I am thankful–so thankful–for the giant compliation of amazing professional opportunities I’ve had which have allowed me to grow as an educator. One of those experiences, though, as I’ve written before, stands out among the others. That experience was my participation in the 2010 Invitational Summer Institute with the UW-Milwaukee site of the National Writing Project. It was such a powerful experience for so many reasons. Some of the notable ones: It forced me to accomplish work of a greater quantity and better quality than one would have thought possible. It inspired me to look at my classroom in new ways. It required professionalism and leadership. It was the elusive, the fantastic–meaningful professional development. I’ve stayed involved in Writing Project activities since that summer as much as possible, and I even peer pressured my colleague Ms. J into participating in the summer of 2011. As my place of employment gained its second Writing Project alum, we started (loudly) spreading the word about our experience. Our superintendent, whom we are lucky to share the same building with, caught on. She asked us if it would be possible to do “something like that” in our district. We looked at each other, looked back at her at said, “Yes.”
In order to get the ball rolling, we had to approach our principal, as well as middle school and grade school principals and curriculum director about the possiblity of using some of the district common planning time once a month to host a professional learning community. Lucky for us, administation was wonderfully supportive. We sent out an invitation to all district teachers via email. The text of that invitation, with specific names/details removed, was as follows. This, in so many words, will describe what we’re trying to do. Also, I’m hoping that it will provide a model to those who may want to do something similar:
OPEN INVITATION TO TEACHERS, from any content area or grade level, who are interested in investigating effective practices in the teaching of writing!
We are forming a professional learning community that will allow teachers from many different disciplines and experiences to come together once a month in order to work toward the goal of
improving our teaching of writing district-wide. The innovative,
teacher-centered, research-oriented approach used by the National Writing Project serves as our model for this new district team—the SF Writing and Teaching Collaborative (SFWTC).
WHO: Meetings will be facilitated by SFHS teachers [Ms. H]
and [Ms. J], both recent participants in National Writing
Project summer institutes. SFTWC participants will be
teachers from our district who are interested in the teaching of writing within their discipline/grade level.
WHEN/WHERE: Administration in each building has approved the use of Wednesday collaboration time during the second Wednesday of each month for SFWTC meetings, as our initiative is closely aligned with our district professional development goals. We hope to meet at an outside location, such as the Community Room at Community Bank, as long as participants are in agreement. Otherwise, a rotating building schedule may determine our location.
HOW: Each participant and facilitator will select an
inquiry question regarding an aspect of writing instruction. We’ll spend our time reading, sharing ideas, gathering information, doing action research in our classrooms, and even doing some writing of our own. The goal is to research, develop, and eventually present our new findings about practical
classroom applications that support student success in writing.
WHY: We believe it is important to create our own local opportunity to encourage not only our students’ progress in writing, but also our own professional knowledge and
leadership potential. This is a place for discovery and positivity surrounding our roles as professional educators.
Interested in participating this year? Please reply to this e-mail by October 15th with a brief message indicating your interest, and we’ll promptly send you more details. Once we gather some names of those who are interested, we can move forward in time for our first meeting in November! We are looking forward to starting this new journey with you.
We sent out our invitation with a shrug and a smile. To our delight, we got a fair amount of interest, from several subject areas and grade levels. Once we had our group tentatively established, we sent out a welcome and “more information” message in preparation for the first meeting:
Thank you so much for showing interest in joining the SF Writing and Teaching Collaborative! For us, the experience of the Writing Project was a positive, transformative one, and we are excited to begin a new journey of reflecting, writing, and researching together with all of you in the same spirit! The purpose of this email is to let you know a little more about what to expect, as well as to define some particulars about our first collaboration.
At our first meeting (on [date, time, place] ), we will begin to get to know one another as well as work together to define our
goals for this experience. Here’s how you can prepare for the meeting:
*Bring your writing gear! Whatever that means to you is great; it may be in the form of a laptop or in the form of a notebook and pen or pencil. At times, we will be using writing as a means to discover and communicate.
*Sometime before the meeting, please reflect on the following ideas.
(1) What does writing instruction currently look like for your students? (This may be overall, or in specific scenarios.)
(2) If you could change or develop how writing looks for your students, how would it be and why? At the first meeting, we’ll use these initial thoughts to develop individual inquiry questions. These questions will become the core of our research, as we seek to find answers to our own individual
-Brief overview of research model
-Discussion/development of inquiry questions
-Discuss goals for final product, plan for next meeting
Again, thanks so much for joining us. We know this is going to be a supportive and inspiring professional community. Please feel free to contact us via email with any follow up questions you may have. Otherwise, see you then!
Our first meeting set an excellent precedent for the year to come. We started many important conversations and, if all goes to plan, we’ll be having pertinent, powerful discussions with a powerhouse group of teacher leaders in our district. This will enable us to improve writing instruction, teacher collaboration, and curriculum continuity throughout our students’ years in school. We’re looking forward with optimism to the possiblities ahead!