Responding to the Closures: Sites Design and Redesign Online Invitational Institutes

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By Beth Rimer

In April of 2020, as the COVID19 virus closed schools and canceled face-to-face meetings, National Writing Projects Connecting the Network calls turned to the challenges ahead for local programming. Across several calls, teacher-leaders gathered to hear about each others’ plans for summer 2020.

The resources on this page emerged from a subgroup in those calls that focused on the Writing Project’s signature program, the Invitational Institute. For Writing Project sites that had not yet experimented with online professional development, some key questions quickly jumped out:

  • How do you create community in an online environment, especially in the important development of teacher leaders?
  • How do you balance synchronous and asynchronous interaction?
  • How do you support teachers sharing their practice?
  • What does a typical schedule look like?

Below, four site leaders share their answers to these questions and more with a glimpse into the online and hybrid workshops at their sites. The Hudson Valley Writing Project (HVWP) discusses the use of inquiry cycles as a design element; the Morehead Writing Project (MWP) shares their asynchronous model; the Northern California Writing Project (NCWP) illustrates their organization across weeks; and the Ohio Writing Project (OWP) defines some of the lessons they have learned along the way. The highlighted resources and links leverage digital spaces and tools to accomplish the same goals as a face-to-face invitational, providing occasions for teachers to go public with their practice, read professional literature together, and engage in writing groups.

Hudson Valley Writing Project, by Tom Meyer

The Hudson Valley Writing Project (HVWP) launched a “hybrid” year-round institute, Leadership in the Teaching of Writing, in 2014. The institute consists of three co-requisite courses for which participants earn 9 graduate credits. The courses span 20 face-to-face meetings and participants complete approximately 20 asynchronous cycles. The cycles follow the coursework and purposes of the year: Teacher as Writer, Teacher as Learner, and Teacher as Leader. 

As HVWP began to think about reinventing the Year Round Institute for 2020, we realized that at least some of our work remains the same; we will continue to have asynchronous cycles of learning. Cycles include invitations for fellows to READ, WRITE, and DO during the intervals between synchronous, face-to-face meetings. We have a dedicated page for each of the 20 cycles on the cohort’s WordPress site where we collectively document and curate the group’s experience learning and writing over the course of the year.  Cycles invite participants to craft, share, and respond to personal and professional writing; they introduce themselves to each other; they share their beliefs; they craft designs for professional development, etc. Each cycle involves combinations of reading, writing, and doing. For example, an October cycle might ask participants to consciously try something in the classroom, document what they tried, and then either tweet about it and/or upload a written reflection to the WordPress site. Fellows also write and report ideas on personal and collective google docs.

The set of materials below provides a deep dive into two of the 20 cycles connected to the inquiry projects participants design, enact, and reflect on as part of the Teacher as Learner course.  You will not only see the directions for what we asked participants to read, write, and/or do, but you will also see examples of how fellows completed the two cycles.

Featured Resource:
Designing asynchronous read, write, and do “cycles—including some design principles, two sample cycles, and Fellows’ resulting work.

Morehead Writing Project, by Deanna Mascle

At Morehead, we wanted to design a Summer Institute that held the tension between the traditional ISI experience (building community and developing teacher as writer, reflective practitioner, researcher, and leader) and allowed our participants to craft an individual plan that met their unique circumstances and teaching context. During a traditional ISI, much of the magic derives from the kinetic energy of sharing the experience together.

While this can certainly be replicated online and even asynchronously (although we argue that a compressed time frame during the summer is optimal), we believe offering choice and agency to our participants generates a different sort of energy and excitement. Our goal was to build a framework that is both playground and laboratory to inspire our newly-formed community to joyfully join us in this work of crafting writing workshops and literacy experiences for our unique students and learning/teaching contexts.

Our participants learn through doing just as we have all done in a traditional ISI, but in our Online Summer Institute they learn how to build community when proximity is not possible and they learn how to craft engaging literacy lessons that transcend the traditional classroom space. Even when our participants were confident of the class space and time they would have for teaching in the fall, this experience challenged their teaching practice.

Featured Resource:
Weeks before the Online Summer Institute kick-off we share this orientation. A Snapshot of our calendar shows the progression across weeks. Sample supports for building community (Community Achievement) and reflection (Reflection Achievement.)

