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The Benefits of Being a Teacher Who Writes by Darin Johnston

The benefits of being a teacher who writes by Darin Johnston image

To teach writing, one must be writing.

As a teacher, I take this to heart.

How can I expect my students to write about things, sometimes personal things, if I cannot do the same, allowing myself that same racing heart feeling as I click publish or submit?

Being a teacher who writes allows me to do three things:

  • Connect with my students about the writing process

  • Create a more tight-knit community of writers

  • Inspire students to create more on their own.

As a writer, I go through the same process of writing they do: I need an idea, a source of inspiration to get myself going, a place where I feel comfortable to write, and most of all, knowledge that my voice is being heard.

My students use Kidblog to share their writing, and the first comments they receive from someone other than me are always the best.

  • “Who is this?” (We talk about how our blogs are public.)

  • “How did they find my blog?” (I show them how I tweet out their work.)

  • “Why are they reading it?” (We talk about creating catchy titles.)

My own blog went live in 2011. It was a long time before I got my first comment. When I share my blog with my students, we look at the comments left on posts, where people are from, who’s viewed my writing, and the variety of topics my posts cover.

The process of moving an idea to words is a daunting one for students. Sharing my own experiences as a writer opens that space where students are more willing to create and make mistakes.

Writing quote image

Writers want to create engaging writing. The more we engage the reader, the more times the reader will come back to read our writing. I point out that there are certain people who like or comment on my writings, and that community of readers is built through good writing, period.

Throughout the school year, my writers are more willing to read someone’s work and comment on it because of the quality of the writing, not popularity or friendships. I have found that when students step outside the social norms to complement and question good writing, it creates closeness and builds a community.

On the days we free write, I put my blog up on the screen and write along with my students. I may have something in mind already. If I don’t, I make a list of things that I could write about and add a couple of details.

Either way, this sparks that conversation about “what are you doing” and “why are you doing it”. I talk a lot about just noticing things going on around me: the students, other teachers, or things going on in the hallway. Everything could turn into a blog post!

This discussion leads to “extra” blogs being posted, not because students are told to but because “they notice something” and want to write about it.

Now, that’s not to say it leads to tons of writing, but I always have 10 - 15 kids (in a class of 80 - 90) writing more because they want to share what they saw or heard or ate (always food!).

To teach writing, one must be writing.

Writing quote image

Not writing with my students means I’d miss out on those conversations about the process, I’d miss out on that sense of community, and I’d miss out on seeing the extra things a student might do.

As an educator, if I can help students see the value of their writing in a bigger sense, then that’s what I’m here for in the end.

And isn’t that true for all of us?


Darin Johnston is a teacher with 26 years of experience, teaching in classrooms from kindergarten through seniors in high school. He’s spent the last 21 years teaching 5th, 6th, and 8th graders in rural Northeast Iowa. Currently, as a sixth-grade social studies teacher, he values writing as a means to communicating the facts and opinions of many topics. He can be found tweeting at @AnIowaTeacher or writing on his own at his blog, The LIfe of a Conflicted Teacher.

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