Embracing the Identity of Teacher-Writer

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By David Premont

In my first year of teaching secondary English, a member of the journalism class, wanting to highlight the school’s new teachers, asked if I could respond to a few questions. One question inquired about my identity as a teacher—I responded that in my heart I am a writer. I knew and was comfortable with this particular identity, but I had not yet fully accepted myself as a teacher-writer. As Anne Whitney tells us, being a teacher-writer refers to “a teacher who has incorporated writing not just as an extra activity but as an integral part of teaching.” I wasn’t there yet.  

Understanding My Identity as a Teacher-writer

Viewing myself primarily as a writer led me to compose freely outside of the classroom, though that did not necessarily mean I was ready to share my writing with students. One narrative I wrote describing a humorous (but innocuous)…

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Part 3: Bulletin board inspiration

Laura Bradley

They arrived early on Day 1 of their bulletin board rotation, laden with bags of decorations, eyes and smiles full of anticipation and excitement. I handed them staplers and push pins, and stepped back to watch them work.

I had assigned this group to the largest bulletin board in the first round because I knew them well enough to expect them to produce a creative, thought-provoking display. I also hoped they would be an inspiration for the rest of the class. And they did not disappoint! They brought in beautiful pictures, inspirational quotes, 3-dimensional objects, bright flowers, and even two different strands of twinkly lights. They filled the enormous board with their creations, and then came back the following class day with more. They weren’t content to leave any large empty spaces.

When the bell rang and their classmates started arriving, their hard work was rewarded with “oohs,” “ahhs,” “wows” and…

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Framing PLC Conversations as Advocacy: A Project for Teacher Education

Everyday advocacy

by Jessica Rivera-Mueller with Jamie Ammirati, Jocelyn Bitner, Stephanie Ferguson, Joshua Killpack, Kenzie Randall, Morgan Sanford, and Mackenzie Wilson

For many secondary teachers, Professional Learning Communities provide a context for communicating with fellow teachers about the most pressing issues in their local teaching contexts. In doing so, teachers have an opportunity to advocate for particular pedagogical beliefs and practices. As a former high school English teacher and a teacher educator, I (Jessica) know, however, that PLCs are complex spaces where discourses converge. PLCs are not inherently good or bad; instead, the communities are made by members who perceive the purposes of these conversations. While PLC conversations can provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss ways to support student learning and examine the meaning and significance of that learning, these conversations can also be viewed as just another required meeting. When teachers view participation in PLCs as a technocratic activity they…

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Encouraging Persistence in Writing

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Kate Sjostrom

Who are these children sitting around me? Surely they are not my eight-year-old daughter and her classmates, though they look like them and go by their names. These children have just asked if they can skip recess to finish critiquing the story we have been reviewing for over two hours. These children have been only constructive in their feedback, never once dismissing something they “just didn’t like.”  

The one who looks like my daughter and whose story we have been reading begs, “Please, Mom.” I look at her—at the blue-grey eyes that I share, at the blue and green striped shirt I helped pick out this morning—and I cave. “Sure,” I tell her. “We can keep going.” But I watch her from the corner of my eye as she readies her pencil to take more notes on what is not yet working in her…

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A Space for Collaborative Leadership: Understanding the Power of CEL

by Elsie Lindy Olan, University of Central Florida, Orlando                                                                   Kia Jane Richmond, Northern Michigan University, Marquette

kia and elsie 2015 purple

Elsie Lindy Olan and Kia Jane Richmond NCTE/CEL in Minneapolis, 2015

After our first encounter at the NCTE and CEL conferences in Minneapolis (pictured above, 2015), we began a productive and rewarding collaborative research and writing partnership. In our English Leadership Quarterly (ELQ) article (http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/ELQ/0392-oct-2016/ELQ0392Conversations.pdf), we describe our positionality this way:

Despite the fact that we teach English education at two very different geographically and socioculturally situated universities—one a mid-sized rural Midwestern university and the other a large urban Southern university—we discovered through extended dialogue that we both aim to make our methods courses safe spaces in which preservice teachers can consider and (de)construct their own identities as readers while preparing to teach literature in secondary schools across the United States and beyond […] And to do this, we use young adult literature and culturally responsive teaching. (p. 11)

As teacher educator researchers, we wanted to create essays that shared our research and that invited teachers to consider, problematize, and reevaluate issues related to the teaching of English Language Arts – and in particular, young adult literature. The idea of disrupting notions – which can be challenging and, at times, gut wrenching – is one that is essential to the transformation of one’s pedagogy and stance in the secondary classroom.

While writing a piece on young adult literature and classic literary texts, we reflected on which venue would be most appropriate for our writing and which audience would benefit from the questions we asked and the statements we made. As teacher educator researchers, an issue that students and alumni in our programs brought to our attention was one of feeling disempowered and confused as to the incorporation of young adult literature in the secondary English classroom. Another issue was related to feeling uncomfortable making connections between the classic literary texts they were asked to teach and their own students’ cultural and personal lives. This was a problem of practice that we also grappled with, but one that wasn’t unique to those of us in higher education; it was relevant to those in high school classrooms.

When we decided to write for English Leadership Quarterly, we chose to submit there because we truly had the understanding that ELQ is a platform that encourages classroom teachers, department heads, and teacher educators to share their journeys of transitioning into leadership and making decisions about curriculum that inform student learning and teachers’ pedagogical practices. As former teachers of secondary English, we also wanted to share our students’ experiences and those of alumni in order to inform teachers’ practices and invite readers into the conversation. CEL defines itself as helping “language arts leaders in sharing mutual problems and insights, exchanging resources, seeking the advice of successful leaders, and investigating issues of greatest concern to leaders.” Although all of NCTE’s groups encourage connection, CEL promotes and fosters collaboration between and among leaders in English programs – at the annual conference and beyond.

