Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Channeling @KYWritingProject on Day One of @CWPFairfield Invitational Leadership Institute - Writers' Notebooks

I always say I was a part of the perfect storm as a writing teacher: Kentucky Writing Portfolios during the time of Kentucky Education Reform Act, J. Graham Brown School, and then the Louisville Writing Project. My teaching time in classrooms was amidst wholistic scoring of a wide variety of writing genres: reflective, personal, creative, and transactive with volumes and volumes of Kentucky Department of Education and Jefferson County Public Schools support. What I knew about writing and teaching writing was part of a grander picture for the State. I knew it was special when I was there, but learned how really special it was when I left and began visiting classrooms in other states. In room 301, writing was the heartbeat and our outcomes were part of the fabric of who we were as a school: poetry slams, dialectic blues, ten-minute play festival, argument emporiums, coffee houses, and interdisciplinary units around every corner - we all worked together.

Yesterday, during day one of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, my colleague Julie and I did demonstrations on uses for the writer's notebook. We touched upon Fletcher, and I pulled out the journals I used to keep, and then several models of what happened after I participated in LWP XXI. While the teachers began planting seeds in their notebooks, I combed through my first days of the KY ISI and found that so many of the seeds I planted at that time have now bloomed into tremendous trees (even forests). I talked about this briefly when I was asked to do the keynote last year at the University of Kentucky, but actually having my LWP notebook in my hand yesterday while a new cohort was writing blew my mind. That summer with LWP, so much of what I thought about as a writer, teacher, and thinker was turned upside down for the better. Of greatest importance, however, was participating with fellow teachers in multiple grade levels and content areas. They blew up any notion of who owns writing in American schools, what is constituted as effective, and the importance of visual literacies for reaching all kinds of learners. I've never been the same since that experience and I believe because of them I became more useful to the students enrolled in my classes.

Jean and Tim did an activity on our first day that is similar to the one Julie and I did today where we thought about themes in our life that make us who we are. At the time, I listed in my brainstormed list my work with refugees, teaching in a quirky school, acting as a portfolio cluster leader, being the only son caught between two daughters, my friendship with Alice and Charlie, the mentorship of Sue, and my students at Brown. That was over a decade ago and I am amazed at where each of those listed items brought me in my career as a doctoral student and now instructor of teachers and K-12 youth.

I say it over and over again, "The National Writing Project model is a model that works. Investing in teachers as professionals is the best way to help improve the skills of American youth. If administrators believe in teachers, it makes it so much easier to believe in the kids we teach."

Oh, The Places You Will Go!

I am also amazed at how robust the conversations become when professionals are allowed to share their thinking with one another in a mutual community, and not one that is top-down and hierarchical. The institute isn't authoritative, but democratic. It isn't process-oriented, but processes-oriented. There is never a one-way approach to encouraging the compositional accomplishments of young people, but a workshop for exploratory ethos that allows everyone who participates to find a voice that best works for that comes from options and choices, reflection and sharing.

I admit that the kick-off is always an exhausting day, especially as one keeps fingers crossed in hopes that everything comes together with minor damage (it is a tremendous unification of bureaucracies on multiple levels and the room for mishap is tremendous). Monkey wrenches come flying as if they are part of a game of Donkey Kong, but I've become pretty good at leaping over them and ducking --- all in the belief of the model at work. As a scholar winced at me during one of my job interviews when I began discussing my LWP work, "Oh, you're part of that cult are you." I am. It is a cult of beauty (and I imagine intimidating to her because she never was a part of its magic.

Day two, and we have guest Elizabeth Hilts coming to spark personal narrative ideas and strategies, followed my the perspective activity where I get to destroy eggs. The cohort is as phenomenal as I anticipated it would be.

Forget the 4th of July. The real fireworks explode during all the days that follow.

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