Saturday, March 7, 2009


*Shortly after my last entry, I sent out an e-mail to some scholarly colleagues and/or writing fanatics and/or poetry-appreciating artists inviting them to offer comments and feedback on my own creative writing. I was intimidated to do so, because the list contained some pretty heavy hitters. (Yikes.) So far, though, the feedback has been streaming in and has given me *a lot* to think about. If you are interested in offering any comments or thoughts, please visit

*On February 13, we hosted another teen acoustic open mic night at the local library. It was very successful and quite well-attended! One of my former students (who used to attend the open mic when she was in high school) is now a reporter for one of our local papers. She came to the event, with ANOTHER former student who is a photographer! They covered the event beautifully and provided us with some great exposure!

*This past week, I contacted all the local high schools about this year's Work in Progress writing conference. I feel as though I was able to streamline the process a bit from last year. Instead of sending back paper applications, interested parties can simply e-mail me a few key pieces of information. I have not heard back yet from anyone, but I sent the e-mail later on in the week - and we did all have the HSPA to contend with. (Can anyone say, "STRESSED OUT"?!) I also contacted nine potential presenters. So far, I have heard back from four of them, all in the affirmative. WooHOO! :)

*Let's see... what else? Oh yeah! My supervisor and I were finally able to talk to our Business Administrator about WIP funding. There is some money available and now I know what I need to do in terms of tax exempt forms and the like. (Note: I am truly awful with this sort of stuff. In an ideal world, I would be given a wad of small bills and be sent off on my own to stretch it as far as possible. And stretch it, I would. In the words of a friend, "I'm so cheap, I don't even like spending other people's money." :) Heh, heh...

These are all steps in the right direction, but there is still so much more to do. I still need to look into poetry exposure for April. And my bulletin board still looks like it did two months ago. *Sigh.* Oh well - onward and upward, right?

Over and out...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So far...

I am feeling a bit conflicted about my progress thus far. Let me break it down for you (or for myself, as this is a reflection blog...):

1. SUCCESS: In September, I presented a three-hour workshop to pre-service English teachers at Kean University. This opportunity was faciliated by Dr. Linda Costanzo-Cahir, one of my college professors and one of my most cherished mentors. I created a multi-faceted handout containing information on the following topics: must-have resources, classroom management tips, how to approach poetry with high school writers, and no-fail poems, poets, and writing activities for the high school classroom. I brought in example poems, copies of our literary magazine, pieces of student work, and all kinds of goodies to share. Students were engaged and engaging throughout the workshop. They asked questions, and I was pleasantly surprised by my own ability to field their questions honestly, thoroughly, and professionally. The next week, in my mailbox, was a large envelope from Kean University. Each of Dr. Cahir's students had taken the time to write me a thank-you note for my presentation; their feedback was incredibly positive and affirming. Dr. Cahir and I talked about the prospect of working together again in the future. I am greatly looking forward to this opportunity.

2. SUCCESS: In November, I helped to organize an acoustic open mic night for local teens at our library. The event was attended by over fifty young people. Students were eager to sign up, listen to one another, and share their music and poetry in a respectful and supportive environment. A loyal group of my students showed up early to help me set up, perform sound checks, and take care of last minute needs. The president of the Friends of the Library (Jayne) wrote a beautiful letter on my behalf to my supervisor, informing her of my community involvement and commitment to this event. We have another open mic planned for this Friday, February 13. I am hoping for another successful evening of creative expression.

3. SUCCESS: On Sunday, February 1, I went to the Coffee Beanery in Wantage (the town where I teach). I spoke to the owners about the prospect of my hosting an open mic and/or a teen writing workshop at their establishment. They immediately struck me as friendly, community-minded individuals; this perception was completely accurate. I will follow up with them soon about an April event to celebrate National Poetry Month.

