A Heartfelt Public Thank You

Robert accepting his award

from Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

A week ago Friday at the 2014 Spring Gathering, you all honored me for 20 years as Nebraska Writing Project Director. You surprised me with a quilt (adorned with archaic writing implements called manual typewriters), a Proclamation of support from the current National Writing Project director, and a boatload of personal testimonies about some of the small ways NeWP has touched your lives. I’ve been verklempt all week. (Not necessarily the best emotion for UNL Finals Week, but I managed!) I wanted to use our public blog to say “thank you.” The Nebraska Writing Project network has sustained me for over 20 years as a professional writer and educator. I am happy to be involved in such a great group of people, accomplishing so many fine things.

At Friday’s ceremony, I told an anecdote from my younger days. Back in the mid-1970s when Kate and I were dating in Spokane, Washington, an old family friend of Kate’s did our star charts. (Pamela was an astrologer then. Now she’s the owner of the wildly successful Wonders of the World shop in Spokane’s Flour Mill — well worth a visit if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest: http://www.wondersoftheworldinc.com/). I think Pamela’s real purpose was to discern if Kate and I would be compatible – and I like to think our 30 plus years of wedded bliss have proved her right. But what she told me then was I had a “grand trine” in my chart – some kind of triangular pattern of planets that channels life energy in a certain direction. “You’re supposed to direct your energies toward a group of some kind,” she told me. “I don’t know what group it is, or if you’ll have the sense to recognize it when you find it. But that’s what your star chart says.”

Now I leave it to you as individuals to weigh the debatable merits of astrology, especially astrological forecasts. But I like to think that I’ve found my group in the Nebraska Writing Project.

On the surface, NeWP seems deceptively simple: a group of educators who like to share writing with each other and their students, and who like to share good teaching ideas. But the longer I hang around with the people who make up the Nebraska Writing Project network, the more I’m convinced there really is some kind of cosmic stellar energy at work. How else do you explain the astronomical growth of NeWP activities, from what was initially a simple four week summer class in 1978 to what’s now our yearly array of 40-60 programs and the strong personal connections between the hundreds of teachers who claim Nebraska Writing Project as an intellectual home?

As Director for some of the years NeWP has been in operation, I’ve done some administrative drudgery to clear the way for such energy. But what’s constantly amazed me is the way volunteer leaders routinely emerge from amongst you Nebraska Writing Project teachers to bring new, crucial programs into being. There are too many leaders and programs for me to name them all, so I’ll just list some of the programs here. I’m sure you all can add to this list. These items are metonymic – parts standing in for the whole:

  • The Rural Institute program that emerged through our participation in Rural Voices, Country Schools, which has reached out to over 20 communities across the state;
  • The Embedded Institute program, initially at Pius X High School, but soon spreading to Papillion-La Vista, and continuing to spread, most recently to Gretna Schools and Lincoln North Star and next year at Saratoga Elementary;
  • The Young Writers Festivals, Young Writers Camps, I/We Love to Write Workshop, Poetry of Place Celebrations, School-sponsored Writing Marathons, Urban Justice Leagues, Community Oral Histories, and a host of other local school events through which we invite young people into the sheer joy of writing as a means of self-expression and social transformation;
  • The Writing Groups, Writing Retreats, Writing Marathons, Professional Writing Retreats, and online Social Network Writing, erupting spontaneously after every NeWP institute in every corner of our state; and
  • The yearly exponential growth in the professional presence of NeWP leaders, seen in masters and doctorate theses, conference presentations, professional publications, book authoring groups, NWP site directorships, professional development leadership assignments, educational advocacy, and an array of statewide teaching and service awards.

There’s simply way more going on in the Nebraska Writing Project network than any one person can keep track of. In astronomical terms, I guess the best metaphor would be that NeWP is something like a nova at work in a white dwarf star, where the combination of energies creates a vast brilliance with the potential to light up several galaxies. It certainly feels that way, when every October we try to compile the year’s activities into the National Writing Project’s continuous activity report forms. We’re aware we never get all the activities of the network into NWP’s database. The leadership team, our NeWP secretary, and I have made a pact, the past few years, just to enter programs until we meet and exceed the year before. I don’t think anyone really knows just how much our community of teachers and writers actually accomplishes.

