Monday, March 28, 2011

The National Writing Project - 1600 E. Memory Lane

I'm sitting here and wondering about what the NWP has done for me and how it has impacted my teaching and my students' learning. I've just graded 75 annotated bibliographies my students created for their Holocaust themed research papers. I'm excited because their work is quite good, and they seem so engaged in the topic, a topic which I would probably never approached had it not been for a two week seminar I attended in New York City during the summer of 2008 held yearly by the Holocaust Education Network (HEN). I have done Holocaust themed projects every year since 2008 and am always amazed how much students seem to enjoy learning and writing about such an important part of world history. I never would have known about HEN if it had not been for HEN's affiliation with the NWP. Sondra Perl, HEN's director and a co-founder of the New York City Writing Project knows where to recruit for the best teachers for HEN's summer seminars, and that place is the NWP. Makes sense to me now, but my early affiliation with the writing project came about almost by accident.
I was pushed kicking and screaming into a summer institute. I had my very first teaching contract in hand, and one course I was to be teaching was a dual credit writing course. I was frantically trying to finish a master's degree program, but since I didn't have the master's degree, the head of the Dual Credit department at Missouri State University told me I would need to attend a four week open institute offered by the Ozarks Writing Project, which I had never heard of before. This forced me to drop a course needed to get my masters, and I was not happy at all about it. Furthermore, I had to sit through an interview with Keri Franklin the OWP's director where she told me I needed to read two books prior to the first day of class. I'd never hear of such a thing and don't think I hid my displeasure all that well, but Keri asked me a very good question, "How do you feel about your first year of teaching?"Understand I had just completed my teachers training course, but deep down I didn't have a clue as to how I was going to teach, and quite frankly, I was scared to death. She told me the summer institute would help me immensely and I would be okay. How right she was.
I learned more about the practice of teaching and effective teaching methods in four weeks than my two years of teachers training. The first day I saw a demonstration that I still use to this day in my classroom. The demonstration was about using blogs in a writing classroom. We also used a newly created  OWP blog. I very quickly saw many applications for using blogs in my classroom. After the first day of that open institute I realized I had struck gold. After the four weeks were up, I felt ready for my first classroom. I've never looked back and became a strong advocate for the NWP.
I was invited to attend a closed summer institute the following summer and jumped at the chance. I remember being so nervous about doing a best practice demonstration. Almost everything I had done thus far was use best practices stolen from other demonstrations  had seen. However, I had dabbled with digital storytelling during my first year teaching and Keri encouraged me to do a demo on it. I had no idea how to have every teacher do a digital story in 90 minutes, but amazingly we pulled it off. Here's  one of those stories "How to 2 Lose a Class in 10 Minutes." Feedback from other teacher consultants was very positive, and for the first time, I felt I had something to offer other teachers.

Realizing early on that being an active part in the OWP would be the best thing for my professional development, I participated in every event they would let me attend.
I have attended every Missouri State Writing Project Network's annual leadership retreat since the first year. I have been asked to present at the NWP annual convention, something that still blows me away to this day. I have attended Saturday Seminars, Dinner and a Demo nights, fall writing retreats, and writing marathons just to name a few of the things the OWP offers. Three years ago, Keri asked me to help develop an open institute on Digital Storytelling which  has been an amazing experience these past two summers. I could go on and on about programs the OWP and NWP have that have benefited me.

As I look back on my four and a half years of teaching I can see I have come a long way. I started as an angry and scared beginning teacher who found the OWP. Since then, I have become a confident teacher who still looks for cutting edge best practices to learn, but also has something to offer in return. I can truthfully say all that I do and am as a teacher, I owe to the OWP and NWP.

I can only say to our lawmakers, "Stop the insanity." Fund the NWP.

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