At that early stage, Gere interviewed applicants individually, asking them to talk about their own writing—a question that came as a surprise not just to Kollar, but to most program applicants, who thought of themselves as teachers of writing, not themselves writers. With so many classes to prepare and a seemingly endless stream of papers to grade, it can be hard even to imagine having time for such a thing. As all of us can do with surprise questions, Kollar thought she had stumbled badly in answering. But she clearly said something right and soon heard that she had been accepted into what came to be one of the most transformational experiences of her life.
“I found the writer in me” is her succinct summary of an awareness at the heart of the PSWP experience: that teachers of writing teach best when they devote their own time and energy to writing, not only engaging directly in classroom-related activities such as responding to the assignments they are giving to students, but also finding avenues for their own creative potential as writers to emerge. In the PSWP Summer Institute, a four-week full-day commitment on the part of participants, everyone is expected to write, given time to write, and immersed in a community of writers who respond to that writing and share their personal work. They learn to listen to what writers say about their writing, to use that listening to assist them in finding the right words, and thus to come at writing as students and practitioners, not simply judges or graders. PSWP teacher consultants are then required to give follow-up workshops to colleagues in their own schools.
For Kollar, poetry proved to be the genre of choice. She continues to produce poetry steadily, and she also became an impassioned advocate for the community circulation of poetry (see the article in the Arts and Sciences Perspectives magazine on her poetry box: www.artsci.washington.edu/ newsletter/WinterSpring08/Kollar.asp). PSWP, she says, “completely revolutionized my teaching, my role as chair, and my professional life.” Teaching other teachers how to use writing effectively in their classes became a mission, and a challenge, for “in teaching teachers, you really need to clarify what you do and why.”
Kollar’s teaching career embodied to perfection the central goal of PSWP—to have its participants become catalyst for change in the schools where they teach. In 1982, she became chair of the English Department at newly opened Woodinville High School, where she found the opportunity to put PSWP principles widely into practice. Kollar found herself arranging regular meetings where teachers took turns giving lessons and then sharing advice and critique. “There is often nothing more isolating than being in your own classroom, cut off from other teachers by the daily press of classes, apart from any feeling of educational community.” PSWP aims to reverse that culture of isolation, to have teachers share their knowledge, their experience, and their experiments, to have teachers teach teachers.
A few years ago, Kollar followed up on her personal PSWP involvement by sponsoring a teacher from the Quilcene School District to attend the Summer Institute. At the time, Dan Moore was teaching kindergarten; despite working with such young students, he thought he could get them to write in steady and productive ways. Not all school districts, however, can afford to sponsor teachers by covering their tuition costs, and teachers from outside the Seattle area need to plan for housing as well. In her quietly efficient way, Kollar solved both problems, sponsoring Moore herself and finding housing for him as well. The pleasure came later, in visiting his classroom and finding his kindergarten students writing and reading their own stories, embarking on their school careers amid the highest expectations for their abilities. Within two years, Moore had .won his school district’s award as teacher of the year.
Kollar’s generosity extends to her family’s philanthropy as well. Two years ago she was a leading contributor in the establishment of a PSWP Endowment Fund that provides tuition scholarships for participants. She has contributed to the university in countless other ways as well, serving on the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board and creating with her husband, Allan, the Kollar Graduate Fellowship in Art History and English, and the Hainer Fellowship, targeted for a K-12 teacher returning to graduate studies for a Ph.D. Having helped to transform schools, Kollar’s generosity is helping to transform the possibilities of the university. You will find more about PSWP in the article on pp. 4-5 of this newsletter, further evidence of why it is our alumni who give us our greatest pride in what we do.