I feel honored to have been along for this cosmic ride over the past two decades. Thank you all, again, for the tremendous honor of the recognition celebration last Friday night. And for the even more tremendous honor of being your colleague during these years.

Oh. And a final thing from that star chart Kate’s astrologer friend drew for me, back in the mid-1970s: Pamela also told me I was destined to be verbose!

2014 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award presented to Dan Boster

Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

Daniel Boster
Dan Boster at the 2014 Spring Gathering

I am pleased to present the 2014 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Daniel Boster.

Dan Boster is a self-proclaimed “activist teacher” at Ralston High School, where he currently serves as English Department Chair.  Since participating in his first Summer Institute at Ralston in 2006, Dan has been a mainstay of writing activism in the NeWP network. He’s served as Co-Director and on the Advisory Board.  He is the voice behind our Policy Statement on Inclusive and Socially Just Teaching.  With Jeff Grinvalds, he facilitated the Urban Justice League in Omaha area schools.  Dan co-edited What Teaching Means: Stories from America’s Classrooms with his spouse Marni Valerio, a publication celebrating grassroots teacher advocacy.  His current project, nominally for his dissertation research, gathers Nebraska teachers across institutions to study mindfulness as a way of speaking back to the excesses of accountability.  In short, Dan Boster engages in activist teaching in his own classroom, throughout his professional network of teachers, and through his own writing.  These are exactly the three traits we have honored for the past fifteen years with the Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award. 

Dan Boster’s current students emphasize his commitment to teaching beyond the classroom. In her letter of support, one student wrote:

Unlike most teachers, Mr. Boster was one of the few who tried to prepare us for the world past our high school walls. He could have just taught what was required in the curriculum, but he went beyond.  He introduced us to TED Talks and had us engage in deep group discussions.  He had us do a yearlong project where the class had to immerse in an environment that we were not familiar with and write about the experience.  Without these different approaches to learning, I feel the class would lack awareness of our surroundings. 

Another student wrote:

Mr. Boster doesn’t stop teaching when the school day ends.  He is always willing to help after school and readily answers our e-mails even on the weekends.

A third student reaches for a metaphor to express Dan’s influence:

Clarity in a time of distress is not a luxury afforded to all those in our present position.  We, however, have been given the ability to see more clearly the paths we are to take through the diligent, profound work of Mr. Boster.  What he has given us is more than mere clarity though.  Mr. Boster has given us the chance to pronounce the great passions that wreath within us; he has helped us forge new ways of thinking.

I think this student’s idea is captured more prosaically in the words of a teaching colleague:

He’s an extraordinary classroom teacher.  This I know not just as a colleague but as a parent of two of Dan’s students.  Students are better people for having had Dan as a teacher and mentor.

Dan Boster’s colleagues echo these students’ comments about his teaching and mentorship.  A clear theme in their support letters is his professional mentorship in the often challenging world of teaching.  One NeWP colleague writes:

Dan saw something in me.  He pushed me to challenge myself professionally, to get involved, to be a part of the change I wanted to see in my profession.  Actually, I think he sees something in most people, and that is the best kind of educator one could ask for.  Dan Boster has a gift for helping people to see the best parts of themselves.

This professional mentorship has been recognized by the Ralston School District.  I received these comments from an assistant superintendent:

Dan’s expertise in education has helped create a new position at Ralston High School.  During the 2014-15 school year Dan will become the first 7-12 Instructional Coach, working to foster networks within Ralston Public Schools that support teachers.

And his Assistant Principal writes:

As a key communicator and teacher leader, Dan Boster uses others’ writing along with his own as a springboard to cause colleagues to think deeply about their practice, engage in critical dialogue aimed at improving teaching and learning, and celebrate success.

