Embracing Teacher-Directed Professional Learning

Terri Howell, Mary Spring

In the summer of 2008, using the TLLP grant to cover registration costs, seven members of the group — ourselves, Libs Peca, Wendy Stephen, Debbie Holtby, Chris Lynd, and Jennifer Clark — travelled to New York to study writing under the guidance of Lucy Calkins, founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Summer Writing Institute at Columbia University, and author of countless books about teaching writing ( readingandwritingproject.com).

One thousand teachers from nine different countries attended this 26th writing institute. We all attended Lucy’s morning keynote address, but the rest of the day we worked with Calkins’s staff developers in smaller specialist groups geared to the grade we taught or to the role we had within our board or school. At the end of each day, the seven of us, our heads full of new ideas, would gather in our residence room to debrief and share the writing we had done. “It was some of the most enriching I have ever had,” said Wendy Stephen, after attending her first writing institute in 2008.

It is 4:45 and we try to be strict about ending our meetings at 5 o’clock so the parents in our group can get home. Libs asked Debbie to share what she did with a poetry unit in her grade 8 class. Debbie gathered ideas from her notes from the institute and other books. She has a wealth of student examples and the modelled writing from the mini lessons she taught, which we look at on the document camera. We discuss how we can adapt the lessons for the Junior grades, or even for Primary learners. We are all madly scrawling notes.


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