It seems that the One Little Word (#OLW) may be going out of fashion and I know I’m hideously late for anything related to new year resolutions, but I find the process of reflecting on my one little word to be important to me both spiritually and professionally. Plus, I have two really good reasons for not getting it done in a timely fashion — not coincidentally one of each (spiritual and professional). And, last but not least, I really hate to break my trend (see 2019: Connect, 2018: Question, 2017: Light, 2016: Cool, and 2015: Simplicity)
I have chosen the word HEAL for my one little word in 2020 because it means something important to me both spiritually and professionally. Plus, it is a word that comes to mind while watching America self-destruct, but this is not about politics. 2019 was a tough year for me both personally and professionally. My sandwich generation status drove me to the breaking point. My parents moved to Kentucky (from my hometown in Upstate New York) a few years ago for help with my father’s Parkinsons. We had a plan for that disease, but were unprepared for the horrific combination of Parkinsons and dementia. This trauma overlaid everything that should have been fun and joyous in the other half of the sandwich as my son enjoyed a triumphant senior year in high school and then moved on to the excitement and challenge of college. And the need to cope with the many demands of the trauma made it so much harder for me to cope with our suddenly empty nest and what sometimes felt like losing the only good thing in my life. While my personal life was a mess, I am fortunate in that I love my work and 2019 was a really good year in the classroom plus the Morehead Writing Project had a really great year of programming. The work and the people involved in both aspects of my professional life allowed me to escape the trauma as did writing about that work in blog and my life in verse. While some aspects of my professional life are awesome there are others that worry me. I worry about the future of the Kentucky Writing Project because that work is important in general and critical to me personally. Much of the fall semester has seen my professional home embroiled in debates that will directly impact my happiness in the classroom and let’s not forget the state of higher education in general (and in Kentucky in particular) and I dread more of the same for months to come. Then in the final days of 2019 my father died. So, yeah, 2019 was a year.
Perhaps them I can be forgiven for delaying my One Little Word reflection. I did pick the word in the first week of the new year while in the midst of planning a funeral and feeling the weight of a new semester and year rushing at me when I was unprepared in every way. There are a number of important reasons why the word HEAL felt right for 2020. As a teacher I believe in the power of the one little word to guide students in both reflection and goal setting. I think using the one little word at the beginning of the school year, the calendar year, or even a unit can be a very useful process that can give students agency over their learning as well as adjust their thinking and choices to achieve their goal. I also believe in its power for people in general and teachers in specific. Life is overwhelming. Teaching is overwhelming (at least the way we do it currently) . Learning is overwhelming (at least the way we do it currently). It helps to have a touchstone to guide you in the darkness and to return to when you get lost. That is why it always takes me a long time to select my word, because I know that words have power — and this one little word should carry tremendous power. Reading over my past #OLW posts has taught me that I should return to this word (and re-read my reflection) throughout the year. I think I could have used that pep talk when times were tough in 2019
In many ways HEAL has been a key part of my teaching mission statement for a long time. You can see the evidence in blog posts touting the literacy narrative, praise poetry and other student care, and simply believing and caring for students, but might simply be summed up by First, Do No Harm. I work to heal my students’ relationship with writing which has been damaged by a K-12 education system singularly focused on on-demand writing and teachers with little training in best practices for teaching writing and/or overwhelmed by their current teaching situation (which means they have little time/energy to teach writing the way they know they should). One of the joys of teaching with games is also helping to heal my students relationship with learning. The current way we do education in America is a nightmare for everyone involved and I don’t see a way out any time soon. But when I can create one small pocket of fun where we learn joyfully in a warm community that is a win.
HEALing is also an essential part of my teacher-leadership style. It is one of the prime missions of the Morehead Writing Project as we strive to celebrate and support writers from the smallest students just learning to hold a pencil to the teachers at the end of their professional arc. We strive to create those pockets of joy and peace where our writers can fall in love with writing and learning and our community (again and again).
Personally I have a lot of healing to do as well. I need to heal my heart and find forgiveness so I can move forward with my life and my relationships. That healing is necessary to finding joy and peace in my personal life as well as my professional life. I hope that this healing can be spread exponentially to my co-workers and peers as well as my neighbors and friends. That is my hope for 2020–to heal.
What is your one little word for 2020? Have you thought about finding your own one little word to guide your future?