As this Assistant Principal notes, Dan’s inspiring mentorship is grounded in his own writing.  A core Nebraska Writing Project principle is “the best teachers of writing are writers themselves,” and Dan lives that principle.  In fact, he emphasized the necessity of teacher writing in his introduction for What Teaching Means.  He explained:

When teachers fail to tell their stories, something crucial is lost.  Wisdom wrought from experience is neglected.  Like most teachers, I read dozens of articles and books about teaching each year.  I look for ways to improve my practice and better serve my students.  I continue to go to school myself and am involved in conversations with teachers all over the country.  I have learned a great deal from all of this, and I am a vastly better teacher for it.  However, I too am guilty of not speaking out enough.  This entire [book] project is an effort to allow teachers’ voices to be heard.

As an activist writer, Dan calls on all of us teachers to write to be heard, and he models that activism through his own writing.  He’s a published poet and educational author, a seasoned presenter at professional conferences, and I know he’s currently involved in at least two other book projects beyond the 2012 collection What Teaching Means.  In fact, it’s Dan’s ethos as writer that first stands out when newcomers to NeWP meet him.  His nominator for this award, Jeff Grinvalds, describes Dan’s first impression:

I first met Dan at a Board Retreat.  It was my first retreat, and Robert introduced Dan to everyone as a poet.  I still have a photograph that I took of him on the lake at the St. Benedict Center.  His hair was swept back by the wind, he wore Birkenstocks and had a beard that reminded me of Shakespeare.  He was and is a writer.  On a writing marathon that day, and at several others that have followed, I have heard Dan read his beautiful verses, and these inspire me to work on my own poetic voice.  I’m certain his students at Ralston High School feel the same way.

I’d like to close with a short sample of Dan’s writing.  This poem, which I’ve excerpted here for time, comes from Dan’s first NeWP Institute anthology, from Ralston in 2006. I’m intrigued by how this early NeWP writing already captures some of the characteristics his nominating letters describe: an engaged activism that challenges the borders between school and wider society; a nudge toward the professional development of teaching colleagues; and a robust writer’s voice.  Here are some verses from Dan’s Poems Don’t Need Morals:

 Poetry could sin a little more:
 covet the metaphors of the poem on the next page,
 eagerly murder love stories and best-selling novels,
 make back alley deals with evil muses,
 sleep on the couch all day, hate prose that gets stuff done, and
 dance without punctuation in the moonlight. . . .

 Nights could find poetry screaming out its car window
 exchanging taunts with magazines and newspapers waiting to be delivered.

 English students might finally get it if poetry, just once,
 drove up in an SUV, came into the classroom, and
 made out with the valedictorian in the front row.

 Or poetry could continue being good
 resisting the temptation to let itself go
 making sure there is always a
 lesson but never
 shouting.

Please join me in honoring Daniel Boster as the 2014 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.

–Robert Brooke, Director, Nebraska Writing Project
2 May 2014

2014 Administrator Certificate of Recognition presented to Rex Anderson

Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

Rex Anderson
Dr. Rex Anderson

We recognize Dr. Rex Anderson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Gretna Public Schools, for his efforts over the past three years to find funding and build support for the Nebraska Writing Project Embedded Institutes at Gretna Middle and Elementary Schools. Dr. Anderson was nominated by Nebraska Writing Project Co-Director Danielle Helzer, who worked with Rex during the 2012-13 Gretna Embedded Institute.

Ms. Helzer writes:

Curriculum Director at Gretna Public Schools, Dr. Rex Anderson, is an advocate for students and teachers, and has been an excellent supporter of the Nebraska Writing Project. I came on board to Gretna Public Schools for the 2012-2013 school year, and in my interview, Dr. Anderson made it clear that he wanted to create a long-lasting partnership with the Nebraska Writing Project and Gretna teachers to help students to see themselves as writers. Dr. Anderson rallied the support of the Gretna Schools Foundation to be able to secure funds to run two Embedded Institutes; one during the 2012-2013 school year for Gretna Middle School teachers and one during the 2013-2014 school year for many of Gretna’s K-5 teachers. Dr. Anderson values the work of Gretna teachers. He was present and active during the 2012-2013 Embedded Institute and worked hard to endorse this program and support teachers. His passion for providing students with a quality education is evident and contagious. For these reasons, Dr. Anderson is a worthy candidate for the Nebraska Writing Project’s Administrator Support Award. 

