‘Write Strategically -Posts’ Posts

 

More Voices Calling for Teacher Voice

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So there are more and more voices calling for teacher voice to be heard by the public and policy-makers. The latest is blogger K Michelle McGlothen in an ASCD post today. I’m heartened to hear more people urging this. What troubles me, though, is that just us advocates saying it should happen doesn’t necessarily make it happen. So I’m looking for fresh ideas for how to get our voices out there. Peter Smagorinsky suggests creating a relationship with a local news reporter, who can then feature teacher stories that we gather. I’m trying that here in Chicago — without success so far. Other ideas? Talk to me!

Another Voice Urging Teachers to Speak Out

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Thank goodness I’m not alone trying to get teachers writing about their work for the larger community. Peter Smagorinsky, at the University of Georgia, provides another voice urging teachers to speak out. Visit the website “Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care” to read his suggestions on getting your words out there. Peter describes how he got started submitting articles for Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog, with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and lists a number of venues for getting oneself heard/read.

Peter will be keynoting a session I’ve organized for the NCTE National Convention Nov. 22-24. In line with the goal of maximizing teacher voice, Peter’s talk will be followed by discussion tables at which teachers can dialogue with leaders who have actively promoted teacher advocacy. We’ll also ask everyone those at the tables to start writing their own pieces about their work, right there on the spot, to make sure that this effort begins to get some legs. We’ll have a great lineup of table leaders, and I’ll tell more about them in another blog, shortly. So if you’re a teacher s planning to attend the Convention, join us at our session, early Saturday morning — 8:00-9:15 Nov. 23rd — and you’ll have a great time helping to explain the great work we do in our classrooms.

Yet Another Great Atlanta Teacher Portrayed

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Yeah, I’ve been working away on planning for the TEDxWellsStreetED event in Chicago, scheduled for Sept. 28, so it’s been quiet here at Teachers Speak Up. But I saw yet another great Atlanta teacher portrayed by Peter Smagorinsky in the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog hosted by reporter Maureen Downey. So please read about Atlanta teacher Dave Winter. But as Smagorinsky points out, he’s not unusual even though he’s won many awards — there are loads of teachers like him everywhere.

So even if you’re hesitant to brag about your own great teaching, you can pen a portrait of an outstanding colleague. Do this NOW, before the busy-ness of the coming school year closes in.

And do it because school districts like Chicago’s are de-funding strong public schools at a disastrous rate.

Need help getting your story into the public media? Contact me here and I’ll help you.

More Teacher Voices Are Making Themselves Heard

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So the blogger Eduwonk has noticed that more teacher voices are making themselves heard — through advocacy groups like Educators 4 Excellence. You or I might not agree with all of the stands that they take, but these are teachers speaking up, 7500 in all, in Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York. They form teams to study issues and write recommendation reports on them, in each of their areas. Eduwonk especially appreciates that these teachers are busy proposing solutions to education challenges — as compared to the politicians who make policies without consulting teachers who have expertise on the issues, and then rescind them in mid-flight, or fail to come to agreements to achieve anything at all.

So take a hint! contact E4E about creating a chapter in your community. Or start pulling together a teachers’ education policy group of your own. Yeah, it takes work. But public education needs SOMEONE — lots of us, really — to speak for it.

And thanks to Marilyn Hollman for reminding me about this group and noticing the Eduwonk post.

Writing Prompt at National Writing Project iAnthology

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Now that the long July 4th holiday is over, I’m back and up to no good. I just posted a writing prompt at National Writing Project iAnthology site, inviting teachers to write about a student who changed. I hope you’ll visit the site, but if you aren’t already a member you’ll need to sign up (which is a good thing) to read the prompt, posted in the “Writing Into the Week” group.

To be helpful to the iAnthology writers, I’m re-posting the minilesson on writing a teacher story about a student’s transformation, something I provided in a post here a few weeks ago. This process would also work well for someone writing about a great teacher he or she had. Here it is.

  • First, it’s a good idea to think about the audience and purpose for your story. If it’s going to a wider public (which I think is really important) here’s what I suggest: Avoid education jargon.  It needs to be vivid and grab people’s attention. It ought to have a clear point that non-educators can relate to. And it shouldn’t sound whiny – sure we have plenty of obstacles, but let’s inform people about what good teaching really entails and why it matters.
  • Now, think of some very specific, concrete moment in your teaching experience — a student who was a real challenge but who made a breakthrough during the year, or a class that was disengaged and you found a way to reach them. Want examples? Visit my blog on the Patch.com Evanston news site for three great stories. Or read this piece at Education Week Teacher just the other day.
  • Next, try to picture one or several very specific moments when this student or class was struggling, resisting, or having a lightbulb go off. One of my favorite examples is in teacher Megan Allen’s testimony to Congress. Write a chunk of narrative to describe this moment (or moments). Ralph Fletcher’s books on teaching writing talk a lot about the power of focusing on such moments.
  • Next step: Talk about what you learned from this professional experience — or what you’d like a reader to learn from it, or what it tells us about education policies or practices. This chunk will probably go at or near the end of your piece. You could hint about it at the start, but don’t go into a lot of theory or explanation there because that will bog things down.
  • Finally, there will be some trimmings to add — introducing yourself and/or the scene at the start, adding a punch-line at the end, some connective tissue along the way.

