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Angela Hase

Angela Hase

How Writing Project Leaders Change the Way Teachers Lead

Written by Lisa Gusewelle
June 20, 2021

teacher smiling

Angela Hase (Credit: Angela Hase)

I was in my second semester of my Master’s program at North Dakota State University when my advisor and Red River Valley Writing Project director Kelly Sassi introduced me to both an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary opportunity. I can tell you that through my experience in many different teacher organizations (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Math + Science Initiative, North Dakota and National Council of Teachers of English, North Dakota + International Literacy Association) that none of those organizations took the time to develop me as both a leader and a teacher.

Within those other organizations, I was a filled chair in an audience of listeners hoping to take the inspiration of an hour or so lecture and turn it into inspiration for a full school year.

All of these organizations are high quality and share a great deal of valuable information with teachers like me. They offer me a chance to hear from some of the greatest educators in the United States where I otherwise wouldn’t have that chance. Yet, why did I still feel alone in my teaching career? Why did I still struggle year after year and never feel satisfied at the end of a teaching year? Was I not meant to be a teacher?

So What Did the Writing Project Do Differently?

In 2016, Angela Hase led me through the introductory workshop of the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program. It was exhausting.

She had me and the other teachers

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Thinking

These were not fun and cute tasks either. They required me to have to go back and re-examine my thoughts, words, writing, and the text, and then forced me into conversations with people who thought differently while challenging me to truly listen and respond.

I was a trained English teacher! Yet I found each of the three 8-hour sessions of that introductory workshop incredibly difficult. This was my supposed specialty. Should I really have found it so hard?


What I started to learn about my career through Angela Hase is that a true professional in a career is not finished with training at the end of their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Knowledge and success in teaching are not simply gained by years of teaching experience or attending featured speaker sessions (though, those are fun!).

Knowledge and Success are Gained Through Conversations with Others and Hard Work!

I recall the awe of watching Hase lead teachers in sessions for the next 3 years as both a participant and a co-facilitator. She held control over the full session and organized the activities we completed, yet participants in her sessions were developed as leaders and asked to lead as well through small discussion activities to offering questions of other participants to even leading a session within the workshop.

I was not a body filling a chair surrounded by other bodies filling chairs. I was an active participant and was an active leader within a group of professionals who were also active participants and leaders.

It was my first time that I …

  • Felt respected in my career
  • Respected other teachers in my career who didn’t have published books and featured lectures
  • Thought I was being listened to as a teacher
  • Was openly willing to admit my faults and struggles in front of other professionals
  • Was willing to struggle in front of others
  • Made friends with other teachers
  • Valued myself as a growing professional and leader and evaluated myself honestly and without fear
  • Read the books of those featured speakers at the conferences that I attended
  • Was given the time, practice, and feedback to become a better teacher and leader

Prior to the C3WP, I overvalued being able to do hard things without support. This showed up in both my personal and professional life. What I was not considering when I refused help was how I was actively preventing my growth as a person and teacher. This inaccurate thinking began to be deconstructed as I listened to peers who shared many of the same experiences as me and as I began to admit that in order for me to become the teacher that I wanted to be that I needed to look for resources to help and that I needed to be humble.

So How Do Angela Hase and Other Writing Project Leaders Create This Learning Experience?

  • Offers Accountability and Opportunity for Hard Work

    • The Writing Project and its participants don’t only have you learn in the summer and then expect you to implement such major changes by yourself. Each month teachers get to share with the people they met in the summer about the changes they’re implementing and hold themselves responsible for goal setting throughout the school year.

  • Offers Guidance and Listens to Guidance

    • Because both leader and participants are open about struggles and asking questions on how to solve problems in their classrooms, everyone gets the opportunity to share insight and gain insight.

  • Asks Hard Questions

    • Most of the questions asked of me at professional development sessions (and let’s be honest: questions I asked my students) were to verify if students had heard and understood what I or the text was saying. Hard questions allow for speculation, interpretation, and adding in one’s personal experiences. I remember completing a difficult activity and wanting to first share what I created during the activity, but then being set back on my heels with the question: How would you approach doing this activity in your classroom? Woah! That’s right. I am not simply there to be the learner, but I am there to lead activities, and I need to be mindful of how to do that.

  • Allows Teachers to Practice

    • It sounds strange to practice reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, and teaching, yet that is what we did or had the opportunity to do at each session.

      • With reading, I had not realized how much my abilities had suffered after not reading and discussing books for so long with other adults.
      • With writing, I had not realized how much anxiety I had developed over getting started and sharing my work.
      • With speaking and listening, I had not realized how absent I was during conversations with others.
      • With thinking, I had not realized that I would frequently go with my gut reaction and not question or challenge myself.
      • With teaching, I had not realized how much I benefitted from hearing encouraging words and critical feedback.

    • Supports Teachers through Difficulty

      • There were many times throughout Hase’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program that I considered quitting. I was making teacher moves that I was not used to. I was not succeeding as fast as I had planned. I was not excited about showing my or my students’ weaknesses around other teachers. Yet Hase and the teachers that she helped me to cultivate relationships with during the initial institute and throughout the year somehow kept me going despite the struggles and failures and misunderstandings and fear.
      • If Hase had judged me based on how I began or allowed other teachers to judge me based on my very beginnings, it would have been what I had become accustomed to, and I very likely would have faded into the background and quietly gave up. Instead, they helped me see that even where I found failure, there were places of great success.

    • Provide Agency and Opportunity to Teachers

      • Hase and the program she led us in provided us with activities that were meaningful and relevant to us. We each had a place at the table where we were treated as respected equals, who were there to grow through a challenging and worthwhile program like the College, Career, and Community Writers Program. Not only that, but we were given opportunities to lead what we learned amongst other teachers in a quote commonly referred to by writing project people as “teachers teaching teachers.” It was strange to think that I and not some hired company could help lead other teachers like Hase led me. It was strange that I was encouraged to do so!

Writing Project and The College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP)

Exciting possibilities lay ahead as we learn how leaders like Angela Hase and programs like the C3WP can affect teacher efficacy. By recognizing how these effective teachers lead, we contribute to enhancing cognitive restructuring of teachers which contributes to their increased self-esteem and by providing them with meaningful relationships and professional development.

So if you’re at a place in your teaching career that you feel alone and unheard, if you’re looking to become a better teacher, if you want the opportunity to become a great leader, look up your local writing project site. I know that I will always be indebted to Kelly Sassi and Angela Hase of the Red River Valley Writing Project in North Dakota for giving me the opportunity to develop and shine as a teacher.

Take care, fellow teachers!

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