In our ELQ essay, we discuss the intentional inclusion of young adult literature and culturally responsive teaching in our methods courses. Our goal is to help preservice teachers connect to their experiences as readers. For example, Kae designed a lesson plan in which her secondary students created their own book covers for young adult novels they read, bringing in their own lived experiences as part of the process. This, Kae says, “allowed students to make their own choices, and therefore reflect on whether they could have made different choices, all the while allowing me to step back as the teacher and not tell the students how they should feel or think. . .” In another case, preservice teacher Elena chose John Green’s Looking for Alaska for her students at an alternative high school. She did so because she wanted to make the literature culturally relevant to students’ lived experiences, which included “struggles in and out of the classroom” as well as “difficulties with substance abuse […], physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, along with a multitude of mental and physical health issues” (p. 14). Elena’s choice of text was not only purposeful in terms of being culturally relevant but encouraged her students to read about an array of characters with unique abilities.

The collaboration on the ELQ essay was just the beginning of our investing in each other’s professional growth and finding connections as teacher educators and researchers. In 2016 and 2017, we worked together on multiple projects related to teaching English Education, young adult literature, and qualitative research. Often, our writing sessions happened via Skype, during which we could see and hear each other while working on the same document in Google docs. This process allowed us to better understand our individual positionalities, contexts, and sociopolitical environments of our different institutions as well as the educational practices of our school systems. Much of our research has involved examining not only our students’ needs as educators but also the programs in which they are prepared.

In a recent article published in the Wisconsin English Journal  (https://wejournal.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/olan-and-richmond/#more-2020), we discuss how and why we each developed new courses to help future English teachers “build an appreciation of canonical texts and young adult literature and strategies for using literature to encourage critical thinking across the curriculum.” Through the process of sharing the creation of these courses, we found that we also made room for our own professional growth, which included developing new understandings of our programs, our practices, and our students’ needs. The Conference on English Leadership has been a part of that journey. We recognize that our dialogic interactions are reciprocal and cyclical in nature. We gather ideas through reading, researching, and tapping into our theoretical frameworks; we come together in real time to share thoughts and analyze and interpret data, while welcoming dissent and offering critique without personal judgment; and we come away from each project with new understandings and a plethora of additional inquiries that guide our next collaborative project.

We hope that readers of this CEL blog acknowledge the power that collaborative work has; at its core, our co-labouring has brought each of us new information, new opportunities for professional growth, and a partnership that is built on mutual respect, trust, and a willingness to change. For all of us in CEL, there are potential partners for collaborative projects, prospective sounding boards – someone willing to listen to problems, share concerns, and offer constructive feedback about teaching English Language Arts and/or issues related to leadership.

CEL’s recognition of our collaborative partnership culminated in the 2017 English Leadership Quarterly Best Article Award, which honored our unique voices and co-labouring. This honor was especially appreciated because we now identify a platform where our voices are valued and where a broader audience welcomes the need for dialogic interaction among not only teachers but also those who might be tasked with leadership roles.  It is in this protected space where teachers, department heads, curriculum directors, English Educators, and others who take on leadership roles can find encouragement and support and can also feel comfortable asking provocative questions, knowing that data and theories can be examined through multiple lenses, which helps us to move forward in our careers. Because CEL – through its conferences and publications – offers a communal space for practicing teachers and leaders, we can bring forth difficult questions aimed at improving schools as well as teachers’ and students’ learning. Additionally, CEL provides a place for those in a liminal space, who are considering making a change in their careers. Conference on English Leadership members should appreciate this space as one that fosters collegial relationships and promotes reflective and reflexive practices.


kia oona elsie 2017 cel award

Kia Jane Richmond, Oona Abrams, and Elsie Lindy Olan                                    2017 CEL Awards, St. Louis, Missouri

Dr. Kia Jane Richmond is professor of English at Northern Michigan University, directs the English Education program and supervises student teachers in Michigan and Wisconsin. Her publications have appeared in English Education, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Language Arts Journal of Michigan, Composition Studies, Issues in Writing, and Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning. Her current research on mental illness and adolescent literature will be shared in a forthcoming book, Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters, from ABC-Clio/Greenwood Press.

Dr. Elsie Lindy Olan is assistant professor and track coordinator for Secondary English Language Arts in the School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at the University of Central Florida. She researches the role of language and writing, literacy, literature and diversity in learning and teaching in Language Arts education and cross-disciplinary education, and teachers’ narratives, inquiry and reflective practices in (national and international) teaching environments and professional development settings. Her work has been published in English Education, English Leadership Quarterly, Research in the Teaching of English, Education and Learning Research Journal, Argentinian Journal of Applied Linguistics, and Language Arts. Her current research on teacher education and diversity will be shared in a forthcoming edited book, Transformative Pedagogies: Moving Towards Critical Praxis in an Era of Change, from Information Age Publishing, Inc.  Elsie L. has presented her work and research at conferences in Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States.

Incorporating Students’ Perspectives in the Design of Peer Review Activities

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Adam Loretto, Sara DeMartino, and Amanda Godley

In our previous post, we discussed students’ views of peer review: that, despite some potential pitfalls, it can be useful to hear from multiple perspectives and to have opportunities in both giving and receiving feedback to develop skills as writers with real audiences. In this post, we apply what we learned from students to help teachers design effective peer review experiences.

Potential Pitfall: The Feedback is Wrong or Unhelpful

Let’s get the big one out of the way first.  Sometimes the feedback students get from peers is not particularly helpful or just plain wrong.  One way for teachers to address this issue is to make sure that students receive feedback from multiple peers, at least three. We have found that although students might receive unhelpful or wrong feedback from one reviewer, the other feedback they receive is typically beneficial.

We suggest that…

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