Jane Connealy

2011 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award presented to Jane Connealy

Reading Time: 5 minutes

(Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director)

I am pleased to present the 2011 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Jane Connealy.

Jane teaches English and Social Studies at Pius X High School, where her colleagues call her “the ultimate example of a teacher leader” and “a fully committed master teacher.” Her nominator explains: “Jane’s years as a teacher of writing have had a wide-ranging impact . . . she enriches the lives of students and teachers through writing and fostering networks that support teachers of writing.” 

Such impact on students and teachers is exactly what our Teacher of the Year Award honors.  Each year, our award honors a teacher who 1) inspires students to write well themselves, 2) provides leadership for teachers of writing, and 3) is a writer herself.  Carol MacDaniels, the teacher in whose name we give this award, exemplified all three traits in her own life.  In this tenth anniversary year of her passing, I am certain she would recognize Jane Connealy as a kindred spirit for inspiring students, motivating colleagues, and writing herself.

Let me share with you some of the things Jane’s students say about her teaching.  Her past and current students tell us Jane treats their writing seriously.  One student explains:

To me, the greatest assistance in writing is to find someone who can further your piece and give you ideas without altering your personal style and Mrs. Connealy is very skilled at this.  She finds a way to make writing come alive.

Another student adds:

Whenever we are required to turn in a rough draft, we would receive a response from her that pointed out and emphasized our strengths for the paper, as well as ways to improve other areas, and she also included an invitation for a visit with her to ask any question we have.  Mrs. Connealy, I am aware that you died a little every time you found a “you” in one of my papers, but I’m hoping you can set this aside because you helped me improve my writing more than I even could have imagined. 

Jane’s advice to student writers comes from her own deep engagement with writing, as this former student explains:

Jane Connealy is a real reader and a real writer.  She shares this part of herself with her students and challenges them . . . to take learning beyond the classroom out into real life. [She showed me that] learning, especially through writing, was something done beyond school by regular people, not just authors in faraway places.

If Jane’s students praise her for her engaged and inspiring teaching, her colleagues praise her for her leadership.  They call her “a powerful motivator” and “an inspirational colleague.” While many say they’ve benefited from personal conversations with Jane that help them improve their teaching, they mean more than this.  Jane’s colleagues see her as a primary force behind several school-wide programs at Pius X.  As one colleague explains:

Jane was the primary force in developing and then facilitating the NeWP Embedded Institute which led to a policy whereby, during a three year period, all teachers and administrators at Pius X attended the institute.  Because of Jane’s efforts, writing across the curriculum is now a given in our school and a core value for assessment by our administrative team.

Jane’s Embedded Institute program at Pius changed the whole school culture toward writing, as even her less-easily-convinced colleagues acknowledge.  One such colleague writes:

I was actually an opponent of the Pius Embedded Writing Institute when we were required to do it, however, after we got going, I actually enjoyed it and have re-read several of my papers a couple of times. . . didn’t do a bad job if I say so myself.  Thank you for allowing/pushing me out of my comfort zone and thus your award is long overdue as far as I am concerned!

In addition to the Writing Institute, Jane also has been instrumental in Pius X’s growing emphasis on teaching for social justice.  Another colleague writes:

Jane constantly prods me to become a better educator.  Jane found the Holocaust Educator’s Network and asked me to apply with her.  It changed my curriculum.  We attended the Memorial Library Summer Seminar: Reading, Writing, and Teaching the Holocaust together in 2007 in New York City.  Our additional training in June 2010 will result in a Satellite Seminar we will facilitate here in Lincoln this summer of 2011 titled There is no Future without Memory: Exploring the Holocaust and Social Justice.

Like the Writing Institute, Jane’s recent work with Holocaust education started with a small group of faculty colleagues but then spiraled out to connect with the whole school.  Yet another colleague describes her moment of epiphany about school-wide change:

[At a conference in York], we had just recently learned that Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza would be speaking at our school the following year and comments from the presenter made me lead over and whisper to Jane, “I wish there was a way to maximize Immaculee’s impact on ALL the students at Pius and not just those taking Social Literature.”  Jane responded with an enthusiastic, “There’s your project!”  As usual, Jane recognized the obvious well before I did.  And that’s how it often is with Jane: she recognizes the project, points it out to me, and then waits patiently for me to catch up. 

In short, Jane’s leadership has helped Pius X develop school-wide programs that improve student writing and social awareness.   She leads by example, through her own participation in professional development opportunities, local and national.  She has been, in short, a kind of moral compass at Pius X, around which important learning happens.

And this leads me to my last point about Jane: her own writing.  Part of Jane’s moral compass of leadership, for both students and teachers, emerges from centering herself in her own writing.  Jane writes with her students, with her colleagues in and out of school, and with a local writing group of Nebraska Writing Project teachers that meets every other week at a local bookstore.  One of her writing colleagues says this about her:

I believe it is Jane’s ability to listen that makes her the perfect writing partner.  She hears both physically and intuitively what others are thinking and feeling.  Writing together allowed us to open to each other, and our relationship as colleagues and friends broadened more than I ever could have envisioned.  And really. . .isn’t that what writing should do?

I’d like to end with a short reading from Jane’s writing.  These quatrains come from Jane’s first poem for her first Nebraska Writing Project Institute, written way back in 2000.  I hope you hear in them what I hear – a profound, spiritual respect for the work of writing, listening, and honoring others, and a humility in the face of life’s complexities.  These traits shine out in Jane’s writing, teaching, and leadership, and in this early poem, titled “Responding.”

God of our understanding,
Strengthen my voice of song.
Give me the wisdom of ages,
Clothe me with words that are strong.

Times of witnessing chances,
Testifying for truth,
Passed over without observation,
Guilt in silent reproof.

Please give us this day our measure
Of grace and love from You.
Forgiving our sins of omission
And the unkindness that we do.

God of our understanding,
Strengthen my voice of song.
Give me the wisdom of ages,
Clothe me with words that are strong.

Please join me in recognizing Jane Connealy as the 2011 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.

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