As Danielle’s letter makes clear, Dr. Anderson has provided administrative support for NeWP both behind the scenes and on the front lines.  Behind the scenes, Dr. Anderson has cleared the way for the Embedded Institute programs by tireless advocacy for writing education with administrators in Gretna Schools and the Gretna Community Foundation.  But Dr. Anderson has also been a front line participant.  To show his commitment to the development of quality writing instruction, he participated himself in most of the meetings of the Gretna Middle School Embedded Institute.  It shows a real commitment when an administrator is willing to write alongside 6th grade teachers, sharing his own initial drafts of poetry and personal narrative.

Please join me in honoring Dr. Rex Anderson with the Nebraska Writing Project 2014 Administrator Certificate of Recognition.

Robert Brooke, Director, Nebraska Writing Project
2 May 2014

2013 Administrator Certificate of Recognition presented to Vann Price

Robert Brooke and Vann Price

Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

We recognize Vann Price for her support of Nebraska Writing Project programs and partnerships at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska.   Dr. Price is nominated by Melanie Farber, Chair of English at North Star; Tara Moore, English teacher at North Star, and Susan Martens of UNL’s preservice English program.  They write:

Vann has been supportive of all kinds of NeWP “extension” work—whether that’s taking students on mini-writing marathons or sponsoring partnership programs with UNL pre-service teachers. When approached about participating with the Nebraska Writing Project and the Embedded Institute, Vann was immediately on board. She helped to put together the necessary documentation and data to help us secure the grant and was willing to help find extra money to pay participants if that was going to be necessary. She has not only allowed us to use some building PLC time to get our work accomplished, she has granted participants building staff development hours because she recognizes the immense commitment of her teachers. As a former Summer Institute participant herself, Vann Price knows the professional growth that comes from participating in anything related to the National Writing Project.

NeWP Teacher Consultant and North Star High School teacher Tara Moore writes, 

For the last two years, my English 11 class has greatly benefited from a partnership program with University of Nebraska-Lincoln pre-service teachers. This collaboration would not be possible without the support of North Star’s principal, Vann Price. When I first approached Vann about the partnership, she was immediately enthusiastic and willing to help in any way possible because it was in the best interests of our students. She helped me plan and make the necessary arrangements to host UNL students each week for the partnership. 

When we discussed the logistics of a field trip to UNL for my students to meet with their small groups, tour the campus, and have lunch, I shared with her my concern of lack of finances as most of my students receive free or reduced lunch. Vann listened and nodded, understanding they would be unable to pay. Without hesitation she offered to pay for all of their lunches. When the day of the field trip arrived, she helped transport students to UNL when a parent was unable make it at the last minute. This is only a small snapshot to illustrate the dedication Vann has to our students.  

We are very grateful for administrators like Vann Price who support us in implementing the programs that we know, through our work with the NeWP, can have the greatest impact in improving writing instruction for students and in creating effective professional development for teachers.  Recognizing Vann’s work through this award would bring well-deserved attention to her excellent leadership and also help showcase what’s possible when teachers, students, universities, and administrators work together through well-developed networks like the NeWP.”

Please join us in recognizing Vann Price with the Nebraska Writing Project 2013 Administrator Certificate of Recognition.

2013 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award presented to Susan Martens

Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

Robert Brooke and Susan Martens

I am pleased to present the 2013 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Susan Martens.

For the past five years, Susan has taught in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, following a successful earlier teaching career at Arlington High School in east central Nebraska.  She’s been active in the Nebraska Writing Project since her first Rural Institute experience, in 2001 at Cedar Bluffs.  Since that first institute, Susan has held almost all of NeWP’s leadership roles.  She’s been Co-Director, Institute Facilitator, Professional Writing Retreat Facilitator, Technology Team grant writer, Web Editor, Advisory Board member, and self-appointed Writing Marathon Wrangler. In short, Susan has been, as one of her colleagues puts it, “a force of nature” for Nebraska Writing Project. Next year, she leaves Nebraska to take up the Directorship of the Prairie Lands Writing Project at Missouri Western University.  Her future colleagues in Missouri, who can’t be with us tonight, sent me two pages of support for this award  — first, welcoming Susan to their NWP site as the “fulfillment of Prairie Lands’ dream”; second, pointing out “the shift in superlative mascot” that goes with the move.  At Missouri Western, she’ll have a “magnificent mythical {griffin},” replacing UNL’s “bobble-headed blond boy in red rompers.”

