Can you imagine for a moment sitting in professional development for a full four-weeks, Monday-Thursday, for EIGHT hours? Horrifying, isn’t it? And yet, I wrote the excerpt above after having done this in July 2009. I’m still involved with the National Writing Project and it’s still impacting my classroom and me.
I had not even heard of the National Writing Project in 2002, my second year of teaching. A friend said, "Kim, I did the writing project in Kansas City last summer. You would love it." She told me it was four-weeks in the summer with a lot of writing. I stared at her like the crazy person she was. My excuse for not going was that I had three kids at home. But the real reason was it scared me silly to even think of it. I wasn’t a writer and I didn’t belong there.
Fast forward seven years- another friend said, "Kim, I went through the Summer Institute at Ozarks Writing Project. You should do it!" To my protestations of inadequacy she said, "Just come with me and see what it’s like." I went to a Saturday meeting of the Ozarks Writing Project and was hooked after two hours. We freewrote and shared it with each other. A fellow educator presented a demo of a great classroom idea and we participated as the students. It’s been three years since that Saturday. In the sidebar, is a "short" list of my involvement with the NWP.
The reason I fell in love with the National Writing Project is their modus operandi. Did you ever think professional development could be dynamic, human, open, challenging, humorous even? NWP is all these and more. Their mission, of course, is about writing: "The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners." But NWP is so much more than this. Eight years into teaching and I’d been through so many different styles of PD. NWP was the first to not only span all subjects, all ages but also to take into account our humanness, our diversity, and celebrate it. I know I’m being nebulous. Let me be more specific.
The Beginning- Summer Institute
Most people start their NWP experience with the four-week Summer Institute (SI). During SI, we wrote and wrote and wrote and I "became a writer." Teachers learned from each other. Each day a teacher presented a demo of a great classroom idea, backed by research. Presentations had to include participation by the students, us!. No sage on the stage. As students, we wrote poems in French, we conducted science experiments and wrote about our results, we used "bait words" to write poems. We learned what it feels like to be a student again. My SI experience was exactly what I needed. Through it I experienced a model for teaching writing-- lots of writing, freewriting, writing groups, topic choice- yes I’m a language arts teacher and it turned my classroom upside down. But it also helped the high school science teacher from Willard, the sixth grade social studies teacher from Springfield, the French teacher from Ozark….
When my Summer Institute ended, I participated in the Digital Storytelling Institute. Talk about frustrating- in one week we were writing a story/script, learning a beaucoup of Web 2.0 technology, videotaping, scanning photos, recording interviews and voice-overs and putting it all together on the computer. At the end of the week, after bashing my head against the computer several times, I had a nine-minute video about my grandparents and their gospel bluegrass music. NWP showed me how to use technology with writing. They continue to be on the cutting edge of technology in the classroom. They have a new site, Digital Is, about writing in a digital world. Their use of technology is thoughtful and produces critical thinking; it’s not just bells and whistles.
I earned the title of Teacher Consultant after my Summer Institute. I even have one of those fancy-chancy nametags! However, it wasn’t just the nametag and title that turned my thinking around. NWP has given me the confidence to present and write about teaching. They believe that classroom teachers should be the leaders, should be the education experts, should be involved in education reform, should be the ones speaking out.
NWP gave me the courage to submit an idea to present at Write to Learn, the state language arts conference. 2012 will be my third year to present there. NWP gave me the courage to try NaNoWriMo- National Write a Novel month. I wrote 30,000 words in November 2009 but I went on to finish that book, 70,000 words, the next June. It’s not published but I’m trying! Through the National Writing Project, I met with congress people in Washington, D.C. to lobby. I was so scared the first year but NWP meant so much to me that I overcame it to tell my story to Roy Blunt, Billy Long and to Claire McCaskill‘s aide. NWP gave me the courage to create a website, to write a story for "After the Bell" in this magazine in 2010, and to become a paid blogger for Teaching Tolerance. Last but not least in Spring 2011, I won the MSTA Southwest Region Teacher of the Year. Then in November, MSTA presented me with the Secondary Teacher of the Year award for the state of Missouri! The support and encouragement I received from NWP was the key to all these wonderful things.
In the Classroom
I had struggled so much with teaching writing in my high school language arts room. It seemed I took longer grading the papers than the students did writing them! NWP showed me how to have students write more and how writing is thinking. We write and read a lot more now. Students freewrite, read Articles of the Week (K. Gallagher) and write a reflection. Through commonplace books, students learn more about themselves and have a place to think graphically. Through our Shoes papers, students learn what it’s like to walk in their peer’s shoes. I use writing groups now to help students get feedback. Because I write, I can now understand the struggles of writing better and be a better writing teacher. If you want to know more, some of these projects are on this website!
Ongoing research proves time and again that NWP positively impacts student learning. At the least look them up on the internet and at the most please consider going through a Summer Institute. It turned my classroom and my professional life upside down in a good way!
My Experiences with NWP
OWP Writing Retreat- 2008
OWP Digital Storytelling Institute- 2009
Missouri Writing Projects Network State Meeting- 2009, 2010
Missouri State University Ozarks Heritage Days Presentation- 2009
OWP Leadership Advisory Council
National Writing Project National Conference - Philadelphia- 2009
Write to Learn Presenter- 2010, 2011, 2012
Lobbying - Washington, D.C. 2010, 2011
Prairie Lands Writing Retreat- 2010, 2011
NWP Professional Writing Retreat, Austin, TX 2010
Brown Bag & a Best Practice Coordinator- 2010-current