Friday, September 20, 2013

A Letter to OWP Summer Institute 2013...Dear Teacher Consultants!

  • Disclaimer to regular readers: the following is a letter to Teacher Consultants who participated in the Ozarks Writing Project Summer Institute this past June, which I helped to facilitate. Tomorrow is their Fall Renewal Day, where they will be sharing the progress and changes they have made to their classrooms since their summer experience. I will be missing this, and it's one of my favorite teacher days of the year! This letter/blogpost, is directed toward them, but I'm sure you will find it interesting, too. :) 

    Dear Teacher Consultants (SI2013!)

    I have so much, yet nothing, to share! You might be feeling the same way about your classrooms at this point.

    First, I'm happy and healthy and really loving England. I have a mix of both good and bad days, but by far the good has outweighed the bad.

    My work is finally starting. I spent last week in London with Fulbright Postgrads (students here getting their Masters degrees--all young pups!) and Scholars (researchers and university professors who are on sabbatical.) I fit into the Scholars section with the Distinguished Teacher Award, and I might be the youngest of all the Scholars. There were over 60 of us at the orientation last week.

    I have to say this sabbatical thing really works for me. Wish my entire life were a sabbatical!! I'm only three weeks in and already wondering how I will ever get back to such a busy schedule I have in the U.S. Here my days are spent reading, writing, talking with people, and figuring things out (like Monday I plan to get a hair cut and color--and it's taken me all of this afternoon to find a place online and figure out how to get there!)

    Regarding work, I met with the UK Writing Project Teacher Writing Group at East Anglia University in Norwich on Wednesday night.
    Area teachers sharing their writing at the Teacher Writing Group at University of East Anglia, Norwich.
    The group met from 17:00-19:00 on campus, and there was tea, coffee, and biscuits (cookies.) There were 17 teachers present, and we spent time writing together, sharing our writing, collaborating on writing (we wrote a group poem based on words/phrases our families and friends say), talking about our classroom practices, and deciding what types of writing we want to explore through the semester.

    It was phenomenal, and felt so very good to be with teachers who participate in this type of PD. The UK Writing Project is a grassroots organization (no affiliation with the US, but they are using the US model, and have Richard Sterling, founder and former director of the NWP on their side. He's from England, and spends his summers here.)
    Adam, a primary teacher with ages 7-10 in the same classroom. Four years in, he left the Writer's Group by saying "I cannot wait to go to school tomorrow!"

    With no funding, the UKWP is only offering writing groups to UK teachers, who are already talking about how their once-a-month writing meetings have changed their classrooms. No summer institutes, no seminars, no open institutes, simply writing groups. Three meet in London, and one meets in Norwich. They have been denied for funding at every angle, so all that happens is happening because of the same energy we have as US teachers to sustain this professional development that means so much to us. Teachers are truly making it happen here.

    Out of the 17 teachers, several were Reception/Key Stage 1 (primary, pre-K, grades 1-2) and the rest were a mix all the way up to secondary. They are all just learning to navigate the new national curriculum, which goes official nationwide September 2014. Many teachers are
    Dr. Smith (Jeni) and Janie (7th grade teacher) talking about her research. Jeni is one of the founds of the UK Writing Groups, and we look forward to collaborating more this semester, even though she's a 3-hour train ride away.  

    unhappy with the politics of education. And some in politics have actually called teachers "enemies of hope." Teachers are feeling as if they have lost their professional voice. Sound familiar? This information comes off-the-record from teachers I have met in pubs, trains, and restaurants. I have met, total, over 30 teachers randomly, and I ask about their classrooms, and their view of the future of education in the UK.

    Monday is my first day in the school where I will be doing research, so I don't have news on that front yet. It's called Silverdale, and it's for Key Stage 3, College, and Sixth form, equivalent to grades 7-12 for us. 

