Saturday, May 3, 2008

Collaborating Across Educational Borders

My mind is still spinning from an amazing morning I had yesterday. I met with an education professor from the University of Mary Washington, Dr. Wendy Atwell-Vassey. She specializes in the teaching of high school English, and I had contacted her to see if I could make some connections between my school and college. One aspect of my school's mission is to prepare students for college, yet even though I have taught upper school English at this school for 14 years, I had never talked to a college professor about just what it meant to be prepared for college English and writing.

Why we don't make those connections across this educational divide is a blog for another day. Instead, I just want to encourage every teacher to reach out and ask. That is all I did. I contacted Wendy with an email asking her if she would be willing to meet with me to explore ways I could work with her and/or her students. She was immediately enthusiastic about meeting with me, but not just for me to learn from her. She had ideas for things she could learn from me. I have to admit that I was surprised (and delighted!) by this. Me, a high school teacher? How could I offer something to a college professor?

We talked for an hour and a half. Our conversation ranged from curriculum design to great books to read about teaching to the expectations of college professors in literature and writing to how pre-service teachers could learn from my students to how a small school like mine could be a great place to affect positive change. I am now researching "Understanding By Design," a planning method that seems to take the best of the many ideas I learned in college and my masters program and combine them, and the "Six Traits of Writing," something that might help our writing program find a cohesive focus from K to 12. Wendy is awaiting receving essays my students are writing this week so that she can learn from them to add to her research on composition and education. She is also excited to work with my students next spring with her pre-service teachers.

Wendy and I could have kept teaching effectively and enthusiastically without these ideas we generated. But we have built a bridge together, one that will help high school students be the best prepared for college that they can be and one that will help future teachers become the best teachers they can be.

So, make the call or send the email. I hope you find someone as excited to work with you as I did. If you are on the high school side, I recommend you start with an education professor who specializes in your content area. They are already thinking about teaching and learning, so they will be, as a group, the most receptive. If you are on the college side, just call a teacher. It does not have to be a department chair -- any teacher who is teaching something you are interested in will be happy that you called them because it validates what they do (yes, we as teachers teach because we gain validation in more intangible ways, but it sure is nice when someone "higher up" validates us too!). They may say no to working with you, but you will have given them that validation -- and they will probably recommend someone who will say yes.

1 comment:

  1. What a great opportunity! I want to hear more...
    By the way, I have an Understanding By Design book in my office if you are interested. B.Hawkins also uses the Six Trait program in her writing workshop. Glad to see they are both mentioned at the college level.
    Your contacting her will bring even more substance to our already strong English department:)