National Writing Project

Leading by Example

By: Janet Lenards
Publication: California English
Date: May 18, 2012

Summary: After many years, teacher-leader Janet Lenards found herself sharing in the common new teacher concern of how to instruct and manage a classroom. Help came in the form of the Great Valley Writing Project, which taught her effective practices, showed her what it was like to be a student, and gave her enthusiasm for teaching, all lessons that continue to this day.


Excerpt from Article

. . . During those two years of coaching I watched teachers move from working in isolation, afraid that a fellow teacher would see them doing something wrong, to literally opening their doors and feeding off of each other. This was the model I was exposed to over and over again at the [Great Valley Writing Project] — teachers teaching teachers. And it works. The teachers I worked with as a coach began sharing ideas, admitting to difficulties and working together to offer support and alternatives. Together we realized that no one person held all the answers. Veterans as well as new teachers began to trust each other enough to share strategies. As coach, I was lucky enough to be the facilitator, clearing time for teachers to have those conversations. And I'm happy to say that many of the teachers began to attend GVWP workshops.

After two years of coaching I found myself at a new school with a new curriculum and a new grade level. I was out of my element in so many ways. It had been two years since I had stood before a room full of students and I felt rusty and inadequate. These students were considerably older, smarter and I felt like a fraud. Did I know this curriculum well enough to teach it? Yikes! Shakespeare! Everything in my world was new. I was overwhelmed. On top of this, I was asked to sit in on the Literacy Committee and help develop the next Staff Development workshops. I was being identified as a teacher leader but at the moment all I wanted to do was to close my door and get a handle on my curriculum. I recognized that I was struggling, so within the school I located teachers who had participated in GVWP workshops and found they were sympathetic to my frustrations and willing to help with ideas and strategies. Reaching out and asking for help I began to get my footing again. Forgotten strategies resurfaced. I felt supported by my fellow teachers. By chance, toward the end of my first term I was asked to fill in as the host for a GVWP Saturday workshop. It had been a year or so since I had attended a workshop, but the attributes that I found so rewarding my first years of teaching were still being presented one Saturday each month. Participating with the rest of the teachers I left the workshop with new ideas and a renewed confidence. This time the effect was like going to a filling station and feeling full and ready for a new journey.

Copyright © 2012 California Association of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.
Lenards, Janet. 2012. "Leading by Example." California English 17 (3): 12—13.

Read more California English articles from this issue.

About the Author Janet Lenards is a teacher-leader with the Great Valley Writing Project, California. Lenards teaches literature, language, and English at Sierra High School in Manteca.

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