We asked Bread Loaf Teacher Network alumni to comment on the role their Bread Loaf experiences and their BLTN membership have played in their various paths toward leadership. Please add your own reflections in the comments section at the bottom of this article.
It’s not possible to overstate Bread Loaf’s influence on my teaching career.
Through Bread Loaf, I was introduced to the power of action research, of social media in teaching literacy, and networked teaching and learning. At the time (1994-97) these ideas were still relatively new in education, especially in rural and high-poverty areas. The classroom research I began at Bread Loaf turned into a ten-year inquiry that continues to inform how I teach English. The work, which was ultimately funded by two grants from the Spencer Foundation, culminated in a traditional paper (available on ERIC) and a website sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and designed for use in teacher education programs. Every year, I have email exchanges and webinars with teacher education classes whose instructors use the research and videos on the site for training. And it all started in the barn at the Bread Loaf School of English under the guidance of Andrea Lunsford and Jackie Royster, two master teachers who provide Bread Loaf students with models for classroom research and change.
Of all the lessons I learned at Bread Loaf, when it comes to leadership, one in particular stands out: the necessity of regularly slowing down and immersing oneself in new learning. Before each of my summers at Bread Loaf, a nagging anxiety would creep into my mind, whispering, “You don’t have time for this!” Fortunately, I ignored this voice and proceeded, despite the lingering concern that I had other pressing things to do before gallivanting off for a summer of reading literature. But somehow, someway, things worked out for the better, and I returned home wiser for the refreshment. To lead well, we must nourish our minds and bodies, and this means occasionally tossing off the press of today to make space for grace—those unanticipated insights that arrive when we slow down and explore new people, ideas, and worlds. Thank you, Bread Loaf.
During my first summer in Andover Bread Loaf (ABL) in 2010, I found my voice again after having silenced it for many years. I had stopped reading and writing for personal enjoyment. My experiences in ABL revitalized the power of my teaching; I knew I wouldn’t be the same again. These experiences inform my teaching and have led me to see teaching as a place for leadership in my community. I lead through teaching and my teaching is politically conscious: I want my students to find, celebrate, and use their voices.
My experience at Bread Loaf as a student, and with the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN) as a collaborator and evaluator, fundamentally changed my perspectives on education in three areas. First and foremost, I think I became a better teacher by experiencing firsthand a challenging, rigorous academic program. The Bread Loaf faculty inspired me to think deeply, widely, and critically about literature and my place in the world as a human being, a citizen, and a teacher in a public school. Secondly, Professors Andrea Lunsford, Dixie Goswami, Courtney Cazden, Jackie Royster, Micheal Armstrong, and others asked very difficult questions about literacy, writing, teaching, and learning. In the pursuit of answers to these questions, I engaged in extensive teacher research projects, including Exchanging Lives: Middle School Writers Online, a collaborative book written by BLTN teachers and students, published by National Council of Teachers of English in 1997. Also, my work evaluating and documenting the work of the BLTN led to my working with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Vito Perrone to conduct a case study of Akula-Elitnaurviat, a K-12 Yup’ik school in rural Alaska as part of the Annenberg Rural Challenge. Several other projects arose from the BLTN connections, including Preparing Indigenous Teachers for Alaskan Schools (PITAS), a USDOE-funded project that supported indigenous Alaskans to become teachers. With Annie Calkins, the Alaskan BLTN group published two books regarding the implementation of standards in Alaska: Standard Implications I: Alaska Teachers Reflect on a Movement to Change Teaching and Standard Implications II: Classroom Truths and Consequences. Funded by the Alaskan Department of Education, these collections represent the only systematic and thoughtful response, written by and for teachers, to the standards movement in Alaska. Lastly, it’s impossible to work with Bread Loaf Professor Dixie Goswami and the outstanding teachers and faculty at Bread Loaf, without acquiring a compelling sense of responsibility and commitment to work towards meaningful changes in education. Three years ago, I started the Oregon Academic Technology Society (OATS). This professional organization strives to connect innovative K-20 educators across Oregon in meaningful, sustainable projects to improve teaching and learning. The Bread Loaf School of English gave me a good, swift kick in the pants to get out there and make a difference.
