Teaching Teachers to Write from the Heart

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. This is the theme of this post, and it is inspired by The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators or #30GoalsEdu, which was created by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. Over 10,000 teachers have joined the challenge since it started and I am grateful to now be among them.

What convinced me to take part in this challenge was this excerpt from the 2013 30 Goals cycle:

“Each goal will focus on getting educators to believe their plans of action now will lead to positive change in their environments and inspire their learners to be the kind of people who try to make every moment of their lives meaningful and inspirational. Too many individuals are not seizing the moments in their lives to inspire or live their passions. (…) As educators, we have the ability to influence students and we start by being the example of individuals who make meaningful moments.”

The teachers I met on the 30 Goals Facebook page were right: this has me written all over it.

And so I begin my adventure with this challenge:

There comes a time when each of us has an idea or opportunity that challenges our comfort zone and differs so much from the rituals we develop. We need to be able to seize those opportunities and go forth with new ideas. We need to be able to take risks so we grow as educators and also help our learners grow.

Here is my risk: I am going to ask the teachers in our program to write for at least 10 minutes once a week without any structure. The aim is to help them enjoy the writing process and also to help them connect to their inner lives. I want them to express themselves without a sense of consequence.

In order for you to understand how I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, I need to admit something: I have been a rigid writing teacher. I rely on structured composition patterns (paragraph, essays), and common codes of conduct (formal letters, informal emails…) as the content of my classroom. I teach the rules and help the teacher-trainees stick to them. Sure once in a while I introduce simple poetry (diamantes, acrostic poems), or creative writing (storybooks for kids, writing based on images). But most of the time writing was about topic sentences, thesis statements, and creating cohesion.  Of course there is a creative element here as well, but there just wasn’t the free flow writing that I personally enjoy on almost a daily basis.

I wanted to bring the same joy of writing to my teacher-trainees, and see what changes might occur in their approach to writing. Most of these teachers have never taken a writing class and feel very apprehensive about their writing abilities. They come to the course feeling nervous, but also eager to see what they can do. Although my approach has yielded positive results, I have often felt I was letting them down in a way. I found my solution to this when I started reading Natalie Goldberg’s, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language (a must read for all people curious about the power of writing).

To begin this journey, I asked the teachers to think of one or two words that came to mind when they thought about the word Writing. The answers within the heart are some of these words.

Beginning Writer's Heart
Beginning Writers’ Heart

Then I asked them to respond to the quote below. I asked them why they thought Natalie had written this. The answers outside the heart are some of their answers.

Natalie Goldberg

With all this in mind, the following day, I introduced Natalie’s writing practice.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Practice

We discussed these ideas and once everyone felt satisfied and had their pen and paper ready, I set up my timer (see i-Qi app) for 10 minutes.

I wrote along with them. I wrote about how worried I was about how they might react to this. I wrote about how I thought they thought this might be silly. I watched the timer and was worried the time was too long. I had a hard time keeping my pen on the paper. How could ask them to do the same?

And then the chimes rang.

A few teachers looked up and said, “Already?”

A little sigh of relief went off in my head.

We talked about how they felt. They said they liked it. Some were amazed at how much they had written. They couldn’t believe they could do it, and there it was.

And so we did it again the next week. This time some of the teachers said they would like to do the writing practice everyday. I am going to try my best to provide that space. But since I am stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll aim for at least once a week.

Some of the teachers have started doing this practice during their own time. I am so thrilled that this risk is turning out to be the type of change that I was hoping for. Now my goal is to stick with it.



13 thoughts on “Teaching Teachers to Write from the Heart

  1. To “make lives meaningful and inspirational”, I have found this book to be extraordinary: “The Art of Possibility – transforming professional and personal life”, Zander and Zander.
    Gerald M. Weinberg called the writing exercise “A tool for developing self-awareness” – which is his Chapter 7 of “Becoming a Technical Leader”, another of my favorite books. Julia Cameron is a great inspiration, especially: “Walking in this World”.
    I agree with Zhenya that this kind of activity should be hand-written. It is unstructured and pure, other kinds of writing / thought can be on a keyboard.

