One Little Word. One Big Idea.

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.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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9 Responses to One Little Word. One Big Idea.

  1. Mindfulness…what a great word. I like the journey and the personal stretch. I find myself often picking goals that are already in me. It is good and refreshing to move the boundaries.

  2. Ruth says:

    Sweet Annie. I’m in my office at school, looking at I’M IN CHARGE OF CELEBRATIONS, facing out on my bookshelf, a constant reminder of the power of celebration.


    I can’t wait to hear how it plays out in your life.


  3. Tam says:

    What great ideas for children–OLW and finding one through finding a rock!!! Your are fabulous teachers and, oh, so wonderful to be able to colorborate with a fellow teacher–priceless!!!

  4. Deb Day says:

    I love the way you wrote this–my favorite line “…sparks fly from our heads when our brains get too close.” I have a teaching friend like that too….I love working with people who think like I do.

    The story of finding your word was captivating, and I love that you had your students do it too.

    Thanks for sharing this

  5. Your post is a lovely celebration of the idea of One Little Word and the sparks it can cause! I love it!

  6. elsie says:

    Don’t Byrd Baylor’s books make you sit back, take stock, and think? What a great way to find a word and apply it to your students too. I will be sharing this with my friend who is like your friend. We think on the same wavelength.

  7. JenniferM says:

    How fun! Thanks for sharing how you implemented OLW with your students. Keep us posted on what else you do through the year to help them grow with their words. You are so lucky to have a colleague that you can relate with so strongly. Enjoy your COLLABORATION together.

  8. Linda Baie says:

    Lovely story of your work with your students, and with your friend. It must be so satisfying to have a friend to work so closely with,and almost think of the same thing, yet banter back & forth playing on each other’s ideas. I love Byrd Baylor’s books & have used them often with writing groups. Your idea with choosing the OLW is terrific. Like Jennifer, I hope you will share more about what you do throughout the year.

  9. onesunflower says:

    This was a wonderful entry to read from start to finish. I, too, love the images of sparks flying – and I love how your friend gave you a gentle push – I need friends like that! Your use of Byrd’s book is brilliant, I want to reread the book again – and maybe I’ll find a rock as a touchstone to remind me of my word (which is delight.)

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