Last week, Stenhouse published my new book When Writers Drive the Workshop—and I’m nervous. This isn’t my first book, but it’s my most meaningful. It’s the book I’ve been writing in my head for 20 years—ever since I stepped into a classroom and began teaching Writer's Workshop. It’s one of those books that is both professional and personal at the same time: part how-to, part manifesto, and part memoir. It’s my teaching story, but it’s the teaching story of so many others.
In this book, my professional and personal lives converge across the pages. My story, the stories of teachers, and the stories of our young writers come together in printed form. Our voices speak across the chapters and we want them to be heard. But what if no one hears us?
Publication is a nerve-wrecking process. When I publish something—whether it’s a book, book chapter, journal article, blog post, email—I worry about my meaning. Did I make my thoughts clear? Did I make the right word choices? Did I honor teachers and students and represent their words accurately and honestly? Did I provoke thought? Did my words connect with the audience? Did I help a teacher see something in a new, fresh way?
Did my writing matter?
This book is different. There is much at stake. Too often I have seen the Writer’s Workshop become too much of a Writing Workshop—a focus on the writing rather than the writer. Writers have been taken out of the equation—replaced by scripts, writing programs, and writing lessons crafted without writers in mind. Somehow, Pinterest has replaced pedagogy.
This wasn’t the intention of Writer’s Workshop when it started to barnstorm the country in the late 70s and 80s with the important work of Don Graves, Jane Hansen, and others. It was always the writer they followed and they used their own collected knowledge about writing (because they were writers themselves) to guide the conversations they had with children. It’s time for us to reflect, refocus, and revise our teaching practices so we can, once again, bring our children forward as the loudest voices in our workshop.
So, I’m nervous about the publication of this book, but thrilled at the same time. I’m excited about the voices of children who are finally coming forward. I think of Tameka who taught me to ditch the writing prompts I gave and let choice take center stage. I think of Demetria who taught me there are stories writers need to tell, even if those stories are hard for us to hear. I think about Jacob who finally had the time to reflect and write about a disease that almost took his life. I think about the teachers who created spaces where students felt safe to write and share their words with others.
When I think of all those voices speaking across the pages, I feel less alone. It’s my story. It’s their stories. It’s our stories—told together. And that makes publication a less scary adventure.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.