Category: Education (page 2 of 2)

What I Have Learned from a National Model of Praxis: The Core Values of NWP

As I fly back to the Bay Area from the National Writing Project’s (NWP) 2011 Spring Meeting, my mind swims in thoughts about the impact NWP has had on the tens of thousands of teachers we at the national office serve. For these amazing educators and leaders, I write today to show my support and solidarity for the #blog4NWP effort.

Although I was in Washington, D.C. supporting the event as a national staff member, I also co-facilitated a segment of the National Program Leaders meeting to share data I collected for an internal evaluation. The purpose of this collaborative self-study was to learn how participation on a NWP National Program leadership team may contribute to the development of both individual and site leadership capacity. For those unfamiliar with NWP’s work, such an examination is possible due to the central focus of identifying and developing teacher leadership. Sharing the data was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was thrilled to share the powerful and inspiring words of their colleagues I had captured while also moved to tears at the loss I felt by saying, “So long…” to both colleagues and friends. Nonetheless, I left strengthen by the resiliency and commitment by everyone in the room who knows undoubtedly the NWP and its national network MUST continue.

Rewind almost three years ago when I began working at the NWP office as a member of the Research & Evaluation Unit. From the beginning, I knew I would gain valuable research knowledge and skills, yet I never imagined that I would find a place to call my professional home. NWP is simply more than my employer; it has become a place of open dialogue, learning, collaboration, and unconditional support. This explains why it is with deep sadness mixed with frustration and anger that my position has been eliminated effective September 1. Although it would be easy to share the range of emotions I have experienced since hearing the news, I prefer to highlight the impact this powerfully thoughtful and unique organization has had on me. However, more than an individual impact has occurred; it’s Jim Gray’s theories (now the core values of NWP) that has led to 37 years of praxis—a cyclical process of theory, action, and reflection (Freire, 2000)—as a national model of professional development.

Freire’s notion of praxis is grounded in the fight for liberation among the oppressed. He advocates for education as the means to do so and believes engaging in education is a political act. He suggests that critical pedagogy is the best way to work with students as both educator and students are learners. I illuminate these points because our nation’s educators, hands down, fall under the category of oppressed and they often enter the profession to make a difference in the lives of students instead of expectations of a large paycheck. That’s what sets NWP apart, “teachers must be honored for their commitment, knowledge, and creativity” (Gray, 2000, p. xiii). Dating back to kindergarten, I too have had a profound love and respect for my teachers. In fact, the classroom and these caring, loving, and committed adults were my salvation from the dysfunction occurring in my home. Regardless of these feelings for my own teachers and the safe space they provided, it took moving from my public school district to an elite private school for me to see firsthand that teacher knowledge is valued differently.

NWP’s model of professional development does something that is unheard of despite its practicality—puts teachers at the center by valuing the knowledge that each professional holds by providing local, state, regional, and national opportunities for knowledge and skills to be shared through the often overlooked technique of teachers teaching teachers. With teaching and learning from one another central to the model, it’s the leadership capacity cultivated within teachers that truly makes the organization distinct. On the other hand, building such capacity is not simply restricted to those teachers we support in the network. I too have experienced it for myself.

When I was initially hired by NWP, I didn’t have all the necessary skills to acquire the position for which I applied. Nonetheless, they gave me the opportunity to apply the skills I did have while also learning the relevant knowledge and skills so that I could grow into the work and ultimately the position I have today. They believed that I had the capacity to assist in the research and evaluation of the work along with its impact on teachers, students, and education as a whole, but also in my capacity to be a steward of the organization. What’s more, I have discovered there is much to gain in a community of learners rather than in isolation. By being part of such a community, authentic collaboration and camaraderie develops both professionally and personally.

These theories (or NWP core values) I have mentioned above are put into action at the 200+ sites serving all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands through a common set of programmatic activities, which is often referred to as “the Writing Project model,” and includes the summer invitational institute, continuity activities, in-service programs, and partnerships. The invitational summer institute allows teachers from early childhood through university to engage in research, demonstrate a particular practice or approach they have had success with as teachers of writing, reflect upon their practice and desire to keep learning, and participate in peer response groups that provides a community of writers. This “career-altering experience” for many creates a foundation—“the Writing Project model”—of praxis that is exemplified for each of these teachers.

What I continue to find remarkable are two principles that have never changed: 1) teachers of writing must write and 2) there is no one correct way to teach writing. By allowing such freedom in one’s professional development, educators find their voice and often times the capacity to lead whether this be in their own school, district, local community, state, or at a national level. For nearly three years, I have had the pleasure to be part of the national office who provides the continuous support that allows the thousands of diverse educators to come to together and advocate for those who have yet to find their voice (fellow teachers) or don’t have one (students). In my mind, this is what the Spring Meeting is all about. And, in a time when data matters, our work is proven.

