Brooke receives University of Nebraska’s highest teaching award

Robert Brooke photographed in front of native Nebraska prairie grasses
Photo credit: Craig Chandler | University Communications

April 11, 2022 by Erin Chambers

Dr. Robert Brooke has received the University of Nebraska’s highest award for teaching, the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA). The annual award, which is presented to just two individuals across the University of Nebraska system, recognizes faculty who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

“Your work in teaching our next generation of educators, and your work in continued education for veteran teachers, has had a profound impact on our state,” President Ted Carter told Brooke. “Your students pass on the benefit of your instruction to their own students. Your patient mentorship and the authentic and transformative classroom you have developed have led to your success and make you so deserving of this award.”

Brooke is John E. Weaver Professor of English, director of the Nebraska Writing Project (NeWP), and a member of the Secondary English Education faculty in Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education. Brooke is part of the Composition and Rhetoric program in the Department of English, and his graduate seminars make up a significant part of the university’s Graduate Certificate in the Teaching of Writing. Over the years, he has received numerous honors for his teaching, including the Hazel McClymont Teaching Fellow Award, the CAS Community Engagement Award, the National Council of the Teachers of English Intellectual Freedom Award, and two CAS Distinguished Teaching Awards.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Robert as a student, an advisee, and a member of the Nebraska Writing Project Advisory Board,” writes Mark Houston, Ph.D. student in English. “In each role, I’ve found that Robert provides steady, patient, and compassionate leadership and guidance. In the classroom, Robert is a master at building lessons that smoothly and incrementally guide you to write something you didn’t even know you were capable of. He also challenges you to keep pushing towards your best work. Robert is concerned with his students’ ongoing growth and success, making sure to connect them with professional development opportunities beyond the classroom, especially through the Nebraska Writing Project.”

The Nebraska Writing Project (NeWP) is the state affiliate of the National Writing Project, founded on the belief that the best teachers of writing are writers themselves. The project works to invigorate, enrich, and educate by connecting educators, scholars, and writers of all levels, across disciplines, and across the state. Brooke’s investment in the project spans nearly 38 years; he facilitated NeWP summer institutes for 10 years before becoming director in 1994. In a piece for the NeWP community blog, Brooke reflected on his introduction to the project:

Les Whipp, the current NeWP director, invited me to sit in for a day… That first day, a writer presented “the minutes” from the day before, spoofing the events as a restaurant review; an ELL teacher taught us all a writing lesson purposefully IN SPANISH so we’d all experience the challenge of bilingual learning; and we shared writing, a poem/an essay/a film review in the group I attended. I felt curiously at home, and knew I had to be back. The next summer, I was: for the full experience, five weeks of daily writing and best teaching practices, all across the grade levels.

Under Brooke’s leadership, NeWP’s network of educators, scholars, and writers has greatly expanded, as has its impact. The project now generates over 11,000 contact hours with teachers every year, hosting immersive institutes and continuity programs for teachers of writing in all subject areas, as well as a diverse array of youth and community programs.

At the heart of Brooke’s work is place-conscious education, which invites teachers and their students to connect their writing and reading to their local communities on the Great Plains—understanding them as worthy of both celebration and critique—and then spiral out to national and global issues. His commitment to place-conscious education is apparent in the many collaborations Brooke has forged between university students, local secondary and elementary classes, and organizations such Homestead National Monument, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, and the Center for People in Need. In his leadership as well as his teaching, Brooke leads by example: at NeWP writing marathons, festivals, institutes, and retreats, he writes alongside the teachers and students in attendance, fostering an environment that is inclusive, caring, and encouraging.

“As one of Robert’s advisees, I have learned so much from him about being a thoughtful and reflective scholar,” writes Charlotte Kupsh, Ph.D. student in English. “He both challenges and champions my ideas, while also always encouraging me to give myself grace.”

Houston echoes her praise. “As if being a top-tier scholar and teacher weren’t enough, Robert is a genuine pleasure to work with and be around. His quiet demeanor and warm smile are staples whether he is leading a group of elementary students in writing poems about the prairie or discussing advanced rhetorical concepts with graduate students. This is truly a well-deserved honor. Congratulations, Robert!”