 Susan’s Nebraska colleagues call her an “artist-scholar-philosopher-humanitarian-practitioner,” “the mother of the writing marathon,” and “the consummate writer, teacher and learner, modeling and living what she teaches.”  They emphasize that Susan exhibits all three traits we honor in the Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award: a teacher who inspires students, an advocate for teachers as professionals, and a writer herself.

 Susan’s students certainly speak to her inspiration.  One of her Arlington High School students, now years after graduation, wrote me to say:

Susan is one of the teachers that students remember. It’s impossible to take a class with her and not become consumed with what you’re learning.  Upon my graduation, Susan wrote inside a brown hard bound notebook “future Emmy winning screenwriter” and it’s still one of my prize possessions.  It’s because she was my teacher that I want to pursue a career in writing.

 Another former student, now in film school in Chicago, sends this message:

As a child, I thought that Webster had to define you before you could come off as a legitimate form.  That was before I met a woman who spoke of advocacy and passion.  Thank you Susan for saving my life.  You whispered “you can” in a field of doubt.  P.S. – We fly freak flags as writers, put simply.  Get used to it.

Susan is equally inspiring to UNL preservice English educators.  One, now finishing her second year of full time teaching, writes:

On the first day of your class, I was in awe as I absorbed your radiant showers of personality.  From your floor length, flowing dress to the fiery color of your hair, I knew you had the spunk to inspire.  Through theory, personal interactions, and the tiniest of anecdotes, your influence goes beyond me and into the rippled waves of my own students, and those thereafter.

 Another, a bit more prosaic, adds:

 Susan created a partnership with North Star High School, where we worked with students who were struggling to pass the exit writing exam.  I worked with a young man who opened my eyes to struggles I have never experienced.  With Susan’s support, I watched this young man who claimed to hate reading and writing work through personal issues by interacting with a novel.  To me, any English teacher would give anything to see that happen, and I could not have experienced it for the first time without Susan.

 A final preservice educator writes:

Susan explained that being a teacher means being able to make a hundred decisions every minute.  A teacher must balance the needs of each student, the class as a whole, as well as personal integrity—Susan is a teacher who is able to do this work completely seamlessly.

These preservice educators point toward Susan’s stellar work as a teacher leader, someone who values the professional work of teaching and advocates for it.  This aspect of Susan’s leadership is highlighted by her NeWP colleagues.  One writes:

It was my privilege to work with Susan at the first Nebraska Writing Project Professional Writing Retreat.  As I watched her conference with writers, I quickly grew to admire Susan’s thoughtful silences which, like the music between notes, added to the fullness of shared ideas and words.

Susan’s colleagues cite her leadership on projects that affect the lives of teachers, from grants for new technology programs to assessments of the UNL composition programs to the development of positions statements for the NeWP website.  But the most often mentioned professional program is the Writing Marathon.  “{Because of Susan} our writing project has been on at least twenty marathons spanning the state,” writes one colleague, “the gift of the writing marathon will continue giving to generations of NeWP teacher consultants.” Another colleague embellishes:

Susan’s work with Writing Marathons has impacted my writing and teaching—perhaps more significantly than anything else in my teaching career. It was on these writing marathons that my own personal writing evolved in ways it hadn’t before.  Susan’s writing marathons gave us the time and space to write that hectic teaching life doesn’t often allow for.  I now conduct regular writing marathons with my high school students—moving in and writing about our high school campus—where we spend so much time but are not always noticing or watching.  When we take time to write, students begin to think and write deeply about how this place shapes us and who we are in it.

