Ralston High School, Ralston, NE
Ph.D Student, Composition and Rhetoric,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
- The Writing Project Connects Teachers and Ideas Across Nebraska and the Nation
- The Writing Project Inspires Classroom Leaders
- The Writing Project Gives Teachers Voices, Fostering Community and National Leaders
- The Writing Project Gives Teachers the Confidence that Changes Student Learning
- 15 years of Language Arts teaching experience including instruction in A.P. senior English and composition, American literature, British literature, contemporary literature, composition, creative writing, and speech.
- Served as an Adjunct Instructor of English at Buena Vista University, Council Bluffs, IA; Iowa Western Community College; and Metropolitan Community College, Omaha.
Professional Contributions and Accomplishments:
- Editor, with Marni Valerio, of the forthcoming collection of creative non-fiction essays by teachers, What Teaching Means: Stories from America’s Classrooms, Rogue Faculty Press, Spring 2012
- Coordinator of the Omaha Metropolitan Area High School Poetry Festival
- Received a mini-grant from the Nebraska Writing Project to support the Festival and publish a subsequent literary magazine
- English Department chair, Ralston High School
- Facilitator of the American Literature Professional Learning Community at Ralston High School
- Member of the School Improvement Committee at Ralston High School
- Facilitator of the former Academic Rigor Committee at Ralston High School
Involvement with NeWP
- Nebraska Writing Project Co-director
- Advisory Board member of the Nebraska Writing Project.
- Participant in both a summer Literature and Technology Institute, and facilitator of a summer Literature Institute.
National Writing Project Involvement:
- Member of the Urban Sites Network for the National Writing Project
- Presented at the National Writing Project conference on students’ awareness of their own local issues, particularly those concerning race, Orlando 2010
- Presented a project called “Literacy for Social Justice in the Urban Heartland” at the Urban Sites Network Conference in Portland, April of 2010.
The Writing Project Connects Teachers and Ideas Across Nebraska and the Nation:
- The Writing Project has connected Dan with teachers from across a range of grade levels, changing his “attitude about elementary school teachers” by affording him the opportunity to work with “all of these great, engaged, bright elementary school writing teachers;” and experience that he describes as, “just awesome.”
- According to Dan, the work of truly good teaching can be both frustrating and isolating, but connection to The Writing Project, allows teachers to connect to an entire network of other educators who agree there is more to teaching writing than just “making sure all of the commas are in the right place,” and are instead are teachers who are “talking to students about expressing themselves.”
- These connections, says Dan “make being a writing teacher more fun and pleasant.”
- The things Dan says he started thinking about as a teacher, as a result of his involvement in the Writing Project, “made [him] start thinking more broadly about connecting people through writing.” He would have never “dreamt up” the idea for the grants or have “been around the kind of people who would support [him] in pursuing them, without the Writing Project.
- After being told early in his career that ‘there’s a formula [to teaching and] you will do it this way and this is the way it’s always been done”—a sentiment that made him want to quit—“finding a whole group of people, a whole philosophy, a whole set of theoretical ideas through The Writing Project,” that supported the pedagogical values he already had, was critically important.
- Teachers can turn to the National Writing Project website and “see that there other people doing this kind of work and that there is a theoretical framework for doing it.”
- The Writing Project allows Dan to network with other teachers on a local and national level, who have supported him in his various grant projects and have connected him to many of the authors who are contributing to his forthcoming book.
The Writing Project Inspires Classroom Leaders:
- As a result of his connection to the Nebraska Writing Project Dan applied for and won, a $5,000 grant from the National Project to fund a program in social justice involving six Omaha area schools.
- Involving five other teachers and 4-8 of their students from other area schools, together students and teachers read and viewed texts and films that raised questions of social justice. As a group they engaged in online conversations about what they read and saw, grappling at a high level with these ‘big ideas”,, and culminated their project by organizing a social justice fair in downtown Omaha at which students could join various civic organizations.
- Key to the project, says Dan, was learning to “communicate in the written word about controversial issues.”
- As a mentor to several teachers in his school, Dan believes, “The Writing Project encouraged [this leadership] in him.”
- In his role as Department Chair at Ralston, Dan notes that of the 9 Writing Project teachers in his department, 7 of them are in actual positions of leadership within the school and are the teachers who “are doing things pretty far above and beyond what other teachers at the school do; They are [the ones] finding extra ways to educate our students and finding cool things for them to do”
The Writing Project Gives Teachers Voices, Fostering Community and National Leaders:
- “Dan suggests that, “Teachers are so often left out of the conversations about education—[you read and hear about] college professors talking about it, politicians talking about it, and business people talking about it,” but not the teachers themselves. “Part of that is because teachers don’t do a very good job of standing up and saying ‘this is what happens in our classrooms, this is what we do,’ argues Dan, but The Writing Project “encourages teachers to do that in all kinds of ways.”
- Furthermore, he says, teachers are able to gain professional credibility by drawing on the reputation of the National Project.
- “Teachers should tell their stories,” says Dan, “so the model of teachers being writers is important.”
- The Writing Project enables and affirms to teachers that they can and should “be trusted to do their practical research.”
- The Writing Project espouses and promotes the idea that “being a K-12 teacher is an intellectual activity” and “that it deserves the same respect that being a professor at the University of Nebraska does.”
- The Writing Project values a range of voices and “fosters the idea that both of these narratives—[those of teachers and academics]—are valid and necessary ones.”
The Writing Project Gives Teachers the Confidence that Changes Student Learning:
- “The Writing Project fosters more confident writing teachers,” says Dan, “because of the model: the best teachers of writing are writing themselves.”
- Dan suggests “Writing Project teachers are happier writing teachers and more confidant ones” (indent)
- As Department Chair, he has watched young teachers who lacked confidence—were afraid to go through The Writing Project’s summer institute and be seen as writers—return from The Writing Project with more confidence in themselves as writers and thus pass that attitude onto students.
- Dan explains that before The Writing Project he might have asked students to “analyze the theme of X” in their writing about a particular text we read or viewed in class. “But what I noticed all along,” he says, “is that’s not what students want to write about. They want to write about their thoughts about the text, or the characters; they want to write about how they see themselves in a character in a novel.”
- “Before the Writing Project” recalls Dan, “I didn’t even know there was such thing as an intimate critique, or a way of writing about literature that you connect your own personal experiences to. Being in the Writing Project made me start looking for ways to let students do that because when they’re doing that, then you can teach them the skills of writing, while they’re writing something they actually care about.”
- As a writer himself, Dan knows, “there’s a certain amount of writing that is just work. You have to work at it and you have to spend a lot of time on it; It’s a craft. And a student doesn’t want to—none of us want to—spend a lot of time working at something they do not care about.” Therefore when students are encouraged to write academically about things that they care about, ‘students become much more engaged with it and when they’re encouraged to express their own thoughts--to engage with the material in a personal and sensitive way--they produce better writing and they work harder at it.”
- Dan notes that “Over the past seven years our scores on the State writing assessment have gone up dramatically, from 81% to 95%, and all of the teachers who have taken the writing project are the ones that developed the program to get our scores up.”
(return to top) (more profiles)