2015 Nebraska Writing Project
Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award
I am pleased to present the 2015 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Diana Weis.
Diana teaches 5th grade at Millard’s Cather Elementary School, where she’s served for most of her twenty year teaching career. She’s been active in the Nebraska Writing Project since 2004, joining our Advisory Board in 2009, and serving ably as Webmaster, Technology Liaison, and institute facilitator for a variety of Summer Invitational, Technology, and Embedded Institutes. Last fall she became our official Writing Marathon Wrangler and Writing Retreat Organizer. Her nominators emphasize the many “hard working and humble” ways Diana has supported NeWP, from t-shirt design to launching One Book, One NeWP, from taking the breathtaking photos on our website to forging partnerships with Agate Fossil Beds National Monument for this summer’s teacher workshops. Her nominators warn us not to be beguiled by her “soft smile and soothing laugh,” because underneath that gentle exterior Diana is a fiercely effective teacher leader “who always seems to bring out the best in people.”
Diana’s students emphasize exactly these traits of quiet, gentle leadership in their letters of support. One former student writes:
My first encounter with Ms. Weis took place in an ESL classroom about 13 years ago. That ESL classroom was a home away from home. Ms. Weis welcomed all of us with open arms. One could say that our relationship was based on mutualism. Ms. Weis enriched our lives with American culture; we enhanced hers with ours.
Another former student writes:
From my first steps into that 5th grade room of Cather Elementary to walking the halls as a senior at Millard North, Ms. Weis’s teachings have stuck with me. Ms. Weis would put a picture up on the screen and tell us to write whatever came to mind. What ensued was a hushed classroom filled with floating ideas and a driven concentration that was almost tangible.
A current student echoes the magical sense of learning in Ms. Weis’ classroom:
When I stepped foot in room 502, everything changed. I always thought school was something boring and just lecture, except this was no boring teacher. We first studied Sherlock Holmes, we acted out as the detectives, not just students reading from a book. Of course The Bard was next, then to Don Quixote where we flung colored pencils at the Don (Ms. Weis). She is not a teacher but a student with us. She didn’t care what my siblings did, she gave me a fresh start. She did not act as a teacher but as a friend, and sees us as we are and knows sometimes family comes up. So though some may see her fighting the dread colored pencils, or as a detective on the case of a murdered piece of paper, Ms. Weis is more than that. She is a light through the dark times, guiding us to find our education.
A final student, now a US Marine, uses a telling metaphor to express Diana’s impact:
Norman Juster once said, “You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and not get wet,” and that’s exactly how I felt until I entered the classroom of Ms. Weis. My entire concept of schooling changed. The water of knowledge no longer swept by: it all soaked in. With the help of Diana Weis, I was shown a vivid new world, and my understanding blossomed.
Of course, Diana Weis doesn’t only work with 5th graders, bathing them in the waters of knowledge. She also is a leader and mentor for many teachers. Her Nebraska Writing Project colleagues are unanimous in pointing out the programs Diana’s helped build--from Technology Institutes to Writing Retreats, from promotional materials to reading and writing groups. They’re even more unanimous in emphasizing the personal ways Diana supports their growth.
One colleague writes:
It’s difficult not to want to be better when you’re around Diana. Her personality radiates a dynamic, positive energy that reaches students and peers alike. … It’s evident in the classroom, as her students know she cares about each and every one of them, and it’s apparent in the friendships and professional relationship that she maintains.
Another colleague writes:
Diana has been a true friend and colleague, a champion of writing marathons, and a connector of teacher souls for as long as I have known her. She has the courage to go deep into complex teaching and writing projects, even when the road is rough and the obstacles many. I want to thank her personally and formally for all the support she has given me – one of hundreds, I’m sure – over the years. She is a beloved and inspirational NeWP teacher-leader and writer, an ideal choice for this year’s award.
And another colleague writes:
I was naturally drawn to Diana because of our mutual interest in all things “techy.” Of course, I quickly realized she was one step ahead of me! But at my first Platte River Writing Retreat, I really got to know Diana and she isn’t just a tech junkie. She makes the best Chex Mix ever. She loves to write. When I think of her, I can’t help but think of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Well, Mr. White, Diana, too, is both.
Since we are the Nebraska Writing Project, I also need to say a word or two about Diana as writer. All her nominators mention the impact Diana’s writing has had on them – both the writing itself, and the way she models the act of writing by being present as a writer in classes and community.
I’d like to close with a sample of Diana’s writing, so you can hear something of her voice, introspection and love of writing. This piece comes from the 2011 Summer Institute anthology. It’s a Letter to Her Muse, three pages long. Here’s just an excerpt:
So here I am at 3:46am on a Tuesday morning writing you this note. Which, now that I think about it, may be a ridiculous undertaking seeing that you, as a muse, probably don’t have a physical or even an e-mail address. So though I have no earthly clue how to get it to you, I’m hoping beyond all reason it get delivered. There is something that needs to be said.
What the hell were you thinking? Keeping me up till this hour when you know I need to be up early tomorrow to drive to Lincoln! And just how am I supposed to do that when you’ve talked at me until the birds started chirping? Just once, once, I would love to switch places with you so you’d have an idea how hard it is to do an early morning drive on a flat interstate hindered only by road construction and cruise control. …
I realize I am partly to blame. I should never have told you about the character I planned, or asked your opinion on plot, just as I slipped into bed. But honestly, did you have to make me turn on the light at 12:34, 12:53, 1:13, 1:32, and 2:21? And what were you thinking when you started another story in the midst of the first one?
I’ve been up for hours now, and though I am glad for the inspirational buddy system we have going on here, I have to say you’re lucky you’re invisible right now, because if I could get my hands on you, you would be playing a duct taped version of merry-go-round on the ceiling fan.
That said, I’m asking you, with all the kindness in my heart, to let me sleep.
Your servant and co-conspirator, Diana
Please join me in recognizing Diana Weis as the 2015 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year!
Director, Nebraska Writing Project
1 May, 2015