A Tale of Teachers: Collaboration, Community, Connection


Once upon a time, there lived a girl who always dreamed of being a teacher, hung a chalkboard in her bedroom which doubled as her pretend classroom, and asked Santa Claus for teaching books and stickers.  She subscribed to teaching magazines and at the ripe old age of eight was on the mailing list for retirement options. She grew up and became a teacher, only to realize that teaching was far more difficult than she ever imagined.  She questioned whether she had chosen the right profession after all.  Not quite ready to give up on her lifelong dream, she applied to the Long Island Writing Project Summer Invitational Institute in the summer of 2002 and…magic! Like Cinderella’s pumpkin turned carriage or Jack and his beanstalk,  she experienced a type of renewing magic as professionals gathered together, across grade levels and subject areas, in the pursuit of teaching writing better and learning to be brave writers themselves.  Teachers taking time out of their summer to read, write, share, talk, and plan.  The girl (spoiler alert- it’s me!) felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, realizing that she had found her way to her professional home.

The Long Island Writing Project (LIWP) is a local site of the National Writing Project, “a network of sites, anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university.” One of the things I love most about the LIWP is the chance to collaborate and share ideas. I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate the Summer Invitational Institute in prior years and took on that role again this past summer, where I got the chance to know high school English teacher, Lauren Jensen.  Lauren teaches at Glen Cove High School but previously worked as a teacher in Virginia and was an active member of the Northern Virginia Writing Project, facilitating their Summer Institutes as well.LIWP bird logo-square

One of the cornerstones of the Summer Institute is that participants teach a lesson for the group. The group discusses all the best practices observed in the lesson and ways to adapt the lesson for different levels and subject areas.  Last summer, Lauren presented a lesson on creating podcasts for book reviews, a unit she taught to her high school students.  She made reading and writing connections, challenged students to analyze literature, immersed them in a genre study of book reviews, and then made the whole project more authentic and engaging by having her students create a podcast script, complete with appropriate background music, which they performed, recorded and shared. It was an outstanding lesson, meticulously prepared,  and Lauren’s passion and strong belief system about authentic reading and writing shone through.

In thinking about ways to adapt Lauren’s lesson for my third graders, I thought of the site Biblionasium, where students can create a visual display of the books they’ve read.  Biblionasium also allows students to write reviews of the books they’ve read.  To build reading and writing connections, I was thinking I could immerse students in a book review writing unit, encourage them to post their reviews on Biblionasium and then also add a speaking component, like Lauren did.  I would use the app Audioboom to have students record themselves reading their book reviews.  Audioboom has an easy way to create a QR code for the audio recording.  I envisioned placing the book review QR code in the inside cover of a book.  Students who are book shopping could scan the QR code to listen to the review as they consider if they should read this book.  This adds the speaking component to the project, like Lauren’s podcast, and a purpose and authentic audience for the writing about books.

Lauren and I decided to share the idea of “Real World Writing: Book Reviews, Podcasts, QR Codes, Oh MY!” and our cross grade level collaboration through the LIWP at Nerd Camp, LI on November 7th.  This would be the first #nErDcampLI for our area and we were looking forward to sharing how a high school teacher and a third grade teacher were able to effectively collaborate about writing instruction. On November 3rd, we put the finishing touches on our presentation, sharing ideas and conversation about teaching, writing, and challenges we face at the different levels where we teach. As Lauren’s friend and proud colleague, I must share that  the very next day, Lauren was surprised in a school assembly at Glen Cove High School where she was given the prestigious Milken Educator Award, and a $25,ooo check, for excellence in education! She was interviewed by newspapers and local news networks about this special achievement. The most moving part was to read the Facebook messages of Lauren’s former students, who shared how she influenced their lives and how she was so deserving of this special award.

On the morning of Nerd Camp, Lauren and I put our presentation on the board and made our way to the classroom where we would present.  We spoke about our collaboration and shared our Prezi with the fantastic group of educators who came to celebrate literacy and learning at Nerd Camp LI.  It was a day of sharing, learning, growing, collaborating, and connecting.  JoEllen McCarthy, one of the organizers of Nerd Camp LI, shared reflections about the day in this post.  I loved being part of Nerd Camp and I was grateful for the opportunity to show how collaboration and inspiration come together at the Long Island Writing Project.

Once upon a time, there was a teacher who became a better teacher by connecting with other passionate educators.  Through the Long Island Writing Project and communities like Two Writing Teachers, this teacher shook off her sense of isolation and instead found like-minded, kindred spirits who challenged her to try harder and work smarter for the good of her students.  Events like Nerd Camp LI helped her stay passionate about teaching reading and writing and making a difference.  Happily Ever After? Hopefully. Power in being part of a community? Definitely.