Friday, April 27, 2012

A Rope of Sand

I had the fortune to spend the day with one of my teaching idols today. Nancie Atwell was giving a workshop a few miles from my home. When I first received the flyer back in January, I asked and received permission from our principal to offer the opportunity to any teacher in our department who was interested. We hoped that it might be a unifying experience for a group of well-intentioned educators with rather disparate approaches to teaching writing.

What makes Atwell so impressive is that she is clear-minded about her underlying principles and yet pragmatic in the application of them. Her writing lessons evolve year by year, as do the details of their delivery and execution, but her framework remains true to the student-centered approach she introduced in 1987 in her seminal work In the Middle. She remains steadfast in the face of education trends that ultimately undermine our objective to foster literate, thoughtful, independent-minded citizens.

This is the third time that I've heard her in person, and each time I feel that my teaching has grown a little closer to the standard she holds up, but each time I am also struck by how some of my core convictions have been eroded by outside pressures. I guess that I was hoping if I could get my colleagues on board, we could work together and support each other to stay as true to our ideals as Atwell does.

I wish I could say that the day was a magical panacea which cured us of all of our departmental dysfunction, but I'm afraid that's not true. I do believe that many minds were opened to the possibilities of the workshop approach, though, and so we'll move [forward?] from there.

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