North Star High School
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Melanie Farber

Melanie Farber is an English Teacher and the English Department Chair at Lincoln North Star High School, as well as a NeWP Teacher Consultant.  During the 2010-11 school year, her English Department has been sharing EQUIP presentations as part of PLC meetings.  Below, in Melanie’s words, is the story of the impact of NeWP EQUIPs in the Lincoln North Star English Department:

Fact 1: Our school goals are improving the graduation rate, increasing student achievement, and closing the achievement gap. At the heart of everything we do in PLCs, our focus must come back to those goals.

Fact 2: I have a large department—25 of us. We spend most of our PLC time in small groups (Reading, English 9, Junior English, Senior English, Oral Communications are our “core” and consistently meeting groups for this school year.)

Fact 3: I have several department members who have been through the Writing Project Institutes. (Me, Jess Meyer, Cale Prindle, Tara Moore, Mike Musil, Sue Paschold, Stephanie Johansen-Malone) Each year we try to recruit one more–and we do so because we believe so strongly in the ideas and practices developed through the various institutes.

That said, it was after our 2010 summer board retreat that it seemed so obvious to me–we could and should be sharing EQUIPS with the department. I knew at least 3 of us had done either an EQUIP, TWIP or LWIP in the last two years and could easily jump up to share our work with our colleagues. I started there.

With permission from my principal we decided to “embed” one of the core NeWP practices into our PLC time. Three times each semester the department spends our PLC time together so we can experience an “EQUIP” type of presentation and conversation. We only have 50-60 minutes total, so we have to abbreviate the process a bit, but it has worked for us so far!

Jess Meyer presented first–her topic was semantic mapping.
I know at least half the department has used her teaching to try some kind of semantic mapping activity in his/her classroom in the last semester.

Mike Musil presented next–his topic was rubrics. (Talking about the why and the how of using and creating rubrics.)
Tara Moore and I wrapped up first semester–our topic was Transforming Education and Creativity. (Ours was more of a professional inquiry and conversation that as we got going we realized was a conversation that could have lasted days!)

Cale Prindle presented on using Edmodo and Glogster with our students. (Since this Equip he has presented to the whole building.)
Two other teachers presented to finish our school year and covered The 5 Love Languages as a means of building relationships with students and on Philosophical Chairs as a method of encouraging student participation and discussion and as an intro to writing.

We are ready to kick off the 2011 school year with an Equip on Thinking Moves!

Although we didn’t require people to provide written comments or feedback to presenters we found that it often happened anyway. People sent notes and emails to tell presenters how helpful their information was, and they stuck around to talk about how an idea may be adapted for another class, etc. It has been interesting to watch these conversations and collaborations throughout the year.

In all, we have found the EQUIPs (or modified EQUIPs) to be not only a nice change-up from our weekly small-group meetings, but a means of sharing our expertise and professional questions with one another. Every conversation is able to take us right back to a focus on those three North Star goals–we are still concerned about graduation, about student achievement, about the achievement gap, and we believe that the sharing of our ideas and expertise can help to meet all those goals. (And it’s a great little advertisement for NeWP too!)

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