By Christopher Bronke
It was the workshop that changed my personal and professional life forever. It was that “a-ha” moment that all teachers (and people) wish for, and while it was four years ago, I remember it like yesterday. Penny Kittle steadfastly stated that if we are going to ask our students to write for us, for our class, then we must absolutely be writing and sharing our work with them.
Now I had fancied myself a good teacher prior to this workshop; however, I left that workshop with an internal sense of disappointment and inspiration; I was disappointed at all the missed opportunities to write with my students. Yet I was beaming with excitement at what the future now held.
You see, I had always wanted to write, to be a writer, and it really goes back to my first year of college when Dr. Nancy Dejoy told me, “You write; therefore, you are a writer.” But this phrase, while powerful, had been forever juxtaposed with two sharply contrasting realities: I had nothing to say and no way to get my “nothing to say” to anyone who might (and probably wouldn’t) want to read it.
That workshop was my turning point; it was at this moment that I dedicated myself to my writing again and sharing that writing with my students. Serendipitously, my teaching life was now also beginning to be molded and refined thanks to my use of Twitter. I was connecting with and learning from teachers across the country, pushing my thinking and motivation forward to places I never realized existed. So, it seemed only natural to start to blog because I had solved both of my problems: all of the wonderful conversations with other teachers on Twitter finally gave me something about which to write, and Twitter gave me a means by which to share my writing with others. And I can now proudly proclaim again, after a long break, “I write; therefore, I am a writer!”
Why the Educational Narrative Needs More Teacher Writers
The reality, sad and seemingly uncontrollable as it may be, is that the national narrative on education is one of gloom and doom, attacks and battles, and there is a perception that there isn’t much we, as teachers, can do about it. However, teachers have a way of reclaiming this narrative, and it is simple. As Dr. Irvin Scott says, “know your story; share your story,” and that is exactly why more teachers need to write.
Blogging gives us the opportunity to share the truth, our truth—to expose the intricacies of our days with students, the joy we share, the care we give, and the love we spread all come to life when we allow our words to flow from our souls for the world to read. We connect with others, forming networks built on passion for education and a commitment to what is right for students and teachers. And most importantly, we learn more about ourselves.
Writing forces us to stare deeply into a mirror, oftentimes one that is looking back with bias, and explore our truth. The power in writing comes not from the product but the process; writing assists us in learning things about ourselves we didn’t know. In short, it helps us uncover, dissect, and learn the truth…our truth.
I Want to Write, But I Don’t Know How to Get Started
Let’s start by being honest: writing is hard; writing is intimate; writing is personal. Writing forces us to explore, and even more intimidating, uncover new realities, and that is not easy. But what if you had help? What if you could work one-on-one with a coach, a fellow teacher who is committed to helping you through every step of the writing process, from idea/topic creation through to publication…for free? This is why the National Blogging Collaborative was formed—to help teachers write more.
While talking about writing during some free time at the ECET2 New Orleans convening, founding members Kristen Bronke, Brad Clark, Lisa Hollenbach, Brooke Perry, and I had an idea: what if there was support for teachers who want to start writing but don’t know how? And even better, what if this support was for teachers by teachers (the very theme of ECET2) and free?
For us, it was very simple: if we want to be part of reclaiming the national narrative on education, we must do our part to support those teachers who need it. So we dedicated ourselves to forming the NBC. Since our launch in January 2015, we have worked with over 30 different teacher-writers from across the country, partnered with The Educator Collaborative to support their writers, and even added a second wave of coaches, bringing on board Renee Boss, Julie Hiltz, Kristie Martorelli, and Allison Stewart. Our goal is simple; we want to help as many teachers as possible be able to contribute their voice to the national narrative. We have worked with writers who are just getting started for the first time, as well as very experienced writers looking for a second set of eyes. Either way, we are here to help you contribute your voice. The reality is that you do have something to say, and writing will help you find it and get it out. Your personal writing coach is just one click away.
Christopher Bronke is the English department chair at Downers Grove North High School in Downers Grove, Illinois. He is a member of the Teacher Advisory ouncil for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on the Executive Committee as a member-at-large for the Conference on English Leadership, and a co-founder of the National Blogging Collaborative.