2016 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award

Jeff Grinvalds, Teacher of the year with Robert Brooke

Presented to Jeff Grinvalds

I am pleased to present the 2016 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Jeff Grinvalds.

Jeff Grinvalds is Humanities Team Leader at Westside High School, where he teaches Composition, Creative Writing, Humanities, and Speech. He has been active in Nebraska Writing Project since 2002. In his fourteen years of service to Nebraska Writing Project, he’s held a variety of leadership positions. He’s served two terms on our Advisory Board, was a Summer Institute facilitator in 2008, was our Webmaster for three years, and is completing a four year term as Technology Liaison this summer. He’s represented our site several times at the National Writing Project convention. He’s presented at the National Urban Sites Network and Professional Writing Retreats, and he’s largely responsible for the partnership we now have with the Nebraska Educational Technology Association. Locally, many of us know Jeff as the voice behind our Facebook and Twitter accounts, as a reliable participant and photographer at numerous Writing Marathons, and as a regular presenceat the Platte River Writing Retreat.

His nominators, both past recipients of the MacDaniels award themselves, praise Jeff for embodying NeWP’s core principles. One writes:

Jeff’s continual striving to improve himself as an educator and education advocate demonstrates a tireless devotion to the profession. This devotion shows through his lively engagement in professional events and conversations, his support – tech and otherwise—for Nebraska WP and National WP, and even through heartfelt personal interactions with many people.

The other nominator adds:

There are very few teachers in Nebraska who have embraced the Writing Project more than Jeff. Jeff is a true citizen—he understands that being a well-rounded citizen means you must serve. And he has—with enthusiasm…. He is also a true listener who hears more than just what is on the surface. He helps others get to the heart of an idea.

These nominators’ ideas are echoed in a support letter from a past teaching colleague, who writes:

Jeff is someone I could call at any time, and I know I would be helped. Ultimately, he is an encourager, one of the things our world most needs.

This encouragement of teachers, this advocacy for teachers, is one of the criteria for the MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award. Another criterion is inspiring work as a classroom teacher, and here Jeff also excels. One of his former students explains:

Mr. Grinvalds is a teacher who is in love with his subject, and his love of writing and his desire to see the best in his students is infectious.

Another former student provides a necessary slant:

I should start by staying that I dislike Jeff Grinvalds. He repeatedly tricked me into liking English, and having a deeper appreciation for the many arts that it is used for. He relentlessly pushed me into being a better performer in speech and drama, and somehow even conned me into being the editor of my high school’s monthly newsletter.

Yet the ability to engage in all things English isn’t the only teaching that his students praise. One former student, now a teacher herself, goes a bit deeper:

Mr. Grinvalds was the only teacher who seemed to notice I was hurting. He encouraged me to write, and in writing I found an escape and a comfort. I can still picture his feedback scrawled into the margins, almost covering my paper. I felt empowered and emboldened as a writer, reading his thoughts.

This focus on writing is echoed by another student, now a PhD in Mathematics:

Passion for a subject does not always transfer well into written text. Mr. Grinvalds provided me with the knowledge and confidence to say exactly how I feel about my research and why it is important.

Jeff Grinvalds doesn’t only inspire writing from his students, but is an active writer himself. This is the third criterion for the MacDaniels Teacher of the Year award. One of his colleagues at Westside explains how he merges his love for writing with his teaching:

Jeff is a writer himself. He’s written about his experiences and he’s published for an audience, never being shy of revealing his own classroom experiments to the teaching world. I will never forget Jeff’s challenge that we too often tell students what to write instead of helping them learn how to write. This exemplifies Jeff’s pedagogy: to always challenge, question, change, and grow toward better writing instruction for students.

You can read some of Jeff’s writing (about his dad, technology, and a little bit of rock and roll) on his regular blog at www.jeffgrinvalds.com -- a blog his nominator calls “excellent and brave.” He’s also published in ASSAY: A Journal of Nonfiction studies (www.assayjournal.com/grinvalds.html) about Writing Marathons in New Orleans and Omaha.

But let me end by reading a few stanzas from one of Jeff’s poems. This is the earliest Nebraska Writing Project writing I could find from Jeff, an “I am from” poem from his first Summer Institute back in 2002. In his words, I think I can hear a glimmer of the introspection and inspiration mentioned by so many of his supporters.


By Jeff Grinvalds

I am from the green grass of my lawn
that padded my feet softly through summers
and held the snow in winter.

I am from the blue sky clouding over with furious rain clouds
opening with gashes of lightening and pouring forth its fury
across the plains and trees. . . .

I am from dreams so real that if I touched them they would bleed,
their brilliance and power holding my waking hours hostage
until the time, deep in sleep, when I could again commune. . . .

I am from the fiction that gave me hope in the human race,
that has led me to believe there are others like me,
who do not dream in vain.

I am from a small town, a large family, and immigrant parents
who taught me more about life and humanity than a thousand schools,
and a dozen churches. . . .

I am from a life above the ordinary,
without settling for less,
and carrying others with me.

Please join me in honoring the 2016 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year: Jeff Grinvalds

Robert Brooke
Director, NeWP
6 May 2016
Lincoln, Nebraska