Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I'm Not Sure I Have Words. I Have Awe. I See. History Sees.

This is not the pond I walked around yesterday. I didn't have my cellphone when I hiked...

...I stole a .gif off the internet to replicate the image where I hiked...

...where I processed an incredible workshop hosted by Weir Farm and teacher Richard Novack...

...where I experienced the brilliance of K-12 teachers who chose a profession of entrusting knowledge onto the next generation...

...where I watched a black water snake, perhaps an Eastern Rat Snake, rest on a rock hoping for August sun...

...where I witnessed a Cooper's Hawk in search of a late-afternoon snack....

...where I said hello to butterflies that landed on my shoulder...

...where my luck as an educator afforded me a temporary calm to be outdoors...

...where the calm followed the a.m. tweets of a President who is supposed to uphold American values, but tweets trains instead (then takes it down)....

...where a calm existed hours before returning to the real world, the news, the roque leadership unhinged...

...where I later walked the dog to process the world I know, the students I've taught, the vision I have for a beautiful nation, and the unraveling (perhaps revealing) of what I thought was mythology from a time that once was.

I wanted to repost a section of Whitman's Song of Myself, but I'm not there yet...I'm revisiting the love I have for this nation, what I hope it stands for, what I believe in, and what I feel is just and right.

My politics have always wavered. That, I believe, is healthy. This is surreal.

And now I must realize the calm arrives from a place of privilege...I can choose this, but recognize that my choice will create anarchy for others. We are being tested, right here, right now.

Cry The Beloved Country. Alan Paton, I'm channeling your wisdom. I'm looking for a way to believe in hope once again. To believe in love...

...the calm I got from a bourbon on ice, wondering what America really wants to be....

...the calm I felt when reflecting on news from my mother that Chitunga made the Dean's list at LeMoyne College, a first-generation refugee kid who believes in the American dream --- one he's always been willing to fight and die for.

We all can use such calm...the shire perhaps. But Frodo met the orks and Sauron. Potter knows the anti-muggle league. Stormtroopers have their Death Star...

The story continues.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Day Two @WeirFarmNPS with @richnovack Reading Landscapes: Writing Nature

I am thanking The Great Whatever that several years ago, I had the fortune of sitting with National Writing Project's Judy Buchanan who not only shared her brilliance and expertise with me, but a passion for working with National Park Services. She planted a seed about nature writing and, a couple of years later, emailed me to say that there was a site near Fairfield University called Weir Farm and they might make a phenomenal partner for a nature writing workshop.

Indeed.

Two years ago, we brought our Invitational Leadership Institute to the historic site to spend a day writing about landscape. Fast forward to this week, a generous grant through National Writing Project support, and the vision of Rich Novack and Kristen Lessard, and WOLA! We have our first ever two-day Reading Landscapes: Writing Nature in the 21st Century teacher institute.

Today, I will be doing a small workshop based off my environmental days working in Kentucky when I earned a Masters from the Kentucky Institute of Education and Sustainable Development and where I wrote a thesis on Environmental English - bringing earth into the English classroom. I'm tapping an exercise from Project Wet (a community-building activity) and making a case for the work I do now with CWP-Fairfield through a philosophy of Ubuntu and our Young Adult Literacy Labs.

Phew. I was young then. I started my second masters at age 25 and in 1998, when I was a first year teacher, I earned the degree and immediately began to make sense of ecological sustainability in terms of urban education, nature, poetry, young adult novels, and outdoor learning.

As I put together the presentation, I couldn't help but walk down memory lane when my hair was longer, my love handles less severe, and my optimism about what is possible at an all-time high.

Here's to the 2nd day of the work - I'm so impressed by the vast region this institute has attracted educators from - there needs to be much more of this work for our K-12 teachers.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another Day of Crunching Numbers in Ol' Canisius Hall

I tallied scores from teaching assessments over the last five years in room 108 of Canisius Hall. For the most part, the courses I teach provided me with wonderfully high scores, both for my teaching and the content covered. There were outliers here and there, with comments that were somewhat constructive, but mostly a little bothersome, but the averages tended to be a 4.75 out of 5, which I'm feeling comfortable with.

Better than the the IDEA forms that students fill out are the comments in emails and letters that come my way, especially after the Summer Seminar for teaching writing of in-practice teachers. They seems to get it, and leave inspired by the five-week institute we offer. In fact, 100% of them feel the content is highly useful and 98% feel it is the best professional development they've ever had. The others claim it is better that the majority received.

I need to work on the narrative portion to justify the work, but the University's system for finding information I needed was down, so I was trapped from getting as far as I wanted.

