The Writers Room® Program

Community-based Writing Coaches

Partnerships and Affiliations

Partnering with schools and universities

Our Partnership with Montclair State University

For the last half dozen years, The Writers Room Program has included among its coaches pre-service English teachers from Montclair State University (MSU) who become writing coaches as part of a service-learning course called “Teaching Writing.” In addition to their reading in composition theory and pedagogy and their own writing for this course, every student goes through the specialized training The Writers Room Program has developed for its coaches. When they are trained, every student puts in a minimum of 15 hours coaching at Montclair High School or in one of Montclair’s 3 middle schools. Since the class usually has about 30 students in it, Gemma Sullivan and Ellen Kolba co-teach 6 sessions at the start of the semester, alongside the MSU faculty person, each of them working with a group of about 10 students. Once they have finished the training, the MSU students are supervised and evaluated by the coach managers in the Montclair Public Schools.

How did this partnership develop?

Like many of the current features of The Writers Room Program, it was a part of our five-year plan that actually materialized ahead of schedule. It began in our second semester of operation, when we received a phone call from Sara Jonsberg, who had just arrived at MSU to run the English Education program. Sara went off to the local Unitarian church one Sunday in hopes of meeting people in her new community and came back a writing coach. She had been drafted by a member of our very first coach cohort. Because she is a writing specialist, Sara immediately saw the possibility of a fit between her program and ours. Once she had been coaching for a semester, she was eager to have her students become coaches too.

We tried going into Sara’s Methods course and training all the students as coaches, then working with them at the high school in a kind of practicum. But devoting six class sessions to Writers Room training turned out to be impractical, so Sara began handing out our phone numbers to all new students admitted to the program and strongly suggesting that they become writing coaches. For several years, we added MSU students to our regular training sessions with community volunteers and scheduled them into classes along with the rest of the coaches. This worked well for us, but Sara and a new writing specialist who had just been hired at MSU—Emily Isaacs— wanted more for their students.

Recognizing that the MSU students were getting as much out of our partnership as the students in the Montclair Public Schools, they designed a new course for MSU—the service-learning course, “Teaching Writing,” that is currently being offered. Since Sara Jonsberg’s retirement, this course has been taught by Emily Isaacs and by the growing number of writing specialists that MSU has attracted to its faculty. All of them have become writing coaches themselves first and worked very closely with the managers of The Writers Room Program. Until the 2007-08 school year, “Teaching Writing” was offered only one semester each year because a faculty member wasn’t available for a second semester. In the winter-spring of 2008, however, the MSU partnership has taken a new turn. Pat Thomas, a teacher at Mt. Hebron Middle School in Montclair, is teaching this course for the second semester as an adjunct at MSU, bringing to it her years of experience as a classroom teacher working closely with writing coaches.

What we’ve all realized is that the partnership between The Writers Room Program and Montclair State University is a win-win situation. We are able to put 30 or more eager, enthusiastic pre-service teachers into our classroom as coaches every year, and the MSU students benefit from a first-hand experience with teaching writing in a very safe, low-pressure environment. We all have a stake in making the partnership work, and we all benefit.