4. SUCCESS: This past weekend (2/6, 2/7, 2/8), I helped to facilitate a "Creativity Lab" at the New Jersey Elks Youth Conference held in Ocean County, NJ. The theme of the weekend was "Discover. Create. Inspire." The event was attended by over 500 high school student from around the state. One of the keynote speakers was Taylor Mali, a famous spoken word poet from New York City. Over the course of the weekend, the Creativity Lab hosted a wide variety of writing and visual art opportunities for students. They could make their own mandalas, help themselves to "creative cookies," add to our on-going mural project, challenge themselves with a writing prompt from the rough draft jar, engage in a round of poetry poker, create magnetic poems, craft their own homemade books, etc. My creative partner in crime, Lisa, and I were also responsible for organizing an open mic on Saturday. This was one of the main events of the weekend, ran for four hours, and was attended by over four hundred students. At the end of the weekend, many attendees approached us to offer sincere thanks for the opportunity to express themselves and be creative in a way that they had never done before.

5. SUCCESS: Because of the success of the pre-service teacher workshop, my supervisor (Yay, Mary) lovingly convinced me to submit a proposal for next year's NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Conference in Philadelphia. (*Gulp.* Can anyone say "nation-wide event"?) I will not know if my proposal is chosen until the spring, but just submitting it was a pretty big deal for me. (Inside, I am a big, fat wallflower/scaredy-cat/wussy-pants... need I go on?)

**6. NOT-SO SUCCESSFUL YET: My campaign to integrate student poetry throughout the school and community has fallen a bit flat. I mean, we produce the literary magazine, but I don't think that counts. I have only put up two bulletin boards since September (poetry survey, music + poetry connection). We also did our "Gift of Poetry" project in December, but again, that is something I always do. It is not "above and beyond." I need to explore the prospect of placing student poems in school-wide and community locations. I was also thinking of a Weekly Poem Project during April, but have not yet looked into either of these endeavors. One cool thing: just recently, my students wrote haiku poems to complement art students' creations. The theme was "coffee"; the title of the exhibit was "Students 'Espresso' Themselves." (Clever, eh? Great job, Erin!) This work is currently displayed in our main hallway; it just came back from being exhibited at the Coffee Beanery. (See #3.) A similar cross-curricular project was done earlier in the year with my Workshop students creating poems based on Fine Art Sculpture students' "found sculptures."

**Okay, maybe more has been done on this front than I thought! Hmmm... It's funny how you can forget what you do on a day-to-day basis until you are forced to write it all down.

7. NOT-SO SUCCESSFUL YET: I have gathered NO feedback on my own creative work. None. Zero. Zilch. Zip. People are so busy. I have been really reluctant to potentially add to anyone's list of things to do. Hey, if any of YOU feel like reading some poems and shooting some feedback my way, please visit the following address:

8. NOT-SO SUCCESSFUL YET: I have not yet begun planning year two of Work in Progress. I have the date (4/30), the space (school library), and some presenter contacts (wonderful people who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise), but I have not reached out to our county high schools, put together the applications, or done any of the other leg work. I think the reason these wheels are not yet in motion has to do with the fact that I still don't know if I have any funding for this project. Last year I had a $500 budget, which I s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d like nobody's business. Once I know what I have to work with, I think I will be able to begin the process.

Regarding #s 6, 7, and 8: I have to be honest: I feel as though I have dropped these balls (or misplaced them? stashed them away? placed them out of sight?) because of a simple lack of time. This may sound lame, but there is just always so much going on (as you can hopefully see). I think I may have bitten off a bit too much this year. Also, I am involved in the planning of our school's first ever World Peace Day (on 5/22), so this commitment has also been a time-consuming endeavor. I think next year, I will want to have fewer elements in my plan and execute them more thoroughly. Right now, I feel like a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

Whew. Oh yeah - that's the last thing that I have been NOT-SO SUCCESSFUL on: maintaining this blog. Last year, I was a blog-o-maniac. This year? Not so much. I feel like, for some reason, this year, there are so many more e-mails, meetings, parent conferences, you-name-it. Is anyone else feeling this way??? This entry was pretty thorough, though, right? I feel as though it was helpful to get me centered and back on track a bit.