 Susan is credited, through her advocacy of the writing marathon, for helping us recenter our teaching lives in our own writing.  This isn’t surprising, since Susan is such an accomplished writer herself.  She leaves UNL with several publications, two graduate school writing awards, and a list of presentations almost a page long.  These writings range from teaching Lord of the Flies to the rhetoric of ballroom dance, and all are graced by a lively personal voice.  I’d like to close by reading a short piece of Susan’s writing, from a web project she organized called “Twelve Stories About the Nebraska Writing Project I Never Told You.”  I think it captures Susan’s voice, her commitment to the spirit of the Writing Project, and the personal trait one of her colleagues names when he says “Everywhere she travels, she touches lives and leaves people happier than they were before they met her.”  Here are her words:

It was the first read-around of the 2006 Summer Institute.  I’m sure I had some raging cold because I remember being late back to the classroom after running upstairs to down some cough syrup, remember the pain of trying not to cough during other people’s readings.    I remember that I had read my poem about a transformative sushi experience and that I was feeling very proud of myself.  “The Buddha, the Laguna, and the Spicy Tuna,” I think I called it. 

           But what I remember most was my friend reading her story about her miscarriage.  I’d read an earlier draft of the story and responded to it, so I knew where the story was headed and I remember feeling such empathy and tension for the whole room of people who were hearing it for the first time—that whole dramatic irony thing we love to teach our students about.  I was nervous for them, nervous for my friend, and nervous for myself because I am prone to bawling my eyes out at Nebraska Writing Project read-arounds.

           I remember how one of her group members sat beside her, gently rubbing the back of her shoulder as she talked.  And as we all sat there trying hard to remain composed, I remember feeling that we were bearing witness there together, lending her courage through our listening.  I remember feeling the whole moment open up then and expand beyond the dark basement classroom and the fluorescent lighting.  That class wasn’t just a class anymore — not even just a NeWP Institute.   We had achieved for ourselves that which we always hope our students will have: a community of writers, writing into the world to see what we can teach and learn together.            

 Please join me in honoring Susan Martens as the Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels 2013 Teacher of the Year.

 Robert Brooke, Director, Nebraska Writing Project, 3 May 2013

Nebraska English Language Arts Council Hall of Fame Induction

Hall of Fame inductees with their awards
David Martin, Dr. Mel Krutz, Gerry Cox, Judy Schafer, Sharon Bishop, Dick Schanou, Dr. Susan Stein, Dr. Richard Zwick. Photo credit: Ellen Schoenmaker

In April and May, NELAC, the Nebraska English and Language Arts Council, “recognized, honored, and thanked ten legendary and outstanding English and Language Arts teachers” from across the state. The announcement was made by Clark Kolterman of NELAC. Kolterman said that the centenary anniversary of NCTE, the National Council of English, prompted the state affiliate, NELAC, to create a Hall of Fame that will add a name each year, thereby recognizing excellence in the teaching of English in Nebraska.

The ten teachers who became charter members of the Hall of Fame were chosen for their contributions as English teachers as well as their involvement in other organizations that promote literacy in grades K-12 and in postsecondary positions.

The ten teachers were honored at a ceremony in the Warner Chambers of the State Capitol building on May 4, 2012. The recognition was part of an annual event hosted by NELAC and the Nebraska Writing Project. At this event, NCTE Writing Achievement Awards were given to high school writers and to the editorial staffs of student literary magazines. The NeWP also honored 12 student poets who submitted poetry about their rural, urban, and suburban settings. Eight of the ten Hall of Fame teachers were present. Clark Kolterman noted the long contributions of each to the teaching profession and presented each with a framed certificate.

The ten teachers who were presented Hall of Fame certificates were (in alphabetical order): Sharon Bishop, Heartland Community Schools-Henderson/Bradshaw; Gerry Cox, Lincoln East High School; Dr. Mel Krutz, Hastings College; David Martin, Omaha Central High School; Dr. Charles Peek, University of Nebraska, Kearney; Judith Schafer, Wayne High School; Dick Schanou, Aurora High School; Dr. Susan Stein, Omaha Creighton Prep; Susan Vastine, Chadron High School; and Dr. Richard Zwick, Concordia University, Seward.