Northern California Writing Project, Amanda Von Kleist

Northern California Writing Project serves a large geographical area, making face-to-face invitational difficult for teachers who live far from the campus center. We wanted to increase access to participation in Summer Institute by moving the bulk of our time to a digital space. 

Our Hybrid Summer Institute design consisted of a face to face orientation and three face to face days of a pre- institute camp, then online coaching for presentations and a two week period of synchronous online meetings on zoom till noon each day with afternoons open for book groups, article groups and writing groups to work together or individually as they decided. We ended the institute with two days of face to face colloquia.

We had two major concerns as we moved to a virtual platform. First we wanted to be able to create the conditions that allow for the social community building that makes Summer Invitational such a special experience. We wanted teachers to be able bond as they work hard together, share experiences and discoveries, and reveal the questions that drive their practice. Our other concern was the Teacher Inquiry Presentations. We did not want to lose the participation and interaction that gives life and relevance to the work teachers share in their presentations. 

The platforms we used supported our work well. We had a shared Google Drive that curated folders for individual participants and working groups. All materials including agendas and presentation outlines were hyperdocs linked with resources. Zoom allowed us to work in small groups and backchannel through chat. Our twitter hashtag allowed us to share pics of notes and drawings as well as places we visited on our virtual writing marathon. Our wordpress site became a digital portfolio of our combined work. 

The resource is a linked table that maps out the entire process of the Hybrid SI design and implementation from inception to reflection.  In it you can find planning notes, calendars, and linked agendas for every day we met both in-person and online. The calendars labeled Week 1 & Week 2 include the agenda and schedule for each day as well as links to each teacher’s presentation hyperdoc. Be sure to check out our twitter hashtag, our WordPress site, and the survivor style confessionals that served as part of our evaluation.

Featured Resources:
Process for planning the Northern CAWP Hybrid Summer Institute
Recruitment letter and flyer
Sample Agendas: Bootcamp Daily Agendas, Summer Institute Week 1 calendar, Summer Institute Week 2 calendar
Twitter hashtag: #NCWPSI17
Blog post: Connecting Rural Educators

Ohio Writing Project, by Beth Rimer

Across fifteen years of online workshops, the Ohio Writing Project has moved from static post and response to a model that focuses on teachers teaching teachers. 

Knowing that writing, sharing, reading and discussing together build a learning community, we work to create spaces such as digital book clubs, digital stations, one-on-one conferences, synchronous conversations, asynchronous teaching presentations, resource gathering, daily writing prompts and recorded models so teachers can continue to share across space and time. We use both the university canvas platform and an additional digital platforms such as padlet, MeWe and flipgrid to fill gaps in the university platform. 

We’ve learned the importance of balancing structure with choice and possibility. Without the constant feedback and re-calibration that happens in face-to-face settings, clear organization through weekly to-do letters, class charts or modules provides clear structure. Teachers work through continuous modules or receive weekly schedules that provide an overview of the writing, reading and sharing they will do in the week. In order to create continued engagement, we open postings on a due date. This structure is balanced with flexibility and choice for participants in the ways they choose to respond and access points for discussion and writing. 

A final lesson came in the amount of energy remote learning takes. We have learned to cut workload and online response to half of what we might expect in a shared space. This means that teachers are often reading and writing off line and then making choices as what to share. Naming clear feedback checkpoints, building peer feedback into the class, and letting participants pick structures for discussion creates shared responsibility in the workload of both participants and instructors.

Most importantly, we have learned that like always, respecting and trusting teachers leads to the best learning. When opening spaces and being willing to try new ideas, like traveling notebooks or digital silent discussions, we maintain the power of teachers teaching teachers. 

The links below provide a look into our remote workshops through artifacts like weekly learning and templates for teacher presentations. 

Featured Resources:
Promotional Flyer: Hybrid Flyer
Organizational Structures:
Weekly to do: Sample Letter, Sample Chart, Sample schedule or Playlist/Modules
Teaching demonstrations can be either asynchronous (recorded and watched independently, template) or synchronous (sharing screen or in real time) and participating with chat or Google Doc

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