Going Public: Making Professional Learning Visible to Others
When I took a leave from my classroom to begin work on a graduate degree, I had a number of reasons for needing a change. But as I began to feel recharged by the conversations about theory and practice that I was having with my classmates in graduate school, I realized that there was one primary driver hiding under all my reasons for this change. In a word, I was lonely. I really needed someone to talk to about my instructional practices and my students’ learning.
Imagine my excitement (and admittedly some envy) when I learned about a team of teachers from different schools and districts, elementary through college level, coming together to explore their questions about teaching and learning. The Eastern Michigan Writing Project (EMWP) Teacher Research Group has been doing just that for more than a decade. Despite long days in the classroom and, for some, long commutes to attend, the members of the Teacher Research Group come together a few times a semester for dinner, drink, and, more than anything else, thought-provoking conversation. The group’s facilitator, Cathy Fleischer, will tell you that a real strength of this group is that members come from different schools and backgrounds, providing a safe zone for earnest discussion and a broader range of perspectives to draw from.
During the 2011–2012 school year, the members of this group decided that despite potential risks, they needed to share with the world their passion for teaching, for their students, and for their communities. One member of the group said, “We are real people with real challenges, and we have to work through them. It’s important for us to articulate as clearly and fully as possible what it looks like from our seats.” Through the use of video, image, and text, the EMWP teacher researchers are documenting their learning journey for the purpose of sharing their practices with others.
I have had the unique privilege of watching this year unfold through video as we have worked together to tell their story within the Literacy in Learning Exchange. I have witnessed, for example, the rich discussion that occurred one winter night around a set of student reading-response journals supplied by a high school English teacher who was wrestling with how to improve his students’ comprehension strategies, as well as the group brainstorming session around types of evidence that a middle school teacher could collect to better understand the quality and impact of a building-wide implementation of a scripted vocabulary program. I have found these teachers’ habits of inquiry to be courageous and their camaraderie contagious.
Now I have the privilege of inviting you into their world. Follow the EMWP teacher researchers as they blog about their research, their practices, and their experiences. Rich with video clips filmed during their group meetings, the story of their professional learning journeys unfolds through a mixture of the familiar and the inspirational. Members of this group hope that you will choose to enter into a dialogue with them, discussing what you see and hear and maybe even sharing your own collaborative learning journey in a similar fashion. As these teacher researchers have experienced, meaning is created through dialogue. What will we learn from this group of teacher researchers as they make their own learning visible to the rest of us?