List of Things to Do:
1. Inquire about Work in Progress funding.
2. Inquire about Weekly Poem Project in April.
3. Create a new bulletin board.
4. Seek out more school and community venues for student writing.

That's all for now. Check back soon for more updates, ideas, and information. Please leave me any questions or comments you may have.

Thanks for joining me in cyber space. Over and out. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This Year's Plan

This year, I hope to take a bit of what happens in my classroom and bring it into the community and beyond. I also wish to deepen my commitment to my own personal creative writing endeavors by writing more and seeking the input of colleagues, students, and fellow writers. Making this prospect a reality will invariably cause me to stretch and grow as an educator, as I will be interacting with different types of students from different backgrounds, providing mentoring opportunities for fellow educators and pre-service educators, immersing myself in the craft that I am responsible for teaching, and reflecting on my own performance on a regular basis.

Specific goals include the following:
1. Integrate student poetry and writing into our school community.
2. Present to pre-service teachers at Kean University regarding classroom management, student writing, community building in the classroom, etc.
3. Work closely with a non-profit agency in Union County to facilitate a writing workshop and open mic event for students all over New Jersey.
4. Work closely with our local library and other area venues to organize and implement at least two writing-based workshops and/or open mics for youth.
5. Create and gather input on my own creative writing from a variety of sources.
6. Organize a second year of Work in Progress, the county-wide high school writing workshop.
7. Update this blog with relevant information about progress, ideas, and outcomes.

Next topic: What I've done so far toward these goals

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tap... Tap... Is This Thing On?

Hello, intrepid English teachers! It has been awhile, but I am firing up my blog once again. It's a new school year, there are new students to teach, I have a new self-assessment plan: life is good, and there is a lot to talk about. I hope you will check back frequently and share your experiences and opinions with me. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Topic of my next blog post: this year's self-assessment, what it means, what my plan is, and the role this blog will play ("In this showing of Heather's Self-Assessment, the role of the blog will be played by..." :)

Monday, May 5, 2008


Well, it finally happened: Work in Progress occurred last Thursday and was a resounding success. Everything ran smoothly; the students interacted in a way that was sensitive, meaningful, and focused; the chaperones enjoyed a productive and relaxing day; the workshop presenters did a fabulous job; everyone went home happy. I received a *ton* of positive feedback from students, chaperones, and facilitators. It looks like we might have to do this again next year. (Count me in.) :)

For more information about the day, check out my creative writing blog (the one I keep for my students), where the event was "live blogged" throughout the day: (Incidentally, I was hoping for more posts, but time was in short supply.)

My next major undertaking is the open mic/coffeehouse we host every year to celebrate the publication of our literary magazine. This event is happening on Friday, June 6th. It is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite experiences of the school year. I will keep you posted.

Huge thank-yous to those of you who offered me feedback and/or moral support via this blog. I greatly appreciate your input. It is nice to know that we are all in this (teaching, thinking, life, etc.) together.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

One Week to Go!

I can't believe the workshop is almost here! Here are some updates:

1. A representative from the Morris/Sussex County FSO (Family Support Organization) will be attending! This organization supports families whose children have emotional and behaviorial challenges. She is interested in potentially having me coordinate writing-related activities (an open mic, a workshop, a poetry slam, etc.)for the young people with whom she works. How cool! She also invited me and 5-10 of my students to a mural unveiling and open mic in honor of Children's Mental Health Day on May 8th. Needless to say, I am really excited about this opportunity! Also, curriculum directors from two other area schools will be in attendance.

2. I made a Costco run yesterday to pick up snacks and some other supplies for the day. I think I got all the essentials: Pop-Tarts, granola bars, fruit snacks, and, of course mini chocolate bars and Twizzlers. Beverages are being coordinated by our cafeteria supervisor (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and small water bottles). I picked up a 40-pack of Capri-Sun, too - just in case. I also bought mini legal pads and a few dozen pens to disperse among the goody bags.

