Academic journal article English Journal

Feeding the Soul and Heeding the Echo: Building Education Leaders Inside and Out

Academic journal article English Journal

Feeding the Soul and Heeding the Echo: Building Education Leaders Inside and Out

Article excerpt

To escape his wife s prying eyes, Jupiter, the god of gods, employs Echo, a beautiful and loquacious nymph, to distract Juno until he can sneak away from evidence of his philandering. To punish Echo for her part in the plot, Juno curses Echo with a restriction on her tongue: she may only repeat others' words. When Echo later falls for Narcissus, a human with fade-resistant beauty prophesied to last so long as he never knows of it, her attempts to woo him with his own words fail dismally. He shuns her and she runs away to suffer her love in silence. Now weary from travel, Narcissus rests beside a clear pool of water, where he is drawn to his own enchanting reflection. Staring into his own eyes, he chooses to never lose sight of this vision. Ovid's tale of Echo and Narcissus from his larger work The Metamorphoses provides the same fate for both as they pine for their heart's desires: they starve to death ("Modern Translation").

The story works as a cautionary tale for professional learning: excess outward focus starves the soul; excess inward focus starves the mind. Like Echo, people-pleasing educators focus on others' needs over their own, even to the detriment of their soul-feeding need for quiet reflection and creative endeavors. Like Narcissus, on the other hand, pleasure-seeking educators prefer those soulpleasing professional activities while avoiding challenging, mind-feeding professional development. If Narcissus and Echo join forces, a teacher might both feed the soul and heed the voice of others. National Writing Project's (NWP) Summer Invitational Institute (SI) provides this opportunity.

Some say that without teachers, no other professions could exist (Dufour, qtd. in Thiers 16). But how are teachers taught? In a 2011 assessment of professional learning communities, former US secretary of education Arne Duncan writes, "Most teachers would welcome professional learning opportunities that help them stay current" (71). Unfortunately, though American schools spend $18 billion annually on professional development (PD), most educators report dissatisfaction with their onthej j training (Sawchuk 6), largely because 90 percent of that money goes toward ineffective "sit and get" workshop-style models. Most satisfying and effective PD models exhibit five qualities: significant duration (up to 50 hours may be needed to master a new strategy), coaching support during implementation, active engagement with the new skills and strategies, expert modeling, and specific connection with classroom context (such as subject area or grade level) ("What Will It Take" 8).

For various reasons, much professional development lacks in those areas. But what if teachers took charge of their own professional development? James Gray, founding director of the National Writing Project (NWP), writes, "[A] skilled and knowledgeable demonstration by a classroom teacher would be believable to other teachers in a way that a performance by an outside consultant would never be" (Gray xii). Since its first SI in 2007, Ozarks Writing Project (OWP), an NWP site at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, has been helping southwest Missouri kindergarten through university instructors of all content areas find the knowledge and skills they need to grow as leaders of writing instruction. OWP provides the best PD available to educators at a fraction of typical PD price tags: teachers invest 16 eight-hour summer days and purchase a couple books. In return, educators gain immediately useful strategies and insights, advancement of leadership development and presentation skills, and renewed energy for teaching.

Moving Educators into Leadership through Inquiry

[H]e said, "Is anyone here?"

Echo responded,


Then he was stupefied. He threw glances all over.

. . . and seeing no one, he asks,

"Why do you flee from me?" ("Modern Translation")

OWP SI not only serves as satisfying and effective PD ("What Will It Take") but also pursues the loftier goal of creating leaders in education as participants pursue in-depth inquiry. …

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