Category Archives: Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project

An Invitation To Listen: A New Podcast


episode-one-coverbThe Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project has been my happy place as a teacher since 2004.  It’s provided me opportunities to learn, lead, write, make mistakes, develop friendships, and more. Because life is about the sweet and the bitter, he horrific events in Charlottesville this summer were the catalyst for an LVWP bucket list initiative: our own podcast.

Thanks to the our fearless site director, Doug Antonioli, I am now part of Open Mic, a monthly podcast exploring the intersections of education and social justice.  Enjoy our first episode: Teaching In The Wake of Charlottesville.

Our next episode is about supporting transgender students. Stay tuned.




Anthem: Float The River, Forget The Paddles


Welcome to my twice-monthly feature about anthems, the songs that inspire us.  You can listen to most of the songs on my Spotify playlist, Carry A Watermelon Anthems.  Today’s Anthem isn’t available on Spotify, so please enjoy it by clicking on the links below. New Anthems will be posted here the 1st and 15th of each month. 

Please welcome Kristin Weller to our playlist.  Kristin and I met over a decade ago through the Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project. We wrote together in a writing group and the rest is friendship history.  Her writing is full of grace, rhythm, and beautiful details. Enjoy!


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Photo: Flickr Commons

As a writer and a teacher, I often find myself stuck upstream without a paddle. The washer leaks all over the place, the telemarketers just can’t get enough, one of the dogs pukes on the carpet – again, and my work-in-progress lays open like a wound ignored. My mind spins and leaks just like my wonky washer. It is times like these when I call upon music to set me back to rights.

I had my first Brother encounter as Musikfest more than a decade ago. That first time, I entered the crowd that was building like a heatwave beneath a white tent. During soundcheck, one of the kilt-clad brothers grabbed his bagpipes and twiddled a partial reel. A pack of red-headed girls let out a riff of shrieks and whoops, a mic squealed. And when the concert really started, we were awash in a wall of sound – beefy bass beating, a vibrating blast from a didg, a halo of harmonic voices unifying.Their sound and artistic energy made a complete circuit with us, their undulating fans.

A few years later, Brother released River. It personifies the struggle with resistance we all encounter at one time or another when we choose to jump into our  passions. Its chorus begins:

When I’ve been asleep so long…so long/I woke up cold…and I… I woke up.

To me it means that even when things go wrong, it only takes a small act, to wake up — to reignite passion and possibility. The chorus concludes with:

If we’re a river, let it flow… and don’t climb out the window, when I’m at your door

which is  a love-note to the self to be brave when opportunity knocks, to trust-fall with intent into passion’s currents.

The paddles are not required.

Just, float.

And, I do.

Special Note: Since Brother is a self-publishing indie band, River is only available through their artist’s website. You can sample River and purchase it here.

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Kristin Weller is a  writer, poet, essayist, and English teacher in the Lehigh Valley area. She facilitates Write Nights,  a community-based writing group for adults which meets every first and third Monday at the Nazareth Center for the Arts from 7-9 PM.


Don’t forget to follow Carry A Watermelon Anthems on Spotify for  a playlist of additional inspiring songs!

Reclaiming Our Teacher Voice: How Staff Writing Can Combat Demoralization

Reclaiming Our Teacher Voice: How Staff Writing Can Combat Demoralization

My identity web from the Paint Chip Identity activity.

According to recent research from the University of Pennsylvania, 40-50% of teachers will leave the classroom within the first five years of teaching.   It’s estimated teacher turnover can cost upward of $7 billion dollars.  This is serious, folks.  Unfortunately, most of our legislators care about standardized testing mandates more than quality teaching.  Many of our community members think that we care more about June, July and August (HA HA HA – I WISH) than we do Jose, Brianna and Jacob.


My paint chip brainstorming from the Paint Chip Identity activity.

Since our true allies are currently limited, we need to support ourselves. This is what led me to my inquiry project through the Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project’s literacy and leadership fellowship.  If you attended my session on Saturday at the Best Practices, thank you!  It was a joy to share my experience with creating fellowship through writing with a room full of motivated teachers and administrators.  If you weren’t at the conference, please take a look at my PowerPoint and resources.  I bet you can find 20 minutes twice a month to help combat demoralization in your school.

If you are interested in creating a staff writing community and would like some support or a sounding board, please email me at heather harlen at gmail dot com.  If you’ve implemented something like this in your school or have questions for the community,  please post in the comments!


Harlen Leadership Inquiry

Links to Create Into The Morning Activities:

(All activities included time to share in pairs or as a group)

Paint Chip Identities (Make a web of your different identities; pass out paint chips and have participants find one or two that match an identity; tape onto paper and jot down words that relate to the color and identity; rename the color to fit identity.)

A Pep Talk From Kid President To You (We watched this and then wrote pep talks.)

The Testing Camera (We watched this and then drew snapshots of what our classroom looks like when they’re at their best.)


Do Not Touch from Room To Write by Bonni Goldberg.

Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg (We did the Do Not Touch activity. I made sure to personally invite science teachers since their observation skills would add something special to this particular session.)

The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel (We picked random cards and used them as springboards for writing.  Easy!)

Archetype Cards by Caroline Myss  (Again, we picked random cards and used them as springboards for writing.  So easy an the artwork on each card is beautiful. You can also read about how I use them in my fiction writing here.)

Finally, don’t forget to acknowledge participants’ involvement.  Make ’em feel special for writing with you, for taking this chance, for being a risk-taker, for being a teacher who writes.  A little note in a mailbox goes a long way.


I use these to compliment colleagues who attend our faculty writing activities.