I’d read about the concept of One Little Word on my very favorite teaching blog : Two Writing Teachers. Stacey and Ruth give credit to Ali Edwards, another blogger. The idea is this: choose a word to live intentionally for a year. I like the idea so much more than a New Year’s Resolution. A resolution feels like a stick. But One Little Word? That feels like a plumb line. A guide. Grace.
A word landed on me like an errant piece of confetti from the sky. “Celebration!” I announced it as soon as I saw it. I wanted my first read-aloud of the year to reflect my word, so I read I Am in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor. I love the poetic language, the graceful use of ellipses and parentheses. I love what it says about noticing, naming, and marking the smallest details of life–seeing how we choose what matters– and knowing if we don’t, we miss it. Celebration. Word. Yes.
I couldn’t wait to call Elizabeth Dunn. We teach at different schools in Richmond — probably a good thing, because sparks fly from our heads when our brains get too close. We have both been participants in the Reading/Writing Project at Columbia Teachers College. We speak the same language. We are passionate about our work. She lives a teaching life that is brilliant and inspired. And she inspires me.
It was late in the afternoon. The lights were turned off and setting sun poured its fading color through my classroom windows. I was getting ready to leave. I called Elizabeth. “Read this book tomorrow,” I told her. “It is perfect.”
By Byrd Baylor? She was very excited about what had happened in her classroom that day, and went on to tell me about it.
She told me that, coincidentally, she had also read a book by Byrd Baylor to her class that day: Everybody Needs a Rock. She told me that she had chosen One Little Word for herself and thought it would be helpful for her students, too. Then… and this is where her brilliance shines: She used Baylor’s rules for rock finding to show her children how to find their word. Each of her students chose a word that was theirs. And then found a rock to mark the occasion. We marveled that once again we were on the same track.
I got out the Baylor book as we talked and placed it on my desk while we were still on the phone. I was ready.
I told her that I had chosen a word, but hadn’t thought of the children choosing a word, too. It was brilliant! I shared that my word was celebration.
“Celebration?” she asked. “Are you sure? I’m wondering if that is really the word.” It was a gentle push. We agreed that maybe I needed to pick a word that wasn’t already so much a part of me. I would wait for another piece of confetti to land.
The next morning I read Everybody Needs a Rock to my class in our Morning Meeting. We talked about rules for finding a word that was our very own. We sat quietly and I invited them to gently call out their word, one at a time, as they realized what it was. There was the confetti again…beautiful words rang out as they fell around us, melting as they hit the ground. I saw my piece of confetti again, but this time I could see the word more clearly: Mindfulness. Noticing, naming, and marking the smallest details of life–seeing how we choose what matters– and knowing if we don’t, we miss it… Mindfulness.
We wrote our little words big in heavy crayon on manila paper. We painted over them with watercolor and glitter; We saw how each word sparkled and kept shining through.
We wrote about our words.
At the end of the week, Elizabeth and I met at Starbucks to match up our kids as pen pals. This will be our second year doing this. Our kids write each other and then at the end of the year we bring them together for a final writing celebration. We talked about our words.
She has her one little word and I have mine, but together we keep finding one giant word: Collaboration. It sparkles. And it keeps shining through.