Powerful Practice in Teaching Writing

POWERFUL Practice in Writing

At this challenging time across the world, from the relative safety of home, I have had more time to reflect upon my writing process and its capacity to inform my teaching and learning. This week, I  am happily revisiting the notion of teacher influence…

I remain very aware of the influence a teacher’s own writing has on impressionable students. Some teachers believe they have little actual power when it comes to the attitudes of young learners. The reality is, teachers control the very climate in the classroom. I frequently find myself invoking this quote from educator, Haim Ginott.

‘I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.’

So, when a teacher presents to students as a fellow writer, the children’s world view of writing is challenged. Something quite magical begins to take place in the classroom. The teacher begins to learn progressively better ways to write and from that, teach.

As a result the inexperienced writer receives quite clear demonstrations regarding how writing possesses a power to entertain, inform, persuade, provoke, and comfort depending on the writer’s intent. The young writer also benefits from observing the various processes undertaken by a more experienced and proficient writer. There is so much to be gained from this.

While rummaging through some old notebooks last week, my eyes fell upon this entry:

'What are we teaching our students about writing, if it isn't what actual writers do?'       

Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg.        

This quote goes directly to the heart of authentic practice! What can less experienced writers learn from the processes employed by these experienced writers? This is curriculum fodder centred on how meaningful writing outcomes are accomplished.

The eternal question –why do we write? No doubt passes through a child’s mind at some point. Particularly those children who grow up in homes where no one ever chooses to engage in the act of writing. This only increases the need for teachers to be viewed as living breathing advocates and participants in the literates acts of reading and writing. The literate lives of teachers need to be highly visible and celebrated acts.

Reflect for a moment upon your current writing practices and what impact such practices might have on the attitudes of  impressionable student writers.

Across the years I have mindfully shared my many processes with students and teachers:

Where I get my ideas

How I choose a notebook

How I gather notebook entries

How I identify a personal writing project

How I overcome writing roadblocks

How I use re-reading

Where I choose to write

When I choose to write

How I consider my audience of readers

How reading informs my writing

How other writers inform my writing

How I employ my senses

How I distance myself from the writing in order to see it clearly

How I mindfully use writing craft

Why I persist


We must go to the source of writing in order to most effectively teach it. It seems to me, attitude and ultimately engagement, dwell here.



  1. Dear Alan,
    You are most kind in sharing your knowledge and experience as a writer and a teacher of writers. I know from my own experience how the joy and confidence in my student writing increased when I stated writing and sharing my practice with my students. Post like yours help me to continue to grow.
    Best wishes!

    1. Terje, thank you for kind response. We learn so much writing wisdom from being prepared to be risk takers and learners alongside others. It deepens our understanding and enhances our credibility. I am pleased you found some value in my reflections on this matter.

  2. A wonderful reflection on the importance of the writing teacher! Thanks for the inspiration and insight

    1. Thank you for your kind remarks. If you find yourself a little inspired, then my words have served their intended purpose and I am well pleased.

  3. This is so true--and really, applies across content areas. I present myself as a reader, warts and all, in my library--and am lucky enough to "be a writer", too, when fourth grade has their writing camp. By jumping in with the students, it changes the whole vibe of the classroom.

    1. Your words, 'by jumping in' Chris are most pertinent in this scenario. We must be risk takers too. Our credibility skyrockets when we become fellow readers and writers. Thanks again Chris for your remarks.

  4. Love this! I'm saving your list of ideas that you share with students for future reference.

    1. Elisa, it pleases me to think these thoughts and ideas can contribute in some way to the work of others. Thank you for your kind remarks.

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