I decided a good Sunday run and a wonderful walk with the dog was worth more than stressing about the technology glitch in the office, so I took advantage of a wonderful summer day and went home, then to the free concert at Walnut Beach in Milford.

Today, though, I begin the last teacher institute and I'm looking forward to the learning that my colleague Rich Novack will deliver with the environmental writing - a blast from my KY past.

I can't wait to get outdoors to write.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pro-Democracy, Pro-Dialogue, Pro-Love, Pro-Diversity, Pro-Compassion, Pro-Kindness

In 1992, I took what little inheritance I received from my Grannie Annie to go on a study-abroad trip to London, England. It was a program called Literature of Exile and the Black British Experience and it was taught by a phenomenal mentor who woke me up to the United States of America and international race relations.

I was 19 years old. I was naive. I was called Sesame Street. I was young. And I was totally unaware of history on a national and international level. It was that moment in time - as a 19 year-old, honors student who did very well to get into college - that I finally woke up to LEARNING.

When our flight landed at Heathrow, we drove around London for 6 hours. Why? Because the IRA had just bombed London. I looked to a kid sitting next to me and said, "Excuse my ignorance, but what is the IRA?" I learned. A few months later, Rodney King would occur and riots sprung all across the West Coast. My suburban, working class background, I realized, kept me ignorant of human struggle around the world: populations of many races, colors, belief systems, and traditions.  I turned to books to learn. I chose to take classes to educate myself more and to inform me about the world beyond what I was taught in school. Then, I dedicated my life to teaching in urban schools and supporting the democracy of the United States. That's what I do. High standards for all...the desire to leave the world a little better than what I inherited.

I hope my actions speak louder than words.

I am living in my office building this weekend sorting materials, labeling them, and analyzing them so I can make the case that I am somebody at the University level. As I was putting items into binders and updating tables and charts I realized something quickly. The work I do is the antithesis of what some people want and see for America. The egregious behaviors in Virginia this week are evidence for the court: screaming and belligerence that was modeled proactively during the last election cycle, too. Hate is learned. Hate is prompted. Hate is disastrous. I do not stand with the hatred. I do not stand with the prejudice. I do not stand with the ignorance, either. I stand against it.

In my binders put together to outline who I am (yeah, I really am sick of me, too), I am able to say,
  • In five years, I've raised over $500,000 in grant money to support dialogue, diversity, communication, and support amongst youth and teachers (especially with a reminder that America is a nation made up of immigrants...as the Governor of Virginia reminded us yesterday - shoot, even the National Review agrees.
  • In five years, I've published 8 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and 1 review showcasing the writing lives of African-born male refugees, teacher collaborations, summer writing opportunities for youth, grants in K-12 schools, best practices for teaching writing, and hosting institutes for teachers.
  • In five years, the work has been recognized by our campus's MLK committee, Bridgeport Public Education Fund, Fairfield University's President, Fairfield Community Foundation and most recently the Initiatives of 21st Century Literacies Research.
  • In five years, the efforts have been recognized in the news 53 times.
  • In five years, the work I've done with the National Writing Project has reached approximately 3,850 educators, with CWP teachers providing almost 100,000 contact hours
  • In five years, I've been able to go solo, and collaboratively, to present 60 conference presentations, 
  • In five years, my students have rated my teaching rather generously, and 
  • In five years, CWP-Fairfield has published over 12 teacher and youth publications, numerous OpEds and sponsored too many events name and count.
This, of course, has been under the belief of Ubuntu and human togetherness. It may be corny, but when I left the Brown School in 2007 I said, "You can't ever leave such a beautiful place. The beautiful place remains in our hearts and souls wherever we go. It is our responsibility to spread the school's mission in whatever we do."

That's what I hope I've accomplished. I am hoping that my world has been a demonstration of what can be possible through hard work, research, and action. I believe in this, because so many around me have modeled such perseverance. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Well, I Have a Chart To Tell Part of the Story and I Am Sort of Proud.

I spent yesterday in my office creating charts to go with my dossier, and worked numbers of the Young Adult Literacy Labs over the last four years. We've gone from serving 80 or so youth to over 200. In addition, we now work with over 35 teachers each summer. It's pretty remarkable, too, considering that when I arrived to Fairfield, CWP-Fairfield was in the red by $13,000. State and federal grants disappeared, and we established programming that works - I'm able to sustain the work by the innovative redesign.

I'm also thrilled to know that this year, 2017, over 57% of the young people who came were totally funded by scholarship: professional development monies I donated, donations to CWP-Fairfield, and a few grants. The result? Our programs are highly representative of the U.S. population, and not just the 1% of the nation that can afford summer camps and programs for children. In this sense, we've democratized our writing labs.

