Well this is my first atempt at a true blog entry so I'm a little uncerain who I'm addressing and how to go about talking to this somewhat inchoate audience. So I guess I'll sort of talk to myself and see if anyone ends up listening.
It always surprises me how much I look forward to returning to each session of the writing project's invitational summer institute. The groups of teachers who are attracted to this sort of opportunity (a four and 1/2 week workshop-based program focusing on participants' practices in the teaching of writing in the mornings and on the participants' own writing in the afternoons) seem to have a ready sympathy with one another, and to 'gel' surprisingly quickly. I think most experience what I experience--the longer the institute goes on the more we look forward to one another's company.
Now of course in most cases public elementary and secondary schools aren't like that. You come to school and you do your job. You enjoy some of your classses (if you're teaching at the secondary level) and you don't enjoy others. If your lucky you have a few rather close friends among the other teachers at your school, but in fact you rarely talk about your teaching with even these quite close friends.
The writing project summer institute is exactly the opposite. We start by talking bout teaching, both our own and that of others, and it's this talk that leads to the more personal, relationship building talk that quite frequently builds lasting friendships among isi (invitational summer institute) participants.
Sure we're a highly self-selected group. There are only so many teachers, after all, that would voluntarily choose to 'talk shop' for four and 1/2 weeks of their summer would-be vacations. And the configuation of teachers, representing those teaching at a variety of gade levels from kindergaten to college, is similarly unique in most teachers' experience. These two factors contribute a lot to the excitement of the summer institute, the eagerness with which participants look forward the getting together each day, sharing in each other's company and learning from one another.
But having co-directed this sort of extended summer institute for just about 21 consecutive summers at this point, I think it's time for me to step back and see if there aren't some "lessons learned" from these summers that could be usefully applied to the life most teachers live during the school year. A good friend once told me "the summer institute is an oasis in what is otherwise the desert of my school year teaching life." I don't think it has to be that way. In my next blog I'll begin to articulate some of the things we do, often quite simple things, that could reasonably be replicated in a school setting during the regular academic year.