Several of these teachers have been involved with the Nebraska Writing Project. Dick Schanou was an early participant in the NeWP when Les Whipp was the director. Schanou credited Whipp with teaching him to become a poet and then a teacher of poetry. David Martin also fondly recalled the early days of NeWP when Les Whipp was at the helm. Mel Krutz and Gerry Cox were also earlier participants in NeWP; Gerry Cox worked with the late Carol MacDaniel. Sharon Bishop and Judy Schafer have worked with current director Dr. Robert Brooke since 1997 when both were chosen to serve on a three-year initiative with the National Writing Project, Rural Voices, Country Schools. Schafer also co-facilitated several rural writing institutes in Wayne and Grant and also served as an Associate Coordinator. Bishop served several terms as a Co-Director, co-facilitated numerous rural writing institutes and currently serves on the NeWP Advisory Board.

Dr. Robert Brooke, the Director of the Nebraska Writing Project commented: “I am extremely pleased that so many Nebraska Writing Project teachers were recognized by the Hall of Fame. These excellent teachers represent what NeWP stands for—teachers who are writers themselves, leaders in the community, and great teachers of writing.”

A NELAC Hall of Fame plaque, engraved with the names of these ten charter members, will hang in the Nebraska State Department of Education.

2012 Administrator Certificate of Recognition awarded to Mark Kalvoda

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

We recognize Mark Kalvoda, Principal at Elkhorn South High School, for his support of the inaugural Nebraska Writing Project Young Writers Festival.  Mr. Kalvoda generously provided space and custodial support for this Saturday festival, an indication of his commitment to writing education in the Elkhorn area.

Principal Kalvoda was nominated by Nebraska Writing Project Advisory Board Member Amy Tasich.  Amy was one of the teachers who organized the Young Writers Festival at Elkhorn.  The Young Writers Festival is a Saturday event for writers at middle and secondary levels, offered at two locations in Nebraska (one east and one west).  Nebraska Writing Project hopes to grow these festivals to support more young writers in the years to come.  Key to this vision is the support of administrators like Mark Kalvoda who are able to clear the way for these opportunities with generous donations of space.

Please join me in honoring Mark Kalvoda with the 2012 Nebraska Writing Project Certificate of Recognition.

2012 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award presented to Anne Walden

Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

I am pleased to present the 2012 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Anne Walden.

Anne Walden teaches writing in the context of her work as Gifted Facilitator at Rousseau and McPhee Elementary Schools here in Lincoln, the city where she’s taught for over two decades.  For over half that time, Anne has been a major contributor to the Nebraska Writing Project.  She’s served as Co-Director and on the Advisory Board. She has facilitated almost all our institutes—a Summer Institute and Embedded Institute at Papillion-La Vista, the Humanities and Literature Institutes, and our occasional Leadership Institute.  Her real passion, though, is sponsoring teachers’ growth through their own writing—something she currently accomplishes through the Lincoln Writing Group which meets every two weeks almost all year long, and through the Fall Writing Retreats at Platte River State Park which she’s co-facilitated with Jeff Grinvalds for the last two years.  Anne Walden helps us all grow the contexts that keep us writing.

As a teacher, Anne’s gifts are in motivating and inspiring young writers. She has a knack for inviting young writers into the sheer pleasure of writing, as one of her 4th grade students explains:

This year we did a project where we each took part of a story and wrote, and then the next person continued the story where we left off…it was awesome. We all got really creative ideas from Mrs. Walden.

The “awesome” writing her students experience comes, of course, from Anne’s careful work creating the contexts that grow writers. Her principal notes the “many hours building and sustaining” non-traditional writing opportunities that Anne volunteers. She writes:

Anne has given of her own time to offer after school clubs for our youngest students. Anne does it all!

This extra volunteer time to set up moments for learning didn’t go unnoticed by another of her nominators, who has a unique insight into the extra time Anne donates:

I’m truly honored that my mom has been nominated for this award. Growing up I watched my mom spend countless evenings and weekends at school and at home creating lesson plans, decorating her classroom, grading papers, and designing projects for her students. For her, teaching is not just a career choice, it’s a lifestyle!