One thing I know for certain is that NWP has changed my life and specifically, the way I learn, think, and most importantly, lead. I do one day aspire to become a college or university professor, yet I’m the first to recognize that I don’t nor could I imagine having the courage to do what so many individuals in our network joyously do each and every day—teach in a K-12 classroom. That said, it has truly been a humble experience and honor to support the educators of the NWP network. I will continue to do so even after my position ends for I am and always will be a steward of NWP and its core values. While it’s unclear what my professional future holds, there’s no turning back…it’s now my mission to pay forward what NWP has given me!

Find out more about how NWP Works!

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.

Gray, J. (2000).Teachers at the center: A memoir of the early years of the National Writing Project. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project.

As Featured on…IOU Sports | It’s Time for a Revolution!

With Black History Month fading in the distance, I recognize that I have been silent for over a month now. Just to be clear though, my silence is not a sign of being un-inspired. In fact, I stand firmly on the shoulders of those courageous individuals that have come before me and have found myself truly observing and listening both externally and internally. Furthermore, I have been on a journey of healing my heart. In doing so, the sleeping giant in me (and I hope in all of us) has been awaken and as an American it’s time I stand up and fight back.

I know it will be of no surprise to my regular readers that I’m standing up and fighting back for social justice, yet it might come as surprise that I’m ready to peacefully revolt. It seems more than ever it’s time for the difficult conversations to happen. I know firsthand that these can be painful; however, I assure you that it’s worth the expanded perspective, learning, and growth that will take place. Remember last month, when I asked you: what is YOUR dream? For you? Your family? Your community? The country? The world?

Sadly, I didn’t hear from anyone. Believe me, I didn’t lose any sleep but in many ways, it’s a great example of our compliancy as Americans as well as activists and advocates. In our expanding global and digital world, many of us are still in isolation and if we can’t share our various hopes and dreams, how and when will get to the challenging topics?

Not having a faint idea on how to start my own revolution, I decided to stand in solidarity with the Wisconsin public workers as part of Moveon.org’s Rally to Save the American Dream at San Francisco’s City Hall this past Saturday, February 25th. It was absolutely invigorating to be in a community where you could feel the power of the people! We were hundreds of concerned citizens standing up and fighting back because what is happening in Wisconsin is happening to all Americans, and the cost is our country’s future. Although I’m inclined to analyze this concept of the American Dream—our national ethos in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success, the reality is that power, money, and privilege is rearing its ugly head.

Case in point, yesterday, “President Barack Obama signed into law a stopgap spending bill that ends federal funding for several literacy programs at the U.S. Department of Education, part of a planned government-wide reduction of $4 billion. […] The plan originated in the House, where Republican leaders insisted that cuts be part of the deal to keep the government running for two more weeks. Passage of the legislation buys lawmakers and the White House more time to negotiate on a longer-term budget plan for fiscal 2011” (Robelen, 2010).

The above actions by the individuals who are supposed to be representing the people have now put the future of not just education but also my professional home in jeopardy. I am angry. What the heck (feel free to fill in your own word) were they thinking?!? Yet, knowing the power of the written word, I’m choosing my voice instead of my fist. I’m choosing community instead of isolation. I’m choosing love over hate. So, I ask you: will you join me by standing up and fighting back for everything you believe in?!? The time is NOW!

In the meantime, …

I Dream…

I dream of a world that truly provides freedom & justice for all.

I dream of true equity for women where we are no longer exploited for pleasure, power, or profit.

I dream of love being the driving force in education instead of testing.

I dream of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all regardless of social identity.

I dream of the day the definition of “family” is redefined to be more inclusive.

I Dream…

 

On a happier note, we have March Madness to look forward to in the weeks to come!

 

CALL 2 ACTION: With March being Women’s History Month, do something to honor our past since it’s our strength. For more information, check out: http://www.nwhp.org/whm

Women’s History Facts

  • Wilma Glodean Rudolph (1940-1994) overcame physical disabilities to become one of the most celebrated athletes of all time. Rudolph participated in her first Olympics at the age of 16. Four years later in Rome, she was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field.
  • Wild Woman Barbara Jo Rubin made history on February 22, 1969, as the first female jockey to win a horse race.
  • The Girl Scouts was founded on March 12, 1912.
  • December 26, 1974, is the banner day that Little League baseball was opened to girls!
  • On April 26, 1877, 16 year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles from New York to Connecticut as the British were burning Danbury, Connecticut. She earned her nickname, “the female Paul Revere.”
  • International Women’s Day—celebrate! The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, 1945.

Reference

Robelen, E. (2010). Federal literacy aid slashed as part of budget deal. Education Week [online]. Retrieved on March 2, 2011 from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/03/house-approved_spending_bill_a.html.

