Getting Uncomfortable and ‘Writing Beside Them’

When we were starting our Transcendentalist unit this year, we did a “nature walk” to try to get our students to experience some of the tenets of the concept. We were inspired by this teacher’s blog. My whole team took our students outside (and told online students to set a timer for about 15 minutes and sit outside as well). We left all electronics in the classroom and simply took in the nature outside of our school with all five of our senses. It wasn’t perfect since we were right by a traffic-filled main road and the students really wanted to talk instead of being quiet, but a lot of students got the hang of it by the end. One student reflected that they had not spent any quiet time outside to just take it in in years, if ever. Many were inspired to write like I am at the beach- more on that later.

The 2020-2021 school year has been one of tremendous growth for us all, whether we wanted to grow or not. I spent my year learning how to be even more flexible than ever before, becoming more clear on what is a priority and what can be left for later, and finding myself in a team leadership position when I was the only certified teacher present on my team for over two weeks. However, I do not feel I have grown in my teaching practice as much as I have in my character growth. For that reason, I am seeking situations to put myself in where I am uncomfortable to grow in that area; becoming a contributing writer on this blog is one of them. I am terrified!

Through my four years of teaching, I have mostly mastered the art of independent reading in class and using that to help students master/demonstrate mastery on most essential standards. I have become a pro at book talks and first chapter Fridays and reading conferences and recommending books. Now that I feel like I have my feet firmly planted underneath me with reading, it is time to become a better writing teacher. Writing is not usually a practice I partake in myself outside of school as I do reading. To be honest, it scares me! Will I have interesting things to say? Am I using a diverse enough vocabulary? Am I creative enough? I prefer my comfortable, familiar cocoon of reading, but I am forcing myself to Write Beside Them like Penny Kittle encourages. I will be re-reading that book over the summer as I make that the focus of my growth for the year.

Two people on the beach watching stars above the sea | Flickr

When thinking about improving the writing part of my teaching practice, I reflected on where I felt most inspired to write. Without a doubt, it is when I am in nature like my students above. My friends will tell you that I wax poetic and create all sorts of metaphors when we are at the beach. For example, there is nothing like staring up at a starry sky while laying in the cooling sand of the beach and hearing the salty water lapping up. The more you look up at the sky, the longer you take it all in, the more stars appear. It gets more beautiful, more bright the longer you take the time to look at it. That always stands as a metaphor for many things in life for me. When we slow down and just stay present, the more beauty we see. 

Taking both my experiences in nature and my students’ experiences, I have made a commitment to spend my summer outdoors with my notebook and pen in hand as much as possible to just be present and write as I feel led. How will you get uncomfortable this summer/next school year to grow?

Rebecca Riggs is a reluctant writer like many of her students, but she is working on it. She is in her 4th year of teaching at Klein Cain High School. She is looking forward to a summer of snoballs and walks at her favorite park. She is currently reading Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and highly recommends it! You can find her on Twitter @rebeccalriggs or on Instagram @riggsreaders

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6 thoughts on “Getting Uncomfortable and ‘Writing Beside Them’

  1. […] since our honeymoon four years ago to Atlanta, Georgia last week, I had an epiphany. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that nature is where I come up with my best writing ideas. While exploring Georgia, […]

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  2. Amy Rasmussen May 14, 2021 at 9:02 pm Reply

    I love your willingness to step into this vulnerable place and write. Imagine the possibilities!! Imagine if all secondary ELA teachers took the time to practice their writing–what treasures they will discover that will be useful in teaching their writers. Thank you for leading by example, Rebecca! And btw, I’m super envious of your beach experiences! A visit to sandy shores is definitely on my list of summer plans!

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    • Rebecca Riggs May 15, 2021 at 3:16 pm Reply

      Thank you for giving me the push I needed!

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  3. Rebecca Riggs May 14, 2021 at 7:53 pm Reply

    Definitely will use your post for some writing inspiration. I need all the help I can get!

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    • Leigh Anne Eck May 16, 2021 at 8:53 am Reply

      Rebecca – You might want to check out Teach Write on social media. It is a fun group of teacher-writers, a place to learn and become more confident in your writing. We’d love to have you!

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  4. Leigh Anne Eck May 14, 2021 at 6:52 pm Reply

    Hooray for you for stepping outside of your comfort zone! I love everything that Penny Kittle writes! Write Beside Them is a phenomenal book! I wrote about summer plans in my Friday Night Quickwrite post on here tonight, too. Love making summer plans!

    Liked by 1 person

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