    On the settling in side, I've been blogging when possible, but I still don't even have the Internet at home, so walking around with my computer and my research is taxing. My bank account is finally opened, but I cannot make a deposit yet because I need the deposit book to do so, which will come in the mail next week. I am reminded often that this must be what it feels like to be an immigrant. Moving to a new country, figuring out housing, water bills, heating, electricity, Internet, etc,. with little to no help is/was very, very difficult. I spent many days in tears, and I've not even changed languages. I thought it would be easier. I am reminded of a quote I shared in SI this summer by M. Hunter, and while this speaks to the work in our classrooms, I can also see how it can be a metaphor for many areas of our lives: "If you want to be secure, do what you already know how to do. If you want to be a true professional and continue to grow...go to the cutting edge of your competency, which means a temporary loss of security. So whenever you don't quite know what you are doing--know that you are growing." I feel I am personally and professionally at the cutting edge of my competency, but I know this short time I have grown so much. It IS the same with you in your classrooms after your SI experience, I am sure of it.

    I do want to clarify something: I feel conflicted in comparing myself to an immigrant. I, fortunately, had the capability to write home, contact my bank, get extra money, find food, pay for a weeks worth of hotel (shelter), and slowly figure things out. So many, who move somewhere as a refugee or for a better life, walk in with empty pockets and a dream for something better. So in saying that I feel like an immigrant has really just opened my heart to the challenges someone might face in coming to my own country, and how I might be of assistance to them. 

    I hope today you find yourselves in a safe, comfortable place to share all the new ideas, and all changes, you have made in your classrooms. Know that we (facilitators) know you have taken your teaching to its edge, and the journey has probably given you a temporary loss of security, but in that you have probably found yourself a better teacher, a better learner, a more competent professional. I know you will walk away, after today, a better teacher for Monday, because that is what the Writing Project does for teachers. 

    Happy Renewal. At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, you'll understand why we call it the renewal. Enjoy each other as friends and colleagues.
    Me, at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks public house. The oldest in England, circa 763. Or so they say.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Days I Spent in London (UK Fulbright Orientation, Part 1!)

This past week was a whirlwind. Another one of those weeks where you do so much you begin to say things like "I only arrived yesterday? I swear I've been here a week." Packing so much into so little time leaves no time for processing. Once again, I'm just going to post a pictorial blog because A) I want to get something posted, and B) I'm stealing wifi at Starbucks, so I want to keep this short. So...enjoy the pics and commentary.

ARRIVAL: Took the train from Sheffield to London St. Pancras for £19, and walked from King's Cross down Grey's Street to Wren Street to the Francis Gardener House at University College London. This is a dorm room at UCL. I was connected to the internet by a cable. I showered in the toilet. It was like a nice version of camping.

DAY 1: UK Fulbright Orientation
After coffee and tea, we found our seats and watched this video: The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England. Five minutes and you'll be more enlightened.

We were supposed to introduce ourselves. It took the entire group a little over two hours. We had to 
stand in front and talk about our research, a fun fact, and what we were looking forward to about living in the UK. I was so nervous, so I snapped a picture of everybody when I got on stage. I'm sad that it's blurry. :( I told everyone in the room they were writers, and that's what I was here to study. I also talked about riding on an elevator with Tom Brokaw, and mentioned that so far my favorite part of living in the UK is being called love. Although the other day, I was also called me duck, which is another term of endearment in the north, and I plan to use it quite often to me loves back home. Quack. Quack.

 Becca (Leeds) and Steve (Sheffield) telling stories about moonshine and Oprah. Well, Becca actually talked about singing on her morning walks, but I like her family history with Tennessee Moonshine. Steve challenged his class in Chicago to give up one thing a month, like television, internet, etc. Oprah heard of it, a representative got in touch, and then nothing came of it, except she challenged her viewers to do this as well.

After introductions, lunch was sandwiches ordered in from Pret a Manger. I ate egg salad. This is the FACULTY LOUNGE at University of Notre Dame London where we lounged for lunch. Yes, that's a baby grand piano to the left. Would love to show you my faculty lounge at RHS. We have a handy paper shredder AND a Scantron. The microwaves are cleaned out occasionally, and there are plenty of science experiments in the fridge.

 Me. Outside the door of University of Notre Dame in London.

At lunch I slipped outside for a quick walk around Trafalgar Square, where this street performer was entertaining adults and children with bubbles in front of the National Gallery.

