Reflections on my One Little Word for 2020

This was my first year choosing One Little Word to calibrate my internal compass for the year ahead, and—holy moly—it totally worked. 

The word I chose was dare, for reasons I shared here. Short version: it was time to make a decision about my writing life.

I will forever be grateful that the due date for this daring act was in mid-March, just before the world fell apart. I was able to invest myself fully in the application process without distraction. Shortly afterward, I received my acceptance into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the program I had been dreaming of for years: Writing for Children and Young Adults. July brought my first (online) residency, and all the stars aligned. This was where I was meant to be, and this was the learning I needed to do. 

And while this first semester working as an instructional coach, a remote kindergarten teacher (yes, that’s the jobs of two people), and a full time MFA student was beyond intense, I fear for what might have happened had I not had the MFA work to do. 

I am someone who craves challenge—and not the challenge of trying to do too many things in too little time. I need to be hip-deep in something genuinely hard to figure out, something complex and fascinating that really matters. I need to wonder and experiment and create.

The reading, the critical writing, and the creative writing of this program kept me tethered to myself as the reality of what teaching and coaching in 2020 looks and feels like chipped away at all the reasons I typically love what I do. 

With instructional coaching largely reduced to logistics and the lowest common denominator tasks associated with supporting teachers in survival mode (because that is what has been needed), I found myself overwhelmed with work and bored at the same time. No doubt I was crazy-busy, but it was not work that fueled me in the way I need to be fueled. There was a sense of loss at the innovative, collaborative work that had been dropped to the floor with the advent of the pandemic.

Couple that with the extra demands of co-teaching a remote classroom myself, and it is safe to say that I didn’t have the time to coach the way I strive to coach (even if there had been the appetite for it). Without the joy, challenge, and purpose of my first semester of MFA work, this blow to my professional efficacy might have been all-consuming and crushing. 

Instead, I am so appreciative to have had the accountability and consistency of regular (and ambitious) deadlines, deep study of craft, writing way outside my comfort zone, and detailed, thoughtful feedback from my advisor. This work lit me up and served as a constant reminder of who I am and what I need to feel like myself. I would never been able to accomplish what I did on my own, you know, “when I had time.” I would have been in the fetal position binge watching Tiger King with everyone else. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. . .)

I’ll be the first to admit that this pandemic has not brought out the best in me. We’ve all had to find strategies to get through this year under tremendous stress, and for many, trauma. The writing life sparked by my One Little Word for 2020 turned out to be my lifeboat in this sea of suck.

I’m appreciative for the community of writers in my MFA cohort, meeting weekly for “write-ins” over Google Meet. This small touchstone served as an important point of connection across the semester—especially when things got overwhelming.

I’m appreciative for my principal, who encouraged me to pursue the MFA from the beginning, keeping his promise to support me in making it work alongside my full-time job—even after everything went to hell and this year has looked nothing like anyone expected. 

Finally, I’m appreciative for Two Writing Teachers Blog and my incredible co-authors, who introduced me to the One Little Word Challenge that set 2020 in motion for me. The #TWTblog community is an important part of my professional life that grounds me in powerful writing experiences for kids, and that always matters—pandemic or no pandemic.

No question, I’ll be choosing a new word for 2020. Beginning a new year by clearly declaring an intention challenges me to reflect and focus. Revisiting that word and how it went has helped me to end 2020 with some much-needed agency and positivity.  

17 Comments

  1. Maureen Y Ingram

    Oh, this is beautiful! Congratulations! Truly, you have had such a successful year. What a fabulous word – “dare”…I can’t wait to see what your new word of the year will be and will bring! I am hoping 2021 is NOTHING like the horror of this past year…but, my goodness, you have had many silver linings in this hard year. Happy new year!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stacey Shubitz

    You really dared to make a go of everything this year. You’re flourishing and your word guided you along the way!
    I cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store for you. (Hopefully a let up in work responsibilities so you can just do one person’s job!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy Ellerman

      Ha—thanks, Stacey! My dad said the same thing recently, and he was shocked to hear that there are no plans in the works to hire another kindergarten teacher. Not the way school funding works, sadly. Will need to power through, making the best of things so that my little crew of kindergartners has a great year.

      Like

  3. Fran Haley

    Amy, I can relate to so much of what you have written here – doing work that doesn’t fuel one’s soul and the need to be “hip-deep in something genuinely hard to figure out, something complex and fascinating that really matters. I need to wonder and experiment and create.” That describes my own approach to writing. It’s passionate work. It’s artistry, craftsmanship. It’s lassoing life and its lessons. I admire how you dared to leap and live your OLW to take your writing to deeper levels and greater heights. What a godsend, your principal’s support. Here’s to sailing into 2021 with less turbulent seas, and all the words to come…Happy New Year to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Betsy Hubbard

    Four little letters and the desire to let it drive you forward. Fantastic job staying grounded to great things while so many fell apart. I’m so happy for you and the success you are feeling. I know it could not have been easy, and will no doubt, continue to challenge you in all the ways you desire. Keep on daring!

    Like

  5. haitiruth

    How wonderful! I’m so thankful for your lifeboat and that you’re ending the year better than you began it. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Like

  6. Writing to Learn, Learning to Write

    This post resonates with me so directly. I’ve also been teaching a remote class of first graders and trying to coach as best as I can in this crazy environment! I’ve also been feeling both exhausted and bored. You really helped me name what I’ve been feeling. I think I need to pursue something that is intellectually challenging in 2021 in order to keep me grounded.
    Thank you for writing what I’ve been feeling. It’s nice to know we are in this together and holding each other up!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lainie Levin

    What a powerful post. I found so many common threads between our experiences. Like you, I also juggle student instruction with being a coach to my peers. And it was tough to wrestle with the level of support I’ve been able to provide (read: TRIAGE) when I know – just know in my bones – how powerful the experience could really be for all of us.

    I also hear you when you reflect, “I need to be hip-deep in something genuinely hard to figure out, something complex and fascinating that really matters.” YES. That kind of work, that work of learning – I couldn’t be without it.

    Here’s to another year of daring to do difficult things, of being daring in our resolve and determination.

    Like

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