Back 2 School: The Link between Sport + Education

With Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over and kids, teachers, administrators, and parents alike have begun a new school year. For sport fans, this means the return of both the interscholastic and intercollegiate sport season. Everyone from youth leagues to high school teams to collegiate athletes are preparing for their respective season in some capacity, which also means the return of balancing between life as an athlete and a student. This got me thinking about the connection between education and sport, and in particular, should one identity take precedence over the other?

I’m of the belief that one should not come before the other nor should they be prioritized as if one is more important. In fact, I know it’s possible to do both well since I am who and where I am today because of my experiences as a student, an athlete, and as a student-athlete. With both requiring practice, discipline, commitment, persistence, and support from others, there is no doubt I gained these life skills and much more, which continue to serve me in both my personal and professional life.

My interest on this subject and the binary it creates was reignited by my current reading of Mahiri & Van Rheenen’s (2010) new book, Out of Bounds: When Scholarship Athletes Become Academic Scholars. In the opening page of the book, they quote how Wideman (1992) “suggested, ‘Our current popular culture would be incomprehensible to an outsider unless he or she understood basketball as a key to deciphering speech styles, clothing styles, and metaphors employed by kids, politicians, and housewives’” (p. 1). They go on to argue that with “the pervasiveness of sport in our lives and imaginations […] spear-headed by athletic icons that inspire us to ‘be like Mike’” (p. 1) or to ‘Go, Girl, Go!,’

The athletic body [becomes] a cultural text [that] is also subjected to particular kinds of readings in the context of schools, readings that invoke coded and often contradictory conceptions of mental and physical divides, of masculinity and femininity, of pleasure and pain, of agency and identity, of race and social class. (p. 2)

In order words, as athletes, and especially as student-athletes, we are subjects who are often treated as objects that are stereotyped and expected to fit a mold. What’s more, these expectations play out based on context, ability, gender, sexuality, power, race, and economic status. It’s clear from what I have read thus far that the book will discuss both the “constraints and possibilities of athletes moving beyond boundaries and trajectories of sporting practice to become professional scholars,” yet that is not what I want to discuss here. Instead, I would rather illuminate how the capacity of individuals, leaders, and institutions needs to operate better to support a student-athlete’s “intellectual and physical growth and development” (p. 2).

On the individual level, I must give a shout out to the physical education teachers—my partner being one of them—who teach our youth that physical activity and fitness is not only fun and can be shared with family and friends but also can be experienced for a lifetime. These are the same teachers who don’t use students as targets (yep, that’s right…no dodge ball) and aim towards teachings a standards-based curriculum during a time when programs are being cut left and right due to funding and/or a steadfast focus on standardized tests. Furthermore, coaches and physical education teachers are not necessarily interchangeable and it must be stated that knowing a sport or having a love for sports doesn’t automatically make one a teacher. I argue we must hold those who educate our youth whether in the classroom, playing field, or court to a higher standard that ensures the kind of growth and development mentioned above.

In terms of leadership, I wish I had a tangible example to share as none are coming to mind. Yet, I believe that developing leaders for social justice in both physical education and sport is one answer. What’s more, I think using literacy as a tool to do so could be critical to creating holistic human beings who also happen to be students and athletes. Sport teaches us so much about ourselves; why not also improve our intellect? Or why not use our intellect and skills of reading and writing to instead name and understand the sporting world? This level of analysis is something I’m particularly interested in and hope to explore further as a future research endeavor.

One institution that has taken note of the student-athlete intersection is my alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Who in 2003 went against the dominant narrative of intercollegiate athletics by restructuring the athletic department into the resource-rich university which in turn dissolved the underfunded department. This allowed athletics to be treated like any other department, similar to physics or English. Although there were and continue to be many skeptics to this change, the results are clear. Off the field, the average GPA for student-athletes in the Spring of 2008 rose to 3.1, narrowing the gap with other students, while Vanderbilt’s NCAA graduation success rate was a Southeastern Conference (SEC) best—94%. From a financial perspective, the Commodores no longer operate at a deficit. When the changed happen in 2003, Vanderbilt athletics were running at a $4 million-a-year deficit, yet in 2006-07, it posted a surplus of $27,000. Vanderbilt’s restructuring is symbolic of the University’s desire to make every athlete a student, which is the goal, right?!? That said, the question in my mind is why aren’t more institutions willing to make this their focus? I mean the NCAA does state in their PSAs that there are “380,000 NCAA student-athletes and just about all of them will be going pro something other than sports.”

So I ask, what are our intersecting experiences as athletes and students either past or present? And, how did they form who you are today?

Just something to think about with the start of a new school year…

~ In solidarity

CALL 2 ACTION: I posed a lot of questions in this post, so hit me up with a comment below or on Facebook to share YOUR answers and thoughts!

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