The zinnias are gone. Last week’s cold nights literally turned their brilliant pink hearts to solid, dried up brown in a matter of hours. Nature can be so ruthless. I know it’s the life cycle, and an end of one thing is the beginning of another. But there are times when I wonder if what’s about to begin could ever live up to what has ended. Even before the zinnias died, this idea was on my mind.
Last week I learned that Donald Graves, one of the most influential writing teachers of our time, passed away recently. Don’s work was instrumental in bringing forth the writing process to elementary classrooms all over the country. He demonstrated to teachers how to help young writers find their voices. Don showed teachers how to find their own voices as well, and I was one of those teachers. His work opened up a floodgate of writing teachers and I count myself among the fortunate to have studied with so many of them over the past 25 years. I didn’t know Don as personally as I did some of the others, but his work and thinking touched my life and the lives of hundreds of Awakening Seed children and teachers. He was a kind and generous man who never stopped advocating for writers of all ages.
One of my biggest thrills as a second grade teacher was sitting beside a just-published young writer in the author’s chair as he or she shared the latest “hot off the press” title. I loved this celebration of a child’s writing process, hearing the story read in the child’s voice, seeing the beautiful illustrations, and the Q & A session that followed as peers commented on and complimented the author. I also loved the process of conferring with children, spending time getting at the heart of what they wanted to say, and giving them tools to be more independent writers on future drafts. Writing empowered many Seeds and I still receive poems, essays, and other genres from the grown-up versions of those young writers.
At the Seed we devote considerable time to helping children find their voices, as people and eventually as writers. We teach our students to use brave talk and stand up for themselves and injustices they witness. We also let them know that their stories matter, and we are listening. Donald Graves was a pioneer who will be greatly missed. It’s hard to imagine anyone who could step up and make the kind of difference he has. It is my hope, however, that the generations of children whose voices have been heard will find new ways to listen and use their words, spoken and written, to make this world a better place.