The Big Brave

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You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up…

from ‘Brave’ by Sara Bareilles

I have this song posted in our classroom. I love the message and the song and especially the video. Then I remember being 13 in 7th grade when I was anything BUT brave.  I was a rule follower, a people pleaser, an only child who felt the weight (justified or not) of my parents’ expectations. I was and am also an introvert (unless I’m teaching or with a small group of people I feel very, very comfortable with).  My brave was words on paper, usually just for me.  So when I ask our students to write about ‘what matters’ to them, I know how hard that can be. I also know how important it can be for kids who are introspective and shy – it may be their only release, as it was for me for most of my schooling.

 We just finished the first quarter of the school year.  The kids have written two pieces all the way through; a free choice writing and a memoir piece.  They have also started writing their novels for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) so it seemed like it might be a good time to do a ReadAround.  The kids choose a piece to share with everyone, we sit in a big circle, and celebrate as writers.  We haven’t done one this early in the year as we always wanted to give the kids more time to get to know one another and form the community of writers. With Google Classroom, I am able to see everyone’s writing and I know what amazing work they have done.  It was time for everyone, not just their writing partners, to hear this excellent work.

The rules are:

  • You choose which writing to share.
  • You can share 1-2 pages.
  • Try not to be nervous.  We are with you.
  • When you are done reading, we will all clap enthusiastically.
  • You may choose 3 people to give you specific compliments.
  • I will record the compliments, add my own, and you get to keep the paper!

Here’s what happened:

Alexis wrote about the first day of kindergarten. Every couple of sentences she would say, ‘Click’ which was her parents taking a picture of every single move she made from the time she got up until she got on the bus. The other students howled in joyful recollection.  The air was filled with, ‘Oh my gosh! I forgot about that! My Dad did that, too!” “I know! It was SO embarrassing!”  Alexis nodded and smiled.

Tommy wrote about the day he met his best friend. They started off as rivals until they found their mutual love of drawing.  They’ve been best friends every since. The best part of his writing was how much it sounded like him.  The students picked up on it right away, “Tommy, that was HILARIOUS!” “I would have known who wrote that without the name!” Tommy beamed.

Miles read an excerpt from his novel about an Native American legend told by a storyteller. Jaws dropped. It was that good.  No one would have expected this kind of story from Miles.  He gave them shock and awe.  Although soundly pink from the compliments, it’s the biggest grin I’ve ever seen him have.

Grace wrote about the day a gunman came into her neighborhood and she couldn’t get ahold of her parents. We were terrified for her.  When she stopped at the end of the second page, everyone screamed, ‘You CAN”T stop NOW!!!” Grace smiled and said, ‘You can read the rest during reading time if you want.”  They had to form a signup list to see who would get it first.  Grace had not wanted to share her writing when she came in.  “Do we HAVE to?”  When I smiled and said she did, she huffed in that way 7th graders are experts at, and flopped into her seat. I’m pretty sure next time she’ll go first.

Dylann wrote about the day her grandmother died.  She couldn’t get through it.  Courtney asked if she could read it for her, stood up, and read it holding Dylann’s hand the entire time while Dylann sobbed quietly.  There was not a sound in the room except Courtney’s voice and Dylann’s sniffling. It felt like church; such a focused silence. Soon there were other sniffles around the room.  By the end of Courtney’s read, many, both boys and girls, had tears running down their cheeks.  Billy said, “I haven’t lost any of my grandparents yet, but I’m calling them tonight when I get home.”  Dylann finally smiled.

Then came Virginia.  She wrote about the day her father died in an ATV accident.  I could see her paper shaking from across the room.  But she did it.  When she’d finished, the kids erupted in applause and fought over who was going to give her the first compliment.  They all talked about how brave she was and how proud he must be of her and thanked her for sharing it with us.  I could see the relief on her face, partly because it was over, but also because her writing had been so well received.

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out

Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Our time together will be different now.  I’ve seen it happen before.  Once one person lets out that ‘big brave’ it gives everyone else permission to do the same.  They were amazed yesterday by the power of words to make us feel what someone else is feeling, to see what someone else has seen, to remember the way things used to be. Every recitation built a new set of connections between and among us, connections that I don’t believe can be forged in any other way than this.  Writing matters.  ‘Show me how big your brave is’ indeed.