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.