Bread Loaf and BLTN: What Keeps You Connected?

Aug 27th, 2013 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2013, Issue
Barnwell headshot—by Paul Barnwell
English and Digital Literacy Instructor
Fern Creek Traditional High School
Louisville, Kentucky
BLSE 2013, funded by the C. E. and S. Foundation

For many of us educators, attending the Bread Loaf School of English is a sacrifice. We may leave husbands, wives, and children behind for six-plus weeks. We may miss training and meetings related to our jobs. We may forgo a long awaited vacation or simply some much needed rest at home. But participating in Bread Loaf and the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN) has created professional pursuits that wouldn’t have been possible had I decided to stick around Louisville, KY, during the summers. Here are my top five reasons for attending the Bread Loaf School of English and joining the BLTN.

Honing Writing Skills

As teachers, we’ve got to practice what we preach. The best teachers of writing are those teachers who themselves write. Through Bread Loaf and BLTN opportunities, I’ve produced literary analyses, short stories, grants, multimodal media pieces, writing and revision logs, and poetry, among other forms. Coupled with world-class instruction and plenty of peer support, I’ve put myself in a better position to benefit my students as a writing instructor. I’ve certainly been more willing—even excited—to write alongside my students, thanks to Bread Loaf. And the range of writing forms I’ve explored with my Bread Loaf colleagues has helped foster a more expansive view of what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

Finding Leadership Opportunities

Because of the geographic diversity of Bread Loaf/BLTN participants, we are sometimes spread thin when it comes to face-time and meeting with each other during the academic year. Nonetheless, BLTN is a major advocate of connecting teachers digitally and supporting teacher empowerment at a local level.

Like other teachers, I sometimes get frustrated with local professional development offerings, so I have used new insight I have gathered over the summer at Bread Loaf to create my own professional development opportunities.  For example, fellow Louisvillian and Bread Loaf graduate Martha Brennan and I organized and hosted an Emerging Literacies conference in 2009 at Waggener High School. BLTN supported the venture with funding and logistic support.

If you feel an itch to get more involved, do it! Recruit. Write. Tweet. Blog. Too few people know about the magic that is Bread Loaf/BLTN, so I encourage teachers to seize the opportunity to become a leader and an advocate for the graduate school and network.

Collaborating with Dynamic Educators

Through Bread Loaf/BLTN, I’ve collaborated with a number of extraordinary educators: Brian O’Shea in South Carolina,  Charlene Ortuno in Miami, Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and others of the Navajo Nation, and local Kentucky BLTNers Martha Brennan, Brent Peters, and Susannah Kilbourne. The list goes on. Yes, I am fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful colleagues at Fern Creek High School in Louisville.  Yes, I do not have to collaborate with the aforementioned folks. But if you’re like me, and meeting other enthusiastic educators reminds you of why you became a teacher, then it’s hard to resist the interaction that is offered during the summer and throughout the school year with BLTN, providing access to diverse voices and innovative pedagogy.

Discovering a Passion

Thanks to Bread Loaf and BLTN, I’ve been supported in pursuing media literacies and digital storytelling initiatives during my own professional journey. Dixie Goswami’s course “Emerging New Literacies” in Vermont, 2009, was an important catalyst in my professional journey. I’d been teaching for five years, and I was ready for some new ideas to help me understand how new digital modes of reading and composing would impact my students. After taking Dixie’s course, I returned to my eighth grade classroom to explore possibilities with student blogging, cell phone use in class, and other new applications of technology. I’ve been on a BLTN-supported quest since 2009 to balance thoughtful technology integration with solid “old-school” pedagogy.

Positively Impacting Students

There are many reasons why we teach. But seeing the “light-bulb” turn on in a student’s thinking, and connecting students to the ideas of others outside our school are high on my list. Through BLTN-supported work, I’ve connected my students with Ms. Ortuno’s class in Miami, exposing them to insights from a new region, making connections with bilingual students, and sharing and critiquing each other’s digital stories via Skype.  In the course of another BLTN project, eleven students from Fern Creek High School journeyed to the Navajo Nation in Arizona to present and discuss food literacy, in addition to learning about a new culture (see Brent Peters’ story in this issue). It was a trip they’ll never forget. Simply put, I’m able to create varied, exciting teaching and learning opportunities through BLTN, with valid expectations that the work is as meaningful for my students as it is for me.

 Moving Forward

Even though I graduated from Bread Loaf/Oxford this summer, Bread Loaf and BLTN will undoubtedly continue to play a great role in my professional life moving forward.  The Bread Loaf School of English extended my education greatly, but the ongoing professional development through the Bread Loaf Teacher Network is just beginning. I’d be curious to hear from other BLTN members about your own reasons for embracing the graduate program and teacher network. What else can you add to the list?  Have a great start of the school year!


Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.