2015 Letter to Students

Last spring, my son planted a garden with sunflowers. Three of the four sunflowers bloomed in July, lifting their faces toward the warm sun. They attracted bees that allowed our corn, eggplant, pumpkins and watermelon to flourish.

But one sunflower refused to bloom with the others. Maybe it was planted late. Maybe it loved its individuality and demanded a grand entrance. Or maybe, just maybe, it was waiting for you - a writer who will bloom again and again this year.

Some of you, my thirteen-year-old writers, are like the lone sunflower in that you have waited to bloom.  Let it be known, this year you will grow. You will bloom. You will become writers.

Some of you, my thirteen-year-old writers, had excellent soil from Kindergarten to Seventh Grade but now feel like the drooping sunflowers. You feel that your writing confidence is gone and that your time has long passed. I beg to argue with you. In the early morning hours of my garden, two birds dance atop the seeding sunflowers. Some seeds fall just to grow again. Some seeds are carried off to new gardens. No worries, your writing will bloom again this year.

Now some of you will read this analogy and respond with Mrs. Scott, not only did my sunflower bloom, but the birds delivered new seeds that grew into a butterfly bush. My writing attracts birds, bees and hummingbirds. For you, my writer-with-confidence, I offer more nutrients and the opportunity to fail.

Wait. What did you just say?

The problem with the sunflower and butterfly bush analogy is that it may mistakenly make you think that little work is involved on your behalf. The teacher is the gardener who gives you everything. Knowledge is the sun that radiates its warm energy. The analogy may mistakenly lead you to believe that you are a passive entity doomed to fail or succeed due to someone else.

However, I beg to argue with this passive role of learning. The best learning comes to those who struggle. Teacher Helen Snodgrass explained to the Washington Post that in her class "failing is not an option. It's a requirement." At first her students are incredulous. Maybe it's because they have grown to believe that a teacher gardener gives them everything they need. If it is not provided for them, the knowledge and skill is not needed.

But Ms. Snodgrass convinces her A.P. Biology students that failing is good. I concur and add that testing new soils, playing with various seeds, and attempting an organic fertilizer places a garden at risk but enables an even more beautiful, diverse garden to grow.

Make no mistake about it - I will not just sit back and watch you struggle. Instead, like Ms. Snodgrass, I will carefully select productive tasks, not busy work, and provide the space and skills you need to grow as writers.

I am a gardener who will support you as learn to grow tall, strong, and beautiful. I will teach the skills you need to face difficult challenges. But I will demand that you to take scary chances with your writing skills - to open up, to take criticism and to rewrite/revise/re-create your brilliant thoughts.

This will be a difficult year, but I have faith in you.You must learn how to believe in yourself and not give up.  You must see failures as opportunities to grow. As Ms. Snodgrass writes, “Providing our students with the confidence and skills to approach challenging work without an overwhelming fear of failure and the mindset to see the failures they will have as opportunities to learn something is far more important and transferable than any set of facts we could teach them.”

The morning sun is rising. The lone sunflower has turned its face toward its warmth. Two birds are dancing a few jigs on the drooping sunflowers, allowing their seeds to grow again. And, on the back fence, is a spot cleared for a butterfly bush to be planted this fall. No matter the writer/flower you are or will be, I will help you grow and fail and grow again into a garden that nourishes the soul.

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2014 Letter to Students
2013 Letter to Students


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