Teachers Rejuvenate with Writing, Inquiring, and Strategy-sharing
Story and photos by Jessica Meyer
Some Nebraska teachers head for the beach to relax after the school year, yet this summer 14 new teachers discovered writing, inquiring, and strategy-sharing as their method of rejuvenation during the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute held on UNL campus June 6-July 1. The Nebraska Writing Project is one branch of the National Writing Project and both share the mission of developing and sustaining the expertise of our nation’s educators in order to “improve writing and learning for all learners.”
Leading the Institute in Nebraska is Writing Project Director Dr. Robert Brooke, with help during the 2011 Summer Institute from co-facilitators Travis Adams, Jess Meyer and Diana Weis, all of whom share a passion for writing and professional collaboration.
One of the core beliefs of the Nebraska Writing Project is “the best teachers of writing are writers themselves;” however, many teachers find they engage with their students’ writing more than creating their own. After the Institute, teacher consultant Debbie Beran said she “revels in the time I can write I’ve never done that before. I’ve been inspired by the class to finally do so!”
Co-facilitator Diana Weis decided to take her love of writing and use it to connect with her students by starting a Writing Club. “We have 16 students and three teachers in our club. We began our first meeting with an activity that we did the first day of the Institute. We plan to podcast our writing!” Diana relayed at a recent Institute reunion.
Another core belief of the Nebraska Writing Project is “teachers provide the best instruction for other teachers.” The Institute embraces this belief by having each teacher present an EQUIP, a 60-minute lesson followed by a 30-minute discussion. The EQUIP may allow teachers to present best strategies, but it can also give teachers the ability to further investigate ways to improve and/or build upon what is already in place in their classrooms. After trying some of the EQUIP activities presented in the Institute in her own classroom this fall, teacher consultant Christine Morris said, “Using EQUIPs in class changes the tone. [The teachers] give hands-on activities the kids enjoy and learn from—this works!”
Besides personal writing and EQUIPs, Institute participants also chose topics currently affecting their teaching and/or schools, topics with which they wished to inquire and research further. The burning issues of the summer included: Social Justice and Writing, Thinking Moves and Writing, Motivation in a Writing Classroom, and Peer Revision/Group Response in a Writing Classroom. The institute divided into teams to conquer these hot topics and present their findings to the group. Mike Catron likes how it gives an opportunity to “work with other teachers to re-imagine courses beyond the push of content.”
Even though the Institute ended on the first day of July, many lasting friendships were formed. The small writing group element of the Institute can usually be credited for this. Permanent writing groups are sprung from these (several 2011 Institute members continue to meet to share writing and teaching stories!). The camaraderie of such an organization is a terrific way to end of school year and a great way to start another.
Thirteen of the eighteen teacher consultants and facilitators of the 2011 Summer Institute met at the Platte River State Park on September 10 for a reunion and an opportunity to receive the Institute anthology. Some stayed for a writing marathon while others had to leave for Husker game-day events; however, all were happy to exchange stories about the rest of their summer and the start of their school year. Both were filled with tales of writing and further triumphs past the Institute! All teachers were in agreement that the Nebraska Writing Project was responsible not only for rejuvenating the writer in each teacher, but also the excitement in each of their classrooms.