I am an educator, a teacher-trainer, and a webmaster who specializes in teaching writing in differentiated, project-based environments.
"We write to prove that we think." So read the sign I hung above my classroom door on the day I finally became the writing teacher I had set out to become. It took many years of hard work to believe I had learned enough to make that sign and use its words as my classroom motto. Those years of hard work remain the best investment I've ever made for my teaching career.
Before that sign existed, I very much struggled with the teaching of writing. Using the formulaic structures known by most teachers, I could assign my students and help them produce writing, but writing was a task most of my kids strongly disliked because it felt pointless and boring to them. Their book reports, five-paragraph essays, hamburger paragraphs, and diamante poems were spell-checked and edited, but the written ideas showed a depth of understanding that was hardly deep. I remember spending entire weekends grading less-than-stellar portfolio samples from my kids and wondering what I was doing wrong. It became apparent to me that assigning writing was fairly easy, but teaching it was a much harder task. Not one teacher-preparation course from my past had given me the ability to really teach writing.
My local writing project helped me understand how to really teach writing: What I needed to discover was how writing could be used as both a processing and critical thinking tool. In 1996, after five years of struggling with writing instruction, I found an amazing teaching organization that completely changed my career. The Northern Nevada Writing Project helped me discover techniques to teach writing in a more meaningful way; even better, they challenged me to step outside the comfort of my classroom's walls and present my new learning to fellow Nevada teachers. Working alongside other NNWP teachers on collaborative projects and demonstration lessons, I learned strategies and analyzed philosophies that were unlike anything I'd learned back in college. I became a writing teacher (not a writing assigner) as well as a teacher-trainer in 1996. I remain very proud of both of these roles.
In 2001 and 2002, the NNWP challenged me to take on a third and fourth role for them: webmaster and Director. I built a resource website for the Northern Nevada Writing Project where innovative ideas from writing teachers all over Nevada were posted, and I wrote for grants to pay for local projects that focused on bettering the writing going on in Northern Nevada classrooms. The WritingFix website, now fifteen years old, features lessons, resources, and entire teacher workshops for any teacher who struggles with the difference between teaching writing and assigning writing, and many of those lessons were built by teachers and students involved in the projects our grants paid for. At WritingFix, student samples and complete lessons are regularly sent to us by teachers from all over the world. I'm proud to be the educator who originally created and still maintains this website that freely gives away so many great ideas.
A professional detour...from teaching my students to mentoring their teachers: After transforming my own classroom into a project-based and differentiated environment, the Nevada State Department of Education took notice of my work, and I was offered a challenging new position. Between 2001 and 2010, I served as a Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) for Nevada's Northwest Regional Professional Development Program. There, I worked as a K-12 writing trainer and mentor, and as a differentiated instruction specialist in six Nevada school districts. I loved working alongside my fellow teachers in their own classrooms the most, where I successfully co-taught a variety of writing strategies to kindergartners, to high school seniors, and to every age in between. During those years with the Northern Nevada's RPDP, I also embedded myself long-term as a mentor/trainer at seven elementary schools; six of those seven schools' writing test scores increased dramatically during my two or three years of focused work with them. I learned a great deal about the difference between "drive by" teacher trainings and long-term professional development that actually transforms teachers' practices at a school site. Unfortunately, I discovered more administrators than not believed that "quick fix trainings" for writing and differentiated instruction are effective. They're not. As I felt my wheels beginning to spin, as I continued to be sent to struggling schools for "one-shot" trainings with no planned follow-up sessions or any expectations of implementation from participants, I began looking for an escape from the professional development detour I had taken.
While I was certainly pleased to be making a difference with my focus schools' test scores, the more important thing I accomplished was was helping a new generation of teachers understand that writing cannot be taught using worksheets, through daily oral language drills, or with formulaic assignments that produce mostly voiceless writing from students. I found myself tossing and turning at night, missing having my own roster of students who were truly my own five days a week. Top off the situation with a highly depressing, unfriendly-to-education legislative session in 2011, I made the decision to leave the RPDP and return to the classroom. I'm proud to say that during my nine years as a full-time trainer and mentor, I never once lost contact with students, and I never once faltered from being an advocate for teachers first, policy afterwards.
My return to the classroom: As of 2011, I am back among the youthful minds of Northern Nevada; I have my very own batch of student writers again, which is so very wonderful. In truth, it has been a stressful-yet-thrilling experience to learn how to use my "teacher legs" again, if I can force a nautical metaphor into my Nevada-desert experience. My writer's workshop is already thriving (amazing how fast that set of skills comes back to you!), and I have also established a reading workshop for the very first time; I will be posting new materials from this new-to-me structure as my year progresses. I am teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, all of whom I share with the same math, science, and social studies teacher at the middle school where we have set-up shop. I have never "teamed" before, and these three incredible teachers I share my students with are all so willing to use the writing across the curriculum methods suggested in Common Core State Standards. In the past, this website had been focused on the teachers/workshops I created for my fellow Nevada educators, but I have now begun the transformation to focus my website on my classroom, a high-functioning environment where students are allowed to explore themselves as readers and writers.
I invite you to visit me here often this school year on-line...and to see how one single teacher--with over twenty-five years invested in his career--can continually find ways to improve some remarkable lessons and units to be even better than they were. The beauty of teaching writing, to me, is that--like a piece of writing you are working on and really think has potential--a well-crafted writing lesson is NEVER complete. With each re-visit, it can become better, stronger, more creative, and can go to deeper places in my students' amazing brains. At my website, I honor this idea of ALWAYS revising your favorite lessons that invite students to WRITE.
I'm still available to be hired during the summer months for teacher workshops: In Northern Nevada, I am remain an employee of the Washoe County School District for nine months of the year, where I maintain my own classroom, creating a reading and writing workshop as my means of authentic, project-based instruction. Over the summer months, I will continue make myself available to bring my trainings, workshops, and classroom philosophies to any school district that wishes to hire me. If your school or school district is seeking a two-day summer workshop on teaching writing, you should check out my training/workshop homepage to see what I offer and how to contact me.
I invite you to explore this personal website, which I launched in 2007, six years after launching WritingFix. Here, you can link to my best personal lessons, as well as links to favorite lessons from fellow teachers. Here, you can learn what workshops for teachers I am currently offering in Nevada after contract hours, and you can find out how to bring me to your state or district. Here, you can--perhaps--discover something that motivates you to become an even better writing teacher than you already are. I am glad you are here. If you learn anything as a result of your visit, I hope you'll consider sharing it with me.
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