Octavia Butler teaches 1st graders at Gomez-Heritage Elementary School in south Omaha. Fluent in both English and Spanish, and sharing a love of words with her famous namesake, Octavia relishes seeing the smiles on her students every day, and she is a fierce advocate for all of her students, no matter their language of nurture or their background. She was delighted to be accepted into the Oxbow Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. Small in stature, she is no pushover, but she was less confident about her teaching because of her relative youth and her strong ideas about wanting to help each of her students find their voice through writing.
Participating in the Oxbow Writing Project gave Octavia the space and permission to explore her own teaching practices more in-depth and provided her with solid principles and a support system for incorporating writing into her classroom in many ways. She developed her teaching demonstration about writing in nature, and during the next school year she successfully argued for more time outside for her students, in order to write, to think, to ask questions, and to be in nature –all while nurturing her students and nudging them to find their passion. Octavia sought out funding sources and landed several small grants to improve her own classroom environment as well as several common spaces at her school. In addition to her other accomplishments stemming from her Oxbow experience, the summer institute instilled in Octavia the confidence she needed to submit a proposal to present at our spring workshop on English language learners in the writing classroom, where her presentation was warmly received.
As a co-facilitator at the next summer’s institute, Octavia relied on Oxbow and NWP principles to help others write, inquire, teach, and succeed during the ISI. As she helped the other teachers follow their own journeys, she learned she had much to contribute. The teachers loved Octavia’s nature writing demo, and most teacher-leaders have already incorporated some aspect of her work into their own classrooms. Octavia’s enthusiasm and commitment to Oxbow also led her to organize the institute anthology for a second year.
Through her many Oxbow experiences, Octavia realized she was still growing, as a leader and as an advocate. In her reflection from this past summer, Octavia notes, “For me it was very beneficial to work with secondary teachers. It gives me a different perspective as an elementary teacher, and I like seeing where my students are headed. I also appreciated the opportunity to step up as a leader and co- facilitate.” And Octavia is only beginning to explore the many opportunities opened to her through Oxbow: in addition to volunteering for a community/school garden and outdoor space, her next project is to develop a family writing night at her elementary school, welcoming the entire school community, whatever their language and background –and she has the confidence and know-how to do it.