Letter from the Director

CATEGORIES: Foundation Courses

Dear all,

The more I hear about machines, the more I want to connect with people. Don’t get me wrong—I’m excited to learn how tools like ChatGPT might support the work of teaching writing and learning to write. But, for me, humans are at the center of our work. And isn’t writing one of the primary ways we connect with ourselves and other people? I know it is for me. I imagine it is for you. I hope it is or will be for our students.

At the end of last semester, I invited everyone who teaches in the English Department to read Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, and gather to discuss it on the Friday before classes started this semester (pictured below). Instructors from across ranks and specialty areas gathered to discuss such questions as:

Lesley Erin Bartlett (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)
  • What does it mean to gather well in the classroom in 2023? What about teaching and learning has changed in recent years? What hasn’t?
  • What can we do to make the classroom a place where students want to be?
  • What might help you close the gap between the class meetings you want and the class meetings you have?

I recently ordered an obscene amount of Girl Scout Cookies from Assistant Director Amy Walton’s daughter, and Amy happened to deliver them to my office 10 minutes before I was scheduled to run peer review in my English 250 class. Because I believe a Thin Mint makes almost any gathering better, I took Girl Scout cookies to peer review.

The next class period, I took a stack of thank-you cards for students to write to their peers who had reviewed their papers. We talked about how thank-you cards ought to be specific (What, in particular, was helpful about your peer’s feedback?) and emphasized how the recipient will use whatever was given (How will you incorporate your peer’s feedback to improve your paper?). We wrote and talked about how crucial the skills of giving, receiving, and using feedback are for our work in English 250 and for our lives beyond class.

Photo by Laura Brown

Did Girl Scout cookies and thank-you cards improve my students’ writing? I don’t know. I hope the cookies and cards helped create favorable conditions for learning and helped students feel more connected to the work of the course and to each other. I hope that the students felt cared for in some small way and that just maybe they felt like getting themselves out of the dorm and to our classroom in the basement of Ross Hall was worth it. I hope they felt seen and appreciated and like they got to know the people around them—and their work—a little better than they did before.

I hope this newsletter helps you feel more connected to our work and to each other. I look forward to featuring more of your work in the coming months. Thank you for the work you do with our students.

All best,


P.S. I prompted ChatGPT to “Write a letter to instructors from a writing program administrator for the inaugural program newsletter. Focus on human connection.” Here’s what it generated.

Dear Instructors,

Greetings from [Writing Program Name]! I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits.

I wanted to reach out to you today to express my gratitude for the tireless work you have put into our writing program. Your passion for teaching and commitment to our students is truly inspiring, and it is an honor to have you on our team.

As we prepare to launch our inaugural program newsletter, I am reminded of the unique and special community that we have built together. In a world where so much communication is done through screens and technology, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the human connections that make our writing program truly special.

Your students are lucky to have such dedicated, thoughtful, and compassionate instructors who genuinely care about their learning and growth. Your guidance, feedback, and encouragement have helped shape our students into confident and competent writers, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

I hope that as we move forward with our program, we can continue to foster this sense of community and connection. Whether it is through our newsletter, in-person events, or virtual interactions, let us always remember the human element at the heart of what we do.

Thank you again for all that you do. I look forward to working with you and sharing our progress with our students and community.

Warmest regards,

[Your Name] [Writing Program Administrator]

P.P.S. If you’re interested in Priya Parker’s ideas about gathering but don’t have time to read her book, here she is on one of my favorite podcasts: https://onbeing.org/programs/priya-parker-remaking-gathering-entering-the-mess-crossing-the-thresholds/