NeWP Profile - Danielle Helzer

Teacher, Gretna High School

Teaching Experience:

  • Taught one year at Perkins County High School in Grant, Nebraska where she taught and developed curriculum for English 11, Creative Writing, Journalism, Yearbook, and Practical English 9-12.
  • Has Taught three years at Ogallala High School, where she is 1 of 3 English teachers and where she teaches  English 9 and Reading 9, and English 12
  • Chairs the Student Assistance Team at Ogallala High School

Professional Accomplishments and Publications:

  • Contributing author to What Teaching Means: Stories From America’s Classrooms. Ed. Dan Boster, Rogue Faculty Press 2012.
  • Presenter at the Nebraska Educational Technology Association Conference       
  • 2012 Nebraska Student Writing Festival Organizer
  • Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation grant recipient
  • Nebraska Writing Project mini-grant recipient
  • Student Teacher of the Year nominee

Nebraska Writing Project Involvement

  • Member of the Advisory Board
  • In the four years since her first Institute, Danielle has earned the majority of her Master’s degree credit hours through Nebraska Writing Project courses, participating in in two Nebraska Writing Project Internships (exploring social justice in the classroom and reading and writing in the content areas, respectively), as well as the Humanities, Technology, and Rural Institutes.
  • In the Summer of 2012 she will co-facilitate the Humanities institute at UNL

National Project Involvement:

  • Attended 2010 Annual National Writing Project Conference in Orlando, Florida.
  • Presented at the Rural Sites Network Conference on “using technology to bridge the gap in the rural divide.”

"I want to see the Nebraska Writing Project go further west. . . So many of our Western Nebraska, or Sandhills, or Panhandle teachers don’t have the same opportunities as the Eastern and Central Nebraska teachers do and don’t often have the same support that larger districts can offer in terms of professional development.”

Sustaining Teachers: Keeping Young Teachers TeachingDanielle with Students at computers
  • The Nebraska Writing Project convinced her to keep teaching after a difficult first year, saying “I was feeling so hopeless and so lost and so confused because my first year was such a treacherous one with very little support, but the Nebraska Writing Project gave me a cache of teachers that really supported me and who said, ‘you can do it! And here’s some tools to help!’”
    • After participating in her first Summer Institute, Danielle says she felt “equipped and empowered to be a teacher”  due in part to the “really good realizations and really good bonds [she] was able to form with other teachers,” as they “wrestled with some of the challenges that come with teaching.”
  • For Danielle “The Nebraska Writing Project is so important to help teachers feel empowered and to keep teachers teaching.” “The revolving door syndrome” is a “huge dilemma” faced by Language Arts and English education. Many young, teachers enter the profession with enthusiasm and energy but quit within five years. “First year teachers aren’t given a whole lot of support, especially in western Nebraska because there is such a teaching shortage and teachers are stretched so thin here.”
“The opportunity to network really made me feel confident enough to teach again and still teach now.”  At National Writing Project conferences, Danielle also had the opportunity to meet “some of the other young people [like herself] and see how much they’ve accomplished in so short a time.”

I feel like without my ties to the Nebraska Writing Project, I don't know if I could make it as a teacher.  Being an English teacher is so hard and so time-consuming, and there's very little support, so the support and the networking opportunities the Nebraska Writing Project has given me have really pushed me through and still motivate me to keep soming back to teaching year after year."

Supporting Teachers’ Professional GrowthStudents at computers
  • “The Nebraska Writing Project was the best thing I could do for my career. It’s taken me so many places that I would have never been able to go without it!”
  • The Nebraska Writing Project affirmed to Danielle that she needed to earn her Master’s degree and has led her to envision herself earning her PhD eventually as well, because she hopes “to teach teachers and wants to give teachers the same opportunities she had.”
  • She says, the Nebraska Writing Project’s network of teachers have “really encouraged [her] not to be complacent, to seek out other opportunities to help [her] grow as an educator, pushed [her] and given [her] a huge motivation to want to succeed” professionally.”
  • Danielle cites as a critical difference between the Nebraska Writing Project and other professional development programs, its insistence on seeing “teachers as experts, when a lot of professional development or the media do not see teachers as experts or professionals.”
    • She explains, in the Nebraska Writing Project “all of our courses have at least one facilitator who is actually teaching in a K-12 classroom, which really helps make it valid for me as a student.”
    • Facilitators who are working as practicing teachers, “lend a sort of authenticity and insight and experience when they have actual teaching experience and are teaching a course on Education.”

    The Nebraska Writing Project is such a great professional development organization that has totally changed the way I teach and the way I think, and honestly, the way I live too. i feel like I'm a much more responsible citizen now, after taking the Nebraska Writing Project and being around so many passionate people."

Summoning Teachers to LeadDanielle Helzer

  • The Nebraska Writing Project has “really encouraged me to write professionally, to keep writing, and has affirmed for her how much power words can have.” Before the writing project, Danielle explains “I would have never submitted something to a professional book or magazine.”
    • Because of her Nebraska Writing Project involvement an essay of hers will appear in the forthcoming collection, What Teaching Means: Stories From America’s Classrooms.
    • She plans to submit a portion of her thesis for publication in the widely read publication for Language Arts  and English teachers, English Journal
    • She started and maintains a Professional Learning Network blog for her district as a means of gathering general and technology resources for other teachers, tracking changes to educational policy, and keeping a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the world of education.
  • The confidence and knowledge she has gained through the Nebraska Writing Project have allowed Danielle to facilitate several in-services within her own school district.
    • “After that first summer institute,” she remembers “though it sounds really cheesy— I felt empowered and that I could do this and that I did have something to offer even as a young teacher.”
  • Danielle explains that “it can be hard for younger teachers, especially young female teachers, to be taken seriously by male administration,” but because of her affiliation with the Nebraska Writing Project, she feels “her principal and "Honestly, I can't think of anything that I do that hasn't in some way come from either my experiences or one of my colleague's experiences in the Nebraska Writing Project."superintendent have more faith in her and take her more seriously.”
    • When she asked her administration to support her in an unconventional social justice project with her ninth grade students, she easily received “administrative backing.” Because of her affiliation with the Nebraska Writing Project, her administration understood “[she] was actually researching this and had data to prove that this is effective for student learning.”

Strengthening Teaching: Creating Meaningful Learning Opportunities for Students

  • After participating in the Nebraska Writing Project, Danielle began incorporating techniques, like writing groups, into her teaching and as a result she has noticed, “from the first essays my freshmen turned in to the last essays they turned in, their writing definitely improved.“Students in computer lab
  • She now asks her students to “write every day for at least 15 minutes, just to get them in the habit of writing and so that they can be able to see themselves as writers—to identify themselves as writers.”
  • Based on the ideas and pedagogies which Danielle was exposed to through the Nebraska Writing Project, she has implemented innovative social justice-centered pedagogies in her classes and has found that students are more engaged and motivated.
    • By asking students to explore “sort of unconventional writing and unconventional literature” while working together on projects outside of class that were designed to engage them with their community, Danielle found that her students were “so motivated” and unlike any other project the entire semester she had “100% participation from her students and every kid was engaged almost 100% of the time.”
    • She recalls that the students “were so excited! They wanted to do more and they invited our local news station in North Platte to come out and do a news story on them.”
    "I don't think it's anything that I'm doing, per se; I think it is the ideas that I'm gaining from the Nebraska Writing Project and that I'm putting into place with my classes, [but my students] are showing improvement from the beginning to the end of the year in their writing.

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