3. Final head count: 77 students, 6 of whom are facilitating their own workshop; 6 adult presenters, 5 chaperones from other schools, and a partridge in a pear tree.

4. Today is t-shirt day. I was fortunate to receive a "friends and family" discount coupon for AC Moore, which will save me a whopping 30% off my entire regularly-priced purchase. (Their teacher discount only saves you 10%.) This is good news, in that it will help me stay within my budget. Yay, bargain shopping! I plan to get about 100 shirts, plus other items - like small thank you gifts for presenters and chaperones.

5. Monday, April 28th, is our after school Work in Progress Preparation-Palooza. I made a list of about 8 different work stations (T-Shirt Mania, Name that Tag, Goody Bag Central, etc.). Students may sign up under a station and get to work. I will get some food for them, we will put on some music, they will earn some volunteer hours, and everyone should have a pretty good time!

6. I created the program, complete with workshop descriptions and presenter bios; now, it just needs to be copied on colorful paper (Thanks, Mary. :). See #5.

7. Thanks to one of your suggestions, I am going to live blog the event. Two students volunteered to help out with that process. (I have the best students on the planet; I am sure of it.)

8. Workshop titles are as follows: Student to Student, The ART of Writing, Concrete Poetry, Journal Creation (students will get to make their own books), Songwriting 101, The Poetry of Relationship, and Organized Rambling.

9. I created two surveys - one for chaperones and one for students. Hopefully, the responses I receive will make planning future events a little easier.

10. I had a meeting with our Superintendent an April 18th to fill him in and invite him to attend. He seemed really pleased with my efforts and is looking forward to a great day on May 1.

(So am I. :)

Friday, April 4, 2008

One Month to Go!

Yes, it's true: there are exactly twenty-eight days until Work in Progress, our first ever county-wide high school writing workshop! At this point, there will be about sixty to seventy-five students in attendance. Considering it is my first year doing all of this, I am kind of glad that number is not larger. While it is a little disappointing that only three of the nine schools that received applications actually responded, one third is better than no thirds, right? I feel as though I covered all bases in trying to get more schools involved:

*I sent out an initial e-mail explaining the project to every high school English teacher (over one hundred of them) in my county.
*I sent out an e-mail prior to the mailing of the application.
*I called each school and informed them that they would be receiving the application within a week.
*I sent a reminder e-mail.

(Hmmmm... perhaps I harassed everyone too much and they all secretly wanted to send bricks through my window... :)

Anyway, the presenters are all lined up and ready to go. Two of them are former students, which I am really excited about. One of them, a recent Cornell graduate who has been published in a variety of areas, is our keynote speaker. The other is a current senior at Rutgers University who is majoring in English and Art History. I am so proud of them both and can't wait to see them inspire so many others.

Three of the other presenters are colleagues of mine: two art teachers and a fellow English teacher. Why art teachers at a writing workshop? I thought it would be great if the kids had an opportunity to create their own personalized writing journals at one of the stations and/or connect the world of written art with the world of visual art. In addition to new drafts of creative writing, they will have something else to take with them at the conclusion of the day. The last presenter is a local singer-songwriter who is going to use this talent as a focus for her workshop.

I currently have a graphic design student working on a logo that I can hopefully use on t-shirts, posters, etc. I am also going to create teacher and student surveys, so that I can get some feedback on what to improve for next time.

I am beginning to purchase items for the school goodie bags, which will contain t-shirts, programs, pens, chocolates, some magnetic poetry (I found a great deal on small sets at a dollar store in Massachusetts - wow!), and other random occurrences. Some of my students have volunteered to stay after school and help me assemble everything. They will also serve as greeters the day of, and have a variety of other tasks, including the facilitating of a "student-to-student" group at the workshop.

Oh yeah, and I still need to make a food run for library-friendly snacks and beverages.


Do any of you have last minute thoughts or suggestions for me? If so, please let me know. In past blogs, some of you have offered great ideas; I look forward to hearing more of them!

Thanks in advance!