I've always found the best professional development to be teacher-led, and that is why I'm excited to be part of "Writing about Teaching: From Process to Publication," a new course offering at my school facilitated by Mary Ellen Dakin and Allison Casper, both strong teachers with years of experience.
Mary Ellen, now a literacy coach at my school near Boston, is the author of two books: Reading Shakespeare With Young Adults and Reading Shakespeare Film First, and her work has appeared in several publications, including the National Council of Teachers of English's English Journal. Her writing is so powerful that when I teach in the graduate school of education at a local college, I share her articles with my students. Her piece "The Case for Conflict in the Classroom," truly opened my eyes and made me look at my own teaching in a new way.
Allison is a former Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher, who designed, piloted, and now teaches in our school's writing center. This professional-development offering, which is for teachers from grades K-12 across content areas, will be guided by the Writer's Workshop model, and I'm eager to learn from Mary Ellen's and Allison's expertise and through collaboration with my fellow teachers.
One of the main reasons I'm so enthusiastic about the "Writing about Teaching" course is because of its active and interactive structure. Unlike "sit and get" PD led by non-practitioners, participants will be writing, sharing, critiquing, and discussing our work each month. At the end of our PD, we will each have a "product"-something useful, which will have a positive impact on our students, and which we can share with other teachers. Teachers don't often have time to think intensely about or to truly scrutinize our practice, so I am happy to have this opportunity to do so.
Writing about our practice is an especially meaningful exercise. It can be transformative to our teaching for a number of reasons:
1. Exploring our knowledge of teaching and learning and the value of our work through writing allows us to question and discuss what we do in the classroom. These collegial and collaborative conversations can help to inform our teaching and improve what we do each day. Cross-curricular dialogue can help to generate new ideas, and discussions between new teachers and veterans or elementary and high school teachers, for example, will be enlightening.
2. Developing a written product helps us to think critically about our practice. Writing about teaching enables us to reflect upon everything we do in the classroom, from instruction to grading to curriculum to classroom management. We can analyze and investigate why we make the choices we do, and that examination can make us stronger practitioners.
3. Engaging in the writing process, exchanging drafts with other participants and facilitators, and offering supportive feedback can break down walls and allow for meaningful discourse. Teaching can be isolating, so having the opportunity to get feedback on our writing can help reframe and strengthen the work we do. Both Allison and Mary Ellen have extensive experience in the classroom and a strong understanding of teaching that will most definitely benefit participants. This format also serves as a great model for the student writing experience.
4. Experimenting with a variety of text types, genres, and modes can enable us to see things from a different perspective. Thinking about an experience from the point of view of a student, teacher, or parent, for example, can give us a great deal of insight and help us to understand and empathize.
5. Targeting our writing to specific audiences and learning about the publishing process lets us see how writing has the potential to transform both the author and audience. This is something we should remember when creating assignments in the classroom. Students need to learn how to write for different audiences, and providing them with an opportunity to see their work in print or online can be life-changing.
Writing about what we do each day as teachers is incredibly important. Only teachers truly know what goes on in the classroom, and reflecting upon our practice through writing is incredibly empowering and potent. Writing about teaching is an important part of the National Board certification because it enables teachers to truly examine their practice. I encourage anyone who wants to explore teaching on a deeper level to begin writing.
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to exploring writing this year with my colleagues and under the tutelage of experienced and gifted teachers. There's even talk of publishing our work in a compendium to help other teachers. Being excited about professional development is certainly a truly wonderful way to start the new school year!
Nancy Barile is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching English Language Arts at a Boston-area high school for 22 years. She is also an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory, a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Teacher Prize 2015, and the 2013 recipient of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.