    Keep up your extraordinary flow of ideas, Josette. We need you.
    Blessings, LB


    1. Thank you for the all the new book ideas! I hadn’t heard of Zander and Zander, or Weinberg before. Will check them out. And thank you for reminding me of Walking in this World. It’s on my shelf ready to come out. :)

      Thank you for your support LB!


  2. Glad to see you join the #30Goals group. From my own experience, I’ve found the most growth through the connections I’ve tried to make between the goals and my own context–not something always so obvious.

    As a writing teacher myself, I was curious to see where you were going to go with this post and obviously I love the goal. I’m a little surprised by the spontaneous words in the heart, especially that the majority of them are so positive. Normally if we’re honest like students, I’d expect a lot more bregrudging connotations. Glad to see, however, your group seems to have enjoyed the process so far.


    1. Thanks for the warm welcome to #30GoalsEdu! I’m really curious to see how this new process and community is going to affect my growth. I’m happy to see that it has been something positive for you. How long have you been a part of it?

      I was also surprised by these positivity of the words in the heart. I have to admit that my assumption was that I’d see more words like, scary, difficult, or impossible. That being said, I did it with another group of teachers (I teach two groups of 12 teachers) and I did see some of those words, but not as many as I thought. I wonder if it’s because they don’t want to be seen in negative light. Hard to tell.

      But all in all, they are really taking to it and that is what is exciting. :) Thanks for sharing the experience with me!


        1. That sounds about right. Very cool. Do you revisit the same goals each year? I’m curious about the personal approaches to the goals. I still have to figure out mine.


  3. Josette, I am so grateful to you for sharing this experience! Coincidentally, writing for exactly 10 minutes was my own little daily routine several months ago (inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way but changing from the morning pages idea into the 10 minutes practice) Surprisingly, it helped me with lots of things! Now, with the help of your post, I see how it can be linked into training and reflecting process with teachers, and how beneficial it can become. I look forward to reading how this develops with your group!

    Another thought: I think this needs to be hand-writing, because typing is a different process with different result. What would you say?

    Take care,


    1. Zhenya,

      That has also been my process! I wonder if we exchanged thoughts on this not too long ago. :) I decided to use the writing meditation (timed writing) approach after hearing Christina Baldwin speak on with Tami Simon on Insights at the Edge http://www.soundstrue.com/podcast/how-personal-writing-can-save-your-life/ What I decided to do was combine that practice with Natalie Goldberg’s. It’s fun to connect and see how our practices are also connected. Julia Cameron’s morning pages have also given me a lot.

      And yes I absolutely agree that this has to be a handwritten process. The computer offers to much outside stimulus I think: dictionaries, spell check, fonts… Something that isn’t quite your own. The pen evokes the self. Would be interesting to hear other thoughts on that.

      Thank you as always for reading and sharing!


      1. Hi Josette
        Thank you for the reply, and for the link: I have been listening to the recording of Christina Baldwin’s interview bit by bit since the day I read your comment, and have been learning and thinking a lot about the role of writing in reflective process, both for professional and personal purposes. Wow — there is so much can be done by simply writing one’s thoughts down. My favorite ideas (so far) are about writing being a way to make sense out of our own life experience, and that it can become a tool to restore one’s sense of wonder (in crisis). I now recall something my highly respected colleague said about written reflection: ‘I start to reflect in writing on the days I don’t want to reflect at all’ I think there is a lot for me to learn about writing from the heart before I dare to bring this idea to the teachers I am working with. Thank you for this learning space Josette!


        1. Thank you for stopping by again Zhenya and for sharing more of what you are learning. My favourite part, “it can become a tool to restore one’s sense of wonder (in crisis).” Yes! What a beautiful way to put it. It has indeed helped me find wonder. It hasn’t always been an easy process, and there are some dark days, but with time, it’s amazing what arrives on those pages.

          Writing is indeed powerful, and I’d love to talk more about what you learn regrading writing from the heart. I can imagine this being a great topic for a reflective practice meeting. :)


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