Chad Sansing suggested that this weekend would be a good weekend to #blog4nwp, to tell the stories of the work of the and its 200 plus network sites. Okay. Here’s one of mine. You can read others in my .
I never had the fortune to meet Jim Gray. But his fingers are all over my work as a professional educator. In 1974, he had this idea – this crazy, wonderful, delightfully simple idea – that perhaps teachers of writing should spend time taking about their teaching together. And perhaps, too, as teachers of writing, they should write themselves, and work together as writers, much as they would ask their students to do. Oh, and perhaps, after they spent time learning together, those same teachers might share their learning with other teachers in after school, before school and during school professional development.
Teachers, he knew, can make a difference. And they don’t need someone else, some “expert” from far away, to do all the heavy lifting. We can help each other to get better. We don’t need saving. Teachers can be agents for thoughtful change. Together.
Not a complicated idea. But I’ve been cribbing it my entire professional career. For good reason. That idea, originally the and later the National Writing Project, replicated again and again in university and school partnerships around the country, works. Well.
When I was an undergraduate at Colorado State University, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen came to be a professor there. She taught my adolescent literature course, a course where she asked me to read and write in the ways that I might later ask my student to read and write. She wrote with us when we wrote in class. I always liked that.
It was later, when she started the , that I learned the story behind why she taught the way she did. And it was during the first summer institute of the CSUWP that I began to realize the kind of teacher I wanted to be. 1
According to this recollection, Gray was a lover of people and of living. And that passion for life and people was the fire of his teaching. He made community. So does the National Writing Project. So do writers and writing and teachers of writing.
I’ve never met a more thoughtful group of people. Sometimes, it’s downright infuriating. I like to move. NWP teachers like to ask thoughtful questions. Thoughtful questions sometimes slow you down. But when you do eventually act, you act better because of the thoughtful inquiry that informs your action.
My participation in the National Writing Project is what led to the poetry course I taught for students who didn’t believe they had much to say. It led Antonio, the quietest student I’ve ever met, to say and share more of himself that anyone had ever seen. He made us laugh and cry through his poems, and we were never, ever the same.
It led to Paul and Raeven figuring out the point of what they wanted to argue because they had to write and write and write their way through their thinking. Repeatedly. And they were willing to do that because the NWP helped me to understand how to build a classroom environment where it was safe to start over again and again until we got it right.
It led to a class where five students and I explored the idea that blogs might be a place where we could write with and for the world. Their ideas about blogging have been published and republished and shared and reshared and mixed and remixed because the NWP gave me practical ways to respect my students as co-learners.
My participation in the National Writing Project led to the creation of CyberCamp. And the work of the Digital Learning Collaborative. And pretty much every other piece of work I’ve done as an educator that I am proud of has roots in the work of the NWP. In my work, I try to model that teachers have much to learn from each other and that we should always be doing the work that we ask of our students. Always. And, of course, ten minutes of focused writing now and then never, ever hurt.
I can tell you many more stories about the NWP’s influence on my work2, but I think you get the idea.
Our federal government, I believe, wants to do right by children and by the country. But they don’t have a handle on what thoughtful teaching looks like. As I watch the Congress gut support for the NWP, along with NPR and other programs, I realize that, as I’ve heard again and again in writing project conversations here, there and everywhere, there’s no one coming to save us. There is no Superman waiting to swoop in and set things right.
It’s up to us to do so. We. Right here. Right now. And you know what?
We are enough.
Teachers can teach teachers, and politicians and anyone else who needs some learning.
That’s the lesson of the National Writing Project, and that’s what I remember and will focus on as I head back to the telephone and the keyboard later tonight to remind my elected representatives of the importance of thoughtful teaching and learning infrastructure in our great nation.
I want to live in a country that honors the important work of teaching and learning. I want to live in a country where thoughtfulness about how we teach and learn is an essential piece of that work. I want a government that understands that you can use a little bit of money to make an awful lot of difference. Children who can read and write well are a precious national resource. Groups like the National Writing Project, groups that so thoughtfully help children and teachers to become better writers, deserve federal support.
So, yeah, I support the National Writing Project. I believe in teachers teaching teachers to make a difference for students. You?
- Actually, that’s not quite true – I knew that I would be a teacher of writing who wrote alongside his students. I just didn’t realize how truly exceptional that actually was. The NWP is an exceptional group of teachers. And the door’s always open for others to join the conversation. [↩]
- And I’d be happy to if you ask me to. [↩]