Also, Ubuntu Academy continues to thrive and those who attend become central to all the programs we host during the summer. Through the contributions I make through PD throughout the year, with the generosity of like-minded donors, and because of the excellence of immigrant and refugee youth in Bridgeport, we have sustained a summer program that is really remarkable. We do this, of course, through ingenuity and creativity.

There's so much to the story of building Young Adult Literacy Labs, and upon getting to the other side of the University process, I'm hoping there will be time to collaborate with my teachers to write the book and/or books about the hard work that goes into our success: publishing the writing of kids, offering an enjoyable summer experience, and sparking a joy in written language they claim is squashed by schools.

I'm going into the weekend with a smile. I left the classroom saddened that I would no longer be teaching kids, but I now see that I have found a way to continue serving them. Not only is their feedback positive and fulfilling, the teachers in our programs report tremendous success, too - to the point that they wish our summer work could be year-round.

I don't know, however, if I have the energy for that!

Friday, August 11, 2017

With Thanks to @mrshoweihs Be Kind, A Great 2017-2018 Motto

I am writing in total appreciation of Denise Howe, a teacher I was fortunate to work with during the 2016 Invitational Leadership Institute and the 2017 College Ready Writers Program. A graduate of Fairfield University's English Education program, Denise is everything her mentor, Dr. Emily Smith, said she would be. When she applied to CWP-Fairfield programs, Emily wrote, "You will love her. She is an amazing human being."

An amazing human being: mother, teacher, and even a winter guard supporter, I've loved every second I've had learning alongside her.

While I was cleaning my office yesterday, I found a package she delivered to my office that I, sadly, didn't see until I was tidying. Denise bought me a gift from Ben's Bells.
For over a decade, Ben's Bells has been infusing the practice of intentional kindness throughout communities. Tens of thousands of citizens are engaged with Ben's Bells educational programming offered through our studios, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. 
Ben's Bells Project's mission is to education communities about the known positive impacts of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness.
I am honored, especially as it is Denise Howe who is too kind. Inscribed in a note, Denise wrote,
Dear Bryan, 
When I think of Ben's Bells and the "Be Kind" movement, I'm reminded of the kindness you have shown me. I appreciate your confidence in me, a renewed confidence in myself to continue to pursue my passions.

Inspired by National Writing Project work, the love for her daughter and her son, and a drive for social justice, Denise has been heading toward a trajectory of fulfilling her want for a better world and a more equitable classroom. She is a gifted educator and a wonderful human being.

When I opened the present, I simply realized this needs to be the motto for 2017-2018, especially as Pandora's box has reopened internationally and fear, hatred, envy and spite have spread like wildfire, especially across the U.S. in ways I didn't know was possible.

Driving from work yesterday I heard a report about the power of negativity and the toxic ways it becomes rampant amongst people and friends. When surrounded by negative thought, it is easy to jump into similar misery as a habit of mind. I'm joining Denise to counter such a movement and looking to joy. I'm thankful for my gift and will look at it daily for inspiration and the reminder that love should always be the answer.
 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Work We Do Is Sometimes Messy and Disorganized. It Gets Done

I returned to an office that looked like an unkept storage closet. The summer did the space in, and a week away delivered even more chaos to room 115 Canisius Hall. I am now on day 2 of sorting and putting things away. I keep telling myself that the unpacking, filing and organizing is also a subliminal way to focus on the real work that needs to be done before a new semester begins.

Yes, I know of articles about clean desk vs. awful ones as a testimony to creativity (my colleague Sharon Kane at SUNY Oswego, in fact, shared that she too has an assortment of everything in her peripheral view. I have a sister by Lake Ontario (one I admire).

The truth is, I like minimalism and clear spaces to do my thinking. There's enough wackiness in my head, so I don't need an environment to personify this where I sit to actually think. I know I must clean before I can actually process, and that is what I've been doing.

Ah, but cleaning paperwork, budgets, and forms - that's a different story, because that material needs to be provided to other offices on campus so everything in grant land goes forward. I can say, though, that I have lived this way on campus, so it doesn't filter its way into my home life (which has stayed moderately calm and non-chaotic).

I can't believe I'm actually thinking about this, as I'm embarrassed that any of my spaces can get this crazy with stuff: so much stuff, but this is what running a National Writing Project site looks like (and what supporting teachers and kids becomes in the day to day routine).

I will say, too, that my office no longer looks like this. I'm ready for the conference call this morning, meetings, and time to actually write. I simply need to move the paperwork onto the next phase of their existence.

(On another note, I used my DVR for the first time last night for Big Brother. Who knew fast forwarding and rewinding could be so difficult?)