Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing With Roger Shanley-- One Last Time.

Not that I won't be writing, or that he won't.  And we may write together in the future.

But today is the last day of the Southern Arizona Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute for the summer, and the second to last day with Roger Shanley as co-director.  If I remember correctly, Roger has been involved with the project since the late 70's or early 80's.

If you would like to join us for writing time today, the following are the prompts written on the board:
  • shadows
  • "the usawper"
  • memory
  • who does she think she is?
  • sangria
  • future
  • coffee
  • family camping
  • special friends
  • writing groups
  • publishing plans
  • lovefest
  • if $ is no object
As co-director, Roger has ushered dozens if not hundreds of teachers through the process of developing their voices as writers, developing a habit of writing, and developing teaching demonstrations which help them build research-based evidence to support what they know to be good teaching strategies.  These demonstrations help teachers to truly become teacher-leaders and broaden their vision of what it means to be a professional.

Roger is a wealth of information about the teaching of writing and the theories of teaching reading and writing.  Someone mentioned the other day that he should go to work for an encyclopedia company, and I can see that-- Roger Shanley, Education Editor at Wikipedia.  His ability to toss in the names of key theorists in the middle of a coaching session is not only useful, but really pushed me as an educator to work on my own professional reading, although I will never have the talent of authoritative name-dropping.

From my observations over the years, I gather that Roger has an incorrigible distrust of mandates, whether local, state or federal, especially when they contain built-in handicaps for teachers and students as they go about the business of teaching and learning. Roger continues to speak out and push against the top-down and anti-teacher and student "reforms" and bureaucratic moves that frustrate many teachers in their efforts to create authentic learning opportunities for all of their students, no matter what background or set of skills or resources they bring to the classroom.  He, with other teachers, years back led a PLC to explore the social injustices inherent with AIMS testing and other assessment requirements.   The conversations in the forums led by this group brought many teachers into dialogue about equity and diversity in the writing classroom.  So important. 

But of course, what we all love about the guy is his humanity, and the knowledge that he is as much a committed and often frustrated peer as he is an expert teacher of teachers. In writing and coaching groups, Roger is expert at helping folks clarify their thinking-- something that I often need.  Over the weeks, my teacher demo went from one with an overly broad focus on the research process to one that focused on a specific technique to help students incorporate their voice into research papers.  I also felt comfortable and confident sharing my personal writing in Roger's group-- it didn't feel overly competitive or judgmental, but rather respectful, helpful and supportive yet critical.

And coffee never hurt anything.  Roger will, of course, be remembered for making coffee for the summer institute on a daily basis, and keeping it brewing until the caffeine was practically flowing out of our fingers onto the page-- I sometimes wonder if folks' writing during the summer institute is at all more frenetic or anxious than on another day.

There is, as always, more to say.  But I'll sign off this morning to the image of 26 people silently thinking and writing, heads down, keyboards tapping, pens gliding on paper, men and women devoting time to their own thoughts and voices.  Pausing to sip coffee or eat a strawberry.  This core experience of the writing project will continue forward, but without Roger's generous and intelligent guidance or his coffee.  Thank you, Roger, for everything.

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