volume, already this, too,  has been added to my survivor tools-- just as essential as it older sibling.

In this volume, we find our fellow teachers across the nation have submitted old favorites and classics, such  as The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus submitted by Randi Weingarten and Section II from Song of  Myself by Walt Whitman submitted by Jennifer Boyden

I am also delighted to find newer contemporary sustenance such as Taylor Mali's  What Teacher's Make submitted by Kevin Hodgson and No Way. The Hundred is There. by Lori Malaguzzi submitted by Tiffany Poirier.

What poem woke you up this morning?
Which poem reflected the day's possibilities?
Which poem opened your mind, your heart and your window on the world today?
What poem gives you courage, and sets you on fire?

Related Resources

Visit  the Center for Courage and Renewal of which Parker J. Palmer is the founder and senior partner.

In my pile of next reads is  Palmer's classic book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, I want to reread it this summer.

Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead is another anthology of poems following the same structure of Teaching with Fire and Teaching with Courage,  published by the same editors between these two volumes.

Bringing together leaders from every area imaginable-- corporate executives, doctors, educators, lawyers, politicians, journalists, clergy and more, this anthology inspires leaders in all walks of life in their daily work of making a difference.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Consider the work you do and the poems that have sustained you in that work.  Reread several of those poems, reflecting on their importance, influence and inspiration. Why do you need them and reread them? When are they most helpful?  How did you discover these poems? How have you shared them with others?

Select one of these poems and write a one-page reflection  on its essentialness in your life and work.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The calendar tells us that Summer officially starts on June 21-- the day of the summer solstice.

Tradition, however,  tells us that summer actually begins on Memorial Day.

Parades down Main Street or your own neighborhood street usher in memories of  those brave souls who have protected our freedoms.... and our right to enjoy summer.

Pools open nationwide.
Delicious aromas notify us of the first cookouts of the summer.
Decks are stained; patio hosed and outdoor furniture are pulled out of storage.

And with this advent of summer, come rules--- those official and traditional,--those written in stone, as well as those unofficial, unwritten rules, that we all just know.

Random Rules for Adults

Don't wear white before Memorial Day.

Plant your annuals after Mother's Day.

Cut your grass every eight days and not too short -- no shorter than 3 1/2 inches.

Water the flowers every night- unless it rains.

Cover your arms (and other bare areas) in church.

 Don't wear sandals with unpainted toenails.

Swimsuits are not worn in restaurant.

 Random Rules for Children  ( or at least in my childhood home)

It must be 75 degrees outside to go swimming. (This was the magic number, no matter what other conditions were in play- sun, no sun, wind no wind-- even sprinkling was okay if the temperature was 75.)

No swimming for a half hour after eating.(This could be an hour,depending on which adult is watching you) 

Call home to check in after 30 minutes. (Calling home may result in having to go home.  Not calling home would result in not be allowed to go again.)

Ask before you bring a friend home.

No one else may ride your bike but you.

You may not wear flip-flops, tennis shoes, or go without your socks- and absolutely no bare feet. (I wore corrective shoes for several issues, hence the shoes restrictions-- not sure the reason for the sock rule.)

What rules rule your summer?

What rules regulated your summer days as a child?

We all live by them--- those very clear rules that everybody knows.  Those same rules of which nobody remembers the origin or understands their "why".

Shaun Tan, one of my favorite creators of books for children,  has given us a summer gift to help us ponder this notion of not always knowing the whats and whys of the rules.

Tan offers in spare words and vivid dreamscapes, a thoughtful meditation  in  Rules of Summer, on arbitrary rules that a younger sibling must follow-- rules he doesn't understand.

Rules of which in, some case, he isn't even aware -- until he is in the middle of breaking them.

Rules that lead to harrowing adventures and  close escapes.

Rules established by his older brother.
And as only an older sibling can, consequences are conjured for the simplest infractions.

What does happen if a red sock is left on the clothesline?
" Never Leave a Red Sock on the Clothesline"  2012 Shaun Tan
What catatrophe occcurs if you eat the last olive at a party?

What happens if you forget the password or leave the backdoor unlocked?

Or you forget the way home?

In simple, direct prose and thought-provoking  images that carry his story--Tan pushes us beyond the summer, the rules, and the story--  to consider our own relationships to our siblings, our friends and others.

Visit Shaun Tan's page to read more about this treasure, including his own commentary on the book, and to see more of his remarkable images from the book.

Several other books created by Shaun Tan  rate among my own favorites and those of my students.

Each  stretched our thinking , delighted our senses, and turned the concept of story upside-down.

And each helped us more closely and intentionally examine our own lives... and the rules we live by.


 What are the rules that govern our relationships, the rules for being together?

Who creates the rules?

What happens when the rules are broken?

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember and reflect on your childhood summers.  What rules regulated your activities?  Who created and enforced these rules? How did the rules affect you and your summer?

Consider a close relationship-- a sibling, a friend, a co-worker.  What are the rules that govern your relationship?  Who creates and establishes the rules?  What happens when the rules are not followed?

What are rules you have established for yourself?

Write a personal narrative or essay about  how rules affect your life. 
Or you may write a poem meditating on the role of rules in society.