What We Believe: Innovation through Teacher-Driven Collaboration

Teaching is our passion. It brings us joy. But, let’s be real: educating students day after day can feel like a heavy load to carry all alone. So, we found a group of like-minded educators to do the work together: The Writing Is Thinking Team. We believe that when a team of teachers aligns around a fine-tuned set of foundational beliefs, that team builds intentional, powerful, and teacher-driven collaboration. Our team, comprised of seven teachers, is diverse across content, experience, teaching style, and pedagogy. But, we all hold the same six foundational beliefs. And that’s what makes us work.

Our group’s foundational beliefs are:

  • All teachers are writing teachers.
  • All students are writers in all contents.
  • Writing experiences and opportunities must be deliberately planned.
  • Writing is not only a form of assessment, but a learning tool through which students deepen understanding.
  • All students deserve a voice in the decision-making process that shapes our world.
  • Students deserve a command of the language of power.

We meet twice a month as a group on our own time because this is the PD that makes us better. We read the foundational beliefs at the start of each meeting to ground our work and then we collaboratively look at student work, share teaching strategies, participate in collegial pedagogical discussions, and plan and organize professional development.

This collaboration leads to elevation of professional practice and innovative projects that grew out of this alignment of foundational beliefs, including collaboration across contents, between home and school, and between neighborhoods.

Here are some examples of projects that have come out of our collaboration:

  • A science-humanities collaboration in which students used the engineering process to solve one of the challenges faced by the protagonists in class novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.
  • A school-families collaboration, titled Expresiones: Celebration of Writing, was an event in which classrooms of every content not only showcased student work, but also planned workshops for families to develop common language about writing expectations.
  • A school-school collaboration in which students at the Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston write pen pal letter back and forth with students at the Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester about their independent reading progress.

So besides the gains that our students make from our work together, this collaboration sustains US. As professionals, we have built trust and can be vulnerable with one another, bringing genuine questions and failed lessons to a space where we feel safe to be pushed. And, because our foundational beliefs intersect around students as writers in all contents, we all have a vested interest in growing as teachers of writing and hold one another accountable to find new ways to heighten student engagement and achievement. This work isn’t just about what’s happening in our classrooms and in our communities, it’s about what’s happening to us and how we are driving ourselves to be better educators and better people. Teacher-driven innovation is the most powerful because when teachers create communities as authentic learners, we develop as more effective educators.

The foundational beliefs are the driving force behind our collaboration...But you do not have to believe the same things that we believe. Your collaboration does not need to look like ours or sound like ours. But we strongly suggest that in whatever collaboration you participate in, you build that solid foundation. Collaboration built on a strong foundation of well-articulated beliefs cultivates intentional, powerful, teacher-driven collaboration that shows gains, visible and invisible, for students, families, and teachers.

To learn more about the work of the Writing is Thinking Team, visit www.writingisthinking.org or follow us on Twitter at @thinkingiswrite. To watch our EdTalk, visit: https://youtu.be/JCaUSfcui8g.

About the Authors:  Alice Laramore is a 7th grade English/language arts teacher at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public School, where she also leads the Humanities Department. She has a degree in History and Literature from Harvard College and a Masters in Education from UMass Boston through the Boston Teacher Residency Program. The highlight of most school days for Alice is conferencing with students about their independent reading books. Marcus Penny is a Middle School Science Teacher at Gardner Pilot Academy, a full inclusion school in Boston. Marcus holds a Master of Education from and was a Donovan Urban Teaching Scholar at Boston College. Coupled with his undergraduate experience at Morehouse College, Marcus’s experiences at BC deepened his passion to provide a quality education program rooted in social justice. Katharine Atkins-Pattenson is a 7th grade humanities teacher at Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 School, a Pilot School in the Boston Public Schools. Katharine was a 2012-13 Donovan Urban Teaching Scholar at Boston College where she earned her Master’s in Secondary Education. Prior to becoming a teacher, Katharine built a college access program in rural Pennsylvania that continues to help first generation and undocumented students find the appropriate post-secondary fit while developing college and financial literacy within the community. Katy Ramón teaches middle school mathematics and Algebra 1 at the Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 in the Boston Public Schools.  She is currently working on a graduate degree in Educational Leadership at Boston University, Boston.  Katy holds a Masters in Education and is a graduate of the Boston Teacher Residency program, University of Massachusetts, Boston.  Katy also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Washington, Seattle. Randyl Wilkerson is a 6th grade Reading and Writing teacher at the Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 School, a Pilot School in the Boston Public Schools. She graduated with a Master’s Degree from UMass Boston through the Boston Teacher Residency. Randyl became a Woodrow Wilson & Rockefeller Brothers Fellow for Aspiring Teachers of Color after graduating from Wesleyan University with a degree in English and American Studies. Randyl is committed to teaching all students to self-actualize and stand in confidence through their command of language. As a poet and spoken word artist, she is very committed to students finding strength and agency in their own voices.

To watch their EdTalk, visit: https://youtu.be/JCaUSfcui8g