Online Summer Institute: Teachers go back to school to prepare for an uncertain future

After surviving a season of pandemic teaching and looking ahead to a new school year where remote and hybrid teaching will play an essential role, many educators are struggling to rethink and reconfigure their lesson plans.

A dozen educators joined the Morehead Writing Project’s 2020 Online Summer Institute, led by Site Director Dr. Deanna Mascle and Summer Institute Co-Director Leslie Workman, for support with that important work while also developing new tools and lessons to support comprehensive literacy instruction.

Mercer County High School teacher Leigh Koch notes that the strong community developed during the OSI helped her find her voice as a writer and a teacher: “I am leaving this class prepared to face an uncertain school year with the certainty that I have the knowledge and tools to do what I need to do for my students.”

“I learned so much from seeing a live example of community engagement in an online class, said Natalie Winstead of Somerset Community College as she described her OSI experience as “amazing.” “I have learned so much. No matter your background or level of experience, you will gain from the OSI. The amount of resources you will take away are invaluable! This community is incredibly engaging and energizing. You can customize each project by what you are interested in and helpful to you.”

Menifee Elementary School teacher Brianna Cottrell also appreciated the community and how the experience gave her the tools and confidence she needs to create a similar experience for her students. “I have absolutely enjoyed this experience so much. Thank you all for the knowledge and resources you gave to prepare for this uncertain year ahead of us.”

“Our Online Summer Institute is uniquely placed to support the work educators need to do at this moment,” Mascle said. “We show teachers how to build an online community and support learning through asynchronous work. The universal National Writing Project Summer Institute experience is ideal for supporting project-based learning which allows our participating teachers to focus on the work that is most important to them within a supportive and inspiring community.” 

The National Writing Project is the nation’s largest network of teacher-leaders, K–university and across the curriculum, focused on improving the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities nationwide. The Morehead Writing Project is one of 175 NWP sites across the country and one of eight sites in the Kentucky Writing Project Network. NWP sites are housed on college campuses and prepare 2,500 new teacher-leaders each year. These new leaders join a dynamic network put to work to support 95,000 colleagues in classrooms, libraries, museums, national parks—virtually any space where young people learn, read, and write—ultimately strengthening the writing and thinking of 6 million students, pre-K through college, each year.

NWP’s Summer Institute model focuses on developing a community that supports each individual educator’s journey on four paths:

  • Teacher as writer
  • Teacher as reflective practitioner
  • Teacher as researcher
  • Teacher as leader

However, each individual site in the network develops their unique strategies to support that work and for almost a decade that journey at the Morehead Writing Project has included an asynchronous online summer institute. In its early years Morehead WP offered two simultaneous Summer Institutes: an invitational held on campus and the OSI. In recent years, due to state funding cuts, Morehead WP has only been able to offer the OSI.

While the work of the OSI is critical for this moment in education, it continues to focus on the essential purpose of NWP work: supporting comprehensive literacy and critical thinking instruction.

“The OSI was interactive and allowed me to explore my identity as a writer and teacher,” observed Brandi Justice, an English teacher at Betsy Layne High School in Floyd County. “This course helped me become confident in creating an online learning component within my classroom, as interaction is definitely possible on a digital platform. Thank you all so much for your detailed feedback and your encouragement.”

However, the most important work of the Summer Institute is to help participants become reflective practitioners so they can continue to grow long after the summer institute and lead the education profession into the future.

Christine Meisberger, a social studies teacher at Scott County Middle School, noted that OSI was a transformative experience for her and offered her exactly what she needed this summer: “Little did I know all that this course had in store for me. I noticed and appreciated the intentional use of scaffolds, multiple modes of access, built-in support structures and the community! I leveraged my creativity, organization, empathy, self-discipline, and use of digital tools to overcome my identified barriers.  There will be nothing that goes unused from this course because everything I learned was my choice – by design.”

In addition to the graduate classes associated with the Morehead Writing Project Summer Institute, Mascle teaches professional writing and general education writing classes at Morehead State University. She went through her first Summer Institute in 2008.

“Even though this is my 13th summer working with the National Writing Project I continue to learn from the experience as well as the teachers on this journey with me,” Mascle said. “I grow as a writer and I grow as a reflective practitioner. The Summer Institute experience never grows old and never fails to challenge me to be a better person, writer, and educator.”

A Morehead State University graduate, Workman was recently named principal of Fairview Elementary School. She previously taught English at Bath County High School. She went through her first Summer Institute in 2013.

“I have been  a participant and a leader with the face-to-face Summer Institute for seven years. I was both nervous and excited for an online version of the experience,” Workman stated.  “It turned out to be more than I could have imagined. The teachers formed bonds and learned methods for building writing communities in an online setting. I think this will prove more useful next school year than ever before.”

The OSI was held during MSU’s Summer I in 2020 and will be offered again in 2021 from June 7 to July 2.  Complete this online form to receive information about the 2021 Online Summer Institute offered by the Morehead Writing Project as it becomes available. Both Mascle and Workman are also trained teacher-leaders in NWP’s renowned research-supported College, Career, and Community Writers Program.