National Writing Project

Writing Project Teachers Give Advice, Ideas on Edutopia Blog

By: Paul Oh
Date: January 25, 2011

Summary: A trio of Writing Project teachers gain wide audiences with posts to their Edutopia blogs, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation's influential and resource-rich Edutopia website.


Gaetan Pappalardo, a third grade teacher, believed the day-to-day work of educators was not being fully seen or understood. So he did what many teachers do when they want to get their message out to the public. He wrote a blog post.

The difference though, between Pappalardo, a teacher-consultant with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, and most other teacher bloggers is that he has a longstanding, widely read and respected vehicle to which he publishes: the Edutopia website.

Within an hour, more people had read my blog post—including my kindergarten teacher—than had read things from my entire life.

Pappalardo and fellow teacher-consultants Heather Wolpert-Gawron of the UC Irvine Writing Project and Todd Finley of the Tar River Writing Project comprise 3 of the 17 regular contributors to the Edutopia blog , described as a collection of "original, creative, practical, and sometimes unusual advice and ideas" for teachers.

The post that Pappalardo wound up writing as a way to surface the little things teachers do that go unnoticed, "Don't Let Big Reform Crush the Small Victories ," garnered more responses at the Edutopia site and on its Facebook page—41 "likes" and 50 comments—than anything else he's written. Pappalardo says he loves having this stage to begin conversations, loves getting feedback to his posts, and loves joining in on the conversation.

Todd Finley, who blogs about high school composition, described this phenomenon as "the sweet joy of being published."

"The first time I posted on Edutopia, I just cried," he added. "Within an hour, more people had read my blog post—including my kindergarten teacher—than had read things from my entire life."

Wolpert-Gawron, a middle school teacher, began blogging for Edutopia in 2008, soon after completing her invitational summer institute and starting her own blog, Tween Teacher . "Blogging makes things so much easier for trial and error," she explained. "You're really able to find and perfect your voice. As a writer, you also get to have your toe in the world of marketing and promotion and publicity."

The challenge for Wolpert-Gawron in writing posts is converting theory into scaffolded, concrete steps that are accessible. Classroom practice, after all, is her passion. She pointed to her post "Equation of Success: Top Ten Responsibilities that Students Must Own ," as an example of her efforts to turn theory into action.

Finley described how his first post for Edutopia, "Helping Students Set Up an Effective Writing Routine ," forced him to turn what is often "in the clouds" for him into something useable and useful for teachers.

All three praised Edutopia's educational mission. Wolpert-Gawron saw the organization as fostering collaborative conversation among teachers with an aim toward finding solutions.

"You come home and you open your Google reader and you immerse yourself in dark, depressing statistics," she said. Edutopia, though, isn't about negativity. "Edutopia is about solving problems."

And all three credit their Writing Project experiences as contributing to, if not being integrally connected to, their blogging work at Edutopia.

Pappalardo recalled that he thought of himself as a writer when he first began as an invitational summer institute participant. But he had limited himself to writing fiction and fantasy. His institute facilitators suggested he try writing persuasive pieces, and that suggestion, he said, provided the kernel that prodded him to write as he does now—persuasively—for Edutopia.

Wolpert-Gawron called her Writing Project experience "life-changing." She added, "I'm just very grateful to the Writing Project because it opened my eyes to the talent that's out there. It makes you seek out other people who are talented and who want to collaborate."

Finley has begun sharing his Edutopia "pen" with others from the Tar River Writing Project. He's invited teacher-consultants like Jennifer Sharpe, Jonathan Bartels, and Stephanie West-Puckett to write guest posts.

For his part, Finely sees a natural fit between the two organizations and wants to give his Writing Project colleagues an opportunity to experience that themselves.

"I feel like there's a great match between the mission of Edutopia and the mission of the National Writing Project," Finley said. "Edutopia and NWP start to put language around core principles of learning and prioritization of practices the lay public and legislators don't really think of as counting."

"Writing is communal and social," he added. The same holds true for Edutopia and describes "the kind of community Edutopia has been very successful in creating."

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