One Thing

By Tricia Ebner, M.S.Ed., NBCT

Every year friends and family ask me if I’m ready to wind down the school year, and I usually reply, “There is no winding down–we wind up.” There are so many end-of-year activities added into the typical academic day, and squeezing it all in can be challenging.

Yet even in the rush of poetry coffee houses, 20Time presentations, and mock trials, I find my morning and afternoon commutes filled with reflection. What went well this year? What needs work? How could I change what I’m doing to make it better?

Over 20 years ago, Indiana Writing Project leaders encouraged me to focus on changing one thing each year. Trying to change too much is overwhelming and exhausting. Focusing on that one thing gives me permission to devote intense focus to the change I want to make. I’ve been trying to follow that advice ever since.

Last May, the “one thing” was inspired by our technology department. Eighth grade moved into one-to-one technology for the 2016-17 school year, and we had a brand-new LMS to go along with it. My principal asked me to be part of the team rolling it out and supporting our teachers in learning and using it, so my one thing was learning how better to integrate technology into my classroom. Two years ago I spent time analyzing my classroom assessments to ensure they were aligned to our standards. Three years ago it was mapping out a plan for implementing 20Time in my classroom. The “one thing” approach has been an ongoing journey.  

This year, I’m mulling over several options for my “one thing.” There are always lots of possibilities and options: developing a stronger focus on vocabulary, for instance, or continuing to search for fiction and nonfiction texts that will challenge my gifted children while still being appropriate to their social and emotional development. The one that keeps resonating with me, though, is working on narrative writing.

The challenge I have with narrative writing is that I tend to settle it lower on the priority list because it’s not tested on the state assessments.. That’s truly not a good reason; narrative writing is still part of our standards and needs attention, too. It’s also a great entry point into writing and getting to know students; middle school kids love storytelling and sharing their lives. When I don’t provide opportunity for that, I miss out on the chance to build those relationships with my students.

I’ve blogged before about ways of addressing narrative writing, such as this blog about using Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a springboard for writing. Earlier this year I asked my students to take a poem by Gary Soto and write the story within the poem as a story, in prose, rather than in poetic form. I know there are other approaches, too. So this summer, I will take some time to investigate ways others are addressing and incorporating narrative writing within their classrooms. I’ll start by looking at some of the mini-tasks and modules on the Literacy Design Collaborative web site, and then I’ll branch out from there. A few hours this summer can result in big payoffs next school year, and it’s an investment well worth making for my students’ learning and my own professional growth.

So let me challenge you. As you drive to and from work in these remaining days of the year, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What worked really well in your classroom this year, and why?
  2. What didn’t work so well and could use some improvement?
  3. How could you change that to make the learning and classroom better?

And most importantly . . .

What is one thing you can change to make learning better in your classroom next year?


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