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Enroute Bitterroot

5Es Straight Out of Columbus HS---Mr. Olsen Says

Jessica Anderson


Celebrating Our Profession

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day! I'm excited to celebrate from Washington DC in the presence of the State Teachers of the Year and the President of the United States. Wow!

Although this experience is often unbelievable, what's even more unbelievable is that I get to represent the state of Montana and all the excellent educators who tirelessly teach our students every day.  Montana teachers are great! I'm so proud of the work we do together in our schools!

Sharing Montana's Stories

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing Casey Olsen's 5E story. Casey is an English teacher at Columbus High School, is a 2015 MT State Teacher of the Year Finalist, and an all-around AMAZING educator and person. He epitomizes the 5Es by empowering his students while elevating their voices with authentic projects. He continually pushes educational boundaries to help his students exceed in the classroom. And, he's not afraid to fight the good fight when negative voices need to be eliminated and extinguished. On National Teacher Appreciation Day, let's celebrate by reading and sharing Casey's story:  


I work to empower teachers in my district, in my state, and across the country through professional development workshops and through the development of classroom tools and resources. I’m always trying to push the limits of what we as teachers think students can do with writing, and then I try to capture that process somehow--through publication, digital portfolios, unit websites with students samples--so that I can show other teachers what that process looks like. The surest way to move past “I can’t …” or “My students can’t …” statements is to show how we all can do it together. I share these units and student samples in my district to empower my colleagues to push students to write their best possible drafts through personal choice, positive reinforcement, and revision. I also enjoy sharing these projects around the state in order to get positive conversations started about the impressive literacy achievements students are capable of. These efforts helped get me involved with the Montana Writing Project in Missoula and the new Elk River Writing Project in Billings. I began working with the National Writing Project (NWP) recently on a U.S. Department of Education grant study to develop a program that prepares students to write at a college level by the time they graduate high school. The program also empowers middle and high school teachers to provide the instruction students need to reach that goal. The study included teachers across 44 rural, high-needs school districts in ten states, and it impacted over 25,000 students. In 2015, an independent research organization reported that NWP’s College-Ready Writers Program had a “positive, statistically-significant effect” on student writing and teacher instruction. I really love helping colleagues take student writing to positive, empowering places they never thought it could go.

Eliminate and Extinguish

When it comes to eliminating and extinguishing the negative rhetoric surrounding teaching, I have to admit that I am not a perfect teacher. I’m human. I get frustrated, and I have found the benefit of surrounding myself with a network of positive colleagues. This network extends beyond my school building, throughout the state of Montana, and across the country. When I hit a wall with my instruction and I can feel that frustration build, I know help is an email away through the professional learning network that I have actively constructed for myself. Efforts like that keep me on the positive path and pick me up when I’m stuck in negative patterns of rhetoric about teaching. I’m a big believer in anti-deficit thinking and the funds of knowledge that each of my students and each of my colleagues carries with them every day. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of it. I think one of the most important lessons a teacher can learn about the negative rhetoric surrounding teaching is that we can only control what we can control, and the one thing we as teachers really have control over is our own attitude and rhetoric about what we do.


I am constantly growing, each new year I am trying to exceed the impact I had in the previous year. I had to learn my way into realizing that I wasn’t done learning. I had a rough two years to start my career, and luckily I was introduced to professional inquiry by the Montana Writing Project around that time. I read a steady stream of professional texts--I actually enjoy them more than any other genre of literature now. We have to reach a place in our teaching through professional inquiry where we just constantly hunger for more knowledge. When I reach my final year of teaching, I still want to be experimenting with new lessons and approaches to teaching.


My work with the NWP’s College-Ready Writers Program (CRWP) has given me a great opportunity to elevate our profession. CRWP puts a premium on becoming informed before expressing one’s viewpoints. Certainly students who have these CRWP experiences and skills are ready for college-level academic writing, but they’re also ready to read, to write, to argue, and to be agents of causes that are important to them in their local communities and in the career fields they’ll choose. Being “college-ready” is just the beginning. This type of argument writing instruction empowers students to have a voice in the world. Academic argument is a way to engage with the world. It empowers them to speak up about their concerns in positive, meaningful ways. It provides them opportunities to speak up about problems they see in the world and in their communities that they feel adults aren’t paying attention to. When we teach students to write arguments, we are empowering them to be positive, active, solution-oriented citizens so they may become informed participants in their local communities and their American democracy.

What's your 5E story?

Are you interested in sharing how you empower, exceed, elevate, eliminate, and extinguish in Montana? It's time that we hear your story!