I scribbled notes as fast as I could while Nic Stone spoke to the gathering of teachers yesterday.
Stone is the author of the young adult novel Dear Martin. She’s straightforward, funny, warm, and passionate about reading and writing. The teachers are K-12 cross-curricular educators from across my district who’ve chosen to attend our second annual Teacher Summer Writing Institute—an entire week dedicated to growing as writers and teachers of writing. As a co-facilitator of this event, I sat in the back of the room for the panoramic view: The writing guru, seated comfortably on a tabletop, delivering her wisdom to the crowd who eagerly awaited.
Here are my favorite words of Stone:
“Literacy is about collaboration. Reading and writing are collaborative efforts. We have to be able to talk to each other.”
“I wanted to write from an early age but it took me until age twenty-eight to really try . . . finding your voice is validating yourself and what you think and feel . . . READ what makes you think and feel.”
“Write for yourself first.”
“The beauty of writing is that it is always in your head.”
“You don’t have to write every day, but you have to develop the habit of writing.”
“Writing is solitary. Storytelling is collaborative.”
“Schools with the highest reading and writing successes are those where students have freedom to choose what they want to read and write about. Kids see each other doing it.”
“These are conversations you should be having in your buildings: Why do standards exist? What does it mean to be literate?”
“That you keep on doing the work without answers . . . that shows your amazing strength.”
“There’s no room for being wrong in American schools. Kids need to know it’s okay to fumble; it’s how they learn . . . they need a soft place to land.”
“Reading and writing can unpack fears.”
“There’s no better way to help students find their power, their agency, their validity as human beings, than in the beauty of books, in words, in writing.”
“The thing about research is how one thing leads you to another. Everything connects. Reading and writing are all about connecting. Our connecting to the world around us, our connecting to each other.”
“Emphasize the fun in research.”
“For authentic writing, voice is more important than grammar. Let students drop commas, play with punctuation, write run-ons, fragments . . . tell them they have to know the rules before they’re allowed to break them.”
“All first drafts are garbage. They’re supposed to be.”
“Do yourself and the kids a favor: Don’t grade first drafts. Assign a date to have students finish them. They’ll have a sense of accomplishment in just finishing. Then after a couple of days, have them go back and revise.”
“I finish writing a draft before I revise, or I’d never finish.”
“Do what’s best for you to get your work on the page . . . it’s just not in the first draft.”
“Your writing doesn’t have to be be good to get an agent. It has to be good to get an editor.”
“Always be working on something else. Always.”
“I’m amazed at the compassion I’ve developed just from writing books.”
“Writing is my life. I can’t not do it.”
Stone opened and closed our time together with three-minute timed free writes; the closing prompt: Now that this mess is over, I feel . . .
My final lines in response, in my journal: I feel validated in so many ways, as teacher, writer, human spirit.
For all of these connect.
See my post Write me for more background on the Summer Teacher Writing Institute and the value of teachers as writers.