Sometimes transformations come from very small actions. Accepting Faith Nitschke’s invitation to be an SJVWP Fellow during the summer of 2006 was one of those kinds of decisions.
I was always learning as a teacher, so I knew that the Summer Institute would be a learning experience. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would transform me, not just as a teacher but as a human being. Before the Summer Institute, I felt like teaching was a solitary profession in some ways. Yes, my students were in class with me and in that way my teaching was public and social–but as a profession, as in a shared practice with other teachers, there was something that felt invisible and solitary to me. That’s not to say I didn’t talk about teaching with my colleagues–I definitely did–but they rarely saw me in action . . . and when they did, I had prepared to the nines. They never saw me fail, they never saw me on my most ordinary days.
In the Summer Institute, I had to make myself vulnerable. I had to write–and then share that writing with others. I had to design a teaching demonstration lesson and then listen to the immediate feedback of others. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable, to be seen, noticed, appreciated, and critiqued. I’m a rule follower in some ways, though, so I complied with the expectations of sharing.
I don’t think I realized it at the time. In fact, I’m not sure if I really understood this until I sat down to write this blog post–but allowing myself to be vulnerable was one aspect of my Writing Project participation that changed me as a human being. It started a process of being more open with others. I gained teacher friends and colleagues that I trusted.
Right now, I’m sitting at a table with Marci Haas and Kristie Leyba. Marci and I went through the Summer Institute together–and over the years, she has become someone I trust implicitly. I know that I can rely on her to follow through on commitments–and that she will be thoughtful and smart about them. She’s also someone that I know I can ask for help (something that can be really difficult for me). The same with Kristie. When we work together on projects, she asks me questions that make me examine ideas/practices that have gone unchallenged for too long. She is honest and funny and smart. My life is richer because of these two women (and the many others who are not at my table).
My SJVWP story is like so many others. The Writing Project transforms people, it creates community and bonds of trust. I take risks with my SJVWP colleagues–and, as a result, I grow.