Doctor offers teachers a lesson about the importance of story

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Rachel Naomi Remen, is an outstanding doctor, medical reformer, and author. This doctor offers teachers a lesson about the importance of story. She gives us this lesson in a story in the DailyGood website. “In medicine,” she explains, “is often dismissed as ‘anecdotal evidence,’ a sort of second class data.” However, stories are the engines of change, as she elaborates: “One of the most skilled activists is a genius of change, a woman who can enter a room of people who have held opposing positions for years and . . . enable them to work together as colleagues. I asked her how she manages to do this. ‘Simple,’ she said. ‘You just change the story they hold about themselves and each other.'”

We teachers need to listen to Dr. Remen and learn to do this too.

Mini Lesson on Writing a Teacher Story

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I urge teachers to write about their teaching to build more support for their work, and get their stories out to the public in some way. But many ask, “What should I write about? How do I start?” Perhaps this is because so many of us have had our voices silenced, as one teacher describes in a recent Education Week Teacher article.

So here’s a mini lesson on writing a teacher story – at least one way to do it. This would also work well for someone writing about a great teacher he or she had.

  • First, it’s a good idea to think about the audience and purpose for your story. If it’s going to a wider public (which I think is really important) here’s what I suggest: Avoid education jargon.  It needs to be vivid and grab people’s attention. It ought to have a clear point that non-educators can relate to. And it shouldn’t sound whiny – sure we have plenty of obstacles, but let’s inform people about what good teaching really entails and why it matters.
  • Now, think of some very specific, concrete moment in your teaching experience — a student who was a real challenge but who made a breakthrough during the year, or a class that was disengaged and you found a way to reach them. Want examples? Visit my blog on the Patch.com Evanston news site for three great stories. Or read this piece at Education Week Teacher just the other day.
  • Next, try to picture one or several very specific moments when this student or class was struggling, resisting, or having a lightbulb go off. One of my favorite examples is in teacher Megan Allen’s testimony to Congress. Write a chunk of narrative to describe this moment (or moments). Ralph Fletcher’s books on teaching writing talk a lot about the power of focusing on such moments.
  • Next step: Talk about what you learned from this professional experience — or what you’d like a reader to learn from it, or what it tells us about education policies or practices. This chunk will probably go at or near the end of your piece. You could hint about it at the start, but don’t go into a lot of theory or explanation there because that will bog things down.
  • Finally, there will be some trimmings to add — introducing yourself and/or the scene at the start, adding a punch-line at the end, some connective tissue along the way.

I’m sure there are other approaches, but I’ve seen this work really powerfully. So now write your piece and send it to me at teachersspeakup1@gmail.com !

Graphic Novels vs Classics in the Classroom

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Dear Teachers Speak Up friends–

I’ve just posted a third story from a teacher, on my Patch.com blog. Chicago teacher Robert Plonka describes the power of graphic novels vs classics in the classroom. We’re not out to denigrate the great literature of the past. But as Plonka explains so vividly, students also need to engage with reading that directly reflects the lives they are struggling to live. Please read it, comment, and pass on the word about it.

But now I need more stories!

Please send me your tale about making a difference with a student or a class. Keep it anonymous, if you need to. Email it to teachersspeakup@gmail.com or send it as a comment to this post. Or here’s a great alternative: interview an outstanding teacher who is a colleague, or someone you learned from as a kid. We need to tell these stories to the public, to help them appreciate what we do for their children.

New Facebook Page Called Teachers Speak Up on Testing

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I’ve started a new Facebook page called Teachers Speak Up on Testing. This one is designed specifically to gather teachers’ and others’ thoughts on the standardized testing that is being expanded so widely across the country. How is it working or not working in your school? What aspects of teaching and learning do the tests measure — or not measure? How is it affecting teaching? And if you’re a teacher, please visit the site, become a friend, and share a story to describe some powerful learning that would be taking place in your classroom if your kids weren’t prepping for or taking a test.

The proliferation of ill-considered tests has grown so painful and counterproductive for students, teachers — and now parents — across the country that we can no longer ignore it here. But we invite teachers to not only share their experience and analysis of tests in their area, but also to tell the positive stories of learning in their classrooms that goes beyond the tests — or that could happen more often if the tests did not take up so much time and resource. We hope you’ll share your stories and your thoughts on our new “Teachers Speak Up on Testing” Facebook page.

Great Teacher Stories on the Patch News Website

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It can be really hard to get positive education stories into the big newspapers. But I’ve started a blog to publish great teacher stories on the Patch news website – at least from the Chicago area. If you haven’t checked out Patch, it’s a system with separate news sites for various local neighborhoods across the country. My blog is on the Evanston, IL site.

The story I put up today is by Chicago English and drama teacher Rob Schroeder, about a powerful moment when a special education student performed a monologue on stage for the first time. And as Rob states about the learning and success he experienced:

“You can’t get that from a multiple choice test.”

Last week’s story, beautifully written by retired District U46 teacher Jan Booth, is about how good teachers must not only teach but learn important lessons from their students.

But I need more stories for this blog — so Chicago area teachers send me your stories of great moments in your classroom! If you need to remain anonymous as the author, I’ll honor that. But with summer coming, you should certainly have a little time, even if you’re holding down a summer job or teaching gig to supplement your limited school paycheck.