The afternoon was spent at an Opportunities Fair. Here Fulbright Scholars are listening to each booth give a spiel about why we should join their society or why we might be interested in their work in the UK. Once those were finished, we visited individually at each booth. We were given free memberships to various UK organizations, and I joined The Royal Society of the Arts, The Royal Oak Foundation, The English Speaking Union. I got information from The Prince's Trust, specifically about a teaching organization it operates, the US Embassy, who told me NOT to get arrested (such pressure!), Gresham College Public Lectures (officially the oldest society there--and they all bragged on how old they were), and the Institute of Ideas, who works with youth debates and asks for Fulbright Scholars to judge student work. I plan to do this in October. :) 

DAY 2 was spent at Two Temple place...and this was the entrance. 
The morning was spent with Fulbright Alumni and Ambassador Matthew Barzun. He's less than two years older than me. 

Lunch on Day 2 was at Zizzi's on the Strand, made by these happy people below. I had pizza with spinach and egg.

I'm going to end here for this post because I'm tired of being in Starbucks. And I'm tired of being on the computer. The next few days were fascinating...I assure you. And I will try to post again, soon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Day I Am Trying to Catch You Up

This post has actually been titled differently each day I've sat down to write it: The Day I Realized I've Been Here a Week, The Day I Bought Towels and Sheets, The Day I Toured Sheffield Hallam University, The Day I Lost My Mascara, The Day I Made Tacos, The Day I Got a Blockbuster Video Membership Card (yes, it's true folks) so, you see, it's just been an exciting few days since I've last posted. So much has been going on that I've not had a second to stop and write. So now, I've got one hour before Starbucks closes (yes, I'm at Starbucks because it's free wifi and I feel like a nut in a pub with my computer out stealing wifi while everyone else enjoys a pint and good company.)

So today I wake up to rock bands and singers and loudspeakers coming through my flat window. I live next to Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, and I knew something was coming from there. I had read in the Sheffield Telegraph about the upcoming Arts in the Park, but didn't clue in that it was today for some reason. After a quick breakfast, I packed my camera, computer, water bottle, and notebook and headed up my street instead of down. If I haven't complained about it yet, I will now. Sheffield is built on "seven hills." Fortunately, my mile and half walk into Sheffield Hallam is fairly level (and I'm now understanding the bus routes a little better), but most of the time I'm walking up and down hills to get where I'm going. Scratch that, most of the time I'm walking uphill both ways.

So I get to the top of the hill (not far, really) and see what I understand the locals to call "Teddy." This is King Edward VII School. I will be contacting them for some observations (which I've learned I need to call them "sit ins" because observation strikes a chord of "evaluation", which is SOOOO true, even in America.) Heck, maybe I'll just ask for a tour! I will be glad when my approval to get into these schools as a visitor gets back to me, which could be another week or so.
Do you think students at Teddy are more excited than our students to learn because they go to school in such a fascinating, old, gloriously English (okay, "Roman") structure? Ha. Yeah, I don't either.

 So, walking on...down Clarkehouse Road, I also run across Sheffield High School, established in 1878. Is this the school for you?

I finally made it to the Botanical Gardens where the Arts in the Park was happening. Here are a few pictures:

There were local/area artists set up inside painting, drawing, and chatting with people. I spoke with at least four, and got some great tips on local things to see and pubs to visit. Including the "crooked spire", Bolsover Castle, and the Thursday morning market in Chestershire, about a 20-minute train ride away. My "to do" list keeps growing.

This artist took a picture of what she's drawing because she couldn't bring physically bring in the flowers, but she wanted specifically to draw them because her daughter-in-law sent them to her. I love people.

My lunch, from a local farmer. Roasted pork sandwich with stuffing (think Thanksgiving,) and apple sauce.

I never stopped to read the signs for this area, but I was drawn to it over and over again. That's because it's their "North American Prairie Land" tribute. Which, as they put it, is now covered in corn. So true. But this area did remind me of our gardens in southern Mo.'s taken me an hour just to upload what few pics I have and now it's closing time at Starbucks. I'm headed out to meet my Fulbright buddy, Steve, who gave me these options for the night: eat at a new restaurant, see a movie, or stay in and wash my hair (me only, which I need to do, but I'll opt for dinner.) Enjoy...I'll try to post another tomorrow.