Of course, Anne’s generosity in supporting writers doesn’t only support elementary writers—those of us in the Nebraska Writing Project also know how much she supports us. One of her nominators notes “Anne generously hosts out-state teachers in her home so that can attend the Summer Institute”—and many of you here today can imagine that generosity, since you know how self-absorbed any writer gets after four solid weeks of daily writing!  Those here today with long institutional memories will also recall Anne’s hard work during our Spencer-funded After School Writing Circle project, and our two years of Leadership Institutes at the Aurora Center.  In these projects, Anne helped us create study groups that kept us writing, kept us writing with our students, and kept us excited about both. During her term as Co-Director from 2007-2011, Anne drew on these structure-building skills to develop two additional projects for us:  1) a grant-funded Teaching in the Content Areas program, linking Nebraska Writing Project teachers with colleagues who write in other school subjects, and 2) our teacher writing groups across the state, for which Anne served as state coordinator.

I’d like to say a bit more about those teacher writing groups, because I think that’s the context in which Anne Walden shines the most. Sit at a table with Anne and share writing, and you’ll see what I mean. One of her nominators this year, a member of the Lincoln Writing Group Anne sponsors, explains Anne’s real gift of connecting with others through writing:

Anne sees the potential in everyone she encounters and makes us all, student or friend, feel valued. Her personal writing about her family, her professional writing about education, compel all of us to take better stock of our own families and the profession we share.

I want to close by reading a short piece of Anne’s own writing, from the 2005 Institute Anthology “I Know What You Wrote Last Summer.” For that anthology, Anne and her group wrote a collaborative recipe introducing their work as a group. I think you’ll hear in their words Anne’s beliefs about writing and sharing and the comradeship of teachers.

How to Be Our Group, Worried Women Writers

  • Start with a healthy dose of life experience
  • Add a new piece of writing each day
  • Blend in personal history
  • Stir in brothers, sisters, friends, mothers, and fathers (Optional: nuts and husbands, past and present)
  • Strain out bitterness
  • Sprinkle with a pinch of tears and sorrow
  • Flavor with handfuls of laughter
  • Fold in equal parts feedback, revision, creativity and determination
  • Watch clock carefully while baking
  • Frost with balloons, puppies and good books.

Please join me in recognizing Anne Walden as the Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.

Robert Brooke, 4 May 2012

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

Jane Connealy

(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.

2011 Administrator Certificate of Recognition awarded to Robert Bussmann

Robert Bussman accepts award from nominators and NeWP director

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

We recognize Robert Bussmann for his long support of elementary school writers, families, and teachers.  While he served as principal at Arnold Elementary School in Lincoln, Mr. Bussmann supported and encouraged an after school Writing Circle that had a weekly attendance of 50 writers grades 1-5.  Since his retirement, Mr. Bussmann has worked as a primary sponsor of the summer I Love to Write and We Love to Write workshops, facilitated by Nebraska Writing Project teachers and funded by the Lincoln Area Retired School Personnel Association.  Each summer, over 200 students and 20 families have participated in these week long workshops.

Robert Bussmann was nominated for the 2011 Administrator Certificate of Recognition by Advisory Board member Deb Coyle and her co-teacher Connie Healey.  They write:

Mr. Bussmann recognizes the value of excellence and high standards in the teaching of writing.  He is first to expound to the listening ears of students and parents the benefits of having teachers who are writing professionals.  He is a loyal supporter of Nebraska Writing Project teachers.  His work has been invaluable for the last eleven years to the success of the yearly I Love To Write workshops, which affect students from grade 2 through middle school, and for families writing together in the We Love to Write Workshops.  He has been an active participant in the workshops, from planning and organization to attending sessions.  We highly recommend the selection of Mr. Robert Bussmann for this prestigious award.  We feel his untiring support of writing for the students and families of Lincoln have brought many far-reaching individual successes within and beyond the walls of the school building.

Please join me in recognizing Robert Bussmann with the Nebraska Writing Project 2011 Administrator Certificate of Recognition.