Thursday, October 25, 2012

Words matter...

I love how I begin thinking about an idea I want to write about, and then I see that theme in many different things, repeatedly. Like someone is saying, “Yes – follow that thought.” The thing, the idea, that has been bouncing around my brain this week is this simple thought, “Words matter.”

See, sometimes fifth grade children don’t exactly stand up and cheer when I say it’s time to write. Some do, but several this year ask if they can keep reading. They don’t see the purpose. Many of them have not had a workshop class before. They really just want me to tell them the assignment, they want to write a rough draft and final draft (that are pretty similar) and be done. They look at me as I talk about audience, stretching as a writer, craft choices – and I clearly understand that they think I’m crazy.

The other day as I was writing in front of them for our mini-lesson I simply stated that their words matter –that their message mattered. I had a few heads nod and many of them looked at each other. I tried to impart the impact words can have on others. I don’t think they believed me. And then, I thought about it. What exactly was I trying to say? How do my words matter? It was something I kept thinking on.

Shortly after that lesson I came across the following blog post (HERE) from Jessica Lahey about how our words matter as teachers. The impact an email can have on a parent. What an excellent reminder for me, especially during the two weeks of parent-teacher conferences.

And the signs kept coming. I had wonderful messages from blog readers, emails from friends who liked my poem about Vel. Stacey at Two Writing Teachers wrote a poem inspired by it (HERE). My students told me that the poem moved them, which is a high compliment from them. And then I went to Vel’s funeral today.

Standing in the cemetery we gathered together. The minister read some prayers and I thought of the impact of the chosen words – how they made me feel. She had obviously thought about who Vel was. Then she started to describe Vel:

The shock of flaming red hair.
Her arrow straight posture.
The impeccable wardrobe, Burberry.

Holy smokes, I thought, that’s my poem! And I listened as she read it, and people nodded. Wow, what a powerful experience. It seems my dad had passed it on to the minister so she’d know Vel. She had decided to read it. And as people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it, I though of the power of our words.

What I need to teach my students is this.

Words do matter.

Words convey our feelings.
Words are communication.

Words can tear people down.
Words can build people up.

Words can bring joy.
Words can bring sadness.

And sometimes, when you don’t know how to say
What is on your heart,
Words can speak your message for you.
Words can bring us together.

And I realized how grateful I was. To friends who took the time to read my blog and comment here or to me. To strangers who do the same. To students who share their writing with me. To my parents for showing that the read my writing and liked it. To a stranger, a minister, for sharing it with others. Words do matter. I can’t wait to talk to my students tomorrow.