Sunday, October 4, 2015

Emily Rinkema's Opening Volley

Hi All,

I am in my 19th year teaching at Champlain Valley Union HS in Hinesburg, VT. While I am still an English teacher half time, the other half of my job is to be one of 3 Instructional Coaches at CVU. This is a fantastic position that is an honor and a gift to have, as it allows me the time, resources, and flexibility to dive into the world of education reform, the brain and learning, and pedagogical innovation in a way that full time teachers are not able. In that capacity, we spend time blogging and Tweeting and managing a teacher learning website (follow us at @cvulearns if you're on Twitter, or go to or

As a member of this BLTN team, I am a mentor, and so far I am loving it. One of the biggest improvements over last year is the organization (thanks to Tim and Bill) that can occur in year two of a project. Everything is so much more defined and clear--something that was impossible last year--and already I think the project is better for it. The kick-off day was great--nice to meet everyone and start to get to know our learners, and important systems and structures were established that will allow everyone to engage more regularly and actively. It was a bit hot, but I don't think that will be a problem moving on!

I agree with Tim's I allowed to do that? First, the connection between the student bloggers and their readers is going to keep students engaged and will hopefully allow us to control the rigor by directing students in their inquiries. Also, this adds a level of authenticity to the project, as having real readers responding to their ideas will make them think a little more about the role of audience in change. Second, I am also really excited about the opportunity for teacher professional development (see how I am seamlessly stealing Tim's ideas and pretending they are my own?). Finally, and this one is all mine...I am already seeing how I am bringing in some of the design elements of What's the Story? to my teaching. We have an innovation project that we do with our 10th grade humanities students, and WTS has made me think about how to provide real audiences for them. Very cool.

Wonders...I have a few for sure. I wonder if we are going to be able to help students choose projects that are feasible. So many of their ideas as of now are vague or so large in scope that change seems impossible. I look forward to seeing if this changes as their blogs continue--if questions from readers are enough to narrow and hone and focus in on an element of an issue that resonates, yet is actionable at this level and in this amount of time. Another wonder I have is about the overall sustainability of a program like this--there is a lot of time, money, and other resources going in to making WTS successful, and is that replicable? I guess the idea is getting schools to offer sections that then come together around the state, or some such thing--which could work. Finally, I wonder if Common Ground Conference Center allows dogs, as we don't have a dog-sitter for the night and I think my lovely girls would have fun getting to know everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Emily, I know that feeling you speak of with the Scope and question of whether an idea can become Actionable.... It inspired me to direct all of our blog readers to that point now, so they can think about it with their students over the next few weeks. Thus, the part of the email that was just sent out, which I excerpted below. Thanks for giving me something important to think about...

    I don't think it's too early to help these students evolve their thinking toward INQUIRY and CHANGE that is ACTIONABLE and ACHIEVABLE. We must help them see a way forward to impress stakeholders and decision makers at a local, state, and/or national levels who are critically important on these topics.

    That's a lot to ask, but that's what we are about: "The Vermont Young People Social Action Team."

    So, we can think about guiding students and us with questions that keep this in mind.
    Who are the important stakeholders (individual or entities: local, state, national)? Why?
    What are all the ways change could look?
    What would pursuing change look like (meeting with stakeholders, a presentation, an open letter of concern)?
    What's the tact a video documentary would take?
    What's possible in the time we have?
    The more you can probe these questions and help students think of answers, the more their evolution of ideas will become ACTIONABLE come the end of the month when they will pitch them to their peers; some ideas will synthesize, some will fade away, and others will excite the support of their peers into a group initiative. Our work will be group based at that point.