Thursday, March 31, 2011

The One and Only Writing Project

The National Writing Project's federal funding has fallen victim to the federal earmark cuts. By April 1, the NWP is hoping for 1000 posts from teachers who have participated in and know the value of their work to convince Congress to restore the funds in its upcoming budget. If you have been involved in the NWP, please take a little time to write something. The Dept. of Education is following this movement.

In twenty-nine years as a high school English teacher, I have been involved with many professional development activities, but the only thing I remember gaining from many of them is a faculty t-shirt meant to jump start team spirit. The one exception has been the work of the National Writing Project, which offers authentic professional development opportunities to educators.

Too often PD is a one size-fits-all presentation by an independent business that talks at teachers, offering simplified solutions to complicated concerns. Not so, with the NWP, which takes a different tactic by using “the knowledge, leadership, and best practices of effective teachers . . . sharing that knowledge with other teachers" (History of NWP - National Writing Project). This teachers-teaching-teachers philosophy is the strength of the Project because professional growth does not occur in contrived circumstances, but in locally formed, self-directed exchanges with like-minded colleagues.

Two other strengths (among many) are the sustainable programs of NWP sites across the country and the diversity of their teacher consultants. Urban, suburban, and rural teachers from different grade levels or different disciplines find common ground as they explore theory, customize strategies to fit their students’ needs, and most importantly, write – to explore, to learn, to grow as both writers and teachers. The WP work is always undergirded by solid educational fundamentals as it also stays abreast of trends and cultural changes. Workshops and other programs include follow-up meetings and networking, so participants stay connected, share outcomes, and offer continual support. These same teachers are often the catalyst for staff development within their schools and/or departments.

The road paved with professional development opportunities leads to the heart of the NWP: the students. Invigorated teachers spark invigorated learning, and I have personally found the truth of this through my association with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. What I've gained there changed me as both a person and teacher, and in turn, I am confident that I have presented students with opportunities to grow as writers and thinkers because of its influence.

I understand why Congress is attempting to stop wasteful spending. However, it disturbs me that (at least in this case) educational funds fall into the category of 'earmarks.' I encourage Congress to rewrite legislation that will categorize these funds differently. In the meantime, I sincerely hope our representatives and senators will listen to the hundreds of teachers visiting them this week and restore the funds for the proven successful, one and only Writing Project.

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