Because of Writing

I stared down at that page for what seemed like hours. I could read what was in front of me, but I just could not make sense of it. What came next was truly humiliating.

Mr. Kulak. Are you okay? I can ask someone else, came the squeaky, 7th grade voice.

I’m sorry. I think you should, came my defeated reply.

I slid the math worksheet back over to the study hall student who had just asked for help. His unanswered request for help hung in the air for a second and then disappeared. The next unanswered question was for whom that exchange was more uncomfortable.

Though I had long since resigned myself to the fact that my relationship with math had been one-sided, dysfunctional, and emasculating, I hadn’t been asked to face down such a demon in public for over twenty years.

Despite the research about growth mindset, grit, and resilience, I’m not a “math guy.” I’ve made peace with it. I’ve laid it to rest. I’ve moved on with my life.

Because of writing.

From poorly constructed tales of time travel and shape shifting to summative evaluation narratives, from love letters to welcome back emails, from birthday cards to #bekind thank you notes, I have been writing for over thirty years.

Make no mistake, the writing isn’t always polished. In fact, in many cases, it’s been downright cringeworthy. It’s been full of emotive gobbledygook, misplaced modifiers, and passive aggressive angst. It’s been unread, unresponded to, and unimpressive. It’s been crumpled up, moved to the trash folder, forwarded to the inbox of a superior.

But it’s also changed the shape my leadership. It’s changed my life.

The first communication I had with my wife was in writing.

I expressed my interest in joining a leadership team in writing.

I wrote love letters to my unborn daughter while we waited for her to join us in the world.

My family is notorious for the pride we take in what we write to each other in birthday cards.

When I left the classroom, a dear friend and mentor got me a gift, a pen-holding paper weight, inside of which she wrote on a yellow sticky note: Remember you are a writer.

My notes to staff, both formal and informal, are unique, personal, and thoughtful. Like each of them.

Too often when we consider our weaknesses, we do so without the inevitable yin to that yang.

The same is true for our students and for our teachers.