A first impression of my professors at Bread Loaf: What gifted teachers these people are! Second impression: Wait—they’re not only teaching, they’re modeling what good teachers do. In my first class, in 1990, Jim Maddox’s every lecture in his course “Yeats and Joyce” showed a passion and depth of knowledge I’d never seen before, and his responses to my writing were detailed, direct, yet generous in the face of my woeful inexperience. In his writing class, Ken Macrorie showed his students his own rigorously edited drafts and spurred a vigorous discussion on the art of revision, i.e. seeing and telling truths. In my second year, Dixie Goswami was the teacher who continually demonstrated how to share power in the classroom, taking on a thorny question with a pronouncement that was also a charge—“Well, I don’t know WHAT to do about that.” Nearly all encounters with professors and students in the Bread Loaf community equipped me to return to my Vermont school and begin researching the difficult issues of classroom practice and school change. What to do, for example, about the narrowing of Vermont’s writing assessment toward the easily scorable? Founding a Vermont National Writing Project site seemed promising and, thanks to the inspiration and support of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, became possible.
When I was a classroom teacher in South Carolina, my interest in technology led me to apply to and attend the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in the summer of 1993. This was the first summer of a five-year Dewitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest grant to the school that enabled high school teachers from targeted under-represented states to attend Bread Loaf. Historically, teachers who enrolled at Bread Loaf were from New England private schools. Many Dewitt-Wallace fellows were teachers of color who came from such states as Mississippi, South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, and Alaska, ensuring a more diverse student body. Collaborating with these amazing colleagues in a professional development network enhanced even more substantively my commitment to issues of social justice and equity. Through BreadNet, the telecommunications network of the Bread Loaf School of English, I was able to introduce my middle school students to other BLTN teachers and their students and focus on such topics as “Using Technology to Promote Environmental Activism” and “Advocacy and Action for Cross-Cultural Understandings.” The latter project involved a year-long telecommunications collaboration between my class in South Carolina and a fellow Bread Loafer’s class in Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan. The project culminated in a two-week trip by my class to live in the homes of their Japanese counterparts. I insisted on raising the funds for that trip so that every child in that very diverse class could go. During that year, with support from Bread Loaf Professor Dixie Goswami and the encouragement of Courtney Cazden, a long-time member of the faculty at Bread Loaf and Harvard, I finished my master’s degree at Middlebury and applied to Harvard where I eventually earned master’s and doctoral degrees. My doctoral research and dissertation focused on Bread Loaf teachers in the Southwest who were engaged deeply in the work of Bread Loaf’s professional network of teachers. This experience was wonderful because I had the chance to spend long periods in the classrooms of those participants in my study, including three months spent on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. These experiences only made me more passionate about issues of social justice and equity and shaped my leadership development in my jobs as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee State Board of Education under two governors; as Executive Director of the National Academy for Excellent Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University; as an Associate Dean at The New School University; and now as Program Officer for US Programs in the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice Initiative. My work and leadership lens have always been and continue to be shaped by Bread Loaf and the Bread Loaf Teacher Network.
A decade ago or more, I was seated among my colleagues in one of the Bread Loaf campus classrooms in the barn—we were grouped in several loosely concentric circles, many of us leaning backwards in chairs to catch a breeze on the backs of our necks. We were midway through the summer offering of Brian Wolfe’s course “Colonial American Literature,” and he had been teaching us how to examine images with the same scrutiny and care that we used to parse poems and paragraphs of prose. The class began with an image of an oil painting, Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump, by Joseph Wright of Derby. Brian invited us to contribute our observations, then proceeded to make each of us feel brilliant as we uncovered the mysteries of the painting. That was one of the best leadership lessons I learned—that my job as a teacher consisted of recognizing how smart, capable, and worthwhile my students were. This guided my work as a teacher, and now as a new system-wide leader, I strive to help each of my team members understand that they have the power to unlock whatever mysteries lie ahead of us. Thank you, Brian.
Bread Loaf changed my life as a teacher. I was the sole high school English teacher in a very small town on the eastern plains of Colorado, believing I was doing all I could for my students. Using the technology and worldwide interconnectivity of schools that Bread Loaf supports through BreadNet, my students and I gained access to the encouragement and ideas from partners in far-away classrooms, creating sustained, substantive collaborative experiences for my students. My Bread Loaf professors, knowingly or unknowingly, pushed me to to challenge my students to go beyond standard learning requirements to achieve higher and higher critical and creative thinking. In doings so, my students became essentially involved in planning curriculum with me. I am forever grateful for this gift from the BLSE.