“Children want to write.” These words written by Donald Graves before I even began my teaching career echo in my head and push me to improve my teaching…and my own writing. Each and every day.
Donald Graves also influenced my view of myself as a teacher researcher early in my career. Through his writing and conference presentations, I learned to view my teaching as a work in progress responsive to the needs of the students in front of me. Through his work I learned to pay close attention to my students and to listen carefully.
Children will continually surprise us if we let them. This is what happens when we slow down, listen, and let the children lead. That is the joy of both research and teaching.” Donald Graves
Some days teaching writing is hard. I have students who resist and say, “I don’t know what to write.” And I know exactly how they feel. Some days I don’t know what to say in my writing either. But I strive to struggle through…and I ask them to do that too. In the Writing Project we say that the best teacher of writing is a writer his/herself. And I know this is true, because I know what makes writing hard because I write. And I know that writing is the answer to that struggle to write. Some days I have to write through the struggle just to find out what I have to say.
“Write yourself. Invite children to do something you’re already doing. If you’re not doing it, ‘Hey,’ the kids say, ‘I can’t wait to grow up and not have to write, like you.’ They know. And for the short term and the long term, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by writing. All of us need it as a survival tool in a very complex world. The wonderful thing about writing is that it separates the meaningless and the trivial from what is really important. So we need it for ourselves and then we need to invite children to do what we’re doing. You can’t ask someone to sing a duet with you until you know the tune yourself.”
We all need mentors in our lives. Donald Graves was one of mine, and his writing remains to continue to guide my thinking. And those he mentored continue his work and provide guidance for the next generation of teachers and writers. My students also mentor me. They continually remind me to have high expectations and limitless patience. And they prove Donald Graves right, “Children want to write.”
Who are your mentors? How do you continue their work?