Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

The Unstoppable Writing Teacher

by Mary Howard

Since our #G2Great chat launch on January 8, 2015, I have come to know each member of our remarkable #G2Great family as an unstoppable force. These passionate educators demonstrate their steadfast commitment to teaching each week, refusing to let anything stand in the way of professional excellence. On March 30, 2017, #G2Great explored unstoppable with guest host Colleen Cruz, author of the incredible book, The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom. (Heinemann, 2015)

The dictionary defines unstoppable with descriptors that any teacher would be proud to possess including indomitable; unbeatable; invincible; inexorable; uncontrollable; irrepressible. Certainly these are all professionally desirable characteristics, but it was two particular descriptors that spoke to me personally:

I have been privileged to know many unstoppable educators over the years and I am convinced that inextinguishable flames of educators ON FIRE is the fuel that drives them to move along a pathway in a life-long professional journey to unstoppable.

In the foreword to Colleen’s book, Lucy Calkins asks us to name our fears as we linger in ‘uncertainty and doubt’ where hidden opportunities reside. Calkins is the very definition of unstoppable, so we began by asking our #G2Great family to identify their fears in the form of challenges that can thwart our efforts to become the unstoppable writing teachers our children deserve.

Colleen led this discussion by highlighting a challenge that was reiterated in one form or another in tweet after tweet.

With so few precious minutes allotted in each day and so much to accomplish in those precious minutes, TIME was the clear challenge winner. Not surprisingly, our winner seems to have a trickle-down effect that directly or indirectly impacts many challenges that plague teachers:

But we only identify challenges so that we can discover hidden opportunities that elevate our work and enrich the writing lives of students. Challenges we face in the teaching of writing can feel overwhelming, but Colleen reminds us what matters most in a Heinemann video, Writing as a Tool for Thinking:

We can’t solve all the problems we’re faced with in writing instruction but we can choose how to respond to them. And our responses will make all the difference.”

As I look back on #G2Great tweets, seven essential stepping stones began to emerge that could help us as we maneuver our way from challenges to opportunities on our journey to becoming unstoppable writing teachers:

Follow Your Passions

Teachers who make writing a daily priority would be first agree that choice is a critical factor for developing as writers at any age. Colleen reminds us that all writers gravitate toward topics that reflect their passions. Through our passions we stand to learn a great deal both about our topic of choice and the process of writing. Unstoppable writing teachers on fire know that choice feeds burning embers of desire in ways that inspire us to put words on paper in the first place. Choice honors writing as a personal venture.

Acknowledge the Inevitable Struggle

Once again, Colleen speaks about writing from personal experience. Any writer would tell you – even one working on book 10 – that writing is a struggle into the unknown. If we want our writers to be willing to lean into that struggle and emerge victorious, we must first acknowledge that it exists both from their perspective and our own. We share how we meet this struggle in our own writing and then support students as they move through the muck and the mire that every writer knows exists. When we show our student writers how we face and move past the struggle in those moments when it rears its ugly head (and it will), we are showing them what it means to be “totally a writer.”

Make the Writing Process Visible

It is simply not possible to teach writing well without an insider’s perspective. This means that as professionals we immerse ourselves in the very process we are teaching by making our own writing a daily priority. With that first hand view of writing and the struggle that comes hand in hand with our commitment to writing, we can then make each aspect of what it means to be a writer public at all stages. Making our own thinking visible gives students a front row seat to what we do as writers so that we can then offer them opportunities to apply this thinking in their own writing – first with support but then ultimately on their own. This is the SHOW don’t tell spirit at its finest.

Put Writers in the Writing Driver’s Seat

Colleen’s tweet was a celebration of students as teachers from Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa. We model the process of writing and offer support to build a strong foundation of understanding, but then we step back so students can put their new learning into action without us. This stepping back gives our writers room to assume a lead role as we encourage independent problem solving. We have the courage to let students spend more time in the writers driving seat than out of it so that they will have the real life opportunities to meet the inevitable struggles that come with writing as they assume increasing control of their own writing life.

Know the Writer in Front of You

Since we can’t teach writers we don’t know, we draw from a wide range of formative assessment practices. These day-to-day opportunities fill us with the knowledge about our student writers we can then use to support them in the course of their own writing. Colleen highlights kidwatching as a powerful knowledge gathering process. Once we step back and put our student writers in the driver’s seat, we then have the freedom to enjoy the view as students actively engage in writing – both within and beyond the struggle. With this freedom to become an observer comes understandings that will inform our next step efforts.

Create an Instructional ZOOM LENS

While whole class writing instruction is one component of a powerful balanced writing design, we must also create varied structures that will allow us to meet the needs of unique learners. This differentiated support affords us time and space to meet those unique needs. To accommodate these support opportunities we need instructional frameworks in place, making side-by-side and small group support designs essential. These targeted support opportunities allow us to address the specific challenges writers face in their own writing as each writing opportunity is a springboard to support the writer in front of us.

Build a Supportive Bridge

Colleen’s exchange with Tara Smith reflects that unstoppable writing teachers support students on their journey to becoming unstoppable writers. Colleen reminds us that this risk-taking only happen within a safe learning environment where writing risks are both invited and honored. This supportive environment of risk-taking in great volumes, benefits both the teacher and student on their personal journey to unstoppable.


As I close my reflection on an amazing #G2great chat with  guest host Colleen Cruz, my initial definition of unstoppable comes back into focus. These seven stepping stones to unstoppable bring to mind classrooms where both teachers and students are ON FIRE and those flames are inextinguishable when we make it a priority to celebrate the writing and writer from all sides – ours and theirs.

Thank you for supporting our personal journey to UNSTOPPABLE, Colleen!


Twitter account


The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (Heinemann)

Independent Writing: One Teacher—Thirty-Two Needs, Topics, and Plans (Heinemann)

Writing as a Tool for Thinking (Heinemann post by Colleen)

Writing is Really Hard (Heinemann post from Colleen)

Where the Meaning Is (Fran Haley’s post on Unstoppable Writing Teacher


2 thoughts on “The Unstoppable Writing Teacher”

  1. Simply beautiful, Mary. That opening tweet of Colleen’s about “Occupational Hazards” was as much a showstopper as I read your blog today as it was last week during the chat. So much wisdom from Colleen (and #G2Great colleagues) captured here and I adore the “extra links”! Colleen is UNSTOPPABLE!

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